“Chapter 1: Registration Opens”

It was 6:55 am, and Ace sat hunched over his desk with the night light on.  Staring at his computer screen, Ace had the two fingers of his left hand crossed and hovered the fingers of his right hand over the mousepad ready to smash that enroll button like his hand was made for it.  The anticipation was causing him more stress than being sober at Devine’s.  He couldn’t wait to be done and go back to sleep.

The clock slowly ticked by, and Ace swore for a moment he could hear the 800 other freshmen nervously breathing at their desks too.  All these first-registration window freshmen, including Ace, wanted the same thing–their perfect schedule.  The perfect schedule was different for each person.  Some believed in early classes.  Some believed in late classes.  Whatever it was for each person that all hung in the balance of registration and the few spots remaining in classes that us sophomores, juniors, and seniors had already vultured over.  

Ace’s roommate’s snoring soon tuned out all those thoughts, and Ace was just left with an undercurrent of anxiety.  This uncertainty of it all was eating away at him, as the atomic clock he’d Googled this morning ticked down the last 80 seconds until registration.  Soon, Ace felt his heart beating along to the ticks.  It got louder and faster, until the last 10 seconds, when Ace was pretty sure his heart was beating to the tune of the bass drops at the Louis the Child concert.  The clock hit 7:00:00, and Ace’s index finger slammed down on his mousepad like un toro bravo at the start of the Pamplona Bull Run.  “No wonder my ex-girlfriend was ‘so excited to hang’ in two weeks,” thought Ace as he again slammed his index finger down on the Finish Enrolling button with the reflexes of a Greek Gd.  

Instantly, Ace felt the primal dopamine rush associated with the expectation of reward.  And as Ace stared at the screen, a sudden tingling sensation overtook his bones and soon his entire body.  Ace felt his body turn into nothing but this sensation.  But soon, the sensation took an otherworldly turn as Ace’s body was translated into a series of 1s and 0s, and Ace’s conscious information was absorbed into his laptop and sent miles away to the DukeHub server in a matter of just seconds.  

“Chapter 2: The Battle Begins”

Ace soon found himself sitting on the cold bench of Cameron indoor stadium.  The stadium was filled with screaming spectators, and on the floor were just two competitors standing at their own podiums and a third middle podium with a man who kind of looked like Alex Trebek.   Ace was extremely confused, like not studying for the first EGR midterm of freshman year level of confused.   A voice reverberated through Cameron.  “Our two competitors are James Trent and Gary Cohen.  They compete now to receive their seeds for the tournament Thursday.  On Thursday, the two of them will battle to enroll in Environmental Science 210.  James here played the piano, but Gary’s had kill streaks of over 100.  I mean Gary can really move his fingers like water over Xbox controllers.  3…2…1… Begin!”, said the commentator.  Ace watched both James and Gary slam their index fingers down on buttons that had apparently been on the podiums in front of them, as the crowd screamed, followed immediately by silence and an air of anticipation as the commentator said, “Now let’s see the results.  And it’s James by just a nanosecond!  Wow, what a matchup!  Can’t wait to see these guys battle for the real thing Thursday!  Up next we have Ace from Ohio against our fifteenth ranked seed Will Clark.  Thursday, they’ll be competing for a Comp Sci 201 lecture at 10:05.  If they don’t get it they’ll be taking the 8:30.  Now, of course this is Ace’s first time, so to all of you in the crowd, please explain to Ace what he’ll be doing here today!”  

The crowd screamed in response, “smash that button!”

“You heard ‘em Ace, smash that button!”  “Will, are you ready?”

“Oh yeah,” said Will, smiling at the crowd.  

“Ace, are you ready?” Ace didn’t need to know anything except that he needed this class.

“Yeah!” He screamed in response.

“Alright on Begin! 3… 2…. 1….Begin!”  Ace’s finger slammed down on the button with the same enthusiasm he’d had this morning, as the crowd let out a quick half a second scream and then went silent.  “And the results are,” says the commentator, “Oh my Gd.  Holy unexpected.  Ace takes it!  By 15 nanoseconds!”  The crowd roared with enthusiasm.  “Let’s hope it’s not just beginner’s luck for Ace!”

