Chapter 15:

Floating Field

Red-Black Course

As the day of the game arrived, Rex and Zain once again showed up in front of the secret elevator door. And greeting them this time were all familiar faces they’d seen in their previous matches: Bruce, Jack, Love, and Rose.

“Better enjoy it while you can, boys. Because this game will be your last,” Rose was the first to speak.

“In your dreams,” Zain let out a smirk in response. “We’d already beaten all of you guys before, what good would a bunch of weaklings teaming up do?”

“Bold words for someone nearing death’s door just last game,” Love jumped in the conversation, cheekily stuck out her tongue at the remark.

“Let him be, Superintendent,” Jack added with a snicker of his own. “Our little friend here doesn’t have anything better to do, after all.”

“What did you say…” Zain gritted his teeth and clenched his fist, ready to burst at any moment. But before a fight could erupt before the match had started, Rex’s arm raised forward to block the two teams glaring at each other, soothing the flame just in the nick of time:

“Save it for after we’re in, pal.”

“My, my. And here I thought you’re nothing but a lapdog for the mad lion,” Jack let out a mocking chuckle.

“I thought you and the guy behind you had to know better than that. Remember how both of you got dumpstered by our teamwork?”

“Try that shit one more time, punk,” Bruce, who had remained quiet all this time, finally joined with a grunt. “And see how it goes.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Rex replied with a confident grin as all six players hooked up to their respective helmets.

The third game’s stage was, to put it in a literal sense, out of this world. A black starry sky engulfed the players while floating asteroids littered across the field acted as platforms for them to maneuver themselves.

Three artificial circles lit up the vast zone: one shining a yellow hue where Zain stood with most of the wardens, another purple one far away where Rex and Bruce stood, and the last one whose blue flicker could only be observed if one truly put their mind into it.

“Space, eh? What a lousy stage,” Zain, while cracking his neck, clicked his tongue in annoyance.

“It’s a good way to amp up the difficulty, isn’t it?” Chuckled Rose and Love in response.

As Zain was about to retort, a giant screen floated into their sight, and in turn, came the standard digital voice of the self-proclaimed healthcare AI:

“Welcome, one and all, to the third stage of the Red-Black Course! I, AIDE, am once again your host for today! Damn those geezers at the top for not getting a new model to do this kind of thing! Hell, even copy and paste my code to make clones; you guys already did it in the second game!”

“Tangent aside,” buzzing its own voice to feign a cough, AIDE continued. “The game this time is the ultimate form of tag – Cyber Demons! Our challengers for today will be the Demons trying to escape the Villagers’ deadly chase. Challenger Zain will be the first to start, while challenger Rex will stay in the Interlude. Since their opponents have all chosen to share the starting zone, the challengers will have a 10-minute head start to begin! Now, are you ready?”

AIDE’s facial features disappeared from the monitor, quickly replaced by a giant bright neon number, signifying the countdown for the game to begin.




“Game start!”

As the signal sounded and the barrier to the starting zone was brought down, Zain wasted no time jumping off the platform, attempting to blitz through utilizing the asteroid river approaching his way. However, only after he had left the comfort of the starting platform did Zain realize how difficult of a task this actually was.

Zero-gravity was always a tall hurdle to overcome if one was not used to the practice. Excessive strength would only prove to be useless when there was nothing to apply the force to. And Zain was no exception: like a rock thrown under the sea, the young man soon found himself unable to resist the force, or lack of force, of the stage and was stuck floating about like the plethora of asteroids he saw.

“What’s wrong, Zain boy?” Jack’s mocking laugh echoed through the stage. “Can’t seem to hold yourself?”

The young man gritted his teeth. Calm down, he thought. I need to figure out how to move first.

Zain closed his eyes and loosened his muscles. If adding more force couldn’t solve my problem, then how about reducing it?

