Level 1 – 3
When her father asked, Dylan obviously had to lie. Had a bad fall from the obstacle course, she’d said on the ride back. She remembered the look her father gave after that line. He didn’t buy it, but he didn’t call her out either. Dylan knew her father extended enough trust to sort her own problems out. Currently, she only had the one: Isabella.
Dylan would have to worry about sweet revenge later. With her body covered in bruises, throbbing in dull pain, the only balm at the moment was the warm glow of her Sega Genesis. After dinner, Dylan climbed up the stairs to her room. On the one hand, her room was something out of some stereotypical fairytale, with a stepmom who wanted any leftovers from the previous marriage as far away as possible, locked in the tallest tower. Then again, she had her privacy.
Closing the door to the attic behind her, Dylan dropped to her knees and pulled herself up the narrow stairs. At least, Dylan thought, the carpet still felt new. After her mom officially passed, her dad regained full custody. He completely remodeled the attic before Dylan arrived. Even some of her old furniture was shipped from California and waiting her arrival when she flew out to live in the Lone Star State. The extra effort to give Dylan a room of her own raised Texas’ approval rating from one to at least three stars in her book.
At last, Dylan made her way into the room proper. Feeling she’d milked her pain long enough, she forced herself to stand and hobbled to the TV. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was already in the console when she turned on the power. Unraveling the cord, Dylan grinned when she recalled when Jill had walked in on her playing the game. After taking out her foe with a fatality, Dylan was banned from ever playing the game downstairs. With the sudden knocking at the attic door below the assumption that Jill might attempt to extend that ruling to the attic crossed her mind.
“I’m naked,” Dylan shouted, “Don’t come up here!”
Despite the warning, she heard the door open and footsteps plod their way upstairs. Without taking her eyes off the game, Dylan could sense that it was probably one of the step-brothers. Through the process of elimination: her dad would have left her alone, Jill would have issued her complaints at the door, and Mark would have ran upstairs faster and louder than anyone else. On screen, Dylan’s character beat the stuffing out of Raiden as she acknowledged whoever was looming over her, “Thought I told you I was naked.”
Luke cleared his throat as he answered, “Well you didn’t sound naked, and you ain’t.”
“That was a lucky guess,” Dylan said still dishing out roundhouse kicks to her digital opponent’s face, “You barge in here when I am, I’ve got no qualms punching you right in the larynx. Whatcha want anyway?”
Luke didn’t respond. Instead, Dylan felt something drop onto the carpet beside her. It sounded plastic, and small. She was only two hits away from killing her foe, but two hits away from dying too. Tears started to form at the edges of her eyes as curiosity beckoned to examine the mystery sitting beside her. The itch of the unknown burned. Her focus on the game waned.
Dylan heard Shao Khan’s voice mock her from the TV: “Raiden Wins.” Setting aside the controller and picking up an ordinary jewel case, Dylan read the Sharpie scribbled title on the recordable CD within the case, “Bubblegum Bounty Hunter?”
Luke’s voice was transparently distraught, “I need you to play it.”
“It’s a game?”
“It’s like no other game that you’ve ever seen. I need you to play it, and I need you to beat it. Tonight,” Luke said without any hint of levity. He was deathly serious.
Dylan examined the inside of the case. There was nothing but the CD itself, and a neatly folded piece of paper with a paragraph’s worth of random letters and numbers. Obviously she was intrigued, but she played it cool. Standing up, Dylan headed for the stairs, “Alright, you’ve got my attention. Let’s go beat this thing.”
Luke grabbed Dylan by the shoulder as he asked grimly, “Are you sure?”
Shaking off his hand, Dylan answered flippantly, “Course I’m sure. I’ll beat whatever lame PC game you throw my way if it’ll get ya outta my room.”
With a solemn nod, Luke stormed past Dylan, “Fine. Get your sweater.”
Once again, Dylan found herself sneaking out of the house for the sake of video games. Except this felt different. Luke had been moody ever since the step-family had been revealed to her, but he was clearly wound tighter than usual tonight. But Dylan wasn’t a shrink. She was a gamer. All that mattered at the moment was the promise of a challenge like none she’d ever encountered before.
