Maledictus Aether, page 1
Sydney Alykxander Walker
Copyright 2013 Sydney Alykxander Walker
You can never make the same mistake twice –
Because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake;
It’s a choice.
For Daniel and Brooke
who always manage to make me laugh.
Thank you for your ceaseless interest in my work,
and for keeping me motivated to finish it.
I – The Prodigy
II – Sky Pirates
III – Cracking the Code
IV – Aboard the Calypso
V – Tools of the Trade
VI – Fugitive
VII – The Atlas
VIII – Touching the Sky
IX – Asius, the Forgotten Skyland
X – Looking for the Legend
XI – Tearing the World Apart
XII – Giving the Alitis her Wings
XIII – To Lead the Lost
XIV – The Glory of Bitter Defeat
XV – The Curse of Aether
Not all heroes do the right thing. In fact, most of them often do the exact opposite, but history only keeps a record of the ones who’ve never hurt a soul. The truth of the matter is that heroes are only human, and humans are prone to mistakes.
Mistakes are a part of human nature.
There once lived a man who learnt this lesson through his failures – crippling mistakes of death, hope and despair. Of lies and secrecy, and of humanity. A man who spent his life searching for the father he never knew, for the roots of his ancestry through his father’s footsteps.
Once the truth was known, nothing was the same.
Truth is something that has the power to destroy, to break apart someone’s entire world and way of life with a single uttered phrase.
It also has its ways of revealing itself.
This is the story of a young man that searched for the truth of his father’s demise through his past, who brought a world of people together with a common goal, and righted a wrong that was executed over twenty years ago. A man who did a thousand wrongs for a hundred rights.
The story of an outcast, who became the world’s most notorious Sky Pirate.
I – The Prodigy
It went a little something like this.
I was named after my father, the late Cephas Kennedy Watkins, who died shortly before I was born. Growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about his adventures, and I grew up wanting to follow in his footsteps. I started pouring over his old books about engineering and machines, got my own toolkit and started taking apart anything I could get my hands on, and put them back together.
At sixteen, I joined the Forces. Soared through their tests and entered the flight division, and was also put into the engineering section.
It was there that, eight months after my promotion to assistant chief engineer, I had the accident.
I don’t remember much other than going into the auto shop that morning, but I’ve reconstructed the memory of the event through the accounts of those who were there.
The chief engineer had given me the task of fixing the clockwork system of the Arachnidan, one of our automatons. As the system is one of the harder pieces to recreate, he didn’t trust just anyone to fix it.
The system had a fault, and a flyaway spark blew the entire system to bits. I was underneath at the time, and the system’s pieces tore through me as if I wasn’t even there. My left arm and both my legs were torn to ribbons when I instinctively curled a little to protect myself, and another piece tore through my chest, destroying my heart.
I was pulled out of the rubble and they hooked me up to an artificial heart that gave them enough time to save me.
They started by transplanting a mechanical heart, and then grafted an arm and two legs in the place of my other ones. I was left in the ICU for about a week before I stabilized and they could pull me out of the drug-induced coma, where I was forced to make a deal with the Generals.
You see, my mother could have never afforded the surgery – and my wage was not very extravagant, either. Hell, I barely got by – so I sold them my services. I told them I would work for them for the rest of my days, without pay, as long as they did not fine my mother for the surgery.
To this day I have put off reconstructing the Arachnidan’s clockwork system, the automaton sitting in the auto shop collecting dust. Not because I am afraid it will happen again and this time I will not come back; just because the design plans are so bloody complicated.
Plus, the scale they are drawn at is about a thousand times smaller than the actual automaton.
Of course, as it was our best war machine, the pressure’s rising for me to actually fix it. Even the chief engineer does not understand it that well.
“How’s the spider coming along?”
I turn my head, in the middle of fixing one of the cogs in place, and look over my shoulder to the man leaning against the railing of the domed room. The giant spider dominates the space, its eight legs having a span of half a football field each and its insides are spilled within that area as I work.
“Ashe, I thought you had a ray gun crisis to tend to,” I call, my voice echoing through the room as I turn around to push the cog in place. Holding it there with one hand, I use the other to tighten the bolt, screwdriver held between my teeth. Speaking around it, I answer his question. “Maybe a week more and it will start moving. The blueprints are kind of misleading.”
“So, you’re basically winging this,” he comments while the red-haired man walks down the metal steps to the hanger below, and in the meantime I grab onto the spider’s throw-down ladder and climb up into the cockpit. There, I grab a different tool from my toolkit strapped to my thigh and take apart the metal display to the left, so I can access the innards.
The chief engineer laughs at my response, the spider swaying slightly as he climbs up the ladder to see what I am up to. I have half my body swallowed up by the mechanics, fingers flying at the cogs and wires to double-check for any fault lines. Finding none, I pull out and connect the driver to the control mechanism.
