David, Chris, and Mitch were standing at the edge of the cage. Each of them had their hands on the x-crossed bars that made up the barrier holding them in. Here, in this alien place, they were learning more about their history than they had in all their lives. They had begun to learn the reasons their world was the way it was and of the past that got them there. For these few precious moments, their reason for being in this strange city was forgotten, and all that mattered was the histories.
In the center of the room, unhampered by any cages, the mechanic brushed a reverent hand over Gizmo’s metal frame. Sighing, he stepped back over to his consoles and plopped onto a rolling stool. “Back then, nations were a lot like the whole of the New Republic. Some of them made treaties, some made alliances, some took territories for themselves. It got to the point that most of the world was divided into major factions. According to Cole, some of them only wanted peace if they could control the world.”
“Cole?” Leah interrupted, “Cole the butcher?!”
“Um, yes.” Beathen turned to Leah, “He and your mother are part of a… A guild? …A group of people that keep the histories of the old world. They record them and pass them on to others in their group. That’s why there’s always those scribes at your folk’s mansion.”
“She never told me any of this!” Leah was incredulous.
“For whatever reason, they keep all of this secret. They even swore me to secrecy. Besides, your father was never unclear about his intentions for you.” Beathen explained, “There’s little chance you would ever be able to join their order.” While Leah puzzled over this, Beathen continued, “The ones that wanted to take over everything were making moves against everybody else, while those that wanted peace were rallying to take them down for good. But then the scientists of the day were warning everyone that something was coming and that that’s where everybody’s attention should be. Sure enough, the sky started clouding up with these orange and purple clouds.”
“Mannah.” David spoke from behind the cave.
Turning toward the cage Beathen continued, “That’s right. They came gradually, filling the sky at first, but soon began landing on the ground at night. Most people thought it was just weird until people began dying near fires. If anybody did anything to harm them, anyone in the area would die. So the Mannah did end up taking the whole world’s attention.”
“People figured out that if the Mannah were exposed to enough heat, they could be killed. So some of the dumber nations dropped crazy bombs at night, in the areas where the most Mannah had gathered. But they soon realized that the Mannah were using heat and light to replicate. While the blast would kill a lot of Mannah at its center, the Mannah on the outskirts of the blast would populate more quickly. It didn’t take long before the whole sky was covered in Mannah.”
“The bombs they dropped might have hurt the Mannah population a little, but they devastated the surrounding areas where people lived. The combination of these two problems neutralized whatever societies were still around. Cole says that the good thing about the little aliens is that they were eating the chemicals in the sky that were causing us problems.”
“Wait!” the Mannah aren’t from our planet?” This time Chris spoke up, “Where are they from?”
“Who knows.” Mitch chimed in, “They could be from anywhere.”
“Right.” said Beathen, “They’re from… out there.” He waved his arms in a wide motion toward the ceiling, indicating the vastness of space. “But anyway, let me finish…”
“Over time, plants grew more readily, animals began to populate. Things we thought we would run out of began to grow back, there just weren’t enough of us left to do the things we did before. Little kingdoms began to spring up, but they didn’t last for very long. I don’t know what happened across the oceans, but here the larger cities began to make up the New Democracy. My family is originally from across the ocean, but I grew up my whole life here. By the time my family arrived, Racole had already organized the New Democracy. Before he died, he created the lords of the states and the Patrician Force. But there were no real laws preventing them from doing whatever they wanted.”
“My family was in a bad way being here. We were abused by the lords in the area.” He paused to look at Leah, “You’re father rescued me. He gave my family purpose and work. We all took his sigil,” he motioned to the Griffen surrounded by flames on his arm, “and I’ll serve him until the day I die.”
“Great,” David said, “but what does this have to do with the stone?”
Beathen turned his gaze to Gizmo. “The stone…” he mused, “I’ll bet that Gizmo is a quattour from the time before.” He stood and ordered Gizmo back onto the diagnostic platform. “All our technology is borrowed from the time before, so it may be that we overlooked Gizmo’s true age.” He grabbed a handheld scanner and began scanning the quattour.
“The stone, Beathen!” patience was leaving David’s voice, “What about the stone!?”
“I already told you,” Beathen snapped his head at the muscular teen, “it’s an ancient core with immense power. It’s not like you’ll be getting your hands on it.”
“Yeah?” David retorted, “How long do you think it’ll be before someone who noticed that light comes to check your shop? From the sound of it, there’s lots of people after it. Why are we even still here, anyway?!”
Leah remembered her surprise visitor, “Beathen, Lamia is here and he’s looking for the stone.”
“What?” For the first time, Leah saw a fearful expression break Beathen’s face. “That maniac is in town for the stone? Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“I just found out he was here. I didn’t see him until I was coming back with the stone myself.”
