Part 5: Trust and Terror
It had taken a good many days to scrounge up enough information about what had really happened to the Jellicles and search for a pilot to take them to Babel. By now it was nearly two weeks since the first reports about the Jellicles had appeared in the broadcast. A spokeswoman for the space fleet had also announced that the ”creatures” were to be destroyed as soon as possible, something that made the five young Jellicles almost frantic with worry. Jon of course felt equally scared and they realized they had to act quickly if they were to have any chance in finding Jellylorum and the others. They tried to keep up to date on what happened, feeling a bit more calmed when a few days earlier the news had reached them about the change in orders, and now the Jellicles were to be taken to a trial instead. But that still left the five unprotected and unsafe on Zion.
Jon’s eyes narrowed considerably as he looked up at the hangar. It was rusty, the roof-plates almost torn off and huge flakes of paint hung like dead laves from the steels walls. Dirk had come along and they had made contact with a pilot that said he could maybe help them to get to Babel. The rough exterior matched it’s messy inside. The hangar, large enough to host a full blown interstellar passenger shuttle, was crammed full with half finished ships, heaps of rusty steel and cupboards with various junk and spare parts. Huge canisters of fuel and oil were lined up against one wall, and the air reeked of it’s smell.
”Can this man be trusted?” asked Jon. He pulled the long black and blue coat closer around his impressive bulk and looked at the surroundings with his nose wrinkled. If ever the health departments saw this they’d close it in no time.
Dirk nodded as they made their way through the junk, ”Yes, as far as I and Anastasia know, or have heard I might say, he’s one of those pilots that take risky flights all the time, playing with the Zion law enforcement in stretching flight regulations and laws to their thinnest. He’s used to taking risks.”
”But not unnecessary risks I hope,” mumbled Jon.
A cheery shout from a glass walled cubicle caught their attention. From inside they saw a man in his mid thirties come out. He was tall and lanky with brown shoulder-length hair and bright yellow eyes. He wore an old, olive green flyer/pilot coverall and had an old leather jacket with a image of a historical aircraft sewn on the sleeve.
”Welcome, Dirk! And whoever you are, Big guy!”
His accent showed that he wasn’t exactly a Zion born man. Most likely a gypsy trader or the Romani Truckers. The best truckers in the known territory. Always willing to risk their necks for a little more pay.
The brown-haired man nodded and fired off a smile with perfect teeth. ”Ken Solomon at your service!”
Jon raised a suspicious eyebrow and grunted something. Ken looked amused as he studied the tall round man’s expression.
”Step into my office, friends, and let’s talk business!” said the yellow-eyed man and motioned towards the old office cubicle.
Jon almost dropped off the sturdy chair at the mention of the price tag for renting the ship for a single journey to Babel. ”That’s preposterous!”
”Well, I charge that for those flights. I never ask whether it’s crates or live cargo...”
”Live cargo?” asked Dirk and looked suspicious.
”Well, I usually ship plain cargo, and when someone wants to hire my services this quickly it’s usually a live shipment. I’ve done that a few times you know.”
Jon looked puzzled, ”What makes you think it’s live cargo?”
”You don’t want any questions asked. That makes it either forbidden books or live cargo. Got a sense for it. Anyway, how many of you are there?”
”Just me and five others.” explained Jon and felt his money account go down the drain.
”Five more.. Ok. that means we’ll take old Eulalia this time. ”
”And what kind of ship is that?”
Ken grinned and stood, ”Let’s meet the lady shall we?”
”My god! it’s a military aircraft!” cried Dirk and stared.
”WAS. Was a military aircraft! Had a few well paid shipments and then I bought this babe.” said Ken grinning.
Old Eulalia was the slimmest of the slim, completely silvery and made to fly through the stratos-sphere. It reminded Jon of the oldtime spaceshuttles, but by far slimmer and had it’s engines, one of each, attached to it’s wings. The sleek body with it’s three oval windows on each side and one large up front, made quite the impression.
”This babe will take you and your passengers to Babel in about 8 hours. Maybe faster if I get the right clearance when we pass over Saint Moses.”
Jon nodded and looked at Dirk, ”Can we afford her?”
Dirk nodded and looked serious. Their best chance was this sleek silvery bird of prey.
The silence around the kitchen table made Fire uneasy. By this time tomorrow morning they’d be landing on the outskirts of Babel, preparing to find out how to get in contact with the space fleet without rising any suspicions. Jon’s suggested approach was to stay low for a few days and look up the area around the theatre and also Jon could scout a bit during daylight hours because he was a human. The felines would have to hide as well as they could, only daring to enter the streets after dark, and then they’d still be at risk. If anyone caught the slightest glimpse of their face, fur or tails they’d be doomed.
”The words thank you are not enough,” said Nightshade, interrupting the silence. He looked over at Dirk and Anastasia. ”We owe you two our lives and our sanity. If we had not been able to seek shelter here, we would most likely been dead by now.”
Dirk swallowed and took his daughter’s hand, ”We are raised to believe certain things, Nightshade. To believe that humans are the uttermost perfection and the ultimate being. Over the years, Anastasia and I have learned that that is not the case. We are not alone anymore. You Jellicles are here to share our lives and to share our homes. We created you, we have a responsibility. All humanity has. ”
The others listened in silence, Jon mostly because he’d never heard Dirk talk like this before. The little man never failed to surprise him.
”You’re talking in way that would send you off this planet for the rest of your life, Dirk. You know that?” said Jon and sipped on his cold soda water.
