"Zack!" called Sky's voice from the arena. The young woman turned to him in surprise.
"Oh, Sky?" Zack looked at his brother. Rather, the two copies of his brother. One was looking at him; the other had its attention focused on him, but frozen in place.
"It really is you," said Sky with a grin, making Zack feel like curling over in depression. What, his always-absent older brother has forgotten what he looks like? That's sad.
"You okay? You look upset," said Sky, puzzled. "Did I say something?"
"No, that's okay," said Zack, waving his hand dismissively.
"So, now that you're here, what did you think of Redwall?" Sky stepped off the arena and approached him. The clothes he wore dissolved into black aura as soon as he got off the black glass arena and a dark blue suit appeared. His "copy", though, stood still in the arena, still dressed as Lunar.
"A little intimidating, I gotta say. It's bigger than the Meteor Hole." Zack grinned goofily.
The young woman sprang forward. "Oh, so you were Sky's younger brother! Zack, right?"
"Uh - yeah, Zack Kagan."
"Great, Zack Kagan, I hope Redwall's cool with you," said a young man, hurrying over. He was dressed in a green sports jacket and looked completely out of place compared to the young woman and Sky. "The name's Mikey."
Zack grinned at Mikey; he looked like a fun guy to hang around. Then he glanced at the arena. "Why's there another Lunar there?" He pointed at Sky's "copy" or whatever-it-was standing in the middle of the large black glass floor.
"That's a new part of Gladiators that we're adding," said the young woman. "We're calling it the Reflection program for now, but maybe we'll end up sticking to the name anyway. It's as it is, a reflection of the player itself, an exact copy of you recorded by the Synchron connection and then replayed as your opponent, only with that copy frozen in time. This reflection of Lunar - or Sky himself - is a frozen version that Sky's been testing for a while. In Gladiator form."
"So far, I'm no use for this phase yet, because I can't win against my own final move, and we cannot move on as long as that lasts," Sky mused. "We'll get through."
"Awesome," Zack stared at the Reflection. "It's also called Reflection because of the mirror-like cloning, right?"
"Exactly," said the young woman. "Oh, and by the way, I'm Madison."
"Oh, nice to meet you," said Zack. He looked at his brother's clone. "Frozen in time, huh?"
Sky stepped back into the arena, just as Zack felt a throb of aura from the clone that indicated that it was waking up from being paused in the middle of a fight.
"Sky, wait, get out of there! There's a sudden malfunction-" Madison began to shout, raising a screen in her hand, but the moment Sky put both feet onto the arena, the Reflection turned and charged directly at him.
Zack sprang in and grabbed Sky before jumping back, pulling his brother along with him.
The Reflection paused in midair.
"Thanks, Zack," gasped Sky, startled, but he managed to pat Zack gratefully.
"You're just lucky your brother's fast when it comes to moving," said Zack. "So this means you can't skip work yet? You're still going to stay here, right?"
Sky looked sorry. "Yeah, I'm afraid I can't skip work today. This project's got to finish soon, but there's a lot of bugs to get sorted out here, too. No - I think it'll also take up the rest of this week, but when I'm taking a break, I'll call you up to chat, 'kay? Sorry that I keep being the kind of guy who disappears . . ." That last sentence ended in the air on a low voice.
Zack couldn't help laughing. "You're a Rank Gladiator, for God's sake. And you have your time. My own brother isn't the type to forget people too easily, anyway. I'll leave my pack here, then call me back when you're going home, 'cause I have nowhere to settle for tonight unless I get kicked out and I camp down in the city."
Sky allowed himself a chuckle. "Sure."
"If you're going to look for me, I'll be in the dome arena. I'll try to get access to Gladiators so I could play. Later!" Zack trooped out.
"You can get along with your brother despite your distance, huh?" said Madison, who straightened his arms and approached a desk of computers sitting outside the edge of the arena.
"No, he's more understanding than I can be," said Sky. "There was a time that I haven't seen him for three years and yet when I meet him after that, he was still acting familiar with me, and I can't let that happen anymore. And he's still growing anyway."
"It also includes him being a Gladiator, too, right?" said Mikey with a frown.
"Thanks to Garrett's help, Zack's more optimistic, and stronger," said Sky, smiling in self-pity. "Sometimes, I feel rather lonely when I realized that half my current life had been spent fighting for my life and his, and Synchron's. But he is stronger than when I last left him." Then he frowned. "Mikey, can you follow him to the Dome?"
"I heard the Dome Keeper there is really strict with the rules. And - since he's going there - the way Zack spoke sounded as if he was going to get in for the second time despite getting kicked out."
