United States

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

Message to Readers

This is my SECOND DRAFT EEEEE of my story "The Game"!!! Please read and give feedback if you can! I hope you like it! :D

The Game (working)

October 18, 2018


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, nodding 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 enter the game or not? If so, when would she enter? With these thoughts filling her head, Lynn reached the bus stop and was greeted by her best friend Cassidy Jessen, 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?” Cassidy 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) = 12.”
     “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. Robinson.” 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 textbooks 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 enter the Game.
     As she headed to her locker after class, 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 dark hoodie 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 the last 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 hood 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 in sympathy. “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 right 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 army service and his win in the Game, 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!” She rode the bus for another 5 minutes before she reached her stop.
     On the way into the house she grabbed the mail and 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.
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. “Cassidy, 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 of 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. 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 the last two Games 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 that you would be happy about that!” She smiled. “Just from the looks of you two, I would expect you to be BFFS, and sort of be super happy about sharing a room, you know?” The girls nodded.
      They moved on to some of the training rooms. Cara explained to them that 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 dining 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 the girl before Lynn could finish. “Joely!” Cassidy shouted. The girl dropped her fork and looked up, startled. Cassidy jumped back and put her hand 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, a little reluctant at taking over the girl’s table. “I’m Cassidy Jessen,” Cassidy told the girl. “Lynn Thomas.” Lynn said with a small wave. “Are you sure you’re okay with us sitting here? I mean, I’m not trying to take over or anything.” “Oh, no, you’re fine!” The girl brushed her long, slightly staticky hair out of her face. She 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. This shy girl turned out to be not so shy after they talked with her for a while, and she was very animated and talkative. 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!” 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. Then they dashed out the door, hoping to reach the dining 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 dining 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 she had always naturally been a bit suspicious, and the small 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. Probably Cassidy was right.
Finally they reached the dining hall. 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 have 20 minutes to choose your Games.” 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 patiently 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. Then you will all enter the courses in groups of 12. 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 and Albany 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. Looking around under the water, she unthinkingly took a deep breath. Whoa, that’s weird, she thought when she realized the actually could breathe. 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 already 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 Level 1. Difficulty progressing to Level 2.”
     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 this year to pass 3 levels in a row as you just did.” She checked her watch, then added: “And perfect timing as well! The session 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 darkly 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 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.” “No kidding,” a boy next to her mumbled. Lynn turned and saw that it was one of the last two kids to leave the box in Water Evasion, Ross Delarane. He looked at her, then averted his gaze, his face slightly pink. 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 moved roughly 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 teasing 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 fourth 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, then changed the subject. “My other game was super hard!”
“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 some kind of 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. “Oh, he was annoying, all smirky and self-assured. 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. She practiced her flips in her dorm every night, while Cassidy and sometimes Albany watched with amusement, cracking up whenever she fell over. 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.
     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’s jaws dropped. Cassidy quickly assured them, “Don’t worry, they’ve got some kind of weird floor that brings you back up to the beginning.” Then they all cracked up, picturing it in their heads.
     “Oh, that freak-out’s nothing!” Lynn replied. “When I beat this kid Silas in Rush for the third 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 Abigail, 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,” she 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 of training!” the guard said as she typed the letters into her screen. “Congratulations. All right, you’re good to go! You’ve got two hours of extra sessions every day that you choose to use them.” “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 (Officially Introducing Robin)
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 miserably. 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 flicker of recognition passed across her face. “Of course you would.” she said. “You’re the kid who got fourth place right above me in this game, 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.”
     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! I can’t believe I lost to you,” she said, laughing and taking a sip from her water bottle. 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. Nervous now but 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. Mrs. Mendro 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. They sat cross-legged on the floor in the hallway. “You know everyone at home is very proud of you! Your grandparents and your aunt and uncle 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, and Aunt Drea and Uncle Clint? 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 Aunt Drea’s work 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 try and 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. Then her smile dwindled a little. “Mom, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” she said, her smile continuing to shrink.” “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, 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 for the third time, and…” she paused. “I can’t finish. If I say the rest it will ruin it.”
“No, you won’t ruin it, Mom! What happened?”
 “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 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, pointing in the direction of the man. Her mother looked and her eyes grew as big as dinner plates. “I-I really do have to go, honey.” She said, struggling 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 actually kind of looked like—“ 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? 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 Water Evasion 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 3 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 from her backpack 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: A Note
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.” Robin considered for a second. “I guess you’re probably right.” She responded, pushing back a snicker. Suddenly the bell rang for the meal to start, and the threesome waited by the door to see if they could spot Albany. Finally they headed in, bored with waiting and not having spotted her. Lynn looked around the room as she grabbed a plate with a burger and salad. Where is she? Lynn thought in dismay when she reached their usual table, only to find out that Albany was not there. She left her food at the table and went to tell Cassidy and Robin, who were lurking by the food counter.
    “Guys, she’s not there!” she announced. Robin frowned. “What do you mean, she’s not there? She has to be there by now or she’ll miss dinner.” “I don’t know why, but she’s not. Come see for yourself.” She walked them over to the table, and this time Cassidy frowned. “But why?” she said, more to herself than the others. Lynn picked her plate up to take it back, having lost her appetite by then. Then she spied something nestled in the leaves of her salad. “What’s this?” she said. She pulled out a small piece of paper, unfolded it, then read it aloud.  It said:
Stop interfering,
and you can get her back.
If you wish to see the fate of the Game,
leave us alone.

    “Well,” Cassidy noted. “That was cryptic.” Lynn agreed, but she had a different sensation as well – fear. Was this a threat against them?
They left the dining hall in a hurry, going this time to Robin’s dorm to escape anyone that might be spying on Lynn and Cassidy. They nearly encountered the man Lynn had seen at the pool on their way. As she pushed the door open, even Robin felt uneasy. They all sat on the bed carefully and Lynn held the note on her lap. No one spoke. Finally, Robin stood up. “Okay, I refuse to sit here and cower. What are we doing?” Lynn sighed. “I don’t know.” She said, and buried her head in her hands. “I’m worried, and I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do.” Cassidy patted her back. “So am I, Lynn.” Robin rolled her eyes. “Yeesh, ya’ll are so sappy! If you want to get your friend back, we need to make a plan.” Lynn sat up and smiled at Robin. “Boy, you do like to have a plan.” Lynn laughed a little. “But you’re right. What do you think we should do?”
“Seriously, I think it’ll work great.” Robin said. “Are you kidding me?” Cassidy said. “That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard all week!”
“Well, do you have a better idea?”
“No, but at least I-“
“Guys!” Lynn cut the two fighting girls off before the argument escalated any further. “Stop fighting! We already have a hard enough time working together. Don’t make it any worse!” Robin and Cassidy stopped, but they both looked like they wanted to punch each other as they turned away. “Cassidy, do you have any idea of a plan?” Cassidy looked down, embarrassed. “Not yet.” She looked up and sent a murderous look at Robin. “But I was thinking of one before this numbskull started talking!” Lynn rolled her eyes and turned to Robin. “Robin, we can try yours…“ Cassidy’s mouth dropped. “…BUT if yours doesn’t work, we need to try something else, and let Cassidy think of something. We’ve tried two of your splabs already.” Finally Cassidy was satisfied, and they decided to proceed with Robin’s idea.
Chapter Fifteen: Could They Trust Him? (Introducing Maverick)
The black-suited man stood at the door of the girl’s room. Behind the sunglasses he wore, his forehead was damp with sweat. Why was he doing this? He knew the poor girl personally. And before he’d delivered the girl to his boss, she had looked at him with a look of such sadness he almost took her back. Suddenly he noticed three girls trooping toward the room. He did a quick recall of all he’d been told. Were these the other three girls, Lynn, Cassidy and Robin? The man knew that Lynn and Cassidy were best friends and the Robin had been there for a few days already. One of them, the one in the middle with wavy brown hair, glanced toward the door and held the other two back. She said something to them quietly, gesturing a little, and the other two glanced over as well. Finally they moved forward, pausing when they stood in front of him. Automatically, the man told them “Sorry, ladies, you can’t come through here right now. Official business.”
Lynn instantly felt disappointed at his statement, but Robin challenged him: “What type of ‘official business’ is that? This is someone’s dorm!” Cassidy looked over at Robin with a look of exasperation. “Robin!” she whispered. Lynn decided to try again. “Sir, we need to speak to Albany. It’s very important.” The man opened his mouth, but hesitated. “So where is she? Why can’t we talk to her?” Robin said again. This time both Lynn and Cassidy glared at her. The man seemed uncomfortable, but finally leaned forward. “Meet me here tonight, at 11 PM. I can tell you what you need to know then.” With that, he returned to staring forward.
The man waited until the girls had walked away, looking confused, before he started to reprimand himself. Why had he done that? He could get himself fired! It was, without a doubt, the stupidest decision of his life.
Walking away from the man, Lynn wondered. Should they actually bother to meet him tonight? Could they trust him?
Cassidy walked next to Lynn and thought about the man. Why did he seem so nervous? Could they trust him?
Robin trotted along, her brain on high gear. Who the heck was this guy? Was he truly one of the black-suited people? Could they trust him?
Chapter Sixteen: Meeting the Man (Officially Introducing Maverick)
Lynn lay in her dorm that night, mulling over what all had happened since they had arrived. When they’d shown up, Lynn and Cassidy had been shown to their dorm by the nervous-seeming Cara Lee, who later seemed not so nervous. The two girls had met Albany at lunch. Then Lynn had chosen her Games, Water Evasion and Rush, Cassidy chose Flame Evasion and Freeze Apocalypse, and Albany chose Water Evasion, Lost Time, and A-Mazed. After about a week, Lynn got extra sessions and met Robin in Water Evasion. Suddenly she sat up. “That’s it!” she cried. Cassidy looked at her, startled. “Evasion!” she said. She jumped up, pulled on her shoes, and ran out the door, leaving Cassidy looking perplexed. She sped down the halls toward Robin’s dorm, not caring whether it was after lights-out or if she was seen.
