This latest entry puts me at 20% of the total projected length of the book. My other novels have been doing well, and the encouragement is helping my motivation.
Arianna Ferro was happy to see the feverish reunion between Vecky, Devonai, Richter, Evangeline, and the two other crewmembers of the Fox, though the sight also came with a sense of melancholy. Too long plagued with both extremes of emotion, she had taught herself to, in most circumstances, feel nothing at all. Even though few situations within the last month required her to quash her feelings, it was the only way she felt like she could redeem herself in the eyes of her crew, despite that none of them expected her to carry on like an automaton. However, the depth of her betrayal kept her reactions muted to satisfy her toughest critic: herself.
She didn’t doubt the sincerity of the forgiveness that had been offered by the crew of the Faith, and by all outward appearances, they trusted her. Still, her frequent nightmares presented anger and mistrust by the shadowy avatars that her subconscious believed were her friends. It was a gut-wrenching feeling, and usually followed her well into her waking day. So, measured and rational even when joy and mirth were warranted was the mask she wore. If she was to let her emotions slip, it would most likely be with Richter, the one man aboard the ship that she truly trusted in return.
He was a true friend to her, and could have been more, if the thought of a physical relationship didn’t make her irreparably self-conscious. She knew this was due to the devastating injuries she’d sustained back at the Umberian System Way Station, and the cybernetics that the Zendreen had used to repair her shattered body. She no longer felt human, especially because the Zendreen had healed her not out of benevolence, but to make her their pawn. It was for this reason that she went by the name Coma Veronice for a time, until convinced to attempt to embrace her true identity by John and Richter. Overall, it remained a constant source of cognitive dissonance for her to be able to empathize with the struggles of her friends who had fared at least as poorly as she, while at the same time allowing herself little room for the vestiges of her own humanity.
Ari smiled at the scene before her, the façade of stoicism crumbling for a moment. After so much strife, it was rewarding to see something go right for a change. It also pleased her to see the city of the Eagle. It was like looking into the Vulture’s past, before its civil war, and it made her happy to know that one asteroid civilization had survived intact. It was beautiful, having been modeled after 19th century Japan, though Ari knew that high technology hid beneath the classic structures. The darkness that enveloped the city may have made its low buildings and lantern-style streetlights all the more charming, but everyone knew the reason for the dim light. Ari wouldn’t have known it by the mood of the people she saw; life seemed to continue on as normal for the Eaglites. For the moment.
For the newcomers to the Faith, setting foot on an alien world certainly made it a red letter day for them. They were certainly as interested in the city as they were in the reunion that was playing itself out on the street corner. Vecky, Devonai, and Richter all had their own reasons for wanting to see Evangeline again, but Devonai had been the one to wait the longest. He had been Eva’s partner on the mission to Sochi where she disappeared, and from his perspective, twenty five years had passed. It must have been shocking for Eva to see him as an older man, as so recently in her own memory, he had been young. Ari and Richter had a similar experience with Devonai upon returning to Earth, but without the emotional attachment that was clearly on display now. For Vecky, she had told Ari that she saw Eva as the big sister she never had. This endearing sentiment only served to make her more apprehensive about her burgeoning relationship with Miriam.
Miriam was Ari’s half-sister. Their father had divorced Ari’s mom and moved to England, where he began a new life with Miriam’s mother. They had only met a few weeks ago, and still had no idea they were siblings until a genetic scan proved it. Because of the extreme effects of time dilation on the Faith’s long journeys, they were only separated in physical age by nine years. Others on the crew thought they could see a familial resemblance, but Ari maintained that Miriam got most of her appearance from her mother. While Miriam had been devastated by the loss of her parents, Ari was mostly just wistful about losing her dad. She had been an adult when he divorced her mom, and all but disappeared when he moved overseas.
As if sensing her thoughts, Miriam found Ari in the gaggle of crewmembers, and stood next to her.
“This is delightful,” the girl began, “if a little awkward for the rest of us.”
“They’ll have plenty of time to catch up. We haven’t even begun to search for the Swan. It’s an important alliance, Miriam. The Fox is every bit as good as a ship we could have built for ourselves, except for its top speed. I’ll be glad to move as many people as possible off of the Faith, though I’m still not sure how Scherer and Kitsune intend to divide us up.”
“I’m not sure some of these military people will be happy serving under such a youthful captain.”
Ari shrugged. “If her stories are to be believed, she already has a ton of combat experience, both in space and on the ground. It’s a lot more than I can say for myself and the original crew of the Faith when we first started out. Besides, she’ll have older and wiser people with her on the bridge.”
“I suppose. I’m glad it’s her responsibility, not mine.”
It was dinnertime by the Eagle’s clock, so Daimyo Tomoyasu had made arrangements for a meal at the city’s best restaurant. Their large group, which had been standing in the middle of the road, began to make its way toward the establishment. Tomoyasu was an impressive man, more so as Ari knew the manner by which he became leader of the asteroid. Cassie, who normally carried herself morosely, seemed rather enamored by the Daimyo. She was obviously eager to speak with him, and lingered by his side as the group walked.
