I’ll be adding short stories to this section, largely from the Coredawn Chronicles- a collection I have been working on for quite a while. I’m beginning the roll-out by offering short stories and micro-stories on Amazon Kindle. You can click the title to view and purchase Loa’s Secret, my longest story so far ($2.99 on AmazonKindle) the other stories can be read here.
It is called the Core. The Lifestar. The center of the Imperium and bastion of power for the spread of human civilization across the stars. Far from the Emperor’s homeworld of Aldaun, at the edge of rim world space lies a cluster of planets under the iron grip of the Gevroh Corporation. The smallest of these is Sekris. A barren, inhospitable wasteland, Sekris serves as headquarters for the corporation’s mining operation- and as home to thousands of colonists who toil to keep the machines of industry running.
By corporation decree even the children must work. It is here, in the Lantus Crater basin beneath an artificial sun, that nine year old Loabel Dantru has discovered something quite extraordinary.
On the core world Phater, locked beneath the Piroda Research Hospital, an alien darkness is deepening. As the hospital warden wavers between the safety of his staff and the promise of forbidden research the shadow lengthens, and an unfathomable evil prepares to take hold.
Perched on a low chair as though ready to jump up at any time, a drably dressed woman sat across from the attending supervisor of Piroda Research Hospital. Facing her over an imposing oaksteel desk, Doctor Seggethal was a razor thin man with an unusually large face and polished baldness. His black lens digi-specs were worn so tightly against the flesh it gave the impression they would not come off.
“Please,” he smiled with pursed lips. “I interrupted forgive me.” The woman blinked, the rest of her body stock still.
“You’ll pardon me doctor if I need a bit more clarity. This is the oddest dark infection case I have ever heard of. I’ll need to know exactly why you did not contact my office regarding Lord Tuomber before you allowed him into the cell.” Doctor Seggethal waved his hands with closed eyes.
“Yes yes yes, Council the mistake is entirely mine. Allow me to explain. Pier-Brogda built this institution, and many hundreds like it across Phater. Pier-Brogda is a subsidiary of Magnacorp. There has never been an incur- ah, excuse me, a dark infection this close to the Core. And that it happen in this facility? VERY bad for business. The quarantine was successful- I give you my word. We did not want to raise Imperial hackles with a case we most assuredly could handle- outside knowledge would have cost Magnacorp… billions.” The Councilwoman coughed loudly. Doctor Seggethal raised his eyebrows with a polite smile.
“So you have handled it then?” she asked. “Because I was under the impression that Lord Tuomber, the only Sensate engaged with your facility, has not only failed but is now a vessel?”
“THAT’S- that’s… not entirely true.” The doctor picked at a scab on his knuckles. “He may not be lost at all; he refuses to leave the cell but we have full confidence that once he is extracted his recovery will be swift.”
“If he will not come out, you have a plan to send someone else into that room? You have someone qualified? Someone else with the power of a Sensate?”
“No no, not at the moment. But we understand that Lord Tuomber studied under Gause Vonwell, who learned at the hand of Bao Shuuda himself. Tuomber’s people have contacted Master Vonwell, and he is on his way here.”
“That much I know.”
“Forgive me Council… and how do you know this?”
“Not important. What is important is you tell me the exact moment the presence revealed itself. I cannot overemphasize the gravity of this incident- concealing an Akuun’Dur entity in Core space.” Doctor Seggethal nodded vigorously. The Councilwoman continued, “This is a greivous breach and once the threat has been treated there will be a full investigation.”
“Yes Council of course, as I have said the fault is mine. The presence was discovered in cell 1A7,” his hands were slick with sweat as he swiped icons on the desk to bring up a list. “Ah yes, just here on sublevel N6, the quarters of one Dhomas Kekren. The presence made itself known three weeks ago, and the entire sublevel was RQ’ed immediately, with a rollback following the moment we realized it was contained inside the cell.”
“You initiated reverse quarantine without Sigil approval. And is Mr. Kekren still in the cell?”
“No, I am afraid he has been consumed.”
Cell 1A7 was a bleached cylindrical chamber with black windows that stood in the center of a wide room apart from the other cells. Six legged wardwalker droids and lab coated doctors were gathered behind a glowing line on the floor, watching the dark glass and whispering to each other. Heavy tech-team security agents in full armor stood inside of the line, faces covered by armored masks, their backs to the sealed door of the cell. The voice of Lord Tuomber rasped over the crowd from the wall comms around the room.
“Every one of you is guilty. Sending me into the mouth of darkness, alone… None of you with the guts to take my place. I had a son! I had a little boy… how many of you have I helped- how many who’s fears I have taken, who’s hopes I have fostered. And now you abandon me, you mock me, and you will sleep well knowing I am consumed and will be no more… wretched creatures you deserve this fate more than I…”
“Do not listen to it!” A young doctor shouted. “You do not hear the voice of Lord Tuomber, you know him! He is a man who lives for his fellows- you only hear the voice of the invader. Lord Tuomber is already lost.” Tuomber’s voice snarled out in response.
“How long do you think these walls can hold me doctors! How long until the shadow creeps into your nostrils? You think rejection of your brother in service, forgetting his humanity and turning away, is the answer? I am already inside you all… we are coming!” His voice rose to a feral scream.
“Turn it off!” The young doctor shrieked.
“No!” Doctor Amugus, the grizzled floor warden for N6, held up his hand. “Seggethal needs every word uttered here to be recorded- this is the culmination of a year of research and there’s no room for cowards in the final act.”
“We should kill him!” Someone shouted, “Just get in there and destroy the vessel!”
“Only a Sensate can pass that threshold with any chance of sanity.” Doctor Amugus pointed. “The presence has been feeding, we open that door and we release it. We are standing by to flashburn the room if the need arises- though we have no real assurance of its effect. As I said, unprescedented.”
“It was never meant to go this far! You must let us evacuate!”
“UNPRESCEDENTED!” Amugus was red in the face. “Have any of you seen the Akuun’Dur up close?” There were gasps and shudderings as staff members winced at the name of the Empire’s greatest enemies. A woman screamed, pointing at the cell. The soldiers jumped and about-faced, weapons drawn. There was a face in one of the windows- vaguely human but wholly unnatural, blank and vacant with holes of black where the mouth and eyes would be.
Doctor Seggethal and the Councilwoman stood at attention in the grand hall as brilliant light from the great fly-fire chandelier danced and reflected in the rippled gold floor. Hooded figures with heads bowed made their way through the high-arched entrance and came to stand in a line behind them. The last figure plodded silently up the gilded steps toward the doctor. He was a small man robed in glinting silver and black. His twisted beard was silky white and tossed over one shoulder. His eyes were small but keen, and the doctor could see a smile in the rise of his bushy mustache.
“Such finery, so lavish, for the entrance to a hospital. I trust that some of this wealth blesses those with the misfortune to live here.” His voice was low but soft. Doctor Seggethal knocked his heels in salute and bowed low.
“Forgive my ignorance, your… eminence? I was expecting Master Vonwell.”
“Ah, I must beg your pardon. Master Vonwell reached out to me, and I felt compelled to come directly in his stead. I am Bao Shuuda.” The Grand Sensate bowed in greeting. Doctor Seggethal choked on a swallow and dissolved in a spectacular fit of coughing. Bao Shuuda smiled.
