STEAMBOT CHRONICLES

A little later than I had anticipated, got heavily into finishing my copy of Fallout: New Vegas (great game, but damn if the freeze ups don't get aggravating), and then I caught a little cold a while ago and couldn't really focus on much. Hopefully though, this chapter and the ones after will be more filling compared to the previous two. Things should be getting really interesting soon, as a lot of new events will start happening.

Chapter 18 ~ Bad Moon Rising

A week had passed since Fennel's new band made their debut, and became a huge success. Vanilla, who was there at their first concert, was understandably perplexed, having witness Fennel's "talent" for singing first hand.

"He's always been sort of "tone deaf"." Savory had explained with a light chuckle, "Rosemary tried to help him improve, guess it didn't stick." She added, mentioning the old days when Connie's mother helped instruct the band. Still, everyone was pleased that Fennel was finding success with his band.

But the questionable singing talent of the former Globetrotter was the least of Vanilla's concerns right now. Pablo, who had come under fire after accusations of plagiarism, had just been let go from the Garland University a few days ago, and then promptly vanished. No one had a clue about his whereabouts, not even Theodore, the man who had helped him get the teaching position in the first place. Ever since, Vanilla had been spending nearly every waking moment combing the streets of Happy Garland, looking for any signs of the wayward artist.

Since morning, Vanilla had exhausted every possible lead he could come up. First he tried the park where they had met, but it was empty. Next, he inquired at the train station, in the likelihood that Pablo had left town. Again, no such luck. Finally, Vanilla tried going door to door, hoping that maybe someone might have seen Pablo. It was a frustrating failure, most people having nothing useful to say, and others just closing the door in complete disinterest.

Needless to say, Vanilla was feeling at his wits end, and with good reason. A recent article in the Urban Times had mentioned more kidnappings taking place at night, and the possibilities sent a nervous chill down the youth's spine as he feared the worst.

As the town clock chimed for 6 O'clock, Vanilla gave a disheartened sigh as he decided to call it a day. But just as he passed the GW factory area, he caught sight of a figure stumbling past the auto shop. Cautiously, he followed the figure as they collapsed against a pile of rubbish. To his consternation, it was Pablo, nestling against a pile a of discarded cords and other broken devices, shivering and looking far more ragged than the last time they had met.

"Pablo?! It is you!" Vanilla was beyond relieved, despite the fretful sight of his friend.

"I s-swear I didn't do anything wrong!" The artist flinched as he heard Vanilla's voice, having been oblivious to the young man's presence until just now. He was clutching a tattered looking coat closely to himself, as well a a tightly wrapped bundle, likely his painting materials. Finally, he looked up and finally noticed the person addressing him, "Vanilla?" A horse voice croaked.

"Pablo, what are you doing out here?" Vanilla asked, shaking his head.

The young artist held his head as though reliving a trauma, "I just couldn't handle it... all the questions... all the accusatory looks. I tried to tell them I never copied anybody's works... but they..." he stopped as a racking cough overtook, making Vanilla react with greater concern than ever. "Are you alright? Do you need a doctor?"

"No... no, I'm fine. I... just need to go home." Vanilla frowned, but didn't wish to argue. "Ok then, what's your address? I'll give you a lift." But Pablo shook his head as forced himself to stand up, kicking away some cords that hand tangled around his legs.

"No, I need to go home. Back on Shrike river." He said, covering his mouth as another cough reverberated in his throat. Vanilla nodded, and led Pablo to the Earl Grey II parked near the inn. Once both were settled in, they left for the Northeast exit.

Though no development had taken place outside the fortified walls, powered lights shone brightly outside the exit. Ahead was a wide path of gravel and dirt that curved a few yards ahead sharply to the left, beside it was the stream that fed into the city beyond the walls.

Pablo took several breaths to compose himself before speaking, "My house is just a little ways ahead, around the corner, on a small hill near the shallow part of the stream." He gave the directions, and Vanilla followed them. Sure enough, the blonde could see the gentle glow of a small house opposite of the clearing they were passing through. It was nestled nicely atop a hill that overlooked the riverbank, and looked like a small farm of sorts. Crossing the shallow waters, Vanilla trekked up the hill and parked by a lone tree that stood beside a shed next to the house.

