Chapter 42: Sad Partings
Jules had plotted a course for the Empress that took them on the most direct path possible which, of course, took them over the cursed land of Yeren again. Ever since leaving the Imorezza Mountains, Jules had spotted one or two Castalan airships shadowing them from the safety of a lower and breathable altitude. They had made some maneuvers through other mountains that no one present had a name for and had seemed to lose their pursuers for the moment which was good because they were nearing the point where Artemis and Kyton would be leaving the ship.
Without radar, none of Daran’s ships will pursue them when they cross the border of Yeren nor would they have any way of predicting where the ship would emerge on the Southern border. It was strange to think about a world where North and South, East and West all depended on the movement of an eclipsing moon fifteen hundred miles in the sky. Such was life in a world where the sun never rose nor set.
Liam sat in the captain’s seat, alone on the bridge. Well, as alone as one can be with a holographic butler hovering around trying to explain what each button, knob, and dial did when it was pushed, pulled, rotated or otherwise manipulated. It was Zak’s idea that a larger number of people learn the ship’s systems “just in case,” especially the younger set. Rebekah had no problem. She practically grew up during the Empress’s construction but the other ones, Liam included, were easily intimidated by the complexity. Liam’s eyes had glazed over long ago. He shoved off with his foot, pleased with how fast he could make the chair spin.
“Jules can we take a breather? This is too much to take in all at once.”
“Certainly sir. Rebekah has asked me to remind you that we were having a small send-off for Capt… Artemis and Kyton in about twenty minutes.”
“Thanks for the update.” This was actually the time that Liam dreaded the most. Once Artemis, former Captain Grumm walked off the ship with Kyton Davis or Davici, Liam supposed, it would be the official changing of the guard for the Empress of the Sky. He had never really talked much with Sydney. He seemed capable enough, but he was no Artemis Grumm.
“Well at least it will be over with soon and we will be back on old Terra Firma.”
“It will be a relief to be back topside sir.”
“Why is that? I’m constantly baffled and very interested in your insights, Jules.”
“Very simple actually, even though there was a lot of damage on the surface, I have all the landmarks and geospatial mapping in my memory of course down to an individual meter.”
“So, here you are constantly rebuilding that database.”
“I am and it’s a chore. Over twenty-five percent of my resources are currently being used, mapping the land as we pass by.”
“Well, at least it is keeping you busy.”
Jules replied in a scolding tone, “There is more than enough work on this ship to keep us all busy ten times over, Master Liam.”
“You can say that again.”
“I fail to see why that would make any difference, Master Liam?”
“It’s just an expression, Jules. It’s not meant to be taken literally.”
Over the intercom came a squawk. “Engineering to Bridge. Liam are you up there?”
Liam reached out tentatively. His finger hovering over the button flashing next to what was obviously a speaker and microphone. Jules chuckled “Yes, that one. Push down and hold to talk.”
Liam pushed the button down. “Dad, what’s up?”
“You might want to come down here. You are going to want to see this.”
“We have to say goodbye to Artemis and Kyton in about ten minutes.”
“Oh crap, is it almost ten am?”
“Yep. Meet me on the hanger deck and we’ll talk there.”
“Roger. See you in ten.”
Liam lifted his finger off the button. “Well, that was easy,” indicating his use of the intercom.
Jules tried his best to be sarcastic. “Wow, one system down, over nine hundred to go. Wait, I do seem to remember you learning to flush the toilet? Make that two systems!”
“And I think you need to learn to work on your sarcasm just a bit.” Liam pushed up from the seat from where he was slouching and stood up and surveyed the bridge again. A man could get used to this. He thought as he left the room.
Jules walked beside him as he navigated the corridors of the Empress. He was getting better at it and making less wrong turns. He rounded the corner near the medical suite and caught up with Gus apparently heading the same way.
“Morning, Liam!” responded the paramedic slash nurse that basically did everything Doctor Weaver did and handled the night shift in the sick bay. “I guess you are heading for the hangar?” Liam nodded. Gus looked down at his feet. “Artie saved my ass a couple of years back and I owe him big time. It’s really going to be hard not having him around.”
“It’s hard on all of us, Gus. My father isn’t taking it well, either. He and Artie go way back.”
“Yeah, so I hear. Trish was telling me last week how your dad basically built this ship.”
They ascended some stairs together. “Well, I know Waite Aerospace did the engineering studies and made a lot the machinery that’s onboard.”
Gus replied, “Like what?”
“You mean you are the only one that doesn’t know? Like that reactor everyone talks about that- two hundred tons of wasted space if it doesn’t work. Also, the engines themselves, the props were made from someplace in Japan.” Liam just learned that yesterday and was delighted to share his knowledge. “But, the big engines, those jet engines in the back of the nacelles were made by Waite Aerospace.”
“Wow, I had no idea.” Liam wondered if he had any idea what his dad really did.
“I’m really looking forward to getting those engines up and running so we can get out of this place.”
“I hear you, but have you given any thought to where we might go after that? I mean this place really isn’t that bad is it? It’s kind of exciting actually.”