“I will say now only, that I see great fear in this place- the air is frozen with it. And as you remember who I am I see your discomfort has increased. Don’t trouble- I am not offended. There will be plenty of time for talk when this unfortunate business is resolved.” He winked as the doctor nodded with eyes closed, his fist at his mouth. “What is more important,” Bao Shuuda continued, “Is that we are dealing with nothing more than fear given physical form, provided we act quickly. I must enter the cell, immediately.” The doctor nodded without speaking, his face red, and turned to escort them down the hall.
After the wall comms were silenced the Grand Sensate addressed the quarantined staff of sublevel N6, his back to the triple plated door of the cell.
“Good people I must insist that you sit comfortably… yes, now please.” He nodded slowly. “On the floor, yes. Thank you. All of you yes, guards, you as well. Power down the walkers please we do not need them. Good. There is terror here, and dread- I see you all believe you will bear these moments with you when you leave this place. You fear the darkness in your hearts will take hold, will demand your unceasing reverence, ever polluting your minds, and you will be helpless to resist it. In fact the voice in that room has told you so.” He pointed to the cell without turning. “All I can promise is that for you the story of cell 1A7 ends here. This moment. Now… sleep.” As his hand raised forty-three pairs of shoulders slumped over and lay still. The sounds of deep sleep filled the room. Only the Councilwoman and Doctor Seggethal were standing. The Grand Sensate pointed at them.
“Say nothing. Do not move until I emerge.”
Hours had passed. Bao Shuuda sat cross legged in the flickering dark of cell 1A7. Across from him against the far wall hunched a dark robed man, swaying back and forth. His hair was long and matted with a black substance, the same which stained his teeth and chin, trailing down his smock. His eyes were indistinct and watery.
“You have no power here… that they sent you, is real fear.” The husk of Lord Tuomber shook with wheezy laughter. Bao Shuuda sat like a statue, regarding his enemy through half lidded eyes.
“I no longer wish to speak to the vessel, I would treat directly with the Aku’ek, I would speak with the dreadling.”
“What need have you to see my face?” Tuomber gurgled. “I am already within you.”
“Indulge me,” The Grand Sensate adjusted his cuff. “The idle servant knows not the mind of his master. We have no more to discuss.”
“When I come forth I will consume this man, and he is lost to all existence.” Tuomber’s voice was changing.
“I do not share your superstition. Come Aku’ek, face me or dissolve your presence here and let us forget this trifle.”
“Forget?!” Tuomber howled and shook, spluttering and choking. With a spasm he collapsed. An oily smoke poured from his nose and mouth, tumbling into the air and congealing inches from the sitting Sensate. The blackness twisted into tentacles and jointed legs, spreading and splaying into the walls and ceiling as a clouded mass took shape in the center- a colorless face with hollow eyes. The dark mouth yawned and it began to speak.
“You call for me acolyte, and I answer. My poison has already taken root in this place, and your light will never burn it away.” The voice was high pitched and familiar, like the sound of children whispering together.
“How did you enter this place?” Bao Shuuda asked.
“You have nothing to compel truth from us. We will gnaw at the corners of your mind until you welcome us in… frozen, lonely, voiceless, you will know the infinite despair of the shadow. We are coming.”
“A millennium ago your poetry of fear was the same,” The Grand Sensate responded. “We ourselves have changed much in that time, your kind has not. Therein lies the beginning and end of your story. The war wages on, but your kind will never breach the Empire.”
“Servant of the dying star you are blinded by hope, but hope has cheated you. For a millennium we have crept closer and closer, for centuries we have infected the light, and I am only the beginning. Your strength wanes…”
“Piteous shadow.” The Grand Sensate clenched his eyes and clasped his hands. “I have not come before you out of personal resolve. I come not to test myself, but to show you that tomorrow you never were. The quarantined are asleep and out of your reach. He lifted his head and stared into the empty eye sockets.
“You are forgotten.”
“Liar!” the whispers turned to screams. The face rose to meet him as the Grand Sensate stood. He squared his stance and shouted.
“Dreadling Aku’ek you are the lowest of your kind, beneath the worms that power your ships. Petty wretched thing you peddle fear as though it will last! You offer nothing, you create nothing, you consume nothing, you avail nothing!”
“My darkness destroys all it touches! We are endless, we are undying, we are oblivion!”
“A splinter of shadow dissolves in the sun! You are destroyed before you are witnessed, you are consumed before you are dreaded, you have no power here!” Bao Shuuda’s hands began to pulse and crackle with arcs of light. The whispers rose to a fevered shrillness.
“Lies upon lies! You cannot deny the encircling shadow! The Eye of Ozuar is open! All will be devoured!” The Grand Sensate slammed his hands together and the glow darkened to a hellish red. His eyes burned with light, his voice ringing out in a single chant.
“By the will of the Core the final lesson unfolds. The darkness can pursue only itself. In nothingness conceived and in nothingness consumed. Formless. Shapeless. Voiceless. You never were!” There was a desperate wail dimming to a muted boom as a shockwave of energy surged into the air outside the glass and blew through the room. The wall inside the cell contracted and belched forth a human form swathed in foamy blackness. Bao Shuuda sat akimbo, eyes closed as the last bits of wispy darkness rose into the air and vanished. The flickering light steadied and brightened. Gasping and moaning two men lay on the floor before him. He raised his hand for their attention.
“Your dark dream is over.” He stood and nodded. Dhomas Kekren groaned and rubbed his eyes. Lord Halan Tuomber sat up and winced, squeezing his shoulder. He blinked up at his saviour and gasped.
“Grand Master Shuuda!” He bent over, face to the floor. “What happened to us? And how is it you are here?” Dusting the sleeve of his robe the Grand Sensate smiled.
“Doctor Seggethal had the chance to tell me a story tonight, and I did not believe him. He has been dismissed pending an investigation. Take a moment to rest if you must, and then might I suggest we repair to the kitchens. A good meal will be just the thing, I think.”
Under the auspices of the Emperor the guided research on planet Obitron has lead to an era of more machines than people. Synthetic humanoids- the symborn, are a popular commodity for both military service and the wealthy elite. The question is are they deserving of humanity? Or are they simply devices to be disposed of when something goes wrong. This was the part of the job Dr. Andus Belton hated most…
Dr. Belton sat quietly in tube-car L7, pod 14. After twenty years it was this part of the job he hated most. Today it was a long uphill ride from Sym Lot 04 to the central reprocessing plant for all of Obitron, Symcore 1, the center of the corporation’s sprawling synthetic human development project. Dressed in an impeccable, speck-free dark suit, he leaned just slightly forward in his seat, a Symcore stock datapad resting on his lap. This time the person who sat across from him was a young woman dressed neck to toe in a soft white body glove, Symcore logo branded on the lapel.
She was painfully beautiful, and the private pod was small, their knees awkwardly close. With long straight platinum blonde hair, her skin had the glow of perfect health. Her form was slender yet ample, and her posture was perfect, with hands clasped in her lap and eyes cast down. An occasional scowl flickered across her brow. Belton tapped his datapad to begin.
“Look at me please,” he said. The woman looked up, her perfect symmetry was striking, dark sleepy lashes blinked, and her irregularity came into full view. One eye was milky and white, glazed over as though fogged up from the inside.
“Any visual acuity in the left eye?”
“No.” She replied. Belton slid his finger down the datapad and made a note in the appropriate column.
