This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Alistair Vermilion, 12 years old-
Snip. Snip. Click. Snip. Click.
As I fit together the last components of the plastic model I had brought over to Redjuve from Japan, I felt the sense of excitement begin to fade away. It wasn’t as if I had done a poor job - the plastic surfaces weren’t scratched, the seam lines were removed with plastic thinner, and there was no excess sprue to be found. Instead of applying the cheap and ugly stickers included, I had used paint instead. Dare I say it, there were no imperfections to be seen; my creation was flawless. Rather, it was the disappointment in having finished the kit, and not having a backlog remaining to enjoy building with. After all, the assembly was the fun part of the process.
With a sigh, I got up from my desk in the far corner of the hangar and dusted the plastic crumbs off my overalls.
“Action Base 5, where is it… I could’ve sworn I had one leftover from two years ago… Ah, there it is!”
Pulling out the display stand from a box underneath the desk, I carefully placed the 1/72 scale model kit on the peg and moved its arms and legs to a shooting position.
Ah, the arm is too high… The leg should bend like this… Maybe the wrist should be turned a bit more… and into the display case it goes.
Now that I had completed the miniature robot, it was time to tackle the goliath looming behind me - a (not yet) functional to-scale transforming mecha that took up most of the hangar space. Once completed, it would be able to transform between the form of a plane and a humanoid. I had based it on a plastic model I had bought in Japan, so the exterior design wasn’t original, but all the internals - the engines, the joints, the control mechanisms - were my design. Only mine.
I strolled over to the opposite end of the hangar, where the button to open the door was, and pressed it. With a ferocious whoosh, the wind flooded into the hangar, carrying notes of the ocean’s scent within its drafts. Snapping my work goggles on released the wild mahogany hair that had been held down, which fluttered in the sea breeze.
“All right, everyone! It’s time to get working on the Vassar - we’ll be performing maintenance for the test flight tomorrow!”
I climbed up the scaffolding into the maintenance hatch with a wrench in hand, working alone again for the 584th day in a row.
The kingdom of Redjuve was not a very large one; situated on an island roughly eight hundred kilometers south of the coast of the continental Scolburn Kingdom, there was only room for the capital (and only) city, aptly named Redjuve, and a handful of factories. Its history was not long or grand either, being populated by Scolburn peasants escaping from the tyrannical rule of King Leonard XII just over a century and a half ago. Leonard XII was deposed soon after, but the people of the newly formed Redjuve had already formed a national identity, so they remained on the cramped island they now called home. They quickly selected the first king of Redjuve from among themselves, and one hundred and thirty-eight years later, I would be the only child born into the royal family.
Covered in spots with soot and machinery grease, I ambled down the halls of the castle towards the baths. While performing maintenance on the Vassar, the exhaust pipes began sputtering and spat out a cloud of soot, unfortunately in my direction. To avoid the risk of staining the ivory-white steel armor that had been expensive to procure, I had to end work early for the day.
Ugh… with the mishaps today, will the Vassar be ready for the test flight tomorrow? I’ve been working for half a year on the engine, and now all these setbacks are popping up. Maybe I should ask someone from the Mechanic’s Guild to help out?
I shook my head silently at my thoughts, knowing just how ridiculous they were. Being a mechanical engineer was for the working class, and if the secret of my being interested in robotics was to be revealed, it would not be looked favorably upon. Besides, no matter how more advanced Redjuve’s technology could be than that of Japan’s, the mechanics here would not be prepared to deal with the Vassar’s issues. Internal combustion engines, like the gas turbine I was using, were shunned in favor of steam engines, so it would be difficult to find a capable expert on the island.
It truly was a dilemma - the only thing I could consult on my issues was textbooks on gas turbines I had bought in Japan, the act of which earned me a confused stare from the clerk. Unfortunately, the day of the festival was still more than four months away, so I would have to do the best I could, or painstakingly wait to cross over to the other side and hope for the best that the books I just happened to pick out had the solution to my problem.
Arriving at the baths, which were built into a hot spring located in the basement, I stripped off my filthy work clothing and pressed a button in the changing room to trigger a bell for the maids to set out clean clothes. I dipped a toe in to test the temperature - ouch, hot - before easing into the water. From the bath, I could see the sky outside through a one-way mirror built into the mountainside.
