Endol studied the other passengers on the corporate jet. They bore the hallmarks of having been roused from sleep. Buttons were mismatched on shirts, ties were at half mast, and jaw bones bore the shadow of unshaven stubble.
He recognised most of them from their images on the vidscreens that poured out a constant diet of news and entertainment.
The man sitting across from him, Ferman Hanson, was the head of HistArc. His organisation was enjoying something of a renaissance. People had become fascinated with history. Not the recent history of conflicts with other species and planets, but a distant kind of history. A time before space travel and the exploration and exploitation of the galaxy.
Ferman was jiggling his knee nervously. He clutched a selfsceen to his chest. On the seat beside him was a case. It wasn’t often that you saw things made of leather. Ferman had won the battle of words with the stewardess who had tried to insist that he place the object in the compartment above the seat. He had threatened to call Camber Steel, the Director of the Game, and she backed down.
On arrival, the men were herded into the autoshift finding themselves in Camber Steel’s conference room. An oval table took up most of the space, with an dozen chairs. It occurred to Endol that it was rare to have face to face meetings. Most business was conducted over vidcams. There was something unsettling in the expression that ricocheted from Ferman’s face to Steel’s.
“Please take your places, gentlemen.”
The introductions were swift, barely giving Endol enough time to catch names and areas of expertise.
“We’ll dispense with the usual formalities,” said Steel. “Ready, Ferman? Let’s get started.”
Ferman plugged his selfscreen into the main system. The colourful logo of the Game pulsed in the centre of the vidscreen that filled most of one wall. The five cards rotated evenly around it. At birth everyone was issued with five cards. The red card determined your appearance. The blue card, your health and wellbeing. The green card defined your intelligence. The yellow card, your social standing and the white card, your temperament. There had always been five cards. With them you played the Game.
Ferman placed the case on the table and carefully drew out the contents. It was a book, made of fragile sheets of yellowed paper. Endol had seen books before, behind the glass panels in the museum. He had never been this close to one before and could smell the mustiness of the pages.
“We found this late last night,” announced Ferman. “It was buried in a wall of an ancient building.”
“So?” It seemed to Jenner Bridges that even though the book was a fascinating artefact, it didn’t warrant waking him up in the middle of a sleep cycle and dragging him half way across the world.
“Tell them, Ferman!” Steel’s voice held a hint of anxiety. He folded his arms firmly across his chest.
“It’s the Book of Rules…or at least a copy of it,” announced Ferman. “The Book of Rules written by Mouassa.”
“The Book of Rules doesn’t exist!”
Ferman swiftly moved into his presentation, packed with timelines and charts. Using the latest technology, HistArc had dated the book, proving it to be many of thousands of years old. A software package had translated the text into commontongue. The meaning and the intention of the words were clearly laid out.
“Those are not the rules of the Game,” said Asken Drake.
“No,” agreed Ferman. “At least, not the rules that we play by.”
“Where are the cards?” asked Endol.
“There aren’t any,” replied Ferman.
No cards? Endol could not imagine playing the Game without any cards.
“The Endgame,” Asken pointed at the screen. “It’s not the same either.”
The Endgame, instead of its stress on self sufficiency and success, promoted self sacrifice and service. People were encouraged to think of the needs of others before themselves.
“Impossible!” said Jenner, “This Game is impossible to play. It demands too much.”
“And yet, if this really is the Book of Rules,” said Steel, “these are the GameMakers rules. This is the way he intended us to play the Game.”
Endol read the instructions. How different the world would be if people played by the GameMakers rules, he thought.
(Vaguely inspired by 2 Kings 22)
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