Collection: Age Of Youth//Elysian
Chronicled by: Valhel
Preceeded by: Mirrors
Pandora retreated to the back of the garage, stepping carefully to avoid scattered tools that Wrench had left lying about. She pulled aside a canvas drape revealing the weathered airship beneath. Worry and admiration trickled through Pandora's mind as she weighed time against Wrench's progress on the vessel.
The hovercraft sported a sleek and narrow bow, interrupted by a clumsily designed repulsor disc, that sloped into a steep hull which housed twin sand bore engines within the freight barrel while landed. Atop the airship was a slim deck set below knee-high walls that rounded out opposite of the engines to a domed cockpit. Green paint flaked off here and there in large patches showing the aged metal beneath. Electromagnetic plates were folded tightly to the stern. And a dismantled grappling cannon was mounted to the top deck.
As Pandora took a quiet moment to stare at the ship Mercury entered the garage.
"Think she'll fly again?" he asked.
Pandora continued looking over the craft, "Wrench has his work cut out for him."
Mercury picked a spanner up off the ground and began to flip it in hand as he paced toward Pandora, "So what's this all about?"
"What's what about?" sighed Pandora.
Merc smiled and tried to make light of his prying, "Oh, you know...secret base, airship, the whole mysterious vibe you got going on. You ok?"
Pandora sat down on the floor and continued to examine the ship, "Why wouldn't I be ok?"
"I'm not saying you're not,' shrugged Merc, 'but it definitely looks like you've got some master plan going on and sometimes, I don't know. Just making sure you're ok."
Mercury lost control of the spanner and it spun across the garage and into a workbench with a clang.
"I'll clean that up." said Merc.
"No one needs to be worried, Merc." affirmed Pandora as she stood back up.
The smuggler smiled at the electromancer, "Well, now I'm definitely worried."
Pretending to pay no notice to Mercury's quip, Pandora walked over to the treaders and began to inspect their fuel supply.
Tagging along, Mercury persisted, "C'mon, what is it? Bounty hunter? Revenge? Money? What's all this for?"
"Maybe all of that.' sighed Pandora, 'Maybe none."
Merc leaned on to the treader Pandora was inspecting, "Well, I've got your back."
“Yah?’ Pandora turned around holding back a slight smile, ‘So when those bounty hunters show to take revenge for all that money I stole from them, what are you going to do?”
Mercury’s eyes grew wide, “Wait, is that what’s going on?”
Pandora turned her attention back to the treader.
“‘Cause if that is what’s going on,’ Merc continued, ‘uh, we cou- we’ll stop them.”
“It’s not bounty hunters, Merc.” Pandora smiled.
“Oh. Ok.’ Merc folded his arms and puffed out his chest, ‘I mean, even if it were, we’d have it handled.”
“Uh-huh.”, Pandora stood again and began to place various tools, parts, and a fuel canister into a satchel mounted to the side of the treader.
“So if it’s not vengeful bounty hunters, what is it?”
After securing the cargo Pandora turned back to Mercury.
“Don’t worry, Merc.’ she nodded reassuringly, placing her hand on his shoulder, ‘It’s much worse.”
With that Pandora patted Merc’s shoulder before striding out of the garage toward the bunker, “You’re leaving before sunrise, Merc! Get your rest!”
Two treaders ripped dust from the streets of a bustling town. Iron buildings formed the artificial canyons of Skyport, their metal frames and canopies burnt and warped by a relentless sun. Within the shadows of these alleyways weary travelers found relief and lawless rogues found protection from the vigilant law. Built above and within the cliffside of a mesa, Skyport was one of the few establishments in the outlying lands where one could board a passenger skyship bound for another town.
As the crowds became dense Pandora relaxed the throttle on her treader allowing for Lacea and Merc to pull up beside her.
“I prefer driving.’ grumbled Mercury from his rear facing bench, ‘I get to drive on the way back!”
“You get to drive me around when you learn East from West!” snarked Lacea.
Pandora slowed up again, “We’ll wind back around to cargo docks and then get you on board.”
Mercury craned his head around in an attempt to face Pandora, “So, we’re not just gonna buy tickets?”
“You got papers?” asked Lacea.
“Good point.’ smiled Mercury, ‘Hey, why’d we take three people and only two treaders? Why not Lacea and I get our own?”
“Parking is hard to find here, and besides,’ shrugged Pandora, ‘I’m going home after this.”
“Ok,’ Lacea nodded, ‘but why come with us at all?”
“I’ve got to introduce you to my contact, you wouldn’t want to spook Sam. Without a proper introduction you might end up in a cell or worse...”
