PROLOGUE: OUR LIGHT
The Enlightened Captain marches briskly through the glittering crystal corridors of the Grand Geode. As she passes, the bright-eyed Marines in their pristine uniforms salute her sharply and then go back to their duties of shifting boxes of supplies or practising drills, singing hymns of work and Light. She nods approvingly. In the Captain’s experience, an efficient soldier is a happy soldier. The Work progresses admirably, but there is always more to be done.
Today, she has a pressing engagement with the Commodore. The guards at the door to his office salute at her approach and allow her to enter, staring fixedly at the wall. The Commodore’s office overlooks the sparkling interior cliff, illuminated with a wide window. The bright light from within the Geode reminds the Enlightened Captain of – HE SUN THE SUN THE SUN THE SUN T – nothing of consequence. All is well. The Machine has made sure of that.
At her entrance, the Commodore looks up from the paperwork on his desk and gives her a beatific smile. He is handsome, open-faced, as impeccably dressed as anyone in Zelo’s Town.
“Ah, Captain. Come in. Our Light has brought me news. A long-awaited sequence is to be enacted. Do you recall the young gentleman who visited us not long ago? He is returning with the components for the device we discussed. Ample supplies, a source of gant, a collection of terrible secrets, and some fine youths and maidens to join our cause.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Good indeed, Captain. Please make the necessary arrangements. It may be some days yet, but this sequence should prove most pleasing to our Light. It yearns to spread its Law, to create progress without change. The conflagration of Light we spied from London months ago has emboldened it. I fear the young inventor and his crew do not fully comprehend the ramifications of the Work. In time, they will thank us.”
Gideon Stormstrider, renowned mad inventor, is working on his zubmarine. His brow furrows with concentration beneath his welding mask as he seals two hull plates together with an electrode. Striking the arc is the most difficult part of arc welding – after that, it is merely a matter of passing the melting electrode across the join at the proper angle with very, very steady hands. Under his mask and thick leather gloves, Gideon sweats profusely. The space of the warehouse is close and stifling from the heat of the coal-fired generator and the welding itself.
There – done. Gideon switches off the power supply and surveys his handiwork, flipping up the metal mask to reveal a big grin on his clean-shaven, youthful face. The Gnarled Engineer, leaning against the nearby wall with arms crossed, says “Let me see how much of a hash you’ve made of this one.” She pries the electrode from Gideon and peers at the weld. Her leathery face contorts into a frown, deepening her wrinkles. “You see what you’ve done here, don’t you?”
Gideon thinks. “Made a hash of it?”
“You’re d__n right you have. Look at this join. There’s a gap the size of a half-crown here. You know what that’ll do when you dive? You’ll be taking on water before you can say ‘poor life decisions’. How in Hell did you manage to get this thing to Low Barnet and back in the first place?”
“I… had help,” says Gideon reluctantly.
“I should b____y hope so. You may be a polymath and all the rest, but you’re a lousy welder.” She holds out her hands expectantly and Gideon gives her the mask and gloves. “Watch, and maybe you’ll learn something this time.”
A few hours later, the hull is finally welded to the Engineer’s satisfaction. “The sheet metal could very well still scrunch up like a piece of paper if you go too deep, but those welds will probably outlive the zub itself,” she says with a smirk. “I can see why you wanted me along on this d__n fool voyage – God knows what you’d do without me.”
Gideon nods sagely at the Gnarled Engineer’s wisdom. She has certainly proved to be quite the character, just as all the zailors told him, but you can afford to be brusque when you’re the best in the business.
He looks up at the zubmarine – it is a slender thing, steel-plated, studded with thick portholes. It could probably fit a dozen people if they didn’t mind their ribs getting closely acquainted with each other’s elbows. An engraved brass plaque on the stern bears the name Hippocampus. “We’d best get this thing covered up and loaded onto the ship, then. The other passengers will be arriving soon.”
At the stroke of midnight, a rather large shipping crate makes its rumbling way across the Wolfstack Docks on rollers, shepherded by a team of burly zailors. Those who are awake to watch its progress are unaware of its true contents, or have been bribed enough to turn a blind eye to the most obvious smuggling operation in all of London.
Inside the crate, Gideon sits at the helm of the zubmarine. In the dark it feels oddly like the depths of the zee. The zailors told him it wasn’t necessary to travel inside the zub, but nowadays he seems to have an enemy around every corner. Better safe than sorry.
At length, the crate is stopped on the dockside. With a lurch Gideon finds himself lifted up into the air by a crane. He holds onto his seat – and his dinner – as the crane swings across to the deck of the good ship Inexplicable and deposits the zub a little harder than necessary.
Gideon slips his suit jacket on and opens the hatch on the roof of the zub, which is hidden underneath a larger hatch at the top of the shipping container. With a dramatic flourish, he emerges from the top of the crate only to find that absolutely nobody is looking in his direction. “You’re no fun,” he says to a pair of zailors carrying a heavy, ornate Egyptian casket of mysterious provenance. The tattooed men shake their heads and go about their business.
The Inexplicable is a large vessel, originally built to carry cargo but now retrofitted for passengers and for Gideon’s own special requirements. The paperwork for the ship is somewhat sketchy, but Gideon most likely purchased it with some of his endless supply of coupons. The passenger accommodation is surprisingly acceptable, all things considered. There is even a large dining room with copious supplies of truly atrocious port.
Gideon strolls about the main deck, nodding to passing zailors. The crew are reputable – for the most part – and he has managed to curtail the worst of the spitting. After his cursory inspections he finds everything to be shipshape, although what other shape a ship could be is a mystery.
Gideon makes his way down to the stern of the ship. Slouching against a pile of wooden crates, Gregory Henchard gives him a nod. The former soldier tugs at his sleeve as if it fits too tightly. They made their acquaintance under pressing circumstances during the Shade business, but he seems awfully familiar of late. How did he get on board, anyway? Act as if you belong and nobody will question you, I suppose. Can’t fault the man for being early.
Gideon settles onto a box of life-rings and waits for his guests to arrive. A week ago, he sent a letter to an eclectic collection of scholars, mercenaries and adventurers of his acquaintance. The missive detailed his plans for a grand voyage across the Unterzee to the Chelonate, the Gant Pole, the Grand Geode and through the Cumaean Canal to the Surface itself.
What would you risk, it read, for another glimpse of sunlight?
(A Tale of Two Suns will be a lengthy RP about a singular voyage to obtain a Law that can allow even the Neathiest person to stand once again on the Surface without harm. It’s been in the works for a few months so we won’t be accepting any more people, unfortunately – the Inexplicable is quite full already.
Other threads that may provide further context include “The Hunt is On – To Catch A Shade”, “A Squid in the Polls” and “Meeting Your Maker”.)
edited by JimmyTMalice on 12/25/2017