The view of the blue sky was dotted with the steam-powered gliding aircraft used for travel between Redjuve and the mainland and cut cleanly down the middle by the wide and tall clock tower that sat in the center of the city - the Clockwork Palace. Home to the Mechanics’ Guild, it was the pride of Redjuve where geniuses invented and innovated and sheets of steel were reshaped and sprung to life.
If I were a commoner, would I be in there with them, tightening screws and connecting wires to my heart’s desire?
A wistful thought, but one that disappeared fast like the steam that breathed life into the machinery around me. From the changing room behind me, I could hear the muffled voices of the maids.
“Ahhh… the young master’s clothing is covered in soot again. How many times does this make it anyways? Just how does his clothing end up like this, when he’s supposed to be studying?” groaned Elizabeth, the youngest of the maids.
“Elizabeth, the young master can probably hear you from here,” replied Olivia, the most sisterly of the maids.
With a nervous yelp from Elizabeth, they left the changing room, and I was left alone to my thoughts again.
Studying, huh? But there isn’t anything for me to learn anymore. Math, the sciences, the languages - I’ve already learned all I need… except politics and economics.
As soon as I discovered my inclination for mechanical engineering, my tutor and father both agreed to put my studies on hold to let me explore my interests. So, the studies necessary to govern the realm remained unstudied to me.
As if it mattered. My old man is still young, there’s plenty of time before I have to learn these things.
Having soaked long enough for my skin to begin to wrinkle, I got out of the warm bath, slung a towel over my shoulder, and shot a glance out the window one last time. The clock on the wall of the Clockwork Palace read 6:49 - I still had some time before supper.
As always, no words were exchanged in the dining room. The only sounds to echo through the unreasonably large and empty space were the clinking of the cutlery and the noise of chewing. This ever-present silence existed not because there were any ill feelings between Mother, Father, and I, but because there was nothing to discuss at the table.
Their business was their business, and my business was my business. If I ever needed to talk to them about anything, which was rare, I would relay them a message through the steam-mail system. They were rarely in the castle during the day, since Father spent a lot of time traveling the world to secure trade agreements personally, and Mother was a socialite, spending much of her time with the ladies of the nobility at their residences around the island.
If Fior and Vell were here…
Tonight’s main dish was broiled flounder; Fior seemed to not eat seafood often, so he would be thrown for a loop. In fact, when he first tried takoyaki two years ago, he had spit out the chunks of octopus with a look of alarm on his face. It took me several minutes to convince him that they were perfectly fine to eat, much to my amusement.
On the other hand, Vell loved to eat custard pudding, a sweet from Japan that was completely unfamiliar to the three of us. Intrigued by the dessert, I had copied down the recipe at a nearby library and handed it to the maids, saying that I had found it in a historical cookbook in the royal archives. Delighted with the result, they began serving it regularly at meals.
If Fior and Vell were here, the table would be more lively. I could imagine Fior to my right, his solemn facade broken by the confusion of an unfamiliar fish in front of him. He would poke it cautiously to check if it actually was fish, before resuming the meal with elegant motions. On my left, I could see Vell working her way through the meal rapidly, only to slowly savor the pudding with small spoonfuls, a blissful look displayed on her face with every taste.
A small laugh escaped my lips as I reacted to the figments of my imagination. Before long, the humor of such a situation faded, and I looked back down at my meal which remained unfinished.
But really, if they were here with me… or if I had them for a brother and sister…
If I had a brother or sister… what would I want them to be like?
I could feel that aching, empty loneliness again, a feeling that was very familiar to me. There it was, that urge to cry, appearing at an inconvenient time.
With reckless abandon, I devoured the remaining food with the intent of leaving the dining room as fast as possible. Despite the metallic clang that came with me dropping the fork in my hurry to leave, my parents didn’t look up from their plates.
I dashed down the vacant halls towards my room, tears beginning to streak down my face. It all passed by in a blur - opening the door, sliding the nightstand aside to flip the switch behind it, going through the hatch to the hangar - and there it was.
The Vassar. My Vassar.
In the unlit hangar, its cold, inanimate steel body towered over me, but at that moment I could feel it soothe my loneliness with its warm familiarity. I tenderly touched its armor and traced my finger along the grills of its heat reduction vents.