Author: John McLaughlin

Semi-Finals Status Update: Seven-in-Absentia vs The Last Dragon. One hour remaining!

The text crawls across Danny’s white suburban bedroom ceiling–bright and blood red–and descends behind the armoire on the far wall. He ignores it and continues his stretches. Reflected in the digital mirror, the room feels crowded around him: too many devices, too many vulnerable points. Did I forget anything? That unpleasant thought has some sticking power; yes, perhaps I did. The house is silent–his parents having left already for work–and he can almost feel the malevolent vibrations beneath the surface.

He bends once again to touch his toes, and his pterodactyl drone–the one his uncle got him for Christmas–takes flight, barely skimming his scalp before crashing through the window. Its pointy beak is laid to rest, impaled on broken glass and with its foamy flesh fluttering in the morning air. It’s always something, Danny thinks. He checks his watch: 58 minutes left on the clock. Not too bad.

He springs downstairs and munches a pile of seaweed puffs at the kitchen table. He sets the empty bowl in the sink–even during the clamor of a Tournament he minds his manners–and turns away just before the smart fridge slaps its door against the countertop. Thwack! “Shit, Mom’s gonna kill me.” Cracks leap across the granite as he sprints out the screen door to catch the bus.

“Good luck at school, Danny!” the neighbor shouts from his perfectly green lawn.

“Thanks, Mr. Olin!”

The neighbor’s drone-mower veers off course, pursuing Danny along a path of freshly trimmed grass. “Son of a bi–” Olin stammers. The man chases hopelessly after the renegade mower, the hose clenched in his bony fist dragging a trench through the petunias. Danny huffs it off the curb–saw blades clapping the wheels of his bike–and veers into the street.

His opponents have grown more advanced in the final bracket, there’s no doubt about it. He quickly calculates the route with the fewest networked devices, one that will take him on a shorter path across Main to the schoolhouse. He weaves his way among a remotely orchestrated ballet–manhole covers springing into the air on jets of compressed steam. Only one of them comes close to a hit; an impressive bit of programming, to be sure, but not much of a challenge–at least not for Danny. The crossing guard at the corner can only stare slack jawed.

He reaches Public School 43 and heads for the computer lab, where there’s a boy typing furiously at one of the shared consoles. Danny claps him hard on the back. “You’re it!”

“Aw, shit.” Fincher removes his massive headphones, visibly deflating in the seat. “I was sure I had you back on the lawn.”

“Yeah, that was a nice touch, Finch,” Danny says, and grips his shoulder with a grim finality, “but the Dragon is slain.”

The boy slumps away defeated and Danny takes his place at the throne. He logs into the Tournament network, scrolls to the bottom of his avatar’s toolbox and finds what he’s searching for: ‘Seven_ways_to_die_3.1’ lit up in red.

Semi-Finals Round 3: Seven-in-Absentia vs The Last Dragon
Are you ready? Y/N

Danny takes a moment to leer menacingly over his shoulder, savoring one last frightened wince from Fincher. “Ready…set…” He speaks slowly, tauntingly–and then double clicks.