Interlude: Arrival at Hub
The Wink and Smile waited high above the peak of proper civilization in this slice of frontier sky. Hub, the center about which everything in the Northwest spun, or so the city’s residents would like to believe. The port unfurled down the length of a sheltered column carved out of the plateau’s cliffs, a damn near perfect location. Wide terraces of stone descended in stair-step fashion, filled with rows of buildings and docking platforms and rigging and girders. Up high, clean and stark Orventian construction overlooked tidy streets and platforms. Further down, your typical frontier mix of whatever works and isles of proper design, all linked together with countless docks and platforms. Threads of clouds slithered up from below, shrouding the lowest levels of the city, its air traffic vanishing into the mists, signal lights winking in the fog like a bashful suggestion.
Thriving and vitalized. Yet Hub wore a dilapidated crown. Along the rim of the plateau stood factories and shipyards and mooring stations and warehouses. All hastily built for the War and now abandoned for lack of demand, decaying monuments to a heady time when Hub was an Imperial city, fast-tracked to top status out of pressing strategic need. These years later, the crown was pockmarked by decay and checkered by salvage operations. Kor could squint and see signs of life, isles of revitalization, especially right above the city, where the rail lines leading inland terminated.
Inland. For a sweep of degrees on the horizon there was big, rambling, solid land stretching out into the distance. Hub’s plateau, the biggest chunk of ground in the Northwest and the true source of the city’s status. Shades of browns and greens warred across the plateau’s landscape in their cold-season duel. Even looking at it from afar made Kor a touch uncomfortable. No airships trawled its skies beyond a certain range, the grounding nature of so much land robbing them of true flight.
The airspace within and around the city buzzed with a swirling fleet of ships ranging from tiny hoppers to a pair of watchful destroyers looming far outside the center of activity. It recalled past scenes and past lives for Kor, of grand Imperial ports and the sprawling cities of his youth. Hub was a titan within its frontier, but merely one of the crowd when compared to what lay back east.
Hub worried Kor more than most places he’d been or planned to soon go. He’d test his luck and his ship against an unknown, storm-wracked expanse over this city any day. And it wasn’t in reaction to any specific threat, honestly. It was just the nature of the place. You try to get a few tasks done and one thing leads to another and you find yourself caught up in the city’s circular forces. Pulled into the orbit of the various factions and strong arms, the merchant princes and fleet lords.
It was a good thing they were about to turn westward once more. They were here for a final stock-up of whatever they can’t get in Gloria or further out. Mostly information. Definitely a touch of R&R. A few promises to keep. One ship to find among that teeming swarm. A signal to send up like a flare in the night and hope for a response. A final piece of the puzzle, though the whole will remain incomplete when they strike off into the unknown and traverse between two polarities of civilization.
Hub Flight Control squawked back at them, finally.
“Wink and Smile, you’re clear for landing at hanger echo seven three. Please confirm.”
“Hanger echo seven three, Hub Control, thank you kindly.”
Get in. Do what needs to be done. Get out. Kor wouldn’t pretend it would be simple. Nor would he tell his crew to ‘stay out of trouble’ since, frankly speaking, that was an impossible order. Especially since Kor wouldn’t be able to follow it himself.
Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2017