Disclaimer: All Yu-gi-oh characters and plot elements are the property of their creator and not me.
A/N: Writer's block is a dastardly disease. I'm so blocked that I'm dusting off and posting the first AU story I ever wrote. Apologies to the Yu-gi-oh fans who love the card game, but this is so AU that even the game itself has been changed for purposes of the plot. You'll understand why if you make it to the last chapter.
The Minoan Game
The subway was packed again, but Serenity managed to find a seat. She sighed, and wished for the hundredth time that she could A. afford a car and B. afford the garage fees, insurance, and inevitable parking ticket fees incurred by every New Yorker who owned a car. She hoped Adam, her workaholic boss, would not be amped on caffeine yet when she got to work. It was hard enough keeping up with the marketing director when he wasn't on his fifth cup of coffee. Being assistant to a marketing director in a busy New York firm wasn't quite what she'd imagined when she stayed on after college to get an M.B.A., but it was a good entry level job, even if the low pay kept her in a cheap apartment a long subway ride away from her work. The harassed-looking woman next to her got off, and a young junior executive type got on. He was listening to some talk radio news program on a walkman. He had it on so loud she could hear every word despite the earphones.
The program was about the Minoan Game Tournament soon to be held in Japan. One of the commentators was arguing that the tournament wasn't really a sport, so it shouldn't be mentioned during the sports segment of the news, while the other commentator was arguing that it took more skill than chess, so it deserved news coverage, especially since it had become an international phenomenon since being introduced 10 years ago.
Serenity smiled, the program reminded her of her brother, Joey. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been in town for the American finals of the Minoan Game tournament. Joey had been an engineering major in college with minors in mathematics and geology. He'd become hooked in college on the Minoan Game, a board game utilizing flat, domino shaped game chips based on the actual game chips found in archeological excavations on Crete. Joey was now one of the top international competitors. He was constantly traveling during the "game season" and during other times he worked for a long suffering company of architects, who forgave his wandering as long as he worked while on the road and emailed the results to them. She knew he barely lived at his apartment in town, which he sublet from a friend. He also had a house on the West Coast, for when he worked at the firm's L.A. office, so she supposed he was doing well. With nothing better to do, she listened in to the program coming from the executive's headphones.
"Since Niko Andromachus created the game, it's become bigger than chess!" argued the gruffer voiced commentator. "The top competitors are as famous to the Minoan Game fans as Tony Hawk is famous to skateboard fans. How can you say that it's not newsworthy?"
"I'm not saying it's not newsworthy," the other commentator defended himself, "just that it's not the real game the Minoans used to play. Andromachus made it up. They never found a rule-book in the ruins, he just guessed. At least chess is the same game it's always been."
"Who cares? It's still big news, and Americans can root for the Americans going to Tokyo to represent us this year. Seto Kaiba, Joey Wheeler, and that new kid, Bobby Taylor, that everyone has their eye on."
The executive got up, gathered his briefcase and Wall Street Journal, and exited the subway. Another one, juggling a starbuck's cup and a doughnut took his place. Serenity clutched her briefcase, resting on her lap. They'd mentioned Joey's name! He was famous, at least to Minoan Game fans. She felt a glow of pride. She really should pay more attention to his gaming career, but she'd been so busy the past year and a half with the new job, and the move to New York.
As for the job, there didn't seem to be much immediate opportunity for advancement, since her boss tended to not want to delegate any more than he had to. Serenity soon realized she wasn't as competitive or ambitious as Adam, and had fallen into the role of helper and smoother over of hurt feelings since her boss, while productive, was about as sensitive as a hippopotamus. So it fell to her to use her people skills to give the presentations, showcasing his ideas with tact and enthusiasm, and carefully giving Adam his very well deserved credit.
Serenity supposed that she should start looking around for another job, one where she could start making executive type, innovative decisions. That was, after all, why she'd gone on to graduate school to get her MBA. She'd been shocked and grateful to find out at the end of the two years that her brother, Joey, had paid off her school loans without telling her, so she went into the job market without any debts weighing her down. That was Joey, thoughtful and so protective of her since their parents had died.
