Chapter twelve: Venusia
“There it is!” Himowa lets out enthusiastically as she points out the window. I look up from my gun, taken apart to clean, and ask “Already?”
“Yes come see.”
Beneath us is the island. It’s massive and shielded by a tall red brick wall. A long runway leads up to a large wooden gate.
I find we’re not the only ones requesting entry, with seven other ships cued up already.
But then to both our surprise the ship doesn’t land or cue up, instead veering away from the wall and leaving us very confused.
“Uhm?” Himowa starts.
“Let’s go and check.”
I knock on the door of the cockpit and Elizabeth announces “come on in.”
As we shuffle into the space it’s very clear the cockpit wasn’t designed to hold four people.
Elizabeth is in the pilot’s chair with Dana standing behind her to give instructions.
“So, we’re here right?” Himowa asks and Elizabeth nods “Yes, but we can’t enter just yet.”
You’ll need passports with your new names on them and I know where to get them.”
I wonder how Dana knows where to get fake passports halfway around the world.
“Did you come here before?” I ask.
“I did, it’s been a while though, I hope they’re still there.”
As promised at the back of the island, far away from the gate there is a small beach, barely big enough to fit a ship but Dana tells the captain “That’s it.”
“You want me to land on that tiny spit of land?”
“Do you think you can pull it off? If not I can take the wheel.”
Elizabeth looks back and forth between Dana and the landing place, then decides “I can do it.”
Dana nods “Now keep in mind that the side of our cockpit is slimmer than the balloon above our heads.” Dana reminds her as the red bricks come closer and closer.
“Yes, yes I know…wait how much should I calculate for?”
“About six meters in any direction.”
“Got it, thanks.”
“No problem, you have to drop at least ten more feet if you want to avoid the watchtowers.”
“Release the valve?” Elizabeth asks.
“Release the valve,” Dana confirms and I spot a glint in Elizabeth’s eye that worries me.
“Hold on to something” Elizabeth warns us as her hand darts to a lever. She pulls it down and instantly my stomach gets pushed up into my nostrils as the ship plummets through the air.
Himowa’s arms wrap around me, her face buried in my neck.
Himowa grabs my hand as the nose of the ship dips down and suddenly the horizon tips to meet us. I grab a hold of the chair hoping Elizabeth’s crush isn’t gonna get us killed. My eyes are glued to her hands and my heart is thumping in the back of my throat.
My knuckles grow white from grasping the plush upholstery and then-
It can’t have been more than five seconds when Elizabeth pushes the valve back up and the ship slows down again to a more comfortable descent.
“That, I hope I never get to experience again.” Himowa sighs, relief is palpable in her voice.
“But did I do it right?” Elizabeth asks Dana.
“Well, personally I would have given the warning to my passengers a bit earlier but aside from that I have no notes.”
About five minutes later we touch down.
Everyone’s still alive although I do still feel a bit queasy as we exit the ship.
It’s…well it’s a small sand bank next to the wall with not much on it but some lost bits of dune grass and three guys not much older than us sitting around a campfire and drinking.
It’s not even dark yet so I don’t see the use of the fire.
It’s not like I try to overhear them talking…but it’s kind of hard to ignore.
I can’t understand it.
I guess the language is Charalian though because Elizabeth has been trying to teach me.
She says it helps her learn and I hope it does because it’s not really sticking for me. Though I can pick up some vague words here and there.
A boisterous laughter erupts from the party.
I don’t know if those are the manta but if they are they look more useless than the empty bottles by their feet.
Dana walks up to them and starts talking to them in Jigani.
Do these people speak Jigani?
“I got three people running from the kashuya.”
“Onli threi you saey?” one of the men asks looking past Dana and to us. The man has frizzy blond hair that pokes out from under a straw sun hat.
“Yes, three, I’m not running.” She shows the flower around her arm and like magic, the swaying and joking and drunken demeanour melts away.
“Ah…ai see.” The man gets up “Glaed to see you maede it, I’m Maerigold but I don’t maind. These aere mai buddies Jaenick and Dorus.” His Jigani has a weird sound to it but it’s easy enough to understand.
They tip their hats one after the other. He then addresses Dana again “Thaey got passports?”
