Ruby solved the Rubik's Cube in five seconds flat.
She tossed it into the basket with its ninety-nine brothers and pressed the pause button on her stopwatch: eight minutes and thirty-three seconds.
She reclined on the sofa and sighed. 'Not good enough.'
She'd been solving puzzles all night in preparation for the World Puzzle Championship the following day. Logic toys, playing cards, and board games were scattered about her room. No matter how much she practised, however, she still felt inadequate in comparison to Ulrich Voigt, the German ten-time World Puzzle Champion. He made her feel a mix of determination, anger, fear, envy, joy, and implacable curiosity every time she watched him play.
Ruby looked up at a lonely star through the window. What she really needed was an anime-style puzzle death game to get her in the zone that Ulrich Voigt seemed to live in....
A chill wind howled in from the window.
Ruby shivered in her pyjamas, got up from the sofa, and closed it. Well, Budapest wasn't likely to deliver anything like that at 3AM in the morning; she was better off just getting some rest and hoping for the best.
She lay down on her bed, got under the covers, emptied her mind, and waited for sleep.
When Ruby woke up, she was inside a Rubik's Cube.
It was large, cube-shaped room with colourful, square-pattern walls.
Something small floated up to her. It was a little Rubik's Cube.
The Rubik's Cube had a masculine Hungarian accent. 'Hello, young lady.'
Ruby didn't know what to say.
Then it all came flooding out.
'Hello. Who are you? What is this place? What's going on? Am I dead?'
The Rubik's Cube laughed. 'A curious one, aren't you? But then I wouldn't expect anything less of a puzzler. I am Rubik, this is my Cube, and I would like you to solve it for me. You're not dead, but you will be if you don't solve my Cube within six lives. If you do, you may return safely to your own world.'
Ruby's eyes widened. 'Why are you doing this to me?'
Rubik laughed again. 'Silly girl. You wished upon a star, remember? Now, enough questions. You have three puzzles to solve. The first is how to get to the other end of the abyss.'
Ruby looked around at the empty room. 'What abyss?'
The floor parted so that there was a three meter-wide abyss to total darkness in the middle of it. Three bronze cubes the size of sofas floated up from the abyss and hovered in the air parallel to the floor.
'This abyss,' said Rubik.
Ruby stood and saw that her hands were now snow white. She pulled her sleeves back: her arms were white too. She must have been white from head to toe. Not only that, she felt oddly unemotional, focused, and determined to solve the Cube despite her distressing circumstances. Was this a part of the puzzle too?
She shrugged. Better this than freaking out.
Clearly, she was meant to jump on the bronze cubes like a character in a platform video game.
She took a run up and jumped on the first bronze cube.
She steadied herself and tensed her legs for the next jump.
Then she realised the cube was descending.
She quickly tried to jump onto the next cube, but she was too low to reach it and ended up just kicking off it instead.
She fell into darkness.
Ruby woke up where she had been sitting before.
Her skin was now blue.
Fear welled up inside her. She started to cry. 'What's going on?! Did I fail?!'
Rubik floated up from the abyss. 'Yes. You've used up one of your six lives.'
'Oh no!' Ruby wailed. For some reason, she felt terrified. 'I don't want to do this any more!'
Rubik laughed. 'You can't go back on a wish, young lady. If you quit, I'll just kill you outright.'
Ruby wiped her tears on her sleeve and stood. Clearly this Rubik was a psychopath. She looked at the bronze cubes and gulped. The problem last time was that the second she had touched the first bronze cube, it had started to sink into the abyss under her weight. Maybe if she quickly hopped from cube to cube, she could get to the other side? It was worth a try. Plus, if she waited any longer, she'd have a nervous breakdown.
Ruby took a deep breath and took a run up.
She hopped onto the first cube, hopped onto the second cube, hopped onto the third cube, slipped—and grabbed the other side before she fell into the abyss.
Panting, she pulled herself up and crawled to the far wall.
'Well done,' said Rubik. 'You have solved the first puzzle. Now for the second. Find a way to destroy the Mother Cube.'
The abyss closed up so the floor was whole again.
A big silver cube the size of a bed phased out of the ceiling.
It started to spin. It shot out dozens of flying little silver cubes which floated towards Ruby.
She screamed and ran away. The longer she ran, however, the more baby cubes the Mother Cube produced. Soon, she was trapped in a corner of the room with hundreds of baby cubes closing in on her.
A baby cube touched her hand; a cube-sized chunk of her hand vanished.
