|"Skill is imbalanced"|
|Journey, part 5: The ship|
|Date: ||05/19/02 08:05|
|Game Type: ||Other|
|Report Rating: , # of Ratings: 1, Max: 8, Min: 8|
Lifetime Rating for citizenKane: 8.2143
I would like to apologize to you, Reader.
Last time this journey continued, I made some remarks about me and my abilites. If you recall, it was about perdicting the future. I should not have made those remarks. This story does not concern me, at least, not yet. My abilites do not matter, at least, not now.
I now realize that the purpose of this story is not to change things. That is but a secondary goal. Primarily, I must entertain you, the Reader.
I hope you enjoy this.
Let the journey continue.
No looking back.
A truly eerie situation, that’s what it was.
It was a vast expansive wheat field under the bight Iowa sun. There was a circular clearing in the middle. Five people stood in it and a tiny car was parked near the edge. Gerard, dressed in his black suit, the sun shining off his sunglasses. Greg, scared and confused, even paler than he usually was. Jon, the large man in overalls, lay on the ground, quite unconcious but breathing steadily. Barnes, a small man in uniform, wide-eyed and breathing in gasps, as if he expected to die any second. Last was Haman the Magician, with his flowing blue robes, standing and staring at Gerard. Gerard stared back.
They stared at each other for a long time. Finally the Magician spoke up.
“Who are you?”
“We’ll get to that later. For now you can call me Gerard.”
“And how did you get here?”
“A powerful magical conduit lies buried underneath this field. I went searching for it and found you.”
“Of what nature?” Haman asked calmly, trying to keep his composure.
He was unsuccessful. He suddenly spoke in a panic.
“How did you get there? Why is there life on this planet? Human life? How could life possibly exist here? Why didn’t we pick up any readings of life here? How could there be cities of humans yet no trace of magic using?”
Gerard considered this onslaught of questions, nodding thoughtfully.
“I can answer all those questions in three words.”
“Yes yes? Tell me!”
“I’ve no idea.”
This statement completely threw Haman off guard.
“You have no idea.” He laughed.
“Yes,” Gerard said, removing a pen from his sport coat pocket.
“Yes.” Gerard started fiddling with the pen— one of his idiosyncratic habits. Haman the Magician stood there for a while longer.
“You can’t be serious. You must be joking.” He forced a laugh.
“No,” Gerard said lightly, “I’m perfectly serious.”
“NO. YOUR’E JOKING.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“You’re joking, dammit! TELL ME!”
“I can’t tell you anything about the questions you asked. If you don’t mind, I have some questions of my own. Perhaps we can flesh out this situation.
“I,” Gerard continued, fiddling with his pen, “have spent a long time trying to unravel a mystery. Now, I fear, I have found the answer. The answer is you, Haman. You can tell me. But it is quite ironic that the answer wants to ask me questions. Perhaps you would invite us into your spacecraft, and we can answer each other’s questions.”
Haman did not speak.
Gerard continued to fiddle with his pen, staring at Haman from behind those sunglasses.
Greg watched unblinkingly.
Jon lay on the ground.
Barnes the technician spoke up. “Perhaps this is a wise idea. We need to find out as much about this planet as possible.”
“But—” Haman responded— “what if— what if he— what if they—”
“—intend you harm?” Gerard finished. “I assure you, we mean no harm. I know the extent of your powers, Magician, and I do not want to expirence them first-hand.”
The Magician had one last question. “Are there any magic users on your planet? Any Magicians?”
“No. Well, there’s me, and a few others. I lost track of them a while ago.”
By now, Haman had regained his composure. “Well, come on to our ship, and we’ll talk. Take the others with you.”
Haman turned. He waved his hands, and the wheat in front of him parted, making a path through the field. The ship— painted blue— at the other end, but the only thing visible was an open door-shaped hatch and the steps leading to it. Barnes walked through the path cut through corn. Gerard and Greg followed, Greg dragging Jon’s limp body across the ground.
Then there was a noise. Low rumbling. Dark and vaugely discernable, like the lowest notes on a piano.
Gerard stepped up to the ship’s door— then he heard the noise. He stopped and turned.
The wheat shook in anticipation.
“Run!” Gerard whispered. “In here!”
The ground shook harder and the wheat danced. Greg dragged Jon across the shaking ground as fast as he could.
Gerard stepped out of the doorway onto the steps below. Then he took a deep breath.
Greg gasped— Gerard was floating. Flying. Hovering. It was difficult to describe. Gerard was slowly and steadily rising from the ground, as if lifted by a giant invisible crane.
