Elysian: Out There
Collection: Age of Youth
Chronicled by: Valhel
Preceded by: Long Road Home
Pandora's treader thundered across the dried and cracked wasteland as the sunlight retreated under the advance of night. Merc and Lacea trailed behind her on their own vehicles as they returned to the bunker they called home. The band had set up their base in the northeastern sectors of the desert, here long dead rivers wound their dried veins through the clay and spires of stone loomed overhead like titanic fossils. These dry riverbeds provided a natural layer of protection for Pandora's crew as it interrupted the relatively flat terrain with steep banks and maze-like channels.
The leader navigated the barren channels as if she had lived here her whole life and not just arrived some months earlier. Merc watched Pandora slip through the tangle of dead streams and would wonder to himself how she had come to learn these trails so quickly, for even in the dark Pandora would speed on. He had made a living smuggling various curiosities across the desert and in all his travels he had never seen anyone ride through the wastes with as much confidence as Pandora.
The boisterous racket of the treaders heralded the arrival of the Elysians outside a small camp nestled in the shadow of two towering stones. A rectangular building, some thirty feet in length and one third of which in width stood partially unearthed while a larger garage was crudely carved out of the stone. One by one white lights ignited around the camp as the treaders pulled into the makeshift garage. A tall man stood in the back of the room. His face was hidden by an iron mask decorated with white markings across the welding shade. His clothes were scuffed and stained with oil, and broad boots stamped as he greeted the party.
"Welcome home." cheered the man as he removed his gloves to shake Pandora's hand.
"Hey, Wrench. Any progress today?" sighed Pandora as she swung over her treader.
"Progress on this heap behind me?' motioned the mechanic sarcastically, 'If by progress you mean more leaks, cracks, and busted parts, then yah, progress."
Pandora strode out of the garage shaking her head, "I want to fly, Wrench, and sooner than later!"
"Might want to see if you can't find a pair of wings then!" Wrench called out.
Pandora left the others behind to be the first to retire within the bunker. Merc and Lacea remained in the garage to refuel and stow the treaders.
"Is the pump at least working today?" asked Mercury as he positioned a treader next to several barrels attached to a hose and nozzle.
"That, at least, hasn't tapped out yet.' smiled Wrench beneath his mask, 'But even with our fractional, also still working, I might add, I still can't believe you guys haven't blown up yet from putting that fuel in your bikes."
"I can't believe this place hasn't blown up with you drilling and refining in the same...cave." smirked Lacea.
"Hey, it's a nice cave!" objected Wrench.
Merc, who was filling up the tank on a treader, looked over to Lacea, "It is a nice cave, what with the lights and the wall panels...and floor, I guess."
Lacea smiled and rolled her eyes, "Still a cave."
"Still better than that little cargo bin you call a base." laughed Wrench as he began collecting his tools for storage.
"Oh no, that's nothing like your cave, more like a hovel. Much nicer."
Merc moved on to replenish the tank of the next treader, "Either of you guys here when Pandora found this place? Still can't figure out how she got all this out here."
"That's not the only thing you can't figure out about Pandora.' scoffed Lacea before leveling eye to eye with Merc across the treader, 'Seriously, when are you going to say something to her?"
Mercury unlatched the nozzle from the treader and shot a disappointed glare back at Lacea who hid a giggle in response.
"I can't figure out how we have a garage, generators, a bunker, dredge pump, but only got one little outhouse off to the side." said Wrench.
"Truly, one of the great mysteries of the desert." sighed Mercury as he began refueling Pandora's treader.
Pandora shut the hatch to the bunker behind her and quietly began switching various light sources on nearly tripping over a duffle that Mercury had left in the center of the living space. It was a compact room, dusty, ornate blankets disguised the metal walls with a semblance of warmth. A makeshift table with a spread of maps and playing cards stood opposite crates that had been adapted to serve as furniture. An old telephone that Wrench had rigged up to a radio antennae rested unused next to an idle Cosset, Pandora's A.I. device. Cosset's normally cheery ring of colored lights remained grey, probably due to a depleted charge, Pandora thought. Toward the back of the room leaned an iron ladder that was used to descend into the sectioned sleeping quarters that each crew member had.
Once Pandora had adequate lighting she stood over the table and began tracing her fingers over a map of the desert. Her hand ran down the inked slopes of the western mountains and past various markings and illegible notes. Since leaving the rest in the garage Pandora's face became solemn. She stared intently at the mountain where the gate to the vaults should stand. Various x's marked the locations of excavations of the labyrinth beneath the Mountain that she and her crew had plundered for ancient technology. Lately, however, they had not found enough to sell in the surrounding outposts and the crew had taken up bounty hunting and other odd jobs to sustain themselves.