Ruby shrieked as the rest of the baby cubes closed in on her.
They ate her arms, leaving her defenceless.
They ate her legs, making her fall.
They ate her eyes, blinding her.
They ate her mouth, taking away her ability to scream.
Ruby woke up angry.
Her skin was red.
Rubik floated up to her. 'Four lives left.'
She punched the little bastard in his flat face and sent him crashing into the wall. 'FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!'
The Mother Cube phased out of the ceiling again.
This time, Ruby ran in and fly kicked it before the bitch had time to give birth. It crashed against the far wall and cracked slightly.
Ruby grinned. 'I SMELL BLOOD!'
The Mother Cube began spinning out its baby cubes. They floated towards Ruby.
She ran straight through them.
Though she lost chunks of her right shoulder, stomach, and left hip in the process, she managed to reach the Mother Cube.
Ruby hammered her fists into the big silver cube again and again and again. The spinning stopped, and the cracks spread. As the baby cubes closed in on her, she lost chunks of her left forearm, upper right leg, and even her left eye so she was half blinded. She powered on with the punches, driven by pure rage. Soon, the cracks were everywhere.
A group of baby cubes ate her left foot and made her fall.
The Mother Cube floated away.
'OH NO YOU DON'T!' Ruby kicked out her right foot and caught the Mother Cube on its corner.
The Mother Cube shattered to pieces along with its babies.
Rubik hovered up to her. 'Well done. You've solved the second puzzle. Now for the third and final puzzle. You must find a way to defeat...me!'
Rubik morphed into a tall, dark, handsome man wearing a gold suit.
It was Ulrich Voigt!
'OH, FUCK OFF!'
The floor parted between them so that there was an abyss in the middle of it again. Once more, the three bronze cubes floated up.
Rubik smirked and produced a baby cube from his pocket. 'Watch your brain!' He threw it at Ruby.
'WAIT, WAIT! I CAN'T EVEN STAND!'
The baby cube ate her brain.
Ruby woke up.
She was green with envy.
She stood and pointed at Rubik. 'Why do you get to start with the baby cube, huh?! How's that fair?! I should start with it!'
'Three lives left.' Rubik drew his arm back. 'Watch your heart!' He threw the baby cube at her.
Ruby held out her hands to block it—and caught it!
Looking at her undamaged hands in amazement, she noticed her nails were silver like the baby cube. Maybe it couldn't eat her hands in this puzzle?
She looked at Rubik. She envied the guy's throwing skills; he'd managed to fastball it at her twice, giving her no time to dodge. She couldn't replicate his talent...but she could fake it.
'Watch your brain!' She feinted throwing it at his head, grinned evilly as he held his hands high, and then threw it at his heart.
Rubik snapped his hands down and caught it. He grinned. 'Nice try! Watch your right knee!' He fastballed it at her.
Ruby leapt to her left.
The baby cube barely missed her knee.
She banged her head on the side wall and fell into the abyss.
When Ruby woke up, she was yellow, mellow, and oddly happy.
I don't know what mood I'll have on my final life, but since this one is so serene, this is probably my best chance of beating Rubik.
She scanned the room, noticed the floating bronze cubes, and smiled.
'Two lives,' said Rubik.
Ruby jumped up. 'Ready when you are, partner!'
Ruby took a run up and hopped onto the first, second, third bronze cubes—
Startled, Rubik threw the baby cube at her head.
Ruby jumped at him.
The baby cube ate her chest.
She caught Rubik by the shirt. 'You're coming with me!' She pulled him down into the abyss laughing.
Ruby woke up.
Rubik rose out of the abyss, once more a Rubik's Cube. 'Well done, young lady. You have solved the third and final puzzle and solved the Cube, albeit in a rather unorthodox manner. I really wasn't expecting you to throw one of your lives away.'
The abyss closed up so the floor was whole again.
A white door materialised on the wall.
'You may return safely to your own world now.'
Ruby exhaled. 'That's good.... But I'm curious about something, Rubik. What was the meaning behind all this?'
Rubik spun in the air. 'Come, come. A puzzle with an obvious answer is not worth solving.'
Ruby got up. 'I suppose.'
She walked over to the white door and opened it.
Ruby woke up.
She was back in her bed in Budapest.
The sun was shining in through the window.
She got up and rubbed her eyes.
What a weird dream...or at least, I hope it was a dream... Well, whatever. Now I have the right mindset to defeat and marry Ulrich Voigt!
She smiled to herself.