Fabrdyn’s drone embowered aircraft swayed with the manufactured maelstrom. Vortexed beneath barreling black clouds. Subsumed in rancorous cerulean fulmination. The avionic acropolis loosed its ballast and descended, fleeing the flashing fusillade. As the mountainous craft quaked and plummeted, Astrid Sodabrucke ran to the control room in a whirl of multicolored cloth, voice shrill, movements unsteady with the lilting of the titanic vessel.
Devik Amberleece cut in from where he leaned over a series of telecommunication panels in the center of the chamber, the exterior plating of his vibrant yellow suit shimmered like the chitin of some enormous insect. To Sodabruck, the man looked some combination of a phantasmal knight and a flame headed mantis.
“Kryos’ cloud planters are charging the atmosphere. We have to land.”
“Insurgents are swarming over Central. They’ll tear us apart.”
“We’re being torn apart already, stupid girl,” mayoral convention whip Caltriss snapped between ragged coughs, her owlish gray eyes bulging beneath disheveled silver strands. The Chancellor winced, lower lip quivering, hands curled to delicate ivory clumps.
“I will not be spoken to this way. I am the chancellor.”
“One who takes a lead needn’t exclaim it. Perhaps if you took initiative instead of powdering your nose-“
Devik ignored the women and spun to the flight controllers, voice waning hoarse through the cacophony. “Take us down to Central Memorial Park.”
“Its the only place spacious, flat and close enough to land safely.”
“You’ll kill us all,” Sodabrucke screamed, pushing past the crone.
“Someone get her out of here,” Devik barked to his four airship attendants, slamming the console with such violence the paneling buckled. Sodabrucke shrunk away and began to weep. Illander Rehdon strode forth and removed Sodabrucke to the right corner of the bridge and stared out the translucent rain streaked pane that encompassed the crammed driving compartment. The Chancellor followed his gaze and beheld the monstrous mounting storm wall that trapped them as blue lightning arced across the smoldering skyline and another mighty gust rattled the airship like a can in the sea. She clutched the railing tight. “My god.” Rehdon displayed a lopsided grin, his eyes gleaming by the broiling thunderheads beyond. “No cause for worry my dear. If they stick the landing, we’ll all be fine. If they don’t, our deaths will be instantaneous. You won’t feel a thing.” Sodabrucke opened her mouth to speak but managed only a shuddering gasp.
“Sir,” one of the flight controllers shouted. “Wind’s taking us off course.”
“Initiate emergency boosters, brace for impact,” Devik ordered as he lowered himself into the captain’s chair and fastened the security straps across his waist and upper chest.
All occupants held firm as the airship crashed into the autumnal heart of Memorial Park with a deafening rumble, milling immaculately trimmed trees and empty pavilions beneath its monumental bulk. Caltriss, Sodabrucke and several of the flight controllers were thrown off their feet with the force of the impact and screaming were strewn across the tilting floor. Among the standing, Rehdon alone maintained his balance by clinging to the banister that separated the outer walkway from the piloting hub. The skycity skidded to a halt. The curved window of the control car covered in moiled leaves and earth. Slowly the passengers’ relaxed, unfurled themselves, set their sights to the monitors hung about the operational nexus and beheld dark shapes streaming from the surrounding parkland wood. The legion was armed and armored white and moved from the darkened reach with steel of purpose, dozens, then hundreds, and arrayed themselves in a wide circle about the downed airship. All swathed in welkin’s tears.
“Deep colonists. That fool Vogel was supposed to stop them at the docks,” Caltriss spat, waving a withered hand violently.
“I told you it was unwise to split up the security forces,” Devik chided.
“What difference does it make now, save to your ego? Clearly, SecCom is useless.”
“If you know so much better than Vogel, why not put on a uniform, pick up a cutter and join the fray.”
The old woman turned her nose up in contempt.
“Sir,” one of the young flight operators interposed. “Local transmission inbound.”
Devik swiveled from the dirigible’s bridles. “Put it through.”
A voice resounded over the bassy audio system. “To whom am I speaking?”
Devik furrowed his brow. He was expecting Kryos, Straker, or Vogel, but the voice belonged to none, it male, husky, blunt and tinged with nervousness.
