I was prepared for judgment, even a death sentence. I think that goes with being depressed and a few steps from suicidal. It could also be a byproduct of maintaining a bunch of proxy bodies that can die in place of me. It was no problem staying behind on the island while everyone packed up and left. The Privateers didn’t steal all my food.
Medusa left with the rest, also figuring I was in no real danger. Took the tightwad supers with her and left me alone in the big circle of automatons. As I’ve stated before, I prefer to call self-aware artificial beings that rather than robot because the second one is another term for a slave. And these were some fascinating beings. Aspects of their design were worth studying, especially the soft robotics some of them had. A few of them didn’t enjoy the attention, but some were more than willing to show off what they could do.
And then the one made up of a series of orbs moved between me and this thing that could transform its shape. “Ready.for.trial,” it told me in its fast-paced machinespeak.
I turned back to the envoy, which still resembled a sarcophagus. “What kind of trial do I face?”
The face on the outside of the sarcophagus lit up. “The decision has been made to try you by ordeal. Your mind will be transferred into a simulacrum where you will be given a fair and competitive chance to win against an opposing avatar representing opposition to your going free. If you win, you go free. If you lose, you will be imprisoned in a rehabilitative mind prison for a cycle. We will provide you with a replacement body if yours does not survive the cycle.”
“How long is the cycle?” I wondered.
“The average rehabilitative cycle is equal to one hundred rotations of your planet around your star.”
That would not exactly be ideal. “So what’s this about the mind thing? You’re going to use a copy of my brain? Or, like, copy it and delete the original? Because both of those sound like you’re killing me and/or punishing a copy instead of who committed the original crime.”
“We have a method to transfer your consciousness that is superior to the method you are currently using.”
That is not good. This was a much better plan when they thought this was me and couldn’t transfer my mind. “Uh…”
The spheres flew up around my head. I saw and felt a flash, then was standing in a large dark space. I could see myself clearly, there was just nothing around me. My body was different. I pulled an eye out to look and while the body was absolutely awesome, the face’s features were familiar but not something I could place. I couldn’t get my eyes’ photo feature to work, but I was able to record it on down into my memory. My hair was super-curly.
I was looking all that over when a I noticed the square underneath me. On the edge of it appeared a rectangular building. The materials and color were different, but we’re talking something roughly building-shaped. There were parts of the walls that looked like redundant metal supporters and windows were round. Instead of a doorknob, it had a handle near the bottom.
“I will be your opposition,” a voice said nearby. The words also appeared near the bottom of my view. I turned to see a being with a trio of arms equidistant around a body that resembled a four-sided pyramid with another pyramid on the bottom of it pointed downward. Instead of a point, the lower pyramid came to form a ridged, tube-shaped body, like a large worm. The upper pyramid’s point curved forward and featured three diamond-shaped slits on it that I took to be eyes. I didn’t see a mouth. “I am designated Unit D4N.”
“And I am designated A51N!” another voice said from a pill-shaped being floating near D4N’s head.
“A51N is in observer mode. Sometimes we play together, sometimes one plays and the other observes,” D4N explained.
“I will be your mediator and referee,” a voice boomed. It was a digital representation of the sarcophagus overhead. “The game we have chosen is ‘Festival of Roima’. You may use your default representation or one of the game avatars, but they confer no additional benefits. Play is simple. You both begin with two and a half bytes. You will be given block with numbers on it. The amount of bits you earn will be tracked and used to aid determination of the victor. Roll it to determine the number of spaces you advance. Unless you land on an event space, you will gain three bits. Green event spaces are positive, yellow event spaces are negative. Colors have been optimized to be viewable by all parties involved. There are some unique events that are part of the game map. The number of events you encounter will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor.”
“I will choose the game map. After you have both had one turn each, you will play a sub-game that will reward bits to the winner. The number of victories by each side will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor. To start with, one trophy will be placed on the game map. Passing through it will give you an opportunity to obtain the trophy in exchange for two and a half bytes. If you do not have the bytes for the exchange, it will remain there for the next entity to pass through. Once exchanged, the position of the trophy will change. The number of trophies will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor. You will have twenty turns. End of explanation.”
I raised a hand. “So four different things determine if you win? Is there a chance of a tie?”
“There is a chance, but it is a small one. In the event of a tie, it will count as a loss for you. Are you ready?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
The envoy, now the referee, disappeared momentarily. The area around us changed and my vision pulled back. The map was a loop around an asteroid field, with a few alternate routes that were optional. The one to the north looped back around to rejoin the main route ten spaces back. The other was a detour that came together with the main route ten spaces forward. Then I came back to myself, realized I was still holding my own eye outside of my head, and popped it back in.
“We determine who plays first,” the referee said. A fist-sized die appeared in the air in front of myself and D4N. I grabbed mine and got four. D4N got a seven. So D4N went first. D4N landed on a space to get three more bits. I got a space that made caused a robot to appear nearby that hit me with a hammer. It didn’t hurt, but it removed 10 bits from me. After that, minigame time!