“Turn your head to the left.” She turned and pulled the hair away from her shoulder. Dr. Belton raised his datapad and there was a soft chirp as it scanned a tiny blue corporation codemark at the base of her neck. He nodded and paged through the next few forms with the tip of his finger.
“Everything seems to be in order. Now, during your year of acclimation, before you were out-stocked, do you recall any unit inspections?”
“Yes. There were many.”
“And did the technician ever mention your eye?”
“Yes. My techmaster told me my eye would have to be replaced.” Belton shook his head.
“No no no,” he muttered. “Did you at any point see a SEDL agent? Were you assigned an advocate?”
“SEDL? I don’t know what that is.” Belton glared at his pad- tearing through case history with a swipe of his hand- no mention of SEDL was to be found. He talked to his lap as he searched.
“I don’t understand… SEDL is Symborn Emigration and Defense League; their organization protects your right to exist after out-stock is completed- when you are qualified to leave Obitron and begin a client service term. State your name?” He looked up.
“Satra-Dera,” he corrected. She nodded.
“The name of your human inspire comes first. Satra’s music is heard by billions across the Empire- you can be proud that your client chose her likeness for you; Satra is one of the most expensive symborn fashions on the market.”
“I enjoy her band. Legion? They are my favorite band.”
“You’ve heard them play? During acclimation?”
“No. During my claim-stasis period, where I was when you signed me out. I was hoping the buyer would have come to get me sooner, but I understand. I’m not fit for display in my condition.” He nodded, staring at her.
“Of course. And how long were you in stasis?”
“Three years.” Belton swallowed a choke, coughing loudly until the itch in his throat went away. He spoke in a rasp, cleared his throat and tried again.
“Three years?! That’s not possible. That can’t be right…” he re-scanned his notes; nothing. Her case was simple, there was almost no mention of the claim-stasis period. “Stasis should have been a month at most… And you stayed on the Claim Center campus? What did you do there?”
Satra-Dera smiled, looking around the pod.
“I learned about the Empire, and the factory where I was born. I learned about my world, the planet Obitron. I was taught to sing, and I swam in the waterfall on the courtyards with other symborn. They told me my education was important because my client would travel to all Core Worlds and much would be required of me.” Belton wiped his forehead and chewed his lip. This was all wrong.
“Do you understand where we’re going?”
“Reprocessing. To repair my eye.”
“No!” He shook his head. “Sorry, yes… but it’s not that simple. Your eye is the symptom, not the problem. There is a deep anomaly in the circuitry of your brain; which has damaged your visual stem. This could result in erratic or even dangerous impulses.” Satra-Dera blinked at him. She shook her head.
“I was told my eye needs to be replaced.”
“Yes, but the problem is bigger; the frontal lobe of your brain has to be replaced.”
“I see.” She turned away, glancing through the glass front of the pod at the shimmering walls of the tube. Pulsing light blinked by at a dizzying pace. Belton exhaled and flicked back to the top of her file.
“I have to ask you a series of questions,” he said quietly. The questions would not matter. She wasn’t going to remember the interview, or the ride, or anything at all. A different symborn would emerge from the repair procedure. “How did you feel when you emerged from acclimation, when you first walked?” Belton rubbed his eyes.
“It was very nice, but I have a question… Will I feel the procedure?”
“No,” Belton whispered. He cleared his throat. “No. There is no sensation. Next question. How are you feeling now?” She nodded and smiled slightly.
“I’m nervous. And I feel lonely. There were friends in claim-stasis that I grew to know personally. They were amusing and, warm to be with.” Belton shook his head and reached out to touch her knee.
“This is not an easy situation, and I want to be frank with you. This repair is not something you will come back from. Your mind will be removed and replaced; you will become a different symborn.” Satra-Dera opened her mouth and closed it.
“But that’s not what is supposed to happen. I’m to meet my client and we are traveling. We are going to all Core Worlds.” Her eyes were shiny. Belton scratched his knee.
“This,” he poked the air in her direction. “This never should have happened- you don’t out-stock a symborn to claim-stasis for three years and then throw away… and then discard the result. Clearly I don’t make the rules, but if I did this never would have happened. There is gross incompetence all over this case…” SEDL would have a field day. But she had never met her advocate? “I still can’t believe you never…” he shook his head. “There’s just nothing we can do about it now. The system isn’t perfect.”
“The system isn’t perfect,” she smiled and blinked the wetness from her eyes. “Will my repaired version still go to my client?”
“Y-yes of course.”
“That is good. He must be very important.”
“He’s not,” Belton surprised himself. “Ah, that’s not to say- I mean he’s an inspector for Symcore, he wouldn’t treat you very…” He trailed off as he looked at her. His face felt hot, and his collar was pinching him.
“Is it too much to ask for a little professionalism?” he muttered, rifling through new forms and making selections with lightning speed. “The safeguards are in place for a reason. As it so happens I know a SEDL councilor who’d run away with a story like this; it would be a scandal.” But she was looking out the window now, admiring the approaching brilliance far ahead.
“Will someone else get my memories? I have learned so much.” Belton shook his head slowly, and then nodded.
“Yes… yes I’ll see to it.” He was feeling sick. The data pad flickered brightly as he recalled her case files, his fingers working a dance across the screen. Satra-Dera watched until he froze, his hand poised above the device. It was done.
There were no more questions, and the rest of the ride was spent in silence. After what might have been a few minutes or perhaps an hour the tube-car began to slow- the soft whir of the engine dying away until only the faint hum of the energon track below them could be heard. It came to a full stop at a many tiered platform, high up in the factory towers of Symcore 1. Miles of tube stretched behind them, and as the window panels slid open an acrid smell blew up through the floor from the gap between car and bridge. Two android centurions in glistening white armor waited outside. Belton’s hands tingled as he stood up. A young technician, her Symcore lab coat flapping behind her, jogged down steps to their platform and rushed toward them.
“Client change! Client change! We’re running behind.” The woman yelled, huffing up to the doors as Satra-Dera stood and tossed her hair, her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Dr. Belton,” the newcomer said politely, looking up at him. She was rather small and a bit young for a repro tech. She held up her datapad for a sync. “I need the latest procedurals, we had a mix-up with a last minute client swap, I haven’t even had time to open the dossier. Looks like the inspector’s owner number has been revoked- he’s no longer the buyer. And she’s defective?” The tech leaned to peer through cascading blonde hair at Satra-Dera’s face but she turned away, staring at her seat in the tube-car. Belton’s hands were burning now. He twitched but did not raise his datapad.
“Y-yes she’s got an eye… issue.” And then with a flourish he collapsed. Coughing and retching with dramatic flair he sprawled to his hands and knees, the datapad pinned in the gap between the car and the bridge- his fingers tingled, and he let it go. It sparkled as it fell, flipping and twinkling down into the factory haze, and then it was gone. The young tech gasped.
“Dr. Belton! Your datapad!”
Satra-Dera gasped and backed into the wall of the tube-car. Belton scrambled to his feet and slapped his knees.
“No harm! No harm done, just a bit of a dizzy spell.”
“But Doctor, the procedural codes!? That was your secure pad I don’t have them.” Belton nodded.
“It’s routine- ocular transplant that’s all. She needs a closed stem cybernetic eye. Brown to match if you can.”
“A… what? But that’s highly irregular and how can I initiate without the codes?” He looked at her badge.
