pencils.and.paper.roses

United States of America

Director
NERD
Hopeless romantic
Equally hopeless Fangirl™️
16
Early senior
Queen
The Lumineers
Bird lover
Fascinated by Great Britain
Love M. Night Shyamalan movies
In love with Rami Malek
❤️

Message to Readers

This story is currently my "masterpiece", haha, and I am planning on getting it published after I finish and edit it! All reviews and feedback are welcome! Beware though, it's pretty long (42 and 1/2 Word pages!), so save some time to read it!

The Game (working)

August 28, 2018

FREE WRITING

1
Chapter One: Mom, Can I Enter the Game?
Should I ask her? Lynn Thomas thought. She was lying in bed on a Thursday morning before school, wrestling with an idea. “Lynn!” her mother called from downstairs. “Come get breakfast and grab your backpack or you’ll be late for school!” I’ll ask her after school. Lynn decided. She crawled out of bed and rubbed her eyes, then headed downstairs. At the table, she discovered that her mom had made mini chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. “Mom!” Lynn said, happily surprised. “I thought you saved these only for special occasions!” Her mother turned and smiled. “Usually I do.” She answered. “But, just this once, I decided to make them for you, because remember, the day that starts the month before the Game is considered a national holiday, which counts as a special occasion.” Then her smile turned to a frown. “You aren’t dressed yet?” Lynn looked down at her pajama top and yoga pants sheepishly. “I was still asleep when you called me!” she replied. “Let me go change.” So Lynn raced upstairs and pulled on her school uniform, a light green polo shirt and a knee-length green and white plaid skirt, then skipped the steps to the kitchen to eat her pancakes. “Much better,” her mother said, pretending to nod approvingly. Lynn rolled her eyes and grinned, then sat down to eat. After pouring a little more syrup on the mini cakes, Lynn wolfed them down and brushed her teeth, then ran out the door.

On her way out, she nearly crashed into the mailman. “Hi, Mr. Moorland!” she said before rushing off, leaving him in bewilderment. As she jogged down the street toward the bus stop, she thought again about the decision she would ask about later that day: Would she join the game or not? If so, when would she enter? With these thoughts filling her head, she reached the bus stop and was greeted by her best friends Cassidy Jessen and Kayla Martin, who had the next bus after theirs. “Lynn! Hi!” Cassidy shouted, startling everyone at the stop. Cassidy had a way of being a little louder than necessary, but this was one of her funnier attributes, and it usually made Lynn laugh. “I have the greatest joke. Do you want to hear it?”

Without waiting for an answer, Cassidy barreled on: “One time there was this parrot named Chet that lived in a pet store. His owner knew an awesome trick to do with him. If you held a candle under his right foot, he would sing “Jingle Bells”. If you held a candle under his right foot he would sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. So one time the man took him to a Christmas party.” By this point, Cassidy had everyone there riveted, and she knew it. So she really hammed it up, using crazy facial expressions and hand movements: “Everyone at the party loved Chet. But then, one kid got the bright idea to hold it under the middle of the bird. And you know what he did?” Cassidy was nearly cracking up herself now. “He started singing “Chet’s Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire!”

The punch line brought down the house, and when the bus driver pulled up, she looked at them like they were insane, but when Cassidy told her the joke, she started laughing too. The rest of the bus was confused, but the girls just laughed until they were finally able to wipe the tears out of their eyes. “Hey, are you ready for the math test?” Lynn asked, still out of breath from laughing.

“Yeah, I think so, for the most part. I’m still not the best at completing the square, but I think I’ll do okay.”

“Hold on, let me quiz you. I made a bunch of flash cards from this unit.” Cassidy pulled out a set of flash cards. “Okay. Simplify (-y + 4)(2y -1).” “Uhhh…” Lynn said, laughing and burying her face in her hands. “I have no clue!” “Alright. Look,” Cassidy said. She demonstrated the problem, and they did practice questions until they reached the school. “You think you get it?” Cassidy said, gathering her flash cards. “I think so.” Lynn replied as she put on her backpack and smoothed the skirt of her uniform. “Bye, Mrs. Robison.” Lynn said to their bus driver, who was still giggling a little over Cassidy’s joke. “Pretty funny, isn’t it?” she called over her shoulder while climbing down the steps of the bus.  Lynn and Cassidy greeted various other students and teachers on the way in, including Cassidy’s friend Liam and Lynn’s friend Kaiden. Finally Lynn stepped up to her locker and spun the combination: 17, 90, 47. The bell rang, and they hastily grabbed their English textbook and composition books, then hurried off to class. As their teacher talked about synonyms and clauses, Lynn doodled in her composition book. She pictured herself winning the Game, becoming famous in her country, and never having to take another math test. “Miss Thomas?” her teacher said severely. “What is the proper use of an antecedent?” “Sorry, Mr. Brown. Uh, it’s the word that the pronoun replaces,” Lynn replied quickly. Then realizing that wasn’t what was asked, she added “It would be like the name ‘Samuel’ being changed to ‘he’.” Mr. Brown nodded and squinted at her before turning and walking back to the front of the room. That was a close one, Lynn thought. If she got in trouble with any of her teachers that day, her mom might not let her join the Game. As she headed to her locker, she thought through how she would ask. For the rest of the morning, her mind wandered to the Game, and she had several more “close calls”. At lunch she confided in Cassidy. “I’m going to ask my mom if I can enter the Game after school today.” She told her. Cassidy lit up at this news. “Really? Me too!” she cried. “Actually, I already asked her yesterday, and she said yes so I went to enter earlier today.”

Lynn took this as a good sign, hoping that her mother would say yes more willingly if she knew Cassidy’s mom had said yes. Their mothers were good friends, and Cassidy’s family usually came over for dinner at least once a week. “Do you guys want to come for dinner tonight and try to convince my mom to let me enter?” Lynn asked hopefully. “I don’t know if she’ll say yes.” Cassidy shook her head apologetically. “Sorry, we’re going to visit my grandma tonight, and we can’t back out. We’ve been trying to visit her for weeks and it got put off every time!” Lynn’s heart sank. She’d been counting on Cassidy’s support when she asked, and now she wouldn’t be there. The bell rang, and they went to math class. Though she struggled over several questions on their big test, Lynn expected to do well. Finally, the school day ended, and Lynn slowly walked out the door toward the bus. As they rode, Cassidy tried to chat with her, but gave up quickly, knowing what Lynn’s mind was on. “Why don’t you just say ‘Hey Mom, I want to enter the Game this year. Can I?’ Short, sweet, and to the point.” Cassidy said, trying to help out. But Lynn shook her head. “That’s too short, I think. She won’t go for it.” Cassidy shrugged. “Always works for me.” She said as the bus rolled to a stop. Her stop was one before Lynn’s. “See you Monday.” She waved, and Lynn distractedly waved back.

