The Game: Chapter 14.2

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Chapter 14.2

Reconstitution was as nauseating as logging in for the first time.

James felt his consciousness form an instant before his body—a long, terrifying second during which he was returning not as a man, but a ghost. Then the floor was solidly under his feet and he leaned forward against the wall, the cool smoothness of the stone confirming that he was alive.

The layered paradox of life and death in a virtual world was too much to contemplate upon resurrection. The veins in his temples were pulsing and a strange tenderness lingered where his leg had been slashed. It was more painful now than before.

When the world went from spinning like a top to spinning like a slower top, James staggered a few steps out of the room, managing not to collide face-first with the opposite wall. Casey was leaning nearby, looking as haggard as he felt.

"Heya, Prez." A sickly smile. "Recon is a total b-word."

James closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. "I'm sorry."

"Huh?"

"I'm the reason we lost."

"Aw, man. Don't get all crazy." James opened his eyes to the rekindling of Casey's brilliant grin. "We got second outta like two hundred teams, dude! Pretty dang awesome if y'all ask me."

"Next time, I'll take it more seriously."

"You'll still play with me, even though I couldn't stop 'em?"

"You almost beat a freak like Kerrigan while fighting one against two. A weakling like me couldn't find a better teammate in a billion years."

"Aw ... thanks, Prez ... dang, I'm blushin." Casey cleared her throat and frowned. "Y'all ain't weak, though. People got different strengths, right? Yours just ain't fightin."

"That's basically the definition of weak."

"I'm not good with words 'n stuff." Casey shrugged apologetically. "Just sayin, like ... to me, you're strong."

"How's that?"

"Dunno." Casey winced as she shrugged again, feeling around for a wound on her shoulder. "That's why when you were all sad ... I sorta felt somethin real bad musta happened ... 'n I'm bad at talkin 'bout important things, so it's hard, y'know?" She stared into the upper reaches of the chamber for inspiration. "Wait ... yeah. Sky." She toyed with her hair. "Wings! Yeah, yeah!"

"Sky?" James said. "Wings?"

Casey jerked back to the present. "Oh. Like, went into song mode for a sec. When it's music, my brain works different. You're comin to the concert, right?"

"Speaking of, shouldn't you be getting ready? It's in less than four hours."

"Aw, dang. Gotta hurry." Casey levered herself off the wall, pinwheeling for balance until James steadied her. "Man, recon sucks. You gotta head back down to the arena 'n accept the prize 'cause you're the captain, 'kay? And later we gotta celebrate, right?"

"Right." James held her elbow and guided her out the door.

Casey scratched her head, deeply breathing the outside air like she had just woken from a brutal hangover. Then she stretched, yawned, and said, "Well, I'm outie!" She turned left and took a few staggering steps, then turned again and headed in the other direction. "Hahaha, don't even know where I'm goin. Dang."

Before getting far, she turned back. "Oh, uh ... hey, Prez..."

"Yeah."

"Thanks. Even Kana won't do tourneys with me, 'n she's my best friend."

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