Shellshock

Sometimes Ach-delche-age wondered if it was all worth it. Working for the Magister was not an easy task for someone with weak nerves.

‘Ang-kim around me’, he thought, sure to have done something in a past life to anger the goddess.

Next to him, Magister Eld-delgar-cha-ray glanced at the various gauges on the wall, eyes gleaming in the light of the God Lanterns. There was a flash of orange consternation moving around the edge of his dorsal shell as he tapped against one of the gauges with an arm.

The indicator of the pressure gauge sprang to a lower level, with the Magister looking satisfied, his skin turning back to his normal reddish color.

“Ah, much better.” he said and blew some water from his siphon. “We do not want our guest to think that we do not know what we are doing, do we?”

“Of course not, Magister.” Ach said as he glanced at the gauges himself.

He had studied hard to become the apprentice of the Magister and poured his lifeblood into this project, sometimes even literally. The Magister wasn’t the easiest to work with however. Many times it was easy to tell that the Magister had actually wanted to become a Vicar of Ang-kim, before the call of scholarship had reached him. At other times he made his dislike of the many of the Vicars known and openly criticized how their politics made the life of scholars harder than it should be.

Ach was inclined to support the Magister on this. Ever since they had gotten the new High Vicar, Ang-kim had steadily lost her edge compared to others. The longer he was in power, the more likely it was that another god would surpass them in the greater game of powers.

A slightly warm current made itself known as the door opened and Ach turned around, only a moment after the Magister.

“Magister Eld-delgar-cha-ray.” was the first they heard and Ach could see the Magister fighting to keep himself under control.

“Vicar Per-eten-it-dan.” the Magister returned, pointedly not moving forward for an exchange of greeting.

“High Vicar.” Per-eten-it-dan replied, red and orange patterns of dislike moving across the visible mantle.

An uneasy silence filled the room as the two continued to stare at each other for several long moments.

Ach knew the history of the two, since the Magister could not help but tell it again and again and again, especially when he was angry about the High Vicar. The High Vicar was the main reason why the Magister had turned to scholarism, after both had barely survived an expedition to the outside of the Shell more than eighty cycles ago.

While the High Vicar had survived without many injuries, the Magister had been horribly disfigured, losing all but two of his arms and been nearly blinded on one eye, making it hard for him to disconcern the feelings of others. The cold just below the outer edge of the Shell was the most dangerous to life of the upper parts of a Fissure.

To see Per-eten-it-dan rise through the ranks, eventually even becoming the High Vicar, and what was worse, a zealot, had to be the worst the Magister could have imagined.

“That is quite enough,” a third voice interrupted the stand off.

Ach had nearly missed that Administrator Wor-entan-hin was floating next to the High Vicar. Her mantle showed the blue-green flowing patterns of annoyance.

“Might I remind you both, that we are not here for your games,” she said and stared at each of them.

Ach liked the Administrator. No, that was not only because she was a very good looking and sexy female, but also because she was pragmatic in what she wanted. She was something of a stabilizing force between the Magister and the High Vicar, although the High Vicar tried to extend his political power more within the shell of the Goddess Ang-kim than any of the previous High Vicars, and succeeded.

“Of course Administrator Wor-entan-hin” the High Vicar noted, dislike clearly visible,” My apologies. The Magisters little project. A so-called way of making Fissure Expeditions obsolete. The way I see it, it is as much of a waste of precious resources as it is a waste of time for both of us, Administrator.”

Annoyance crossed the Magisters mantle and Ach placed an arm on his scarred upper shell to keep him from exploding. Sometimes being an apprentice meant to be an emotional support as well.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. If we do not try it out, we shall never find out whether it works or not,” the Magister said and glared at the High Vicar.” And do not think that we did not notice your attempts of sabotage.”

At least the High Vicar had the decency to fake being hurt by the accusation, but the little flickers of color around the edges of his dorsal shell showed everyone with a decent observation ability that he was involved somehow.

“I would never…” he said, only to be interrupted by the Administrator.

“Enough,” she said, showing why she had risen through the ranks to become the Administrator. “Now, Magister, if you please…”

The Magister flickered blue around his dorsal shell for a moment, his relief showing that the Administrator wanted the project to continue for the moment, before turning around towards the wall of gauges, lights, dials, switches and the single televisor screen in its center. Behind it was a massive calculatronic engine, the finest the Magister had managed to get his arms on.

“Thank you Administrator…” he said, Warm colors flickering over this remaining arms.

Ach sighed relieved, it was easy to see when his patron was happy and that made him feel good too. In the corner of his eyes he saw the High Vicar scowling, his chromatophores showing obvious signs of opposite emotions.

