Kyle gasped and stumbled after Anthony, still attached at the wrist. They’d run for a while, but Anthony couldn’t tell for how long. The air warmed and sweat dripped to disappear somewhere under the projected rocks. How did I ever fall for their tricks? The deception was so clear in that moment.
“Easy, you don’t need to break my wrist,” Kyle said.
Anthony stopped short.
“How did you realize it so fast?” Anthony asked.
“It was easy. I just, wait, you knew it was fake all along?”
The end of the question rose to a yell, and the question echoed down the hologram tunnels with a metallic tinge before the simulated rocks absorbed more of the sound. Anthony shuddered. Atlas, where are you? Anthony strained for the padding of small paws, a subtle meow in the distance, but only the fake drips of water echoed down the fake cavern.
“Now would be a good time to tell me what’s going on, Anthony.”
Anthony met Kyle’s eye, but a shadowed figure at the dark end of the tunnel caught his eye. The person shook their head, and even in the dim light, Anthony didn’t doubt who stood there. The Butler raised an arm and gestured for Anthony to follow. Every echo came through purer and the ground firmed. A new tightness fought inside Anthony’s chest.
“Pressure differential. How did they change that?” Kyle asked.
The tunnel shuddered and then lurched forward.
“We’re moving?” Kyle asked. “Is this structure even in a mountain?”
“That means there is a way out, right?” Anthony asked.
Kyle searched the tunnel and shook his head.
“I never appreciated structures like Don did,” Kyle said.
A new wistfulness of memory entered Kyle’s voice.
“We’d met during a collaboration of departments. The goal of virtual and artificial realities is to recreate the world on a digital scale. Don somehow connected my thoughts and his, and while we made nothing like this, wait, is that a cat?”
The soft echo of a meow reached Anthony’s ears. He spun and at the end of the tunnel floated two bold yellow eyes, shin height. Anthony couldn’t stifle his yelp of excitement.
Atlas meowed once more before he turned back down the tunnel. So far, only Atlas seemed to lead him in the right direction anymore. And his gut told him to follow his partner in life. Anthony took one step towards Atlas when someone cleared their throat.
“Excuse me, Anthony, where are you going?” The Butler asked. “And why haven’t you brought your friend to meet us?”
Anthony’s chest tightened and the cool breeze blew through again. Another lurch set all but the Butler to the ground. Anthony turned his gaze toward Kyle, and through the tremors in the holographic projections, Kyle glowered.
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