Episode 1: Welcome to Domino City! Part 1

The first thing Calvin aware of was lying on concrete. That was distinctly weird, since his last memory was of flying through a place in which there was no concrete, no atoms to compose concrete, and technically speaking not even any space for atoms to exist in. And yet here he was lying on concrete. His hope was that the rift had somehow deposited him back on the same patch of ground he had left; he knew that was about as statistically likely as being struck by seven bolts of lightning per minute for a year and then winning twelve lotteries simultaneously, but he had to believe it was possible. He had been exposed to the Luck Pillar only two months earlier, after all.

He opened his eyes...and immediately realized that he was not in the same place.

He was lying in an alley between two large buildings. There were a few garbage cans nearby, one of which was turned over, possibly from the force of their arrival. Near Calvin, a few feet ahead, Susie was sprawled face-down on the ground passed out. Moe and Hobbes were nowhere to be seen. One end of the alley ended in a wall, with a right-angle turn leading off to nowhere. The other end opened onto a busy street, where cars drove by and people walked quickly past the opening.

Calvin pulled himself to his feet. He supposed it was lucky that he had landed on a planet, let alone back on Earth in the middle of a city. But considering that he had just been sucked through a dimensional rift, he also figured luck was very much not a factor at the moment.

Okay, thought Calvin. So the first priority is to not die; that hasn't changed. The second priority is to find Hobbes and get home somehow. But even if he landed in roughly the same place, odds are at the least he'll be somewhere else in the city. I probably can't do much on my own, so I guess I have no other choice.

Hating himself every step of the way, Calvin walked over to where Susie lay unconscious. He wasn't willing to touch her, so he just sort of nudged her arm with his foot.

Slowly Susie began to stir. She sat up, opened her eyes, and looked around. "Where...are we?" she asked.

"How should I know?" asked Calvin, rolling his eyes.

Immediately Susie leapt to her feet and rounded to glare at Calvin. "I am NOT in the mood for this!" she screamed.

"Hey, it's true!" exclaimed Calvin defensively. "We just passed through a dimensional rift! We could have ended up anywhere in the universe! We should just be glad we're still probably on Earth."

"Oh yeah?" challenged Susie. "And how exactly do you know so much about other dimensions? You can't even do chalkboard math problems!"

"Susie," sighed Calvin with patience he didn't actually have, "I built a time machine. I think I know what I'm talking about. Now come on, help me find Hobbes; with a bit of luck, he landed around here somewhere."

"Are you kidding?!" exclaimed Susie. "We just got sucked through some sort of freaky space thing and all you care about IS YOUR STUFFED TIGER?!"

"Well, it's not like you're being all that helpful right now," muttered Calvin. "Come on, we're wasting daylight."

Susie spluttered at him for a moment, then lapsed into frustrated silence as she reluctantly followed him.

"Now then," said Calvin, "the first step is clearly to figure out where we are. Judging by the trajectory of the sun, I'd say it's clear that we're in..." He pretended to do a few calculations in his head so as to appear like he knew what he was doing. "...Switzerland," he said finally.

"That's impossible!" protested Susie.

"Why?" asked Calvin, rolling his eyes. "Because we couldn't have traveled here faster than light? When you get sucked through a space-time rift, Einstein officially loses any right to tell you what to do."

"No," said Susie. "Because it's fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and it would be snowing- or at least cold- in Switzerland right about now. It's warm out."

Calvin blinked. Sure enough, it was a nice warm day, with barely a cloud in the sky.

"Clearly," said Susie, "we're somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, where it's summer right now. My guess would be Australia, seeing as these cards are written in English."

Calvin's head whipped around. "Cards?" he asked.

Susie was bending down over the knocked-over garbage can. She held up a series of beat-up-looking paper cards, each featuring a brown background with a black vortex in the middle.

Calvin quickly reached over and took them. "Well," he said, "wherever we are, they clearly have Yu-Gi-Oh! here." He frowned. "But," he added, "there's something weird about these cards."

"What's that?" Susie asked.

"The logo is missing," said Calvin. "Look at the backs of these cards. Normally there's a Konami logo in the top left and a 'Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game' logo in the bottom right. They're both missing from these cards."

Calvin turned over one of the cards. He frowned: what he saw only made the mystery deeper. There was nothing particularly odd about the card; it was Magical Stone Excavation, a pretty standard Spell Card. But the serial number that usually told what pack the card had come in was missing. Furthermore, the bottom of the card, which usually said "(C) 1996 Kazuki Takahashi" now read "(C) 1975 Industrial Illusions".

"That's weird," remarked Calvin. "Industrial Illusions is the company that makes Duel Monsters cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, at least in the original series and GX. But it doesn't exist in the real world. Unless..."

Calvin froze.

"What is it?" asked Susie nervously.

"Oh, I just got a HORRIBLE suspicion," said Calvin. He shook his head. "No, that couldn't possibly be..."

"What?!" insisted Susie.

