Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Maker Wars

As promised, the next installment of my Steampunk adventure. 


Saint Obispo. A small coastal town situated atop pink and honey colored granite cliffs rising from the Great Green Sea, it boasted the largest number of Inventors and Makers Colleges per capita of all the towns and villages in Calidonia. The stone and wood buildings glimmered a warm pink and honey in the sunshine, a pale echo of the cliffs where the city so proudly stood. Here, the citizens of Saint Obispo felt they were safe for they were protected as much by the cliff-side inaccessibility as they were by the firm but benevolent rule of King Pendragon. 

Saint Obispo was the jewel in Pendragon’s crown for the Makers and Inventors coming from her Colleges were the best, brightest, and most talented in his kingdom. It was also the epicenter of the king’s intelligence gathering society, the FS&GS or the Fellowship of Seers & Guardians Society. And, lately, what they’d had to say had the king worried. 

Near the outer edge of the town, on the side away from the cliffs, was a small, well kept, middle-class suburb. The homes here looked both well-loved and well-lived in. Small, steam powered wagons were parked in front of some of the homes and each home had well-oiled gears to assist in opening and closing shutters or storm doors on the rare occasions the weather turned to hurricanes. At the moment, steam belched gently from the steam stacks of several homes where folks were working on their daily chores.

One home in the middle of this bucolic suburb stood out as markedly different. It, too, had well-tended lawns and oiled gears on shutter and door. It, too, had steam belching from its numerous steam stacks but there was nothing gentle about most of them. Steam shot out at a near shriek from several of the metal pipes emerging at odd angles from the roof and even a couple of the cottage walls. Loud noises could be heard from deep within the house at any time of the night or day, although enough neighbors had complained they needed their sleep that the owner tried hard to dampen the noises after 9 o’clock of the evening. Still, they didn’t always stop completely. He was lucky his neighbors were actually a fairly good humored lot and, also luckily for him, inclined to ignore the worst of the owner’s peccadillos as he was a Master Inventor and he tended to ask them to test his inventions before they hit the market. 

It was before this house a King’s Messenger rode up in a non-descript, steam-powered Delivery Wagon. He looked like nothing more than a run-of-the-mill package delivery man and no one who saw him would ever guess otherwise. He parked and stared at this cottage a moment in concerned wonder. This was where His Royal Majesty wanted him to Deliver? One of the steam stacks loosed a piercing whistle and the Messenger nearly tripped as he was climbing down from his wagon. He glanced around but no one came running to see what had happened or what caused the noise so he had to believe this… this… sound was a normal enough occurrence for them that they tended to ignore it when it happened. Shaking his head, he went to the rear of his wagon and lifted out his crated Delivery, then turned and sauntered casually to the front door.

Just as he lifted his hand to knock he heard another high-pitched whistle, like steam makes escaping a crack just before an explosion, and he ducked reflexively. Rather than an explosion, he heard the sound of someone loudly berating wood, steam, gears, and Inventing in general, all accompanied by the sounds of loud thuds and slams as the whistle slowly abated. Still startled, but with a job to do, the Messenger cleared his throat, raised his hand once more, and knocked firmly on the door before him.

“No! I don’t want any more cookies!” Hollered a muffled but definitely masculine and highly irritated voice from within. The same one that had, moments ago, been expounding on the follies of Inventing. “Nor do I have anything to donate. Go away! I’m busy!”

Blinking in confusion the Messenger hesitated, then glanced around. Seeing no one nearby he knocked again, more firmly than before. A loud *clang* sounded from within followed by a complete and heavy silence for several long moments. This silence was followed by a rhythmic clomping that got progressively louder before stopping on the other side of the door. The door was abruptly yanked open and the Messenger found himself confronted by a scowling man of average height with light brown hair high-lighted by streaks of white and strawberry blond, some of which stood out as if he'd run a hand through it in distraction. He was scowling at the Messenger through a pair of gold, round, wire rimmed glasses which perched on the end of what could only be described as an inquisitive nose. His white and brown goatee fairly quivered with irritation as he demanded “Well? What!”