Suddenly the High Vicar’s fierce gaze met Ach’s, surprising him. Ach quickly walked up to the Magister to assist him. The Magister saw his apprentice feelings and nodded, trying to reassure him.

“Ang-kim around us, be your blessing upon us on this day and on our task,” The Magister intoned very much like a Vicar and closed his eyes for a moment as a myriad of color swirled over his body in prayer and Ach quickly followed him into prayer. It never hurt to have the Goddess on your side.

This was it. The perfect day, the perfect moment to show that it would succeed. Above them was a recently formed crack, only two or three cycles old and it would need at least ten to twenty cycles to close again.

The Goddess was floating directly underneath, a many league long connection of tubes and conductive cords trailing up towards a sphere made of brass and iron. It was stubbed with various feelers, most importantly an artificial eye, the main export of Ang-kim to other gods. Through a long connection it was attached to the televisor, its lens disk standing still for the moment.

“We are nearly there,” the Magister noted and Ach pulled a lever that released the drum with the rest of the tether as well as opening a valve for more aether to steam into the spheres buoyancy bladder.

Many leagues above them the sphere, previously kept in a slow ascent, lost the last of its restraints and shot upwards for several moments before its hard body collided with the hard, yet thin outer shell of the fissure.

The pressure on the upper feelers rose on a spoke of force, only to drop to zero at being exposed to the Outside. Various other gauges dropped to zero, or rose higher, some confused about what to display at all.

The calculatronic engine, connected to the various inputs of feelers from the sphere, began its work, clackering like it had to compute a population count. The gauge of power use shot up and Ach winced as he heard cavitation bubbles forming in some of its wheels from the massive speed. God Aether escaped from tubes and motors here and there within the engine and a flicker in the light of the God Lamps made Ach turn around to the High Vicar and the Administrator.

The Administrator looked shocked, while the High Vicar showed some disdain towards the massive machine. Ach knew that the project needed the engine and that the High Vicar had tried everything to keep it away from the Magister.

“Good to see that this magnificent machine is wasted for something like this,” he shouted over the noise produced by the engine as it ground to a sudden halt, adding in a very sarcastic tone.” And that you have destroyed it, Eld-delgar. Congratulations…”

Strangely enough, Ach noted, the Magister kept his calm, instead focussing at the various gauges and the lights that had switched on and off during the operation of the calculatronic engine.

“I am sorry, Per-eten, but I believe that I have to disappoint you, ” he spoke as he turned around, a mischievous and satisfied color mix playing around his mantle.” Neither is the engine destroyed, nor the project a failure.”

One of his two arms reached out and flicked a switch. The lens disk of the televisor began to rotate, just like the one up in the sphere. Some moments of accelerating to working speeds inside the aether filled glass cube, followed by synchronizing with the artificial eye and the lights of the televisor started to burn.

The God Light in the televisor needed some time to get into sync completely, before showing an image from the beyond the fissure.

The first thing Ach saw was a spherical object hanging above a surface that looked like a groundscape around one of the Chained Gods deep beneath the Shell. The sphere looked at them with a giant eye and caused him to push himself away from the televisor screen in a state of shock. This was the first time he actually saw one of the Outer Gods.

He turned to look back at the two guests.

Normally this should have made a High Vicar as glad as an Administrator, but the reality was that the zealot in the current High Vicar was going to be much more of a problem, especially if he kept to the ‘Sacrifice of Expeditions’ favored by many zealots when it came to pleasing the Outer Gods, and keep them safe from the Evils of the outside.

As expected, the High Vicar had gone strangely silent, while the Administrator looked like she was about to screw someone over with glee. Ach knew the implications all too well. With the sphere and its ability to glance at the Outer Gods and maybe even appease them, Ang-kim suddenly gained a massive political advantage over all other Gods.

His thoughts were cut short by the Magister and the starting clatter of the machine as it began to increase the resolution of the televisor image.

“I wonder what this might be,” he noted and looked closer at the image of the televisor, which was already getting much clearer.

He pointed to a strange object that looked not much unlike an Ackldan Crawler. Four spindly objects kept the body from the surface of the Shell. The image had enough details that Ach could identify tubes and what appeared to be feelers.

Only a moment later, something moved out of the thing on the surface, something that looked very much like an artificial eye, only smaller.

“Well, I believe that this shall fully vindicate my work,” the Magister noted with harsh patterns of satisfaction. “Behold! A creature in service of the Outer Gods.”

Ach breathed in deeply and closed his eyes for a moment. Working for the Magister was not an easy task and certainly not for someone with weak nerves, even on a good day. But to Ach, it was all worth all it.

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