With her mind so absorbed in the Game and her asking speech, Lynn didn’t noticed that the bus had arrived at her stop, and Mrs. Robinson, the bus driver, had to call to her so she would come to. “Lynn? Earth to Lynn?” she said from her seat. Lynn jerked back to reality. “Oh.” She stood up, nearly forgetting to grab her backpack and waving to everyone else on the bus. “Bye, guys.” She stepped off the bus, still lost in thought.
                                                                     . . . . . . /\ . . . . .
Lynn sat at the table across from her mother, with her dog, Juno, at her side for moral support, though her mom didn’t know that. Her father was out of town on a business trip for the next 2 weeks. They began to eat their roast pork and apples, but Lynn mostly sat there, picking at her food. “Lynn, are you all right, honey?” her mother said. “You’re hardly eating anything.” Finally, Lynn put down her fork. “Mom, I want to ask you something.” Her mother put down her fork as well, and her face grew concerned. “What is it, honey? Are you all right?” she asked. “Of course, Mom. I was just wondering…” Lynn hesitated. “If?” her mother pressed. “I was just wondering if I could enter the Game this year.” She said, breathing it out in a rush. Her mom’s face hardened. “No.” she said simply. “What? Why not?” Lynn asked, disappointed and angry at being rejected. “Because I said not to. I have reasons that you can’t join. You could—“ her mother stopped abruptly. “My answer is no. And that’s final.” Lynn stood from her chair and started yelling. “Why can’t I enter? This could be the only chance I have to enter before I’m too old, and now I can’t?” “Lynn…” her mother’s voice changed to a pleading tone, and she looked at Lynn in the hope of calming her down, but Lynn stomped upstairs before Mrs. Thomas could calm her.
 
Chapter Two: The Entrant
Lynn quietly slipped out the door before it was light out the next day, dressed in a t-shirt and black leggings, and tiptoed down the stairs, try to avoid waking up her mother. Thankfully, she succeeded, then crept off the front walk.
She trotted along the road, which was illuminated only with streetlights, toward the center of entry for the Game. It was a 24-hour location for three of the four weeks leading up to the Game, so she was heading there to enter without her mother’s permission. She wanted to get her back for saying no, when Lynn had been so sure that she would say yes. Sure, there were some cons, like having national attention on her. But still! What if she won? No one had any clue what the prizes were, and they could be bigger than she could even imagine. Lynn stewed in her anger as she ran.

At this point Lynn had reached the Center of Entry. Luckily, there was no line, so she could go right in and get the entry application. Nervously she walked up to the counter, where a woman was sitting and placing papers in a copy machine. “Um, hello?” she whispered, feeling like talking normally would disturb the quiet. The woman turned to look at her. “You here to enter the Game?” she asked in a slightly condescending voice. She acted as though this happened all the time, kids showing up before it was light out to enter the Game. “Yes.” Lynn replied. She was handed an application and sat down in a puffy beige chair near the door. It was a long application, and by the time she finished it, the sky was turning a pale rose gold and the world was waking up. Lynn quickly stood and handed the desk lady her application, only to have another sheet of paper handed to her. Thankfully, this sheet of paper only had a few lines on it. Oh, no… Lynn thought as she looked the paper over. One of the lines was a parental consent confirmation!

That was a problem, since Lynn had snuck out of the house after being denied entry to the Game. Hoping the woman at the desk didn’t see the look of panic on her face, she composed herself and scribbled “yes” in the space provided for parental consent. Then she filled in the other questions, like whether anyone she knew was entering with her. Finally she was finished and she was able to race out the door toward her house, hoping to be back home and under the covers before her mother discovered she was gone. But as she hurried back the way she’d came, she knew that wouldn’t happen. Suddenly she heard her name being called! Lynn stopped running and looked ahead, breathing hard. She spied a dot that appeared to be cupping its hands around its mouth and looked an awful lot like her mother. Lynn panicked and began to run the opposite direction, but her mother was too fast. “Lynna Belle Thomas! You get over here right now!” Her mother grabbed the collar of the hoodie she’d thrown on and spun her around. “What were you doing out so early?” her mother practically shouted. Her hair was a wild, frizzy mess, and she was wearing her pajama pants and a jacket. Lynn decided to just tell her, and not make whatever punishment she would get even worse. Would she be grounded? Told she couldn’t participate in the game? No, that wouldn’t happen. She wasn’t allowed to revoke her entry. “I entered the Game.” She said. Her mother’s eyes grew wild and she covered her face with her hands. “You what?”

“I entered the game.”

“Lynn, how could you? I specifically told you not to!”

“Well, I already submitted my entry, and I can’t take it back!”

At this point her mother was on her knees, sobbing, and Lynn felt terrible. Why did she ever do this? She looked up and realized they were on Cassidy’s street, and Cassidy was looking out her window at them. Lynn glanced up at her, and Cassidy was wincing. “Mom, look, I’m so sorry!” Lynn said, kneeling by her mother. “I would go and take it back but I can’t!” Her mother looked up and wiped her face. “If you can’t take it back,” she said, “if you can’t take it back, then the month after the Game ends, if you’re still safe, you are grounded for 2 months.” She stood up and began to walk away, having released Lynn’s hoodie from her fingers. Lynn began to follow her, but then paused, realizing what she’d been told. “What do you mean, if I’m still safe?” she called. But her mother didn’t respond. Lynn looked back up at Cassidy and motioned for her to go, she would see her at school.
                                                            __________________
As soon as Lynn was on the bus later in her school uniform, she was confronted by Cassidy. “What the heck happened earlier?” “Before I tell you that, I’ve got good news and bad news.” Lynn sat down in the seat next to Cassidy to get situated. “Good news is, I entered the Game.” Cassidy exploded to life when she heard this. “Really?!? So you’re in?”
“Yep, I’m in. Bad news is, my mom is gonna kill me! She got so mad at me earlier in front of your house when she found out I entered that she said she would ground me for 2 months after the Game ends.” Thinking about that morning refreshed the odd statement her mother had made. “But she told me that she would only ground me if I was still safe.” Lynn said, the confused feeling of that morning refreshed as well. “Huh?” Cassidy said, screwing up her face and feeling as confused as Lynn. There was simply something about the phrase that confused them both profoundly. “What does she mean by that?” “No clue!” Lynn replied, tossing her hands in the air. “But you’re really in?” Cassidy said excitedly. “Yep!” Lynn answered.
 
