The rotorless chopper whirred over waters so fundamentally blue and opaque at the same time, they made Lenny's eyes hurt. Powerful turbo engines thrummed behind securely insulated plexisteel as he sat there, looking awe-struck at the view with his mother. They were going to celebrate her 60th birthday on an island just outside Hong Kong, a way for him to thank her for a lifetime of sacrifice and accommodating his often foolhardy whims and decisions.
They had an excellent vantage point from which to take in the spectacular view, and Lenny's mom was impressed. He knew because she kept commenting and asking questions, which meant she was really into it.
"So that's the new building we saw on TV?"
"Yeah, look at that!"
In 2049, Hong Kong finally managed to get some limelight focused on it again thanks to completing the world's first one kilometer tall structure, an office and residential project of immense proportions, towering over neighbors with majestic recklessness. Some thought it wouldn't last, expected it to keel over under saddled vanity, but four years went by and still it stood erect. Lenny loved it. He always wondered how come it took so long to reach the 1000 meter mark. The huge building prodded skies pearlescent beyond words. They seemed ripped from a postcard, unreal. The day was bright, almost achingly so, and every hue stood out. Lenny knew the city beneath them went through some tough, trying times not long ago, but that was besides the point. They were here to vacation on a remote, private island resort, not tackle socio-political issues.
"Aren't they afraid to work and live on that thing? Remember the terrorist era?"
"I wouldn't worry about it. Those days are long gone, mom. And tax money pays for everything, even tall buildings. You're paying for it, too. That island ain't cheap", he said.
"This city is nothing like back home. So impressive and perfect. We always wanted to come here, remember?", she turned back to the window, gazing outside like a wide-eyed child. Lenny loved her then pristinely, with purity. And they did always talk about visiting, ever since he managed to get back on the employment horse and generate cash flow. Work mostly felt like murder, but was worth everything if it allowed them moments like this.
Red boats and purple barges plied the waters below, leaving foamy trails over which seagulls zoomed hurriedly.
"Dear guests, this is Captain Harrison, we'll be landing in under ten minutes. Please remain seated", a voice called from embedded speakers.
Lenny reached under their seats, pulling out two carry on bags. He handed his mom one, and she put it on her lap, sitting straight and patiently, waiting for landing. She didn't enjoy flying too much.
PingAir, the carrier, promised punctuality and courtesy. Both were in acceptable supply, so Lenny took a few minutes to fill out an electronic customer feedback form, consulting his mother on most of the questions.
Less than ten minutes later, they were descending into lush foliage, with Hong Kong a glimmering hulk of urbane humanity somewhere on the horizon. The chopper touched down softly, and a small clearing filled the window.
"Do we need to go through customs and immigration?", asked his mom as they stood up to disembark.
"No, all islands around here are neutral and don't require any form of I.D, if you have the right connections, that is", he smiled.
"You always know so many people wherever you go." His mom smiled back.
Outside, clouds were beginning to hover overhead. A slight wind wafted among the palm trees and tall grass. The clearing was empty save for them, the chopper, and Captain Harrison.
"Where to now? Do you know the way?", asked his mom.
"I guess we ought to talk to the captain, I'm not sure which way the resort is. There should be taxis here."
Captain Harrison stood there, looking at them jovially. "Why are you here, folks? Didn't you rather check out the city?"
"No, we came here for the resort," said Lenny.
"Resort? Maybe you have the wrong island. This used to be a training facility. Sports."
"Lenny, what is he talking about? Did we get on the right flight?" That worried edge he feared so much as a child crept into her voice, just a tad.
"OK, let's find you people a server. They usually have some available, or an aimbot, even. Those will be perfect for guiding you around the island. Too bad you didn't check with us first, before getting on the chopper."
Lenny so wanted to get this vacation right, for a change. His mom didn't allow others to pamper her so easily, and the opportunity may never arise again.
They followed Captain Harrison up a narrow trail. It buzzsawed through the jungle-like underbrush, and apparently crossed several pockets of insect overpopulation, for all the noise they made. Lenny carried his mom's carry-on despite her protests. They didn't bring anything else. The brochure specifically said to travel light.
