Gears of the Kytheram
Now, for a glimpse into the latest effort by Roman N…
Gears of the Kytheram
PREAMBLES, PRELUDES, AND PROLOGUES:
“…Because of Dark Time, Time is unequivocally immutable. Each of us knows that traversing through Time is a fundamental impossibility of science and contrary to nature. That I do not deny. All of the maths and all of the physics substantiate this fact beyond doubt or its shadow. So, despite what my esteemed detractors believe, this is not why I stand before you. To even hint at such a claim would be shear folly and career suicide. We know what became of Desmond Wallace – a plank none of us wish to walk. For those of you who have followed my research as proponent or skeptic, I stand before you today to propose a different theory. Not to travel through Time but to travel across it…” — From Duke Kasmin’s address to the International Board of Governors Special Interest Committee on Military Science and Alchemy
PREAMBLES, PRELUDES, AND PROLOGUES:
All Did Not Start With A Big Bang
Rain. It never used to rain this much. But when the conditions are right—the time of day, the distance and density of the drops, the angle of the sun to the horizon behind, and a clear line of sight to the distance ahead—then one gets a spectacular view of God’s promise. And today, that promise was saving Alesbeth and Paxton from the flood of turmoil that had been threatening them. Living my life endeared few and endangered all. As orphans of Orbania, we were conditioned to frown on caring and to avoid love at all cost.
But four years ago, I found one cost that I eagerly paid for Alesbeth Wickett of Ipswich—the cost of a gold ring and a lifetime of commitment. Two years later, the investment paid off with the birth of my son, Paxton Kas Anders.
In time, I came to understand the actual cost. Always on duty, I seldom saw my wife and son. Then The Guild somehow learned of them, which in hindsight should have been expected … especially considering that Kasmin and I had been working against The Guild for some time.
Not seeing them often was about to change to barely seeing them at all if I wanted to keep them safe. Getting to this point at the Port of Hamburg had followed a series of costume changes, forged identity papers, misleading tickets, and a varied route and modes of transport ending with Alesbeth standing on the deck of the SS Hemholtz with Paxton in her arms.
I watched them from atop the Pegelturm on St. Pauli Piers, concealed from the view of others. I couldn’t have anyone watching me when I was watching the two most important people in my life sail away. No one could even know that I was in Hamburg. My heart raced as I watched the steamer pull away from the pier. Something about this didn’t feel right, as if we weren’t supposed to be here, as if I had been misdirected here. Yet Alesbeth had been standing on the deck of the steamer and heading to safety in America.
America? No, that shouldn’t be. I planned to send them to Iceland … Reykjavik. No one would think to look for them there. The sparsely populated island had remained practically free of the Syndicates. No, that’s not right… Now, I’m confused. I quickly descended the tower and raced off on my motorbike towards the mouth of the Elbe. The rain pelted my cheeks. The lenses of my goggles fogged to hide the road before me. I reached up with my right hand and pulled them down to my neck, squinting to resist the sting of the raindrops.
Iceland was undergoing increased volcanic activity. I wouldn’t risk sending Alesbeth and Paxton into that danger from this. Why is this feeling so real … surreal … unreal? I’m getting ahead of myself. That hasn’t happened yet… hadn’t happened then? I needed to make sure they made it out to sea. I reached Cuxhaven before the steamer. I looked south to Bremerhaven. That’s it. That explains my confusion. What I thought was Hamburg was Bremerhaven. The larger steamships left from there. I had been watching from the Old Harbour lighthouse, not Pegelturm. And to the northeast, I could see the island of Heligoland … where I now stood.
I had arrived on an earlier ferry, unable to be on the same ferry as my wife and son. They had come over on a ferry, not a steamship. My earlier arrival gave me time to secure the Heligoland Flugvallar … Aerodrome. The Hemholtz was not a steamship but an airship. At last, I was in the right situation at the right place and the right time. I had watched her board with the other seventy or so passengers and crew, tremendously relieved when it released from its moorings to start its two-day transatlantic flight, safe out of the hands of The Guild.
