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72 Hours Remain: Dawn of the First Day (Volume II)

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August, 1999

"You sure you two will be alright?"

"Yes, honey." Grandmother said, hugging Ben. "We'll be fine."

"If you ever need me, just call. I'll be there as fast as I can."

"You act like you're leaving forever. We live 20 minutes away, Ben." Grandfather laughed.

"Right."

"You go on, now. Get yourself a proper education, Benjamin. Make something of yourself." Grandmother smiled.

"Don't worry. I won't let you down."

"Oh, look at you. You've grown into a fine young man, Benjamin." Grandmother said, trying not to cry.

Ben grinned sheepishly. "Thanks, Grandma." He grabbed his suitcase, and slung his duffel bag over his shoulder.

"Goodbye, Grandma. Goodbye, Grandpa. I love you guys."

"Goodbye, Ben." Grandfather said.

Ben waved goodbye to his grandparents, and walked to his dormitory.

September, 1999

"So, I've been thinking." Ben said, staring at the ceiling.

"What is it?" Mike said, staring down at his desk, across which papers and books were spread.

"That guy. The one who jumped off the SoL building."

"What about him?"

"Was it the right move, me throwing the cartridge away?"

"Was it the right move, taking it from him?" Mike countered. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to draft a rough draft for my essay about drafting."

"God, architecture sounds so boring."

"More exciting than tech support, I'll bet. In 10 years, I'm gonna be building skyscrapers, and you'll be asking the people working in those skyscrapers if they've tried turning their computer off, waiting ten seconds and turning it back on."

"It's a living." Ben argued.

October, 1999

"So, Stacy, you maybe wanna go grab some lunch, or-"

"Mike!" Ben screamed from across the courtyard.

Michael sighed, trying to ignore Ben as he talked to Stacy Wilson, possibly the most attractive girl he had seen his whole time at college. This was a huge opportunity for Mike.

"Who's that?" She wondered.

He sighed. "That's...My roommate."

Ben was holding a small cardboard box as he sprinted over to the two of them.

"Mike, you're never going to believe this."

"Ben, I'm kind of busy right now." He turned to her. "I apologize for him."

"No, it's fine." Stacy said, looking Ben up and down.

"Oh, sorry. Were you guys-" Ben interjected.

"You know what? It's fine, just- say what you were going to say." Michael threw his hands up in defeat.

"This box showed up in front of our door." Ben laid the box down on the table.

"It's just a box." Stacy said.

Ben opened up the box, pulling out its contents.

A single, completely blank Nintendo 64 cartridge.

"Ben...Is that...?" Mike's eyes widened.

"It is. It has to be. This means that somebody knows."

"Knows what? Mike, what's going on?" Stacy questioned.

"I don't have time to explain. Ben, let's get moving."

"Where are you guys going?"

"I'll tell you about it later, Stacy!" As the two boys ran off, Mike looked over his shoulder, mouthing the words "call me".

Just then, Stacy's friend, Anita, walked over. "What's with those two?"

"I dunno, but the one in the black is really cute, right?" Stacy said, staring dreamily at Ben.

____________________

Ben and Mike sat in a dimly lit corner of the library. Ben was holding the cartridge. Mike was examining the box.

"Okay." Mike said. "Someone found the cartridge: possible coincidence."

"Someone decided to take the cartridge." Ben said. "Possible coincidence."

"Someone decided to get rid of the cartridge. Still possible coincidence."

"So, they dropped it off at a nearby college. But the thing is, it's OUR college. I'm doubting the whole 'coincidence' thing, Mike."

"Especially considering it wound up at our doorstep."

"Which means they know about the cartridge. They know I took it, and they know where we live. But why give it to us?"

"Maybe he was returning it?"

"But why? If I threw it away, why would someone give it back?"

"I don't know. There's no note or anything, so if it's a warning, we don't know."

"What are we going to do, Mike?"

"I don't know."

"Let's just play the stupid thing. Get it over with."

"Man, this is too weird. I don't even want anything to do with this shit. Whatever's on that cartridge is bad fucking news. It's gotta be."

"Well, what do we do?"

"Hide it somewhere. If we get rid of it, it'll come back. It's like a boomerang. So, we just shove it in the back of a drawer somewhere, forget it and move on with our lives. Out of sight, out of mind."

"I say we break the fucking thing."

"Think about it: it's obvious someone WANTS us to have it. If we break it, who knows what they'll do? They were pissed enough when we tried to trash it. Maybe it's some CIA intelligence or something. We have to protect that kind of shit."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"Does any of this make any sense?" Mike asked.

Ben paused. "You've got a point."

November 1999

It was a cold, snowy night. It had rained the day before. Roads were bad, covered in ice.

Ben and Mike were sitting in their dorm room, playing Super Smash Bros. Ben was playing as Link. Mike was playing as Yoshi.

"I bet it'd suck to be Yoshi." Ben said. "Having to pass a guy the size of a grown man?"

"It's not as bad as having to be Link. I mean, fighting all those monsters?"

"Or having to put up with Navi." Ben joked.

"Holy crap, how could I forget? I mean, having to deal with 'Hey! Listen!' all day, every day? I'd rather be Yoshi."

"I dunno, I still think it'd be cooler to be Link. The adventure and stuff? Worth it." Ben argued.

"If you say so."

Ben used Link's spin attack to knock Yoshi off the platform.

"Oh, sh-"

Yoshi plummeted into the abyss.

Mike dropped the controller in defeat. Ben laughed.

"That's it. Eight to nothing? I quit, Ben. I'm done with your crap. I'm gonna go take a shower." Mike stood up and walked out of the room.

Then, the phone rang. Ben picked it up.

"Benjamin?"

"Grandpa? What is it?"

"Your grandmother's in the hospital. She...She's had a strike or something, I..." Grandfather spoke with the resignation of a man defeated.

"Is she okay?"

"I don't know, Ben. I don't know."

Ben didn't tell Mike he was leaving. He just grabbed his phone, threw on his coat and shoes and went, without a word.

____________________

"Ben? Ben, where the fuck are you?" Mike barked into the receiver. "It's hell frozen over out there!"

"Mike?"

"Ben, where the fuck are you?" Mike repeated angrily.

"Mike," Ben croaked weakly into his cell phone, "Mike, I...I don't know where I am."

"Are you on campus?"

"No, I'm on the freeway. I got into an accident."

"Ben, you don't have a car."

"I know. I was on my bike, and some asshole nearly killed me. I'm stuck in a snow bank...I can't feel my leg."

"Oh, shit. Ben; just hang on, okay? I'm on my way."

Mike grabbed his car keys from off the TV stand, and ran out to the parking lot.

____________________

Mike pulled over when he saw Ben hobbling along, leaning on his bike.

Mike leapt out of the car and went to him.

"Ben, what the hell are you doing out here?"

"I-I have to get back! She's dying!"

"Ben, stop it! You're hurt!" He tried to grab Ben, but was pushed away.

"Stop it! Don't touch me! I have to go, my grandmother's dying!" Tears streamed down his face as he screamed hysterically. Ben's leg was bleeding as he hobbled along, leaning on his bike for support.

A highway patrol car pulled up next to the two. The patrolman rolled down his window.

"You boys need any help?" He asked.

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