The Prince flagged over to his warden, who was a very small, mousey man, Frankling, and pointed in the direction of the man with the half metal face. It took Frankling only a few seconds to realize what Prince Jephrey was pointing at. The warden instantly flashed him a look in that way, the way Jeph hated, like he was some sort of six-year-old boy who got everything he fancied. Well, he was almost eleven now, and a Prince of the jewel, future king of Bevelton. And he did get everything he fancied. “That’s him.”
“It is not common for a prince of the jewel to simply --”
“My prince, this is highly irregular, and I--”
“Just bring him here. Thank you.”
The warden sighed, gave that look once again, and headed off into the throng of people. Doubt bubbled up in The Prince’s stomach, something he was not used to. Was this the right thing to do? Simply pluck a man, a man who obviously just arrived, off the street and into his service? How could it not be the right thing to do? No doubt it was the right man. This was the biggest, meanest looking man he had ever seen. His face was half metal.
Prince Jephrey fidgeted in the spacious open-air backseat of the royal motorcar. Heavily ornamented, Jeph had nicknamed the car the Princemobile, but the proper name was the Carriage, not just a play on the vehicles of old, but the fact it’s sole purpose was to carry royal offspring to wherever their heart desired. The Carriage took two drivers, one elevated to the towering cockpit whose only job was to make sure the track ahead was clear, a story above the wheel base, and the other on the ground level to actually steer the gold and steel monstrosity. Three staff men to keep the tech active and on point and to control overheating, which rebuilt relics like The Carriage were apt to do. There was always a staffer on to make sure it shone like a thousand burning suns. His only job was to wipe and polish. Jeph called him the Wiper once, and giggled among his cousins and highborn children, who always giggled back with their mouths and never their eyes. Jeph, the Prince Who Was Bad At Nicknames.
The crowd parted in front of him, the man in half metal face was staring up and past him at the Carriage, and the mousey warden was leading him on. The warden’s face was bright red, he was huffing and puffing, obviously winded from his small excursion. Metal Face didn’t even notice the boy prince in front of him until Frankling spoke, after dramatically clearing his throat. “My Prince, my pleasure to introduce you to Oliver Heavyside, of Eastermount.”
He had guessed right about the east. Prince Jeph extended his hand, as they did in the old days, as the King still did.
“Sir Heavyside, I am Prince Jephrey Bannis, heir of Bevelton,” the man’s face washed in a moment of horror, Jeph tried to smile to ease him, and it seemed to work as Sir Heavyside took his hand. Jeph’s hands were lost in Sir Heavyside’s. “Tell me, what brings you this far west to the capitol?”
“I am sorry for springing on you like this, Sir, a thousand pardons. Tell me of yourself. Where did you train? What kind of sword is that, I have to say… it’s so tiny?”
The man with the half metal face put his hand on the exposed hilt of his sword. The sword he wore at his belt, as was common of knights and Americans, but this sword seemed to be much smaller than any Jeph had every seen. The sheath did not seem even as big as the hilt. Curious. Realizing what he had done, Metal Face quickly removed his hand, and smiled. Or, the alive part of his face smiled, the lines around his mouth sinking into his face, making him look a lot younger than Jeph had originally thought. The smile was strangely natural on his face, friendly even.
“My Prince, I do not wish to disappoint, and it is a great honor to be called to your person in front of this… magnificent vehicle… of which I have never seen the likes in all my life…”
“They don’t have cars in Eastermount?”
“Many. But. Nothing so… shiny.”
“This is a very shiny car, is it not? Did Master Frankling tell you why I summoned you here?”
“No, my Prince.”
“I am in need of a new bodyguard.”
His mouth opened, but only for a moment. Recognition filled the living side of his face, and he knelt down. It seemed to take him much longer to kneel down on one of his knees, being so tall. “I... I do not know what to do now.”