Calvin quickly grabbed Susie's arm, for a moment forgetting that he would never ordinarily tolerate physical contact with a girl, and pulled her out of the alley and into the street. If what he thought had happened really had happened, he knew what he would see. He turned right...

...and saw it.

He and Susie were looking at the downtown of a modern city. Most of the buildings were large glass-and-steel or concrete office buildings, the light reflecting off the windows and creating a dazzling display. People walked up and down the sidewalks, occasionally entering buildings or stopping to talk to one another. It could have been any big city on planet Earth...if it weren't for one big detail that hammered in how far Calvin and Susie were from home.

In the middle of town, dominating the skyline, was an immense building that appeared from a distance to be made entirely of glass panes. It was a strange shape, composed of lots of angular surfaces rising and narrowing until suddenly expanding outwards into a thick disk-like shape. Placed near the bottom of one of the legs of the tower was a familiar logo which resembled the letters "K" and "C" superimposed over each other.

It was unmistakably the KaibaCorp building.

"Okay," said Calvin quietly. "This could throw a wrench into our plans to get home."

"Why?" asked Susie, but before she got an answer Calvin yanked her back into the alley.

"Listen," he said. "We're currently in more than a little trouble, so it would be really great if we could find Hobbes before I went to the trouble of explaining it all."

"Explaining what?"

Calvin turned...and saw the first good thing he'd found since waking up. Hobbes was walking around the corner, looking tired but none the worse for wear. Calvin sighed in relief: if Hobbes was here, he was sure the two would be able to figure things out together.

Susie's reaction was...not so positive. At the sight of Hobbes, she let out an ear-bleedingly loud scream and recoiled around the corner.

Calvin ran forward and hugged Hobbes...or at least he intended it as a hug. It was more sort of awkwardly leaning into his stomach. "I can safely say I've never been more glad to see you, ol' buddy!" he exclaimed.

"I missed you too, Calvin," said Hobbes with a smile.

"Hey Twinkie," said a voice. "Why you talkin' to your dumb doll?"

Calvin let go of Hobbes and looked past him to see that Moe was also walking out of the alley.

"Great," muttered Calvin. "Kind of wished he'd been lost in the rift...or at least that it would've taken him longer to find us." He turned. "Hey Susie, what's wrong?"

Susie was shivering in absolute terror, peering around the corner of a building at the situation. "Th-th-there's a tiger right there!" she exclaimed. "And it's...talking!"

"That's just Hobbes!" protested Calvin. "You've known him for..."

Then the full magnitude of what Susie had said hit him full in the face.

"Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "You can see him?!"

"OF COURSE I CAN SEE HIM!" screamed Susie. "IT'S A TALKING TIGER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ALLEY!"

"But...you couldn't see him any of the other times!" protested Calvin.

"Hi there," said Hobbes, rolling his eyes. "I'm 'Him' the Tiger, occasionally known as Hobbes. It's nice to get to meet you in person."

Calvin's mind was still reeling. He'd long ago realized that, while he could perceive Hobbes for what he truly was, most other people couldn't. Apparently unable to grasp the idea of a talking sentient tiger, their minds simply edited him out of their perception, perceiving him as a toy.

"Maybe it was the rift," Calvin mused, his mind racing with the possibilities. "You were exposed to something you thought was impossible, so your mind adjusted to new..." He shook his head. "No, that makes no sense! You saw the rift in your bedroom but you still couldn't see Hobbes afterward!" He turned to Moe. "And you!" he exclaimed. "You only see a stuffed tiger, right?"

"Uh...yeah," said Moe, who by this point had utterly lost any sense of what was going on.

Calvin shook his head. "This doesn't make any sense!" he exclaimed. "How can you see him but Moe can't? It should be both or neither!"

"Okay, hang on," Susie interrupted. "You're telling me that you've been hanging around...Hobbes here all this time and no one but you...and now me, I guess...can see him?"

"That's about the shape of it," said Calvin.

Susie considered this, finally stepping out from behind the building. "Okay," she said quietly. "Gonna need some time to process that."

"If that's the case, you might want to cover your ears for the next bombshell," said Calvin darkly.

"And what's that?" asked Susie nervously.

"I know where we are."

"Really?" asked Hobbes eagerly. "Where?"

"Domino City," said Calvin simply.

There was a moment of awkward silence.

"Um...are you sure?" asked Hobbes. "Because I'm pretty sure that's the name of the city Yugi lives in. You know, the fictional city."

"Exactly," said Calvin. "Between the weirdly printed cards, the dimensional rift, and the KaibaCorp building I saw out on the street...I'm almost positive that we've been somehow transported to the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe."

If the silence before had been awkward, this one was absolutely mortifying, and lasted about three times as long.

"...this is a joke, right?" asked Hobbes. "You're trying to screw with me. I did something to annoy you, and now you're getting back at me with-"

"Sorry, Hobbes," said Calvin somberly. "I've never been more serious about anything in my life."

"Uh...hang on," said Moe. "Ain't that the one cartoon thing about the cards?"

"Technically it's an anime," said Calvin, "but yeah, that's the one. Either of you ever see it?"

