Chapter 9: Liam Meets the Neighbors
Liam reached the top of the steps, turned left and ran into a small lounge that appeared to be from a nineteenth-century novel. Victorian leather couches surrounded a large stone fireplace, complete with roaring fire. The orange flames danced off the mahogany walls. Sitting, lying or otherwise sprawled across the couches were Rebekah and three other teens.
“Guys, listen up! This is Liam, the new guy I was telling you about.”
She pointed around the group. “This is Dorkus, Wormy, and Meg.
Megan jumped up first.
“Beka, you didn’t say he was gorgeous!” Turning back to Liam, she extended her hand and said, “Megan Pierce.” Rebekah threw a pillow at her.
Liam took her outstretched hand. He didn’t know whether to kiss it or shake it. He was much better at surviving and stealing than talking to girls. It didn’t help that she was, well, kind of a knockout. “Pleased to meet you,” he mumbled.
Dorkus waved his hand from his reclined position and said, “Friends call me Marcus.” He shot a withering look at Rebekah.
Wormy hadn’t moved.
“Umm… can I have my hand back?” Megan interjected.
Liam started and withdrew his hand. “Sorry, I-”
Megan laughed. “It’s ok, most people are totally overcome with my beauty.” She pretended to faint, recovered with a pirouette and sunk back down to the sofa.
“What’s his story?” Liam said, gesturing at Wormy.
“He just got off kitchen duty. He pretends that cooking for a hundred people is hard or something.”
“It is,” said a muffled voice from under the pillow. “My hands have wasted away to nothing.”
“Too bad the rest of you hasn’t,” said Marcus. “Being so close to all the food isn’t doing you any good. You should come out and learn the ropes with me!”
“Isn’t learning the ropes a metaphor?” asked Liam.
Marcus responded, “Not on this boat.”
Rebekah took pity and explained, “Liam, since we had to modify this ship any way we could, it became a sailing ship. We have a lot of makeshift systems on board that still require a lot of manual work.”
Marcus grinned and flexed. “Yeah, it gives you these,” he said, admiring his biceps. “Not this,” He and pressed his foot into Wormy’s stomach.
“Hey, some respect here. Remember who gives you extra eggs and bacon in the mornings.”
“It sure isn’t you, Wormy. Carol takes care of all my needs!”
Liam assumed he was referring to the same young lady that had served him dinner earlier.
Megan said, “You just had to go there. Does it always have to be about sex with you?”
“Sister, I don’t know what you are babbling about, I’m just talking about breakfast.”
“Sure.” Megan threw another pillow at him. Marcus easily blocked it and sent it careening into the fire.
“Hey!” yelped Liam. The pillow bounced inside the fireplace and just sat there, not a flame in sight.
“Relax, rookie, It’s not a real fire.” Marcus walked over to the flames and thrust his arm into it. “See? Hologram! Not real. Besides, even if it were a real fire, Aerolon won’t burn.” Marcus reached for the pillow and threw it at Liam. “Think fast.”
Liam absentmindedly caught it, and with a move like a discus thrower from ancient Greece, whipped it behind him and right back at Marcus.
“Might not have any brains, but he’s got good moves. Alright, Beka, you can keep him.”
A hand popped up from under the pillows. “Yay, team!” The person identified as Wormy shoved a hand at Liam. “The name is actually Aaron. Aaron Grant Masters,” he said with emphasis on Grant like it was supposed to have some special significance.
Liam looked puzzled and looked around at the others. They could hardly suppress their amusement.
Beka spoke first. “He wants you to recognize him.”
Rebekah asked, “You really don’t recognize the name?”
“Good! You won’t have to put up with his insufferable droning on and on….” Liam could see she was kidding.
“We’ve come to like Aaron. We just tease him about it.”
“Tease him about what?” Liam asked.
“Here.” Rebekah slid over, making room for him on the overstuffed couch “Read this, brain boy.”
She handed him a beat up magazine from the floor. It was some old publication clearly intended for pre-teens. It looked like it had been in someone’s back pocket for too long, but on the cover, Liam could make out a fourteen or fifteen-year old male pop star that was hugging some girl. He didn’t recognize either of them.
She pointed at the gut and then at Aaron. “That’s him! Oh, my heart is all a flutter…. hold me back!” Rebekah mockingly fanned herself with her hand. The guy under the pillows pushed them aside, sat up and belched.
Liam looked at him and looked back at the picture. “I see what you mean! The resemblance is uncanny!”
Aaron stood up. He said, “I’ll have you know that when this gig is up, I’ll be right back up there on that stage, pulling in seven figures again... That is, if I can find my agent. Marcus was still standing behind the couch, near to the fireplace. He made a cuckoo sign behind Aaron’s back.
