Spatulosoearliest post first | most recent post first
"Who's there?" I called. "Show yourself!"
The ruins of the town were still smoldering. Wisps of smoke drifted in the noonday sun.
"I AM showing myself!" the tiny voice called back. Over here!"
My eyes adjusted and I saw a tiny person no bigger than the head of a shovel, standing next to a bucket, dressed in a tiny uniform and throwing handfuls of sand into the air.
@Soap Lotus and I were squeezed in next to each other, moored in the back yard of the mayor of Paradise.
When they heard there were visitors, the citizens figured it was time for a barbecue picnic. They set it up in the mayor's back yard on account of too many trees in the park for Soapy and I to get in close. Soapy's crew might seem pretty "big city" at first glance, but they were happy to pass out cans of beer and pop. Townsfolk set up the card tables and brought a pot luck and paper plates. And @Carolinaeuphrosyne and her people were happy to meet up with some other folks who weren't the same old cowpokes they'd been walking the desert with.
Paradise was a kind of artist's community nestled here at the foot of the mountains. Real nice town, with a store and a school and lots of funky art studios. A hippie kinda town. Far enough away they could lead their own lives in peace, far from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. And they didn't even know about The Confusion. Yet.
Maybe it would pass 'em by?
"Alright people, and blimps!" There was somebody on the porch making an announcement. "We'd like to thank you all for stopping by our fair town. And now allow me to introduce the mayor of Paradise, @Nim Blanksy!"
I looked over at Carolinaeuphrosyne. She'd dropped her beer and was staring open mouthed at the mayor.
WELCOME TO PARADISE read the weathered sign.
"At least it's not a total ghost town," said Scarred Lil, referring to a group of kids who were parked on their bikes in front of the old grocery store. It's like they were taking our measure, staring us down.
"Any of youse kids knows who calls the shots in this town?" I asked. "We got some primo coconuts we're willing to share with our new friends, if you show us around."
Jimmy the Put Up tossed a couple of coconuts their way. The kids bent down to look at them, seemed satisfied, and put them into the baskets of their bikes.
Then they mounted up and said "C'mon."
Bluefins are designed for high speed travel, and it only took me a few days of endless sagebrush to pick up the trail of the Confusion fleet.
@Soap Lotus had removed my both my blinders, and I'd forgotten what it was like to see without them. Bluefins had always considered the blinders key to their cohesion and perfect efficiency, and it wasn't our job to see the big picture.
But now I could see the big picture again, and it wasn't pretty. The Confusion fleet (and its remaining civilian support armada) had left a trail of empty food wrappers, cardboard packaging, plastic wrapping, and occasional damaged equipment parts, strewn over a wide swath of desert and broken cacti.
Within a few days more was the wreckage of a small town, burned to the ground. Totally deserted.
"Hey! Big guy!" piped a little voice from the ruins. "Give a little guy a lift?"
I have to admit, I was feelin' mighty content. Floating along over the high desert, my brothers at my side, helping good friends on a noble quest. What more could a humble blimp ask for?
After a spell the mountains came into view, and after a little more, a colorful but faded billboard, nestled between the cactus and the rocks. It depicted an idyllic illustrated mountain scene with these words:
COME TO PARADISE!
Free Ice Water
I knew we were gettin' low on drinkin' water as I was feelin' a little light.
Much of our party -- my original cowpoke crew and the anthropologists from the future -- were on foot and horseback, moseying along, so I drifted easily. I turned to take a look at @Auto Slops and his dubious cohorts, and that's when I saw the strange graffiti on the back of the billboard:
That name rang a bell but I couldn't say why. Not at the time. But I do remember thinkin' it looked real artistic. For graffitti, anyway.
As much as I appreciated this family reunion, I had a business to run, and my crew was wondering when exactly we'd get back to running that business.
"So, this Paradise..." I asked @Carolinaeuphrosyne, "It's a... town? Some place with a small but vibrant local economy?"
"I'm afraid we don't know," she answered. "We chose it as the site for the dead-drop because it was a pristine archeological site--meaning we hadn't had a chance to start digging it up--so we don't have any information on what life was like there."