“First, get up, Sir Heavyside, we do not kneel here in the contemporary capitol of jeweled Bevelton. It is your, uh, tiny sword I desire, and your service, and maybe even your life one day. I may be just a boy, but I’m still a Prince and I know what I am asking. I want to hire you and I want you to fully aware what you may be getting yourself into. I do not want you to feel obligated through honor or duty to me simply because I'm the prince.”
“My father taught me honor and duty is above everything, my Prince.”
“Your father was wise, and I agree, but I hope we’ve evolved a bit more than this. Come, step into my Carriage, we will talk, you can stay in the Tower for a night or three, and when the week starts fresh, let me know. Let me know if I’m the type of person you would give your life for.”
He didn’t consider it for very long, nodding and smiling once again, and then sat on the Carriage’s open backbench, facing the Prince. They eyed each other for a moment, and then the Prince stuck a finger in the air and twirled it, starting the slow, lumbering pace. The Top Driver called down for a direction, and Prince Jeph instructed them to return to the Tower. It was almost dinnertime, and he wanted to get Sir Heavyside on the job as quick as possible.
“It’s a bit of a ride to the Tower.”
“The Tower itself. It gets boring after a few years.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“So, tell me, Sir Oliver Heavyside. Where did you train? Who knighted you?”
“My Prince, I do apologize, I do not mean to disappoint, but the truth of it is, I’m no Sir.”
Prince Jephrey put his hand on his chin, the same way his father does, and smiled with his face but not with his eyes.
Four days earlier:
The stares were always the hardest to handle, but Oliver Heavyside knew how to pretend it didn’t get to him. After all these years, maybe it didn’t. He had seen pictures on the Tube, people in the capitol, in royal jeweled Bevelton, experimenting with bits of copper and steel fused to their person, disgracing their flesh in the name of fashion. He hoped that in the capitol people would not stare at him as much. The metal that hid his scars was iron, and where his eye was supposed to have been there was a sparkling yellow sapphire, stolen from the sun and shaped like chaos, outlined in worked copper. It was a striking feature, and not common, even in cases of severe highborn mutilation.
At night, he could still feel the burning.
Leaving Eastermount itself was easier than he thought, but putting Eastermount in the past wasn’t. The monotrain, a one-railed relic of the future, leftover of the past, in perfect working order, screamed silently through the desert night. Oliver's room had a window, but it was small and dark and on the wrong side for him to see out of it with his good eye. Little things like that he seemed to never plan for, even though he thought that he should. He had to almost fully turn his body toward the window to see out, and then it was just his distorted reflection.
He knew what he would see if he were able to see out the small window, nothing. Miles of nothing. A major town here or there but mostly empty land long ago abandoned by anything alive. In Eastermount there was the Tube and pictures and all sorts of files and tech about how big the world was but you couldn’t really see it until it was right there in front of you. Right there in front of you to make you feel the smallest you ever could feel. He wondered if this is what space felt like to the explorers. The explorers who had left this world a thousand years ago, promising to find another, and who had never returned.
Small was not something Oliver enjoyed feeling, and the first time he had stepped off the train and saw nothing but the blazing blue sky and the washed out orange sand and where they met far in the horizon, filling up his entire world, he fought the urge to scream and slash out with his sword. What a sight that would have been. Crazy metal face trying to stab the sky. It would’ve made a great postcard to send his mother.
So he tried not to look outside during the day and it didn’t make a difference at night. The cabin he was in was meant for two normal sized men, he barely fit. The bed was lumpy and hard and the washroom tiny and uncomfortable. The metal pressed heavy tonight, old scars throbbed, he had the idea to remove it, didn't.
When he had told his mother that he was leaving for the capitol, the jewel, he knew she was distraught but she put on a brave face. They were both good at putting on faces. He was, after all, the only one left. He knew she didn’t want him to go, that she needed him as a lifeline to what was before. A physical remnant of his father and his brothers. After the fire, they were well off, financially, and that made his decision easier. They had rebuilt the house, washed away the ashes, but there always was reminders. For him, she was one of them. He had to get away.
