A yawning corridor the hue and texture of anthracite arced over Ermin Gild, who progressed at a harried pace across gray-scaled tiles. The man’s footfalls echoed off the disorienting ceiling, from which hung long autochthonous tangles of curved, compressed carbon, the ends of which were fitted with a series of small translucent orbs that glimmered when the walker passed within fifteen feet of them, thereafter dimming and falling to darkness once more. At the far end of the sable pass was a great tripartite door, the lower portion of which retracted into the floor as the upper segments withdrew to the top of the portal; beyond it, another hallway, shorter than the one preceding, that let out to a massive, multi-tiered cavity, composed of a circular walkway of corded material that wound the length of the chamber.
In the center of the room was an abyss from which rose a circular mechanized platform containing a complex armature holding a massive sphere affixed with multistage ion collectors that extended from the contraption with perfect symmetry. From wall and lift, interlocking mechanisms and assembly arms wound with musical regularity around the nexus, giving the room the appearance of a vast, alien clocktower. Before the platform-borne device, manipulating a series of electronic touchscreen panels, stood Eidos Kryos, garbed in his habitual dark-scaled coat; overhead, his ever-present metallic guardians drifted in placid circles, some crawling upside down on the ceiling, the tapping of their insectal legs lost to the shuttered factory’s rhythmic clatter.
“You said you were leaving.”
“Sonderon was just attacked. He’s in critical condition. Souther leaders suspected. SecCom is completely absent. Whole market district has gone sideways.”
Several of the drones flew down and spun about Ermin’s body. Sensors tracing thermal patterns.
Ermin sized up the strange sentries and prodded one on its underside. Kryos twitched with discomfort.
“Would you mind not doing that?”
Gild’s brows creased as he took a step forward. “You can feel that?”
“You were speaking of the city.”
“Sodabrucke hasn’t formed a new government. The surviving members of the convention are with Amberleece, hiding in the clouds. There’s open warfare in the streets. Power grids are shutting down.” Gild gripped the railing of the walkway. Knuckles going white. “Why haven’t you done something?”
Kryos answered flatly. “I have.”
“The KSRU? You think they can handle this? With Syzr in custody? Its too far gone for that. You have enough men here to take Consortium Hall, or whatever is left of it. If it takes a war to reestablish order, so be it. Something must be done.”
The large, yet delicate robotic appendages of the dais grasped one of the cylindrical amassers extending from the spherical device and, rotating with inhuman speed, screwed the cylinder into place. Kryos gazed over his shoulder at his distant guest.
“My war is not with men.”
“You tinker with that ridiculous contraption as the city burns.”
“This ‘ridiculous contraption’ is the bridge to a future long disclosed.”
“What is it?”
Kryos turned to face his questioner. “An engine. To my ship which lies interred in Aecer. Come. Observe.”
All of the argent drones descended from the ceiling and formed a walkway from the inner engine platform to the outer walkway.
“You want me to cross on those things? Isn’t there a gangplank?”
“This chamber was designed so that none but I could navigate it. Only the SIKARDs allow access.” Kryos raised his obsidian-gloved hand to his pallid temple. “And they answer only to me.”
“Vera has a fondness for acronyms. Are you going to cross?”
Gild looked toward the hovering mass with trepidation. “What if I fall?”
“Desirous of war. Yet quivers to cross a span.”
Gild’s face twitched with annoyance, swallowed by apprehension as he peered down into the gulf, the bottom, opaque to shadow. Momentary glimmers of light radiated from the void, all moving in thin vertical lines. His fingers flexed. He inhaled and stepped out into the frigid chasm. Foot firmly planted on the flexile carapace of the autonomous aerial drone before him. Then the next and the next until he stood on the last and gasped, arms wind-milling and, with a panicked cry, tumbled backward. He steeled himself for the long plunge and closed his eyes. A firm hand clasped about his forearm, foreclosing his fall. He opened one eye and saw two heliodoric irises staring back at him. Amusement there shining. Gild grabbed the machinist’s black-clad arm and Kryos hauled him up. For a moment the bureaucrat bent, hands on his knees, panting as his heart thrashed and his legs trembled. Kryos paced toward the machine as the panels of the array below it displayed a silent feed of recent news coverage.
“I do not intervene directly because the people of the city have yet to offer sufficient supplication.”
One heading read “KSRU needed, now, more than ever.” Another, “Eidos Kryos’ ADC must be part of Sodabrucke’s new government.” Yet another, “Chaos ingulfs the city; the Association of Deep Colonies must intervene.”
Kryos scanned the feeds placidly. “But their insouciance swift subsides. Slowly they realize their raft is the flood.”
Ermin surged forward and caught Eidos about the collar, slamming him against the blue-glowing control array before the voluminous, furcated motor. Kryos’ brow furrowed with discomfort, his previously immaculate hair falling about his face.
Kryos, tilted his head. Saying nothing as a disconcerting humming reverberated from near distance. The Oversecretary ignored the sound and tightened his grip on the obsidian coat collar, his face inches from the magnate’s own.
“You don’t give a damn about anyone, do you?”
“Were that true, I’d not have caught your arm.”
Ermin’s wrath faltered. Slowly, Kryos raised his aphotic laminated hands to the Oversecretary’s shoulders.
“If I had not caught you, my SIKARDs would have.” It was only then Gild realized the argent drones levitating several feet away. The source of the ominous sibilation. Spiny limbs primed for violence. “They can be somewhat overzealous in their drive to protect.” Kryos gave the isopodic wardens a curt half-wave with his left hand, as if brushing dust from the Oversecretary’s shoulder, whereafter the automata scattered and spun out into the cyclic, alloyed expanse. Gild relaxed and released his grip. Then, a buzzing. Kryos tapped one of the adjacent panels.
“Vessel approaching, Sir. Pilot says she’s an emissary from the new government.”