|Deus Ex Machina: Apocrypha
Author: omegaling PM
Reposted 01/05/13. Cesario is the newest pilot of Ardenlore's Machina fleet. Too bad no one knows he's really a girl. It's Shakespeare as never told before, now with giant suits of armor and city-eating monsters, but with all the drama, love, madness, and cross-dressing of the bard's much-beloved works.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Drama - Chapters: 5 - Words: 13,761 - Updated: 02-05-13 - Published: 01-05-13 - id: 3089648
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It took them a little more than an hour to reach the northeast shore of Ardenlore island, but Viola spotted the first glimpses of the great navy warships long before that, scattered across the calm waters like great floating fortresses. She didn't know how many ships she had expected to see guarding the coastline, but the number of them still surprised her. Viola recognized a few of them, but that was only because Sebastian had told her what to look for. Among the dozen or so smaller gunships she could see the long flat expanses of the SS Verona and Mantua 's flight decks, their lines of Harpy fighter jets poised for takeoff at a moment's notice. Looming over the lot were the hulking forms of the SS Elsinore and Inverness warships, covered from stern to helm with an array of cannons and missile launchers protruding from every deck at every angle like some monstrous porcupine. The surf boomed a steady rhythm against the rocks below the cliffs they drove along, but even above their din Viola could hear the deep, bone-rattling rumble of their gargantuan engines, ready to spring into action at the first sign of the oncoming threat.
The paved road had ended some time ago, leaving nothing more than a hard-packed dirt path that the scooter had bounced and jostled down. Mercutio began to ease off the throttle, then stopped all together. A twelve-foot tall chain-link fence rimmed with barbed wire towered over them, cutting across the road and extending into the dense forest to their left, barring them from going any further. Viola slid off the back of the scooter and began to look for a place where they could watch the Machinas while keeping out of plain sight, but Mercutio immediately began to head into the foliage along the fence line, taking the small transistor radio with him.
"Where are you going?" Viola demanded before he had the chance to slip away completely. Mercutio didn't answer right away, but rather focused on the uneven footing of the tangled forest floor while simultaneously checking the fence at regular intervals. Viola followed reluctantly, suddenly wondering if her decision to come with him was a good one. After almost half a mile of carefully avoiding hidden roots, ducking low-hanging branches and furiously swatting away dense clouds of insects, Mercutio finally found what he was looking for; a two-foot wide hole torn open at the base of the fence, just wide enough for one person to squeeze through at a time. Viola felt her stomach drop like a stone.
"Mercutio, we can't do this."
"Come on, Vi. Do you really want to just watch from the sidelines or do you want front row seats?"
"Do you have any idea how much trouble we'll be in if we're found inside the base? We'd get a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine if we're found outside the shelters during an evacuation at worse, but as soon as we go in there we're talking about serious jail time!"
"No one will see us. The actual base is still three miles away, and none of the sailors ever come out this far. We'll be fine, I promise."
"How do you know for sure?" Viola demanded.
"Because I've done it before. Lots of times before, actually."
"Why?" she asked, suddenly suspicious.
Mercutio gave her another lop-sided grin, his eyes gleaming. "Just to see if I could. Just trust me on this, all right?"
Somehow Viola wasn't surprised by his confession, nor did help her argument of why they shouldn't go through the fence. Mercutio might have been many things, but a liar was not one of them. True, he was subject to the occasional crazy conspiracy theory, but he had never been anything but honest about what he'd said and done to her or Katherina or Sebastian, no matter how much trouble he was in or who was mad at him, so there really seemed no reason to start distrusting him now. Bunching up her skirt at the knees, Viola dropped low to the ground and wriggled her way through the hole as Mercutio strained to hold the course wires back, being exceedingly careful to avoid any conspicuous mud stains that might give her away later. Mercutio was quick to follow as soon as she was on the other side, sliding his beanpole frame through the hole with much more ease.
The dense forest closed around Viola and Mercutio as soon as they were beyond the fence, the thick canopy pierced only by a few thin spears of amber sunlight. They followed a path that was little more than a thin trail beaten through a maze of fallen trees and the umbrella-like fungi that fed on them. The air was close and warm and absolutely still, making Viola sweat beneath her cotton dress in a matter of minutes. Every nerve was on overdrive, as if she was expecting a squad of armed sailors to leap out of them from the foliage at any minute, but other than the fence there was nothing to indicate that they were even on the naval base, and except for the occasional call of a stray bird, the whole of the forest was oddly silent. Mercutio did not seem to share her anxiety. In fact, he walked with the air of someone who had done this many times before without suffering any major consequences. After a while Viola began to relax as well, and eventually stopped worrying altogether.
In less time than Viola expected the trees began to thin away, allowing in more light and even a few breaths of refreshing sea breeze. The path twisted right, then left, then with a final sharp right the forest came to an abrupt end as the island of Ardenlore fell away into a series of sharp-faced cliffs plunging down into the sea. From that vantage the navy's warships were only a few degrees to their left, which Viola thought put them uncomfortably close to the line of fire of whatever it was they were waiting for. Mercutio, on the other hand, was observing the scene as if he was looking for a place to build a summer home.
