The Pulse: Diopolis (in Fallar Ultima)
The Chancemasters of Die
The Planet Die
The planet of Die lies only 1.1 parsec from Fallar Prime and has a diameter of only 2.6 thousand kilometres. Yet Die has four characteristics that make it at once unique and spectacular:
1. Die’s axis is aligned with absolute precision along the nord/sood cosmic axis established by Vicino Prossimo and Fallar Prime. Hundreds of other planets are also aligned along this axis, yet all of these tilt from it by at least one billionth of a degree. Only Die follows the axis absolutely — or at least up to a million decimal points, according to the latest measurement.
2. Die rotates at the speed of 14.2 times per second, which is faster than any known habitable planet.
3. Die is more dense than any known planet, habited or otherwise. This density provides a centripetal force slightly stronger than the centrifugal force created by its rotation. Walking on Die is about the same as walking on the moon.
4. Die occasionally tilts from its regular axis so rapidly and erratically that it’s exceptionally difficult to predict at what angle the planet will lie in even the next second. It tilts up to 30 degrees from nord/sood in a flash — precisely at the speed of light squared. One moment the planet is rotating on its nord/sood axis, the next moment it’s tilting at 17.253 degrees, and the next moment it’s back on its nord/sood axis.
It’s this erratic tilting of Die, referred to as a dietilt, that makes Die the ideal venue for the Chancemasters to hold their weekend Game. Every 11th, 12th and 13th day of the week they meet in the Grande Salle de Jeux in the capital city of Diopolis.
Gaming aficionados speculate that the Game has something to do with the dietilts, but even they’re in the dark about this. No one, except the Game’s controllers and players, understand the nature of the Game. The secrecy surrounding it is guaranteed in typical Fallarian style: all players agree to be injected with a cerebral fluid that monitors all information related to dietilts, Chancemasters, or the Game. If players even think about divulging any of this information, they receive a shock so violent that their bodies contort. Spinal fluid spurts from a tube or blood-jelly seeps from a crack in their exoskeleton. If, after this warning, they communicate even the smallest piece of information, they’re executed on the spot.
It’s a high price to pay for being a Chancemaster, yet all players think it worth the price. For the Game isn’t just an exercise in predicting the angle at which Die is about to tilt; it’s a prediction of what the universe is about to do.
One thing the Fallarians know for certain is that dietilts occur 28 seconds before cosmic Pulses, which at times appear to come from the Golden Hill on Vicino Concordia. At other times, the Pulses seem to come from the edges of the cosmos itself. The Pulses intrigue and bewilder the Fallarians, yet it’s what happens before the Pulses that has preoccupied them for the last several decades.
Another thing the Fallarians know is that dietilts occur 15 seconds before fluxes in one or more of the following: 1. the mirror patterns of navy matter, 2. the gravitational feedback loops of galactic walls, 3. the subatomic drift of monad particles, 4. data mining or fractal convergence relay systems, or 5. the political or military strategy in one of the powerful Empires — the Vicinese, the Dolcezzi, the Baulians, the Copper Phantoms, the Skiff Blasters and, of course, the Fallarians.
The Fallarians want to know, Is there a cause that determines the fluxes, or are the fluxes merely a function of the physical forces inherent in the cosmos? Is there some larger Game at play?
In the Game, the Chancemaster who most accurately weighs the fluctuating forces of the cosmos, and who most accurately predicts the dielilts that occur within the three days, becomes the holder of The Farridian Die.
The Die is a six-sided cube 8.1 inches wide. Deep blue and made of pure farridium, the Die is on permanent display in the middle of the Grande Salle de Jeux.
The planet itself is composed of farridium, incredibly dense layers of which begin at .7 kilometres beneath the surface. While the Diopolans are able to mine .3 kilometres down, the farridium beneath that is too dense for any known neutron-laser or streak-drill to penetrate. Yet somehow a hundred years ago the Die surfaced in the Desert of Ood, perfectly cubed, having come from a depth of .9 kilometres.
Holding the Die in the palm of your hands would only be possible if you could lift a 3000 kilogram weight. If you were capable of holding the Die, you would feel the Die tilt 1.3 seconds prior to an actual dietilt. This fact has continued to nonplus the most learned Fallarian physicists. Even the Wizard Physicists of Farridicus 8 throw up their tentacles in dismay.
