Jenny shook her hands and kicked her feet to ease her nerves. The spiky-haired girl paced back and forth on the dewy grass whiles she stared through a chain link fence. She counted ten candidates, then eyeballed the rest of the group. 30 people showed up for the try-outs, more or less. A woman with short hair as black as Jenny’s stood on a wooden platform in front of the crowd holding a microphone.
“Thank you all for coming out today,” the woman started her speech. Jenny took a deep breath and walked through the gate to blend in at the back of the crowd. She found a spot behind a tall girl in a red shirt with short hair spiked upward like her own, but white instead of black. “Quite a few of you showed up, so we’ll be moving fast. Although before we get started, Ms. Sharp would like to say a few words,” the woman stepped aside to make room at the mic for a taller, pale woman dressed in all white.
“I have four slots available. I hope you’re ready to impress me,” Ms. Sharp said. She gave a curt nod, then walked to a seat on the stage. The first woman spoke into the microphone again.
“Please log in and join Bailey’s raid group,” the woman pointed to someone Jenny could not see at the front of the crowd. An arm shot up in the air and a girl with long brown hair, the owner of the arm, hopped on to the stage. “Bailey is team captain, and the reason we only have four slots,” the woman explained. Jenny ignored the introduction in her rush to log in. Once she logged in to the AlterNet she could pass for a Unique. Jenny pulled a node out of her pocket while the woman continued giving instructions. She almost docked it, but paused when she realized no one else logged in yet. She decided she did not want to draw any attention to herself by being the first one to log in. “The first phase of try-outs will be follow-the-leader. Once we get you down to a manageable number we’ll move on to proper games.”
A flash of red light happened somewhere in the crowd. Someone logged in first. It signaled everyone else and brilliant colored flashes ran through the crowd. She smiled, about to say her password, when a commotion from the stage drew her attention. A black and green naga in leather armor slithered its way up on the wooden platform and pointed out at the crowd. Directly at the white-haired girl in front of Jenny.
“Uniques only, right? Can we toss that Zero out?” the naga asked. A murmur of confusion ran through the crowd as everyone tried to see who the naga pointed at. A short girl with black flowing curls next to the girl in front of Jenny turned backward. Jenny stared into the girls orange eyes as confidently as she could, and the girl gave her a friendly smile then turned back around. The dark haired woman looked out over the crowd, but asked the naga for clarification.
“Behind that Calavera in the red shirt,” the naga said. Jenny noticed the girl in front of her straighten her back to stand taller. The woman stared at the tall white-haired girl.
“Hi, what’s your name?” She asked through the microphone.
“Dread.” Jenny heard the girl’s response.
“Dread, could you step aside please?” she asked through the microphone. Dread hesitated long enough that Jenny felt obligated to out herself. She threw her arms in the air behind the girl and began waving them around.
“I’m right here!” she yelled, and stepped out from behind Dread. The candidates around her, except Dread and the girl with the orange eyes, all took a step away to isolate her. Jenny looked toward the stage in time to see Ms. Sharp standing from her seat to approach the microphone.
“Why are you here, Zero?” Ms. Sharp asked.
“Because I’m good enough,” Jenny replied, full of confidence. The naga leaned towards the microphone to address Jenny.
“Go home, Zero. You’re embarrassing yourself,” the naga said. Jenny did not move. She stared at the naga defiantly until Ms. Sharp interrupted.
“Do you have a problem with Zeroes?” she asked. The naga looked at her, and the green scales around her eyes seemed to brighten up as her eyes widened.
“Nonono, not at all. Sorry, Ms. Sharp.” the naga protested with her hands as she inched backward on her tail. Ms. Sharp turned her attention back to Jenny.
“You think you’re good enough to keep up with Uniques?” she asked. Jenny nodded.
“I know I am.”
“Let’s find out,” Ms. Sharp said. “Get on the track. Right now,” she added. Ms. Sharp looked to the side of the stage. “Bailey? Try her out,” Bailey nodded and walked to the back of the stage to get onto the track. Once Bailey stepped onto the Derby track Ms. Sharp walked back to her seat, turned it to face the track, and waited. The first woman spoke into the microphone again.
“Knock-down contest. Three to win,” she announced the rules. Jenny nodded and held her node up in the air.”Jenny Rocks.” She said her password to log in. Immediately the small clear rectangle began to glow with purple light. She docked the node into a slot in the back of her hand. The instant her node made contact with the dock a swarm of nanos surrounder her in a bright flash of purple light. They wrapped around Jenny and formed a light blue body suit embellished with golden lines at each of her joints. Her black spiky hair began to glow blue. The crowd parted to clear Jenny’s path to the track. She walked through, meeting the eyes of as many of them as she could, but every face she saw glared at her with contempt. She walked around the stage to the track; a smooth white surface ten feet wide. It extended in both directions to form a giant circle two miles long. As her foot left the grass and crossed onto the track nanos formed wheels under shoes in a straight line. Her right foot landed on wheels and she pushed herself forward, stepping on wheels under her left foot by the time they were needed. Bailey seemed to be ready and waiting, she wore a forest green hoodie and black cloth pants. When Jenny was close enough a translucent rectangle appeared and hovered in front of her.
“Challenge from Bailey: Knock-down Derby. Standard Rules.” The menu displayed the game request for Jenny. She touched one side of the slate to accept the challenge, then the menu disappeared. Jenny offered Bailey a hand to say hi, but Bailey stared through her.
“Ready?” Bailey asked. Jenny pulled her hand back and nodded. A swarm of nanos gathered in the center of the circular track to form a large black scoreboard with Jenny and Bailey’s names on it. It counted down from three, then sounded a buzzer to mark the start of the match. Bailey bolted forward the moment the buzzer started, but Jenny did not start moving until the end of the seconds long buzzer.
Jenny made a show of pushing her legs hard to keep up, but in reality she wanted to watch Bailey finish a lap first to learn more about her. Standard Derby rules required players to complete a lap before they could access their class abilities. Jenny pretended to get winded and she let the gap between them widen even further. She heard laughter coming from the crowd, but she grinned to herself. Their jeers would give Bailey a false sense of security. Jenny skated on the glassy white track, keeping her focus on Bailey the entire time. As Jenny neared the halfway mark Bailey approached the starting line. The crowd began booing the moment Bailey crossed the starting line. Eight green glowing octahedrons formed a single file line behind Bailey once she started her second lap. They hovered in the air and followed her like ducklings.
“A Cardmage? This’ll be easy,” Jenny smiled to herself. She picked up speed to complete her lap, but Bailey played her first card. One of the octahedrons disintegrated into nanos and disappeared.
“Zone: Fairy Forest,” the scoreboard announced Bailey’s play in a deep male voice. The smooth white surface of the track transformed around Jenny. The floor darkened and transformed into a bumpy cobblestone path. Trees and lush green grass shot out of the track along the edges. Jenny smiled to herself as she approached the starting line, she knew exactly how she was going to win.