It was a humble looking home, not unlike the dwellings in Meme Village, and gave Vanilla a pleasant feeling of familiarity. Did he have a home like this?

"Who's there? If it's one of you punks, I've told you before, we've got nothing of value here!" A gruff voice called, and the door opened, spilling light across the ever darkening surroundings. An older man with a barrel shaped body in a ragged straw hat and worn overalls stood in the threshold, puffing out his chest as best as he could to intimidating. But upon noticing Pablo and Vanilla, he relaxed. And his expression shifted from surprise, confusion, before finally settling on a soft smile.

"Welcome home, Pablo. My son."

~I~

"And so they took away your job? That's just awful!" Pablo's mother, a middle aged woman with graying brown hair and a light blue dress said as she refilled cups of tea for everyone in the small dwelling. Pablo, who had just relayed his life's current events to his parents, nodded quietly. "Still, I'm proud that you were able to gain such a position, sweetheart. I always knew your works were deserving of such recognition."

"Thanks... mom." Pablo replied softly, staring into the cup. The woman smiled, understanding the wave of emotions her son was struggling under. "Cheer up, I'm sure once those people in the city realize their error, they'll be begging you to come back." She placed a reassuring hand on the young artist's shoulder, who grinned slightly.

Pablo's father turned to Vanilla, who had remained quiet as the family reunited over the last several moments. "It was nice of you to bring our boy back, even in his current state." Vanilla shrugged, "It was nothing. I was just helping a friend in need." He smiled.

"Still, it really means a lot to see our son after so long." Pablo's mother chimed in. "To know he's still chasing his dream makes us proud."

"Well, I'm glad to have helped then." Vanilla chuckled, scratching his head as he accepted the praise. He then sat up, realizing that it was now probably well into the evening, and that he had to go.

"Ah, leaving already?" Pablo's mother asked.

Vanilla beamed, "Yes, I need to get back to town. I'm sure my friends are probably wondering what I've been up to." He turned to Pablo. "Take care, Pablo. I hope you feel better soon." And with that, he left for the door.

"Thank you again... Vanilla."

The young trotmobile ride nodded, "No problem. I mean, what are friends for?" With that, Vanilla departed.

"At least one thing is for sure." Pablo's father said aloud, "You've made a true friend." He looked to his son, who rose from the table and picked up the bundle containing his painting tools.

"Looks like you've got your inspiration back."

"It was never lost." Pablo smiled, more genuinely than before. "It just took its time to come to me." He said as he set up the easel and a blank canvas. Pausing for a moment, he then silenced a small cough.

~II~

Later that weekend, on a breezy saturday afternoon, Vanilla and the others were on a ferry to Meme Village to attend the ceremony commemorating the first stage of the new railroad's completion. According to statements from the railroad commission in the newspaper, there were plans to build a line past the village, through the area near Marlet falls, and back to Happy Garland, creating a new line to Nefroburg, and effectively increasing transportation rates. Of course, Vanilla didn't care for that stuff, he was just eager for the unveiling ceremony which was to take place this afternoon.

Mayor Marlow had contacted Marjoram and requested that the rest of the band attend and perform a special concert for the celebration in the evening. Connie was quite excited, as she had just completed the newest song for the group, and was quite avid to perform it, as were the others.

As they arrived, they could see a large crowd of the villagers standing beside the recently constructed station. It was a small structure, with a concrete terminal for boarding the train, which at the present time would only be able to stop at the village, and be towed back to Nefroburg via another Engine.

However, there appeared to signs of restlessness within the gathered crowd, with Mayor Marlow in the thick of it. As the band disembarked from the ferry and unloaded their gear, they soon overheard the distress. There were voices of concern about the railroad's continued plans, and others about the possibility of the station expanding in the future to become a functioning hub.

"What if they try to take more of our homes?"

"Damn it, Marlow. You said the station would be a small one. This is hardly small."

"I just know some fatcat city slicker is gonna come waltzing in and start building his mansions or whatever they're called here!"