Fallar Discordia keeps close tabs on the Game. All the information the players use to win the Die is discreetly mirrored into the data banks and laboratories of Fallar Prime. The Military Council, stationed in the Cobalt District of Fallar Discordia, sees this arrangement as a perfect mix of profit motive, entertainment, military strategy, and subterfuge.
The idea of gathering information from the Game was conceived 32 years ago by Knifestream, the most ruthless of the Demon Priests of the Black Horde. Knifestream continues to set the parameters of the Game each week, and to collate the information once it’s filtered through the data banks and laboratories.
Each time Knifestream passes on a crucial piece of information to his fellow Demon Priests, his red eyes burnish a shade darker. The other Priests nod their ebony hoods in agreement, and assure him that one day he will benefit ten-fold from all his hard work.
Secretly, the other Demon Priests intend to benetfit twenty-fold, and are happy to let Knifestream do the heavy lifting. Let him spend all that time wading through terrabins of data about star walls and intergalactic voids. It’ll keep him busy, Gascitar signals to his ally Kaldriscat. Knifestream’s diligence allows them time to mine the voids with microscopic mirror-devices, tiny slivers that reflect information through the darkest of dark matter directly to their hidden stations.
It should be noted that Knifestream hoards every tenth bit of valuable information. He hoards the most crucial pieces — the cipher discs that connivers like Gascitar and Kaldriscat will need in order to decipher all the other pieces. Knifestream is just making sure that when the time comes, he’ll be holding all the chips.
It should also be noted that Gascitar and Kaldriscat know about the discs that Knifestream believes he’s hiding from them. He was always a crude bumbler, that Knifestream! they nod to eachother, making sure that no one sees their shoulders shift with laughter beneath their black cloaks. The same tiny slivers they use to mine the voids are embedded into the fabric of Knifestream’s hood. (Knifestream suffered from a rare form of ear dermititis — which Gascitar found in the trenches of Rabixia Fallix.The only hood fabric that gave his ears any relief was gifted to him with great ceremony by Kaldriscat.)
They must really think I’m an idiot, Knifestream thought to himself. ‘Darkest of dark matter,’ my third crawler! Knifestream had made a deal with the sworn enemy of all Fallarians: the Vicinese. In exchange for several useless species of angströminic ants, he received information about how to reflect data from just beyond the edges of the darkest of dark matter. All I need to do is scratch one of my four ears every week or two and the idiots think they’ve outmaneuvered me!
It should be noted further that Gascitar and Kaldriscat…
They are a dreadful lot, those Demon Priests.
To prepare for the Game, the Chancemasters take two dozen cocarollers — small cubes of sugar modelled on the Farridian Die. They wash these psychotropic hallucinogens down with several dozen nephtane martinis.
They do this in The Cocabar, which is right next to La Grande Salle de Jeux. The bar itself screams with particulate lasers, beam-scrawlers, and radiant ion drones. To the Chancemasters the bar is like a thousand pinball machines, each emitting coded neon signs they decode just to get their minds up to speed.
To the human eye, the bar would look like an enormous rectangular box crisscrossed with burning rays and incandescent force fields. That is, it would appear this way if the human put on a ray-visor two inches thick. Otherwise, the bar would look like a square sun, too bright to look at. If humans even blinked at a martini shaker in the bar and weren’t wearing a light-visor, their eyes would fry in a split second.
By the time the Chancemasters entered the Grande Salle their brains were already spinning twice as fast as usual in 60 different directions. This isn’t a figure of speech, since their brains are in fact very similar to 60 integrated spinning hard drives (in the days before everything became solid state). Or, to use another analogy, their brains are like 60 record players hooked into the same speaker. This last analogy needs to be qualified, however, since each of the 60 record players would have to emit trillions of sounds, images, and wavelengths, and each would have to contain bank upon bank of gradient equalizers and synthesizers. Each ‘record player’ would also need to tilt in relation to the input coming from the other 59 ‘record players.’ The ‘speaker’ or Chancemaster would likewise need to calibrate his or her frequencies in relation to the frequencies of the other ‘speakers’ or Chancemasters, who were now floating from the bar to the Grande Salle.
