Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 3

The world was full of professions, from the oldest one to drone programmer (which was, somewhat ironically, threatening to put the oldest profession out of work). But in recent years a small number of professions had become universally recognized as "core" professions, the ones that the world was depending on to keep limping along. Alex had one of these professions, as a Librarian.

Librarians had become widely recognized for their usefulness on away missions: as Alex was fond of pointing out, there was simply too much out there to know not to bring a Librarian with you on a mission. Librarians were responsible for identifying relics, such as lost weapons ("Don't touch anything until I figure out if it's loaded!"), half-forgotten spellbooks, and exotic armor. They also served as translators, for dealing with other mission teams, reading the remnants of warning signs, and figuring out passwords to locked doors. Most importantly, experienced Librarians were responsible for manipulating Turn magic and using the time they got from it to quickly look up weaknesses and behaviours of different kinds of Prints.

Turn magic was powerful, exhausting, and only partially applicable to combat itself. While Alex and the other mid-level Librarians could successfully alter their own perception of time, those who wanted Turn magic working on them, and sometimes the perceptions of lesser Prints, trying to affect a strong willed entity was beyond them. Even the high-level Librarians who could pull it off found that it left them essentially useless for anything physical, effectively restricting the whole magic class to research. Which, in turn, meant that Alex was completely incapable of performing a mission without a team to back him up.

Ani, on the other hand, could do missions on her own, though even she would likely be killed in short order if she didn't have a team with her. Ani specialized in Droning, a field that had taken off with the integration of golem magic and high metallurgy. In particular, Ani was focused on operating big Drones, such as the Angels and combat walkers like her old Hermit, which was waiting menacingly in the corner of the Angel hanger. The Hermit had been reworked by Ani so many times that no one could properly figure out what it had originally been, and Ani was disinterested in sharing. All that Alex knew was that it was surprisingly lightweight, and packed an incredible punch.

Alex watched as Ani's engineer, known only as 'Sternum', quietly worked on a large X-shaped device hung from the ceiling on rails. The device had a very intimidating cluster of unmarked wires spilling out of it, but Sternum seemed to always know exactly which one he wanted, and never hesitated as he hooked them up to the runes engraved on the underside of the X.

"What is that?" aked Alex, walking over carefully. One of his fingers unconsciously stroked the top of his waistbook, giving away his curiosity. Like most Librarians, Alex made it a habit to record everything unusual he saw into his waistbook, which contained a startlingly complete magical replica of Alex's home library in Aftershock. Whenever he could, Alex linked his waistbook up to a network which allowed him to sync his illusory copy of the library up to the real one, and simultaneously write what he had found into a small section of the physical library that was devoted to him. Alex was very proud of the two little shelves that he had filled in his corner of the library.

Sternum leveled one eye at Alex for a moment, without moving the other, and then turned it back to the task at hand. Feeling somewhat insulted, Alex turned away and trod carefully towards the cockpit of the craft. His caution was rewarded when the craft suddenly lurched sickeningly forwards, as the pilot reignited the engines of the craft. Alex paused until the initial roar died down, and then stuck his head through the door.

"Hey Ani, what's Sternum working on?"

Ani was in the process of buckling herself into her control sheaths, with the help of Ixion. Unable to change from her 'braced for impact' stance, she only cocked her head. "Sterrrnum is worrrking on a new crrrew-rrreclamation array, we werrre supposed to assemble it last week, but neverrr got a chance. Once functional it should be verrry convenient for teams worrrking in the the open."

"Crew reclamation?"

"Yes, it functions on a line-of-sight summoning spell. Essentially, we give everrryone on a team two halves of summoning key, and then use the arrrray to pull them in and out of the airrr. The keys have an effective rrrange of thrrree thousand feet, with verrry little degrrradation except when the halves are separated."

"So basically you pull people that aren't needed out, skipping the need for a rescue arm. If you're skilled you could even drop people in from a safe height." Alex's eyes glowed with excitement, as the possibilities began to occur to him in rapid succession. "A fully rotating exploration, or even combat team! You wouldn't even have to worry about supply placement!"

