Fiction writing has become an important task as we develop the backstory for the game. We are compiling a set of works that are a mix of stories by experienced players and published authors. One of the professionals that has contributed to Takamo Universe lore is Laurence O’Bryan, a published mystery writer whose works include a trilogy of mystery novels “The Istanbul Puzzle”, “The Jerusalem Puzzle” and “The Manhattan Puzzle”. Check out his website at www.lpobryan.com.
The following story (in two parts) is an example of the kind of stories and information you will find as you research ancient archives and data cores in Takamo Universe.
Choose Your Death
By Laurence O’Bryan
He looked up. A cloud of steam puffed from the crack above. The noise it made was like a beast bellowing. The words of another cadet came back to him. The grand council is looking for a DNA mutation. A cadet with the courage of a Terran and the smarts of a Naplian.
It was the old prophecy. The Imperial science team was trying to find the DNA type of a leader who would give up his life, so they could hunt down every one with a similar kink in their double helix.
Are they studying mine right now, from the sample they took this morning? Tosspots. Why couldn’t they have, just once, sent a female cadet with the sample tube I had to fill, considering what I’m facing? Being fried like a piece of Ether Wood in a watch fire.
The sound of steam was louder now. The crack was only a few feet away. A gush of it sprang out. He could feel his aura contracting as it did, but didn’t that mean it was colder, not hotter than the surrounding area?
He reached up to the edge of the crack. The green liquid was pouring steadily over it. It slid down his arm and over his shoulder. His wristband was vibrating constantly now. He reached up with his other hand and pulled himself into a blast of steam. His wrist band stopped vibrating as the steam buffeted him, threatening to push him back down to his death.
He bent, strained his body and ended up on his hands and knees over the edge of the crack as the steam stopped. He moved forward quickly. There was a shimmering light in front of him. It was a color he rarely saw, gold, the color of the Emperor.
He stood. A large room, filled with metallic tubes, was in front of him. The tubes, coming from each corner, led to an outlet above his head about the diameter of a land cruiser. It was round and dripping green liquid when it wasn’t sending out steam. He walked past it, looked back. Another tube at the side was disgorging more green liquid over the crack. A rush of air, then steam, came out of the tube above his head and spent itself over the crack in the wall. But he felt nothing this time. He was beyond the tubes.
The implant crackled. “Take the fire in your heart, Tamur, and give it to the altar.”’
He trembled, tightened his fists, raised one.
It was the first time he’d heard that voice in three double moons. How could it be hers? She was dead. A tingling rippled through his body.
Was she alive?
He’d always believed what they’d told him. That her ship had been caught in a Briddarri raid. That it had been found a blackened hulk.
He could see her face. He’d tried hard to forget everything about her since he’d heard the news. It hadn’t been easy. Imagining her smiling always made him feel as if we were falling. He’d dreamed of embracing for too long. They never had, but it hadn’t stopped him wanting to.
When she’d passed beyond the eternal gateway he’d put all his memories away, locked them up, tight, so the longing wouldn’t destroy him.
It’s a trick, dummy.
The voice came again. “I always loved you, Tamur. Please, do this one thing for me, place the fire in your heart on the altar.”
He heard his own voice then. It was harsh, suspicious, a growl.
“How do I do that, Cherise?”
As her name escaped his lips he felt the old longing rise up fast from deep inside of him, more painful than before, because it had been buried down so far and had time to grow, fester.
“Walk to the altar. Kiss the stone, Tamur.”
That was when he saw it. A flat rock, the height of his chest, to the left, in a semi-circular alcove. He walked slowly toward it. The steam was bellowing behind him still. The alcove was lit by a soft golden glow. As he neared it he saw the glow was coming from the top of the rock.
When he got to it and looked down, his breathing slowed as he stared. The top of the rock was an aura holo-screen. Playing across it were faces. They passed by, as if walking down a busy street. Occasionally an eye glanced at him. The Naplian faces looked troubled, as if they were all going somewhere they didn’t want to go. And then, as he watched, the faces moved faster. There were so many Naplians now he couldn’t count them. They were all moving away to his right.
In the middle of the screen was a rounded stone. It shone. This had to be what she wanted him to kiss.
He leaned forward.
Is this the challenge?
Do they want to know if I can be manipulated by memory?
He pulled back. A sigh filled his ears. The rock he was about to kiss had changed. It looked like a flame.
‘Now you will die by blood. Go back down into the cave, where you came from.’ This voice was older, but still a woman’s. It was the voice of a teacher he’d had when he was very young, the one who’d beat him across the face if he forgot one word of the seven Naplian oaths of allegiance.
“I’m not going back,” he whispered.
There has to be another way out of this place.
He looked around.
‘We will punish the ones you once loved, if you don’t do as we say,’ said the voice. ‘They will pay a heavy price for your insolence. Do what you are told. Do it, now.’ The old teacher was angry.
He remembered what used to happen. His humiliation and powerlessness. He got a powerful urge to do as he was told. It was his cadet training kicking in and the way he was brought up. He shook his head, turned away from the crack, then turned back to it. Perhaps there was a way to live, if he did as he was told. Perhaps that was the way to beat this challenge.
Then he remembered. Hope springs eternal, just like death. It was one of the sayings that Naplian cadets used to throw at each other, to make themselves feel strong.
He stopped as he neared the steam tube. He’d been walking towards it, as if pulled by an invisible weight.
He closed his eyes, told his feet to stop.