Chapter 3: It’s Finally Happening
Lynn walked to the principal’s office with Cassidy at her side, looking to find out what they’d be doing to prepare for the Game school-wise. As they reached the door, the two looked at each other with a nervously excited smile and Lynn knocked. “Come in!” The principal called through the door. Mr. Diaz wasn’t Lynn’s favorite principal she’d had, but he wasn’t bad either. “Oh, Cassidy! Are you here for your Game instructions?” “Yup!” she responded. “And my friend Lynn is entering too.” Mr. Diaz turned his smile to Lynn. “Congratulations, ladies. I’m sure you’ll both do well. Now,” he said, getting down to business. “Please have a seat.” The girls sat in the chairs that were always in front of the principal’s desk, and he began their instruction. “Neither of you will be in school for the month before the game, but you won’t be required to catch up afterward either. Instead you will be training all day. It will be similar to the army, in a way, but much less harsh.” The entire school knew about Mr. Diaz’s former win in the Game and army service, and he smiled here. “So while you’re there, don’t even worry about school. Just focus on doing your best in the game and bring home a win! We’re all rooting for you.” Well, not all of you. Lynn thought guiltily, her mother reentering her thoughts. She squirmed a little in her seat. “Alright, you girls are good to go! Just be sure that you have a ride to the training location today, and I hope you’ll have time to pack and tell your families goodbye.” Lynn’s face crinkled. “Pack? What for?” she asked. “Oh, what a dunce I am!” Mr. Diaz said. “I forgot to tell you that you’ll be staying at the training location for the month before the game.” “Oh,” Cassidy said. “I did not know that.” The girls were beginning to look a little downcast, so Mr. Diaz rushed to reassure them. “You’ll be fine! Just think of it as…a little like boarding school. Or even college!” This brightened Cassidy’s spirits considerably, and even Lynn’s mood improved. As she walked down the hallway arm-in-arm with her friend, Lynn began to feel a whole lot better.
                                                                   . . . . . . . . .
Sitting in her classes throughout the rest of the half day of school (children who entered the Game only had a half day so they would be able to get to the training site on time), Lynn’s brain was on autopilot. Now that she was officially entered in the game, she was more nervous than ever! Finally the lunch hour ended, and they burst out of the door. All through the ride home, they contemplated excitedly what they thought the Game would be like. “See you in an hour!” Cassidy called as she hopped off the bus. Lynn waved through the bus window and replied “See ya!” As Lynn grabbed the mail from the box, she noticed a letter addressed to her on top. Oh well, she thought. No matter. I’ll just bring it with me and read it there. “Mom, I’m home!” she dropped her school bag by the door along with the mail, then rushed upstairs to pack a bag. Surprisingly, though, she discovered that a bag was already packed inside her bedroom door, and on top was a note from her mother. Lyn picked it up, sat down on her bed, and settled in to read it.
Lynn,
I had to make a run to the store to grab meat for your grandparents’ dinner tonight. Sorry I couldn’t be here to see you off, but you can call me when you get there.
Love, Mom
Lynn sat back on her pillow a little dejectedly. At least her mother didn’t sound mad anymore. She stood up and went downstairs to make herself a sandwich while she waited for Cassidy.
                                                                           - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“So are you girls excited to be entering?”  Cassidy’s mom, Lauren Jessen asked. Lynn, Cassidy, and Mrs. Jessen were in the middle of the car ride to the training site. “Yes yes yes yes yes!” Cassidy shouted. “I can’t believe I’m finally doing it.” She was bounding crazily in her seat and grinning from ear to ear. “Lynn? What about you? Are you excited to be entering?” “Oh, yeah, for sure.” Lynn said. “I’m just disappointed, you know, that I didn’t have time to tell my mom goodbye before I left.” Mrs. Jessen frowned. “I totally understand how you feel. Life doesn’t always go the way you hope, huh?” Lynn nodded, and Cassidy hugged her, then bounced in her seat some more. “But aren’t you excited?” her bouncing friend said, clutching her hand. “Oh man, I think I bounced my brain around!” she laughed. Lynn grinned, then glanced out the window. “Whoa!” she shouted in awe. “Guys, I think we’re there!” They had just reached a building, a huge white and gold structure with lots of glass that looked like it had just been built, even though it had been there the last 20 years. It reminded Lynn of an anthill, with people streaming in and out and, through the glass, people busy jumping over obstacles and swimming through giant pools bigger than the Olympic-sized pool Lynn and Cassidy swam in every week. Even the yard in front of the building was majestic, with perfectly shaded green grass dotted with small groups out outdoor trainers.

As they pulled up to the gate, Mrs. Jessen was stopped. “Reason for entry, ma’am?” the gate operator asked in a businesslike tone. “The girls in the backseat are participants in the Game, sir.” She replied in an equally businesslike tone that was rather unlike her. “I’m just escorting them to the door. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I can’t allow you to do that. No one other than participants and staff are allowed inside the gate.” He smiled. “Just safety procedures.” Mrs. Jessen turned to the girls in the backseat. “Okay, guys. Just a couple things to tell you. Cassidy: try to turn down the excitement a little and focus on what you’re doing. I love your crazy, boisterous self, but it can get in the way of what needs done. Got that?” Cassidy nodded. “Good. I love you, remember that always. Lynn: I know your mother wasn’t able to be there when you left, but don’t let your disappointment block your happiness or ruin your focus! I know you’re thrilled to be here, so let that show. Oh! Also,” she picked up her purse and dug through it for a minute, then handed Lynn a small piece of paper. “This is for you. And one thing to tell both of you: Crush it! You know we all want you to win.”
 
 Chapter 4: The First Day
Mrs. Jessen hugged Cassidy over her seat, then patted Lynn’s shoulder. Finally the girls climbed out of the car and stepped back so Cassidy’s mom could pull out. Then the gate operator addressed them and a woman stepped out from behind the operating booth. “Girls, Ms. Lee is going to be your guide, and she’ll give you a tour of the facility. There are no training sessions today, so you can use the day to get settled in and find your way around.” The woman smiled and greeted them as they started to walk toward the giant white and gold building. “Hi, I’m Ms. Lee, but please call me Cara. I’ve been working at the facility for ten years now, so hopefully I can be a good guide for you.” They entered the building and were greeted by an enormous lobby with ceilings higher than 25 feet, as they were told by Cara. They walked through room after room, being told what they were for. They visited the section of the building where their dorms would be, and were told that they would be roommates. “Yes!” the girls said as they jumped up and down happily. “Ah, I expected you would be happy about that! I was told—“ Cara paused quickly before saying any more. Then sheepishly trying to recover from her speech error, she added, “I-I mean, just from the looks of you guys, I would-I would expect you to be BFFS, and sort of be super happy about sharing a room, you know?” The girls nodded, but after what she’d heard, she realized that Cara had sounded kind of nervous almost the whole time she’d been with them. Her eyes had looked slightly wild, as though something horrible would happen if she didn’t do everything exactly right. This was enough to make Lynn, who always had a small amount of healthy suspicion, a bit nervous too.

They moved on to some of the training rooms, which Cara explained there was one for each group of kids in a game. Cassidy and Lynn were slightly mystified by this, but they would understand it the next day, Cara told them. Suddenly a loud sound rang through the facility, and the girls jumped a foot in the air. “Oh, that’s just the meal bell,” Cara told them, sensing their scare. “It goes off every meal, so then we know it’s time to eat!” As they headed to the mess hall, she went on to tell them that the bell rang from the location of the dining hall, so then new participants could just follow the sound of the bell if they didn’t have a guide like Lynn and Cassidy did. Finally they reached the dining hall, and they were nearly overwhelmed by the delicious smell of food. Cara laughed when she saw Cassidy leaning back to take in the smell, and Lynn had to admit it looked pretty funny. When they reached the front of the room, they discovered that instead of having to tell someone what they would like to eat, they could simply take a plate that was already filled. “Yesss, they have mac ‘n’ cheese!” Lynn said. She’d always loved the combination of cheese and pasta, and it was in her list of favorite foods ever. Cassidy decided on a PBJ, and they went to find a seat. “Hey, is that Joely?” Cassidy said, pointing at a girl eating lunch alone. “Well, let’s go find out.” Lynn said, heading over to her table. As Lynn neared the table, she realized that it wasn’t her friend, as she’d thought it was. “Cassidy! It’s not—“ But Cassidy reached her before Lynn could finish. “Joely!” Cassidy shouted. The girl dropped her fork and looked up, startled. Cassidy jumped back and put her hands over her mouth. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else!” she said embarrassedly.

