Exiles of the Somme
Story of Exiles of Somme
Letter from Theophilus Grey-Marsden to his daughter Hester on the 9th year of Exile.
And where are we to begin, my brave little girl? Well, it is best to start at the beginning. No, not 6,000 years ago, when our Lord first breathed life into dust and made a man. I will begin when the world began for those of us Aethernauts whose hearts will always be in the sky.
It began in 1887 with two scientists, Professors Michelson and Morley, working at Case Western University in the middle of the American continent. Who knew how powerful the almost imperceptible flashes of light of their interferometer would be? With these measurements, they proved the existence of the Aether, a vast fluid space outside the atmosphere of earth.
The scientific reasoning was the Aether would be colorless, but the first Aethernauts to reach it in their balloons discovered a world almost indescribable in beauty. Billowing cloud banks with opalescent colors lazily drifted among the asteroids. Exotic creatures, unheard of on Earth, sailed the sky. It is from them the first Aethernauts learned the principles of capturing the light in sails to transverse the heavens. The period in the 1890’s was one of great hope as thousands took to the sky to open a new world.
And they came back insane.
It took a few decades to discover the reason why these pioneers came back as gibbering madmen. It turns out it was the Aether itself causing this affliction. Normal lab equipment could not discover the substance eventually distilled, a substance that has been named “Quince” short for Quintessence. It takes only a few drops to induce euphoria, and I am sad to say there is a culture of quince-eaters who ingest the drug regularly. Luckily the brilliant god of science has blessed up with the secret of filtering out the maddening chemical we can breathe aboard these ships and not risk succumbing to what ruined the lives of those who sacrificed their minds in the name of exploration. But remember that these ships are old, rusty and full of leaks, so when you wander the halls, always have a breathing mask at hand; if you ever sense the telltale smell of burnt roses, put it on immediately.
With love on every breath, your father,
Letter from Theophilus Grey-Marsden to his daughter Hester on the 15th year of Exile.
I did not believe I would ever be able to talk about the war, but I will honor my promise to you to relate the events now that you are older. As with many terrible incidents, it is easy to pinpoint when it started, but impossible to give the reasons why. I’m sure you know the story of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife buy the villainous Gavrilo Princip. Europe had created a web of alliances so complex, that this single thug on the thread was all it took to become irrevocably tangled.
Europe fell first to this bloodlust. And, with the world’s foundation rotted away, the building could do nothing but collapse. Mexico attacked the United States, seeking to reclaim California which they believed to be rightfully theirs. Argentina absorbed Chile and Uruguay and turned their sights of Brazil. By 1918, the entire face of the earth was scarred with trenches as each country fought their neighbor. Countries changed sides, Countries split apart. The border maps had to be re-drawn before the cartographer’s pen even left the page. Apocalyptic cults declared this the end of mankind, but most ignored them as men has lost their belief in God. It was a self-defense mechanism, if you had to know. Either you believed that there was no god, or there was one and this madness was his plan all along.
Too many memories of the past and those friends I have lost, have made this letter difficult to write. Yet, I know there is a greater tragedy I must write you about. I do not have enough will to write about it at this time.
With a shaking hand but an unshakeable heart,
Letter from Theophilus Grey-Marsden to his daughter Hester on the 18th year of Exile.
The most difficult time for a father, most likely, is when he realizes that his daughter is no longer a girl but a grown woman. Has it been eighteen years already? True, it is not as easy to tell time here in the Somme with its dual suns, however, the Wanderer, the planet whose orbit we have chosen to track the march of the years, says that eighteen years have elapsed since the Storm brought us here.
You are the child of the Storm. Your mother went into labor just before it struck. You have seen aetherstorms, no doubt and know of their violence, but you have experienced that fury of the storm that struck during the Battle of LaGrange. That’s right, you were there, although you were just born, and thankfully have no knowledge of the event.
The Battle of LaGrange was so named because of its location at one of the several lagrangian points around the earth. At these points, the gravitational pull of the Earth, Sun and Moon balanced enough so orbits are at their most stable. Of course, in their diseased minds, the military powers decided that this would be the site of the “Ultimate Battle”, the battle in space to end the war. At that time Earth was near inhospitable, and so it was felt that the war had to be won immediately if the human race had any hope of survival. So over three hundred ships sailed to the battlefield. Aboard were over 50,000 men and women of all nations and creeds. This was to be a glorious battle to make even the legendary battle of Troy seem like minor spats of toddlers.
But the Aether had other plans.
It was because of the metal. The collection of all the metal in the ship’s hulls triggered a massive Aetherstorm which ripped apart the fleet. The Aetherstorm last for over two weeks. Metal twisted. Ships tore about like they were mauled by a lion
And it was then that our Lord decided that what it needed most was you. You were born in the cargo hold of the science vessel, the Antoine Lavoisier. Unable to get you to the infirmary due the storm, your mother birthed you on a bed of canvas sack.
You were just an hour old when the keel our vessel buckled. I had not been by your side having left to search for clean water. The Antoine Lavoisier was torn in two, and you were torn from me as well.
The survivors of the Aetherstorm found themselves staring into dual suns. This was not the solar system that we knew. All the star charts were useless as their point of reference had changed. An armistice was quickly negotiated on the same day as they search for survivors commenced.
It was a week after the storm that you were found. So beautiful and full of life, completely oblivious to the terror that coincided with your birth. The midwife who assisted in your birth tucked you away in a cargo container which was sealed off from the Aether and its maddening effects.
As to what happened to your mother…
I wrote the previous fragment days ago. I promised that I would one day tell you of your mother, but every time I try to sit down to write the story, my hand shakes, my body trembles, my eyes fill with tears. I’m sorry but there are some things I will never have the ability to tell.
Your father and your friend,
Letter from Theophilus Grey-Marsden to his daughter Hester on the 29th year of Exile.
My most sincere congratulations on your first command. Although the FS Cricket is a small courier ship, it has probably the most important job of all: connecting the exiles. Without that connection, the tenuous society that we have built would evaporate. The pioneers settle the asteroid fields to grow what food they can. The great hunting ships take down the enormous beasts that call this region their home, but it is the courier ship and the messages they bring that hold us together.
I am still surprised the Armistice has held this long. The dreadnoughts of the Allied and Central powers each stay in their own regions of space. And there is the third region, the area surrounding the former hospital vessel, the Mercy Ark, the home port of the your new ship. The racial divide has relaxed somewhat, as well. It is not uncommon for a German to serve aboard a British vessel, or an Greek aboard a Turk. Still, we must be wary of human foibles. Our memories are very short but our grudges are very long. I fear the day when that so very thin sheet of paper can no longer stop the juggernauts of war.
I cannot express how sorry I am for not being there for your graduation from flight training. I am sorry for being absent for most of your childhood. Forgive this now old man his sentimentality who often finds himself staring at old photographs wishing all those years had not be lost. I have spent so much time exploring, negotiating, dreaming that I forgot about the one thing that gave my life meaning. I promise that my next voyage will be my last. I think I will retire. Maybe I’ll visit the Mercy Ark so I can be closer to you. It is time for old dogs such as me to rest.
With the pride and love that can only be known by a father,
Telegram from Sir Darren Keating , chief acquisitions officer of the White Star Conglomerate to Hester Grey-Marsden, Captain of the Free Ship (FS) Cricket.
Seven months elapsed since last contact from White Star Ship Palinurus STOP In last message Captain Theophilus Grey-Marsden reported severe food shortage aboard ship and harassment from raiders STOP We dispatched ships to last known location and will continue monitoring radio channels but we have no choice but declare mission lost and crew deceased STOP We are sorry for your loss