Luke and Dylan crept out through the kitchen, and into the backyard. Ever since getting caught for sneaking out nearly a year ago, her dad made sure to always close the garage door at night. Naturally, Dylan moved her bike to the side yard. Bad daughter, better soldier. They walked their bikes out through the side yard. Dylan locked the gate behind them. When she turned around, before she could even mount her bike, Luke had already peddled off the driveway and down the street. Dylan chased after him.
Only a hundred meters and closing. Dylan struggled through her injuries and the biting wind blowing in her face to keep up with Luke. With every wisp of wind, Dylan felt icy fingers stab their way through her pink wool poncho. May was supposedly the end of Tornado season, but it was ninety degrees until six in the afternoon, and now it felt like it was going to hail. Honestly, if a tornado did touch down in this suburban maze and whisked her away, Dylan probably would not have cared.
A tiny smile flashed over Dylan’s face as she considered having been relocated to OZ already. There were a few notable differences however, namely the road was grey and there were significantly less munchkins. Other than that, she could check off a scarecrow, tin boy, timid lion, and little dog. To be fair though, as much as they disagreed, Jill was never directly wicked toward her. Indifferent Lady of the West would be more suitable.
About three miles later of biking through the familiar housing tracts, Dylan felt uncertainty nipping at her ankles. She’d never ridden this far out before. Coasting to a stop, she set her feet down on the ground and went dead weight over the handlebars. She and Luke both stopped underneath a brick guard shack guarding the entrance to a gated community.
Panting for breath, Dylan turned to Luke, “Why… are we playing… video games… at a guard shack, in the middle of the night?”
Luke shushed her as a security guard lumbered his way to the sliding glass door. He wasn’t so much fat as he was muscular, but definitely a round shape overall. Straightening his thick mustache, the security guard spoke in a hoarse Mexican accent, “What you want, niños?”
Clearing his throat of his prepubescent squeak, Luke replied, “Last name is Han.”
The guard, Mario, looked Luke up and down, “Han? You don’t look like a Han.”
Dylan coughed out, “You don’t look like a plumber.”
Mario squaked back, “What’d you call me?”
Luke positioned his bike between Mario and Dylan offering a rushed reply, “I’m Profit, Luke Profit. We’re going to see Mr. Han, 1-9-8-3 Harbor Town Drive.” For a few moments Mario continued to stare up blankly until Luke added, “We’re in a hurry.”
“What’s the rush?” Mario said staring off into the middle distance.
Dylan walked her bike backwards to get a proper line of sight for Mario, “Is the neighborhood closed or something?”
“Closed? No, is not closed.”
“Then how about doing your job, and let us in then, yeah?”
Mario looked from Dylan to Luke and chuckled, “She’s got a mouth on her, huh?”
Luke was losing his cool, raising his voice, “My name is on the list, could you-?”
“Right, Profit. Yeah, you’re on the list. What’s the password?”
The young boy was about to snap. He looked from Mario to Dylan, and back to the troll of a gatekeeper, “Password? There’s no password.”
Mario was either incapable of perceiving Luke’s irritation or simply didn’t care. At either rate, the security guard checked his clipboard; “Yeah, Mr. Han himself called in, ‘next time Luke Profit comes, he’s gotta give the password.”
Luke, “Bullshit! Just let us in.”
“Whoa, easy there, amigo, let’s calm down a bit. Whatever problems you got with your friend, that’s between you two guys. Also, that fence is between you guys too. So if you wanna get on the other side, I’m gonna need the password.”
Dylan was growing cold and restless as she blurted out, “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.”
Losing his patience, Luke snapped at his step-sister, “Dylan, I’ve got this! Just be quiet.” Turning back to Mario however, Luke watched as the security guard had already gone back to his shack and opened the gate.
Sticking his head out of the little window, “You two have a good night.”
Before Luke could respond, Dylan was back on her bike and pedaled her way through the gate. She deadpanned over her shoulder, “You’re welcome.”