"Are you sure we're going the right way? Maybe you should ask him again."
"Mom, just wait, we'll get there. Don't worry." But inside he was afraid again. He thought fear was a thing of the past, but there it was.
The trail ended at a door the color of old rust. It was built into the side of a green, rolling hill.
Harrison looked around. "No aimbot. Perhaps the servers are all indoors today. It's like that occasionally."
"Are we where we wanted to go?", Lenny's mom asked the captain.
"Don't know, ma'am. Ask in here, they'll tell you. I have to go, there's lots more crossings to make. Take care now."
Without looking back, he went down the trail.
"Excuse me, you can't leave us here. Lenny, he can't leave us here, we don't know where this is!"
"Hey! Captain!", Lenny cried out, but the guy was gone. "Mom, please don't worry. I'm positive the board said this was the flight."
"Does it look like the resort might be hiding behind this door, Lenny? Give me my bag, please." He did, and she clutched it like a frightened little girl.
Light was quickly fading all around them. Insect voices emanated from everywhere.
"I think we should go inside. See who we can ask."
"OK", she said, quietly.
"Do you need to go?" His mom typically relied on restrooms when on the road. She peed copiously as a traveler.
"No, I'm fine for now. Quite unusual." She was still holding her bag with that innocent stance that always broke Lenny's heart.
The door opened on a broad expanse littered with rusty hulks of ancient machinery, boulders, trees and various lean-to's. Rapid gunfire erupted in the near distance.
"Lenny, what is this place?"
"Don't be afraid, mom. We'll find our way. Let's go, it's getting dark."
As they started, two large individuals rounded a particularly scraggy-looking group of shrubs and stared them down. They were very tall, both clad in camouflage military BDU's, and carried enough ammo to end several major skirmishes. Lenny's mom shrieked, he just froze in place. The bigger of the two soldiers trotted with what Lenny recognised as a Waltech 226 squad assault weapon, the ones that dealt out cobalt-tipped projectiles. With a booming roar, both opened fire on Lenny and his mom. He held her close in his arms, dropping his bag, once and for all damning himself for getting her into another mess.
But the screaming ammo went through them unfelt, detonating loudly on the door beyond.
"What the fuck?", asked the smaller troop.
"They're ghosts. Man, this place sucks butt, in my honest opinion, of course. Can't we find anyone to kill?", he laughed out loud. They left, as sudden as their arrival.
"Mom! Are you OK? Please, talk to me!"
Lenny's mom shivered in his grasp, sobbing softly, and proceeded to inspect her son. "Forget about me, are you hurt?". She kept frisking him for hidden bullet holes.
"No, I'm OK, too. Mom, stop, there's nothing wrong with me."
"What kind of place is this, Lenny?"
"Shhh, it'll be all right. Don't worry. We'll figure it out."
They began moving away from the door, taking their miniscule luggage. Shots and exclamations englufed them from all directions, but nobody else was in sight.
"We were shot at, Lenny. But nothing happened to us!". Just then, the shock of what transpired evidently wore off enough to remind them that they were completely clueless and lost.
"Hey, where you think you're going?" The voice came from behind them. Three people. In the middle stood an attractive young woman, armed with an M4 and donning a purple beret. She was flanked by two brutes of formidable proportions. "Are you the new people?"
"Yes, we just got here. Where are we? And what's going on?" replied Lenny.
"Please, how do we get to the resort? We must have arrived here by mistake", added his mom.
"Resort? Oh, that. Some of the other islands have resorts, you can always move there later. For now, why not join in the fun? I'm Minerva, these are Lt. Corpse and Rubber Bag", she motioned with her thumb to the two behemoths. They smiled slyly.
"Join you in what?"
"Are those even your real names?" asked his mom.
"Fighting. Till the next rotation."
