Life on Earth was different. The Silvana spent much of her time patrolling the Atlantic trade routes. Instead fighting against Disith, or the Guild, they now fought pirates who threatened the trade ships. It was common knowledge that many of the units granted by the Guild didn’t go to military ships, but for those involved directly in the war, the trade ships weren’t really something you thought about. It had surprised Alex just how many there were, from the small private owned merchant vessels that tended to travel in fleets, to the massive cargo ships they outnumbered the battle ships at nearly ten to one. And not one of the damn things seemed capable of defending itself.
The pirates were mostly natives using earth technology, airplanes, and massive ocean ships. Antiquated relics even before Exile had left the planet. Before her return, air travel had been a long forgotten dream to the people of Earth. The pirates had been more irritation than threat at first, but they were rediscovering ancient military weapons, and finding ways to recreate them was quickly making them a real threat.
At the moment Alex couldn’t sleep, partly because of the heat. In the most recent encounter they’d had with pirates, one of the things that had taken the most damage was the air-conditioning unit. In the tropic climate this had made life on the Silvana nearly unbearable. Everyone had spent the past three days in various states of ‘out of uniform.’ They were currently docked at a small station in a southern region of the East American Territories to pick up the components they would need to repair the AC unit, and install the new communications system, which until now they had been too busy to do. They would have to head to Walker’s to actually have the work done, which meant relief from the heat was still two days away.
The second reason was that they were at the moment over a small coastal town, which had grown around the dock station. His mind was currently filled with thoughts of sand, and waves. He’d seen the ocean before of course, they spent most of their time living over it. The closest he had been however was visiting the graves of Hamilcar Valca, and George Head. He wanted to get closer, to feel the waves, to listen to sounds of the shore up close. This was what had kept him up all night, and now at 2:15 in the morning he knew it would keep nagging him until he obeyed the ridiculous urge. So he got up, dressed in some civilian clothing, grabbed one of his crutches, and stepped out of his room. When he reached Sophia’s room, he paused, realizing he hadn’t thought to leave a note or anything. He wasn’t sure how long this would take. Quietly he snuck inside, it was lit very dimly by the lights of the station coming in through the window. Reaching her desk he turned the light on and began looking for paper and a pen.
He glanced at his sleeping XO, Sophia had kicked the blankets, and sheets off her bed, but still looked uncomfortable in the heat. She was wearing a long nightgown. Her hair was in a loose braid to keep it from becoming tangled, but several strands had come loose and were clinging to sweat dampened skin. Distracted by the sight, and the sudden feelings he didn’t want to admit it brought on Alex accidentally knocked over a small cup Sophia kept pencils in. As Sophia shot up in bed, Alex let out a curse under his breath.
“Alex? Did something happen?” Sophia asked looking both a bit panicked, and horribly embarrassed as she grabbed a sheet off the floor to cover herself.
“No, sorry. I was trying to leave you note...I’m going out for a while.”
Sophia blinked at him and then looked at her clock. “Alex it’s 2:33 in the morning.”
“I know, that’s why I was going to leave you a note.” He was really starting to feel like an idiot now. He really hadn’t expected to have to explain himself to anyone.
Sophia frowned at him, looking a bit concerned. “Where are you going at this time of night? Have you had any sleep?”
Alex wished he hadn’t turned the lights on, this for some reason felt exactly like trying to explain to Vincent’s mother why the tub in the master bathroom was filled with smelly river fish. Only Vincent wasn’t here to do most of the talking this time. “I’m just going down to the surface for while...to get some fresh air, and no I haven’t been able to sleep.”
Sophia stood still frowning and walked toward him awkwardly, as she was still trying to keep herself covered with the long sheet. “Alex...You’ve hardly slept at all since the AC was taken out. I understand wanting fresh air, but going all the way down to the surface now?”
Alex interrupted whatever else she was going to say. “I won’t be gone that long. Then I’ll get some sleep. Sorry I woke you, I just didn’t want you to worry if I took longer than expected.” Alex said as he managed to get around her, and out the door. “Which I completely failed at.” He thought, grimacing as he walked down the hall Sophia calling after him.
