Rufus Saevenok had not wasted any time in moving Elektra, Tarasios, and their assistants out of Mykon. He had sent them aboard his airship as soon as the Archmagi had demanded his presence and told the captain to stay outside of the city's network of watchers. They might have been too far away for the watchers to spot them, but they were close enough that one of the city's own military airships might stumble across the unarmed yacht and wonder why an unauthorized aircraft was hiding in the countryside outside the city. There was a palpable relief of tension among both the Dorians and the Saevenoks when Rufus returned and told them to head for the coast.
The roar of the engines faded to dull buzz after a moment as the aerodynamic shape of the airship took up part of their burden. Without the earlier tension, Elektra finally gave in to the urge to explore the ship. The ship itself was a more advanced piece of engineering than she had ever seen in Dorian airships, and it was impossible not to be impressed. On the lowest desk, wedged between the engine room and the forward cargo hold was a cabin simply labeled 'observation deck'. Elektra entered, curious for a look at the Dorian countryside. She had never been more than a few miles from the city, and she had never seen anything from the air.
She staggered back, feeling a vertiginous rush. The cabin had absolutely no floor. As soon as she reoriented herself she realized that it was an illusion, either some kind of thaumaturgical projection or a deck of very fine glassteel. That knowledge did little to alleviate the nausea it inspired. She heard twin peals of laughter from inside the cabin and realized it wasn't quite empty. Rufus' two bodyguards were seated at a table against the far bulkhead, hunched over what looked to be a scale model of a city.
"It can be a little shocking the first time you see it," the woman said. She smirked. "You should have seen Andrew the first time he opened that door."
"I was just a little surprised," Andrew said. "Silvia doesn't handle airships well herself."
"Better than I used to."
Elektra stepped inside the cabin again and eyed the twins curiously; they had the pale skin of the barbaric tribes of northern Lossova, but they seemed less barbaric than eccentric, and they knew Doric, which spoke well of whatever education they might have received. Elektra got a better look at them than she had earlier in the day. They were almost startling identical in appearance, despite the sex difference. They were both the same height, an inch or two shorter than Elektra, and both wore their hair and clothes the same way, with only the slightest concessions for physical differences. And both had identical revolvers and short-bladed swords on their belts. This close it was obvious that neither the twins nor their weapons were mundane. Elektra briefly wondered where Rufus Saevenok had acquired augmented bodyguards. Those sorts of enchantments were difficult to safely work on after birth, even with the aid of a master biosculptor.
"Excuse me," Andrew said, standing. "We've been rather impolite. I'm Lieutenant Andrew Errynt, this is my sister, Lieutenant Silvia Errynt." He extended a hand.
Elektra looked at it uncertainly. Did he want her to spit in it or something? She had heard stories about bizarre greeting rituals used in more barbaric nations that ranged from quaint to disgusting, but she had always dismissed them as ridiculous exaggeration. Now she wondered; after all, she had never made even a cursory study of foreign cultures.
Andrew smirked at her confusion. He withdrew the hand and leaned in close. "Wisdom for the future: you're supposed to shake it," he whispered in hear ear. "You'll have to forgive me," he said normally, straightening. "I'm afraid I haven't studied Dorian culture much, so I don't know what the proper greeting is."
Her look of confusion must have shown, because Silvia spoke up. "He's referring to your position in Mykon's aristocracy. Specifically, how to address you."
"That's not necessary," Elektra said. So far they seemed likeable enough, and she doubted they or anyone else aboard would be impressed by her rank within Mykon's aristocracy. The twins both looked mildly surprised but said nothing.
"Aren't the two of you supposed to be protecting Mr. Saevenok?"
"Not right now," Silvia said. "We only protect him from threats on the ground. Up here it's the problem of the security detail of the pilot. If he does something stupid and gets himself killed right now it's not our problem."
Elektra stared at the Dorian landscape racing by below thousands of feet below them and realized for the first time just how fast they were going. She felt a fresh wave of nausea coming on.
"You shouldn't do that when we're moving this fast," Silvia said. "You already look ill."
"This is the first time I've ever really been out of Mykon," Elektra said. "This is all a little disorienting. Especially since I've probably become a political enemy of the Archmagi."
"And it will probably get worse," Andrew said.
Silvia nodded in agreement. "Rufus loves to ruffle politician's feathers."
"Why is he doing this?" Elektra asked. "Getting involved in Dorian politics."
"God and the saints only know," Andrew said. "Because he thought it would be amusing, most likely."
The picture the twins were painting of Rufus Saevnok's motivations was unflattering. They made him sound more like a child, destroying things for amusement, rather than the calculating head of a global business empire. She tried to reconcile the two images, but couldn't. But whatever his real motivations were, Elektra had no doubt that they were not altruistic.
