Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

“There’s a light at the end of this one, yeah?”


There’s always the mission. We’re told in Academy to keep a phrase “in turnkey.” We’re always expected to be in motion: our eyes to the time and the handoff, brains to the third next step, hand near a trigger or an exit knob. When you’re pushed into action, or feeling off-duty, that phrase is a grounding. That no matter how close you are to your safehouse, anywhere outside of that is an open invitation for the worst.

My words were Guild fodder, especially among the OGs. I’d heard it long before my training days though, before I’d volunteer my body and brain to the best tech in covert ops. It was my dad’s phrase, a recall in between soldering gadgets and car rides to pockets of Queens and Nassau with basements much more cryptic than the one I’d run around.

The faint smell of solder, and the static of Creedence Clearwater in the background. I wasn’t ready to understand what “the mission” was back then. Just that all the gadgets he fiddled with fit around my growing hands. It took up enough time for him that I wanted to make time for it, too. The mission? Sounds fun, but all I wanted was maybe a power or something. Armor and flash-bang-pow and the software to make it all work. Or, at very least, cool glasses that’d talk back: I loathed the ones I had in first grade..

— — Agent. Are you awake. — — I eventually got one of those things. A soft chirp in my ear sent a shock down my neck and through my body. I reached over to tap the frame of my VISOR before another jolt.

“What’s going on VISOR?”

— — Can you pull yourself up?— — With a groan, I did. Felt enough of a whoosh between my hair and the roof of the tube I was in to know there wasn’t much clearance. Reached to the sides and barely grazed the right side of the duct.

VISOR and I already knew what was behind us: tons of rubble, and no signal to activate my Suit.

“Did everyone get out?” The actual mission was a rescue: 8 foreign hostages and their body weight in C-4 placed all over a deserted mountainside factory.

— — Before the explosion, we got an all clear from the team in the Cruiser. — —

Great. I groaned for a moment on a flat stump of rebar. “What about us, friend?”

— — I wish I could give an affirmative answer.
Cannot perform full body scan.— —

From the tinny echo, I could tell we were in an overflow duct—there was a way out. Where? Didn’t matter. I could breathe without choking on smoke, so I did. And I could walk, so I started to.

— —Cannot activate Suit, but it was heavily damaged in the building collapse.
ETA 10 hours til useable. — —

And it was pitch-black, any attempt at finding a signal would drain the internal battery to the glasses. As an Augmented Intelligence Device connected to the back of my ears, connections to my nervous system made my brain a back-up battery. If necessary, like a sudden death round in football. You better make the most of your time or risk needing to be shut down until next year from the side effects.

“It’s okay to go on low-power. Let’s just navigate where we’re at.”

— — Can you whistle? I’ll map out the path forward in an echograph. — —

“Sure.” My chest felt a little tight, but I could get off the coda to “Layla” without much problem. A grid formed from the passive waves bouncing back to VISOR’s sensors, forming a partial path.

Pain started to creep through my back and shoulders, a fresh welt from the dive onto a platform I had to take when the first flames burst from the facility. (I missed the platform and caught the concrete corner. Updates at 10.) My legs and feet could go, but there was a creaking feel that—cybernetic enhancements or not—muscle failure was close without proper rest or aid.

To my glasses: “You never answered my question.”

— — No, there’s no light. Not here. Dead end in another 40 meters. — — A red arrow appeared on my lens, the faint signal. — — We’ll have to climb a bit. — —

I hoisted myself up, the faint noises filling up enough air space to give VISOR more of a path ahead. A ladder led all the way up to what felt like nowhere, with passthrough gates for liquid serving as extra ventilation. I was lucky. After what was a three-story climb-crawl through this vent, my hand grasped at where a rung should be. The palm slapped a ledge: the metal brackets that held the ladder from above, and solid, grit splashed, rock.


— — Possibly. — — The factory was set not too far from a mountain pass, so this led out through a grate, and a possible drop down below.

“What now?”

— — Seeking signal. Battery critical. — —

The team made a direct line to the nearest hospital, roughly 30 miles out. No casualties, but enough injuries, trauma, and debriefs to hold them back another half-hour. Maybe, and at top speed, they still wouldn’t be out here for a bit. Regardless, their objective was over. Mine, if I could just push myself enough, would be complete too. The mission still stood: just get the fuck out, Agent.

Blue peeked through the black and made a rosy purple of the walls we trudged through. Wavelengths my glasses didn’t pick up on until indigo and the briefest breeze crept in.

— — Photoreceptors receiving light: battery stabilizing. — — I staggered at the good news. Fresh air and salmon-hued crystals. A handhold. The rustle of steel at the first fight of a strong breeze.

“Don’t tell me the distance I got left.” We’ll get there. After hooking a left a few steps down there, we would.

Through the mesh grating, the last of twilight started to roll off. Even in the filtered light, Alpha Centauri pulsed at us, curls of sunrise ready to pull the hook on the nighttime.

A chirp. Two, even. — — Body scan complete. — —

“Don’t ruin the mood, V. The exit’s here.” I clutched my ribs. My top was stickier and much more sore than when we started this walk through darkness. “How’s the suit?”

— — Serviceable enough. No weapons, but enough charged to fly you out. — —

I held onto the mesh. Deep breath, if I could. There’s always the mission. Whether I ask for it or not, this is the call I answer. It’ll just hurt less next time.

— — Agent. Ready to evacuate?— —

I took a boot to the mesh doorway. It tumbled down the cliff, rackety metal against the gravel below.

“Yeah. We’re out.” Pressed the bridge of my frames up against my nose. “Activate.”