Pandora had witnessed this history before but in a different arrangement of events. She was no stranger to the rising Authority or to the scattered gangs that roamed the deserts. Pandora knew that soon, very soon, the Authority would demonstrate its full might and bring all contenders to heel.
Yet, with all of her familiarity, something was different, pieces of history were missing or added to, a plot first discovered by Desmond, was now unfolding in unanticipated ways. From Pandora's memory the ascension of the Authority was behind schedule this time around, something had delayed their schemes. Noticeably fewer gangs scoured the dunes to the east and more, yet shabbier towns had popped up in the central wastes. The military might of the Authority, though present, was not represented by groups of soldiers but small detachments of law enforcement officers, like Inspector Javert. However, the Authority seemed to have a greater emphasis on connecting some of the larger towns to a central hub where rested their seat of power. Unlike her own time where the Authority had quashed all resistance, they now seemed to be gradually drawing all trade, all resources, and all peoples to themselves.
Indeed there was much reason to relocate to the Authority city as they had painstakingly been excavating and restoring an ancient city lost to the sands. Terrible and vast machines forged of strange ores by the Authority chewed through rock and sand as they reclaimed the towers and streets from the consuming desert. Travelers to the Authority city often stood dumbstruck upon their first sight of the sand blasted skyscrapers and bustling roads. The Authority had lost none of its strength and still whatever had upset the timeways had slowed them down, though Pandora could detect no reason for their delay.
Frustrated and not wanting to be bothered by the prying questions of her crew Pandora decided to retire to her quarters below. She slipped down the ladder just as Lacea and the others entered the bunker. Merc disappointedly gave a slight sigh as he watched Pandora duck out of sight just as they arrived.
While the crew began unwinding for the night with a meal of stale bread and spices Pandora sat down at a small desk in her room. She reached below and opened a dark chest hidden away on the floor and removed a black journal to read. Within the pages was a new entry with ink that was scarcely dry:
No news yet on the untimely discovery concerning your departed self. Tsayad confirms the dead king walks again, clans in chaos. Awaiting your initial report, at very least reply with your health.
Pandora tore the page out of the journal and placed it atop a stack of similar pages before replacing the journal.
The next morning Mercury ascended the iron ladder to join the others in the living room.
"Pandora still asleep?" asked Merc as he poured himself a tin of burnt coffee.
Lacea kicked her feet up onto the table, "She took off earlier this morning. The sun wasn't even up."
"She say where she was going?"
After finishing a long sip of coffee Lacea replied, "Probably to go see what the Inspector has to offer us."
Wrench glared into his mug as he stirred in sugar, "I don't like Authority jobs. They'll be bad news one day."
"Yah,' sighed Lacea, 'but we won't see that one day if we don't take those jobs. No work, no pay, no food."
"I still don't like it.' growled Wrench, 'Seems like Authority jobs are the only paying jobs out there nowadays. Can't even buy or sell without those guys being connected somehow."
Merc finished his tin before speaking, "I doubt Pandora would have us do anything too supportive of the Authority. She doesn't seem the type."
"Whose type does she seem?", chuckled Lacea before taking another sip.
Mercury picked his duffle up off the floor and walked toward the hatch. "I'm going to ignore that comment and graciously go see if she needs any help.", he said as he clipped a sword to his belt.
"Are we supposed to ignore you ditching us to hang out with Pandora?" smiled Wrench.
Merc grinned back at the two as he prepared to slam the hatch shut, "Now you got it!"
"Try to remember which way is east this time!" shouted Lacea.
Upon an iron desk lay a chart of of the deserts, mountains, and most curiously, winds. Looming over the map was the Inspector Javert, a relentless pursuer of the law.
The walls of his office were decorated with medals and plaques of honor for his service to the Authority. He had made a career of tracking and seizing or eliminating the dangerous criminals of the wilds. Fond of traps, the Inspector would watch his quarry for weeks to learn of their dealings before striking just as a crime was unfolding. While most of those he arrested were murderers and thieves, and while still taking pride in removing these individuals from the populace, the true interest of the Authority was not in the Inspector's police work, but instead what he could do to consolidate power through trade. To Inspector Javert the capture or burial of a criminal was to the benefit of the innocent, but to his keepers it was but to subdue the competition.
Inspector Javert was not ignorant to the motivations of the Authority, nor was he necessarily opposed. After all, out here only the law could give life and anyone that would dare raise themselves above it should be met with bitter consequences for the sake of all.
