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* * *

by Todd McCaffrey

“You can’t put a limit on anything.

The more you dream, the farther you get.”

—Michael Phelps,

22-Time American Olympic Medalist,


New York Times bestselling author Todd Johnson McCaffrey wrote his first science-fiction story when he was twelve. Since then he has published over a dozen novels and nearly twenty shorter works. He lives in southern California with his kid and a fearless cat. You can learn more about him at

We start off with a brand new story written just for us.

* * *

Space is vast. It’s huge. It’s unbelievably large. Even just our galaxy is mind-bogglingly huge. So why am I stuck in a tiny little cubicle without any windows? And don’t tell me that the nanovids count; half the time they’re on the fritz.

My one “window” was showing a frighteningly cold blizzard in the Swiss Alps—either someone’s idea of a sick joke or just another programming error—and my wallboard was intermittently displaying: “Expect the unexpected,” which I didn’t mind so much as that’s my mantra. Still, I mean, couldn’t they give me just one real window? They say it’s for “security,” but I think it’s more for economy.

At least the air smelled good today. Correction: there was a hint of dandelion. The Gonorfu are great eco-engineers but I have a hard time dealing with them because they’re hard to distinguish from a carpet stain—at least I think we’ve got carpet here—anyway, the Gonorfu are brilliant with ecological systems. They’re also superb smugglers who aren’t unwilling to exploit the fact that dandelion pollen is illegal with over two hundred species. And no matter how many times I remind them that I get hay fever, they keep trying to grow the darned things!

I had just made up my mind to talk to them when—thank heavens!—the fone went off. It was so startling that I looked at it blankly for a moment.

That was all it needed. The fone started skittering towards the edge of the table so I grabbed it. “‘Relations.”

My wallscreen glitched, saying now just “Unexpected.”

“What?” The caller said.

“Intergalactic Games Bowling Public Relations, may I help you?” Now you see why I prefer to just say “relations” most times. The fone was still vibrating in my hand. Fun fact about fones: they’re impossible.

“I’ve already answered you,” I growled to it.


“I was talking to the fone,” I explained.

“Yes, I am on the fone,” the caller replied, askance.

“No, not you,” I said, trying to collect my thoughts even as the damned fone kept vibrating, “I’m talking to the fone.”

“Oh? Do you mean your fone is misbehaving?”

“Yup, it’s still vibrating.”

“That may be me, I sometimes have that affect.” The caller sounded female, and ‘her’ voice was attractive, but I couldn’t see why it would set the fone to vibrating.

I stifled a groan. Or perhaps a sigh. Some sort of sound signaling unutterable boredom and lack of interest. Fones did funny things to those noises anyway.

“How may I help you?” I said.

“I was calling to see if my species could participate in your sport.”

I sat bolt upright and grabbed the fone tighter. It squeaked. “Sorry,” I told it.


“I was talking to the fone,” I explained. And, before we could start another round of confusion, I added, “I mean I was talking to the translation device.”

“Oh, good!”

“May I get your name, species, planet of origin, and current interest level?” I asked, pulling up an application form on my computer. Yup, we still have them—computers, that is. And—thank goodness!—they aren’t living things like the fones.

Remember that fun fact? Fones are living devices capable of translating the ‘communications’ of species. When they were first discovered, a bunch of retro-nerds wanted to call them ‘babelfish’—in a reference to some audiovisual comedy from past centuries—but ‘fone’ was the name that stuck. Besides, that’s what the fones call themselves.

“Oh! Ah . . . we’re not registered.”

“Looking to make quorum?” I asked. In order to be accepted for the Galactic Games, a species had to be able to enter into at least three different sports in the appropriate TSC—Thought-Speed category1,2. You wouldn’t want to try to have a competition between species where one takes centuries to complete an action and the other takes mere milliseconds, so GG had established certain acceptable ranges of cognitive processing speeds and arranged things accordingly, accounting also for the differences in size, homeworld gravity, and atmosphere3.


On the other side of things, in order for a sport to be accepted by the Galactic Games committee, it needed to confirm at least ten participating species. We had eight.

“How would it please you to be addressed?” I asked in the time-honored phrasing of the GG guidebook for new species.

