A Warning

“I never tried burgers, I should eat them more,” said Weston as he and Zack walked towards the Synchron Organization.

“I'm surprised you never ate them,” said Zack, amused. “Fast food was common in my home city.”

“Really,” said Weston. “Over here, you can have anything. Fast food, expensive food, gourmet . . . I go for expensive stuff, usually.”

“You gotta have a lot of money for that,” said Zack.

“Well, duh, I'm the heir of a family with a huge fortune,” said Weston. “In other words, I'm rich.”

Zack stared at Weston. “You live in a mansion?”

“A skyscraper.” Weston looked up at the sky from where they stood. “There. That one.” He pointed to a tall, pyramid tower with glass walls and a flat top instead of a point. “That's my home. I built that three years ago.”

“Y-you . . . built it?”

“Yeah. I designed and furnished everything. My whole family lives there. It's actually a renovation of our last mansion, which my grandfather designed. Since Grandpa's house was too long it was more like a castle on Redwall, I made it tall, and everyone moved there. Now, Grandpa's house is a hotel and tourists stay there. You don't have a place to stay, do you? That's the biggest hotel on Redwall that you can stay at.”

“I have my brother's home to freeload at, although I haven't seen it, because I'd gone and fainted,” said Zack. “But – it's here, I guess.” He nodded to the Synchron Organization building as they stopped outside it.

“Okay, now that's another mansion, but nobody uses it as their living quarters unless they're an important employee like the Director of the Synchron Organization.” Weston looked up at the three buildings with the dome suspended in the center. “And you can't be living here, because it's also an office building, isn't it?”

“I guess I'll ask my brother later." Zack frowned. "He's told me a lot about living here in Redwall. Wanna meet him? I've got to see him, anyway. And apologise to him. And apparently, I can't call him because he took it away before I woke up. According to a nurse.”

“Zack! Weston!” called a voice as they entered, and they turned to see Mikey approaching them. For the first time to Zack, he'd noticed how loud Mikey's voice was.

“Hi, Mikey!” asked Weston.

“I'm good, and looks like Zack seems fine,” said Mikey. “You came to look for Sky? He was worried about you, you know. To the point that he couldn't work well on the Reflection program.”

“Really?” said Zack, startled. “He should've just worked harder on it then I'll be rushing back to the game to be the first to play it!”

“Actually, battling against a mirror of yourself is much harder,” said Mikey. “Sky got blown up again today and he's taking a breather in his office. You were going to see him, right? You know the way to his office?”

"Nope. Um - lead the way?"

Mikey grinned.

The three went into an elevator and when the dial turned to the number 53, they stepped out.

“That was so long,” Zack looked back at the lift. “Sky's office is really high?”

“The Director's office is high,” said Mikey as they headed down the corridors.

“Huh? Wait, what did you say?” said Weston.

“I said, the Director's office is high,” said Mikey.

“The . . . Director?” said Weston, startled.

“Yeah, that's my brother,” said Zack.

“Your brother is the Director, Sky Travers?” said Weston. “Wait, wait a minute, your brother is a Rank Gladiators . . . you're the current Paladin . . . your predecessor was Garrett Heaton . . .”

“Uh – yeah,” said Zack. “Something wrong?”

“How did someone like get blessed with meeting heroes?”

“Through my brother?”

“Your brother can't be the Director!”

“Here's the office, Zack,” said Mikey, standing at a door, knocking.

The door opened, and they entered.

“Zack, I heard you were discharged?” said Sky, looking right at Zack as they entered. He appeared to have been pacing his office. Madison was with him, too.

“Yeah, I'm good,” said Zack, grinning as he approached his brother.

And Sky swung his hand, cuffing Zack on the head. “You seriously worried me there when I heard you passed out, you know."

“Sorry, sorry about that,” said Zack.

Then Sky noticed Weston, and smiled. “You're Weston Ingram, aren't you? You took care of my brother, didn't you?” Sky raised his hand.

“Uh – yeah . . .” said Weston, staring at Sky. Then shook Sky's hand nervously. “Well – he was no problem like some of the other Gladiators – but he could use a few manners – uh, you're – Sky Travers? A Rank Gladiator?” Now, he'd changed from hesitant to excited. “I didn't think I'd meet you here as as the Director of the Synchron Organization! I've been a – I don't know, a huge fan? An avid fan? Anyway, I think you're the greatest Gladiator in the virtual reality world.”

Abrupt silence.

“Okay . . .” said Sky, suddenly laughing.

“You sure you're a huge fan of my brother?” asked Zack, smirking. “That sounded weird.”

“Oh, shut it!” said Weston, suddenly irritated. Then he stopped. “What's that?” He looked at a huge screen that was on the wall behind Sky's desk. It was a video of two avatars fighting each other, though no one seemed to be paying attention to it.

Zack noted that it was a replay of Sky fight against his reflection.

“Just observing it,” said Sky. “It isn't going well as it's supposed to be. We're now having two more Gladiators fighting their own reflections, too.”

“Let's go to the Dome arena,” said Madison. “And Mikey, you're needed, too.”

“Okay, but first, I gotta to talk to Sky,” said Mikey.

Once Madison, Zack, and Weston were gone, Sky relaxed into his seat.

"Cyber attack reports?" asked Sky, as Mikey handed him a sheaf of papers.

"Aye," said Mikey, leaning against the desk. "And this is happening even while the Core Gladiators aren't gathered yet."

"We only have the Paladin and the Whisperer, though," said Sky. "Who we have to look for is the same person that Garrett's now looking for, and probably another person we're going to have a hard time getting to our side. You remember how Rune was back then?"

"Don't wanna remember," said Mikey, dropping his head. "That - tyrant!"

Sky smiled. "This cyber threat . . . how long has it been going on again?"

"Three months since it began that it feels like a joke now." Mike looked up. "Knowing how the codes of the Synchron connection work, they're not joking. The enemy is real, and thanks to Keller, I got information about them. They're an organization like ours, and it's almost scary how they're like a copy of our people."

“Like 'Theta'?” asked Sky. When Mikey didn't answer, he said, “That's what I was afraid of.”

“Well, glad you never let your guard down, even around a joke,” said Mikey. “Skip to the last page of the report. There's their message, and the conditions. Their rules, or Gladiators shall collapse and become theirs. By the way, the enemy's logo is there, too.”

Sky went to the last page of the reports and read it.

Regarding this year's Gladiator Games, we would like you, the Synchron Organization, to assign the Euphoria Association as one of the sponsors. We are able to meet with the terms and deals of the Games, starting with the selection games. We feel that we would be of help to you in providing gamers who wish to Gladiate as well. We have our own personal reasons, which we do not feel a need to disclose to you, but if you do not accept us, a virus will infect the Synchron Core, and the first Gladiator who tries to sync with his weapon or use his powers, that person will fall into a random illness and die.

“Euphoria Association . . .” Sky murmured. "This just feels like a gentle request, but they back it up with Gladiators' destruction."

“EAS for short,” said Mikey. “ Euphoria is a sub-laboratory, training facility, and a Synchon organizer for random challenges. Training facility for Synchon users.”

“I see,” said Sky, amused. “So it's either we accept them, or let our players die. Is that it? But seeing this . . . means that they have a reason and – if told to us – we would not like it at all.”

The End

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