Rotterdam came alive on the day of James “Jimmy” Thompson’s memorial. Of course, he was to be honored among the rest of the fallen during an official ceremony, but Art decided to have him buried with Mikkel. He was somewhat comforted to think that they could keep each other company until it was his time to join them in whatever beyond the afterlife held.
Raven held Art’s hand through his comatose and eventually his tears. He couldn’t believe that twice in his life, he had lost someone who meant so much to him. Raven knew he would someday tell himself he was lucky to have had something twice that not too many got to have once in a lifetime, but today was not that day. He needed to mourn and miss his Jimmy. So Raven stayed by his side and attended to him.
Then Art kept her company in the days following. While they spent the days helping Nesake revamp her weigh station yet again, Dex became a part of the new order charging itself to rebuild the UCNSS from its civil war. As the leader of the Resistance, Dex’s involvement was mandatory and hopefully meant more than a figurehead in the UCNSS’s same old ways. After a few days, Dex did contact Raven to offer her one very important concession in the agreements: the UCNSS was no longer allowed to align itself with companies such as Blue Nova.
With this separation of governance and commerce, Blue Nova no longer had the protections it enjoyed with the UCNSS as practically an extension of its own company. The power Blue Nova acquired over time rendered any governance useless without its influence. Now Dex and others who spent their lives under The Blank had their say in how things should be done to reverse the damage that created a class of kieras and kastouts.
Much to her surprise, Dex had also proposed that Blue Nova compensate former employees for their service even though the company planned to dissolve itself over the next few years. If all went well, Raven would still “retire” as planned with all her expenses covered. Dex fought to get her more, noting that her actions had saved many lives before she was falsely accused of terrorism.
Raven was also sure that Dex was behind the leak of the news. She no longer had a price over her head. Her face was still known, but the narrative around it was changing with every day.
“Important to get the story right,” Nesake said. “We don’t know what’s true anymore because we let them tell the history in a way that favors them. Every once in a while, someone who had travelled the star came in after a trip to Earth in the 20th or 21st century. They marveled at how different it was, how they thought it would be. I don’t think Blue Nova considered that. A lot of people who traveled the star as children were a huge part of The Blank. They knew they had been lied to and didn’t appreciate the deception.
“Then there are people like you, Raven. You looked deeper into the history you were taught and imagined it could have been some other way. And it probably was. People like you were the ones to retrieve history. Now you’ve also helped make it.”
Raven smiled at Nesake’s kindness as she carefully took tech pieces off the shelves to box them. They were to be transported back to Jesse’s cave warehouse where it would be further developed if needed. Chessy had assembled a small team to take back with her to continue developing the Moana Tech. Dex had steadfastly refused to relinquish it to the UCNSS in a joint development venture. So the UCNSS refused to help convince Blue Nova to join with the Resistance in exploring the Anaed Star.
That was now Art’s purpose. He and Tobi had already made arrangements to take a team to a nearby uninhabited dwarf planet where they could set up the colony. They wouldn’t have all the same resources as Blue Star once had, but much of the Moana Tech would come in handy as it was developed. Tobi wouldn’t stay full time. As an experienced pilot, he had to act as liaison and bring supplies back and forth to the colony while they studied the kemtons in the Anaed.
“The stargazing will be nice,” Art said quietly. “Got a chance to just sit and enjoy it every once in a while. Forgot there was a whole war going on. I thought about just staying there. Nobody would have missed us and we didn’t get to use the star anyway. What difference would it have made? And he would still…”
He simply shut down. Neither Nesake nor Raven pushed him to say more. They only continued with the task of making Troiwee better than it had been before the war.
Raven hadn’t allowed Awya to be buried. She had a feeling she wouldn’t have liked being buried in a box underground, not after confinement on Heifri. So she found a beautiful decorative urn to hold her ashes while she traveled to Venquo. She knew where she had planned to live once she left Blue Nova, so she decided to take Awya there to wait for her while she finished taking care of business and waited for Dex.
“Nice place,” Ni-Hun said as they came upon her soon-to-be designated housing. “Lots of space, a beautiful wooded area, all the conveniences you were used to on Terra Firma 9. Now we just need to see if they contest the order.”
“I doubt they will,” Raven said as she carried the urn toward the small but beautiful wood house that looked to be in the middle of nowhere to anyone who didn’t know the area. Now that Blue Nova was no longer in charge, she didn’t know how well the area would be kept up with its beautiful flower and vegetable gardens around the housing. No one had private vehicles, so vans and other public transports took residents to and from shopping areas, museums, theatres and other services concentrated in designated areas of the cities. The whole planet was designed for comfort and ease.
“I figure they’ll keep this up for a while. They want to maintain their image and have a chance to rebuild. They think we have short memories. Hell, we do have short memories. That’s why things stay the way they are. But we’ll see what they do when they think we’ve forgotten.”
