Adam came to awareness gradually, as from a deep sleep. Memory crept in like an advancing tide, and he felt his heartbeat quicken. Slowly, slowly, he opened his eyes.
Cementerio de Santa Catalina.
He was in the cemetery again — he, the living, among the dead.
The randomizer was glitching.
The first time, in Round 3, it had been a bit tricky to identify this location.
Now he knew where he was. He seemed to be stuck in a Möbius strip.
An infinite loop.
His heart pounding so hard he could feel it in every part of his being, he took a deep breath to calm himself.
Adam was an avid quest gamer. He also enjoyed the adrenaline rush of wild adventures and occasional risk-taking in real life, so he was immediately intrigued when he received an invitation from Kythe International Scientific Studies.
“Beta test opportunity! Be in the forefront of a groundbreaking technological advancement!”
The offer went on to state that beta testers would be supplied with special equipment to use in an Augmented Reality geographic adventure.
“We hesitate to classify it as a game. Rather, it is a scientific experiment constructed in the form of a game.”
He signed up for the walkthrough, during which he learned the details of Advanced Matter Transfer Technology (Beta). Coyly, the developers pronounced the acronym AMTT as “Amped”.
The platform appeared to be a rather run-of-the-mill online geography game; the enhancement, a pair of AR goggles disguised as sunglasses — interfaced with a wearable tech device that looked like an ultramodern smartwatch.
What ultimately drew Adam in was the idea of matter transfer.
Tense with excitement, Adam was hoping for a revolutionary experience. He logged on to the Kythe subsite, jittering a leg while scrolling through the mandatory disclaimer agreement.
He was instructed to acknowledge that he was giving permission for his cells to be broken down into data, in order to facilitate the transference of his body to another geographical location. The original cells would be destroyed, but the data file would allow them to be replicated.
After checking the box at the bottom, he synced his goggles and wearable device using the AMTT code provided.
The next screen gave him two options: Advance or Retreat.
It was a bit like nodding off to sleep.
He felt the tension draining out of himself as he lost awareness. He was fading… his body twitched, momentarily raising his consciousness before it dimmed into pleasant oblivion.
When he arose to full awareness again, he knew exactly where he was. And it wasn’t where he’d begun.
He could smell a faint seaweedy odor; taste the salt air on his lips; feel the dampness embracing him; hear the “Screee” of gulls circling. And he could see an iconic landmark, looming boldly in the pearly gray mist.
A shroud of fog hung protectively around the span; the deep orange spires that protruded above it were unmistakable.
This round was an easy win.
The placement had been purposely done, he thought, to give him confidence.
He tapped the earpiece of his AR goggles, just as he had learned in the walkthrough, and spoke into the picophone on his wearable.
“Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco, California.”
“Beep!” the device acknowledged, “37° 49' 6.59" North, -122° 28' 25.79" West. Data match confirmed.”
“Advance,” he requested.
This time, he was barely aware of the matter transfer process. He only felt a slight tingle and experienced about a millisecond of blankness between fadeout and reemergence.
He thought it might be more akin to accelerated metamorphosis than to sleep, and briefly wondered if his body had changed in the process.
The scene before him was dark. He recognized a distinctively tapered shape sparkling in a glittering gold light show.
“Eiffel Tower. Paris, France.”
“48° 51' 29.1348'' North, 2° 17' 40.8984'' East. Data match confirmed.”
That was enough of a breakin. He hoped the next round would be more challenging.
He had no inkling of an idea where in the world he was.
Clearly a cemetery, it was devoid of people — living ones — other than Adam.
It was stark and unattractive, planted with a few scrubby trees that provided the only sign of life. These were set sparsely along the boxy concrete crypts and columbaria, on a stone-paved courtyard baking in the midday sun.
It was hot. Shimmers of vapor rose from the ground. In the distance he could see an expanse of sun-spangled water, hinting at his location. If only he could interpret the clues…
‘Maybe the names will help identify the place,’ Adam thought. He walked slowly to the closest wall, wiping sweat off his brow.
All of the names were in Spanish.