“How do you know he’s after it?”
“He stopped me and told me to give it to him. I told him I didn’t have it.”
“Why would he think you have it?”
Leah hung her head, “It was what my mom sent me to get from them.” Leah pointed at the caged thugs.
“Wait, wait… How could Lamia know what missions your parents are sending you on?”
“Apparently he’s got informants in the house.”
Beathen’s face flashed with expressions of anger, grief, and incredulity, “How long have you known about this?”
Leah was indignant, “I just found out, Beathen!”
The mechanic ran to the small tower and hit the button. As the panel opened, he snatched the pouch from the disc and threw his hand into the slot. As quickly as he could, he stuffed the stone into the sack as strong beams of golden light quickly flooded the shop and faded away. “Give the stone to Gizmo!” He shoved the sack into Leah’s hands.
“Yes, give me the stone.” said the voice in Leah’s head. She turned to see Gizmo’s eyes pointed right at her.
“Not you too!” Leah shouted at the mysterious machine. Beathen shot a puzzled glance at Leah before glancing at Gizmo. Leah returned his glance with one of embarrassment. What is happening?, she thought, I can hear a living quattuor in my head?
“What is she saying?” Beathen eyed the quattor sideways.
The question shocked Leah as she was momentarily frozen in place by Beathen’s sudden acceptance of all that was transpiring. “You really believe that she’s talking in my head?”
“Leah, I installed your augments.” Every now and then, the man’s voice could carry an almost parental air of annoyance, “The only thing that surprises me is that you haven’t noticed anything like this sooner. What did Gizmo say?”
A smirk of resignation creased her lips, “She said to give her the stone…”
“Right, do that.” Turning to the quattuor, “Open your core drive, Gizmo.” The thing glanced at Beathen and turned back to Leah as a half-cylindrical deck about 7 inches long and 5 inches high fell open. Inside it sat a purple cylinder, shining with a dull purple light: the thing Leah had believed to be Gizmo’s brain. On either side of the cylinder were connector nodes, resembling the + and – nodes on a battery. Beathen pulled the cylinder free and pulled off one of the connector plates. Tipping the cylinder, he caught a ragged purple stone as it fell free. Then the mechanic lodged the stone between his knees and motioned for Leah to give him the contents of her sack.
Leah gave him a troubled look, when Beathen said, “Gizmo was made for this, Leah. This is who she was always supposed to be.” Leah wasn’t sure what to think. As far as she had always known, changing a quattour’s core was almost the same as changing quattours. Was the purple stone between Beathen’s legs the thing she had grown so accustomed to? If she put a different stone into her, wouldn’t that change everything she knew about Gizmo? She’d have to re-train her quattour all over again. “Leah!” Beathen was growing impatient.
Leah lifted the pouch but was stopped again by the fear of the illuminating stone’s likelihood to bring unwanted attention. The voice in her head started again, “I’ve uploaded all the data I stored in the previous core; it’s ok to install this one.”
Stunned to hear Gizmo still functioning after her core was removed, Leah sputtered, “How are you doing that?” She looked the quattour up and down thinking, Maybe I really am going crazy…
“I have a small reserve of energy, but I need the core.” Gizmo continued, “Without it, soon my functions will begin to fail.”
“It’s your decision, Leah.” Beathen said, unaware of Gizmo’s communications, “We’ve never seen Gizmo’s true potential. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to see it, finally.” The boys in the cage were silent but rapt.
“Why didn’t you just install the stone a minute ago?” Leah asked.
“When I said to give it to her, I meant in her secure compartments so she could keep it safe. But…” He handed her the empty cylinder. Leah emptied the contents of the sack into the cylinder and replaced the plate. The room was flooded, once again, with the golden light. She moved to Gizmo’s middle section and placed the cylinder into the deck.
Suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of massive wings pushing waves of air, “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…”
A large figure blocked the view from the wide center window on the second floor of the shop. A large, burly man with a wide, black pirate’s sash around his waist hopped into the opening. “You better be sure the Patties’ are on the way.” Lamia shouted, “Best give me what I came for, wimps.”
Special Author’s Note
This is the last descriptive chapter before the story really begins to take off. There’s a lot of subtle world-building here with a paragraph about people’s relationship with the Mannah, a little about the relationship of the local authorities with people, and quiet clues about details that will be important later.
I like how Gizmo’s behavior continues to raise questions that Leah seems to be actively ignoring. Imaginge if your 1998 Camry was sitting outside waiting at the curb for you when you left the grocery store. But you’d walked to the store. How would you explain this to your friends? Gizmo was easily the most fun character for me to write.