Chapter 48

“Airomem, hold up!”  Prometh called, his breath coming in gasps as he rushed down the hallway.  The accumulation of his age and the sleepless night had taken its toll, and he grimaced with the knowledge that rest was still far away.

“I heard what you said,” She hissed, whipping around to face him and still walking backwards, “And you won’t talk sense into me.”

“Not if you kill me first with this pace,”  He responded, and then pointed at her with one of his remaining fingers, “But at bare minimum you owe me a discussion Airomem, a discussion of the other side, and of the survival of this ship as a whole!  Time is short and we cannot afford for it to be wasted by your temper!”

She stopped, blood rushing to her face.  Prometh was right, just as he had been countless times through the years.  Her storming away solved nothing, and she had no plans developed for what to do when her anger subsided.  She paused, then spoke as he caught up to her.

“What do you want to know?”

“These people you found, you said they were like the Lear?”

“Yes.”

“And that they may prove critical to our own survival?” He inquired.

“Absolutely.”

“And, when they turned upon you,” He held a hand up as she started to protest, “Was it violence and greed that drove them?  Or was it fear and ignorance.”

“Ignorance,” She answered, and Prometh smiled, “Ignorance for what was for their own good.”

“That’s fortunate,” He answered, his voice soft, “For that can be fixed.  Oh yes it can- knowledge can be given, and the stupid can be lead, but character is far harder to change.  Now, we must discuss the Lear departure of the ship.  Stop trying to speak over me.  We’ll come back to the issue of the Nectians in just a moment.”

From his pocket he pulled out a folded paper and began to open it, gently prying the creases apart and setting it on the ground.  And Airomem recognized it as the schematics of the ship that had hung in the classroom during her studies, as Prometh had taught her the methods of bottleneck defense.

“It is critical that you remember, Airomem, the path to the bridge,” He said, smoothing the map with his palm, “This map is old. In the years since it was created there could be blocked corridors or there could be malfunctions in the ship that block our progress.  Do you remember any of these?”

“No,” She answered with a frown as Prometh handed her a pen.  And she traced the route she had taken on the paper, her face wrinkled in concentration as she fought to remember if it was correct.”

Prometh shook his head as she traced a particularly long line through the farming fields, and shook his head.

“No that won’t do,” He whispered, shaking his head, “It’s too much distance.”

“Why does that matter?”  She asked, “If anything, it’s the quickest way as a straight line and it points nearly directly at the bridge.”

“You forget, Airomem, that we will be weightless.”  He answered, “We will not have the privilege of running along the ground.  Our speed will come from kicking off the walls, and in a stretch as long as this, the air itself will slow us down!  And should we get stuck near the center, we are as good as dead.  Easy targets from the sides.

He took the pen from her and traced around the inner edge of the fields, squinting as the tip raced through the narrow lines, and speaking once he finished the alternate path.

“This is better, with more right angled turns that can be used to keep speed.  More dangerous, though.  More dangerous for sure.  But the procession of the entirety of the Lear would be greatly accelerated.”

“It’s nearly at the center of Agrarian territory,”  she answered, “It doesn’t seem dangerous, it seems suicidal. You would be surrounded instantly.”

“Not quite,”  He answered, “With the sudden influx of weapons, all it will take is but the tiniest of sparks to drive the tribes to full war.  I’m certain the Lear can find a way to initiate it, just a few of the right words when giving stun guns to the Aquarians should be enough.  That means that the majority of the Agrarian forces will be at or past their own boundary, and those few who may be lingering will be incapacitated at the front of the procession by our own soldiers.  We’ll have surprise on our side as well, since we will cut power to the ship mere seconds before we depart, and the darkness will help shield us from prying eyes.  With no notion that weightlessness is coming, or even the idea that it exists, the Agrarian’s ability to react will be severely diminished.”

“So cut the power,” She reiterated, “Then flush our people through the hall in a single line as fast as possible to the bridge.  From there, we defend the entrance like a bottleneck until it is time to depart.”

“Exactly,” Said Prometh, “And there are only two who can lead the Lear to the bridge, two that have walked the paths before.  Myself, and you, Airomem.  But since I’m a frail old man, I fear there are journeys I can no longer attempt alone.”

She grimaced, turning to the window where she could see the other side of the ship with the Nectians, and bit her tongue.  She hadn’t considered that the fate of the Lear rested just as heavily upon her shoulders as the fate of them.

“When the Lear arrive at the bridge,” Continued Prometh, “It will be too late to save the Nectians.  Without gravity and in the dark they’ll have panicked.  Even if they do decide to depart for the bridge, the loss of power several hours before they leave means that many of them will be left behind.  I anticipate that only a few stragglers will make it, if any at all.”

“I,”  Started Airomem, he voice thin, “I’ll cross the Agrarian lands on my own then, now, before the power is out, and lead the Nectians to the brdige.  Then I can come back for the Lear.”

“A suicide mission that will help neither,”  Said Prometh, “You’ll be killed long before you reach the Nectians if you travel by foot.  I’m afraid that way is barred to you, Airomem.”

Her throat tightened, and Prometh turned to embrace her in the hallway, his arms around her as she felt hope fleeting, watching as a few members of the Lear hurried away from them, carrying the message of the soon to come departure.  At any other time, his gesture would have seemed inappropriate- but she found herself welcoming the comfort of her old mentor.  And she felt his fingers entwine around her own, her eyes widening in surprise as something hard and jagged bit into her palm, held firmly in place by the pressure of Prometh’s hand.  He angled his head, and he spoke into her ear, his words coming slow and heavy.

“As I said, Airomem, there are journeys I can no longer attempt alone.  But leading the Lear through Agrarian territory is something that I can do.  Your presence shall be missed.”

He took a step backwards, and gave her a slow wink.

“I hope I have talked some sense into you, Airomem.  As your father commanded, be ready to depart at once.”

Then he turned away as she glanced at her palm, her mouth opening as she recognized the objects she held.

“I’ll see you at the bridge,”  He said over his shoulder, and waved a hand in departure.

“You as well, Prometh.  Thank you, this may be the most important lesson you have ever given me.”

And she raised her own hand in a fist, mimicking his motion, but daring not to open her fingers and expose the three keys and folded note that she clutched within.
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