The Lexicon Calopa, Chapter 3

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CHAPTER THREE

A Patient Cloak of Steam

The layman Mechanologist sees only the design. Wheels within wheels. All gear-driven and gear-purposed, armored only in a patient cloak of steam.”

Absalohm

Benjamin Ruteledge frowned at the sounds coming out of the aft winch as the “find” was pulled aboard the Silverhearth, and into her cargo hold. Every third rotation in the housing was off, and made a pronounced clunking sound that set Ben’s eye to twitching. In fact, Ben was the only member of the crew not fawning over the capsule that Max and Helga had managed to find. As far as he was concerned, the rest of the world could go bugger itself so long as there was something aboard that needed to be fixed.

Turning to find the toolkit he had stowed in the hold—one of many, and one for each section of the ship’s unique needs—Benjamin was startled to find the Captain facing him from just two feet away.

See to that later,” the Captain said. “I want you to give this haul a once over. The last thing I need is for Max’s pet project to end up being a bomb that was just biding its sweet time.”

Captain Bael Halran looked over his shoulder as the crew positioned the capsule on the rail system used to make pushing heavier loads into the ship’s belly easier.

Hold it there until it’s cleared. Max!” the Captain ordered. “Get that slide locked off. You know better, man. It’s like one liter of sense spread out over too many containers, God’s eyes.”

The Captain was right, Benjamin mused. Max should know better, and the rest of the lot should be well versed in using the cargo rails by now. The rail system, and even the Gods-forsaken clunking winch, were both examples of the many improvements Benjamin had proudly installed on the Silverhearth since he signed on almost three years ago.

When he had answered the call for an experienced engineer in the capital city of his native Bazjani, Benjamin had imagined that he was signing on for a short stint aboard some Sha-Mercantile’s frigate with all of the amenities, if even a bit careworn as their ships tended to be. What he had never dreamed, even in his most fevered nightmares, was that he was signing on to a crew for a ship that was a hand-me-down Admiralty vessel stripped of it’s auxiliary workings.

Ravens take it, the ship was a model that had been phased out! Replacement parts would come only at a premium, and anything else would have to be crafted practically from scratch. To any other average jack-daw wrench-slinger looking for work, the job would have been completely impossible to tackle. Thankfully for both the crew and the Silverhearth, Benjamin Ruteledge was the black sheep of his family; a family that had expected him to carry on as a member of the Sha-Mercantile, rather than run away, change his name, and learn from the very best in seasoned Mechanologists.

It had meant being cut off from everything he had loved, and the support of a rather affluent family line, but if there was anything that Ben had learned in his thirty-six years on Calopa, it was that the accumulation of practical knowledge in a tech-driven world did a great deal to help one forget about family around the holidays.

Benjamin had spent eight years at the great University of Grand Artificers, Terra-Wrights and Aether Instrumentation in the city of Za Krov, and had relished every moment of the tutelage. Of course, he had to lie a great deal about his background and familial ties to even be allowed entrance into the grand institution of learning. Though he was sure that some of his instructors had caught wise to his elaborate fiction, he had done so well in his lessons that they had thankfully pretended not to notice that the obviously bronze-skinned pale-eyed Bazjani boy was answering to a decidedly non-Bazjani name.

Ben nodded to the Captain, and watched as Max slid the locking crossbar into place that would secure the load at the entrance to the hold on the ship’s loading ramp. He could see Helga watching the process closely; just another lesson for her to file away. She’d make a great sailor, given time. She learned quickly, and rarely made the same mistake twice where working the ship was concerned. Now if only the same could be said for her grasp of the language and general common sense.

Max, on the other hand, was an absolute salt-dog and cloudkisser in equal measure. It didn’t matter if the vessel in question broke waves or plied the great blue. Maxill Chandle could sail it, run it, and keep it in good order. The Second Mate had known the Captain longer than anyone else aboard, and his easy manner—one bordering on cavalier if not outright disrespectful at times—showed a common and familiar history with the Captain that no one else on the ship could ever truly understand. If not for their wildly different heritage, you could swear that they were brothers.

Standing off to the right of the bay doors, Benjamin spied the First Officer watching the goings on with a keen eye. The woman was a wonder, and a rare find in the trade. Given her attention to detail and overall professionalism, Benjamin had to constantly remind himself that Surae Surapos was, in fact, several years his junior. It was as if the Corvalish woman was simply born into the life.

