Author: C.R. Caison

The laser round exploded in a flash of light by Yuri’s head. He jumped and rolled to the side before a second shot struck the wall where he’d been standing. The blast weakened the wall and it collapsed into a heap of fragments. The crowd roared above him, billions of virtual eyes, nameless spectators, eagerly awaited the outcome of this final match.

Yuri sprinted down the corridor and rounded the turn. Instinctively, he raised his weapon and fired, catching the assailant in the side. The other player fell to the ground and shattered into polygons. Above the arena, the floating numbers keeping count of active players decreased by one. His fans cheered. There were only two players left: Yuri and the reigning champion. The game mode was simple, the last player left standing wins the match. The victor would have their name immortalized as this season’s winner, written into the game’s memory forever, and Yuri wanted glory.

The music in the arena changed tempo. Its beat increased, pounding like war drums in his head. Cautiously, he stalked his opponent. Yuri had studied the champ’s streams, took note of his moves, learned his pattern. Yuri holstered his weapon and with a quick jump, leaped up and kicked off the wall to propel himself high enough to grab the ledge. With a heave, he swung a leg on top and pulled himself up. He perched on the wall, looking across the maze that carved up the arena. The crowd roared at his brazen move. Yuri jogged along, jumping from wall to wall, looking for his opponent. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement.

He focused his mind, drew his weapon, and scanned to make the final shot. The champion darted through the corridor below. Had Yuri blinked, he would have missed him. Yuri launched himself forward, firing the boosters attached to his feet, letting the momentum carry him along the far wall as his weapon barked lasers at the champ. His shots missed, dissipating on the arena floor. His opponent turned and leaped at him, trying to catch Yuri off guard.

Had it been any other player, the tactic might have worked. Yuri smiled. He had prepared for this moment. They always have a pattern, he thought. He kicked forward, knocking the champ’s weapon to the side and colliding into him with his knee. The two landed with Yuri on top. The arena gasped and for a moment there was no noise. Yuri pulled the trigger, sending a bolt into his opponent’s chest. The blast shattered his opponent’s avatar. The arena quaked from the spectators’ screams. Yuri had won.

Overhead, the counter clicked to one then faded away as orange and blue polygon fireworks exploded in the void above. Sparkling embers rained down and the maze walls recessed into the arena floor. The floor beneath him raised up into the air and he stood on a pedestal. Yuri’s name flashed overhead and congratulatory streams, in countless languages, washed over him. He watched as his name was entered into the records as this season’s champion. A feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment ran through him.

The words “Game Over” floated above him. Within minutes, the victory music faded and the world around him dissolved. Yuri felt the weight of his real body return and he pulled off his headset. The dirty walls of his one room apartment replaced the virtual world where he spent most of his waking hours. He wiped his purple ringed eyes, scratched his head, his hair matted from the sweat, and sat alone in the quiet.