They reached the front porch of the dark brown house. Raven had to admit to herself she liked the quaintness of it all. Three dark brown wooden rocking chairs and a porch swing. A ceiling fan. A wide rectangular window on either side of the door. This was exactly as she dreamed it would be.
Raven set the urn by the front door. “Watch over the place until we get back.”
“You don’t wanna go in, explore the place a bit,” Ni-Hun asked.
“No, not yet. I’ll wait until Dex can come with.”
Ni-Hun draped a friendly arm around Raven’s shoulder and led her away from the house. “Before we go back to the airfield, let’s head downtown. I hear they have a supreme pizza that will make you cry at this place…”
Dex was home. They stayed a few days at Nesake’s place, only then realizing that they were both without a permanent home until they headed to Venquo.
“I hate goodbyes,” Nesake said, sitting down at the patio table with them after she put out her cigarette. “You never know when they’re permanent. I’ve had enough uncertainty for a lifetime. I’d be happy to never say goodbye again. I know the word doesn’t mean to be cruel, but it is.”
“Perhaps it depends on what you’re saying goodbye to. Or whom.”
Dex contemplated those words while sipping at the hot coffee before noticing how quiet and faraway Raven had gotten. She obviously hadn’t been part of the conversation.
“Back on Unone, the only thing I wanted was to get out,” she said. “Working the farm for the rest of my life would have just been the slowest death, the slowest torture I’d have ever endured. So I was glad when I found the Starman. His words, his creativity, his life helped me get through mine. I learned everything I could about him right up until the day he died.
“The man even made his death a brilliant piece of performance art. He released an album on his birthday and the last visual he ever made was a goodbye because he knew he was dying. He made himself immortal.
“After a while, I went through some of the things people wrote about him after his death. He made such a huge impact while he was there, before he returned home to his real people so they say. But there was also something else. Almost as soon as the praise started, so did the ugliness. Immediately, people wanted everyone to remember some of the more horrible things he had done in his past.
“No doubt it was horrible, even when the victim of his crimes said it wasn’t. I found a few people who like me, admired him for making them feel not so out of place. They had a hard time with it, reconciling that part of him with the parts they loved, the parts that saved them when they needed. I became one of them. How could I love and admire someone so much who was capable of the most horrible things against a person?
“But I couldn’t let go of that love. I couldn’t let go of something that saved me when I thought there was nothing else out there for me except what he gave. It’s because of him I got the urge to explore. I found the courage to learn to fly so that I’d never have to go back to that place again. Not just Unone but that place that made me feel like an insignificant speck in the light of the UCNSS.
“I decided then the good he did outweighed the bad. He became a good person who did horrible things. I could live with that. There was this expression: don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I said goodbye to the bathwater. Kept the baby.”
Raven looked up from her reverie to find Dex and Nesake staring at her. Dex took her hand as if making sure she was still well.
“I’m alright, Dex,” she said. “I’ve just had time to think. I haven’t seen my parents since I left Unone for Terra Firma 9. I lost contact with them when I went on the run. Haven’t tried to reach them since this whole thing ended. Maybe it’s time. I avoided facing that part I couldn’t live with, but I need to know. Things are different. I’m not the same. I think I can handle it.”
Dex smiled. Nesake softly chuckled to herself, no doubt finding her friend’s hero worship a bit silly but too polite to say it.
“Well, our place in Venquo is ready when we are,” Dex said. “If you want to go to Unone before we get settled in, I’ll go with you.”
Raven smiled back at Dex and nodded. She wasn’t particularly looking forward to the trip, but at least she would have Dex by her side to make it easier.
Somehow she recognized the feeling of Unone’s atmosphere as soon as the craft entered. But there was something different about it. Something off.
“We can land close to my parents’ compound,” Raven said. “That way we won’t need a vehicle since the farm is within walking distance.”
She saw it before they landed. Her heart pounded with fear and anticipation. This was not good in any way.
“What the hell happened here?”
Dex didn’t exactly pose the question to Raven, more like read her mind. They landed safely in an open field often used for air traffic to exchange supplies and other items. They disembarked and almost sprinted to the nearly destroyed wall of the farm’s compound.
The land was barren as if nothing had been grown there for years. The fields had been burned out and destroyed. Raven looked around in disbelief at the fields that had thrived when she was a child and still thrived the day she left for Terra Firma 9. It was all gone.
“This was no natural disaster,” Dex said. “This was a deliberate act of sabotage. These fields were intentionally destroyed and the compound…”
Raven looked up at Dex before turning toward the gated brick wall that no longer stood strong or closed. She ran toward the wall with Dex close at her heels. In the not so far distance, she saw the compound where her parents once lived and worked. Even though it looked as if it had burned years ago, she could still process the smell of smoke and ash. She ran toward the compound against all hope that she would find something there, anything, to tell her what happened to her parents and the others.
She reached the compound. Everything was gone, burned beyond recognition. The only thing she could think when Dex reached her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder was would she find her parents among the ashes in the search.