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A Game of Marbles

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Jania removed the package from the message slot and looked at it. A thick brown envelope, it had a squishy feel that told her it was padded to protect the contents. Other than her delivery code there was nothing on the front of the package. She slowly turned it over, almost dropping it when she saw the golden vortex seal covering the flap. It was from the tournament organizer. Her hands shook as she opened the seal. Inside was a gold circle-shaped badge. She had made it. She was in this year’s tournament. Jania smiled then removed the remaining materials from the envelope.

Included with the badge was a sheet outlining the rules of the contest. The restrictions on her game piece as well as a copy of the board layout with the rotational rates, orbital speeds and sizes of the other game pieces.

She laughed at the extreme ego of the board’s creator to actually include this information. True this was considered to be the toughest maze to compete on, but every other maze board was kept secret until the player was ready to make their attempt at navigating it.

She started to toss the layout into the recycle slot then paused as she looked at it again. Very few players were ever invited to attempt navigating this maze, and only a tiny portion of those ever succeeded. If she wanted to maintain her undefeated record, she might want to take advantage of anything that was given to her.

She glanced at the date on the papers –- she had two weeks to prepare. She would be ready.

~ * ~

Jania carefully studied the layout of the maze board. The different sized jewels circled the larger one in the middle. It appeared so simple. Yet, she knew many others before her had attempted to navigate their individual stones through this maze. 

Several had done so successfully; most had failed. The ones who accomplished this difficult feat were invited back to demonstrate their skills. She knew she would be one of those. She had studied the information in the contest package until she could recite it in her sleep.

Jania watched now as one of those successful participants placed his tiny silver marble on the maze board. Like many of the others, he would only return at certain times in the maze’s cycle. For this participant it was every seventy-six cycles. 

The small silver orb streaked quickly across the midnight black of the board’s surface, leaving a shimmering glow in its wake as it passed the various marbles on the board. The tiny marble circled the large yellow gem in the center then exited the board.

The crowd of spectators, hidden in the shadows beyond the maze area, let out the collective breath they had been holding then began cheering, whistling and clapping. The demonstrator picked up his silver stone from the return slot and bowed to the maze’s creator then to the unseen audience.

So easy, Jania thought as she applauded. He makes it look so easy. Even with his game piece’s close passage past the sixth and second stones there never appeared to be any risk of it contacting the ones on the board.

“In addition to Haley’s scheduled reappearance, we have a new challenger tonight. Jania, if you will join us at the table.”

Jania held her head high and stepped out of the waiting booth.

“Are you ready?”

“I believe so,” she said staring at the board.

“You know the way the maze works?”

“I do.”

“You may launch when you are ready.” The game master stepped away from the board with expansive wave of his hands.

Jania smiled slightly as she placed her small gray marble on the board at the designated spot and released it. She watched with satisfaction as the stone passed the four outer jewel-like orbs on the board without mishap.

As her marble passed the fifth orb, a large stone with swirling bands of red, white and other colors, she realized this one had affected her small marble much less than she anticipated. This caused her game piece to move less than she wanted it to and it intersected with the next stone on the board. Both marbles were destroyed with an explosive force leaving only a pile of rubble. The rubble tried to continue its circuit of the board until it was scattered in a circle surrounding the inner four marbles.

Jania looked up at the game master. “It appears I miscalculated the amount of force the fifth stone applied to my marble,” she said.

The game master looked up and smiled. “It’s okay. I think I will leave the debris there. It will create an interesting addition to the board. Perhaps you will return to try your luck another time.”

~ * ~

“Daddy, where did the asteroid belt come from?” The child sat with her father as they gazed up at the stars.

“Some say it’s material left over from when the planets were formed. It was just left drifting there instead of being used. I’ve also heard it was a planet which was destroyed; possibly by a large meteor or a comet.”

“Could that happen to us?”

“It’s highly doubtful, Janet.” They sat in silence and studied the stars for several minutes. “Look,” he said, pointing up, “there’s a shooting star. Make a wish.”