“It’s a puppet game,” Joseph said, “and I think Shkein’s the puppet master.”
“You’re absolutely right,” the aviator said, “though nobody is brave enough to rise against him. Everybody fears him. His guards are patrolling the streets like dark sentinels, creating more damage than good. Last night, an entire ship full of slaves, slaves, came in; issued by Shkein.”
Aimee gasped in horror.
“I strongly advise you to unload your Dust and take it home to store it,” the aviator gave his last piece of advice to his old friend. “There is nothing for you here anymore. The Dust merchants were wiped off by Shkein during the week, forcing them to leave the Trade. Only his men are allowed to sell Dust. It will do you good to stay out of his way. He seldom takes a moment to look behind him and witness the disaster he has created. ”
Joseph weighed his words, and then nodded. “Very well, we’ll unload and leave the Dust for our purposes. However, we will still go into the ground to witness by ourselves the things you’re talking about. Thank you eternally.” The aviator nodded and turned to assist another aviator.
“Slaves?” Aimee voiced fearfully, “He actually has the nerves to purchase slaves as if they’re property instead of human beings with thoughts and feelings? Why doesn’t anybody do anything?”
“Because they’re afraid,” Joseph said, helping Daniel unload, “just like you and me.”
“That is still not fair,” Daniel said, “I will beat his sentinels if I see them commit injustices.”
“Don’t lose your head, Daniel,” warned Joseph, “we’re here as common customers and visitors, not to cause any more havoc than it is needed. We’ll just walk around and maybe talk to Lynder, but that’s it.” He made his children promise, and they did. By the time the sun was now shining through the clouds, they had set foot on the grounds.
It was much more than what the aviator had described. It was famine. Most of the shops and stands were shut down or break into pieces, the merchants and traders cowered in their tent whenever they saw a sentinel walk by or as much as look at them. It was pure fear and silenced hatred that permeated the air of the Trade. The bustling noise and crowd once so common was gone, replaced by grieved echoes whispering in the bottom of nothingness. Several automata were destroyed to pieces on the sidewalks or littering the clockwork stands. The clockwork scavengers had benefited from their destruction; they now had parts to sell. After walking the well-known clockwork and cogs promenade, they reached the little book store.
“Go inside, father,” Daniel said, “Aimee and I are going to wait outside. We’re fed up with hearing those stories.” Joseph nodded and told them to stay together, that he would be out very soon.
Daniel gazed upon the few stands and beyond them, where the Dust ground was located. Aimee noticed that and asked curiously, “what is your plan Daniel? Why did you want dad to go in there alone?”
“Come here,” he gestured at her to follow him, “I was planning to wander around the grounds of the Trade, but dad would never allow that. Now that he is busy talking with Lynder, we have a chance to look around before he comes out. Oh, don’t give me that glare Aimee. I know you want to explore around as much as I want to, we will be back before dad even knows we were out.”
“Fine,” Aimee sighed and followed him. Everywhere smelled of misery and scorn, beggars lined the streets, something she had not seen during her first visit. The sights were devastating to look at; the kids were not running around and laughing, but instead were just standing there, afraid to incur the wrath of a sentinel. They were approaching the Dust Market area, when a tremor shook the earth beneath them. The people nearby scrambled out of the way in fear.
“What was that?” Daniel asked, as the tremor continued and escalated in strength.
“I don’t know, but it seems to approach us…” Aimee said, as she fixed her eyes on the fine horizon. Clouds of dust were heaved, larger and larger as it was coming nearer to them.
“RUN! Get out of the way kids!” a merchant hollered at them from atop a building, waving his hands madly above his head and pointing in the direction of the dust clouds, “the sentinels are chasing the automata, you’re going to be crushed!”
Daniel and Aimee exchanged glances, and then it was clear. The sound of bullets zinging in the air and crashing with metal and brick was haunting, the sound of metal clashing and colliding with one another as the automata fell was shocking and disturbing. The streets adjacent to them were empty; everyone was hiding as best as they could. The chaos was getting closer to them; they ran.
“Where to Daniel?” Aimee screamed in order to be heard over the racket. They wouldn’t make it back to Lynder’s shop, which they had left several minutes behind.
“Who cares where!” Daniel shouted back, “Just keep yourself alive. We have to stick together, but in case we separate, just go back to the Chaser,I’ll meet you there!”
Aimee nodded, the chase was getting closer to them. She spotted an alley to her right and shouted at Daniel to follow her; she jumped in the alley and pressed her back against the cool, rough wall. She was gasping for breath and look around her, Daniel was not with her. She looked around in panic.