    She reached her dorm and banged on the door. “What the heck are you doing? We aren’t supposed to meet him yet!” she said in a stage whisper. “I know why they chose us.” Lynn said.
Robin paced in front of Lynn’s bed. She’d snuck with Lynn back to her dorm after Lynn talked to her. “So you’re saying,” she said, rubbing her chin. “You’re saying that they picked us because we all chose Evasion games.”
“How is that relevant, though?”
     “Well, it would explain why it was just the three of us and Albany. Plus it gives an idea of what type of person they think would do well in their ‘tests’.”
     “You make a good point.” Robin said, sighing. She plopped onto the bed. “But why the Evasion games? Why not Escape Artists, where you have to solve the puzzles to get out, or the other game where you have to remember exactly how you got through something?” “Those are exactly the type of traits you would want in somebody that you were testing,” Cassidy agreed. “I guess we’ll find out when we go meet this guy tonight. Speaking of, what time is it?” Lynn glanced up at the clock. “10:45,” she stated. “Guess we should probably get going.” The threesome hopped up and went to the door. Cassidy went out first, checking to be sure the halls were empty. Robin followed. Lynn began to follow them, but hesitated at the door before flipping the light switch. Lynn didn’t like this one bit. Should they do it at all? “Lynn! Come on!” Cassidy whispered. Lynn flicked the switch, shut the door, and went.
They tiptoed down the halls, checking around every corner for a black-suited person or a random worker before proceeding. Finally they reached Albany’s dorm. The man was there, just as he said he’d be. “Good, you’re here.” He said. “Follow me.” They walked down the hallway, finally ending up in a large meeting room- the same meeting room Lynn had eavesdropped through the door of! “Why did you bring us here?” she asked the man, as loudly as she dared. “I saw you meeting with the others here!”
    The man sat down at the head of the table rather stiffly and took off his sunglasses. “My name is Maverick, and I am your friend’s older brother.”
Chapter Seventeen: An Explanation
“What?” Cassidy screeched. “Older brother?” Maverick nodded. “I got her into this Game unwillingly, only by the order of my employers. I’ve been watching you and Cassidy too, Lynn, to see if I could find an opportune time to collect you too. I would never have done it were it not for this job, and I wish I had never taken it.” “Why did you take the job though?” Cassidy said. “You never had to take it.” “It was simply to put food on the table at home! Our mother died 2 years ago, and our father has still not gotten over it. He is too disheartened to work, so I had to do it for him, if only to provide my poor sister a roof to stay under.”
     “I’ve been doing it for the last year and a half, and hated every minute of it. Then when my employers demanded that I bring my sister into the competition, I nearly quit. But they threatened something far worse for her if I didn’t comply. So I did it. And now she’s here, and she’s in their hands, and...” His voice trailed off midsentence. The girls were quiet for a moment. “Wow,” Cassidy finally said. “That sounds terrible.” “It does,” Robin agreed. “And that’s why we need to stop them.” Maverick looked up, terrified. “Stop them? No way! Do you have any clue what they’ll do to you if they find out?”
     “Yes. And I’m still willing to do it. I never liked them in the first place, and when I joined up with these two” -she motioned to Lynn and Cassidy, who nodded- “I discovered impossible things, things that I wouldn’t have believed in a million years. But these impossible, unbelievable things explained so much that I never would have figured out otherwise, and they tell me that I need to stop them.”
     Maverick shook his head wildly. “There’s no- That’s-” he stuttered. “Look,” Lynn said, interrupting him and leaning forward. “You said yourself that you didn’t want to take this job, and you’ve hated every minute of it. So why don’t you join us? Help us take them down?” “I told you I do it to keep my sister clothed and fed!” he said exasperatedly, throwing his hands into the air. “And you’re just kids! How exactly do you plan on stopping them when the battle’s three against three thousand? It’s impossible!” Lynn’s face hardened. “Fine.” she said, and left the room. “Lynn!” Cassidy called after her. Lynn ignored her, leaving the others sitting in the room in shocked silence.
Lynn slammed her door shut and threw herself onto the bed. She couldn’t believe that the man would deny them like that, toss their plans aside and call them “just kids”! The one person outside of her friends that she thought she might be able to work with, gone just like that. She hadn’t really trusted him in the first place, but he was Albany’s brother, for heaven’s sake! It was ridiculous.
     Suddenly she heard a soft knock on the door, and she dragged herself up to answer it. It was Cassidy, glancing side to side to be sure she wasn’t seen. Honestly, Lynn was surprised none of them had been caught yet, what with how many times they’d been out and about after lights-out.  “Lynn, I’m sorry about Maverick.” Cassidy said.  “He’s still sitting there looking stunned.” “Why would I care?” Lynn said a bit too loudly. “He doesn’t care about us, or stopping the black-suited people. He just cares about his job.” “He said he does it to keep Albany taken care of! Did you not hear him say any of that?” Cassidy insisted. “But how do we know he is who he says he is? That any of that was true?” Lynn challenged. “For all we know, he’s just a guy who wants to put us into the hands of the head suit guy so that they can ‘test’ us?” Cassidy was quiet for a moment. “True though that may be,” she said. “I feel bad for him. Lynn sighed. "I don't know," she said. "Look. I'll come back to get Robin, but I don't trust him."
     The two headed back down the hall, this time with a lot more caution that the first time. When they reached the room, they discovered Robin sitting back in the chair and talking to Maverick, who was looking at his lap and looking downcast. Maverick looked up when Lynn entered the room. His face went red and he looked back down. "I'm sorry." he said. "I shouldn't have said that to you." Darn right you shouldn't have, Lynn thought. She rolled her eyes slightly and glared at him. Robin looked at Lynn. "I think we can trust him, Lynn," she said. "His story seems believable. Look, I'll prove it." "She turned to Maverick and posed a question. “How old is Albany?" Maverick had begun to seem tense and nervous, but now he looked relieved. "She 14, like you are." he said. Robin turned back to Lynn. "See? He knows Albany."
     This continued for another 10 minutes, with varying questions. What was her hair color? How tall was she? Did she live in a big house or a small house? After Maverick answered all of these questions correctly, Lynn finally relented. "Okay, look. We'll let him join us. But only if one of us is with him at all times, and we tell the others what he does." Cassidy lifted her hands in the air joyously. "Finally!" she shouted. Then she clapped her hands over her mouth. "Oops, I forgot it's after hours."
They left the room and the group separated. All of them needed sleep.
Chapter Eighteen: Planning (Mini Chapter)
The next morning, they proceeded as though it was a regular day of training. They went to breakfast and then headed to their training sessions. But at lunch, it changed. Instead of going to the dining hall as they usually would, they went to the meeting room again and talked to Maverick. After lunch, they continued their training. For the rest of the week, it went like this. Lynn continued to stay at the top of the Rush leaderboards. Cassidy reached the top of Flame Evasion. And Robin beat out every other player in Water Evasion with her competitive nature. She teamed with Lynn to keep them both alive.
“Let’s write down our ideas for where she could be,” Lynn said one day during their lunch meetings. Their list included a lot of places that the girls couldn’t get to, but Maverick could: A hidden meeting room that only the black-suited people could enter; an empty elevator shaft that Lynn was not entirely sure existed. The list went on.
Every night, Lynn would go over everything they’d planned that day, and also everything they’d practiced in training. Though she was really in it to rescue Albany and stop the black-suited people, she still wanted to win the Game.
Chapter Nineteen: Ross
One day at breakfast, Lynn saw Maverick talking to Ross, the kid that Lynn remembered from Rush. Maverick would occasionally wave his arms around and motion toward Lynn and her friends. Lynn could not help but wonder why he was doing it. She also couldn’t help but wonder why he was talking to Ross. Lynn put it out of her mind and continued to eat her waffle. Finally Maverick headed over. “Guys, I’ve recruited us somebody else.” When he said that, Lynn got a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Who is it?” she asked, just to be sure she was right. “His name is Ross,” Maverick replied. “And-“ “And he’s in Rush, right?” Lynn said. Maverick nodded. She buried her face in her hands. ”Ugh, Maverick, he’s the worst person you could have picked! Why were you even looking for people anyway?”
      Cassidy had sank down in her seat a little by now, her face partly hidden by her bowl of Fruity Pebbles. “That, uh, that would be my fault.” She said sheepishly, her face pink. “I asked him to look for other people to join the team so that it wouldn’t be ‘3 against three thousand’ like Maverick said before.” Maverick looked bashful. “Well, the best of the best weren’t available, so we got the best of the mediocre. I didn’t know you had a personal vendetta or something with the kid.” Lynn rolled her eyes. “I don’t have a ‘vendetta’, I just think he’s annoying. He acts all smirky and sarcastic whenever he beats me on a level in Rush.” “He’s coming to our lunch meeting to be debriefed, so you’d better get used to the idea by then.” Maverick said. Then he headed off to a meeting.
      “I can’t believe this!” Lynn said, thinking out loud. “Why the heck would he pick Ross? He just wants to win anyway, he doesn’t have a reason for joining us.” “Why don’t you give him a chance, Lynn?” Robin replied over her omelet. She grinned a small, devilish smile. “For all you know he’ll work great with us, and then I can tease you about how you wouldn’t even try.” “Robin, you’re a nutcase.” Lynn said back, smiling. But in her head, she was thinking, Why Ross? Why could it not have been anybody else?
