Stan Cobalt’s Other Worlds
Copyright 2016 Stan Cobalt
Cover art by Andrew Droste
Distributed by Shakespir
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“We just need to tweak some of the racial traits, we need a unified monetary system, and we need a government that actually acts like one that exists so our audience will understand. You know, minor things like that,” said the managers.
Those words I heard two months ago, and it was those words that changed everything. I was bringing to life the world that resided in my mind. This world was my job and my life’s work. All of what I had been working on so far had led up to this project: to write an entire society into being, in a manner of speaking. I worked freelance to write stories for video game companies.
Teriod was its name. A world with an elliptical orbit forcing the cities to be amphibious to survive the annual glacial meltdown. The entire civilization was completely alien and mostly free of inspiration from human culture. By making it I would open people’s eyes to the sheer vastness of possibilities if the element of human culture, the single greatest mental block, would be removed. It would inspire those who experienced it to strain their imagination with possibilities beyond earthly influence.
“Minor things like that?! You just ruled out close to a third of my work!” I said. We were so far into production that I really didn’t see this coming at all.
“This is just TOO different. The fan base will be confused at what it sees. We need something a little more relatable.”
“To hell with that! I was brought into this with the understanding that I would be showing people something new and alien! I have designed it to amaze and inspire people. I would happily leave the unimaginative and disinterested in the dust before sacrificing all of this!”
“We can’t take the chance of this not catching on. You need to adapt just like everyone else or the whole game could flop. If you aren’t willing to adjust to the company’s needs, perhaps you aren’t right for the job.”
“Maybe you are right and maybe I am. We will see after this thing launches, but if you lay a finger on Teriod without me watching, you test my faith in the company. If you fight me, I’m pulling out.”
They were bluffing. I wasn’t. Because I was working freelance, I took the copyright to Teriod with me. As a result of my absence at a critical point in development, they were unable to get a good story built and integrated in the remaining time. But they released it shortly after the deadline anyways. The resulting game was a disappointment and I was the only one that escaped the catastrophe unscathed.
Some may call what I did betrayal, or pride, or just stubborn greed. It would not be fair to expect them to understand why I doomed the company just to preserve a piece of fiction. Teriod was in the back of my mind for many years growing and developing. Stories always carry a piece of their creator’s ideals. Teriod was just as much a part of me as the Bible was to the Pope.
I could not stand to allow my work to be twisted to the point where all that I had given meaning to was lost. Worse, I would never be able to produce my original idea because it would be too similar to the broken husk of its former vessel. My actions allowed me to preserve my vision and produce it in a safer way.
Remember when I said I came out unscathed? I really didn’t. My freelance reputation is damaged significantly. As a result, I have begun to write books on my own. So here it is, my first book, Teriod: The Rising Tide.
I became aware, on some level, that I was hearing a voice.
Oh, Sandra, that’s my name. I decided I should respond and opened my eyes. An eight-year-old boy, Jared, was trying to get me on my feet by lifting my armpits from behind. He was too short of course, and not nearly strong enough. I was in an abandoned building, and I was…
“Sandra!” Jared repeated. “We have to go, now!”
Just as I was about to tell him to calm down, I saw that he was right. I saw the police, three of them, face masks down and clubs raised, running towards us.
Then everything came back: the smuggling job, the weapons deal gone wrong, the police raid, and the long fall due to a misjudged escape route. That was about five minutes ago.
I got to my feet and ran, pulling Jared behind me. I broke through the flimsy supplementary door and escaped into the dusty urban street.
“Second Tower Jared,” I shouted as we spit up. “Meet you there.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jared climb up a nearby pipe onto the top of a building. We always split up. No one wants to chase one street kid for miles. If they chased us to our dens, the whole gang would be in trouble.
There were at least two still after me as I continued running. I didn’t bother to look around; their footsteps were all the information I needed. I don’t know how many followed Jared, it may have been just the one, or there may have been more that revealed themselves only after we took off.