As his body relaxed itself, Zain realized he was indeed moving – albeit more slowly and forced by the natural flow. A familiar sensation arose in his mind as the youth racked his brain to recall when exactly he experienced such things.

You can’t swim? Why did you go out to catch fish then? Deep within his subconscious, Zain heard a voice. But it was not the mysterious person in his past like the previous times. That voice was his own.

“No wonder I felt familiar…” with a light smirk, Zain exclaimed and prepared himself.

Bringing his arms up over his head, Zain pushed down the empty void with a powerful stroke. At the same time, his feet bent and stretched out in a dolphin kick motion, propelling the young man forward like an underwater missile.

“Good lord, look at he go!” AIDE exclaimed in excitement. “Challenger Zain seemed to have figured out the secret to this map’s obstacles! The vacuum of space is a daunting thought, but if you make a simple comparison, it’s just a dried-up ocean! Moving in space is no different from swimming in your clothes, and even if it takes a lot of stamina, this is the surefire way to gain your distance!”

“You know, why did we put that AI to do commentary again?” Asked Love with a small vein popping up on her temple.

“Ask the chief, my dear,” Rose shook her head in disappointment. “But the 10-minute timer is nearly up, isn’t it? It’s high time we warmed up as well.”

Following the female superintendent’s order, the rest of the wardens simultaneously pressed the officer badge on their chest, what was thought to be nothing but a uniform feature for their avatars. A green light illuminated the vast darkness of space as neon lines ran across the suits they were wearing, shining especially brightly on their palms and feet.

“And… Time! The wardens are free to enter the game!” AIDE’s signal dropped down the barrier, and the starting zone was officially no more.

“Now, boys and girls,” Rose, spawning out a small switch in her hand, let out a cunning smile. “Let’s kick it up a notch.”

Unlike Zain, who had to rely mostly on his physical prowess to move in space, the wardens came prepared. As the lights on their suits glowed, a jet-like force pushed them forward, making perfect flight control a matter of child’s play. And to make matters worse for the challenger, leaving their asteroid bases were a multitude of faceless metal humanoid figures, all equipped with the same kind of jet power, forming a disciplined line in front of their superiors.

“WARDENs, move out!” All three chasers shouted in unison, and the swarm of mechanical soldiers flew away at top speed. As the high-powered flight type they were, it only took the pack a matter of seconds before they caught up with their target.

“What in the…” Zain, stunned by the danger flocking around him, could only let out a grunt in frustration. “Damn it!”

The young man tried to swim away as fast as he could, but even his absurd physical strength still couldn’t hold a candle to jetpacks with this kind of limitation. As the flight types surrounded Zain, another swarm of mechs approached, this one with all members having exceedingly thick and burly limbs – power types clearly meant to subdue the opponent.

The robots surrounded Zain, and with their obscene arms, locked him in place with ease. However, it only took a brief second for the trapped to let out a satisfying laugh, echoing through the virtual world.

“I really thought I’d be stunned when these pieces of junk touched me… But seems like if you had to lock me in place, then there are no worries anymore. Your biggest mistake… was letting me have somewhere to apply force to.”

A roaring shout and an exploding burst. Immediately after was a chain of explosions. With only a single flex, Zain had broken free of the power-type’s grip, blowing up the mechanical soldiers and sending its shards flying away like a meteor shower, and the victims were the rest of the swarm on standby. One after another, the explosion chain continued, and soon enough the first wave of WARDENs was swept in a blink of an eye.

However, that didn’t mean Zain was safe.

As the teenager attempted to move on, his ankle was suddenly constricted by an unknown force, and before he could react, an electric surge ran through his entire body, numbing both his muscles and his senses in an instant.

His ears could only vaguely make out the sound while his eyes were considerably blurred, but Zain could still tell who the culprit was as her soothing voice transmitted over the virtual vacuum:

“That’s one penalty.”

Steward McOy
Robin Paharya
Kya Hon
F.C Fondness
Ei Ruan
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