Akron Kahne leaned his head back, breathing a sigh of relief, his eyes closing in bliss at the silence around him. Not true silence, of course; there would be none of that for hours and hours yet, too many hours. The hum of the engines, the clink of glasses, the slight murmur of lovers whispering (the louder murmur of lovers arguing), the random, inevitable, coughing fit that always seems to somehow insert itself into every moment of silence, those would continue.
Akron wondered about those moments of silence, sometimes. There was always a cough, every single time there was a moment of silence, someone coughed to ruin it, and he often wondered which came first, the cough or the silence.
Well, not often. Just at times like these, stuck on a Main-Line Genesis Starliner, nowhere significant to go for hours, the screaming baby in the seat behind his finally, blessedly, silent.
He’d sent multiple letters to Main-Line, asking them to set up a designated ‘baby’ area, with room for the mothers of course. They hadn’t ever responded, which was really quite inconsiderate of them. He was a valued customer after all, a frequent flyer.
Akron closed his eyes, shifted in his seat, tried to use the hum of the engines and the low whispers of the couple off to his right as background noise to help him sleep.
Sheane was annoyed.
‘Really, Atna, did we have to take the Starliner? Couldn’t we have just taken the Orangutan, or the Flying Penguin, or we could have each taken one of those fast horse things, or we could have taken Ferdinand, or…’ As she listed off the ships, she ticked them off on her fingers, one by one.
Atna closed a hand over top hers, lifting it to her mouth and kissing it lightly.
‘I love you honey, but you really have to stop naming our ships such weird things. Which is the Flying Penguin again?’ Atna’s whispers brought her lips close to Sheane’s ear, and she shivered.
Sheane glared a little. ‘It’s the Avenger, but don’t try to change the subject!’
‘Right, right the Avenger,’ Atna said, lightly kissing Sheane’s fingers again, lingering slightly this time, ‘well, I wanted to see how everyone else flies this time. Besides,’ she said, biting lightly at Sheane’s ear, voice going low, gravelly, ‘is there nothing you’ve always wanted to do on a Starliner?’
Sheane blushed slightly, grinning, ‘Atna!’ she whispered, almost a hiss, as Atna rose slowly from her seat, eyes smoldering as she looked through the locks of hair that had fallen across her face.
Atna put one finger to her lips, squeezed Sheane’s hand tight with her other hand, and pulled, Sheane following her quickly out of their seats, down the hall towards the rear of the Starliner.
Sheane blushed even more as she and Atna passed a little boy in the aisle, playing with a toy Hornet. If only the boy knew.
Henry watched the two women walk down the aisle, hand in hand, the tall redhead grinning, the slightly shorter brunette behind her blushing, and also grinning.
Henry knew what was going on. He was thirteen, and smart. He’d seen some of his Pa’s videos.
The two were going to go off and fornicate.
Henry grinned. His brother Max had told him it was a lot of fun, and he couldn’t wait till he could too.
And then his attention was drawn back. The 7th Vanduul horde was coming crushing down, hundreds of Scythes and Voids heading straight for Captain Arnor Schwarze and his trusty Hornet, Predator. The Captain’s only chance was to lose them in the asteroid field, blend in. He pulled up to an asteroid, swung around, and dug the left wing of his Hornet into the soft regolith, the brown dust coating his Hornet, its coolness masking his ship from the Vanduul sensors. Seconds later, ship after Vanduul ship passed, oblivious. He waited, waited, waited and then sprung!
Flying away from the asteroid, Arnor opened up with the size 7 Behring Gattling gun he’d welded to the bottom of his hornet, 90mm rounds flying out, tearing the Vanduul ships apart, torn and broken alien corpses floating into the asteroid field.
Max watched his brother run down the aisle, toy Hornet held high, wondering what adventures Captain Schwarze was having this time, wondering what wild stories Henry’s imagination was crafting.
He knew what stories his imagination was crafting, looking back at the women as they left the aisle, headed to the stairs down to the cargo area below.
He’d follow them, watch a little bit, then they’d invite him in to join…
Max shifted, covered himself with a blanket as one of the stewards walked past, drink in hand.
John couldn’t take it anymore. Three years he’d been working for Main-Line Starline, three years with minimal raises. Three years, fixing and serving drinks for passengers, dodging brats with toy hornets, cleaning up… messes in the cargo hold.
Sick of it.
This was it, he thought as he watched two women walk towards the stairs, hand in hand. This was the last straw. This was going to be his last flight.
He’d always wanted to be a banker, he should never have listened to Penny, his first Girlfriend. ‘being a flight attendant is glamorous’ she’d said, and so he’d followed her to attendant school. They hadn’t lasted long after that, but he’d put so much money in, he’d stuck with it.
No more. He’d stick with it no longer.
After this flight, John was done.
‘Your drink, sir’ John said, tapping the young man on the shoulder. It was his ninth Martiniquiri of the trip, and John had started making them ‘virgin’ three drinks ago.
‘Your drink, sir’ the flight attendant said, tapping Andre on the shoulder. It was his ninth Martiniquiri of the trip.