Suddenly, we were both at the bottom of different tunnels. I was looking at us both from in front of us, and could see through the ground like a cut-out view. A panel in my view popped up and told me I needed to repeatedly pump the lever in my hands to inflate a balloon underneath myself. The first one to reach the top of the tunnel wins.
I indicated my readiness, as did D4N. Then the pumping began. As fast-paced and exciting as it was, it’s as simple as saying I pumped really fast and just barely won. Round two! This time, D4N landed on a space where a small meteor appeared overhead, hit it, and it lost 5 bits. I got a normal space and three more bits.
“As far as trials go, can I just say that this is both one of the most fun and possibly the most insidious,” I mentioned as we headed into another minigame. We now stood on the back of aircraft with buckets in our hands. There was a hole nearby each of us, and we were informed by the game that it was raining fuel and we needed to catch it and pour it into the tank of our craft in order to boost our speed and beat our opponent to the finish.
“It gives you an ability to defend yourself and…” D4N trailed off as the minigame began.
“And what?” I asked, getting an idea. I rushed back and forth catching a few large drops of a black liquid in my bucket. D4N nearly missed one while processing my question.
“It is superior to a trial by debate alone as some species prefer. A skilled debater can cause one to ignore facts,” D4N answered. It was finally getting up to speed.
“That is right?” Machinespeak is awkward, so it almost slipped me up to figure out ways to say what I wanted in it. The wind wasn’t messing with me, so that aspect of physics had been left out. “Do you do this a lot?”
“I play a lot of games,” D4N answered.
“Would you bet your existence on it?” I asked again, rapid-fire.
“No,” D4N responded. It dumped its bucket. I watched as its aircraft sped ahead, but it went so fast that D4N couldn’t catch drops. I waited to gather a couple more. Then, ready for the speed boost, I dumped mine. I maybe managed one more that I added to tank, lengthening the speed boost slightly.
“What about A51N’s? I bet you would be skilled enough to play for its existence,” I said, grinning. I had a slight lead.
A51N appeared like a ghostly entity near D4N, not interacting with anything going on except to speak, “D4N would get me destroyed, but it would try.”
“I would not. I would rather play for myself than you,” D4N stated.
“I do not want you playing for me either. Destroy yourself,” A51N said. I couldn’t read its town but D4N let out a noise when its observer buddy added, “Do not take me with you because you can’t play.” Whoopsy, D4N missed a drop of fuel it should have been able to get.
The next time it dumped its bucket, I dumped mine right after. My boost lasted slightly longer. And in the end, with the knowledge that I could distract D4N, I managed a little better win than I did in the first game.
Ended up losing the first trophy to it, though. Got the second. Lost the third and fourth. Really, it’s better to skip ahead to the end. There we were, with me having five trophies, and D4N having six. D4N’s rolls were way ahead of mine, and the main way I’d stayed competitive was using spaces or obtaining items that let me move to the trophy or swap locations with D4N. I also did better in the minigames, ended up with 134 bits to D4N’s 73.
Then, we were both sucked up out of the asteroid field. We were held in the air; a purple background with stars zoomed past us to give us the illusion of rapid flight. I guess the entire thing was an illusion, actually. Text panels came on-screen. “It is time for bonus trophies! First, a bonus for the player who won the most bits in minigames!”
The trophy appeared overhead, then shifted to me, tying us.
“Next, the trophy for the player with the most bits at any moment!” Another bonus star appeared, then came to me, moving me from tied with D4N to having a one-star advantage.
“Finally, the trophy for landing on the most event spaces!” I couldn’t remember this one off-hand, but given how many times I got smashed with meteors, flattened with satellites, and bopped with hammers, I thought I had it. The trophy went to D4N, tying us once again.
“We shall see who won!” I heard and read. Then, D4N fell away and I was left hanging in the air.
I expected it to pop up that I had a tie but instead, it announced “Victor!” overhead.
“You have survived your trial, Psychopomp Gecko,” the referee stated. “You had equal trophies to D4N, but were far superior with bits. When you are ready, we will return you to your body.”
“That’s really it?” I asked. “That’s the whole trial to determine what happens?”
“It is a trial where origin, wealth, and charisma will not aid you. The randomization negates skill in any one task. You won. You are now free,” the referee said.
“Wow… ok… thanks, then? Hey, before we go back, one quick tip: you’re probably going to want to nab Mars as soon as you can. That’s the red planet near us. We have a bunch of these guys who watched our species mess up the environment of a planet we evolved to fit who now think it’d be easier to create an entire friendly ecosystem from scratch on that one. Not smart people, but you may want to get there before they mess it all up, ok?”
“We will take your advice under consideration,” the referee informed me.
And I woke up in my body back in my house. I was fine. My body back on the island was fine, too, but before I could focus on that, I had Dr. Erishka all over me. “You just went brain dead. What happened?”