The three girls sat in the meeting room with the windows darkened to ensure that no one saw them. Maverick had gone to figure out where Ross went, and the girls were discussing their training again. “Lynn, you need a lot more practice on level 4,” Robin said. “Well, of course I do! It’s the hardest level.”
“But you can’t even get past the second part on Wall of Ghosts!”
“Yeah, I know! The next time I have my extra sessions I’ll work toward that. You can come if you want and we can practice the tag-team way.”
      Right after Lynn said that, Maverick came into the room with Ross, whose mouth and hand were full of a deli sandwich. “Found him!” Maverick announced. Noticing the sandwich, Lynn gave a pointed look at Cassidy, who avoided looking at her. Ross plopped into a seat near the head of the table, quickly brushing the crumbs off his hands and face, and Maverick sat at the foot of it. “Alright, Ross, you’re here for your debriefing.” Maverick stated in a businesslike tone. “Why are they here?” Ross interrupted. “They’re the ones you’ll be working with.” Then, pointing to each one of them in return, Maverick introduced the threesome. “Robin, Cassidy, and Lynn.” Lynn reluctantly waved, while Cassidy and Robin smiled. “Hey, you’re the kid from Rush!” Ross said when he reached Lynn. He almost sounded admiring.
“You beat me on the first day!”
“Yep. Do you want to know why you’re here, or not?”
“Well, yeah…”
“Then listen.”
Maverick continued. “So, we’ve discovered that the people I work for, the ‘black-suited people’ the girls have been calling them, have been kidnapping children that enter the Game and ‘testing’ them in things we have not yet figured out. One of the kids that they kidnapped is my younger sister, Albany, who is also a friend of the girls here. The reason that you are here is to help us discover the full extent of their plan and stop them before they do anything else to any other children. Capisce?” Ross sat in stunned silence for a minute before finally nodding, not looking very sure of himself at all. “Alright, good. So, so far we have listed all of the places that they might have hidden her and any other children that they have taken recently so that we can find them. We’ve also thought of ways that we can get them back.” Then he muttered to himself, “Not that any of them would work…” “Wait,” Ross said, slightly mystified. “You work for them. So why do you want to take them down?”
“Because they have my sister, and I never really liked this job anyway. I got bored pretty quick; office and meeting jobs just aren’t for me.” Ross nodded in understanding. “So are you willing to join us and risk yourself?” Maverick asked him. Ross shifted uncomfortably in his seat a little, but he glanced over at Lynn and agreed to do it. “And don’t tell anybody!” Lynn said. She didn’t want him blabbing around everything they’d learned and planned so far. It could jeopardize it all. He looked a little disappointed when she said that, but he listened.
     “Now, what games are you in?” She asked him. “Rush, Lost Time, Catch, and Captionem Viventem,” he replied. “You picked four games?” Cassidy cried incredulously. Ross looked over defensively. “So what if I picked four games?” Cassidy didn’t respond. Then Lynn remembered something and sat upright. “Hey, Albany was in Lost Time!” “She was?” Robin said, leaning forward. Then she sat back again.
     “But why haven’t we heard about anyone else from Lost Time disappearing without a trace?” she said, sounding almost as though she was talking to herself. “Uh, guys? People have disappeared.” Ross said, sounding like they should have known in the first place.
Chapter Twenty: The Floor Is Lava
“What?” Cassidy and Lynn said simultaneously. “Who? When?”
      “There was a guy named Allan in Escape Artists that disappeared, and everybody just thought he’d quit and gone home. Then there was a girl named Jade who vanished in the middle of a round in Lost Time. But she was the ‘blend into the background’ kind of kid nobody really noticed. I think I’m the only one who saw. And then there was…” Ross continued to list people he knew had disappeared, but Lynn sank down into her seat, looking defeated. “That means we’re right back to square one.” She said.
     “Huh? How?” Ross said. He looked a little hurt that everything he said hadn’t helped. He’d just wanted to help! “That proves our theory wrong!” Lynn snapped. Then she softened a little. “Sorry. I just mean, we thought that they took Albany and were going to take us because we all picked Evasion games; you know, like Water Evasion and Flame Evasion. But what you said just proved that that wasn’t why.” She leaned her head on the table. “We were just random, maybe because we’ve got a thing or two the others don’t. But that doesn’t help us.” Cassidy put her hand on Lynn’s shoulder.
     As the girls comforted Lynn, Ross looked over, then away. What could he do to help her? He racked his brain for an answer. Then he thought of something; something that could change the way their entire mission would go. “Lynn,” he said. But he didn’t say it loud enough, nobody heard him, not even Maverick, who sat in the seat right next to his. “Lynn,” he repeated, louder this time. Still no response. “Hey!” He nearly shouted. The girls finally looked up.
“Are you sure about this?” Lynn asked, standing up with the others. Ross had announced that he might know where the kidnapped kids were being kept, and they had immediately freaked out. Where, they’d asked him? He told them he’d noticed that there were panels in some of the jump landing towers in the Rush Center, and they all had locks on them. They could be hiding them there. After pulling up images of the Centers on a small tablet in his pocket, Ross’s thoughts were confirmed: there were panels in the towers. The plan was hatched that they would somehow go into the Center to look at the panels and see if they had children in them. Since the plan was proposed, Lynn had been skeptical. But Ross had seemed so genuinely hopeful that she couldn’t bring herself, as the deciding vote, to say no. So they were on their way to the Rush Center.
      They left the meeting room as a group. Finally they reached the doors of Rush, where there was a black-suited man standing guard. “You can’t come in here. You should still be in the dining hall,” the man said rudely, not at all like Maverick had been when first approached by the girls. “These four have extra sessions during lunch,” Maverick informed him, lying smoothly. “They’re required to have a supervisor when they do so.” The man narrowed his eyes, but the man let them through and shut the door behind them.
     “Alright guys, spread out,” Maverick said. Lynn jumped off the edge of the first island carefully and landed on the ground, only to find herself right back up on the island. “Holy cow, Lynn!” she hollered. “What just happened?” That was enough to bring a little smile to the faces of Lynn and Ross. “That’s what always happens when you fall off the islands when you’re playing Rush. That’s how they get you back up here after you land.” Lynn replied. She laughed at Cassidy’s reaction, but her smile dropped quickly. “I forgot we can’t touch the floor in here.”  Ross sagged, knowing she was right. “Ugh, you’re right.” He said. “How are we going to make this work?” “There’s got to be a way.” Lynn replied. “There has to.”
      She analyzed the room, looking from the ceiling to the floor. Though she hadn’t originally approved of the plan, they were there by then, and her determination had been turned up. She wasn’t planning on going back anytime soon. Then she remembered something. “Hey!” she shouted, louder than she’d intended to. Everyone turned toward her.  “Guys, do you remember that goofy game that we would play when we were little? ‘The Floor is Lava’?” The group nodded. “We can do that now! What do we have to use?” The group’s eyes brightened, and they turned to Robin. “What? Why me?” “You’re the one with the backpack of stuff,” Cassidy commented. “True,” Robin admitted. Pulling her backpack off, she unzipped it and began to toss things to people. Cassidy headed to the edge and threw the soft pencil case she’d been given over the edge, aiming for a spot she hoped she could reach. Lynn and Ross followed her lead with the baseball cap and composition book they’d been given. But then the items disappeared, and they came back up to the island next to their owners.
 “Oh come on!” she laughed. She tried again. Cassidy, Ross, and Robin were having similar experiences. “Yes, finally!” Lynn shouted when she finally managed to toss it and get to stay down. But as soon as she jumped, it reappeared next to where her feet had been. “Ugh!” she said in frustration when she returned to the island. She sat up and thought for a minute. Then she got an idea. “Hey!” she shouted. It got everyone’s attention and knocked over Ross, who’d finally almost achieved standing status.
     “They have to be able to get down there to open the panels, or to clean the floor, right?” Lynn said when Ross was up with the rest of them. The others nodded. “So maybe,” she countered. “Maybe there’s a way to turn it off!” Ross’s face lit up. “Yes! That’s it!” he cried. “And I know where the switch is! I’ve seen them flicking it when I pass to go to Stultorum Viventum and stuff like that, and when—” He stopped and slapped himself in the face. “Stop. Talking!” he said exasperatedly. Why did he keep doing that? Lynn thought.
       He rushed over to the wall and began to rub his hand along it. “Come on, come on…” he mumbled. “Aha!” He turned back around, and the floors, which had been glowing, dimmed. Lynn walked over to the edge of the island they were on. Staring over the edge, it seemed so much higher than usual. But she took a deep breath, braced herself, and jumped.
   She hit the ground lightly, landing on the tips of her toes and balancing. “Success!” she announced, waving her hands in the air. “But be careful when you jump down!” “Well, duh,” Robin said in her usual sarcastic fashion. “We’re practically jumping off a cliff here!” She came flying down next to Lynn, executing a somersault as she landed. She was quickly followed by Cassidy and Ross, who both kind of flung themselves off of the ledge toward the ground and landed clumsily, falling over onto their butts after touching down. It took them a few tries to stand up on the ridiculously smooth, flat ground. “Maverick, come on!” Ross shouted. “No, you guys are doing fine! I’m just going to stay up here.” He called down to them. Robin rolled her eyes, but left it alone.
     Suddenly they heard the door to the room open, and they all froze in place. “Where are the ones doing extra sessions?” the door opener said. Lynn recognized the voice as that of the door guard who’d let them in. “They’re…over in the large Center,” Maverick said hesitantly. “Well, get over there then! You said yourself that they’re supposed to have a supervisor.” The voice told him testily. Then the door shut. “All clear!” Maverick shouted to them. He had noticed that they had all avoided moving for the moment, and they breathed sighs of relief.
