Monday, 11 May 2015

Galactic Chess

Imagine a chess game played to win or lose an entire galaxy. If you step back from the human involvement in the story, this is the basic premise of the finale to the Eden Paradox series, Eden's Endgame. Two incredibly advanced aliens, Hellera and Qorall, are fighting over the Milky Way, Hellera to save it, Qorall to destroy it. And it's not the first time they've played. Two billion years ago, Qorall lost, and an entire galaxy was destroyed. He wants revenge.

The humans, barely a pawn in this titanic struggle, are naturally on Hellera's side; well, most of them.

The high-stakes game they are playing would be more akin to five-dimensional chess, since after the obvious three dimensions and the fourth temporal one, rendered more complex by time dilation effects when considering galactic distances, they each have access to a fifth dimension, though not the same one. Both have surprises up their sleeves. Hellera's surprise is what the Spiders - co-habitants on Esperia where humanity's refugees live - can do, and Qorall's surprise relates to a black hole he has weaponised.

Of course it's not really chess they are playing, but the metaphor is apt, as it is all about deep, very long strategies, and savage all-or-nothing tactics. The opening move actually occurs two books earlier, in Eden's Trial, in a chapter which I also published as a quirky short story (you can read it here), as the galactic incursion is seen from the viewpoint of an amorous drone. It then ramps up in the third book, Eden's Revenge, but the final face-off doesn't occur until the penultimate chapter at Hell's End, a galactic level 'Battle of Waterloo'. Does humanity play a pivotal role? Well, let's just say that even a lowly pawn can still make a decisive move in chess.   

I called it Endgame, because it is about strategy, and the final battle, the last few moves each of these super-beings can make, will decide the fate of everything. Here is an extract from the final battle, where Hellera is sizing up Qorall, his fleet, and his strange black hole...

Hell's End
Hellera surveyed the warscape. Qorall’s asteroid ship hovered just off the event horizon of his customised black hole, a few million miles from a rip in the galactic barrier’s fabric. Surrounding him in space tinged a ghostly green were three fleets, the first two cannon-fodder, Level Seven and Eight species she no longer cared about. Some had very large, Mega-Class ships, ten times the size of her own Crossbow, but after Level Fourteen one learned that bigger ships only meant easier targets. The third fleet was more of a challenge: Nchkani vessels, a hundred and eighty of them. They were manned by Q’Roth, but that didn’t make them any less dangerous, and Qorall’s greenspace neutralised Hellera’s gravity-based weapons.
On her side were a dozen fleets, the ones that mattered being the twenty-seven remaining Tla Beth Gyroscope ships, forty-seven Rangers in assorted small but well-armed scout ships, and fifty Ossyrian Diamond ships. The latter had drawn her attention, not because of their fire-power – they were no match for Nchkani – but because the Ossyrians had obviously retrograded, escaping their pacifist yoke, and had quickly fabricated war ships that had terrorised the galaxy sixty thousand years earlier. Each Diamond ship was fashioned from the joining of the bases of two hospital pyramid ships. Hellera reflected that directive evolution was painstaking, requiring careful steps over hundreds of millennia, whereas species regression, by comparison, was as easy as falling off a cliff.
            She waited for one more ship to join her armada. She switched her sensors to show the Spider ships and Hohash in the underlying subspace, contingents of Shrell accompanying them. Qorall could probably see them too, and must be wondering about their capability. At least he appeared to have no soldiers in subspace.
            Hyper-assessments had yielded uncertain results: the emergent predictions of who would win remained unstable. Reluctantly she downgraded into a more basic analytic framework. Kalaran had trusted these humans, and had confided in her that there was something about the crude and undisciplined nature of their thinking processes that had tactical value, so she uploaded one of the templates Kalaran had extracted, Blake’s, and fed it with data using a ridiculously small bandwidth.
The black hole: that was the problem. Neither she nor Kalaran had been able to fathom what it was exactly, as it was certainly not a normal singularity. Each galaxy she had visited – quite a few during her lifetime – tended towards a maximum number of black holes, reaching an equilibrium. They were nodes, intersections between universes, but not necessarily portals. Only twice had the Kalarash broken through to another universe, the first time it had been a one-way trip and their colleague was never heard from again, and the second was one where the laws of physics were different, the habitat of the Spiders. Their universe was smaller and ran faster – it would end long before this one – hence the Spiders had also been keen to explore other universes than their own time-limited space. They had travelled to fifty other universes, but few contained the conditions for sentient life; some had already fizzled out, others would stretch endlessly without organic species, bland space deserts spattered with dark stars in an endless ocean of space marred by vicious gravitational fluctuations.
            In strategy terms, she held more firepower than Qorall. She should win. But since Qorall had defeated Kalaran, she had doubts. Qorall had been a game-changer since starting this current war: penetrating the Galactic Barrier, using organic weapons, the Orbs… Perhaps he had not yet run out of surprises.
            Shiva arrived. Hellera contacted the ship mind and downloaded all its data. All had gone according to plan, except the second Queen, but Micah had handled that one. She was about to dissolve Blake’s template, but elected to keep it running in the background.   
Hellera stared hard at his black hole, his fleets of ships, and his greenspace. She realised she was missing something. He must know by now that his super white hole device at the galactic core had been neutralised. Yet Qorall had never bluffed before. He had, as Blake would have said, something else up his sleeve. But she had no idea what it was. She signalled her fleets to prepare to engage.

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