Jade and Chris, accompanied by Joy and Pete, head for Aashla.
Space travel could easily get boring, so I recommend always traveling with good friends. Joy and Pete loved cuddling together and watching old adventure vids almost as much as Chris and I did. Neither of them had seen any of the old Star Ranger series, so we started with those. Those are David’s favorites, after all, and I knew Joy would want to have something to say to David besides incoherent squeals of excitement.
Martin and Megan joined us for several of the vid watching sessions, though Megan had to shush Martin when he tried explaining how silly some of the adventures were. The four of us didn’t mind. Heck, we even considered Martin’s acerbic wit half the fun of watching the vids.
When Joy and Pete found out Megan was writing a song about Chris and me, they insisted on Megan playing it for us. Our beautiful bard resisted for all of one minute before giving in and fetching her guitar.
“Remember, this is a work in progress,” Megan told us as she tuned her guitar. “It still got a long way to go. In truth, it’s not very good, yet.”
Joy folded her arms and gave Megan a mock glare. “Stop apologizing and start playing.”
Martin laughed, “She has you there, my dear.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Martin,” Megan replied in a haughty tone.
Martin looked at us, “She does this all the time, insisting her work in progress is horrible, not ready to be heard by the public, and all sorts of other crap like that. But when she starts playing—well, you can decide for yourself.”
“Now that my husband has jinxed this performance,” Megan complained, “I suppose I might as well start. It can’t get any worse.”
With that, she began playing—and I was mesmerized. Somehow, Megan captured everything I felt when Chris rescued me from the cliff and everything I feel when I’m with him. Then she put it to music and didn’t miss a note or an emotion. By the time the song ended, I had tears tracking down my cheeks.
“That’s beautiful,” Joy sighed.
“It is,” Chris said. “I don’t know how you did it, Megan, but your music captured my true feelings for Jade.”
I nodded, “And everything I feel for Chris.”
“If that’s your idea of ‘not very good,’ I can’t wait to hear it when you think it is good,” Pete added.
“I tell her the same thing every time she plays one of her new songs,” Martin said.
Megan shook her head in dismay. “Another bard would understand why I said that.”
Martin laughed, “And she tells me that every time I compliment one of her new songs!”
Megan played plenty of other songs for us, too, and every one of them enthralled us. Joy especially loved Megan’s song about David and Callan. I love that one, too, so didn’t mind that Joy asked to hear it several times during the trip. Joy and Pete also asked to hear our song, again. Neither Chris nor I complained about that. What can I say—it’s my new favorite song of all time, so I was happy to listen to it as often as Megan was willing to play it.
When we weren’t listening to music or watching vids, Chris and I tried to prepare Joy and Pete for Aashla. With a lot of help from Martin and Megan, we explained all the important customs we could think of and tried to get across to them how different our world was from every other world they had been on.
“But, we will get to see airships, right?” Joy asked. “And ride on them?”
“For the hundredth time, yes,” I answered.
Joy waved her hand, pretending to dismiss everything else we had told her about Aashla. “Then everything else is simply details, which I’ll pick up as we go.”
I arched an eyebrow at my roommate. “You do remember the duel, don’t you? If you do something truly stupid, Pete may have to fight a duel to defend your honor. So, don’t you think you should pay a little more attention to what we’ve been telling you?”
Joy reached out and tapped my nose, grinning devilishly. “I’ve paid attention to everything you’ve told me. I even stored it in my implant, so I won’t forget it. But did you know that you’re adorable when you’re mad?”
Leaving my eyebrow raised, I crossed my arms and began tapping my foot. “Ha, ha. You’re very funny.”
“I know,” Joy said, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head. “It’s one reason you like me so much.”
“Or,” I countered, “maybe I like you so much despite your sense of humor.”
Since Joy and I share the same sense of humor, she just smirked at me. I’m smart enough to know when I can’t win an argument and dropped the matter.
