Chapter 3:

A Game of Platforms

REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours

I was being watched.Bookmark here

That prickling sensation. Maybe it’s on a subconscious level. You hear the smallest noise or feel the slightest shift in the air and it sets off your internal alarm. We’ve all felt it. A cold draft over the heart that makes you shiver.Bookmark here

Look. Look behind you.Bookmark here

I resisted the urge because if I looked away for even a second someone could very likely take the opportunity and push me off. Ten minutes is a lot of time, after all, at least when you know you’re about to die.Bookmark here

I locked eyes with the person closest to me, the girl with the scarlet hair. Neither of us moved like we were in a Mexican standoff, one waiting for the other to make the first kill.Bookmark here

But no one did. The businessman with the loose tie spoke up.Bookmark here

"So we… have to choose who to kill?"Bookmark here

The girl glared daggers at him.Bookmark here

"Just for saying that, you're first."Bookmark here

I waved my hands rapidly.Bookmark here

"Wait, no! Listen! That's not the solution!"Bookmark here

"Okay then, whizz kid! Tell us what we're supposed to do."Bookmark here

All eyes fell on me. The girl, the businessman, the kid in the gi, and the guy with the dyed hair. Not exactly my dream team.Bookmark here

"Okay… everyone sit down."Bookmark here

They complied and sat in a circle like a group of toddlers at school. The dyed-hair guy peeked over the platform. Dyed-hair is not a good nickname. Let’s call him Brownie.Bookmark here

"What the hell do we do? This is insane. Do we really have to kill each other? I didn't sign up for this-"Bookmark here

The pepper-eyed girl shushed him and pointed at me. That’s not a good nickname either. I’ll call her Peppers.Bookmark here

"Speak. Tell me."Bookmark here

I gulped, sweat tracing down my back. The urge to take off my fleece sweater hit me like a pile of bricks.Bookmark here

"Uh, well, I'm Kohei Kurosawa, and I think as of right now the time limit shouldn't be our concern."Bookmark here

"What?"Bookmark here

The boy in the gi raised his hand.Bookmark here

"Why, Kurosawa-senpai?"Bookmark here

Heat rushed up my face and the girl laughed.Bookmark here

Senpai? Really?”Bookmark here

This was just great. I was already not being taken seriously, or so I thought until the girl looked back at me like I was a teacher and she was ready to take notes at a moment's notice.Bookmark here

"Keep going, Kurosawa-san."Bookmark here

A surge of confidence enveloped me like a suit of armor.Bookmark here

"We have to assume that there's a solution to this, or else not only would there be no reason in killing each other, but there would be no reason in trying to win to begin with."Bookmark here

The blond man smacked his lips.Bookmark here

"Are you serious right now? Thanks for stating the obvious."Bookmark here

"Like I s-said, the time limit shouldn’t be our concern because five heads are better than one. We should only start talking about sacrificing people when it comes down to the wire. And we have that convenience, since she has a wristwatch.”Bookmark here

Peppers flashed her watch with a shy smile. The businessman pointed at something behind me.Bookmark here

“He’s been watching us for a while now.”Bookmark here

We all turned.Bookmark here

A few tiles away was a tall, pale man wearing baggy overalls with red straps. He had a striped shirt reminiscent of a prison uniform in cartoons, and with the dark eyeliner and a smile on his face, he reminded me of a street performing mime. He raised a disproportionately large hand to wave at us, his spindly fingers curling like spider legs. I shivered.Bookmark here

“Ignore him-”Bookmark here

Brownie stood up and crossed his arms like some kind of gang symbol. But like I said, I don’t know anything about that stuff.Bookmark here

“Yo! Got a problem, bro?”Bookmark here

I noticed that none of the other four contestants on the mime’s platform were going near him. They were all huddled on the other half of the tile like he was a parent with a belt. Or an insect. I knew right then and there that I should tell Brownie to stop, or else… well, I didn’t want to find out. But I said nothing. The mime stood up.Bookmark here

