Congratulations to Ian, who won the tablet!  Expect it to ship tomorrow- As you know I’ve already contacted you and have your information.  Happy holidays!  Thanks again to everyone who helped- there’s a pretty good chance that The Lucienne Twins will become an episode of a TV show now!!

***

Airomem

“Absolutely not!”  Shouted Airomem’s father after the Agrarians had left, and they had returned to her apartment, “Absolutely not!  They’ll use you as a bargaining chip, as a way to get even more out of the deal.  You had no authority to accept his demands!”

“It’s too late now,”  Said Airomem, her arms crossed over her chest, her heart still beating rapidly from when she had stepped forward to counter Sitient with words of her own.  As the ranks of Lear exploded into applause as she had lit her own stun gun as a challenging beacon, watching Sitient wince backwards as her mouth formed words.

“Take me then!  But do not suppose I will be an easier burden!”

Back at her apartment, Prometh spoke up from the door, from where he had followed them.

“Strategically, she’s right,”  He said, “You forget your position as not only a father, but also as a leader.  The Lear need you now more than ever as the ship joins together. Should you leave and not return in time, there is a chance that none of us will survive.”

“But if she should leave and not return-” Started Airomem’s father as Prometh cut him off.

“The Agrarians may not possess the most acute intelligence, but even they can sense the wrath a father will feel for his daughter.  They know that if the Lear attack then they will have their flank exposed to the Aquarians, and they shall not risk it.  And they know that with ten stun guns they will have a strong upper hand against the Aquarians, an edge they have been seeking for centuries. No, they will return Airomem, the motives are too great for them to consider otherwise.”

Her father’s face contorted, and Airomem turned away, looking outside the window to avoid his eyes.

“Leader or no leader, I cannot allow it,”  He said, “We will take the time to plan out a different alternative, as I cannot-”

But then his voice was cut off, and the ground underneath Airomem lurched, nearly knocking her off her feet.  Above them a voice spoke as she regained her balance.

“Systems rebooting,” said the voice, “ship damage assessed. Reuniting the two halves of the ship and restoring airlock, approximately twenty four hours until complete.”

When Airomem turned to face them again, her father’s lips were pursed shut, and Prometh’s eyes were lit by an inner fire.

“I’m leaving,”  She said once more, her fists clenched, “And I’ll come back.  I always come back.”

***

“Come with me,”  Her father said, three hours after he had stormed from her apartment, his face one of tired resolution, “Before you leave, I wish to show you something.  To give you my council.”

She followed him, wordless, as he strode away, her footsteps in the shadow of his and her thoughts upon what he might have to say.  They continued walking to the back of the ship, to the power room, and then to a small side alcove.  One she had been to before, but that had not been used in hundreds of years.

The room that held the suits.

Dust fought to hide the gleaming of helmets as her father strode in front of them, waiting for her to take a seat at a chair towards the back of the room.  He glanced backwards to where they were fastened to the wall, eleven in all, bright white with Oxygen tanks bulging from the back, and small utility belts clipped to the sides.  Towering over him, their silence majestic, their presence reminiscent of a time long past.  And one missing, the one Necti had taken long ago to the other end of the ship, which had never returned.

Then her father began to speak.

“These suits once allowed us to travel outside the ship,”  He said and she nodded, knowing the lore well behind the equipment, “I want you to consider their purpose, Airomem.  They are like small ships in themselves- they keep the wearer safe.  But the smallest of cracks in the glass, or the tiniest malfunctions, and the user enters extreme peril.  Just as we have entered extreme peril.”

“Of course,”  She said, trying to understand his point, “Outside the ship, the vacuum forces would mean near instant death should they be given the chance.”

“Exactly, Airomem.  The suit serves as a layer insulating against danger.  But there are other dangers than exterior of the ship, other environments that cause peril.  Environments such as the Agrarians, which you will soon enter.”

He took a breath, and she saw resentment cross his face, before he continued.

“I have brought you here because when you walk among them, you must walk in a suit of your own.  Not these suits, but the suit of royalty.  The suit of the Lear.  If you show but the slightest sign of weakness, they will rip you apart faster than the exterior forces of the ship.  So daughter, hold your chin high.  Remember your heritage, and give them no chance to strike.”

“Of course, father,”  She said, “Just as you do, when they approach for battle.”

“Precisely.  There is another reason I brought you here though, Airomem.  One far more grave.”  And from his pocket, he produced a key ring, and walked to the side of the room where a small cabinet was recessed into the wall.  

Three locks were on the outside of the cabinet, and he inserted different keys into each, unlocking them one a time.  Then he pulled the door open, the metal over an inch thick, and reached inside to pull out a device the size of a drinking cup.  He held it a half arms reach away, his hand gripped tight around its handle, and his eyes slightly widened.  

“What is it?”  Airomem asked, leaning forward, inspecting the bright yellow handle and dark red prongs that extended from the top, as well as a trigger that her father’s index finger avoided with care.

“This,”  Her father said, “Is the most dangerous item on the ship- more dangerous than knives, or stun guns, or potentially even the reactor.  Only two exist- this one, and its counterpart in the power room on the other side.  For this is an Omni-Cutter, a device capable of shearing through nearly any material on the ship.  One accidental slice from this, and the ship itself could be breached.  Back when it was used by those who wore the suits, only the most senior among them could remove it from its cabinet, and only for the greatest of emergencies and most dire of repairs.”

“But why are you telling me this?  Do you want me to take it with me?”

Absolutely not,”  He said, and walked back to the cabinet, fastening the device inside once more, “It’s another lesson for you to consider.  Despite its size, that device can be the end of us all.  As you travel, Airomem, realize that even the smallest of your actions can bring death to the entire ship.  Realize that you are an Omni-Cutter, that one mishap may very well be the Lear’s last.”

“But even if the hull was breached by the Omni-Cutter,”  Objected Airomem, “The ship automatically shuts off the areas where pressure has dropped until it is restored, correct?  So even if you were to cut into the hull, would the ship not protect us?”

“It would, yes.  But I fear you may not be so lucky, with the Agrarians.  Our time is short, and even one potential pathway that is closed off could eliminate our odds of survival.”

Then he walked forward, and placed his hands on his daughter’s shoulders.

“I say this not to put a burden upon you, Airomem, nor to dissuade you.  But rather, so you may know potential outcomes of your actions.  That you may think like a Lear before acting.  And that you may act as a chief would, as the chief you will one day become when my time is no more.  So go, and go with my blessing.  But go with the utmost caution.”

Together, they left the room, her father casting one last look upon the suits.  And he muttered under his breath, his words just audible to Airomem before following her.

“For though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Chapter 34