Early Strike

It had been three weeks since Zack moved to Redwall, and he seemed to have settled down and gotten used to the city, though it was a little hard for him to do so. The problem was that he was always expecting someone to appear out of nowhere in front of him on the streets and attack him.

Sky frowned at his computer, a wall with three hologram screens showing several videos of his fights against himself in the Reflection program, and three keyboards arranged on his desk, frowning as he thought about that.

I suppose that will pass, soon, he thought, sipping from a mug of hot coffee that Madison had made earlier.

Madison was looking down at a pink holotop, studying the same program, sitting at a couch with a coffee table arranged in his large, spacious office. The two occasionally worked in the same place, Madison using the coffee table, only if she needed his opinion on the project she was working on. If not, she always stuck to her own office with her job as an assistant, outside his own office, or with her team on the lower floor working on another program or a new landscape model.

There was a loud storm of footsteps coming from outside, and then Mikey burst in.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said, staring at Sky, who jumped up in surprise at the unexpected visit. "You moved the selections to two weeks from now? Do you know what you're doing, Sky? With that cyber attacker hanging over us?"

The selections; an set of games that tests Gladiators and where officials from the Synchron Organization would choose Gladiators to enter the Gladiator Games, an event also created by the Organization that resembled the Olympic Games, but more for virtual reality gamers, one that occured annually, involved teams of Gladiators, and had nothing to do with sports. It usually involved Gladiators fighting each other to get a higher rank, and it didn't matter who was stronger; as long as a team was able to work together and rise the most among other Gladiators, and beat their opponents.

For events like the selections and the Games, though, the Organization would accept sponsors, and out of all those who offered to help, the Director, in this case, Sky Travers, would be the one deciding whose help he would accept.

Even though the selections usually occurred in early summer, while the Games would soon happen in the early October, Sky, for some reason, had moved it up to late April this year.

In other words, in two weeks' time.

"That's rushing it too far!" said Mikey. "Also, isn't it too early?"

"I . . . guess," said Sky. "I even printed out a rough draft of the new rules I want to have implemented in the selections and the Games this year. I sent one to you by email, too. What did you think?"

Mikey glanced at Madison, looking indignant.

"Save your breath, I already scolded him, but he didn't bother to change anything," she said.

Mikey pulled out a phone, anyway. "Okay, the rules for the selections and the Gladiator Games are as is:

  1. Gladiators who wish to enter the Games must be Level 65 and above
  2. They must gather 700 Credits
  3. They must have a Redwall pass to travel to different countries for the Games
  4. They must not be employees of the Synchron Organization or any of its other sponsors
  5. They must give up knowing what level they have reached if they wish to enter the Games, starting as soon as they sign up for the selections, so the better for the officials of the Synchron Organization to choose who shall enter the Games during the selections

"Okay, Rules number 1 and 5 are new, and absurd," said Mikey. "I mean, let's start with No.1: you remember four or five years ago? I was Level 48 when I entered the Games, for goodness sake! There was never a rule that strictly put a number that the Gladiators must be!"

"What Level was I at that time?" Sky mumbled.

"Level 47! And furthermore, you're not letting them know how high they're going to go throughout the selections? You know how long the selections take? Another two weeks! How long will someone at Zack's level take to reach Level 65? And Madison, why didn't you try to convince this birdbrain not to do it?"

"I tried, but then we've got only two weeks to prepare for the selections, so we're in the middle of rush-hour. Only Chris had nothing to complain about and now he's gone off to hold a conference with other branches of the Organization to announce it, and the new rules." Madison frowned.

"Chris isn't the type to complain, and he's never played in the Games, anyway," said Mikey. He smacked his hand against his forehead. "Sky, your brother's gonna join, too, right? The Games."

"Yeah. I already got him a Redwall pass, just in case he has the courage to do it."

"What about him? How long does it take for him to pass ten levels?" asked Madison.

Sky smiled, and rubbed his forehead. "Four weeks the fastest. It depends. He spent a whole year building up his current reputation from Level 7, you know. Before that, he had been fighting to get his powers as a Paladin under control."

"So . . . he probably won't make it," said Madison.

"Well, Level 65 was the level of the strongest Gladiator to have participated in the first Gladiator Games that Garrett won, four years ago," said Sky. "We were still young adolescents back then, still like kids."

"Right, the one who was strongest that that time," said Mikey sarcastically. "You're talking about the Dragon Knight back then, right? Rune Deatherage, who crashed the party at the final game and won. Why choose the level that he was at that time? You're one of the few who feel sorry for him, because he's gone?"

"Don't you?" said Sky.

"Maybe a little, but I've never been able to trust him, so . . . not really," said Mikey. "But you could at least explain the new rules?"

"What does Zack have to do with the Games?" asked Sky.

"Of course he'll want to join," said Madison. "He's like Garrett, obsessive about the game."

"True," said Sky. "But you do realize that in the Synchron Organization, I'm not his brother, but the Director, don't you? And you two are employees. I don't want to be his brother in the Games. It's too easy to make the game tilt into his favor."

Mikey and Madison froze, stunned by his serious expression, realizing it.

"Yes, I, as Zack's brother, want him to win. Yes, I want to make it easy for him to win the Games as well. But I can't. That would be unfair to other Gladiators in the Games. The only thing I can do to support him is to create another conflict, in other words, give him a challenge. The stronger he gets, the happier he is." Sky smiled slowly.

"Your brother is weird, then," said Mikey finally, with a sigh. "But moving it up too early, putting it into later this month than the usual early summer was like a rush job, you know."

"An early strike," said Sky, rubbing his forehead. "That part was different, a . . . challenge, in my own way. To Euphoria."

"Euphoria?" said Madison. "Oh, the EAS?"

"Yeah. What better way to find out if they really are serious than surprise them?"

Mikey blew air out in amusement. "For brothers, I always thought you and Zack were really different. Zack's too outgoing and awkward, he's hyper. You, on the other hand, are always the Calm, Cool, and Collected Director of the company. When it comes to challenges, though . . . you two are like different people."

Sky smiled. Then bent over with a grunt.

"Sky, is something wrong?" Madison gasped.

"I feel really tired, for some reason," Sky muttered. "It's begun since I walked into work. A bad feeling."

The End

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