She got off at her stop, and made her way to the office, smiled hello to the receptionist, Judith, and braced herself for another roller coaster ride of a day as assistant to a marketing director who was brilliant, but as prickly as a porcupine.
"We got a call from Gustav Larson while you were gone."
Seto Kaiba held the jet's phone closer to his ear. He'd just spent a week in the North Sea, stuck on an oil derrick he was considering buying, while a storm raged and all cellphone communication was broken off due to atmospheric interference. He hadn't talked to the New York office in days and was anxious to get home to his work, and his little brother. He disliked leaving Mokuba alone in the apartment with just the staff and security guards for company. The minute he'd got back to dry land he'd headed for the company jet, waiting for him at the airfield, lifted off. Calling his security chief, Angus Kirk, was next on his agenda.
"What did Larson want?" Seto felt a surge of excitement. Gus Larson was on the Minoan excavation at Crete the summer that Niko Andromachus, another archeology student, took a look at the cache of artifact fragments that archeologists took to be some sort of a game, and created his own version of what came to be known as the Minoan Game. Andromachus made enough off the rights to the game to retire to his own private island in Greece. Larson was caught stealing artifacts and selling them to private collectors. Anyone who was interested in the history of the game was as familiar with the names of the archeologists involved in that dig as they were with their own family's names.
"He said he had a game chip for sale. A silver one." Angus' voice, with its lilting Scottish accent, was steady, but Seto knew that Angus was hiding some strong emotion. He'd confided in Angus enough for him to know how important finding a complete set of original gamechips was to Seto.
"Where is he?"
Angus sighed. "Unknown. When he realized you weren't in New York, he hung up before I could arrange a meeting and buy it for you."
Seto bit back a curse. "Tell me you traced the call."
"It was a cell phone, and Larson has no fixed address."
"Make inquiries, discreet ones, about the other collectors in New York. Rumor has it Larson's still an addict. He wouldn't go far from his suppliers if he needed money quickly."
"Will do. Larson did say something before he hung up…"
Seto waited patiently. "What?"
"He said 'my old buddy'll come through for me if Kaiba won't' but he didn't mention a name."
"Joey Wheeler." Seto said it out loud. Wheeler and Larson had been freshmen room-mates in college. Wheeler had mentioned it to Seto once when they were both waiting for their match to begin at a tournament several years ago. The memory had stuck because it had seemed incongruous for the professional, rather preppy looking Wheeler to have been connected, however long ago, with the black sheep of the archeological dig that had uncovered the Minoan game.
"Wheeler, eh?" said Angus, reflectively. "I'll get on it."
"Arrange a meeting for when I return. Don't take no for an answer. Wheeler's probably got the chip by now."
"Will do." Angus said again, and hung up.
Seto leaned back in the airplane seat. He'd spent the past few years working on a theory about the Minoan game. The pieces, the original ones from Crete, were key. The markings, in the indecipherable Minoan language, had intrigued archeologists for years. Archeologists were notoriously cash poor. Seto wasn't, and had used his considerable spare cash to set up a computer program to decipher them. It wasn't quite up to CIA decryption standards, and it was slower going than he'd expected, but it was at last up and running. However, no one – museum or private collector – had a complete set of original game chips. Many had been crushed, pulverized in the past earthquakes that had decimated the cache archeologists had found. Still, rumors abounded that Larson had found another hidden cache, and had been selling off those game chips illegally for years.
Larson's capture and incarceration had put a stop to that for five years, but he'd been released a few months ago. It didn't surprise Seto that the wily Larson might have had a few more pieces squirreled away for a rainy day. If Joey Wheeler had the last game chip Seto needed, then Wheeler would have to give it up, by whatever means Seto could utilize.
The black town car had been following Joey for the past half mile. New York traffic being what it was, he hadn't been surprised to see cutthroat driving.
But this car was acting strange. Stopped at a traffic light, Joey sat on his motorcycle and stared idly in the rearview mirror. The black car cut off a yellow cab half a block back, and zoomed up to join the line of cars in the lane behind Joey. There was space in the lane next to the black car, and only one car was in that lane, patiently waiting for the signal to change. So why didn't the black car get into the lane with less traffic if it was in such a hurry?