“Technician… Harten is it? I’ve been repro liaison for almost twenty years and I’ve got the codes right here, not to worry.” He tapped his forehead as the tech handed him her datapad. Satra-Dera stared at him as he completed the form orders in a flash.
“I have a question,” she said quietly. Belton returned the datapad to the technician, who studied it with new fondness. The Doctor grabbed Satra-Dera’s arm and spoke in her ear.
“I’ll see you in out-client later… memories intact.” Her eyes widened and she squeezed his wrist.
“Thank you Doctor Belton,” she whispered. With a stiff nod he turned away, ducking back into the tube-car.
“See that we have a SEDL advocate waiting to meet her, and vocation services.” Technician Harten nodded.
“Really, he wants her contract-released already? You’ve been in touch?”
Dr. Belton took his seat, hands folded in his lap. He watched as Satra-Dera walked down the platform toward the stairs to the service hall. She was pulling her shimmering hair up into a bun as she walked, but stopped to look back at him and smile. Gazing into her empty seat he nodded. The tube-car jostled and started away from the dock.
“Dr. Belton? You’ve spoken to the client?”
“Of course I have,” he answered. “He’s me.”
Osonne City was the biggest client Barun Falder had ever closed. The new Tetragon train would be the fastest around, and the corporate suits were giddy with victory. But with a load of school children traveling at blinding speeds on its maiden voyage, Danik and his sister Paeli are about to find out a little sabotage goes a long way...
Racing like a yellow marble over the undulating sea, spotter drone 661 closed rapidly on the island city of Osonne. Built into the approaching cliffs a monolith structure towered into the clear sky ahead. The pale facade of this, the Osonne Fellowship Hall was broken only by a small gap of growing darkness that indicated Docking Bay 7– hundreds feet above the breaking sea. As the great bay doors receded drone 661 slipped inside and shot over a gleaming train that sat at the very end of her track, poised as though to launch straight over the edge and into the water. A crowd of murmuring students dressed in silver and black stood nearby. Danik Maundin, grade seven, watched the tiny yellow drone until it disappeared somewhere near the cavernous ceiling. He smiled at his sister, but she hadn’t noticed. Little Paeli was staring out at the sea, holding her brother’s hand.
“You can see the sky outside now,” she pointed. Danik closed his eyes and listened to the rolling echo of the waves as they crashed against the island cliffs. The air smelled of salt mixed with fresh steelite paneling and weld grease. They had been waiting for some time now in the untidy line of their classmates, staring at the soft white shell of the train. Danik made faces at his oddly squished reflection in the spotless skin of car 41.
“When do we get on?” Paeli demanded. Danik puffed his mouth at her.
“I told you. The train is brand new, we still have to wait. They’re almost ready. They gotta be.”
Seventy-two floors above them the Fellowship Hall diplomat’s box was a time honored space for dignitaries and honored guests of the city. Today black-suited Tetragon executives clamored in celebration as they jostled for a spot near the windows. Barun Falder, senior VP of Implementation, was reading aloud from a digital brochure projected inside the window glass.
“New Aradyn isn’t the only city of light on Aldaun. . .” Mr. Falder shot a knowing look at his friends. Raucous laughter ensued. He was a large man, imposingly layered in onyx tailcoats over a purple vuruni silk shirt. Raising his hand for quiet, Mr. Falder continued.
“One cannot speak of the capital world without mentioning the island city of Osonne, a storied paradise of pearlescent marble rising from the cliffs of the great Isadaur Falls. Osonne is a city of commerce, a city of art, and a city for thinkers. You hear that Gil?” More laughter. Gil Danning raised his glass with a smirk.
“And the next line reads ‘Osonne was a city filled to bursting with unspent imperial credit'” he chortled. There was renewed chuckling and clinking of glasses.
“Should I keep reading?” Barun Falder held a straight face. “They love to talk up their blocks of marble don’t they? You know if I never see an artist in slippers again–.” Absorbing a few slaps on the back Mr. Falder laughed heartily and cheered with his friends. Osonne’s finest Teroma Valley vintage sloshed to the floor.
“Good thing for us they know how to buy a train!” Gil cut in. He was a taller man, with squinty eyes and sleek hair. “I’ll be shouting promotion right along with the team, next quarter meet. I thought they’d go bankrupt before we got the account– way to close a deal Falder.” Barun’s face was flushed and contented; he drained his glass and turned to the windows overlooking the Eqomic Sea far below. A translucent clock face in the panes of glass ticked.
“All eyes on the water!” Gil shouted. “Here we go!”
“What’s our speed Gil?” Dan Krembel asked.
“Well Mr. VP of Integration, we’ve got the engines running 94% out of the gate. Slow enough to chew the scenery and fast enough to get you there!” Barun Falder stepped to Gil’s side, his eyes trained on the window.
“94% is a little zippy don’t you think? For the first trip out?” Gil lurched away in mock indignation.
“Come on Falder, it’s a field trip! These kids won’t mind a few bumps. I mean forget your cut on the installation– we get them there inside time and the data speaks for itself: Tetracore 7A7, the only passenger railer the city will ever need. Then we get our brand on freight, military, diplomatic, and any other train they sign. Residual usage locked in for a decade. This is the big one Falder, and you nailed it.”
“Right. . . You bet,” Falder raised his empty glass.
“Look now,” Gil crouched, his nose to the window. “Here comes the light–“
With a silent pulse the horizon flashed blindingly bright. Squinting and blinking the executives gazed out at a brilliant beam of pure golden corelight emanating from the docks below and stretching far over the sea. This was followed by the low musical whir of Tetracore 7A7’s engines as the front-car jumped out of the gate, sparkling into the sun far beneath their feet. Shimmering white the train slipped out over the sea with elegant precision. The diplomat’s box exploded with cheers. Linked by black uni-mesh sleeves, each car rode the light via cylindrical absorbers that framed the beam underneath and held the train on a smooth run hundreds of feet above the surface of the Eqomic. The dark segments between cars winked by too fast for Falder to keep track.
“You can’t count em this fast! Contest’s off,” he laughed. “How many is that Gil?”
“Are you kidding? It’s the whole package– 100 cars!” Barun Falder struggled to keep a smile.
“All 100? We tested with twenty Gil. The techs signed off on twenty.”
“And we tested thousands back on Gavon. They ran the numbers she’ll be fine!” Mr. Danning had the look of a man whose good time was in danger, but his colleague was undeterred.
“Those were mining cars deep underground; this is exposed corelight and you’re running uncracked engines hot.” Gil rolled his eyes. Falder pointed at him. “I don’t like it Gil, I don’t like it– you should have consulted me on this. I know every weld on that thing.” Gil Danning laughed.
“That’s a hobby Barun you’re not an engineer; that’s beneath you come on.”
“Beneath me? We just installed the highest load beam west of–” but Gil was holding up a palm sized data-pad; the screen blinked out a series of charts and numbers, cycling through them at high speed.
“Her numbers are right where they should be. Lord Falder does this meet your criteria? Can I watch my train?” Falder tried to sip from his empty glass and huffed, turning to the windows.
“Yeah alright. Let’s just count on a smooth ride. Let’s get em where they’re going.”
