Mehkai's binder has almost twice as many cards as mine does, but mine are more valuable, I think. His has a lot of duplicates and sometimes kids have duplicates of the rare ones but mostly if you have duplicates it just means the card isn't that great.
Anyway, here's Mehkai with this card "Starstruck" that he's got four of and his punk ass is trying to trade that plus a "Rollercoasting" and a "Waterslider" for my "Neighbor Lady". Kids have been trying to get at Neighbor Lady ever since I pulled it from a first edition pack I got for my twelfth birthday and right now I'm telling Mehkai the same thing I told every one of those rubes:
"No way, man. Lady is life."
"Come on man! It's three-for-one! I thought we were friends?"
"Right. And friends don't try to rip friends off."
Mehkai groans, his eyes rolling upward as if he's at all surprised by my refusal. "Fine. Can I at least Neurolex it once?"
"Nice try. If I re-register it to your Neurolex, you just won't let me register it back. And there will be nothing I can do because it'll legally be yours. Oldest trick in the book, Kai."
"I told you, we're friends. I wouldn't do that."
"That's what Khalid said right before he jacked my hi-def Powder Mountain."
"Liar! You never had a Powder Mountain!"
"Sure I did. Ask Khalid."
Mehkai's eyes widen. "Shit. You at least get to Neurolex it first?"
"Hell yeah I Neurolexed it."
My grin is halfhearted, a mix of fondness at the memory and the sadness that it will never happen again. I remember pulling the Mountain alone in my room after school from a pack I'd scammed off some sixth-grader for a bag of sour gummy worms. It had been the first Action Rare I'd ever owned and I immediately slipped off the silicone strip on the side of my head covering the port to my Neurolex and slid the card inside. Then I heard the shrill deep-buh-leep sound of the Neurolex accepting the card and two seconds later I--
--find myself on a ski lift, ascending a crystal-white mountainside against a light snowfall. Strapped to one of my boots is one end of a snowboard; the other end dangles in the air as the lift rises higher and higher.
I've never been on a slope before, but thanks to the Neurolex and the programming of the Powder Mountain card, I know exactly what to do. As the lift crests over its apex, I shift the free side of the board back and stomp on it with my left foot, bracing myself to release railing on the bench. I let go, sliding forward onto the snow and curving the board to the left for a burst of controlled momentum. Having cleared the lift, I pause to strap my loose foot onto the snowboard, and after that I shuffle to the edge of the nearest drop. Just looking down would be enough to make most kids my age crap their pants, but the Neurolex knows exactly what to do and therefore so do I. Without hesitation, I lean forward and take the drop.
The feeling is incredible.
Sliding at exhilarating speeds, I take every turn like an expert, linking them seamlessly while carving a path toward the mountain's base. I dodge trees and leap over rocks. I draw momentum from shallow snow ramps to gain some mad air, occasionally grabbing my board during suspension just to show off. Finally, nearing the bottom, I cruise up to a larger ramp, this one big enough to send me ten or twelve feet into the air, big enough to let me throw in a couple of backflips before finally coasting down the rest of the mountain, at which point--
--the Neurolex ejected the card and I was suddenly back in my room, breathless. I'd Neurolexed rare cards before, but they'd all been Vision Rares like the "Earthbound" one that shows you a meteor landing in a desert on a starry night, or "Bestiarus", which lets you see a fight between a Roman gladiator and an armored bear. Action Rares, though, are different: they don't just let you see things, they let you experience them. Swear to God, if I ever get my hands on another Powder Mountain, I'm hanging onto that sucker.
"Yeah," I tell Mehkai. "It was pretty sweet."
"Sweeter than Neighbor Lady?"
I close the binder and shove it in my backpack. "Lady is life. No deal."
"Not even," he says, flipping to the very last plastic sleeve in the final plastic-coated page of his own card binder, "for this?"
He takes out something that may not be Powder Mountain, but it's just as good, maybe better.
It's an Action Rare called "Battle Royale".
I've never gotten into a fight before, and if I ever did there is exactly zero chance I would win short of being challenged by a kindergartner taking on a triple-dog-dare. Naturally, it's something I've always wanted to do, something every boy wants to do because he thinks he needs to in order to become a man. So before I know it I'm taking the Neighbor Lady card out of its casing and asking Mehkai to let me Neurolex it one more time before we make the trade.
"No problem," he says. "I kinda wanna Neurolex mine one last time too."
We slide the cards into our brains and Mehkai's Neurolex takes him to some back alley where he gets to go all Bruce Lee on a gang of street thugs while mine brings me to a large illuminated bay window with the curtains carelessly left open by a thirtysomething woman who has just finished showering and is walking around the room in only a towel. Right as she's about to drop the towel and get changed, the Neurolex ejects the Neighbor Lady and in the next few minutes, we go through the process to register Mehkai as its new owner.
And just like that, the moment is gone, never to be experienced again, and I can't help but wonder if I've just let go of another Powder Mountain.