Pandora grew impatient with the crowds and fed her treader a little more gas allowing Lacea to fall in line.
“Sam? What is he?’ pried Lacea, ‘Resistance? Authority?”
Pandora drew the hood of her duster over her head, “I’m hoping neither.”
Lacea glanced back over her shoulder at Mercury with a look of suspicion.
The machines rumbled through the misshapen streets. Mercury took his time surveying the parade of scoundrels and adventurers on this guided tour. Boots and cloaks caked with mud, elaborate dresses and guild cloaks, grizzled scowls and perceptive eyes tucked below wide brimmed hats or masks. Smugglers stood about arguing over the course of action. Lawmen patrolled detested by those around them. Thieves slinked about watching for un-minded monies. Even an armored individual roamed in the distance with dark plating from head to toe, no doubt, Mercury thought, new military grade Authority tech.
Finally the crowds began to thin and before long Pandora lead the group into a brightly lit platform that was suspended over the side of the cliff. Enormous cranes swung about to grasp large crates and bins, lifting them over the enclosing buildings toward the docks while smaller crafts ferried the more average sized containers.
Pandora hopped off her treader and removed a silver coin from her pocket. She flipped it up and back into her hand before flicking it into the side of a narrow shipping canister.
Lacea and Merc glanced at each other briefly in confusion before hopping down from their own treader.
Suddenly the latch on the canister began to wriggle and then slide open with a horrid screeching sound. The door to the container swung open and a filthy glove reached out from within, taking hold of the coin.
“You get the rest when they’re on the bus.” sighed Pandora.
The glove retracted into the canister, “I could be killed just for being seen with you! Who else is here?”
“Just me, and my friends, Sam.’ said Pandora as she flipped another coin onto the ground, ‘Need a hand?”
Out of the container shuffled a flash of red hair stuffed under a weathered cap, oil stained clothes and skin. As unkempt boots found footing the woman stood revealing sharp eyes and a wicked smile, “How’s Alan doing? I miss having him out here, cranes seem to break down twice as fast now that he’s gone.”
“He’s good, Sam. Got him working on my ship still...’ Pandora jingled the remaining coins in her pocket, ‘We’re on a tight schedule, did you save me a parking space?”
“Oh! Right!’ laughed Sam as she pushed by Lacea and Merc to guide the handlebars of the treader, ‘Excuse me!”
With tremendous effort Samantha lead the machine into the narrow canister.
“Sam here is one of the port’s crane pilots.’ explained Pandora, ‘Should be able to help you two sneak around.”
“Shipping label reads that this can won’t get picked up until next week, your bike will be safe in here until then.” sighed Sam as she locked the door on the container and tossed the key to Pandora who then flipped the key to Lacea.
“For when you get back.”
Mercury raised an eyebrow at Pandora, “Couldn’t get two bins for two treaders?”
“Hey, kid.’ snapped Sam as she leaned on Merc’s shoulder, ‘You think I just have a bunch of mysteriously delayed shipping canisters just sitting around here?”
“One’s an anomaly, two is twice the chance at getting caught.” said Pandora.
Sam pointed a greasy glove at Pandora in agreement.
Lacea folded her arms, “So how are we getting on the hovercraft?”
“With me!’ winked Sam, ‘I’m gonna need a little muscle loading some shipments on the Hesperides and after that I’m sure you two can find a seat.”
“Seat? Won’t they check for tickets?’ squinted Lacea, ‘Why not just ride in cargo all the way to the City?”
“Because you’re not making contact in Authority City. You’ll be making contact on the way.” nodded Pandora.
“You know, most teams go over the plan before its happening.” scoffed Lacea.
“I like my way better,’ smirked Pandora as she climbed back onto her treader, ‘gives you two less time to come up with your own plan.”
“Right then!’ Sam clapped her gloves together, ‘Let’s go already!”
Pandora ignited the engine of the treader and slipped into the alleyways.
“I don’t like this.” grumbled Lacea to Mercury.
“You don’t have to!’ smiled Sam as she walked toward the passenger dock, ‘This way.”
Before long the whirling sound of engines and blades filled the air as Sam lead Lacea and Mercury toward the din.
“So what kinda ship is this?” shouted Merc over the noise.
“Passenger class yacht, Hesperides- the sky garden.’ said Sam, ‘We’re gonna get a bin and load it.”
Sam then lay hold of a large container’s tow bar, activating the repulsor lifts and slid it aside unveiling the world behind.
Merc stood eyes wide, “Whoa.”
