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Story 1

Brenda Anderson


Brenda Anderson lives in Adelaide, South Australia.

Her  fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, A cappella Zoo, Bards &Sages Quarterly, Punchnel’s and SpeckLit.

What if you found out that you'd stumbled into a game controlled by aliens and you were one of the pieces? That is the premise of Brenda Anderson's story The Game of Diamond and Djiit.




                       The Game of Diamond and Djiit

                           by Brenda Anderson


Danny raised his tray and tried to slip through the crowd blocking the corridor. Armed guards posted outside the hotel’s premier conference room eyed him. Danny steadied his coffee cups. One guard whispered something to his neighbour, and for an instant Danny had an uninterrupted view of the large room they guarded. Heads bent low, hotel staff were crawling across the plush maroon carpet, probing its depths with their fingertips. Danny remembered now. An hour ago Mega Diamonds’ fabulous ‘Mizar’ diamond had gone missing in this room. Everyone looked worried.

High on the far wall, something caught Danny’s eye. He stared. A girl in white pyjamas, eyes wide with terror, launched out from the mezzanine balcony. Her body separated into a thousand thin, wafer-like pieces that spread outward in a wide arc, each piece drifting down light as a feather. The individual pieces of her face and her mouth, still open, moved in a curious wave, up and down. Her now far-flung arms continued the wave, while the rest of her body, separating further, drifted light and white in the air above the conference room.

Danny dropped his tray. Coffee cups hit the floor; coffee splashed everywhere. The guards trained their weapons on him. Danny raised his hands. The Head of Security materialized beside him and patted Danny down just as the floor manager ran up.

“I –dropped it. S-sorry, Mr Brand.” Danny kept his hands in the air.

“Shut up.” Brand clapped his hands. “Show’s over. Back to work.” He turned to the guards. “Relax.”

The floor manager opened his mouth. Brand cut in. “Get rid of him. Get rid of everyone. And Leon,” frowning, “get more coffee.”

Leon nodded, closed the conference doors and dragged Danny down the corridor. “What’s up? Dropping trays? Hell, you’re our best waiter.”

The thousand-piece girl reappeared directly behind the floor manager. What am I, going mad? Danny swallowed. He’d be fired, for sure. He could survive on nothing, but his parents? That was different.

          Leon studied him. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

          Danny almost nodded. What sort of girl separated in a thousand pieces? Even now, she floated behind the manager, doing slow flips in the air. Her mouth went up and down, uncertain as a child’s sketch.  

 “I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened.” In a rush he added, “I’ll clean up.”

“My job now.” Leon turned back. “Beat it.”

The separate pieces of the girl swirled closer to Danny and her larger-than-life mouth trembled. In a strained voice she said, “No-one else in that room saw me.” Her individual mouth parts wobbled, as if she were fighting off tears. “So, you’re Danny. You’re in trouble now.”

Danny edged away. He needed help. Even this apparition knew it. A missing diamond was one thing, but dropping coffee cups and talking to phantoms was something else again. Worse, phantoms who seemed to know him. “Who …”

 “Listen to me! Lng is coming.” In her mouth the name sounded unpleasant. “Follow me.” She floated away.

“Wh ...”

“I said, listen!” This time her voice was harsh. “Lng will win if he finds that you’ve seen me. He might get nasty. If you stay very close to me, I can shield you from his touch. He’ll do anything to win. Now, walk down the corridor.”

Fine. It did seem the only way out. Even Leon had told him to beat it. Danny rubbed his forehead. “Let me guess: I can’t even see this Lng but he’s going to win?” He was pretty sure no headache pills would make this girl disappear. “Who are you, anyway? How did you know my name?”

 “Later. Winning’s the thing. We play for high stakes. You will not like Lng’s touch.”

If the hotel hadn’t been in lockdown he could get help, but the ‘Mizar’ diamond had put a stop to that. Most people had congregated in or near the conference room, which left the corridors relatively empty. Somehow, Danny had never felt so cornered. “Did you take the diamond? Is that what this is all about?”

 “I planned to tell you about that.” This time she sounded sulky. “It’s safely hidden inside the cushion on the fourth armchair from the door. Scanners won’t pick it up. This loses me points.”

