Chapter 19:


Red-Black Course

Rex and Zain returned to the cafeteria sharing a face filled with mixed feelings. However, what greeted them was another scene entirely.

Another wild party roared all over the prison, and this time, there was no one to stop them. Praises showered both competitors, and especially towards Zain, for the truth behind his violent tendencies had finally come to light.

“Way to go, guys! Just one more game!”

“Make history, boys!”

“Here’s to bringing us hope!”

Just when the two were at a loss for words because of the sudden celebration, a towering figure cleared a path within the crowd once more and let out a booming shout:

“Oi, get out! Give da stars some rest!”

“Mitch!” Rex waved back at the giant, finally showing some life once more. “Since when did your face heal?”

“Just a few days ago,” the inmate, now losing his iron mask and having a giant scar running across his face, scratched his head in embarrassment. “But I dun wanna tell ya, ta let ya focus.”

“I’d say it’s more of a celebration than our winning the game, eh Zain?” Poking his elbow at his partner, Rex tried to make a joke to lighten the mood. However, as he saw Zain’s unchanging face, the boy soon retracted his smile.

Ignoring the heated crowd, Rex, Zain and Mitch made their way to the infirmary.

“Well, well, well, look who we have here,” even in their space of peace and quiet, an unlikely snarky comment from AIDE caught the trio off guard. “How would the two stars like their treatment? Would you like…”

“Hook us in, AIDE.” Zain interrupted before the AI could say anything else.

“Now? I thought the final game is tomorrow? Shouldn’t you two rest up?”

“Just do it.”

“… Well, alright,” as it couldn’t find any other reason to disapprove of the request, took out the two prototype helmets. Zain put on his in a flash, giving the other to Rex soon after:

“Wear it.” A simple command from the young tyrant. However, Rex wasn’t angry, simply for the fact that he was having the same idea.

“Mitch, you guard the door for us, okay?” Turning to the now unmasked inmate, Rex asked.

“Same ol’, same ol’ right? Ya got it,” giving a thumbs-up, Mitch let out a grin, to which Rex returned with a thumbs-up of his own. Putting on the metal frame, the two boys experience their second deep dive of the day.

The familiar morning breeze and the grassy smell hit Rex once more, giving the boy a strange feeling of ease and nostalgia. Even if his muscles were still sore after the whole fight with the wardens, the sensation was almost therapeutic to both his body and soul.

“Ah, nothing beats a soccer field after all,” Rex exclaimed in joy, before having his head hit by a bouncy, spherical object.

“Heads up,” called out Zain. Immediately, Rex realized what he had been hit by, and as a reflex, caught the falling ball with his feet before sending a pass back to his teammate.

“So, what do you want to talk about?”

Zain didn’t answer. Instead, the young man just chose to kick back the ball.

“Come on, lighten up, will you? Besides, you’re the one who wanted to come here.”

Another pass, and yet another silence.

“Alright, then how about this?” As Rex received the ball again using his chest, the boy instead switched his approach to a dribble straight towards an awaiting Zain.

Rex was about to make a feint as he got close to his target, but the ball was swiftly stolen when Zain took a quick dash forward. Finally, with a smile on his face, the young man answered with a challenge of his own:

“You’re still a few years away if you wanna get past me.”

However, Zain himself didn’t get to gloat for long. A quick crescent sweep with his leg trapped the ball right in Rex’s instep, blocking the advance before it could even begin.

“Don’t get so full of yourself there buddy,” the boy let out a grin of his own, glad that their exchange was finally going somewhere. “Bitleo’s defense was mostly me, after all.”

There were no more exchanging words. For the two, the only thing on their minds at the moment was the black-and-white ball on the virtual field. Mindlessly chasing over a ball in a meaningless game was never on their mind, but right now, it was the world to them. And for the first time in their lives, they could cast all worries away and just have fun like teenagers their age should do.

“Ah, that was fun!” Lying on the grass after a round of dribbles, Rex let out a hearty laugh. “I haven’t enjoyed myself like that since… well, forever!”