Will walked over to Ace and shook Ace’s hand to congratulate Ace.  Two new, fierce-looking competitors were coming up, so Ace took the cue to sit back down on the bench.  Ace was floored by the strange, apparently virtual, world he’d stumbled upon.  Duke brochures had unsurprisingly left out this odd part of Duke, but that Duke Memes had given no clue that registration would be like this–that was shocking.  

The day went on like this, and Ace competed in 9 more odd rounds.  In between sets, Ace didn’t say a word; he was so confused, well as if he could get a word in anyway.  This commentator somehow loved the sound of his own voice even more than Ace’s philosophy professor did.  Still, Ace was doing well.  The commentator would give his spiel, then a “3..2..1..Begin!”, and Ace would dominate, sometimes even by microseconds, with the crowd getting louder each time screaming “Ace, Ace, Ace!”, as he came up and just “Ay” when it was time to hit the button, and that was all they could get out in time.  When the commentator said, “That’s a wrap folks.   We’ll see you tomorrow”, Ace was relieved and once all the spectators filed out, and they shut off the lights, Ace practically passed out right there on the bench.  

A guard in all black came over and shuffled Ace out of Cameron stadium with the other competitors and led them to Kville.  Ah of course. Across all of KVille, freshman singles were set up with prison bars in place of one of the walls with each one sandwiched in between two more.  Ace was led to his single, shown inside, and as the door was locked behind him, he immediately fell on top of the bed.  Yikes no comforter and not a single poster in the whole room not even a scantily clad tennis player.  It didn’t even have a rug.  All it had was one alarm clock that just read 7:00:36 am.  “That’s odd,” Ace thought.  Ace thought about the insane day he’d just had, but he was so tired that he just passed out then and there.

 

“Chapter 3: An Old Friend”

Ace woke up that night to footsteps, so he looked outside his cell to check it out. “Oh my Gd. It was Beta that son of a bitch.  What was he doing here?,” thought Ace.  Beta was deep into dirty-rushing some top-tier frat and was such a follower about it that everyone had taken to calling him Beta, so much so that Ace forgot his real name.  Regardless, it was so good to see him.  “Beta!” screamed out Ace.

Beta just gave a smile, nodded, and said, “Sup.”  

The guard looked over and said, “Alright, sure.  Team rounds tomorrow.  Y’all can neighbor cells.”  The guard removed a half-naked freshman from the cell next to Ace, threw Beta in, and escorted the other freshman to another cell.

“Team rounds?” thought Ace.  Anyway, through the Duke-dorm-thin walls Ace asked Beta, “How’d you end up here?”

“I just tried to register and boom ended up here; not much else to it.”  Ace started to explain to Beta the day he’d had, and through the paper thin wall Beta said, “That’s a lot of effort just for a few Econ classes.”

“Yup,” said Ace.

And then Beta said, “Well we’re at least not competing against each other right?”

“Don’t think so all science and engineering classes,” said Ace.

“Dope,” responded Beta.  “So maybe whatever this team thing is could work out for us.”  

“Yeah,” said Ace.  “Let’s get some sleep first.”  Cozied up in their prison-sized beds, the two of them went out like lights.

 

“Chapter 4: The Second Morning”

They woke up the next morning to a loud, annoying bugle.  The alarm clock read 7:01:00 am this time.  Ace immediately jumped out of bed and got ready.  Beta took a little longer, but 20 minutes later, when the clock read 7:01:01 am, they were both ready to go.  The guards walked over and escorted both Ace and Beta out of their cells.  A guard asked, “You a team?”  

“Yeah,” said Beta.  

“Right this way,” said the guard, as he paired them up and walked them back inside Cameron Stadium.  The two sat back down on the bench and soon the stadium began to fill with line monitors, students, the Blue Devil, crazy towel guy, spectators, and high schoolers ready to write about this experience in their soon-due Why Duke essays.  The overhead lights dimmed, and a singular light shone in the corner on the Office of the Registrar’s famous commentator.  Ace’s impressive eyes quickly picked up that the commentator’s hair had gotten just a little darker and skin just a little clearer.