Joey's eyes narrowed. Maybe he was being paranoid, but…
The light changed. Joey gunned the motor and peeled out to the right, without using his turn signal. A bicycle courier cursed him imaginatively as Joey swerved to avoid him, and kept going.
The black car didn't bother to use its turn signal either. Joey turned left, then left again at the end of the block and ended up on the road he'd started on. So did the black car.
That did it. There was no reason to go around the block. It didn't save time, only wasted it. So the car really was following him.
Joey grinned. He might not have been born in New York, but he knew his way around it. It was time to lose the tail. Once again he silently thanked Mai for sharing her passion for motorcycles with him. Their marriage may not have lasted, Mai was too competitive and self destructive to be content with mere happiness for very long, but his interest in her favorite hobby had.
He took a sharp illegal left and headed away from down town. The black car followed. Joey chose the most circuitous route he knew, bursting through alleys and scaring the rats dining on spilled garbage. He took sidewalks if they were bare of pedestrians, and whizzed between cars stuck in traffic snarls, but still the black car followed.
Then it happened. Joey glanced back in the rearview mirror fixed to his handlebars for only a second, but when he looked back, the scene in front of him had changed drastically.
Before there'd been an empty road with a fallen and tangled mass of rusty chain link fence bordering it on the right, originally intended to protect pedestrians from falling down the steep embankment that led to a cement drainage ditch. Huge cement columns rose up on the left side, carrying the weight of a two-lane overpass above. People milled around in the shadows of the underpass, the lost souls of New York, as cars drove by.
One of the cars in the other lane honked and swerved as one of those lost souls staggered out into his lane. The car, a low slung two-door hatchback, had two choices, hit the homeless guy, or swerve into Joey's lane.
He chose Joey's lane. With few options available, Joey braked and swerved around the hatchback by going left into the hatchback's lane. He sensed more than heard the black car copying his maneuver, and slowed a bit before starting to ease back into his old lane. But the car behind him overcompensated, and didn't slow down enough as it too tried to regain the lane it had been in.
Joey had only a second of horrified realization before the black car careened into him. He heard the crunch of metal and felt the jarring impact, even as he tried to steer his motorcycle away. Then he was airborne, flying on his bike over the twisted metal of the chain link fence and crashing down the embankment once, twice, three times before coming to a hard, pain-filled stop in the shallow, dirty water at the bottom.
Dimly, Joey heard the sound of brakes at the top of the embankment. A car door opened with a metallic swish, and there was the sound of footsteps against concrete coming toward the edge of the embankment.
They were coming for him.
Serenity got off the subway in a bad mood. She'd stepped on a half filled cardboard coffee cup someone had left on the floor of the subway train. She now had coffee in her shoe, and no kleenax or anything to sop it up with. By the time she got to the office, her toes were sodden. At the reception desk Judith left her post and came up to Serenity, who stopped, puzzled. She almost never saw Judith leave her desk. Judith, a tall, capable woman with streaked hair went further out of character, and touched Serenity's arm.
"You have a message." Her grey eyes shone with concerned sympathy. Serenity felt a pit in her stomach. It was bad news. The way Judith was acting, it had to be.
"It's your brother. He's been in an accident. He was on a motorcycle and a car sideswiped him. He's in the hospital."
"Joey? Joey's been hurt?" Serenity's briefcase dropped to the floor. Judith picked it up, and squeezed Serenity's arm.
"I've already told Adam." She turned, grabbed a message form off the reception desk and handed it to her. "Here's the address of the hospital. Your brother must have had your work number on him as an emergency number. They only called 10 minutes ago. If you go now, you might get there in time…" Judith trailed off.
Serenity began backing out the door. She felt like she'd been punched. Wordless, she turned and ran for the street, hailed a taxi and made it to the hospital in record time. A nurse at the front desk directed her to I.C.U.
