The Great Game
There is a little-known theory, now circulating throughout some areas of the universe, that games are vastly important to all known life-forms. It is claimed that not only do games teach the young to deal with real life, but that these games can also be shown to be directly connected to life itself. Games, it is said, are the physical manifestation of Fate.
This theory is, of course, nonsense.
Long ago, before the residents of the planet now known as Terra/Earth Four/Earth Delta/Lost Jerusalem realized they were not alone in the universe, they created a game. It was a game of strategy. A game of war. A game where two opponents tried to win over each other, not with brawn or numbers, for by the rules of the game both were equal, but by tactics.
This game was called Chess.
The game was quite simple: It was played on an eight-by-eight black-and-white checkered grid. One player was assigned all pieces of the color black, and the other was assigned white. White, for unknown reasons, always made the first move. The genius of the game was that there was no element of randomness about it: each side was given an equal number of pieces, and an equal number of each of the individual pieces. Each piece could make only certain types of moves, and thus were of varying use depending on the position in which they were placed.
White and black pieces inclusive, there were thirty-two pieces.
Half of the pieces were pawns. Pawns, always placed in front, were the expendables, the pieces that were used only as stepping stones. Once a pawn moved out into the world, it was impossible for it to be retrieved; it could only move forward. If they survived to reach the other end of the board, pawns could be "promoted," and become different, more powerful pieces. Pawns were the groundwork for the more powerful pieces to wage their war, and the game would have been less without them. Black and white each had eight pawns. This meant that there were sixteen pawns.
Silence relaxed in his cabin, enjoying the peace between shifts. He was, of course, silent, as always. He'd been mute for over three centuries, but he'd never been much of a talker anyway, and didn't miss the ability. He wasn't deaf, but even so his cabin was bereft of sound; even his breathing didn't make a sound. He could, he supposed, breathe heavily, but he had come to rely on his silence over the years. Silence, it has been said, is golden, and nobody knew this better then Silence himself.
Figures flew by faster than most people could even see them, but Thomas Tenser was not lost in the flood pouring forth from his PMD. There was something missing. He was certain. His latest idea would be a masterpiece, blending technology and magic in a way unparalleled anywhere outside the Sol Dominion. The only problem was that the thing wasn't working, and that meant that something was wrong with the design. This, of course, would not do. He was Thomas Tenser, brilliant inventor, sweetheart of the entire Mystician Empire. So he worked on into the night until he finally fell asleep in his chair. But he didn't sleep well.
Gina's eyes opened, and for the ten-thousandth time (or more) it struck her that she was in a coffin. She was not dead, nor did it look like she would be for centuries to come, but it was nonetheless a disturbing experience. Still, for Lady Asellus' sake, she would endure. She may not worship Asellus in public like Zozma, but in her heart she belonged to the Half-Mystic Queen completely. She would kill for her. Or die for her. Or anything else.
Darkness extended infinitely in every direction from the window of the small, cramped space craft Tartingill found himself in. Except for the corner of the window, where a medium-sized, but ugly, planet slowly grew larger in his vision. His new assignment: Terrenus VII. Nobody in the Mystician Empire liked Tax Collectors very much, and he suspected that Terrenus VII was no different from any other planet in that respect. Just another crappy job in a series of crappy jobs. He sighed. Still, he hoped, maybe this planet wouldnt be so bad.
Tartingill hoped, but he didnt hope very much.
Im in, Meredith whispered into the comm unit. These guys dont know how to keep a good hacker out.
Yes, yes, the voice on the other end replied, I know. Youre very talented. Now, if youre done congratulating yourself, what can you tell me? Security measures, armed guards, magic shields?
No cameras, but I wouldnt be surprised at the guards and shields. You can handle them, right? She didnt need an answer. This should be a cakewalk for you. She paused uncertainly. Be careful, okay, Janus? Janus simply snorted in reply, but Meredith was satisfied. Hed survive. She didnt want to think about what shed do if he didnt.
Candalyn Corana, known as Candy to her friends, slumped quietly in her booth in the tavern, staring out of a nearby window, her eyes glassy and her thoughts confused. Despite her oil-stained work suit, which she despised, several men at the bar were not bothering to hide their ogling of her. As usual, she didnt even notice.
It wasnt because she was very drunk, or at least not only because of that. It was because she was looking out at the stars. Here, near the center of the Galaxy, stars filled the night sky. One day, she knew, she would leave this toilet of a world, and see those stars. One day...