The commentator walked in to great fanfare and took his seat at the center of the room.  “Thank you. Thank you,” said the commentator.  “And a huge thank you to our competitors!”  The room exploded in applause.  “And now of course today is a very special day!  Today is our final seeding day before the tournament tomorrow!  And today is especially important because this year the top 3 competitors will receive a first round bye and have a huge advantage in getting classes at the end of tomorrow.  Today our competitors compete in teams to alleviate some of the pressures on their hands, so they’ll be fresher tomorrow.  And of course today is extremely special because here refereeing every match will be our great leader The Bla-Lark,” and as he said that a dark-colored lark that was perched in the rafters of the stadium flew down, landed on the podium, and let out a loud squawk.  The crowd again lit up with applause.  “Now, I turn over the competition to our great leader.”  

“Thank you.  Thank you,” said the Bla-Lark.  “You are all wonderful.  Thank you.  You will all have access to all the information you need to get your classes and you will all be able to get all classes important for your major.  Thank you.  Thank you,” squawked the Bla-Lark to huge applause.

Processing that this man was an actual Lark was taking Ace longer than it had taken him to process his 80-year old Biology Professor’s love of beer and swear words.  

“Now that is why we are all here is it not?” Asked the Bla-Lark to more applause.  “I say let the games begin!”  The crowd went wild.  This all sounded like BS.  Ace already didn’t like this guy.  

The commentator took over and again announced, “Now with our first matchup we have Ace and Beta from Alspaugh against Laura and Sarah from Blackwell!” The pairs of competitors were brought to the podiums with the crowd screaming, “Ace, Ace, Ace!”

“I guess you’re representing us first, bud,” said Beta.  

 

“Chapter 5: The Perfect Schedule”

Ace walked up to the podium and readied his index finger.  The commentator handed the mic to the Bla-lark.  “Laura will represent Blackwell, and Ace will be representing Alspaugh,” said the Bla-lark.  

“Are you ready, Ace?” said the Bla-lark.

“Yeah!” said Ace.

“Are you ready, Laura?”

“Yes!” said Laura.  

“3..2..1..Begin!”

“Ay!” screamed the crowd.

“And the results are… Ace by 10 nanoseconds!” said the Bla-lark with an impressed look on his beak-face.  “Thank you. Thank you,” said the Bla-lark.  “We now welcome up our next two competitors.”  Ace and Beta took their seats on the bench.

“That was it?  That was the registration game?” asked Beta.  

“Yup,” said Ace.

“Well, that’s fucking insane.  Who came up with this?”

“Looks like it was this Bla-lark bird-person.  Seems like a real power crazy bird.”

“Nah just crazy.”

They both sat watching the games, until they were called up again, and then it was Beta’s turn to impress.

“Now from Alspaugh we have Beta representing against one of our best, Tre from Pegram,” said the Bla-lark to the crowd’s applause.  “Are you ready, Tre?” said the Bla-lark.

“Yeah!” responded Tre.

“Are you ready, Beta?” asked the Bla-lark.

“Heck yeah!” said Beta.

“3..2..1..Begin!”  The crowd screamed as Beta’s finger slammed on the button just like he was flicking a lighter, and immediately after the Bla-lark said, “And the results are… Oh my! It’s Beta by a full microsecond!”  Ace looked over impressed, but it looked like the Bla-lark wasn’t.  This mutant bird-person actually looked pretty pissed.  

As the Bla-lark welcomed up the next two competitors, Ace congratulated Beta with a “nice work”, and Beta said, “Thanks, looks like I’m a natural.”  They sat in silence while Ace pondered the Bla-lark’s strange demeanor.  Ace and Beta played a full 3 more games, and the only thing notable about them was that Beta screamed out “heating up” “fire”, and “balls back” after the first, second, and third, but otherwise Ace and Beta just dominated.

The Bla-lark looked even more aggravated, after each one, and after the third he handed off the mic to the commentator who announced, “Wow what a performance by Ace and Beta!  It’s time for   a quick intermission, but it looks like these two are in contention for not only the top 3 seeds, but the number 1 spot.  We’ve never seen it here before, but the two of them may even get their perfect schedules tomorrow!”  Just before the lights shut off, Ace looked over and saw that the last line seemed to have really ticked off The Bla-lark, so much so that the Bla-Lark’s dark feathers appeared to be glowing red.  