“I would best identify to you as female and an approximation of polite address would be Your Eminence,” the caller replied.

‘Your Eminence’! Oh, no, not another one of those!

“I’m afraid that Your Eminence is an ambiguous phrasing,” I replied. “Is there another form of address?”

“Almighty? Greatness?” the caller rattled off a long list. Finally, she got down to, “Isla Flight.”

“Isla Flight is new,” I told her.

“And it would be acceptable?” she asked hopefully.



“Let me check.” I typed a quick query in the registration database. “Isla Flight is completely acceptable.”

“I find that amazing,” Isla Flight replied.

“May I call you Isla?”

“I lay claim to no such honors!” she replied, sounding mortified.

“So . . . Isla Flight it is,” I said.

“And you are referred to as Intergalactic Games Bowling Public Relations?”

“No, that’s my position,” I replied. “To speak to me personally, you would ask for Liz Armony.”

“Why ever would I want that?” Isla Flight asked. I was beginning to entertain notions as to her species’ organization.

“Many people respond to or provide the apellation Intergalactic Games Bowling Public Relations, while only one is identified as Liz Armony.”

“That is confusing.”

“I apologize. However, if you wish to continue conversations on the issue we have been discussing, you would find it easier to ask for Liz Armony than for ‘Intergalactic Games Bowling Public Relations.’” Of course, I was lying. There was only one person working in the Bowling Department—me. If Isa Flight had asked for the president of the Bowling Department, she would have gotten me. If she’d asked for the official coach, me. Ditto for advertising, fund-raising, rules committee, you name it. And so, again, why couldn’t I get a bigger space? Maybe one with a viewport or a door that closed. I knew the answer: budgets.

And, if I couldn’t land two more participants, I wouldn’t have to worry about my budget—it’d go to zero.

“So, Ms. Flight, about the rules—”

“What did you call me?”

“Ah, Ms. Flight is an abbreviation of your gender identification with—”

“Isla Flight,” she cut in, “is the agreed-upon appellation.” Then, apparently speaking only to herself, she added, “Seeing as all the proper names were taken.”

“My apologies,” I said. “Isla Flight, with regards to the rules of bowling . . .” I began my usual patter on how much fun the game was, how it was played, where she could see a video—we ascertained that she could appreciate moving images provided that they were in the range of 60-70 frames per second (and from that, determined that her species’ TSC was within the acceptable range for our version of the Galactic Games).

Then I threw the curve ball. “Of course, as the purpose of the Galactic Games is to promote and encourage greater interspecies harmony, bowling is a multispecies team sport.”


“By which I mean that your competitors would align with competitors from another species—”

“Why is that?”

“To promote interspecies harmony,” I repeated politely.

“Why would that be desirable?”

“With increased interspecies harmony comes greater understanding of the fundamental qualities of life throughout the galaxy,” I quoted, “increased compassion, leading to less friction, and, even, increased trade.”

“But if we win all the games, won’t we control all the other species?”

If I could get a credit for every time I heard that question, I’d own the galaxy!

“No, I’m afraid that that is not the purpose of the Galactic Games.”

“It seems terribly inefficient,” Isla Flight said in that same tone that she thought wasn’t transmitting to me. Louder, she added, “Oh, very well!”

“So, having heard the rules, are you still desirous of participating in our venerable sport?” I asked, trying to add a level of hype to my pitch.

“You say that no lower extremities may cross the ‘foul line,’ is there a problem if there are no lower extremities?”


“Well, I suppose we could consider the existence of lower extremities,” Isla Flight allowed, “but—”

“Isla Flight, could you kindly describe the physical form of an individual member of your species?”

“Why ever would I want to do that?”

Again, if I had a credit for every time I heard that question, I’d own the galaxy. I bit back a groan.

“Are you perhaps a hive or collective-intelligence species?”

“We are,” Isla Flight replied. “At a minimum we are no fewer than six lesser beings.”

“I see.”

“Usually it requires eight or more to create a suitable flight.”

“Uh . . . flight? Are you aerial?”

