“How do they fly?” Avi asked as he watched another skyliner dip low enough to drop its tethered passenger bay.
“The air is pumped out of the oval part on top. It's rigid, so it keeps its shape, creating a voluminous vacuum. Vacuum is lighter than the surrounding air, so the structure rises.” Carina explained. Avi grasped the theory, but could hardly believe the immense size. Carina continued. “The material to create a rigid but light structure was only discovered a few—"
“I wondered when you guys would arrive,” Rachit said from behind them. He patted them both on the shoulder. They pulled their attention from the sky liner.
“Where have you been?” Carina asked. They hadn’t seen him since they arrived in Tamesh City, and his mysterious disappearance left them both with a vague sense of discomfort.
“It's no matter; I had some business to attend to,” Rachit said, more jovial than they had seen him in days.
“It matters to me,” Carina grumbled. “You left us. You’re supposed to be our guide, aren’t you? I think we deserve an answer.”
“It’s nothing.” Rachit said. Normally Avi would leave it alone, but he could hardly stand the mystery.
“You have business in Tamesh City?” Avi asked. “What kind of business?”
“It’s nothing of concern to you,” he said, his expression turning downward. The abruptness startled Avi. The jagged edges of his words cut the good mood they had been in. Rachit brightened again as quickly as he had turned.
“Let’s get tickets, shall we? The next airliner leaves in less than an hour,” Rachit said.
They both quietly agreed. When Rachit walked ahead toward the sky port ticket station, Avi and Carina looked at each other bewildered. Without a word, they followed Rachit toward the busy transportation hub. They watched the holographic board to check flight times. The number of flights in and out was mind-boggling. Skyliners were due in and out every few minutes. It was difficult to consider the amount of traffic this port received. It baffled Avi to think there were sky ports much bigger than the one here in Tamesh City. His small world was expanding quickly, and he loved the feel.
“You need a direct flight to Jerusalem,” Rachit said as he scanned the screen.
“You mean, we.” Carina corrected.
“You said you need,” Carina said. “You're not going to abandon us again, are you?”
“Ahh, there it is, flight seven eighty-five.” he pointed, ignoring her words. “Avi, do you have the money bag?”
Avi reached for the small coin purse Elof had given him before the trip began. Rather than open it, he handed the entire sack to Rachit. They followed numbly as Rachit walked to a kiosk nearby and tapped the hovering translucent surface. He found the numbers and keyed in the flight. He then dropped a few coins into a donation box nearby. The coins clanked as they fell into the receptical that read, “Give what you can.”
“That's it. It's booked,” Rachit said after finalizing the reservation. “The terminal is this way.” Once again, they followed Rachit into a crowd of people. They walked for a few minutes as they maneuvered through the excited busyness of travelers waiting to board their respective sky liners. Laughter and excitement drifted in the air around the transport stations. The anticipation of taking to the skies filled everyone with a palpable exuberance.
When they arrived at their terminal, there were still a few hours to spare. They sat and watched the people pass. A few flights took off as they waited, and the spectacle filled Avi with more excitement. He could hardly believe that he would both be on a sky liner soon, and what’s more, be in Jerusalem before the end of the week.
“Hey, is that—” Carina said. Avi didn’t hear the rest of his sister’s words. He rose on impulse. He had seen her too. There was no question in his mind. He followed.
He wove through the crowd of travelers, jostling luggage, dodging children, and leaping over companion animals. He could only get a glimpse here and there, through the throngs of people. She paused for a moment, staring at a terminal screen. That’s all he needed to catch up with her.
“Zariah?” he called through the noise as he approached. The girl spun with searching eyes, those umber pools of depth and mystery. His momentum carried him closer than he had intended, but he didn’t step back. A reluctant smile stretched across her gorgeous face as recognition dawned there.
“Oh, Avi!” she said.
“I—uh—” Avi said. “What are you doing here?”
“What?” she said. She put her ear near his mouth, letting her hands come to rest on his shoulders. The touch was like a campfire on a frosty night.
“I thought no one shares your path,” Avi said. “And yet, here we are.”
“I’m glad you’re here. I was hoping we’d meet again.”
“Why did you leave?” Avi asked.
“I’m sorry I did that. I’m trying to get where I’m going without being seen.”
“By who?” Avi said. She dropped her hands from his shoulders.