Ace and Beta were escorted to the locker rooms, where they shook some hands and exchanged some laughs with the other players.  Ace really just needed some alone time to figure the whole thing out, so he wandered off to explore the stadium, to ponder what the heck the Bla-lark was doing and why this system was in place.  

Suddenly, Ace saw a smaller green lark jump from the window and fly at him.  The lark slashed Ace’s finger-smashing hand, screamed, “you’ll never get the perfect schedule squawk,” and flew off.  Ace collapsed in pain; and left bleeding, he started to scream for help.  Beta found him and took him to the recovery room.  The athletic physician stitched up Ace, and broke the news, “Ace you’re not going to be able to compete on this hand.”

“I’ll still be able to compete, but I won’t be able to perform” said Ace to Beta, and when they heard over the speakerphone, “time to compete!”, they felt defeated by the Bla-lark.

“Yes, you will!” said a figure just walking into the room.  It was Ace’s academic advisor!  “Here, take these,” said the advisor handing him a special pair of gloves.  “These professor email gloves will speed up your registration, even your offhand will be fast, and they follow all competition rules.  Now get out there and get your schedule!”

“Thank you!” said Ace.  Ace and Beta ran out to the bench with their advisor cheering behind them, and when they got to the bench the crowd was screaming too, “Ace and Beta! Ace and Beta! Ace and Beta!”

With a huge smile, the Bla-lark announced that Ace and Beta would be competing first against the number eight seed to determine whether they’d go to the finals of the seeding tournament and get the bye.

“You go first,” said Ace.  15 seconds later, Beta of course had won. One more game to get the bye, but Ace was hurting.  He sat there nervously sweating.

“And now the finals!” said the Bla-lark.  “We have Ace from Alspaugh competing against Pat from Bassett!  And uh oh what’s that looks like Ace is going to be competing with his off-hand,” said the Bla-lark as Ace approached the podium and button.  Ace swore he could see a wicked look in the Bla-lark’s eyes.  

“At this point I think we know you’re both ready, so on Begin,” said the Bla-lark to laughs from the crowd.

“3…2…1…Begin!” said the Bla-lark.  It was just in nanoseconds, but Ace felt a whole world relying on his off-index-finger there, as he smashed down the button faster than he ever had before.  Pat was good; it was going to be close.

“And the results are…. Oh my Gd,” said the Bla-lark with a look of utmost shock.  “It’s Ace by 2 microseconds and a new course record!”  The lights seemed to fade from the Bla-lark’s eyes, as he handed the mic off to the commentator and slipped away toward the stadium exit.

“Thank you, Bla-lark!,” said the commentator to the loudest applause that day.  “My oh my what a day.  Ace really looks like he could be getting that perfect schedule tomorrow!  Ace and Beta will be getting the bye along with Joan and Peter, and Ray and Kate! Thank you to the crowd and of course all the competitors here today!  Have a great night!  We will see you tomorrow for the the 36th Registration Games!”      

The lights went out and the guards aggressively grabbed Ace and Beta as they pulled them out of the stadium and back into KVille.  The guards shoved them around against the singles, saying, “Bet you both think you’re hot shit.  Well, neither of y’all is getting the perfect schedule.”  The guards threw Ace and Beta to the ground, but quickly realized other competitors could all hear and were watching from their cells, so they picked up Ace and Beta and threw them into their cells.  

“This Bla-lark character is real shady,” said Beta through a wall so thin that Ace swore he could hear Beta thinking it before Beta said it.

“No shit,” said Ace, as they got in their beds.  “I’m worried about tomorrow.”

“Yeah here’s to hoping they don’t try to kill us in our sleep. Let’s get some rest.  My head’s spinning this is so insane.”

“Agreed,” and they both passed out praying they’d wake up the next day.

 

“Chapter 6: The Bla-Lark”

Fortunately, Ace did wake up the day of the tournament but with a weird feeling in his stomach.  He’d expected this, but it wasn’t the right feeling.  Something was wrong.  He looked around his cell and saw all the lights were out.  He knocked on the wall separating Beta and him.