When an upward path presented itself, I took it. I climbed walls and escape ladders. I ran through streets and over rooftops. Still they followed. Suddenly, I saw my chance to lose them: A gap between buildings four meters across with a balcony at the other end. I vaulted off the edge of the building and caught the railing. To my alarm, the railing unhinged and I found myself falling… for about three seconds. I grabbed the edge of the balcony floor and it held.
I entered whatever room the balcony was attached to. It wasn’t like a balcony door would have a metal lock. As I sprinted to the stairwell, I saw a few people with shocked expressions on their faces, as though a sixteen-year-old girl was a likely assault suspect. I had never been in here before, so my only real option was to go down and hope the police weren’t waiting for me at the main exit. Bracing myself for anything, I busted open the entrance door and sprinted away. When there were no signs of pursuit, I headed towards Second Tower.
Something told me Jared was in more trouble than I, so I used the path we took when we left Second Tower in the hopes Jared just went back the way he came. I became increasingly worried the farther I went. I had gone about ten minutes without success until I finally heard footsteps running below me. Too many footsteps. My heart raced until I reached a courtyard. There I saw Jared pursued by a cop. He had fallen into the courtyard and was cornered there.
I almost dove down there with him, but just as I reached the edge, I realized that I was a full story higher than where he came from. I was too late to stop and turned as I fell just in time to catch myself on the edge. The policeman didn’t see me, nor did Jared. Then, turning on the cop, he pulled a small metal thing out of his pocket. I recognized it immediately as a hand-made pistol, part of the weapon supply we were supposed to deliver. The cop recognized it too and started backing off. Then I saw a second officer knock through the door behind him. I would have stopped him if I could, but it happened instantly and I was just too far away. The gun exploded and a dark red blotch appeared on the second officer’s uniform.
“Jay!” the first officer yelled.
When no response came, he charged towards Jared, club raised.
Jared was unharmed by the shattering of the gun, but also unarmed. I did the only thing I could do. As the cop approached Jared, I dropped from the eight-meter roof I was still hanging from and landed on him.
I heard a crunch below me and the body never got up.
I went over to Jared, who had started crying.
“I- I didn’t mean to…”
“You did what you had to do.” I reassured him.
I went over to the other body, if they had anything that could help us survive we needed it more than them. As I approached his body, slumped against the doorframe, I saw his head move.
“Is that what you really think?” he whispered. “Or do you just think we are less important?”
I should have finished him right then, but I couldn’t.
“All you do is hurt people. Why should I care about you?”
“Because you are the reason we hurt people. This is your doing not mine.”
The cop relaxed, exhaled, then remained silent. We made it back without incident.
I never understood what he meant, until yesterday, when I met Vlad. He was a street orphan, like me. The police killed his parents, just like mine, but he never let anything happen to them, even though they chased him relentlessly. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when your morals conflict with your methods of survival. I guess I just hit rock bottom.
“You! Open the gate! The explorers should already be on the other world!” said an officer as he walked into the room.
“I would sir, but the gate detects high pressure behind it,” said the operator. “We don’t know what’s out there and the situation doesn’t seem likely to change.”
“The explorers have equipment and training for as many conceivable possibilities as we can prepare them for. What could possibly deal with whatever it is better than them? There is a reason only they are allowed beyond that door.”
The door the officer gestured to was a heavy, outwards swinging door. It was the only entrance to the room beyond. Inside this room were four explorers waiting in front of a massive circular gate. They wore pressurized body suits and had a three-hour supply of breathable nitrogen on their backs. The vast collection of equipment carried by each of them did indeed cover just about every circumstance imaginable, along with a few that weren’t just for good measure. After all, no one knew what world lay on the other side of that portal.
As the gate opened, a massive quantity of unknown liquid flooded the room. After only a moment, it was shut again. Despite the vigilance of the gate operator, the flood had taken its toll. All of the monitors went black as the cameras ceased to function, blinding the two to the room with the gate and the exploration team.
“Is everyone alright?” the officer asked.
“Seems that way, going by their vitals” said the operator, “but there’s no noticeable change in pressure. We have another problem: The gate room is flooded to the point where we cannot open the door to it.”