     They all slipped and slid around the floor, looking for the panels Ross had seen. “I found one!” Lynn shouted from the far corner of the room. Everyone came over to her, nearly crashing in the process. “Now I’ve just…got to…open it,” she said, concentrating on the padlock on the panel. She was trying to think of something they had on hand that could pick the keyhole, without much success. The rest of the group watched in silence. “Robin, do you have anything in your backpack?” Ross asked. Robin took off her bag and dug through it. “Well,” she said. “What I’ve got left is a business card from my dad’s work…2 more spiral notebooks…a couple pieces of gum…my jacket…and a book. Nothing helpful.”
     “Let me see the lock for a sec,” Ross said, putting his hands over Lynn’s and rolling the lock around in his fingers. He mumbled to himself, “There should be a weak spot here, or here…” Finally he gave up and his hands dropped in disappointment. “Well, that didn’t work.” “There has to be something we can do to get this open.” Cassidy said. They sat in silence.
     “What about the metal on the notebooks?” Maverick called from the ledge. Everyone looked stupidly at him before Ross’s face lit up. “Oh! I see what you mean!” He pulled one of Robin’s notebooks out of her bag and began pulling the paper out. “Hey, hey, what are you doing?” Robin shouted.
“I need the spiral on the notebook to make a lock pick.”
     He continued to tear out sheets until he reached the covers, which he pulled off just as he did with the paper. Finally he had the spiral in his hand, and he began to uncurl and bend it. The metal began to take shape, and soon Ross had a crude object resembling a key.
      He scooted up toward the panel and wiggled the metal into the keyhole at the bottom. He continued to wiggle it like a key, twisting and turning it continuously until it popped open. Lynn let out a little shriek of joy and clapped like a little kid, as did Cassidy. Ross reached out, took a deep breath, and pulled the door open.
Chapter Twenty One: Training for the Real, Official Game
 There was nothing. All that was there was what appeared to be a circuit board attached to the door, covered in wires and switches. The group deflated, and Cassidy laid back on the ground. “Bring us back up, Maverick,” Lynn called listlessly. The ground began to glow again, and they were transported up to the ledge next to Maverick in less than a second. They all sat on the floor, not moving. “Well, I guess it’s back to the drawing board now,” Maverick said. Even he looked downcast.
     They all began to push themselves off the ground. “Lynn, I’m so sorry about all this,” Ross said, coming over to her on their way out of the room. “I really thought that would be it.” “No, you’re fine,” Lynn said. “I think we’re all just as disappointed as you.” She smiled a small smile at him, and he smiled back with a slightly pink face. “Let’s all split up for training now,” Cassidy said. “Lunch is probably ending in a minute.” “Let’s see if we can get some food first, I think it lasts for about 5 more minutes,” Robin said. “I am starved, and I haven’t eaten a real lunch in 2 weeks.” So they all headed to the dining hall, and for the first time they all sat as a group, even Maverick and Ross. You know, this is actually pretty nice, Lynn thought. All of us here together. All that’s missing is Albany. That thought put a slight damper on her good mood, but it was quickly lifted by the stupid jokes Cassidy was telling. She was telling the joke about Chet the parrot again, and it still made Lynn laugh just as hard as when she’d first heard it.
    “I can top that,” Ross challenged. He looked at Lynn briefly. “There was a guy once who walked into a bar. You’d think he would’ve seen it!” Everyone sat in silence for a minute, trying to understand. Then Cassidy burst out laughing. “Oh my gosh, Ross,” she gasped. “Where did you even pull that from?” After a second Lynn buried her face in her hands and began to laugh too. It was such a stupid joke she couldn’t help but laugh.
Suddenly RIIIIIING, and the alarm for the end of the lunch period sang out and the group split up. “Catch ya later, Lynn,” Ross said, waving. Lynn rolled her eyes. What was it with him?
     “Lynn! Come here for a minute.” Cassidy called. She was standing by the tray deposit machine with Robin. Lynn came, eyebrows raised. “Have you noticed how Ross has been acting?” Robin said.  Lynn was confused.
“What do you mean?”
“He gets all red in the face whenever you talk to him, and ever since he joined us, he’s been trying so hard to impress you. He gives every idea to you.”
“Oh, I see what you’re doing. Are you kidding me? Ross is so annoying! There’s no way he could like me!”
“But there is, Lynn! How do you not see it? Oh, and when we were in the meeting room earlier, he kept looking over at you when he thought no one was watching. Even that joke earlier was supposed to make YOU laugh!”
Lynn crossed her arms. “You guys are both nuts.” She walked off rolling her eyes. But the idea stayed in her mind. What if he really does like me? She thought. Then an even more ridiculous thought entered her head: What if I like him? She shook her head, refusing to believe it, and went to the doorway so she could go to Rush.
“So today in Rush, we’re going to be practicing for the real, official Game.” Mrs. Mendro announced at the start of the training session. At that, whispers erupted, wondering what the heck she was talking about. Hadn’t they been practicing for the official Game the entire time they’d been there? “Now, I know some of you are wondering what that means.” She said, as though reading their minds. “What I mean is that today, rather than practicing each level individually, we’re going to be racing each other.” This time cheers began, and Mrs. Mendro held a hand up to silence them. “I’ll pair you with another person at random, and we’ll take turns using the large Center. If you fall, you will keep going from the beginning of the level you’re on. You can watch your friends compete on the screen up here where the scores are usually displayed. The first pairing will be Jacob and Zora.”
     Jacob and Zora extricated themselves from the group and headed to the yellow line to begin their race. “Go!” Mrs. Mendro shouted, and the two racers were off. Both of them were amazingly skilled, sometimes performing more than one trick. In the end, Jacob won after Zora jumped too far to the right and went over the edge, losing 2 seconds. They were both met with applause when they returned to the island.
     “Great job, Zora and Jacob. You did wonderful. And the next pair is Lynn and Ross from the advanced group, who will be starting on level 5.” What? Lynn and Ross? Was the world out to prove something to her? She walked up to the yellow line, carefully avoiding Ross’s eyes. “Go!” Lynn took a step onto the yellow line and rocketed forward. She jumped effortlessly through the levels, performing her signature flip and the occasional spin in midair. Sadly though, halfway through level 9, she fell, and it took her a second to recollect herself enough to move forward again. By that time, Ross was ahead of her. But he stopped when he saw that she wasn’t in front of him or on his heels. He turned around carefully and jumped back over the island just behind him to reach Lynn. “Are you okay?” he said. He held his hand out to her. Lynn took it slowly and pulled herself up. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks…thanks for coming back.” She said, blushing strawberry-red. Ross went red as well and they sped off again. Finally they reached their stopping point, Level 10, with Lynn narrowly ahead of Ross.
     Walking back into her group, Lynn spotted Cassidy watching though the window. When she met her eyes, Cassidy raised her eyebrows and grinned devilishly. Clearly she’d seen Ross’s “helping hand” moment. Lynn grinned and shook her head. No way! Her eyes said. But maybe, she thought, he wasn’t quite as annoying as she thought.
Chapter Twenty Two: Reflections (Mini Chapter)
Every night before she slept, Lynn went over the day in her head. What could have gone better?
     That particular day hadn’t been awful. There had been good, bad, and awkward, as with any other day. But that day, the good outweighed the bad. She had bested a few kids in Rush. She’d eaten a real lunch with her friends. They’d tried a plan, even though it turned out not to work. And she might have gotten a new friend. She smiled and rolled over to go to sleep.
Chapter Twenty Three: Why is She Daydreaming So Much?
At breakfast the next morning, the group went over the fact that the official Game was in under a week. “And we haven’t figured anything out yet!” Robin said, exasperated. “We’ve figured some out,” Ross said. “We know that the black-suited people are kidnapping kids at random from all the games.” He glanced over at Lynn. “Lynn figured out that they’re going to put the kids they take through some kinds of tests in a lab that we can’t find or even think of a location for. And we discovered that nothing good comes out of anything that they do.” “Well, duh,” Cassidy agreed. “But we’ve known that stuff for weeks! We’re not making any progress.” Lynn nodded. “I guess we’ll just have to continue doing what we’ve been doing, meeting during lunch to plan stuff.” Everyone nodded.
     So that was what happened. They continued to meet, with hardly any more progress, until finally, one day, they had a breakthrough. But it wasn’t exactly helpful. “What if they’re being kept at the official Game? Not the training center?” Lynn said. Cassidy buried her face in her hands. “Ugh, you’re probably right. But that would mean everything we’ve done here, even the stuff that didn’t matter!” “I know.” Lynn said dejectedly. “Any other ideas?” They all shook their heads. “I wish I could think of something that would help,” Ross said. “But I can’t.” Maverick nodded, but there was no response from Robin, who was staring into space.
     Robin, Lynn noticed, had seemed strangely subdued, often drifting off into her own thoughts during meetings and even during training. Lynn had begun to notice the last few times she did it, and it was extremely confusing. Robin was never this calm and…un-sarcastic. Why was it happening? Lynn wondered. She decided to confront her later in the day, but they had to go to training just then.
   Cassidy headed off to Flame Evasion, Robin, Ross and Lynn to Water Evasion, and Maverick to a meeting. Perfect timing, Lynn realized as she walked into the Water Evasion training room. She waited until they were into their first course, knowing that Robin would probably space out at some point.
     Sure enough, she slowed down dramatically and finally stopped in the middle of a Level 2 course where they were required to climb up a ladder to reach their stopping point. “Robin, are you alright?” she said, nudging her to bring her back to reality as she passed her on the ladder. “You keep spacing out and seeming like you aren’t here.” Robin gave her a strange look. “What ae you talking about? I’m fine.” She said as she sped up and ran ahead of Lynn. “Here, hit this button.” Lynn hit the button, wondering even more what was up with her.
