In Which the Game is an Appendage
“What would you do if you could do anything?”
I can do anything.
Mr. Thorne is enjoying his pudding. There’s a film over it – the chocolate-ish substance looks like an oil slick with rainbow swirls.
How old is that pudding?
“What would you do if you found out you were meant to do something?”
You mean like destiny? I don’t believe in it.
Thorne smacks his pudding, swishing it in his mouth like he’s tasting wine.
That old pudding you are eating.
“Perhaps I was meant to eat it,” he says, shoveling another shaky spoonful into his mouth. “New pudding sounds scary.”
Are you making a point?
“What would you do if you didn’t have to do anything?” he asks with a smile, pushing brown liquid through the gaps in his teeth.
“No man needs nothing.”
Adventure of the Prime Machine
Epilogue: Bigger Game
The homeworld of the Huulanix race was a desert planet called Hiilax. The natives of Hiilax were reflections of the harsh and arid world from which they sprang billions of years before they grew into the advanced space-faring race they were destined to become. Gigantic crags stabbed through seas of grey desert sand and formed far reaching, impassable mountain ranges across the landscape. Under grey-orange skies, the Huulanix race eked out a meager living for billions of years, barely surviving in the few oases found in valleys of the great ranges.
The menagerie of dominant species of Hiilax were a study in predatory superiority and extreme adaptability. Visitors to Hiilax would wonder why no flora or fauna could be observed in the wild – until they were sudden attacked by a vicious Krathricx beast, which they had mistaken for a rock. The plant life was just as vicious. Juniklk trees resembled Earth’s cacti, but grew extremely wide root systems that radiated out under the sands from the visible part of the plant. The Juniklk sensed vibrations of movement over their root systems and could shift those roots with such violence as to displace huge amounts of desert sand in an instant, trapping prey both by entangling it and burying it. Such root systems grew so vast, it sometimes happened that one could not see the the tree before they were already being sensed by its roots.
The Huulanix themselves took several million years to band together into sentient tribes. They evolved from a highly efficient carnivore that resembled Earth’s ratel. Over millenia, these beasts grew armored plating over vital organs, developed astounding limb strength and agility, and built up nearly invincible immune systems and endurance. They were the pinnacle of evolution for thousands upon thousands of years.
During one era of Hiilax’s planetary evolution, the world suffered a prolonged ice age, and many dominant species were wiped out. However, it was the fierce ancestors of the Huulanix that adapted to pack hunting, both for greater success against rarer prey and for cannibalism when necessary. Over the centuries, the pack mentality grew until the ice receded and the world grew arid once more. With the passing of the ice age, species that had died out were replaced by different, more suitably adapted ones. The ancestors of the Huulanix became extremely successful. Packs grew into tribes, tribes built villages, villages grew into cities, and the future of the Huulanix as the pinnacle species of the planet was set in stone.
As civilized beings, the Huulanix developed a penchant for games. Though the desert was ever-changing, the need of entertainment to break the monotony of the sand and rocks grew until it became the centerpiece of tradition for the race over their long development into an advanced civilization.
Thus, the Huulanix gamers came to be.
Oba Fortux was the most successful Huulanix gamer of the modern age. His Talyf Djani Gaming Expo was the largest construction ever completed on the planet’s surface. Billions of beings from across the galaxy came through his Expo to partake in the most advanced – and expensive – games of entertainment ever devised. The pyramidal building rose above the desert as high as some of the lofty peaks of the dagger-like mountain ranges. The massive complex could be observed via telescope from three neighboring planets.
But now, Oba Fortux had a problem. A descendant of the great carnivorous race of the planet’s long history, he had grown extensive armor plates, like chitin, over his shoulders, chest, and skull. This still left some weak points – chinks in the armor. Oba’s biggest weak spot was his greed.
“How long until we can go live on the newest miniverse?” Oba asked his advisors.
The great Huulanix gamer lord stood staring out of the highest tower of the geosynchronous orbital platform he used as a corporate headquarters. He sneered at the continual flux of spaceships going to and from the massive Expo below him on the planet’s surface. In his mind, he told himself it wasn’t as many as it should be.
“We’re having some issues getting the physical laws to stabilize. All our attempts have had flaws that cause the miniverse to collapse after only a few minutes,” one of the advisors stated.