"Nah," said Moe, still trying his best to look tough even though he was clearly freaked out. "I don't watch baby stuff."

"I saw a few episodes a couple years ago," said Susie, trying her best to remember. "But...you're saying we've been sucked into the show?"

"Not exactly," said Calvin. "You see, our universe isn't the only one; in fact, my...sources have given me reason to believe there are an infinite number of universes. So it stands to reason that somewhere out there is a universe that's exactly like the Yu-Gi-Oh! world. And unfortunately, that's exactly where we are now."

"But...you can get us back, right?" asked Susie hopefully. "I mean, you said you built a time machine, right? How much harder can this be?"

"A lot harder," said Calvin, launching into lecture mode. "See, the box- that's what Hobbes and I call the time machine, since I built it out of a cardboard box, and also a magical Pillar made by aliens but that's a totally different story- navigates through time-space, which is essentially a dimension that exists at right angles to our space-time continuum in which the properties of time and space are reversed, i.e. you can move freely in time but with limited control over your destination in space. With a sophisticated enough propulsion system, you can navigate time-space to any point in our universe. But this universe that we're currently in would have a completely DIFFERENT time-space from the one we originated from, separated from ours by the Void. And barring a trip to the Paradox Dimension and the use of alien artifacts, travel across the Void is impossible."

"But we got here somehow!" protested Hobbes. "The rift can obviously send us between universes!"

"I know that!" exclaimed Calvin. "But I have no idea how that's possible! It must have been some sort of freak accident: a sort of unstable wormhole which opened up for just a couple minutes, connecting the two universes!"

"Okay, then it's simple," said Hobbes. "You build a new time machine. We go back to the moment the rift spat us out here and duck back through before our past selves wake up!"

Susie, who was frankly still trying to wrap her mind around the talking tiger and the fictional universe, looked at Calvin. "Would that...you know, work?" she asked.

"Maybe," said Calvin thoughtfully. "It'd be risky; one wrong move and we'd create the second worst paradox ever to hit Domino City."

"What would the first be?" asked Hobbes, confused by this.

"Uh, Paradox, duh," said Calvin, rolling his eyes. "I need to catch you up to speed on the lore."

"So...do we have a plan?" asked Susie hopefully. "At this point I really have no idea what's going on."

"Yeah," said Calvin. "If we pull it off, Hobbes' idea is probably our best chance at getting home. But aside from the inherent risks, there's the small matter of building a new time machine. It's not like it's something I can reliably do; without the Imagination Pillar, I'm going to have to make all of the components from scratch. That'll require some seriously advanced technology."

"And where are you going to get that?" asked Hobbes.

"Oh," said Calvin with a small smile, "I have a couple of ideas."

"Okay, look," said Susie, suddenly leaping into the middle of the conversation. "I don't know anything about talking tigers or wormholes or other dimension or time travel, but I do know that we're all alone in the middle of an unfamiliar city. We need to find somewhere to stay."

"Hey!" snapped Calvin. "I'm the one with a plan to get us back, so that means I'm the leader, and as the leader I get to decide what we do!"

"Technically it's my plan," Hobbes pointed out. "Shouldn't that make me the leader?"

"Yeah, well, I'm the only one who can pull off the plan," countered Calvin. "Besides, you can't be the leader if a seventh of the group can't even see you!"

Susie blinked. "Wait...there are only four of us!" she protested. "And only Moe can't see him!"

"Yeah, well, I only count Moe as half a person," said Calvin.

"Hey!" snapped Moe, raising a pair of meaty fists.

"Oh, don't take it personally," said Calvin. "It's not an insult; I'm just 95% sure you're at least half gorilla."

"Oh...okay," said Moe, lowering his fists slightly, not quite sure how to take this.

"But...I'm a tiger," said Hobbes, not quite following the logic.

"Exactly," said Calvin. "People status is reserved for individuals on the level of human or higher. You're higher."

Hobbes considered this for a moment, then decided to just take the complement and move on. "Fine," he said. "You're the leader; what's the plan?"
"The plan," said Calvin, "is to find a place to stay. Come on, let's look for a hotel or something."

"Brilliant strategy," muttered Susie. She had been a part of Calvin's bizarre world for a grand total of five minutes and she already wanted out.

"Okay, hold on, Twinkie," snapped Moe. "Gimme one good reason I should listen to you and not just pound you into pudding right now."

Calvin turned and looked at Moe. "Do you have a family, Moe?" he asked.

Moe was so taken aback he actually answered. "Uh... yeah," he said. "My mom, my dad, and my little sis."

"Do you love them?"

Moe blinked. "Uh...I guess?"

Calvin walked up to Moe and, for the very first time since they had met, looked him dead in the eyes. "Then here's your reason," he said. "I'm your only chance of ever seeing them again."

And with that, he turned and stalked out of the alley. Surprised by this display, the other three followed him.

The group headed out into the city. Calvin had a feeling it wouldn't be easy, but he had a feeling that they would be able to find something.