Rastaban could only chuckle, as he crept through the shadows of a Greystation, trying to avoid MysPol. Zozma, the conceited Mystic who had attempted to usurp Asellus authority, was now her right-hand man. He, Rastaban, who had beheld Asellus ascension with such hope, was now a wanted man, hounded throughout the Empire. Things had certainly reversed themselves. Where Rastaban was used to fine clothes and rich food, he now had to make due with clothes that smelled like food and food that tasted like clothes.
He chuckled again. If he didnt laugh at his circumstances, he knew, he might go mad. But he wasnt mad yet. He would see Asellus topple, and the Empire fall apart in the process. He would do it for justice. And revenge.
The man who called himself Malachi lay in bed, silent. He was not asleep, for he rarely slept. Instead, he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. The ceiling above him was blank, as was his room. His expression, too, was blank, except for his eyes, which even now held a feverish, piercing light. He was seeing things, as usual. Men dying, women and children crying, war and murder, and a thousand other things. The day would come, he knew, when hed see something pleasant, but he feared that day as much as he hoped for it. Until then, wherever he was, death was, or death would be.
Malachi chuckled to himself. No, he didnt need to sleep. Why sleep when you can have nightmares awake?
Newton backed slowly away from the group of armed thugs. He'd been trying to keep things low-key, but so far it hadn't been working. Apparently, nice, new clothes didn't guarantee anonymity; they guaranteed muggers. Next time, he'd buy old, ratty clothes. For now, however, it looked like he might have to resort to plan B.
He pulled up his coat-sleeve, and whispered "Right: Mode Three." There was the rasp of metal sliding on metal as the two long claws slid out of the device on his forearm. He didn't even have to turn the thing on before the muggers all went running.
"Son of a bitch," Zade muttered. She'd just discovered the worst news she'd had in months: she had a partner. Some new guy. He hadn't even been in the MIA for a week. She glanced through his file again. This time, something caught her eye that she'd missed last time. She double-checked. Disgusted, she tossed the file to the table and tried to forget about it.
Human, she couldn't help thinking. He's a fucking human!
The uniform, blue with one stripe running from the shoulder to the opposite hip, fit Acid like a glove. He smiled, proud. Little in Acids life had been worth pride, but now he had done something none of those bastards back home wouldve thought he could do. He was an Agent, now. He was the law. And, unlike every other Agent, he was Human. Human, and proud of it.
Acids smile vanished. No, not every other Agent. There was one other Human. Acids fingers curled into fists. Damn it! he thought to himself. I deserve this. Me! I should be the only Human Agent. With effort, he calmed himself. It didnt matter. He was better than Ransom. Hed prove it. Hed show them all.
Drissom woke up next to a girl hed met last night and smiled. Life was good. Much better than death had been. He no longer had to worry about getting shot, stabbed, or blown up. None of those Elosians had showed up anywhere in the Empire or in the Dominion, making Drissoms job much easier. Still smiling, he rolled over and kissed the girl, whose name he didnt remember. She woke up, and returned the kiss enthusiastically. Yeah, life was perfect.
It was cold as he walked in his simple white robe, but he didn't shiver. He was beyond something as trivial as that. Tonight, he was going to do what he'd always dreamed of: his first summoning. That, and not the cold, gave him goose-bumps. He finally reached the appointed place, and began to chant. The chants meant something, or had once in an ancient language, and he was perhaps the only person left who knew what they meant. He finished the chant, and smiled. It was working. It was working!
Darkness swept from the newly formed portal, and he was surprised at what came out.
The man who now called himself simply Rod was silent as he whirled and spun. His opponent, an impressive swordsman, was breathing hard, but Rod's breath came easily as he blocked another thrust. Finally, realizing that MysPol would be coming soon, Rod finished the battle with an economical sweep of his blade, neatly cutting through the edge of the other man's throat. He hurried back to his ship and then took off, after making sure to leave no evidence or witnesses.
Masan struggled feebly against his restraints. He'd been released from his suspended animation again, just so the scientists could study him. He was older now than he had been centuries ago. He now looked to be a teenager. He flexed his muscles, but couldn't break out. He frowned. He would wait. Even if it took centuries more, he would wait.
"Have you seen this man?"
The young human had no idea who he was, and had never seen the young man in the picture. Of course, since the picture was hand-drawn and not a photograph, it wasn't perfectly accurate, but it was close enough. The teen shrugged and shook his head, getting away from the weird man in black as quickly as he could. Thanatos frowned. No luck. He'd been searching for two years, throughout the Empire and the Dominion, and had found no sign of Rakin Guardia. But he wouldn't give up. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He'd hunted the boy down once, and he could do it again, even if he had to search the whole Galaxy, and every time period.
