June 30; 11:09 – 49 Days Remain
Every part of his body was screaming in agony as Iimo Habaeran opened his eyes.
It felt as if his very soul was burning in the deepest pits of hell.
He began wheezing from the pain, struggling to sit up. He was pretty sure he was laying on a luxurious mattress, but it nonetheless felt like a bed of nails. He managed to pry himself up and look around. It was an excessively large bedroom. Very contemporary design; sleek and modern. On the nightstand to his left was a mountain of medicine. Pills and used syringes.
He crawled to the edge of the bed, muscles creaking, and examined one of the bottles. Nearly all of them were schedule-2 prescription-grade narcotics. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why.
Iimo looked intently at the medicine. This pain was nearly unbearable, but he was somebody who understood the depths of pain. He stood up.
His whole body was shaking involuntarily. He took a few steps and looked into a mirror hanging from the wall.
An elephant. He was undressed because he had been sleeping, and it was certainly a bit weird to see the prolific executive out of one of his signature suits, but Iimo could have recognized that wretched face from a mile away. He let out a slow, pained chuckle.
He had been placed into the body of Wayne Frederick. He’d call it a funny coincidence if it weren’t so obvious that it was on purpose.
He would have liked to curse the gods who decided to tell this cruel joke, but he knew he ought to thank them instead. This was his one chance at revenge. Not even the chance of a lifetime, as he never would have had the opportunity even in a million repetitions of his miserable life. This was a miracle, not a chance. This was a message from the heavens that his will, whether righteous or wicked, deserved a chance to be carried out.
And what kind of man would squander a miracle?
Iimo moved through the room like the debilitating pain was trivial and picked up Wayne’s smartphone. The lock screen wallpaper was a photo of a young antelope that he didn’t recognize. The phone was locked, of course. He tried biometrics but it looked like they weren't enabled. He supposed it wasn't very surprising that such an insecure security method would worry someone with so much to hide.
It was no matter. There was a pretty simple solution that he could use later.
Iimo shuffled over to the closet door and opened it. His eyes narrowed in irritation. The closet was practically a room in and of itself. He’d never seen so many clothes in one place once in his life. Rows and rows of clothes hangers carrying suits and slacks that he couldn't even begin to guess the price of.
The idea of wearing anything in here was viscerally repulsive to Iimo, but he didn't have much choice, and it would be best not to look out of place. He found some relatively comfortable clothes and stepped out of the closet to pick up the phone and step outside.
He exited onto the balcony of an enormous foyer. The balcony ran along three sides of the room, with two doors on each wall. There was a butler sitting in a chair a few meters away from the door who had been reading a book until he heard the door open.
“Hey... I- My phone password escaped my mind. Did I tell you what it was...?” Talking through the pain was difficult, but he managed to get the words out. The butler chuckled softly and stood up to approach him.
“Yes, you did. Rough morning?”
He passes the phone to the butler, who pauses for a moment as he grips the device.
“Sir... did you take your medicine this morning? You seem to be shaking...”
Iimo looked the butler in the eye. “I’m... fine.”
“Uh... Alright, sir.” He hesitantly took the phone and unlocked it.
“The code is 0604. Jenna’s birthday, remember?” The butler smiled warmly, but Iimo didn’t return the gesture.
“Thanks.” The butler hands it back and watches the elephant turn away, only to ask one last question.
“Hey, is my secretary awake?” The butler smiles again.
“She is. Meredith is in her office downstairs. Did you need her for something?”
“Yeah, I... just wanted to keep her updated on something.”
The butler narrows his eyes.
“I understand, sir. By the way, breakfast will be finished in a few minutes.”
Iimo gave him a thumbs up and turned toward the stairs in the center of the foyer. He spotted the secretary’s office and took a step, shuddering at the overbearing sensations.
It was time to kick the hive. He swiped around the phone until he found the Bulletin icon and opened the app, then tapped the button to write a new memo. A little caution icon appeared at the top of the screen, prompting a text box for a few moments.
[“This memo is set to public. All 14,356,239 followers will be notified, and anonymous users can view it on your page.”]
Iimo ignored the notice and began typing as he walked down the stairs. By the time he reached the first floor, he finished and pressed the pin button.
[“This memo reads ‘You know who you are. Give me a call.’ Is this what you want to pin?”]
He pressed yes, and the memo went live. He put the phone back into his pocket and knocked on the door to Wayne’s secretary’s office. He watched through the enormous window facing the foyer as she got up and opened the door.
“Good morning, Mr. Frederick! Do you need something?”
She was a short bobcat wearing a pair of round spectacles. Her outfit was probably cute, but Iimo wasn’t very familiar with fashion.
“Yeah. I’m performing a bit of a... social experiment. You’re probably about to get a bunch of calls about a memo I posted on my bulletin page. Feel free to tell any journalists that I’m not taking questions, but when you get a call from someone who doesn’t seem to be a journalist, or who is claiming to know something about me, I want you to forward that call to my personal number. Got it?”
She blinked a few times, staring blankly.
“H-huh? Yeah, I mean... I got it, but what is this about?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Now, he only needed to wait.
And the time flew by. He was sitting in a chair in his bedroom, gazing longingly at the narcotics on the nightstand that he was forcing himself not to take. The pain was indescribable, and somehow even worse when he had nothing to distract himself from it.
It had only been an hour and a half, and Wayne’s phone was already ringing. A republic area code. Iimo pressed to answer the call and placed the phone to his ear.
[“Alright, who’s in my damn body?!”] A soft, feminine voice was speaking in an unusually harsh tone.
“Calm down, Mr. Frederick. I just needed to get your attention and give you an easy way to contact me so I can get you back to your home. It will be easier to sort out what to do that way.” Iimo tried his best to assuage the temperamental executive’s anxiety.
