Transcript – Ruler of the Skies

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Fifteen: Ruler of the Skies

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This is the memory of Princess Chleo DulinRicht. Human, aged twenty-two, identified as female. Memory regards a secret project undertaken by the Federal Flying Corps, and was donated on the eighteenth of the month of Chillingtine, in the year 726. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the fifteenth of Sunsfall, 729.

We Begin.

Princess. That’s what I have to put at the top of every form, like the form you gave me. That’s my official, federally recognised title. And it’s just the strangest thing. It’s not like it means anything. Just a reminder that, hundreds of years ago, my family ruled what is now southern Senteria. I have no idea why they keep the old titles going. Since the Federation and Unification and everything, it’s a bit strange to have princes and princesses still wandering around. I mean, a few years after Unification, sure, I know it takes a while for old traditions to fade away. But we’re seven hundred years past that now and we still have them?

It’s not like we own any of the land or anything like that. My family’s no richer than any other. My grandfather has a decent position in the federal government, I think. But the fact that I couldn’t tell you what it is he actually does should probably give you an indication of just how prominent a figure he actually is.

We’re not even the actual royal family. Not really. After the pogrom of Erod Tengar back in… what was it… 570? 571? That sort of time? Anyway, all that was left of the actual royal family was wiped out. You’d think, if anything, that would have been the time to just let the whole thing go. But, no apparently not, the Federal Government track down some third cousin and give him the title. And now, here we are.

Sorry, that went on a bit longer than I expected. I don’t get much chance to say stuff like this so, when I get the opportunity, I suppose I get a bit carried away. Maybe I’m a little nervous. Technically I shouldn’t be telling you any of this but… well it’s not like they can do anything else to me now.

The point I was trying to make, I think, is that I might have a royal title but it has had no effect on my life. When I applied to the Flying Corp, I had to rely on my grades, my test scores and my own ability. The fact that I had “Princess” on my application, did not matter a jot to them.

Which I was very grateful for, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not here to complain at how little recognition I get, quite the opposite. Believe me, I’d be more than happy to get rid of the whole remnant monarchy thing we’ve got altogether. But apparently, I don’t get to decide that, go figure.

Anyway, the Flying Corp. I knew I wanted to be an air-pilot ever since my father took me to a flight show when I was a little girl. Looking up at all of those incredible machines arching and swooping overhead like swallows, it awoke something in me. I knew right then that someday I wanted to be up there in a kite of my own.

So, I went to school, I went to university, I studied aeronautical engineering and anemology. Everything I did was in pursuit of that goal. And, when I graduated, I applied and was accepted.

I won’t bore you with a full account of my time during training, I’ll only say that those six months were really damn gruelling. They pushed us physically and mentally to breaking point. And I don’t think I’d ever been so happy.

I passed out of the academy first in my class. The Lord Wind Marshal himself handed me my bar. And there it was. I was officially Wind-Pilot Officer, Princess Chleo DulinRicht. Shame I couldn’t lose the old honorific, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

Soon after, I was assigned to FAC Rainburh, the base up near Hy-Braelyn, under the command of Wind Commodore Titanus DuBarros. This meant moving away from the family homestead which meant I had to lodge in the barracks. But that wasn’t too bad. I had my own room at least, though I admit that it was a bit of a downgrade from the way I was used to living.

Everything started out well. There were daily briefs, planning missions, training exercises, drills, I even got to go on a few reconnaissance missions along the Coopian border. It was all pretty straight forward and good for a few months. And then we had the visitors from the Etterian University.

See, the Federal Military provides funding for them which means they maintain a decent sized research and development department within the university. So, every now and again, the alkismotists turn up with some new invention. No weapons, obviously, they still haven’t figured that out, though to be honest I don’t see how they could come up with anything better than the rifle. No, they usually come up with new methods for scouting, or ways to improve our vehicles, that sort of thing.

I knew all of this, but I hadn’t yet met anyone from the university. So, when that carriage drew up in the early hours of the morning, I thought it was probably just another stuff-shirt from higher up in command. One of the Wind Marshals maybe, there to check on the status of the base or someone come for a meeting with the commodore.

I was out in the yard for my morning exercise, me and some of the other guys from my squadron. So, I got a good look at the coach as it pulled in. It looked similar to any number of coaches I’d seen arriving on the base, which was what made me think at first that it was just another officer or something like that. What I didn’t recognise at the time was the golden crest emblazoned on the coach door. Three stylised eight-pointed stars surrounded by elaborate scrollwork. I now know, of course, that it’s the crest of the Etterean University but at the time, I thought it was just a family heraldry or something like that. Most of the Wind Marshals have their own carriages so it wasn’t anything unusual.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, instead of a smartly uniformed old man, out stepped a tall woman with close cropped hair dressed in a very nice suit. After her came two young looking men, dressed similarly to her, though she gave the impression that she was in charge. Especially when, at the snap of her fingers, the two men rushed to retrieve the bags from the back of the coach.

