There are changes coming in Sammy's life, if he's willing.
|Corrine watched as her son played quietly on the deck of the cabin. She was happy that he was able to entertain himself so readily while she went through all the cargo manifests from this leg of their voyage. The stacks seemed to be everywhere on the desk and the built-in bookcase behind her, but she knew she'd be done in short order. She carefully laid the stacks in a cross-hatch pile as she exposed more and more of the desk, searching for her stapler. As she carefully laid them to keep them separate, her eye caught the mirror across the cabin. The ship's carpenter had taken special care hanging the mirror so it wouldn't fall prey to gravity when the ship would roll or make the transition to and from the Aether. Of all the presents her husband had brought her, this was the one she prized the most.
When he had joined the Time Brigade, she knew he would be away often. But his travels took him to exotic places and times, and he always brought presents when he came home. During his first deployment, he had brought her an orientometer from New Praetoria. From the second, he brought her a pair of matched Colt revolvers from El Dorado made especially to fit a lady's hand. On the third deployment he had sent home a handsome set of traveling cases from Hy-Brasil that were all but indestructible. Nearly every gift was of a practical nature, because she was, after all, a practical girl. This was the one whimsical gift she had received, and it was the last.
On his eighth deployment, he had been promoted to Chief Navigator. He had it commissioned in Xanadu, with their favorite love poem etched across its face, and when it was completed the artisan shipped it home to her. She was five months pregnant when it had arrived, and she worked so hard to hang it above the fireplace by herself that she'd fallen asleep in front of it that evening. She had read the poem over and over before she drifted off that night, remembering how they had recited it along with their wedding vows. Three days later, she had laid in front of it again, clutching the telegram that told her of the loss of the Cloudwitch and her crew. With that memory, she fought back the tears, closing her eyes until she could wrestle her emotions back under control. Finally, she was able to look at it again and felt his love as fresh as yesterday. She relaxed and sat back in her chair. Against an uncomfortable lump. She reached under her seat and pulled out the stapler, catching Sammy grinning at her.
"I wanted to suggest you look there Mum, but I didn't know how to do so in a gentlemanly manner."
It took her by surprise, and she had to cut short a laugh. "Why, you cheeky thing!"
Sammy jumped up and stood up at the edge of the desk to watch her work. Her nimble fingers made the stapler sound like a castinet, promising to make short order of the stacks. She worked swiftly, meeting his eyes once in awhile as he stood fascinated at how quickly the paper seemed to fall under her spell.
As she worked, she thought of their home. It was paid for and well tended, but she was glad she had taken the post of Purser aboard the steamship Grantham. The pay was very good, and included quarters and commissary for them both. Early on, the crew had been very protective of them both, but once they found out that their Purser was the daughter of Spartacus Kane, they knew she could take care of herself. So they had turned their attentions to Sammy and taught him the ways of the sea and ships. He had taken well to their teaching, and could tie any knot they named in a nonce. He could read the charts, and knew how to use a sextant with the best of them. He could even read the wind, the clouds, and the sea to predict the weather ahead. Indeed, things were certainly better than she had expected them to be all those years ago.
As she finished the last of the stacks and dropped it in the file box, she looked him in the eyes and laughed out loud again as two short blasts of the steam whistle sounded from the deck above. Sammy's eyes grew wide, and he grinned at her as she opened her arms. He fell into her hug as the low vibration of the deck began, signaling the ship's transition through the Aether to complete their voyage.
Moments later, the vibration stopped abruptly, and three short blasts of the steam whistle sounded. Corrine stood up with Sammy in her arms, laughing as she unceremoniously dropped him on the deck and ran laughing out the cabin door.
"Hey! No Fair!" Sammy shouted as he ran after her, laughing all the way. As they came on deck, the two of them stopped at the rail and beheld the spectacle of the Shambala Gate that guarded the entrance to the great harbor of Shangri La.