It was all downhill from there. Within the gated community were the richer homes, the mansions, the estates. Dozens of great oak trees settled into perfectly cut emerald grass that lined the sidewalks, leaves rustling in the wind. Luke had once again passed Dylan on his twenty-one speed street bike leading the way further down the freshly paved, jet-black road. They rode for nearly another mile, gradually spiraling, sloping downward till they reached the end of a cul-de-sac.
Dylan watched as Luke positioned himself on his bike side-saddle and rode it up onto the driveway of an impressive ranch style house. He dismounted as he reached the front lawn and let his momentum carry him forward. Dylan came to a full stop before the massive, single-story dwelling, captivated by the ivory stone exterior. Her concentration was broken by Luke shouting from the side gate, “Quit standing around. It’s through here.”
Walking her bike over the lawn and through the wooden fence, Dylan marveled at the expansive lawn that meshed seamlessly with the golf course behind the house. She continued to hurry after Luke, passing alongside the Olympic size pool. The glow from the pool illuminated the guest house at the other end. About half the size of the main estate, the guest house was of a completely different design. Modern wood panels with black tinted glass defined an asymmetrical building with no visible door. Dylan watched as Luke let his bike fall to the ground in front of what appeared to be a sixteen by eight foot obsidian glass wall.
Luke knocked frantically on the glass; “Bo Han, open up.”
A voice gabled by an intercom came from somewhere unseen, but boomed with a subtle Asian accent, “There is no Bo Han here, gaijin.”
Luke knocked with greater intensity, “Open the fracking door!”
The voice responded impatiently, “We talked about this. You want my help? Say my name.”
With a heavy sigh, Luke relented, “Sub Zero, open the door or I’m throwing my bike through this window and coming into strangle you.”
Dylan was taken aback. This was clearly a new side of Luke. Although, to be fair, Dylan didn’t really consciously pay attention to him enough to have a whole and complete picture of Luke anyway. Before she could say anything, what looked like a window started to rise up like a garage door. Both Dylan and Luke had to step backwards to keep from getting hit.
If the exterior of the building was out of place, stepping across the threshold into the interior was like going back in time to the set of a 1970’s Kung Fu dojo. Rice mat floors covered the sparsely furnished studio. A small kitchenette was tucked into the left corner, and what looked like a massive glass-lined-walk-in-closet was situated on the right parallel a restroom. Dead center in the room, facing the wraparound floor to ceiling window overlooking the golf course, sat a mighty oak table. Three twenty inch monitors set in a semicircle sat on top.
Suddenly, a lanky Korean teenager swiveled around and sprung up from the chair at the grand oak table. Speaking with only the slightest of Korean accents, he strode over to great Luke excitedly; “Welcome to my dojo. What do you Users want?” Luke simply stared Bo down. Dropping his jovial tone, “Ah, that’s right. It seems you’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” Bo glanced at Dylan, “Who’s the chick?”
In a near growl, Luke explained, “She’s my step-sister, and the most hardcore gamer I know. She’ll be playing while we work. Now quit stalling and let’s get to it.”
Bo’s smile dropped, “Okay, well first of all she is a she. Second, I’m playing the game.”
Dylan stepped up to Bo Han and looked him up and down, “Well first, Mr. Zero, hand be a controller and any game in your library and you’ll have D.A.Y. all over your high score screens in less than an hour. Second, call me a chick again and I’ll shove my girly fist right up your-”
Placing a hand over Dylan’s mouth, Luke cut her off, “She’ll play while we work. That’s the deal. Unless your system ain’t as secure as you’ve bragged about.” Luke released his hand from his sister’s mouth after she bit it.
Bo laughed, “You’re the D.A.Y.? Your initials are scrawled all over McLaren arcade. You’re like a little local legend aren’t you? That’s kinda cute.”
Luke took his sister by the hand, “If you’re not going to help us, then we’re leaving.”
Clapping his hands together and bowing slightly, turning up his affable charm, he said, “Please, Mr. Profit, you won’t find a system as secure as mine this side of Langley. If you’d be so kind to step this way, we’ll unravel the little mystery you mentioned. You do have it with you, do you not?” Luke flashed the disc, and Bo smiled. “Then let’s get started.”
Bo clicked the button on his remote control. The glass wall descended, locking them inside.