This earlier question about a seemingly trivial change preventing a nuclear war made me remember a short story I read more than 20 years ago.

In the story, there are 2 intelligences (it is not clear if they have any physical form) that are able to randomly access time. They take turns making a few minor changes to human history and observing the results. I think the story starts with them picking which outcome each is playing for, and then one stating that it will go first.

The first makes a few changes (details forgotten), and they observe that the result is Earth becomes a nuclear wasteland. Then the other takes its turn; as best I recall it makes 3 changes. The one I remember most clearly is that it kills Cato the Elder (by some medical condition like a stroke or aneurysm) before yet another "Carthago delenda est". (The implication being that the 3rd Punic war is averted.) The other 2 changes were similarly minimal, but I have only an impression that they may have involved other historical figures.

Fast-forwarding, the intelligences find a thriving space-going civilization, and the first congratulates the second, remarking that it had not expected such small changes to have such a large effect.

The story ends with one suggesting to the other "best 2 of 3?"

This may be a conflation with another story, but they may have picked the outcome each was playing for in terms of "blood" (life) and "dust" (death).

I definitely read this more than 20 years ago, but probably less than 30. It was most likely in an anthology, since I didn't have many single-author collections at that point. (But I can't rule that out, or that I might have read it in a magazine like IASFM or Analog.)

  • Note: I was actually fairly confident about "blood" and "dust" but had absolutely no luck searching on those terms, so I started to doubt them.
    – DavidW
    Jan 3, 2019 at 18:52
  • The title alone made me think you were talking about Doctor Who.
    – user97938
    Jan 4, 2019 at 4:06

1 Answer 1


This is Roger Zelazny's "The Game of Blood and Dust". It seems like a good match. There are two intelligences, Blood and Dust, and they take turns making changes to history. They are alien, I guess.

To my surprise, I found the text of the story online.

The story begins:

They drifted towards the Earth and took up stations at its Trojan points. They regarded the world, its two and a half billion inhabitants, their cities, their devices.

The last couple of lines are:

"Best two out of three?"

"All Right. I am Blood. I go first."

...And I am Dust. I follow you."

The death of Cato the Elder is another of the changes one of them makes to history.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.