This is a part of the story Earlmire and You: a Study in Star Light, which is a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA). Please vote in the comment section below for what you want to happen next!
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This happens after a Study in Starlight | the beginning CYOA when you chose:
A: Follow Earlmire into this Sardotia party of debauchery, hoping to make some beneficial contact with the locals?
[ Translated for your Terran pleasure. Many terms have been substituted with such Terran words as “noobs” and “kowtow” which don’t exist in the original language yet correlate well enough for translation in order that the story may be more readily understood in the English of Terra. ]
Earlmire swings open the door. A group of about forty-five pressure-suited beings all snap their heads toward both of you at the abrupt entrance. “Thanks be to the man downstairs!” Earlmire yelps.
“And tighten the screws of the noobs from metal birds!” The room screams back.
Earlmire turns to you and winks. “I love visiting planets when they’re in post-apocalypse phase, the parties are just way more fun.” He speaks to you through a comlink, keeping his suit’s external speakers off to prohibit eavesdropping. As you both stand near the door, you watch him scrunch his arms up inside of his pressure-suit so that the sleeves dangle while he maneuvers his hands around his face in the spacious helmet. You can see him igniting another cigarette. A hiss erupts from his suit’s air-filtration unit.
“Isn’t that dangerous inside a pressure-suit with contained oxygen?” You ask him over the comlink, concerned he might explode next to you.
“Again I must ask you not to infect me with your anxiety. I’ve retrofitted this suit to accommodate this specific habit in the attempt to step into the shoes of our suspect.”
“You’re still working the case? Forget about it, we have an armada of ships that chased us down here. We should be refueling and getting the hell back into space!”
Earlmire raises an eyebrow, confused for a moment before nodding his head in recognition. “I’d attempted to erase from my mind the fact that we are being hunted so as to improve my focus. I’d advise you do the same. If your worry persists, know that I highly doubt they’ll get past the Sardotian wall as well as we did. With any luck our pursuers are in the unfortunate position of becoming mianca. Now, just relax so we can catch us a killer.”
Earlmire scans the room with intense mental absorption. You glance around as well, noting that most of the pressure-suited beings in here are dancing in back corners away from the door. Some gather near the entrance, either talking to each other or casting polished stones with blood-red markings on them against the wall closest to you. After each throw, the caster of the stones erupts in convulsions on the floor. Every mianca (you can distinguish them from the paintings on their helmets) in the room kneels down when the stones clank against the metallic wall, revealing that although they cannot see through their helmets (since there is no port or visor) they can still hear and respond to noise.
“Ah, not the party I was expecting.” Earlmire giggles next to you. “I’ve never heard of this Sardotian ritual from any of my studies or connections. From what I can deduce, this entire party is designed as an act of worship. This means it would behoove us to throw those stones. We could be exposed as foreigners otherwise.”
“How can you tell?”
“For one, it is not a game. You can tell by body language there are no winners or losers, and nothing seems to be wagered. Once they have cast the stones, they join the dancers at the back who slightly bow whenever they dance facing the wall concealing the camera.” Earlmire nods his head toward the slightly reflective back wall. “I may be mistaken in there being a camera behind that wall, but I am positive it allows someone unseen to watch the room. This watcher could be the man downstairs, or perhaps another authority figure, watching in order to make sure the entire party participates in the ritual. Look, observe the ones who aren’t dancing yet haven’t taken a throw at the stones.”
You watch, trying to pick up on what Earlmire sees. You shrug, unsure of what his point is.
“Look at how they keep glancing at either the door or that back panel. They’re afraid. Their fear dissipates the moment after they throw the stones. This whole party is some kowtow to a presence they hold as having high power. I surmise there is a reward being withheld until the entire party has cast stones, or perhaps a punishment will be inflicted on those who do not participate. The facts I observe support this hypothesis. I urge you to find evidence that I am wrong, but you will be hard pressed to accomplish this.”
Earlmire leaps forward and grabs the stones while there is a lapse in stone-throwing turn rotation. You watch Earlmire bang the stones against the wall and then flail on the floor. You do the same. After this, you and Earlmire join the dancers in the back of the room and mimic the moves you see.