After screwing the panel back, I sit back and stretch out my arms a second. Ashe leans against the side of the cockpit, still standing on the ladder, and watches me with a bemused expression.
“What’s there left to do?” he inquires, and I slip my screwdriver back into my toolkit before I answer him, ticking it off on my fingers.
“I have to finish wiring the engine and stabilize the clockwork. Other than that... I think the Arachnidan is just about ready to go back on the battlefield,” I state, smiling at my friend. His eyebrows shoot up.
“Great, then you’ll absolutely love this one: they’re transferring you the moment you finish working on this monstrosity,” he tells me, and I get to my feet, frowning.
“Where?” I ask, rolling up the sleeves of my uniform a little so I can have a bit more freedom of movement. “I actually like working in the shop.”
“I’m fully aware of that, and I’m quite upset at losing my best engineer, trust me,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t get to decide – besides, you and I both know that your passion is the skies.”
I hold up my hands, guilty.
“That’s why you’re going to be the engineer on the Charybdis,” he announces, and my eyebrows skyrocket. “Chief engineer, I should add.”
“Is that not the vessel the team was building from scratch all over again?” I ask, leaning forward until we are practically nose to nose. He nods
“The very same. She’s on her maiden voyage in a fortnight, and I seem to recall that a handful of automatons you’ve had a hand in fixing will be on board as well – so, you see why you were chosen.”
“I do not know anything about the ship, though – I will never be able to fix it!”
“Relax!” Ashe shoots, grabbing me by my shoulders to try and calm me. “You’re not going on board blindfolded – I’ve overseen its construction from ore to wood. I’ll personally take you on a tour of the ship before its departure; though I do suggest you hurry with this machine.”
I grin at him.
“Ashe, I will have this done in two days.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it!” he calls, climbing down the ladder. A rung away from the ground, he looks up at me as I lean over the cockpit’s edge to watch him go. “Although it is you we’re talking about, so I have no doubt you’ll make well on that promise. Call me when you fire her up! I’d like to see this old brute in action!”
I salute the chief and he returns it quickly before he walks off to do whatever it is he does around here.
A fortnight later, I am boarding the Charybdis.
It is an amazing vessel, the kind of airship that the Fleet has coveted for decades. Honestly, they did an amazing job with building it – let us just hope it can fly.
The crew on the ship are given permission to don anything they want, so of course we gladly wear something other than our uniforms – a thing I have been wearing for the last six years. When I announced my departure to my mother last week, she showed up two days later with a parting gift – my dad’s old tailcoat, his favourite, adjusted to my size. With it, she gave me his old pocket watch.
I drop my carry-on onto my cot, looking around the room – as the chief engineer, I am given the gift of my own private quarters, unlike the quarters I shared with the other engineers back on land.
It is an impressive room, a mixture of wood, copper and gold. The wood is mahogany, the walls giving a free view of the outdoors through the portholes. There is a desk and a chair along one wall, sitting beside a dresser and a wall-mounted mirror, and a simple bed with a deep green bedspread pushed against the wall with the portholes. Other than that the room is bare, but it is still rather nice – and far more welcoming than the stares of my peers I was subjected to day in and out.
I suppose that is the problem with having a father that was rumoured to have been the best airship flyer in the history of the Fleet.
I store my belongings in the dresser before I go topside, taking a moment to fix the lapels of the tailcoat I now wear. By the sheer quality of the fabric, it is obvious to me that he was not in the financial situation we are in now – his death, I reckon, is one of the reasons why we barely scraped by until I joined the Forces.
The coat itself is black with golden accents, holding together with various cinches at the stomach. His pocket watch sits comfortably in the left pocket inside the fabric, the gun belt issued to me hanging comfortably over my waist as it loops around my right shoulder. Beneath the open vest there is a simple white button-up, a short-sleeved shirt that gives me enough room to move around the way I need to.
Suffice to say, I have never quite owned something of its kind.
Slipping back out, I follow the warmly-lit corridor to the staircase that takes me topside, where the wind plays in every deckhand’s face as they prepare to set sail to the skies. The deck’s a gleaming sheen of wood, the railings a darker shade of brown, and the masts are busy with activity of the deckhands as they loosen the sails and check the rigging.
I walk up to the upper deck, where the captain of the Charybdis stands at the helm, talking to the gunman.
“Excuse me, but who’re you?”
I look away from the activity happening below, back on the ground, to the man in the top hat and one-armed cape. He’s frowning at me, every bit the definition of a man who has seen his share of battles and able of holding his own in one. With the wind snapping away the cape sitting on one shoulder, I notice the sabre sitting against his left hip.
“My name is Cephas Kennedy Watkins, sir,” I offer, and he nods, recognition lighting his features. “I am your Chief Engineer.”
