Oob Darnok played nervously with his breakfast, watching the Slot on the wall. Any minute now, today’s card would be expelled with a gentle whoosh and he’d find out the fate of his new novel.
He fiddled with his silverware, then took a sip of coffee—just as the Slot activated. Oob jumped, splashing his last clean shirt. He pulled the card out and read it with his heartbeat strong in his throat:
Intelligence—5! Oob felt smarter already. Yesterday’s intelligence number had only been 3, and Oob had struggled to accomplish the most mundane chores. But his joy at receiving a high-intelligence number was diminished by the 1’s on his card: he had an important meeting with his publisher today, and could really have used a 5 in luck.
With trembling arms, Oob managed to exchange his coffee-stained shirt for yesterday’s slightly-worn one, cursing as a button popped off and rolled under a chair. He glanced at the clock—late already, and he hadn’t taken out the trash.
Oob looked again at his card; maybe he’d mis-read the numbers. He scoffed at LOVE—0; his love number had been 0 for months. Women usually pitied him—Oob Darnok, marginally successful author--bald, paunchy, myopic. But the bad numbers were still there: only 1s, despite Oob’s wishing them otherwise.
While planning a brilliant speech to plug his new book to his publisher, he bagged the trash and carried it outside with sticky fingers. As he hoisted the bag, a large bird dropped a deposit on Oob’s bald spot. Sighing, he wiped his fingers on his trousers and trudged heavily to the bus stop.
As Oob panted slightly on his bus seat, he felt slightly encouraged—apparently, most of the riders were having low-luck days, too. The woman to his left was wearing mismatched shoes. The man sharing his seat had forgotten his pants altogether. Oob smiled and rehearsed his speech.
At the first stop, the Card Slot at the front of the bus signaled three “beeps”—someone was getting a Bonus Card. Against all hope, Oob wished desperately for the card to be his. All eyes were on the Slot as the card shot forth. The driver caught it deftly and called out the name on its front: Thone Erbly. At the sound of his name, the pants-less man jumped up and took the card, then read it aloud with a grin.
PLEASE LEAVE THE BUS.
With a pang of jealousy, Oob watched as Thone exited and approached a beautiful woman, who handed him a pair of slacks. She gestured him into a waiting luxury car. Oob sighed.
Several stops later, Oob dragged himself into his publisher’s office. Mag Lukis sat at a table with half a dozen cohorts, Oob’s manuscript parceled out amongst them. The men were all speaking animatedly when Oob stumbled into the room, tripping over nothing. Mag stood and greeted Oob with unusual heartiness.
“Oob! Come in, come in!” But just as Oob took a step toward the table, a Slot whooshed and a card fell at his feet. He picked it up; his name was on the front. Turning it over, Oob read:
PENALTY—LOSE ONE TURN.
Hanging his head, Oob flashed the card at the executives, who murmured condolences. Oob found the Penalty Niche at the far wall and slouched into its seat, knowing that he’d be constrained for fifteen minutes. While soft restraints covered his wrists and ankles, a secretary entered the room carrying delicious treats, and a parade of masseuses rubbed the necks and shoulders of the lucky men.
Finally the masseuses left—just watching them, Oob felt his neck muscles tightening—and the restraints fell from his arms and legs. He leapt up and eagerly approached his publisher.
“Well?” said Oob, forgetting his prepared speech, “have you read the manuscript? Do you like it? Do we have a deal?”
Mag cleared his throat. “Well, Oob, this just isn’t up to your usual standard. I don’t think there’s an audience…I mean, a world where a benevolent Supreme Being cares about the lives of the people? A world he decides to visit, and actually participate in for a while? Oob, Oob—everyone knows fantasy doesn’t sell, and there’s nothing in life but The Game. Nice imagination, buddy, but we’re going to have to pass.”
Behind Oob’s head, a card Slot quietly whooshed.
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