Rebekah whispered to Liam. “He isn’t all completely there.”
“You don’t think? What was your first clue?”
Sometimes Liam could be a real wise ass.
“So,” he said, “is this the secret clubhouse or something?”
Megan answered. “This is one of them. We have dozens all over the ship. Here, we can get away with almost anything.”
“What about Jeeves?”
“You mean, Jules? He isn’t no trouble here.”
Megan spoke out loud to the ceiling.
“Jules, where are we right now?”
Rebekah added, “Jules. We are in trouble! Call the Captain right away!”
“See? Nobody home.” Megan said to Liam, plopping down on the other side of them and brushing his face with her hand. Liam was too distracted to see the look Rebekah shot at Megan, who giggled and jumped up, ran behind the couch and draped her arms across Liam’s shoulders from behind. His one shoulder was still a little tender from his arrival that morning. He winced as she dropped her weight on him.
Rebekah threw one of the pillows at Megan.
Marcus said from the corner, “Catfight!” Rebekah merely grabbed the next pillow and hugged it to herself. “She means we can do anything here because no one ever hooked up Jules here. The computer can’t see or hear us. Meg, will you please get off of Liam? He was hurt this morning.”
Megan pushed off of Liam like he was some discarded plaything. “Hurt? Let me see. Can I kiss your boo-boo?”
Marcus frowned. “He doesn’t look hurt to me. What did you do? Skin your knee there, Lima Bean?”
Liam was quick to defend himself. “I was shot.”
Marcus whistled. “Shot? Pfft, hardly.”
Rebekah jumped in. “He was shot. I saw it. I saw them bring him in from the launch this morning.”
Megan replied, “If he was shot, why did Doc let him out of sickbay so quick?”
“I don’t know... I heal fast, I guess.” Liam was starting to feel self-conscious.
“Let me see,” said Marcus, feigning curiosity.
“Leave him alone, Marcus,” Rebekah warned.
“It’s really no big deal. I was shot, I was hurt, but now I’m better.” Liam really didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Didn’t they ever get hurt?
“A year ago, I got injured when a crate fell on me. Doc didn’t let me out for a week.”
Rebekah shot him another hands-off look. “I said lay off. Liam just got here. Let’s not make him regret it so quickly!”
“Sure, sure, whatever.” Marcus changed the subject. “I helped map out all the places where Jules isn’t. If you open the door here, he can hear you, so be careful. We have another lounge like this down near sickbay that has a map we stashed of all the places he can’t hear or see us.”
“So why is he blind in these spots? Jules told me he is the ship?”
Rebekah explained, “He’s still just a computer that thinks he’s the ship with lots of things hooked up to him. He only sees and hears what his cameras pick up. Most of the places were just oversights. The ship was a year away from being finished when the tsunami hit and we only had about twenty minutes’ notice. After that, there hasn’t been time or resources to fix the little things.”
Megan added, “When you do want to talk to Jules, and he doesn’t answer right away, just keep walking forward and ask again. We’ve marked everywhere we found where Jules can’t hear or see us. Just look for little red marker squares, normally right below the hand rails, along the walls.”
“How many other things on this ship are not working?”
“Tons,” they chorused together.
“At least it keeps us safe,” Rebekah said solemnly. The others agreed.
Rebekah continued, “It’s the little things. The ship is pretty much a shell, working on solar and wind power until we get the reactor your dad built online. There isn’t enough power to go around. With these storms, the battery power from the solar will be depleted soon.”
“Talking from your expert engineering knowledge there, Beka?” asked Marcus sarcastically.
She retorted, “It wouldn’t hurt you to pick up a book every once in a while.”
“What do I need books for when I have these?” Marcus made a pointed reference to his biceps again.
“Oh, please. As I was saying, we are on deck three. Only the top three decks have power to the cabins. All the other cabins are either dormant or unfinished. When you get further below deck, you’ll see. We have stockpiles of stuff we’ve bartered or scavenged squirreled away all over the ship. We have food in abundance, but as big as it is, the ship is not the magnificent jewel it was supposed to be.”
“So, you were from that crazy-ass town this morning? I heard they started shooting the instant our guys landed.” Marcus attempted to sound impressive. “In a few months, I’ll start going on missions with them.”
Liam replied, “Yeah, I was running away from that crazy-ass town this morning. I think Union Springs has a lot to hide. They really don’t want anyone nosing around too closely. The leader- well, dictator- is a real jewel of a humanitarian.”
“So… why are you here?” Megan asked.