”I know. But I have seen the light, as some of the preachers say, but it isn’t a white light. It’s a rainbow light. All colors and shapes of both human and Jellicle blend into it. I just wish it would shine on more people than us sitting here.”
They all nodded, knowing how truly he spoke.
Ken looked a bit surprised and very curious at the hooded five that silently followed behind Jon.
”Hello there!” he cheerily greeted them. ”Why the hoods? Can’t stand the bright light?”
”No, they’ll take them down as soon as we’re off the ground. First, you said you had shipped strange goods before, right?”
”Cargo, people, goods. You name it!”
Jon nodded and looked back at the others.
”Are we ready to take off?” asked Jon. The five nodded in silence, they’d all agreed to let Jon speak, as not to having to raise their heads to do so.
”Yep! She’s getting fueled as we speak. Got the final check to do and we’ll be up in five minutes.”
The pilot made a salute and grinned at them before heading towards the silvery plane. Dirk and Anastasia were there to wave them off. It was a difficult good bye for all of them. Anastasia had been like a sister to all of them and they’d all shared many wonderful moments with them. Now they’d not be able to communicate with them for perhaps a very, very long time.
”You look after those kids, Jon. They’re priceless! Get them to their parents.” said Dirk, his voice thick with emotion.
”I sure will. I’ll try and contact you two as soon as I can.” said Jon, exchanging hugs with them before Ken hollered at them to board the ship.
”Will they be all right?” sobbed Anastasia as she followed the silvery shape up towards where it got engulfed by the white fluffy clouds.
”They’ll make it. They’ll be fine. I hope...” mumbled Dirk and a shivering sigh could be heard.
Ken switched on the autopilot and unbuckled, stretching his arms to get them back in action again. He returned to his mystery passengers, curious about who they were.
”All right, folks. Strap loose and we’ll be safe.”
The six passengers did so, exchanging comments about the takeoff and the belts. Fire shrugged off his hood by accident and Ken’s reaction was obvious... The pilot gasped and grabbed the back of one of the ten passenger seats. He rapidly lost all color in his face and stared at his passengers. His jaws moved up and down, trying to make a sound more than a strangled hiss. He almost hyperventilated as well, looking baffled and scared at the same time.
”They won’t hurt you, Solomon, nor are they mindless animals.” said Jon calmly.
”What he’s saying is that we don’t bite.” grinned Dusk and pulled back his hood, followed by the remaining three doing so too.
”They’re..they’re..” stuttered Ken and pointed at Fire and then at Nightshade, ”They’re like those kids!!!!!!”
Now it was the felines and Jon’s turn to look baffled. The pale and shaking pilot still stared at the five, making them feel uneasy.
”What kids?” asked Brighteye who sat closest. Ken felt his legs shiver a bit too much and he gingerly sat down on one of the seats, his eyes darting back and forth between their faces.
”I’ve seen your likes before!”
”So that’s what you meant by live cargo?” asked Jon.
”Well, yeah! I’ve done three or four shipments of weird kids off this planet to another ship. I never understood what they were, but...” Ken took a deep breath and pinched his cheek, ”Heck, I’m not dreaming. Ok. All right, Solo. Get a grip....”
Brighteye moved a little closer, her eyes meeting his, ”What happened to those children?”
”I dunno. I just got paid to shut up and fly you know... But I swear those kids were crying like any other kid. I’ve never seen anything like them before. And the keepers had those weird controls and once they... ” Ken stopped, something flashing through his mind, ”They used them. One child...couldn’t stand it. He...”
Ken’s cheery eyes had changed looks now, his pale face turned grayish and he swallowed hard before he spoke again, ”One child got a too powerful shock. I had to carry the body out of here when we docked....”
All of a sudden his cheery carefree nature had been pulled away from him, dragged into place was a man with a memory so painful it made him cry. Fire and Brighteye moved closer, placing their warm strong hands on his shoulders.
He grabbed Brighteye’s hands and stuttered, ”Can you ever forgive me for not stopping them? For not saving that boy?!”
”You couldn’t help it. You weren’t allowed to. ” whispered Brighteye, taking a steady grip on his hand. ”And trust me, it was a lot better for the boy to die than go through whatever happened on that ship. Believe me, we were destined to the same place I think. But we survived. We stayed alive.”
Ken nodded and took a deep breath, ”Ok. All right. Oh god, I feel sooo bad. So terribly... human. ”
Fire stroked his hair, knowing that gesture always worked miracles regardless of if one was a kitten or adult. ”It’s in your past. You can still make up for it. You can still help. ”
”But how? How can I right something that I did so wrong?”
Brighteye turned his face towards hers and looked him straight in the red-rimmed eyes, ”By helping us. We’re wanted prey and the only way we’ll survive is of we can find people who’ll help us, who’ll support us.
”You name it...Catgirl. You name it...” Ken swallowed hard and wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve, ”Hell, I’ll give ya the flight for free, sans the fuel.... Anything else, you just name it.”
The smiling cats moved closer to him and settled all around him, letting him touch their faces and hair, look at their tails and ears. He was clearly fascinated by their twitching whiskers and Fire patiently sat still as Ken tugged at a few of them, amazed that they actually were stuck there.
”You lot...” Ken pointed at them one by one, ”are amazing. How could they call you animals? You’re... fabulous. Smart, funny, intelligent. ”
”Humans see things their own way. They don’t see it from many different angles.” said Fire and smiled without showing any fangs.
Ken nodded and glanced at the digital clock by the navigation console and controls. ”Well... there’s some six hours left before we reach Babel territory. I have so many questions...”
”And we’ll answer them as well as we can,” assured Jon.