When there is no one left waiting to throw the stones, the armoured man and the mianca from earlier return to the room dragging in a large cart of crates.
“[The man downstairs rewards you for your faithful obedience here today. May you be fed and content until tomorrow.]” The armoured man bellows in Sardotian, his words filtering through your internal translator. He busts open a crate. Vacuum sealed food and intoxicants from what looks to be every planet along the near-lightspeed space-route fall to the ground. The crowd scrambles for the bounty. Even Earlmire tears his way toward the crates, a mad look in his eye.
“Aishoan Ink!” You can hear him greedily exclaim as he lunges for a liquor bottle rolling away from the mess of pressure-suited limbs. You keep your distance from the mob.
“[You have been selected.]” The armoured man suddenly grabs an old woman from the crowd and straps her to the now empty cart. You can see her lips moving through her pressure-suit’s visor. Her eyes are closed with tears dripping down them. The armoured man motions for the mianca to cart her out the door, and they hastily exit.
The party resumes, this time with plenty more intoxicants than before.
Earlmire is in the corner bargaining with a small girl in a completely see-through pressure-suit that reveals a worker’s uniform underneath. The garb covers her skin up to her wrists, ankles, and most of her neck just below her ears, yet all the skin still showing is covered in red markings similar to the ones on the stones you’d cast earlier.
Attached to both her sleeves at the wrist she has a plastic balloon which acts as a way to seal in her hands so that they can be ungloved safely. This apparatus allows her to bring into her suit the items she’d gotten from the crates without exposing herself to the unbreathable atmosphere on this current underground level of Sardotia.
Through your comlink and internal translator, you can hear Earlmire negotiating in Sardotian with her. You make your way across the room so you can hear how the girl reacts to Earlmire’s bartering.
“[I’ll give you five cigarettes.]” Earlmire suggests, using his pressure-suit’s external speakers to project his voice.
“[I’d rather trade it for that bottle of Aishoan Ink.]” The girl retorts.
“[I already told you, that’s not an option.]”
“[You want to use my transporter, make it an option.]”
“[I need this bottle.]”
“Are you really trying to get drunk right now, Jack?” You spit at Earlmire, frustrated that you still haven’t gone back to the airlock leading deeper into Sardotia (with breathable atmosphere!) to look for fuel. Regrettably, you hear your own voice echo through Earlmire’s external speakers as it is amplified from the comlink inside his helmet.
“[Foreign tongue!]” The girl barks at you. Earlmire spins, glaring at you to keep your mouth shut (since you can’t speak Sardotian). It’s too late. “[You grow weak with your mianca, comrade.]” The girl addresses Earlmire again.
“[My mianca is of highest level.]”
“[I would hope so, for this mianca has eyes in a stone room. Our enemies would be pleased.]”
“[I only displease our enemies. This mianca has eyes due to being close to full Sardotian citizenship. The man downstairs has granted eyes to this one.]” Earlmire is acting the part brilliantly for the girl nods, seeming to have bought his bullshit.
“[How’s these fixings: give me your mianca and you can have my transporter.]”
“[Deal.]” He snatches the plastic balloon from the girl’s wrists after she reattaches her pressure-suit gloves, and the girl grabs you by the arm. Earlmire shuts off his external speakers to speak with you. “Don’t speak to her. She most likely suspects us both, but it seems she won’t accuse me without evidence. Pretend to be a mianca and obey her commands. Savvy?”
“Jack, what the hell.”
“Don’t worry, this is actually a good turn. You can infiltrate down below while I continue gathering clues up here.” Earlmire winks at you.
“You just sold me to this girl.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. It’s more like she’s employing you.” Earlmire slips the plastic balloon around his wrists and removes his pressure-suit gloves. He sneaks the bottle of Aishoan Ink up through the now exposed holes of his sleeves and takes a swig.
“You’re an asshole.”
“It’s pronounced practical.”
You decide what happens next! Do you…
A. Slap Earlmire in the face and refuse to let him barter you like some item in his inventory, standing up for your freedom to both him and this Sardotian?
C. Rally all the mianca in the room to begin a revolution with plans of freeing every mianca on Sardotia?
Vote in the comments below!