Symphony of Aeons: The Log of an Expatriate Vessel
By Jave Harron
"Sounds - possibly musical - heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being." -HP Lovecraft
The Kansas Runestone
Captain Andrei Razin climbed out of the airship with his two comrades, a German soulshell known as Johan Stark, and an abdead Spanish Jesuit known as Juan Diego. The American military airship was a cargo hauler, a gasbag with several propellers under it, all powered by a thaumechanical steam engine. They had been hired for another inland mission, this time under the American government. All three of them had been flown out to the frontier, right in the center of the recently acquired Louisiana territory. Given to the Americans as war reparations from Sadist France, it had only recently begun to be explored.
They had a familiar face acting as their liaison. A man in a military hair cut and a Marine uniform stood before him. Despite having the same title, it represented different rank.
"Captain Richard Boyle, it's an honor to see you again," Razin extended his hand.
"Likewise, Captain," the Marine reached out his hand. "Thanks for coming to dry land for this job."
"Yes, I was informed of a few details. You request a specialist in old Norse and fluent in Japanese," Razin added. "I brought two."
The abdead Jesuit nodded, bowing his gray skin under his brown robe. A katana hung from his side, and a crossbow was slung across his back. Next to him, Stark stood by, a mechanical man holding a Gaussian accelerator rifle with a larger bayonet on the end. Diego had recently updated Stark's translating capacities, giving him old Norse. Stark stood idly by, as if sizing up all the soldiers walking around.
"So, if you don't mind," Razin asked. "Can you tell us more?"
"I'm sure you have heard of the recent Lewis and Clark expedition," Boyle added, heading towards a shed. "While they passed through this territory, an artifact was pulled from a rather interesting cave."
Two soldiers stood guard in front of the shed. Boyle saluted to them, and they saluted back. He pulled out a ring of keys from his pocket, and began to open several thick locks on the door.
"Statement: A determined attacker would have simply smashed through the wall," Stark added. "Your storage choices are highly illogical, meatsack."
"It's not to keep something inside stored in side as much as it was to keep someone on the other side from coming up," Boyle explained. "But in this case, we're storing a special object down there."
He picked up an electric lantern and gestured down a wooden stairwell. The stairs had been recently cut out of the dirt, and supported by a wood struts. There was a dim set of electric lanterns dangling from the dirty walls. The shaft itself continued back into a set of natural caverns, with strange stonework appearing on the floor. Razin looked closer, and saw none of it was connected by any kind of mortar. Diego looked at it, noting there was no historical civilization he recalled what type of stonework. Perhaps it was a prehuman civilization, or a forgotten Native American one.
Several tunnels off of the primary path had been boarded up, with automata standing guard behind the barricades. At the end of the tunnel was a small storeroom which Boyle unlocked. Inside was an object made of stone, clearly a different sort than the stoneworking in the caverns. The stone was a rectangular shape, with a metal engraving on top of it. Razin scanned through the letters, and saw what appeared as Norse runes. Some form of Asian characters were written below it. Below that was a set of strange letters and characters with several right angles and strange forms.
"This is the item you needed me to read, si?" Diego surmised.
"Yes, and after you read it, listen to that tunnel," Boyle added.
"I'll go for the Norse runes first, amigo," Diego pointed out, running his finger along the runes. "This stone is placed to denote the central boundary denoted in the Triumvirate Treaty. To the east is the Althing of New Vinland. To the west is the domain of the Nippon Shogunate. To the south is the land of the Holy Aztlan Empire."
"Observation: The Japanese text says the same," Stark noted, scanning over the Asian characters. "I must assume that the last message is some unfamiliar script for a Nahuatl-derived language. This may be a marker analogous to the Rosetta Stone. Three languages, same message. Trite, even by meatsack standards."
"Muy interesante," Diego noted, moving over to a boarded up tunnel. "Now, what sounds are coming from this tunnel?"