I watched from the opposite end of the island as the Hemholtz turned westward and slowly ascended towards a thousand feet. I recalled her tears when we were last together. I told her it might be two years before I see them again. She understood why it had to be this way. Caleb Wickett, her uncle, had been executed on the order of Lady Agnes de LaFintonia. We knew what these people were capable of and to what extremes…
A huge fireball filled the sky where the Hemholtz had been in that very moment. Time slowed as adrenaline took point, locking the world in place, freezing the sinking feeling in my chest.
Coincidence? No, it had to be The Guild. How did they know? “Alesbeth! Paxton!” I shouted, not caring who heard. Everyone important to me was in that instant no more, both a painful memory I would never be able to let go. “Here I am! Come and end it!”
Almost eight seconds after the explosion, the thunderous shock wave hit me, pounding against my chest…
PREAMBLES, PRELUDES, AND PROLOGUES:
Terminus – The Infinite Moment
As some automobile careened out of control, its driver crashing it into the hedgerow, the thin layer of leafy vines hiding the stone wall that had survived for decades unscathed by horse and buggy, man and bicycle, offered no cushion to the thunderous collision. Even the locomotive stayed true to its course where it passed within inches of the hedgerow, leaving the vines to rustle violently in the draft it created. Its steam whistle ruptured the silence of each night as it transported supplies from Terminus to points unknown and back again with new merchandise, but it never veered from its tracks around that curve. It was the automobile and it’s incompetent driver that and who woke Prince Gryffon Anders this night at the height of his nightmare, a variation of the same dream he had had many times over the last two years—be it an airship, steamship, train, automobile, or shop on a busy street, it always ended with the same explosion—the heavy-handed but effective action of The Guild designed to prove a point.
Startled, breathing rapidly, and sweating profusely, he pushed himself up in bed, the blanket and sheet sliding down his torso as he pressed his back against the oak headboard.
The yellow of the new Sodium-vapour street lamps filtered between the slats of the blind to fall across his face and chest. The same light then danced across his fingers as he scratched along his sternum, rising and falling with each shallow breath. He worked hard to regain his composure once realizing the moment was but the nightmare, interrupted by the crash in the real world. He reached over for Alesbeth, who wasn’t there … who never would be.
“Seriously?” to the dream and to the automobile. Hmmph. From his chest, he raised his hand to push his fingers through his wavy red hair, frustrated that he had just fallen asleep minutes before. After a year of running followed by another year in his safe-house here in an outlying neighborhood of Terminus, he had only recently been able to fall asleep without the aid of Svarti Dauði (Black Death), which he had discovered while hiding for a time in Reykjavik. And he preferred foregoing milder pharmaceuticals as his supply of Icelandic Schnapps ran low having been disrupted by the eruption of Bárðarbunga and Katla volcanoes, the result of the melting ice caps. Both the alcohol and medicines served to quell, or at least temper, his “seizures” or threat thereof. He had worked out of necessity to ween himself from the medicinal tonics he once imbibed liberally—now kept solely for emergencies—before the Brennivin and the other drugs. Despite the risk of the debilitating effects of his seizures, he needed to keep his wits about him. When the Samersand Guild (understandably) and the Special Services for His Royal Highness Viktor II of Orbania (incorrectly) marked his as a target, wits kept him alive. Terminus helped him with the latter since most of the Eurasian Syndicates had no extradition treaties with the US, not that the US knew he was here thanks to his masterfully forged papers and well-developed persona. The Guild had a far greater reach, ignoring borders when it suited—an advantage of subversion over coercion.
Officially, Viktor had no options. But this was personal. After all, Viktor had it in his mind that Gryffon had killed Kasmin, his son, the Duke and heir presumptive—presumptive because of his philosophical and scientific bent. So, agents of Viktor’s Special Services could appear covertly to handle the situation and be suitably compensated, though less likely for these Gentlemen of the Consortium who preferred playing by the rules. Gryffon knew these men and their talents intimately. He had been an agent most of his life, up until the night when Kasmin died or disappeared… or whatever. He had fled with little more than the clothes on his back and a well-established escape plan known only to him as he had been trained.