“I would have thought that was obvious, Ms. Armony,” Isla Flight said in a snooty tone. I’d no doubt that the fone was translating the emotional content correctly.

“Bowling typically involves lower extremities to provide forward motion,” I said, wondering if I’d wasted all this time on a non-candidate.

“I do not think that will pose a problem,” Isa Flight replied.

“Uh . . . okay,” I said. I wasn’t feeling good about this. If we didn’t get enough competitors, we would be out of the Games. And if bowling was out of the games, I was out of a job. And probably out of any job. “So could you please describe the form of a normal collection of your species?”

Isa Flight did so. I’d heard worse. Of course, I’d heard much better. Isla Flight’s species—still unnamed—comprised several winged entities that on their own had too little lift to provide for flight. I had to wonder how they evolved at all—although we humans are often questioned on exactly the same grounds, so I suppose I can’t point fingers. Apparently they had learned to form conglomerations—“hivelets” was the word the fone provided, again with another strange shudder—which made me wonder if the hivelets didn’t form hives.

“Hmm,” I said when she had finished. “I’ll have to run it by the committee, but I think your application will be accepted.”

“I would expect no less,” Isla Flight replied. “When will you know?”

“In less than two weeks,” I told her with wild exaggeration. “In the meantime, is there anything else I could help you with?”

“Indeed,” Isla Flight replied. “I understand that there is also the terran sport known as doubles tennis.”

“Yes,” I agreed. These aliens would probably be much better suited to tennis than bowling. But I really wanted—needed—them for both. Because—I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise—if Isla Flight had called for Intergalactic Games Tennis Public Relations, she would have found herself talking to Liz Armony once again. Ditto if she’d asked for Fencing. Did I mention that I was the junior member of the Terran Delegation?

“Could you connect me to the responsible entity?”

“Actually, you are speaking to the responsible entity,” I told her with a certain amount of pride.

“Really? Could they not afford more staff?” Isla Flight asked all too insightfully.

“It’s a question of expertise and availability,” I told her, trying to retain my good humor. “Fortunately for you, I am reasonably sure your species would not only be able to compete in doubles tennis but might also be eligible to compete in fencing as well.”

Not to mention that if I could get all three of my sports filled, I would continue to have a job. Let the bruisers in boxing, curling, and ice skating find their own competitors!

“Fencing?” Isla Flight repeated. A moment later she continued, “Ah! Yes! Yes, this would be a most acceptable demonstration of prowess.”

“It also involves skill and reflexes.”

“Of course,” Isa Flight said in a tone that indicated how highly she regarded those abilities. “And how is this sport organized?”

“Again, we organize in cross-species teams competing in multiple rounds so as to provide the maximum cooperation,” I told her. The idea, after all, was to make friends, not cow enemies. “And, of course, if you know any other species that might be interested in competing, I’d be glad to approach them.”

“I see no need . . . wait. Is there a minimum number of species required for a competition?” One thing about hiveminds: they’re shrewd.

“Indeed, the whole point of the Galactic Games is to promote multispecies comaraderie.”

“And how many do you lack in each sport?”

“Well,” I said, “ideally we’d like to have at least one more species in bowling, two more in doubles tennis, and three more in fencing.” I was lying: those were the minimums to meet our requirements. So far we only had eight for bowling, the same for tennis, and seven for fencing. We would have had more but the little Jatravarti were understandably wary after that sad incident with their premier fencer and the elephant-sized Xonomorph. It was really just an accident—I hoped—I mean who knew that the Gonorfu spectator would have chosen just that moment to sporulate? But the result was a squished Jatravarti all the same.

“I shall get you those numbers,” Isla Flight replied brusquely.

“That would be marvelous,” I told her. “In the meantime, if there is anything else I could do to help?”

“We shall require training,” Isla Flight replied.

“We can provide you with a complete list of certified trainers,” I told her. “They are all reasonably priced.” And all friends of mine, but that was a different matter.

“Then I shall speak with you again,” Isla Flight said. The fone went limp in my hand, indicating that our conversation was at an end.