Later that day, while studying historical records for signs of Rakin, in case the boy was in the past, he stumbled upon something else very interesting.
The next piece was known as the Rook, though the reason for this is now lost to antiquity. It looked much like a castle. The rook was the heavy artillery. The rook was what you called in when you weren't feeling particularly subtle, but you did feel like killing something. The rook could move straight, or it could move sideways, but not diagonally. Each side had two rooks. This meant that there were four rooks.
As he sat on the bridge of his ship, the I.S.C. Sei, Prent realized he was bored. He hadn't been involved in a good battle in two years, not even a rebellion. He almost wished the Dominion would decide to attack, so he could finally do what he was born to do: defend Lady Asellus and her Empire from all forces. He was the best of the best. He'd never lost a battle. He'd even managed to beat Asellus herself in fair combat, but he wasn't sure whether or not she'd gone easy on him. Whatever the case, he still served her as faithfully as ever. He'd fight to the death for her, if necessary. All he needed was a chance to prove it.
Ildon, Captain of the I.S.C. Suzaku, didn't even bother to look up as the door to his cabin slid open. There was no sound before it slid shut, which meant that Silence was most likely inside already. With anyone else, Ildon would have listened for a sound, but he knew Silence too well for that. Ildon was too busy to look up, trying to decipher the coded message he'd just received on his PMD from Facinaturu.
"New orders coming, Silence," Ildon said simply. "Rouse the men and get ready to move out." The opening and closing of the door again was the only indication he had that Silence left. Finally, the message was fully decoded, and Ildon re-read it, just to be sure. He frowned. These orders didn't make any sense, especially for a captain of his rank. He sighed. Whether they made sense or not, he planned to follow the orders. He would serve Lady Asellus faithfully.
He didn't have to like it, though.
"Commander!" the soldier shouted. Rimune turned, impatient. He was busy. And unless they were under attack right now...
"They're attacking," the soldier continued, and that was enough for Rimune to forget about what he'd been doing and break into a dead run towards the General's quarters. His legs didn't seem to carry him fast enough, though every step carried him closer to exhaustion. Right now, he had to prepare to lead his men into battle. They couldn't fail.
In the darkness of space, something shifted. It only took a moment, but in that moment a huge mass, easily more than a hundred miles wide, appeared. It wasn't a sudden appearance. It was more like it had always been there, but nobody had been paying attention. It was like a person entering a conversation when they'd been silent up until then, and standing in front of you the whole time. The Vagabond was proud of his creation. The Orphanage. It sounded so humble, but one day it would bring them to their knees. And that was all he needed. The Orphanage was the castle from which he'd wage his war, just like he had... so long ago...
The next piece, known as the Knight, was incredibly useful... if you knew how to use it. Unlike the Rook, the Knight was anything but blunt. It was well-known for unexpected moves. The Knight could only move in an "L" shape: two spaces vertically, and one horizontally, or one space vertically and two horizontally. Thus, it was best to give Knights a good deal of room, unless you could get close enough to breach their defenses. Each side had two Knights. As such, there were four Knights.
Rana stared up at the sky apprehensively. Clouds were forming. On this planet, Tempestas, the rain could kill. And the only protection the poor colonists of this beleaguered planet had were caves, the skins of native animals... and her.
She ran a finger along the hilt of her black sword, her constant companion, the strange runes on the blade engraved in her mind. One day, when she left this planet, she'd find the sword's secret, and discover what the letters meant. One day.
Schala, daughter of Janus, sat in the passenger section of the rather small ship, staring out into space. If she concentrated, she thought, maybe she could see her sister, somewhere out there. It was Destiny. And when they met, there would be another Dance of the Blades. Sister and Sister. Thief and Knight. Right and Wrong. Then she could live happily ever after with her Prince.
Slowly, Zozma rose. His early morning devotions were over, and his mind was calm. Today would be a long day, spent training the newest recruits to the First Guard. Other than that, the rest of his day would be mostly politics, but that didn't stop him from going through his early-morning exercises. One never knew what sort of threat would come along next, and as Lady Asellus' most loyal subject, he didn't intend to take chances.
