By Ariba Afra
Jasper looked around The Blue Floor and thought he was on another planet. He’d never stayed in something so expensive-looking. Then again, anything outside Zone 2 was expensive to him. The walls were painted a royal blue shade with art along the wall of mountains, each room had a player’s number on the nameplate, and the floors had that same white tile as the hallway did—nothing too out of the ordinary.
The blank masks watched them leave the elevator before heading elsewhere, not saying a single word to them.
“Okay? What now?” Franklin asked. He watched Number 96 walk over to his door and opened it.
“Whoa, this is nicer than my whole apartment! Come look,” 96 waved them over. The group followed him inside. The room was gigantic for one person. It was made up of a bed, desk, closet, bathroom, a large monitor on the wall, and a bolted window. “Kind of simple, isn’t it?”
“This is bigger than my house,” Number 97 said. She ran over to her room. “Mine’s the same!”
Jasper went over to his and confirmed it. “Yep, me too.”
“Same here,” Franklin said. “Looks like we have the same rooms. That’s good.”
96 Stood with back to the rest of the group, all as he thought. “Something has been bothering me,” He said as he turned around. “Why did everyone else have a group of ten, and we have a group of four? What happened to the others? I knew there was someone next to me when I woke up. I’m sure of it.”
“Maybe they got a head start?” Ninety-seven asked.
“No, the doors were shut. Even if they weren’t unlocked, those masked guys would’ve caught them,” Franklin said.
“We should check the other rooms,” Jasper said.
“Hold on, don’t go busting down doors just yet, mate,” 96 said. “Watch this.” Ninety-six took a step towards his room, and the light beside the door flashed blue. When he stepped back outside, it turned off. “Their rooms lights are off. I don’t think anyone’s in them.”
“I didn’t even notice that. Nice find, 96,” Franklin said.
“Huh?” Franklin asked.
“My name’s Josh. Can we call each other by our names? It feels a bit weird with the numbers.”
“Fine by me. I’m Jasper.”
“Like the ghost?” Josh laughed. “Just kidding. I sound like my sis. She’d say stupid stuff like that.”
“You’re sister? Her name wouldn’t happen to be Lily, would it?” Jasper asked.
“Yeah, it is. How’d you know that?” Josh asked.
“I was on a train going to Zone 5. She was sitting next to me. She has great drawing skills.”
“Small world,” Josh said. “Alright, what about you two?”
“Cool, so we’ve got Jasper, Franklin, Josh (He pointed to himself), and Carmine. Nice to meet you lot. If anyone wants to know, I’m from Zone 5.”
“Zone 2,” Jasper said.
“3,” Carmine said.
Franklin was quiet for a moment before saying, “Zone 1.”
They all looked at him like he was lying. “Seriously? Zone 1?” Josh asked.
“Yeah, what about it?” Franklin asked, annoyed like he’s used to hearing that.
Josh held his hands up. “Whoa, mate, calm down. I didn’t mean it like that. I’ve just never met someone from Zone 1. It’s just that, from what they say about it–“
“That it’s a ********? That only murders and thugs live there? Yeah, I’ve heard it all before,” Franklin said. He noticed the vibe he was giving off and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off like that. That’s one of the reasons I want to be King. I want to change this ****** up system. The whole Zone thing is a joke. I don’t even know what the other Zones look like.”
“Oh yeah, our reasons,” Josh said. “Mine’s to make my own way in life. My family, besides my little sister, never liked me. I guess you can say I’m the black sheep of the family.” He pointed to his eyepatch. “This was all my fault. I ****** up and paid for it. Before you ask, no, I don’t want to talk about it. I want to be King because, with that, I could rub my family’s faces in it. Show them I’m worth a ****. That’s it.”
“I want to be King. That’s my reason,” Carmine said.
“That’s not vague,” Franklin said. “How about you, Jasper?”
“It’s kind of dumb,” Jasper said, rubbing the back of his head.
“Can’t be that dumb if you got picked,” Josh said.
“Well, I want to go to Zone 10. I have a girlfriend, and I want to propose to her there,” Jasper said, smiling.
“That’s really sweet. I know Zone 10 is extremely expensive. Even if you could get a ticket to get there, you’ll still need the money to do anything. How’s that dumb?” Franklin asked.
“It just seems like a dumb reason to want to be King. You guys want to actually stretch the King’s power out for something. I just want to go somewhere.”
“No, you want to impress your girlfriend,” Carmine said. “You know, just because you might become King doesn’t mean she’ll say yes.”
“Oh, so not only are you secretive, but you’re also rude as hell,” Josh said.
“I’m not rude; I’m just being realistic. What happens if she says no? You’ll still have all the perks of being King, but your main reason won’t matter.”
“Even if she says no, I’ll still keep trying. I know she loves me, and that’s that. We’ve been together for a couple of years. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Seems good enough to me,” Josh said. “Hope it works out for you. Well, that’s what I’d say f I wasn’t gonna win.”
“Well, we have to work together before we even start thinking about what we’re gonna do when we win. We’re already at a disadvantage with fewer teammates. We don’t know what the other teams are planning, and they might already know that we are the smallest group.” Franklin looked at the time on the monitor. “Okay, everyone, go over everything in your rooms. I wonder if they’ll feed us soon.”
“They have to, right? It wouldn’t be that much of a competition if we all die of starvation,” Josh said. “I’ll see you guys later.” He walked back into his room and shut the door.
Carmine didn’t say anything when she went back into hers.
“I mean what I said. Your reason is sweet. I wish I had someone like that. Someone I cared about that much,” Franklin said, holding his hand out. “We’ll make it to the top ten. What do you say?”
“I say let’s do this,” Jasper said, shaking his hand. “And thanks.”
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