The man who sat behind the registration counter for the Apex Minor League’s open auditions stared at your registration forms skeptically. His thick fingers flicked lazily between each sheef, glancing over your credentials and experience with little interest. When he deigned to glance up at you, taking in your self-styled gear, you gave him a winning smile.
Well, you thought it was a winning smile.
The man dropped your form on the counter and pressed a laser stamp over the barcode. It was eight red letters.
“What!?” You gaped at his nonchalance, watching him toss your form into a reject pile and motion for the next person in line. You snatched your form back up before it had a moment to rest, crinkling it slightly but fixing the man with a determined scowl as you slapped it back down in front of him. “I have the right to ask you to explain your reasoning.”
The man sighed laboriously, flipping your form back open to the page that detailed your gear and abilities. There was a flat tone to his voice as he gestured to the information you had filled in.
“Whatever, you’ve seen the games, yeah? Seen the Legends? How each and every one of them has unique abilities that make them stand out? Yeah?”
He was clearly waiting for your answer, so you nodded, “uh-huh.”
He gestured back down to your form again, scanning back over it. “It takes real training to survive in the games, kid. Luck? Ain’t gonna cut it.”
An exasperated breath left you in a rush.
“It’s not just luck, it’s a variable probability generator.”
He looked at you blankly. “A what?”
“It’s a device that quantifies all variables in a scenario to generate probable situational outcomes and scales the likelihood of success for each option. But the tech is above board, it was investigated and approved before I got to this point.”
The man looked akin to a child having advanced algebra explained to him for the first time, brows quirked and furrowed, face scrunching up. “Quantify probability scales… that’s luck, kid. That’s just luck. Luck is not a skill. Even your so-called ‘ultimate’ ability has a thirty percent likelihood of not even working. That’s-no. I made my call, we’re done. Thank you for applying. Next!”
You snatched your form back from him before he had the chance to toss it back into the rejection pile again, huffing in frustration. He rolled his eyes as you stomped off, muttering a faint, “whatever” under his breath.
Fuck, this wasn’t part of the plan. You really hadn’t thought you’d get barred at the proverbial door before you ever had a chance to step foot in a practice arena. It was the minor leagues, for fuck’s sake. All around you were other potential contestants, filling the halls and lobby between registration and the front door of the building. A colorful group of people, everything ranging from hopeful looking athletes to ex-military to probable mercenaries. Even a few street-rough gang members loitering in groups as they stared down the other potential contestants. You saw no reason why you couldn’t have the same chance as all of them. Minor leagues were the lowest rung on the ladder, entry-level in its purest form. And you felt damn confident you could take on every person you were walking passed and come out on top. You just…
You needed a chance.
As you made your way back to the lobby, thoughts whirling, you passed a different registration hall. Not one for randoms such as yourself, it was filled with a dozen or so combatants who looked far more polished and confident than those out in the hallway. These weren’t just applicants, they’d been scouted. Either by investors or Legends themselves. Guaranteed spots in the opening season free-for-all. Lucky bastards.
You stopped suddenly in your tracks, just a few feet beyond the doorway into that registration hall. That was it. You just needed to be scouted, right? That could be your in.
As if you were wearing the generator, variables started aligning themselves in your mind and you yanked your phone out of your pocket to do a few quick searches. Outside the Apex Minor Leagues building was a map of the Games compound, where all of the administration buildings for the games resided. Minor leagues registered here, but even major league competitors still had to register for each season if they weren’t under contract. There might be a few Legends on campus, and though you knew your chances were abysmally low, you took off at a light run towards the other side of the compound.
Not every Legend was going to be a fair shot. In fact your options were extremely limited, made all the more scarce by their likelihood of being present on the compound at this time. You had no idea what their schedules might be like. But that wasn’t gonna stop you. You’d stacked yourself against worse odds before. So you focused only on your goal.
And not what might happen if you failed to get into the games.
“-And I told them it was gonna happen, but they never believe me.” Elliott shrugged with a grin to the tune of the barista’s giggling. Hot cup of joe in hand, he accepted his change and dropped it into the tip jar with a wink. “Anyway, thanks for the juice, Dolly. Catch you tomorrow morning? Yeah?”