 “What?” Danny spun round, scattering various pieces of the girl. “What kind of game is this? Point scoring? Look, the diamond élite of this planet are back there. They booked the entire floor. No-one messes with Mega Diamonds. And how do you know my name, anyway?”

 “That’s tricky.” She sounded uncomfortable. “Look, you bought into our game, but it’s not one you can play. The rules are flexible, but not that flexible. Walk faster, please.”

In the corridor ahead of Danny a middle aged couple let themselves out of their room and began walking towards him. He gave them a professional smile as they crossed paths. Their courteous nod reinforced the reality that he alone could see this girl. He was the odd man out. Wait. He’d been doing fine until this girl turned up. Jumping off balconies, breaking into a thousand pieces:  by what definition could this be called a game?

 “This Lng, is he flexible, too?” he asked. “Or just dangerous?”

The thousand swirling parts of the girl marked time, as if hesitating. “He has no fixed appearance.”

“Unlike you?”

 “I obey the rules,” she said. “Free-fall mode demands I choose my body with precision. A body, falling. This present one, the girl,” she gave a swirl, “I seized from a window sill in a burning house, on the other side of the planet. One point to me. Imminent death is rated in various ways ...”

 “You mean, you’re playing with a real girl’s body? I don’t believe you,” cried Danny. “How?”

 “I plucked her from death. A young girl. She would have died a horrible death, believe me. Until I restore her, she is my vehicle. In purely physical terms, she’s nowhere, but definitely alive."

Danny stopped. “And her house?”

 “Burned to the ground.”

He swallowed. “What about her family?”

The uncertain expression returned. “Burnt, too.”

Danny felt cold. He began walking again.  “This Lng of yours can pop up anytime, in any shape, and he’s dangerous, is that what you’re saying?”

 “Yes and no. It all depends,” she said. “Right now, I’m playing against him. Sometimes we’re partners. Not right now. Of course, that can change any minute.”

Two feet ahead a flicker of fire sprang up from the carpet. Danny jumped.

 “Nice try.” Unlike the girl’s, this voice was deep. “Four points to me.”

 “I – I was going for demerit points.” She sounded defensive. “You know that, Lng. I had to. You know that, too.”

The flame twisted higher. “Ha ha. Watch me tickle his feet.”

 “No!” cried the girl. Danny jumped back.

 “Oho.” The flame curled in on itself, as if recoiling. “The human moved. He heard you? Can he see you? Us? It’s not possible.”

 “Lng, he can,” the girl whispered. “It’s Danny. This upsets everything. He knows about us.”

 “Danny? Impossible. What, he’s talking to you?” A hoot of derision. “After what you did to his parents?”

 “Lng, be quiet!”

 “You two,” Danny cut in. “Okay, it’s established. I’m actually here. Talk to me! What’s this about my parents?”

The flame sidled up to the girl. “He doesn’t know. You haven’t got to that bit?”

 “I started.” The girl sounded unhappy. “I started to explain about the demerit points.”

 “Danny, meet Dilly.” Lng’s voice sharpened. “Twenty years ago, when you were four years old, she muffed a touchdown near your home town. Your parents were out late that night. There was a fire.”

Danny’s heart constricted. He knew the rest. The entire woods had been burnt to a crisp. The intense heat had given his parents shocking burns, but also blinded them. They’d struggled to raise him from that point in time, always trying to understand what had happened. The mysterious fire had never been accounted for. Was this the answer?

 “You’re Dilly?” Danny turned to the girl, now floating dispiritedly beside him. “That was you?”

Dilly dipped and swayed. “The best we could do, as recompense, was put you into this job. You received a letter offering you a position here, didn’t you? Of course you did. That’s why you’re working here. This gem summit was booked decades ago. The reward for finding the diamond ...”

 “Diamond?” Danny nearly choked. “What’s a bloody diamond compared to what you did to my parents? Their burns are unbelievable. They suffer terrible pain, all the time. Even now they can hardly move and their faces, their skin ...” He swallowed. “Yet they raised me. If you’re so smart, can’t you at least give them their sight back?”

 “I told you. Rules,” she whispered.