Surae had the angular and fashionably pale features of her ilk, though softened somehow, and she stood tall and lithe like the great sculptures of the old Vizier temples. Her chestnut eyes never missed a single mistake, and they were rapidly moving over the tableau, checking for anything that was out of sorts. Surae’s attire was always impeccable, even though she favored the simpler garments that survived better against the daily rigors of ship operation. Even her raven dark hair was cropped short for efficiency. Benjamin admired the complete devotion she showed to order and practicality in all things.

Benjamin caught himself comparing his own grease-spotted clothing and stopped the self inspection before he would start feeling truly inadequate.

Close at hand to the First Officer, and looming over her without intending to, was Grim. Solemn and soft-spoken, Grim was easily the one person aboard the Silverhearth that Benjamin got on the best with. The dark-skinned bosun from Jamael’aarde stood a good pace above anyone else in the crew, was easily wide enough to wear a full sail as a shawl, and was the best with any given weapon that Benjamin had ever seen.

Yet, Grim moved with a quiet and cautious manner that was endearing. It was also sensible, given Grim’s trade. Grim had easily forgotten more about explosives and gun-smithing than Benjamin had ever learned. When not needed as a show of force or simply a nice visual bit of intimidation, Ben knew he could find Grim in his cabin, pouring over powders and machine-pistol parts with piercing copper eyes. The rule of the land aboard this ship was that his quiet nature was often a point of humor, but there wasn’t a soul that failed to shut up and listen closely whenever the bosun had something to say. No one aboard knew the man’s real name, and no one aboard was feeling foolish enough to press the issue. Benjamin completely understood the need for some level of privacy.

Over the sound of the malfunctioning winch and the heavy bars snapping into place to secure the find, Benjamin could hear Reed’s heavy Éuirynish accent mangling the common tongue while complaining about the condition his precious radio had been returned in by the shore party. Reed was a genius, certified and tested, when it came to anything involving getting your point across over large distances.

Genius, of course, equated to eccentric in Benjamin’s view. The radios and telegraph machines installed on the Silverhearth were Reed’s doing, and he doted upon them like children. He had even named each individual device based on, as he put it, their “personalities”. The subject he was loudly discussing was the abuse “Lucy” had undergone. In this instance, one would think that the shore party had drowned some waif in the ocean, rather than having gotten the radio a bit wet.

Eodhan and Domháer were politely nodding at all the appropriate points in Reed’s tirade, but they couldn’t quite hide their amusement. Eodhan was the only other Seltish on board, but the deckhand couldn’t lay claim to the oft-spoken good looks that people attributed to the people of Selti.

Eodhan had miraculously survived the destruction of Tir’Aisleen, the capital city of Selti. Absalohm’s attack on the city had been one of the most horrifying examples of his madness, and Eodhan’s body bore the proof of that. Half of his face was twisted by burn scars, and it stretched the right side of his countenance up into a permanent lopsided smirk, and left the eye there pale and dead-looking. Surprisingly, his heart had not suffered the same disfigurement, and Eodhan could always be counted on as a warm and giving young man. He was often the bright spot in the Silverhearth’s day to day activities, quick to offer kind words and a friendly joke or two.

The other man, Domháer, was a different matter all together. Benjamin understood the need for a ship to have an Arithnomancer on board, given the laws agreed upon by the Azure Admiralty and the Sha-Mercantile, but he did not have to like it. No ship could dock with a Skyhold without one of “The Grand Ordered” adherents on board. The ever-shifting conditions one found in the sky made normal operations a game of dice, and it was the charge of the Arithnomancers to use their strange probability-altering powers to render things a bit less chaotic.

It was true that their bloodline was only one-third of the original lineage that flowed through the veins of the Vizier, and that they were tightly regulated and controlled not only by their own guild but by Admiralty law, but Benjamin could not bring himself to trust anyone from the “Church of Sums” completely.

Domháer was congenial enough, and had that calming sense of wisdom about him that seemed to be handed out to anyone who reached his old age, but—Gods preserve him—Benjamin could never look the man in the eyes. He had made the mistake once, and once only, when he had just started work aboard the Silverhearth, and the experience gave him nightmares for a month.

How could it not? The Arithnomancer’s uncanny eyes, one gold and one teal, made Benjamin truly believe that Domháer did not see Benjamin as a person true and whole, but rather a collection of interesting equations that simply walked and talked. The fact that Domháer spoke with the smooth and cultured lilt of the Admiralty-controlled inner Midlands, namely Atha’ir, did not help the trust issue, and Benjamin made it a point to avoid the Arithnomancer whenever he could simply on the resemblance of Admiralty connection alone.

