We’re breaking some new territory today and introducing concepts at which we’ve only partially hinted thus far. Somehow, it seemed appropriate right after All Hallow’s Eve.
(This post has been updated to correct a copy error in the attached short story. – Eevi)
A Broken Moon
In the early days of galactic mining, Terra’s moon served as a localized repository–the ONLY repository–for azothite mined from the remains of the asteroid. The primary processing facilities were each run by different world powers, though the largest was ever the N.E.E. rille in the southern hemisphere–facing away from Terra, of course. Despite Otakke warnings, azothite continued to pile high throughout caverns and craters along the moon while awaiting final transportation.
See, the older powers–the Qhurothi and the Otakke, specifically–had implored the Terran workers to ship azothite in relatively discreet quantities. Using the moon as a dumping ground, a relay station, to keep the shipments small seemed a reasonable solution. An Otakke scientist, going by the name of “Nora” at the time, pleaded with anyone who would listen that it was still a mistake, to slow down the shipments if necessary. And, of course, with the backing of the Hegemony, the Terrans proceeded anyway.
The problem was simple: no one race, besides the Otakke, had ever had access to such vast, seemingly endless quantities of azothite at once. How could they know the dangers? Sure; the Qhurothi knew that a large amount might be dangerous to ship–vasts amounts of energy being expelled in such close quarters with the most volatile material in the universe while ripping along at ludicrous speeds just sounds like a mistake. Thus, they backed the Terran’s storage plan against Nora’s outcry, thinking it the most reasonable way to ensure their own access to the element as well.
A decade or so before the launch of the Mercenary Initiative, a wealthy family from the N.A.A. sent representatives to inspect a new research facility that had been experimenting in secret–trust a human to make the worst possible safety decision in the name of potential profit. In due course, an accident happened, forever changing life all over North America.
Antimony is an odd element, particularly in alchemy. The energy created when combined with catalyzed azothite can encourage natural life, healing, growth. Left unchecked and uncontrolled, however, it kills, eats away at the flesh, and can deforest a huge area in a matter of days. Naturally, despite being relatively scarce, it’s the N.A.A. element of choice.
The family’s inspection detail included ACS-equipped guards and equipment–pirates aren’t as common this side of the asteroid belt, but incidents are bound to occur when so much metaphorical wealth is stockpiled in one location. As these things happen, a member of that detail panicked after being accidentally being spaced. Meaning to launch a grappling hook to pull himself back to the surface, he discharged the full might of his antimony-laced weaponry, blowing his suit in the process.
The energy rained down upon the research facility, itself full of antimony-alloys meant for alchemy. A few days passed, mourning of the man quickly forgotten, and the howling in the depths long-since explained away as distant echoes. A few more days, and the entire research team and inspection crew fell ill–the same symptoms of metal poisoning, progressing at the same rate, no matter what was done–and the howling had grown closer, louder.
Within a week, a handful of people had recovered well enough to care for the sick as they wasted away. They barricaded the mess hall, unable to close off the lab or storage caverns. The howling thing came every night, scratching at the walls and the doors, driving them crazy. Unable to call for help, unable to leave, they slowly went mad.
Officially, the three survivors–Remi Dubois, Charles Atkins, and Katie Smith–were charged with piracy, the murders of the rest of the crew and research team, and institutionalized for collective insanity. Unofficially, the galactic world of alchemy was in shock after reviewing the meager security footage. The burst of energy, amplified by the sheer amount of azothite stockpiled below, had created a monster–a living amalgamation of azothite, antimony, and a hapless scientist in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The survivors had fought it off to their own detriment. The alchemical radiation ate away at their sanity, driving them wild. By the time a rescue team was sent for the missing inspectors, the thing was dead but still leaking subtle energy, and the survivors had mere scraps of humanity left about them. Each body, regardless of the state it was in, was taken back to North America–every single one.