“Don’t just stand there!” Gerard said from above. “Go! Into the ship!”
From his vista point ten feet above the ground, Gerard saw the seemingly endless wheat field ripple, like the waves of an ocean. The clearing was there, like an island in the midst of nowhere. The highway was the only other thing nearby, cutting a black swath through the crops.
Then he saw something else.
Something was forming not far in front of them. A screen of dust. It was faint at first, but as more motes filled the air, it solidified into an opaque brown wall.
Then the wall rushed at them.
Gerard reflexively let himself fall to the steps below him and landed with agility. He stepped backward into the darkness of the spaceship. He waved his arms (barely visible, shrouded in darkness) and the lifeless Jon, hoisted by an invisible force, lifted off the ground and flew in an arc over Greg’s head. His lifeless limbs flailed ridicolously as he was pulled into the dark doorway. Jon’s gun, the double-barreled pump-action rifle, followed shortly.
Greg screamed (this time he did not sound like a girl).
The rumbling grew louder.
“Greg, come!” Gerard said, making barely visible hand motions.
Greg stood there and screamed some more. The rumble grew louder until it drowned out his screaming.
Gerard swore inaudibly. He ran outside, hoisted Greg up, and Carried him into the ship.
The steps retracted into the darkness and the door shut. Moments later, the wall of dust slammed into the ship, making it shake.
Outside, the crops had been flattened by the dust storm. The ground was crosshatched by wheat stalks and the ground was speckled with dirt. The world was a haze of dust.
The magician’s ship, a tiny flat rod of blue, lifted off. It had no visible engines, and it stuttered in the dust storm. It jerked forward.
Then it stopped moving.
It hovered, jerking and jumping back and forth in a general downward direction. The dust storm raged on. The ship came to the ground in a rough landing.
Inside the ship, Barnes furiously worked the controls despite the turbulence, but to no avial. The magician stood, one hand on the chair to keep his balence. Gerard stood unflinchingly. Greg had fallen to the ground, and Jon had rolled over and slammed against the wall.
Haman shouted. “Barnes! What is happening?”
“Losing power! Pylon failing!”
“Gerard! What is this?”
Gerard spread his hands apolegetically and shook his head. “I do not know.”
The magician swore very loudly.
The lights darkened— fade to black.
Outside, the rumbling continued.
* * *
Joni (pronounced: Yoh-nee) did not have a very interesting job.
In fact, he literally got paid to do nothing. He got paid lots of money, too. Some people would call Joni very lucky, but he didn’t think so. He’d much rather have an interesting job. This job was a dead end, even if it did pay 150 thousand a year.
His job involved sitting in a room in the San Francisco international airport (which was, interestingly, not in San Francisco) and waiting for people to come. Nobody ever did. To get to the room, you’d first have to go through a door marked Oversize Baggage Claim in Terminal D. Nobody ever did, because there were two doors marked Oversize Baggage Claim and this door happened to be strategically placed. On the rare occasion that some lost person would walk to the distant corner opposite the car rentals in the baggage claim, notice the narrow, almost-invisible gap where the two walls were supposed to meet, walk through that gap, down the narrow hallway and through another almost invisible gap that led into a long hallway, and notice the Oversize Baggage Claim at the end and enter it, that person would be met with a sign stating “Please Use Other Oversize Baggage Claim.” Behind that sign was a door, and behind that door was Joni.
Joni’s office had the works: monitors displaying flight arrival and departure times, a ticker incessantly printing out news that fell unnoticed in a pile on the floor, several TVs turned to various channels (close captioning on), flight schedules for the next few weeks, and a communications board that linked to every major part of the airport. He also had a desk which he used for reading, writing, and computer games. Against the wall was a tenor oboe. Broken reeds lay on the floor next to it.
Joni’s job was simple. When a really important person needed an immediate flight, that person would walk in Joni’s hidden room and immediately ask if this was the Oversize Baggage Claim and if he could pick his baritone flute. (Joni had seen a baritone flute once. It was pretty spiffy.) In which case Joni was supposed to immediately get the man (or woman) on the flight of his (or her) choice. Such a thing rarely happened. Every week at a random time, someone would walk into this room just to make sure Joni was doing his job, and of course the people who took the day and night shifts visited daily (Joni took the early shift). But except for them and a couple random politicians last year, Joni never got visitors.
Suffice to say, Joni’s job was very boring.