“What about you, guys? Did—"
“No, don't do that. I want to know what's going on. Who are you hiding from?” Avi said though he was nervous, that the pressure was too much. Zariah looked down. “I mean if you're in danger—"
“It’s my dad,” she said.
“You’re in danger from your dad?” Avi asked. The idea was unthinkable.
“No, I’m not in danger.”
“Then why are you hiding?”
“He fears for me.”
“What does he fear?” Avi asked.
“The path I’ve chosen—” she said. “Or rather, the path that has chosen me brings him a lot of anxiety.”
“What path? What are you talking about?” Avi said. Zariah’s eyes met his now. Slowly, she blinked as a kind of soft surrender played across her face.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to rebels. Wherever there are rebels is where I go.”
“Are you a rebel?” The words felt sharp in Avi’s mouth, feeling betrayal in the idea.
“No!” She ran her fingers through her dark hair and looked toward the nearest terminal. “I have a flight in just a few minutes.”
“Please, I just want to understand,” Avi said. “You told me you try to turn rebels back to the King. Why doesn’t your father approve? Is he a rebel?”
“No. It’s not that he doesn’t approve. He thinks it’s noble, but he’s afraid for me. He wishes I would just settle, get married, and start my own family.”
“Do you not want that?”
“I can’t help it. I can’t explain it. I’m drawn.”
“So, that’s why you called me a spy?” Avi asked. Zariah smiled sheepishly.
“I'm sorry. When I was younger, he would send some of his associates to find me. Lately, he's gotten more gentle, but I know it frightens him to know what I'm doing.”
“Have you disobeyed your dad?” Avi asked.
“No way. He's careful. He knows that he should not contradict my calling. Really, he's even proud of me. It just frightens him what I've been called to do. So, when I travel, I try not to be seen by any that might communicate with his organization. It's as much of a kindness as I can give him.”
“So, no one takes your path?” Avi said, finally making sense of the enigmatic statement.
“I’ve never met anyone who does what I do. It’s lonely.” She gave an ironic smile, pushing back against the vulnerable emotion. Avi wanted to wrap his arms around her. He wished he could bring her some warmth.
“So, where are you going next?”
“That's the strange thing,” she said. “Usually, I feel drawn to a new place as soon as I've left the last one. But since you pulled me out of that canyon I—"
“What?” Avi said.
“I’m going home.”
“That's good, right?”
“Maybe, but home is—” she paused. “complicated.”
“Where is h—”
“Avi!” Carina’s voice sliced through the noise from somewhere behind his back. He turned to see his sister in an excited state. She looked like she had been running. “There’s a celestial looking for you.”
“What?” Avi asked.
“Hey, Zariah,” Carina said, leaning over Avi's shoulder. Zariah returned the greeting. Avi couldn't imagine a more inconvenient timing, and he wished for another moment with Zariah. He spun back to her.
“Please stay,” Avi said. “You can get a later flight, can’t you?”
“I don’t think I should. All I know is that I’m supposed to go home.”
“I can’t ignore a celestial’s summons.”
“And I don’t intend to be seen by one,” Zariah said. There was steel in her voice. Avi’s mind raced. His eyes darted between his sister and Zariah. He rubbed the skin on the back of his hand against his forehead.
“I—just—,” he tried. He was breathing heavily. “Please.”
“Tell me why.”
“Tell me why you want me to stay,” Zariah said. Avi's eyes felt like they were bulging out of his head. He wanted to scream it but even a whisper would do though neither was possible. The words got no further than the painful bubble in his stomach.
“Come on, Avi,” Carina interrupted. “The star-born is waiting.” Avi glanced at her for a brief second. While his head was turned, he felt Zariah once again lean in close. She placed a gentle hand against his arm.
“When you figure that one out, it'll change your life,” she said softly near his ear. He could feel her warm, sweet breath tickling his face. Chills, like little volcanos, erupted all down the skin of his back. She reached up; her hand ran the back of her fingers down the smooth skin of his cheek. She stepped back.
“Bye, Avi,” she said. She leaned over and waved at Carina.
“Bye, Zariah,” Carina said over Avi’s shoulder. “Come on. We have to go.” She peeled him from the sight of Zariah. He was dragged a dozen steps before he realized he hadn’t said goodbye. It flooded over him like a torrent. He had said nothing. He wanted more.
“I have to—" Avi said, pulling free of his sister's grip. He ran back to the place where she had touched his cheek, but the place was vacant. He scanned for her through the crowd for a few seconds before he gave up. He followed Carina back toward the place she led him.