Prologue

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Squee...click...rrmm...thunk-thunk-thunk

“It’s working now, sir.”

“I just sit here and talk into that thing?”

“Yes, sir. Do you need help?”

“Lady, I know I look as old as dirt. But, I’m not a cobbly sailor yet. I can manage.”

“Of course, sir.”

Thunk-Thunk.

“So this thing will let people hear what we’re saying right now, in the future?”

“Yes sir, our voices will be preserved for visitors to listen to, like reading a book. As I explained when we first met, the empress desires an accurate record of the events leading up to this age by those who were directly involved. It’s my greatest honor to interview you as part of this initiative. This will be a priceless treasure for future generations. We’re under strict orders to censor nothing. I’m only here to serve you, sir.”

“Hmm.”

“Sir. Are you okay? Do you need a handkerchief?”

“Yes, yes. I’d thought I’d seen it all. But, this thing is...well...amazing. Lady Janali, Empresses bless her, would have loved to see it. I’m not so sure I can do this.”

“I understand, sir. Perhaps it would be better if you ignore that and speak to me. I want to hear your story as you remember it.”

“Well, ma’am, that’s a course I can navigate. Get one of them helpers to bring us some hot java, and we’ll start.”

#

You can call me Captain Reinvo. What house I was born to don’t matter ‘cause they didn’t bother to keep me past my mother’s milk. The merchant marine commune records might show where I came from, but I’ve never looked.

The facts of the matter are simple enough. On Martidi, Tarudyt twenty-fourth, 14343—that is the third day of the week on the twenty-fourth day of the second month of spring by the old calendar—the Vibrius set out from the imperial capital harbor for his suitor voyage. The first ship of his kind. He had a set of twin screw shafts driven with multi-stroke steam engines instead of the ordinary single stroke steam piston engine connected to a pair of paddle wheels. The propellers made everyone overlook the fact he was also the first ship made of iron.

I accepted command of the Vibrius because he was the most handsome and faithful ship I’d ever set eyes upon. The child of Lady Janali Jedalor’s repressed scientific genius. What mattered to House Jedalor, the house I served most of my adult life, was that the Vibrius was big. The iron construction allowed the Vibrius to be built larger than any ship before. The propeller drive, lack of paddle wheels, and extra size gave the Vibrius almost double the cargo space of his closest rival. And that was why House Jedalor allowed Lady Janali to build him.

Lady Janali was House Jedalor’s castatan. Except, she always seemed to be sailing into the wind as castatan. Sure, she maneuvered well enough to perform her duty as business leader for House Jedalor. But, I saw her working in the Anev shipyards, her clothes covered in grease and grime, and twin fires in her eyes as she built the Vibrius. She was glorious as she bent metal, machine, and man to her goals. When she spoke, every engineer around stopped to listen.

When I took command, Lady Janali said she’d done the math, and I could push the Vibrius’s engines harder than any ship I’d ever commanded. She ordered me to complete the northern trade route in not less than three-quarters the normal trip time and to barter hard, making sure to bring him back full of cargo.

We did just as she wanted. Better even.

Until—exactly four weeks after setting out from the capital—the entire world changed.


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