Over the next few weeks, the thing’s influence impacted the land–and, specifically, antimony-based alchemists and those influenced by it. The first ‘mooncursed’ monstrosity appeared that fall–and only at night, when the moon was full, hence the name. A wolf, or a dog, originally–which, it doesn’t really matter–it preyed on other animals at first, leaving huge, irradiated messes. The first human victim survived, soon joining the bestial ranks of the mooncursed.
And on that happy note, that’s all for today! Happy November. Next week, we’ll talk more about the N.A.A., the mooncursed, antimony-based alchemy, and the Appalachian Invasion.
Enjoy today’s short story! You’ve already read the name.
Queen’s Gambit Declined
Written by: Eevi
The move was a mistake–he knew that immediately. Too late, the pawn settled on c4, and, once again, his opponent smiled. How many times had he presented this opener? How many times had he lost to the counterstroke?
Perhaps chess was just not his game.
Remi shook his head in silent rebuke. No matter; he would keep trying, learning. One day, perhaps he’d win a game. Not today, not tomorrow; but, someday.
Black pawn to d5. There it was; his opener was surely doomed now. Could he find a new way to recover? A few more turns and a glance upward told him the simple truth: this game belonged to his opponent and he had no hope—not this time.
No matter. There would always be another game.
“Aweille, mon ami, it’s your turn again,” his opponent said.
Remi licked at his moustache, letting him stew a while longer. Three more moves and he was finished—just three turns separated him from yet another loss. As ready as he was to play again, the aging-young man hardly relished the oncoming defeat.
“Perhaps—mon ami,” Remi replied, voice cracking in the empty air. “Perhaps we should take a break, non?”
“It’s your turn.”
He coughed, clearing his throat of the cigarette-burn, and made his move. The response came without pause, as was expected.
“It’s your turn.”
A floorboard creaked from behind him, though he didn’t turn to look.
“Monsieur Dubois? Remi Dubois?” The voice was unfamiliar, nervous. “I come with Initiative papers–signed by Miss Radcliffe–a friend of yours, I am told. You are to report to the Lune d’Or for immediate enlistment.” Nerves were quickly replaced by heavy tension and agitation as silence responded the meek errand runner–a lapdog of the Board, as far as Remi was concerned.
“Miss Elizabeth? She is Capitaine now, oui?”
“That is correct, uh, mister–Monsieur Dubois. She’s asked for you, specifically. It caused quite a stir amongst the Board, as, uh, I am sure you can…” He trailed off–perhaps it was the deathglare Remi had sidelined him as he made his next move.
“Too easy, mon ami. It’s your turn again,” his opponent declared, voice triumphant.
Remi coughed again, drowning out the carrying-on of the errand runner–oh, why must the weak prattle? Can’t the man understand that he needs to concentrate? Why all the noise? There was always so much noise…
“Make your move, mon ami.”
“Monsieur Dubois? Uh, did–did you hear me?”
“It’s your turn.”
“You lose, I win. Take your turn.”
“Monsieur Dubois! Are you–”
Remi swiped the board away, sending it crashing to the floor, pieces scattered and broken. As he turned back, his grotesque, deformed hand, ever-fused to the remains of his combat suit, clawed at the bars of his unbreakable cage, unable to reach the source of his irritation. He bit at the air—once, twice—tasting the little man’s fear, and the ionized sting of azothite as his caretakers readied their batons.
“I win, mon ami,” his opponent once again declared, his voice echoing inside Remi’s mind in silence. “I always win.”
“But not yet, mon ami,” Remi replied aloud, his good hand straightening a non-existent neck-tie. “My friends, I am ready to go—at your convenience.” He turned his back upon them once more, stooping down to pick up the pieces of his chess set. He could feel their eyes staring at him in wild bewilderment as he scoured the floors of his solitary confinement.
The white queen was destroyed, but the king remained intact. Ah well; perhaps Liz would be kind enough to obtain a new one for him. If she intended to use him, that was the least she could do in return.
They were old friends, afterall.
Soon, the guards were wheeling his tiny cage out from the huge room, out towards the transport ship that would take him to the endless beyond once more. Sitting alone amongst his meager possessions, he felt his opponent breathing down his soul, as it ever did.
“It’s your turn again, mon ami.”