The girl smiled shyly and waved them off. “It’s totally fine. Simple case of mistaken identity.” Then she realized that they were holding trays of food and motioned to the empty seats next to her. “D-did you guys want to sit?” “Sure!” Cassidy said, plopping down next to the girl, and Lynn sat across from them. “I’m Cassidy Jessen,” she told the girl. “Lynn Thomas.” Lynn said with a small wave. The girl brushed her long, slightly staticky hair out of her face and introduced herself as Albany Corla. “You mean like the Shakespeare character?” Lynn asked, thinking back to a time when their school play 2 years ago had been Shakespeare’s King Lear. Albany frowned. “I don’t think so,” she said. “My mom grew up in Albany, New York and she loved it, so she named me Albany because she loves me just as much as she loved her childhood home.” Lynn had to smile at that. It was a little cheesy, but a likable story. The three girls talked for the rest of the lunch hour, and they discovered that Albany arrived the day before they did and had a good idea of what games she’d pick; she’d had to visit Mr. Diaz at the school too, and she had asked about what game choices there were. “What were all the choices?” Cassidy asked. “I don’t remember,” Albany shrugged. “But the ones I would have picked were Obstacles of Speed or Catch.” “Catch?” Lynn said incredulously. “Judging by Mr. Diaz’s description, it’s a lot more complex than it sounds,” Albany replied. “I didn’t really get all the details.” Lynn tried to imagine what a game called Catch could be like. A chase game of some kind? Catch an object, then run? She had no clue. By the time she had given up on thinking about it, the other girls had moved onto a different subject. Then out of the blue, a gently authoritative voice coming from the ceiling announced that the lunch hour was over. “Do you want to come to our dorm and talk?” Lynn asked hopefully. “Sure,” Albany replied. “And maybe we should rearrange the furniture a little? The way they organize stuff here is so boring. Just plain old symmetry.” Lynn and Cassidy nodded, laughing, and they went on their way.
 
Chapter 5: Decisions, Decisions
Beep, beep, beep, beep… Lynn rolled over in bed. What the heck? She thought. Where was the beeping coming from? As she opened her sleep-infested eyes, she noticed an alarm clock on the nightstand by her bed. She reached over to hit the “off” button, but didn’t feel one. She picked up the clock and turned it over. There it was! She pressed the button, then looked over at Cassidy after the beeping stopped. Rarely a morning person, Cassidy had tried to hit the snooze button on her clock and accidentally knocked it to the floor. Lynn grinned and rolled her eyes. She crawled out of bed, stretched her arms, then walked over to Cassidy’s bed and shut her clock off. “Oh, thank you so much! You’re an absolute lifesaver!” Cassidy said exaggeratedly. She clasped one of Lynn’s hands in hers, pretended to hug her, then nearly fell off the bed! This sent the girls to the floor and into fits of giggling. Once they finally pulled themselves together, Lynn looked at the schedule posted on the wall above Cassidy’s nightstand and picked herself up off the floor hurriedly. “Cassidy, get up quick! Breakfast starts in half an hour and you can’t get into the mess hall after it starts!” Cassidy’s eyes got big. She was the type of person who got super tired if they missed a meal, and falling asleep in training wouldn’t look good on the first day.

They rushed to pull on clothes: for Lynn a shiny gold tank top and leggings; for Cassidy a long-sleeved red shirt with the words DO NOT READ THE NEXT SENTENCE. You little rebel. written on it and jeans. Then they dashed out the door, hoping to reach the mess hall with at least few minutes to spare. “Okay,” Lynn said after they had walked for a few minutes. “I think we turn here, and then we turn again after a minute, and then we’ll be there.” So they followed Lynn’s instincts and turned. After walking straight for a minute, they turned again. But they didn’t end up at the mess hall quite yet; they ended up walking straight into a room full of people wearing black suits. No one noticed them, and they stood at the entrance just long enough for Lynn to hear the person writing on a whiteboard at the front of the room say, “and then once it starts, we can retrieve them and send them to the lab.” The two girls quickly ducked out of the entrance when the speaker turned around to face his audience. “What was that all about?” Lynn thought aloud. “Dunno,” Cassidy replied. “They probably just need some stuff to make sure the Game…well, games are safe for us to be doing so they won’t get sued or anything.” Lynn nodded, but her healthy suspicion had grown a little. She was somewhat nervous, and she wondered what the heck the Game they were soon to participate in had to do with a lab.
                                                                 -----------------------------------
Finally they reached the dining hall with no time to spare. They began to walk toward the front of the room, but they were called by Albany before they got there. “Lynn! Cassidy! Over here!” she called. They trotted over to her and discovered that Albany had already gotten them plates of food. They grinned and sat down to eat. Albany had chosen chocolate chip pancakes for Lynn, and as she sat down to eat, her thoughts returned to her mother and how she had been strongly disapproving of Lynn entering the Game.  She remembered how her mother had so firmly barred her from entering, and how she had reacted when she told her that she’d entered. Why was her mother so worried? Suddenly Lynn realized that Albany was talking to her. “Lyyyyn,” she said, waving her hand in Lynn’s face. “Lynn! Earth to Lynn?” Lynn shook her head quickly and blinked. “What? Sorry, I totally spaced out there.” She laughed a little. “Yeah, no kidding!” Cassidy replied, laughing also. “We were talking about the choices we might have for the Game.” “Oh,” Lynn said. “I don’t know what I’ll pick. Do you think there’s anything with water?”

They talked about the possible choices for the rest of breakfast, almost abandoning their food. As they were deciding to all choose at least one game that another of the three of them were in, the ceiling voice returned. “All new participants please report to the Selection room before training begins for the day.” The three girls looked at each other confusedly. “What does that mean?” they exclaimed simultaneously, then laughed. As they climbed out of their seats and returned their trays, a thought struck Lynn. Was it time to choose their games? Cara, their guide from the day before, had told them training officially started that day. They walked with the rest of the group down to the Selection room, all the way on the other side of the building. When they walked in, they saw lots and lots of chairs in front of huge touchscreens. Each screen had a full name on it, and next to the giant letters of their name was a fingerprint scanner. “You each have 20 minutes to choose.” The ceiling voice told them. Lynn walked over to the screen with her full name, Lynna Belle Thomas, and hovered her finger over the scanner. Before she could touch the screen, though, her fingerprint was accepted and a new screen popped up. This one had instructions on what to do with this screen and about 10 different small pictures with a title underneath. The game choices!

Lynn instantly became excited and apprehensive, knowing that this was the moment of truth and she couldn’t go back after this. She clicked on each small picture and read a description of each one, considering each choice with care. The two she thought sounded the most interesting were something called Water Evasion, and another game called Rush. As Lynn made her final choices sound similar to the lunch bell rang through the building, signaling the end of their decision time. When she heard the ringing, she quickly but thoughtfully tapped the images for Water Evasion and Rush, then clicked the “choose” button. Lynna Belle Thomas, are these your final choices? read a small screen that appeared after she clicked the button. She selected “yes” on the screen, and it gave a short tone that reminded Lynn of wind chimes. As soon as the tone ended, Lynn’s screen disappeared. Lynn was a little surprised, but she spun her chair around and sat calmly until a woman that Lynn recognized as yesterday’s guide, Cara, came in to escort the first group to their training session. “Alright everyone, split up into groups! Water Evasion, stand over here by me. I’ll be your escort to your first session.” Lynn walked over toward Cara and was surprised to see Albany follow her over. “Albany!” she said. “I didn’t think you’d pick this!” Albany grinned sheepishly. “I almost didn’t,” she admitted. “I was about to choose Catch like I’d planned, but I decided against it because I thought this one sounded interesting.” Suddenly the crowd of people in their group moved forward, and they were pushed along with them. They went down a long corridor that sloped a little downward, as if they were going deeper into the ground, and finally they stopped. Cara opened a door, and they walked into a huge room.