"Exactly. All that is needed is a patient airrr crrrew and open skies. Now shut up, I need to worrrk."

Alex grabbed a nearby handhold and braced himself as the Angel began to accelerate. Ani's voicegear rotated a few times as the I/O lasers flickered on, and then she began to speak in a long series of painful crackles. It sounded kind of like a kettle being boiled by a lightning bolt, and it hurt Alex's ears. He had forgotten how much he hated the sound of Drone-speak. Why can't it be more, you know, droning? he wondered to himself for the thousandth time.

Ixion rattled off a long string of coordinates and velocities, referencing his scrying mirrors with the ease of great practice. Alex had been somewhat surprised to learn that Ani's navigator had been a professional Oracle before being a navigator: while navigation was a much needed job, Oracles were quite rare, and tremendously useful.

But the profession of Oracle had a long history of madness, so Alex couldn't begrudge him wanting to leave the profession. Oracles could see into the truth of things, often before they happened, but it was a fine line between predicting the short-term future and losing yourself in the chaotic possibilities of time. Whenever possible, Oracles restricted themselves to just trying to sense nearby dangers and opportunities, relying on a broader network to identify approaching catastrophes like Kerberos or sandstorms. Oracles were actually the backbone for the information network that thinly covered the globe, connecting the libraries and other government systems, allowing information to be moved instantaneously.

There was a change in the angle of the floor, and Alex quickly brought his attention to the windows of the cockpit. Ravenswing was in sight, growing very rapidly. The pilot twisted her wrists very slightly, and the Angel dropped down, very close to the ground. The profile of Ravenswing began to consume the windows, growing larger with every second. The navigator barked out one word suddenly, and the pilot yanked backwards on her control sticks. The entire Angel shuddered as the bracking jets fired, powerful gusts of wind pounding against the nearby sand. The pilot held her breath for a second, and then yanked th control sticks again in a twisting pattern, sending the Angel leaping upwards like a cat pouncing. There was a brief, horrifying moment when everyone wondered if they had misjudged the timing, and missed the doors of the hangar bay.

And then, sudden stillness. The Angel was resting serenely in a time net, whose six sides were being brought together quickly, fitted to the height and width of the Angel by a pair of attendants. Alex flexed slowly, carefully freeing himself from the effects of the net. The time net was a great asset to the Angels, allowing them to take off at exactly the same velocity that they had finished at, but it was a terribly stressful process. Also, it took a few hours to fully shake off the effects of the net on a living being, and when it was time for takeoff you either had to restore the effects of the net or brace yourself for a very, very sudden launch.

Still flexing assorted muscles to try and rid them of the effects, Alex walked back to the middle of the Angel hangar to help the other passengers free themselves. As a Librarian, he had a knack for it, but it took ordinary people several minutes to even start moving around again. It definitely helped that he had been required to construct a few time nets before, as part of the routine Librarian qualification exams.

Half an hour later, Alex was helping the crew finish their docking procedures, mostly by scribing for them on the documentation. Ani had performed several jobs in the past few weeks, and the Angel needed a lot of service because of it. We're going to be here a while... Alex thought to himself, unsure of whether that was a good or bad thing.

"Hoy, Alesk." Alex looked up as Ani approached him, with a peculiar bag slung across her shoulder. "Letsk get usk shomething to eat, I'm sktarving."

Alex smiled a bit. It would be nice to have some real food. "You got a place in mind?"

"Ya." Ani smiled in a way that somehow managed to look like a tiger baring its teeth. "We have skome peoplesk to meet."

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The focus of this chapter was, obviously, to flesh out the roles of some of the cast, and give the reader a slightly better idea of how some of the basic stuff works. AsI'm sure yu've caught on to by now, the Kerberos universe is directly modeled after some of the Final Fantasy cliches, but with little twists to make it a bit more fun. If you're ever wondering how to visualize something, try and think of the FFIII or FFX equivalen, and go from there.