By Claire Riley
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring down the mood,” Dom said, looking down at his plate.
“Don’t sweat it. The mood was brought down a long time ago. Probably before we even got here,” Jasper said.
“What were you guys doing before you got here? Where are you from?” Dom asked. “What Zone are you from? I’m from Zone 7.”
“Whoa, what’s this? 35 questions?” Ema laughed. “Oh, come on, that’s funny. I’m from Zone 4. I can’t really remember much about that night, but I do remember going to the laundromat. I was walking home when I started to feel weird. Then I woke up here.”
Dom laughed. “I get it. Sorry, I ask a lot of questions.”
“Don’t be sorry. I was with my brother and sister at the time. We were at a restaurant, and I went back into the car. I remember a lot of smoke and then this place. I’m from Zone 2. Your turn Mr. Questions.”
“I was out drinking at the time with some friends. It’s a blur, but I do remember goin’ to the bathroom and then nothing. It could’ve been too much alcohol, and I blacked out. Who knows?”
“Okay, I got a question. Why do you two want to be King? I know your reason Jas. He wants to propose to his girlfriend in Zone 10. I want to be King because I want to buy my own island and build a big house on it, fill it with books, and just relax.”
“You want to be King so you can get as far away from people as possible? And read?” Dom asked.
“Yep, sounds wonderful. Just me and mountain of books.”
“Just you? No one else can go?” Dom asked.
“Maybe my knights, but I’d really have to like them,” Ema smiled.
“Well, I guess I have a backup plan now,” Dom said with a goofy smile on his face.
“Excuse me?” Ema blinked at him.
“If I don’t win and you do, I wanna be your knight in the shiniest armor. Eh, maybe not armor. Maybe knight in okay swim trunks.”
Ema’s face turned bright red, and she immediately returned to the shy girl Jasper first met.
“What about me?” Jasper asked. “I’m gonna need knights too.”
“How about this; whichever of us wins, we agree to be each other’s knights. I’m starting to like you guys. Hell, anyone who saves my life is cool with me. You both defiantly passed the interview,” Dom said.
“Fine,” Jasper agreed.
“S-Sure,” Ema said quietly.
“Then it’s settled; we’re in this together. Like it or not, you both are stuck with Mr. Questions,” Dom laughed.
“Isn’t this an alliance? Aren’t those not allowed?” Ema asked.
“Only if we get caught,” Dom said. “I’m even willing to let that white-haired guy in.”
“His name is Lance,” Jasper said.
“Lance? He doesn’t seem like a Lance. You know there’s something else I seemed weird about him. I haven’t seen anyone else in a grey tracksuit. I see every color in the rainbow here but not grey. That’s weird, right?”
“Now that you mention it, me neither. He could be from the first round of participants. Maybe he got picked to play a game early like we did. When I left this morning, my group was still in their rooms.”
“Mines too. I guess they’re doing it in small groups. Isn’t the next game with a partner?” Dom asked.
“Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. You wanna team up?” Ema asked. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I know it’s dumb. You probably…what?” Ema said.
“I said okay. I was gonna ask one of you anyway. You were my first pick. No offense, bro,” Dom said.
“None taken. I was thinking about it. Lance wants to partner up. He was the top player.”
“I wonder what his game was like? Ask him. I’m curious,” Dom said.
“Sure, well, I guess I’m off. I need to take a long shower after all that madness,” Jasper said, standing up. “Later.”
“See ya,” Dom said.
“Bye, Jaz,” Ema said.
Before Jasper left the dining room, he looked back and saw them in a deep conversation. Both sides laughing. “Was that how Ronda and I were when we met?” Jasper thought, leaving the room. He was about to head towards his floor when he was approached by three blank masked men.
“Jasper Lee Jones?” One of them asked.
“Depends on who’s asking?” Jasper asked.
“The King wants to have a word with you. This way.” The leading blank masked man said, walking back towards the auditorium. The other two positioned themselves behind Jasper and pushed him forward.