“Ah, yes,” he smiles, clapping his gloved hands together. The gunman excuses himself, peeling away to tend to the arms. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you, Kennedy. The name’s Captain Stanbury.”
I take his offered hand, smiling at the man, and he looks down to our clasped hands, noticing the copper-coloured metal hand clasping his.
“Sporting quite the hardware, I see,” he muses, retracting his hand, and I shrug a shoulder, rubbing the skin that joins the metal at my collarbone. “I hope you didn’t give up a perfectly functional arm for it, the way I’ve seen a few men and women do.”
“No, sir, I had an unfortunate accident with the Arachnidan’s clockwork system a few years ago,” I state, and he nods. Another bout of recognition. “Lost my arm and both my legs in the blast.”
“That was your story floating around, wasn’t it?” He muses, and I nod, a small laugh leaving my lips. “Take care of yourself, Kennedy; very few men will stop themselves from openly despising the Automechanoid – and those who work beneath you will do so even less. You’ll have to earn their trust, and it’ll be quite harder for you, given your history.”
“I will do my best, sir,” I state, and he nods, hands clasped behind his back in the usual military fashion. “If you will excuse me, there is an engine with my name on it.”
He laughs, nodding.
“We’re lifting off in five, Kennedy. I look forward to working with you.”
I peel away then, bounding down the steps and ducking as a deckhand swings by through the rigging, shouting in delight. Watching him go, I continue towards the bow and swing into the hull through a hatch in the deck, entering the machine room.
It is lit up with bare brass bulbs that hang from the ceilings, illuminating the pipes and gauges hissing, the wiring snaking through the metal and the cogs and gears turning. Two others are already at work double-checking the engine, a man and a woman. Their hands are flying at the inner controls of the engine, red and green lights flashing as they work.
I make my way to the dials, checking the pressure levels. Right now, the priorities are getting this ship airborne – introductions can come later, and they will.
Frowning, I watch the pressure of the steam release fluctuate abnormally, and I call for the other two engineers to pause in what they’re doing.
They are more focused on releasing and closing the steam valves, which is problematic. The temperature of the engine itself is rising far too quickly, the red needle rising up towards the danger zone.
I am not very excited at the idea of being caught in another blast, thank you.
“Who the hell are you?” the man asks, easily five years older than my twenty-two. I lower the override, pushing my way over to the release valve by twisting between the pipes and wiring, and grabbing the metal wheel between a flesh-and-bone and metal-and-steam hand. Gritting my teeth, I twist it to the left.
“Unless you want to blow us all to kingdom come, I suggest you stop pulling every lever you see. Exactly who taught you that doing that was a good idea?” I hiss, eyes fleetingly slipping over to the duo. “By the way, I am your Chief Engineer, so we will be doing things my way.”
I tighten the release valve again, the hiss of steam echoing in the metal chamber. As I twist my way back to the valves, the woman grips me by my left arm, and I stare at her impassively.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” She snaps, and I pull my arm away. “We don’t have to do anything you tell us to.”
“Then I will have you booted from the ship – is that the way you want to play it?” I ask, stepping closer and narrowing my eyes at the shorter woman. “I thought not. This is not a schoolyard, and I expect you do the job you are paid to do, and to do it well. If you do not straigh
She glares at me as I push past her.
“We take to the skies in three minutes, and I expect us to be on time. We will get the bad blood sorted out later, understood?” I ask, reaching for the controls they were messing around with. “Right now, I want both of you to go topside and to wait further order – I will not have either of you in here until I believe you won’t blow us out of the skies. Are we clear?”
They stand there another minute as my hands fly, deactivating pressure release controls and starting up the clockwork system. It clicks into place beautifully, with barely a sound as the steam-powered engine begins cycling the steam through the ship. It hisses at every other interval, and I double-check the pipes and wiring as I walk over to the gauges, gripping the release valve for the propellers and sails. My eyes are riveted to the pressure gauge, the needle steadily rising from the bottom and hovering comfortably in the safe zone.
The other two are gone by now, up the ladder and topside, and about a minute after their departure a head sticks in through the hatch. I look up.
“Quarter Master Edmund, with a word from the Captain,” he announces, nodding politely at me. I return the gesture. “Ready to sail, chief.”
“Roger that.” He is about to close the hatch when I call his name, stopping him and making him look back down curiously. “Both engineers I sent topside are not to touch the engine until further notice, understood? Please let the Captain know.”
“May I ask why?”
“They almost blew this place to bits before we even set sail,” I reply evenly, and his eyes widen. “I figure having two graduates will not help anyone until I am certain they know what they are doing.”
“Good call; I’ll let the Captain know. Would you like them under watch?”
“Seeing as I cannot watch them all the time, yes. Please.”