The flight attendant had stopped adding alcohol three drinks ago. Andre had just started adding more of his own.
He thanked the Steward with a wave, grabbing the drink, waiting for the steward to turn and walk away before slipping his second flask out of his sock leg, topping the glass up, drinking heavily.
Five years, five years he’d stuck with Pennelope, even when she’d signed on to that Endeavour after three. Two years, he’d travelled back and forth to the Endeavour, to be with her, and now, now she’d broken it off.
And he couldn’t fault her for it either. Couldn’t blame her.
Couldn’t hate her.
All he could do till he got home was drink, and drink was what he’d do.
Vince sat up from the Captain’s chair and stretched. Another three hours to the jump point, and Tom, his co-pilot, would watch the ship till then. Three hours to rest, eat, relax a little, and then it was back to work.
Three hours was too much.
He loved flying, loved bringing hundreds of people safely across the ‘Verse, every day. It was… it was special to him. Many men flew for different reasons, some for money, some for… other reasons, he thought as one of the Stewardesses swayed past, put a hand lightly on Tom’s shoulder.
Vince though? Vince flew because it was what he loved.
He’d loved it for twelve years, and he had no doubt in his mind that he’d love it for another twelve.
Being away from Donna and Erin, his wife and daughter, that was tough. He missed them, on every trip he took, he missed them. He took trips through safe space, trips that didn’t require escorts, so that he’d come back to them.
He was about to head to the restroom when an alarm sounded. Proximity warning.
‘Ship incoming’ Tom said, concern tingeing his voice.
‘Cutlass? Caterpillar?’ Vince asked, turning back towards the controls, towards Tom and the stewardess.
‘No’, Tom said, and Vince was relieved. Cutlasses were pirate ships, everyone knew. Caterpillars too. He’d been boarded before, once, and it had been the scariest thing of his-
The front window exploded inwards as a giant slab of metal crushed through it. Tom and the stewardess were pin cushioned by the broken diamond an instant before Tom’s body was hit by whatever had broken through the window, throwing him back towards the back of the cockpit in a shower of…
The slab merely clipped the stewardess, taking off part of her arm, sending her cartwheeling out the window, screaming.
Vince grabbed wildly at anything as atmo was quickly sucked out of the cockpit, grabbing at the consoles, at the shattered front window, at anything, as he flew out of the Genesis, tumbling wildly. He could make it out, for a second, before the decompression and the lack of oxygen got him.
His Genesis, she was… impaled… by…
Akron Kahne’s head flew forward at the impact, his face hitting hard against the seat in front of him, his neck snapping.
Sheane was thrown across the small bathroom, Atna landing hard on top of her, in the impact. The lights went out, and Sheane couldn’t help but cry in pain. Her left arm was twisted, broken, in at least two places, she could feel it.
‘Atna?’ she gritted through clenched teeth, ‘Atna? Are you?’
‘I’m okay,’ Atna said, and Sheane cried in pain and relief as she felt Atna’s body move against hers. ‘What…’
‘Don’t know. Merlin?’ Sheane asked, breathing hard. She couldn’t pass out, not yet.
‘Are you…’ Atna asked, feeling her over.
‘Broken arm. We have to move.’
‘Sheane… I love you’ Atna said, kissing Sheane violently, tenderly.
‘I love you too, now move!’
The two ran quickly from the bathroom, into the low-light of the emergency lighting, their clothes left behind them, scattered and discarded.
Henry didn’t know what was happening. He’d been thrown too far and everyone was screaming and he hurt and he was crying and other people were crying and yelling and someone was throwing up and he couldn’t find his Hornet and Captain Arnor Schwarze would save him he had to he had to he had to-
Max had two thoughts at the impact.
His first thought was Henry; he had to find his brother, protect him. He loved Henry, even though he was a little brat, and his parents would kill him if anything happened to his little brother.
His second thought was that he’d better not die a virgin with an erection.
‘HENRY!’ he yelled. It didn’t matter. Everyone was yelling, or crying, or who knows what else.
Max tried to stand, but there was chaos everywhere.
And then the ship’s speakers came on, and a soothing voice started to speak.
‘Hello passengers. I’m sorry for this, so very sorry,’
Someone off to Max’s right yelled ‘What’s going on!’ Max wasn’t sure if the intercom was two-way.
‘I know you’re all hurt, and I know you’re wondering what’s going on,’ the voice said.
No shit, Max thought, trying to climb on top of the seat, trying to get a good look over heads, see if he could find Henry. The emergency lighting was on, but it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t…
‘I’m hurt too, you see,’ the voice said, and Max was confused.
‘I remember how it started. I remember the day my life changed,’ the voice was soft, motherly. Max would almost have loved to hear a bedtime story from it. For Henry of course.
But not fucking NOW!
‘June 7th, 2917. I was six years old, in Primary, and our Teacher asked us a question. THE question. The most important question anyone has to answer, ever.’
Max ignored the voice. He had to find Henry. He looked for what seemed like minutes, forcing his way around people, squeezing his way over chairs, over bodies.