As Sam pulled the container away a complete view of the cliff-side harbor was revealed. A dazzling sun gleaming across massive docks that reached out to vessels over open air. But of all the craft one stood dominant over the rest. Three enormous lift engines tucked port, starboard, and below roared while mammoth zeppelin envelopes billowed above the black deck of the Hesperides.
“Largest airship ever built!’ remarked Sam, ‘Now get over here and help me load this thing!”
Lacea rushed to help Sam, her suspicions subsiding in excitement for the moment, Mercury followed behind after taking a moment longer to look over the ship.
“Ok,’ shouted Sam as quietly as she could, ‘when we get this over to the crane you two are gonna hop up top and ride it into the cargo hold just like everyday dockhands. Then you’ll slide it over where the other bins are and get inside.”
“Inside the ship?” asked Mercury.
“No, the bin.’ said Sam as she slapped the logo on the side of the container, ‘Everything else you’ll need is inside.”
Lacea peeled her eyes away from the ship to look at the Authority Science Division branding on the bin, “Great...”
“Ok, that’s all I know, step back and hope we don’t get caught, ‘cause if you do I don’t know you!”
“But we do know you.” sighed Lacea.
Sam began to climb into the control pit of a crane module, “Do you really think Sam is my real name?” she laughed as shut the windscreen.
Lacea and Merc stood staring at Sam for a brief moment.
“...Yes.” blurted Mercury.
“Come on,’ growled Lacea, ‘grab a cable before she takes off without us...”
Mercury and Lacea scrambled up the side of the Authority shipping container, Lacea having had an easier time due the ladder that Mercury failed to notice.
“Hold on!” crackled Sam’s voice over an intercom.
A high pitched whining swept through the air as four cylindrical repulsors sparked to life beneath the crane lifting it up into the air. Lurching forward the orange craft ascended above the shipping bin and released a ferocious looking tow claw that clamped down into a fitted mechanism atop the container. The crane then lifted higher raising the tow lock and four cables that fed out of each corner of the bin.
The small craft heaved with great strain as it drew the container off of the dock and into the air. Within Sam held down a red button on the stick and leaned toward a small comm set lazily tossed on the dash, “This is Talon Captain Antha to Hesperides, bringing in Authority shipment: “Doctor’s Orders”, over.”
“Copy that, Talon Four, proceed to cargo deck seven.”
The Talon IV listed haphazardly toward the Hesperides as it descended into the cargo bay. The tow claw pulled the container closer to the hovercraft allowing for flight within the deck. Finding a secluded area to set down Sam lowered and released the bin and its passengers out of sight.
Merc and Lacea hopped down and looked up to Sam as she waved farewell before pulling away and out of the Hesperides.
“What now?” sighed Lacea as she watched the tow ship fly off to the docks.
“I think we’re supposed to open it.” shrugged Merc as he began to swing the release bars on the bin wide.
Within Lacea and Mercury discovered an array horrid and complex instruments. Twisted chrome glittered at the points of various needles and blades, cryptic gauges remained ominously still, and a fantastic arrangement of empty glass tubes and spheres invited the wildest of guesses.
“What are we supposed to do with all this?” growled Mercury as he stepped inside nearly tripping over a small chest.
“Hopefully nothing.” Lacea stooped down and opened the locker that Merc’s foot had found.
“What is it?” whispered Mercury, his disastrous curiosity being momentarily diverted.
Lacea’s face crinkled in confusion and then pleasant surprise as she lifted the contents up out of the locker, “...it’s clothes...nice clothes, and two tickets for first class. There’s a luggage bag too.”
“Finally moving up in the world!” smiled Mercury as he pulled a jacket from the case.
The two took turns standing guard and changing attire within the bin before stuffing their dusty clothes into the supplied bag and making their way to the passenger deck. While Lacea was thoroughly enjoying her false status and costume neither she nor Mercury rightly looked the part of of first class passengers. Mercury sported a black gentlemen’s travel duster, cut from the same cloth as his trousers and vest buttoned atop a grey shirt. The shoes were only slightly too small, and try as he might Mercury could not disguise his discomfort below the provisioned bowler hat. Lacea’s shoes, on the other hand, fit just fine. Under her ornate dark jacket was a long white ruffled dress with smoky black inks stained into the fringes fashioned with wide belt. Still, the refined style did not withhold Lacea’s stoic swagger as she paced to the pair’s seats.
The luxurious aisles and passenger cabins lended a taste of the sleek future that the Authority aimed to usher in with their rule. Recompense for the wealthy that had long lifted themselves above the rust and sand of the city below. Glossy black paneling lined the interior that would intermittently glow with a soft white light. Delicately replicated lilies, long extinct, had been cut and set in thin crystal vases. Just as the minimalized extravagance was beginning to make Lacea and Mercury feel out of place they found their passenger box, slid the door shut, and assumed their seats.