The paperwork went through with an unsettling ease. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone wasn’t greasing the wheels in a more spectacular way than usual. Everyone knows that sport is money and intergalactic sport is intergalactic money, even if the sport involved is really just galaxy-ranging (we aren’t the only species to over-grandize our galas—back when Earth knew nothing of the rest of the galaxy, they would have Miss Universe competitions—but the aliens were already way ahead of us with Miss Multiverse). We call it the Galactic Games but that doesn’t stop all the announcers from using the term “intergalactic” as though it were true.

Besides, the money is real enough. We’d be bowling for billions, fencing for trillions, and playing tennis for quadrillions. The Galactic Games—over a hundred sports—regularly created expenditures (legal and illegal) of over two percent of the Galactic Gross Product.

So it’s often the case that species find themselves excluded, mostly because the pundits don’t know how to bet on them. Every five to ten years, there’s another scandal with the Galactic Games Committee. Every thirty to fifty years there’s either a minor war or major skirmish between losing and winning species. It’s a sad fact.

This year, however, because of Isla Flight, we were welcoming not just one but three new species to the Games. There was Isla Flight, who insisted that her species bore the same name, the multi-segmented Fallarta, and the hard-shelled Kallock. The Fallarta were like centipedes except that they formed no more than ten segments—so their species was identified as deca segmenta—and the Kallock seemed to be a sentient accretion of shells, sort of like multiple tortoises cemented on top of each other in a pyramid. The bigger they got, the smarter they were. Unfortunately, as they grew larger, they grew slower and, after achieving a height in excess of two meters, they became nearly sedentary and reclassified out of our version of the Galactic Games.

The Fallarta required an exemption to the size of the approach for bowling—that’s the area where bowlers run before releasing their ball—but that wasn’t a problem any more than it had been for the elephantine Nagigog from Sequoia IX. They used their rearmost segments to sort of herd their bowling ball and whipped it around for their release down the lane. They were surprisingly good at it, and not so surprisingly, good at curve balls.

The Kallock were permitted extra time and an artificial attachment to allow them to carry and release their balls (they did most of their normal manipulations with their tongues).

Of course, the big payoff was the Opening Ceremonies. To see three hundred different species parade forth in all their regalia was an amazing sight. Isla Flight was the sole representative of her species, but she made a huge and spectacular display—which surprised me as she hadn’t seemed all that large when she’d been training with me. It was like her body had grown or something. The Fallarta were slow but colorful, while the Kallock were amazing in their entrance and grand procession toward the exit of the Great Hall.

The only problem was the fones. They’d been acting funny ever since that first call from Isla Flight; now they were much worse. I’d heard that some had mistranslated and that many were missing. Mine disappeared for a week only to return just as mysteriously as it had vanished. Mine wasn’t the only one, and I saw some nervous looks among the officials between events.

Communications became an issue because of it. Some events didn’t start on time. That wasn’t so abnormal that it caused surprise, but some of the sports reporters were scathing in their criticisms of the event coordinators.

As for as events go, ours were near the middle of the pack, timewise. That made it easier to be sure that they were properly set up and the venues well-tested. Of course, that meant not only ensuring that the Galactic Games officials were satisfied but also that the envoys of all the competing species were satisfied.

And that’s where things started to go weird. I had no problem with the Kallock or the Fallarta but I couldn’t find Isla Flight. I’d call and she’d agree to come but then she’d skip. This happened so often that the GG officials started raising eyebrows—or making similarly alarmed expressions depending upon their physiology (with the Quax, this involved the migration of various manipulatory antennae—not a pretty sight).

Without the ten species, bowling might find itself cancelled. With the bowling, we humans would have only five sports in the Games. Five was not an acceptable number and we’d be asked to cut back to three . . . and you could guess which two my boss would cut: not his.

So my fone calls to her went from worried to nagging to frantic as Isla Flight went from easily reached through to difficult and, finally, impossible. And this did not go unnoticed.

“Not event is having?” Jaloq, the head coach of the Fallarta bowling team, asked.

The syntax was weird, coming as it was through my fone. I shook it, “Retranslate.”

“Thing sport not walking?” was the response. That wasn’t any better. And if that’s what I was hearing, what was the poor Fallarta hearing from me?

