No Way Back

Nikolos Zeloslav

The crew:
Reckless Captain 
Repentant Devil
Captain’s “Aunt”
Unfortunate Navigator
Cinders, Albrecht, Petronella – the Rat Brigade
and
Eleven Unlucky Skyfarers

—————————-
— DAY 1. CLOCKWORK SUN —
—————————-

Liquid gold pours penetrate stained glass. Machinery hums. The sound of something swooshing the air. Furiously. Insanely. The Sun? THE SUN.

Albrecht taps the window with his sharp claw:

– Oi! The cap’n is bak.

The captain is indeed back.

– Did that thing ve prepaired for ya vorked vell enof?

I am distracted, I check my pocketwatches.

“The bomb is readied, the Storm-That-Speaks will be pleased.”

– We will learn about that soon. Navigator, we are leaving.

– Already?

– Now.

Navigator nods and makes her way to the bridge.

– Aunty, could you get us some tea? – I say, then pull out the crew journal and cross out one name.

– Jessy? What happened to him? – Asks the Navigator.

– THE SUN… It… stared at him.

Stockers feed the fire genius. Steam hisses, the engine pushes itself forward. Rails are left behind, the Sky unravels.

I get to the bridge.

– Navigator, plan the route to Wit & Vinegar Lumber Company at London.

Then in a few hours I check the pocket clock, then stare at Cinders.

– Twelve or twenty?

– What do you mean, boss? – She exhales milky smoke, then shakes the cigar.

– Did you set the clock mechanism on twelve or on twenty?

– On twelve. – Lit ashes fall on the couch, right next to her.

– But I aksed to put it on twenty!

– You asked twelve.

– Twenty.

Cinders reaches her leg to shake off the fiery left-overs. Then says:

– No.

– What do you mean No?! Do you think I already forg…

THE SUN. It rages. Something blasts off at the outer ring. The metal squeals. A whirligig out of energy, the ring slows, then stops…

The light becomes dense, for a moment I feel drowning, not in water, in something more dense. We are a bunch of flies floating in honey. Navigator’s face twitches, he glances at me with the corner of his eyes.

The burning ash froze in the thick air. It does not fall, only changes color, crimson, then, black.

The ring stopped… for a mere moment, before gaining supersonic momentum. 

THE SUN becomes blurry. A fire in a diverging lense. And there, behind the hazed flame – a burning eye without eyelids. It stares at me. IT. STARES. AT. ME.

I struggle. Trying to hold on what’s left of my will. There isn’t much… The lever is right next to my finger. I know that, but I can’t move my hand.

I lean towards THE SUN, and then fall, pushing the lever with myself.

Protective shields slide out, closing the windows. The yellow flood turns into a thick line. Then the bridge falls black.

I get myself up. Cinders and Navigator glance at me silently.

– What was that, cap’n? – Says Cinders.

Her cigar is on the floor. She doesn’t look down to find it.

– Oh, well THE SUN, ya’know. – I explain. – Anyway. We are still alive! Yes?

– Yes. – Says Navigator.

– Right, plan a course to the Wit & Vinegar Lumber Company. Now. I need to sleep. Really. Really bad.

—————————-
———- DAY 8. ———-
—————————-

“Your scout returns. It has nothing to report. Except that the sky is vast and the winds bite.”

—————————-
—— DAY 11. LONDON ——
—————————-

The Repentant Devil appears at the bridge. He carries a tray with steaming cups.

– A Devil carrying tea? – I reply.

– Your Aunt asked me to bring it here. – He places the tray on a table.

I take a cup.

– Captain, As a Signaller. – The Devil says. – I see a problem with the Lumber Company.

– What is it?

– I see no Company.

– What?

– Take a look. – He passes me a spyglass. I put the cup back on the tray.

– You must be fooling me. The sky is empty.

– Correct.

– We are not at London.

– Wrong.

Unfortunate Navigator comes to aid:

– My calculations are right. The North Star there, the South Star here… we were flying to the South for two days… – He writes a few fine lines of math down. – We must be in the center of London.

I unravel the chart of London, quickly reconsider his points and calculations. Then I unplug the voice pipe to the Machinery section.

– Petronella, report on status of the engine.

– A, ya. It runs cats and mouse.

– Are side boosters run the same cats?

– Albrecht checked’em today’s morning. 

– Right… – I close the speaking tube. – So this means that we are right here, then.

I point my finger to the center of the map.

– Throne Of Hours must be right under us. Do you see it?

I peer the spyglass down, then upwards then to the left and right. A thick purple mist is everywhere. It and THE SUN, a distant candlelight shining in the fog.

The Devil replies: 

– At least the Clockwork is on it’s place. There was a malfunction on one of it’s rings… 

– That is not the case! Navigator, plan a route to… to the Brabazon Workworld, to the Transit Relay. There are some sky-marks that make the place unmistakable.

The gaze of THE SUN… I can still feel it. I look through the charts. We should leave this sky corner.

Brabazon Workworld one of the Empire industry centers, there is a portal next to it, Transit Relays they call them, it leads outside Albion. It will transport us somewhere far away from THE SUN.