“I don’t have any problem.”Bookmark here

Nothing like I’d imagined, his voice was pure elegance. The image of a mime waiter popped into my head. Would you like fries with that, oui?Bookmark here

“Then why you lookin’ over here, huh? Back off with that face, man-”Bookmark here

It happened so fast that by the time it was over I hadn’t even blinked. The mime raised a single finger at Brownie and a blast of light shot out, piercing his skull. There was no blood or dramatic-dying-breath. Brownie folded like a deck of cards and tumbled off the edge.Bookmark here

Attention. Please don’t kill people on other platforms unless you are on that platform. It makes my job a lot harder. But for that, Asano has granted your platform an additional ten minutes of lifetime for the murder of Hanazawa. So be sure to thank him, uh… Akabane, Kurosawa, Sato, and… Renji. Really? No last name? Huh.”Bookmark here

There was a cough in the invisible loudspeaker as it went quiet, leaving the rest of us frozen in place like deer in the headlights. The mimic, Asano, examined us all one by one. This was the most intense game of duck-duck-goose I’d ever played. Eventually he sat down, one leg dangling off the edge of his platform and the other tucked to his chest, concealing the bottom half of his lips which were now curled in a smile.Bookmark here

The boy in the white gi stood up, fists clenched.Bookmark here

Don’t be stupid, kid.Bookmark here

“You… you killed him.”Bookmark here

Asano’s smile persisted.Bookmark here

“Yes, I did.”Bookmark here

The Renji boy flew into a rage and his entire body exploded with light, energy surging outwards in waves. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, this was just like an anime, this was just like-Bookmark here

You killed him!”Bookmark here

The energy dribbled out but remained visible, and with inhuman agility the boy closed the distance in one leap to Asano, readying himself for a kick. Asano darted out of the way and Renji’s leg smashed through the cobble platform like it was tree bark, chunks spurting down into the open sky. Asano leaped off the platform with the grace of a professional diver and Renji followed him without hesitation.Bookmark here

“Wait, kid!”Bookmark here

I reached out my hand, subconsciously hoping that the same would happen to me, that I would get my own power-up, but nothing happened, and the two figures disappeared into the marshmallow clouds. The invisible announcer laughed.Bookmark here

“What a turn of events! They both learned Sei so fast! Oh! I wasn’t supposed to say that… um, anyways, both of your plates get ten more minutes! Rejoice, Akabane, Kurosawa, and Sato! You’re in the lead for die-last-awards!”Bookmark here

Hand shaking, Akabane read out the time on her watch.Bookmark here

“Fifty-five minutes left.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

We felt along the underside of the platform for any hidden levers or clues, but it was smooth as a baby’s bottom. We’d even tried transforming, thinking about things that enraged us. I imagined fighting Dad or a school bully, but nothing happened. I even tried flexing really hard, but I just got the urge to use the bathroom. I flopped onto my stomach and sighed. The reality of the situation was setting in. If we didn’t find a solution in what was now ten minutes, we’d die. I resolved to not even think about sacrificing another person. It would make me just as bad as the rest of them.Bookmark here

Sei. That’s what the announcer had said. Sei. Was that this world’s power system?Bookmark here

I sat up.Bookmark here

“Akabane-san. Sato-san. In this old tale-”Bookmark here

Akabane shot me a sour look.Bookmark here

“You mean in one of your stupid anime?”Bookmark here

“Uh… well…”Bookmark here

“None of those ideas will work. Idiot…”Bookmark here

She laid back down and covered her eyes as if shielding herself from the sun, despite the clouds. Five minutes before the end, something finally changed. The cobble in the middle of every platform clicked and whirred, stool-shapes emerging from the hidden compartments. Everyone backed away in anticipation. A new variable. A hint? Food? A toilet? But what revealed itself was the worst thing imaginable. A knife the size of my forearm, gleaming like the eyes of a rabid dog.Bookmark here