Ace then looked at the other cells across from him and saw people still in them.  The first rounders were supposed to have left by then. Almost instantly, Ace knew the competition was cancelled.  “The Bla-lark. Damn it.”

“Beta!” he screamed.  “Wake up!”  Silence.  He knocked again.  Silence.  Nervousness flashed through Ace’s mind.  Before he gave it a third knock, he heard the shuffling of sheets in the other room.  “Fucking Beta,” he thought in relief.  He knocked this time louder, “Beta get the fuck out of bed.  It’s important.”

 “Fuck you,” screamed back Beta. “I’m up.”

“The power’s out; they’re not waking us up.”  

“Great,” responded Beta “I fucking hated this.  Let’s get out of here and smoke our heads off.”

“That’s the thing we’re locked in these cells.”

 “Wow can’t break a lock.  Add that to the list of reasons you’re going nowhere next semester.”

 “I didn’t think you could do anything but smoke.  You’ve been in prison before I assume?”

 “Can’t answer you right now. I need quiet while I work, Ace.”  

“No biggie. I’ll just grab a book,” said Ace, and he sat down and started to ponder what had gone wrong.  5 minutes later Beta was standing outside Ace’s cell.  “Don’t just smirk. Get me out of here,” and Beta smirked wider and started working with the lock.  Ace still couldn’t figure this thing out.

In another 5 minutes, Beta opened the door and said “My lady” as Ace walked out.

“Let’s go to the Bla-lark’s office,” said Ace.  Ace was so distracted he could hardly put any effort into responding to Beta’s banter.  Soon, they spotted the Office of the Registrar in the distance.  It looked even more guarded than the Key 3 senior Beta once tried hitting on.  A full patrol roamed the outside of the Bla-lark’s offices and the lights were on.  Clearly, this was not just a power outage and whatever it was The Bla-lark did not seem willing to explain.  

Beta turned to Ace and said, “ How much do you think Bla-lark’s getting paid Gd damn.”

“It’s a computer simulation, Beta. That probably just cost come CS student’s tears.”  Ace had an idea.   He saw one guard alone, and he sprinted toward the guard and started trying and failing to bend the guard’s weapon with his mind.  Ace gave up and put his arm around the guard’s throat, strangled the guard, and stole the guard’s weapon.  

He heard a pair of guards coming around the corner saying, “competitors were getting too powerful.  No one can have the perfect schedule, so Bla-lark shut it off.”

 Ace said, “Beta, come over here.”  When the guards came around the corner, Ace shot one guard and asked the other where Bla-lark was, but the guard started screaming, “Intruder”, and Ace shot him too.  They dressed up in the guards’ outfits and walked around the building before making their way inside.

Once inside, they went up to the first two guards to whom Ace said, “we need to get to Bla-lark’s office.”

“You don’t have access,” said the first guard.  Ace shot them on the spot.  Boom dead.  Both of them.  They took the new guards’ uniforms and put them on and marched across the first floor then headed to the second.  They saw a sign: Office of the Registrar.  

The two guards at the door said, “You’re not seeing Bla-lark.”  Ace shot ‘em both.

They broke down the Bla-lark’s door, and to the lark in the chair Ace demanded, “I’m tired of this shit.  Just give me my classes, Bla-lark.”  

Black-lark let out a loud squawk and scrambled to grab a piece of paper at the desk.  Boom dead.  Ace ran over and unrolled the paper.  It was the plans to a power generator and schedule maker.  “Oh my Gd,” said Ace.

“What is it?” asked Beta.  

“We can fix this whole thing, get out of here, and all of us can have class sizes that meet demand.  They’ve held it from us just so Bla-lark could keep his rule over this realm.”  Ace bolted to the basement of the Registrar.  He crunched some numbers, and he plugged them into the computer.  And up it popped on the screen.  All along the real perfect schedule was the almost perfect schedule.  Everyone would get their perfect schedule just off by a little – one 10:05 instead of an 11:45 or a class that met Tuesday/Thursday instead of Monday/Wednesday.  And then Ace and Beta saw it—the most beautiful thing in their world.  4 green checks, and instantly their bodies materialized back at their laptops on their beds at 7:03 am.  Looking at the 4 green checks on the screen, Ace fell back on his bed and passed out.  He’d done good.

 

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