Nestled near the top of the seaside cliffs the Minister’s complex jutted into the salt air. Ruberius Ninson was dressed in a broad shouldered white council suit that fastened at his neck in high collared fashion. He stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows of the stateroom, hands behind his back, looking out into the sea. In the distance the small white glimmer of his city’s first corelight railer sped on its way to the port city of Gengadis, some 2000 miles away. Minister Ninson had a habit of pulling at his short silver beard when he was concentrating, and as the train slipped out of sight the beard had his attention. Tessra Vee stood behind him at the side of a round white table that projected rotating stage-simulations of the rail beam project. The Minister’s schedule pad was clutched to her chest, her black body glove and dark pinned back hair contrasted sharply against the stark white furniture of the stateroom surrounding her.
“TC7A7’s systems nominal sir, the children are enjoying the ride.”
Mr. Ninson nodded. “2000 miles in under four hours. Do you realize what this means?” He turned. Tessra bowed her head.
“I’m sure I don’t, sir. Osonne is my home, but I’m new to this office.”
“Give it time,” he smiled. “It means Osonne is on the map. The beam is freight certified. With this kind of access to the capital of Yad we are no longer that ‘city of cerebrals across the sea’ but a player with a seat at the table. Behind their golden walls the kingdom of Yad is the liveliest commerce in the world.” He turned back to the window.
“Well done sir,” Tessra bowed again. Minister Ninson turned to the rail bay station hologram and raised his chin.
“The days of crushing Imperial freight tax are over. We’re looking at the future here, and the future is corelight,” he muttered. “Tessra, this is just the beginning.” Tessra nodded.
“Sir don’t forget you’ve got a holocon with the Founders in ten minutes.”
“Of course. I want you to monitor the control chatter– any anomalies and I’m the first to know, before those blood suckers in the diplomat box. They’ve served their corporation they can celebrate on their own.”
“Of course sir,” Tessra bowed and slipped out of the room.
The whir of the 7A7’s engines was softer now than it was when Danik and his little sister had boarded. They sat across from each other in comfortable white seats by the outer wall. Paeli’s shoes pointed straight at her brother’s knees, as she was too small for her feet to reach the floor. Danik would be thirteen this year, and they had celebrated Paeli’s sixth birthday a week ago in the Ember Gardens of Osonne’s exclusive Terrace district. Peering through the curtain of her straight black hair Paeli’s head was tilted toward the glass, her eyes trained on the sea.
“Do you see any?” she studied the rolling crests of white foam in the water below. The wind outside was picking up. Danik played with his black tie attached to the silver tunic of his Hemberly Academy uniform.
“Nope. I told you they swim too deep, we won’t see ’em from up here.”
“But they move the water sometimes. They’re really big.”
“Yep. But they’re super deep. Like a mile or something.”
“How long till lunch?”
“You just had a snack, you gotta wait.”
“I want a juice pod.”
“No, we’re saving them.” Paeli slumped into the seat and fidgeted with her tie.
“Don’t fold it around your hand you’ll make it crinkled.” There was a beep and the track lights along the ceiling blinked.
“This is your engineer speaking from the front-car bridge. We’re looking at easy winds out of the northeast and a smooth ride. We’ll have you kids docked at the Gengadis rail bay in three hours and twenty-two minutes. If you look through your north side window wall you might catch a glimpse of the gargama cresting. These gentle giants of the sea can reach 700 feet in length and create sea swells of over 200 feet.” Paeli scrunched down in her seat to kick Danik’s knee.
“I told you! I told you we could see them.”
“Whatever. Doesn’t mean we WILL see them. We’re like 1000 feet in the air.” Paeli was wrapping her tie around her fist.
“I’m gonna watch the whole time– until we get there and I can’t see the water anymore.”
“Ok.” Danik twisted in his chair and leaned into the aisle. Car 41 was sparsely populated, and not by anyone he knew. Tilting his seat back as far as it would go he crossed his arms and closed his eyes.
Osonne’s monolithic Aternia Towers reached high above the city into the clear air; their white stone faces smooth and featureless. Even the 116th floor summit windows were invisible from the outside, masked by a one-way facade to leave the tapering silhouette of the towers unbroken. Behind these windows sprawled the control room pit, “an intuitive blend of modern practicality and ancient architectural simplicity” as the brochure was keen to point out. This morning the wide circular room scrambled with excitement. Chief Control Officer Bravis Pederson was on top deck, ensconced in a bank of monitors with several round key-mics hovering near his desk. Pederson’s face was leathery and worn, sagging into a bushy mustache like an old dog, but his eyes were bright and alert.
“7A7, I’m seeing a half-percent roll on cars four through nine, keep an eye on that,” he spoke quickly– the first voyage of Osonne’s CLR train meant a lot of numbers back and forth and a lot of talking.
“Copy that control,” came the response.
“Wind is at 21% adjust-rate and climbing,” Bravis continued. “Set your ticker to 4 minutes for a re-assess.”
“Copy that.” A young blue-shirted man stepped up to the platform and whispered in Mr. Pederson’s ear. He waved his hand to mute the mics and looked up.
“What? Did you check it again?”
“We’ve rechecked it twice sir, the front-car is accelerating– at this rate the sleeve will be at full flex in seven minutes.” Pederson scowled and swished the mics on.
“7A7 your front-car is picking up speed. Your power dispersion may be off. Let’s run a conversion check on those engines.”
“Copy that. It looks like CL1 is running a little hot.” Pederson scanned the system monitors over his head.
“Okay 7A7 we’re going to have you reduce power to 85% and take another look.”
“Copy that.” Pederson turned to the blue shirt behind him.
“I can’t raise the Minister’s office. Get me through, we’ve got to slow her down.” The tech nodded.
“I think he’s in a conference. Just a second, sir.” He spoke into his shoulder comm.
“Control we’ve got a problem here.” Pederson spun back to the mics.
“7A7 go ahead.”
“They’ve got a speed lock on the converter– we’re locked in at 94% corelight conversion. I don’t have the override code.”
“What the–” Pederson turned his head. “Malkins!” The blue shirt rushed back.
“I’ve got the Minister Sir, he’s on B1.” The spherical mic to the far left clicked on and floated closer.
“Don’t tell me we’re looking at technical difficulties already,” Pederson could hear the smile in Minister Ninson’s voice.
“Sir, we need to slow down the train to run some diagnostics–”
“Slow it down? Nonsense you can conduct a full battery of tests at speed.”
“Yes sir, but the converters are running hot and it’s bleeding dispersion; the front-car is picking up speed.”
“It’s a railer Mr. Pederson the cars are all connected to each other.” Pederson made a fist and exhaled.
“Sir, the converter engine is running hot. If the sleeve connecting the cars is pulled tight that means jostle we don’t want; it could be dangerous for the follow cars.”
“We’d like to slow the train to 85% speed for a little while and see if we can’t recalibrate that conversion engine but–”
“That’s not something you need my seal for.”
“No sir, but I’ve just been told the Tetragon launch team has locked her speed at 94% conversion, we can’t slow it down.”
“I trust my control tower and my engineers, Mr. Pederson, if you have a problem with the launch I would speak to Tetragon’s people.” Pederson dropped his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Absolutely sir, and I can relay the order to slow the train–”
“Tetragon’s engineers are professionals. Talk to Mr. Danning. If for some unfathomable reason they won’t cooperate have them call my office. Now if there’s any real danger let me know. . . in the mean time I’d like the minutiae of my railer to remain pleasantly mysterious.” The mic’s connecter dimmed and went out. Pederson tapped the center mic.
“Get me Gil Danning. I really hate this guy,” he added under his breath. The mic lit up and moved closer.