“So now what?” whispered Mercury.
No sooner had the words left his mouth there was a rap at the cabin door as a thin man in uniform slid it open.
“Your table is ready, this way please.” said the attendant as he gingerly motioned toward the aisle.
Lacea glanced from the man to Mercury, “That’s what.”
Out from the cabin and forward down the passenger deck lead the attendant. The man walked with a quick step having nearly robotic posture. He was either painfully unamused with his position or rigorously distant in order to minimize his presence, Mercury could not discern which. At the end of the deck was a cylindrical glass elevator through which could be seen the ornate and fantastic gold cogs, levers, and wheels of the overly complex mechanism.
Revealing a polished yet simple gold key the attendant unlocked the lift and gestured for his guests to enter.
Mercury stepped inside, but Lacea looked everything over, “There’s no buttons?”
The man restrained a smirk, “I will send the lift from the levers here and another attendant will meet you above.”
Not withholding a scowl, Lacea entered. The doors shut and again the attendant turned the key before turning away to a set of levers and pulling two down. Gears cranked and heaved in a mesmerizing display around the lift as it ascended. Just as the first had said, another attendant unlocked the doors to the cylinder and beckoned Lacea and Mercury to exit.
“This way, please.” she chirped.
But the pair were too enraptured by their surroundings to listen for all about them was a garden. Vivid trees and living flowers, colours a commoner could only dream of, a damp cool air, all sheltered beneath an enormous greenhouse dome that stretched nearly half of the deck.
“Excuse me,’ intruded the attendant, ‘your table is ready.”
Still wide-eyed, Merc nodded, “Yeah, ok.”
Trailing behind the attendant at an awkward pace Lacea and Merc turned in all directions to take in the sights. But there was no plant so beautiful as the tree crowing the garden at its center. It wound up out of the soil, the leaves a vibrant green or shimmering gold, its bark black with a peculiar pattern that gave the illusion that the tree itself was moving or breathing as one changed perspective and proud boughs swept down like a cloud of leaves to embrace those below.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?”
Lacea and Mercury turned to see that they were standing beside their table, at which was seated a man in a dark cloak with bright eyes. It was after this that Lacea and Mercury also noticed that about the garden were various dining arrangements with other guests being waited upon.
“Please, please!’ motioned the man, ‘Sit! I’ve been expecting you!”
Warily the two sat down opposite the man.
“So,’ said Lacea reluctantly, ‘you’re the Authority science officer?”
“Well, for the purpose of this visit I am actually here treating my niece and her friend to an excursion,’ he said waving his hand at Lacea and Mercury respectively, ‘and to that end you may call me Andrew.”
“But you are the officer?” pried Merc.
“Yes, yes.’ nodded the man, ‘My friends call me the professor, and by friends I suppose I mean colleagues. But here let’s stick with Andrew for the time being.”
Lacea and Mercury responded with blank expressions.
“Why are we here?” Lacea asked as bluntly as possible.
“To eat, time permitting, and discuss matters at hand.” shrugged the professor as he began to pour each of them a glass of ice water.
One of the waitstaff presently set three dishes before the trio and walked briskly away.
“I apologize,’ said Andrew as he finished filling Mercury’s glass, ‘I took the liberty of ordering our meals beforehand. The Authority tends to push its reformation in absurd ways and I did not wish for you to agonize over the foreign language of the menu.”
Lacea raised an eyebrow, “Foreign language?”
“French.’ shrugged the professor, ‘They’ve embraced what they can from that lost world as a symbol of their future.”
“I don’t care what you got us,’ said Merc now nearly as impressed with his dish as the entire airship itself, ‘I haven’t seen this much food in weeks!”
Lacea inched her plate away with her fingers and leaned forward, “Why are we here?”
Andrew leaned back in his seat, his eyes narrowing in anticipation, “I have a proposition.”
Mercury leaned in across the table, “Business?”
“More than that, I hope.’ schemed the professor, ‘I had an enlightening conversation with your Pandora the other evening and I believe our goals to be parallel.”
“So, no pay?” said Mercury as he began to scarf down the imitated Bresse.
“Considerable pay, actually. Each of you could afford to eat here for the rest of your lives if we all succeed.” stated the professor.
“Sounds like we’re either going to be rich or die very soon.” squinted Lacea as she pulled her plate back to her.
Andrew smiled, “Anything’s possible.”
“What’s the gig?” choked Merc between bites.
Andrew folded his arms, “Time travel.”
“I don’t own a watch.” slurped Mercury from his glass.
“He’s still learning East from West.” quipped Lacea.
