Level 1 – 4
Scratching off her black nailpolish, Dylan remembered the specific reason she was not a PC gamer. Waiting for games to load was right up there on the excitement charts with watching polar ice caps melt, and listening to AM radio with her father. Payoff for the amount of patience committed to loading a PC game typically awarded lackluster results anyway. Console games on the other hand…
Pop in the cartridge.
Turn on the power.
Play the game.
Dylan swiveled herself around in the desk chair while she listened to Bo and Luke argue over nonsense computer jargon. Both of them stood beside the massive refrigerator sized servers that were in the glass closet. Bo was adamantly defending his position stating, “Because you can’t play something of this file size over the internet, that’s why!”
Luke countered, “Well, Amie did it last night and she didn’t pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into her set up to do it either.”
Bo retorted, “Well she would have had too. We’re talking about 2.4 gigahertz, minimum.”
Dylan checked her watch. Both the big and little hands told her that this activity was boring. Standing up from the chair Dylan walked towards the glass garage door. She heard Luke call out from behind her, “Where you going?”
With a shrug and a yawn, “Home. Bed. Sleep. It’s been an hour, Luke. If your game was called who can get bored first, I’ve won. Goodnight.”
Luke jogged over to Dylan who was struggling to open the door; “You promised!”
Crinkling her face, Dylan turned around, standing face to face with Luke, “I never promised anything. You’re the one who said there was a game to play, but I’ve just been sitting down doing nothing when I could be training for the DAC.” Dylan studied her brother’s face. He was more hurt than he was upset.
Bo cleared his throat, “I’ve taken some liberties with a few things and managed to get us connected. But, if you want to walk away, I’d be happy to play the game in your absence.”
Dylan mockingly cleared her throat as well, “How about you just chill out, Sub-Zero. I’ll be the one taking care of the game. If it even works.” She gave her stepbrother a curt smile and sat back down in the chair. Luke walked back to Bo manning a laptop by the servers.
Bo gave a thumbs up, “We’re ready to go.”
Luke raised an eyebrow, “How’d you manage to compensate for the connection speed?”
“My father is VP at Fujin International. I’m not supposed to, but I’ve decided to use his secure line to the company servers. We can run the connection at twenty four.”
“Twenty four Kilobytes? We need at least six thousand–”
Bo put a finger up to his lips, “Twenty four megabytes per second. We could run your mystery game and watch every episode of Gundam Wing at the same time, no problem.”
Luke shook his head, “That’s impossible. The cable needed to run that speed doesn’t even exist yet. Not to mention your processor would have to-”
Dylan threw up her hands, “Fellas, I ain’t here for a math lecture. Less talking and more… well, whatever it is this game’s supposed to be about. Speaking of which, you wanna tell me anything else about this game before I beat it?”
Luke breathed out, “You only get one life.”
Dylan rolled her eyes, “How ‘bout you tone down the drama and at least tell me what genre.”
Bo piped up from behind the laptop, “You said it was a first person shooter, right?”
Raising an eyebrow, Dylan turned to Bo, “A what?”
Luke answered impatiently, “It’s a Doom clone. You see what the character sees. You run. You gun. Kill the enemy before they kill you. It’s harder than it sounds though.”
Dylan rapped her fingers impatiently on the desk, “So much for ‘like no game I’ve ever played before.’ Don’t get me wrong, Doom was great the first five hundred times I played it. Just thought tonight was supposed to be a challenge.”
Bo walked himself back over to the desk, tethered to the servers by a modem cord. Setting his computer down beside Dylan, she turned to the Korean boy, “Whatcha think you’re doing?”
Bo chuckled, “You know whose house this is right?”
“As soon as I beat this game, it’s gonna be my house.”
“Look, Lady DAY, you’re high scores are impressive. You got your stake on a little space of the gaming community. Very proud of you. But, you need to deflate that ego of yours ASAP.”
With a wink, “In forty nine days, I’ll have a Dallas Arcade Championship under my belt too.”
