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Split Infinity

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Split Infinity

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Author: Piers Anthony
Publisher: Del Rey, 1980
Series: Apprentice Adept: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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(44 reads / 17 ratings)


On the technological, decadent world of Proton, someone was trying to destroy Stile, serf and master Gamesman. His only escape lay in Phaze, a world totally ruled by magic. Soon he learned that his alternate self had already been murdered, and that he was next. On Proton, his fate depended on winning the great Games. On Phaze, he must master magic to survive. And if he used any magic at all, his friends were determined to kill him at once!




He walked with the assurance of stature, and most others deferred to him subtly. When he moved in a given direction, the way before him conveniently opened, by seeming coincidence; when he made eye contact, the other head nodded in a token bow. He was a serf, like all of them, naked and with no physical badge of status; indeed, it would have been the depth of bad taste to accord him any overt recognition. Yet he was a giant, here. His name was Stile.

Stile stood one point five meters tall and weighed fifty kilograms. In prior parlance he would have stood four feet, eleven inches tall and weighed a scant hundredweight or eight stone; or stood a scant fifteen hands and weighed a hundred and ten pounds. His male associates towered above him by up to half a meter and outweighed him by twenty-five kilos.

He was fit, but not extraordinarily muscled. Personable without being handsome. He did not hail his friends heartily, for there were few he called friend, and he was diffident about approaches. Yet there was enormous drive in him that manifested in lieu of personal warmth.

He walked about the Grid-hall of the Game-annex, his favorite place; beyond this region he reverted to the nonentity that others perceived. He sought competition of his own level, but at this hour there was none. Pairs of people stood in the cubicles that formed the convoluted perimeter of the hall, and a throng milled in the center, making contacts. A cool, gentle, mildly flower-scented draft wafted down from the vents in the ceiling, and the image of the sun cast its light on the floor, making its own game of shadows.

Stile paused at the fringe of the crowd, disliking this forced mixing. It was better when someone challenged him.

A young woman rose from one of the seats. She was nude, of course, but worthy of a second glance because of the perfection of her body. Stile averted his gaze, affecting not to be aware of her; he was especially shy with girls.

A tall youth intercepted the woman. "Game, lass?" How easy he made it seem!

She dismissed him with a curt downward flip of one hand and continued on toward Stile. A child signaled her: "Game, miss?" The woman smiled, but again negated, more gently. Stile smiled too, privately; evidently she did not recognize the child, but he did: Pollum, Rung Two on the Nines ladder. Not in Stile's own class, yet, but nevertheless a formidable player. Had the woman accepted the challenge, she would probably have been tromped.

There was no doubt she recognized Stile, though. His eyes continued to review the crowd, but his attention was on the woman. She was of average height--several centimeters taller than he--but of more than average proportions. Her breasts were full and perfect, unsagging, shifting eloquently with her easy motion, and her legs were long and smooth. In other realms men assumed that the ideal woman was a naked one, but often this was not the case; too many women suffered in the absence of mechanical supports for portions of their anatomy. This one, approaching him, was the type who really could survive the absence of clothing without loss of form.

She arrived at last. "Stile," she murmured.

He turned as if surprised, nodding. Her face was so lovely it startled him. Her eyes were large and green, her hair light brown and light-bleached in strands that expanded about her neck. There was a lot of art in the supposedly natural falling of women's hair. Her features were even and possessed the particular properties and proportions that appealed to him, though he could not define precisely what these were. His shyness loomed up inside him, so that he did not trust himself to speak.

"I am Sheen," she said. "I would like to challenge you to a Game."

She could not be a top player. Stile knew every ranking player on every age-ladder by sight and style, and she was on no ladder. Therefore she was a dilettante, an occasional participant, possibly of some skill in selected modes but in no way a serious competitor. Her body was too lush for most physical sports; the top females in track, ball games, and swimming were small-breasted, lean-fleshed, and lanky, and this in no way described Sheen. Therefore he would have no physical competition here.