If there was ever a point of ship operation that the Captain and Benjamin agreed on heart and soul, it was that avoiding anything remotely connected to the Azure Admiralty was a habit to be indulged whenever possible. To be fair, the Captain had better reasons to avoid Admiralty entanglements than just Benjamin’s general dislike of them.

The climactic battle against Absalohm, the engagement that had finally destroyed the Golden Aegis, was now over six months in the past. Half a year’s turning and then some since that mechanical horror had been unmade. Yet, the laws the Azure Admiralty had put into play during the war were still in place; harsh regulations and taxation that were initially meant to dissuade sympathizers and compatriots that would flock to Absalohm the Betrayer’s cause were now just part of everyday life. For almost two years, Benjamin watched as the Admiralty made it harder and harder for even an honest sailor to ply their trade, and in particular was witness to the outright prejudice the Admiralty held for Captain Bael whenever they had to deal with their Skyholds or other Admiralty-controlled ports of call.

It was clear to the most novice greaser that the Admiralty harbored a powerful dislike of the good Captain.

Benjamin had never heard the full story concerning the Captain’s past woes with the Admiralty, but he quickly caught on that they were numerous, and not open for discussion. It wasn’t as though Captain Bael was a dishonest man who ran afoul of the law. He wasn’t even a subscriber to the philosophy of the Unaligned Nations of the Corsair Fleet; he never even hinted at turning anarchist, let alone pirate. Captain Bael ran a straight-and-narrow operation hauling people and cargo across Calopa when he could get such jobs in. That was to say, he avoided the gray area of the business when he could, and where he could not he made sure that things were as above board as possible so as not to put his ship in dire circumstances, or to give solid reason for warrants of pursuit to be issued.

Captain Bael was just a simple man, but prone to odd and understated displays of his mood, which was unique given the average Seltish demeanor of expressiveness and passionate response.

He would seem quietly angry at things that would make most people smile, or would appear to be pleased with a turn of events that would set others to biting their nails with worry. It was impossible to get a fixed reading on how the man would react to anything, but he was always subdued no matter what mindset he was in. Benjamin wondered if the Captain only saw a muted version of the world’s color spectrum.

There were many things about the Captain that ran counter to his blood. He only carried the barest hint of Seltish looks, for one. Where most Seltish men favored smooth and slim facial features, light facial hair and deep blue or dark green eyes, the Captain was broad faced with a severe cliff of a nose and bushy eyebrows crowning light aquamarine eyes. Even his goatee was a vicious-looking thing; the fine black hair of an upstanding Seltish rake was instead coarse and streaked with silver, and his head followed suit. Overall, it gave the Captain the appearance of an annoyed hawk, which was a visage aided and abetted by the fact that he rarely truly smiled. It wasn’t as though the man was necessarily dour, but more as if the concept of normal emotions were beneath his notice.

The only thing Captain Bael seemed to have any true feelings about at all—other than keeping his business running smoothly—was his ship, and Benjamin had to admit that despite his own griping about things constantly needing repair, the Silverhearth was a thing of beauty.

Of course, being that the ship was an outdated Occham-Gull class, and referred to by detractors as a “fat, clumsy albatross of a vessel”, beauty was in the eye of the beholder. She was almost as wide as she was long, and if not for the dexterity of the Captain or Eodhan at the helm, she would handle like a drunken Synsailéan vagabond on a bad stretch of road.

Sure, she could use a new coat of paint, as the fading green and graying brown did little for looks, and the flaking silver paint touches only highlighted flaws rather than adding splendor. And maybe the figurehead she sported of a woman holding an empty bowl aloft was cracked and chipped in places—Benjamin would say that it showed age and wisdom—but her crew knew that it was her insides that counted, and Benjamin had spared no small amount of sweat and blood outfitting her with the best that he could beg, borrow, steal and outright craft.

From her powerful bow props to her stern thrust engine, and her rigid envelope running nearly the full length of the ship, the Silverhearth was a ship that was fine-tuned for anything the skies or seas of Calopa could throw at her. The beauty of the Gull class was the ability to sail either, and the Occham half of her class designation gave ample room for additional quarters and cargo space.

The Silverhearth would never be first pick for the ball, but by the Gods could she dance with the best of them.

