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Story 5

James Rumpel

The human passengers of the "Mayflower" were grateful to the native Quarians when they landed on the planet Quarian -- until they discovered what they had to do to survive.

James Rumpel is a recently retired high school math teacher who has always enjoyed reading and writing. He has taken advantage of his increased free-time to put some of the many stories rattling around his brain into words. We are the better for his efforts.

The Games Aliens Play
  by James Rumpel

Of all the humans who worked at the factory, Jaron was the fastest power orb assembler. He could piece together the multitude of tiny components in under five minutes. He was so fast, in fact, that he was the only human assigned to work on the same assembly line as Quarian workers. His native workmates, however, were not impressed with his level of efficiency.

Having learned their language and mastered the art of interpreting their facial expressions, Jaron understood that their constant ribbing was of the good-natured variety. They did not mind that he performed his job at a noticeably slower pace. After all, they were being paid on piecework scale. Too much efficiency could cause the company to lower the rate.

“You are so slow, Jaron. I could assemble an orb faster than you with one arm tied behind my back,” taunted Orien from his seat on the opposite side of the assembly belt.

“Well, of course, you could,” laughed Jaron. “Even with one tied behind your back, you still have more arms than I do.”

“Good point. But one of my most recent batch of children could do it quicker than you, and they can’t even walk.” Orien’s loose-fitting grey skin tightened around his mouth as he flashed the Quarian equivalent of a smile.

“When you have a batch of ten kids every year, they have to be quick. I can’t imagine what your dinner table is like.”

Orien guffawed, “I know one thing. You are so slow that if you ever came to my home for a meal, you would be lucky to get the last tiny bit of Lister bone.” After a short pause, during which Orien tossed a completed orb into the appropriate bin, he added. “You know, I like you, Jaron. Humans aren’t that bad.”

“Well,” replied Jaron, getting serious for a moment. “We are so grateful to your people. When the “Mayflower” landed on this planet, we didn’t expect the altruistic welcome that we received. The way you accepted us into your world saved us and, perhaps, our entire race.”

“We are happy to have you. We have an abundance, thanks to the protection and gifts of Unyar. As long as your people continue to follow the three prime conditions, you will thrive here.”

Jaron nodded, his focus shifting to an intricate connection he needed to complete in order to properly finish an orb. During the momentary silence, he recalled the day, nearly nine months earlier, when the ship of colonists from a doomed Earth landed on this planet, the only haven they could safely reach. The Quarians had welcomed the six hundred humans with open arms; a gesture that is even more impressive when you note that the Quarians have four.   

As Jaron finished the device he was constructing and placed it in the bin, Orien also added a completed orb to the collection. Orien shook his head, laughing. “You are so slow.”


That evening, Jaron had a satisfying meal with the rest of the colonists. The humans all resided in a comfortable compound in a suburb of a large city. Jaron was continually amazed that there was never a shortage of food on this heavily populated planet. The typical Quarian family had upwards of fifty children; an extended family could number in the thousands. After the meal and some quality time with his wife and son, Jaron reported to a nearby field for Borton practice.

The negotiations with the Quarian leadership had been very succinct and uncomplicated. The leader had simply stated that humans could stay and be integrated into the population as long as they followed three simple requirements. First, they had to be productive members of society. Second, they had to never disparage the Quarian god, Unyar. Finally, they had to enter a team in the annual Borton tournament. The humans had readily agreed; they had no other options for survival.

As Jaron prepared to begin a scrimmage against a team of Quarians, he surveyed the playing field. The large field was decorated with sixteen colored circles, approximately one meter in diameter. The circles served as the game’s goals. There were four white circles. The other twelve were divided evenly between red and green. Jaron and his eight comrades each held a green disk, called a toroc. The light-weight saucer was very similar to Earth’s frisbee. The opposition possessed red torocs.

A horn sounded to begin the practice game. Each competitor raced to place their toroc in an appropriately colored circle. Only one toroc was allowed in each goal. The white circles could receive either color of toroc. Jaron sprinted to the nearest green goal and flipped his toroc within. Having deposited his playing piece, he was now allowed to play defense by preventing opposition team members from placing their disks. Moving quickly, he intercepted the path of a Quarian who was racing to set his toroc inside one of the white circles.

The rules allowed for tackling, but Jaron found the endeavor quite difficult when facing a Quarian opponent. They were not much larger or stronger than humans, but they were very adept at using their extra appendages to stave off opponents. This particular alien was tall for his race; his elliptical head stretched nearly a foot above Jaron’s.

Hoping to take advantage of the Quarian’s height, Jaron dove at his adversary’s legs, latching on tightly. Unable to escape the grasp, Jaron’s captive flung the disk towards the goal and cackled joyously as it skidded to a halt clearly inside the ivory-hued circle.

The Quarian team eventually earned victory by having all nine torocs concurrently placed in appropriately colored goals.

After the game, the player who Jaron had attempted to impede sought him out in order to offer support. “Your team is definitely improving. You might want to spend more time practicing the art of using your toroc to knock others out of the goal. By the way, I liked your strategy of going for my legs. I got very lucky on that throw.”

“Thanks for the advice. We only have about two weeks before the tournament. I hope we can improve enough to be competitive.”

“You should. Remember, you don’t have to win all your games. It’s really only important that you finish in the top half. The prizes are awarded to the highest placing thirty-two teams.”

Jaron smiled, “We really aren’t that concerned about winning prizes. We’re just following the requirements.”

“That’s your choice, but you really must make winning an award your priority,” advised the Quarian. The confused look on his oblong face clearly demonstrated that he did not understand Jaron’s lack of competitiveness.


The first day of the tournament arrived much too quickly for the human team’s liking. Sixty-four teams were to compete in the double-elimination event. Each of the Quarian teams represented a specific family line.

As Jaron waited for the start of their first-round competition, he noticed Orien approaching with a solemn expression on his face. “Good luck, my friend. I really hope you are victorious. You need to win one of your first two games in order to receive a pass.”

“A pass, what do you mean a pass?”

Orien’s face transformed from serious to shocked. “You mean you haven’t been told the consequences?”

“What consequences?”

Orien took a deep breath before beginning. “There is a reason we live content lives. Unyar provides greatly for us, but we also provide for Unyar. Each year we must sacrifice hundreds of our own to our wonderous god.”

Jaron quickly understood the direction this explanation was taking, but he could not find the will or the strength to interrupt.

“Each of the thirty-two family teams that finish in the bottom half of the tournament must provide two-hundred members of their family for the sacrifice. It is a miserable feeling to have to give up so many of a family’s young.” Orien shook his head sadly. “We have many children and it is still difficult. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for your people to decide who will be sacrificed.”

The Quarian started to say more, but upon reading the human’s expression, he paused. After a short period of awkward silence, he simply reached out to touch Jaron’s shoulder before turning and walking away.

Jaron could not move. He wanted to go tell everyone what he had just learned. Maybe they already knew. The human leaders surely were aware. There was nothing that could be done. If the humans refused to partake in the games, they would be violating two of the conditions of colonization. The Quarians had been gracious hosts, but they would not accept insurrection. The games at least gave some hope, as minuscule as it might be.

A horn sounded, indicating the conclusion of the current game. Cheers of joy and groans of anguish emanated from two distinct portions of the stadium. The reason behind the magnitude of the reactions was, now, very clear to Jaron.

Sighing deeply. Jaron went to look for his wife and child. He desperately needed to give them a hug before reporting to the playing field.


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