Rule ̶#̶2̶ #1: Wormholes are off-limits.

Same goes for temporal rifts, time loops, stellar vortices and all other space-time distortions that could create pocket dimensions, time bubbles or other means of escaping the exact here and now of the game. This used to be Rule #2, but I moved it up to Rule #1 after Strylx-B got eirself stuck on the other side of a wormhole when e stowed away on a cargo ship that encountered an electric storm, forcing it to land and undergo repairs. It took three whole days to get e back, and by then I had declared Round 1 over and stricken three players from the board. Another time, we lost Niza when an Invisipod™ timer malfunctioned and trapped her inside a cloaked temporal distortion field for more than 39 hours while we completed Round 2 without her. If it hadn’t been for Niza’s water-reclamation suit, her ocular membranes would have dehydrated after hour 13.

Rule ̶#̶1̶ #2: Anything within 10,000 kilometres of the station is fair game.

This includes the Jerix asteroid belt, the refuelling station, Spaceways 1 through 73 and all taxiing vehicles therein, any spaceship within that 10,000-kilometre radius, and all three Keranian moons (but not Keran itself). Note: this does not include the Keran–Jerix wormhole, which, although within playable game radius on our end, terminates some 33,000 light years away in a commercial sector of the galaxy outside the boundaries of the playing field. Also note: several players have cleverly endeavoured to bend this rule by hovering inside the mouth of the wormhole in an Invisipod™ or a hidden vessel. However, that is both inadvisable and extremely dangerous, as wormhole traffic is known to fluctuate wildly and is not strictly regulated (see also Rule ̶#̶2̶ #1). Also also note: those same clever players have attempted to further bend the rules by artificially bending space-time to generate temporal anomalies within the spaceship. Again, this is both dangerous and inadvisable, and also not within the spirit of the game, so please knock it off. I’m looking at you, Strylx-B.

Rule #3: Five dings and you’re out.

Simple as that. If a competitor touches you or the attire on your person, it counts as a ding. When you accumulate five total dings, you’re considered out for the round. Note: final determination of which players proceed to the next round is based on the order in which players become ‘out’ — in other words, the last player standing plus the previous players to be considered out will proceed from Round 1 to Round 2, and so on, until only two players take part in the final round. Here is where the game is most interesting. One-on-one, players must be wily, creative and at times gravity-defying to score a ding without putting themselves at risk. I’ve seen Mrel jump 16 feet into the air and grab a moving pylon on Loading Dock B5 to avoid a ding. Once, a pair of Yaxurian shapeshifters faced off in the final round but could not land a single ding on each other because their bodies reshaped themselves to avoid all touch. Imagine trying to punch someone in the chest only to find your fist in the centre of a doughnut hole where their flesh used to be — not fun. Eventually, the Yaxurians had to call a stalemate.

Rule #4: Never stay in one place too long.

Sound advice that has been elevated to the level of a rule because certain players (you know who you are!) have been caught gaming the system by leaving encrypted clues as to the whereabouts of hidden competitors, resulting in mass disqualifications from multiple players all descending at once on a concealed individual and dinging everyone at the same time. It was impressive the first time, Niza, but that second time was just annoying, and there won’t be a third.

Rule #5: Weapons are not allowed and will result in immediate and permanent player bans.

Exceptions will be made for mobility aids, wearable devices and/or bodymods that include built-in self-defence mechanisms, providing such mechanisms are not weaponized against competitors outside of self-defence situations. Thankfully, players have never attacked each other before, and because I want to keep it that way, this rule will stand indefinitely. Do not argue with me about it. Mandates like this exist for a reason, Mrel.

Rule #6: If you’re ill, send a hologram in your place.

All holograms should have their corporeal-matter function engaged so that other players can ding them without accidentally passing through their incorporeal forms. Note: if this holofeature is not turned on, any passage through the hologram will still count as a ding. It will just feel a bit weird, like that time I felt the pale, luminous spectre of a second heart beating around my own. For days after, I traced the outline of it in my mind, noting bumps and curves in the muscle, an extra valve where my heart has only one. Whose was it? A girl in stasis en route to a hospital eight light years away. A neural link to her pod generated the hologram, which could explore the station while her parents’ ship refuelled. She said it was a rare form of cancer that attacked myocardial tissues. She didn’t get to play much. We only had one game. One touch. But sometimes, once is enough.

The story behind the story

Ruth Joffre reveals the inspiration behind A girl invents a game.

One of my coping mechanisms during the pandemic has been buying games. Tabletop games. Computer games. Any type of game. I find it soothing, as though I’m buying myself a moment of happiness. That’s what games bring: a burst of joy, a new reality with a different set of rules and, sometimes, a different cast of characters. Some of my favourite moments in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (another pandemic coping mechanism) are when Jake and Nog just get to be kids and play on the station. I had that in mind while writing this story. I think we sometimes forget, when building these vast universes in our fiction, that this is always happening in the background: kids playing, shouting, skinning their knees. I wanted to focus on that. Remind myself to have fun.