Prompt: A tivas (galactic tennis) player from a planet similar to Earth plays in the biggest tournament while having to cope with the big war the planet is having and its dangers.
Tivas is the ultimate sport. That’s what my grandfather always told me. That was an interesting sentiment, considering he’d never played it himself, even as a hobby. All he did was watch it. When the tournament package became a little too expensive on the networks in our system, he enrolled me in classes for it. I’ve never really looked back.
The game doesn’t really provide any opportunities to. If you look over your shoulder while there’s a match going on, you’ve lost. I’m sending this, what would you call it, testimony… testimony… I’m sending this to all the news groups in this and five other systems so that you guys won’t bother me about the details or try to schedule interviews. I’m not doing any. This will be my only public statement on the subject. And first, you’ll have to sit through me pontificating on the beauty of the game’s structure, just as I had to sit through my grandfather’s, even on his deathbed.
Tivas is based on the old Earth game of tennis. It’s lost to the stars why my home planet of Vessin ever picked it up in the first place. It wasn’t the first colonized world to do so though. Soon everyone had it, but the problem was it had its own versions. Every rock had slightly different gravity and thus slightly different ball size and materials.
The elegance of the game comes from the solution to this problem, comes from its standardizing across two galaxies and thirteen systems. Everyone thought their recipe for the ball was the best. Convincing someone to use a different one would be like teaching them a new language, without the help of any of those learn-while-you-sleep neural patches.
Everybody was allowed to keep theirs. Now the game is played with tons of balls, all handled by the ref. Each one is painted to resemble the planet where it originated, and weighted with internal machines to mimic its arc in that planet’s gravity. It makes you feel like a god, batting a planet about until it lands in just the right place.
My home planet was Vessin, so naturally the ball I was the most used to was the size of my palm, mostly blue, and characterized by fluffy swirling storm systems that are much more beautiful from its actual surface.
My opponent that day was Karisha Wyne from the planet Reddun. She and I had fought our way through the bi-galaxy tournament, the biggest in the species, to our spots in the finals. It was just me and her. My small fast Vessin ball and her giant slow Reddun one that always hugged the ground.
I would love to say our battle for the trophy, for the glory, for the game, was all pleasure, but you know it wasn’t. You know there was an explosion. That’s why my testimony is necessary in the first place. It’s why my celebrity has been forever tainted by terrorism. So here’s what you want. Here’s the tale of our match and the resulting chaos. Again, once I’m done, once the last period is in this file, don’t call me for interviews.
I’ll start at first serve, because everything that matters happened in the game, as it always does. She had first serve because I had the home field advantage. We were on Vessin, in a beautiful golden stadium with room for only four hundred in person, but there were thousands of flexible camera wires, like glowing garden eels, waving about in the aisles, broadcasting to every dark nook of human civilization. I imagine some of them, the ones with rattier paint, had even snuck or burrowed in there like worms, stealing their access to our struggle for victory.
Karisha tossed her planet in the air and slapped it with her orange racket. Reddun was big and slow, its gravity powerful, so the ball/planetoid nearly skimmed the net on its way over. That gravity had allowed her to build up some truly intimidating muscle mass. She handled her world like a professional. I was forced to put all my weight into each strike on it, forced to feel the booing of her civilization as it shook in my wrist.
Back and forth Reddun went across the court, only allowed to bounce once on each side. The audience roared, chewing on burnt sugar popcorn and guzzling diet space-trucker grog. They wanted me to score, but that was the stupidest thing for me to do.
I realized that after we volleyed back and forth for twenty seconds. Her planet was just too heavy. It drained my energy more than hers. I had to let her take the point, so I did. Everyone booed me. Ingrates. They don’t even understand what it’s like to have your hand on all the different worlds mankind has explored. It gives insight. I needed to drop that first point.
That made it my serve with my world. Vessin conferred all its advantages to me. Naturally I picked up that point after a short volley when she couldn’t jump high enough to get the springy little world. We tied it up. Now that our planets were out of the mix, drifting somewhere above the court in the low-gravity space, the referee handed us different worlds. Each one a game unto itself.
The second half is supposed to give us a second wind. They decrease the gravity of the entire court. It makes volleys shorter and easier to handle, as well as watch. It wasn’t easier for me though. Something didn’t feel right. Everyone should know what it was. I have nothing but respect for Karisha, but our planets were at war. It was amazing we got onto the same court in a civil fashion. There was that one faction from Reddun… the one that liked hiding bombs at public events. They certainly didn’t like our attempt at sportsmanship in the middle of the conflict.
Remember that I told you to never look over your shoulder in Tivas? I made that mistake. I kept thinking each cheer or jeer behind me was some guy yelling his manifesto before tossing a bomb. It cost me two points, on planets that should’ve favored me in terms of gravitational top-spin.
I was flailing near the end, flinging planets straight up into the low gravity zone, where they bounced against each other like billiard balls. Even when I wasn’t looking over my shoulder I was doing it in my head. I wasn’t sure why. Usually my focus was absolute, regardless of the danger level. I used to play tivas in some pretty seedy places, while my grandpa watched and drank even more questionable grog. Yet in those final points…
We came to the last one in the set, and I had managed to keep it tied despite my failures. The last ball has no bias. It is a miniature sun, bright and hot and difficult to handle, with a tendency to go red or white and change its properties all on its own. You had to read its silent light signals; it takes years of practice.
People will tell you I threw the match. They’ll tell you I did it on accident, but you have my word it was deliberate, once I realized where my focus had directed me the entire time. I deliberately sent the sun-ball straight up, out of bounds, and into the low-gravity area with the others.
It was a good thing I did too, because one of those fanatics was there with a bomb. It was disguised as a toy version of one of the official balls, and he tried to throw it, after yelling something political that I’ve already forgotten, across the court and into my fans, my people.
His bomb didn’t make it there. I’d put the sun-ball in exactly the right place. Seriously, the odds of that happening above the court were one in ten million. The sun-ball interacted with each ball’s gravity in exactly the right way, forming a miniature stable solar system complete with rotations and revolutions. It was never supposed to look that organized. The area was just a net, something colorful to ogle at the end of the game.
Yet, with a perfect solar system in place, the overall effect of its gravity was made consistent, consistent enough to pull the bomb away just as it was over the net. It arced up and exploded amongst the discarded points of our game. Fire rained down on the two of us, down then up, down then up. We scurried away with only minor scald injuries.
Whether anyone admits it, I saved those people. My instincts about the game were perfect. It really is like holding each civilization in your palm. You need to be delicate with them, but also use the exact amount of force that is required to get them over the net.
Tivas is my game more than humans are my people. I lost the tournament, but Karisha and I agree I’m the best player there has ever been.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by DavidRcv1 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!