Chapter 6: The First Game
The room they’d just entered had ceilings only slightly lower than the lobby’s, and all around the room were doors. Oddly, there were doors in the middle of the room that simply led to a large box. This confused Lynn profoundly, and she wondered how exactly that could work. Cara stopped the group after they’d gone through the now-closed door, and she turned to face them. “Okay, people. Welcome to Water Evasion training!” she announced. “I’ll give a short explanation of how this works, and then we’ll start.” Cara pulled a small device from her pocket and tapped a button. After she did this her voice seemed louder than it did before, and she began their instruction:

“So this is kind of like a timed obstacle course. You’ll each be given a tank with 1 minute’s worth of air. As you will find out, the obstacle courses will all have water in them in places where you could easily fall in, and the water will be slowly rising. Your goal is to avoid the water, hence the name, and hit several buttons that will open doors so that you can get to the next section of the course. Your tank will let you stay underwater for 1 minute without losing, but your air slowly depletes the longer you stay under. Once you run out of air, you lose, and you will fade back into this room. It refills at the same rate once you come back up.”

“Now, there is a twist. There will be some water in these courses that is green, which we’ll refer to as acid. If you land in the acid, your air will deplete faster than if you land in the regular water, and you lose faster. The more people survive per round, the harder the next course you take will be. Everyone understand?”

Despite the length and somewhat confusing nature of these instructions, Lynn understood well, and she stepped forward with the rest of her group. They each got handed a shiny silver tank along with a wristband that measured how much air was left in the tank. She slipped on the wristband, then followed 10 of the others through one of the large doors in the middle of the room. The door beeped every time someone passed through it, including Lynn. Once the twelve people of the first group had gone through the door, it was shut and the lights turned off. There were exclamations of surprise, but they suddenly turned back on and the doors opened. But what they saw outside the doors was not the same as when they entered the doors. Instead of the room full of doors, there was an emerald-green meadow, and just as Cara had said, there was water in several different places. Lynn was at the front of the box they were in, so she stepped out. The second her foot touched the ground, a loud beep sounded through the air, and one of the large puddles of water started to rise. Oh, no, she thought. Did I make it start rising? As the water continued to rise, Lynn notices a button glowing green…down at the end of a thick log clearly meant to be walked on. She ran for the button, and the rest of the kids behind her poured out of the box and toward the closed door.  Suddenly she tripped on a knot in the wood, and she fell into the water! “Aaaah!” she shouted as she fell. She hit the water with a huge splash. Only then did she remember the button.

She glanced at her air tank wristband and discovered that she only had 35 seconds of air left. Quickly she swam upward and grasped the knot she’d tripped on. After hauling herself up, she carefully but speedily crawled down the log toward the button, which by then was underwater. She heard a small tone as she scrambled up the log at top speed and dashed through the door that had opened when she’d hit the button. Quickly she hopped up the steps after Albany and grabbed her hand. “Let’s stay together,” she said. “We’ll be less likely to lose that way.” Albany nodded and they went on. They jumped as the water neared them, especially Albany. She had yet to touch the water, and she didn’t plan on breaking her streak anytime soon. She stepped very carefully onto a giant stump that preceded two others, each taller than the other. But Lynn had gone before her, and it was slippery. As careful as she was, Albany slipped on Lynn’s wet footprints. She yelped and Lynn spun around. “Albany!” she shouted, reaching for her. As Albany crashed into the water, Lynn looked for a way to get to her. Suddenly she returned to the surface of the water just as quickly as she’d gone under. Lynn pulled her up onto the third stump just as the water began, terrifyingly, to become a light green. The two were behind everyone else in their group, and the rest of them were over at the next door while one of them ran for the next button. “Oh, not more stumps!” Lynn said. Though they were Albany’s weak spot, Lynn hated them just as much.

As they speedily crossed the first stumps, the green acid-water was rising higher and higher. But when Albany went to step onto the ledge where they moved to the next section, her foot missed, and she plummeted into the acid. Lynn turned around when she heard the splash of the water, and her eyes grew huge as she saw Albany begin to fade. She gave a small shriek before remembering what Cara had told them, how the people who fell would fade back into the starting room. The rest of the group had progressed past the now-opened door, and the acid had hit Lynn’s ankles. Heart racing, she jumped onto the ledge, hoping to avoid making the same mistake Albany had, and rushed through the door with the acid up to her knees as she climbed up the next set of steps. The button ahead of her had already been pressed, and she stumbled past it. She climbed a staircase that was slippery with green and had acid rising halfway up the sides. As she reached the top of the stairs, she saw a room with the other kids in it. They were loudly cheering her on: “Come on, Lynn! You can do it!” Finally she reached the room and raised her arms in victory. A cheer went up and the room went dark. Suddenly a giant screen appeared in front of Lynn that said: “10/12 survived Easy. Difficulty progressing to Average.”

Incredulous looks crossed the faces of some, but for Lynn it was the grim realization that the first simulation had not been the hardest. It would get harder. This was only the training; how hard would the official Game be?

Chapter 7: Overhearing
Sure enough, the levels did get harder. Other obstacles were added, such as lava, which you died nearly immediately in, as well as giant rock walls you had to work together to get over. Lynn got through three levels before finally dying by falling into a river of lava. As she faded back into the Training Center, she saw Cara applauding her with Albany and 9 other kids by her side. “Lynn, that was quite impressive.” she said. “I believe you’re one of only five participants ever to pass 3 levels in a row as you just did.” She checked her watch, then added: “And perfect timing as well! The Water Evasion training for the day ends in about 5 minutes.” Just as she said this, the remaining two kids tromped out of the “box” that took them into the simulation, high-fiving each other. “Alright everyone,” Cara announced, glancing at a piece of paper. “It’s time to move on to the next games. Some of you are going to be in Catch, some of you in Lost Time, and some of you in Rush. Those of you in Lost Time, please go and stand by your escort, Isaac Skaggs.” She gestured to a tall man with stick-straight brown hair standing by the door. “Those of you who are in Catch, stay here with me, and Rush players head over to the second door where Elisabeth Mendro is waiting for you.” Lynn walked over to the second door along with four other kids and stood in the middle of their line. As soon as the fourth kid had gotten in place, the group marched down the hallway.

On their way to the next training room, Lynn observed several other rooms and noticed Cassidy in a different session. Flame Evasion, the sign by the door said. Cassidy was really good. She zoomed through the course, expertly jumping over “burning” logs and swinging on ropes through fake flames. Her fiery friend seemed to be doing great.  The next room had a tinted glass window, and inside the room was something that made Lynn gasp aloud: The room was filled with the black-suited people! Lynn quickly slipped out of line, hoping no one saw her. As Albany passed with the rest of her group, she shot Lynn a What are you doing? look. Lynn motioned for her to go quickly and stay with her group, so as not to arouse suspicion. She walked casually over to the window, pretending to be simply standing around, when in reality she was attempting to figure out what they were saying. Lynn was unusually good at reading lips, and she put that skill into practice then. This room, she noticed, had no whiteboard, it only contained a table with 10 chairs around it. She couldn’t see all of their faces, only some, but she was able to piece together some of the conversation:

“We’ll need about 5 more for the next test.”

“When will we need them?”

“In about 2 days. We’ll be able to get them easily from the two games that were most chosen.”

“Yes. I’ve noticed that there were 3 children from different groups that stay together quite often- Lynn Thomas, Cassidy Jessen, and Albany Corla. Then there was one girl named Robin Jores who could also work. They could be a good match for the test.”

Chapter 8 (Mini Chapter)
At that, Lynn quickly turned around, her head spinning. She sank to the ground. Test? What test? What did it have to do with her and Cassidy? She’d had her suspicions about the black-suited people since the first day, when they’d stumbled into the meeting, but now there was real fear. What could they be planning?
And why Albany? Shy Albany, who had sat by herself at lunch when they met her and only ever talked to Lynn and Cassidy, was going to be used for a test? Was it because she wouldn’t resist?
Lynn had endless questions, and she needed to find answers. She rushed ahead to the back of her group, making a mental note to warn Albany and Cassidy the next day.

