0.3 - Launchpad

0.3 - Launchpad


The competition is still going strong. We’re currently watching a sniper currently rushing up the stairs of an office building. She’s winded, not used to getting involved in close combat. Her footsteps echo through the stairwell as she tries to make it to a safe location. A rooftop would do her no good right now. She’s being chased by a man in a red helmet laughing manically as if he’s not even breaking a sweat. A flying dagger hits her in the ankle and she tumbles as her tormentor chases.

“I told you it’s like a horror movie if we watch Daamin’s victims instead,” Kai laughs as the woman falls.

“You’re right, but if she stays on the ground we need to find something else to do.”

The woman doesn’t try to stand up. She’s sliding backwards with her hand up yelling no. This is too much like every bad horror movie I’ve ever seen. Daamin stabs her with one of his swords and she lets out a high-pitched squeal before her voice vanishes as her body shatters into hundreds of pieces of what looks like glass. Like a mad man he leaps over the banister and free falls down to the ground floor landing in a kneeling position.

“So, I guess he’s a super hero today instead of an anime character,” I point out.

“Either way, he needs therapy,” Kai shrugs.

“How many people left in the competition?”

“Entirely too many.”

“Want to take a job while he cuts down the competition?”

“You,” Kai seems shocked. “Mr. Solo Dolo, Virtual Kid Cudi, wants to go on a mission, together? As a team? Woah, I feel special,” Kai feigns surprise.

“We’ve gone on missions together before. Plenty of them.”

“Yeah, but I invite you, and trick you into joining.”

“Alright, if you don’t want to go, we can just watch Daamin murder people.”

“Nope,” Kai opens a prompt and accepts the first mission on the list.

“You don’t even know what we’re going to do?”

“That’s part of the fun, right? It’s an Iconic Kai move.”

“You’re not iconic.”

“Not to you, but somebody likes it.”

“Whatever, you’re driving.”

“Hmm,” Kai has a thought.

“What’s wrong?”

“No driving.”

“Because of the competition?”

“No, because this is a big money job and they’re sending a helicopter to our location. We should head to the roof.”

From the rooftop we can’t make out the chaos in the streets below as people but the radio in my ear assures there’s plenty of fresh violence down below. I live pretty high up, and I’ve got a balcony I never use, so I’ve never been on the roof before. Admittedly it makes me a little queasy. Kai seems unbothered, conducting two photo drones to get various pictures of him. I force myself to smile for a few just to please him.

The wind picks up as a golden helicopter inches closer to the roof. When Kai said big money, he meant big money. The helicopter didn’t even land, just extended a matching gold ramp for us to walk across. The inside of the helicopter is a soft leather like material that I probably can’t pronounce or afford.

I’ve never been on a helicopter in my real life, or an airplane, or even past the fifth rung on a ladder. Inside a video game is an interesting way to realize that I’m not height avoidant, but actually terrified of heights. The pilot is giving us details of the job and Kai is making small talk with the pilot but I can’t hear them. Occasionally Kai’s voice will pop in as he talks about how the city looks beautiful up here or the pilot will point out some landmark. I don’t care about any of that, I’m focusing on my breathing. The second thing I’ve learned on this flight is what a panic attack feels like.

“Dre, Dre,” I feel a sting on my face, and notice Kai’s eyes staring directly into mine. “Hey, focus on me, not the flight.”

“What,” I’m trying to make sense of what Kai is saying.

“I didn’t know you were scared of heights.”

“I’m not. I’m not scared,” I argue.

“Oh, you’re scared,” the pilot laughs. “Nothing wrong with it. I’ve seen bigger and stronger men than you be afraid. I really served in Iraq, they don’t train you to be this high in the air. You can trust me, it’s a game, no mechanical issues and we’re well above the folks fighting down there, so no need to worry.”

The pilot’s words don’t do anything for me. I just focus on Kai. Usually I would pull away because he likes to touch people, and I don’t like to be touched. This time I just let him rest his hands on my cheeks and lead me through some breathing exercises until we get close to a landing.

“Coming in nice and slow,” the pilot’s voice crackles as the helipad gets closer.

I’m the first one out of the helicopter. I don’t intend to kiss the ground but I trip, and faceplant. Kai and the pilot stifle laughter, but I don’t care. This is solid ground, and I missed it.

“Welcome to Herron Hills, where the rich come to live with their eyes wide closed,” the pilot gives us an introduction.

“Thanks, but spare me the tour for a moment. I need to get myself together,” I pick myself up from the ground.

“I kind of like the helpless Dre. It’s cute,” Kai laughs.

“Shut up.”

“That’s not what you were saying in the air. You were all like, thank you Kai, save me Kai,” he laughs.

“I didn’t say any of that,” I argue.

“Maybe, I imagined that part,” Kai continues to laugh.

“You boys are a real hoot,” the pilot leads us towards a mansion that would seem generic if not for the bright red color scheme.


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