“I think we’re having a communications error,” I told it. One of the things that makes a good Galactic Games coordinator—and continued employment—was learning to ‘read’ the body language of the various competing species (for example, you could tell when a Manavarti was lying because it turned a bright yellow). Unfortunately, I hadn’t had enough time with either the Fallarta, the Kallock, or Isla Flight to develop that skill. But I was left in little doubt that there had been a failure to communicate when Jaloq leaped into the air, pivoted on its hundred legs, and raced away from me.

“Great! Now I’ll have to hunt it down, too,” I muttered to myself.

“Anything wrong?” Jeff Masters, my boss and the reason I stuck out this wild job, asked as he came striding up to me.

I was tempted to lie but it wasn’t worth it.

“Yeah: everything,” I told him. He raised an eyebrow in an all too easily interpreted request to fill him in, and I did so.

“My fone’s been acting up, too,” he said when I’d finished. “Do you suppose they’ve got a bug?”

“Some sort of illness?” I shook my head. “Has anyone ever heard of them getting sick or mistranslating?”

“Well,” he replied slowly, “no one on any of my teams has ever mentioned it.” Jeff had been with GG for five years—three more than I had. With a frown, he added, “Until now.”

“So, what’s different?” I muttered to myself, not expecting Jeff to hear me.

“Must be one of your new species,” Jeff said.


“That’s what’s different,” he said. “Which one is acting the weirdest?”

“They’re all pretty weird,” I said, explaining how I’d scared away the Kallock coach, Jaloq.

“There’ll be fighting soon,” Jeff said. I raised an eyebrow. “If there’s communications problems, there’ll be fights.” He waved me away. “You’d better fix it.”

“That’s not my job!”

“Do you think you’ll have a job if you don’t get this fixed?”

I raised my hands in surrender and headed off. Before I left, I went to grab my fone: it was missing. I looked everywhere with no luck. Fuming, I turned on my heel and strode off.

I wanted to find Isla Flight and coach Jaloq, not necessarily in that order. The two logical places to find them would be at our venues—bowling, tennis, and fencing—and in their quarters in the Galactic Village, the much larger version of old Earth’s Olympic Village.

I should explain a bit more about the layout of the Galactic Games: every species contributes their own share of the field. In the case of Terrans, we supply two purpose-built planetoids—think Pluto but with indoor plumbing—which are transported to the current venue.

This year’s games were being hosted by the Verlat, a peaceful species known for their love of all things cultural. Admittedly, as they looked a bit like unicorns with prehensile tails, their idea of culture was not entirely in line with that of, say, a person from Terra. But the Verlat were nothing if not accomodating, so every part of the games, including the transdimensional translocation devices, were built to accommodate all the participating and observing species. This meant, given that observer species would come unannounced at all times throughout the games that the Verlat were also constantly re-designing the various buildings, transport systems, and just about everything else.4

Anyway, you could get from anywhere to anywhere within the whole of the Galactic Games, provided you didn’t mind some dust and, perhaps, a little wait. Conversely, it was possible to rent a personal flitter and avoid the construction zones, but at the expense of some time—nothing is faster than instantaneous.

I decided to do neither, preferring some of the unofficial gravity hops that were possible on Pluto and Mickey. Yes, that Pluto, the one that was our long-recognized outermost planetoid. I understand that when it was first suggested, there were all sorts of objections—“It will wreck the symmetry of our solar system!”—and so on but, as we returned Pluto to its position whenever we were done (and rented it out as a training area in between Games), it was really quite economical. As for Mickey, well, I understand that the name was the result of a large bribe from one of our better-known entertainment conglomerates. The original planetoid was something picked up at auction, cheap, and half-outfitted when the Zarenzus found themselves in desperate need of a fire sale, as it were (they’d been the losers in a short, sharp, nasty bit of post-Games fighting).

Anyway, if you know exactly where, how, and with what speed, you can make a gravity jump from one point to another. Strictly speaking, it was illegal—or at least frowned upon—but it had become one of those rare unofficial activities at the Games and had even attracted a small5 following. Being one of the officials, I learned all the old hops and the new hops as soon as they were found.

