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Authors: C. G. Watson

Ascending the Boneyard

BOOK: Ascending the Boneyard
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For Argo . . .

who heard

who saw

who knew

.5

Everything's a battle.

The way my brother Devin and I always fought for space and attention, from the second he was born up until the accident.

The constant slaughter and resurrection of cockroaches in every rotting corner of our trailer.

The old man at max volume, having it out with my mom for the 1,586th day in a row. Ever since the accident. Every single day.

Scratching day-old mac-n-cheese and dried beer foam out of his stubble as he rants. Such an ass, I can't even think of him as my dad anymore.

Haze was there. He knows what it's like to have to live with that kind of memory. Thinks I'm stuck on that one day at the go-karts, that it's still breaking me down after four years. Thinks I'm gonna get lost in the game.

“You need to get off the computer,” he says, as if that'll fix everything.

He doesn't play, so he doesn't get it.

Doesn't get that I actually feel like I can do something meaningful in the Boneyard. Y'know?

Free the hostages.

Kill the roaches.

Become Worthy.

Ascend.

1

Saturday afternoon,
Cam Tyler bursts into my room like it's a matter of national security.

“You gotta try these, man. They're off the hook!”

I'm barely awake, but I slip the specs from his hand. By all appearances, they're ordinary goggles with a yellow tint to the lens. I cut him one of those sidewinder looks.

“No one says ‘off the hook' anymore,” I tell him, throwing my legs over the side of the bed, kicking a dirty cup and plate out of the way as I head to the desk.

“My dad does.”

“Your dad thinks he's the long-lost drummer for KISS, dude. He's an eighties throwback. Of course he's gonna say ‘off the hook.' ”

Cam hops around my chair, pushing his long, curly hair out of his freckled face. “Fire up the Boneyard, dude! Try 'em out.”

I go to put the glasses on, but he balls his pasty hand into a fist and punches me in the shoulder.

“No, wait! Put 'em on
after
you're in the Boneyard. So you can tell the difference.”

That, of course, will mean waiting at least five minutes until the rickety, limping carcass of a Dell PC in my room—the Relic, I call it—coughs itself back to life. I rub my arm in the meantime.

Cam fills the dead space with an endless spew of chatter.

Out front, the old man barks about the mail, like he's incapable of walking twenty-five feet to get it himself.

My eyes blur as I stare at the computer screen, waiting, blocking out the noise from the TV in the front room. I can hear Devin banging through the cardboard-grade wall that separates our rooms, feel the entire trailer rattle as my mom paces the back end of the hallway. The energy outside my room feels like just before an UnderWorld raid—all the crackle and sulfur of unleashed rage and the fear that everything's about to blow wide open.

I have a couple more minutes of wait time till the computer boots up.

“Don't touch anything,” I tell Cam. “I'll be right back.”

I ease the door open and hook a quick U-turn into Devin's room. He's pounding on the tray of his wheelchair.

“Hey,” I say, low and soft so he doesn't spook. “Hey, it's all cool, kid. Your cup's right here.”

I'm careful not to cover up the Batman logo on the side of the cup as I hold the sippy part against his lips. He hated Batman before the accident.
Any ten-year-old who likes superheroes is an ass-nugget,
he'd say.

Now it's the only cup he'll drink from.

Half the water goes into his mouth. The other half slides down his chin. I pat him dry with a soft cloth, pretending it's all water and no drool.

“You probably wanna go watch TV, huh?” I say. He can't nod or anything, but in my mind he does. “Maybe later,” I say. “After the old man calms down a little. Okay, kid? Want me to put some music on?”

He'd nod if he could—I know it—so I hit the power button on the radio, tune it back to the emo station he always listened to. The old man changes it to country every freakin' chance he gets. Can't even let Devin have this one little thing.

I smooth my brother's hair down before heading back to my room.

When I get there, Cam holds his hands up like proof he didn't touch anything. Which of course tells me he most likely did.

As soon as I sit back down, the Relic sputters itself into existence and I head straight for the Boneyard. I click the skull-and-crossbones icon, the one with the bullet-riddled military helmet that spins as the game loads agonizingly slow.

Suddenly my character screen blazes into existence, and massive relief washes over me. I pick T-Man, my only level-cap toon, and enter.

More waiting.

Out in the living room, the old man switches channels. Something ridiculous.
Promzillas
, if I had to guess.

On-screen, the load bar crawls past so slowly I want to punch something.

Cam yammers on about how I need a new computer, maybe an Alienware, like I have three large lying around under my mattress.

And then, finally, I'm in.

T-Man drops onto a dark road, and as soon as he's on the move, I put the glasses on.

“Whoa . . .”

“See? Right? See what I mean? It's sick, man, it's totally sick!”

I have to admit, they're pretty cool. Edges are sharper, colors are clearer, and there's almost a 3-D depth to scenery on-screen.

Comments fly by in the chat window, glowing and totally readable, not the blur it usually is. Raids are firing up everywhere. Everybody wants a piece of this battle, especially the special-bonus armor and the max-damage weps that drop if your platoon rocks UpRising.

I keep my eyes plastered to the screen, my hand near but not on the mouse. Close enough to touch if I have to.

Watch the comments fly by.

Psychobatter's on about some dumb bullshit. I wouldn't raid with that guy if I had to. He's an idiot.

Supershooter says he needs a shield tank. Super's in Tenth Warriors—pretty awesome platoon. Maybe I should drop in with them. But no. I promised Haze no raiding. Raiding's where I get a little lost sometimes.

Deathtoaliens claims 10/12 for UpRising.

LAST TUNNEL—need dps.

Last tunnel? Shit on a stick—somebody's that close? Wait a second. Death? Death's in Doomstalkers—that's
my
brigade.

Since when does Doomstalkers have a group that close to kicking UpRising?

I adjust the goggles, squint closely at the monitor. Seriously though. It's crazy how something so simple brings everything else into such intense focus.

Just when I think it can't get any cooler, I hear the old man squawk, “How many times are they gonna send us the same damn bills?” and suddenly my brigade chat window goes batshit crazy.

Deathtoaliens: T-Man! You in?

Bruisedozer: T-Man, dude, bring the heat.

Sixkindsofwhoopazz: T-Maaaaaaan!

“These are dope,” I tell Cam about the goggles, distracting myself so I'm not tempted to get pulled into the action.

My hands are adrenaline-shaking as the raid invites pop up. Eleven people, all begging for me to join. They need me to help break through to that last tunnel, take down the boss. We could do this, no question. It could be
our
screenshot on the forums. With one incomparable grenade launcher, I could kill anything in the game.

“My dad bought two pairs of those goggles,” Cam says. I just bet he did. One for Cam and one for himself, no doubt. The guy's a sixteen-year-old trapped in a thirty-five-year-old body.

BOOK: Ascending the Boneyard
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