So away he went.
Speeding over the dessert and wasteland on a superfast bullet monorail named Thomas. Thomas The Totally Automated Monotrain of the Future, it read on the outside of every other car. Thomas had no need of a driver or a maintenance crew, he knew where to go, knew how to get there, the staff he did have was the refreshment and compartment cleaning staff. Standard dress code on Thomas was bright blue uniforms with red trim, also, top hats, and they only answered to the name Thomas whether they were male or female. To keep up the illusion of One Mono One Mission, as it read on the doors to each adjourning car. Hovering a mere three inches over his superelectric rail, Thomas could reach a max of 436 miles per hour, but it was hotly debated in Eastermount, where all the electric tech still thrived, how far a mile was. So much was lost when the explorers left.
From Eastermount to Bevelton, it was to be, about, 3000 to 10000 such miles, as calculated by the upper lords of the electric parliament after years of discussions. It still cost Oliver, whose father was a lesser baron before the accident, quite a bit of the settlement money for his railpass.
And the trip took about four or five days, depending on the stops. The next stop scheduled, when the sun woke up in the electric eastern sky, was called St. Louis. There was a relic from the explorers still standing called The Arch. Part of it, anyway. More like, a quarter of an Arch. Oliver had seen the pictures on the Tube and it was a glorious if somewhat perplexing monument of the men before. He was looking forward to seeing it, to putting his hands on it, and leaving a scrap of paper with a message to the future inhabitants of America in one of the thousands of cracks lining it’s side. A curious tradition, but, he guessed, it had to be for some good reason. It made him smile thinking about children, a thousand years in the future, going through all these scraps of paper from their ancestors in the deep past and not giving a flying crap about them. The smile made his scars hurt.
A ding brought him back to his tiny compartment, and a window in his door slid open. A tray extended from this open window, and a plate of steaming grey food was placed on top of it by a Thomas. Oliver sat up, his head hitting the top of the room, and he grunted a smile. The Thomas, a female in her late fifties, dark skin of the south with white hair of age, said thank you but her eyes were fixed on his metal face and yellow eye. She rolled her cart to the next compartment, and Oliver took his food, cramping down onto his bed and breaking open the hard plastic case holding the soft plastic fork. He ate on his bed, the tiny desk chair mocking him, daring him to sit. The food wasn’t bad for processed meat and brown taters, and it was hot, Oliver ate it gladly. Taters was something they didn’t have too often in Eastermount, and the extra money it cost to put it on his menu was worth it.
With nothing left to do, with the scars of home dimming, Oliver rest his head on his tiny pillow and tried to get some sleep, and wished for no dreams.
He did dream, of fire and blood and twisting metal, of screaming and death, of crackling blue electricity, but the sun woke him before the worst of it. Sometimes small miracles happen. He was drenched in sweat and had torn off the metal from his face. It lay on the floor, quietly staring up at him.
Thomas had stopped, and Oliver prepared himself for St. Louis and The Arch of the Explorers.
The Arch itself was unspectacular, just a very old decaying piece of concrete sticking out of the ground for three or four stories arching up into the cloudless blue sky. He could see the grandiose of maybe what it once was, but now, it was only notable for the cracks and the tiny papers falling out of those cracks. The crowds were thick, and he waited for almost three hours, half his time allotted, and endured many stares before he could put his piece of paper into the future.
The people in St. Louis were mostly not from St. Louis. The Arch of the Explorers brought a lot of tourists. The people from the jeweled capitol wore the finest clothes, gold and bronze and shiny browns. People from the north, perhaps even as far as excluded Canada, wore too much clothes, leathers and furs and someone even had a tree branch sticking out the back of his jacket for which Oliver thought was either some weird fashion thing or the man simply liked trees a lot. From the Eastern sectors they dressed like him. The East was a big place, populated in the north and the south. He saw linens of all colors and bits of armor on those who could afford it. Oliver had worn his sword, and saw that a few others carried, and none of them, of course, like his. He saw a particular group of men wearing ten-gallon hats and side holsters with actual revolvers in them. Not from the East. Guns were considered the weapon of an uncivilized age there.
