"How are we looking on that weather data?" Ruben inquired around the cherry sucker in his mouth.
The intermittent clacking against his teeth was somewhat unnerving but not enough so for anyone in the "Weather Station" to complain. Of course, Weather Station was just a nickname the soul engineers
had given the windowed box attached to the underside of one of the intersecting walkways that connected the center ring of Miyako Fluxum with the artificial "sun" at its heart. The so-called sun did indeed perform fusion reactions, providing light and heat to the underground city, but that was more or less a by-product of the more... "magical" properties it possessed.
From the Weather Station, the whole team had an excellent view of the core of the city's jump drive, that magnificent feat of technamagic engineering that allowed Miyako Fluxum to rapidly relocate over vast distances. To do so, however, the services of the Weather Station were indispensable: Here, qualified soul engineers used the friction gradient between the base De Vries Field
of the Great Clockwork
and the DVF of the amber sun to detect large-scale fluctuations in the former and make predictions about the "moods" of the Great Clockwork.
Why was this so important? Well, being the sort-of living computer the GC was and given how the jump drive of the city traveled through what was sometimes referred to as its "DVF space", sudden significant changes in its makeup could have dire consequences mid-jump. For example: in the decades after the Declaration of Existential Independence, when Miyako Fluxum, the then center of the city of Borealis, had spooled up the old jump drive to escape the ban on technamagix and practical magic research, one of the GC's moods had taken the city right under the surface of the Lands of Inferno.
Was the city supposed to be below the surface of Aqualon? Most certainly. The Lands of Inferno? Well, the melodramatic name of the region was quite apt. Safely encased by the two mountain ranges called "the Walls of Weltenend", the Lands of Inferno were a Hel-scape of volcanic and tectonic activity. The surface air was highly noxious, and the ground was hot and unstable. Severe earthquakes had rattled the underground city and caused significant damages before the drive had cooled down sufficiently to be spooled up again. Due to a sudden shift in the GC's DVF, all jump calculations had been invalidated in the blink of an eye, and it had been just short of a miracle that they had not ended up inside a magma pocket and burned up altogether.
This was the reason the Weather Station was so crucial. Here, the soul engineers made sure ample predictions of the GC's DVF were calculated and forecast data taken into account when making jump preparations.
"We got a steamer incoming," Esra replied to Ruben's query, not looking up from the floating displays of her soul computer.
"I'll take it up to the hoppers," Matthis offered. "I was looking for an excuse to stretch my legs anyways." - <And get a break from that damn clacking...> he added in his mind.
"Much obliged," Ruben replied, gazing at the amber sun with a hint of boredom.
Matthis stood up from his desk, put his soul computer on screen lock, and then stretched a bit before moving to a slick, metallic pedestal with a windowed box on top of it. Several lights indicated various statuses on its side and when the whole thing made a soft ding
, Matthis opened the window to liberate a small, black sphere from it, looking like a rather intriguing, cloudy pearl. A bit of steam escaped the box - hence the name. Of course the poo joke was necessary; the engineers were all a bunch of kids at heart. "Everything on here?" Matthis asked, seeking confirmation.
"Unless there's a defect, you're good to go," Esra confirmed.
"Alright, see you guys in a bit. Don't burn the house down," Matthis joked, putting the pearl in a protective case and pocketing it. Then he left through the sliding door and stepped into a rail cabin attached to the underside of the walkway, connecting the Weather Station to the center ring. It was a brief journey over, during which he could let his gaze wander across the vast cavity around which the city was constructed. In its center, of course, was the amber sun, emitting a bright beam along its vertical axis, ringed by walkways on all levels of the city. The city itself was behind the outer rings along the cavity wall, carved into rock and earth; further, smaller cavities containing houses and halls.
When he had arrived, he vacated the rail cabin and climbed up a short ladder onto the central ring. From here, he could see the tall and wide marketplace, though at this time of the day, it was fairly empty. He looked around and located the nearest jump station, walking over to it at a leisurely pace. Once he had arrived, he stepped inside and set the target to the only station located at the upper ring. One button press later, the whole world around him seemed to swim for a moment and it contorted in strange ways as space was folded together at two points. Then, he emerged from the target station.
