Our wayward hero struggles to comprehend the perils of an alien world and earns the notice of an empress. I went nearly crossed-eyed looking down the barrel
Our wayward hero struggles to comprehend the perils of an alien world and earns the notice of an empress.
I went nearly crossed-eyed looking down the barrel of her slim pistol. She gabbled something at me. I shrugged. She stamped her foot and jabbed her gun at me.
Then I realized I still held my own weapon at low-ready and decided it was prudent to toss it on the bed.
The young woman flinched at the motion, but her eye caught the sphere I held. A scowl crossed her face, but then she bit her lip as her brow creased with uncertainty. She set her shoulders, rested her weapon on the control board, and held up her own sphere as she gestured with her now empty hand. I got the hint and threw over the orb.
She checked over its surface with a squinted eye, nodded to herself, and tapped my dim orb with hers. A light passed from one to the other. She darted to the bed to set down the newly brightened sphere and quickly returned to her pistol.
The overhead lamps flickered and dimmed with the strained hum of electric current as the ghostly moan of the sirens drifted in from the tunnels. We both looked up and all the worry I felt played across her face.
She gestured to the sphere on the bed and lifted her shoulders in a get on with it gesture. Not wanting to let down a lady pointing a gun at me, I obliged.
It was like someone else was thinking thoughts in my head, in their own voice, but so loud it felt like my ears should be ringing.
“You skulk like a thief into the royal apartments of the House of Abassis. Name yourself, fiend!” Though a head shorter than myself, she was queenly, speaking as if from a mountaintop. Her mouth moved, but not with the words I heard in my head.
I couldn’t help but rub my ear. “The name’s Michael. Could you not…think so loud!?”
She paused for a moment, as though not expecting my tone, but then her eyes shone. “You have the temerity to address me in such a fashion! And to don the uniform of a bannerman!”
Fear or no, I was starting to get annoyed. I held up a finger. “These were left to me by my father! They…” My mouth hung open as I realized I didn’t have anything else to say. My father’s past was a void to me, other than the apparent fact that he came from this topsy-turvy world. Now here I was, held at gunpoint by a princess and talking to her through a crystal ball. I wondered if hallucinogens were involved.
She sniffed. “And what was the name of your venerable sire?”
I spoke his name aloud. “Caliban Faustus.”
She froze as pained confusion swept across her face. “Caliban?” Her legs went out from under her as she caught the edge of one of the beds.
I moved to help her, but froze mid-step as I remembered her gun.
Tears ran freely as she searched my face and brought her hand to her mouth. “You look like him.”
I held up the notebook. “He said he came from another world, that he had to complete some task. He explained the rest here.”
She nodded absently as I spoke. “My brother must’ve sent him…” She turned her gaze on me with the intensity of a searchlight. “My brother! Did you see my brother?”
I thought back to the bodies. “A man in robes, like your dress?”
She nodded, hope and terror written on her face.
A gasp escaped her mouth, the beginnings of a sob. She choked it back and stood straight as a weight seemed to settle on her shoulders. “Then it falls to me.” She nodded to herself.
I pointed to the open mouth of the chamber. “I think I lost them on the way here, but armed men were after me. Lots of them. We need to go.”
She looked me over. “We will have to work on your manners and address, young Lord Abassis.” She turned to the control board and flipped a switch. “And your ill-breeding.”
I held up a hand in a warding gesture. “A few minutes ago you were ready to shoot me and now I’m a lord? All I have to my name is a trunk full of old memories, a used car, and a mountain of student debt. I’m not lord of anything.”
I jumped as the door to the vault crashed shut behind me.
The princess worked at the control board without looking at me. “Take up your weapon.”
I was eager to comply, as I wasn’t certain that the sky wouldn’t open up and rain rabid beavers, or something to that effect.
A map of a landmass flickered onto the screen, crisscrossed with colored lines that looked like roads and waterways. The curving arcs of white lines crossed the map, ending in the blooms of red dots across the landmass. She sucked in her breath and her shoulders trembled. “Those shadow-skulking scum.”
