By Jamie Burns
It was early Christmas morning, I woke up feeling awful and promptly ran to the bathroom to throw up. I felt a hand rub my back and then put a wet washcloth on the back of my neck. I expected to look back and see my mom but it was Nathan. I was only seven years old but then again so was he. When I was feeling ok to move he helped me to the living room, he put me on the couch, gave me a blanket, turned on the Christmas tree lights and made me a cup of tea. We sat there looking at the twinkle lights of the tree, some blinking slowly on and off, others steady. I drifted in and out of sleep. Nathan all the while sitting beside me making sure I didn’t need more tea or a bucket if I had another bout of sickness. Two hours later when my parents woke up they asked why we hadn't woken them and I remember saying “Nathan took care of me.” That’s all I can remember from that particular Christmas.
I hadn't thought of that in over sixteen years. As we sped in the Lamplight toward the rendezvous point the words stuck in my head. “Nathan took care of me.” Throughout primary school, high school and well into flight school Nathan took care of me. I helped him with homework, studying and even would cover for him with mom and dad on occasion. It was what we did. We took care of each other and I was determined to keep the tradition alive.
I landed the Lamplight a few miles from the rendezvous point. Clara and Lu both walked on to the bridge. Lu was dressed in some of Clara’s clothes and they had pumped up the volume on Lu’s blond hair. “Alright, this is the best spot.” I said to Clara and headed to the back of the ship expecting her to follow. When I realized she hadn't I turned back around. Clara and Lu faced each other awkwardly. Clara held out a hand, “Thank you for your help.”
Lu took Clara’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “You’re sure it’s worth all this?” She asked.
Clara said nothing just gave her head one firm nod.
Clara and I walked to the back of the ship, she opened the hatch to the cold air outside. We both looked out then at each other. “Remember watch your back at all times. She’s going to be a lot heavier than the Lamplight so don’t be timid. Don’t be afraid to push her around, just get her in the air and head to the place Lu setup.” I told her.
“It’s gonna work.” Clara said it as if she was trying to convince both of us.
I dropped the hard tone in my voice, allowing myself to be genuine and vulnerable for a moment. “Please just be careful Clara, I don’t want to have to come save you too, but I will if I have to.” I gave her a weak smile but it was all I could muster. Clara pulled me in for a hug. “We’ll get him back.” With that she turned and set off.
I closed the hatch and the moment it was sealed the Lamplight rose back into the air. On the bridge I found Lu at the helm, looking confident and at ease.
“No wonder they could never catch you.” I said as I sat in the co-pilots seat. Lu just smiled and pulled back on the helm sending us higher into the gray clouds.
We arrived at the rendezvous ten minutes ahead of the dead line. How we managed that seemed like an act of God or a lot of happy accidents all in a row. Either way I was grateful. Instead of landing the Lamplight in the spot that had been clearly left open for us it dipped low and I tossed the rope over the edge of the hatch and slid down to the ground. Once my feet had touched I raised my hands showing I was unarmed and the Lamplight quickly gained in altitude again. I walked to toward the crowd.
Turned out the rendezvous was yet another shipyard, but this one had far more security and was much busier than the one we had been in earlier that day. The ships in this yard didn’t look like the junk that was in the other shipyards. Here they were larger, well built, with weapons, no rust and some I would even call shinny. It felt more like a showroom than a shipyard. I recognized the ship the crowd was gathered around. The last time I saw her she was flying away from the planet Cierra with the Thestrious flying away beside her as I could only watch from the ground.
Hands still up I kept walking toward the crowed. Some of the men had their guns raised while others looked on relaxed, in the middle of them was Cryton. He was wide in the shoulders and seemed fit for a man that looked like he was in his late forties. All the others seemed to look to him for cues on what to do next. It made me wonder how bad a man you have to be to have others fear you on a planet like Exodus. I pushed the thought down because it made me more nervous than I liked. Cryton on the video had seemed charismatic and likeable for a kidnapper. That's what made me so nervous about him. He was a kind of bad man made worse by his good lies. Not that I didn’t have a lie or two up my sleeve.
“Well there she is boys, the little sister.” Cryton called out. With a flick of his finger the men with guns advanced towards me.
I watched as they encircled me. “Yep that’s me… where’s my brother?”
“Oh he’s close by.” Cryton said, him and his men chuckling at that. I instinctively took a step back. Cryton eyes narrowed in on me, “What’s your little gal pal doing up there? Tell her to land.”
I had to laugh at this one. “So you can kill all three of us and keep the ship. I don’t think so.”
“You know I could just shoot that match box out of the sky if I wanted to.” He was getting more frustrated.
“I’m sure you could, but you don’t want to.”
He paused and let out a breath. “No, I don’t but if you’re up to something fishy I might just change my mind.”
“Where is Nathan?” I asked again.
He looked back toward his ship and waved to the men waiting there. A moment later two men dragged Nathan down the dock and dropped him next to Cryton. Nathan slowly stood to his feet, I was sure he couldn't see much with his face swollen to it’s current size. I called to him. “Nathan it’s ok I’m here.” I walk a bit closer to get a better look at him. The sound of my voice didn’t put him at easy. If anything it seemed to make him angry.
“April? Why? I told you guys to leave.” He was scared and angry and I didn’t really blame him. He forced his eyes open and looked right to where I was standing. “Why can’t you ever listen to me?”
“Alright now little sis you tell blondie to put her ass on the ground now.” Cryton demanded.
“Give me Nathan, then she’ll land in the distance. You’ll let us go while you head to your new ship.” I called out sounding as confident and forceful as possible.
Cryton stared at me for a moment in shock, I guess at my demands. Then a slow smile spread across his face and he looked around. His men nervously looking back at him. He started to laugh, the men looked at each other, and started to laugh as well. Though it was clear they weren't sure why.
“I don’t think you understand little sis, this is not a negotiation.” He said then he pulled his gun from his holster and turned Nathan toward him. I knew I was to far away but I still lunged forward, Cryton pressed the barrel against Nathan’s shoulder and pulled the trigger.
I could have sworn that I felt that bullet. I felt the shockwave flow through my body and weaken my knees. At least that’s what I thought at first. Then I realized everyone was looking up. In the distance behind Cryton’s ship was a plume of black smoke. The massive explosion had socked all of us. I saw Nathan lying motionless on the ground my heart sank and I looked back to the plume of smoke now lit by the fire that burn beneath it. My face must have been white as a sheet as I wondered where Clara was.