He took a brief look around. Whenever the city appeared in a new location, the soil surrounding it was a bit different, and in some parts it showed through the cavity walls. Up here he was as close as he would get, so he was afforded a more detailed look. Though more of a casual hobby, Matthis had a fable for geology, and when he had the opportunity to get up here, he always kept an eye out for mineral veins. He even owned a couple of geodes.
But he didn't waste any time and looked while walking, which caused him to bump into someone. "Oh my!" he exclaimed in surprise while his victim just made a yelp. "I'm terribly sorry!"
"It's fine," a female voice replied. But she didn't linger and instead hastened away, apparently in a hurry. All he could see was a flowing of long, black hair, and as she moved away, a strangely appealing scent lingered.
He shook his head and moved on to the control room. <That's what you get for looking up while walking,> he chided himself. After he had reached the heavy doors of the control room, he punched in his access code and was cleared after a couple of seconds. The door hissed as it slid open, and Matthis stepped in: "Ladies and gentlemen, today's weather is in!"
The tall lecture hall had many rows of wooden seats with small desks in front of them, rising up in circular segments towards the back of the room: an auditorium built for optimal acoustics.
The wizened Magister
Kormoran neatly put his notes together down at the podium and gently tapped their bottom edge against the old, polished oak wood, making sure all papers were neatly aligned. "You may now vacate the auditorium," he said to his desk, apparently already miles away in his mind. With this call, the lecture was concluded and a busy shuffling emerged from between the ranks as several dozen students stuffed away their pencils and papers and rose up to egress the room. "Diplomat
Dächert." This time, Magister Kormoran actually did look up, fixing one of his students. "Please remain for a moment if you will."
Carsta flinched at hearing her name and felt a hot prickling in her neck as she noticed several of her fellow students eying her with some interest before deciding to get back to leaving. She remained at her place until everyone but the magister had left.
He looked up to her for a moment, then raised a bushy grey eyebrow. "Well don't be shy. Step down here, Diplomat Dächert."
She felt her face blush in embarrassment as she grabbed her brown satchel and hurried down to the podium. However, after arrival, Magister Kormoran did not not address her right away but rather seemed to be marking a couple of passages on another paper in front of him. Perhaps one of her term papers? Had she failed one of her courses?
"You have applied for access to a specialty section in the antiquarian library." There was no implied question in this sentence, and the magister never stopped casually marking down text.
"Freshwater biology," Carsta said hollowly.
"I believe the section is called Classic Zoology of Freshwater and Marine Lifeforms and their Ecology
," he chided her.
"Your application has been denied by the library commission." Now he was looking up at her directly.
Her expression had turned waxen. Three minutes ago she had been flying high, inspired by his brilliant lecture on the breeding habits of the common yarenma moth; now everything was falling apart in front of her eyes. Without access to the old tomes of the antiquarian section, the quality of her diploma thesis would suffer.
Magister Kormoran folded his hands, giving her a scrutinizing look. "Of course I have filed a complaint with the commission and will attempt to rectify this."
"You do good work, Diplomat Dächert. I quite enjoyed your paper on the life cycles of Eel Hole protozoa. Researchers in your position tend to be reluctant to go out into the field and actually collect proper samples, so naturally I have been keeping an eye on your progress."
"Th-thank you, Magister!"
"In the future," he continued, his voice growing stricter, "I would prefer you run requests like this by me first so I can support you. In general you should view your teachers as people invested in your education. The librarians are stuck up esoterics who love to defend their turf with rigid inflexibility. Research your fights before you pick them and then bring an appropriate amount of clout to bear."
"You may now vacate the auditorium."
Not sure how to properly express her gratitude, Carsta did an awkward bow and then scurried away out of the auditorium. Wandering through the hallways of the Grand Academy, she had no particular destination in mind, just meandering about aimlessly. She was filled with mixed emotions, seeing how her application to access the section of the library she had been eying since her bachelor days had been denied. On the other hand, she suddenly had the direct support of one of her teachers, and it felt amazing.