Oba’s massive neck cracked as he twisted his head around to stare at his assembled Advisory Panel.
Quietly, he stalked over to the advisor that had spoke.
“Are you or are you not the greatest Physics expert in the galaxy?” Oba asked calmly.
The advisor cringed at the proximity of the gamer lord. “Y-yes, Oba. There is no one better.”
“So would you say you have an intimate relationship with the physical laws of space?”
“Uh, y-yes, my lord,” the advisor stammered.
Oba nodded exaggeratedly and grabbed the advisor by the front of his robes. Calmly and quietly he pulled the gaunt advisor to the window overlooking the planet below.
“In my experience, there is always a bigger fish,” Oba grunted. “I think you should become more intimate with the physics of this system. What do you think?”
The advisor’s eyes widened in horror. Before he could scream Oba threw him through the window, shattering it and opening the tower to the vacuum of space. The rest of the advisory panel dove for something to hang on to as air evacuated the gamer lord’s office. Oba braced himself and moved only a few inches toward the shattered glass before the orbital platforms environmental controls slammed a blastshield down over the opening.
As the rest of advisors gasped for air, Oba walked over to his ornate desk and activated a communications channel with the transit authority. “Prepare me a shuttle to Master Control.”
“Since the collapse of the the primary miniverse, we’ve been looking for ways to prevent participants from gaining the ability to affect certain universal laws,” the Lead Technician explained to Oba. “However, we’ve noticed an alarming number of gaps in the laws that we cannot close. Even the Prime Machine cannot effect the changes required to close those gaps.”
Oba’s hands clenched in fury, his claws sliced gouges in his palm as his stood fuming. His analytical mind was calculating the loss of the new miniverse not being online yet. In his head, he could see money pouring out from the planet and into deep space.
“I thought the Prime Machine was infallible. In fact, I thought our entire system was absolutely infallible. And yet, you tell me that we can’t even control the simplest physical settings?” Oba barked.
“My lord, it is not an issue with our systems, it is an issue with the technology given to us by the -”
“What a convenient excuse. Blame the salesmen,” Oba sneered. “You and I both know we’ll never see them again.”
Oba sneered with disdain at the massive metallic sphere that held the miniature universe forming the centerpiece of his gaming empire. Months ago he had suffered incalculable losses as the prototype game was destroyed by one of the participants. In addition, governments from several systems had levied sanctions on the gaming planet for the deaths of players that had occurred while in the massive game. Among the most influential of the planets now advocating the termination of the Prime Machine was Dreides VII, the homeworld of the gamer who had collapsed the gaming miniverse.
A messenger entered into the control room as Oba pondered which technicians he would kill today for the delay.
“Lord Oba, you have visitors.”
“I am not to be disturbed!” Oba shouted, playing with the idea of ripping the messengers head off and pummeling a technician with it.
“My Lord, they bear an Imperial Inspection Decree.”
If Oba’s mottled grey scales could pale, they would have. “Bring them in,” Oba said, less viciously.
Instead of the usual Inspection Team he expected to see, only a young red-haired human female entered.
Oba’s scaly eyebrow raised slightly.
“What is a human doing on a Huulanix Imperial Inspection Team?” Oba asked suspiciously.
“Yes, well,” the girl stammered. “Foreign exchange program.” Quickly, she flashed a sheet of paper in a small leather case at him. It definitely looked like an Imperial Inspection Decree, but Oba felt something was amiss.
“Leave us,” Oba commanded to the technicians, who quickly obeyed and thanked their gaming gods for the reprieve.
Soon Oba and the girl were alone. “Did you come alone?” he said, moving to stand close to her.
“My associates are inspecting another area at the moment,” she said nervously. “They’ll be along shortly. In fact, any second now.”
“I’m not usually fond of the human form, but you are an overly attractive example of your race. What is your name?” he said seductively, circling around her, admiring her fit body.
“Amy Pond,” she stated flatly. “And you are?”
Moving back in front of her, he pressed very close and grinned, showing his razor sharp teeth, “I am Gamer Lord Oba Fortux, master of this Expo.”
“Good,” Amy said with a smile on her face. With a swift motion, she brought her knee up swiftly between Oba’s legs. The Concussion Pad strapped to her knee activated at impact with the Huulanix gamer lord’s reproductive organs. The massive body of Oba was lifted off the ground from the concussion burst and he flew back several yards.