Elliott departed the coffee stall with his signature grin before turning his attention to the cup he had in hand. It was too early to be operating without it; eight in the morning? Who in their right mind wanted to be awake. Not him, but his manager had threatened him with less pre-season interviews and, well, he had an image to maintain. Something he definitely couldn’t do without sweet, sweet coffee. In fact, he was so busy taking that first, blessed sip that he didn’t notice the commotion right away. But he was about to, it was running right at him.
“I said stop!” The yell came from a security guard, one tasked with keeping the public out of this side of the compound without proper identification and authorization. He was an older man, though. A gate-keeper, not fit enough to be chasing after someone running at a dead sprint in Elliott’s direction. At first he just watched them from across the plaza, befuddled look on his handsome face; a complete contrast to the expression on yours. Determination burned in your eyes, visible even over the yards separating you. You were dressed in tactical gear he didn’t recognize, papers clutched in your hand as you ran, leaving the poor guard wheezing in the effort to keep up.
For some reason, it didn’t even dawn on him that he was your goal until you were skidding to a stop in front of him, breathing heavy but face full of tenacity. Were you a groupie? You were cute, even mildly sweaty and catching your breath.
Your smile was bright, confident, nice; and you straightened up to offer a handshake.
“Name’s Lucky, I’m your new recruit.”
Elliott found his hand shaking yours without truly giving the action thought. Wait, what?
“Recruit, for the minor leagues?”
Your free hand raised the form you were carrying outlining all your details. He found himself dropping your hand to accept it, expression still etched with confusion. His manager never mentioned a recruit… did he? Shit. Did he?
Elliott found himself seriously looking at the registration form, wracking his brain to try and remember you when he finally caught the stamp on the top corner.
“This says rejected.”
You stiffened for only a fraction of a second, then shrugged, “I think I ended up at the wrong registration hub. Mind helping me get it sorted out? I don’t want to waste your time but-”
“Frankie brought you in? I don’t remember him talking about a new recruit.”
You shrugged again, shifting your weight from one foot to the other as you glanced behind you towards the guard still playing catch up. “Maybe he forgot.”
“You think my manager would forget to mention something as big as a new recruit?”
Elliott took a long sip of his coffee, eyes no longer on the form but fixed firmly on you. Watching for your tells. He had to admit, you were good. Aside from the initial fidgeting, you were relaxed in your deception. He couldn’t help hiding the tiniest smile behind the rim of his cup.
“I do apologize for the mix-up, sir, I just need help getting this sorted out.”
“I’ll say. Cuz my manager’s name isn’t Frankie, it’s Jim. And I’ve never scouted a minor league contestant in my whole career.” He handed the form back to you, grinning at your caught expression. “Trying to bamboozle me ? That takes balls… metaphorically-speaking. Good try. Good luck next season.”
Elliott smiled as he waved to the guard as he arrived behind you, hands on his belt to wait when he saw that you two were actually conversing. “All yours, man.”
Elliott had already turned away, sighing before he glanced back against his better judgement. You easily evaded the guard’s grasp, following Elliott insistently, eyes blazing with resolve.
“I’m not looking for training, or even active sponsorship. You don’t have to spend a dime on me, I can handle myself. I just need in-”
“And what do I get out of it?” Elliott laughed, still walking away; albeit a touch slower than he should have been.
That’s when the magic word came out of your mouth, the only word that could have truly made him stop in his tracks.
Sometimes, he really hated how predictable he could be without his duplicates. The coffee in his hand reflected his quick grimace before he covered it, finally turning around, body language looking barely interested. But you seemed to know you caught him, smacking the guard’s hand off your shoulder.
Elliott kindly waved the man off, though his focus was on you.
“Consistent kill leader in the last season, champion teams, and a 4.5 KPH? You kept yourself high up in the charts all season, and won how many post-season accolades?”
Another grin sprawled across Elliott’s face, sipping from his coffee indulgently as you sang his praises.
“Your stats have never been higher, public opinion slated to be quite favorable for you coming into this next season.”
“And I did it all without scouting anyone for the minor leagues. I’m great.”
“In fact, the only one on par with your stats right now is-”
Okay… maybe Bangalore. “And your point?”
Your posture relaxed as you crossed your arms over your chest, slight smile on your smooth-looking lips. Not that he was looking, it was whatever. Cute face, even when you looked like the cat that ate the canary. A cute face that would undoubtedly get bashed up in the games, and wouldn’t that be a shame.
“My point is that Bangalore did scout someone for the minor leagues this season. Someone who, as I understand it, aced the tryouts with record-breaking scores. Something they’ll both be talking about on the news tonight. If you think your public opinion is on par with hers right now? It won’t be after tonight.”