“Think about what you do, Tamur, do not follow blindly. The Naplian society of your ancestors has been brought low by order following. If we are not careful we will become the Briddarii.” It was what his mother had told him, before he’d left to become a cadet.
He bent his head, swung it from side to side. No, he wasn’t going back down.
There has to be another way out.
The tubes were the only option. They came out of the walls around him. Many were big enough to crawl though.
“We have Cherise here. Do you want to hear her cry?” The voice in his ear sniggered. If it was an AI unit, it was better than the ones they used at the cadet school. A few seconds later he heard Cherise’s voice again. She was pleading, sobbing.
“Please Tamur, please do what you are told.” She started crying.
He reached up for the sleek metal tube above him. He punched at it. A cold shock reverberated down his arm. The metal was freezing, far colder than he’d expected and rock hard. That wasn’t right. He looked around. Who had constructed all this?
There were rumors of Foldgate technology under the skin of Naplia. Was this what they were talking about? Control and instant manipulation of radiation, magnetism, heat, sound and light, were the signs of Foldgate engineering.
He pulled his hand back. Ignoring the pain in his knuckles, he struck again. This time he let out a shocked grunt. The metal was even colder now, as if it had reacted to being struck. He hadn’t even shaken the pipe, never mind dented it.
He heard a peal of laughter in his ear.
He scanned the roof of the room. Could he climb up using the tubes?
Maybe, if you’re luckier than you’ve ever been in your life so far.
He jumped, hooked his foot around the tube and got to his feet. The tube was freezing. He looked at his hands. He’d had to pull them away with a jerk from the tube. The skin was red, raw, like undercooked Slider meat, on his palms and fingers. A low rumbling came from the tube beneath his feet.
I’m going to fall off.
Then he saw what was vibrating the tube. A metallic cockroach was scuttling towards him from the place where the tube went into the wall. There was another one behind it. And another. They were moving fast. He turned around. There were others moving along other tubes, heading to where the tubes intersected.
He jumped off the tube. His feet slid out from under him. He was on his arse with a bang. The scuttling stopped. He looked up. Metallic cockroaches were peering over the edge of the tube, looking at him. Each of them had black eye sockets and suckers where mouths should have been.
“Yeah, you stay up there. I ain’t gonna mess with your stupid tubes no more.”
One of the cockroaches, it was bigger than the others, perhaps two foot long, jumped down beside him, righted itself with a scuttling of feet and, as he watched, came towards him. Its sucker moved in and out, as if it was smelling for him. Then another jumped down. Then more. He backed away. The wall of the room was behind him. The crack was fifty feet away. If he was fast he could make it.
Stop. These stupid little things can’t hurt me.
He stood his ground. The silver cockroaches were in a circle around him. They were moving slowly, almost hesitantly, towards him. Then a bigger one jumped at him. He felt it strike his protective aura. The cockroach’s mouth sucked at his aura. His wristband controller contracted against his skin. That was its final warning.
It’s about to fail. I won’t survive without it!
Then he felt suckers attaching all over him in a coordinated attack. Some attached themselves to his calves, his thighs, his back and chest. One tried to suck at his hand. Another came for his face. He moved just in time to avoid a sucker over his mouth. Then, at each point where a metal cockroach was attached to him he felt something wet against his skin.
He knew what it meant in an instant. The little evil buggers were sucking his blood!
“No,” he screamed. Then his voice was cut off, as a sucker attached to his mouth.
In one corner of the roof a camera pod glistened as it moved to track the movements on the floor below as the cadet Tamur flung himself down and rolled in a useless attempt to get the devices off.
“If you want to save your friend’s life, Cherise, you will do as we ask, fast, before your friend becomes a sack of dried skin and bones.” The Briddarri interrogator, his eyes slightly widened, as if he knew the moment he would break her had come, leaned right over her.
She could smell his breath. It was bad as they said, Briddarri breath, rank, with a smell of rot, because their stomachs didn’t have the long guts that Naplian stomachs had.
The Briddarri interrogator started counting.
“Un, dez, trex.”
“Stop!” Cherise screamed. “The serjaum reserve is in the gravity pool!” It was the one place that anyone who captured a star cruiser would never think to look. It was almost impossible to gain access to the pool, as it had a gravity vortex perimeter that crushed anything that breached it.
The Bridarri smiled. His two rows of green tinged teeth sparkled in the light from the energy balls floating in the steal-lined room. He raised a hand. The sucking sound that emanated from the holo screen in front of them stopped. The cockroaches that had been attached to Tamur fell away. He rose to his feet, smiling.
“Yeah, you bastards. Got you!” He did a little dance, punched the air. His voice came clearly through the holo screen.
“I win the challenge. To hell with all you. I won! Where is my prize?!” His voice rose, as he swung around staring at the walls, each in turn.
A hum came from the holo screen as an anti-grav plate flew towards him.
In the Briddarri interrogation room, Cherise’s head slumped. Six double moons had passed, during which she’d held out. It was only when she’d seen proof that Tamur had been chosen for the challenge that she’d agreed to come and watch. She glanced down at the heavy boots the Briddarri interrogator wore. One of them was tapping the metal floor.
That was when she heard the scuttling.
“Tamur!” she screamed, as the first sucker struck her thigh.
What does this mean for Takamo Universe players?
Running an empire in Takamo Universe requires knowledge of the past as well as a firm grasp on the events and politics of the present. Stories like “Choose Your Death” by Laurence O’Bryan are part of the fabric of the galaxy. Be sure to check out Laurence O’Bryan’s published works at www.lpobryan.com.