Ryard woke, to a curious, faint humming coming from somewhere below. He blinked, blinded by the intense albescence which bathed the room and shook his pulsing head, groaning quietly. A pungent, antiseptic scent clotted the air and as his vision came back into focus, he realized he lay upon a cot within a great dome, partially composed of something that looked vaguely like glass, beyond which swam schools of small and colorful fish, thereafter departing to make way for an old shark, some twenty feet in length, whose back and gills were canopied with parasites and the remnants of abyssal battles. Ryard slowly rose into a sitting position. Pain throbbed faintly in his side and when he raised his hand to his wound he found it meticulously bandaged. He looked around in a daze. The ceiling of the dome was solid white and girded at each apex by small black dots; cameras on short, automated stalks. As his senses returned to normalcy, Ryard realized the cot was stationed within a sealed, semi-transparent chamber upon a platform which sat a great abyss, the bottom of which darkness rendered opaque.
Momentarily, the far humming grew in intensity as the twin portals to the chamber slowly opened.
Overtaken by curiosity, Vancing exited the chamber and strode out upon the platform.
The sound of footsteps reverberated throughout the chasm. A form moved in the depths. A man. The figure rose up from the lightless sink, pale and trim, with eyes like burnished heliodor, upon a floating bridge of argent, anthropodal machines, each offering itself in dutiful turn as a new step on a thriving aerial stair. The man stepped free from the flying extension and appraised the CAV-keep keenly as a whale bellowed beyond the transparent casing of the massive underwater dome.
“I hope your sleep was filled with pleasant dreams. I am Eidos Kryos. You are safe here. How are you feeling?”
Vancing was so surprised by the sudden visitation that, for a brief moment, he lost the power of speech and stood starring with bewilderment at the pallid, obsidian-garbed man before him as the aerial drones rose up out of the reach and drifted peaceably overhead.
“Much better. I barely feel any pain at all.” The CAV-keep turned and looked out the window at the aphotic expanse, lit only by the steady exterior lights of the gargantuan seacraft, “Where am I?”
“In the heart of The Progenitor, three kilometers under the ocean, fifty miles off the coast of Aecer. You’ve been asleep for three days.”
“No wonder I feel so disoriented. Not that I’m ungrateful for you patching me up, but… why am I here?”
“I wanted to meet you. I owe you. So very much. Your errant intervention saved not only my daughter and the city, but a bridge to the future.”
“I’m not really sure what you mean. I told her I’d help her get home. That was all.”
“A man of his word.”
“I try to be. What happened to the group that wanted her?”
“After you cut off the head of their snake, they scattered. I ensured the city would be sealed, and when they attempted to flee beyond it, found their way blocked and were promptly apprehended. Save for one, who my people will find, sooner or later. Aestival is no more. In no small part, thanks to you.”
“She told me you’d recompense me for my trouble.”
“And so I shall. What do you want, Mr. Vancing? Name it. If it is in my power to bestow, it shall be yours.”
“I just want to do my job. I’m never happier than when I’m ferrying fertilizer and fixing frayed wires. If you could make sure I keep my position after all of this blows over, I’d be immensely appreciative.”
“It shall be done.”
“And you – what do you want?”
Kryos looked off toward the abyss beyond, where phosphorescent jellyfish glowed in liminal drift.
“The firmament, gilded and baroque.”