“This is Devik Amberleece, Chair of Fabrdyn. I’m speaking on behalf of Chancellor Sodabrucke. And you are?”
“Ryard Vancing. Interim Major of Communications for the KSRU.”
Devik glared at the transceiver. “One of the lackeys. Why am I not talking to your gaffer?”
“Because he’s gone.”
Stillness. Perplexity overtook the occupants. Rehdon’s eyes lit up as he leaned forward over the brass railing behind which he stood. Face betraying disappointment.
“Gone?” Sodabrucke prompted.
“Is that the Chancellor?”
“I am. What did you mean?”
“Every CAV-keep takes a vow to protect the city from threats without or within. I do not break my vows.”
Sodabrucke’s mouth parted, her visage assumed the proportions of abhorrence, slowly she moved from the telecommunication panels and lowered herself to a chair.
Devik cleared his throat and spoke officiously. “This is unexpected. What is it you want, Mr. Vancing?”
“Just a seat at the table.”
Devik worked his thickset jaw and looked between Rehdon and Caltriss. Rehdon nodded. Hesitantly the wizened dame followed suit, mouthing, “Alone.” Devik bent back to the receiver.
“We are willing to talk if you are willing to come alone.”
“Check your forward monitors.”
The gathered looked to the forecastle screens, there images from the ship’s exterior sensors played without sound. A solitary figure with a monochrome jacket and windswept hair stood before the colonist combine at the prow of the downed behemoth. He moved from the dire host with somber confidence. The strider’s coat tails fluttered with the ferocious gale, eyes fixed to the sumptuous airliner’s shuttered inlet. When directly below the control car, the loner ponderously raised his hands and just as calmly lowered them.
“Standby.” Devik turned to one of the technicians and motioned for him to open the walkway to the passenger compartment which hung beneath the bulk of the anterior portion of the ship’s gas envelope. Within minutes Ryard Vancing stood in the packed control car, all eyes upon him.
Rehdon threw wide his arms. “Ryard, its good to see you safe. I would like to be the first to say that hideous as it must seem, you have done the city a great service. We teeter at the precipice. Kryos would have pushed us clear.” Ryard acknowledged the yellow green greeter with a nod and a mournful smile. “If I am owed thanks for as much, so are you.”
“You convinced me to take action.”
“Enough prattle,” Devik broke in, swiveling uncomfortably in the high backed skipper chair. “You have your seat. I would have your frankness.”
“So you shall.” Ryard produced a file drive and threw it to Devik, who caught the item reflexively.
“What is this?”
The lights flickered. All looked about with worry save for Vancing. “Is it from the crash?” Rehdon inquired. “I don’t know,” Devik replied with mounting concern. The ship’s lights went out completely. Darkness descended. The only luminescence, the dusty glow that filtered through the high rounded pane. When power resumed, the occupants froze in shock, for in Ryard Vancing’s stead stood Eidos Kryos, a half diadem of thin material wrapped about one side of his brow that glowed murky orange, then red. Kryos withdrew the device methodically. “Out of energy.” The last remnants of Aecer’s central government staggered back as Devik’s men drew waist bound charge emitters on the intruder, their faces displaying hallmarks of uncertainty and fear. Only Rehdon remained unmoved and a cruel smile of amusement played up the side of his face. “How wonderfully dramatic.”
Devik leaned over the railing. “Your nerve never fails to astound me, Eidos.”
Eidos took a step forward, prompting the men surrounding to tense, one shouting, “Hold it!” Devik raised a hand, as if holding back some invisible force. “Any sudden moves and my men will fill you with current enough to drop an elephant.”
Kryos stood still as an automaton and ponderously shifted his gaze to Devik. “My intentions do not warrant such discourtesy.”
“I heard your speech. We all did. That is warrant enough for me.”
“I only want what was taken,” Kryos replied with sober displeasure as he looked pointedly to Rehdon. “What he took from me.”
Devik’s face contorted with utter incredulity. “All of this was for your ship?”
“Not merely mine, nor a ship, but a bridge. From this world to the next. That astral span is the future of civilization. And the future of civilization is the future of life itself.” Heliodoric eyes swept over the faces of the interim government. “Your vanity would deny that continuance.”
