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The Game

By David Ronayne

Images fragmented... swam... swimming... drowning... he clawed for an image... reality. Electric colours washed over his eyes as his hand brushed over a point of clarity. Reality. He sat bolt upright on the couch, slowly opening his eyes. Focusing took some time.

'Doctor! You're back,' the black and grey blob cried, relief evident in her voice. 'You gave us quite a scare.' He blinked, trying to force his eyes to pick out her image as she rushed forward to hug him. Her dark hair almost smothering him as they embraced.

Peering over her shoulder he saw a pale thin man in dreadlocks struggling to pull himself out of the next couch and brush the assortment of electrodes attached to his head. He rose uncertainly and tried walk to the door before he was rushed back to the couch by the medidroid. The woman was talking to him again, but the words still seemed distant.

'... and after you went in to find the crew, this thing escaped from one of the storage pods and we thought we had lost you for good... again.'

The Doctor caught a clear view of her face for the first time. 'Bernice?'

'You realise your lives' insurance premiums will probably go up again. No one will cover you after this.' He put a hand to his forehead and traced the line of the neural link. She frowned, serious now. 'I don't know what we would have done if the game had got you too.'

'I'm sure you would have managed,' his voice trailed off, 'you're quite capable.' His mind raced, he'd played many games, games within games within games, with hundreds of players and pieces but THE game. 'I don't remember...' he whispered, looking up at her with an expression of dull fear, '... anything.'

Bernice put an arm around his shoulder. 'Disorientation is common after total immersion. Don't worry, it'll come back; and you got most of the crew out of that thing.'

He lay back in the couch and thought quietly for a few minutes. 'But when did I start?'

She shrugged. 'The game incorporates itself into your life somehow, creating the lifestyle you don't realise you desire, and you lose yourself in it. No one realised it could be so addictive.'

He rolled his head and caught his own reflection in the polished steel of the computer terminal. He looked old, several lifetimes older than he remembered. 'A computer generated game that lets you live out your fantasies.' He paused without looking back. 'Where's the TARDIS?'

Something about his tone made her step back. 'The ship will come into land at Ri'thleth in a few days; we should meet up with Cwej and Forrester there.' She didn't stop him as he reached forward towards the machine. 'And with the information we found in the hold we can save the Imperial Council...' Sadly they both watched as he toggled the controls. '... just like you planned.'

Her voice trailed off as the machine whined, and her defeated figure faded into the electronic swirl of sound and colour that washed over him.

Images fragmented... swam... swimming... drown... frantically clawing for image... clarity... reality.

With a super human effort he slowly opened his eyes. Focusing took some time. Susan leant forward. 'Grandfather, you're back!' She leaned closer, embracing him. 'For a minute there we thought we lost you for good...'

This item appeared in TSV 45 (September 1995).

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