She was greeted by the Commodore himself, so I knew she must be someone important, and he led her into his personal barracks, the two men following behind them with the bags.

I didn’t think much of it after that, it didn’t seem like anything that would concern me. I asked my squadron leader about it later, and that’s when I found out who they really were and what they were probably visiting about.

But even then, I had only a passing interest in it all. I had my reports to write and meetings of my own to attend. That was until I was summoned to the Commodore’s office.

Bear in mind, I’d only spoken to him once before, on my first day on the base, and that was just him welcoming me. Since I was top of my class and… yes, I suppose my family name probably had something to do with it as well, I got a personal welcome from him but that was all it was.

So, I had no idea what I was walking into.

He smiled and welcomed me in, so I thought it was a safe bet that I wasn’t in any kind of trouble. He offered me a drink, which I accepted. I wasn’t even particularly thirsty but when your commanding officer offers you a drink, you take the drink, right?

I asked for tea. He pulled out a blue-glass candle, lit it and conjured two cups of gently steaming tea. I’ve never been that trusting of conjured drink but, not wanting to be rude, I picked up my cup and took a sip. It was actually a lot better than I expected.

So anyway, the Commodore asked if I’d seen the new arrival that morning. I told him I had. He asked if I knew who they were. I repeated what my squad leader had told me, that they were from the Etterean University.

He told me that the woman I’d seen was actually Doctor Lousilla Steele, the head of our R&D department. He then pulled out a small, leather case and placed it on the table between us.

He told me that, for almost a decade, Doctor Steele’s team had been attempting to develop a way to give us an edge in the skies. Something that would put us ahead of other flyers from other countries. And they thought they might have finally found something. It was top secret.

He opened the case and showed me the contents. Inside was a small object that I had to lean closer to, to see properly. It looked like a monocle. The frame was brass, I think or possibly copper. From the side of it hung a small silvery chain. But it was the glass that was the truly strange part of the object. It wasn’t clear glass but was instead a deep, dark red. It was so dark I was sure it would be impossible to see through.

The Commodore must have seen my confused expression because he chuckled softly, and asked me to try it on.

I was a little hesitant. I mean, I’ve been around kismotic items before but this was something experimental. I had no idea what this thing was even supposed to do. But I knew the commodore wouldn’t order me to do anything dangerous, at least not with him sitting a yard away.

I picked up the monocle and put it to my eye. I had been right about the glass; it was almost completely opaque. It was so dark; I could only just about make out the Commodore’s outline.

He asked me if I could see him. I told him hardly at all. My other eye was open so I saw him smile. Then he told me to snap my fingers next to the monocle. I did so, wondering where this was going.

It was as if the red glass before my eye came to life. A soft light pulsed through the glass accompanied by a gentle pinging noise. In that instant I was suddenly, acutely aware of everything around me.

I knew exactly how far the Commodore, his desk and every item in his office was away from me.

I felt the thing drop from my eye as it widened in shock. Fortunately, I was quick enough to catch it before it hit the floor.

The Commodore was laughing when I looked back at him, said he’d had more or less the same reaction.

I had to try twice to get the words out, my throat had gone extremely dry. I was eventually able to ask what the thing was. What had I just experienced?

The amused expression vanished from the Commodore’s face. He suddenly looked very serious, leaning over his desk, his fingers steepled. He fixed me with a steady stare.

“Potentially the most dangerous thing they’ve ever created.”

That’s what he said. I looked down at the little brass monocle. I was a little sceptical of that. I mean, I could see how something like this could be useful but dangerous?

The Commodore then explained further and I began to understand.

What the monocle actually did was to send out invisible waves through the air, in all directions, that would bounce off anything they touched and return back to the source. The information of exactly what they had bounced off of was then fed directly into the brain.

“And how far did these invisible waves go out?” I asked.

“Up to eighty miles,” the Commodore replied. The distance that the waves reached out to could be changed by adjusting the silver chain.

So, now I understood completely. One of the hardest parts of aerial combat is finding your opponent. And on scouting missions, you’re moving so fast in the kites that sometimes you’re bound to miss something. But with something like this, that could perfectly pinpoint everything around you within a hundred miles… it would be like fighting someone who had their eyes closed.

The Commodore held out his hand and it was only with slight reluctance that I handed over the monocle. I then asked why I was being told all this.

After replacing the monocle in its case and putting it back in the desk, he answered.