After all, thought Calvin, if we really are in a fictional universe, surely we've become main characters! My hair's crazy enough for me to be a Yu-Gi-Oh! protagonist, and I do have a companion almost no one else can see! We'll find somewhere to stay in a heartbeat!


Four-and-a-half hours later...

"I can't believe it!" exclaimed Calvin. "That's the ninth hotel in a row that kicked us out! I don't get what we're doing wrong!"

"It's probably the fact that we don't have enough money," pointed out Susie.

"Oh, well excuse me for not bringing the wallet that I don't have!" snapped Calvin. "Maybe if you guys carried more cash on you..."

But even Calvin had to admit that Susie had a point. Between Susie's allowance, the coins Moe had extorted out of the other kids at Calvin's school, and some money that Hobbes had managed to obtain from his mysterious pockets, the group had managed to come up with twenty-one dollars and seventy-nine cents. This, it sadly turned out, was not enough to get them a hotel room...anywhere, actually.

"Can we stop for a break?" asked Hobbes. "My paws are killing me from all this walking!"

"Just walk on all fours if it's that bad," said Calvin. "No one's going to see you. Now come on: we've got one more hotel to check out; I heard one of the guests in the lobby mention it, and it's not too far from here."

Ten minutes later, the four arrived at said hotel. It was a massive imposing structure, seven stories tall standing slightly apart from the buildings around it. Balconies protruded from its stone surface on the upper levels, and large neon letters over the front door proudly proclaimed its name: DUEL ESTATES.

"Are you sure about this?" asked Susie. "I mean...this place looks pretty high-end."

"We don't have any other option," said Calvin flatly. "At this point, it's all or nothing. You ready?"

"Yeah," sighed Susie. "Hopefully tenth time's the charm."

And with that, Calvin, Hobbes, Susie, and Moe walked up the steps and through the door of the hotel.

The inside was even fancier than the outside. The carpet was a rich green, and the elaborately wallpapered walls were covered with glass cases filled with Duel Monsters merchandise: rare cards, Duel Disks belonging to famous people, and so on. A man with brown hair and a green waistcoat was examining one of these cases with what appeared to be a great deal of fascination. Near the desk, a well-dressed couple were leading their bored-looking daughter toward the elevator, apparently headed to their room.

Calvin and the others walked up to the front desk. The humans among the group opened their eyes as wide as they could, attempting to look as innocent and pitiful as possible for the concierge. Hobbes just tried his best to look vaguely beat-up and worn.

"One room please, sir," said Calvin.

The bored-looking concierge behind the desk sighed. His hair was unkempt, and he had the classic look of a college student working a minimum-wage job in hopes of paying off his student loans. "Do you have money?" he asked. "Because we require an initial deposit at check-in."

Calvin reached down into his pocket, where he had the money stored. "Will this be enough?" he asked, widening his eyes as much as he could.

The concierge sighed again, took the money, and counted it up. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we require $200 down, plus $30 for every day after the first week. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"Please, mister!" cried Susie. "We've been living on the streets for three days; we have nowhere else to go!"

The concierge looked at the group for a long moment. He blinked a couple times, then gave the longest sigh yet. "I'll have to go get the manager," he said. "I'll see what I can do." He stood up from the desk and walked through a door into what appeared to be an office.

"Okay," whispered Calvin, turning to the others. "This is already farther than we've gotten with most of the other hotels. Now we just have to hope the manager hears us out and we should be golden."

At that moment the manager walked out...and Calvin immediately knew they were not golden.

Just by looking at the guy, Calvin could tell he and the manager would not get along. Calvin's first thought was that the man looked like a turn-of-the-century industrialist: about forty years old with a thick handlebar mustache, a goatee, and a smug look in his eyes that perfectly conveyed a sense of calm and efficient arrogance.

"What is it you kids want?" he asked in a thick Midwestern- or whatever the equivalent was in this reality- accent.

Susie was stepping up to the plate on this one. She had somehow managed to make her eyes tear up, making sure to look as pitiful as possible. "You see," she said, "our parents brought us here to Domino City on a business trip. They wanted to give us a sort of mini-vacation, you know, to get the family back together after being so distant for so many years! But while they were driving to a meeting, they d-d-died in a car crash! We're all on our own, with no one else to turn to!"

"Sad story, kid," said the manager flatly. "Now what's that got to do with me?"

"Please, mister manager!" cried Susie. "We've been sleeping on the streets for days! Without our parents, we can't get back to our hotel, and our greedy relatives have managed to get hold of all the inheritance money! We have nowhere else to go!" Tears were now streaming down her face. "Don't you have a heart?!" she sobbed.
Hobbes blinked. "Wow, she is a really good actor," he said. "Remind me never to play poker with Susie."

The manager rolled his eyes, whether because he legitimately didn't care or because Susie had essentially recited the plot to the later books of A Series of Unfortunate Events Calvin had no idea. "Listen, twerps," he said. "Larry here says you don't have enough money. And if you don't have money, you don't get a room. That's how the world works. Sorry for your loss, but it's not my problem. Now beat it!"

"But..." stammered Susie, still hoping she could save this situation.