Mayor Marlow wiped some sweat from his brow and took a calming breath, "Now now, everyone please listen. I understand your distress, but there is nothing to fear. I've been clear with the folk who own the railroad, and they've agreed to keep their tracks from interfering with our farms. All they wish to do is push through the area southeast of us and connect back to that Happy Garlic town or whatever they call it."

"Is something wrong?" Connie asked as she and the others approached.

"It's nothing, just some lingering issues." Marlow sighed heavily, "I knew this decision wouldn't pass without some distress. But I stand by my notion that this will help us keep trade flow from being interrupted ever again."

"And I hope you're right, Marlow." A man with a bowler hat, Gable said, carrying a suitcase and accompanied by a small boy in a slightly oversized coat.

"Are you sure you won't stay Gable? I'm sorry that your house had to be removed for the track to come through." The mayor turned and walked over to the man, whose expression betrayed neither disapproval or any negativity.

"There was no way to predict that. But yes, I'm sure, old friend. We're heading for Eurydika, at least there I'm sure we can have a peaceful life, without having to worry about the "modern" world knocking on our doorstep. Well... at least for a while." Gable reflected, quietly, then turned to his son. "We're going now, son." And without another word, the man and his son left, boarding the ferry. Soon after, the vessel departed from the docks and made its way back for the mainland, the village quietly watching.

"I'm sorry you had to see that. Though, I do understand Gable's concerns. As well as everyone else." Marlow spoke aloud, to everyone. "It does seem like small communities like ours are becoming a rarity in this "new" world, but know that I only did this for the betterment of our village. I hope you all believe me when I say that."

For a while, no one questioned him, instead only watching in silence. A while later, after people began to greet their guests, the Garland Globetrotters, did the atmosphere warm up once more. At around 2PM, the gathering relocated to the edge of the station, where a ribbon was hung ceremoniously over the buffer stop. Signaling for silence, the Mayor cleared his throat and began to speak.

"People of Meme village, I proudly welcome you to the unveiling of our newest addition. For the first time ever, we have taken a small, but significant step towards the future. This railroad, is not to be seen as sign of our humble little hamlet coming to an end, but a marker that we acknowledge the rest of the outside world, and a means of furthering relations with it. This track shall allow us to continue selling our wares and goods, whilst maintaining our individuality as a small community." Marlow spoke with great compassion, his heart sincere. "And now, I shall cut the ribbon!" And with that, he took a pair of scissors, and sliced the decorative ribbon, the action drawing a roar of applause from the crowd, and the flash of cameras. It seemed that the air of discontent had been lifted.

Like some cruelly timed prank, a massive boulder came tumbling down from the high cliffs, crashing heavily on the tracks not far from where the ceremony was taking place, along with a violent shift of dirt and gravel from the now crumbling cliff side.

Cries of dismay immediately sprung up from the crowd, while shouts proclaiming it was some kind of divine punishment could be heard. Mayor Marlow stood in shock, shaking his head.

"This can't be happening... Are we cursed to always be cut off from the world?"

But all worry was quickly swept away as Vanilla and Marjoram appeared in their trotmobiles, "It's just a little landslide, probably a result of the hasty digging that was done to get the tracks laid. This shouldn't be too hard to clear up." Marjoram said, then motioned for Vanilla to follow him as they walked along the tracks and began to move the debris.

Luckily Marjoram had his flatbed attached, and soon most of the more obstructive rocks were carried out and deposited in an unused clearing, while smaller ones were allowed to be dumped into the nearby waters. Within a few hours, the tracks were once more clear, and just in time. The bellowing whistle of the first engine could be heard as the train appeared in the distance, entering the newly made track that ran the outer edge of the lake.

"Those machines sure are something, huh?" A voice said.

"If I weren't worried about stepping on the chickens, I sure would love to have one of those trotomobilers." Cheers quickly arose as the tracks were finally cleared in time for the first ever arrival of the train, which whistled as it crossed the fresh new tracks that ran along the edge of the lake and into the village.

