Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Nicolaa de Luera Pastor (OFC), sentient!Atlantis
Summary: Iohannes is twelve when he finds the autobirota.
Series: drabble #1 of ??? in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: This was not a story I intended to write, so blame this on popkin16 She knows what she did. This is set in the 117 AL, which is 22 years before the Exodus, when Iohannes is 12 (and has been a pastor for 7 years) and Nicolaa de Luera is 6 (she won't be pastor for another 8 years). Translations include: autobirota is motorcycle; dulcissima is sweetest; hemiolia is a puddle jumper, and cervida is a deer.
Note Bene: In chronological order, this is the first drabble.
Live in the Raw Wind
An Ancient!John Drabble
"Don't be afraid; people are so afraid; don't be afraid to live in the raw wind, naked, alone... Learn at least this: What you are capable of. Let nothing stand in your way."
Tony Kushner, Angles in America
Iohannes is twelve when he finds the autobirota. It's tucked away in a dusty corner of one of the old armories on the North Pier that even the servola don't bother to clean anymore.
It's the coolest thing he's ever seen.
He has no idea what it's doing in the armory. 'Lantis doesn't seem to have much of an idea either, though she seems to think that it has something to do with a Iacobus Abies Tirones, who did a lot of experimental work for the Guard before the Plague struck back on Terra some two hundred and fifty years ago. What the Lantean Guard might have wanted with autobirotae that long ago, Iohannes doesn't know, but it doesn't really matter. It's still an autobirota and he's still going to find a way to drive it.
The autobirota is clearly built for speed, with low, narrow wheels and an engine under the seat that could probably have broken two hundred miles per hour before he starts tweaking with it. The design's fairly stark too, with a chassis built to slice through air and nothing else. There's handholds at the front, toeholds at the back, a seat between, and not much else; driving it would be as much a test of mental discipline as of piloting skill.
The autobirota has also been sitting in a disused armory for a quarter of a millenia and needs a bit of work. Iohannes doesn't dare take it to Father or even Forcul, but he's learned a thing or two watching them both, so he rolls the machine to an even older workshop he's found further down the pier and fixes it up himself.
He and Nicolaa practically spent the entire five weeks it take camped out down there, though at six years old Nicolaa is too little to be of any real help. Mostly she just keeps him company, sneaking food for them from the commissary and reading aloud to him from whatever book she'd found looking through the Database that morning. Iohannes doesn't mind. Her parents are even less attentive than Father manages to be and someone has to keep an eye on her; Atlantis is full of dangers for the unweary, and Nicolaa doesn't have the benefit of nanoids in her head to steer her away from them.
And then the autobirota is finished.
"You can't possibly be thinking of driving that thing," Nicolaa says him when Iohannes announces his intention to do just that. She's sitting cross-legged on the worktop across from him, elbows perched on her knees and chin balanced in her palms, a riot of bright red curls obscuring the look of exasperation he knows is there.
"Why else would I fix it up?"
"To impress the rector?"
Iohannes snorts. "As if Father would be impressed by something like this," he says, circling around the fruit of his labors one more time. He wants with every fiber of his being to touch it, to run his fingers along the smooth planes and sharp lines and steal grips, but the last coat of paint is still drying and he doesn't want to ruin the perfect fluidity of the autobirota by being impatient now.
"At least Ianus notices you."
"Michaelis and Vesna notice you, dulcissima," he says, walking over to her worktop and hopping up onto the bench beside her. "They're just very busy."
"Your father is busy too, but he still finds time for you."
"Y'know as well as I do that's only when he wants something from me. And besides, he's rector. He can do whatever he wants with his time, unlike a pair of vicarii in a time of war."
"I hate this war, Licinus," she sighs, lifting her head and roughly brushing her hair out her face - and a few tears out of her eyes. "I just want the war to be over."
"I know, dulcissima."
"Maybe when the war's over Ianus will let you ride the autobirota on the mainland. It's supposed to be very big."
Iohannes gives a small laugh at that. "I think that, by the time the war is finally over, I won't need Father's permission to do much of anything."
"You shouldn't say things like that."
"The war's been going on for ninety years. It's probably going to go on a while more."
"I know," Nicolaa practically whispers, sounding tired and far older than her years. She scoots over a few inches and leans her head against his shoulder. "But I can dream."
He wraps an arm around her, and they sit like that until long after she drifts off.
Then, when the crimson red paint is finally dry, Iohannes lifts her up, carries her to the nest of blankets they've made in the adjoining room, and puts her to bed.
/Nicolaa's right, you know,/ Atlantis tells him once he's back in the machine shop and the door between the two rooms closed.
"About what part?"
/The others are never going to let you take the autobirota off-world./
"Then I won't take it off-world, will I?" Iohannes says, grinning cheekily at the ceiling.
/And,/ she adds, stressing the word, /you can't take a hemiolia to the mainland either. The Council will never allow it./
If possible, his smile grows wider as he runs his hands along the chassis of the autobirota from nose to tail, as one might a living creature. He knows that the autobirota isn't sentient - there's not enough code in its programing for that to ever be a possibility, - but once the motor's running, it's alive. "Then I won't take it to the mainland either."
Atlantis gives a very loud, audible sigh; he can sense the air recyclers ticking over for half the pier. /Try not to break anything. Or scratch our floors./
He raises an eyebrow, trying to sound offended and failing pretty terribly, "Like I'd ever do anything to hurt you, carissima."
/And wear a helmet./
"But-" Iohannes recalls a comment about the hardness of his head and the cushioning factor of his hair when this restoration had begun.
/Helmet,/ she says, punctuating the word with a sharp increase in volume of her song.
"You're a fucatrix when you're angry, y'know. Fine. I'll wear the stupid helmet. You remember where Nicolaa put it?"
/Bottom drawer, third cabinet from the left. You'll thank us for it later, trust us./
Five minutes later, Iohannes is rolling the autobirota out the door and towards one of Atlantis' straighter and more level halls, the ridiculous helmet strapped onto his head.
Five minutes after that, after Iohannes has gotten a feel for her, he opens the autobirota up and speeds down the corridors, laughing as he takes the corners and outright whooping as he jumps the the steps, 'Lantis opening and closing doors around him with timing that only an intelligentia artificialis could manage.
They don't catch him the first time.
Or the second.
Or the third.
But they catch him eventually - how was he to know one of specimens from the biology lab had gotten loose, let alone that it would somehow manage to find it's way all the way to the North Pier? The resulting accident resulted in the destruction of both autobirota and cervida, as well as what would hold the record for Iohannes' longest stay in the infirmary for over a decade.
'Lantis is right about one thing though: he does end up thanking her for forcing him to wear that helmet.