Danny swore: long, hard, bitter words that didn’t begin to touch the pain. When he finished, there was silence.

 “Dilly,” said Lng. “It’s time.”

 “What, you’re heading off?” cried Danny. “This is just some pit stop on the way? So, what about that girl? You’re going to dump her somewhere? You’re criminals, you two. Someone should lock you both up.”

 “You don’t understand: you saw me.” Dilly’s voice sounded close to tears. “I couldn’t get to your mind fast enough. You caused a commotion. Otherwise, I would have given you a picture of exactly where the diamond is. Even now, it’s still there, concealed in that armchair cushion. If, as I planned, you’d claimed your reward, I would have regained two points, to make up for that touchdown. Look, I wasn’t even supposed to land on this planet. It should have been another sector five galaxies across. Navigation was never my thing.”

 “Still isn’t,” murmured Lng.

 “What difference does that make, now?” cried Danny. “I asked about the girl. Can you concentrate, for once?”

 “You don’t understand,” said Dilly. “Timespace is a grid. We do flips, see? The girl? I picked her up just after that touchdown. A different country entirely. I told you, the other side of the planet.”

Danny stared at her.  “You mean, you’ve used her body all that time? Twenty years?”

Dilly’s various parts did a shimmy. “She’s safe. Not dead. I rescued her, remember. What’s the problem?”

 “Problem?” Danny struggled for words. A young couple walked down the corridor towards him, and he gave them a vague smile. When they’d passed he said, “What are you going to do now?”

 “Collect that reward, for you,” said Dilly. “You can send the money to your parents. Plus, I need those two points.”

 “Even with demerits,” boasted Lng, “I’ll beat her.”

 “You’re unbelievable, you two,” Danny said, with disgust. He’d reached the end of the corridor. Before him lay the large hotel foyer and beyond the front doors, the real world. “What’ll it take for you to promise never to come back?”

Both laughed. “We can’t promise. Rules.”

“You’ve got to be joking,” he said. “What’s this game called, anyway?”

They both made a twitchy movement, as if he’d said something embarrassing.

“It’s Djiit.”


“The game,” they said, with emphasis. “Danger. Scores. You know.”

Danny swore. “No, I don’t! The least you can do is leave the little girl here. You owe her that.”

“Little girl? Ha. Remember, twenty years have elapsed. Anyway, you owe me two points. Take the reward,” said Dilly.

“How?” cried Danny. “If I go back into the conference room, head straight for that armchair, find the diamond, they’ll arrest me! They’ll think I stole the diamond and hid it to claim the reward. After all, how could I possibly know where it is? Think about that for a second!”

Lng gave an uneasy wriggle. “He’s right. We miscalculated. Down another four points. And I still don’t know how he can see us. No-one else has. He’s the first.”

A crowd of people exited the foyer, passing close to Danny, who tried to look professional. They haven’t fired me yet. One woman gave him a curious look. If only she could see what I’m really doing: making sense of some game involving the kidnapping of some little girl … or was it, rescue? Wait! Stupid! Danny almost smacked his own forehead. I see things other people don’t. I have a natural advantage. Suddenly he made up his mind. Two can play this game. So you guys don’t think I can play? Watch me!

“You need points?” he said, when the corridor had emptied. “You gave my parents twenty years of pain. Take that away! Surely that’s something you could win points for?”

“Ye-es, maybe. If we succeed,” Lng sputtered. “Pain is an element we could remove, but we can’t guarantee total success. There might be a cost.”

 “Cost? You mean money? What about the diamond?” Danny’s heart skipped a beat. The thought of his parents living without pain suddenly overwhelmed him.

Lng appeared to be doing some calculations. “We take the diamond, he gets the reward? Mm, could work. It might cancel the touchdown.”

Danny opened his mouth to speak.

“Too late,” said Dilly. “Someone’s just found it. Goodbye points.”

“I thought you said it was well hidden?” Danny said, dismayed.

“It was, but a hotel employee has just found it. What a liar! He’s faking some fit or other. They’re searching him, not finding it. Wait. They’ve called an ambulance.” A distant siren began to wail. Danny stood rigid. Did this leave him back where he started? He was so close! The lobby doors swung open and an ambulance team pushing a gurney rushed past. Danny stepped back to let them pass. Surely, somehow, there was something he could win from this game?