“I… the… there’s…” the Messenger, for the first time in his exemplary career for the King, found himself at a loss. The man wasn’t intimidating in and of himself, but the pure irritation at being interrupted seemed to emanate from him like a physical blow. He spoke again.

“Unless you’re selling Thin Mints, you are not welcome here. State your business and be gone or I will assist you in your going.” he barked.

The Messenger noticed the man had his left hand on a lever and some sort of Armtraption on his right arm. It appeared to be weaponized, what with the copper and brass coils and the tubing that wrapped around it and led up under his sleeve, and the man was flexing his fingers. Despite its cumbersome appearance, the man moved with the ease of one who wore it often and long. 

“Well? Which is it? Are you selling Thin Mints or are you leaving?”

This time, the Messenger saw a twinkle in the man’s blue eyes and the slightest twitch to his lips. Clearing his throat the Messenger found his official voice and managed to state his business.

“I am here with a message from His Royal Majesty, King Selinger Pendragon, to Inventor Aether Pendragon.”

The man blinked, lowering his left hand from the lever and relaxing his right as he absorbed this information, realizing the man on his porch must be a Royal Messenger. One who is never ignored for he spoke the very words of the King, himself.

“I see. Please, come in.” His tone turned respectful and he widened the door, waving the Messenger inside. “I do apologize for my earlier behavior. I’m always getting salesmen or the local kids knocking on my door to sell me something right in the middle of my work. Here we go, this way, please.” And he led the way into his front room.

It was clearly meant to be a sitting room with windows for the light and a view of what would normally be the garden but seemed to hold odd bits of metal statuary and half-built models. Inside the room, every table top, most of the chairs, and the buffet were stacked or stuffed with books and papers in what appeared to be a haphazard manner while objects that appeared to be in the beginning stages of creation sat on top of the remaining chairs, some of the book stacks, or on what floor space was left with gears and wire coils of all types of metal strewn between them. Only a few appeared to be completed but the Messenger had no idea what they might do. 

The walls had been stripped of their decorative paper and painted over with something like the chalkboards teachers and professors used in classrooms to write on for their students. There were drawings, diagrams, equations, and notations everywhere and they made absolutely no sense to the Messenger. The scope of the mathematics and schematics were dizzying. Even as he tried to read them he could feel a headache starting behind his eyes. He was almost grateful when his host turned to him.

“The message, sir?” Aether asked.

“I must be sure I am speaking to Inventor Aether Pendragon, sir. I was given strict instructions that these Words were for him, alone.” The Messenger spoke severely. "And, you must admit, the name Pendragon is not that uncommon in the kingdom." 

With a sigh, his host turned to a small table with so many papers piled on top they appeared in danger of sliding everywhere at the least breeze or featheriest touch. Somehow, and the Messenger almost suspected magic, the papers not only remained in place but yielded what their owner sought. He turned back and flourished a set of Travel Papers with his name and likeness stamped on them along with a clear representation of his signature.

The Messenger smiled. “I apologize, Professor Pendragon. His Majesty was most insistent in his instructions.”

Aether smiled slightly. “Believe it or not, I do understand, lad. The message?”

Glancing around for a clear surface, he was startled when Aether swept the papers off the very table he’d just dug through for his proof of identity. Setting them with precarious indifference atop another table piled with books, he gestured toward the now-free side table. The Messenger settled the crate atop its gleaming mahogany surface and handed the key to Aether.

“I will wait in the hall, Professor. His Royal Majesty said the message was for you, only. But, he did give me personal instructions in case you had any questions.”

Aether lifted an eyebrow at this. ‘Personal instructions’ meant that the King’s Messenger had undergone hypnosis and had no idea what the king had said to him. It was buried in his subconscious and could only be retrieved by a trigger known only to the Messenger when it was needed by the person it was for. Until that time, as far as the Messenger was concerned, it didn’t exist. If it wasn’t needed, then the ‘personal instructions’ would never exist. It was the one sure way to keep enemies of Calidonia from getting information meant for the king’s agents. If a Messenger were captured and was unable to escape, his body and its systems would shut down and he would die. Each Messenger knew this, and each Messenger was willing to serve his king. 