The doctor on call there sat her down, and told her Joey was stable, but the prognosis wasn't good. He began explaining the extent of Joey's internal injuries and the technical reasons why surgery wasn't working, but she stopped listening as soon as she realized Joey was dying. She nodded every now and then, and that seemed to content the doctor. At last he stopped talking and let her into the room to see Joey.
He was lying on the hospital bed connected to machines. His head was bandaged, and so were both arms, lying outside the covers. When she came to stand beside him, his eyelids fluttered and opened.
She reached out a hand, and touched his cheek, "I'm here."
His voice was faint, but urgent. "Listen to me. This wasn't an accident. The car was trying to force me off the road. He meant to do it."
"But, why?" This was a nightmare. This couldn't be her brother lying in a hospital bed, the victim of foul play. That happened to other people's brothers, not hers.
"I think they were trying to kidnap me, not kill me. When I went over the guardrail I heard their car door open, I think they were coming after me, but a truck stopped to see, and they drove away."
"Kidnap? Why would anyone…?"
Joey moved the fingers poking out of the bandages on his hand. Serenity reached over and covered them with her hand. He closed his eyes, gathered his strength and spoke again.
"I'm dying, Serenity."
"No, don't say that." Her denial was instinctive, not logical. How could she be logical at a time like this?
"I'm dying." He said it firmly, opened his eyes, and continued. "You have to promise me you'll do something for me, now."
He nodded, his gaze never leaving her face. "Go to my apartment. There's a safety deposit box key for First National Bank, the one down on Dyer street. It's taped to the inside of my printer. Open it like you're going to replace the ink cartridge, and you'll find it under the inside rim. Go to the bank, ask for box 76L, it's in both our names so they shouldn't give you any trouble. Inside there's an old game chip, a real Minoan artifact. Get it and hide it."
"A game chip?" asked Serenity incredulously. Joey was dying and all he could think of was that stupid game?
He turned his hand to tighten his fingers on hers. "This is important, Serenity. I got the chip from Gus Larson, my old room-mate. He was an archeology major, he did a summer internship on the Knossos site in Crete, you remember?"
"The one who got thrown in jail for selling Minoan artifacts illegally?" she squeaked.
"Yes. He's an addict now. I think he was then too. He hid this game chip before he went to jail. I visited him there once, and when he got out he looked me up to try to sell it to me."
"Oh Joey, you didn't buy a smuggled artifact!"
"Serenity, I had to. It's more important than you know, but listen, the important thing is, Larson tried to sell it to Seto Kaiba first, but he was out of the country so he called me next. I'd just got into town on business, and I got the call. He needed a fix, and I happened to have enough cash in my New York account. A day later I got back to the apartment after my business meeting to find the place tossed. They didn't find the chip, but I know that's what they were looking for."
Serenity felt sick. What on earth had Joey got himself into? "But what's so important about it?"
"Lean over." Joey commanded. She obeyed and he whispered the answer in her ear.
She pulled back. "That's nuts!"
"It's the only thing that makes sense."
She supposed it did, in a bizarre kind of way.
"Did you get the formula?"
She whispered the series of numbers back at him. They'd always both had excellent memories for numbers. She only had to hear a phone number, social security number, or locker combination once and she could recall it years later.
He winced, and settled his head back in the pillow. His eyes closed. "Don't trust Kaiba. He can't get that chip. If he's willing to kill for it, God knows what else he might do. Guard it with your life. The world depends on it. It's the last one of the original set the Minoans played with. All the others are in museums or private collections. You have to keep it safe."
"Go now. Promise you'll get it now."
She backed away from the bed. "I love you Joey."
Faintly, from the bed, he answered. "I know you do. Now go."
She turned and ran. His apartment was a short taxi ride away, but she didn't want to be alone with her thoughts. She took the subway, slipping onto a train jam packed with people just as the doors were closing, and made her way to Joey's apartment. She opened the door with the key he'd given her a year ago, and found the safety deposit box key just as he said.
At the bank the man behind the counter took her request to open a safety deposit box as if it were a normal everyday occurrence, which she supposed it was for him. For her the day had taken on a tinge of unreality. She gave the guy her key, and he used it and the bank's key to open the box, and led her to a cubicle and closed her in with it.
