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Novkey > Library > The Rest > The Starlight Fortress

The Starlight Fortress

Chapter 5

Author: FionaR Total hits: 4614 User hits: 29 Date: 03-17-2014

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Geneva had planned to go on a diet for the few weeks before Harmony Day. It might be too late, after gaining fourteen pounds in the past two years. A plate of salad was all she could have for dinner. Then she would wake up at midnight with a whining tummy and treat herself with cookies. After all, nobody in the world was truly worth starving herself. Besides, there were always pretty women in Charlie’s life. Knowing what her strengths and weaknesses were, she seldom stretched herself to meet others’ standard.

Anyhow, when Charlie’s ship arrived on the Saturday morning of that weekend, she did manage to present the best of herself. She had loosened her curly hair and added stripes of highlights—a trick to elongate her face. The crinkles that ran down through her silver gray dress had a similar purpose. And of course, the dress was long enough to cover her plump legs.

“What a lovely ship!” Geneva said as she embarked. Compared with the ones she owned, Charlie’s ship was more of a business style. The cream carpets with faint floral patterns, the contemporary sofas, everything appeared ordinary, yet it didn’t take long for one to become addicted to their uniqueness. Any need that may occur to the occupant must have already been considered by the designer. Not a single item clamored for attention; not a single existed without a practical purpose.

“A gift from my father.”

No wonder, she thought. The ship was made in Artorna, the large kingdom located in the Renaisun-C solar system, a highly developed society built on business, a territory even Emperor Pompey did not dare to touch—at least not yet. She knew Charlie’s father was a businessman from Artorna. His marriage with Charlie’s mother had once caused a storm of objections in the Rainprain royal family, but people’s attitude changed dramatically as his father’s business quickly spread into energy, transportation, and electronics. She sat down with him on a sofa and looked around, trying to imagine how those businessmen and women, who lived in another solar system, far from this world and this war, were currently monitoring stock markets, selling real estate, and managing products that were unrelated to mass killings.

“Do you visit your parents often?” she asked, looking through the window at the ocean outside. Water streamed sideways as the ship sailed along. Occasionally seagulls and dolphins would come into sight. She knew it was a fake image; she should be staring at the plain sky, but she enjoyed it.

“Twice a year, usually. Every time I see them, they’d ask me to move there. Once I stayed there for a few months …”

Sensing a slight change of his tone, Geneva turned to look at him. His face was still tranquil and charming, but some shadows emerged in his ocean-blue eyes. Did something happen to him at that time?

“I realized I don’t belong there. Maybe when I get older …” He bent forward and fetched out a box of chocolate from beneath the sofa.

“Oh, thanks!” Geneva smiled and untied the ribbons. Then she started talking about her passion for food, knowing the previous conversation had hit a dead end.

* * *

It was dinnertime when they arrived at Rainprus’s capital, although they had only traveled for three hours. In the past, Geneva’s trips had always been confined to the king’s palace. So when Charlie asked her whether she wanted to eat out or go directly to his place, she said she’d be happy to take a look at the city. Compared with Sunphere, the streets were better oriented and the buildings were newer and taller, even though the two countries were born around the same time. Trees flourished everywhere due to abundant rain. Long glass shelters covered all the sidewalks to free people from carrying umbrellas in the evenings.

“What’s going on there?” Sitting in the back of the car, she leaned over to the window and pointed to the plaza with a big crowd and lots of slogans. Failing to get an immediate answer, she turned to him with an inquiring look.

Charlie said rather cautiously, “The Ragged Wealth, I believe.”

She turned back to the window, not wanting him to see her gloomy face. The Ragged Wealth! It no longer existed in her country, but she had always felt its presence, somewhere in the world, somewhere in her mind.

A hundred and eighty years ago when the mother planet was no longer suitable for residence, the majority of mankind, together with some plants and animals, arrived at Planet RA-3, their first station in the new world. Several decades later, a group of Sunpherean environmentalists started an organization called A Second Chance. They blamed their ancestors for polluting the universe. “If we don’t change our way of living, we are just going to destroy one planet after another, like what we did to the old Earth.”

But later on, as their propositions expanded, the organization was renamed the Ragged Wealth, and began to attract people with more diverse backgrounds, to say the least. Some of them were abstinent, anti-technology, and some anti-government. In the past several decades there had been numerous protests against Sunphere’s industrialization and military recruitment. The long battle between the organization and the government, as well as the royal family, finally ended tragically nineteen years ago. When Geneva’s parents were on their way to a welfare party, their car was held up by a group of protestors. Then one of the organization’s regional leaders, Quincy Sheelon, attempted to kill the king. Geneva’s mother died protecting her father, and Quincy killed himself on the spot. Since then her father had banned the organization, and the major leaders had been ordered to permanently leave the country.

