The Game Masters

The Game Masters

It had been three weeks since the Toba flagship Leinhard had returned from its mission…and had brought several dozen unexpected guests to Quantum Prime.

The reaction had been nothing short of electrifying. Toba on Quantum Prime and every moon were glued to their vision panels, watching endless interviews with Geem, Shyla, Banto, and Lini, the four Toba who’d visited Earth and took the dogs from a kill shelter. Between one interview and the next the networks showed scenes from Earth movies and TV shows with dogs helping people (or being helped by people) and mixed in with that were clips of sled dog races, dog agility competitions, dog frisbee games, and more.

…but Toba when they’re interested in something, don’t merely passively consume, they act. Or, at least, they want to. But there was no way for Toba to interact with the new sensation from Earth.

…and so, hundreds of millions of Toba did the best thing they could: they discussed the dogs in chat rooms, they sent letters to their representatives, they asked - again and again and again - when they could visit the dogs, play with them, volunteer to throw frisbees for them.

Golnora stood in front of the Council of Game Masters and hit the small remote in his hand. The image on the screen changed. The picture of the four famous Observers from the Leinhard disappeared and was replace with a graph, showing the number of letters received, per day, from Toba citizens on the topic of the Earth dogs. “This slide speaks for itself. Notice that there’s no slow down. We keep waiting for the exponential growth to slow down, and for the graph to turn into an S curve…but interest in the Earth dogs keeps growing!”

Golnora hit the remote again and the next image appeared on the screen that covered the front wall of the council chambers. “Now, if you look here, you can see the statistic on Toba who, having written one letter, send a second later. You see the same growth.”

He advanced the image again. “This graph shows the number of citizens who have shown up, uninvited, at the gates to the spaceport in Quantum City. The growth -“

Jakdeer interrupted him. “Yes! Yes! We get it. The citizens are crazy for Earth dogs. You’ve made your point. We agree, there’s an unmet need here. But, please, tell us your solution.”

Dilnortee cleared her throat. “Your proposed solution.”

Kainsha nodded. “Just so. What is your proposal?”

Golnora felt slightly off base. He’d already been nervous presenting before the Council of Game Masters, and so he’d loaded his presentation with facts and figures, justifications, and explanations …and now he was being asked to fast forward past all of that.

“Um…” he looked down at the remote in his hand. “If we skip ahead five slides…”he hit the button five times…and found that he was looking at yet another piece of data showing how interested Toba were in dogs.” …or maybe a bit further, maybe another 10 slides…”

Dilnortee held up a hand to stop him and tried to put a smile into her voice, to soften the words. “We don’t need the slides. Just…just tell us your idea. In simple words.”

Golnora looked down at the remote in his hand blew a long exhalation of air out, trying to steady himself, and then looked up. “OK.” He made eye contact with Dilnortee. “We know from the videos that Leinhard intercepted from the human’s satellite networks that Earth dogs compete in sports - frisbee competitions, agility, dog sleds. So, the obvious idea here is to recreate some of those games here on Quantum Prime -“

Jakdeer interrupted him again. “Creating sports just for dogs…that’s very interesting. And that proposal might be something that you could have some success with, with another council…but we are the Council of Game Masters, and our mandate is to develop games for Toba citizens, to help them exercise their bodies and their minds. So, this idea of sports for dogs - you’re mistaken if you-“

Golnora gritted his teeth. Jakdeer had interrupted him, and so he hadn’t had the opportunity to get the rest of his thought out. Of course, the Council of Game Masters was tasked with making games for Toba. Everyone knew that. And that was exactly the point that Golnora had been about to make - before he’d been interrupted. He was tempted to interrupt back, and while it would be more than fair, it wouldn’t be wise. At the high table Jakdeer was still going on - now he was reminiscing about how he’d been on the council for thirty years, and back in his day people understood blah blah blah.

Finally, Dilnortee interrupted him. “Jakdeer, yes, everything you say is correct … but let’s get back to Golnora and his presentation.”

Jakdeer harrumphed. “His presentation was saying that we should create sports for the dogs, and I was explaining that -“

Before Jakdeer could resume his meandering monologue Golnora jumped in to explain. “Actually, no, I apologize if I gave that impression. What I was trying to say is that while we could, theoretically, reproduce an Earth dog sport, that that would actually be a bad idea - for exactly the reasons you were pointing out!”

Jakdeer gave a self-satisfied nod, but said nothing, allowing Golnora to continue. Golnora quickly locked eyes with Dilnortee, who was apparently a bit of an ally on the council and saw a quick smile and a twinkle in her eye. He took that to mean that she was happy that he’d figured out the trick to dealing with the cranky windbag Jakdeer - flatter him and move on.

“So, as you were saying, the Council of Game Masters is tasked with creating games for Toba. Games that exercise either their bodies, like yinyon or lentisi, or their minds, like imbanks. So, my idea is to create a game that is for both Toba and dogs - and that gives the citizens the interaction with dogs that they’ve been craving. My conception is a game that’s cooperative - between Toba and dogs – but competitive, between teams. Finally, it’s a physical game for the dogs, but a mental game for the Toba. It would be a bit like Laser Race, where there are obstacles. The idea is that each dog gets a headset and a coach - who’s a Toba - and the Toba can give advice to the dog. What routes to take, what devices to play against other dogs, that sort of thing.”

Lanoma, who had not spoken before, rubbed his chin. “Laser Races…interesting. That’s a fun sport, and I could see how the dogs would enjoy something like that. However, about the idea of Toba giving advice …are the dogs that intelligent? I haven’t met them, but my understanding is that they -“

Dilnortee answered the question. “I’ve watched many of the videos. In the Earth dog sledding, several commands are spoken by the humans, and the dogs listen and respond. The same in the so called ‘sheep’ herding competitions.”