"See those hills over there?" he said over the wind that howled up the cliff face, pointing out towards the west. "There's a lagoon hidden behind them, and I'm pretty sure that's where the navy's main hangars are. If the Machinas are going to come out anywhere, that's where it'll be."
Viola followed the direction of his finger, tracing the coastline with her eyes. A narrow strip of white sandy beach emerged from below the line of cliffs they stood on, creating a slow arch perhaps a thousand yards long before disappearing again into a set of rolling hills covered in towering pines. She couldn't see anything that would suggest that Ardenlore's naval base was on the other side, but she did not doubt that it was there.
"So what do we do now?" Viola asked.
"We wait, I guess," Mercutio said, sitting down cross-legged at the cliff's edge, his bony limbs making him look like a giant praying mantis in wait for a victim. Viola sat down beside him, folding her skirts beneath her. There was a moment where she didn't like the idea of being so exposed, but she quickly figured that if whatever the navy was waiting for really did make an appearance, then they would be too busy to notice a couple of kids watching from the cliffs.
"What's with the sudden change of heart?" Viola asked after several moments of silence. "Just the other day you were going on and on about how the Machina were built to distract us from bigger problems."
"Four words, Viola: first-account-eye-witness. You see, the problem with your everyday, run-of-the-mill Ardenlorian is that they don't tend to think for themselves. They're like little kids; dangle something shiny in front of them and they'll be completely oblivious to anything and everything else going on around them. So when Saturninus tells them that there's nothing to worry about because his brand new toys will solve all our problems, they believe him because that's what they've been conditioned to do and there's no need for them to question him. However, if one of their own was witness to the truth, then they're bound to start to thinking for themselves."
"So if it's not a biomech coming, then why all the defense? They wouldn't have every ship out here for nothing."
"Could be any number of things. Maybe Fortinbras is sending Saturninus a present of good will, except he made the mistake of wrapping it in a torpedo-shaped package."
Viola grimaced, one side of her mouth pulling down. "No one's going to believe you, Merc. Even you have to know that by now."
"That's true. They won't listen to me. But they'll listen to you."
Viola snapped her head around to glare at him, aghast. "What? Why me?"
"It's like you said; we know no one will take me seriously, and everyone else is too afraid that Kate will beat the tar of them if they so much as look at her the wrong way. But they'll listen to you. You're the trustworthy one. You know things."
"I know rumors, Mercutio. They're a far cry from the truth."
"True, but rumors have to start from a seed of truth, and you've always been good at rooting that seed out. If they get an eye-witness account of what happened here from you, then they'll have to believe it!"
Viola frowned, but said nothing else. She did not want to point out the flaw in Mercutio's newest plan, that the reason why people were generally so free with their secrets around her was because her relatively quiet nature was often interpreted as her being a bit slow on the uptake and therefore she wouldn't make much of the information being exchanged in her presence. It didn't necessarily mean that they would listen to her in turn.
What was worse was the fact that Mercutio seemed to fail to realize how much of a spot he was putting her in by making her re-account whatever they saw today to the general public. Not only would she be admitting that she had deliberately disobeyed Mr. Olivier and ditched an evacuation, she also knew the king of Ardenlore – both Saturninus and Lear before him – did not particularly care for citizens poking their noses into government business. Before she and Sebastian came to Port Illiam, Mercutio had wound up in a heap of trouble when he was caught listening in to naval transmissions on his little radio, earning him a solid two months in jail and a permanent blemish on his citizenship. If that was the punishment for listening to a few fuzzy broadcasts, she couldn't imagine what they would dole out if she and Mercutio were caught sneaking onto the navel base during a mandatory civilian evacuation in the city.
With nothing else to discuss, Viola returned her attention to the sea. A few seagulls hung in the air, buoyed by the warm updraft coming off the cliffs, and the barrels of the gun- and warships gleamed in the sun. After some time Viola started to feel restless. What if nothing happened? What if another naval ship intercepted whatever was supposed to be heading this way while they were waiting, or it changed course to attack another part of the island? What if it never arrived at all, and the all-clear sirens were sounded without them knowing it? It would be hard to explain to Mr. Olivier why she was so much later returning to the store than everyone else, even if she claimed that she had to go to another shelter on the other side of the city.
The sun moved across the sky, catching on the gleaming metal of the Inverness 's main cannons and reflecting it right back into Viola's eyes. She squinted and held a hand up, trying to block out the glare, but it seemed no matter how she tried she could not escape from it. The sun was now hitting the cannons and guns of the warships at all the right and wrong angles, creating a menagerie of flashing white-hot spots that assaulted the coastline. A particularly strong glared bounced off something along the horizon, but it was so bright that Viola could not tell what its source was. She could feel the strength of its heat on her face.
The light flared violently, and one of the navy's gunships exploded with a cacophonous roar and a fountain of water a hundred feet high.