Henry had to be okay, he had to be.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
John wasn’t sure what to do. He’d trained for pirates, trained for fights, trained for lots of things.
Here… he couldn’t get into the cockpit, the computer wouldn’t let him in, no matter how many times he pounded on the ‘open’ button, and the voice on the intercom just kept talking. There was no way to respond.
‘I… I was pregnant twice’ the voice was saying now, struggling with the words.
‘I DON’T CARE’ John yells, for what must be the third or fourth time. People dead, the ship not moving, and some bitch is trying to tell her life story?
John stopped, listening, trying to hear…
‘QUIET people’ he yelled, to no effect.
But he could make it out, just. Over the groans and the arguments and the crying, he could hear something scraping on the outer hull of the Starliner. Something… bending?
I… I can’t remember the last time I got this far in the story, I think, as I maneuver my ship in and out, taking my time. The cockpit is gone, a few listeners lost, but the rest… there are so many passengers.
I’ve talked about my first, and about France, and about my first husband. I’ve… I’m breaking new ground here. Completely new ground.
‘I’ve never told anyone this,’ I say into the intercom, and it’s true.
‘After Danny… it took me so long to heal, after Danny. So long to trust again.
I kept working though. Kept building the business. It was all I had, and I put all of me into it, body and soul. Reclaim-all. We were, we are, the biggest Reclamation company in the ‘Verse. And I owned it, all of it. One hundred percent ownership.
I guess that’s what made him seek me out first. My second husband.
He made his way up through the company, a real rising star. He was young, strong, witty, good looking… he was… he was perfect.
And he worked with me for years; worked on me for years. It took him three years to get on the board, another two years to get in my bed. Another two after that till I trusted him enough to marry him.
And I did. I trusted him. I loved him.
I loved him so much. He gave me a daughter.’
I sob. Telling it… telling this is… even just remembering it, thinking of it, it’s tearing me apart.
‘Mary Adel. I got to name her.
Another two years, two years I had to live with her, watch her grow, watch her… live. I gave her a puppy for her second birthday. She named it Zarr, short for Zarrdot the Destroyer.
Mary was my world.
And then one day she was gone, she and Paul were gone.
All there was was a note.
If you want her back, I want the company
Signed by Paul. And a location.
What could I do. I flew there, immediately. I took my Origin, my fastest ship, I went prepared. All the documents already signed. I’d just hand them over, and get her back.
I didn’t care about the company, not any more. Just Mary.
I just wanted Mary.
I pulled up to his ship. He was in one of my Reclaimers, of course he was. We made the change. I… I gave him the company, and he gave me my daughter.
She was confused when she came through the airlock, wasn’t sure why I was crying, why I grabbed her, held her till she said,
mommy, you’re crushing me
Those were the last words she ever said to me. Those… those words. How could those be her last words?
How could I let them be?
Paul… he… I suppose he couldn’t leave any remains, couldn’t leave any trace.
He started crushing the ship. I was in my suit, I got out, ejected, floated away. He hadn’t given her a suit though she…
I couldn’t save her. She was crushed, and I couldn’t save her.’
The voice on the intercom is crying as Atna slips my wrecked arm into my suit, zips me up. It hurts, it hurts so much, but…
We’re both suited up. I’ll get in the Merlin, Atna attached to the side. We’ll…
Leaving all these people…
The crying over the intercom was… it hurt. The story had hurt, just hearing it, what of it he’d paid attention to. Max had been trying to find Henry, had focused on that. He’d ignored most of the story, ignored the scrapings against the hull. But still, the story had been painful. He could tell the person telling it was hurt, in pain.
And then he saw him, saw Henry, and any thoughts of the lady and her story disappeared. Huddled against one wall of the Genesis, his toy Hornet in his hands, one wing broken.
He was safe.
Max hadn’t failed, hadn’t failed their parents. He’d bring Henry home safe.
The claw that broke through the wall above Henry came suddenly, shattering through the body of the ship, clenching, tearing off a five-meter chunk.
Henry was the first to be sucked out. Max lost sight of his brother almost immediately, his tiny body vanishing into the empty void of the Universe.
Max couldn’t even think as the escaping air pulled at him, pulled at everyone on the ship.
The claw plunged in and out, in and out, opening ever wider and wider holes. Fenn was doing it without seeing, now, her vision blinded by tears.
She wasn’t sure how long she punched at the Starliner, how long she tore it apart for.
She just knew she felt… something. She wasn’t sure what it was she felt, yet, but it had been so long since she’d felt anything that…
There would be no hiding the wreck this time. The Starliner was too big for her Reclaimer alone.
She’d fly off, call it in. Reclaim-all would come for it, soon. And then she’d hide the trail, alter files.
She’d make it so the salvage op never happened, like she had so many times before.
She was still president of Reclaim-all. She was still flying the Reclaimer Paul had tried to kill her with.
And she wasn’t going to stop until she could feel again.
STAY TUNED TOMORROW FOR PASSENGERS II