Chapter 1: Occupation and Innovation
Life in the quiet seaside town of Saltport hadn’t always been so bleak. They said that before the salty air was corrupted by fog, city-dwellers came for beautiful views of the dramatic rock formations rising out of the coastal water… Until Lucky’s empire expanded northward, life had rarely been worse than dull. Now it was bleak at best.
Beckendorf remembered the Imperial seizing of the town years before, the terrorizing metallic marching of the Automaton patrols marching, the gasps of the parents whose c**hildren were taken and sent to become slaves or students for the emperor**. A few of the people gave in to the occupation and turned over to the empire, but most simply sank into the fog, wilting into complacent citizens of their new world. Beck found life in the town unbearable, as the only person close to his age was a sailors grandson over seven years his senior.
The Direscope family had moved from the grimy city of No Man’s Landing to evade the iron grip of the Empire before Beck had turned 15, but apparently Lucky would not be satisfied until the entire land was his. He had an insatiable ego and desire for command. Nothing could get in the way of his designs for long before being swept aside by the immeasurable power of his minions.
Beck’s life in Saltport had been mostly uneventful; nothing like the ever-exciting city life of underground races and the variety of colorful people. The fishing village was home to crusty old sailors, smugglers, and mostly anyone who had abandoned an old life. Beckendorf’s father had been a professor and his mother was a salvager before she stopped working to care for him as a child. Beckendorf was no technokinetic, but had always loved airships and their components.
He had held an apprenticeship at Little Stone Salvage, and under the guidance of Padre Stone, he had developed his mechanical skills through hard work.
"You don’t need a gift to be successful at something, just keep at it and you’ll end up somewhere,” Padre would sometimes say during long hours refurbishing engines, cleaning components, and modifying jet intakes.
Beckendorf had taken that to heart, and immediately set up a salvage shop when he turned eighteen, repairing small gadgets and jerry-rigging parts for pilots, sailors, and anyone who needed a mechanical replacement part.
Before he turned twenty, two things happened that shaped Beck’s life: he built his own ship, and he came into possession of a book. The ship was his pride and joy. He had spent several seasons in his dingy workshop around an old fishing vessel frame, welding salvaged hull-plates, attaching pipe-fittings, and assembling an engine, exhaust, intake, and patching together envelopes for the balloons. The young engineer had no particular purpose in mind for the craft, and he would have admitted that it was just something to occupy his time. Padre’s instruction in salvage, combined with frequent trips to the salvage yard just down the coast gave him access to a nearly endless variety of parts and materials.
Surprisingly, Beckendorf was having the hardest time coming up with a name for his craft. Aethasia had a history of ridiculous ship names, but they mirrored the quirky population of pilots that flew them. He figured that he should focus on constructing the ship before adding any sort of flair or personality.
His design was simple, just a sturdy hull with a balloon and two lift engines on either side. The cabin was scarcely large enough for two berths, a boiler room, and a cargo bay. Beck began to dream of living in his ship, finally moving away from his parents and Saltport.
One early morning, several weeks before his twentieth birthday, Beckendorf entered his workshop and a book sat on his desk. It was large, leatherbound, maybe a couple thousand pages. The unadorned cover beckoned to be opened.
“How did this get here?” He breathed to himself.
He opened it up, and inside was a scarlet ribbon and a handwritten letter.