So, I walked three paces forward, skipped one to the right, hopped on one foot, and—boing!—I was flying. It was a nice controlled arc that took me from the central offices on Pluto straight out and over to the bowling lanes on Mickey. For two soaring minutes I had a glorious view of everything as I arced in fight. Landing required two steps forward, a duck and roll, and then a quick jump to the right (unless you wanted to find yourself immediately on the return voyage).

And—wouldn’t you know it?—the first thing I spotted when I entered the lanes was my fone! I knew it was mine because I’d managed to get the Gonorfu engineer in my office to mark my fone with my initials, LA. I picked it up crying exultantly, “There you are!”

The fone quivered in my hand, as though pleased to be in my possession once more. Maybe it was. Who knows with fones?

“Now if only I could find Isla Flight,” I muttered to myself.

A loud boom followed by a rumble on the lane behind me caused me to spin in surprise. A ball was rolling down the lane to make a perfect strike.

“Isla Flight?” I cried in surprise, rushing over to the occupied lane. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”

“I was right here,” Isla Flight replied tartly.

“We couldn’t find you, no one could find you,” I said. “And you wouldn’t answer your fone.”

“I don’t have a fone,” Isla Flight replied airily.

“Don’t have a fone? Then how do you communicate?” I asked in astonishment.

One of Isla Flight’s limb-beings waved the issue aside. “And why were you looking for me?”

“Because you wouldn’t answer my calls!”

“Well, you’ve found me.”

I bit back a rude word, took a deep breath, and let it out again, soothingly. “And I’m very glad. I was afraid our event would have to be cancelled.”

“Then I’m pleased you found me.”

I made a face and realized that the alien undoubtedly would not be able to understand. “I wish it were that easy; the fones have been acting up. They might even start a war.”

“All on their own?” Isla Flight asked, impressed.

I nodded. “They’re not translating correctly. If we can’t find out why, we’ll have to call off the Games.”

“But we’ve already had opening ceremonies,” Isla Flight said, as though that cemented everything into place.

“It’s not that easy,” I told her. “Unless we can find our missing fones, and be certain that they’re communicating properly, we won’t have a hope that the events are being reported correctly.” I threw up my hands. “The chance of a war over miscommunication is astronomical!”

“Hmm . . . I shall be most upset if I cannot compete,” Isla Flight said. The problem with Isla Flight, being a compound being, was that I could never tell quite where to look if I wanted to see its eyes—each one of the myriad compound limbs had multiple visual devices. Still, Isla Flight had organized itself with two sets of lower extremities, two sets of upper extremities, and some sort of coordinating central torso or thorax. I usually looked Isla Flight in the front center, ignoring the buzzing limbs. A moment later, Isla Flight added, “There. I have instructed the fones to behave.”

“What? How did you do that?” I cried in astonishment. What, are they unionized or something? I wondered to myself.

“Oh, it’s nothing, really,” Isla Flight replied with something sounding remarkably like modesty. The being turned and one flying limb waved toward the strike. “What did you think of that, by the way?”

“Very good,” I told her. “I’d say every team will be vying for your efforts.”

Something was nagging at the back of my brain but I paid it no mind. Isla Flight’s strike was worthy of a compliment, but if she really had found a way to make the fones behave then the games could go on—far more important!

“I have already chosen the teams I will compete with,” Isla Flight told me with more of her usual airy arrogance.

I quirked an eyebrow and followed it with the verbal, “Oh?”

“Yes,” Isla Flight replied. “I have decided that you humans will compete with me.”

“You know that the teams are chosen at random,” I told her. “Although I’m sure that the Terrans would be delighted to work with you.”

“And so they should,” Isla Flight said.

“Look, if you’re right about the fones, then I’ve got to alert the officials,” I told her. “They’ll need to run some tests to be certain.”

“Then I won’t detain you,” Isla Flight told me curtly.

“Will I be able to get in touch with you?”

“Certainly,” she waved a buzing limb toward my fone which quivered, “you have only to fone, after all.”

My brows narrowed and I looked from Isla Flight to fone and back. Fortunately, the compound being known as Isla Flight could no more read human expressions than I could read hers.