Elliott was surprisingly quiet now, something you’d not been expecting. Like he was thinking about it hard. Then he relaxed into a smarmy smile, nodding towards your form that most definitely still read rejected in large, obnoxious letters.
“And you think you can help me with that, huh?”
“This,” you held up the form, “is the snap-judgement of an overworked, under-educated, glorified gatekeeper who doesn’t understand a simple explanation of the physics of chance and probability. I know it doesn’t sound like much on paper. It’s not as flashy as rains of bombs or self-duplication. But it works, for me .” You took a few steps closer to him, close enough to see flecks of gold shining in your eyes. “Which I can and will prove to you and everybody, if you just… give me a chance.”
Elliott couldn’t deny that there was something about you that was quite unlike what he remembered anyone else having when he himself entered the minor leagues, back in the day. Like you had no doubts in your own capabilities. It was captivating him more than he cared to admit. He growled softly under his breath, and held out his hand.
Handed him your form again, all too eager.
You beamed, keeping pace with him as he stomped his way across the plaza.
You’d left the minor league’s building on quick foot, but returned in a trolley occupied by no one but yourself and Elliott. He sat across from you, reading through your entire registration form and making minor changes.
“People ask how we met, you make up something good, got it? We met in the Outlands, I saved your life or something, heroically. You wanted to be my protege as a thank you.”
You barely kept yourself from snorting.
“That? That’s how we met? I was some kinda damsel in distress? You seriously think I’m gonna tell people that?”
“Then think of something better, smart-ass. I can’t let people think I grabbed some rando off the street.”
You cocked your head with a smirk. “Technically, I grabbed you on the street?”
Elliott levelled you with an unimpressed look and you couldn’t help a chuckle. Hell, you were giddy , you almost couldn’t believe this was working.
“You know, you’re not gonna be laughing when someone empties an SMG point-blank into your skull for the first time.”
You shrugged, “I’m not afraid of dying, or of pain.”
He looked a bit skeptical, but you had nothing to prove. You just watched him finish up with your form and stare you dead in the eyes.
“Then what are you afraid of?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
The trolley slowed to a stop and Elliott brushed a hand through his hair, primping slightly before he made to move. “Keep up, rookie.”
Walking into the minor league building alone had been exciting, walking back in with a Legend the likes of Mirage was an altogether different experience. Everyone turned to look, mouths agape, excited whispers following the pair of you as you followed a confident Elliott all the way to the registration counter. He clearly basked in the attention, and offered the registration clerk a flirty wink as he handed over your form and started sweet-talking her. You didn’t pay close attention to what he was saying, too hyper focused on the other scouted recruits watching you, whispering behind hands. Mirage had never scouted anyone before, he’d said so himself. They had to be wondering who you were.
You tuned back in just in time to hear Elliott say something along the lines of, “So yeah, if you could just squeegee that off for me, that’d be golden. Thanks Barb.” He rejoined you with a glossy folder in his hand that you made a grab for as soon as he was close enough, but he quickly held it at arm’s length.
“Not so fast, rookie. What’s the magic word?”
“Please?” You didn’t even hesitate, though he was expecting you to. But you were so close, and you wanted this like nothing else in your life. Not even Elliott could tease you with it for long. So he let you have it, and watched your entire face light up in a way he hadn’t witnessed yet.
“Welcome to the arena.”
You beamed back up at him, breathing a soft, but genuine, “thank you.”
It was such an unexpected reaction that Elliott very nearly stuttered out something undoubtedly stupid, but caught himself at the last second; reminding himself where he was and who was watching. He relaxed his posture and nonchalantly waved it off.
“Thank me when you’re getting your brains blown out.” He patted you on the shoulder, making his way around you to head on out, now that his good deed was done.
You stared at the folder adorned in the Apex logo, it was real and it had your name on it. Quickly spinning on your heel, you called out after his retreating form, “Thank you!!”
He waved a hand without turning around, but you couldn’t be bothered if you tried. You were in, dammit. You were in!
With a semi-hysterical giggle, you kissed the folder. Then grinned as a thought struck you. It wasn’t hard to catch the eye of the clerk who’d slapped a rejected stamp on your form in the next hall. You made sure he was looking right at you and held up your folder, followed slowly by the middle finger on your other hand.