Moodily, at least as moodily as a Dashor Sai ever got, he stared through the window of the endlessly floating space station. The stars winked back at him, as if trying to cheer him up, and they very nearly succeeded. Space travel had always fascinated him, as he had been born on Makhin, or Earth 1232, as it was officially designated. He had left his homeworld in search of the thing he was missing, but so far he had not found it. Silently, he prayed for it, even though his prayers had gone unanswered for decades. Sometimes his faith wavered, especially when surrounded by unbelievers, but it always came back stronger. He was a devout Knight of the Holy Order of Kazhin. And so he continued to pray for the one thing he lacked that all of his race had.
The next piece was named the Bishop, but has also been called other things, most notably the Mage. The Bishop is, when compared to, say, the Rook, extremely sneaky and underhanded. And, unlike the Knight, the Bishop is quite capable of getting itself out of trouble. The Bishop is able to move diagonally across the board, and only diagonally. This makes for some surprising attacks, and some surprising escapes. Each player has two bishops (one confined to black squares, and one confined to white squares). In other words, there are four bishops.
At last, exclaimed a white-haired man, his arms flung out wide. Before him, a strange, human-seeming device glowed with an uncanny light. We shall have immortality!
I think not. All of the blue-robed figures in the room turned in surprise to face the intruder. He was oddly dressed, with a leather jerkin and a cape streaming out behind him as he approached. His long, blue hair somehow seemed to fit with his chalk-white skin. His eyes, with their red irises, seemed to have a light of their own, equal and opposite to that of the Mammon machine which illuminated the room.
The white-haired man, the leader of the group, sneered at him. Who do you think you are? You cannot stop us. We are going to live forever!
The intruder shook his head. Youre not going to live another five minutes.
Gaston smiled in the darkness of his personal quarters. It was nighttime, midnight to be specific. And it was black, pitch-black. It wasn't as if he missed his home, (far from it, in fact) but this planet was far too bright for him. Of course, he was using somebody else's eyes, but he still had to make an effort not to squint every time somebody turned on a lamp. And living in a live body was hard to maintain, although it was quite fun fooling an entire planet. Soon, though, they'd know who they'd been dealing with. And then he would be worshiped. Or they'd all die. Either way, he was looking forward to it.
For the first time in exactly thirty-five years, Thyme Oregano opened his eyes. For the first time in exactly thirty-five years, he remembered where he was. And for the first time in exactly thirty-five years, he screamed. Just as he had done the last nine or ten times. The orderlies who were removing him from the cryo-capsule were, of course, used to such screams, as it seemed almost all cryogenically imprisoned criminals screamed when removed. It didn't hurt, exactly. It was just the knowledge that exactly thirty-five years had passed while they had slept the time away.
Thyme's limbs sagged, and he looked utterly helpless and hopeless. He was helpless for the moment, that was true. But not hopeless. He had hope. He had a habit of escaping from impossible situations, and he had no doubt he'd do it again. Eventually. Maybe even soon. He waited. Where was Masan?
Rosemary Oregano slept. It was a deep sleep, far beyond the sleep of most of the living. It wasn't the sleep of the dead, either, but it certainly wasn't normal. She breathed about once every twenty minutes. But while her body was still, her mind moved right along, her dreams bright and hopeful where her reality was not. She wanted to escape, but also didn't want to. She wished that she had Thyme's ability for getting out of tight spots, but she knew she didn't.
Oh, Thyme, she thought in her dream, Why aren't you here? Why couldn't you be here to help me figure out what to do? And she slept.
The Queen was originally only somewhat powerful, being able to move one space in any direction. However, at some point the rules changed and the Queen became an exceptionally powerful piece, able to move infinitely in any direction. This piece was used to perfectly complement the King. Each side had only one Queen, meaning that there were two.
The Lady Asellus sat on her large throne, idly sipping a red, thick wine. She was alone with her thoughts for the moment, and she wished that she wasn't. She didn't really trust herself alone. Her thoughts sometimes seemed to move in strange ways.
One would think that, being the ruler of an Empire, she'd be extraordinarily busy, but such was not the case. She was rarely consulted except on matters of great importance, which was how she preferred it. Asellus loved all of the perks of being a ruler, not to mention living forever, but she abhorred all of the boring politics involved.
The sound of a door sliding open drew her attention. A Princess walked in, eyes downcast. She was sweeping. Asellus didn't know why, but she preferred to have Princesses act as her personal servants. Maybe it was just paranoia. After all, the Princesses would sacrifice themselves for her, so they presumably made excellent bodyguards. However, something told her that her reasoning was different. Something told her that she knew the reason, if she would only admit it.