“Hey… Rex,” Zain sounded. Even if the game had taken away most of his strength, Rex still had enough to be able to realize that this was the first time Zain ever called him by his name – a fact that he couldn’t help but form a smile on his face.

“Yeah, I’m listening.”

“… Thanks. I have to admit, you’ve been critical to all of our wins.”

“Took you long enough,” a cheeky grin came from Rex. “I already said I’d be useful, right?”

“You did. And you were right. That’s why you have my utmost respect right now, as my equal,” Zain continued. However, his face soon tensed up as he gazed up towards the shining sun.

“And because of that…”

“Comes next game, don’t expect any mercy,” this time, it was Rex that sounded before his partner could answer. “You were gonna say that, right?”

“It seems like we have the same idea,” the sudden answer, however, only provided more amusement to the young man. “I guess you’re even more of an equal than I thought.”

“… Hey, Zain,” Rex suddenly changed the subject, “why are you here? In this prison?”

“Why the small talks now?”

“Why not now? Tomorrow, we’ll likely be rivals, right?”

“Enemies, not rivals.”

“Nah. Both of us know that whoever wins tomorrow, there will be no hard feelings, right? Sure, whoever loses is gonna be out of commission for a while, but no one will die. We’re never gonna hate each other over it, so that makes us rivals. And that’s why there’s no time right now, you know? To learn about each other… as friends and partners.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Zain couldn’t help but let out a brief chuckle.

“Right? Now, back to my question…”

“Disruption of the temporal flow between dimensions,” Zain nonchalantly answered, but the weight of his words was much bigger than what he was making out of.

“What? Isn’t that the…”

“Biggest offense in the world’s laws, yes.”

“But… how did you do it? And weren’t you sent here when you were nine? How could a kid do that?”

“Beats me,” Zain shrugged at the question. “I don’t even have a clue how I did it. All my memories before being thrown in here are just a big fuzzy mess.”

“So that’s why you wanna get out, right?”

“Of course. Being thrown in jail for something you had no recollection of doing, isn’t that the worst?”

“Well, at least you know why you’re here,” Rex let out a bitter laugh, “I don’t even know how I got here in the first place.”

“Is that so? What about before that?”

“Beats me. I only have a vague recollection… although playing with you these days has unclogged a few of my memories, it seems.”

“Is that so?”

“I think so, at least. It has something to do with soccer, that’s for sure. And… someone else, too. But I can’t remember who.”

“Strange,” Zain answered with a half-smile. “I also had memories about someone. But I don’t remember exactly who as well.”

“Seems like both of us have a lot on our plates, huh? For totally different reasons, but still.”

“… Yeah, you’re probably right.” Zain let out a sigh. Meanwhile, Rex finally got up and did a few stretches before offering his hand to help his partner do the same:

“I’m logging out now. What about you?”

“I’ll stay for a bit.”

“Alright then…” After a brief hesitation, a sudden impulse arose within Rex, causing the boy to speak once more. “Oh, and…”

“What is it?”

“Do you still wanna get out now? Of this prison, I mean.”

“Why would you ask that?”

“Well… your reasoning back in the last game,” the boy scratched his head. “About how you don’t want anyone else to suffer from this kind of thing.”

“… If I said no, it would be a lie,” answered Zain after a bit of hesitation. “Does that make me a hypocrite?”

“Nah,” Rex shook his head in return. “It’s a natural response. We’re not heroes. If we were, we wouldn’t be in jail. So, it’s only natural to care for yourself first, but it’s always good to help people in need.”

“Yeah, you have a point there.”

“Although, when I get out of here, I’ll look into everyone’s situation too. So, make sure to keep everyone alive when I rescue all of you, you hear me?”

“… Save that until after you’ve beaten me, chum,” with a smile on his face, Zain answered, finally standing up, taking a step forward, and raising his fist toward Rex.

Replying with a perfect fist bump and the same kind of grin, Rex cheerfully declared:

“May the best man win.”

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