When it was Oliver's turn to the face The Arch, he didn't chant or pray or say anything as others did before him. He had at first written a note to his father and his brothers, but decided that note was not for the children of the future, so he put that paper into the lining of his shirt and instead scribbled “EAT MY SHORTS” on the back of an old matchbook and shoved that in.
He hoped rotten children of the future would chew on that before setting it into a trash heap.
With an hour to kill, Oliver bought a sandwich and sat at the far, desolate western edge of the city, where the real wasteland began. He enjoyed the solitude. After the explorers left, only a few major cities survived, and most of what was in between perished. There may have been some bombs or nuclear accidents or some kind of natural disaster, a lot of info was lost in the dark between times, before the rise of the Kings. Nothing really existed west of St. Louis until you got to the coast, where Bevelton and Francisco and Portland ruled, south to north, guarding the churning Pacific.
Looking back, over to the east, he saw the elevated tracks where Thomas was. There were some other monos there, names like Henry, Gordon and Blaine. Gleaming the in sunlight, he was amazed again what men could do with the right amount of time and resources. The south held more wasteland, desert until you hit Arizona which some say stretched all the way down to the frozen, haunted South Pole.
None went north, to the land of the criminals, fenced off and frozen, closed up for over a hundred years. Canada. Or so the tales went. Oliver has always wanted to see the fence that kept the bad men away. He didn’t think it existed. There were plenty of bad men south of Canada as well. He counted himself one of them.
The sandwich was a small square in the style of the East, reminding him a little of home, it was processed uncrusted white bread, cucumber, tomato, a thin slice of American cheese, a thinner slice of salami, and a heaping dollop of mayo. It was a great sandwich. After his third bite, which almost finished it, he realized he wasn’t alone. They had come up on his good eye, so they were obviously amateurs.
“Howdy there, pard.”
It was the ten-gallon hat guys. Five of them, Oliver quickly counted, guns in each holster. Banditos? Or wannabes, just as dangerous. The edge of the city was remote enough for a fight, or a mugging. If he had time to draw the sword, then he would be okay. He hoped he would be able to talk his way out of it but talking was never his strength. That was his brother Martin, the Quicksnake. Talking didn’t help Martin in the end.
“Howdy. Ain’t looking for no trouble, sirs.”
“Aw pard. We ain’t no trouble.”
Sure they ain’t. He shoved the rest of his sandwich in his mouth and slowly, as unthreateningly as possible, went to stand up to face the ten gallons. They let him up, but had now formed a semi circle in front of him, blocking him from Thomas. “Then it would be no trouble to let me by.”
“Don’ think so.”
The leader, the one who was talking, Oliver named him Garth because why not, he looked like a Garth with his straw colored hair peaking out from under the ten, his sunk in cheek bones and hollowed out eyes which focused on one thing. The yellow sapphire.
“It’s a flawed jewel, friend. Worth spit. ‘Cept to me.”
Oliver’s hand went to his hilt, his fingers slowly wrapping themselves around the familiar groves. The sheath, which was an inch smaller then the actual hilt, moved into view with Oliver’s deliberate motion. The five ten-gallons stared the way they were supposed to. Garth said nothing, but his pard, the one to his left, almost full out laughed.
“The hell is that, boy? I seen all sorts o’ swords, never something so small!”
“Looks like a kiddie’s toy!”
Oliver had it out before they were able to draw their guns.
Back in Eastermount, the Heavysides were known electricsmiths, even forging swords for the great Lord Rose and the Kelly’s of Riverhead. Oliver’s great grandfather invented a gadget, as he called it, that you could stick in the hilt of a sword to make the metal take an electric charge. Oliver’s father refined the design, and created a collapsible blade that linked together and would be actually stronger than an anvil-forged blade. The way the links held together, with the electric charge, it quickly became the best selling weapon in the east, until the so-called accident, which closed down their shop.