“Well, you’re going to need at least four if you want to run your mouth at MY table,” Bo said gesturing over to the glass server closet. Sewn onto a black tapestry hanging against the glassdoor where four DAC patches. Each one was for Grand Champion. “So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to let you sit at my table, and while you play I’ll work through tons of code to figure out what’s so special about the mystery game. That okay with you?”
Dylan was embarrassed beyond belief. She suddenly put the pieces together. Luke’s friend wasn’t just some guy calling himself Sub Zero. He was the Sub Zero, the current North American Mortal Kombat reigning champion.
Nodding quickly Dylan offered an apologetic explanation, “I just play better when I have some space is all.”
Bo took an exaggerated step to the right, away from Dylan, “All you had to do was ask. Are you ready to play this thing or what?”
Dylan nodded. With a few quick keystrokes on Bo’s laptop, the monitors in front of Dylan suddenly turned on. Hundreds of thousands of lines of text began to waterfall over the screen nonstop. Dylan tried to read what was scrolling past her, but it was coming in to fast. What she could make out was just gibberish anyway. Numbers. Letters: most weren’t even English.
“Sorry,” Bo said, “Let me try something else.” With another couple clicks, the scrolling gibberish disappeared. Only three words remained on the screen…
BUBBLEGUM BOUNTY HUNTER
Dylan looked over to Bo, “Well?”
Bo shrugged, “Well what? Play the game.”
Rolling her eyes, Dylan grabbed the mouse and clicked. Nothing happened. Pressing enter, a blinking cursor appeared at the top of the center screen followed by a single line of white text.
ENTER KEY CODE:\_
Luke took the Jewel case out of his letterman jacket. He opened the case and handed the piece of paper with the paragraph of randomness to Dylan. Taking the paper, Dylan exclaimed, “This whole thing is the code? I’ve seen Metroid passwords shorter than this.”
Bo gave a subtle laugh, “Why don’t you try typing in Justin Bailey while you’re at it?”
Dylan smiled. She was relieved to be in the presence of an actual gamer, but still intimidated. As she typed in the password, she recalled an article written in Game Informer about the legendary Bo Han “Sub Zero” Kiragami. Last year at the E3 Conference in Atlanta, he claimed both the speed record for defeating master class and championship title for Mortal Kombat III. And now Dylan was here, inside the estate of the actual Sub Zero. This was a whole other level for her and she was doing her best to keep it together like a professional.
A persistent beeping from the monitor speakers snapped Dylan back to the task at hand. Another wall of text quickly scrolled up the screen and disappeared. Dylan looked over to both Bo and Luke, “Does this make sense to any of you guys?”
On the laptop screen, Bo seemed to be scrolling through the same gibberish. He waved Dylan off and added, “Just keep doing your thing. We work. You play.”
Dylan shrugged and looked back to her own monitors. The screens were black except for a clock and text message: Tuesday 08:07 – Mission in Progress. After a few moments, the blinking cursor ran across the screen leaving another message in it’s wake.
SELECT COMBAT UNIT:\_
- BIG LEAGUE
Dylan started from the top, and typed in ‘1’.
INVALID COMMAND! COMBAT UNIT IN USE. SELECT ALTERNATE UNIT:\_
She went down the line. Each one denied. Growing frustrated, Dylan slowly typed in ‘5’ and deliberately compressed the enter button. Another waterfall of text and beeping commenced.
INITIATING DRIVE SEQUENCE G:/00-05 PREPARE FOR RAPID DEPLOYMENT!
Suddenly a klaxon alarm blared through the monitors over the deafening sound of rushing wind. There was also a dull mechanical humming that Dylan could only identify as the sound of a beehive if the bees were the size of VW Bugs. The monitors lit up bright white but gradually dimmed, focusing on what looked like the interior of some kind of cargo hold.