The abdead Jesuit and Stark focused on listening to the sounds echoing down the tunnel. The sound repeated in a certain pattern, and definitely seemed to be some sort of resonance signal, or even music. There was a low, rumbling sound, and something that sounded like mechanical noises. There was a low, feral muttering in the sound, reminding Diego of a feral hog. He thought there were some traces of Norse words in there. Razin managed to hear a bit of it, but was unable to due to the others' heightened senses.
"You should be hearing the Grinder," Boyle added. "We don't really know what it is, but it's a sound we hear from down that tunnel."
"I'm more interested in this stone, amigo," the Jesuit tapped the runestone. "None of these groups ever had such extensive contact with each other, nor existed in the same epoch. Perhaps with un poco exceptions. The Japanese colony on the West Coast only met the Aztecs for a short time, and the Norse colony in North America was gone centuries before either."
"You mean that Japanese refugee settlement, right?" Boyle added. "I read your account of them, and recalled something interesting. Do you recall the subterranean worlds of Yoth and N'kai?"
"Si," Diego replied. "That cave network they took. It was believed to extend to different dimensions and realities."
"So, might this stone be from one of those different realities?" Razin inquired. "Or did we take it?"
"I'm afraid the latter," Boyle added. "Down here, we often hear various odd noises at our camp. Even some residents of the local trading post sometimes hear the echoes."
Diego raised his gray-skinned head back and grinned. "Ah, compadre! I see why you fear someone or something coming up, then!"
"There are patterns that emerge," Boyle explained. "Most of the echoes are unique, or at least are not repeated several times. The Grinder echo and sound is the one that has been consistent for a number of years now."
"Hypothesis: May there be a correlation between a connection to a particular parallel world and the echoes in these caves?" Stark suggested. "Statement: Since Quesnay is not here, I took the liberty of reviewing his notebook before leaving. According to a journal article he is writing, it is theoretically possible for a resonance wave to connect the structure of space-time."
"Ay, the idiota makes an interesting observation," Diego added. "The strength of the connection may be dictated by the consistency of the sound."
"Which means that most of the connections are short-term and changing ones, while this Grinder sound is a strong connection to the world with these nations," Razin hypothesized. "Given your background, Captain Boyle, I assume you are aware of this theory before."
"Your assumption is correct," Boyle nodded. "The ability to retrieve expeditions was an important consideration in the decision to explore."
"Did you loose anyone over there?" Razin asked.
"We haven't sent many humans over, yet," Boyle replied. "The manned expeditions only got as far as the mouth of the cave on the other end. The Grinder was heard loud and clear, and the team deployed a drone to gather information. However, we were unable to remotely control the drone, and we need it retrieved."
"What kind of drone will we be looking for?" Razin asked.
"A Federal Armories Tarantula-series recon drone," Boyle answered. "About the size of a small dog, and looks like a spider The serial number is five-eight-seven-three-nine-one-six. If the drone cannot be found, first-hand accounts are preferred."
"Protest: Master, you cannot possibly accept this contract!" Stark added. "This is a task for the US government, not the Expatriates! We do not know if this parallel world has diseases, enemies, or other potentially hostile entities!"
"Stark, you don't need to breathe or even have organic parts," Razin added. "If anything, we meatsacks should be more concerned. You may find some disease, technology, or weapons of interest on the other side. If this Grinder truly is some kind of mechanical sound, then it may be useful to you."
Stark's eyes began to glow a light blue. "Suggestion: I'd still prefer you meatsacks to lead," the soulshell added. "I shall remain behind you with my Gaussian accelerator rifle ready. Meatsacks first!"
"Capitan, are you aware of any conditions that may hinder known weapons or thaumaturgy?" Diego asked. "I do not like surprises of that sort, compadre."
"Not that I'm aware of," Boyle added. "But be ready for surprises. If you run into anyone, try to lay low. If you need gear, I can provide some. I've got a few extra breathing masks, an M-2 thaumolock pistol, and some M8 rotolocks."