It happened again during their hardest course, Underneath. She was next to the button they needed to hit to get up to the next section, and she simply stopped. “Robin, come on!” Ross shouted. He dashed over to hit it, but he wasn’t quick enough. The room flooded with dark red water, the type they called “lava” and would knock you out of the game instantly. When they faded back into the room, Robin looked confused and embarrassed. “I’m so sorry, guys,” she said to the 4 others who’d been in the room with her. “I just totally didn’t pay attention.” Lynn raised her eyebrows at her skeptically, and Robin rolled her eyes. “Lynn, it’s not like I do it all the time! It was just that one time.” But Lynn rolled her eyes back. It was as far from the truth as anything could be.
“Cassidy, do you think Robin’s been acting strange lately?” Lynn asked Cassidy as they were laying in their dorm that night. “What do you mean?” Cassidy said.
“She’s been just staring into space and not responding to anybody when we meet during lunch. It seems like something’s wrong.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that recently. It’s weird.”
“I confronted her about it earlier in Water Evasion, but she wouldn’t admit that she keeps doing it. Do you think she’s hiding something from us?”
“Well, it’d explain why she won’t tell us anything. But I doubt it.”
“You’re probably right. But I just don’t want something to happen to her, or have her mess up and get disqualified, or anything like that.”
“I think she’ll be fine. You know how she is.”
The conversation made Lynn feel a little better about her worries, but she was still concerned and suspicious. Why would she not tell her anything? Was she hiding something?
Chapter Twenty Four: An Extremely Valued Asset
Lynn woke up in the middle of the night, feeling as though she’d realized something. But what? She’d been asleep. She felt that it had to do with Robin and her weird recent behavior. 
     She climbed out of bed and slipped her shoes on. She walked over to the door, opened it, and slipped out. Would she regret this decision later? Probably. But she had to follow her thoughts, or they would drive her crazy.
     She crept down the halls on tiptoe toward Robin’s dorm. She was about halfway there when she heard a voice from behind a door and she stopped to listen. “And you’re positive that all this is true?” Then Robin’s voice! “Absolutely sure.” “Good. Thank you for telling us all of this. You are an extremely valued asset.”
     That was the last thing Lynn heard before the door opened. She quickly ducked behind a wall to avoid being seen, overflowing with confusion. Who was she talking to? Why? How was she an extremely valuable asset? Lynn had new questions that might never be answered, and she needed to know. She tiptoed quickly back to her room, her brain on overdrive.
Robin came to the table late the next morning, looking very tired. She plopped down at the end of the table next to Maverick with her food and began to mumble to herself. “Robin, I need to ask you something.” Lynn said. Robin turned to her and replied, “What is it?” Lynn took a deep breath and hesitated, trying to think of the right words to ask her. “Who were you talking to last night?” she said carefully, trying to avoid an outburst. But it never came.
      Robin’s face went slightly white, and she seemed somewhat nervous. “What are you talking about? Who? When was I talking to somebody?”
 “Last night, I snuck out of the dorm and I heard you talking to someone. They said you were ‘an extremely valuable asset’.”
“I-I really don’t know what you mean, Lynn,” she said. She sounded indignant now, but her eyes were worried.  “I was in m-my dorm all last night.”
“Frankly, I don’t really believe you, Robin.”
“What reason do you have to not believe me?”
     “I heard you last night!” Lynn snapped, frustrated. Robin was lying so bluntly, and it was bugging her horribly. “You were, you were in a room with another person who told you that you were a valuable asset and thanked you for the information you gave him.” The others turned slowly to Robin. “Is that true, Robin?” Maverick asked. Robin gulped. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she said.
     “Robin, I heard you. I saw you walk away! I know you were out talking to somebody in the middle of the night, and I know you told them something. Who was it and what did you tell them?” Lynn said, rather louder than she intended. Robin slammed her fist on the table, but when she spoke, her voice cracked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Lynn stood up angrily. “I know you’re hiding something, and you will tell me what it is.” “Lynn, calm down, stay here…“ Maverick said. But Lynn had already run off furiously.
Lynn was laying on her bed, a volcano of anger. She was getting very sick of having to be the one to figure things out, and she was stressed and tired. She closed her eyes, and she drifted into sleep.
“Lynn, wake up,” a voice said. She opened her eyes and saw Cassidy and Ross standing by her bed, looking at her. “You missed the last session,” Ross informed her. He looked concerned. “They said they’ll disqualify you if you miss another one.” Why did he look concerned? Lynn wondered. Then the events of the last two hours came flooding back to her, filling her with anger.
     “Fine,” she said. “See if I care.” Cassidy and Ross looked pained. “Lynn, I know how much this means to you,” Cassidy said, somewhat pleadingly. “I mean, you snuck out of your house to enter instead of trying to re-convince your mom!” Ross looked at her with a confused look on his face. “Yes, she actually did that,” she said. Lynn smiled.
     Ross reached out and took her hand a bit stiffly. “I know Robin can get really, really annoying sometimes, but you can‘t let her get under your skin all the time. If you’re so sure that she was out telling someone something she shouldn’t be, then we’ll find out who and when and what it was. But you can’t blow up at her like that again.” Lynn took a deep breath and stood up. “You guys are right,” she admitted. “I shouldn’t have done that. But in all fairness, she shouldn’t have lied to me! She just—“ she broke off abruptly. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” She slapped herself in the face and laughed. “Yep,” Ross said, also laughing a little. “We should probably get to training now.” She grabbed both their hands and they left the room smiling.
Chapter Twenty Five: Robin’s Secret
Cassidy parted with Lynn and Ross to head off to Freeze Apocalypse after a minute of walking. “Lynn,” Ross said. “I know what you meant about Robin. She has been acting really weird recently.” “Yes!” Lynn said.
“I-I had an idea,” Ross said awkwardly. “For how we can figure out if it’s true or not.” Lynn’s attention was peaked. “Okay,” she said. “I’m listening.”
“I thought that we could go out of our dorms after lights-out like you did last night and follow her, and then we can see if you’re right, and whether she’s leaving the dorm and telling other people important things that only we’re supposed to know, and not tell other people and—.” He interrupted himself. “Be quiet, Ross, stop talking…” he mumbled, barely audible.
Lynn looked at him weirdly, but considered the idea carefully, and then she nodded. “Let’s do it.” She agreed. “When?”
     So the plan was hatched, and they would meet that night at the dining hall around 10:15. Lynn wasn’t sure she’d be there. But they hoped to both come.
Lynn walked into Water Evasion in a neutral mood. She’d made up her mind to try and stay calm around Robin and just focus on the Game. After all, it was only 4 days away. So she ran and ran, hitting as many buttons as she could and trying to guess the next round they’d be given. She was doing better than any other contestant, and Ross high-fived her with a huge grin after she hit every button on a Level 3 course. “You’re doing amazing!” he congratulated her. She grinned and threw her arms out. Then she ran out into their next map, the hardest level.
     She had never passed the particular one they were on, Familiarity. But this time, she ran past Robin, who was again daydreaming close to a button, and hit it just before the “lava” began to trickle into the room. It allowed the others to dash into the next section of the course and hit the next two buttons. Lynn took advantage of it and managed to climb up toward the third button in the room. Finally, after what seemed like endlessly more buttons, they reached the end. The lava was up to her waist, rising fast, when she finished and clambered into the finishing room. She jumped around, thrilled, and she grinned hugely at the two others who’d managed to finish with her. They smiled back, looking a little worried about her.
     “You finished it!” Ross said, grinning just as big as she was when she faded back into the main room. “I finished it!” Lynn echoed. She laughed gleefully. “I guess I’m just doing a lot better today. I decided to just come in neutral, and not worry about Robin.” Ross’s smile faded a little. “Are you sure you’ll be able to come tonight?” he asked. “My roommate sleeps like a rock, but Cassidy isn’t stupid. Will she figure it out, or wake up when you leave?” The same thoughts had crossed Lynn’s mind, but she had worked through them all, planning ahead for each one. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve thought that too. I think I’ll be able to do it.” Ross raised his eyebrows.
The day continued as usual, with the rest of their training successful. Lynn and Ross were still racing in Rush, and they would continue doing so for the rest of the week. More often than not, they would have a different partner to race against. Lynn had about a 3-out-of-4 winning average, and Ross was the same. Cassidy finally claimed the top of the leaderboards that day in Flame Evasion, passing a girl who was equal to her by only 2 points. Robin, on the other hand, was falling down on the leaderboards in Water Evasion. Lynn had claimed her spot at the top, and she didn’t seem to notice or care. She seemed far more focused on the hidden thoughts Lynn couldn’t figure out.
“A toast,” Maverick said that night at dinner, raising his glass. “To the conquering heroes of table 12!” They cheered happily, except for Robin. She stayed silent. Lynn met Ross’s eyes, and he nodded, telling her, yes. Tonight. They looked away from each other and continued eating and talking with the others.
That night, Lynn lay in bed in anticipation for the meeting. Though she’d assured herself and Ross that she would be there, that Cassidy wouldn’t suspect anything or wake up, she was doubting herself. She checked the alarm clock by her bed, which told her it was 10:05. Five minutes until she would leave the room and head toward the dining hall. She climbed out of bed as quietly as she could manage and rubbed her eyes to wake herself up. She’d decided earlier not to wear shoes to improve how quiet she was.
     Walking over to the door, she glanced at Cassidy’s side of the room and felt briefly guilty. She felt as though she was betraying her somehow, even though she wasn’t. Should she wake her up? She considered it briefly, but decided against it and crept out the door.