"I SAID BEAT IT!" roared the manager in a voice that could have blown a hat off Susie's head. Susie let out a nervous squeak and ducked behind Hobbes.

"Sir, we have our brother with us," said Calvin, leaping in to try to breathe some life back into the act. "He's a bit...special, if you know what I mean. He's honestly a danger to himself if left on his own."

"Hey!" snapped Moe.

"We're at the end of our rope trying to keep him safe," said Calvin. "Surely in a hotel room with lots of soft surfaces and no roads to wander into, he'd be..."

"Does he have any money stashed in those filthy clothes?" asked the manager.

"No..." began Calvin.

"Then my demand that you beat it stands!"

Susie stomped her foot in rage. "I can't believe you!" she screamed, apparently abandoning the act altogether. "In all my life, I've never met anyone who's such a stuck-up, unbearable, and all-around selfish jerk as you! And I go to class with Calvin!"

"Gee, thanks," muttered Calvin.

The manager (or, as Calvin had decided to dub him, the Manager) simply laughed at Susie. He started to turn away. Calvin knew their already-narrow window of opportunity was about to seal shut, and if he didn't want that to happen, he had do something fast. He'd come up with a plan earlier, but he'd been hesitant to use it. But with this being their last chance, he decided it was time for a desperate solution.

"I'll duel you for it," he suggested.

The Manager slowly turned back, as if unable to believe what he had just heard. "What?" he asked.

Well, now you've gone and done it, thought Calvin. No turning back now. He pulled his deck out of his back pocket and did his best to look casual while shuffling through the cards. "I happen to be something of a duelist," he said with a grin that he hoped to the Egyptian gods didn't look as nervous as he felt. "And I can tell from all the Duel Monsters merchandise in this lobby that you probably are too. So how's about we have us a little duel? You win, my friends and I walk out of this building and you'll never hear from us again. I win, you let us stay in one of your available rooms free of charge for as long as we want."

The Manager snorted, but Calvin noticed something of a glint in his eyes. "And why should I agree to a deal like that?" he asked suspiciously. "You win, I lose money; I win, I just get a couple minutes of peace and quiet."

Calvin shrugged. "Fine then," he said. "Don't duel me. I'll just stand around outside the door telling people about how you were scared to bet on your dueling skills in a duel against a six-year-old boy. That probably wouldn't be great for your reputation, but oh well." He turned theatrically. "Come on, guys," he said. "We've got work to do."

"Now hold on," said the Manager quickly. "You say you're a duelist?"

Calvin allowed himself a small smile. He knew the Manager's pride would get the best of him. He turned back. "Yeah," he said. "Back in my hometown, they called me 'Calvin the Bold'! Because, erm, I was so good at dueling. AM! Am so good at dueling!"

"Smooth," said Susie, rolling her eyes.

The Manager walked out from behind the desk. Calvin gulped; he hadn't realized how tall the guy was. Calvin was short for his age, but this guy had to be six foot five at least. "Alright, kid, you're on," he declared. "Got a Duel Disk?"

Okay, so not such a foolproof plan after all, thought Calvin, sweat forming on his brow. "Erm...uh..." he said. "The thing is, I left mine in the...well, that is to say, it's back at...uh...what I mean is, er..."

"Here," said a voice behind him. "You can borrow mine."

Calvin turned in surprise. The man in the waistcoat who had been examining the wall display with such interest was now standing behind Calvin. He was holding out an original series-style Duel Disk: the angular silvery model that Calvin had seen so many times in the show. Calvin took it from him, staring at it reverentially, as if he had just been handed a slightly bulky Holy Grail.

"Oh," he said. "Uh...thanks, Mister..."

"Yuzen," said the man. "Richard Yuzen. But you can just call me Richard."

"Well then, thanks Richard!" said Calvin with an awkward smile. "I'm Calvin!"

The Manager sighed. "Let me go get my deck," he said. He walked through a door off to the side, apparently leading to a residential area.

Calvin watched him go, breathing a sigh of relief. They were by no means out of the water, but at least they now had a fighting chance. He turned back to Richard. "Seriously, thanks," he said. "You pulled my butt out of the fire on that one."

The man smiled back. He looked to be in his early or mid-twenties, with precisely combed brown hair, green eyes, and the aforementioned green waistcoat. "Don't mention it," he said. "I heard you talking to the manager. I have to admit, it's been a while since I heard anyone talk back to him like that. That was an excellent performance, by the way."

Calvin blinked. "So...you didn't believe Susie?" he asked.

"Not for a moment," said Richard with a wink. "The crying was total overkill, and also kind of sexist. Might wanna watch out for that. Still, I have to admire someone who can stand up to that guy, especially someone so young."

Calvin wasn't quite sure how to react to the mixed messages the guy was giving out, so he just decided to say "Thanks."

Richard straightened up. "If you lose, just leave the Duel Disk at the front desk," he said. "I'll pick it up tomorrow morning. But if you win...my room number is 413. Swing by later today and we'll have a chat."