‘Well, that’s helpful!’ he thought wryly, ‘That narrows it down to only dozens of possibilities…’
Spying a wrought iron arch across the way, he supposed that it might be the entrance.
The words forged into the incurvature spelled out Cementerio de Santa Catalina.
Cemetery of Santa Catalina.
It was an altogether unfamiliar location.
Tapping the earpiece of his AR goggles, Adam spoke into the picophone on his wearable.
“Hint. Cementerio de Santa Catalina.”
“Option 1: Coamo, Puerto Rico. Option 2: Ceuta, Spain. Option 3: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.
Adam grimaced to himself and drew in a deep breath. Of course there would be multiple possibilities. In fact, come to think of it, he was surprised there weren’t more than three.
He blew his breath out through slack lips, staring blankly for several seconds.
“Option 2,” he said at last, more decisively than he felt.
There was a lag, probably all of three seconds, but it was enough to make Adam feel mildly nervous. Maybe he was wrong. Could he rescind —
“35°54'23" North 5°17'18" West. Data match confirmed.”
“Phhhh…” he exhaled.
Cementerio de Santa Catalina
After the briefest of flickers, his consciousness was fully engaged.
He glanced at the wearable to confirm progression to Round 4. The almost microscopic number in the upper left corner agreed.
A small bird, which he was quite sure hadn’t been there the first time, was perched in one of the bedraggled trees. It threw back its black and white head, trilling an optimistic “Ch-ch-ch-trrr, ch-ch.”
A nebulous, not-quite-formed thought crossed his brain.
‘Oh well… this is the beta version.’
There were bound to be some aberrations.
Confidently this time, Adam reported,
“35°54'15.3" North 5°17'18.3" West. Data match confirmed.”
Cementerio de Santa Catalina
Adam was sure that the randomizer was glitching.
Once again, he repeated,
“35°54'25.7" No-orth 5°17'19.1" We-est. Da-ata match confi-irmed.”
Something was wrong. The audio was breaking up, and the volume was low.
The small bird, still singing in the tree, abruptly stopped and took wing — uttering a sharp “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch!
Its rusty underbelly flashed brightly as it flew toward the gate. Adam was once again the only animate being in the necropolis.
Should he retreat as well?
What if the program was in a loop, and he just kept ending up in the same place?
He pondered as he sought relief from the scorching heat,
‘Am I experiencing a well-crafted technological illusion, or a mindblowing physical phenomenon?’
If a semblance of reality, like those artificial flowers, it was spectacular.
If an actual corporeal conveyance had occurred…
The implications were immense. Ethics, liability, international boundaries — both physical and virtual — could be involved in this technological advancement.
As Adam leaned against the shaded concrete wall, his eyelids drooped. His throat was dry. It was time.
The wearable device responded with a faint ‘Click’ and an anemic flickering red plasma indicator.
“O-overhe-ea-ting…” it announced in a very feeble voice.
Adam was breathing rapidly. He could feel his heart rate increasing. His head was pounding. He imagined his cortisol levels rocketing up.
He felt sick and weak. He no longer had the strength to stand, so he lowered himself slowly to a sitting position on the scorching pavement.
He felt the mass draining out of himself as he lost awareness. He was fading… his body twitched as the atoms were stripped away… as Adam was stripped away, before being transferred into data.
He was found on the floor, next to his computer table, unresponsive. Next to one outflung hand was a pair of sleek, high-tech goggles.
On his wrist there was a device that looked like an ultramodern smartwatch.
It, too, was unresponsive.
The computer screen was on standby mode. The last site visited was “AMTT by Kythe International”.
At the hospital, he was diagnosed with heatstroke as a result of apparent extended exposure to excessive heat.
His recovery took weeks.
“Where did you go?” the attending doctor asked Adam, when he was well enough.
“What was the last thing you remember doing?”
“Gaming. Playing a — I don’t know. Some sort of adventure game.”
He didn’t recognize the goggles, or the wearable device. He didn’t know anything about AMTT or Kythe International.
The Kythe International website returned a result of Error 404 - Page Not Found.