     She walked down the halls, checking around every corner, as this was the most important meeting she’d had. Just as she was nearing the dining hall, she saw Robin walking down the halls! She was tiptoeing and checking around every corner, just as Lynn had been doing. Lynn dashed forward quietly toward the dining hall, hoping that Ross was already there.
     Sure enough, he stood just inside the door waiting. “Ross, we’ve got to hurry, I just saw her out there heading someplace,” she said in a rush. Ross’s eyes grew big, and they ran out of the room down the hall.
    Suddenly Robin was stopped by a man patrolling the hallway. Lynn and Ross ducked behind a wall, hoping to avoid being seen. He appeared to be asking her something, but she motioned in the direction she was walking in, and it looked like she responded. He let her go and continued marching along. Lynn and Ross glanced at each other and headed out from behind the wall, walking quickly. “Hey! Where are you two going?” the man said, stopping them. “We’re with her,” Lynn replied, pointing ahead. The man narrowed his eyes. “Why are you all the way back here, then?” “I, uh, lost my watch,” Ross said, sounding mostly calm and holding up his wrist, which actually did have a watch on it.  “It’s kind of big and it fell off.”
     The man didn’t seem to believe him, but he let them go. “Ross, that was great!” Lynn whispered gleefully. “I planned it out earlier in case that happened! I’m so glad it worked!” Ross whispered back. Then Lynn frowned. “Wait, you have a watch?” “Yup,” Ross replied. “I just don’t wear it much.”
     They sped up a little more when Lynn glimpsed Robin turning down a passageway and opened a door that they hadn’t noticed before. Quickly Lynn jumped forward and caught the door just before it closed, and they slipped through after her. Down the passage they went, catching one more door and turning quite a few more times. Why is it so well-hidden? Lynn thought. It only heightened her suspicions that Robin was doing something wrong. Finally they reached a small room without a door.
     “Ah, you’re here.” A voice said. It was a different voice than the first time. “Have a seat.” They heard the scuffing of feet and a chair being pulled out. “What do you have to tell us tonight?” “Bad news,” Robin said. “I think they’re on to me.” What? Lynn thought incredulously. The next thing she said confirmed her suspicions. “There aren’t any new plans yet, and Lynn keeps asking where I was last night. I keep denying that I was anywhere, but she doesn’t believe me. I’m getting really sick of it.” Lynn’s jaw dropped, and she felt angry enough to explode. However, mixed in with the anger was sadness, sadness and disappointment that she had been right. Her eyes filled with tears, and she barely managed to hold back a sob.
     Ross noticed her reaction to what she’d said, and he took her hand and pulled her back, back down the passage and out the door. Then he pulled her close and hugged her as she cried tears of resentment and disappointment.
Chapter Twenty Six: A Double Rush
Lynn had calmed down enough to talk. “I can’t believe it,” she said over and over. “I just can’t believe it.” Ross would nod understandingly every time as he led her back to her dorm. She had come to her sense enough to close the door softly and slip back into bed quietly enough to not wake Cassidy. She lay awake, feeling angry and depressed before she finally slipped back into sleep.
She woke up the next morning with her pillow slightly damp. She pulled on a t-shirt and leggings and slowly straightened her blankets and brushed her hair. Cassidy was already up and out of the room, her bed neatly set. She listlessly walked toward the dining hall. When she reached it, Robin was missing from their table, and Maverick, Ross and Cassidy sat with pale, tight faces. “Ross told us what you found out, Lynn,” Maverick said gently. “I’m so sorry”. Cassidy looked at her and nodded sadly. Lynn sat at the table with her face in her hands. “I can’t even describe how mad I am at her. You have no clue how much I want to slap her right now.” She laughed scornfully. “I can’t imagine how you feel,” Cassidy said. “But I’d probably be just about as mad as you are.” Lynn just nodded, and Cassidy rubbed her back sympathetically. “Where is she anyway?” Lynn asked. “I don’t know,” Maverick replied. “She never showed up.” Lynn nodded. “Good riddance.”
     “Lynn, don’t say that,” Ross said.  She shook her head, not able to make herself talk any more. “Remember, you’ve got to get to training today, so you don’t get disqualified.” Cassidy reminded her. “Yeah,” Lynn said unenthusiastically. Then she realized something and sat up. “The official Game starts in 2 days!” “Whoa, you’re right,” Cassidy said. “Guess we’d better step up our game. No pun intended.” Lynn smiled briefly. “What game is up first for you?” “Freeze Apocalypse,” Cassidy said. “And we’ve got Rush, Lynn.” Ross replied. “Maverick, what about you?” “I’ve got guard duty again,” he informed them. “I’m supervising Stultorum Viventum today. But I’ll still be able to make the noon meeting.” Cassidy nodded. “Cool.” The bell rang, and they filed out to split up for their games.
“We’ll be doing a double session today in preparation for the final day of training tomorrow,” they were informed when Lynn and Ross walked into Rush. “We’ll be doing something of a review.” Lynn frowned.
“What do you mean? Like doing all the levels on our own again along with the racing?”
“Yes, exactly.”
Ms. Mendro addressed everyone in the class. “Alright people, we’re doing a double session today! We’ve got the younger competitors from elementary Rush with us today, and we’ve also got some help from their teacher, Jaden Carlin. He’ll be teaching alongside me today and tomorrow.” Mr. Carlin spoke. “Hello, everyone. So we’ll be starting off with individual runs. The older players will be using the large Center, while the younger kids will use the smaller one in this room. We’ll do more than one run at a time, so that way we can get through the individual runs faster and be able to move on.” They called up someone from each group at a time. Some of the younger competitors were actually better than the older kids, like one little girl named Tori Lerbint versus an older girl named Lauren Wintergreen.
     Finally Lynn was called up. She zipped through the levels like lightning until level 12, where she fell twice. But she still did better than almost anyone else, finishing in a record 4 minutes and 30 seconds for 15 levels. “Wow, Lynn! That was amazing!” Mr. Carlin congratulated her when she came back to the original island. “Thanks.” She said. Her anger at Robin was still affecting her, but she couldn’t help but smile at the man’s comically admiring, amazed tone and face. Ross came a few runs later, and she watched admiringly. She never got the chance to watch him in Rush, as she was usually going at the same time as him. He was amazing. She smiled a little awkwardly at him when he returned to the beginning. She remembered the other night where he held her while she cried, and she began to blush slightly. She hoped he didn’t notice.
     The individual runs had finished, and usually the training period would be over by then too. But since it was a double session, they gave the students a 20 minute break before they started on the races. Lynn and Ross sat cross-legged against the wall between three other kids. “Hey, nice job on your individual, Tori!” Ross called when the little girl from earlier passed them. She smiled gleefully and ran off to tell her friend. “One of the older kids told me I did good!” she said loudly. Ross and Lynn smiled. “The younger kids really are good,” Lynn commented. “Yeah,” Ross said. There was an awkward silence as they watched the rest of the kids chatting. “I’m really bad at small talk,” Lynn laughed. ”Oh trust me, I’m worse!” Ross said seriously. “ can never think of anything to say and I just sit there looking around, or mumbling to myself, or staring, or…” he stopped and shook his head. “Stop!” he whispered, sounding like he was talking to himself. Then he cracked up. “It’s not like we have a lot of small things to talk about anyway.” “So true,” Lynn responded. “Our topics of conversation at this point are Robin betraying us, how to stop the black-suited people, and how to rescue Albany. Not exactly light conversation.” “Yeah,” Ross agreed. “I’m still really sorry about Robin. You don’t seem like you’ve gotten over it yet.” “I haven’t,” Lynn admitted. “She just makes me so mad.” “It’s understandable.” Ross agreed.
      Just then, Mrs. Mendro announced that it was time to move on to racing runs. Everyone stood up. “First up is Ross and Audri.” Lynn was a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be racing him. But she watched him on the screen. He lost by about 5 seconds after he tripped twice and lost time. “Well, you tried,” she said with a giggle after he re-reached the island. He rolled his eyes and grinned. 3 more extremely good pairs went before Lynn’s turn. She was going up against a kid named Caleb from the older kids group. She tripped once, and it made her lose by 2 seconds. I got distracted, Lynn realized. I can’t let Robin distract me. She returned to the main island and went to the middle of the group. She wouldn’t be going back up, so there was no reason to be staying near the front. Ross came and joined her. “You okay?” he said. “You seem like you’re not doing as well today.” “Robin’s bugging me telepathically,” Lynn joked. “I can’t focus.”
    The session ended then, and they had to go to lunch.
Chapter Twenty Seven: A Confrontation
Robin did not show up to lunch, or to Water Evasion training. Lynn thought it was odd, considering it was the next-to-last day of training before they went to the official Game. But she was glad. She had been able to avoid a confrontation thus far, and it kept her from another explosion or breakdown.
     Her place on the leaderboards slipped back down, and people had begun to notice. Even their instructor, Cara, noticed. “Lynn, are you doing all right?” she asked her. “Your performance seems to be worse than usual. Of course, I don’t mean that you’re horrible, but you just…don’t seem to be doing as well as you have been.” “I’m doing okay,” Lynn responded. “But something happened to me recently, and it might distract me a little.” Oh, if only you knew, Lynn thought. But Cara would never know what had happened. It was not something that an instructor would be told, not even an instructor that had been there for two Games.
     She still hit buttons when she got the chance, but she wouldn’t rush for the ones that were too far from her to hit easily. She would just get the ones she was able to get. She didn’t get farther than Level 3 that day.
That night at dinner, she walked into the dining hall and saw Robin at their table. She was alone. How dare she— Lynn thought, but stopped mid-thought. She took a deep breath and composed herself. She wouldn’t explode again. If she exploded she could lose her chance to find anything out. She slowly walked up to the table where Robin sat. She was just sitting eating, not reading a book, not daydreaming, not mumbling to herself. Lynn sat down without saying anything and waited for Robin to notice. After about 10 seconds she looked up and her face went slightly pale. She opened her mouth to talk, but Lynn started before she could say a word. “Robin, don’t say anything. Just let me talk for a minute.” Robin closed her mouth and raised her eyebrows.
