(Part 1 in the ongoing saga “Shadows of the Serpent Kingdom”)
From the diaries of Tago Uriken…
Like all boys, I had dreams of what my life would become, of what I wanted it to become. Some want to fly starships, some want to be great leaders, but for that uneducated young country bumpkin with bad teeth and worse manners, whose only experience with the greater outside world was the occasional sighting of a shuttle overhead, the biggest dream was to get away from the poor life and to see the city and be apart of it somehow. To walk amongst the crowd, to have relations with all manners of people and to experience all of what the city had to offer. Isn’t it the same for all youth, that they desire to be free from the filial shackles that bind them to a predetermined life? The city held all the potential and was my ticket to happiness, I was sure.
On a clear day, something that did not often occur because of the smog created by the resource harvesters that infested the planet like parasites or boils waiting to be lanced, you could see the city from the top of the cull near my house. Like a drug addict who needs a hit to keep going, seeing just the tips of the sparkling skyscrapers was enough to keep me going -- to give me enough energy to hang on to just one more day of life. At least that was the way my mind worked back then, so smothering was the daily routine of the country life. I remember thinking how so very far away the city seemed and how little chance I had of ever seeing it. The seeming impossibility of the dream is what kept it potent in my imagination.
I finally had my chance one day when I was fourteen. At that time, the Serpentis Corporation, not yet known for outright piracy and not yet on Concord’s hit-list, held major agricultural shares across many systems in Gallente space. Little known to the authorities at the time, who were mostly paid off and believed the Serpentis to be merely interested in cornering the market on wheat and other foodstuffs, cornering markets being practically a past-time in New Eden, the Serpentis were turning whole planets into manufacturing hubs for illegal drugs. Their modus operandi was to flood a planet’s market with cheap goods, annihilating all local farmers and industrialists, and then buying them all out in a giant fire-sale. The locals were forced into the city, where they worked as slave-laborers in the Serpentis factories.
When the Serpentis came to my planet, the same thing that happened to millions of other country bumpkins happened to me. Forced from my home to the city, which was, ironically, my dream after all, I lived in the streets while my parents worked in the factories. I warmed myself next to the factory refuse and fed on the mutated rats that infested the city.
Some people would look at that situation and think: that’s a sad tale of deprivation and oppression. Did I think that? Come now, I think you know me better than that. The way I came to see it was that it was either kill or be killed, and it was better to be one the killing than the one being killed…
In his dream, Tago Uriken had just been ejected from an airlock and was spinning endlessly against the colorless void. Every second was an eternity while he choked for the air that was not there. In a few seconds of spinning, the station would come back into view and he would see the red warning light flashing next to the airlock’s door.
The station was big, but it was dwarfed by the enormity of the nearby planet. The planet looked familiar somehow. The colors of the seas and landscapes were… off, but the shapes of the landmasses triggered a response in his choked mind: this is the planet of my birth. He was falling towards it: the planet was pulling him in. What an unpleasant irony that he should die on the same anonymous planet on which he had been born. He hated that planet.
On his next spin, he looked back at the station again. Beside the red flashing light was the airlock door. In its window was a featureless face, staring at him. Or maybe it was blurred. It was hard to tell, and no doubt the lack of oxygen was influencing his delirious vision. Was it even a face at all? The lines seemed indistinct, and before he had time to focus and concentrate, he was spinning away from the station again…
On his last spin, the face was still there. Suddenly it had become clear. The image of the man’s face, the one who had pressed the giant red button and sent him from life hurtling into the dark abyss. Hatred burned in Tago’s eyes and he desperately fought to keep that face in his memory, to brand his memory with the avatar of his own destruction. Did it matter now, now that his death was certain and the strands of his fate were threadbare? It was one last desperate act of retaliation which, juxtaposed against his life of cruelty and hate, did little to redeem him. But it did stave off the inevitable for just a few seconds, a few precious seconds, and as the darkness started to take hold, he remembered that face next to the red blinking light.
Now the red light was still blinking, but he could breathe again. In shock and confusion his eyes stared blankly at the light. In a few seconds he realized he was no longer floating in space; he was in his quarters; but the flashing red light was still there. It was several moments before the last vestiges of sleep left him, and far from being snuffed out, his life had returned to him. He rubbed his eyes, shocking himself slightly when he brushed his left eye, still forgetting that he had installed a monocle only the week before. It was a gift from his mentor and patron Krayek Sarpanti. Krayek had said with great gesticulations and swaying voice: “Demonstrate wealth and power in front of those you wish to dominate, and they will serve you.” Tago remarked to himself that Krayek was a bit flamboyant in his pronouncements, apparently thinking himself to be a modern day Marcus Aurelius. It seemed every day he had to listen to these absurd ramblings. Tago could not doubt that through Krayek’s patronage, he had been able to rise rapidly in the corporation, but the old man’s mind was becoming senile. He was weak.
The red blinking light was the message indicator at his terminal. He stood up and walked silently, as a snake slithers through the grass, over to the terminal. He opened the message and as he read it, his face contorted into a sinister grin. This was the good news he had been waiting for.
The next few hours were critical, and the forces now in motion were like unmanned trains laden with explosives flying at full speed down the tracks towards uncertain destinations.
The message said…