The bottom fell out of my stomach. “Were those…nuclear warheads?”
The princess turned to face me. She was a raven-haired Valkyrie. “The pestilential cowards have burned our people with atomic fire. There is no tunnel deep or dark enough where they may hide from our wrath. This we swear in the eyes of Heaven.” She turned her face to an unseen sky as she spoke these words.
With the turn of a dial, the screen went blank and a hidden door in the back of the vault clicked open. She stowed her pistol in a calfskin holster at her waist and looked me in the eyes. “We recognize you now as Lord Faustus. Will you ward me, my bannerman?”
My mouth decided to take over from my brain. “Yes, I, um, swear it…” I nearly clapped my hand to my mouth.
She must’ve seen something in my face, because she graced me with her first smile. “I see your father taught you the meaning of an oath. There is hope for you yet. Come!”
In that moment, I knew that I loved this woman. It was odd timing to come to that realization, but I knew it as I knew that blood pumped through my veins. I straightened my back and checked my pistol.
She swept into a narrow tunnel through the back entrance. Although, this passage was “narrow” only in comparison to the other halls and chambers I’d already seen, since it could fit three men abreast. But unlike grand trappings elsewhere, this tunnel was bare concrete and sharp angles, the architecture of a fortress, or a bunker.
I looked about as she led the way. “Where are we?”
“We are in the Realm of Suddene, which resides in the land of Suddenae and holds dominion over the nations of men.”
I scratched the back of my head. “That’s all very well and good—and I’m sure I’ll have more questions later,” I gestured to the tunnel about us, “but I mean where are we right now and where are we headed?”
She pointed, as if directing troops. “We are in the undercroft of the Fortress Abassis, and are leaving with the fastest means available, which would be by stratobooster.”
I nearly stumbled at that. “We’re leaving by rocket!?”
“Yes, stratoboosters use rocket motors, or so the imperial engineers have told me.”
We came to a ladder at the end of the tunnel. Beside it was a panel of switches. She flipped several. I thought I heard the rush of water.
She gestured me to the ladder, and I started up.
Even with the sphere in my pocket, we were still able to communicate by whatever telepathy the sphere had given us. Telepathy! One part of me wanted to believe that I was in a dream, but then she wouldn’t be real. But if she was, then so was all of this insanity, so I was undecided on how real this was.
I came to a hatch, poked my head through, and we were surrounded on four sides by the steep walls of what looked like a basin. But then I saw steps leading out and realized we were at the bottom of an emptied pool.
I climbed out and offered my hand to the princess as her head peeked through the hatch. I was slow to let go.
“Lady, I still don’t know your name.”
Her eyes widened a little in shock and she dropped a fractional curtsy. “Forgive my rudeness, Lord Faustus, but my given name is Aeliana, though you may call me Lady Abassis, in lieu of a formal title.” She strode onward. “This way.”
We climbed the steps out of the pool and were surrounded by the trappings of a…public bath? Benches lined the walls, which were decorated with reliefs, busts, and mosaics. Aeliana reached behind one of the busts, manipulated something in the recess, and it slid away to reveal another hidden entrance. I followed her in.
This tunnel was a dogleg, out of which we emerged into a missile silo. That’s all I could call it, since it housed an enormous rocket. Stairs climbed up the sides of the silo, ending at a walkway that was at a level with what looked like a cockpit at the very top of the “stratobooster.” At the foot of the rocket was a panel with controls as complicated as the instruments on an old bomber in a museum.
Aeliana put her hands to her hips and tapped her foot as she examined them.
“Any problems, Lady?” I kept an eye on the tunnel.
“Target coordinates are pre-programmed, but the process for setting the destination is a bit arcane, and it’s been a few years since I was taught the procedure.” She looked at me over her shoulder. “It’ll take a few minutes.”
An explosion rocked the silo and a chunk of stone flew out of the tunnel mouth. The enemy was here.
I yelled back as I drew my pistol and rushed to take cover by the tunnel entrance. “You enter the coordinates, I’ll hold them off.”
The only thing I had ever shot in my life was paper. Now, I was going to shoot men.
To be continued…