Their abs clenched, biceps shaking with effort. Rivulets of sweat and wood stain ran down the valleys between each mountainous muscle. Their faces were masks of agony (or was that ecstasy?) with a lock-jawed, tooth-grinding expression most people only assumed on the toilet. Beneath the rock opera and the audience's cheers, each man was fighting a silent battle. Everyone knew the stakes--it was printed on all the banners. This one was for the universe.
We'd seen the ads all over town: Ms./Mr. Universe Competition, Sunday 1pm (free admission). Of course we went. Chungju was a more happening place than we'd thought--host of the World Rowing Championship and intergalactic events. If our town was choosing humanity's representatives to the universe, then we wanted to be part of the process.
We arrived to find a hefty group of contenders prepping under a row of pop-up tents. The uniforms were... minimalist. Clearly, ideal candidates would be capable of fighting warvelbeasts on Planet Zolbar without armor and gadgetry. It was a nice touch of realism. After all, who knew whether blasterguns would even work in the Zolbarian atmosphere? Or if there'd be belts to clip the holster to? I was glad to see the event organizers taking this so seriously.
It only took a glance to get the full scope of the contestants' devotion. Their bodies were polished, waxed, and varnished until they gleamed like grandmother's highboy. Only their heads were left pale and natural, the fair skin standing out like war paint.
There were about thirty Korean men competing for Mr. Universe, along with one westerner. He was abnormally tall and pale, even as white guys go, so I figured he was a contender. Only five women vied for Ms. Universe, no doubt the result of our persistent gap in workplace equality. But at least there wasn't any age discrimination. Experience, it seemed, was as important as youth.
The stack of trophies emphasized the value of all these contestants' contribution. But the truth loomed large. There could be only one Mr. Universe.
I expected an interview segment with each candidate, perhaps a little stump speech or talent show. The judges took a more efficient route: who had the biggest pecks? Lats, triceps? If the fate of the universe depended on an arm wrestling match, these were the guys you wanted in the hot seat. It was intimidating, actually. Months and years of training had gone into each sweaty, clenched display. This was a serious event, and as the hours passed it became apparent how little I was cut out for this. Bodily perfection might trigger awe and inspiration in others; for me, it triggered a pathological need for junk food.
So we left the universe in capable hands and ducked out to fulfill our own destiny: Ms. and Mr. French Fry.