Read - or else.

The Contest by Adrian Tullberg.

The face of the protagonist was filled with incredible arrogance. His form- fitting uniform was impossibly clean and wrinkle-free. His crop of dark hair framed a brow creased in effort. This being had no need for such expressions, but he placed personal appearance at a high priority

After his efforts yielded no fruit, he spoke to the target of his efforts.

"I can't understand you. Usually, I know who you are, and everything about you, instantly, immediately. I have complete knowledge of whatever comprises your thoughts and your very being. That is what I am, and what I shall always be."

"You defy my powers of observation, therefore you contravene the way in which I perceive the universe. And the way that I observe the universe is literally of galactic concern."

"I have the power to tear those secrets from you like peeling a bandage from a infected wound; very messy and painful. But it's more amusing to seduce those facts from you, to tease the precious secrets which compromise your beliefs and make up the essential ... you."

The face of the challenger looked up from his yo-yoing, and gave an enigmatic, toothy-gapped smile. His hand stowed the wooden disk inside a pocket in his claret vest, and addressed his latest challenge.

"That's your weakness. Your insatiable desire to find something new and shiny. Millennia spent searching for the next novelty, to find that one instant in which the wonder overwhelms the accumulated tedium of simply existing for millions of years. You'll do anything to find those moments in time - trying desperately to achieve the brief flashes of relief from the boredom that compromises your entire existence."

The protagonist nodded, accepting the lightning fast assessment of his character, feeling an excitement, a mental quickening that hadn't filled what could be called his soul in thousands of years.

"You're right, you know. But in your case, it's not a weakness, it's a measure of the opposition that's ranged against you. It's an indication of the power and the determination that will be single-mindedly thrown towards the discovery of your secrets."

The challenger snorted, stamping his red-handled umbrella on the ground. His eyes filled with malice - and something indescribably alien.

"The ability to hide anything from the likes of you should also reveal the type of opposition you face. The kind of subtle influence that I can wield, rather than the raw ability you and your kind can casually toss about like ping-pong balls. It's a different kind of strength that you're incapable of understanding."

The protagonist rounded, more out of the habit to say the last word, more than anything else.

"I think that I can understand your strengths, in the manner which I understand everything else."

The challenger smiled - he had spent a significant amount of time, expending most of the time remaining in this body in order to find this particular being. Now, only using the power of his words, he had his opponent right where he wanted him.

"Do you care to make it interesting?"

"My dear sir, I live for making anything more interesting."

"If you win, I will give you my vehicle, and grant you the power of unlimited travel. If I win, you will give me what I crave most of all."

"Which is...?"

"A measure of mortality. I want the soul of a human, rather than that of a Grand Manipulator. If I continue in this vein, I stand to inherit a destiny that will result in my personal damnation, as well as the deaths of untold billions. The genetics of a human half, a human ancestry is what I want - and what I need."

The protagonist looked sharply at his potential new opponent.

"Do you realise what will be required in order to make that particular wish reality? The kind of re-writing that your time-stream - and due to the effect you've had on the whole of reality, the entire multiverse will need?"

The challenger's silence was all that the being needed to affirm his suspicions. His more rational part told him to dismiss this little man, not be drawn into something with those kind of stakes.

The other side that craved novelty, stimulus, emotion, pleasure, pain, anything to break the perpetual monotony soon overwhelmed the part that played very little in his day to day affairs.

"Very Well. Let the game begin."

Please send any and all feedback to atullberg@mydejanews.com