Oh, no.Bookmark here

Maybe he tossed the decision around in his head like dirty laundry, or maybe he acted without thinking. I would never know. Sato grabbed the knife and charged at me. I went into autopilot as screams erupted on other platforms. A battle royale had begun. The knife came down; I dodged, tripped, almost fell, and dodged him again like he was a raging bull. He caught me the third time. We crashed to the ground. I grabbed his wrist, the knife was inches from my face. Sato cried out. Spittle flew from his mouth.Bookmark here

It has to be you! I’m sorry!”Bookmark here

“Please no! Please-”Bookmark here

Akabane’s foot smacked into his skull. His eyes rolled up in his head. He flopped over. Was it over? No. He recuperated. Not fast enough. Akabane wrenched the knife away and plunged it into his chest. A sickening squelch. He coughed blood onto her face, rolled onto me. Warm liquid oozed down my arms. I shoved him off and scrambled away. As far as I could go. Akabane stabbed him again; this time the knife lodged in his back. He curled like a trapeze artist, moaned, and she pushed him. She yanked the knife out. Pushed him again. More. Harder. He went over, gone. She collapsed, chest rising and falling. Looked at me. I looked at her. Breathless. Breathe. Breathe.Bookmark here

Thus Akabane committed her first murder. It wouldn’t be her last. She pointed the knife at me, the knife drenched in another human being's blood.Bookmark here

"Stay where you are."Bookmark here

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. This wasn't like a super-powered fight. Sato hadn't been incinerated in an energy blast. He'd been stabbed to death.Bookmark here

She checked her watch.Bookmark here

"Twenty minutes. Don't move. Or I'll k-kill you too."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

He adjusted his tie. She took off hers.Bookmark here

"So he calls you Black Mask, huh?"Bookmark here

"Looks like it."Bookmark here

"It's good. Memorable. Has a ring to it."Bookmark here

He plopped a piece of gel in his hair and ran it through with his fingers.Bookmark here

"I don't like it. It's tacky."Bookmark here

The woman in the seat stirred her whiskey, grew impatient, and poured it out. The ice cubes clacked as they hit the invisible floor, then glided along over nothingness like hockey pucks. The whiskey stopped mid-air as if it had frozen in time. She scooped it back up with the shot glass and gulped it down.Bookmark here

"You don't like anything… Black Mask."Bookmark here

He looked down at the stars below him and decided that this point in space was boring. Besides the giant sun burning in front of them, it was too colorless. The sun swirled yet he didn't feel an ounce of heat.Bookmark here

"You're right. And I especially despise these bodies. I don't know how much longer I can do this… isn't that enough whiskey for today?"Bookmark here

She giggled.Bookmark here

"Today, tomorrow, makes no difference, right? It's all happening at the same time."Bookmark here

"That may be so, but we have to maintain these vessels until the welcoming party. So don't let it die."Bookmark here

"Okay, hot shot."Bookmark here

Silence passed between them. The soft explosions of the sun were mellowed out by the invisible room they occupied. Even if they couldn't be seen, the walls were most definitely felt. Claustrophobia was the most primitive of all senses of touch.Bookmark here

"Black Mask - what was the name of the boy who defied you?"Bookmark here

"Kohei Kurosawa didn't defy me... for long. I showed him what he least wanted to see, and that's all it took. Though I admit I may have administered too much of a... personal touch."Bookmark here

"Afraid of the Mistress finding out, huh? But I'm nice. I'll keep it a secret if you treat me to drinks for the next hundred thousand years."Bookmark here

"Just stop calling me Black Mask."Bookmark here

"Hmm…"Bookmark here

She materialized more ice and swished it around a few times before dumping it. Ice got in the way of flavor. She laughed again.Bookmark here

"Kohei Kurosawa, huh? Cute name."Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.