And with that, Richard strolled off toward the elevator doors, whistling to himself as he walked.

"Okay, wait," said Susie. "What's going on? I just got back on track and now I'm lost again!"

"Calvin's agreed to play a game of Duel Monsters with the manager guy," said Hobbes. "If we win, we get to stay here as long as we want; if we lose, we really do sleep in an alley tonight."

"Wait, seriously?" exclaimed Susie. "You really think he'll keep his word over a card game?"

Calvin shrugged. "They usually do in the show," he said. "Duel Monsters is a seriously big deal in this reality; it's as big as the Internet is back home and almost as hard to understand."

Susie considered this. "Alright," she said. "So...do you think you can beat him?"

"Probably," said Calvin with more confidence than he actually felt. "I mean, I am pretty good."

"Really?" asked Susie. "How good are you? Like, how many...duels, right? How many duels have you won?"

"Erm..." said Calvin awkwardly, "I mean, well...it all depends on how you look at it, but if you want to get really technical, I guess...this would be the first."

"WHAT?!" cried Susie in horror.

"Well, it's not like I've got a lot of people to play against!" exclaimed Calvin. "I'm six; I can't exactly drive to a convention and compete in matches! I've never even met another duelist before today!"

"So let me get this straight," hissed Susie. "You just bet our sleeping conditions tonight on you being able to win a game you've never even played?!"

"It's not that I've never played!" protested Calvin. "I've practiced card combos dozens of times with Hobbes! And I did a lot of research into deck-building! And on top of that, I have some great cards! I've just...never played a full duel all the way through before."

"Great," muttered Susie. "This is an utter disaster."

"Hey, look on the bright side!" said Calvin. "Based on the Duel Disk design, this is clearly the original series era; I have cards that are literally years ahead of anything they've ever seen before! The Manager is going down!"

He looked down at the Duel Disk...and immediately frowned.

"Oh, what now?" moaned Susie upon seeing the look he was giving the device.

"Hey Hobbes," said Calvin. "Were these slots always there in the original series?"

"What slots?" asked Moe.

All four leaned over the Duel Disk, examining it. Hobbes decided it was his turn to go into lecture mode, since Calvin had gotten the last one and this was something Hobbes actually understood.

"This is a Duel Disk, a device used to scan Duel Monsters cards and project holographic monsters and spells based on the duelists' actions. These five flat areas are the Monster Zones, where monsters can be summoned, and these slots set underneath them are the Spell and Trap Zones, where you place...well, Spell Cards and Trap Cards. There's also a little tray that pops out of the side for Field Spells, which affect the entirety of the duel. But you're right: these two slots weren't in the show."

On each end of the Duel Disk's "blade" was a slot, next to the Spell and Trap Zones, was an additional slot, for a total of seven. The area surrounding each slot was painted a different color: the one on the far left was bright blue, the one on the far left bright red.

"You know," said Calvin cautiously, "those slots look worryingly like Pendulum Zones."

"What does that mean?" asked Susie, not sure she wanted to know the answer.

"It means," said Calvin, "that my one advantage may have just poofed out of existence."

At that moment, the Manager walked out of the back area. He now had his own Duel Disk strapped to his arm and was glaring impatiently at Calvin. "Come on," he said. "There's a dueling court out back; we'll settle this there."

Calvin nodded and reluctantly followed the Manager down a nearby hallway, the rest of the group tailing behind him.

After a couple minutes navigating past hotel rooms, the group arrived at a glass door leading out into what appeared to be a recreation area. The Manager swiped the door open with a card and walked through, Calvin and the others hot on his heels.

The group found themselves in a park-like area, with gravel paths leading through an arrangement of trees, bushes, and flower patches behind miniature iron fences. The sound of splashing water and excited voices indicated there was a pool nearby. However, the main attraction was a raised concrete platform. The Manager led the group up a short flight of steps onto the platform, which seemed to be their ultimate destination.

The platform itself was surprisingly bare. There were two squares, positioned far apart from each other on opposite sides of the circle's center. The Manager stopped and turned to the group.

"This is the Duel Estates Arena," he said. "If you back out now, I'll still generously accept your apology and won't call the police on you."

"No way!" exclaimed Calvin. "I'm gonna see this through to the bitter end!"

"Whatever," muttered the Manager. "I'll make short work of you, and then you're gonna leave and I'll get some peace and quiet!"

The Manager quickly took the nearest square, leaving Calvin to walk to the other one. Hobbes, Susie, and Moe stood on the sidelines and watched.

Calvin was deep in thought. Not about how he was going to duel; he had long memorized all his strategies. He was thinking about what catchphrase to yell out. "It's time to duel!" was too cliché; it was the first thing that came to mind when you mentioned Yu-Gi-Oh! to anyone. "Get your game on!" was a bit juvenile for Calvin's taste. "Let's rev it up!" only worked when there were motorcycles involved. Calvin steadfastly refused to utter any variation of the phrase "Feel the flow", no matter how much he had liked ZEXAL and thought it was underrated. And he had no idea what the catchphrase of ARC-V was, seeing how he hadn't watched it yet.