“So we can’t get in and they can’t get out, and they are trapped in a room flooded with an unknown substance?”
In the gate room, the four explorers contemplated the situation. They were all suspended about fifty feet off of the ground floating by their air tanks.
“Ven? Symoth? Furni? Can anyone hear me?”
“I hear you Coren,” replied Symoth.
“Affirmative,” replied Ven.
“Furni, your microphone is broken but you can still hear us through the radio. Is this correct?” Coren said.
Furni gave what passed for a nod in the thick suit.
“Coren, only you and Ven have your equipment packs. The shock caused Furni and I to drop ours.” Symoth said.
“And you had the bio-scanner?”
“So we have no definite way of knowing if anything else got in?”
“The echo device is picking up movement,” said Ven “There’s something living down there.”
“No reply from operations, which means they can’t speak to us.” said Ven.
“Coren, you could use your cutter to get the door open right?” Symoth said.
“No,” said Coren “we can’t risk killing everyone in the control room.”
“Then without Furni’s stone auger, I don’t see any way of getting out of here before we starve.”
“There are four of us here,” Ven said. “Besides, just because they can’t talk to us doesn’t mean they can’t see or hear us.”
“What’s your vote Furni?” Coren said. “Raise your arm for stay, point at the door for go.”
Furni put his hands behind his back. Too late the others realized what he was doing.
“He’s detaching his pack!” Coren said.
At the same time, Ven said “Don’t do this Furni! We don’t know what’s down there!”
Symoth made a grab at him but only succeeded in pulling the nitrogen tank free. Furni swam downwards into the abyss below.
“He won’t be able to pull the whole bag up,” Ven said. “Not without nitrogen to make him float up. Give me the gas jet, Coren.”
“Are you more worried about Furni than the operator?” Coren said as he primed the gas jet and handed it to Ven.
“I can still save him. I saw where his supplies fell.”
“You’d better come back alive,” Symoth said. His voice was trembling.
Without a word, Ven tilted to the correct angle and released the submerged gas and launched after Furni.
“This is my fault,” Symoth said. “If they don’t come back up, don’t give me anything. I don’t deserve to outlive you.”
“Logic is not a sin Symoth, I can’t just let you die here to prolong my own life” Coren said.
“Then your mercy is as blinding as my panic.”
“I guess we’ll learn which is worse.”
Time stretched as they talked and even more so while they waited until finally a sudden splash heralded the return of Ven and Furni, who was gasping for breath. As Symoth passed him his floating tank and Ven helped him strap into it, he started talking for the first time since the gate opened.
“I…ahh’kh’kh…I saw what was down there! I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like a lens with thousands of long tendrils behind it. The lens was wider than I am tall and it moved by… squishing…sort of. I don’t think it can sense us, but I have absolutely no actual information.”
Ven took out the stone auger and started cutting a hole in the wall. “Whatever it is, I think we shouldn’t take chances. When this is over we should check periodically for the gate to move so that we can dump it all back where it belongs.”
Three months later, on the other side of the portal a news reporter was speaking in front of a dock.
“Well, the mysterious object found in the Baltic Sea reportedly opened shortly after it was raised from the water. Witnesses claim that several hundred gallons of sea water flowed out. The water apparently held a lion’s mane jellyfish. Both the water and the jellyfish line up with the theory that the object stored water from the place it was found, but both its purpose and how to open it again remain unknown. More on this story later.”
Stan Cobalt is a fiction writer creating new species, cultures, and worlds for the video game industry. The further from human connections, the more Cobalt is able to expand his ideas. Cobalt is currently enrolled in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University. He has written several works including short stories, video game storylines, and successful table RPG quests.
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"A Preface" is the story of a video game writer and his determination to publish his ideas. "Pursuit" is an action story about a pair of young gang members escaping the police on Korious: a war-torn dystopian mining colony. "The Gate" tells the experiences of a team of alien explorers and the events that follow the opening of a portal to another world.