Devik shook his head. “Have you any idea how insane you sound?”
“Aecer is a brand, errantly composed. Many handles, one blade. I have forged another. Many fuller’d and singular of grip. Possessing the latter, we have no need of the former.”
“You cast the city as a triviality, yet declare us vain. Ironic,” Rehdon gibed from behind the guards and the Chancellor, like a scolded child resentful of familial reproach. “As for the ship, I trust you’re not too bent up about it.” When Kryos did not answer, Rehdon spoke again, more emphatically. “My dear Devik, was it not you who said there had been enough prattle. I need hardly remark upon the advantage of the moment.” Devik opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by the interloper.
“My men are under orders to dismiss all communiques, save for mine. There is no use in ascending the highest mount if one cannot weather the cold.”
“You are in no position to lecture us, Eidos. From the first, you were an agent of division, chaos. There are not words enough in the lexicon to scribe the damage you have wrought,” Caltriss hissed, a bony hand thrashing the air.
“Cognizance of distinction is itself disunity. By which vitiation is allayed. As for chaos, this one,” he pointed to Rehdon. “Is more worthy of the title.”
“What do you mean?” Sodabrucke asked, stepping toward the pitch garbed trespasser.
“Play the file. You will see.”
“Don’t listen to him.” Rehdon urged with uncharacteristic stress, voice wavering unsteadily. “Its doubtless subterfuge.”
Devik turned to the console and fit the passed device into the drive slot. Rehdon’s voice obtained a manic edge. “You know how keen he is with machinery. You can’t trust anything he presents.” Devik wavered.
“Evidently I have a higher opinion of your intelligence than Mr. Rehdon,” Kryos said with a wry hint of challenge.
Devik scoffed, “He might be able to trick you, Illander. But not me.” The control car monitors flashed to life.
The crimson haired man trailed off as all beheld a horrid scene on the monitor screens. An aerial view of a simian faced man hung by a drone above a bonfire. The air clogged with smoke and screams. “I killed them. Alright? I did it,” the man on the recording squealed. “It was Rehdon’s idea… Its him you should blame. Him, not me!”
All present turned upon Rehdon, who looked around with a dazed expression, his mouth momentarily agape, then pressed to a quivering line. He shook his pale blond mane. “Its a trick. A frame up. Obviously Eidos would want to shift blame.” Rehdon grinned, assuming a flippant tone, “You don’t mind if I call you Eidos, do you?”
“Eel you may be. But you can’t slither your way out of culpability. You will, I presume, recall Ms. Sia Kandor.”
“I don’t. I speak with many people in my line of work.”
“Well she remembers you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“After your,” Kryos gestured to the monitors where scenes of charnel catastrophe continued to play. “Creature failed to kill her, I had the displeasure of making her acquaintance. By now her testimony has been recorded. I can send it to you, if you like.”
For a brief moment a ghastly contortion overtook Rehdon’s fair features and passed just as swiftly.
“The bombing. It was you.”
“Sterling induction, Devik. Truly, we’d all be lost without your cavernous intellect.”
“We’ll see how keen you are to gibe from a cell. Seize him,” Devik ordered. With trepidation, four flight operators corralled their former companion and bound his hands behind his back with scandium restraints without resistance. Rehdon smiled broadly. “Why is it you think residing in a subsidized cube is some manner of punishment? It is how most within this cesspool chose to live their wretched lives. I already got what I wanted.”
“And what was that?” Devik demanded.
“Butchers don’t explain the slaughterhouse to pigs. Even could the dumb animals understand their fate, they are powerless to change it.”
A slap from the Chancellor brought the shackled man to silence. His face registered surprise, but no discomfort. Slowly, he smiled, his eyes sliding toward the irate female.
Kryos’ brows knit. Rehdon’s previous words rang through the technologist’s mind. Xanthous eyes grew wide.
“A facsimile. Move,” Kryos warned, turning for the exit.
Sodabrucke and the rest of the interim government had time only to don expressions of confusion before the entire room was decompressed by a raucous explosion.
Beyond the ship the deep colonists watched lazy orange red lights and lilting plumes slither from the base of the wreck. Straker screamed. Then only the crackling of flame and the serpentine sibilation of the wind and rain.