“I understand how you feel,” Charlie said. “But to be fair, your father didn’t have enough evidence to incriminate them. They denied that the assassination had anything to do with them. It might have been personal spite.”

“And my father might have been killed long before he found the evidence.”

“That was possible at his time,” Charlie said patiently. “Now it’s been twenty years, and I think you should reconsider your relationship with them. That’s quite a lot of enemies out there.”

Geneva pondered his words for a while and nodded. “I’ve just started an investigation. If it does turn out to be a personal affair, I would consider paying them justice.”

* * *

They went to a restaurant located inside a harbor. Built over the water, the restaurant was made almost exclusively with glass. Rain started timely after sunset, flowing along the transparent dome before joining the sea below. Every now and then some sea creatures would pop up under the diners’ feet and have a quick peek upwards.

The unhappy memory aroused by the Ragged Wealth was flushed away by the rain. Finally Geneva could have something other than garden salads for dinner. And how relaxing it was to eat out with a friend, rather than with an unacquainted political leader or a distinguished scientist or a military family! Besides, people here didn’t pay much attention to her. Several women at the nearby tables occasionally glanced over, but she knew whom they were looking at.

“Are you ever tired of the rain?” she asked after she emptied her plate.

Charlie was only halfway through his entrée. “No. If you grow up here, it’s as natural as the sunset.”

“And it always stops in the morning?”

“Usually it does. There were several times in the past when it lasted for more than a day. People freaked out.”

“Do you have thunderstorms?”

His hands froze, together with the air around him. His eyes were as placid as the sea on a windless day, impossible for one to tell how many undercurrents were stirring beneath. “Sometimes.”

The phone inside Geneva’s bag rang. Good timing! She was grateful for the interruption as she took it out.

“I’m sorry to bother you, boss.” It was one of her personal assistants, Fernando.

Geneva had a special nanny who had taken care of her for many years before she went to college. Fernando was the nanny’s son and was frequently brought to her palace when they were little. Unlike other kids who always kept a distance from the princess, Fernando was never afraid of fighting her. He stopped coming to the palace when they were older, of course, but their friendship survived all those years. And when Geneva wanted someone she could trust to investigate her parents’ assassination, she immediately thought of him.

Although occasionally she would wonder whether she had made the right choice.

“You told me to schedule a meeting with Mr. Coles, boss. I called him, but he said he’s really busy. He has a dentist’s appointment on Monday morning. Then his wife needs to see her gynecologist in the afternoon. And since he’s a good husband—”

“I have to see him, Fernando. I have to talk to him as soon as possible.”

“I told him that but … what should I do?”

She glanced at Charlie briefly and tried to stay patient. “Maybe you could do some reasoning with him, and let him know the consequence of failing to meet me?”

“Ur, tell him you’ll be disappointed?”

She said nothing.

“Angry?”

“Alright, Fernando, listen. You ask Lieutenant Dephery for a platoon of my guards and bring them with you to Coles’s place. Press a gun on his head if needed. Tell him, if he doesn’t come see me on Monday, he’s not going to see the sunrise on Tuesday. Does that sound like a workable plan?”

“Yes, I guess so. I’ll go talk to him this afternoon.”

She was about to hang up.

“Just to clarify, boss. When you said he may not see the sunrise on Tuesday, you meant we’ll put him in a dungeon?”

Geneva wished she could punch him in the face, as she used to do when they were kids. “Just repeat my words to him, okay?”

She put the phone back to her bag and saw Charlie eating his dessert with a refrained smile.

Whatever! Not the first time she blew a date. She moved her dessert closer and started digging in.

* * *

They spent the next day sightseeing on a small yacht. There were rivers everywhere, in every direction, forming a convenient waterborne traffic system for the city.

“That’s the National Air and Space Museum.” Sitting beside her, Charlie pointed at a modern building complex on the river shore ahead of them. Four spherical structures, each made of a different material, were connected with bridges. The whole rectangular structure symbolized the Renaisun quadruple star system.

“Shall we go in and take a look?” he asked.

Geneva smiled broadly at him. Astronomy was her college major and lifelong hobby. Was he always so attentive to his girlfriends? “I’d love to. It looks magnificent.”

“I think the one you have is more magnificent,” he said. “It has all the old stuff from Earth.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, you can almost call it a Museum of History! There hasn’t been anything new for decades because it doesn’t have the space. We need a larger one.”

That was her wish and would probably remain a wish for a long time. There was no way for her to bring it up to her financial minister, who was already bombarded by excessive military expenses over the years.

The yacht slowly approached the shore. “How about I build one for you?” he asked in a casual tone, but she could tell he wasn’t joking. And he wasn’t just talking about the museum. She shifted slightly in her seat. The morning was getting hotter. Wasn’t that what she had wanted? What her prime minister had wanted?