Chapter 9: The Next Game and Extra Sessions
Lynn walked into Rush and immediately noticed the enormity of the room- the biggest she had ever seen. All around the room were ramps covered with grass, sand, and all manner of other things. She saw a small boy step over a yellow line on the ground about 2 feet away from a ramp, then zoom forward like a race car! “Wow,” Lynn whispered to herself. “I guess that’s why they call it Rush.” “Ya think?” a boy next to her said sarcastically. Lynn turned and saw that it was one of the last two kids to leave the box in Water Evasion, Ross. He smirked and Lynn rolled her eyes, turning away to listen to their instructions.

The game was pretty simple: They would step over the yellow line at the beginning of one of the ramps, which gave each player a special speed power created for this game, and then they would run. The goal of the game was to reach the end of each level without falling, and preferably without stopping. You were required to do at least one type of trick multiple times. Ross was up first. He confidently stepped over the line and immediately jerked forward. As he rushed through the course, he slipped several times before finally falling off a ramp near the end. As he touched the ground, he disappeared like a puff of smoke, bringing a collective gasp from the group. Suddenly he reappeared up at the front of the line next to Elisabeth, also releasing a gasp. “Lynn, you’re up next. Step up to the line, and start when you hear the bell.” Elisabeth told her.

Lynn walked forward and toed the line, preparing for the burst of speed she’d seen in Ross. The bell rang out, and she sprung forward, easily hopping over the space between the first ramp and the next. She ran up with incredible accuracy, far outshining Ross’s clumsy jerks. She finished the course in record time, leaving the boy’s mouth hanging open.  Lynn tossed him a smirk of her own, then walked forward, where Elisabeth nodded approvingly at her job well done. “Good job, Lynn. That’s the best time today. Alright, next up is Calee…”
                                                                         . . . .  . .  . . . . . . . . . . .
Lynn reached an even higher level in Rush before they finally finished for the day. A large screen in the middle proclaiming the leaderboard of the group put Lynn at the top, with her best speed at 32 seconds on Level 5. She beamed as she left the room to meet her friends for lunch. Cassidy and Albany were already seated, and there was a plate of food waiting for Lynn at the table. The two girls grinned when they saw Lynn walk up, and she grinned back. “I got first place in Rush!” she announced. “Really?” Cassidy asked excitedly. “Congrats! I only got second place in Flame Evasion.” “Seriously?” Lynn and Albany exclaimed simultaneously. “You should have gotten first!” Lynn added. “I saw you through the window when I passed and you were really good.” “Agreed,” Albany replied. “My other game was really hard!” she laughed.

“What was it?”

“Something called Lost Time. You were trapped in a room, and you had to solve puzzles and things like that to get out.”

“Sounds cool!” Cassidy replied. “I don’t think I’d be very good at it though.” She turned to Lynn. “How’d you do in your other game? Albany told me you picked Water Evasion.” “Yep,” Lynn replied. “I was okay at that, but I’m definitely better at Rush. Did you know you have to do a trick every time you go through?”

“Really?” Cassidy and Albany asked. The girls spent the rest of the lunch period nibbling at their food as they told each other about their different games and the people in them. “There was this kid named Ross in mine,” Cassidy said. “He wasn’t bad at it, but he was pretty annoying.” “Ross?” Lynn replied. “Ugh, he drove me nuts! He went before me in Rush and I beat him miserably.”
                                                                          …………………………
The days went by quickly, with each session progressing nicely and Lynn’s skills improving faster than ever. One day she was even commended by her Rush instructor, Elisabeth, for her speed and execution of tricks during her sessions. “Lynn Thomas is one of the best students I’ve had in years!” she announced at the end of Lynn’s 7th session. She’d been practicing her flips in her dorm every night, while Cassidy watched with amusement, cracking up whenever she fell over.

At one lunch period, the three girls traded stories of funny things that happened during their sessions. One day, Cassidy told them about a girl that fell off the makeshift island during Flame Evasion. “She got some of the fake flames on her, and she started screaming and jumping around. While she was trying to beat the flames off she went underneath a tree, and her hair caught on fire. It really made her flip out, and then she fell off the island!” Cassidy told them, acting it out dramatically.  Lynn and Albany cracked up, picturing it in their heads. “Oh, that freak-out’s nothing!” Lynn replied. “When I beat Ross in Rush for the 3rd time, he looked like he wanted to slap me! Then he started stomping around in circles and ran into a girl named Kylee, then she fell over onto somebody named Korbin, who fell onto someone named Alexis, and it kept going! He started a domino line!” All three of them cracked up. Finally the lunch period ended, and the bell rang for next sessions. Lynn didn’t have plans, so she thought for a moment about what to do. Suddenly, an idea popped into her head. “Excuse me,” she asked a guard at the door. “Are we able to do extra sessions in our game choices?” “Sure,” he responded, pulling out a small electronic device. “What’s your name and which games did you choose?” “Lynna Thomas,” she stated. “I picked Water Evasion and Rush.” “Ah, so you’re the one who got first place in Rush on your first day!” the guard said as he typed the letters into his screen. “Congratulations. All right, you’re good to go! You’ve got two hours of extra sessions every day.” “Thank you!” Lynn headed toward the Water Evasion room.
                                                         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
She was able to get through two levels all on her own, hitting every button and making it through each door. After she died on the third level, swimming through deep water to hit a button, she faded back into the main room. There was another girl there, waiting for Lynn to finish so she could take extra time. “Did you want to take a turn?” Lynn asked. The girl rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “No, I’ll just join you.” She walked into the box, which still had an open door. Lynn followed her in. “I’m Lynn Thomas, “she said, extending her hand. “Robin,” the girl snapped. “Robin Jores.” She ignored Lynn’s hand, which Lynn dropped to her side. Robin’s name rang a bell in Lynn’s mind, but she didn’t mention it. They reached the room and began the level.
 
 Chapter 10: A Discovery
They both headed quickly toward the log where the first button was, but they collided as they reached it. Robin fell into the water with a huge splash, leaving Lynn tottering on the log. As Robin came up sputtering, she shouted, “What are you doing?” “Um,” Lynn responded. “Trying to get to the button?” “Well, don’t!” Robin said. She climbed back up onto the shore as Lynn reached and pressed the button. They went through the next door, attempting to avoid each other and failing. Robin reluctantly followed Lynn across the first bridge, then, just as Lynn had at first, fell off of the stumps, leaving Lynn to move forward and hit the next two buttons. Lynn beat her to the end of the level easily.
As she finally stumbled into the room at the end, Robin panted and leaned on the wall, glaring at Lynn’s perfectly dry clothes. “How did you do so well? You clearly only just started.” she sneered. “I did start only this week,” Lynn replied evenly. “But I know how to think things through, and I know how to practice. I started in the first session of the week, and I got extra sessions after lunch ended today.” The other girl rolled her eyes, then a look of recognition passed across her face. “Of course you would.” she said. “You’re the kid who got first place right above me in Rush, aren’t you?” Lynn nodded. “Go figure.” Robin scoffed. Then, with the next level having started, she stomped toward the first button, mumbling to herself about extra sessions and goody-goodies.
                                                                             ..........…………………
Lynn set her tray down at the table where Cassidy and Albany were already seated, eating dinner. The girl from Water Evasion had been in her mind ever since the training. “Did either of you guys have somebody named Robin Jores in any of your games?” she asked. Cassidy knit her eyebrows into a frown, concentrating. “I don’t think so…” she replied. “Why, do you?” “I don’t actually know,” Lynn said. “I went to do extra sessions in Water Evasion when you and Albany were busy, and she showed up. She seems pretty stuck-up, and she left before I was finished.” Albany had been sitting quietly, lost in thought. Now she looked up, eyes wide. “I had her in Catch earlier! She seemed like she didn’t really want to be there, but she wasn’t bad at it.” They chatted about other people in their games for a while. Suddenly Lynn remembered something, and her face paled. Cassidy, who had been excitedly chattering about the scoreboard in Flame Evasion, stopped abruptly. “Lynn, what’s wrong?” she asked anxiously. “C-can I talk to you for a second, Cassidy?” she asked. She turned to Albany and opened her mouth, but Albany waved her away. “Go ahead, I’ll be fine.” She said, and Lynn smiled gratefully. She walked Cassidy to the door of the dining hall and turned to her. “Do you remember the black-suited people?” “Yeah, they were weird.” Cassidy replied. “Why? Did you walk into a meeting again?” “No, I deliberately stopped to listen to their meeting.” Lynn said, breathing deeply, and Cassidy’s eyes widened. “They talked about us, Cassidy. You and me and Albany. And they mentioned that girl, Robin Jores, too.” “What?” Cassidy said, sounding interested. “Why’d they mention us?”
“I don’t know, but they said something about tests. They said we might be a ‘good match’.”

