In which Kiellen, the daughter of the Patrus (aka, King) steals a suit that was not made for her with the help of her message-running sidekick Sef (who will later become Taim, and finally Gage).
"We can't really be seen together, you know," Sef said to Kiellen as they crawled through the hole in the wall that lead from the blasted part of the Citadel to the still-functional parts.
"We won't be seen," Kiellen said with certainty in her voice.
Her long legs carried her quickly down the passageway, down several sets of stairs, and out into a courtyard. Sef, as one of the messengers for the Advisor's Council, spent most of his time running; however, his fear of being seen with the Patrus's heir caused him to quickly lose his breath. By the time they reached the archway that separated the Citadel's living complex from the Mechalarum training fields, Sef had to call for Kiellen to stop.
"Where are we going, anyway?" he asked between gasped breaths, hiding as best he could in the shadow of an arch.
"I just want to... look at something," Kiellen replied, and started walking again. They edged around the wall surrounding the practice fields, where skies that should have been filled with figures performing maneuvers in the famed flying suits were instead eerily bereft; and slipped through an open door into the building that housed the Mechalarum barracks, hospital, and flying suit workshop.
"What are you doing? We're not allowed in here!" Sef hissed, grabbing Kiellen by the arm.
She looked at his hand, then at his face. He let go as if he'd grabbed onto a live coal, his hierarchy training overcoming his fear for the moment. Kiellen peered through an open door into the empty mess room.
"Come on, there's no one here. Let's go!"
Kiellen darted into the large room. Sef closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment. As bad as it would be for him to get caught with the Patrus's daughter, whatever Kiellen would get into if unattended was likely to be much worse.
Despite their careful steps, the mess hall echoed with each footfall. The room was meant to hold hundreds at a time, but now every chair stood empty. The chairs were not lined in their orderly rows as Kiellen knew they should be, but instead stood about in disarray, more than one lying on its side on the floor. She shivered at the symbolism of a room full of empty, tumbled chairs.
Soon enough they were out of the mess hall and into a narrow passageway.
"How come you know your way around here so well?" Sef asked, his voice barely a squeak.
"I had to do something with all the time I spent relegated to my chambers due to my inability to follow the proper protocols of my station," she said, her voice distracted. She looked up and down the hall at the various doors, and at length headed towards one with a purposeful stride.
"Studying architectural blueprints is as good a distraction as any, and it’s amazing how acquiescent servants become when you threaten to throw yourself off of high places."
The door stood tightly shut. Kiellen held her breath, and tried the latch. The door protested, but opened with a bit of firm pressure.
Unlike the mess hall, this room was very much alive. Not with people, for which Kiellen was infinitely grateful, but with machines. Lights flashed, automatic milling machines squealed, mixing vats rumbled.
Kiellen stopped as the smell stung her nose, a heady mixture of burning rubber and electrical fire. She headed into the dimness towards the far wall of the room.
"Maybe we should turn a light on or something?" Sef asked as he stepped on Kiellen's heel.
"Do you really think that is a good idea?" Kiellen asked. "You're the one who didn't want to be noticed, remember?"
Sef couldn't think of any good response to that. As they got closer to the rear of the room, he could just barely make out what looked like deflated bodies hanging on the wall.
Kiellen held up her hand, and the pair stopped and stared at the Mechalarum suits. They'd seen them plenty of times before at a distance, shielding and propelling their pilots. But to see them hanging like this on the wall - it was uncomfortable, debauched, almost. The suits pulsed with lives of their own, patiently waiting to reunite with the hosts to which their DNA had been perfectly matched. Hosts that, in many cases, lay dead or dying only a few hundred feet away in the hospital.
Kiellen peered through the smoky air at the nameplates bolted to the front of each suit.
"There's Terr's," she said in a low voice. "You said he's still alive, right?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?" Sef asked, raising an eyebrow although he doubted she would see the motion.
"No reason. Just help me find the suit of someone who is - no longer with us."
Sef bit down on a retort. Any argument would just mean more time spent in this fear-inducing place, and more likelihood of getting caught. He dutifully made his way down the row of suits.
"Jesum - he's actually doing pretty well after the new round of infusions. Nicks may be almost dead, but he's holding in there. Orhu..."
Sef's voice trailed off, and he gulped. He'd delivered Orhu's death notice with his own hands.
"Orhu," he said, louder this time. Kiellen came to stand next to him.
"Orhu," she repeated. She examined the area around the suit for a few moments, then pressed a button on the wall.
Hydraulics squealed as the arm holding the suit aloft descended towards them. The rubberized fabric on the front of the suit peeled back in an almost sensual fashion, making Sef shudder. Within minutes the suit stood open and waiting, ready to accept its host.
Proto-Mechalarum is a series of posts delving into the multiple past versions of Kiellen's world. Hope you enjoy sharing a bit of her history!