No, there was only one thing to do: he would have to make up a new catchphrase.

"Alright, Manager!" he exclaimed. "I hope you're ready to go down, because I'm ready for take-off!" Then he considered this. "No wait, that's terrible," he said. "Can I try that again?"

"No take-backs!" called Hobbes.

"Screw you, I'll come up with a better one later!" snapped Calvin.

With that important work done, Calvin slipped his wrist through the strap on the Duel Disk and tightened it. The bulky object felt surprisingly light on his arm. Calvin pulled out his deck and slipped it into the slot, making sure to store his Extra Deck in his pocket. He wasn't sure how to turn the device on, so he decided to guess.

"Hologram generators, go!" he exclaimed.

Apparently this was the right thing to do. Immediately two jet-like objects flew off the side of the device, landing about forty feet away on the far sides of the court. The attachments quickly unfolded a pair of glass-like metallic panels, which began to glow with a rainbow light. On the far side of the court, the Manager had done the same with his own Duel Disk.

High above the two, a pair of holographic panels appeared in the sky, displaying the two duelists' Life Points for the participants to see. At the moment, both screens read LP: 4000.

"Okay," said Susie. "So if I'm remembering this right, Calvin and the manager guy will summon monsters to attack each other until one of them runs out of Life Points, right?"

"That's about the shape of it," confirmed Hobbes.

"DRAW!" both Calvin and the Manager shouted. Each player drew five cards from the top of their deck, creating their starting hand.

Calvin gave Hobbes and the others a grin and a nod before looking down at his hand. He considered what he had drawn. Not the worst hand to open with, he supposed; at least he had successfully drawn a monster.

"Alright," said the Manager. "I think I'll start this off!"

"Thanks," said Calvin, rolling his eyes. Honestly he had been hoping to go first; that would have given him an edge. And considering the stakes in this duel, he could certainly have used an edge.

The Manager considered his hand; Calvin noticed that he didn't draw a new card, a rule which had only been added with ARC-V. Another troubling anachronism.

"First," exclaimed the Manager, "I summon Goblin Bandit in Attack Mode!"

He slammed a card into one of the Monster Zones on his Duel Disk. Immediately a large circle of light appeared on the ground before him. Out of the circle rose a monster: a wrinkled goblin with dark green skin and glowing red eyes, a bag of treasure slung over one shoulder. It leered at Calvin, who was too impressed at the spectacle to care. The scene he'd watched so many times was coming true before him. A screen appeared above Goblin Bandit, displaying its stats: 1300 ATK / 1100 DEF / LVL: 3.

"Is that really a hologram?" exclaimed Susie. "It looks so realistic!"

"Yeah," said Hobbes. "The technology in the show is pretty advanced."

"And I'll end my turn by placing one card face down," added the Manager. He slipped a card into the slot beneath his Goblin, causing the holographic image of a card to appear near the Manager. "Now then, time for your first move...and more than likely your last!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Calvin muttered. He reached down to his deck and drew his sixth card. He examined his hand as a whole, taking in the possible options. He had three monsters, two spells, and a trap. His eyes fell on the card on the far left.

He smiled. Perfect! he thought. I'll be able to play one of my combos on the very first turn!

"Alright," said Calvin. "First, I summon Spirit Ryu!"

The circle of light appeared on the ground, this time on Calvin's side of the field. Out of the light rose a spectral purple dragon, its batlike wings a sickly yellow color. A green light emanated from the large gem on the dragon's forehead, and its eyes pulsed red. Another large holographic screen appeared displaying the stats: 1000 ATK / 1000 DEF / LVL: 4.

"And now," declared Calvin, "Spirit Ryu is going to attack your Goblin Bandit!"

The dragon leapt upwards into the air, spreading its wings as it sailed towards the Manager's monster.

"What's he doing?!" cried Susie in horror.

The Manager laughed: a single harsh ha. "I knew this duel would be easy, but this is just sad! Can't you count, kid? My Goblin Bandit has 1300 ATK, and your pathetic dragon only has 1000!"

"Not when I activate Spirit Ryu's special ability!" Calvin exclaimed. "You see, by sending a Dragon-Type monster- such as my Armed Dragon LV5- from my hand straight to the Graveyard, I can increase Spirit Ryu's ATK and DEF by 1000 until the end of my turn! And that gives Spirit Ryu more ATK than your ugly goblin!"

Calvin slotted the card in question into a slot on the far side of the Duel Disk, representing the Graveyard. As soon as he had done so, a beam of orange light burst from the slot, swirling through the air and striking the gem on Spirit Ryu's head. The dragon let out a roar as its eyes blazed with new energy. The screen displaying Spirit Ryu's ATK and DEF flashed as both sets of points increased to 2000.

"What?!" cried the Manager.

"Now, Spirit Ryu," called Calvin, "attack with...um..." Calvin suddenly realized he had no idea what the attack name was. He looked down...and suddenly realized with surprise that the card had changed. Aside from featuring the same copyright as the card in the alley, it now featured attack and effect names within the card's lore. There was one called Sonic Flash Attack that Calvin vaguely recalled had been used in the anime, but he quickly realized the other one sounded cooler.