“Mr. Pederson, enjoying the ride?” Gil’s voice was loud with celebration.
“Listen Gil, I need you to get your launch team back online, we’re having an issue. Or if we’re not we will be soon.”
“Whoa there now! They did their job the launch was perfect– the design is perfect.”
“That’s great news, Gil, but you put a lock–”
“This isn’t our first games Bravis, I want my boys to celebrate. The train is in your hands now– good hands I might add. The launch team’s job now is to drink and watch!”
“Thanks Gil– listen, we need to slow her down. Right now.”
“You put a lock on the converter. Why in the Core would you do that?”
“This beast could hum at 125% conversion and she’s running well under that, any tests you need to run–”
“The front-car is picking up speed; CL1 is running hot and we’re on a clock here. Get me the override so we can slow her down. And if you don’t have it get me the launch tech who does.”
“How long are we dropping the speed?”
“As long as it takes until we can–” A piercing alarm interrupted him as orange light bathed the control room.
“7A7 what is your status!” Pederson shouted.
There was a distant boom and the train lurched. Danik’s head bounced against the seat back and Paeli squealed.
“I’m awake!” He scrunched his face and looked outside.
“Why did we bump?” Paeli demanded. The overhead comm beeped.
“Ladies and gentlemen we need everyone to return to their seats. There’s been an engine anomaly and we need everyone in their assigned places while we get this resolved.”
There was another boom and a sort of distant whine, like metal tearing. The train wobbled.
“Seriously what is that?!” Danik turned in his chair. A young woman in gray with her hair gathered under a small conductor’s cap rushed past.
“Everybody let’s keep our lap-belts fastened and sit up straight. There’s a problem with the comm we can’t communicate with the front-car.” She slipped through the slide-doors at the end of the car and disappeared.
Frantic voices mixed with static.
“Control! We’ve broken free! Conversion at 119% and climbing– we’ve separated from the other cars– can’t unlock the converter– can’t shut it down!” Pederson rose out of his chair as the sky-view camera tracked the train. . . the front-car was at least a mile ahead. The mic to Gil Danning’s people was alive with chatter. “Pederson! Pederson, dammit my people are telling me we have a split? What did you do?!” Gil’s voice quivered.
“Get those codes to stat-tech RIGHT NOW. The rear engines can’t pace 100 cars, we’ve got two minutes for that front-car to reattach!”
“Don’t blame us for wanting some oversight,” Gil shouted. “For Core’s sake this is Osonne’s first railer! Most of your staff are right out of school.”
“It’s not MY first railer Gil!” Pederson roared. “You’re tampering with my train and compromising my job here. Get me the damn codes!” Pederson slapped the mic to shut it down and swiped the emergency slider to his right; it lit up bright red.
“Scramble SOR all units, we’ve got priority one rescue 384 miles out, follow the beam.”
“Copy that Control, we’re on it,” a low robotic voice responded.
“Ok people!” Pederson turned to face the chaos behind him. “All eyes up here– comms closed. We’ve got about three minutes before the follow cars start to slow down, after that they’re going to spiral– that means one of them will start to lean and drag the others, until the whole thing twists itself over. This is a heavy train it’s not built to hang upside down. The beam loops are going to fracture; I wish I had an estimate but I do not. The point is we let it sit long enough those cars are falling into the ocean. We’ve got Sea Ops Rescue on their way, but they’re not equipped for this kind of scale and we’re almost 400 miles out.” There were gasps and murmuring, some of the techs were visibly shaken. One young green shirt was rubbing her eyes and frowning. Pederson took a breath. “We’re not going to expect the worst– no panic, no tears. We’re exactly who they want on the case, but this isn’t a simulation. We’ve got 1300 students and staff on board.” He paused to nod at Malkins who was touching the comm at his shoulder. “I need my red shirt crisis team to get with DTac and work up scenarios– we’ll need everything they’ve got.” He spun and jabbed the Minister’s mic, glancing over his shoulder.
“No, not yet,” Malkins frowned.
“I trust the interruption is pressing,” Ninson’s voice chimed in.
“Sir the train is going to flip, front-car has broken free. The rear engines can’t keep it paced against that break; the train is too long. Codes are on the way but I don’t think we can reconnect in time. The follow cars are what matter now.”
“How are you handling it,” the Minister’s voice was soft.
“SOR inbound but they don’t have the gear for this; I don’t think we have time to evac the cars, not without support.”
“I’m naming you head operator for this crisis. What do you need. . .”
“I need the entire fleet of Airshields out there, get them to cable the cars and reduce the weight– I want cargo-levs as well, they may buy us some time. And I recommend we bring in New Aradyn on this, I’m not convinced we have the capability on our own; if we could raise an IAF or a Colossus–”
“Done!” the Minister cut him off. “You have my seal, DTac at your disposal. As for New Aradyn, no. I don’t want Imperial supervision– I’ve had enough embarrassment for one day.”
“Look!” Paeli pointed at the windows, toward the back of the train. Danik strained to peer around his seat. There was a cloud of sleek black hoverships racing toward them, high above the beam.
“That’s SOR. Cool!” Danik had never seen so many.
“Hey are we moving?” Paeli dug her nails into the armrests. Danik looked around– car 41 was starting to lean.
“Fasten your shoulder belts!” The woman in gray had returned shouting.
Danik’s belt snapped tight and he nodded at his sister.
“They’re too tight,” Paeli pleaded.
“I don’t care,” he growled. Paeli frowned with her lip and clicked the straps home.
“I think–” Paeli gasped. Danik slammed his hand against the window and grit his teeth– with a mechanical wail the train’s tilt went into a full swing. Children screamed as the car rolled, rotating around the beam loop under the floor until it hung upside-down, rocking and shifting.
“Evacuation is not that simple I’ve told you!” Pederson shouted into the mic over the Tetragon techs.
“Maybe it’s the salt!” One of them whimpered. “We didn’t have time to calibrate properly for 100 cars that was a last minute change!”
A red lit mic pulsed and floated closer.
“SOR One reporting,” a robotic voice sounded.
“What have you got.” Pederson wiped his forehead.
“Evac scenario has been compiled. Net time-to-safety three minutes per car. Walk webs can deploy on no more than five cars per cycle. 80 minutes estimate for the train.” Pederson clenched his fists.
“We don’t have that kind of time. And if we start jostling these cars without support we accelerate the break; we lose one and they all drop. How many units have you got out there?”
“SOR fleet has been mobilized with eighty units shadowing the train.”
“Can we get those units under the cars and give it some lift? Can we reduce the weight?”
“Negative. SOR regulars do not have that capability. Structurally impossible.”
Pederson swiped another mic.
“Tac, how far out for the Airshields?”
“Scrambling now, we’re four minutes out,” Captain Arden Dailes responded. “Cargo-levs won’t be in play for 60 minutes on the outside; they’re not built for speed.”
“That’s no good. . . how many shields?”
“220 is what I’ve got, the remaining 30 are grounded.”
Pederson stood up rubbing his hands.
“Have you been running scenarios? Will the cables work?”
“Sir, we’ll run escort on each car, from underneath. The shields launch cables under the cars, connect to each other, and hold. We should be able to lighten the load, but we’ve only got one rope per car; and two Airshields aren’t powered to hold that kind of weight for long.”
“Dammit,” Pederson growled.
“Ok Captain, if that’s what we’ve got it’ll have to work. Let’s cable those cars and SOR will start evacuating.”