– Captain, I double-checked the numbers, they are correct. – The Navigator answers.

– Waste-waif must have sent us astray, played with your calculations, emperial.

– Do you think or do you hope that I made a mistake in the route planning? – The Navigator takes a step forward.

– I hope…

I sit down and take the tea cup, it’s gone cold.

—————————-
———- DAY 28. ———
—————————-

“Your scout returns from the wide sky. It has nothing to report.”

——————————
– DAY 30. BRABAZON WORKWORLD –
——————————

I slap my hand on the table at the galley.

– Alright crew. I need to know the thing. Now.

Officers and ten Unlucky Skyfarers stare at me, no words dropped.

– Who stole the Transit Relay?!

A moment of confusion.

– Ve didn’t cap’n, it won’t fit into our stealin-bag. – Albrecht replies.

– So, Mr Rat, care to explain? Where is it then? It must be right here. But all I see is a purple haze! As if we were still at “London”.

– Blaming the Rats will not give positive results, captain. – Says the Devil. – Captain, I see you are having a hard time explaining this to us, let me help.

– Yes. Please. – I sit down and pour a glass of brandy. Into my mouth.

– Someone here. – The Devil adds. – Is trying to conceal the burglary.

I nod. The Devil is better at this than me.

– He or she, but we have to assume it’s ‘he’. He did a terrible crime and is hiding it from his friends and his most elegant and most caring himself.

I nod again. I feel that we are coming closer to an answer.

– I am certain he is in this room. – The Devil continues.

– Oh, yes, he is. – I intervene. – The Signaller is right, isn’t he?! Petronella?

The Devil looks at me, then at rat and adds:

– No, it wasn’t this precious rat. The culprit will regret his actions publically and the crew will judge him. Fairly.

– Will he? Oh, yes he will. He will do that today. Or. We will have to continue our investigation. 

We had four days worth of fuel. I ordered to plan a route for the Floating Parliament.

——————————-
– DAY 32. FLOATING PARLIAMENT –
——————————-

There was no Parliament.

I shrugged and sent the Sulky Bat out. Then I opened a hatch for it as it returned. It was snobbing something, I was barely paying attention.

– Nothing, again? No worries. Probably. We are almost out of supplies, so I have only some Port Avon grain for you.

– Watz zis? Were iz mi meatbits? – The Sulky Bat grumbles. – Ya ar-r naught needin ztone o’tyme I so?

I recombine it’s words: “You are not needing stone of time I saw?”

I turn in place twice.

– You found what?

My eyes widen. A stone of time in the wide sky is already something! We are not lost!

– Did you see anything else? The mountains? Huge rocks? Did you see them?

– Ya. – It burrows the snout into the grain. – Nezt to M’t’n Royal.

I twitch, frozen for a moment. Mountain next to the Royal Society? You mean it? THESUN is no longer sending us astray, it’s gaze weakened!

– Oh, did I ever tell you, you always are… err… always were the most valuable crewmember?!

It sniffs. I rush upstairs to the Bridge. The officers sit there, the Aunt brought tea, nobody touched it.

– You all are here? I didn’t call an emergency meeting. Were you discussing something without me here? – Nevermind, I am just being paranoid. – Navigator, Cinders?

– Full steam ahead to Royal Society!

Crew eyes are cold. Cinders doesn’t answer. The Devil looks at her menacingly.

– Royal Society? Ye, ye, we will be there before I finish off my sigar! Ca’ps!

—————————–
— DAY 40. NAMELESS ROCK —
—————————–

THE SUN takes half of the sky here. Bright, roaring, restless. Cogs, clocks and wheels screaming and howling in a mad dance. 

The island’s small, stone-grey littered with piles of sparkling rocks. No. Not rocks. It’s – glass. Your diary, your skychart is always with you, you add this barren place to it.

You disembark. Glass’s cracking under your feet. THE SUN is behind your back, your long dark shadow extinguishes shards. You can almost feel your nape, your spine slowly crystallizing.

You leg hits something, it slowly spins on the ground rising small cloud of uncanny blue dust.

You pick it up. A human skull. Vitrified. Fractured. It is looking into you with stained, cold eyes, flickering with THE SUN. The jaw falls off.

– Ha-ha-ha! – You laugh without reason. – What is this barren rock? Devil? What did you want to show me here.

Glass-grinding steps. You turn. The officers, the crewmen – they all are here. They are gazing at you. Uncomfortably. Unfriendly.

– What is it? Navigator?! What kind of miscalculation is that?

He almost rizes his hand in a military salute to report properly, but stops.

The ‘Aunt’ whispers something in the Devil’s ear, then she turns wiping away the tears.

The Rats are silent, even Cinders doesn’t smoke.

– What’s wrong? Come on, what kind of surprise… did you… prepare… What is the reason?! – You burst.

The Devil steps forward. He proclaims.

– You know each and every reason, captain, and you know the price.

He pulls out a revolver.

—————————–
——- DATE UNKNOWN ——–
—————————–

Log with a chart of Captain S_____n was retrieved from barren island by Captian Kendwood. The log contained impossible map sketches.

The Ministry of Public Decency rejects the authenticity of the journal and its contents.

The Sun

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