A round of applause follows the sound of a thick fabric being drawn. Seven seats arranged beside each other, evenly spaced about ten feet apart on a stage gaudier than one could even imagine. Golden arches, colorful shining lights illuminating every inch of the stage and casting the audience into a comparatively indescribable darkness. There's a person in each of the chairs. A fox, a hawk, a lemur, a bearded dragon, a cat, an elephant, and a bumblebee. All are fast asleep.

“Are... you... ready?!” An eccentric host shouts to the crowd. The question is answered with a deafening chorus of cheers.

“Then... On the count of three...” The audience goes quiet.

“One... Two... Three!” All of the lights dim progressively with each number before going completely dark on three.

A single snap is heard from the host's fingers, and seven spotlights turn on, each over one of the chairs. At the same time, all of the contestants spontaneously open their eyes.

There is a few moments of silence as the confused guests search around, trying to get a grasp on their whereabouts. They can faintly hear the indistinct murmuring of the anxious crowd. Suddenly, the elephant speaks up and breaks the quiet.

“Where is this? Have I been kidnapped!?” He looks to his sides and sees the other six. “Who are you people? Do you know where we are?”

He addresses the cat sitting in the chair to his right. She stutters nervously, trying to answer the question, only to be interrupted by the Hawk shouting something before she can get the words out.

“Say ‘aye’ if you know where you are!” The seven are all quiet for a moment.

“There's your answer.” She leans forward to look at the elephant whom she was addressing, but her eyes suddenly grow wide

“Wait a... Are you Wayne Frederich...?

The elephant nods firmly.

"That I am. Have we met before?” He raises his brow curiously. The hawk scoffs.

“Maybe once? Of course I know who you are; you'd be hard pressed to find a single person in the country who doesn't know your name at this point.” Despite the seemingly complementary nature of the statement, she says it with a tone of blatant disdain. The elephant lets out a deep, rhythmic chuckle as he completely disregards the woman's hostility.

“I suppose that's fair. "Well, I-” His sentence is interrupted by the gravelly voice of the bearded dragon sitting in the middle chair.

“Can you two shut the fuck up, please?” His brows appear to be furrowed, but it’s hard to tell if that’s just the way his face looks naturally.

“Excuse you-” The elephant tries to complain only to be interrupted yet again, clearly amusing the hawk on the other side of the row.

“We’re dead. That’s how you got here. I am one-hundred percent certain I would’ve died.”

A visible sense of shock rolls over all but two of the people on the stage: the bearded dragon who abruptly made the observation, and the dark-furred fox at the end who has yet to even open their eyes. The reptile stares intensely at the shadow shifting around towards the front of the stage. Suddenly, an eighth spotlight flashes on, illuminating the host, standing in the far-left corner of the front stage. Despite the direct illumination, the figure’s appearance is still difficult to make out. They look almost like an ever shifting, living silhouette. A dark figure, with a single enormous eye occupying the entirety of what appears to be their head. An obnoxious voice emanates from the entity.

“Quick on the uptake, this guy!” The crowd chuckles quietly.

Yet again, everyone but the same two people appears utterly terrified by the figure before them. The fox has yet to open their eyes, and the reptile continues to stare stoically. He opens his mouth again.

“Now that we’ve established that, let's move onto a better question. What is this bullshit? I wanted nothing more than simple oblivion.”

The statement is made in a solemn tone, but the crowd laughs as if he told a hysterical joke. Despite having no visible mouth, everyone somehow gets the impression that the host is wearing a shit-eating grin.

“Ooooh~? Did you really?” The host takes a few steps towards him, replying in a painfully condescending tone. The bearded dragon’s eye twitches. He stands out of his chair and approaches the host with drawn claws.

“Answer the fucking question, you little pr-!’ As he reels back to swipe at the otherworldly figure, he suddenly goes still and silent. The entity tilts its head 45 degrees.

“Nowww~~, that’s no way to speak to a gentleman like myself. Let me show you how to do it!” It stares at his face, tracing his movements.

The bearded dragon makes a strained groan as he moves slowly, like a rusty machine. He looks as if he’s using every ounce of strength in his body to resist as he shifts onto one knee and kneels before the figure. The crowd laughs hysterically while the other six contestants watch in pure terror.

Muuuch better~! Now, back to your seat, boy.” The host makes an indiscernible motion that produces a snap. Suddenly, the spiteful reptile is back in his seat as if he never got up at all. As soon as he is back in his seat, he begins heaving, desperate for air. His eyes are bloodshot.

The figure returns to its spot on the side of the stage, then begins speaking to everyone.

“Now that the formalities are over… Welcome… To the new season of the biggest gameshow in the realms; Second Chaaaance~!!” A loud click is heard as a row of lights activate far away from the stage, lighting up the venue to reveal an enormous audience of strange, incomprehensible beings similar to the host. The entire crowd unleashes a roaring cheer as a catchy theme begins playing throughout the building.

“And boy do we have a show for you this season! You’ll never believe it… This season’s game will be taking place on Earth!

An audible gasp emanates from the crowd. The contestants stare in total confusion at the scene before them.

“Allow me to explain the rules for this season’s game! These seven contestants all died at the exact same hour. They are going to be sent back to Earth, in the body of one of the other contestants! No two contestants will swap bodies, in order to ensure an even distribution. Contestants will not have access to the memories of the body they occupy unless they can locate and physically touch the person whose body they are in. The game will begin exactly seven weeks prior to their deaths. They have until the hour they originally died to beat the game in one of two ways!”

An image appears floating in the air in front of the stage. It displays a simplistic diagram of the two victory conditions.