He was different from Anthony. With his talents and family background, he should be able to build her people a stronger realm. Then she could be off the hook immediately and never need to worry about battles or recruitments or promotions for the rest of her life. And in other people’s eyes, they’d make a perfect family.

But for some reason, she couldn’t make up her mind.

The yacht jolted mildly as it reached the shore. Along with the moist breeze came Charlie’s suave smile. “Let’s go there and take a look.”

* * *

The sun was hanging low in front of them when they re-boarded his ship and headed for Sunphere, but Geneva knew soon they would catch up with the sun, and the sky in her world would be lit up again. What a great time she had! If this trip became a weekly routine, who knows, maybe she’d indeed fall in love with him.

“That was quite an experience.” He chuckled, after she told him about the recent adventure. “So you’re the one who first found out about the asteroids. Were you scared?”

“Not at the time, because things were happening so fast. Now when I think about it, I could’ve been killed by our ally, or even my own people.”

Neither of them spoke for a while. Then he seemed to have remembered something and moved closer to her on the couch.

“Speaking of asteroids, I just had a plan last week, a plan intrigued by the enemy’s trick.” He picked up a small keyboard from the coffee table and turned on a screen mounted to the wall straight ahead. The screen showed a map of the current Renaisun-B system, with each of the five planets colored differently.

“The planet in red is RB-2, where Thyphol’s largest base is located.” He zoomed out the map for a complete picture of the quadruple system. Somewhere in the deserted Renaisun-D a small yellow dot flashed rapidly. “That’s a real asteroid with a diameter of three kilos. Within a few months it will fly past RB-2. The closest distance between the asteroid and the planet will be less than a thousand miles—naturally, if nothing else interrupts them.”

He typed something on the keyboard, and the image changed. Now the red and yellow dots were almost together. “We could set up a time bomb on the asteroid. And let it go at the right moment when the asteroid is too close for them to do anything, even if they realize what’s going to happen.”

Geneva gasped, her hand covering her mouth. “Are you saying … Well, it’s a sound plan, Charlie, but you forgot about one thing: there’s a small Thypholian colony on the other side of RB-2. It’s no larger than a tribe, but still there are fifteen thousand people. Nobody would survive if the planet was hit by an asteroid of that size.”

“I know, but more people have died since the beginning of this war.”

The indifference of his tone shocked her and left her speechless.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He smiled. “Let’s—”

“Charlie!” She grabbed his arm. “You can’t do this! You can never achieve the right goal by means of a crime.” He looked away from her. She shook his arm and tried to draw his attention. “How are you going to live through the rest of your life knowing you’ve killed those innocent people? Think about it! Say if … if I were on that planet, would you still do this?”

He finally turned back, but his gaze was cold. “Yes, I would.” He broke loose from her grasp and walked away. At the moment, there was no virtual image showing in the window. He simply looked at the sky, which was growing brighter with each passing minute. But she had a feeling what he really saw was the dark outer space.

“I once had a girlfriend. We met in college. Later she joined my squadron as a pilot, one of the best women pilots we ever had. She was killed during the Battle of the RA-5. Her plane was the second in line to take off when a missile flew right into the Winter Sun from the exit ahead of her … Immense fire, I heard …”

Geneva lowered her head and stared at the carpet. The brown floral patterns were spreading out like dried blood. She knew he didn’t exaggerate. She was actually not far from the carrier at the time it was doomed.

“She survived for a few days in the hospital, all wrapped in bandages. Couldn’t see me, couldn’t hear anything … She was five-weeks pregnant at the time, but I guess she didn’t know it … We had the largest thunderstorm on the day she left.”

For a while, silence filled the gap between them—thick and impenetrable.

“I was sick of the war since that day.” The undercurrents were rising to the surface. “I want it to end. I’ll do anything to have it end, right or wrong.”

“I’m sick of it too.” Geneva recollected herself and stood up. “That’s why we are all working so hard. But if we kill those people for our peace, what makes us different from our enemy?” She walked to the window and stopped at his side. “Say your plan works, and this war is over, would there be no war and no more conflict in the future? Does the majority always have the right to sacrifice the minority? Who gets to decide, and where do you draw the line?”

He turned to look at her. Weary and vapid, he was not that charming gentleman she had been admiring. “We are running out of time, Geneva. Soon there’s going to be a big one, before Ribbon Islands could recover from the recent attack. Everything’s under Pompey’s control, as it was always. I’m sorry, Geneva, but this time I won’t listen to you.”

The ship was descending steadily. They quietly looked at each other until there came the little touch of the ground.

“Then you’ll find my troops on your way,” she said as she grabbed her bag and left for the exit.
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