“Sir, are we bringing in global response on this? New Aradyn has the resources.“
“I said the same thing soldier but this comes directly from Ninson– he won’t call an Imperial favor; we’re on our own.”
Paeli was crying. Danik tugged on his shoulder straps, trying to make himself more comfortable.
“It’s ok!” he yelled. “Think like you’re on the Creative at recess. You hang upside-down all the time!”
The woman in gray had released herself and landed on the ceiling. She crawled to a small boy who had fallen when the train rolled; he appeared to be out cold. Outside SOR hoverships floated near the windows, the single eye of their droid pilots clearly visible. The woman in gray snatched off her hat and waved it at them.
“DO something!” she howled, holding the boy against her knees.
Slicing through the air with synchronous grace the fleet of Airshields closed on the rear of the train. Their tear drop shapes projected a spinning web of energy that ionized the air above the ships and gave the Airshields their name. Bright blue trails of light from rear thrusters painted the sky behind them. Captain Dailes eased the control stick and opened some overhead switches.
“Here she is,” he spoke into the comm at his jaw. “Engagement speed all units. Find your car and lock target cams. Respool cables. We need a clean pitch, let’s get this right.”
The air shields swung wide, splitting into two columns that slid through the air on either side of the train, fanning out along the beam and coming to rest at their assigned positions.
“Shields in play,” 400 miles away the Captain’s voice broke the silence of the control room.
“Do it!” Mr. Pederson was gnawing the knuckle of his thumb.
“All units loose cables on my mark, receivers open. FIRE.” The Captain’s Airshield lurched as a bright steel cord spiraled into the air out of the ship’s nose. On the opposite side of the train his receiver’s Airshield dropped in a short weave, catching the cable in a magnetic trap extending from a side panel.
“Lock elevation, lift!” The Captain’s ship aligned itself with his opposite and they rose together, bringing the cable up into the bottom of car 99. He exhaled and looked to his left. Airshields and tight cables extended as far down the line as he could see. The pilot at car 98 gave him a thumbs up.
“All units locked?” Dailes nodded and removed his helmet. “Ok boys tighten her up and conserve your shield-gen, we may be here a while.”
“Negative!” A voice called through static over the unit-comm.
“Say again?” The Captain froze.
“Negative– car 41 is a miss. No cable. I must have over-calibrated; it came in too fast I took the magnet off.” Dailes closed his eyes.
“No!” Pederson shouted.
“I’m sorry sir, I take full responsibility; the good news is it’s not an easy shot and we only had one miss.” Pederson was standing, scanning the monitors. His finger stopped at car 41.
“There’s twenty-four kids on that car, plus staff. I’m not watching them fall into the ocean Captain! Get eyes on the coupling for that car; see if there’s anything you can do.”
“Yes sir, but these cables won’t hold forever; if you want good odds on the other cars we need do get that evac started.”
“Quiet! Everyone. . .” Pederson turned on the room. He stared at the pale faces of his staff with slumped shoulders.
“I have to give the order… I don’t know how we can save 41. Go evac,” he spoke into the red mic.
“Global response?” Malkins pressed. Pederson was shaking his head.
“Not a chance,” the Minister’s voice cut in over the stateroom mic. “I want losses minimal, but this is between Tetragon and Osonne, and that’s where it will stay. Inter-crisis comms are now on a closed loop– if anyone contacts New Aradyn the signal cuts and you will face discipline.”
Minister Ninson stood up from his desk and walked back to the window.
“With all due respect sir,” Tessra stood at his shoulder. “I don’t understand– we’ve brought every resource into play. There’s no shame in asking for help.”
“This type of decision is far above your clearance level Ms. Vee.” Ninson stared out over the water.
“We’re looking down the barrel of the biggest PR disaster in Tetragon’s history, and the city of Osonne-” he turned to face her, fingertips pressed against his chest. “We ourselves, this city is the victim!” Tessra took a step back.
“Sir, I disagree and there’s something I should- wait,” she interrupted herself. “Is that how you plan to spin this tragedy?” She shook her head, focusing on his collar. “Because that is not… that is not how we should deal with this.” Ninson nodded with a polite frown.
“You misunderstand my point. If I decide to file charges in Imperial Council for what Tetragon has done here, it will be after I’ve brokered the largest settlement the city has ever seen. This sort of thing will never happen again.”
“Those children are still alive! You’re talking as though it was already over.” She took a step back. “It’s not too late to raise the alarm ourselves, it should come from your office. Tetragon is still at fault–“
Ninson shook his head and backed to his desk, tapping a small white icon in the glass.
“Imperial aid means Imperial investigation. Tetragon will break themselves making a deal– and it is me they will be dealing with, not the throne.”
“What are you saying..?” she whispered. The Minister smiled broadly.
“We’re not losing the beam my dear, just a single passenger train! Trains can be rebuilt. You must understand, the corelight installation itself cost more than this city could afford. I had to look to the future.” Tessra’s nails bit into her palms.
“You… sabotaged the train?”
“Of course not!” he chided. “We saved a few credits– recycled some equipment. Perhaps a converter cover here or a flat-bolt there had seen better days. If not this trip then the next one, or the one after that; there was bound to be a problem. That water-brain Gil Danning over-clocked the speed and turned what could have been a closed doors handshake into a major tragedy. So now you see Tetragon’s reputation is in my hands– they will pay dearly to keep this out of the Imperial record.” Tessra flushed and the Minister raised his eyebrows.
“Minister Ninson, I can no longer in good conscience be your assistant,” she was glaring at the floor, trying to breathe. Ninson waved his hand with a chuckle.
“Mr. Danning knew exactly where the parts were coming from. He’s in charge of operations, and the blame will rest on his shoulders alone. I am as appalled as you are that things have gone this far, and I’m afraid this conversation is now above your clearance level.” The stateroom doors slid open behind them; a pair of cyclopean sentry droids stepped into the room.
“Ms. Vee has been caught filing illegal trade papers, right here in the stateroom. Arrest and sedation effective immediately.”
“What?!” Tessra shrieked. The sentries caught her by the arms as Minister Ninson turned to the windows, clasping his hands behind his back.
Mr. Pederson stood transfixed. The bolt casings that held car 41’s beam loops around the corelight laser had begun to crack.
“We have to cut,” he whispered.
“Sir?” Malkins stepped up behind him.
“We have to cut the sleeves. . . car 41 isn’t going to hold out, if it drops the cables won’t save the other cars. It’ll pull down the whole train.”
“Sir, if we cut the sleeves the other cars won’t help keep it up; it’s on its own.”
“Patch in the rear-car, send the signal to detach the couplings. Wait!” Pederson interrupted himself. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt; the material was stuck to his arm with sweat. “I can’t do it. . . I won’t do it.” He reached for the comm grid on the left monitor, hovering his finger over the global distress icons.
“Sir, it won’t work– we’re on a closed loop. You won’t have time.” Pederson rubbed his fist against his forehead.
“I was chief rail controller for Losro General for twenty years. We never had anything like this happen.” He turned to Malkins and grabbed the young man’s shoulder.
“Do it. But uncouple both sides together, and do it slowly. The evac is underway for the other cars. . . I need cold water.” Malkins nodded and took the controller desk.
Pederson jogged to the edge of the platform and plodded down the stairs. The young green shirt tech he had noticed earlier looked up at him from the pit as he descended.
