The Eye of Minds Online - James Dashner

CHAPTER 1

THE COFFIN

1

Michael spoke against the wind, to a girl named Tanya.

“I know it’s water down there, but it might as well be concrete. You’ll be flat as a pancake the second you hit.”

Not the most comforting choice of words when talking to someone who wanted to end her life, but it was certainly the truth. Tanya had just climbed over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge, cars zooming by on the road, and was leaning back toward the open air, her twitchy hands holding on to a pole wet with mist. Even if somehow Michael could talk her out of jumping, those slippery fingers might get the job done anyway. And then it’d be lights-out. He pictured some poor sap of a fisherman thinking he’d finally caught the big one, only to reel in a nasty surprise.

“Stop joking,” the trembling girl responded. “It’s not a game—not anymore.”

Michael was inside the VirtNet—the Sleep, to people who went in as often as he did. He was used to seeing scared people there. A lot of them. Yet underneath the fear was usually the knowing. Knowing deep down that no matter what was happening in the Sleep, it wasn’t real.

Not with Tanya. Tanya was different. At least, her Aura, her computer-simulated counterpart, was. Her Aura had this bat-crazy look of pure terror on her face, and it suddenly gave Michael chills—made him feel like he was the one hovering over that long drop to death. And Michael wasn’t a big fan of death, fake or not.

“It is a game, and you know it,” he said louder than he’d wanted to—he didn’t want to startle her. But a cold wind had sprung up, and it seemed to grab his words and whisk them down to the bay. “Get back over here and let’s talk. We’ll both get our Experience Points, and we can go explore the city, get to know each other. Find some crazies to spy on. Maybe even hack some free food from the shops. It’ll be good times. And when we’re done, we’ll find you a Portal, and you can Lift back home. Take a break from the game for a while.”

“This has nothing to do with Lifeblood!” Tanya screamed at him. The wind pulled at her clothes, and her dark hair fanned out behind her like laundry on a line. “Just go away and leave me alone. I don’t want your pretty-boy face to be the last thing I see.”

Michael thought of Lifeblood Deep, the next level, the goal of all goals. Where everything was a thousand times more real, more advanced, more intense. He was three years away from earning his way inside. Maybe two. But right then he needed to talk this dopey girl out of jumping to her date with the fishes or he’d be sent back to the Suburbs for a week, making Lifeblood Deep that much further away.

“Okay, look …” He was trying to choose his words carefully, but he’d already made a pretty big mistake and knew it. Going out of character and using the game itself as a reason for her to stop what she was doing meant he’d be docked points big-time. And it was all about the points. But this girl was legitimately starting to scare him. It was that face—pale and sunken, as if she’d already died.

“Just go away!” she yelled. “You don’t get it. I’m trapped here. Portals or no Portals. I’m trapped! He won’t let me Lift!”

Michael wanted to scream right back at her—she was talking nonsense. A dark part of him wanted to say forget it, tell her she was a loser, let her nosedive. She was being so stubborn—it wasn’t like any of it was really happening. It’s just a game. He had to remind himself of that all the time.

But he couldn’t mess this up. He needed the points. “All right. Listen.” He took a step back, held his hands up like he was trying to calm a scared animal. “We just met—give it some time. I promise I won’t do anything nutty. You wanna jump, I’ll let you jump. But at least talk to me. Tell me why.”

Tears lined her cheeks; her eyes had gone red and puffy. “Just go away. Please.” Her voice had taken on the softness of defeat. “I’m not messing around here. I’m done with this—all of this!”

“Done? Okay, that’s fine to be done. But you don’t have to screw it up for me, too, right?” Michael figured maybe