Dylan moved the mouse which turned her character’s head. To her left was a large metal door descending to reveal a bright blue sky. Panning her mouse to the right, Dylan let out an audible gasp. Behind a thick pane of glass were the most realistic figures she’d ever seen in a game. Not even the N64 or Playstation rivaled what she was staring at now. Stepping out from a metal door, an officer with a pilot’s mask approached Dylan’s character.
Speaking into the radio, Tech Sergeant Briggs yelled at the window, “Master Sergeant, sir!”
Another voice crackled over the radio, “What is it, Tech Sergeant?”
“Master Sergeant, this other one is woken up. There ain’t nothing on the books that says unit Five is supposed to be deployed. Orders, Sir?”
Everything from his mouth, to the details sewn on his jacket, it was all astoundingly realistic. What’s more this scene wasn’t a pre-recorded movie either. She couldn’t move, but Dylan was definitely in control of whoever it was she was supposed to be. Glancing over to Bo and Luke, she frowned as their faces were more concerned with the ones and zeros on the laptop. Dylan turned her attention back to the monitors. She wasn’t going to miss a thing.
Over the speakers, Dylan heard the disembodied voice of the Master Sergeant over the radio bark out, “Typical. These spooks from DC want to use our gear to send their toys into the battlefield, but they don’t want to tell us what the hell is going on. Same ole’ bullshit.”
The Tech Sergeant leaned into his radio again, “Yes Sir. Do we send it out though?”
“I ain’t breaking radio silence. If the thing is on, then they must want it down. Boot it up and boot it out.”
“Sir, yes Sir.”
Dylan’s character quickly pivoted counter clockwise facing the giant open door. On her right monitor, several semi transparent menus popped up in succession from left to right. Each had a tactical display of fuel levels, power supply, ammunition remaining, and half a dozen more. At the top right hand corner of each menu a tiny green light appeared.
From somewhere behind her, the Tech Sergeant yelled, “All systems green. Launch on mark, three, two, one… mark!”
Suddenly Dylan’s character was catapulted out through the door, thousands of feet above the earth. The altimeter which suddenly appeared as it’s own menu on the right screen informed her she was precisely 34,700 feet above the ground and falling, fast. She tumbled end over end. Clouds rushed by and steady whooshing noise pumped through the speakers.
ALERT! – “DEPLOY CHUTE AT 1,200 FEET”
Dylan kept her eyes on the screen as she asked, “Uh, you didn’t happen to keep the manual for this thing did you.” There was no reply. “I only ask because the ground is coming up very quickly, and nobody told me how to open my parachute.” Still no reply. “Guys?”
Bo put a finger up into the air, “Patience.”
Dylan could now quite clearly make out a sand covered landscape rapidly approaching. She couldn’t help but marvel at the level of detail, and the lack of load time. This was all happening right now, and Dylan was going to be dead very soon if she couldn’t figure out one simple command. Another alert popped up at the bottom of her screen, counting down to the shortest time it ever took Dylan to die in game.
ALERT! – “Alt. = 3,000. PREPARE TO OPEN CHUTE”
Maybe it was one of the number keys?
INVALID COMMAND! WEAPONS SYSTEMS NOT AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME
It could be anything, or a combination of anything. Sweat began to pool up around the girl’s finger tips. Her heart beat jumped up a notch. Today was full of firsts. She’d never died on the first level before. She’d never met a gaming celebrity. She’d never felt unbridled embarrassment in front of said celebrity. Soon she could check off all three in one day. Lucky her.
ALERT! – DEPLOY CHUTE!
Bo looked up from his laptop, “Hold ALT, and press ‘6’.
Dylan complied and her descent suddenly came to an abrupt halt, then resumed at a less than gentle glide. She was still falling quickly, but finally touched down to earth. There was a loud “BEEP” followed by another alert.
WEAPONS FREE. PROCEED TO RALLY POINT ‘DELTA’.
Whatever it was that Dylan was supposed to be, she was not yet dead. Just like every game she’d laid her hands on, she was determined to conquer it. Looking at the radar map that suddenly appeared on her right monitor, Dylan used the keyboard to maneuver her character toward a blinking dot. Forward into mystery.