A steampunk story set in a poisonous world where huge trucks the size of ships plow across the treacherous sands. The begining of the american edition and some amazing illustrations by Franco Brambilla…
Lifting his cap a fraction, the Sandguard ran his fingers over his smooth head. The long blades of the wipers swung slowly back and forth across the windows of the bridge, feeding the vetrogel screen a mixture of alcalines and mineral salts. The first day of the fourth month of the voyage was a cloudy Wednesday which promised rain before nightfall. There had been trouble the previous night and the one before that. The sudden loss of engine power had caused some minor problems steering the ship. But these had been serious enough to set off alarms and to put the crew on edge.
For over six weeks all they had seen were sand dunes and sun-scorched terrain. An interminable sea of yellow interrupted now and again by vast balls of tumbleweed sweeping across the surface. These huge prickly spheres were sometimes used by the Ghmor – the nomads of the wind – to cross the vast expanses of the subtropical region of World-9 where they lived. They scooped out a chamber inside them to keep themselves safe from the thorns.
The wipers slid silently back into position leaving the vetrogel to finish drinking. Everything on board the Robredo had been designed for survival at extreme conditions and in the harshest of climates. Garrasco D. Bray had served as Sandguard on four other cargo ships, but none of these could compare to this marvel of engineering: thirty-six wheels – each one well over fifteen feet in diameter – capable of shifting over 25,200 tons; eight boilers, each one capable of producing 45,000 horse power of steam; 73 crew members; six separate carriages, which meant more sets of tires for each section. This masterpiece of metal and vetrogel was able to glide almost effortlessly across the harshest of terrains thanks to these six carriages. Each one contained a further jewel, namely six pneumoarcs. Just one of these was worth as much as the whole of the rest of the ship.
If the Robredo were destroyed, shipwrecked in the subpolar sands or shattered by electrical storms in the region of the great lakes, the pneumoarcs were programmed to detach themselves from the rest of the ship. Completely independently they would be able to reach the nearest metroport, where they would be loaded onto the first compatible cargo ship. There wasn’t a shipping company in the universe which wouldn’t be willing to invest eye-watering sums of money kitting out an army of technicians to install the pneumoarcs onto their own crafts.
In all his years of service, Garrasco had never seen more than one pair of pneumoarcs. And never one of this latest generation which they had on board the Robredo.
The second-in-command, Victor Galindez, turned the steering slightly to the left. With a screeching of sheet metal, the Robredo began to turn. The noise got louder until it became a deafening wail of metal against metal. The captain increased the angle of the steering wheel, pressing his feet hard against the ruggedized floor. To avoid the Robredo getting stuck before it had begun to take the bend, its speed shouldn’t fall by more than a couple of miles an hour. Garrasco kept his eye closely on the instuments on the control panel. “You are at the minimum, Victor.” He turned towards the porthole on his left and taking a deep breath he pressed his head against the vetrogel. It stuck to his face as he stretched out to take a look around. Holding his breath beneath the clear membrane, he looked towards the stern. Then he pulled himself back in, gasped and waited for his breathing to return to normal. “You’ve done it, now keep her nice and steady.”
Very slowly, about 60 feet behind him, the convoy started to ease itself into the bend. A clear sign that with the help of the pneumoarcs, the prow of the Robredo was forcing the rest of the ship to follow its lead. On the bridge, the screech of metal surfaces rubbing against each other had become deafening. Garrasco stuck his head back into the vetrogel and leaned out for another look outside. Refreshed from its recent meal, the thin membrane stuck tightly to his nose and mouth. After another long spell without breathing, Garrasco pulled his head back inside the ship and rubbed his cheeks. He placed the headphones over his ears. In front of him, Victor had moved slightly to the right using his body as a lever to increase the degree of angle to turn the ship to the left. Garrasco removed another set of headphones from the bulkhead and placed them over the other man’s ears. Turning round, the second-in-command, Victor Galindez, thanked him with a nod of his head.
A series of jolts reverberated under the floor and sent Garrasco flying against the starboard side. Even with the headphones, the din caused by the clashing of metal surfaces as they adjusted themselves to the change of direction, made their ears feel as though they were being attacked by a swarm of red-hot needles. The bridge reared up – once, twice – and then it began jolting up and down frantically as though struck by a sudden surge of power flowing just under the floor.
“What was that?” Victor asked. He had fallen among the levers and gear sticks that separated the commander’s chair from that of the navigator. An overwhelming wave of panic was spreading in his mind.
The bridge had fallen silent. All the LEDS on the control panel were on, but the lights were becoming faint.
(Translation by Caroline Smart, Illustrations by Franco Brambilla)
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