June 22, 2021 A new park opened for the wealthy called Zombie apocalypse. You need to fight zombies to stay alive and find the antidote. The winner team gets a huge sum of money. But if you die, you return to your real life unharmed. You can only participate once each year.
“Welcome to Paradise,” Astra said. She spread her arms wide and gestured at the neon cityscape before them. Pink and blue glowing skyscrapers rose high into pitch blackness. The heavens refused to back down from the bright neons trying to pollute the unnatural, inky sky, and that only magnified the contrast. Despite Astrid’s showmanship, Oz was focused on the street level. He heard approaching footsteps and noticed two people sprinting towards him and Astra; on closer inspection, he also noted a large crowd chasing the two runners.
“Astra…,” Oz said. He pointed forward and Astra brought her gaze down as the two strangers whizzed by at full speed. “…are those…zombies?” The chasing crowd was now close enough for the neon lights to give their rotting corpses a sickly pastel color with shades of pink and blue.
“Yeah,” Astra giggled. Ben, her white wolf, relaxed on his haunches in front of her. “Just let them pass, they won’t bother you.” Despite every muscle fiber in his body at the ready, Oz put all his trust into Astra. Oz needed to be there, but Astra didn’t. She had been nothing but kind since they met that morning on their own home Earth. He closed his eyes and held himself still as the zombies moaned and shambled past them. Oz felt dry, crusty skin rub against him and flake off; and, the odor was the most putrid thing he ever took a whiff of. A carton of rotten eggs would have been as refreshing as a tropical glade at that moment. Fear of attracting their attention was the only thing that helped Oz keep the funnel cakes from the fair in his stomach.
“Whoo!” Oz exhaled, then breathed in as much fresh air as he could as soon as the last zombie passed them. “Why didn’t they bother us?” he asked. Astra began walking up the street in the direction the zombies came from.
“‘Cause we’re not playing,” she said. “The zombies used to attack anyone; until a goblin cartel set up shop. Sharp Development used to keep them in check; but, once Ms. Sharp died, the goblins took over the whole server. They set up a game show on other Earths. Bring the competitors here and let them try to survive.” Oz tilted his head at Astra.
“Didn’t I just meet Mrs. Sharp?” Astra nodded at him.
“You met Mrs. Melody Sharp, Dana Sharp’s widow. She owns Sharp Development now.” Astra turned a corner into a significantly darker alley and continued walking. Golden stars filled her eyes; they glowed brightly enough to give Oz some light too.
“Oh..,” Oz nodded. “…if she owns the AlterNet and this server.. why doesn’t she just make the goblins help us instead of giving us a messenger quest?”
“I told you; the goblins took over,” Astra replied.
“But.. how? Can’t she reprogram the nanos?” Oz asked.
“How they did it is exactly why we’re here. The goblins managed to string together enough loopholes to win the server from Mrs. Sharp in a game. We need their sneaky little brains to get you off her..” Astra put her index fingers to the sides of her head to imitate horns. Oz appreciated that she did not use Ballisea’s name. “…radar.”
“We’re going to challenge her to a game?” Oz asked. Astra nodded.
“If the goblins will help us, yeah.”
“But… I don’t know a thing about roller derby. I don’t even know how to skate,” he added with a softer, more embarrassed tone.
“Well we’re not doing it right now,” Astra smiled. “We still need a team. So far it’s just you and me.”
“And Ben,” Oz added. Once Astra agreed to help him, Oz decided to try and be more inclusive of her companion.
“Nope,” Astra said. “I’m a Beastmaster, Ben and I are one character.”
“Oh, I see,” Oz replied. “But, why would she even accept a challenge?” Astra stopped walking and turned to face Oz; the golden stars in her eyes provided the only light now. The neon skyline could not be seen from the dark alley.
“She already lost one major game and is in preparation for another,” Astra said. “When you’ve been around as long as she has, entertainment is wherever you can find it. And since she can’t kill anyone right now, she’s probably bored out of her mind.” Oz’s day had been a whirlwind starting that morning on his home Earth. He’d learned way more about the universe than he thought possible. With every new revelation, he was too busy to consider Ballisea’s age until Astra mentioned it. Once she did, he was filled with curiosity. “How old is she?”
“Older than time and the universe itself,” Astra said. “Literally.” Oz chuckled.
“Which universe?” he asked with a smug grin. He’d been in almost a dozen different universes since they met.
“No matter what universe you go to, the oldest you’ll find is about 15 billion years old,” Astra said. Then, she shrugged. “So… all of them.”