“Simple. Life down there is unbearable. I saw a chance and I took it. I need to find my parents. Down there, you can’t even leave the village without getting shot,” he said, indicating his shoulder. “I overheard one of your guy’s mention Doctor Waite when I was spying on them and I didn’t even think about. I just ran for it.”
Rebekah asked quietly, “How do you know they are still alive? Your parents, I mean?”
“I don’t.” Liam looked down at his new shoes. “But, they weren’t with me when it all went down.”
Rebekah addressed all of them., “Liam just learned and hour ago that his dad was the one that designed much of this ship. We are working very hard to find him.” She directed the last part Liam in a softer voice, “He’s still out there somewhere.”
“I guess it’s good to be optimistic. You would think if he was that smart, in almost three years, he would have figured out how to get in touch.”
Rebekah shrugged. “Maybe he tried. That guy running your town might be keeping people out as much as he is keeping people in.”
“Maybe... just maybe. You know, with the bullet and the sightseeing and all the questions, I’m getting really tired. Beka, do you mind showing me back to my cabin?”
“Not at all.”
Liam turned to the rest of the party. “It was great meeting all of you.”
Megan looked jealous, Marcus looked bored. Aaron merely waved from the pillows.
“Liam, until you know the other dead zones on the ship, don’t breathe a word of this or our conversations. Tell me you understand?”
Liam nodded as the two of them pushed open the door and walked out into the corridor.
Now that they were in range again, Jules cleared his virtual throat and made them both jump. “Miss Rebekah, your father has been looking for you.”
“Okay, Jules, tell him I will be right there after I walk Liam back to his cabin.”
“Miss Rebekah, I am perfectly capable of escorting Liam back to his cabin.”
“Of course you are, but I would like to...”
Liam jumped in, “It’s okay, Jules, I would rather Rebekah walk me back if it’s all the same. She’s more my type.”
If a computer could snort. He said, “Very well. If you-”
Rebekah interrupted. “So what did you and Artie talk about? Anything mind -bogglingly juicy?”
“Nothing like that... Just your usual, Welcome to the neighborhood and I knew your father and Oh, by the way, you are leading the search tomorrow….”
“Marcus is going to be so pissed! His mom is an authoritarian. After she lost their dad, she’s tried to keep Marcus and Megan on a short leash. It doesn’t stop him from trying, though...sometimes he can be stupidly reckless.”
“Notice, I didn’t tell him? I’m not totally stupid!”
“Good choice.” They made more small talk about the ship and life before the Event. They both jumped out of their skin more than a couple of times from the thunder booming all around them outside the ship. Rounding the corner, they found themselves at her cabin door.
“Well, here we are. I think you can find your way back to your cabin?”
“Dunno. I might get lost. You never know. Little ol’ me in this big ship?”
Rebekah laughed and Liam said, “Anyway, thanks for showing me around today. I really appreciate it.”
“You are most welcome, Mister Waite. Just make sure you get straight to Doc Weaver tomorrow. Make sure that shoulder is healing.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
Rebekah opened her cabin door and went inside.
With a click the door closed, and Liam found himself alone with Jules again.
Chapter 10 - Liam and Ethan
“Jules, do you think she likes me?”
Jules responded, “Is that hardly an appropriate question to ask a computer?”
“Ha! I guess I can’t ask you about your girlfriends then?”
Liam purposely walked past his cabin door.
“Hardly, Master Liam. You missed your cabin by the way.”
“It’s okay, Jules, I’m not really tired yet. I just want to have more of a look around- Unless you mind?”
Even in the bowels of the ship, the lightning could still be seen from the ends of the hallways that opened up into observation decks. The following thunder was just as brutal and deafening.
“Mind? No, it’s perfectly alright with me,” said Jules waiting until the thunder finished to complete his sentence. “I assume Rebekah took you to their secret clubhouse?”
“You might say that.”
“They enjoy playing games with me. It’s true that I can’t see or hear in some places on the ship, but I was created to respect the privacy of my patrons and guests. I can be very discrete. I hardly care about the plotting of an adolescent mind.”
“You would be surprised at what adolescent minds can think up. We might surprise you yet. I wouldn’t take it personally, Jules. We just sometimes need a time and place to ourselves where we can work out our own problems without older people around us constantly telling us which is right and wrong. It has nothing to do with you.”
“Interesting. I received the same speech from Rebekah on that subject.”
Liam only knew vaguely where they were going, but he had no idea how fast this ship was flying through the clouds, illuminated by constant lightning. As he gave himself the grand tour, he kept glancing out the various windows. He couldn’t help but think that they were not traveling very fast.