“Goatta go fer the full peakage then, got it.”
I pull up an eyebrow and look at the captain. She shrugs, apparently just as lost as me.
“I probably should have explained sooner shouldn’t I?” Dana asks.
Elizabeth crosses her arms. “Would have been helpful yes.”
“Back when the war was at its fiercest the city of Venusia closed its borders to any and all refugees.
The manta didn’t agree with this policy and essentially built a back door to help people get to safety. And I’m glad to see that apparently they haven’t been caught yet?”
“Thaere haeve bein some close caells but thaey haeven’t find us yet.”
“Why do the manta bother with the whole passport thing when they already made a hole in the wall, why not just let us in right away?” Elizabeth wonders aloud.
“Well they could, but then you couldn’t leave afterwards or build a life elsewhere if you so choose. Identification is also required for a lot of services, so it’s just best this way.”
“Okay, so that’s explained the why but not the how…?”
“Raight!” The guy called… Dorus I think it was, pipes up as he tosses an empty rum bottle to the sand and jumps up. “Well, it all starts here.” He knocks on the wall and for a brick wall, it sounds suspiciously hollow.
The wall swings back revealing a space beyond it.
A slim hand appears on my shoulder “So, can we trust these people?” Himowa asks me and I can’t really tell her yes or no.
I got my gun.
And Dana seems to trust them.
And coming all the way out here means we trust Dana.
I guess it’s our best shot.
“If not, I’ll protect you,” I tell her.
Her mouth pulls into a grin as if ready to laugh at me, then her face softens and she picks up my hand “Sure, thank you, sweetheart.”
Maerigold leads the way and it’s a short way indeed.
I expected an underground tunnel like the badao, or maybe to just be in the city immediately.
But instead, we turn a corner, walking in what should be more wall I believe. The light is faint coming from small holes along the fake walls rather than any fire or electrical lighting. We walk, huddled together until there is a left turn with a sign that says a single phrase, presumably repeated over and over in a range of languages ‘one at a time please.’
And then all eyes point to me as if I’m the only one in need of a new passport.
“What’s beyond there?” I ask.
“Just the recordkeeper, she’ll be maeking your paeperwork. If you waent I caen come aelong?”
“That’s not needed but thanks.” I pat my gun through my pocket just in case and walk on in.
I’m greeted by half-dark as a single sad desk lamp casts shadows from a raised desk that I need to look up to see. It’s hard to discern who is sitting behind it. If anyone at all.
“Uhm? Hello?” I call out tentatively.
“Ah! Hello, there little one.” A woman’s voice behind the desk speaks out in a childlike tone as she cranes her head over the edge of the desk to look down at me. Her eyes are hidden behind big round glasses, her hair is greying around the edges, but her voice still sounds surprisingly young.
I bite my lip annoyed at the belittling but I am dependent on her work so I keep my gun in my pocket and settle on “Please don’t call me little.” Lowering my voice on purpose.
“Oh, I’m so sorry sir.” She immediately corrects herself “How can I help you?”
I shrug in response. “You’re the one who can make me a passport right?”
“Passport yes got it.” She pushes her glasses up in her face and points the desk lamp at my face making me shield my eyes with my hand “All I need is your new name, a birth city, which can be your actual birthplace or a different place but it does have to exist for obvious reasons. And I’ll need a nationality.”
“Xuiyo Nao, Choumuri, Jaobainu.”
There’s the sound of a pen scratching on paper for a bit. Then the voice announced “Got it. Are there others with you?”
“Wait, that’s it?” I ask surprised, I thought they would at least need to know why I need the passport but apparently not.
“That’s it, are there others with you?”
“Then please send in the next person.”
“Okay?” I turn around and go through the door.
The others look at me expectantly, I just shrug and say “next.”
Elizabeth is the next to go through.
However, with her, she’s not out in a matter of seconds.
“Is she gonna be okay?” I ask our guide.
“Proabably just a hiccup or somethin, it’ll be faine.” Dorus assures us.
“So, what in there?” Himowa asks eyes glued to the door.
“Just a lady who asks questions.”
“What sort of questions?”
“New name, birth city and nationality.”
