The lights were always dark in the outskirts of New Xena, except when there was a ‘choosing’. Today was one of those days. The walls were illuminated with a bright red that could easily be translated to ‘leave now, you will die’, but I didn’t really have a choice, did I? As I stepped onto the platform, I could already see the Sentais descending from the infamous Pioneer spacecraft. The platform closes in on all 32 of us and I know the choosing has begun. We’re all arranged in a circle with each of us facing towards the middle, I look across the platform and make eye contact with Erlyn, before giving her a reassuring smile. I then turn my attention back to the holograph at the center. Once we’ve all gone quiet, Professor Adark starts to deliver his usual message, except this time with four different numbers.
“Greetings, I welcome new players 059, 678, 116 and 349, but at the same time, I farewell players 267, 332, 945 and sadly, one who just joined us, player 116. The new players will be directed by Naxan at the end of this meeting to complete their orientation. Your time is appreciated, and remember, ‘victory to those who can afford it and justice to the favoured.’”
The holograph went off and New Xena went black… then there was a scream, ‘KRIEVA’! The scream made my blood run cold, it pierced my brain and ignited an urge to react, react to something, to anything. Adrenaline surged through my veins, fight or flight, stand or run, speak or hold my peace. Yet, as I was about to open my mouth, the lights came back on and lo and behold, all the players called were truly gone. All the players including Erlyn, the one who screamed my name.
As I entered my capsule to sleep, I couldn’t help but think about how I arrived at my current situation. My family had managed to scrape enough money to board the ship to New Xena, the planet of the rich and healthy, the planet where everyone and anyone would sell their soul just to have a glimpse of it. In New Xena, there are only three types of people, you have the rich, the middle class and the players. My family? We are players. We had willingly left our lower class life of Eros V, my home planet, behind. What awaited us was a much crueler fate. With neither money nor power, my parents sent me to the only place they knew that would get hem some money, even if it was meagre. I was sent to the outskirts of New Xena.
This is where the rich choose four out of 32 ‘players’ every week to compete for their pleasure, they would play with us like we are made for their enjoyment, putting us in any and every horrific situation that they possibly could. They call it the cleansing of the rich. When selected, toxins would be injected into your veins, making them have full bodily control of how you act, behave and think. This is where the fun begins for the rich, but for us? The pain, horrors, and anguish just come in second place to having someone being able to control your every move. They choose what scenario to put you in and anything they want will be done, at least that is what I have heard. However, as I come to think about it, I’ve never really heard anything about the last person who is able to stay alive, all that is talked about is how the last one living is considered the luckiest, how they will be set free and live their life on New Xena to the fullest. Never have I heard that someone has actually been able to do that, only the number of players who have died are recognized.
The next week passed by quickly, it tends to do that when you don’t really have anyone to talk to, and also when you’re approaching your possible death. Erlyn was really the only person I ever talked to, you could tell we were close by the way I called her Erlyn instead of her chosen number, 678. It is rare for players to call each other by name, we usually don’t get to know anyone well enough before the Sentai’s take them away. As I enter the common quarters, I notice that majority players are gathered in a circle, surrounding what seems to be two players having a very intense argument.
“What are you talking about? You should be on your knees thanking the council that eroys like you get a second chance at your worthless life.” Says a player, who I believe is player 477.
“Thank the council? You want me to thank the fucking council?! All of you need to open your eyes, can you not see that you are being brainwashed? No? Well if you are sure that the council is oh so gracious, tell me the number of the player who won last week.’ The quarters went silent as players tried to think of an answer to his question.
“What about the player before that one or the one before? Since the council is so worthy to be glorified, what exactly happens to the one player that survives out of the other three? Whe-.”
Before he could finish his sentence the alarms went off, it was time for another ‘choosing’. An electromagnetic siren pulsed rapidly along the corridors, leaping out from the corners and echoing ubiquitously. Overhead, a light began to flash red and the players started making their way to the platform. All the players except from one.
“You believe me don’t you?” He says to me after everyone has left and it’s only two of us remaining.
“I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It is the only lie that pops into my brain.
“Thaddeus, that’s my name.”
“I should probably get going, it would be rude to keep Professor Adark waiting.” I say and turn to leave, although not fast enough. He manages to slip one last sentence before I walk out the room.
“274, that’s my number”
I enter the platform and wait for the last person to make their way through before the doors of the platform start to close. The hologram flickers for a while before Professor Adark appears and starts to speak.
“Greetings, I welcome new players 273, 089, 244 and 168, but at the same time, I farewell players 884, 736, 274 and 277. The new players will be directed by Naxan at the end of this meeting to complete their orientation. Your time is appreciated, and remember, ‘victory to those who can afford it and justice to the favored.”