“Mr. Pederson?” she was holding a small black main-comm in her hand.
“Walk with me,” he brushed past her on his way to the wall fountains at the far side of the room.
“Sir, some of the maintenance team outside work for Abragate, based in New Aradyn? They just told me they have Capital Services via secure channel, I thought if you wanted a way to reach New Aradyn? He let me borrow his comm for a second.” She pointed at a high window in the back. A work-suit clad man holding a panel case waved down at them. Pederson stopped walking and stared at him.
“What is your name?” He looked down at her.
“Decca Harmon, I’m training with Brand Ivers? He’s just over–”
“Yes sir, you just swipe it here and red icon in the corner. I don’t know any crisis codes but you–” He snatched the comm from her hand and flipped it open. The screen spiraled and unrolled, with key buttons of light projected into the air around the device. Blinking wet from his eyes he touched in the defense codes for civil emergency.
“Connecting,” the device chirped.
“Osonne Control, you have reached Capital Services, Block 1. This is Imperial response, go ahead,” a man’s voice spoke. Pederson exhaled and held the device at eye level.
“New Aradyn, this is Osonne Control, our corelight railer is in a dead hang over the Eqomic 400 miles out. The FCE has broken off with no choice but to dock at target. We’ve got 1300 kids on board with staff, and we’ve got minutes. . .”
“Stop it!” Danik was shouting. “Stop crying!” he pleaded. But Paeli’s sobs were barely audible over the cries of the other children. There was a wrenching sound from the floor above them, and one end of the car began to tilt. The woman in gray tumbled along the ceiling into the doors, catching the unconscious boy as he slid into her.
“No!” Danik yelped, and then– “Paeli! Paeli look!” He wiped his eyes and pointed at the windows. Paeli snorted with a frown and gaped. Some of the other children hushed and gasped. A massive rubbery smoothness had broken through the surface of the water below. Longer than ten rail cars, the enormous gray creature heaved and turned, rolling with a monstrous splash as the sea fumed around it. A single eye opened against the air, deep and black, and probably twenty feet across. Paeli clutched her shoulder straps and sniffed, smiling despite herself.
“It’s a gargama; I told you we’d see them!”
“You were right,” Danik choked with a laughing sob. “You were right!” There was another crack from the beam loops and the low end of the car dipped further.
“Come on!” Danik blanched, gripping the shoulder straps with white knuckles. Paeli stared at the beast below; a growing kernel of light reflected in the black pupil from somewhere above. Suddenly a booming crack washed over the sea like a peel of thunder and the sky flashed and burned; the gargama’s eye flinched. Rushing petals of foam washed over its face and the creature lurched back into the deep.
“HOLD ON!” The woman in gray screamed. The car jolted, and with an exhausted pang of snapping metal, it broke free.
Mr. Pederson had squeezed the little main-comm so hard it broke. The control room was utterly silent, all eyes on the monitors as car 41 ticked slowly downward against the waning strength of the last beam loop. Two Airshields and several SOR units hovered helplessly nearby. The split in the safety metal yawned wide and tore loose; the car began to fall. There was a blast of static and the skyview cameras went white.
“What?!” Shouting filled the room. The whiteness ebbed as the blinded cameras began to adjust.
“No splash!” someone yelled. “I didn’t see a splash!” Pederson banged the monitors and squinted at the screen. A vast blurry presence had appeared out of nowhere. Like a great shadow it descended from the sky near the train. And below the blur, near the rolling surface of the sea was car 41, suspended mid-air in an oscillating field of energy– held in stasis like an insect in a bubble, safely above the waves. Too large to be contained in the camera’s field of view, the massive object came into focus– Pederson roared and the control room burst into cheers.
The Imperial Colossus darkened the sky as it approached, coming to rest in a soft hover above the water several hundred yards from Tetracore 7A7. The vast tapering hull of the gleaming white ship flowered open releasing a cloud of robotic tentacles that swam through the salt air toward the train.
“We’re not falling,” Paeli released the armrests and grabbed them again. “What’s happening?!”
Danik strained to see through the wall of energy outside the windows as car 41 slowly turned right side up.
“That’s a Colossus,” he whispered. “It caught us. They caught us!” Paeli sniffed with uncertain sobs.
“Are we ok?” she asked. The woman in gray was crying and laughing as she held the small boy in her lap, who was stirring. The car was listing toward the eye of the Colossus, a great blue light at the heart of the silver tentacles that flowed like rivers out over the length of the train.
“Yeah,” Danik breathed as the eye twisted open to reveal a cavernous docking bay. As though drifting on the wind car 41 floated through the gargantuan eye-ring of the Colossus bow into the dark hull of the ship. “I think we’re good.” Paeli wiped her eyes with a smile as Danik dug into his bag and tossed her a small round object.
“Yes!” she squeezed the device and caught the straw in her mouth as it popped out. Sipping her juice pod Paeli stretched and touched her brother’s knee with her foot. Together they turned to the windows, watching the docking lanes far below as a swarm of Colossus technicians scrambled to prepare for their arrival.
Bravis Pederson collapsed in his chair as the people around him cheered. Looking down at the sweaty pieces of main-comm in his hand he smiled. Decca Harmon stood at his shoulder holding her elbows, red faced and beaming. A woman’s voice filled the room from the emergency channel speakers.
“Osonne Control this is FF Commander Jeradda of the Colossus Endiron. We’ve opened the eye, the fallen car is secure; the remaining rail cars have been stabilized. You may recall your units. After the students are safely on board we will move to dock at your primary field bay. We need all city terminals on lockdown– my disaster teams will be arriving shortly. I will be expecting Minister Ninson in person. We have some questions.” Pederson watched the ceiling as an enormous shadow darkened the control room and settled over the cliffs.
“Bring it in,” he chuckled softly. “This oughta be good.”
Tessra Vee sat in stillness, coffee mug hovering just below her lips, eyes trained on the sea outside the Daegia Lounge window wall. A thin man in a silver suit sat across from her. He gave a few final taps to a small data pad on his knee and nodded.
“They’re both in custody, boarding the Colossus now, examinations to be held in council when they arrive. Any other persons of interest?” Tessra blinked.
“Not that I am aware of.” She took a sip, lost in the pattern of silver crested waves far below. The councilman nodded again.
“I understand the Founders were impressed by your stand. Sending the Abragate crew into the pit was quick thinking.” He stood up and slipped the data pad into his jacket pocket. “There’s an opening for Minister, perhaps you should run.” Tessra smiled vaguely. She stood up and shook his hand.
“Something to think about. Thanks again.”
“In the light of the Core,” the councilman smiled and headed back outside into the courtyard. Tessra turned to see patrons gathering by the windows, chatting in hushed voices. The vastness of the Colossus loomed into view; its monstrous shadow crawling over the cliffs as it drifted out over the sea. With a rolling boom the corelight warp drives fired; the sky blazed with light, and it was gone.
This is a WIP fan fiction piece taking place in the world of Warhammer. Taransula is a 700 year old dark elven witch- a deadly assassin commanding a squad of her elite bloodthirsty sisters. But when a failed ambush cuts her off she finds herself in quite unfamiliar territory- a stow away aboard a human ship to the heart of the Empire. This story is about the intriguing challenge of creating a bold, beautiful and stereotypically arrogant evil female- then imbuing her with real character. Taransula’s dark world is quite alien compared to ours, yet we can’t help but feel for her.