The Captain turned away from Benjamin and watched the last of the securing tasks. Benjamin couldn’t fathom how the man could stand wearing his gunner’s trench coat in this miserable humidity. He knew Bael was a man given over to keeping up at least the illusion of appearances, but this was mad even for a Seltish. A heavy coat was bad enough, but why bother wearing it open like that to display an empty gun belt? It’s not as though the Captain ever carried a weapon on his hip while aboard.

For that matter, Benjamin and the crew took great delight in reminding the Captain that he couldn’t hit the broadside of a dreadnought at point-blank range without someone else aiming the gun. Firearms and the Captain had never been chummy mates. The Captain may only loosely look the part, but he had the Seltish reputation for aesthetics and presentation down pat. Seltish propriety was just strange math to Benjamin.

Without turning, Bael said, “Don’t make that face. You’ll want your coat ere long. The Northern Stream’s dipping toward the Delta this time of year, and as soon as you clear or dump that cargo, I plan to weigh anchor and have us back on route, and it will be a frosty clip until we hit the border. Faster you get acquainted with that piece of tech, the faster we can haul for something a bit more ‘Zjani friendly, Crank.”

The man must have eyes in the back of his head, Benjamin thought, but then another thought crowded in and took up residence.

Did he just call me “Crank”?

Benjamin was taken aback at the Captain’s use of the handle that the crew had decided upon for the engineer. It was a dual-purpose nickname, no doubt coined by Eodhan that spoke not only of Benjamin’s chosen profession, but his usual attitude. Benjamin didn’t care overmuch, to be honest. If he was always cranky, it was because there was always something going wrong to give him ample reason to be so.

But the fact that Captain Bael had used the nickname instead of his normal address of “Master Ruteledge” could only mean one of two things: either the Captain was that pressed for time, or he was so concerned about the cargo that he forgot his usual discipline. Either concept did not bode well.

Come to think of it, it might mean both, and that was a blueprint for future unpleasantness of the catastrophic variety.

In the past, the Captain had only ever used Benjamin’s nickname twice. Once, when the port-side prop housing had burst into flames and the Silverhearth was in danger of falling out of the sky like a spinning top, and once more during a particularly heated mid-air disagreement with a Corsair ship that had strayed out of its flight corridor and was unaware that Captain Bael had already paid up for the use of the route with the proper Corsair blackguards.

Such disagreements, of course, were not so much an exchange of loud arguments as they were an exchange of loud cannon fire and a great deal of ducking.

Empirical evidence showed that Benjamin should start worrying, and double-check his emergency chute. Instead, he opted to follow the Captain’s order first and give their discovery a once-over.

Benjamin silently clipped off a quick prayer to the Gods in his head, which was another departure from his lineage in that he followed Gods rather than Goddesses, and maneuvered himself for a closer look at the capsule. A cursory glance told him that it was high technology, and pricey in the way only University-educated mechanology tended to be. The gold and silver inlay work alone must have set the owner back a few thousand eagles. He knelt down and began to inspect the underside of the capsule, suspended a foot over the hollow track in the cargo bay’s floor.

Power’s still good, if weak,” Benjamin said. “No stress damage or obvious structural integrity loss. I’d have to get at the innards to tell you more about the value, but there’s enough frosting on this cake to make it a profitable detour, Captain.”

Is it safe?” the Captain asked from somewhere behind Benjamin.

Benjamin grunted and slid his upper body into the hollow. He could hear Max’s laugh echo through the bay.

Yes, Bael. I brought a bomb on board,” said Max. “I thought it’d be a nice change from the ever-dull goings on, and would give Crank yet another list of things to fix aboard the ship when it exploded.”

Better safe than sorry, Second Officer,” Bael replied.

Better curt than friendly, Captain?” Max quipped.

Benjamin ignored the routine back and forth between the Captain and his Second Officer, and focused on the capsule. He ticked off each point of information on a list in his head.

Escape vessel, designed for all climates, shock-absorption endo-structure, battery backup and internal simple steam propulsion guidance, and oh that’s interesting, a miniature Fahlworth computing box. That certainly raised the estimated value considerably.

Benjamin slid further underneath the vessel and trusted that the bracing would hold, or this examination would be cut short. He could still hear the discussion going on.

I say Rejai’s our best bet overall for unloading this tub. The market’s discreet, and the taverns are mostly clean.” That would be Eodhan, thinking with celebration in mind, first.