"Oh, right, that part about Weston going berserk and destroying the dome while fighting intruding Gladiators?" said Mikey. He spun to the door. "You mean your brother is an obsessive person about Gladiators? You're asking me to sign him in before Weston goes nuts? Warn me earlier!" He ran out the door.
* * *
Zack looked back at the Dome Keeper, who looked pretty miffed to see him again a few minutes after he had gone off. He'd been caught wandering around the inside of the dome looking wistfully at empty portal capsules when the Keeper found him.
"I believe I told you to leave, right?" the Keeper asked.
"I said I wanted to Gladiate," said Zack. "Was there a problem?"
"Yes, there is. I'm sure you won't mind me throwing you out again?"
"Actually, I mind it." Zack sighed. "So tell me how I could get in to Gladiate."
The Dome Keeper frowned at him. "I'll need you to show me your Redwall citizenship. Ten I'll sign you up here."
"So this done here requires players to sign themselves up rather than play freely, huh?" said Zack. "Isn't that rather inconvenient?"
"That's the rules decided from the Synchron Organization, for Redwall. Other countries don't need those rules because Redwall's a constant victim when tougher players are going to travel here. Some are even malevolent hackers."
Zack frowned. "Well . . .I mentioned that I just arrived some time ago, but . . . well, this further proves I'm still a tourist to Redwall."
"Then get out!"
The Keeper now looked irritated and raised his right hand. With a sharp flick of his arm, a knife slid out from underneath his jacket's sleeve into his hand. Despite the fact that the clothes the Keeper wore was a rather neat and expensive suit, and the knife's sheath didn't bulk the jacket's sleeve.
The Keeper attacked Zack, who barely noted the fluidity of his movements until Mikey and his green sports jacket shoved him straight into a portal capsule and the doors closed over him, dissolving into a million characters of gibberish. He was gone.
The Keeper stared, then whirled to Mikey.
"Whoa, whoa, let him be an exception, Weston," said Mikey, holding up both hands.
"I've got to treat every Gladiators here in this dome fairly. Special treatment isn't for outsiders."
"He's not a bad guy, I can tell," said Mikey. "Cool off for a minute first, then I'll tell you."
Weston lowered his knife, and they looked at the empty capsule Zack had disappeared in.
"Well . . . he's already in Gladiators now," he sighed. 'he must be joyfully running around looking for an opponent if he's really desperate that you pushed him in. Now the problem is how to get him back out."
Mikey stopped. "Oh, right, the passage code for returning here, right?" In answer to Weston's grim nod, he smacked his forehead. "Damn!"
Then Zack reappeared in the same capsule he'd disappeared in, and the doors slid open. "All right, okay, who's responsible for throwing me into the capsule?" He looked more irritated than Weston had been.
Mikey and Weston were staring at Zack.
"Wait - you - how did you-" Weston stuttered.
"I already know what Redwall's portal return codes are," said Zack. "Release Code 4175, right?" Then he saw Mikey. "Oh, so that was you."
"And I thought you were going to start taking time in Gladiators by now!" Mikey blurted.
"Well, this Dome Keeper wants to settle things by fighting, but I was about to say I'll do it the proper way: signing up, getting a citizenship, et cetera. I'm not going to get in with shortcuts."
Weston looked at him in surprise.
"Then I guess it was my mistake thinking that you weren't going to be find on your first day," said Mikey, and turned to Weston. "Well, you heard him, Weston. Let's go have him registered and signed up."
"Fine," Weston sighed.
"Oh, Weston's your name, huh?" Zack looked at him in interest. "I'm Zack." He held out his hand.
Then he noted Mikey staring at his wrist. For a moment, he let Mikey stare at the silver chain that wrapped his wrist with a silver key hanging on it, made of what looked like silver, with a triangle end.
"Is that charm your Gladiator's key?" Mikey finally asked.
Zack looked at it, then freed the key, holding it in front of them with a grin. "My Gladiator weapon, Galadhar."
At that, Weston grabbed his wrist.
"Ow, that hurts!" Zack protested.
"Galadhar, you say?" Weston demanded. "You're Galadhar?"
"Uh - yes?"
"What level are you?"
Weston shoved him back towards the portal. "The real one, right?"
"What's your problem now?" Zack protested, startled by the sudden tensity in Weston's eyes.
"Meet me in an arena now," said Weston in a commanding tone. "I'll Gladiate you. To see if you're the real Galadhar, the one rumored to be a fast rising presence in the gaming industry." Weston frowned hard at him. "Take it seriously, Zack. If you do, I'll let you come here anytime you want, and you're free to do anything except harm other players here."
Zack slowly smiled. "A challenge, huh?"
This will be fun."