Yet she was beautiful, and he was unable to speak. So he nodded acquiescence. She took his arm in an easy gesture of familiarity that startled him. Stile had known women, of course; they came to him seeking the notoriety of his company, and the known fact of his hesitancy lent them compensating courage. But this one was so pretty she hardly needed to seek male company; it would seek her. She was making it look as if he had sought and won her. Perhaps he had, unknowingly: his prowess in the Game could have impressed her enough from afar to bring her to him. Yet this was not the type of conquest he preferred; such women were equally avid for Game-skilled teeners and grayheads.

They found an unoccupied cubicle. It had a column in the center, inset with panels on opposite sides. Stile went to one side, Sheen on the other, and as their weights came on the marked ovals to the floor before each panel, the panels lighted. The column was low, so Stile could see Sheen's face across from him; she was smiling at him.

Embarrassed by this open show of camaraderie, Stile looked down at his panel. He hardly needed to; he knew exactly what it showed. Across the top were four categories: PHYSICAL--MENTAL--CHANCE--ART, and down the left side were four more: NAKED--TOOL--MACHINE--ANIMAL. For shorthand convenience they were also lettered and numbered: 1--2--3--4 across the top, A--B--C--D down the side. The numbers were highlighted: the Grid had given him that set of choices, randomly.


Stile studied Sheen's face. Now that she was in the Game, his opponent, his diffidence diminished. He felt the mild tightening of his skin, elevation of heartbeat, clarity of mind, and mild distress of bowel that presaged the tension and effort of competition. For some people such effects became so strong it ruined them as competitors, but for him it was a great feeling that drew him back compulsively. He lived for the Game!

Even when his opponent was a pretty girl whose pert breasts peeked at him just above the column. What was passing through her mind? Did she really think she could beat him, or was she just out for the experience? Had she approached him on a dare, or was she a groupie merely out for a date? If she were trying to win, she would want to choose ART, possibly MENTAL, and would certainly avoid PHYSICAL. If she were on a dare she would go for CHANCE, as that would require little performance on her part. If she wanted experience, anything would do. If she were a groupie, she would want PHYSICAL.

Of course she could not choose among these; he had the choice. But his choice would be governed in part by his judgment of her intent and ability. He had to think, as it were, with her mind, so that he could select what she least desired and obtain the advantage.

Now he considered her likely choice, in the series she did control. A true competitor would go for NAKED, for there was the essence of it: unassisted personal prowess. One wanting experience could go for anything, again depending on the type of experience desired. A dare would probably go for NAKED also; that choice would be part of the dare. A groupie would certainly go for NAKED. So that was her most likely choice.

Well, he would call her bluff. He touched PHYSICAL, sliding his hand across the panel so she couldn't tell his choice by the motion of his arm.

Her choice had already been made, as anticipated. They were in 1A, PHYSICAL/NAKED.

The second grid appeared. Now the categories across the top were 1. SEPARATE--2. INTERACTIVE--3. COMBAT--4. COOPERATIVE, and down the side were A. FLAT SURFACE--B. VARIABLE SURFACE--C. DISCONTINUITY--D. LIQUID. The letters were highlighted; he had to choose from the down column this time. He didn't feel like swimming or swinging from bars with her, though there could be intriguing aspects to each, so the last two were out. He was an excellent long-distance runner, but doubted Sheen would go for that sort of thing, which eliminated the flat surface. So he selected B, the variable surface.

She chose 1. SEPARATE: no groupie after all! So they would be in a race of some sort, not physically touching or directly interacting, though there were limited exceptions. Good enough. He would find out what she was made of.

Now the panel displayed a listing of variable surfaces. Stile glanced again at Sheen. She shrugged, so he picked the first: MAZE PATH. As he touched it, the description appeared in the first box of a nine-square grid.

She chose the second: GLASS MOUNTAIN. It appeared in the second square.

He placed DUST SLIDE in the third square. Then they continued with CROSS COUNTRY, TIGHTROPE, SAND DUNES, GREASED HILLS, SNOW BANK, and LIMESTONE CLIFF. The tertiary grid was complete.

Now he had to choose one of the vertical columns, and she had the horizontal rows. He selected the third, she the first, and their game was there: DUST SLIDE.

"Do you concede?" he asked her, pressing the appropriate query button so that the machine would know. She had fifteen seconds to negate, or forfeit the game.

Copyright © 1980 by Piers Anthony


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