Zero Chance

“Thank you all for coming out today,” A woman with short black hair spoke from a wooden stage in the middle of a stadium. Dirge and Dread stood at the back of the gathered crowd. “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 said. She stepped aside and a woman dressed in all white approached the microphone.

“I have four slots available. I hope you’re ready to impress me,” the woman said. Then she walked to a chair on the stage and sat down to wait. The first woman stepped forward again.

“Please log in and join Bailey’s raid group.” She pointed to someone at the front of the crowd and a raised arm appeared. A girl wearing a forest green hoodie, with the hood down, and long brown hair hopped onto the stage next to the woman. “Bailey is team captain, and the reason we only have four slots,” the woman explained.

“They’ve only got two left,” Dirge said. “Right?” She nudged her elbow into Dread’s side. The taller girl nodded.

“Right,” she said.

“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,” the woman said from the stage. A red light flashed somewhere towards the front of the crowd.

“Do we need to log out and log in again?” Dirge looked at Dread with a confused look. “I don’t know how to join the raid group,” she confessed. Dread shook her head.

“Nah, I already joined us,” Dread said. “You should’ve played the tutorial,” she smiled.

“I think they’re starting,” Dirge pointed at the stage. A black and green naga wearing a long leather tunic climbed on the side of the stage. It slithered to the microphone and pointed a finger towards Dread.

[What did you do? -Dirge] The Whisper from Dirge tickled Dread’s inner ear.

“Uniques only, right? Can we toss that Zero out?” the naga asked before Dread could defend herself. The crowd murmured as they looked at each other, then at Dread to pinpoint the Zero. Dirge looked behind Dread. She saw a girl about her height with spiky black hair that matched Dread’s white spikes.

[She’s behind you. -Dirge] she informed Dread. Dirge gave the girl a quick smile then and faced forward again. She shrugged at the crowd in front of them.

“Who?” the dark haired woman asked into the microphone.

“Behind that Calavera in the red shirt,” the naga said. Dread straightened her back to stand taller.

“Hi, what’s your name?” the woman asked Dread from the stage.

“Dread.”

“Dread, could you step aside please?”

[Don’t do it! -Dirge]

[Not going to. -Dread] She replied to Dirge’s Whisper with one of her own.

“I’m right here!” Dread heard the girl yell from behind her. The girl stepped out from behind Dread, and the crowd parted. Everyone except Dirge and Dread took several steps away from the Zero to make sure that she could be seen.

“Why are you here, Zero?” Ms. Sharp addressed the girl from the stage.

“Because I’m good enough,” the girl said.

[I like her. -Dirge] Dread gave a slight chuckle.

[Me too. -Dread]

“Go home, Zero. You’re embarrassing yourself,” the naga shouted from the stage. Dread looked at the Zero, but she continued to face the stage with no sign of turning away.

“Do you have a problem with Zeros?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded quieter. She turned to face the naga, and the microphone only caught part of her voice.

“Nonono, not at all. Sorry, Ms. Sharp,” the naga put her hands up in front of her and backed away slightly.

“You think you’re good enough to keep up with Uniques?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded full again as she spoke into the mic, directly at the Zero. The girl nodded.

“I know I am.”

“Let’s find out,” Ms. Sharp said. “Get on the track. Right now.” The girl walked forward. The other applicants shuffled together to close the path behind her. “Bailey? Try her out,” Ms. Sharp said on the stage, then she walked back to her seat. She turned it around to face the track behind the stage. The first woman took the mic again.

“Knock-down contest. Three to win,” she said.

“Let’s go!” Dirge ran around the back of the group towards the track, but all the other Uniques seemed interested too. The crowd flowed to line the side of the white circular track. Dread pushed her way to a spot near the starting line and Dirge managed to follow in her wake. Once comfortable with her spot Dread checked the track. She noticed the Zero logged in already. She wore a blue bodysuit, and her spiky hair glowed with blue light.

The black scoreboard in the center of the track buzzed to start the match. Bailey shot forward as soon as the buzzer sounded, but the Zero was slow to move from the starting line. She pushed hard to catch up to Bailey but seemed to be struggling.

“She can’t even keep up,” a girl next to Dread said. Several Uniques laughed and Dread turned to stare down at the girl who spoke.

“It just started,” Dread said. She glared at the girl then looked at the track again.

[What if she can’t? -Dirge] Dread’s eardrum vibrated.

[She wouldn’t be here. – Dread] She replied to Dirge. It was not long before Bailey completed her first lap. Eight green octahedrons formed a line behind Bailey when she crossed the line. They hovered in the air behind her like ducklings.

“What a loser!” Someone else in the crowd said. A group of Uniques began to boo the Zero. Dread almost turned around to shut them up, but Bailey played her first card. Dread did not want to miss any part of the match.

“Zone: Fairy Forest,” the scoreboard announced Bailey’s play in a deep male voice. The smooth white surface of the track transformed into a bumpy cobblestone path. Several Uniques stepped back as trees and lush green grass shot out of the track along the edges.

The Zero skated towards the finish line but rolled to a stop inches in front of it. The blue glow faded from her hair.

“The Zero’s giving up!” Dread recognized the naga’s croaky voice. Laughter erupted around them, but Dread stared at the Zero.

“Betcha she’s not!” Dirge yelled backward at the crowd. They continued to laugh.

[She’s totally not. -Dirge] Dread smiled when she felt Dirge’s Whisper.


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