Lanoma asked “ ‘sheep’?”.

“They’re something like our baras. Kind of dumb, covered in wool…with a strange tail, though.” Lanoma nodded.

Jakdeer (“Jakdeer the miserable”, in Golnora’s inner commentary) cleared his throat. “So, the dogs can understand human words and they know a handful of words. ‘Go left’, ‘Go right’, ‘come here’ … but are they smart enough to listen to complex coaching? Because if this sport is intended to be a mental sport for Toba, we need strategy more complex than ‘go left’ or ‘go right’.” He looked around the high table. “No one is saying anything. I take that to mean that dogs can’t understand complex sentences, expressing tactics?” He looked around the table again. “No? Well, in that case -” He reached for his gavel.

“Wait a second!”

The council looked up in shock at the unexpected outburst from Golnora.

Jakdeer frowned. “What?”

“The crew on the Leinhard - Geem, Shyla, Banto, and Lini - they had the lab on the Leinhard brew up some sort of serum that gave Benny, the first dog, the ability to speak. We can do the same with the dogs from the pound. It’ll boost their intelligence and let them talk back to their Toba handlers.”

Jakdeer frowned again - or was he just continuing to frown. “In an interview, the crew said that Benny seemed uncertain about his ability to talk. Is it really our place to fundamentally change a creature’s nature? Isn’t that a bit arrogant?” His fingers stretched toward the gavel again.

Dilnortee said “Perhaps a lesser version of the serum then. An enhanced intelligence, so that the dogs can listen to their handlers, but not Toba level intelligence. And, perhaps, without the ability to speak.” She turned to Golnora. “Does that fit your proposal?”

Golnora recognized that he was in choppy water and was being thrown a life jacket by his ally on the council. “Yes, council member, I think that’s a great idea.”

Jakdeer frowned again…but didn’t reach for his gavel.

Another council member who hadn’t spoken yet, Tazboda, raised her chin. “Where, specifically, did you envision these races being held?”

Golnora said “Well, I’d assumed here on Quantum Prime -“ and then, seeing a trap, he hastened to add “- but I expect that the races could be held on any of the moons. Maybe we could rotate the races, one race per moon.”

Tazboda nodded. “Good. As an inhabitant of Hyperdax, I’m sure that the Toba there would enjoy these races, and it would be a shame if none of them happened there.”

Jakdeer grimaced. “That’s a pretty complicated system. Rotating from one moon to the next. Who keeps track of that? How do you split them up? Quantum Prime has far more Toba than, say, Chaos Caldera, so you can’t just go back and forth, tit for tat. This is all really complicated, and I’m not sure it works.”

Another council member, Makmati, spoke up. “Speaking of other moons - I come from one of the mining colonies on Caldera Chaos - and that’s a rough environment. Lava. Smoke. Sharp stones. The idea of having races there seems pretty dangerous. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to need to protect the dogs somehow.”

Golnora nodded. “Yes, I actually have a large segment in my presentation -“ he held up the remote control, and then realizing that the gesture was useless, put his hand back down. “- about suits, boots, breathing gear -“

Makmati rubbed his chin. “With that much environmental protection, the dogs could almost survive in space.”

“Well, yes, I suppose they could, but -“

Jakdeer looked up, and for the first time the angry looks were gone from his face. “you’re saying the dogs could survive in space? So, they could cross from moon to moon under their own power?”

Golnora raised both hands, as if to ward the idea off. “No, that’s not - I mean -“ he paused. “That wasn’t my original proposal. We could talk about it, I suppose but…”

Dilnortee looked at Jakdeer. “You owe a favor to Zatobo, don’t you?”

Jakdeer flushed, angry, and sputtered. “No! I don’t know why you’d - “ He grabbed the gavel and rapped it. “Order! Order! We’re going to keep this meeting on topic!”

Council member Lanoma leaned over to Tazboda. “Who’s Zatobo?”

“The chief executive at Atomo-Dyne, the rocket-building firm.”

The gavel banged again. “Order! We’re going to keep this meeting on topic, or else!”

The side chatter settled down, but Golnora understood the lay of the land. Jakdeer, the chair of the council of Game Masters, had the power to approve or sink his proposal…and Jakdeer also had some personal reason for wanting to get rockets involved. Which … fine, Golnora didn’t care about that either way. Or, actually, come to think of it, maybe the addition of rockets - perhaps small backpack sized ones? - might give the game some extra excitement.

He spoke. “Chairman Jakdeer - yes, actually, to answer the question, I think that that’s an excellent suggestion. The races should involve small rockets.”

Jakdeer nodded, triumphantly. “Hmm. Yes. That’s a very good idea. I like it.” He looked around. “Well, I’ve heard enough. Are there any questions before I approve - I mean before we vote on this?”

Tazboda raised a hand. “Yes, just one more. What do you call this sport?”

Golnora said “I call it ‘Toba and Dog Races’.”

Dilnortee shook her head, but she was smiling as she did so. “No. That’s boring. It lacks zing. I think the sport should be called ‘Rocket Dogs’.”

She winked at Golnora, and he smiled back.

Jakdeer looked around. “Hearing no other questions, we put it to the vote. By a show of hands, all in favor of convening a sub-panel to design the rules for Rocket Dogs?” A dozen hands went up. “All opposed?” No hands were raised.

The gavel smacked down. “So, held. And, as that’s the last item on the agenda, the meeting is now at an end. Official minutes will be posted within five days.”

There was loud scraping as a dozen chairs were pushed back, and Golnora stood there, stunned.

“You did it.” He looked up and noticed that Dilnortee had approached him.

“No, we did it.”