Sophia, worrying walked back into her room realizing she was going to wake someone else like that, and that she could not go after Alex in her night gown. After quickly throwing on the first thing she grabbed out of her closet, and gathering together several things she might need, she felt a bit silly making sure she’d have identification, and money, but she didn’t know what was going on inside the captain’s head at the moment. She had learned long ago with Alex that it was best to be prepared for anything. As an afterthought, she wrote a quick note to Wina, who would be coming off duty soon, and stuck it in the seam of her door.
By the time she made her way off the ship she had already lost track of Alex, and had to ask several dock workers before finding out which lift he had taken to the surface. Getting in the lift she hoped she would be able to catch up with him.
The docking stations on Earth were different from those on Prester. They still floated high above the surface, held aloft by several Claudia units. It was however much easier for a Station to be connected directly to the surface by way of lifts. Stations like this one were lower to the ground just for such purposes. Cargo ships stopped at such places for the cargo to be sorted out, things with much shorter destinations were sent to the surface to be delivered by truck, or vanship if required. Then the ship would move on, usually with new cargo added to the next station repeating the process. Vanships were mostly reserved for personal things like letters, and packages, or important documents. Lavie had tried to explain the elaborate system used to sort mail, and cargo for delivery during a recent visit, but Sophia had just ended up confused.
Sophia leaned against the wall of the lift and watched through the window as layers of wall, and floor became open night sky. It was a beautiful clear night, from this height she could see for miles. Most of the surroundings inland were forest and swampland, but she could see the distant dots of light from scattered villages. In the opposite direction was a long stretch of coastline, the town they were over was a small one. Before the station had been built, it had mostly been a private resort for wealthy families. The trade business brought by the air ships was making the place what locals called a ‘boom-town.’ Far in the distance she could see the lights of a large coastal city, there were no docking stations over cities. It was considered too dangerous, should something go wrong with the station’s units. Instead there were vanship ports where people could board, and be taken to the local station.
When she reached the surface building, a few more helpful workers sent her in the right direction. Once outside however she was on her own. She eventually found him, as the sky was beginning to lighten alone on the beach. He’d taken off his boots, and socks, and was just standing in the surf letting the waves wash over his legs, the salt water soaking into the fabric of the dark trousers he was wearing. The sea breeze gently tugging at a few strands of his hair. His eyes were closed, and he looked more relaxed than she had seen in weeks. Removing her own shoes, and now glad she’d worn a short dress she walked out into the water, it was warmer than she expected.
“Alex?...Are you all right?..” She asked walking toward him. She was shocked when he suddenly bent down, and with a quick swipe of his hand splashed her with water, she gasped. When he started laughing at the shocked look on her face she lost her temper and pushed him. It hadn’t been much, but it was enough to knock him off balance on the unfamiliar terrain. She instinctively reached out for him, and they both fell into the waves. Several minutes later they were both soaked with sea water, and had damp sand clinging to them. Sophia glared at Alex. “Have you lost your mind!?”
“I’m not sure I ever had one to loose.” Alex said still grinning at her. He paused and looked past her out to sea. “The sun is rising.”
She turned to look realizing too late that this placed her right on Alex’s lap. Before she could move away, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against his chest. She blushed feeling as if her heart might burst from her own chest and fly away. They sat watching the sun rise, to the sounds of the sea. It really wasn’t all that different to the projected sky of Prester, but it felt different watching the rising sun change the colors of both sea, and sky. Alex rested his chin on top of her head. “Let’s stay here for a while.” He said in a quiet, almost sleepy sounding voice.
Sophia blinked “What? You can’t be serious.”
“Why not? The Silvana is heading to Walker’s for repairs and installation of new equipment. Campbell can handle it. They don’t need us for that. Vincent keeps saying we both need a vacation anyway. Let’s stay for a while. The work shouldn’t take more than a week and a half, two at the most. They can come back for us when it’s done. We both have a lot of leave time we’ve never used,...and who knows when we’ll get a chance for something like this again.”
Sophia leaned back closer to him, feeling herself blush more as he wrapped his arms more tightly around her. “You need to get some sleep, Alex.” She mumbled digging her toes into the wet sand. “Alright, a little time off doesn’t sound too bad.” She said after a few moments. “Especially not when I get to spend it with you.” She thought smiling.