By Curtis C. Chen
"You lose," Ensign Darrow said. "Again."
He tipped over Erin's game piece, the one they were calling the king. Ton-Gla-Ben wasn't exactly like chess, but it was close enough, and the actual Quggano names were mostly unpronounceable.
Erin hated chess.
"This is useless," she said.
"You just need more practice." Darrow swept up the pieces and reset the board. "Let's try a different opening."
"Tell me again why we can't just cheat?" Erin asked. "Have me wear a hidden micro-cam and have you coaching me through an earpiece?"
Darrow shook his head. "The Quggano are honorable, and they enforce honor in others. The competition chamber is fully radiation-shielded."
"Why are we even bothering with this?" Erin stood up. "I barely have time to learn this game. I might as well concede and save myself the humiliation."
She wanted to pace, but there was no room. The Myrmidon wasn't designed to carry passengers. It was pure dumb luck that Erin had ended up here. A piece of space debris had killed her stardrive, and she'd spent nearly a week adrift before the Myrmidon happened into range of her beacon.
Unfortunately, a Quggano destroyer had also heard Erin's distress call, and intercepted the Myrmidon right after they picked up her ship. When Captain Yokota demanded a champion game, a variation on the Quggano single-combat tradition, the Quggano named Erin as their opponent.
"You could get lucky," Darrow said. "You never know."
Erin sighed. "Okay, let's go again."
The door chimed and slid open. Rayley, the ship's science officer, leapt into the room, looking very excited.
"We've got something," Rayley said. "A way for you to win."
"A kid?" Erin gaped. "They've got a child on board?"
The conference room display showed an interior scan of the enemy destroyer. There was definitely some kind of smaller creature running back and forth between two adult Quggano.
"We hacked into their comms," Captain Yokota said. "The adults are some kind of state dignitary and his mate. Their presence aboard a destroyer is unusual, but not unheard of."
"And now you can call out the child," Rayley said. "Name him as your opponent."
"You know it's a boy?" Erin said.
"We know his name, his age, his bedtime—"
"It's allowed," Darrow said. "They never asked us to name an opponent. Most champion games involve the captains of the respective warships by default. The Quggano named Miss Bountain because they knew she was a civilian, and therefore hadn't been trained to play Ton-Gla-Ben."
"And neither has this kid," Rayley said. "He's old enough to serve, according to their laws. They have to honor your champion request."
"The losing champion dies." Erin looked at the captain. "I'm not going to kill a kid. You must be considering other options."
"Sure," Yokota said. "I can blow up my ship."
Erin blinked. "What?"
"Nobody here is going to become a Quggano POW," Yokota said. "If you lose the game, we trigger the auto-destruct and hope we take those bastards with us."
Photo Credit: Robert Whitehead via Compfight cc