The changing cards are a mystery for another day, thought Calvin. For now I have to win this duel!

"Now then, Spirit Ryu!" he exclaimed, starting again. "Attack with Spectral Breath!"

The dragon drew back, unfurled its wings, and let loose a torrent of green fire from its mouth. The Manager's Goblin Bandit let out a scream and disintegrated under the onslaught.

The Manager winced, as if the flames were burning him too. Above him, his Life Point counter dropped from 4000 to 3300: the difference between the two monsters' Attack Points.

"Oh yeah!" exclaimed Calvin. "How do you like the taste of dragon fire in the morning?"

The Manager straightened up. "Okay then," he said. "So you're a bit better than I thought. But let's see how you handle this! I reveal my Trap Card: Damage Vaccine Omega Max!"

The face-down card flipped upwards, revealing itself to be a Trap Card with an image of what appeared to be a bottle of medicine with electrical clamps hooked to it, apparently leading to a power source of some description.

"Thanks to this card," said the Manager, "any Battle Damage I took as a result of that battle gets healed right up! So your dragon's attack was pointless!"

As Calvin watched, the holographic card disintegrated into golden light, which poured over the Manager. On the screen, his life points returned to 4000.

Calvin winced. His combo had been thwarted, and with just one card! This was definitely not a good start to the duel.

"Er," said Calvin, "in that case I place two cards face-down and end my turn."

With these words, Spirit Ryu let out a low moan. Out of its mouth poured the red energy it had absorbed from the discarded card; the energy flowed back into Calvin's Graveyard and disappeared. The screen showed Spirit Ryu's ATK and DEF decrease back to 1000, leaving the dragon looking just as sickly as it had been at the start.

"What happened?" exclaimed Susie. "Why did it lose all those Attack and Defense Points?"

"That's the effect," said Hobbes somberly. "Spirit Ryu can increase its power by sending other monsters to the Graveyard, but it loses that power at the end of Calvin's turn. Which means..."

Calvin's eyes widened with horror. "Which means my dragon is a sitting duck!" he cried.

"That's right!" exclaimed the Manager. "And now it's my turn!" He drew his card. He looked at it and smiled; he clearly liked whatever he had drawn.

"I summon Thief Lord Sizya!" he exclaimed, slamming the card onto his Duel Disk with such force that Calvin thought it might break.

The new monster materialized on the field. This one was a man clad in ragged robes, with a cloth mask over his face. He clutched a crown in one hand and a heavy blade in the other. A new screen appeared with stats: 900 ATK / 1500 DEF / LVL: 4.

"And thanks to Sizya's special ability," added the Manager, "on a turn he's successfully summoned, I'm allowed to Special Summon another Thief Lord monster from my hand, provided that it has less Attack Points than Sizya! So welcome to the field, Thief Lord Adrienne!"

Another monster materialized on the field. This one was a girl in a dress inspired by medieval Japanese styles. She clutched a katana in one hand, and the look she gave Calvin clearly implied she knew how to use it.

For a moment Calvin was nervous to see two monsters staring him down...but his fear turned to confusion when the stat screen flashed up: 500 ATK / 900 DEF / LVL: 4.

"Hah!" exclaimed Calvin, thinking that maybe he could stand to be a bit cocky. "Neither of those monsters is strong enough to take out my dragon! Come on, Manager; if you want to take down Calvin the Bold, you'll have to do a lot better than that!"

"Oh, I know they can't beat your dragon on their own," said the Manager with a smile. "And that's why they're not going to be sticking around long! I Overlay my Level 4 Thief Lord Sizya and Thief Lord Adrienne! With these two monsters, I build the Overlay Network!"

Calvin watched in disbelief as the two monsters turned into orbs of light: one orange, one blue. The orbs launched into the sky, leaving trails of fire behind. On the field, a red vortex began to materialize; the orbs plunged from the sky down into the heart of the vortex, each being absorbed with a flash of light.

"Now," exclaimed the Manager, "I Xyz Summon OLYMPIAN WARRIOR ATHENA!"

A massive creature emerged from the vortex, which quickly dissipated. It resembled a vast woman, nearly twelve feet tall and clad in silvery metallic armor. Orbiting her were two spheres of golden light, representing the cards attached to the Xyz Monster as Overlay Units. The screen appeared, this one black rather than the previous red: 1600 ATK / 1900 DEF / RNK: 4.

Calvin stared up at the new monster and for the first time realized exactly how far in over his head he really was in this duel, in this city, and in this entire universe.

"This," he moaned, "is most definitely one of those days."

To be continued...

A/N: So that's the first chapter and the start of the first duel! As you may have guessed, Calvin's deck is based in large part off my own deck, which is why most of his cards date from GX or before. Though I do have to confess that I don't actually own a copy of Number 9: Dyson Sphere. That's just wishful thinking on my part because I LOVE that card. Easily my favorite monster in the series.