Momentary concern swept over Andrew’s eyes, “How reassuring. Have you heard the rumors that the Authority is meddling with time to rearrange history in its favor?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Lacea quietly.
“Oh, good!’ said Andrew hitting his palm on the table, ‘It’s not true. Well, not true yet...presently...”
Having finished his meal Mercury set down his utensils, “I can already tell this is going to be way over my head.”
“It’s over all of our heads!’ nodded the professor, ‘And it is too dangerous for the Authority to hold.”
“But,’ said Lacea, finally enjoying the meal, ‘we’re going to mess with it anyways?”
“Of course we are! I like this spirit we all have! So adventurous!”
Lacea did not look up and Merc continued a long sip from his glass.
“Right.’ Andrew lowered his voice, ‘The Authority is a few months away from unlocking temporal potential in their experiments, the final half of their monstrous project.”
Lace now looked up, “What’s the first half?”
Andrew’s face turned grim, “A weapon.”
“What kind of weapon?” asked Mercury in a hushed voice.
“Chemical, airborne.’ shuddered Andrew, ‘I believed that we were at least a decade away from its development, but one of the younger technicians had a breakthrough.”
Lacea motioned with her fork, “And how is that half of the time travel thing?”
“The Authority plans to combine temporal manipulation with the delivery system of the weapon.’ said Andrew, ‘They would only need to learn the locations of resistance before they could jump the weapon to a time before challengers could be prepared. Then the Authority would mete out punishment and hysteria in sterile extermination.”
Lacea stopped eating, “They would be unbeatable.”
“Precisely, none could challenge this weapon once it is completed.”
“Wait a minute.’ smirked Mercury, ‘If this thing can take out people in the past once someone figures out who the attackers are in future wouldn’t we just be signing ourselves up for punishment?”
The professor smiled, “I’m happy you asked that, in fact that’s the question that drove me to take this course of action.”
“If the weapon gets built then there wouldn’t be the Resistance now.” surmised Lacea.
Andrew pointed at Lacea with enthusiasm, “Exactly! Something or someone prevents the weapon from being completed and I believe it is to be us!”
“Okay, so how are we supposed to do that?” asked Mercury.
Andrew leaned back into his seat, a slight smile crept in as his eyes sparked with a scheme, “I believe that time is like a river...
It moves and flows with purpose. Sometimes slow and sometimes crashing. And we, people, we make up that river. Our choices, actions, they are like stones that we throw into the waters. Usually these small stones do little to change the course of the river, even in great quantity they eventually are washed away. Even the large stones, while they may make a splash or churn the waters eventually the river returns to its current, either crashing over the rocks or bending around them.
You see, like a river, time is incredibly difficult to change in our lifespans. The most beautiful acts of kindness, or the greatest affronts of horror, even they are lost to people in a few years or more because time is moving beyond their waves and ripples, flowing unmoved into some undivined sea.
But if one could traverse this river, walk along the shores of time, travel in whichever direction he or she wished to cast stones there could be dire consequences for all.
Still, if the river was dammed, or split apart, it would still fight to return to the sea. The tributaries would again come together to resume the current. I think of this as providence, the river correcting itself.
Even so, the possibilities ahead of the Authority to control time would mean rough waters ahead for all unless we cast our rocks before them.
The reason the weapon is not descending on us this moment in time, here and now, is because we do succeed. We destroy the possibility of this terrible machine, we are the tributaries that have come together to rejoin the river and correct the current.”
Neither Lacea nor Mercury wished to be the first to speak.
“Let’s pretend that made sense,’ said Mercury, ‘How would we do it?”
“Why, we would build our own time machine first.’ laughed Andrew, ‘Think of the good we could do. Jumping about righting wrongs, sparing the innocent of evil, revealing the true hands of fate.”
“There’s fate now?” sighed Lacea.
“Fate, destiny, providence.’ smiled the professor, ‘What could master such things were they not one’s will?”
Andrew now lowered his voice just above a whisper and leaned in close, “What made the river? Chance? Could it be powerful enough? Perhaps...but I have reason to believe something far greater than chance orchestrated all, a presence. I just need more information.”
The sound of glass smashing overhead shattered the stillness of the garden. Patrons and staff began to shout in terror as they ran. Gaping sections of the greenhouse ceiling were blown away to making way for black airships descending upon the Hesperides.
Andrew’s face turned white, “It appears that I was not nearly secretive enough.”
“Who is it?’ Lacea stood to her feet, reaching for a sidearm that wasn’t there, ‘The Authority?”
“No...’ frowned the professor, ‘...the Resistance.”
To Be Continued...
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