He told me I had been selected to field test this new item. To see if it worked as well as Professor Steele and her alkismotists said it would. I was one of the best, most reliable pilots on the base, he said, and he felt I was the right person to try the thing out.

I didn’t know what to say. I was honoured. I promised him that I wouldn’t let him down.

The Commodore told me to see that I didn’t. He told me to pick two other pilots I trusted to act as my escort while I flew the missions to try out the monocle. My squadron leader had been told that I was conducting this mission, though he had not been told the full details, and had been told to allow me to go about my business.

I was dismissed then and I turned to go, but before I could open the door, the Commodore stopped me for one last thing.

He told me that he knew about the monocle, as did Dr Steele and her team and now so did I. But that was it. Not even my two trusted pilots were to know about it. He said he wasn’t going to tell anyone and the alkismotists hadn’t. So, if anyone found out, they would know it was me. There was more than enough warning in his voice to let me know that this was not something I should take lightly. I promised that I would keep my mouth shut about the monocle.

The Commodore nodded, satisfied, and told me to report to the hangar the next morning with my two pilots.

I left his office feeling nervous but also, incredibly excited.

The pilots I ended up choosing were Lance DuTroye and Ellen Lillium. I’ve known Ellen for years. We actually went through training together and became good friends. We had a similar sense of humour and she was the only other person I’d ever met who read engineering books for fun. The fact she was one of the few who didn’t make some crack about my family or my title also helped a lot.

Lance… well to be honest, Lance is a bit of a meathead but he’s a decent guy and he’s one of the best flyers on the base apart from myself. I probably wouldn’t ask him for a book recommendation or anything like that but for missions there was no one I’d trust more to have my back.

They were both excited when I told them we were doing a special secret mission for the Commodore and, of course, they asked me what the mission was all about. I could tell Ellen in particular was disappointed when I told them I couldn’t tell them anything but they both understood.

First thing the next morning, we were up and in the hangar ready for the assignment. The hangar was completely empty, something I had never seen since arriving at the base, apart from the Commodore and Dr Steele herself. They were clearly taking no chances.

My companions saluted the Commodore who greeted them and told them to go prepare their kites, that we’d be leaving soon. Once both Lance and Ellen were out of eye and earshot, the Commodore handed me the leather bag while Dr Steele told me to keep this first flight quick and simple. I was to go out, do a quick circuit around the base with the monocle scanning at around a mile.

I nodded and went to climb into my own kite. Once I’d slid the canopy shut, I pulled the monocle out of the case and fixed it to my eye. I’d wait until we were in the air to activate it.

We were cleared for take-off and soon we were up, soaring through the sky to the sound of our propellers. I activated my apovox and told Lance and Ellen to stay a good distance behind me and only move up if it looked like I was in trouble. A few seconds later, I received the affirmative from both of them. I fixed my control wheel and, after quickly checking on the gauges and the throttle, I began adjusting the monocle chain.

The Commodore had said that the chain controlled how far out the thing’s wave could reach. It had been full length the previous day when it had only worked in the commodore’s office so I shortened it by a few links, thinking that should allow the wave to reach about a mile, maybe a little more.

I snapped my fingers once again to activate the monocle. The same pinging noise I’d heard the day before came again. I had worried that it would be louder if the wave was going out further but thankfully it was no louder than the first time, still just that gentle tone.

But the wave had certainly gone further. In a second, I knew exactly where Lance and Ellen’s kites were behind me without having to look. I must have been right in my guess of how much to shorten the chain because I could sense what was on the ground below me and the altitude indicator was reading at just above 5000 feet. I knew that we were going over a decent sized forest, that at that very moment, a pack of wolves was closing on a deer.

The monocle made that pinging noise again and new information flooded into my brain. Lance and Ellen were now slightly further apart, there was a flock of rivergulls tailing behind us, we were flying over the edge of the woodland and now beneath us was a river. The North Eten.

We kept on going in our wide ring around the base, for almost an hour. And every few minutes, the monocle would ping and I’d know exactly what was around me for a mile in every direction. It was, quite simply, incredible.

When we finally touched down back in the Rainburh airfield, I was flush with excitement at everything I’d… well, not seen, but… you know what I mean. I almost forgot to put the monocle away before climbing out of the cockpit.

The Commodore and Dr Steele were still in the hangar, waiting for us. I told Lance and Ellen to head back to the barracks and then went to meet them.

I told them everything, what I had sensed through the monocle, how I was able to tell even without looking where the landscape was in relation to me and where the other kites and the birds were in the sky, all while flying.

The Commodore was impressed and Dr Steele seemed pleased. She smiled anyway, told me that this was a very promising start and that me and my team were to report there the next day for the next stage of testing.

