The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 3

And they were true to their word. The few days that followed were quiet and filled with healing and sleep. Those that had suffered more than minor injuries received nearly too much care, and it became very apparent that the medical team along for the excavation was quite bored the majority of the time.

The excavation itself wound it’s way through a vast system of tunnels that occupied the interior of the mountain. Katherine explained in gross detail the theory of these people, how they would gather in the chambers dotting the cave system.  Beyond these at the center of the mountain a maze of tunnels lead to a central chamber capable of housing hundreds of people. This chamber contains within it a central computer in a stone housing and some sort of chipping device. The tunnels leading to the chamber had been found littered with the effects of violence. Weapons and remains of peoples, traps and pitfalls, all of it leading into the center and to that computer. The Order had once tried to excavate it, but when they had attempted to remove the technology from it’s housing, it killed a dozen workers without warning. From the redacted files, it seemed that central frame was the ultimate in pre-aether weapon systems…and it had quite the reputation.

           “Katherine said they don’t know why the machine reacted so badly to the attempted move… and they seem to think it may have something to do with why the original owners disappeared.” Vale recalled as he sat with his crew mates at a table near the makeshift tent-rooms they had been given.

 “Have they taken you to see it?” Kitty asked him poking at a heater with a splinter of the Isabella.

      “I went down with them…” Vale nodded, “The housing on the unit is strange…like a stone box. Maybe as large as, oh, four feet wide and six feet tall…It’s covered in these grooves and markings. The crew here seems to think it’s instructions how to use it, but they are unsure.”

       “How long has this crew been here?” Cedric asked sitting back onto his seat.

          “Six months…” Vale responded dryly. “They hardly have even come up with evidence that the computer even works.”

  “What about all those weapons in the tunnels?” Kitty asked again, “I heard one of the workers say there are hundreds of bodies in the chambers just packed in.”

Vale smiled a bit, “They look somewhat like sacrifices to be honest. The weapons are all crude, nothing projectile or even close to being able to kill a man without a measure of difficulty.”

           “We believe the computer system in the main chamber to be a coming of age ritual of some kind.” Katherine interjected coming to sit in the middle of them.

The group turned to face her as she passed around a series of warm drinks from a tray. Her breath lingered in the air still. A reminder of just how cold it still was inside the hangar.

 “But that’s not what brings me out here.”

     “What is then?” Cedric inquired, “Thanks for the cider.”

      Katherine smiled with a nod, “The Order ships have moved on…so real work on your ship can begin.”

      “That’s excellent news!” Vale beamed.

      “We’ll halt the excavation partially to get started. I can’t give you everything…but there are two collection haulers we can give you for scrap.”

      “My crew and I are greatly in your debt.”

       Katherine took a drink from her steel cup and nodded. She had a far off look for a moment. “Paul…Captain Chambers would have given his life for the rebellion. Anything he felt worthy of that kind of devotion I can certainly help see through to the end.”

 “You were close to Chambers.” Vale stated.

      The archaeologist stood to her feet and nodded slightly she hesitated to answer at first, “Paul Chambers…. was my husband.”

     The eyes of those within earshot widened. Amelia opened her mouth in a moment of shock and began to say something but Katherine raised her hand to stop her quickly.

     “Paul knew all the risks…and like I said, he had a dream to see the Order tyranny fall.” Her voice wavered a moment, “I expect great things from you Cedric Whittaker, you realize, you and your crew.”

      Vale swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as Katherine left them making her way back into the tents where her team slept.

 The captain bit his tongue tenderly weighing her words with gravity in his face.

 ~*~

The following hours were full of noise and the movement of machinery. The haulers, like massive bulldozers, were brought to the ship and forced the Isabella to stand erect. With great strength the Isabella lifted from the hangar floor and hovered high enough that a grown man could stoop beneath her belly without trouble. 

      Audra could hardly contain herself as they readied the tools to begin the rebuilding process.

         “I have some improvements to make!” she smiled at Amelia, who was less excited, but ready to be out of the cold.

“Oh you do….”

     “Oh, yes. Make the steam pipes much more streamlined, make the Aether tanks reroute much more efficiently…”

     “I’d settle for a warm shower.”

     “Sooner we get the Isabella fixed, the sooner you can have just that.” Javert interjected as he picked up a large pair of steel pylons.

 The excavation crew might not have looked like much, but they knew their way around an airship and it’s engine. 

 Four days and nights of solid work, and the Isabella’s interior was beginning to look as it had before the attack. The floor boards might have been mismatched, but it was becoming livable again. Attica explained things in what small detail she knew of them to the repair crew…but mostly she huddled in the tents about a heater with the rest of the crew, that was until Amelia had had enough.

     “That’s it.” She threw up her hands and picked up the largest bucket she had within reach. “I want warm…I can’t stand this any longer. I’m gonna have a warm bath even if it kills me.”

Luthiem looked from her to Attica and back, “But, Amelia, it’s too cold out here to bathe…”

 “Then I’m going on the Isabella and finding a room that isn’t wrecked, and I’m gonna use that!”

 The pair chuckled at the ferocity Amelia declared her intention. “Alright, Amelia.” Attica replied, “Have at it then.”

 Amelia burst from the tent with her large bucket in hand. She made her way with intent towards the Isabella, but was intercepted by her husband.

 “Where do you think you’re headed?”

 The intent of his wife had left her reduced to basic speech, “Warm! Bath! Now!”

 “Oh no you don’t.” Cedric took the bucket from her quickly. “The flooring in the Isabella isn’t stable yet…You’ll fall and hurt yourself.”

 “No, I’m gonna find a space and take a bath!”

 “NO, you aren’t, Amelia. Not until the ship is repaired. You can use the showers that the scientists have offered us until then.”

 Amelia could see the look in her tired husband’s face and shook her head. “Fine. But as soon as the ship is fixed, I get a bath.”

As she walked back towards the tent Cedric looked at the bucket and shook his head tossing it to one side. 

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