“Hey! I’m going alright,” Jasper shouted.
The main blank masked guy opened the door and stepped aside. Jasper was pushed inside, and the doors slammed in his face. “Rude,” Jasper said under his breath.
“I agree,” A robotic voice said from the other side of the room. “I’ll have a word with them after this.”
Jasper looked over, and his eyes widened. “King?” He asked. He could believe it. Why did King want to talk to him? Let alone in person. “Did I do something wrong?”
King laughed. “No, actually, I wanted to meet my top players in person. Can you believe some people think I’m not real? That I’m a hologram. Talk about an ego killer.” King gestured towards the many rows of seats. “Have a seat.”
Jasper did as he was told and sat close but not too close to King. “Is this real?” Jasper asked.
“Yes, it is. I need to know something. Your game was one of the most unconventional ones I’ve ever seen. I loved it. How did you figure it out so fast? Your group wasn’t the first ones in that one. It took some forever to figure it out. I think about four groups went in before you. Only one made it out with all of their group members. One made it out with only one person, and the other didn’t make it out. They all were unworthy. You could have left. Why did you help the others? You even tried to help the vulgar one. Number 56, I think. I can’t wrap my mind around it.”
“I’m not a monster. An *******, sure. Not a monster, though. I saw my way out, but It wouldn’t have felt right just getting out by myself. Thomas could’ve made it out if he put his ego down and just chilled out. Even still, he didn’t deserve that. No one deserves that,” Jasper said.
“Interesting, and what if the roles were reversed? I don’t think 56 would’ve helped you if he chose to start where you did. Why did you go to the left? Was it random?” King asked.
“Yeah, Everyone was choosing, and I picked one too. Nothing special.” Jasper shrugged.
“Okay, if you say so.” King shrugged. “Still, I have to applaud you. A king must be calm under pressure. You took command of the situation and led your people to salvation. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes on you, Jasper.” King snapped his fingers. “Oh! I almost forgot. Your reward. I want to give you a free pass.”
“A free pass?”
“One game. I’ll allow you to skip one game. It can’t be the next one, but anything after that is fine. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.”
“I don’t know what to say. Thanks. I mean, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, Mr. Jones. You earned it. Now, you can go. I don’t want to take up your time. You deserve a break. As I said earlier, you can use the rest of the day as you see fit. You can even watch fellow participants’ games if you want in your room. Be seeing you.” King’s mask displayed a smiley face.
The doors to the auditorium opened, and Jasper was escorted back to his room. Once he was alone, he walked out and went over to Josh’s door. “Josh, can we talk? I saw your light on and…”
Josh’s door opened slowly. “Come in.”
Jasper walked inside and saw Josh facing the window with his arms crossed. Something about the way he was standing made Jasper worried. “Hey, you alright?”
“They…they killed them. Right in front of me. Just because they got the question wrong. Bam! Dead. I-I think I’m still processing it. Trying to make sense of it.”
“You just got back from a game?” Jasper asked. He sat on Josh’s bed.
Josh nodded. “It started out as a simple quiz. Random crap. But then it got hard. There were ten of us—two per team. My partner was in an orange suit. She was pretty smart and the real reason I’m still here. They asked us imposable questions. Like how many milliseconds could a human last in a black hole? Who would know that?! My partner did. We only had two chances. If you got wrong two times, you got shot.” Josh turned around and pointed to the middle of his forehead. “Right here. What the ****?” Josh leaned against the wall shaking his head. “I didn’t sign up to be killed.”
“You won’t be killed.”
Josh’s head jerked up. “How do you know that? Anything can happen. Sooner or later, we’ll be on our own—no more teams. We can’t hide behind someone else. We can’t be saved by someone else. It won’t take long for people to start dropping like flies. Screw this competition. No, this isn’t a competition. This is entertainment for the King. He never wanted to give up his crown. He just wanted us to die. He wants to watch us suffer. There’s no way out, Jaz. We’re all gonna die. It’s just a matter of time.”
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