The harbor was encircled by high cliffs which created a protected anchorage that had a single wide opening to the sea. At this spot, on either side of the entrance to the harbor, there stood a 50 foot tall statue. The one on the left was a mermaid, her tail coiled beneath her as she rose erect, her breasts covered only by the tresses of her hair. In her hands she bore a raised trident, the symbol of Shangri-La. On the right was a great seahorse wearing an armored carapace as if prepared for battle, the trident emblazoned on his chest as well. Between the pair stretched two 100 foot long beams that were the actual harbor gate. They were ornately carved and painted yellow, red, and green in alternating bands, as if to welcome all to a party. As the Grantham entered the harbor, Corrine and Sammy both took note that the beams also bore brightly colored matching flags that skillfully disguised the heavy spikes on the beams that were the true protection of the gate. Behind the gate, the harbor stretched before them, the pagodas of Shangri-La rising from the piers in a riot of color that went on for miles.
Ships of every description could be found here, arranged carefully in anchorage by the harbormaster and his crew. The Grantham was instructed to proceed to Pier 27, which was the last of the steamship piers. Beyond that slip, the piers rose to 40 feet above the water to accommodate the airships that came and went with nearly the same regularity as their waterborne kin.
Corrine had noticed there were only six airships in port as they entered the harbor, and she recognized none of them. While she often looked for her father's ship Pandora, it was also widely known that Kane could just as easily be aboard any number of vessels. Indeed, the last time she had seen Pandora her captain was Owen Coffin, an old friend of her father. She took Sammy below to drop the manifests at the Captain's Quarters and collect her pay to date. She had already advised him that they would be leaving the ship's company in Shangri-La this trip, to await the arrival of her father. On their way aft, she asked the ship's carpenter to please take her mirror down and make it safe for travel. He tipped his hat to her and collected his tools to take care of the job.
Two hours later, Sammy was sitting on their baggage on the dock, his legs dangling protectively over the mirror's crate while Corrine was off making arrangements for accommodation. He was looking through a sack filled with the many presents the crew had presented him as they left the ship, delighting in the variety of small treasures he had collected. He stiffened as something large and wet wrapped itself around his right calf. He froze in place, not daring to look down past the edge of the bag. He considered for a moment what it might be, then realized it could only be one thing. "Roller?" he asked tentatively. He felt his leg rock gently in rhythm to the wagging tail of the huge dog as if in answer to his question. He dropped the edge of the bag and looked down into the soulful eyes of the mastiff as it released his leg and sat down, his tail still wagging. Sammy looked around, trying to catch sight of his grandfather. If Roller was here, Spartacus Kane was surely here as well.
Roller sniffed the crate after he released Sammy's leg then turned to look back down the wharf towards the high piers. Sammy followed his gaze and saw Pandora's pennant now flying from the stanchion for slip 3, signifying her presence in port, but the airship wasn't there at the dock. He puzzled over it for a moment, then remembered that airships were vessels of the Aether as much as of the wind, and waited to see what might happen. Sure enough, a mist began to fill the slip and seemed to gently coalesce first into the shadowy form of an airship and then continued to solidify into the full reality of Pandora. He tried to pick out his grandfather from the crew bustling along the deck to no avail. Then it dawned on him that Roller would not be here on the wharf without his master, so he began to look around the low pier for Spartacus Kane and spied him talking to a man and a woman as they walked along the dock towards the pile of baggage where he sat. They seemed to be talking very seriously about something, and he took note of the pair so earnestly engaged in conversation with his grandfather.
The man seemed to be just a little younger and a bit shorter than Kane, with similar clothing to what grandfather wore when traversing the Aether. The difference seemed to be mostly in their choice of hats. While Grandfather was wearing his traditional bowler, the man with him was wearing a black bell crown hat with a wide red hatband adorned with some sort of bright silver buttons. The woman had bright red hair under a brown derby, and was wearing a dark green leather jacket and trousers with high brown boots. They were very animated in their discussion, with the lady and Spartacus doing most of the talking while the man walked quietly between them as if listening intently and making decisions as they spoke. Kane stopped for a moment, looking around. He looked back down towards the high piers, then around them closely. His gaze followed down the pier and his face brightened immediately upon seeing Roller laying there with Sammy. He began striding down the wharf towards them as Sammy climbed down from the baggage and began running to meet him, Roller staying behind with the baggage.
