Runeclock – Under the Wheel

 

Drawn on by curiosity, by pride, by fear of being alone, the band of children slipped down below the Ferris Wheel, through the thick iron gate and through the tall iron door. The dog and the strange young woman accompanied them, hard on their heels like sentinels or comets. The children tucked their treasures away and went down into the groaning dark.

Where the Fairgrounds had been full of garish color and golden afternoon sun, the passageway was gray and dark green, lit only by intermittent globes of noxious orange. Their curiosity and pride was quickly shadowed, but the fear of being alone made them press close together — hands seeking hands as they chased the mysterious figure.

They passed through strange rooms and long halls. Old, cobwebbed dynamos and blinking boards beyond their knowledge. In the air was a flat smell that one day they would learn to recognize as gunpowder and the burnt ozone smell of rune-tech. They went on beyond sense or safety — above their breath they could hear the quiet footfalls of their quarry, leading them further and further underneath the Wheel.

At last they could go no farther, the passageway terminated in a wide bay filled with glass canisters and a few odd articulated automatons that seemed like they belonged somewhere above ground in the vast Fair — brightly colored paint and harlequin smiles flecked with rust and dust. But it was not these sights that made them all stumble to a halt.

In the center of the room was a massive square console bristling with light and humming with power. It seemed clear that this was the main power source and control for the Wheel — it was also obvious that this was not this device’s original purpose. Some vast heart of war that still beat here within the hidden interior of the Fair. But it was not this that made every eye grow wide and their hands tighten around their companions’ hands.

It was the man.

The man stood with his back to the them, one hand resting on the console, quite at ease. In later years the children would argue about the man’s height and the color of his wide-brimmed hat. Eight feet tall! The hat was blue, with a long blue feather! He was only six and some change, but the hat was black. Black as night.

But they would never argue about what he said then. Nor what happened then. In that they were all in awed, perfect agreement.

“An audience? I suppose it must be so. Great moments in history do require it, I suppose. The observers must be paid, must have their hire and salary, must validate the world with their silent affirmation.” the man turned and smiled at the children with a quiet, tender madness. “I suppose they will ask you what you saw, and who I was, and why this all happened. You will tell them this: I am one, my liege, whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed that I am reckless what I do to spite the world. And you will tell them that you were the witnesses of a grand event, a Beginning , a true beginning if the wash and wave of Time can truly be said to contain such things.”

The man pointed to an empty space just to his left with a long finger. “I have calculated this very carefully, exactly when it will be appear. How lucky or fated you are to be here to see this…the Greenglass Node!”

pop

And there it was, a node like the others they had seen in their lives — but also unlike. It was made of thick bottle-glass, and seemed a mistake — but still flared with green light as if it had a star in its belly.

The man flew into action, throwing switches and mashing buttons in a complex pattern. The waiting node seemed to respond in some way, become more solid or flare brighter. The console begin to emit sparks and a thin trickle of white smoke. A few of the nearby robots groaned with reflexive pain as the console activated them, desperately trying to offset the energy coursing through it.

The man doffed his wide-brimmed hat, and bowed with proud triumph. His face shone in the greenglass light as he reached out to activate the node. “Now truly I am the master of the Wave, I am the King of Time!”

The man and the node vanished together, leaving the room as empty as forgotten promises.

The children would not remember their panicked flight from underneath the Wheel, or the exact moment when they realized that the robots where fleeing alongside them, or the exact feeling of relief they experienced when the emerged into the Fair into the protective arms of the green-guards. Parents gave punishment, and more than a few nightmares were earned.

But they all would remember what the man said, and what he did. And the look on his face, the pure, terrible, awful joy.

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