The workshop thrummed as alternating spinners danced, weaving glistening amber thread in complex patterns up and down the length of a rotating tube. As the tube reached the requisite number of layers, a worker with waxed gloves clipped the threads, folded them in, gripped the tube and handed it off to another who carried it to a ceramic pipe. The woven tube went in the pipe, a piston pushed a ceramic rod into the tube, and then the whole assembly went to the oven.
Ean held an example of the finished and assembled product in his hand, a kren-composite ballista bolt with a golden shaft two-fingers wide and longer than one of his legs, an internal air tank also of kren-composite, a complex tail assembly featuring snap-out fins and a precision air nozzle, and a threaded steel collar for receiving a screw-in head.
Project thunderbolt, minus the thunder.
Tala’s capstone contribution to the Lightning Strike Ballista program.
Finally completed in large part because of Danya.
Ean found himself unable to tease apart his mixed feelings for the object. Danya, however, had been decidely unenthusiastic after she saw what the explosive heads could do to a drax, though she had still agreed to serve as a live target for unarmed test versions.
Danya. Her presence had catalyzed all the military research that had been going on since the last time a Garagran showed up fifty years before, giving all the scientists and engineers the opportunity to find out how well all their ideas worked on the real thing.
The ideas that could be tested safely, at least.
He hadn’t told Danya even half the things that he had put his foot down on.
He thought of those amber-gold eyes looking into his own.
She had become a presence. He had only wanted to make her safe, but that had meant carving out a space in his own life.
He was disturbed at how much she was filling that space. He was getting used to having her sitting next to him at the dinner table, drawing looks from half the extended family as she carried on outrageous conversations with Trin or dropped surprising observations into political conversations with his father and great grandfather. Or showing up at lunch with the twins in tow, ignoring them while they tried to talk her into helping with some insane scheme. Or running past dragged by Nanli, at any time during the day and once when he’d been in the library after midnight.
It was as if she belonged in the palace.
In the place he’d given her.
Except for one thing.
Ahttah, save her…
He focused on the amber thunderbolt in his hands.
“How many are you making now?” Ean asked Ibal NarVrekka, the workshop foreman, a short Lilta man with a solid helping of Manalein and several other races that almost made him look like a pale northern Bortin, except for his Lilta ears.
“About one a mark. Tala said she needed plenty for testing. Commander Tirret also wanted a few ready.”
“Anti-Garagran heads mounted and bodies charged with air. Wanted them sent to the ballista depots around the city.”
Danya was right to still feel nervous.
Maybe Tirret had thought of it on his own. He’d been wanting the new bolts ever since he heard of the project.
Or maybe someone had pushed him.
“I want twenty charged and ready in the train station arms depot. Priority over the ones for Tirret, but not for Tala.”
He wouldn’t dare to provoke his cousin. Not with how their relationship presently stood. She had passed him at lunch the day before without even saying hello, even though they had always been friends since childhood.
Not a situation to poke at.
But there had been a great deal of activity on the borders, the Empire poking around in places it never had before, and it would be wise to have some of the new weapons ready to ship out. The city guard could wait.
“Will do, Ean.”
Ibal took the bolt back from him and carried it to a rack where ten or so others were already stacked.
Ean took a deep breath and checked his mental task list for what to do next. Check on the workshop making the anti-armor warheads for the thunderbolts; check on the new thermal caparisons; check on the new thermal cloaks; check on the new thermal blinds; meet with Klera Olreian to go over the factory production plans for the final version of the Thunderbolts; meet with Segga HirDanek to finalize the contract for full production of the caparisons and cloaks; meet with father and the generals to discuss the state of the borders; meet with Bethania and Great-Aunt Leralene to get a list of engineering requirements for the Grand Spring Ball… was he missing something?
Lunch. He’d forgotten lunch.
Probably too late for that.
He fished a murako bar out of a pants pocket and began munching on it as he headed through the swinging doors of the workshop into the hall. He considered going to the explosives workshop, then decided to keep that for last, maybe even tomorrow. The main explosives lab was set well away from the other workshops and getting there would be a long walk.
He headed for the fabric workshops instead, exiting onto a sparkling concrete walkway bordered by clover that lead between complexes 2 and 3.
Just as he was about to reach the fabric workshops a young Bortin messenger ran up to him.
“Prince Ean!” she cried.
He stopped and waited.
For a moment she panted, catching her breath. Ean wondered how long she had been searching for him. And how fast.
“Message from General Jobin, your Highness. Your father was already informed.”
“What’s the message?”
She blinked, then nodded.
“Another Garagran was sighted near Telensgrove.”
“Is that all?”
“The General’s message said it’s a full grown male. And that it moves like a military scout.”
A scout? Ean made the connection right away.
“From the Empire.”
“I’m just a messenger, your Highness.”
“Was that all there was in the message?”
“There’s a full report with your father, your Highness.”
He thought, running through items that had to be put in order before he began a lengthy planning session with his father and the generals.
Weapons. Danya. Prayer.
He pulled a small bound notebook and a pencil out of a back pocket and wrote four quick notes with short addresses and signatures. He tore the pages out of the notebook and handed them to the messenger, who looked them over.
“Go to Ibel first. Tell him I want all the Thunderbolts he can assemble. ALL of them. Then go to the signal tower and get a copy of that report, you have my authorization right there, and give it to my sister along with her message. When you’ve done all that, head to the palace gerzeh and give the last message to Elder HarGrenitt. He’ll know what to do.”
The young woman looked at the scattered tasks in her hands with exhausted horror.
She ran off.
Ean prayed that this encounter would be resolved as peacefully as Danya’s.
The Empire’s reputation gave him little hope.
Thoughts, comments, and critique greatly appreciated. I especially want to hear what anyone thinks of the characters. How believable are they? How real are their interactions? Am I overdoing anything?
Or y’all could just give me your thoughts on the Ember/Tala, Ean/Ember, and Ean/Tala dynamics that are starting to form before I get into the really excessive drama.