Rejai’s too far off. We can make just as much stripping it and offloading the parts at Duril just past the border,” came the pragmatic notion from Surae.

She has a point. I’d like to be free of this side-venture and back on the original course as quickly as possible.” Bael sounded worried, and that was enough cause for Benjamin to feel a chill even in this uncomfortable sauna that only sadists could call a “climate”. He missed the dry heat of his homeland on days like these.

Benjamin scooted further still, shimmying his shoulders and back to inch him along the metal flooring and free his belt from one of the rails. The fuselage of this capsule was damned impressive. It would never be fit for sustained flight, but even the rivets were flush with the hull to give it a baby-smooth profile. Whoever designed and installed this piece of tech had spared no expense in ensuring whoever used it would get to the ground safely. Even the small housing for the thrust ports to decelerate the craft were molded and perfectly sleek. It was truly a gorgeous design.

Ahm hearin’ ah great mess o’ plannin’ gon’ roun’, an’ we’ve no ‘eard from thae Crank if thae damned thing is even safe tae carry.” It took Benjamin a second or two to sort out what it was that Reed was saying, but he appreciated the pragmatism.

Max chimed in yet again. “I’m sorry, Reed, but I don’t think any of us speaks ‘garbled pessimistic whine’. Could you repeat that, and enunciate this time?”

Ye wanna go, ye duebh dabhael o’ a man?”

Once I sort out that bit of marbled-mouth fluff you just spouted at me, sure. Are we going somewhere nice?”

You are never for taking me to nice places, though I am thinking Reed is prettier,” offered Helga.

Yes, but I still have the nicest legs on this ship,” countered Eodhan.

The floodgates opened, and Benjamin got a front row seat to really appreciate the odd acoustics beneath the capsule as the volume of the arguing and friendly insulting grew louder. Ideas about what to do, where to sell off, and what to drink flew past volleys of name-calling, calling courage into question and—did the Captain just make a joke about Eodhan and sheep?

Finally, a deep resonate voice cut the playful antagonism short with just four words.

What does Crank say?” The tail end of Grim’s question rattled around the now blissfully quiet cargo hold.

Benjamin mentally made a note to thank Grim later, and continued his inspection. He propped a battery torch under his chin, and let his hands feel around the chassis of the construct. Smooth and flawless save for where the sand had scratched-

No. Benjamin returned his hand to a spot he had just passed over. Surely it was a divot in the hull. He slowly ran a finger over the area again. There was no mistaking it. Either someone was playing a cruel joke and decided to carve a bit of graffiti into the capsule and just leave it lie in the sea—unlikely—or this vessel was actually stamped with an equilateral triangle; the dreaded Delta Signet.

Just as he was coming to terms with this, he pulled his eyes up from the area his hand was touching, and his torch light gleamed off a small circular inset of glass. Beyond that, there was—

Could the rest of the crew listen acutely, they might have heard Benjamin swallow hard.

The Captain was right to worry, and Benjamin was wondering if the whole affair might end up causing him to soil himself. He checked again to make sure he wasn’t just hallucinating, and hauled himself out of the trench with a series of grunts.

Well?” asked the Captain. “Is it safe to transport?”

Benjamin wiped yet more grease off his hands and onto the already impressive stain on his working breeches. He looked at the capsule for a moment, and back to Bael.

That depends.” Benjamin sighed.

The Captain frowned and motioned for the engineer to continue.

If you’re asking me ‘will it explode’, then yes, it’s safe. Grim could have told you as much as well. This thing has all the offensive capabilities of a bowl of soup. The batteries themselves are on a limited lifespan, most likely designed to hold out long enough for a rescue to show up, but even that limited span is impressive.

I’d wager they’d last another year all on their own, and four or five times that has already been used up. Whatever Max managed to do to it while it was in the muck, he wasn’t turning on its main power source. I’d say that he flipped a backup breaker. This capsule has enough power in it still to run our entire ship for a month and change.”

Benjamin let that one sink in. That kind of technology was something even the Admiralty had a hard time getting their hands on, save in the Skyholds; the small floating cities that played host to their military might and the lucky few that counted themselves among the “Azure Citizenry”.

Recognized citizens of the Admiralty enjoyed a much higher caliber of living than most on Calopa, and those boons had earned them the contempt of those who had to make due in the shadows of the skyholds strewn across Calopa. Benjamin wasn’t alone in sneering at the “pigeons”.