That something began to tell her more, and she quickly pulled a small vial of clear liquid from a pocket. She poured it into her wine and took a long gulp. The something soon faded away, leaving her alone with her thoughts and the quietly sweeping Princess. Asellus said nothing, simply stared at the Princess as she did her duty. She frowned. Ruling an Empire was hard enough without hearing the voice of a dead man.
It was enough to drive a person crazy.
Fear. The young woman woke up in a cold sweat and immediately sat up. It was dark, and there didn't seem to be anyone around.
She began to quietly panic. She felt so... odd. Not quite whole. As if a vital part of her was missing. Besides that, she also felt pain; she felt cuts and bruises all over, as well as what she instantly recognized as phantom pains from a missing hand. What scared her was not that she was missing a hand (or indeed, her whole forearm). What scared her was that she couldn't remember losing it in the first place. In fact, she couldn't even remember her name.
She searched her mind, closing her eyes (at this point she realized that she only had one), trying to find some memory that went further back than waking up in this bed. But she only met with horrible, depressing failure.
She soon fell back into a fitful sleep, occasionally murmuring a name hidden deep in her mind. Watching her, nobody would ever realize that her day was soon to come. She would be a villain, a heroine, a lover, a killer, and many other things. And to many, she'd be a beacon of hope.
Finally, and most importantly, was the King. The King was the vital piece of the game; once it was lost, so was the game. The King wasn't always the most powerful character, but it was more important than any other. Everything depended on the King. The King, if necessary, could fight and destroy any piece but another King. Both sides had one King, so there were two.
Bal jumped at a sudden sound from off in the trees, but nothing jumped out and tried to kill him and his comrades, so he kept walking. The Imperial Army had, quite accidentally, discovered this binary solar-system less than two weeks ago, and had quickly claimed credit for the find. As such, the Army would have more say in the future of this planet than MysPol or the MIA... as long as they investigated it themselves.
Bal was just beginning to wonder why they hadn't been attacked by any wild animals for the last mile (this planet had a diverse range of dangerous animals that didn't know a Mystic from a rabbit) when he and the rest of his team suddenly broke into a clearing. This was a big enough surprise, as almost all of the planet they had seen so far was forest. The bigger surprise was the simple wooden hut, built on stilts, standing right in front of them. This was a surprise because the planet had, according to all indications, proven uninhabited.
Another surprise was the Human, or at least humanoid, that suddenly walked out of the forest not too far from them, carrying on his shoulder an animal, the kind that the squad had only just managed to escape from intact. He was armed only with a simple spear. His clothes were mostly rags, except for a few articles which looked hand-woven from some of the local plant-life. The man's blond hair was long, too long for his age; the end dragged on the ground.
As he approached the hut that presumably belonged to him, he paused to look at them. Quietly, unsurprised by the sudden appearance of Imperial Soldiers, he said, "Dorfray. Veran ter Elosia. Dors perose rontile fera tekkan?"
For a moment, silence reigned, until Bal suddenly recognized what he was hearing. "Hey, that language sounds familiar..."
The strange man nodded and closed his eyes. He shook his head slightly, as if disagreeing with something. After a moment he opened his eyes and said, "Hello. I am from Elosia. Would you get me a ride off of this planet?"
The man who had identified himself only as Connor smiled. I see, he said. Tenrod could not tell if this Connor was mocking him or if his tone was always so condescending. Connor gave him no chance to consider the idea. And how many do you believe you will need?
Tenrod leaned back, thinking. That depends, he replied, on how strong they are. Whats the ratio? Two-to-one? Three-to-one?
Surprisingly, Connor chuckled. My dear Colonel... You saw it out there, did you not?
Tenrod nodded. Yeah. It looked strong, but I have little feel for magic. How powerful is this thing? Really?
This time, Connor laughed out loud. Colonel, I know about the twenty men you had stationed outside, just in case you needed backup. Tenrods blood ran cold, but Connor continued. And Im afraid I must tell you that it was an unnecessary waste. Your men are dead, Colonel.
Tenrod flinched. You mean... Just one?
Connors smile was cold. Yes, Colonel. Just one of my creations killed all of your men, and they didnt even get a chance to reach you over the radio.
Ill take it, Tenrod replied, And any others you have. Connor only nodded, as if he had expected nothing less. It occurred to Tenrod at that moment that perhaps this Connor was more dangerous than that thing outside.
The pieces are all in place. Let the game begin.