“Wow,” Cassidy said, amazed. “Why us? How are we a good match for a test? And what kind of test?” “That’s the thing!” Lynn replied. “I have no clue. And that’s what really driving me up the wall—I can’t figure it out! They’ve been floating through my head all day and I don’t what they’re doing.” “Should we tell Albany?” Cassidy asked. “She could help us figure it out.” Lynn thought it over for a second. “No, I don’t think we should. At least not yet. We shouldn’t worry her about it.” Just then, the bell for the end of dinner rang, signaling that the competitors should be leaving the dining hall. “We probably should go find her though, and figure out what to do for the evening.”
                                                                          ………………………………..
As this conversation went down, a man in a black suit listened from around the corner of the dining hall. His face grew apprehensive as he realized what they were talking about. He turned around and headed back to the meeting room. “They’ve found us out,” he said as he opened the door.
                                                                          ………………………………..
Lynn and Cassidy walked back to their table, navigating through the river of people leaving the dining hall, only to discover that Albany wasn’t at their table. “Maybe she already left!” Cassidy called over the din of stomping feet and laughing people. Lynn nodded and motioned for her to follow. They reached the door of the dining hall and headed off to the side. “Should we check her dorm?” Lynn said. “Probably,” Cassidy agreed. So they headed off in the direction of Albany’s dorm. As they walked, Lynn’s mind wandered to the black-suited people again. Cassidy could clearly tell, because she said to Lynn “It’ll be fine. We’ll figure it all out.” Lynn nodded. Her friend was always optimistic, hoping for the best in every situation. But once they reached Albany’s door, they discovered that the “do not disturb” sign given to every dorm was up on the doorknob. “Probably her roommate put it up,” Lynn said, and Cassidy nodded. “We can find her again at breakfast tomorrow.” She added. They walked off toward their own dorm, then Cassidy stopped. “Do you know if there’s any kind of activity here?” she asked Lynn. “We could do that until lights-out.” “Good idea.” Lynn said. They set off in search of the front desk. “Excuse me,” Cassidy asked the tired-looking man sitting behind it. “Do you guys have any sort of activities that we can do when we’re not in sessions?” “Well,” the man said. “We do have a swimming pool, which is typically reserved for the younger competitors’ Dolphins game, but I’ll let you use it…just this once.” “Awesome!” Cassidy cried, high-fiving Lynn. Little did she know that the man said that to everyone!

The pair headed back to their dorm and donned swimsuits, towels, and water bottles to drink out of before heading to the pool. “Cannonball!” They shouted as they flew into the water. Both girls swam like a fish, so they raced underwater, which Lynn won twice and lost three times, and did diving challenges. Finally, Lynn climbed out of the pool to take a break. “I’m beat!” she said, taking a sip from her water bottle. “I can’t believe I lost to you,” she laughed. She turned around to grab her towel so she could dry her face off. When her gaze turned toward the door, she noticed a black suited man watching from the door! As soon as they made eye contact, the man quickly ducked out of the room, clearly trying to look like he’d never been there. Putting it out of her mind, Lynn jumped back in the pool and ducked underwater while Cassidy was looking away, hoping to scare her by jumping up behind her.

Chapter 11 (Mini Chapter)
Lynn tossed and turned in bed, flinging her swimming-pool-wet hair out of her face from time to time. Questions filled her mind. Why had the black-suited man been watching them? Was it because of the tests they were planning? Why did they need them? Lynn finally drifted into a restless sleep, dreaming about mysterious eyes watching her.

Chapter 12: Mrs. Thomas’s Visit
Lynn hopped off the finishing platform in Rush, almost dizzy from the exhilarating speed. “Very nice job, Lynn.” Elisabeth told her, waving the next person forward. Lynn sat down and picked up a water bottle, gazing around the room. Her eyes landed on the window that people could watch from, and saw someone she hadn’t expected to see: her mother! She stood up quickly and walked over to her group leader. “Mrs. Mendro, I hate to ask you this, but can I leave the session? My mom is here.” She gestured toward the window. Elisabeth turned, and a flicker of surprise passed over her face. “Sure, Lynn. Just don’t skip your next session, or you’ll be disqualified, remember?” “No problem!” Lynn said, giving her a thumbs up. She rushed over to the door and ran to meet her mother. “Mom! What are you doing here?” She shouted exuberantly. “Just thought I’d come visit, see how you were doing.” She smiled. “You know everyone at home is very proud of you! Your grandparents have been asking nonstop how you’re doing, and I was wondering a bit too, so I decided to come up and have a look. I guess I’ve got some good news to report back home!” she said, pointing at the scoreboard above the Rush room. It still displayed Lynn’s name at the very top.  Lynn laughed. “I guess you do. So how have things been at home? How’s Juno doing?” Her mother giggled. “Juno is…well, she’s as lazy as ever. But I think she’s been wondering where you’ve been! Poor dog keeps going in your room looking for you!” Lynn laughed. “Poor oaf. But she’ll be glad when I get back. What about Grandma and Grandpa? How’ve they been, other than curious?”

“I think they want to be able to visit, but I’m not sure they can, what with the distance and everything. Do you think this place would let you video call them or something like that? I’m sure they would love it.”

“Good question, but no clue! I’ll definitely ask later though.” Lynn replied, grinning. “Has Dad sent anything yet?” “Not yet,” her mother said. “But he did mention a postcard coming in the mail in a few days. I can have it forwarded here so you can read it.” “Yay!” Lynn cheered. “Mom, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” she said, her smile getting smaller.” “Why didn’t you want me to enter?” Her mom’s face grew cloudy and she sighed. “Are you sure you want to know?” Lynn nodded vigorously. Her mother took a deep breath and began:

“Okay. I was a little younger than you, maybe about 11. I wanted to enter the Game, so my dad took me to the Center of Entry, since that’s always been where you enter, and I turned in my form to be part of it. I went to talk to my principal the very next day, and he told me what to expect, probably just like you did. I picked Rush and something else called Flame Evasion. I got close to the top of the leaderboards in Rush, but nowhere near as high up as you’ve gotten. I progressed into the finals, and passed them in both of my games, so I got a choice between Rush and Flame Evasion. I think I picked Flame Evasion, but I don’t fully remember. Finally, I was in the Game! And not just practice, but the real thing.”