Another, more practical thought suddenly occurred to her. "Why is he coming here to do this? If this airship is anything to go by, his engineers are far superior to anything the Dorians have to offer." It was a humbling thought; especially considering how forcefully Dorian superiority had been impressed upon her as a child. She had always been skeptical of those claims, but it was shocking to be confronted with clear evidence of it. It made her feel even more pathetic.
"Not precisely sure." Andrew shrugged. "Probably because no one but your father has done much research into building large aerial structures."
"That's only part of it," Silvia added. "Rufus has had his eyes set on putting something into space in the next few decades, and Doria is a better location for a space facility than the alternatives. Tyrre and Altar already have put things into orbit, and Rufus wants to upstage them by putting something permanent into orbit. I think he sees your father's work as a stepping stone to that."
"A space program?" Elektra contemplated pursuing the line of inquiry further, but was interrupted by the rather sudden descent that the airship made. She would have fallen if not for Silvia bolting to her feet and catching her.
"Take a seat," Andrew suggested, grabbing onto an overhead bar. "Silvia and I have a bit more experience standing during a descent, and it can get rough."
It took several more minutes for the airship to come to a stop, and Elektra felt too queasy to speak in the intervening time. The engines finally died and the twins relaxed, releasing the bars they had used to steady themselves. Andrew helped her from the airship, and Elektra told herself firmly that air travel was something to be avoided in the future.
The airship had landed outside a small town that did not look to be of Dorian construction. The construction looked rough, and the new buildings being erected by teams of constructs and laborers looked similar. Three more airships, all much larger than the air yacht, stood beyond with ramps leading out from their sides.
"What is all this?" she wondered aloud.
"This is the beginning of a new factory town," Rufus said, stepping down behind her. "After all, I couldn't work out of a Dorian city, so I'm building my own. They started the day before I arrived."
"You built a town over night?" Elektra eyed the town again. It wasn't polished, but it had to have taken several days at least, judging from the size of the construction crews.
"Still building, by dear, and we're still in the earliest stage. The streets aren't even paved yet. Modular construction won't be sufficient for most of the necessary factories, and we still need to build the assembly facility as well. My construction chief tells me that we won't have even basic functionality for six months. That should give you the engineers and thaumaturges plenty of time to handle the technical difficulties of this project." He gestured for her to get into the front most steamcar of a caravan that had issued from the makeshift town. He climbed in after her, followed by the twins.
"Technical issues?" Elektra asked.
"You're not an engineer, I take it?" Elektra shook her head. "Even assuming that your father's research is flawless and requires no further effort, there is still the not insignificant matter of actually doing. I think you'll find that implementing theory is harder than you think. Nevertheless, I am confident that my engineers and your thaumaturges can overcome any obstacles."
Elektra thought it over for several moments. She had never considered the potential difficulties of mass-scaled artificing. That lay outside of her specialty, and it was unlikely that she was going to contribute much in the way of technical expertise to the project. That was an unpleasant thought. If that was the case then she would find some other way to be useful.
"Silvia and Andrew told me that all this is just the first part of your plans for a space program." Elektra said.
"Did they?" Rufus frowned at the twins, but Silvia rolled her eyes and Andrew made a V-shaped gesture. Their indifference to their employer's ire surprised, Elektra, but seemed to concern Rufus less. He turned back to her. "That is part of it, certainly, but not all."
"Because it will bother the Dorian city governments. Doria is a slightly superior location, but not enough to merit getting involved here on its own. The opportunity to harass city leaders is an important part of it. I've never much liked petty tyrants, and Dorian leaders are the same as most other places. They just wear an academic's robe instead of a military uniform."
"You're doing this out of spite?" Elektra said, incredulous.
Rufus looked offended. "Nothing so petty as that. I consider it a service to mankind to undermine leaders like the ones here in Doria. And as I said, the location and the space program were a major part of it as well. Probably the larger part. Does that satisfy you?"
Elektra nodded. Rufus Saevenok obviously intended to meddle in the politics of not only Mykon, but other Dorian cities as well. She didn't care for their leaders—she wholeheartedly agreed with his evaluation of them—but she questioned the wisdom of provoking so many enemies. The Saevenoks were wealthy and powerful enough to flout the authority of one city, certainly, but surely even they could not confront all of Doria without crippling themselves financially. Rufus struck her as a businessman first and an adventurer second. Still, her mind reeled with the possibilities. Her mouth curled into a smirk. Merely by being present, Rufus Saevnok might break the power of the magi that ruled Doria. Being humiliated in a confrontation with a foreign power—and a business, not even another state—would surely force some kind of reform. The greatest of her doubts about Rufus Saevenok washed away. What he intended didn't really matter. She laughed.
The other occupants of the steamcar gave her odd looks. "Is there something amusing, Miss Argyros?" Rufus asked.
"Nothing. I'm merely excited to see work being on my father's project after so many years."