"I'll take the thaumolock, breathing mask, and a carbine," Razin added. "I'd like more than my knife and dart gun for this."
"Statement: I believe an M8 would be a useful weapon for softening them up," Stark added. "One can never carry too much firepower. Brother Diego and I do not require breathing masks. You mouth-breathing meatsacks may."
"The M8 has more rounds than my crossbow," the Jesuit noted. "So, I will take one. Los armas del fuego have their uses."
"I'll bring down the supplies. Should you need reinforcements, I'll be waiting with some automatons," Boyle noted. "If there's American casualties here, we'll get questions. Given the nature of this strange cave system, I'd prefer if we kept this low key."
"Understood," Razin nodded, putting his hands into his brown coat's pockets. "We'll be ready. Stark, I'll lead. Diego, I'll need any thaumaturgy of yours that can help us hide."
Boyle returned with the equipment. The group equipped itself with their new gear. Razin hung the rifle over his brown coat, with his dart gun and knife ready if he needed them. He covered his face with a breathing mask, in case there was any hazardous fumes on the other end. Stark held the Gauss accelerator rifle in one hand, and the M8 in the other. Diego kept his katana sheathed and his crossbow on his back, and the rifle ready to fire. The abdead Jesuit placed silencing and visual distortion on them, so they would be harder to perceive.
Razin readied his rifle, and headed through the tunnel. Boyle unlocked the boarded up tunnel, and let the trio forward. Razin had an electric light on the front of his weapon, illuminating the way in front of them. The tunnel around them was made of the same artificial worked stone, but there was no electric lighting along the walls of this tunnel.
The artificial stonework gave way to natural caverns again. The Russian could hear the Grinder grow louder. Whatever horrid machines this alien world had, Razin figured he would now see them himself. The echoes reverberated across the cave walls, causing Andrei Razin's heart to pound. "Stark, keep your accelerator rifle ready," Razin ordered. "If there is some large, horrid mechanical monster, we will need as much firepower as possible."
Ahead of them, there was a blinding light. Razin lifted his carbine, preparing to see whatever horror was the source of the Grinder. He crouched down, and ordered the others to follow him. There was a second for them to adjust to the aboveground light. Once his eyes opened up, he saw the origin of the Grinder sounds was not just one machine. Instead, it was several.
From the mouth of the cave, the trio could see this world's own Great Plains, which looked largely similar. However, two strange armies were meeting in a bizarre battle sequence. Both sides were piloted vehicles of some sort. To their east, a group of armored Europeans rode mechanocycles into battle. Looking closely, Razin noted almost all held Norse style-chainswords in their hands. Their helmets and armor also held designs covered in runes. Several of the mechanocycles had sidecars, each with a strange device inside them. Strange sounds issued from them, creating a shockwave whenever they were fired. Razin assumed they were some sort of resonance weapon.
The enemies of the cycle-mounted Norsemen were no less strange. Several large humanoids, each some sort of biomechanical machine, held naginata and katana-like blades in hand. A flag of the Rising Sun flew from the backs of the biomechanical warriors. A Norse chainsword slashed through one, revealing an unfortunate man inside. Some of the Japanese fighters would gather thaumaturgical energy, and then unleash a shockwave at the Norsemen. The source of the Grinder sounds was now clear. This battle, or perhaps a military base one of the groups had, was echoing through the corridors.
"Suggestion: these meatsacks may be one of the political entities referred to on the runestone," Stark noted. "The ones on our right may be New Vinland, and the ones on our left may be the Nippon Shogunate."
"Why do none of them have guns?" Razin noted. "Or did their weapons development just go in a different direction?"
"Capitan, I do not like this," Diego noted. "Let's vamos! What if they notice us? We don't have enough firepower to take on two armies! Whatever drone the Marines had, it's probably lost now."