The restaurant was indeed large enough to accommodate the group, and differed from the architecture typical of the city. Instead of Japanese, it was styled after a traditional English pub. Though more modern in appearance, Ari could sense that it was much older than the structures she’d already encountered. She recalled that Vecky had told them that the Japanese influence that dominated the city was only a few decades old. This pub evidently survived from an earlier time. Several oak tables had been pushed together, and a small cadre of wait staff was ready. Oil lamps had been placed on the tables to help brighten the interior. Cassie made sure she sat next to Tomoyasu, and Ari, curious about her intentions, did also. Once everyone had found a place, and the first round of drinks had been ordered, conversation resumed.
Ari sipped an ale and listened to Cassie give the Daimyo an abbreviated history of the Vulture, a story that was only interrupted when food was ordered. She already knew that Cassie was over 80 years old, her longevity having been boosted by genetic alteration, but caught some new details about her history not previously revealed. Tomoyasu listened with fascination, and only spoke when Cassie wrapped it up.
“It is truly a tragedy that the citizens of the Vulture chose to destroy themselves,” he began. “It sounds like you did everything you could to prevent it. It can be difficult to discern the intentions of our Progenitors, but ultimately I believe we are free to seek our own destinies. The future looks bright for the Eagle, despite our current attempts to conserve power. We’ve hired several highly qualified engineers from Secundus to help build a new reactor. If all goes well, soon this city, Altair, will return to its former glory, and we hope to rebuild the old city, Aquila, on the other side of the asteroid. You would be welcome here as a citizen, if that would appeal to you.”
Cassie nodded. “It may. It remains to be seen whether or not the Swan is still a viable civilization. If they’re close to ruin, my time may be better spent there. Your offer is very much appreciated, Daimyo. If I were to accept, what would the citizenship process entail?”
“The only non-citizens ever to be naturalized were the people brought here by our Progenitors. You don’t need to go through the same process. I can grant you citizenship by fiat. Even if you do end up on the Swan, I can grant you that status here. It may hold some sway with the people of the Swan.”
“Then I accept.”
“Excellent. Before the Faith and the Fox depart again, I’ll draft a document for you to sign. It’s as easy as that.”
“I look forward to it.”
Tomoyasu flagged a waiter down for a refill on his beer, and Cassie seemed to withdraw into her own thoughts. By the time food arrived, the group was getting rather animated. Ari found it easy to get caught up in everyone else’s enthusiasm, and again managed to smile in the company of her friends.
In the Daimyo’s common room, Evangeline awoke with a mild hangover. She sat up slowly and tossed her blanket aside. Even in the dim light, she could tell she was alone. A quick check of her PDA told her it was 0700 local time. She rose, pulled on her boots, armed herself, and walked to the door to Tomoyasu’s bedroom. After confirming he wasn’t there, she used his bathroom to freshen up.
The celebration the previous evening had culminated around 0100. Eva had gone easy on the alcohol, unlike some of the other revelers. As far as she knew, Cane was the only one who had abstained from drinking, as Vecky had expressed a desire to return to the Fox after the party. Someone had to pilot the shuttle, and Cane had volunteered. It was a rare act of selflessness from the man, but he had dutifully flown Vecky and Talyn back to their ship for the night. As far as the crew of the Reckless Faith, they had all returned to it to sleep off the booze, a much simpler option as the ship was parked inside the Eagle’s main hangar.
Eva had stayed behind because she wanted to get an early start on research. The Eagle’s library and archives could hold some clue as to the location of the Swan. If she couldn’t find the answers she wanted in their computerized database, she would have to take on the ponderous task of leafing through the tomes in their library. As a last resort, further clues might reside in the old city somewhere. John and Cassie had offered to help, whenever they managed to drag themselves out of bed.
Vecky’s decision to return to the Fox was unsurprising, except that she made no effort to visit with Maoko first. Then again, her mother had also stayed away from the party. Eva knew that their relationship was still developing, and the strange circumstances of their reunion only made that effort all the more awkward. Eva hoped the girl would approach Maoko today.
Once she’d washed up and taken a long drink of water, Eva went to the command center. Ikari was there, along with two of his subordinates.
“Good morning,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
“Mostly normal. Where are the Daimyo and Maoko?”
“They went for a walk around the city, which they’ve been doing most mornings since the battle. It’s been difficult for him to get her to come out of her shell.”
“I can imagine. Any sign of Scherer and Lyra?”
Ikari raised an eyebrow. “Lyra?”
“It’s the surname Cassiopeia gave to herself. Lyra is the constellation from my home planet that represents the Vulture in our legends.”
“I recognize the name, I just wasn’t sure it was in the same context. Anyway, no, they haven’t yet returned from the Reckless Faith.”
Eva noticed a large bowl filled with fruit, and pointed at it. “Is that for anybody?”
