Danny ran hard and headlong, but after she had leapt over a log she thought she’d already passed a while back, she came to an abrupt — if not entirely graceful — stop.
She stalked around to the front of the log and immediately recognized it as one she had encountered some time ago. It was split through the middle, as if some giant’s axe had been taken to it, so that it resembled a giant clothes pin. A peculiar, softly luminescent purple moss colored its side.
Behind her expressionless Suit mask, Danny scowled. She drew up her satellite map to review her course and found that she had, indeed, doubled back on herself. She was a couple miles behind the last point she had checked her position. All told, possibly four miles behind.
Danny swore. Somehow, she had been running so fast that she had lost track of her surroundings — and her way. How she had ended up this far back was beyond her.
No matter how hard as she glared at the log and the surrounding trees, they offered her no answers. After a moment, she decided that she had lost enough time already. She resumed her sprint. This time, she kept a corner of her eye on the map.
When she ran into the fallen log for a third time, she knew something was wrong. The map showed that she had clearly made ground this time — but there was the log again in front of her, with its unmistakable split and the velvet covering of purple moss. There was the low-lying branch that hung over it, as if the tree that stood nearby was leaning down to offer its fallen companion a hand up. And there was the disturbed ground vegetation where she had tread before.
This time, Danny spent several moments scrutinizing her surroundings. Something wasn’t meshing, and she intended on discovering what.
At the edges of her vision, the forest wavered, as if from heat waves. No matter how she turned, she could never catch the trembling of air in her direct line of sight. It was always there in the periphery, like the faint light of a far away star that can only be seen when one looks away. It lent her surroundings an air of surrealism, as if they were —
An illusion. Danny was quite sure of it. She was being led astray.
“The magical illusion that deceives her falls away, revealing her true surroundings,” Danny said.
Nothing occurred. The landscape remained unchanged, and the wavering at the edge of her vision remained. However, she was positive of the deception. Apparently, it wasn’t magical. It had to be technological.
If technology was behind the illusion, the mechanism could be any number of things. The forest could be manipulating her sensual input on the Suit. Or, it could be a huge hologram.
Danny addressed each of these possibilities, first by narrating an end to any neural or input interferences, and secondarily by narrating that any holograms be turned off.
Danny’s mind fished for other possibilities. Wetware hacking? Manipulation of actual surroundings? Was she just going crazy? Science fiction was not Danny’s forte. By nature and by lifestyle choices, Danny was a creature of fantasy. If this forest was merely an enchanted forest, she might have had an easier time with it. But the forest had assimilated much of the cyberpunk setting it had transplanted into, and — like an exotic, invasive species — was growing unchecked. Part magic, part machine. The question was: how much was magic now, and how much was machine?
It was not supposed to possible — the Smart Suits were made to be impervious to nano attacks — but what if nanomachines and infiltrated her system? The right kind of machines could be feeding any sort of input to her.
“The function of all nanomachines contributing to the illusion meant to lead Danny astray turn back to standby, and her true whereabouts are revealed.”
The entire scene with the log fell away around her. Danny found herself standing among unfamiliar trees. A haze hung in the air.
A nanoswarm. The illusion had not been created by nanomachines infiltrating her system, but by projecting the illusion around her. Billions of nanomachines, so many they hovered around Danny like a cloud.