Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 1.



Gauntlet

Episode 1 – The Thunder Rail Titan Train

The World of Newport was about as hard a place as they come. From the very moment the first explorers arrived to investigate the freshly discovered world they found awaiting them an unforgiving landscape. While it was rich with valuable minerals and natural resources it was quickly proven to be just as reluctant to yield them to just anyone. Vast mountain ranges of ageless stone rippled throughout the endless sweeping lands. Only the occasional scattered seas of sweeping dust or cracked and crag-riddled bordering badlands offered any variety of view.

Travel across Newport was immediately the first major concern among the initial colonists as they found traversing its expansive environment difficult to say the least. The very rocky and mountainous terrain that promised a wealth of riches also came to be synonymous with the cursed claim; “foolish to fly.”  Its skies were soon declared to be suicidal to fly due to unpredictably violent storms and an unreliable impact the dense terrain could have on an aircraft's guidance systems.

At first early settlers and pioneers alike were forced to be content with a crawling pace as they struggled to navigate their way around the treacherous terrain. Small sparsely populated outposts gradually began to form, each one dependent on the delicate chain that tethered it to the next to ensure its survival. Over time minerals and other valuables began to flow to make their way back in a tedious trickle that frustrated the appetite of everyone longing for its riches.

And then there came the Thunder Rail and the salvation of the Titan Train. With funding from the New Republic itself a small local industrial businessman promised to ensure a steady stream of harvested riches. Riding along arcing currents of raw power that roared through the aptly named rails the Titan Trains proved themselves in short order. Little more than enormous engines that acted as potent power plants the Titan Trains carried with them massive loads of people and provisions alike. New faces flocked to Newport in surges to seek their fortune, the chance at a new life or simply the challenge of exploring its environment. All thanks to the single simple solution that the Thunder Rail provided.

Even now as Marshall Lawson looked out his window to survey the brutally beautiful landscape he felt a sort of awe at the accomplishments made here on Newport. It wasn’t even midday yet and already the bright sun had risen to ride high in the sky to cast the passing peaks in its bright beams. Cascades of color shimmered in sunlight that was at once marvelous as they were menacing. As gorgeous as the growing ground was you couldn’t help but look on at it and be reminded of how defiant it was to those who sought to dominate it.

And yet, here he was riding along in a mighty machine that cut across the distance to connect what once had been thought impossible. Marshall reflexively reached up to brush aside a few falling strands of amber from his forehead before replacing his hat. It was an old habit he had never been able to shake even as he often recalled when his hair wasn’t even long enough to require it. Everybody has their habits he could easily admit, without such traits people would be rather dull by all accounts.

Even for such an expeditious mode of transit as the Titan Train was it was still a rear-tiring experience in his opinion. But then as far as backsides go, Marshall had never been blessed with a well-padded one. The notion prompted him to once more reposition himself as it crossed his mind to irritatingly remind him. If he had to remain planted in one of these seats much longer he feared the threatening tingle in his toes would spread to lay siege to his lower limbs. He would much prefer to be up and moving but according to his fellow passengers who were more familiar with the trip he had been advised it more prudent to stay setting until they stopped.

Desperate to take his mind off his numbing nether Marshall returned his gaze to the passing scenery. Eyes of warm walnut washed over the swiftly sweeping skyline and scanned about as he tried to lose himself in the landscape again. But a peculiar passing presence was caught in his peripheral vision that teased his eye to turn it towards the train’s rear. Marshall had to shield his eyes from the sun at first before he could make out just what it was that seemed to be approaching the rear of the robust rail rider.

By his estimation it looked to be some manner of squat and crude roller driven transport since it looked to be leaving a growing cloud of dust in its wake. But for what reason would anyone dare to try to chase a Titan Train in something of that sort? Before he could puzzle over the possible answer a fellow passenger took interest in his examination and promptly provided an explanation.

“Don’t tell me you bought your ticket without being told what to expect,” a particularly toothless old miner mentioned. “Just prior to reaching town train’s always have to start to slow. And about as regular you get some of the lawless locals who take the opportunity to try and thieve what treasures as they can.” While Marshall watched on he noticed true enough a slowing pace to their speed that was quickly matched by their pursuing pirates.

“Just keep your nose down lad, and mind what they strutting say,” the elderly excavator advised. “They just pick over what easy coin they can and then soon enough we’ll find ourselves finishing our journey.” A thousand and one questions surged to fill Marshall’s mind about the matter. He couldn’t fathom how anyone could simply accept the fact that as routine as the Titan Train traveled back and forth likewise was it regularly robbed.

“What about the local law,” Marshall asked dryly, his eyes still firmly focused on the vehicle that was now pulling alongside them. “Outside the town’s limits,” the old man explained further. “It’d be suicide for him to try and enforce anything out this far. Right here is what you call a claim-less country. Only thing considered worth protecting is the mines and the miners working them mostly. Those with interests see to it they stay secure but out here in the empty it’s anything goes. So nobody bothers with the in-between, you just learn to look at the lost coin as something like a traveling tax and go on with your day.”

“Please, mister,” a young mother pleaded in the hushed whisper of someone used to talking around little ears. “Nobody wants any trouble, just hand them anything of value they ask for and we’ll all be on our way. Questions and the like will only earn their ire.” Despite all the requests to ignore the matter and respond like the rest of the cattle, Marshall could only feel a repulsive bitter taste rising in the back of his mouth. This was wrong. These people were being preyed upon like sheep and they were just going to allow it.

Suddenly a sharp sound signaled a message from the crew came from overhead to silence everyone. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the emotionless voice began as it greeted their waiting attention. “We ask for your patience and cooperation as some folks are inspecting the train. Kindly comply with their requests and they assure us that once their business is concluded we will be allowed to be safely on our way. Thank you.”

“Unbelievable,” Marshall managed to mutter through tightly gritted teeth under his breath. As he looked around everyone else seemed to regard the news as commonplace as being told to look for the town drunk at the nearest bar. “Trust me,” his aged advisor added with a wink. “Be over before you know it.”