     “I know that you were talking to the black-suited people 2 nights ago, and also last night. I know that you’ve given them every single one of our plans so far, and I know that you’re getting sick of me asking questions about where you were. So just tell me. Tell me why you told them, and how long you’ve been doing it. And then I’ll leave you alone. You won’t have to worry about any more questions from me or anyone else.”
     “Lynn, I—“ Robin started to protest, but Lynn held up a hand to stop her. “Just. Tell me.” Robin sighed. “Fine. But you won’t like it.” Lynn made a get on with it motion with her hands, not trusting herself to talk any more.
     “I wanted to help you guys, I really did. But I was selfish, and even though I knew it was wrong, I wanted to see if there was a way I might be able to get a higher place in the final Game, or maybe even win. So I gathered up all the stuff we’d planned and all the stuff you guys had said in my head, and I told one of the guards in Water Evasion that I knew something. He asked me what kind of ‘something’ I knew, and I told him to meet me somewhere that night, like Maverick did with us.”
     “That night I met him and a black-suited woman, and they took me to a hidden room where I told them all the plans we’d made so far, but I didn’t name any names. I went back the next few nights too, and they made me tell your names. I went back every time we came to a new conclusion or got a new idea, and I told them. There were a few days where I didn’t come back because we didn’t have any new ideas or anything, but then you started to get suspicious, so I went back last night to tell them that and see if they had any ideas to get you off my back.”
     Robin stopped talking. “That’s everything.” Then she frowned. “How did you know I was talking to them? I told you otherwise when you asked yesterday.” Lynn looked skeptical. “Look, I told you everything, so you just tell me that.” Robin said.
      Lynn sighed. She didn’t want to tell her, but she made a valid point. “All of us noticed how weird you were acting, what with the random spacing out and not really talking during our meetings. Ross told me that he noticed, and he had an idea for how to find out if you were doing something wrong. So we snuck out last night and followed you, and we saw you go into the passageway. We followed you there too, and we heard you telling them that we hadn’t made any new plans, and that I was asking you questions that you were getting sick of hearing.”
     “So there you have it.” “Wait, you and Ross?” “Yes,” Lynn said sharply. “Is that a problem?” “Well, no, but…really? The two of you?” Yes, the two of us found out. And I wish I never had. Goodbye, Robin.” Lynn said. She stood up from her seat. “Lynn, I’m so sorry about it all,” Robin pleaded. “I never should have done it, but I did.” “That was your decision, Robin,” Lynn said evenly. “This is mine.” She walked away, leaving Robin to her thoughts at the table.
Chapter Twenty Eight: Extra Practice
As she left the dining hall, she nearly collided with Cassidy and Ross, who were heading in to eat. “Whoa, Lynn, where did you come from? Maverick’s on his way.” Cassidy said. “I just talked to Robin.” Lynn said. Her friend’s jaws both dropped. “What? Are you joking?” They said simultaneously. “Dead serious.” Lynn responded.
“Come sit down, and we can eat and talk.”
     So they got their food from the counter and took a seat at a table, not theirs, but one far enough that Robin wouldn’t see them. She told them everything that Robin had confessed and then what she’d told her back. They listened with great interest until the end. “Wow,” Cassidy said when she finished. “That’s messed up.” Lynn nodded miserably. “I knew that she met them there last night and maybe the night before, but I didn’t really know that it went on for that long,” Ross said. “Yeah,” Lynn responded. “It went on that whole time, and we won’t be able to stop the black-suited people because she gave everything up, and Maverick probably will lose his job like he was afraid of, and it’ll be all her fault.” Cassidy looked at her with sadness in her eyes. “I’m so, so sorry, Lynn,” he said. “I wish I’d known sooner, and I would’ve been able to help more.”
    Maverick showed up with his food and immediately knew something was wrong. “I saw Robin at the table and went to look for you all. What happened?” They filled him in on the story, and he had a similar reaction to Ross and Cassidy’s reactions. “So she really gave up every single plan we had, everything we ever figured out about them and what they’re doing?” Lynn nodded. “Wow.” “Yeah. I told her we’re done with her.” “And with good reason,” Maverick said. “So what now?” “I guess we just train hard and hope we can find more out when we get to the official Game,” Ross said. “Not my first choice, but that’s all I’ve got.” The others agreed. “Well, I’ve got extra sessions,” Lynn said. “Care to join me, anyone?” “Well, I don’t have extra sessions, but I probably could get some if I ask,” Ross said. “Me too,” Cassidy said. “Do you think they’ll let me get extra sessions for a game I’m not in?’ “Oh, good point,” Lynn said. “I guess I’ll let you use mine, and just not do any tomorrow.”
“This is so fun!” Cassidy shouted after she finished a level 2 for the first time. “It’s hard, but it’s so fun to do!” “Yeah,” Lynn agreed. “If we can get up to Level 4, you’d be surprised.” “I can go back out and let you two try and get there so I can see on the screen,” Cassidy suggested. “Ross, how about it?” Lynn said, turning to him. “Sure, I’ll do it,” he replied. Since they’d just reached a level with acid at the beginning, Cassidy jumped in and gave them a thumbs-up as she faded. They hit as many buttons as they could and finally reached the end. Lynn prepared herself, wondering which one it would be. She got lucky—they’d gotten Wall of Ghosts, one of the ones she had practiced a lot! She knew where all the buttons were, but she wasn’t sure if she could hit them all. She took a deep breath and headed in.
     She ran quickly toward the first button, hitting it as Ross reached the door to get the next one. They continued to hit the buttons in this fashion until they got out of the underground area and into the outdoor space with more lava than two Level 3 courses put together. They climbed ladders and went up and down ramps to hit buttons. When they finally stumbled into the room, they collapsed on the floor with smiles on their faces. When they faded back into the main room, Cassidy shouted, “That…was…awesome! How did you do that? The hardest level of all, and the two of you passed it like it was nothing!” Cassidy was babbling on and on, giving so many compliments it was almost funny, and Lynn laughed. “Just a whole lot of practice, my friend,” she said. “Just a whole lot of practice.”
Chapter Twenty Nine: A Letter to Mom on the Last Day
Today is the last day of training. It was Lynn’s first thought when she woke up in the morning. The last time that she would wake up and prepare for Water Evasion or Rush training, the last day that she would eat breakfast with her friends to plan out what they would do that day after training, and the last day that they would meet during lunch.
     She laid in bed for a minute, thinking over it with a mixture of sadness and anticipation. Finally she climbed out of bed, still lost in thought.
“It’s the last day!” Cassidy announced to the table when Lynn arrived. “Yup, I was thinking about that when I got up earlier,” Lynn replied. “It’s pretty mind-blowing.” Ross, who’d just walked up with his tray, asked “What’s mind-blowing?” “The last day of training before the official Game,” Lynn said. “Whoa, you’re right,” he said, taking a seat at the table. Cassidy nodded as Maverick walked up behind Ross. Cassidy waved, and he waved back. “What games are up first for everybody?” “I have Flame Evasion,” Cassidy said. “I don’t have anything yet,” Lynn responded. “So I’ll do some extra sessions in Water Evasion.” Then she remembered. “Oh wait, I can’t do that since you used them yesterday. I’ll write a letter to Mom, I guess. Tell her what we’ve been doing.” Ross nodded. “I’ve got Lost Time,” he said. “Then I don’t have anything yet until Rush right before lunch.”
     They sat and chatted while they ate, seeming happy. But in the back of her mind, Lynn was thinking about Albany, and how she should be there with them, laughing and talking on the day before the Game officially started. It was sad, and she reminded herself of her resolve to rescue her. She planned to check the official Center as soon as she got the chance. Then Robin entered her thoughts.
    No, she thought. You cannot let Robin distract you again. She shook her head subconsciously. “What’s wrong with that, Lynn?” Cassidy asked her suddenly, looking a little offended. “Oh,” Lynn said. “Sorry, I was daydreaming.” “You better not pull a Robin on us, Lynn!” Cassidy told her, only half-joking. Lynn laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t be telling any secrets anytime soon. I was actually thinking about Albany again.”
    Suddenly much more subdued, Cassidy sat back in her seat. “Oh,” she replied. “Yeah. I hope we find her at the official Center.” Lynn and Ross nodded. “I never knew Albany, but I can tell how much she means to all of you,” he said. Everyone nodded again, and then the bell rang to signal that breakfast was over. While the rest of the group headed to their training sessions and, in Maverick’s case, meetings, Lynn went to her dorm. She sat cross legged on the bed with paper and a pencil and began to write her mother a letter. Dear Mom, she wrote.
     Everything’s been good since you came to visit me. Today is the last day of training, and tomorrow we go to the Center. Cassidy and I made another new friend, too, Ross. He was annoying at first, but now he seems nice and he’s pretty good at the Games too. There is another person that we met too, but I have to explain something about them first.
     We found out the secret about the Game. They were going to take us and somebody named Robin (I’ll explain more about her later), but Albany disappeared. When we decided to figure out where she went, we met a black-suited man named Maverick. It turned out that he was Albany’s brother, so he wanted to help us. We’ve been working with him and Ross since we first found out about the secret. Now, Robin.
     She was a girl from Water Evasion that hated the black-suited people as much as we did. She worked with us for a while, but then we discovered something about her. I started to get suspicious about her, so I snuck out of the dorm with Ross to see if she was doing anything wrong, and she was. She had been remembering every plan we made, every single thing we said, and relaying it to the black-suited people.