"My mom can't fight!", cried Lenny. He looked at his mother then. She looked back with tear-drenched eyes. Decades of heartfelt nurturing stared right at him via those eyes. "No way, we need to get off the island and reach the resort. I promised my mom a vacation, dammit!" he bellowed.
"Relax. You will get there. The vacation you people planned for will happen. It's just that there's no way for you to leave until the next rotation. That's when the timer runs out, and the chopper comes back to where it dropped you off." She pointed in the door's direction. "Door won't open unless you rack enough points."
Lenny thought it over. He did once ponder the merits of joining with odd military outfits. Special Ops. "Sure, I'll do it. If there's no other way. But my mom..."
"She can spectate."
"Spectate?", Lenny and his mom uttered simultaneously.
"Of course. But you, my friend, must choose a side. Us or the other group?"
"We'll go with you," decided Lenny.
"Cool." Minerva appeared pleased.
Another shot rang out, this time in close proximity. Rubber Bag's head shook momentarily, and he dropped to the leaf-covered ground.
Lenny's mom shrieked again. He looked on sheepishly.
"Nice shot," bestowed Lt. Corpse.
"Don't think so." Minerva began probing their surroundings. "Camper in the trees!" She opened fire at a towering palm tree fifty meters away. Someone fell to the ground like a heedless sack of onions.
And Rubber Bag came panting out of nowhere.
Lenny's mom looked at him quizzically. "Weren't you just shot in the head?"
"Happens a lot, ma'am, woudn't worry about it too much".
Minerva interjected. "OK people, let's boogy. They're about ready to add Skrudds into the mix any minute now. For you newbies, Skrudds are ten feet tall, cover forty yards to a bound, and laugh in the face of danger and everything other than a 50mm pulse machine gun. Hurry!"
They reached an intricately woven pattern of trenches and bunkers just as darkness coated the freakish island. Within, servers guided Lenny and his mom to the spectators lounge, where she could wait for him while he went out to fight. Apparently lots of mothers did just that as their children rampaged through the kill zone. Lenny got a homey vibe off the large, well-appointed space. He kissed his mom and promised to come back shortly. In the meantime, she seemed to be fine hanging out and talking to everyone else's moms and the occasional dad.
"Cut the sentimental content, Lenny. You can come to the lounge whenever you want in between sessions." Minerva looked at him crossly.
They followed another server to the armory just as a group of warriors entered to rearm. "Good game, dude!" uttered one dressed as an alpine raider to his cohort.
"He kinda sticks out, doesn't he?", asked Lenny.
"Unfortunately, it takes all sorts to maintain a balanced fight. Now, choose your weapon. I suggest something hefty for the Skrudds."
He opted for an automatic grenade launcher/50 cal sniper rifle combo of disproportionate design. "Will this do?"
"Give me strength", said Minerva while looking heavenward.
They went out. At first Lenny fell prey to Skrudd patrols and cool-headed snipers hiding in every terrain element. But soon thereafter old instincts awakened, grafting his body with swift, cunning finesse and an ability to anticipate opponents. He also learned the various parts of the island. Those were known simply as maps. After a while, it didn't even hurt to die any longer, and he assigned more time for visits with his mom at the lounge, which she seemed to really enjoy. He could also take out enemies with increased creativity, using grenades or even just a little old knife.
Soon, he forgot all about the resort, his problems in the life he previously lead, and the passage of time. When Minerva informed him and his mom that they could depart, they were both shocked. Has it been that long?
So they took their little bags, bid farewell to friendships recently forged, and walked toward the door just as it opened, revealing two wide-eyed, obviously petrified people coming in from the pacific outdoors. A frightened woman and her son. Behind them, Captain Harrison stood by the chopper, grinning like a rascal feline.
"Mom, do you feel like staying here a little longer? I'm really having fun."
She patted his cheek with love and deep emotion. "Sure, Lenny. I'd love to stay."
"I mean, we can always leave. The resort will be there. And I'm getting better at this. Don't you think?"
"Of course. You're doing fine, Lenny. You're doing fine." They embraced.
The rotorless chopper whirred. More ghosts were coming.
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