[“I... Alright, fine. It looks like I’m in the body of a cat named... Opal Espeia. Who are-”] He didn’t want to let Wayne ask that question, at least not yet.
“How soon can you be at the mansion?”
[“Oh, uh... It looks like she lives about a six-hour drive away from the mansion... I don’t think using my jet is going to be an option given the restrictions on landing in airports I don’t own... argh, I think driving there is going to be my only option!”]
Iimo sighed. He didn’t personally mind waiting, but the impatience of his conversation partner was infectious
“Six hours it is then. Obviously, I can pay for your fuel, since I’m the one in your body.”
He could hear Wayne scoff on the other end of the call. [“Of course. Oh, and who-”]
“I’ll see you then.” Iimo interrupted and immediately hung up before Wayne could finish the question.
More waiting. But it would all be worth it in the end. To people like Wayne, any amount of waiting was insufferable, but it was different for people who had lived their entire lives watching as the sands of the hourglass slowly buried them alive.
June 30; 18:55 – 49 Days Remain
It was an exhausting drive, but he finally arrived back at his house. Fortunately, whoever was in his body remembered to tell the gatekeeper to let ‘Opal Espeia’ in, and they probably didn’t ask questions just like Wayne taught them too. While the experience of switching into somebody else’s body was certainly not especially pleasant, he would be lying if he said he wasn’t relishing not having to choose between numbing his entire body and suffering constant, excruciating pain.
The past several hours of simply walking around without having to worry about every nerve in his body shouting pain signals to his brain were certainly a net positive experience.
Wayne ascended the short staircase onto his porch and almost reached to grab his keys before remembering that he was in somebody else’s body. He sighed and rang the doorbell instead. A few moments later, he heard footsteps on the other side followed by the latch releasing and door finally opening.
Right before his eyes stood Wayne’s own body, looking down at him from the doorway. It was a truly surreal experience.
“Welcome. I’ve got a room set up for us to talk in already.” His own voice spoke to him in a softer tone than he had probably ever used while it belonged to him. The person was offering him a handshake. Wayne elected not to honor the courtesy.
“Are you going to tell me who you are yet?”
The person in his body paused for a moment. “Iimo Habaeran.”
“Oh. Uh... Which one were you again?”
Iimo placed his palm over his face and sighed.
“Does it even matter? You didn’t know me in the first place, so it isn’t like we’re clearing anything up.”
Wayne laughed heartily and gripped Iimo’s hand and firmly shook it. “I guess that’s fair! Alright, so which room?”
For some reason, the elephant stood firmly still for a few moments. His expression seemed to rapidly change.
“Uh... You alright?”
The elephant blinked, shifting his thousand-yard stare and looking back down at Wayne again. “Oh, yes. I’m... I’m fine. It’s this way.”
Iimo readjusted his posture and turned to lead Wayne to the room he had set up for their meeting. They arrived in a well-furnished sort of living room that was clearly designed to meet with high-profile figures on a personal basis. Of course, Wayne already knew this because it was his room; one where he had met with any number of powerful people to share a drink and sort out their business affairs.
Wayne reflexively sat down in the master chair despite technically being the guest in this circumstance. Iimo didn’t seem to mind, shutting the door and taking his seat in the guest chair. Perhaps he didn’t even know which seat was which in the first place?
Iimo voiced his thoughts first. “So, Mr. Frederick. I’m sorry to say, but I have some bad news.”
Wayne raised an eyebrow. “It hasn’t even been a day since the game started! What could you possibly have already fucked up-”
As he looked into the eyes of his former body, he felt a chill run down his spine. A cold, evil smile formed on the elephant’s face before he opened his mouth.
“I’m going to play solo.”
Everything in Wayne’s vision except for the man sitting before him lost all its color. The moment he opened his eyes after he blinked; he was sitting on the same stage he saw before he woke up that morning.
The audience beyond the stage was cheering at deafening volumes. Looking to his sides, Wayne saw all the other contestants sitting in chairs beside him as before. They were all colorless and motionless, like statues. All except for the Lemur, who was sitting separately from the rest of the group, directly facing the shifting silhouette standing center-stage.
The audience quieted down and the host spoke up. “Boy, that was even faster than we expected! So, you want to play solo?”
The Lemur hardly even flinched at the imposing, omnipotent figure. “I do, but first, I need to ask one question that will greatly impact my decision.”
“Certainly! What would you like to know?”
“What happens... to this ‘world’ if nobody wins? Are the actions we take during this game erased from time?”
The audience gasped and the host’s eye widened. “Hahaha, you’re one smart cookie! That’s right. This game takes place in an isolated replication of the original timeline. Whether you win or lose, everything that happens in these seven weeks will be erased from history after the game is over!”
Iimo let out a slow chuckle.
“I’m sure. I want to play solo.”
The audience cheered again. “Wonderful~! By the way, in case you didn’t notice, Mr. Frederick is here watching because he was there to hear your declaration in person.”
The host, again, gives off that strange impression that it’s smiling despite having no mouth.
“Your declaration is accepted, and your seven days start... now!” The host moved and a snap echoed through Wayne’s mind.
He was back in the meeting room, looking at the elephant, still smiling.
“Y-you... You can’t kill me; I have seven days to get away! You must have-”
Iimo laughed maniacally. “You’re right. I can’t kill you. But nobody ever said I can’t tie you down until the week is up!”
Wayne began to realize how bad of a situation he was in. “You think I’ll let you do that? I can-”
“You can’t do jack shit, Wayne fucking Frederick! I can tell the security that you assaulted me, and have you detained in the private jail that I know you have in the basement! So, pick your poison. Do you want to sit here like a good boy and wait of your own accord, or do you want me to make you?”