Aether nodded and the Messenger left the room, closing the door tightly behind him. Aether stared at the crate that nearly covered the small side table, weighing the key in his hand. What did Selinger want now? Knowing there was only one way to find out, Aether sighed and fitted the key into the lock on the crate. 

The sound of gears clicking into place reached Aether’s ears and, for a moment, the box seemed to writhe as the gears moved, then the sides of the box began to slide open and out of the way. Inside was a Gyrospeaker, an instrument not unlike a gyroscope in that it had, depending on its’ complexity, two to three rings on top of a simply etched gold box. This particular box had four rings. Within the rings hovered a round knob of sterling silver loosely wrapped with thin copper wires. Once set in motion the Gyrospeaker’s rings would begin a rapid spinning and a picture of the sender would be projected into the air above the rings with the recorded message emerging from a Speech Box. It was expensive and normally used only by the very wealthy or an extremely serious situation. 

Pressing the Receptor Switch to start the process, Aether went to clean off a chair as the gears began to warm up. He settled into the chair before the Gyrospeaker, running a hand over the smooth wood of the chairs’ arm while he waited for the gears to reach message speed. 

Soon, the whining from the gears reached the proper speed and the rings began spinning in opposition to each other. They produced a static charge that bounced off the sterling knob and copper wire, then shot into the air above the spinning rings. As Aether watched, a face began to take form over the rings and a panel in front of the box folded aside so the Speech Box could slide forward. As it did, the King’s mouth began to move and his voice emerged from the Speech Box. 

“Hello, Brother. Greetings and all that royal protocol we’re supposed to indulge in. Let’s don’t, but say we did.” He grinned and Aether couldn’t help but chuckle in response to their childhood saying for not doing what they ought. 

Then the king sobered. “I need your help, ‘Ther, but, it’s very likely to be dangerous. Before I even tell you what I need, know you are free to refuse.” He paused and glanced down. “This is hard, ‘Ther, because you’re the only one I can trust with this and to do this, but you’re still my little brother.” Aether winced even as his brother’s image looked up again to add with a slight smile. “No matter how old you become or how amazing an Inventor you are.” 

He sobered again. “Something’s coming, Aether. Something evil. My Sight Makers can’t See what it is and only know it’s coming from both the Far South and from within.”

By now, Aether had slouched down in the chair, one arm crossed over his chest to support the other as he reached up and twisted the hairs of one eyebrow, a habit he’d begun in childhood whenever he was contemplating something intensely. 

“There is one hope, Aether. My chief Sight Maker, Meirnath, has spoken of a Brass Maker who has a rare skill we may be able to use. She can create small portals between our world and another that Meirnath is too terrified to describe. Apparently whatever lives there has Sight beyond that of even our greatest Sight Makers.” He paused.

“I don’t know if this is the right road to take, Aether, but it seems right. I need you to go into the Deep Murk Forest in the Black Ward Mountains and find this Brass Maker. Ask her help in creating these Portals to see if these beings will aide us.

“Meirnath says you’re the best choice and chance to find this Brass Maker but, as I said, you’re free to refuse. I have other agents I can send, agents trained to survive in the Wilds. The choice is yours. Give your answer to the Messenger. And, yes, he can answer any questions you have. He’s the best Messenger in my service.” Aether’s eyebrows rose at that. 

The king’s hand lifted. “Be well, ‘Ther, whatever you decide. Just choose quickly.”

The spinning rings slowed and the King’s face vanished even as Aether raised his hand in response. Once silence returned, Aether sat a few more minutes in continued contemplation, his fingers still twisting his eyebrow. He stared, unseeing, at the now silent Gyrospeaker before abruptly throwing himself from his chair and toward the door. Selinger said the Messenger was not only his best but had answers he might need. As he opened the door to step into the hallway a grin spread across Aether’s face.

Yes! An adventure!