The door to the control room opened and two human males entered. One with floppy hair, a suit, and a bow tie; the other, a gangly youth about the same age as Amy.
“Ah yes, the Huulanix least protected area, the family jewels,” the man in the bow tie said. Moving to stand over the crumpled and moaning form of Oba.
“Greetings, Lord Oba, I’m the Doctor and this is my associate Rory,” he said with a beaming smile. “I see you’ve met the amazing Amelia Pond.” With a wink, he patted Amy on the shoulder and moved over to sit at the master controls connected to the Prime Machine.
“My goodness, that’s a lovely bit of technology you have there,” the Doctor stated, gesturing towards the metallic sphere holding the miniverse. “But, you see, I’m a bit confused. Last time I was here, one of your technicians told me that you only had one. Since I witnessed the other one collapse personally, thanks to another of my good friends, I’m a bit surprised to see another one in operation.”
Oba continued to groan in agony.
“No, don’t get up. I wouldn’t want to have to sic Rory on you, he can be very cross, can’t you Rory.”
The male youth looked around nervously. “Uh, yeah, right.” He sneered at the downed Oba and growled with something akin to menace.
“But not as cross as me, Oba,” the Doctor said with an edge to his voice. “I can become very cross indeed – especially when people don’t tell me the things I want to know.”
With a flourish, the Doctor brandished his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the console. A warbling squeal erupted from it as he activated it and the console erupted in a shower of sparks. Jumping up, he trotted over to the still moaning gamer lord.
“Now, who sold you this technology?” the Doctor asked.
Oba gasped for air but managed to bark out,” No one! We developed it … ourselves.”
“You remember how I said I could become very cross just then?” the Doctor said menacingly. “If I know about one chink in your armor, don’t you think I might know a few more? Perhaps the one leading directly to your brain?” The Doctor aimed his sonic screwdriver at an unarmored portion of the Huulanix skull the diameter of a nickel. “I checked your scientific records, Oba. This technology is way beyond your race’s abilities. Who sold it to you?”
“The TDI sold it to us!” the gamer lord shouted, and then he began to weep.
“TDI. TDI. Never heard of them. Who are they?” the Doctor demanded.
“Temporal Defense Initiative,” Oba moaned. “They sold us two units and the Prime Machine.”
“Did they now?” the Doctor mused. “I’ve never heard of them. They sound very official.”
“They are not from this universe,” Oba whined, curling further into a fetal position.
The Doctor stood up abruptly. “What do you mean ‘not from this universe’?”
“They travel through the multiverse selling the technology to create miniature universes. It was very, very expensive.”
The Doctor paced over to the console that was beginning to emit acrid clouds of smoke. His face was crumpled in thoughtful concern.
“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Amy asked.
“They’re seeding,” the Doctor said, more to himself.
“Seeding? These spheres are alive?” Rory asked.
“No, no. Nothing like that,” the Doctor said, waving away the question. “No, this is much more sinister. They’re seeding gateways. I think I may have encountered them before – or at least a version of them.”
“Can we stop them?” Amy asked.
“I don’t know,” the Doctor said. “For the longest time I’ve only had to deal with one, maybe two universes at a time. If this Temporal Defense Initiative is what I think it is, we’re not talking multiversal travel, we’re talking infiniversal travel. Universes inside universes inside multiverses inside mulitiverses – its all very complicated and all very, very dangerous.”
“So then, again,” Amy said, getting impatient, “big scary alien on the ground, cross, and possibly about to recover soon. What now?”
“Now, we destroy this sphere,” the Doctor said with finality. Aiming the sonic screwdriver at the sphere and activating it. The sphere began to vibrate and emit bursts of energy and gas.
From the floor Oba gaped at the sight. “What have you done? You’ll destroy the whole complex!”
Technicians burst through the door and froze in their tracks, realizing what was happening. “It’s going to explode!”
“Implode actually,” the Doctor corrected.
“Gods! What do we do?” they asked in varying unison.
“What do you think you do, you silly fools,” the Doctor shouted. “Run for your lives!”
Oba leaped up with a surprising recovery and following the group of technicians as they followed the Doctor’s advice.
Before he, Amy, and Rory transported themselves back to the TARDIS, the Doctor added:
“And the same goes for the Temporal Defense Initiative … “