"Astrid!" Madison gasped as she and Weston ran out onto the arena towards Astrid's suddenly limp body. Even Zack was panicking as he swooped to the ground, his wings dissolving with his ensemble to the clothes he wore that day.
"She's not hurt," said Chris calmly as he stepped out onto the arena towards them.
Then Astrid groaned and sat up, pressing the back of her head, mumbling, "Ow, ow. Must have passed out for a while."
"Oh, good . . ." Zack gasped in relief.
"But I lost, so it's your win, Zack," said Astrid with a huff as her own ensemble disappeared. "You were pretty good."
"Yeah, thanks," said Zack.
The doors opened at that moment. "Zack, come on," said Sky. "We're going out."
"Aren't you supposed to be busy today?" asked Zack, startled. "Or were you okay with just taking that threat report you got earlier as a joke."
"It's no joke, that's for sure," said Mikey, entering after Sky. "They're serious, since they've been plaguing us with with cyber attacks and threats."
"That's why, beforehand," said Sky, "let's get you a better computer than the one that I found out that you were using. Sorry Madison, Chris, Astrid! I'm skipping work for the rest of the day."
"That's not fair," Astrid grumbled.
"Don't worry, it's important," said Sky. "Weston, wanna come?"
Weston looked at Sky blankly before he blinked, then blurted out, "Uh - me? You're inviting me?"
"Okay, let's go," said Zack, catching hold of Weston by the shoulder and dragging him straight towards the door.
"You let me go first!" Weston demanded as he struggled against Zack. "And don't tear my jacket! It's expensive!"
Sky turned and rejoined Weston and Zack with Mikey.
"Lucky him, I should skip, too," said Astrid with a frown.
* * *
Zack stared down at a keypad connected to a hologram screen in an IT store already bustling with customers that Mikey and Sky had brought them to, with just a twenty-minute walk from the Organization. Now, Sky was wandering the store while Mikey had disappeared somewhere.
Then he turned to Weston. "I never knew what holograms were like."
"I feel really sorry for your dull life, Zack," said Weston.
"It wasn't dull, it was wicked."
Weston reached over to the hologram. "It's a touchscreen. Lots of people use holograms these days because they're lighter. And they're called holotops. What kind of laptop did you use, anyway? Apparently, it's something your brother didn't approve."
"An old second-hand hard laptop that's passed through hands since fifty years ago," said Zack. "It can't handle the technology that's the level of these days. I can kinda guess why Sky wanted to get me a better one."
"Really? An old device like that?" Weston stared at Zack.
"The Meteor Hole was pretty low-tech, except for Gladiators and some few stuff," said Zack. "But once I get this new one, I wonder what to do with it. I don't feel like throwing away its parts."
Weston snapped his fingers. "I know someone who would like junk, old wires, and computer parts. His name's Carter Trent. A genius when it comes to computers and robots."
"Yeah, I think you'll meet him soon, anyway. He's also a chief programmer at the Synchron Organization-"
"A chief programmer? I thought someone mentioned that Madison's the chief."
"There are three programming teams in rank in the Organization," said Sky. "And for those teams, there are chiefs. The first is under Madison's wing, the second it for Chris, the third is for Carter Trent."
"Just do you know, he's fifteen years old, a year older than us," said Weston.
"Genius?" said Zack. "So you employ kids, too, Sky?"
"Tried to kick him out when he broke into my office two years ago, but he convinced me in his skills, and I put him into the third team of programmers. He rose in rank to become the chief on his own."
"Chris is also a chief programmer, huh?" said Zack.
"Say, this Chris guy gave off a strange vibe," said Weston. "It's like he's also secretly tough, even though I only saw him move for a short time."
"Chris Hunter is his full name," said Sky.
"One of the legendary gamers and a Gladiator!" said Weston, startled.
"So that's him," said Zack. "He started out as a hacker who broke into Gladiators, and by the time he was caught, he was already powerful, but because he held Garrett Heaton fend off an enemy, he became a hero-"
"Then again, the story of the Ghost of Gladiators will never be known, because he never shows up in public, and now he's considered a myth," said Weston. "The Ghost was a famous nickname for him because no one knows what he looks like."
"You didn't believe the myth?" asked Zack.
"After getting shocked all morning about your new life here in Redwall, I'm gonna have to believe in those myths and see if they're true."
"Zack, I got something for you," Mikey called at the counter as he brought out a package.
"You act like you're the manager," said Zack, glancing at the cashier who was smiling at a young woman as he talked about the functions of one of those holotops. "You even went into the supplies room."
"In fact, I am," said Mikey. "I managed two jobs, as an errand runner for the Organization and a manager of this place. I just randomly decided to come here so I did." He opened the package, threw the box away carelessly, then handed a delicate red rectangle to him. "That's one of the latest holotops that was designed by the Organization itself."
Zack looked at it, letting it sit in one hand. It was light, but strong and just steady enough to balance in one hand. Sky tapped it once, and then a hologram screen opened up.
"Now, all you have to do is learn to use it," said Sky.
Zack stared at the screen.
Weston leaned over, then gawked: Zack was already logging into the Gladiators online game. "You go there first, out of every other place?"
Zack gave an embarrassed laugh. "Eheheh."
"That's what they call obsessive," said Sky, glancing at Mikey, who grinned.
Weston glanced at Sky, as Zack casually went through his gaming account. "What's that holotop for?"
"Something private, a backup plan," said Sky. "This was another reason why Zack wanted to come here, too."
"For a computer?"
"No, for Gladiators," said Sky. "That's what Zack wanted to do since he came, anyway. And - has he you told you about himself, as a Paladin?"
"Yeah. And I didn't even expect the person I admired the most to be his brother either," said Weston.
Sky smiled. "Nice to know, then. Zack and I had pretty strange lives, when we always went street fighting, and Zack had the habit of standing up to our opponents directly, which worried me a lot, because he practically stands out. I was worried about how he'll fare here, but his good point was being friendly. Also, I think the more you spend time with Zack, the more legends you'll meet. I'm not the only one, and neither is Chris."
Weston glanced over at Zack, who by now, was in the middle of a Gladiator battle against another gamer. "Maybe, a little too friendly."
"Hey, hey, hey, in the first place, how did you go online without connecting your holotop to Synchron?" Mikey suddenly demanded to Zack.
"Eheheh," Zack replied.
"Don't 'eheheh' me!"
"Don't bother him at this point," Sky sighed.
Then Zack looked up as his fingers tapped on the keypad. "Sorry, Mikey, did you say something?"
"When he laughs like that, just shows he's no longer in this world, daydreaming about Gladiators," said Sky
"So when I asked him about Gladiators, he didn't even hear me?" Weston scowled at Zack, who looked at the three of them with a face of confusion.
"Forget it," Weston sighed.