19 August, 1917, Ypres, Belgium
The bayonet blade scraped across heart muscle, shooting piano-cord vibrations through Baelkirk's rifle. He jerked up on the blade, and warm red sprayed onto his hands. The German soldier's eyes shivered and he shot out his hand to Baelkirk's jacket—aggressive in the first moment, desperate in the next, his fingers paused then pawed at the fabric with gentle pleading. Baelkirk blinked in rapid fire, like he was waking from a dream.
The British soldier named Baelkirk coughed. His knees buckled. The player driving this body, Ghoulfokker, fed in the data streams from his own world, his own time—June, 2343—and watched as loyal followers stacked up to watch his progress, shooting him emotibots of praise and envy.
// YOU'RE RETREATING FROM THE INTERFACE, GHOULFOKKER. FOCUS. //
"Sorry," Ghoulfokker said through Baelkirk’s mouth.
The German soldier's mouth gaped wide, welling open as if to bite into some phantom apple, then responded.
Baelkirk lowered his rifle. The soldier's eyes stayed fixed on him as he slid into the mud, blinking once, then mouthing silently the same words, "Mox nix."
Ghoulfokker ran the phrase through the translator. It doesn't matter. The German thought Ghoulfokker was apologizing to him. Mox nix.
// TRY TO GET YOURSELF WOUNDED NEXT TIME. //
The dying German’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, making bubbles in the mud.
"Okay," Baelkirk's said.
Far off behind the haze of smoke, the concussion of artillery cracked open the early morning sky and the hawk-like shrill of black steel screamed toward him. Baelkirk dove into the mud. Thunder and fire and shrapnel bit into his thigh.
"Baka!" Baelkirk screamed.
// PERFECT. INTRODUCING THETA TRIAL MEDICAL NANITES . . . DOWNSTREAMING . . . FOCUS ON THE WINKING ANGEL. //
Ghoulfokker recalled in his mind's eye the mascot of his sponsor, MetaPhore—a winking cartoon angel with a crooked halo. The angel smiled and induced the downstream to Ghoulfokker’s host body. Baelkirk's muscles twitched and tingled in a rippling strobe down his body. A hiss chimed in his ears as painblockers kicked in, flooding Baelkirk's body with endorphins. The bloody mess that remained of his leg swelled and puckered, sucking the blood back into the wound and ejecting shrapnel and soil. The chipped femur buzzed as new bone knitted together, and the ragged mop of muscle retracted and smoothed. A fresh layer of pink hairless skin crawled across the missing chunk of leg, sealing it over. A white pimple rose up from where the skin pinned shut.
// NOT SURE WHATS UP WITH THAT WHITE BUMP. WE'LL HAVE TO RUN MORE TESTS. WELL DONE, GHOULFOKKER.//