The Captain broke the shocked silence. “So what do you mean by ‘depends’, then?”

Benjamin took a deep breath. In for a sparrow, in for an eagle.

Three things. One, it’s an escape vessel. That much is spot-on, Max. But you have the thing loaded in upside-down. The hatch is facing the deck. Two, I don’t think we’re going to unload this as easily as the crew seems to think. If I’m right, then this piece of tech is well above our standard fare, and is going to put a lot of people on alert for us that we don’t necessarily want the attention of.”

The Captain sighed and nodded. He wanted to keep his detour as off the books as possible, but now that seemed like a complete fantasy.

Bael gave the capsule a hard look. “And three, Crank?”

Benjamin laid a hand on the vessel, and frowned.

It’s still in use. There’s someone alive in there.”

~~~~~

It was an assault of gleaming brass and gears and cold inhuman angles; all symmetrical and perfect and sprawling ugly geometry. The boy tried to turn away, to flee into the darkness again, but the images became clearer now, more vibrant and harsh. He screamed, and no sound would come. His head felt as though it would fly apart like an upended jigsaw puzzle, but he could not move his hands to cradle it. There was only the image, the picture that slowly resolved itself from a collection of confusing mechanical detritus into something more, something whole.

Pistons slid and pushed and pulled other pieces into position. Cogs whirled and danced along pinions connected to still larger metal flywheels and belts. Plates swung into place, shaken by the steady tattoo of searing bolts slamming into waiting holes.

On and on the engine fired, commanding each outlying piece to obey and function and assemble into place. Above the cacophony of industry, the boy could hear a voice. It was a touch of humanity that felt thin and exposed before the metal onslaught taking form before his eyes. His ears strained to latch on to that sound, and ferret out the meaning behind the strange words, but it slipped away like oily smoke.

After a century, the great machine began to slow in its chaotic dance as the larger pieces clicked into a final resting position. He knew what it was. He could see it, and a word formed in his mind that had meaning and value.

Hatch.

He was looking at a hatch, but why?

Another voice slid out of the darkness the hatch obfuscated. It was a different voice. It was a voice from “now”, and the boy realized that he could understand that temporal concept.

It was now, and he was—had been—dreaming. His eyes were open now, and there was the hatch, and the voice. He could understand the words, and they too formed pictures of meaning in his mind. The boy was pinned by something, and could not move freely. Was that the reason he could not hold his head? The pain was fading, but it lingered enough to make him keenly aware of its cruelty.

A new voice chirped out of the dark. But this voice was different. Harsher. It commanded.

Open it.”

The boy’s world, the world that ended at the hatch, shook violently for a few seconds. The world turned and spun, and suddenly the boy was facing the opposite direction and staring—yes, “up”—into a diffuse light. Flakes and shards of pure winter—no, “ice”—flew off of the hatch and rained upon him. He winced against each pinprick of cold, and began to shiver.

He understood.

He was naked, and cold. Things came into more clarity. He was inside some kind of … tube. He could see nothing beyond the hatch and the curving metal walls of his container. The image of wires and gears and fittings flashed through his brain again, tearing a furrow of agony in its wake. Now the word came. He was in a pod; a vessel for getting away from harm and on to safety.

But what harm? What was going to harm me?

The boy had no time to figure out an answer to the question, as the hatch swung open and liquid light scourged him even as he welcomed the warmth. He could feel whatever bound his limbs loosen and release his body, and his muscles clenched and strained. He cried out in pain, and was joyful for a moment that he could do so. The horrible light had eradicated the image, leaving the world a smeared wash of colors and shapes that showed no regard for structure and boundary.

His muscles uncoiled, and though the pain still laced their fibers, the boy could at last attempt to sit up. His hands clutched at the hatch frame weakly, and he slipped back into the capsule for a moment.

Try again.

He grasped the edges once more, and pulled himself into an upright position.

Light began to show kindness, and the blobs of color and disorder began to flow and meld together into shapes the boy could recognize. The words came.

People. Ship. Cargo.

The people were with him, and he was in a ship’s cargo hold. He looked at their expressions. Some were frightened. Some were angry. The words and meanings came faster and less painfully, now. Most of them were each holding something aloft and offering—no pointing—the objects at him. The word came.

Guns.

The boy shook, and began to sob. He had not escaped harm, after all.

(Available now in Hardcover!)

From The Lexicon Calopa, ©2016 Xero Reynolds

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