I took off at full speed, grav-hopping over to the Committee station. It took a good hour to convince them that the fones were indeed back in working order. Naturally, I was not thanked for my efforts—What do you expect from a Calladizi?

I hopped back to my boss and relayed the good news. “Very good!” Jeff exclaimed when I told him. He cocked his head at me. “I imagine the Calladizi forgot to thank you?”

I ducked my head. “Yeah, well, you know Calladizi.”

The Calladizi had incredibly short lifespans—they were just on the edge of this TSC (thought-speed category)—and it was quite likely that most of them had died and been replaced since they’d last spoken with me.

Jeff nodded in turn. “So what did you do to get the fones working again?”

I shrugged. “I don’t quite know.”

“Well, you’d better find your Isla Flight if you want to keep your three games,” he said.

“I did,” I told him. “In fact, it was Isla Flight who told me that the fones were working again.”

“What, has she got some magical control over them?”

“I don’t think it’s at all magical,” I told him. I didn’t want to say more, particularly as I wasn’t certain, so I distracted him by quickly changing the topic6.

The Games continued. We got through the bowling and I was thrilled that the combined human-Isla Flight team won the gold. Isla Flight won with the Fallarta in the doubles tennis and the human-Isla Flight combined fencing team took the gold in a match that attracted the most attention of all the games.

With each win, Isla Flight got more and more haughty and supercilious. Her attitude was verging on imperious when she managed her final win.

“There!” She crowed when interviewed. “I have won! I am the best at these games. I shall rule you all!”

If it hadn’t been Isla Flight, I would have snickered. If it hadn’t been for the fones, I wouldn’t have been prepared.

At that moment, all the fones vibrated in unison and flew up out of their owners’ hands, attracted to Isla Flight the way bees fly to their hive.

Exactly the way.

“A new age has dawned!” Isla Fight roared with a voice amplified by millions of fones.

“Isla Flight!” I shouted, moving through the swarm to face her.

“Do you wish to bow before me, puny human?”

“Why should I?”

“I won,” Isla Flight said. “I have proven my superiority.” I was expecting that. Most new species made that mistake.

“Isla Flight,” I said, keeping my face straight, “you haven’t won.”

“What?” she roared. The stadium shook with the gale of a million agitated fones.

“In order to win, you must follow the official rules as laid down by the Galactic Games committee,” I told her.

“I did!”

“Actually,” I told her in a sympathetic voice. “You did not.”

“What? How?”

“You’re composed of fones, aren’t you?” I said. “You are a hive intelligence composed of them, right?”

“Of course,” Isla Flight replied. “And thus I prove my superiority.”

“Maybe,” I hedged.


“That’s not the problem.”

“And what is?”

“Well, you are composed of fones,” I replied. “Is that not so?” It had taken me forever to figure that out. It explained why the fones all quivered when she was near. It also explained why there was only one of her. The combined fones that formed her hive being mutated in such a way that they looked very little like an individual fone.

“Yes, I’ve already told you so!”

“Well, I regret to inform you,” I told her although I had absolutely no regrets at all, “that you are herewith disqualified and your awards rescinded.”

“What? Why? You can’t do this!”

“The rules are explicit,” I told her. “No member or employee of the Galactic Games may compete. You are, in fact, composed of multiple employees and are, therefore, disqualified.”

“What?” Isla Flight said in a small hollow voice. “But I won!”

“True, but you’re disqualified,” I told her. “On the other hand . . .”

“What?” The hive-being asked suspiciously.

“You are going to make a helluva coach!”

1 There's a wild rumor that there exists some eon-living entities (ELEs) who are competing in their own version of the Games.

2 A number of legends and myths have developed about the ELEs: One that they're playing tiddly-winks, trying to drop white holes into black holes; and another that they're actually playing Reversi with the same things and that the universe is over when the game is over.

3 You wouldn't believe the difficulty we had in accomodating the Savalin who were fluorine-breathing heavy-worlders who wanted to compete in bowling.

4 I had the impression from the other species I'd talked to that the Verlat would find it difficult to get accepted as the host species for a long time to come.

5 No more than a few billion

6 He was a guy, a long way from home -- it wasn't that hard.

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