“I stood in line with all the other kids in Flame Evasion Level 4 and I went in and watched the first kid go. I watched them as they passed the first part, and the next part, but then they slipped. They fell off the island and they did the fading thing that kid just did,” she said, pointing at a kid that had just fallen off part of the course. “I saw them fall, and…I can’t finish. If I say the rest it will ruin it.” “No, you won’t ruin it, Mom! What happened?” Lynn pressed. “No, I really can’t tell you. It will change your entire outlook on the Game.” Her mother said anxiously. She looked at her watch and jumped up. “Oh, no! I have to go. I was supposed to meet your aunt Drea at 2, and it’s 2:15! I’m so sorry, Lynn, but I have to go.” “Mom, wait just a second.” Lynn had noticed a black-suited man lingering nearby and looking away discreetly when he saw that she’d noticed him. “Do you know anything about them?” she asked, jerking her head in the direction of the man. Her mother looked and her eyes grew as big as dinner plates. “I really do have to go, honey.” She said, managing to keep her voice steady. She kissed Lynn on the cheek and then swiftly walked away. Lynn looked after her, confused and wondering even more. Her mother obviously knew something. But what?
 
Chapter 13: Do You Believe Me?
Lynn met Cassidy for lunch after Rush ended and discovered that something had happened. “Albany!” she cried happily. “Where have you been? We looked for you after dinner last night but never found you.” Albany looked at her, appearing to try and remember something. “I don’t actually know,” she replied slowly, sounding confused. “Someone in a black suit walked up to me, and that’s the last thing I remember.” Lynn and Cassidy exchanged amazed looks, knowing exactly what she was talking about. “Albany, can you remember what he looked like? Was it just a black suit, or did it have a pattern, or what?” Albany replied, “I think it was just plain black, and the guy was kind of tall. He—“ She broke off mid-sentence, noticing how pale Lynn and Cassidy’s faces had gotten.  “What’s wrong?” she asked. Lynn sighed. “Albany, we have to tell you something.”
…………………………………
“I don’t know if I believe you.” Albany said after hearing the tale. “That sounds pretty outlandish.” “But you have to believe us!” Cassidy said, her face pink. “If you don’t believe us, all three of our lives could be in danger.” “And Robin’s life,” Lynn reminded her. “I don’t know who she is, but we have to find her again and tell her what I heard.” Cassidy nodded. “Look. My point is,” Albany said. “This is all just so ridiculous. People wearing black suits want to take four random girls in for testing? And your mother told you something happened. What does it matter?” Then she paused. “Well, I guess I can believe your mother’s part. But nothing else sounds right.” Cassidy’s face was red by now. “Why don’t you believe it? I know it sounds ridiculous, but would we lie to you? Do you seriously think that?” “I don’t know,” Albany said. Then she walked away.
                                                                         ……………………………………..
Do they really think I’m that stupid? Albany thought as she walked down the hall toward her dorm. She snorted. Men in black suits wanting to test us. What’s even the point? She opened the door to her dorm, then shrieked. There was a man in a black suit sitting on her bed! “Hello, Albany. I’m going to need you to come with me.” he said.
                                                                        ……………………………………….
Lynn walked into her extra Water Evasion session after lunch and discovered that she was not alone—Robin was there again too. Perfect, Lynn thought. Now I can tell her.

“Ugh, not you again!” Robin said, rolling her eyes in disgust. “I’ve been doing just fine on my own, and then you had to show up.” “Robin, I have to tell you something.” Lynn said, ignoring the rude statement. “What, that you broke the scoreboard in Rush? That you’re so far up on it now that you don’t show up?” Robin was clearly still resentful about Lynn being better at Rush than she was. “No, it’s nothing to do with either of our games. It’s a matter of life and death.” Robin looked at her curiously. “I’m listening,” she responded expectantly. As they went through the Water Evasion courses, Lynn told her the whole story. “Well, as stupid as this all sounds, I’m inclined to believe you. I never liked the guys in black suits anyway.” Robin said, hitting a button.  Lynn breathed a sigh of relief as she hopped across a set of bouncing stairs that she didn’t much like. “We probably should tell my friends then,” Lynn said. “Maybe it’ll get Albany to believe me.” Robin started to say something, but got tripped up at a moving wall and fell into the water. They weren’t even remotely close to the end of their ‘Level Hard’ round, so Lynn shrugged and jumped into the water after Robin, swimming around until she began to fade. Robin was already sipping her water and grabbing up a backpack she’d apparently brought with her. Lynn shoved her hair out of her eyes and they headed on their way.
                                                                            …………………………..
“Alright, so you’re Cassidy,” Robin said. She snickered. “Fitting that you picked Flame Evasion. You seem like a little fireball.” Cassidy rolled her eyes. “Look, you believe us, right?” she said exasperatedly, and Robin nodded. “Then you have to help us convince Albany! She thinks it all sounds ridiculous.” “I’ll help you convince your friend,” she said. “But I have one question first.” Oh boy, Lynn thought. “What’s in it for me?” “Ummm…” Lynn said. “I guess that you don’t have to submit to any weird testing, I guess?” “Not good enough.” Robin shook her head. “Look, we can think of something later. Will you help us or not?” “I guess I’ll help,” Robin finally relented. “But I’m holding you to that deal! I’m getting something out of this eventually.” This time Lynn and Cassidy both rolled their eyes. “So what’s the plan? What are we doing to convince her?” Lynn sighed. “Currently, our plan is just to bring you and tell her what we all think…again. It kind of needs a little more than that.” Robin looked at them in disbelief. “Seriously? That’s all you’ve got?” Lynn nodded sheepishly. “Then you found me not a moment too soon.”
                                                                      ……………………………….
They worked on their plan all afternoon, thinking of details and figuring out how to accomplish it. Robin, not surprisingly prepared for anything, pulled out a pad of paper and a pack of pencils to write down how they would pull it off. Finally, they were done, their plan down and ready: Lynn would approach Albany first and remind her of the story. This first step was one of the most important, though they were slightly worried about how Albany would react. Next, Cassidy would bring Robin in and explain who she was. Robin would then give all evidence of what she’d found out about the black-suited people in the last two weeks that she’d been there. Then, they hoped, Albany would be at least convinced enough that she would agree that Lynn’s story was true. They decided that they would carry it out at dinner, since that was when they were most likely to see her again.

After a rehearsal of how it would go, which didn’t exactly work too well (“You guys are terrible actors!” Robin exclaimed laughing more than once), Robin left. Lynn and Cassidy flopped down on their beds, exhausted. “Lynn, what do you think of this whole thing with Robin?” Cassidy asked. Lynn, always the more reasonable of the two, responded after a moment, “I really don’t know. I mean, I hope it works, but I really don’t know.”
 
Chapter Fourteen: Has Anyone Seen Her?
The clocks were clearly trying to torture Lynn, as they seemed to go slower than she could ever remember them going. Would dinner ever come? She just wanted to get the whole thing over with.
Finally, the clock struck 5:55, the time when Lynn, Cassidy, and Robin were all supposed to meet by the door of the Dining Hall. Lynn exchanged a nervous glance with Cassidy as they reached the door, where Robin was leaning on the wall, waiting for them. “Finally!” she said. “Let’s rehearse it one more time.” “Not again!” Cassidy said. “You saw how bad we did earlier."

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