Well, this is it! The conclusion at last! Sorry it took me so long to finish this story, but I hope you enjoyed the ride. Thanks very much for reading, and for your reviews! :)
NOTE: Most of the dialogue in this chapter is quoted directly from the movie.
Chapter X: Conclusion
The Astronaut cast his gaze around the small group huddled over the game on the floor.
He should have felt excited, anxious, frightened…something… But, instead, he just felt this strange calm… Almost as if events had taken on a life of their own, leaving him set apart.
What did happen to the Penalty Kids when they got their second chance? When the Players won, they were sent home, clean and simple, as if no time had passed. But what about the kids he'd known in Game Space – kids like Ethan and Emily and her half-brother Bryan, who'd spent years away from home? What about the kids who'd grown up in the Game like him, and like Zöe? Where did they go once they'd finally confronted the selfish, frightened children they had been? They couldn't go home as they were; young adults with no schooling, no preparation for the competitive adult world. But, they couldn't stay in the Game either. Surely the Game Masters couldn't have taken them from their families, put them through all that space training, just to cause them to disappear once the Game was through: products of a redundant timeline, doomed to fade once the past had been rewritten…
Walter and Danny were going to defeat this game. The Astronaut had no doubts about that. They'd come too far, learned too much about themselves and about each other to slip up now, and he was proud of them. Prouder than he'd ever been of himself. The boys and Lisa were set to go home champions. Home to their father and school and to the teenage years he and Danny would have shared if he hadn't made that awful wish fifteen years before. And, perhaps, that was enough. Knowing his younger self would have a chance to make things right, to live the life he should have lived, become the man he should have been…
HIT TIME WARP
Go back 3 spaces
Repeat last turn
Walter looked up from his game card, his face drawn as the tense group watched his next spin. The game rattled and whirred and, finally, spat out a card.
The card was gold!
Walter and Danny shared a look of startled awe as Walter whispered, "I get another wish!"
A blinding whiteness filled the room, making the dust twinkle like starlight as it danced in the air.
The comet was passing.
Walter caught and held the Astronaut's eyes.
"Thanks for helping us out," he said.
The Astronaut could barely breathe. This was it. This was the wish that would finally end the game. Walter, Danny and Lisa were going home. The Astronaut squeezed his fingers until they turned bone white, resigning himself to his fate…
The comet's light faded as quickly as it had come, revealing the same ruined room, still adrift in space. The group blinked in confusion, slowly realizing nothing had changed, they were still in the game…only now, a small, slight figure stood by the window.
The Astronaut's heart leapt to his throat, and he choked. Danny's face dropped in an expression of complete disbelief, and he stared at his brother.
"You wished for two of me?" he exclaimed.
"No!" said Walter, every bit as startled as Danny. "I-I wished the Astronaut guy had his brother back!"
The Astronaut barely heard them. The pounding in his ears was too loud for that. Awkwardly, he stumbled to his feet and pulled the boy into a fierce, engulfing hug. "Danny!"
The boy wriggled free and glared at the tall, scruffy stranger.
"Who are you?"
"It's me," the Astronaut blurted. "It's Walter. I'm…your brother."
Now it was the brothers' turn to choke.
"What?" they exclaimed.
"No, you're not," the newcomer asserted, and pointed to Walter. "He is."
"Yes…" the Astronaut agreed, teetering dangerously on the brink of either hysterical giggles or hysterical sobs. He had never felt so much in his life. This was his brother, his own kid brother wished back from the ether to which he'd been condemned so long ago...
"I'm older, but I'm him," the man confessed. "I came back for you."
Walter stared from the pair at the window to the pair by the game, looking like his head was ready to explode.
"What's going on here?!"
But, Danny was already walking toward his duplicate, his eyes wide with wonder. His doppelganger stood up and joined him, reaching out his hand until their fingertips touched.
Light warmed and, gradually, engulfed the pair. As the group watched, speechless, the Astronaut's Danny dissolved into starlight, the energy that had sparkled between the two boys combining, integrating, and finally fading, leaving Danny glowing with awe.
"That was awesome," he breathed.
The Astronaut stared, his jaw slack as a deep, reverent sense of wonder filled him. His thoughts turned toward the Game Masters and, for a moment, he swore he could hear them, a chorus of approval cheering him on with genuine pride. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth and he approached his own double, crouching down until he could look the boy straight in the eye.
"Thank you," he said.
Walter's eyes darted in confusion. "I… I didn't…"
But, the Astronaut's expression remained somber and sincere.
"You did a good job. You did better than I did."
"Thanks," Walter shrugged uncomfortably.
"You make sure he gets home safe, OK?"
The Astronaut glanced to Danny. Walter nodded his understanding.
The Astronaut smiled then, a joyful smile, and clasped a strong hand on Walter's shoulder. The same glow that had engulfed Danny now spread between the Astronaut and his younger self. As Walter watched, spellbound, the golden light revealed a change in the rugged man before him. He seemed to be getting younger, smaller, the lines around his eyes vanishing, the scruff on his chin fading until he stood toe to toe with Walter: a perfect mirror image. The boy the man had become smiled at Walter and nodded approvingly. The energy that connected them surged and the boy the Astronaut had been dissolved into stardust, just as his brother had done before him. And like his brother, Walter gasped in wonder as two potential timelines intergrated into one...his own...opening a bright new future neither Walter nor the Astronaut could have achieved on his own.
As the glow faded, Walter awoke as if from a dream. A dream of rocketship adventures, outwitting Zorgons, and a very special girl named Zöe...
Two Weeks Later...
Walter caught the football and threw it back, laughing when Lisa dove in front of her boyfriend to snatch it out of the air and plant it triumphantly in the grass of the front yard.
"Interception!" Danny shouted, and raised his arms. "Hey, Lisa, throw the ball to me! I'm open!"
Lisa drew her arm back, ready to throw, but paused when a car approached, driving unusually slowly.
"This is the second time that car's come down this street," she said.
"Maybe they're lost or something?" her boyfriend suggested.
As the car passed the yard, the passenger side window rolled down and a girl just a little older than Walter leaned out, waving wildly.
"Walter! Walter, I knew it was you!" she shouted. "Didn't I tell you we'd see each other again!"
Walter stood frozen, his eyes wide and his jaw hanging slack.
"Zöe...?" he whispered. "Zöe! How-"
But, the car was already moving away. The girl waved again and laughed that bright, familiar laugh.
"We did it, Walter!" she called. "We won ourselves a whole new life here in the real world, where our choices really matter. And now, we'll be living on the same block! My aunt just bought the house down the street - we move in next week! How's that for a prize?"
"It's the best I could have hoped for!" he shouted after her, waving until she and the car were out of sight, his heart pounding with a mad, furious joy.
"So," came Lisa's teasing voice. "Who was that?"
Walter turned around to face his family's amused expressions, but he wasn't embarrassed. If anything, he felt triumphant.
"Just a girl I know," he teased back, and grabbed the ball from her arms. "Go long," he shouted, running diagonally toward the tree. "This ball's on it's way to outer space!"