Luca stopped by the fence and set the bucket on the ground. His fingers burned, his shoulder felt leaden. Swapping hands would help, but a bell rang insistently in his head, demanding attention.
The hidden Esk smirked inwardly. Come on, dude, get on with it!
Luca wiped his eyes, grimaced and shrank back from a block of text that suddenly appeared in the very air in front of him. The boy stretched an arm toward the letters, but felt nothing. They hung before his eyes and moved as his eyes moved. The text stayed at the center of Luca’s vision!
What a dope! Esk sighed, but let Luca stay at the helm. The balance of two minds sharing a single body was incredibly fragile. The boy didn’t have enough spirit to recognize the impossible and preserve his mind if Esk intervened directly.
Pressed into the back of his consciousness, his personality would rot quicker than Esk could say “Horvac take you!” Horvac’Onegut was an old friend of his, and had managed to become a divinity in a world where Esk had trudged along as a priest of the local Veridic until he changed his faith. In that war, sacred for half the planet’s population, Horvac had been cast down, but he and Esk encountered each other again in other worlds and remained friends. And tales of Horvac remained.
While Esk reminisced, Luca had gotten a grip on himself and read the text several times, unwillingly whispering it aloud.
“Luca Dezisimu, of the essence Esk’Onegut... Tsoui points: minus nine hundred and seventy one... Activated privilege for one-time Wheel spin. Use? Yes... No...”
Luca’s mother poked her head out of their little window.
“What happened, son? Are you feeling alright?”
“Everything’s fine, mom. I stopped for a breather, my arms hurt.”
“Let me take it...” Prisca began, but the son interrupted her.
“No, mom. I can do it!”
Spoken with surety and confidence. The mother shook her head, but a flash of a smile told the true story; she was not only happy, she was proud! Her head disappeared from the window, and Luca returned to the strange text.
Thinking for a couple of seconds, he jabbed his finger at “Yes.”
The world around him froze and fell silent. The text disappeared, and a gigantic wheel took up his entire view. It looked entirely real, but was as much a mirage as the text before it. The surface of the wheel spread to either side of Luca, blotting out his surroundings. In height it stretched far into the sky, so that Luca could only see one segment of it, the one facing him. That segment was green, and on it was writ in huge letters: Start!
Esk planted some knowledge in the boy’s mind, and Luca realized that the divisions of the wheels were in different colors.
There was only one green sector, the starting sector. If it appeared again after the spin, he’d be able to make three more spins for free.
The red sectors gave the player illnesses, injuries, reduced stats or negative talents. For example, the talent of smelling like a cesspit. There weren’t many such talents, but each red segment was several times larger than the others.
The empty white spaces gave nothing to the player, just wasted the spin. They amounted to over three fourths of the total number.
The blue ones were very rare. They awarded useful talents, and the deeper the color—from pale blue to ultramarine—the higher the gift level. The ultramarine sector gave the player a highly demanded talent in their local community and turned them into an unparalleled master of the field, the best in the entire history of the world.
But the most desirable, and Luca felt it intensely, sensing the payoff, was the gold sector. The golden section of superpowers, gleaming as it reflected the sun’s golden rays. Each of those powers could violate the laws of physics and magic and act in opposition to all. Full invulnerability with no magic shields or armor, teleportation to any point on the planet, perfect invisibility, incredible strength and power that could bring down mountains with a single touch...
The chance of getting a sector like that was close to zero no matter how many times you span the Wheel. Every traveler lucky enough to get that coveted sector reached incredible heights in the world where they got it.
There was also a purple sector, the only one on the entire Wheel. At least, so said the rumors among the travelers. Esk had never seen it, though he’d tried his luck many times.
Glimmer by glimmer, idea by idea, step by step; that was how Esk slowly revealed the truth of the world to the boy, let him come to realize what had happened to come, so that sooner or later, they could achieve a full meld and live as a single individual.
Luca took a deep breath and touched the Start button.
Slowly, almost screeching into motion, the Wheel started to build up speed. The starting sector rolled past Luca, after which came a run of white sectors, then the flash of a gold sector, another group of whites, then red, white, white, more red, white, white, white, blueish...
The Wheel span faster and faster, building up to such a speed that the colors of the sectors merged into a single rainbow blur before Luca. He saw nothing, and both Luca and Esk lost control over their body. As the Wheel span, time stopped across the entire Universe, and only the consciousness of the player spinning it remained active, so that they might see the outcome with their own eyes.
Luca lost track of time when the mottled blur finally became clearer, then even clearer, finally reforming into the colors of sectors as they raced past.
A row of white... blue... white...
The Wheel slowed its pace...
Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is a literary agent and a science fiction writer, author of 13 novels. An ex-paratrooper, he used his military knowledge and experience to write his debut novels for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a bestselling science fiction action adventure series set in a post-apocalyptic Chernobyl.
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