As Kane swept him up, his companions caught up with them. Kane put him down and turned to the pair. "Sammy, this is Miss Emily Puryear and Mr. Vincent Coffin, and they are on a very important errand with us on Pandora." Miss Puryear extended her hand, and Sammy took it gravely and nodded as he shook her hand.
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Puryear, my name is Samuel, but everyone calls me Sammy." She looked at him gravely for a moment, then gave him what he could only describe as a bright smile. She leaned towards him and beckoned him close with her finger. He leaned forward as she whispered to him.
"I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to call you Samuel. I think it's a proper name for a young man, and I already have a friend that I call Sam. Would that suit you?" Sammy could only nod at her apparent acceptance of his being a teenager now, although only barely, and felt as if he had grown an inch in the last few moments. She nodded at him with a small grin and stood back to allow him to meet Mr. Coffin. As he shook Mr. Coffin's hand, he felt he could really like them both with little effort.
"I don't have anyone to call Sam already, so could I call you Sam?"
"Of course, sir. I've never had anyone ask what to call me, you know."
Coffin smiled and said, "'Sir' is what you'd call my grandfather, and 'Mr. Coffin' is my father, so I think you should just call me Vincent, would that do for you?" As he nodded, he heard running steps approaching from behind. His grandfather stepped forward to hug Corrine as she arrived, Roller standing halfway between the group and the pile of baggage as if he was undecided which to protect.
"Daughter, we will make all the introductions in a moment, but I need your assistance with something." Corrine smiled and said cheerily, "I'm at your disposal, Dad, you know that." Kane looked around them for a moment, making sure there were no unwelcome listeners before he went on.
"Corrine, we are on a mission and I am badly in need of a Purser who can keep secrets when needed."
She considered quietly for a moment. She had never seen her father quite so solemn before. "You know I'm up for it, Dad. Need you be so cautious in the asking?"
"We will be traveling the Aether, Corrine, and Sammy will be with us." The ramifications were suddenly clear. Because of his age, Sammy would be affected by the Aether differently from the rest of them. She looked at her son for a moment, and then back to her father.
"I think we'll need to tell him about it before we make any decisions, don't you?"
Sammy looked back and forth between the two. "What are you talking about?"
Spartacus began ushering the group down the pier towards a place called "The Watchman" as he spoke. "Sammy, we're going to be traveling differently now, you'll be with us aboard Pandora. The Aether will make some changes in your life that we must all consider, and it's only fair that you know what all that means. So, we'll sit down and dine while we tell you about it, and then you can tell us how you feel about it when we're done."
After they ate, they told Sammy about how young exposure to the Aether would make him age more slowly. He would see all those around him age and die as he left them behind and went on with his life. Spartacus told him that his grandmother had not been exposed as early as Spartacus had been, and that was the reason that she had died long before Sammy was born. Corrine had not been exposed early enough, either. While the thought of so much loss was frightening, Sammy saw the possibilities of aging as slowly as his grandfather and the adventures he could have with such a long life.
He took his mother's hand as he looked at the assembled group and simply said, "Let's get on with it, then."
Corrine's eyes became damp, but they were happy tears as she knew her son would carry on in the Kane family tradition. With that, she squeezed his hand and told him quietly, "I'm proud of you, and now your name will need to change."
"What's wrong with Samuel?" he challenged.
Corrine smiled and said, "Nothing's wrong with Samuel. I mean your last name. I want you to carry on the family name of your grandfather. So, you'll take the name Kane forward."
Sammy considered it for only a moment, then nodded. It seemed it was a day of changes, starting with names. It seemed fitting.
"Samuel Kane. I like it."