 “We can tell you where he’s hidden the diamond,” said Lng. “We’ll still get those twenty points.”

“I ...what about my parents?” Danny exploded. “What about the girl? Point scoring is all you can think about?”

“Yes.” Dilly’s voice pitched higher. “Ooh, look. Coming up, greasy fried eggs: two bonus points, up for grabs! Lng, I’m going to beat you! Watch me jump into not one, but two new bodies! Slippery dip, here I come!”

A maid carrying a breakfast tray advanced down the corridor towards the medical team pushing a man on a gurney.

Both voices whispered in his ear: “He’s hidden the diamond under his belt buckle. Claim it, now!”

“How? They’ll throw me in jail!” said Danny. “How could I possibly know that?”

“Tell the truth: say you saw something. It’s a preternatural gift,” said Lng. “Perhaps the touchdown that robbed your parents of their sight actually did give you something extra. How else can you see us? You’ve got a gift. Play it for all it’s worth.”

Clutching her tray, the maid stepped back as the medical team swept past.

On the tray Danny saw two fried eggs do a flip, giggle and break into little pieces.

He looked up. Against the wall behind the medical team, a female figure took shape. Of course! Dilly had returned the girl’s body. To hell with it, he thought. By accident he’d bought into this game. He’d play it for all he was worth.  

 “It’s under his belt buckle!” Danny cried, pointing. “It’s him! He’s got the diamond!”

Gurney man jack-knifed upright. Instantly, medicos and hotel staff pinned him down. Someone in uniform pounced on the belt. The maid, balancing her tray, passed the gurney and continued down the corridor, with suspended egg pieces trailing after her.

With a shout, the uniformed man held the diamond high. Everyone cheered. Danny turned his attention to the girl, who had finally taken shape against the wall. He blinked. Blushing, an attractive dark-haired young woman in a singlet and micro skirt tried to cover herself with her hands. One by one, heads turned to stare at her.

 “Who the hell’s that?” said someone. Still staring at the girl the medicos strapped the man down.

The young woman appeared to understand the question. “Zulya,” she whispered and, nervously at first, then with increasing confidence, began a torrent of words in a language no-one could understand. The floor manager rushed up.

Danny kept staring. Leon snapped his fingers. “How did you know about the diamond?”

“I saw something, I can’t explain it. I mean, I looked up and saw ...” Danny shook his head. “No, I can’t explain it.”

Leon gave him a searching look. “Mega Diamonds wants to speak to you. Don’t panic. I think it’s about the reward.”

The reward? Danny registered this, even if he was distracted by Zulya. So was everyone. He grabbed a handful of towels from a passing maid and handed them to her. Zulya gave him a dazzling smile.

 “Who’s that?” Leon suddenly noticed Zulya.

 Danny thought he knew. The little girl snatched twenty years ago from the other side of the planet had just regained her body but of course, she was a big girl now. “I could be wrong, but that doesn’t sound like English. ‘Zulya’ sounds Russian to me. Do you reckon we could get an interpreter in?”

Leon gave him a strange look. Danny sighed. He had so much explaining to do and, if things worked out, so much Russian to learn. At the very least, he knew something of her background. His cell rang. He listened as his parents both spoke at once. Ecstatic, laughing, crying, they kept asking how had this happened? For the first time in twenty years, they were pain-free! Now, instead of a world of darkness, they saw red trees and a five foot chicken through their kitchen window. What did all this mean? How could they see red trees and five foot chickens? Their world hadn’t changed. It must be their eyesight. They could see, but not properly. Surely that was it?

Danny frowned. Perhaps that was the ‘price’ Lng and Dilly had mentioned. But if they’d succeeded in removing his parents’ pain, perhaps it didn’t matter that they saw red trees and five foot chickens. They could live in comfort and, if Mega Diamonds gave him the reward, maybe he could pay to have their eyes fixed. Who knew? He could buy a house. He pictured something small, with cherry trees and a picket fence. He could imagine Zulya in a house like that.

Play the game and, against all the odds, win?

He almost wished the Djiit players luck.




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