“Help yourself. We got it on our last trip to Primus. It’s nice to have some produce that wasn’t grown in a hydroponics lab for once.”
She grabbed something that looked like a pear. “How do you feel about opening up trade with the nearby planets?”
“I think it’s good. There’s no reason we can’t maintain our traditions while interacting with the outside. Once we get our reactor back up, we can even start accepting immigrants. Cassie would be the first; in fact, we’re expecting her later today to complete her citizenship paperwork. Of course, her former status as ruler of the Vulture has prompted the Daimyo to expedite it.”
Eva mumbled around a mouthful of the fruit. “That seems a bit hasty to me, but it’s his prerogative.”
“Speaking of newcomers, our shuttle is due back soon with some Secundian engineers we hired to see about integrating Venator’s material into a new reactor. The Daimyo was hoping you could brief them on what you know about it.”
“I already told Tomoyasu everything I know, but that’s fine. Better straight from the horse’s mouth. Anyway, what time does the library open?”
“Soryu Maaya lives there, and the doors aren’t locked. But if you go now, she may not be available to help you until some time later. I don’t know what her morning routine is like.”
Eva finished her fruit and tossed the core into a trash bin. “That’s fine, I might as well get out of your hair. Thanks, Ikari. If I’m still in the library when the technicians show up, send them my way.”
“No problem, Adeler.”
After taking the elevator down to ground level, Eva made her way through the streets of the city. The library was easy to find, as it was one of the largest buildings. Its three story pagoda design presided over a park. What had once been grass had been transformed by neglect into dirt, and a disused fountain at the center of the park gathered dust. As much as Eva was sure the Eaglite citizens would have enjoyed it its former splendor, practical concerns kept it from being tended. She walked towards the library on a dirt path, though there was little to distinguish it from the surrounding terrain. Unsurprisingly, the park was vacant save for her.
She paused to look at a bench before climbing the stairs to the library’s main entrance. Someone had carved a short message on its graying planks, but her kanji was severely lacking and she had no hope of translating it. It looked like it had been there for a long time. Her PDA started beeping at her, so she answered an incoming call.
“Good morning, it’s Scherer,” John’s voice said. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Not at all, I’ve just arrived at the library and was about to go inside. Are you and Cassie still planning on helping me out?”
“Of course. We’re just about to depart the Faith now. I expect we’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
“Sounds good. I won’t wander to far from the entrance.”
“Cool. Scherer out.”
Eva put her PDA away, and went inside the building. Immediately, she was hit with the smell of old paper, which was not unpleasant. The interior was on low lighting just like the rest of the city, so she waited for her vision to adjust. An older woman, who had to be Maaya, nodded at her from behind a large counter after their eyes had met. Eva crossed the voluminous lobby to the counter, her footfalls echoing softly. Maaya was wearing a sky blue kimono, and had her hair up in a simple bun. The light from her computer console made her counter the brightest spot in the lobby.
“Good morning,” she began, “you must be Soryu. I’m Adeler Evangeline, here to do some research.”
“Ah, yes. You couldn’t have known, but I was in the stands at the arena the day of your duel with Takeda. You did well for yourself.”
Eva shrugged. “I didn’t die.”
“I knew Takeda by reputation only, which wasn’t flattering. I have heard of your adventures since coming here. Your reputation is significantly better.”
“That’s a plus.”
“Anyway, what can I help you with today?”
“I need to research the historical archives to see if there’s any clue as to the location of the Swan.”
Maaya smiled. “Is that all? For a moment there I thought you were going to ask me something difficult.”
“Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning?”
After working at her console for a minute, Maaya shook her head. “There are 376 references to the Swan within the context of the Stymphalian Raptors. Only five have been transcribed into digital format. The rest are on the shelves.”
Eva sighed, and pulled out her PDA. “Send them to my device. You should see it on the wireless network as ‘Unmarked CIA Van’.”
“Very well,” replied Maaya, frowning. “Okay, I think I got it.”
“I’m receiving the data. Thank you. I guess I’ll read through these five entries first. Is there somewhere I can sit?”
“The reading room is opposite the lobby from here. I’m afraid it’s somewhat gloomy in there right now, but I can bring you some tea in a little while to help keep you awake.”
“That sounds lovely. I’ll let you know if I have any questions. More than likely I’m going to have to hit the books if I want to find anything useful.”
Eva got halfway across the lobby when John and Cassie entered. She greeted them and told them about the data on her PDA.
“Well, shit,” began John. “I guess it was wishful thinking that the librarian had that info in her ass pocket.”
“Let’s go over what we have online, then start with the most recent book and work backward from there.”
Cassie said, “I’m glad to help, but I have an appointment with the Daimyo to sign my citizenship papers at noon.”
“We’ll see how far we get by then. Maaya said there are chairs through here.”
John gestured at the backpack he was wearing. “I brought two Thermoses full of coffee and some snacks. It sounds like we’re going to be here for a while.”
Eva smiled. “I know we only just met, but I think you and I are going to get along just fine, Commander.”