Upon arrival, a representative from the railroad commission appeared to speak with Marlow and deliver a small speech, thanking the villagers for agreeing to take part in this new expansion. After answering several concerned questions, the train departed, a second engine arriving to pull it back, to Nefroburg. As the sun began to set, the tension that had lingered was finally dispelled.

Marlow, now looking noticeably more confident after everything was over with, stepped up onto the station platform. "It pleases me to see things have turned out for the better. Despite the disagreements some of us share, I stand by my judgment that this railroad will help bring prosperity to our village." He said with a tug of his collar, then continued, "As a token to commemorate this day, I've requested that the Garland Globetrotters perform right here our humble little village." While he spoke, the band was setting up, Their trotmobiles forming the stage near a stretch of land beside the grazing pasture for the farm animals.

They were just setting up the instruments as the villagers gathered around the stage, marveling at the makeshift stage. Once they were ready, everyone took their places. Connie stepped forth and waved to the crowd, "Thank you, everyone. We're the Garland Globetrotters, and we're honored to be here in your village to perform just for you." And with a snap of her fingers, Connie kicked off their newest song.

Marjoram started with a single, quick tap to one of the cymbals, followed by Connie strumming her guitar and humming.

Ooh yea... Haaa-eeee!

Basil joined in the harmony with his violin, and Savory played a few keys before Connie began to sing.

Pulled down by gravity. The weight of a thousand bricks on your shoulders

As Connie sang and strummed the guitar, Marjoram kept the pace with a steady beat of his drums.

It gnaws right through you, your flesh and bones cannot carry the weight

You can no longer stand it

Basil played a sustained tone, in harmony with Connie's guitar.

Hold onto to something strong

Marjoram's drums let out a quick 1,2,3,4 beat.

Before you're pressed down by a thousand bricks! Every brick's the weight of anxiety! Why don't you shout it out? Shout your organs out!

Savory joined in with the chorus.

Just shout and shout and shout it out!

Vanilla couldn't help but quirk a brow as he heard the main lyrics, but shrugged and played nonetheless, chiming in with quick notes of his harmonica.

You shout it out; Shout your organs out. Just shout and shout. Just shout it out

Why don't you shout it out? Oh, just shout it out. Just shout and shout and shout it out!

Connie then played a solo that went for half a minute before Savory closed off the song with well timed plays of her piano keys. At the conclusion of the song, the villagers erupted into gleeful cheers, mesmerized by the band's talent, and begging for more.

Connie looked to the others with an already knowing look, "Ready for more?" She didn't even need to see their confirming nods as she announced "In your voice."

The concert continued for quite a while as the band performed their remaining songs, even allowing some of the villagers to join in with their own instruments for a few impromptu melodies. Finally, as the night sky twinkled with stars, the concert ended, and the atmosphere was simply electric, the spirit of the village brimming with passion and jubilation. Marlow invited the entire band to a banquet, another part of the celebration for the new railroad. Just as before, Vanilla found himself enjoying the simple, yet lively activities of the village. He had to admit, he wouldn't mind staying in a place like this, someday.

Basil was quickly becoming the life of the festivities, easily impressing people with his trotmobile knowledge.

"You must be some kind of genius!" Several exclaimed, Basil bashfully shrugging the compliments with bravado.

Savory meanwhile was enjoying the idolizing looks of the children, who were clearly enamored by her beauty. Connie and Vanilla both laughed as they saw boys and girls alike asking Savory if she were some kind of angel. And Marjoram was enjoying several drinks, and swapping stories with many of the farmers, mainly about his own large family.

They laughed, they sang, they danced. They had a great night.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Really don't know why I'm not quite at my full game sometimes when I write some of the more recent chapters. But, I think that if just press on a little, I'll get back my mojo. I admit I couldn't really think of much to have happen to really stretch out the chapter, though perhaps once I'm ready to do some touch ups and revisions, maybe I can extend some scenes better, possibly with Pablo. Of Course, I was trying to avoid too much tension, since originally Pablo is found totally by random once he's lost his job, rather than any actual time limit to discover his whereabouts. Anyway, things should pick up a little in the next chapter, as we're nearing a big tournament, and of course hearing more about the Bloody Mantis. So please, stay tuned. And thanks to those still hanging in there. ^_^