I couldn't help but feel that the details of my profession wouldn't go down well with @Carolinaeuphrosyne. And certainly not @Lasso Pout. And, admittedly, after working in tandem with the Bluefin Boys, I can see how extortion gets a bad name. But speaking for myself, as well as Leroy, Burt, Scarred Lil, Jimmy the Put Up, Little Gnarls, and PJ, we didn't know anything else. Or brother @Auto Slops I'd bet.
"By the way," I asked. "Where did @Auto Slops get off to? I haven't seen him for a few days." There were a few ships in our caravan, but not so many to lose sight of a big Bluefin like him.
"He said he'd scout on up ahead and find a clear path to Paradise."
"Oh," I answered. But couldn't help but feel that big blimp might have had something else in mind.
The open prairie gives a blimp room to think. That's what @Lasso Pout says and it's true.
We've been heading for Paradise -- that's the name of the city where @Carolinaeuphrosyne's time capsule needs to go. And there's been nothing but sage brush and mesas as we've made our way towards it.
Sometimes I look back the way we came and think of the Bluefins. A virtually indestructible airborne intelligent fighting force. The most powerful the world has ever seen. So many good blimps led astray. They were dangerous, sure, but they weren't the brains of the scheme. We were meant to be the most dangerous tool ever created, but we were still just a tool -- in this case, a tool sold to the highest bidder.
That was the source of the trouble. Carolinaeuphrosyne told us herself -- that name was one of the few remaining clues left in the wake of the destruction they wrought.
But history isn't written yet. Not like it is from Carolinaeuphrosyne's point of view. And I was realizing the size of the score I had to settle.
I slipped off behind a mesa and let the rest of the group get a ways ahead before I started doubling back.
"Well, golly Ms. Carolinaeuphrosyne, that's quite a tale," I said.
"Will you cool it with the cowboy talk, Lasso?" said @Soap Lotus. "I mean, we've all changed since we left the nest, but it just sounds put on, if you know what I mean."
I didn't know how to respond.
"Well heck, Mister Crime Lord, if you'll excuse a little cultural sensitivity in getting to know my posse. But we've got a certain way of getting things done out here, on the prairie. And what I hear is that Carolinaeuphrosyne needs a bit of help completing her mission."
"Her mission is complete! She made it here! She saw the Confusion! And you narrowly escaped dying. I think she's seen plenty."
Carolinaeuphrosyne had fallen asleep around the fire, exhausted from her tale.
"I distinctly heard something about a 'time capsule.'" I said. "And I aim to get her there."
The Blueshard Codex was not as complete as we would have liked. Significant portions of many leaves were obscured with coffee stains or another solvent we have not been able to identify, while others were torn or otherwise missing.
However, what remained allowed us to create a limited, one-time use method of transporting a small team physically through time and to this specific period in history -- beginning shortly before we made contact with @Lasso Pout and his outfit of wranglers.
And so we came. While we have no way of returning to our own time, we have made arrangements to gather all the information we can and place it in a "time capsule," which is a dead-drop for the future. We will bury it in a location that was undisturbed since the time of the Confusion -- that is, the apocalypse yet to come -- and hopefully shed light on what really happened during this time for our colleagues in the future.
My only regret is that I see no way we can help prevent what is to come.
I devoted the next five years of my life mastering this new language. It was proof that blimps had not only been once been sentient, living creatures, but that they had incredibly complex social behaviors. And I was only about to begin to learn just how complex.
The original collection of material I'd salvaged from the gigaplex site turned out to be hugely important, as it represented the largest known sample of texts acquired from a single source. Through translation, I learned they were the records and notes of a business or organization known as the Blueshard Shipyard. The records presented a detailed accounting of the activity of the shipyards in the year leading up to be the period in time known as the Confusion. This was also the time the the shipyards were apparently destroyed.
These records are what became known as the Blueshard Codex. They tell the epic tale of the creation of a fleet of mighty warriors, transcendent in their aerodynamics, perfection in their synchronized movements, ruthless in their efficiency, and deadly in their accuracy. Even the codename of this group is redacted from the records themselves, but it is nonetheless a tragic story of how this elite force was created, trained, and ultimately misused -- sold to the highest bidder as a mercenary fleet.
It's hard to underestimate just how much this discovery changed our picture of the past. Talking, singing, poet blimps? Sentient fleets of deadly, warrior blimps? It put the archeological record in a whole new light.
Especially because the Blueshard Codex also contained the instructions for a time machine.