A driving passion and underlying love of the game’s mysteries has pushed a father to a singular moment that is resolved in a few brief moments.
The Beauty of the Game
By: Noelle Nichols
Roku was a personal trainer. He had brought his son, Nubs, to the IIXDM Interstellar Galactic Olympiad. The event was the triathlon, which only lasted mere moments, depending on how the competition played out. The first leg of the race was his son’s favorite: “The Junkyard”. It consisted of flying space trash set up in a strategic course that was designed to test the athletes’ physical strength, endurance and flexibility. The track hung suspended in space, a few light-years from the stadium itself. In order to get there each contestant sprinted to the end of the stadium and chose a warp pedestal which would then transport the contestant to a random side of the octagonal track. Depending on your luck you would either be at the farthest end to the next event or you would end up somewhere in the center, giving you the slightest advantage of having covered more distance than your competitors. The track demanded that you dodge, bend and scale your way over any bits of scrap metal, rusted satellites, old metal fencing and broken concrete walls.
The object was simple: wind your way through the course and get to the Karts.
As Roku always put it, the best technology to test your strength on was not something that was technologically based, but of raw, brute strength. The Karts were as low tech as you could get, relying on the contestants strength to maneuver the wheel which would then turn the Kart. Years ago, Roku had tried to convince Nubs to build a Kart with him, but the boy had simply been too young to understand the complexities and thrill of creating something so mundane. They were traditionally built from old scrap metal and bits taken from any old landfill. The Karts were extremely hard to steer and the biggest draw to them was simply the excitement of creating a vehicle which would then be taken out in meteor fields and raced.
The Karts this year were beautiful. Given his trainer status, Roku had the opportunity to view them first hand. He even had trained a few of the Kart makers this year, giving them the best advice and showing them firsthand how to weld each minute detail in place (The trick was to not over solder the metal pieces together as the rough edges and pockets between them would allow the space dust out in the field to pass the Kart, whereas a perfectly soldered Kart would pick up the dust and hinder the performance of the vehicle).
One of the athletes this year, Arden, was a former client of Roku’s. He was a promising competitor who followed Roku’s advice and tutelage as closely as anyone ever had. The pedestals in the stadium where set up to be misleading. Most newbies would dash and pick the closest one that they could, but Roku had instructed Arden to bide his time and be patient with the course. It wasn’t about luck at all, but strategy. The last one standing in the stadium seemingly would be the one who was to lose, but that’s where the constructed twist began.
There’s no better feeling than rooting for the dark horse of the game and this Olympic event catered specifically to that mentality. Since these games took place so far away from the stadium, they could only be broadcast up to a certain point before the feed would be lost. The first two events, the Junkyard and the Karting leg through the meteor field, were broadcast live in the stadium, after the winners were crowned.
Roku hadn’t told Nubs that they would find out the winners before they had even watched any of the playback. When the games were broadcast to the entire galaxy, they were edited and the winners were placed after the first two events to be more logical. Roku found the process of reverse engineering the results and knowing the ending before any of the story rather enticing. Since the ending was already known, whenever one competitor was passed and fell from first place, you had the knowledge that they would pick themselves back up from here into the next event. However, the third and final event of the triathlon was always a mystery.
This was Roku’s favorite part. You were only ever told the outcome and the first two chapters of the story. The last event was a race through time and space. It consisted of navigating your way through the meteor filed, in your Kart, and then traveling out into space in search of the one and only worm hole that existed in the galaxy that would shoot you back to the correct stadium and the correct time.
For the stadium audience, it was over in mere moments, as the worm hole would shoot each athlete back into the stadium at almost the exact same time as when they had left (the official committee always made sure to engineer the wormhole with some sort of a delay which would vary slightly from year to year). But, for the athletes, this stretch of the competition could have lasted days, weeks, years, even eons. It was the ultimate competition as the wormhole was their only way back to the present time and day. If they never found the right worm hole, they would either spend forever searching for it, or eventually give up and settle in whatever time and space continuum they ended up in.
Roku doubted that many people understood the complexities past the simple fact that it was a “life or death” game. Sure most people could comprehend the fact that it was risky, since there usually were one or two causalities, but it was doubtful that anyone understood the true beauty of the games: the fact that the precise journey within the last phase of the triathlon was held privately by the each of the competitors.
This year was the year though.
Roku had no doubt that with his talent and skill, Arden would make it back. Roku had studied these games for the past decade, trained countless athletes in the art of Karting and strategy, he had observed each and every game, recalculated his plan and handpicked Arden as the one who would finally be able to complete the triathlon and recount his story to Roku.
It would be in this moment that Roku would finally be able to explain to his son why these games meant everything to him and show him the beauty and wonder of the unknown. This one moment would bring so many life goals to an end.
Nubs fidgeted and settled himself beside Roku. They were seated only a few rows back from the warp pedestals. “Is that him, father?” Nubs asked, breaking the silence between them and pointing to a figure across the stadium.
Roku nodded. “It is. He’s the one.”
Nubs glanced up at the screen floating in the middle of the stadium. There was nothing on display. He turned his head toward his father who smiled and said, “It’s not necessary right now.” Roku cleared his throat and tried to swallow the giddy feeling in his heart.
A few moments later Roku nudged Nubs with his elbow and whispered quietly, “watch.” The starting gun fired and the athletes took off running toward the warp pedestals. Arden kept pace with the others, but soon enough, one by one, the other contestants dashed to the sides and chose their warp pedestals. Arden kept running, keeping his focus and direction pointed on one of the farthest pedestals.
Nubs made a slight groan in his throat. “Ahhh, what’s he doing? Come on just pick one already!”
Roku stared intently at Arden and watched as he neared the pedestal. Roku clamped his right hand together and dug his nails into his palm. Come on!
Arden touched the pedestal and disappeared.
The stadium fell silent.
A heartbeat later, Roku became aware that Nubs was bouncing anxiously and complaining about the screen being broken and not knowing what was going on. Roku watched Nubs for a moment and then fixed his gaze back on the starting line. Nubs pulled on his arm, but Roku ignored him. After a few seconds, Nubs gave up and turned to the person sitting next to him to see what was going on.
Not a second later, the stadium exploded with cheers and applause. Nubs spun around and gazed open mouthed as one by one, each of the contestants appeared back at the starting line. Roku held his breath. This is the year, he reassured himself.
The stadium’s enthusiasm continued as the Gadolinium winner raised the Pinwheel Galaxy’s flag overhead and started his victory lap around the stadium. He was joined by the Comet Galaxy and Cigar Galaxy winners, followed closely by the three runners up from some other nonsensical galaxy names.
Roku released his pent up breath and looked at this son. Nubs was jumping up and down excitedly, without a clue in the world as to what the games were really about. He was caught up in the excitement of the crowd. “Dad!” Nubs yelled, wildly pointing as he nearly fell off the stadium riser. “It’s Arden!”
Roku’s head snapped to where Nubs was pointing. Arden stood at the starting line, scanning the crowd anxiously. His gaze finally found Roku’s. He was panting and looked more tattered and worn than the other contestants, but he smiled up at Roku, his arms resting on his knees to support himself.
Roku looked at his son and grinned.