“Sorry, but my idea of exciting isn’t being chased by dragons or delusional maniacs pushing their god at me from the end of a bayonet.”
“Understood. But is it really that bad? I mean here and right now; we are at the top of the food chain. Sure there a million things to learn and explore, but we’ve only been here a couple of weeks and we have made new friends. Telami, Leora, and Roon seem to be interacting with the rest of the crew just fine, so, I’m willing to bet that most of the world here is the same. They are good people, just like at home. We could do a lot of good here, you know.”
They rounded the corner, but Liam was still deep in thought as they entered the hangar deck.
“Hey, dufus… wake up?”
Rebekah was beside him in the hangar deck. Somehow he had crossed the fifty feet or so from the doorway to the crowd deep in thought from his conversation with Gus.
Liam snapped out of it. “Hey!” he began.
“Stow it. We all know the real score here.” Liam saw she was acting more chipper than she really was. Inside she was dying but Rebekah Peck was putting on a good face for everyone else. They walked up to where Carol, Megan, Marcus and their respective dads were standing and waited.
Seeing Jonathan jostled Rebekah’s memory. There were so many new things to keep track of and think about since they arrived in this world. “Did your dad tell you what we discovered?”
“No, he just said to meet in engineering later. Why what’s up?”
“He’s been able to get some data out of his equipment you are going to want to see.”
Right then, Artemis, Doctor Weaver, Kyton, the two Grommon and Zak walked into the hangar from another entrance. Kyton and Artemis were decked out in fatigues and backpacks. Liam had seen Kyton dressed that way on several occasions, but it was almost laughable to see Artemis Grumm, former shipping magnate, and more than a tad overweight, dressed in military fatigues like he was getting ready for a combat mission. Liam stifled a smile and tried to be serious. He knew better than most people about the dangers they would face on the ground when they landed.
“Come on…” he said to Rebekah. He grabbed her hand and pulled her along with him. He pushed his way past his dad and Doctor Peck and made his way to the front of the group. Telami and Leora had moved to the side. For a minute, Liam thought they might have been going with the Artie, but they weren’t really dressed for it and they made no motions like they were part of the proceedings. They must have just come in together, Liam thought to himself. Artemis was in the process of shaking hands with or hugging every crew member that had assembled. Kyton stood back a little bit, not interacting with anyone. Liam thought about it for a second and then surged forward to make contact.
Liam extended his hand “Thank you.” He said, reaching Kyton and standing close enough to talk quietly amongst the din of murmuring behind him.
“Thank me for what? Almost getting you killed and trying to run off with the ship?”
“Everyone makes mistakes.” Suddenly, Liam was thinking about the day he ran for the ship. Not that running into danger was a real problem for him, but thinking back, he really regretted not convincing Red to join him. Strange time to be thinking about that, but Liam couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing now.
Liam came back to the present. “No, thank you. In some way, you have played a part in everything that has happened. If we hadn’t rescued you, I would have never seen my father again.”
“Generous words, Mister Waite.”
“True words, Mister Davici. Please take care of him,” Liam continued, nodding at Artemis.
“Don’t worry about that son. We will make it together; I have a really strong feeling the people I want him to meet can help him.”
“I’m counting on it.” Liam pulled back and looked him square in the eye. “How can there be any nobler intention than helping your people out of repression? You underwent a harrowing journey into a totally unknown world to seek help from a legend. Not many people would do that.”
A couple of tears welled up in Kyton Davici’s eyes and he grabbed Liam’s hand again and shook it vigorously. “Thank you. Thank you.”
He turned to Artemis who was finishing a long drawn out and tearful goodbye with Rebekah. They parted and Artemis turned to Liam, wiping the tears away.
“Don’t stop crying on my account.” Liam smiled and reached out and hugged the former captain.
“You help take good care of my ship, you hear? Not a scratch!” Sydney grimaced.
“Don’t worry about her at all sir, I’ll just take her out to on weekends to get washed and waxed, I swear.” They were both laughed until it hurt. “I’m going to miss you, sir. Are you sure you are making the right decision?”
“I made the right choice, Liam. My cancer has progressed enough that it would not be treatable back home. If there is any chance for me at all… I have to do this.”
Liam patted the radio transceiver in Artemis’s breast pocket. “I know sir. Please just keep in touch. If you need us in any way, we will move heaven and two earths to be there.”
“I know you would, son. I know you would, but I expect you, your dad, Sydney, and the others to help get these people home!” He stopped and withdrew from Liam and ascended the couple of steps into the launch. Kyton had already entered and Zak was idling the engines. Artemis turned and addressed everyone.
“Good friends. It has been an absolute pleasure serving with each and every one of you. I look forward to the day we will all be together again. All I ask is that you continue to believe in one another. Oh, and please keep me in your prayers and thoughts. This will be difficult, but I’m sure I will be fine. Thank you all!” With that, Artemis pulled the door closed and everyone backed away to give them room to take off.
Liam just stood there, apart from everyone else. Rebekah and Jonathan approached him. Rebekah put her arm on his shoulder and Jonathan just stood by his side silently as they watched the shuttle disappear into the glare of the eternal sunshine.