He read books to keep himself company. He didn’t know how many books he’d read since he’d gotten this job, and currently he was reading “The Man Who Was Thursday” for the eighth time. When reading got boring, he’d write. When that got boring, he’d practice the tenor oboe (he’d gotten quite good at it lately) or play computer games (which he had also gotten quite good at). He kept some music on to drown out that incessant news ticker and shut out the noises of the airport.
It was currently 7:00. He didn’t get off his shift until 9, and his supervisor had already visited this week, so it was a great suprise to him when a guy with blue thin lines painted across his face entered and immediately asked Joni whether this was the Oversize Baggage Claim and if Joni had his baritone flute.
It was such a big suprise that Joni temperorairily forgot himself and said “No, but I do have a tenor oboe.”
A man in a grey uniform stood outside the door, peering over the other man’s shoulder and trying to get a good glimpse of the room.
“Good enough. My name is Travesdain. I need a fast airliner and I need it now. Can you help me?”
“Er...” Joni stopped. “That’s a mighty tall order. I’ll see what I can do.”
Joni turned to his computer. His hands moved to the keys. The computer screen sprang to life. Windows snapped open and shut, and text poured out in many different places. “Do you realize how much that will cost?”
“Quite a bit, I am aware.”
“Where do you want to take this?”
“You know how to get a landing at any airport?” The clicking, clacking keyboard fascinated the man in uniform. He watched intently.
“Yes,” said Travesdain.
“Well... Terminal B, gate 11. Have fun. The government’s gonna have my ass on a platter for this.”
“Thank you... ahh, what’s your name?”
“Joni. J-O-N-I, pronounced Yoh-nee.”
“Thank you, Joni.”
Travesdain left, and Banon followed.
Once they were in the hallway, Banon spoke up.
“Pardon me, but you promised to tell me who I am.”
“Ah yes—” Travesdain stopped at the corner, stared into space for a moment. “Your name is Argusdain.”
“Argusdain,” he repeated. He rather liked that name. “I saw somewhere a name tag, like Joni had. I think it was mine. It said... Richard Banon.”
“Banon, eh?” Travisdain turned toward him. “Your name is Argusdain. Banon is dead. He was killed last night by things beyond your comprehension. Now, Argusdain, come with me.”
He stood there. Somewhere, in the back of his haid, a voice whispered over and over, Argusdain. Argusdain. Argusdain...
Then there was a contrary voice. Argusdain? Banon.
Banon-christined-Argusdain stood in thought. Then he realized that Travesdain was far ahead of him.
“Are you coming, Argusdain?”
“I come!” he shouted, and hurried after Travesdain.
* * *
The hyperbolic manifold.
The Magician swore.
It was unraveled.
The small, cube-shaped engine room. Slender rectangular pylons stuck out of each face, stopping about a foot from the center of the room. The rear and bottom pylon was thicker than the others, and the two side pylons had a rougher texture. They all pointed at the room’s center.
Somewhere distant, there was a determined thumping. A regular THUD, steady as a metronome.
A light, held in Haman’s hand, illimunated the small room, casting shadows over everything. With the light, Haman could clearly see the emptiness in the center. It was supposed to contain a hyperbolic manifold, linking the substance of space and the planes of magic at a union in spacetime. There, magic could be channeled without the aid of a Magician. It provided power to all the ship.
In the distance, the thumping continued, and the wind’s howling was distant but resolute.
Except now, somehow, the hyperbolic manifold had unraveled itself and disasppered into the fabric of spacetime. It would take forever to weave another one. And forever was something the Magician, unfortunately, did not have.
Haman considered the incessant thumping. Indeed, something was banging regularly at the door, wanting to get in. Haman didn’t know what it was, but from what he could sense he was certian that it meant harm.
Haman the Magician left the engine room. When that thing broke through, he had to be ready.
* * *
It was part of Joni’s training, you see.
He was supposed to follow suspicious persons. And this painted-face robe-garb Travesdain and his military sidekick was about as suspicious as a person can get. Probably a terrorist. Lybian nationalist, or whatever weirdo country Mister Face Paint Travesdain came from. Of course, Joni didn’t ask Travesdain where he was from. That was part of his training, too. Don’t make your suspicion apparent. So, he pretended to execute Travesdain’s order with swift calmness.
When Travesdain got to Terminal B, gate 11, and asked to get on the plane, he would be met with a blank stare.
Joni walked down the corridors of Terminal B. Travesdain’s navy blue robes were clearly visible in the distance.
Joni rubbed his hands.
Finally, some excitement on the job.
Travesdain was quite aware of Joni’s presence. But as usual, he had his own plans.
Travesdain was not stupid.
The journey continues May 26, 2002.