Gryffon rose naked from the bed, his five-foot-eight body silhouetted in the pale yellow light as he crossed the room to peer through the blinds. He found bedclothes too constricting. The nightmare-induced sweat traced a path down his muscular torso. The oscillating fan kept him relatively cool on this warmer-than-usual early Autumn night. He stood to the side of the window and pulled at one of the wooden slats. The automobile had contacted the hedgerow a little closer than he realized and slid down its length, leaving a fender, headlight, side mirror and quarter panel strewn along the road. The driver walked around the remains, cursing loudly and kicking the vehicle in a fit of misplaced aggression. The man stumbled, obviously intoxicated, then sat up where he fell, more irritated than injured. The situation would invariably resolve itself, so Gryffin let the slat fall back in place and returned to bed. He didn’t expect to sleep anytime soon, instead, reflecting on the same thoughts that plagued him without end or resolution.
As for the Samersand Guild, referred to commonly as The Guild and led by Lady Agnes, it literally had more power than God. Lamb’s blood on the door frame wouldn’t stop the Hand of The Guild. And even the Pope couldn’t rein them in through prayer or politics … or subversion. That task had fallen to the Consortium, the collective of smaller Syndicates and Guilds run by descendants of the displaced Eurasian monarchies that included Viktor II and his Special Services of Guild Orbania. Syndicates and Guilds regulated by the Second Nations Society formed after the Storm of ’58 that decimated much of the world’s power grid. Here was an unwritten cat-and-mouse game where The Guild had successfully played the cat for decades. As one of the better-known mice, it was a wonder that Gryffon could sleep at all.
And for the moment, he didn’t. Through the fire brigade and the hospital wagon that one of the neighbors must have called, he lay in bed staring at the turning lights through the window casting shadows on the ceiling. After the hubbub and hullabaloo settled, he remained restless in bed, seeking the promise of Morpheus who had abandoned him for some unknown and easier target. Though unable to sleep, the white noise and rhythmic circulation of the fan allowed him to focus on the moment.
Gryffon listened as the escape wheel and pallet danced endlessly on the antique wall-clock, locking each second in place on the gears that chased down the passing minute … or leading it. He was never sure if clocks tracked Time or created it. With the motion of the gears, does Man mark the moments or make them?
With each tick of the clock as he lay there, he felt the spasms in his left calf. He couldn’t see beneath the sheets but could sense the toes on his left foot twitch to indicate the beginning of another seizure—a small one, always small when it started in his lower legs. He could concentrate his way through a small one without his tonic. He closed his eyes to eliminate the distraction of the flashing lights. His breathing had returned to normal after waking, so he focused on that. With his right index finger on his chest, he tapped a rhythm contrary to his toes. If he missed a beat, his other leg would twitch as a reminder to concentrate harder. Then he had to move beyond the gears of the clock, beyond Time to what Kasmin had associated with Dark Time, the binding force directing Temporal Flow. Removed from the moment, he could better control the moment. To Gryffon, this went beyond the idea of meditation and metaphysics although others might see it as nothing more. Outside of the moment, he wasn’t restricted to one moment then the next. It was a multitude of the same moment happening in multiple places right where he lay. Following this came what the doctors had defined as auditory hallucinations triggered by the onset of the seizure, proportional with the strength of the seizure but seldom the same. The tonic sat close at hand to suppress the hallucinations as long as the seizures didn’t reach an extreme causing him to lose physical control.
He heard whispers. He heard doors open then close. He heard crying, be it tears of joy or plaintive wails, that he could not discern with any degree of certainty from their distant echoes though eerily close at hand. He heard little more. The seizure was mild, so, it followed, was the hallucination and the need to concentrate to regain control. Despite the diagnosis of Viktor’s doctors, these disembodied sounds felt real to him, words he could nearly repeat if he listened close enough. But concentrating too much on everything outside his moment risked losing control over the moment and escalating the seizure to the point of a total loss of awareness and, eventually, consciousness. This had happened multiple times, fortunately with Kasmin present to help him recover. Kasmin had given him more support than any doctor. How could he possibly kill his best friend?
The cries settled down, replaced with muffled voices, followed by what sounded like heels on hardwood floors. Doors opened then closed. In fact, with Kasmin at hand, the other-worldly hallucinations had been as real as life itself. Gryffon’s focus turned to the gears of the clock as he almost realized what Kasmin had conjectured—that…
A knock at the front door sounded throughout the house…
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