“Option A! If all remaining contestants are able to physically gather within seven meters of each other for at least seven minutes and all mutually agree to completing the game, all remaining contestants will win! The prize for this option should be familiar to repeat-viewers; all contestants will be placed into their original body, seven months before their death! Of course, if the time elapses before victory, all of the bodies will die of an inescapable heart attack.”

Most of the contestants seem extremely anxious, though a couple still maintain their composure. Suddenly, the fox opens their eyes for the first time and turns to the host.

“I have a question. Am I permitted to ask?” The crowd gasps at the contestant’s calm demeanor.

“You certainly may!” The figure turns to face the fox.

“You said ‘remaining contestants.’ And that the remaining contestants all have to agree. What do we do if someone doesn’t agree?”

Their sharp eyes narrow as they pose a question that they seem to already know the answer to.

“Isn’t it obvious? Just the same as you lot do down there normally; convince them or kill them.

The crowd laughs again, as if the morbid nature of the statement was somehow intrinsically funny. The fox frowns, closing their eyes again. The other six look at each other cautiously as the host speaks up again.

“Which brings us to Option B! If only one contestant remains, they can declare a solo victory, with an even greater prize! A solo winner will get to choose between a no-catch second chance in their original body from seven months before their death, or just seven months inside the body of any living person on the planet, their choice! That body will be killed by a heart attack after the seven months are up, but they will be free to do as they please during the allotted period! However, in order to even out the playing field, there are some stipulations. For a valid solo victory, one must officially declare their intention at least seven days before eliminating or orchestrating the elimination of any other contestants! If a player kills a contestant before the seven days are up, or before even declaring their intent, they will be ineligible for a solo victory!”

While the others are staring in confusion at the overcomplicated rules, the fox opens their eyes and speaks once again.

“Are other players permitted to kill a declared solo player in the seven-day window?” Their expression remains practically unreadable.

“Indeed, they are! In fact, the declared solo player's consent is still required for a group victory as long as they remain in the game! Though, any player who eliminates or orchestrates the elimination of a declared solo player without also being a declared solo player past the grace period will become ineligible for a solo victory just the same.”

The host begins turning back to the crowd, assuming the answer sufficed, but the fox speaks up again.

“You keep saying ‘orchestrated the elimination’. What are the criteria that determines if somebody is to be held accountable for a death?”

The host's eye narrows a bit.

“Smart cookie, this one! There are no criteria. If a rule violation is up for debate, it will invariably be resolved by a poll of the audience!”

The crowd cheers again, seemingly even more excited to know that they have some power over the game they're watching.

“Also, what specifically does it mean to ‘declare your intent’?”

The fox remains stone-faced as they once again draw from their seemingly bottomless well of questions.

The host sighs.

“If you speak honestly that you want to play solo, then all remaining players will receive a private notice of the declaration, along with your real name and current location after you confirm to us that you're sure. Any other questions?”


The fox faces forward and closes their eyes once again.

“So! Does everybody understand the rules?”

Everyone except the fox looks up and nods their heads.

“Wonderful~! Now, it's time for everyone to introduce themselves! Let's start with our oh-so-curious little fox. Tell us about yourself!”

The fox doesn't answer or open their eyes for a few moments. The quiet is a bit painful. They open their maw.

“I am 026. I am a former special operative of Atlas.”

Another few moments of painful silence. The host makes a fake cough.

“Nice and curt! Let's go down the row.” It points to the hawk next in the line.

“I am Forrest Vera. I'm… uh… I was a candidate running for presidency of the Union of Laita.”

After the attention of everyone is turned to him, the lemur beside her looks at the ground for a few moments.

“Iimo… Habaeran.” He closes his mouth, apparently having said all he intended to.

The host points to the bearded dragon who attempted to attack him before.

“No.” He forcefully refuses. Forrest snickers quietly from her chair. The host narrows its eye.

“Excuse me?”

“Fuck off. I'm not playing along.” He avoids eye contact with the increasingly irritated host. A few gasps can be heard from the crowd.

Suddenly, the reptile grunts and drags himself forward, starting to open his mouth. He begins mouthing words, but the host's voice comes out instead, speaking in a mocking, exaggerated tone.

“Hi, everyone! I'm Heath Prescott, an investment advisor and professional petulant jackass from Laita! I'm so excited to be here!”

The crowd laughs hysterically as Heath tries desperately to resist the invisible force opening and closing his jaw. He gasps for air again as he feels the pressure release, followed immediately by the host's sarcastic voice.

“Thank you, Mr. Prescott!”

He motions to the cat beside the reptile.

“Oh! U-um… I'm Opal Espeia. I'm just a bartender from the Republic!”

She looks and sounds dreadfully nervous, even more so after the whole crowd goes ‘Awwe…’

“How Quaint!”

It motions to the elephant. “Now, we already know your name, but feel free to introduce yourself again!”

The elephant sighs resignedly.

“Hello. I'm Wayne Frederich. I'm the CEO of Allover Energy. We operate internationally, so I can't really name just one country, but I was born in the Republic.”

Finally, the last person takes their turn. The quiet bumblebee cautiously introduces herself.

“Uhh… I'm Siya Dayal… I'm a nurse who helps with live births… I mainly live in the Republic, but I've traveled to a lot of different countries for my work.”

“What an interesting cast we have this season! So, is everyone excited to begin?”

The crowd erupts in yet another thunderous applause.

“Then let the games… begin!”

All of the contestants look up in surprise. Heath tries to shout at the host, but it's already too late.

“Wait, we don't even get to-”

Before he even finishes his sentence, Heath and the rest of the contestants spontaneously vanish. The curtains begin drawing closed.

“Thank you, everyone, for attending the opening ceremony! We hope you enjoy the show!”