She couldn't touch it at first, but then forced herself to lift the lid. Inside was a wad of cash, secured with a rubber band. Joey hadn't mentioned cash. What was it? Change from the illegal transaction with Gustaf Larson? She brushed it aside and underneath it was the gamechip.
Serenity had seen gamechips before. She'd watched Joey play with them often enough, but the Minoan gamechips were usually made of plastic or resin. Modern gamechips usually had pictures on them and some writing to denote their abilities or "powers" as the game terminology insisted. Each modern chip could do different things like capture other opposing chips, or freezing an opponent's turn, or simply move to certain spots on the rectangular game board.
This one was different. It was black, tarnished silver. Joey had tried to clean it somewhat, for there were patches of silver showing through. She placed her hand on it, drew her thumb over the surface and felt the markings carved into the chip's surface. The Minoans had two forms of written language, Linear A and Linear B. Archeologists were still having trouble deciphering them. She didn't know or care which language this was. All that mattered was getting back to the hospital to tell Joey that it was safe, that she'd got it just as he'd requested.
Closing her fingers over the chip, she pulled it out of the box and zipped it into the inside pocket of her purse. Leaving the cash, she called the manager back, handed him the box, let him relock it, and left.
Serenity rushed back to the hospital, finding a taxi a few blocks from the bank. She ran to the ICU floor, but when she got to Joey's bed, it was empty. She stared at it stupidly, until a nurse came up and told her that Joey had died.
That's when she collapsed into tears, sobbing on the hospital floor.
The nurse got her out of there and the rest of the day was spent in a haze of signing forms, calling Joey's lawyer, and finding out he'd already set up his own funeral arrangements when he'd written a will after getting divorced from Mai, the wife Serenity had disliked on sight. Because of her she hadn't seen Joey for almost a year at a stretch, until he'd finally caught on to Mai's shenanigans and dumped her.
The next two days were surreal. She flew to Los Angeles for the funeral. She'd thought there'd be a problem getting the body released, but the police seemed to think it was just a traffic accident. It was a misconception she let them keep. If she told them the truth, accused a man like Seto Kaiba, head of Kaiba International Corporation, there'd be an investigation. They'd want to know why a multimillionaire would kill an architect. If she let slip about the gamechip, she'd be breaking her promise to Joey. So she kept quiet and went back to Southern California where she'd grown up and gone to school, and watched them put Joey's body into the ground. She was the only close family member to attend. Their parents, long divorced, were both dead.
She even managed to be gracious to Mai in the lawyer's office for the reading of the will. She was shocked to discover that Joey had not only paid off her college and grad school bills, but had set up a modest trust for her. She couldn't touch the capital, but she'd have the interest, and it was enough for her to afford to move out of her crummy apartment to a nicer area. Mai was left a lump sum – Serenity was sure it was to shut her up and keep her from contesting the will, and the remainder went to various charities and a trust was set up for Uncle Henry, their mother's much older step-brother who had Alzheimers and was living in an assisted care facility in a memory-less haze.
The will didn't mention the game chip, but it did state that Serenity could take whatever personal belongings she wanted out of Joey's Los Angeles home and New York apartment before they were packed up and sold or the lease let go. She supposed that was enough to give her legal custody of the game chip, if you could legally own a smuggled artifact. All the while she was sitting in the leather chair in the lawyer's office, she was aware of the gamechip, still in her purse. It had traveled to L.A. in her suitcase, but apart from that, it was always in her purse. Joey had said guard it, so guard it she would, until she died.
The week after she got back from the funeral, Serenity noticed that she had trouble finding some of her things. Pens that were usually on the right side of a desk drawer had moved to the left. Her shoes were out of order in the closet, and the spices in the kitchen were disarranged. She shivered, but convinced herself she was imagining things. However, she began to make sure she locked her desk drawer with the purse and gamechip in it every day at work, and took the gamechip into her bedroom every night. Lying in her bed, Serenity tightened her fist around the cool metal, and thought of her promise to Joey.
If anyone figured out the truth behind the Minoan game, it would be a catastrophe beyond imagination.