We no longer work with her or talk to her.
     Anyway, that’s what happened here. You might not get this until I get back, but if you do, please write me back! J
Love, Lynn
     She looked over her letter briefly, changed a couple of words, then folded it up and put it in an envelope. She left the room and headed off to find someone to mail it for her.
Rush was average that day, except that Mr. Carlin and the younger children were still in it for the final double session. But then came Water Evasion. When Lynn walked in, the first thing she saw was Robin. “Stay calm, pretend she’s not there,” Lynn whispered to herself. She walked right past Robin, who looked up when she passed. Success! Lynn thought. She’d managed to avoid another confrontation or outburst.
     “Okay everyone, today is our last day of training! That means that we’ll be doing courses that are a bit harder than usual in preparation. And, you get to pick an aura!” “Aura?” the competitors echoed to each other. “What’s that?”
     An aura, Cara explained, was a colored glow type thing that would illuminate each competitor in the official Game. There were plenty of choices, and people could choose the same one if they wished. Lynn walked up to the choosing screen, similar to the one they’d chose their games on, and looked over the colors and styles. “Whoa,” she whispered. She clicked a glittery yellow one, then she felt a strange sensation like a feather being brushed against her. She looked down and saw that she was glowing with tiny, sparkling yellow orbs. She grinned in surprise and walked back to the group. “Nice color, Lynn!” Ross said, noticing her bright yellow glow. He chose a similar one to her; a yellow one that showed up as something like smoke. Ross informed Lynn that it was called a “glow” aura.
     Finally, they entered a round. It appeared to simply be the Emerald Meadow, which was the easiest one and Lynn could go through it in her sleep. But it wasn’t quite the same. There were extra stumps and ladders to climb, and the water rose faster than usual. It was more of a Level 2 than a Level 1. That was how it stayed for the rest of the training period. When she finally left the session, Lynn was exhausted, but grinning faintly.
Chapter Thirty: The Game
She woke up the next day feeling worried, and she couldn’t pin down the reason. She thought over everything that’d happened lately. They’d taken Robin off of their team because of her betrayal. She'd gone to a double session in Rush for the last two days, and then gone to her final Water Evasion training session because—ah, that was it! Their final hours at the training center were that day. She sat up quickly and jumped out of bed to get dressed.
     She had woken up before her alarm clock went off, and when it went off 5 minutes later, it made her jump. Cassidy’s alarm went off at the same time, and she was woken up too. “Cassidy, we go today,” Lynn said urgently. “You need to get up.” Cassidy woke up quickly after that, despite her non-morning person tendencies.
     They walked slowly down the hall toward the dining hall together, looking all around at everything. “I know things have happened here that I’d rather forget, but at the same time I want to remember everything,” Lynn said. Cassidy nodded. “I’m the same way. It’s so weird.” She replied. When they reached the dining hall, they found Ross and Maverick waiting for them at the door. “Oh, hi,” Lynn said as she nearly ran into them. They all laughed.
    They went to get food, and they sat at their regular table.  Their usual chat was happy as always, but also slightly subdued. Then the bell rang, and the group stood up from their seats. They stood for a second, doing nothing. “Well,” Maverick said. “I’m not one of the guards coming to the official Game, so I guess this is goodbye.” “What?” the group protested. “I’m so sorry, Maverick,” Cassidy said. She stepped forward and hugged him. “We’ll miss you.”
    “You were great to work with,” Ross said. “I’m sorry to see you go.” He shook hands with him and stood over by Cassidy.
     Finally, only Lynn was left. She took a deep breath. “I know I didn’t want to let you join at first, but that was because I didn’t trust you then. Now, now you’re probably the person that I trust the most here, and that includes Cassidy.” She glanced over at Cassidy, who rolled her eyes jokingly. “I know how much you cared for Albany, and what you did for her, and I will get her back. I will rescue her for you, and I’ll tell her everything you did to get her back.” She paused. “We will all miss you.” Maverick stood silently for a second. “You’re a good kid, Lynn,” he said finally. “And I think I trust you just as much. Good luck with everything.” Lynn nodded, and she headed over to Cassidy and Ross. They walked out of the room, with Maverick watching them from behind.
     When they stepped out of the building for the first time since their arrival there, Lynn felt the cool air on her face and sighed with pleasure before going on. She hadn’t felt a breeze for weeks during their training, and it felt better than anything she could’ve imagined.  They climbed into a large, sleek bus and slid their finger over a scanner that would account for them before the bus started. Once it was filled, the bus slid forward smoothly, and they were on their way toward the final trial.
Lynn sat in her seat with Cassidy and Ross for most of the ride, lost in thought. She thought about everything that was behind them: The arrival, meeting Albany, Albany’s disappearance, meeting Robin and Maverick, planning, Ross joining them, and then Robin betraying them. Finally, the last thing they did, the farewell to Maverick. Lynn had promised that she would rescue Albany, and she fully intended to. But would she truly be able to do it? She worried to herself about it.
     Then she remembered what had happened with Robin. She was still inwardly furious about what she did, but she might be ready to forgive her. She turned to her friends. “I’ll be right back, okay?” “Okay,” Cassidy said. Then she frowned. “Where are you going?” Lynn breathed deeply. “To set the record straight.” She said firmly. She scanned the bus for Robin, and she found her in the back, where no one else sat. “Robin,” she said quietly. She sat down next to her. “I’m sorry.”
     Robin opened and closed her mouth as though she wanted to say something to her. “Why now?” she finally said. “I betrayed you and the others because I wanted to win. We’re on the way to the final Game, which you probably are more likely to win than me.” She looked down. “So why now?” “That’s exactly why I’m saying so now,” Lynn said. “You just wanted a chance. And I’m willing to give you a second one. I’m don’t think I’m willing to let you rejoin the team again, but I will forgive you.”
     “Honestly? You’re not just saying it?” Robin said. Lynn shook her head. “I wouldn’t do that.” Robin nodded. It looked like she wasn’t able to speak anymore. Lynn stood up slowly and walked back to her seat, feeling more free than she’d felt since she had told Robin to go.
     “What were you doing?” Ross asked when she returned to her seat. Lynn hesitated, then finally said it. “I told Robin she’s okay with us.” Cassidy’s jaw dropped. In a stage whisper, she said to Lynn “Whaaat? Are you serious?”
“Would I lie about that?”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I’m not ready to let her back onto the team yet, but I was willing to forgive her. So I did. She’s alright with the team now, and I’m not as mad at her anymore.”
     “Lynn, that’s great,” Ross said. He reached forward and hugged her. See? See? What did I tell you about him? Cassidy mouthed behind Ross. Lynn rolled her eyes and smiled. Maybe Cassidy was right about Ross. But Lynn sure wouldn’t be the one to admit it.
It was a very long ride to the Center. Lynn fell asleep more than once, only to be awoken by a bump in the road or Cassidy poking her in the arm for no particular reason. It was nearly dark when they arrived.
     She woke right up when the bus stopped for the first time in 4 hours, and she sat up in her seat to look out the window. “Whoa,” she thought out loud. It was even more spectacular than the training center was. The building was tall, gold-and-silver with a lot of glass. But this one had elaborate patterns on the glass windows, and it was a single ginormous room. How did that work? Lynn wondered. She guessed that she would find out soon. She climbed off the bus, suddenly feeling absolutely terrified. She stood, frozen in place, outside the bus for a second before her friends noticed. “Lynn, are you alright?” Cassidy and Ross asked.
Ross turned to her. “Don’t worry, I’m scared too. Probably more scared. But really, I’m so terrified. I-“ He cut himself off. “Got to stop doing that!” he mumbled to himself. Then he put his hands on Lynn’s shoulders. “It will be okay.” he said, sounding like he was trying to reassure himself too.  Then they started forward to rejoin the rest of the competitors.
The building really was just one giant room. It had a huge number of separate large rooms lining the edges for the competitors from different games. They would wait in the rooms until their Game was called over the loudspeaker in the very center of the room. They would be able to watch whatever Game was happening at the time on a large screen in the room.
     So the group took a long walk from the door, each room gradually filling, and the threesome filed into the last of the side rooms with the remainder of their group, and everyone took a seat. The supervisor for each Game would come into every room and take role to be sure that every player was there for their Game. “Here,” Lynn and Ross called when Cara came into the room and called “Water Evasion! Who’s here?”, and again when Mrs. Mendro arrived to find her players.
     At one point, Mr. Carlin, the teacher of the younger Rush group, came in and called a name that Lynn and Ross remembered clearly. “Tori Lerbint?” he shouted. “Is Tori Lerbint here?” He shook his head and made a mark on a clipboard he was holding. Lynn went very pale, and her friends noticed. “What’s wrong? What happened?” they asked. “Ross, do you remember Tori from Rush? The little girl who was really excited when you told her that you thought she did well?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Why?” Then his eyes grew large and sad. “She’s gone, isn’t she,” he said. It was less of a question than a statement. “They took her too.” Lynn just nodded, not allowing herself to speak. Just then, they heard “Water Evasion! All contestants in Water Evasion please come to the Center.” ring out over the loudspeaker. Despite their worries, Lynn and Ross stood up quickly and waved to Cassidy, who gave them a huge smile and an enthusiastic thumbs-up. They filed out of the room toward the Center, where they stood in a huge circle.
    Tori’s disappearance had been the last straw. Lynn didn’t know her, but she was unable to allow another kid to disappear without a trace. She had known Albany, and she wasn’t going to let her stay missing, not after her promise to Maverick. Her resolve had been strengthened, and as she turned on her flaming-yellow aura and walked into the Center, she knew she wouldn’t fail. Ross’s hand slipped into hers, and she smiled. She was determined to do it, and she would. I will save them. I will save them all.

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