"Query: Master, do you feel more comfortable with samurai or Vikings?" Stark asked.
"Why are you asking, Stark?" Razin muttered. "I am agreeing with Diego at this point."
"Complaint: But Master! What is the point of traveling to another world without killing anyone in it?" Stark replied. "Exclamation: Especially with a type of weapon they have not seen before!"
Before Razin could reply, Stark fired the Gaussian accelerator rifle the most important looking of the Japanese biomechanical suits. This one held a naginata with a gold plated handle and additional armor around it. Diego and Razin pulled down Stark, fearing some sort of counterattack. An unknown force stopped the projectile, and held it stationary in the air for several seconds. The biomechanical suit raised its long naginata, and blasted where it had come from. Pulling Stark out of the Way, Razin and Diego narrowly avoided the shot.
The front of the cave instead took the brunt of the attack. The tunnel was sealed off by falling rocks, preventing them from escaping. The biomech ran towards them, turning its attention from the Vikings. The group began to fire their carbines at the monstrous machine, but to no avail. The thaumokinetic shield stopped all of their rounds, not even striking the craft. However, the distraction the trio provided was fatal for the machine. Two Norsemen on mechanocycles attacked the machine from each side, slicing it in half.
Suddenly, the rest of the troops began to falter. The Japanese troops began to fall back into lines, pointing their weapons outwards. The smaller, less ornate suited troops held their weapons out, and the more ornately decorated machines began to fall back. Razin figured the Norsemen had killed a leader, and the army was routed and disorganzed. Or perhaps the officers were falling back while the grunts held the line to regroup.
The Norsemen, meanwhile, began to try to outflank the Japanese line. A wedge-shaped formation of cyclists rushed side of the Japanese line. The bio-mechs began charging up their shockwaves as the Norse began blaring their resonance weapons. Loud, fast sounds unlike anything they had heard before disoriented several of the defending soldiers. Stark, meanwhile, had left the two prone men behind.
Razin turned to look and saw Stark crawling up to the collapsed debris, wriggling his way through the stones. "Statement: Master, I believe there is now enough space to crawl through," Stark moved through the hole. Wanting to escape, Razin pulled Diego up to the hole, and began to wriggle through it. Razin felt himself get stuck, but Stark pulled him through. Diego wriggled through, sealing the opening with rocks.
"Let's vamos!" he exclaimed. "I'm not sure what we just saw, but I don't want to remain here."
"Statement: As much as I despise the thought of fleeing without exterminating any meatsacks, we should equip better weapons next time," Stark added, moving brisking down the tunnel. "Analysis: Our enemies had some sort of thaumokinetic shield that negated all of our projectiles."
"Yet they still did not function against those thaumaturgical attacks," Razin noted, moving ahead of Stark. "They had to resort to those resonance attacks, shockwaves, and melee weapons."
"Compadres, at least consider the fact we saw a completely new world! How many of us could say we did that, no?" Diego mused.
"I'm interested as to how that runestone ended up so deep in the cave," Razin noted. "And why, if the Grinder was the sounds of battle, was it heard for over a year on our end?"
"Hypothesis: That runestone was some sort of marker for a border truce," Stark added. "Speculation: Perhaps two of the sides occupied two bases near this cave, and performed military patrols and operations as a show of strength to the other?"
"And then tensions may have escalated one day," Razin mused. "One side may have shoved the marker deep into these caves, and left it there."
"Ay, Capitan, but we have seen some interesting things. I regret we were not able to stay longer," Diego mused. "But what if the soldiers in this world become curious and try to follow us back?"
"Statement: That is Captain Boyle's problem, then," Stark replied.
The group found a familiar door in front of them. Rushing through it, they locked it behind them. They left, and informed Boyle what they had seen. By the time they had left, they noticed several automaton being equipped with melee weapons. Whoever was on the other side now had a stronger garrison to attend to if they did try breaking through.