Just as our trip was getting stale, Martin brought us through the wormhole and into the Aashlan system. Unlike the first time Martin came through that wormhole—and the time David came to the wormhole, not to mention the original colony ship—he didn’t have to dodge asteroids in Aashla’s planetary ring. At the request of several Aashlan governments, the Federation Navy kept the entry point well clear of debris.
Chris and I were at one viewport, and Joy and Pete at another, when the gray fog of the wormhole vanished and Aashla appeared below us. I felt a lump in my throat at the sight.
“Home, at last,” I said.
“I know what you mean,” Chris said.
“It’s beautiful!” Joy exclaimed. “You think we’ll see some airships when we land?”
We did see airships—and a whole lot more—when we landed. Martin and Megan insisted that Chris and I exit the ship first. We stepped through the airlock, blinking in the bright morning sunlight, and were amazed at what lay before us.
A huge crowd spread across the landing field and they began cheering as soon as we stepped into view. A band played something, but we couldn’t hear the music over the cheers. Our families ran toward us, leaving some of the most important people in Aashla behind them. But, David and Callan and Rupor and Heidi just smiled and watched our reunion.
Mom and Dad wrapped me in a big hug, just as Chris’s parents did him. I was amazed at how much Will and Sasha had grown in the months I’d been gone. I was even more amazed at how happy I was to see my little brother and little sister. I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
After I greeted my family and Chris greeted his, we traded places and exchanged hugs and kisses with our future in-laws. Dad even thanked Chris for defending his little girl’s Honor in the duel with ex-Cadet Barela.
Chris introduced Pete to both families and I tried introducing Joy to them. But my roommate could not tear her eyes away from the sky, which was filled with airships of all shapes and all sizes, including the Wind Dancer II and Chris’s former naval squadron. Fortunately, my family really understands airship infatuations.
Dad put his arm around my shoulder and looked at Joy. “It seems to me that Academy found you just the right roommate, Jade.”
“Yeah, Joy is our kind of people.” I looked up at Dad, “She wants to pilot an airship. It’s all she talked about on our trip here.”
Dad put his other arm around Joy’s shoulder and pulled her close. “You’re a girl after my own heart, Joy. I give you my word, you’ll get your chance to pilot one of my airships.”
That broke through Joy’s airship reverie. She threw her arms around his neck and squealed, “You are the coolest!”
At Dad’s questioning look, I said, “Don’t worry, Dad, that’s a good thing.”
That’s when Callan and David approached us. Both of our roommates were dumbstruck when they came face-to-face with the famous pair. Pete, by the sheer impact of Callan’s beauty. Joy, by the simple fact that she was meeting her hero, David Rice.
Callan smiled at both of them, “Jade and Chris have told us so much about you two in their messages home, that I almost feel as if I already know both of you.”
David, ever the gentleman, bowed over Joy’s hand and placed a soft kiss upon it. “I am enchanted to finally meet you in person, Cadet Meyer.”
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” Joy gushed. “Jade, he kissed my hand! David Rice kissed my hand!”
David looked my way, “Is she about to start genuflecting?”
Joy turned horrified expression on me. “You told him about that?”
“You’re kidding, right?” I grinned. “Of course, I told them about the first time I met my crazy roommate!”
Joy’s cheeks turned bright scarlet. “I am so embarrassed!”
Callan kissed both of Joy’s cheeks. “You have no reason to be embarrassed, Joy. What you did made Jade feel more comfortable while far, far from home. David and I are thankful she found such a friend as you.”
Callan also kissed Pete’s cheeks, which made him blush. “We are equally thankful that Chris found such a good friend in you, Pete.”
Linking her arms through Joy’s and Pete’s arms, Callan added, “Now, I’m afraid you’ll all have to suffer through a parade and then a reception in your honor.”
Finally home, Chris and Jade hope to spend two months showing their friends around and catching up with their families. Find out what plans fate has for them in Chapter 36, coming Monday.