The waves crashed against the jetty, hurling white spray across the grey stone. At the very end of the pier a tall lighthouse clad in Middlish
duralumin stood tall, ever ready to resist the elements and guide ships to Zuidshaven
A square-built man with a green-gray bowler hat strode up and down before the group, making sharp turns and looking altogether wound up. "I know what you're thinking," he finally said, a vein pulsing on his forehead. "Oh, only five of us here, they got to certify us; it's just good business.
" His mocking imitation of people he had not hear speak a single word before echoed over the hard ground of the jetty. "Well, you're wrong
! I don't give two rusty keys about 'good business'." He pointed at himself with his thumb. "This man cares about one thing and one thing only: Excellency! And by the gears, when I am through with you sorry lot, you will
exemplify it, or you will
get the boot!"
"Uh, sir..." said a young man in the group hesitantly. He had long black hair tied into a neat knot and icy grey eyes. Nervously, he shifted from one leg to the other.
The tartar stopped dead in his tracks, turning to face the disruptive element with all the grace of a heavy, rusted door. All but a squeaking sound was missing to complete the illusion. His eyes were wide and his nostrils flared almost comically as he scrutinized the young man from top to bottom. "You dress like a Yamato man, boy. But you sure as hell don't look like one. Perhaps you've mistaken this place for West Yamato Trading Company turf. Well, you're wrong." He did not scream this, but the threat of a tantrum loomed behind every word he spoke. Ester Vandered had been an officer in the Common Wealth of Corsia navy in his youth, and he had never shed the vestiges of his past, rigidly holding on to military practices and ideals even now that he was working in the public sector.
"Actually, I just like the style of clothing... What I was trying to say was-"
"What, you're not even half and prance around like the emperor blessed you with a kiss and a pat on the back? Wonderful. Wonderful. What's your name, boy?"
"Wrong! From now on, we will call you Secondhand Samurai. You like that? Well, you're welcome! Now shut up, Secondhand Samurai, before I take it down to third-hand!"
Marcus bit his lip in frustration. What in Helgard was going on here? He had wrongfully believed he had joined a tour group visiting the harbor and suddenly his fun trip to the Hooper Chain
had taken a sharp left turn.
"Good! Now, listen well, you sorry lot! Work hard, and I will make great mages of you yet. There may be less competition for you this quarter, but that is no excuse for slacking off, and if you do slack off, I will come down on you like a ton of bricks!" He started moving up and down again, riling himself up. "Now, once my very tardy assistant gets here, he will take you to your HJT assigned quarters. Direct any questions at him. Tomorrow at the crack of dawn, I will pick you up for orientation. I expect your room to be spick and span when I arrive, is that clear?!"
"Yes, sir!" - three of the five managed to reply right away, Marcus and a young woman at the other end of the line chimed in with a slight delay.
"Pathetic..." Ester murmured, shaking his head. "Ahh, finally! What great honor it is that you grace us with your exalted presence, Deadweight!"
A massive, hulking figure hasted towards the group from the streets of Zuidshaven, arriving at the jetty soon after being called out. "Sorry, sir, there... was... accident... street..." he huffed, utterly out of breath.
"A likely story, you big galoot! I'm done yelling at these pipsqueaks. Take them to their quarters!"
"Yes, sir!" He watched Ester step away, walking off with a slight limp. An old war injury. Then he turned to the five applicants and cleared his throat. "So, you are the new Ferry trainees? I only got four on my list, who am I missing?"
"Marcus Cantor", Marcus replied without hesitation, stepping forward. Clearly this was not a tour group. But by whatever fluke, he had stumbled into a group of HJT Ferry recruits. When he had set out for the Hooper Chain, he had wanted to collect some experiences for his writing, but this was certainly a development he hadn't expected. Still, learning magic from a certified Ferry? The ship's mages for hire employed by the Hank & Jordan & Tenzer Corporation were famous all across the Corsic Ocean. Opportunity had reared its head before him, and he would not pass it up. With a sudden smirk he added. "But call me Secondhand Samurai."
"Alright." The man jotted something down on a clipboard. Then he looked across the faces of the five trainees. "My name is Walter Anvil; I'm your senior by one year, and I will show the ropes around here. If you have questions, ask away; in the meantime we'll be walking down to your quarters. Welcome to HJT."