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Chapter 29 - Jane

Having never reached the semifinals, I always kinda wondered what it was like. I figured that being within spitting distance of the big win would add a lot of pressure to the whole thing. Now that I’m almost there, I’m a little disappointed. It doesn’t feel any different that the quarters. Not that it isn’t exciting, anyway, especially given what I had to go through before getting here.

I managed to make it through the whole day without running into Isabel. Well, in person, anyway – the texts every half an hour were a little hard to ignore. After about the eighth one, I finally responded just so Isabel would lay off. I was going to have to deal with her sooner or later, anyway. It was thirty minutes until buzzer checks, and Isabel was already waiting in the wings, watching them set up.

She approached as I came in. “Shit, I’ve been trying to get in touch all day.”

“Sorry, I was distracted.”

“So are we set?”

“I called Paul last night.”

“And?” She brightened up. “What did you say?”

“I told him about your scheme and said that if he threw the match on purpose, I’d never speak to him again.”

That took some of the wind out of Isabel’s sails. “How could you do this to me?”

“How could you do this to me? You have any idea what you asked me to do? I thought I was your friend, not some asset to be used in pursuit of your goals.”

“All I did was ask a favor...”

“Yeah, sure you did. If you ever ask me for a ‘favor’ like that again, I’ll be very pissed. Then I’ll probably choke you out.” I turned to walk to the stage, but something else came to me. “Something you should get used to, Izzy – You only get away with this stuff because of where you’re standing right now. Queen of this tiny–ass little world. Next year, when you’re the new fish in a great big pond? You’re gonna be back on Earth with us mortals, and I think you should get used to that, because this is the last time it’s gonna work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kick Paul’s ass.”

Honestly? I’ve wanted to say that to Isabel for a long time. She’s not a bad person, but years and years of being surrounded by worshipers may have given her a false impression of reality. When that happens, you really just have to yank the person back down before they float off into space.

Besides, I think I have a good shot at Paul. Hey, he’s mortal, too, right?


~SEMIFINAL ROUND – VALKYRIES VS. RAGING NERDS~

There’s already murmuring out in the crowd. It’s gonna be one of those matches, I can tell already. A few days ago, everyone was ready for us to lose, but now the fulcrum has shifted. The student body is nicely split – some for us, some for the Nerds, and some who don’t care because they’re backing the Brains. At least half of the people in this room want me to lose. I didn’t even realize that until now.

Hold it – Mr. Laubhan is stepping up. “Welcome to the Trivia Master semifinals. Today’s round is between the Valkyries and the Raging Nerds. You’re all familiar with the rules by now so let’s get started.”

I’m starting to feel the tension. It’s actually a good feeling, though. I’m not scared to death like Hannah or Karen or Isabel. I feel...alive. Is that sad? Is this what those crazy kids feel when they’re up here?

We’re seconds from the show. I give Paul a little smirk – a reminder that he needs to take this seriously.

“Question one: What Virginia city was the capital of the Confederate States of America?”

Deedle–dee.

“Jane, Valkyries.”

“Richmond.”

“Correct, for ten points.” An easy question right off the bat. And everyone’s always bragging up Paul’s speed – I smoked him.

“Question two: What is the name for the space between neurons?”

Deedle–dee.

“Hannah, Valkyries.”

“Synapses.”

“Correct.” Two in a row. Why was Isabel so scared of them, anyway? We’ve already got them cornered.

“Question three: Covering four states in the American Southwest, this desert – ”

Doot–de–doot.

“Paul, Nerds.”

“The Mojave.”

“Correct.” Don’t get smug, Paul. That was just luck.

“Question four: This mathematical property is held by addition and multiplication but not by...”

Doot–de–doot.

“Ken, Nerds.”

“The commutative property.”

“Correct.” Oh, shove it up your ass, Ken. Wait, did I really just curse him out in my head.

It feels like time is slowing down. I’m not aware of anything outside of the buzzer under my hand and the sound of voices asking and answering questions. Is this what obsession is like?

“...Which brings us to the end of round one, with the score tied at 50 points.”

Tied? I can’t accept a tie game. I’d rather lose than draw. I whisper to Isabel, “Let’s go all in. 50 points.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

Now the score is 100 to 70. I knew I was right.

Into the second round, and I’m starting to slip. Twenty to the Nerds. Forty to the Nerds. Now they’re ahead. Maybe it’s the adrenaline wearing off, or maybe I’m just choking under the pressure – either way, my teammates are carrying me now. Damn it, I was wrong. The semifinals are different. If I’m feeling this way now, what’s the final round gonna be like?

“And that’s the end of round two, with the Raging Nerds at 190 and the Valkyries at 180. A very close game so far. Write down your bids for the second team question.”

Isabel leans over. “Fifty again?”

“Yeah.” I write down the number. I wonder if they can see how worried I am in the audience.

“All right. Here’s your question: This Greek mathematician was said to have engineered a number of great inventions, including a bilge pump, an orrery, and a number of anti–ship defensive weapons.”

Fortunately, I know the answer – Archimedes. Unfortunately, so did they – and they matched our score. We’re now behind by a single question.

Damn it, I hate close games. I’d rather lose than end it this close.

“The score is now 240 to 230. It’s about as close as it gets as we head into the final round. Give us sixty seconds.”

Sixty seconds...all the time in the world if you know how to use it.

“Commonly used in pipes and cable insulation, this form of plastic – ”

Deedle–dee.

“Karen, Valkyries.”

“PVC.”

“Correct.” Thank you, Karen. There’s murmuring in the crowds. No one was expecting it to be this close.

“Question: This Shakespeare tragedy follows a king driven to madness by – ”

Doot–de–doot.

“Scott, Nerds.”

“King Lear.”

“Correct. Question: This Communist nation was formed in 1949 after a long civil war.”

Doot–de–doot.

“Paul, Nerds.”

“The People’s Republic of China.”

“Correct. Question...It looks like we’re out of time. The final score is Valkyries 250, Raging Nerds 280. The Raging Nerds will be competing in the finals two days from now.”

The audience erupts into applause.

I feel...relief? Yeah, relief. It’s over for me. I can go on with my life. I never knew it could feel this good to lose.

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