“See, I thought that wasn’t a lot either, good to know I’m not the only one.”
Himowa chuckles, then goes silent for a bit. “Xuiyo?”
“Were you serious when you said you wanted to build up a new restaurant, just you and me?”
“I mean if the others want to help it’d be rude to not accept it-” I start and Himowa’s face pulls into a wide smile. “But yes, I still want to try and build up a new restaurant.”
“Good.” She sounds relieved.
I squint my eyes at her “Did you think I was bluffing?”
“I thought you were maybe saying it to make me feel better.”
“I don’t think it’d have made you feel better now if I took it back.”
“Fair point. I love you.”
“Such a coincidence, I love you too.”
“Okay next.” Elizabeth sighs as she comes through the door.
“What took you so long?” I ask as I watch Himowa quickly shift into the room.
Elizabeth scratches the back of her head “I uhm…have no notion of where I was born, so when she asked I wanted to kinda…figure it out. That lady has books of maps, you know.”
I chuckle at this, sounds very ‘Elizabeth’ “And did you figure it out?”
“Not exactly, I narrowed it down to three places and picked the one whose name I liked best.”
“I see, and your last name?”
“What did you pick?”
“Isn’t that the most common Choumurian name ever?”
“Yes, and that’s exactly why I picked it. I don’t stand out like this.”
“Makes sense.” She leans against the wall and takes a deep breath “I’m going to be so happy once we’re within these walls for real.”
“Yeah me too.” It’ll feel good to build something up again. Even if it’s a lot of work. “So what do you want to do once we’re there?”
She shrugs, “I didn’t really consider the possibilities yet. Get my flying license for starters…then we’ll see.”
“Himowa and I want to start a restaurant again.”
“Really, that’s so nice.”
The door opens again and Himowa comes out “The lady said we have to wait for an hour so they can make the documents. So…back to the ship?”
Elizabeth and Dana set up the Xaitu board.
Himowa brings the cups to the parlour and I make the tea.
There’s a tension in the air that’s hard to ignore.
The game goes slow and it feels like no one actually has a strategy. Himowa drinks her tea absentmindedly only looking at the board in her turn.
Elizabeth’s eyes are glued to the wall beyond.
Even Dana seems less than serious about the game.
Wait am I somehow winning?
A chime rings through the parlour.
“Ah! That must be them.” Elizabeth announces as she jumps up.
The ship has a doorbell?
“Guess it’s a tie then?” Himowa announces as she starts clearing up the board.
I start collecting cards with her.
Elizabeth comes back in musing “They look so pretty, look.”
Himowa darts over to her “Oh you’re right, look Xuiyo.” She holds my booklet out to me.
There’s a golden signet on a brown leather cover resembling an old-school air balloon.
I open it up, and inside there’s a page with a bunch of information. A lot more than I expected, looks like I have a citizen number now.
And then behind that, there’s a load of blank paper?
“What’s that for?” I ask.
Dana pulls out her own passport, one wrapped in green card and featuring a different logo. “Every time you cross a border they put a stamp down, see?”
“You went to a lot of places,” Elizabeth remarks as she fawns over the different designs.
Dana shrugs “The life of a manta is many things, but boring it is not.”
“Can I be manta too?” Elizabeth asks out of the blue.
“If you want to be, but I think you might want to think that over very carefully before committing. For now, we need to get this ship back to the main gate, Alice?”
“Right!” Elizabeth gets up and the two of them make off to the cockpit.
The line has shortened somewhat by the time we touch down again.
The chime rings again and two big men carrying their own weapons walk in to ask for ID and check the ship for illegal goods or stowaways.
Hearing them say ‘all clear’ feels oddly cathartic to me.
They tip their caps to the captain as they leave. Then the gates open up to us and we drive straight into…an airship parking park.
Makes sense, though it’s a bit underwhelming.
“Our spot is 10B, oh great that’s all the way in the back.”
“From the perspective of the city, it’s close by.” Himowa observes sharply.
That cheers Elizabeth right up “Good point.”
With the ship parked and our journey complete Elizabeth enters the parlour with a smile on her face. “Now that we’re here, who’s up for looking for a nice place for tea?”