The hilt thrummed in Oliver’s hand, the blade extending out, clicking together and crackling with power. It was longer than expected; each of the ten gallon’s took a cautious step back. Technically a broad sword, Oliver could hold it in one hand while most would need two.
Garth was first to draw, quicker than Oliver had thought, which was probably why he was their leader, but it wasn’t quick enough. A single perfect cut in the air took Garth’s hand off at the wrist, his thumb still on the safety of his six shooter. Oliver fell back into his defense position, faster than it took Garth’s hand to hit the dusty concrete ground.
“I am very fond of my eye, I do not wish to lose it.”
The other men drew their guns as Garth fell to his knees, speechless. Most men would have run away. This may be harder than Oliver first thought.
Oliver quickly took another step back, sweeping his blade in front of him in a guard position, holding it now with both his hands. There was no sound but a dull thrum of the electricity surging through the sword. It sounded like a second heartbeat in Oliver’s ears.
The men fired without talking.
Making another quick cut in the air with his electric broad sword, there was a sound like glass breaking, louder than the gunshots, smoke and dust covering Oliver as he fell to the ground. The thunder of the gunfire echoed away into nothingness.
“Take off his eye! I want that gem!” Garth yelled, holding his hand and his gun in his good hand. He seemed not to know exactly how to remove the gun without shooting himself.
One of the men, the bravest one, stepped over while the dust softly billowed away. The sword still thrummed. A steady beat pulsated. The man looked down at Oliver, who was on his back, the sword still in his hands. The man was about to make a comment, how weird the sword looked now, with all those nuggets or something on them, when Oliver made a quick stab up under the man’s chin. The ten-gallon hat seemed to move up a few inches from the top of the man’s head, the sword not piercing it.
Oliver Heavyside pulled the sword out, blood sparkling on the tip, and before the man was dead on the ground Oliver had sprung up and cut a circle, clipping the rest of the men just under the knees.
They all fell together. They were amateurs. Yelling and screaming and crying on. Real men died with dignity. He almost did not want to kill them. But reversed, they would kill him without a thought, and he did not want some limping ten-gallon coming after him when he tried to make a better life in the capitol for himself. He made it quick, jacking the electric up to high; a single, focused stab shut their hearts down and silenced their whimpering.
After the last man died nosily, a bullet streaked across Oliver’s field of vision and bounced off his left shoulder. The pain was like close to a burn, strong at first, then a melting sensation down his arm. The pain brought him back for a moment, his face against the metal grating, the heat and the smoke. He quickly came back, and brought the sword up twisting his wrist slightly, the thrumming changed beat but he was the only one who noticed.
Garth stood, his hand held his other hand which held his six-shooter. It was pointed directly at Oliver’s head. Oliver wasn’t sure if his faceplate would stop a bullet, even an old slug like from a sixer, and he didn’t want to test it. He wouldn’t have to.
“You didn’t have to kill them.”
Garth emptied the last of his revolver, four quick shots, all true to their mark. The sword ate them up.
Oliver did not even have to move too much, the magnetic field he designed did its job, sucking the bullets out of the air and onto itself. It was Oliver’s contribution to the family legacy. His sword was the prototype; the only one of it’s kind. Oliver called it Whisper.
Garth stood there as the spent bullets fell to the ground as Oliver shook them off his sword. He had nothing to say as his last words, as his head left his shoulders, and Oliver respected him as the only true man he had killed today.
Oliver collapsed his weapon, powering it down, and sheathed it in its remarkably tiny sheath. Part of him expected to be subdued by the St. Louis police force, but there was no one around him save for the dead Banditos. The force was probably thin and inexperienced, as was the police force in Eastermount. He felt he had just cause enough anyway, the men had attacked him, looking to steal his eye.
He heard the unique cry of Thomas’ whistle, and headed to the monotrain, looking forward to his better life in the jeweled capitol.