“Jules, how fast are we moving?” He asked peering out the window at the storm.
“I assume you want the average velocity?”
“That would be fine, yes.”
“At the moment, six knots.”
“How about English?”
“I don’t follow, Liam?”
“Miles per hour, please?”
“Oh,” said Jules as if he came to some new discovery. Maybe he did, what did Liam know of computers after all? “I thought most people spoke in kilometers? About eleven kilometers per hour.”
“Missouri is still really backwards. I think a lot of people still think the metric system was invented by Satan or something.” Liam calculated in his head. “Not very fast. Knots must be pretty close to miles? Still about six miles per hours. I could almost walk faster!”
“Yes, a knot is very close to a mile. It’s about fifteen percent faster. And it’s just a term that’s not very metric either. A holdover from another time. In these winds and torrential rain on the ground, you wouldn’t get very far.”
Liam heard someone approaching in the corridor. As he approached, Liam noticed the man was in his early twenties, thin and was wearing a green jumpsuit. The man stopped as he came up on Liam at the window.
“Liam Waite?” The man stuck out his hand and Liam found himself shaking hands. “It’s good to see you up and about!”
Jules piped in. “Liam, allow me to introduce Ethan Phillips, our communications officer.”
Ethan shook back. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“I saw it all go down this morning. I’m surprised Trish let you out of her clutches so easily?”
“Not as surprised as I am. I know to never to do that again.”
“What, run at the launch like a maniac?”
“No, get shot. I can strike that off my bucket list!”
Ethan found himself very much at ease with Liam. He leaned on the railing and looked out at the storm that Liam was staring into.
“Some storm, eh?”
“Yeah, but it’s very different up here. Even though we are closer to it, it’s more distant or something.”
Jules broke in again. “Speak for yourself, Master Liam.” It’s taking a considerable amount of my processing power just to keep us heading in the right direction.”
“And I’m confident you will get us there, all in one piece, Jules.” Ethan didn’t want Liam to be too alarmed, even though it was just as unnerving to him. “Well, I’m actually doing my rounds. Got to check in in a minute. I hear you will be joining us on the ground tomorrow?”
“That’s what they tell me. I get to be a guide or something.”
“Had you been up in this area before or something? We’ll be about eighty kilometers north of where we picked you up.”
“No, my dad used to take me to work there when I was younger. Captain Grumm and Mister Kyton were hoping I might remember something.”
Ethan chuckled, “That’s Mister Davis. His first name is Kyton.”
“Ahh. My bad…”
“I don’t blame you. Screwy name. He came from somewhere in Europe. Denmark or something- at least that’s what I think of when I hear his accent. I don’t think his last name is really Davis. I think it’s Americanized for something else.”
“Yeah, you know, like Smith instead of Schmidt or something like that. All I really know about him is he went to Cambridge. He won’t mind telling those stories a few more dozen times, I’m sure. Don’t let his gruff exterior get to you. He’s a kitten on the inside.” Ethan pushed up from the railing. “Well, like I said, I’m on my rounds. Don’t get into any trouble.”
Liam nodded with his macho goodbye and Ethan rounded another corner and was gone.
He pushed off the railing and just noticed that one of the doors had a little red square under the railing leading to it. He quickly opened up one of the two doors and walked into the room. “What is this place, Jules?” No answer. Liam smiled to himself.
He found himself on a top landing of some kind. It was much more industrial than the corridors he had been down already. At his feet was a box with some flashlights in it. Liam reached down and picked up one of the lights and flipped it on. The beam arced out across a vast, empty space. It was hard to imagine that a room, easily the size of a football field could be hidden on an airship.
He was standing on a gantry gangplank looking down but his mind took a minute to adjust to the scene laid out before him. It was a giant shopping mall and bits and pieces of an amusement park? “What the hell?” Liam made for the gantry stairs and began the ten flights of descent to the main shopping level. “Damn! Someone could hang out here forever and never be found,” thought Liam as he bounded down the last twenty steps, three at a time. However, at the bottom, one of the steps caught his foot at just the wrong angle and down he went. Fortunately, nothing was hurt worse than his pride. After picking up the flashlight that had skittered across the faux-cobblestone flooring, Liam continued to explore.
He walked amongst the pieces of amusement park rides. Everything was brand new. Most rides were still in their unassembled in their crates and others looked like they had been cannibalized for various parts, or they had never been completely assembled in the first place. Liam guessed that this was part of the ship had been under construction when the Event happened. He glanced up at the gantry he had descended from and could barely make out the door he had come through. He turned and began to pick through boxes and crates of equipment looking for anything useful. Old habits die hard.