Author : Rollin T. Gentry

“Argh! You…you hammerhead-shark-looking son of a bitch!”

I yelled aloud for the first time since I’d started playing this alien’s stupid game.

“You took the cows. You took all the cows?!” Steaks … gone. Butter … gone. And nothing to dunk my cookies in — forever. Over the telepathic link, he laughed for the first time.

Until then, I’d been playing it cool. He took my wife; I took his hoard of concubines. He took my two kids; I took all four hundred fifty of his spawn. He took football — the American kind — I just laughed. “I’m a geek, wide-eyes. Take football. You just wasted a turn.” But actually, it was a pretty good idea: robbing an entire planet of a major pastime.

So I probed his mind, scouring his home world for anything that looked like a sport, but Take-Take seemed to be the only game his species ever played.

But then I came across what looked like a music festival, a la Woodstock. One of the band members was throwing swag into the mellow, swaying crowd, and the hippies were loving it. So I took the performers and audience members alike — planet-wide. But I should have zoomed in closer because the hippies weren’t even the same species as wide-eyes. They turned out to be a major food source on his world. And that’s when he took the cows.

OK, technically, he hadn’t taken anything, not yet. Everything was still safe and sound on Earth: the cows, the wife and kids, even the NFL. All of my losses simply hovered above my head as tiny holograms, a scoreboard of everything that would cease to exist if I failed to surrender ownership of the Earth before the clock ran down. Of course, wide-eyes was under the same pressure. Think intergalactic staring contest.

With only five minutes left, I knew I had to dig deep. Maybe wide-eyes had a monkey on his back? My mind flew over the surface of his world taking anything they were drinking, smoking, snorting, or injecting. I even grabbed some weird pharmacological goo they dunked themselves in every night.

True to his strategy, that smug bastard did the exact same thing on Earth. He even snagged all the coffee beans and the trees that grew them. One minute remained on the clock. I waited.

Fifty-nine seconds…

Beads of sweat dripped from the sides of his ugly shark face. And I waited, thinking about folks with kidney stones, crying out for a pill that no longer existed, and junkies doubled over puking their guts up. I even thought about baristas in the unemployment line. Then I waited to see if anything remotely close to empathy came bouncing back across that telepathic link.

Thirty-five seconds…

Nothing. Not a damn thing. Wide-eyes was focused on that “thing-I-took” that he told himself he could quit anytime he wanted. Just not today.

Fifteen seconds…

He probed my mind. He saw the rock bottom me, the recovering me, the relapsing me. Rinse and repeat. He did the math. “Yeah, that’s fifteen years sober, wide-eyes.”

Five seconds… He screamed “forfeit” in his native tongue. I felt myself being whisked away to Earth.

In my backyard, I looked down at the blue-green, pulsating crystal in my hand. The deed to wide-eye’s planet? Too bad nobody on Earth would know what it was. Oh well, maybe one of those tinfoil hat types would be willing to trade for it. A planet full of shark-people for a laptop; that sounds fair.