For the next couple of weeks, those flights were pretty much all me and the other two did. We were excused from regular duties, by order of the Commodore. Can’t say that made us many friends but it was worth it. We were doing something important, I knew, and one day, when all the pilots in the flying corps were using these monocles, and we were the unquestionable rulers of the skies, then everyone would know what we did and they would understand.

I could tell Lance and Ellen were as curious as anyone else on the base as to what was going on, but they knew better than to ask. Still, I think they were starting to get the general picture from the presence of Dr Steele at every one of our meetings and the fact that me and the Commodore were passing that leather case back and forth before and after every mission.

We flew mission after mission, going further, higher, faster, all while increasing the range of the monocle’s sensory wave. Every time I felt I had this new sixth sense, able to see for miles without needing my eyes. It was incredible.

And then, we had the break in.

It was nearly a month since our testing flights had started. It was the middle of the night. I only saw it go down because I’d needed to get up to use the restroom.

I was walking back down the corridor and I happened to glance out the window. And that’s when I saw it.

A strange looking figure sneaking out of the guest barracks, where Dr Steele and the other two alkismotists had been staying.

Curious, I opened the door and went out. It was cold, the winter was just settling in, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to grab my boots or my side sword before whoever it was got away.

I moved quickly, trying my best not to notice the freezing cold water that covered the grass.

The intruder was heading straight for the base’s east gate, skirting the edges of the hangars, keeping to the shadows cast by the light of the moon. I was able to keep pace, but stayed at a distance.

I watched him as he approached the gate. There was nothing near it, just a stretch of open road. I was expecting them to be stopped at the gate, there are always guards on duty, no matter the hour. But they just ran right through without hesitation. There was no challenge, no shout of alarm or warning shot.

They were away, moving at a swift run. I drew level with the gatehouse and looked in. I saw two men in uniform, lying on the floor, slumped against the wall. I told myself they must just be unconscious, that the dark patch I could see around their bodies were just shadows.

I tore my gaze away and took off at a sprint. I may not look it but I’m a fast runner and the intruder had no idea I was there. I quickly gained on them. My plan was to tackle them and then subdue them before they even knew I was there. Running in my bare feet meant that I made barely any noise as I closed the gap and lunged to tackle.

They moved. Without looking or even reacting in anyway, they just side-stepped and carried on running.

I hit the ground but was fortunately able to roll with it back up to a kneeling position. I was up in time to see the intruder look back at me.

I saw the glint as the moonlight reflected off of something brass. The monocle. They had stolen the monocle. And by that same dim light, I saw the profile of the intruder. They had a sharp, angular face. A very sharp face. I looked again. What I’d taken at first to be a pointed nose was actually a beak. What I’d thought was swept back hair was actually a ridged crest.

Even from the widening distance between us and in that pale half-light, I got the impression of a smug smile.

I got up to begin the chase again. There weren’t many places they could go. We were about three miles from the nearest town and the surrounding woodland wasn’t thick enough to hide in, at least not for long.

But my intruder had no intention of hiding. They pressed something on their chest. There was this hiss and click and from out of their back grew two great wings. There was a familiar buzzing of propellers. The intruder had not stopped running but now their feet left the ground and they soared upwards like a kite.

The last I saw of the intruder; they were giving me a jaunty wave as their wings carried them and the monocle away into the night sky.

You can guess what happened after. Someone had to have let the information slip and, despite my objections, it naturally had to be me. Probably would have been bad enough without Dr Steele weighing in but, with her practically calling for my head on a platter, the brass had no choice but to basically hang me out to dry.

I wasn’t discharged but I was stripped of my rank. And, the worst part, I had my wings clipped. Debarred from piloting aircraft, restricted to desk duty and reassigned to FAC Golszand, way down south in Vivvok. And I think I only got that lucky because of my title. One perk of being a princess, I guess. Not that it feels that way.

Final Notes: Ah, there’s nothing like a memory where all the details are buried behind multiple mountains of bureaucracy. I could request follow up from the Princess, the Flying Corp and the Etterean University regarding their top-secret project… but I think I’d be better off slamming my head into my desk for all the results I’d get.

We did make contact with Flight Specialists DuTroye and Lillium but they weren’t able to do much aside from corroborate the story.

We were able to track down Princess Chleo. She’s still working a desk job with the Flying Corp, though she’s now stationed up north at FAC Winnagate. But besides confirming her recollection, she had nothing more to add. She hasn’t seen or heard anything more about this mysterious flyer.

All that can be said about them at this point is that, from Princess Chleo’s description, they are likely a bronteran. Diplomatic relations between the Federation and Coopia have been tense for a while now and, if they got wind that we had a device like this monocle, it makes sense that they’d send someone to acquire it. It is rather alarming to contemplate what they might do with such a device for if things get worse.

Inscription Complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]