Cocarider was the nom de jeu given to Farrixion Salopard, the greatest Chancemaster the croupiers of the Grande Salle had ever seen. Cocarider was from the Fallix Galaxy, which was, like Fallar Ultima, part of the Great Black Wall of galaxies stretching across the centre of the Black Pulse universe.
The Fallixians were one of the craftiest species in the cosmos. They had co-existed with the Fallarians for billions of years because they shared one thing in common: they didn’t trust anyone. This distrust had a fortuitous side-effect: since neither trusted their leaders, they were more than willing to align themselves with any species as unscrupulous as they were — as long as that other species didn’t expect loyalty in return.
As long as the Fallixians could be counted on to act in their own self-interest, the Fallarians got on with them perfectly well. They even had a sort of camaraderie that was grudgingly admired throughout the Black Pulse, where generally one species would connive the accidental death of the next species, without any sign that they could stomach the sight of the other. Not that Black Pulsars actually hated each other. It was just that they were too proud and too selfish to admit that they needed or depended on anybody but themselves.
Cocarider was perfectly suited to be a Chancemaster. To begin with, he was an octaliffar prelix, a mature adult of the eighth gender. As an octaliffar, he could mate with any of the other seven genders but could never be called upon to watch over a nest of helpless brats. He could collect the most intimate information from any Fallixian of any sex, yet he was never required to live a domestic life. As a result, he never had to limit his sources of information. He was free from any responsibility and could concentrate on the one thing that mattered to him: winning the Farridian Die.
As a prelix, Cocarider also had the ability to mate with any other life-form, as long as that life-form could provide a receptacle — egg, spiral binder, flow-grappler, etc. — that could accommodate the ‘darts’ that he discharged from the primal brain around which his other 59 brains revolved. As an alien species, he was actively discouraged to stick around and raise his mongrel specimens, yet once the dart hit its mark, he could gather information from his offspring as long as it was still living. If his child in any way started to work against his interests, all he needed to do was emit a death pulse at his own personal embedded frequency, and he was once again a bachelor, carefree and at leisure to go his merry way, mating with whomever he pleased.
At present Cocarider had 80,000 such sources of information from all 13 universes. When he stepped into the Grande Salle he possessed information so diverse, so arcane, and so forbidden that the other choirboy Chancemasters didn’t stand a chance.
He was the James Bond of Diopolis.
Diopolans were by constitution the most arrogant of croupiers. Bred in Die’s strict hierarchy, and having reached the apex of this hierarchy, they looked down on every creature that walked, slithered, or swam into the Grande Salle.
The Dioplolan croupiers seemed exceedingly proud of themselves, yet they were in fact an unhappy, alienated lot. The Head Croupier, Diamarus, was perhaps the loneliest of them all. It didn’t help that he considered the croupiers beneath him so much grub-dust under his claws. And he refused to talk to even the wealthiest of dicers, considering it already beneath his dignity to crack orders to his subordinate croupiers from beneath his dark purple shell.
There was one exception to Diamarus’ general disdain, and that was the Fallixian they called Cocarider. In Fallarian, this name sounded something like Kod’dfaldtrxa’dtrroda, the sound and concept of which is best translated as one who rides the wave of a drug that sharpens perception while at the same time making you feel like a Big Bad Wolf who can blow the House down.
Cocarider gave Diamarus chills down his scale-coated spinal cord each time he floated into the Grande Salle. Diamarus could almost sense with his antennae the plates of farridium shift in the ceiling above. He could almost feel the farridium torso bars in the walls straining to remain planted in the planet’s dense rock.
Deep down, Diamarus loved the Game so much that he despised it and wished to be rid of his horrible addiction. He fantasized about living in a little pink bungalow on a pleasant lake, surrounded by juicy pink creatures he could pluck from the trees and eat without so much as bothering to get up from his hammock.
Diamarus couldn’t live without the game or without players like Cocarider. And yet he hated working for that overgrown cockroach Knifestream. He was convinced that the whole thing was a sham, a mere tool which was turned silently into his back like a screwdriver, twisting out information that the Fallarian demons in their Discordian chambers drooled over. His deepest wish was that Cocarider would play so brilliantly that the House would come crashing to the ground.
Next: Di Firenze