Another long day manning the Sheriff’s office, another long trek home under a moonless sky. Amelia Largo, her jaw clenching each time the old pickup hit a rut or a ridge in the gravel road, was looking forward to a late-evening meal of hot tuna casserole washed down with hot coffee. As she bounced along, she tried to build a case that would convince the county administrator to spend some money on a new truck so she could hunt for criminals in greater comfort. The replacement didn’t need to be fresh off the assembly line, just newer, less beat up and with better shock absorbers.
The darkness was shattered by a circle of yellow lights, hovering a foot above the gravel about three car lengths ahead. Gears groaned as her foot crushed the brake pedal. She jumped out of the truck, ready to read the riot act to whoever was flying drones so low. But, she had stomped forward only a few feet when she was hit in the side by something sharp. She collapsed, nose first in the dirt.
Amelia awakened to a familiar garlic smell, emanating from a familiar alien sitting across from her on the other side of a gray mushroom-shaped desk. Her ear lobe throbbed from being squeezed by the alien’s translator device which turned the alien’s tweets and chirps into fractured English.
With zero enthusiasm, Amelia greeted the alien. “Hello Kwatt…what brings you back to the neighborhood?”
This time the alien did not apologize for abducting her. “Ha…ha…ha…so you have memory good for Kwatt’s face.”
Amelia wrinkled her nose and sighed. “Well, to be precise, I have not seen your face…just that bling envirosuit and those goofy goggles you are wearing. But you’re certainly hard to forget.”
“You not so easy for Kwatt to memory. All peoples look same, reek like rancid stuffs on bedposts.”
Amelia did not understand how bedposts came into it, but she knew the translator was error-prone. “Well, you did find me…so I repeat, why have you come back?”
“Bigger boss angry, smash things. Say we lost much richness. He say test smartness again. He sure you cheat.”
“He screech runty feeble loathsomes cannot be smartness so must be trick.”
Amelia swallowed down a sharp retort and instead said neutrally, “Kwatt, you know I didn’t cheat.”
“He say test again, or I muck WockerJabber cages.”
Amelia interpreted this to mean that if she passed the smartness test, Kwatt would be busted down to rank of grunt, but as she had no clue about the social structure, she didn’t know how horrible his boss could be. So either the puzzles in the test would be very hard to solve, or Kwatt would resort to cheating himself.
“Not really my problem, Kwatt…and it’s been a very busy day, rescuing a cat from a tree, breaking up an illegal poker game and stopping two bar fights, so I really want to go home. Get on with the test.”
“This test two games. You lose, we rub out runts and other waste, take oxidane.”
After a short awkward pause, a box materialized on the desk. “In box two small cubes one red, one green. You put hand through hole in side and take cube. If red you die, if green you try next game.”
Amelia thought that if Kwatt was typical, this alien race liked gambling but was not so good at it.
“How do I know it’s safe for my hand, that it’s not trap disguised as a box. You take one and show it then we’ll know the color of my cube.”
“I not make trap.” This was followed by a few additional harsh chirrups that did not get translated but Amelia concluded that Kwatt was indignant.
Amelia crossed her arms. “No way I put my hand in that box. How about you stick the cubes into my coat pocket while I close my eyes, then I will choose one.”
“No.” Kwatt slapped the desk with a large appendage. “I create empty bag.” A shiny silver opaque bag appeared. He offered it to Amelia for inspection.
Amelia felt the bag and nodded, so Kwatt picked up the box, reached in, grabbed, then thrust what he had grabbed into the bag and laid the bag on the desk. The bag bulged with two indistinct lumps.
Amelia immediately seized the bag, shoved her hand in and wrapped her fingers around one cube which she put in her pocket without opening her fist. She dumped the other cube onto the desk. It was red.
“Oh ho,” Amelia crowed, “The cube in my pocket must be green. I win.”
The air became ever more garlicky as Kwatt chirped, “Ha…ha…just first game. Second game, I sure you loss. We erect henge of 146 other feeble runts plus you. First runt in circle shoot next one then give weapon to next runt not down. Next does same. Runts keep shooting until all but one down. Select where spot you. If you in wrong spot you die. We win.”
Amelia visualized standing in a row of dominoes being knocked to the ground. “I choose 39.”
Kwatt waved his hand and a ring of 147 tiny simulated humans floated over the gray surface of the desk. He waved again and the game played itself out, until only the fake human in position 39 was still standing.
Kwatt sagged in his chair and the garlic stink became almost unbearable. “So you know how to counting. So you win again.”
Amelia felt a teeny twinge of sympathy for Kwatt. She asked, “Kwatt, does your commander like to play games or solve puzzles?”
“All on UFO boats play games. Long trips very boredom.”
“Well I know a game for the two of you to play. Maybe you already play some version of it. Tell him that if he can’t win, he is not as smart as runts and so he cannot take your command away.”
“You each have 100 well-shuffled cards face down in a stack, 50 black and 50 gold, and 100 tokens. You draw a gold card and he gives you a token. You draw a black card and you give him a token. You can stop any time you want, then he takes his turn and stops when he wants. You each reshuffle and repeat 100 times. The winner is the one with the most tokens after 100 turns. The game ends immediately if one of you runs out of tokens.”
Kwatt stayed silent, as if he was thinking deeply, so Amelia added, “I can tell from the games we’ve played that you probably have already figured out how to win.”
Kwatt hooted a long string of chirps and cackles, which the translator interpreted as, “Ha…ha…ha…new game clever. Haw…haw…haw…I crush vulture moron boss. Now you leave. We leave.”
Amelia was suddenly sitting on hard gravel, leaning against her truck. She stood up, dusted herself off, and watched the circle of yellow lights disappear in the night sky. She opened the driver’s door to switch on the dome light, then pulled the cube out of her pocket. It sparkled like a red ruby in her palm. She was still chuckling as she pulled into her driveway.