The sound of a treader roared outside the police post and soon after Pandora entered the Inspector's office, being careful to shut the door behind her.
"I expected you an hour ago." stated the Inspector as blandly as possible, 'Sit."
"Well, we didn't set a time." snarked Pandora as she pulled up a chair for herself.
Pandora did not recall an Inspector like this one from her past history in the desert. She had known of only one "Inspector Javert" and that was not the man standing before her. After some research on the Authority Pandora concluded that "Javert" was a title attached to the rank of Inspector. She had scoured service records and discovered that small selections of military police personnel would be reported missing just before a new Inspector Javert would be appointed. This new Inspector would have no previous record prior to his new station. Filling in the blanks, Pandora surmised that some cruel trial forced the missing officers to compete leaving only one living to claim the rank of Inspector Javert.
"No.' said the Inspector as he flipped the map on the worktable around toward his guest, 'I suppose we did not set a time. Tell me, what do you make of this chart?"
Pandora smirked before pulling her seat closer to the desk to study the map. The Inspector was careful to watch Pandora's eyes, taking notice of each location she glanced at and each that she ignored.
"Looks accurate to me."
"What do you make of the weather patterns to the northwest? I find it irregular for there to be so many storms over a drained sea." mused the Inspector.
"Maybe it's not so drained."
The Inspector surrendered the idle line of thought, "Has your business attracted the attention you had hoped? The secrets of the Mountain and its treasures?"
Pandora attempted to disguise her uneasiness, "Not yet, but I suspect that we will have our client soon."
The Inspector grimaced beneath his dark mask and paced toward a window, "Pandora, I tolerate you and your crew for the common good. The Authority is rising, soon, to use your timeframe, soon the city will be the only power in the land. Soon there will be little advantage to dragging on some secret plot to subvert their reign. I fear that the timeliness of my tolerance may be running short."
"I promise you,' assured Pandora, 'we will deliver what we owe you."
The Inspector turned about, "Look again at the map, Pandora. Does nothing trouble you about it? Did you see where it comes from?"
Pandora glanced again at the chart this time noting the wind channels and Authority emblem printed in the corners.
"Yes, now you see.' smiled the Inspector, 'This map is from the Authority command. But do you understand?"
Pandora leaned in closer to the chart searching for what she could not read in the ink. "The air currents. But the Authority have had airships for years, you wouldn't need-"
"Not for the ships, no.' interrupted the Inspector, 'Soon, Pandora, the reach of the Authority will sweep over the desert on the wind. And if that happens whatever plot you and your friends are working, even out there in the Styx, won't matter."
Pandora leaned back to process, the Inspector had just tipped his hand. Not only had he revealed that he knew the approximate location of the bunker but he may have also hinted at just what had delayed the Authority's rise to power. They had something different this time, what it was and for what purpose seemed even to worry the Inspector. But the question of why bothered Pandora even more.
"I've studied your theology, Pandora. Your wild tales do not impress me.' scolded the Inspector, 'This Christ, God or no, will not be granted asylum when the Authority seizes control. Time. Providence. They will find their terminus, like the rails that span this forsaken desert, at the Authority city. And if you do not want to end alongside them you will bring me what you promised."
Pandora abruptly stood in protest, "You said you had a job for me."
The Inspector sat down, "I did. I know your crew is close to starving, most likely due to their ineptitude. So I arranged some work that may better suit them."
"How kind of you."
"Not really. I cannot collect debts from the deceased.' snarled the Inspector as he flipped the chart to face him again, 'You'll find a binding of Authority propaganda in the lobby. Spread it among the outlying towns between here and Styx and I'll see to it that you receive a day's wage for each crew member."
Pandora cringed at the idea of furthering the agenda of the Authority, "I don't suppose you could arrange for payment up front? Pretty long trip on an empty stomach."
"I don't suppose I can." laughed the Inspector.
Frustrated Pandora bustled out of the police post carrying a large and awkwardly bound wrapping of posters and bills. Just then Mercury and his treader rumbled down Main Street pulling right up to his leader. The treader kicked up a fair amount of dust that rolled over Pandora in a cloud.
"Sorry!" exclaimed Merc as he lowered his riding goggles.
Pandora blinked several times attempting to brush the sand from her eyes, "Just who I wanted to see."
"No. Here." Pandora shoved the binding of propaganda into Merc's arms and hopped on her own vehicle.
"What's this?" said Merc as he flipped through some of the loose papers.
To Be Continued...
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