“Friends” by Eoin “Siskey” Dornan

Twenty years ago…

“My warlord seizes your vizier, and I claim control of your hegemony.”

“That makes two. You have improved.”

The gaze between the two friends grew frosted for a moment. Amongst the greatest people of the Four Systems – the Teth – compliments were rare and always barbed. Any personal growth or acquired wisdom was kept secret as an advantage to be wielded over your rivals. Friendship was rarer still amongst the Teth.

Yalvis and Jurvis of the Vunith brushed such moments aside as habit. They had known each other since enrolling in their tribal academy as mere striplings. Any two Teth would soon eke out a hierarchy, and Yalvis had been the dominant partner since their first fight. Now, however, Jurvis’ holographic warlord stood in the heart of Yalvis’ virtual empire, his foot on the vizier’s neck.

To say Jurvis had been the weaker partner was not incorrect, but unfair. The two of them were pegged for greatness, expected to rise to positions of prominence. Well, one or the other of them was. Teth politics was something of an archipelago, disparate islands come together to form a whole. Very few friendships lasted as long as theirs had, or through so many trials. But this was due in no small part to Jurvis’ role as primary hench-teth and foil to Yalvis’ genius and acumen. Games between them came as a welcome relief from the stresses of their cutthroat lives in the upper echelons of Tribe Vunith. They were protracted, relaxed and inevitably won by Yalvis.

Now, Yalvis held Jurvis’ gaze, and saw something there that was new. He saw that their years of friendship were at an end, that Jurvis had outstripped him. From now on, they were no longer friends but rivals, and at the end of bitter argument, political machinations and perhaps even sanctioned tribal civil war, that only one of them would live. Every instinct, every part of him that was Teth told him it must be so. Jurvis’ eyes confirmed it, and Yalvis knew that Jurvis wished for this future where he would no longer be a lackey.

Still, even a pragmatic young Teth knows that some experiences are to be relished. Yalvis broke off the gaze after a few seconds and swept his hand over the reset button.

“Best of five?”

Ten years ago…

Chairman Jurvis of Tribe Vunith beheld the last of the rebels’ strongholds, deep under the surface of Teth 6, a synthmoon-cum-research facility which was the largest of Vunith’s holdings off-world. This recent unrest had suspended operations, which vexed the Chairman. The tribe looked disorganised as the result of such childish behaviour. He had expected more from Yalvis.

One of his aides handed him the communicator, he clenched it and said, “I wish to speak to Senior Operations Officer Yalvis, of Vunith.” There was some static on the other end, and then a voice that he knew all too well, “This is Chairman Yalvis, of Empthis.” A surprised hiss escaped Jurvis’ aide, which Jurvis was thankful did not transmit to the rebels. Empthis was one of the founders of the tribe, who along with Vunith had blazed a trail through the subterranean networks to claim the city of Olcovath in centuries past. Yalvis had always claimed to be a descendant, not that primogeniture mattered amongst the Teth. Symbolism now, symbolism mattered a great deal. Empthis had tried to form her own tribe, but Vunith had purged her supporters and taken her family as servants.

“Ever ambitious, I see. Yalvis, your claims to tribal status have been denied by the Tribune, and I am here to oversee the normalisation of your personnel, whom you have led astray. They now have the opportunity to leave your command, I expect you will communicate this to them.” Even if he didn’t, Jurvis’ staff were broadcasting the offer of amnesty to all consoles within the facility. There was already a small but steady stream of technicians exiting the main building. Teth did not fight lost causes.

Of course there were always exceptions. Yalvis’ reply showed how little his childhood friend had changed, how he had refused to adapt, and why inevitably he was doomed to failure. “A tribe must stand as one, but if there is irreconcilable difference, it must divide, or else it will collapse on itself. Vunith was once one with Fremis, and the leaders of centuries ago realised they must divide or else be dissolved in warfare. Now, in these enlightened days, hidebound ways hold us back. Allow Empthis to secede, allow us to work beside Vunith. Tyranny will destroy us all, old friend, don’t you see?”

Chairman Jurvis cast a glance at his aide, who sat before a screen showing the heat signatures within the building. The aide flashed two hands at his superior, indicating less than a dozen left with Yalvis, and of those most getting ready to flee. Jurvis gave the nod to yet another aide, this one sitting before a field unit hardwired into the research facility’s motherboard. Every Vunith holding was wired to blow, a relic of the bitter internecine warfare that Teth had nurtured.

“This is my final communication to you, Senior Operations Officer Yalvis of Vunith. Your point is refuted. Goodbye.” The button was pressed, and the last of Yalvis’ allies fleeing the building were showered with shrapnel and debris as the facility imploded. This would teach them the virtue of knowing whose side you were on early.

Chairman Jurvis congratulated his staff and returned to his car, which was soon whisking him away through the tunnels. That put a stop to Yalvis’ foolish rebellion, all of three days’ old. He checked his console. News had circulated, the motion to demote Tribe Vunith had been tabled pending the aftermath. Another crisis averted. Now there was time to mourn.

Jurvis closed the news program and searched through the device archive until he found it. A game that was decades old now, “Shattered Continents” had allowed two young Teth to act out in virtual space the instinct for conflict they dared not allow destroy their real friendship. He opened the last saved game, where their two factions stood poised to swoop on each other on the plains of Africa, the legendary wartorn continent of age-old Sol. The chat log was too much for him, so instead he tapped the button for “Automatic Resolution”.

WINNER – YALVIS

Chairman Jurvis smirked to himself in the back of the chauffeur-driven car, leader of the dominant tribe of Teth, with interests all across the Four Systems, stretching even out to the Irif Dominion. He was the youngest Teth ever to hold such preeminence, and his legacy was built on the crushed dreams of thousands.

“Best of seven it is.”