Authors: Paul B. Thompson
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Legends, Myths, Fables
It began on a sunlit day in Cherbourg, France. In 2055, the future has arrived and the past is departing as the last steamship in the world prepares to cross the Atlantic on its final voyage. Alongside, a great glittering solar-powered vessel sails, tooâa beautiful ship filled with beautiful people. On board the steamer are eight teensâsome dreamers, some desperateâfor whom the last voyage of the S.S.
Sir Guy Carleton
is only a step on a longer journey.
Soon the ship is far out at sea, and every layer of modern technology fails. Each teen must rely on their own special skills to surviveâbut where? What is the strange island in the Atlantic, where no island exists? Who are the men who speak an ancient tongue who capture the survivors of the stricken ship? With every breath a new mystery appears, and the desperate dreamers of the
must find a way to live, or escape, the Lost Republic.
~ excerpt ~
With hammers and chisels the chains were struck off. Julie swore at the blisters around her ankle. Leigh glanced to both sides of the road, judging how fast he could sprint into the safety of darkness.
Jenny caught his arm. At her glance, he saw archers atop the wall, watching them. He wouldn't get five steps without being riddled with arrows.
“Where do you come from?” Antoninus Valerius asked the
Chief Steward Bernardi, looking a bit puzzled, said, “We come fromâfromâmany places. We arrivedâby sea.”
“It matters little now. You will soon become citizens of the Republic. Obey and prosper.”
Valerius turned his horse around to lead them into the city. France thought of the hanged man at the crossroads.
Obey and prosper. The unspoken counterpart of that advice: Disobey and die.
Slowly, with exhausted limbs and sore feet, the survivors of the S.S.
Sir Guy Carleton
entered the Eternal City.
Paul B. Thompson
is a freelance writer and novelist. He co-wrote sixteen novels in the popular Dragonlance series and has authored nine books for Enslow Publishers, Inc., including a three-book fantasy adventure series The Brightstone Saga. He has published widely in magazines and online. Mr. Thompson lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his family. In his spare time, he builds catapults and antique scientific devices like Leyden jars and Tesla coils.
The ship stood out like a crisp French flagâred hull, white superstructure, with a peerless blue sky above. It didn't look like a relic about to begin its last journey. The old ship looked as good as it must have the day of its maiden voyage, eighty-two years ago. It looked solid, like it was carved from a single block of steel. Only a thin gray ribbon of exhaust from the streamlined funnel spoiled the image. Though the ship was far away, the onshore breeze carried the odor. It smelled old, toxic, and forbidden.
FranÃ§ois Martin set down his bag and adjusted the Info-Coach in his ear. A warm voice filled his head.
“Cherbourg harbor is the largest artificial roadstead in the world. Even after two centuries, no other port has exceeded its size, though the Chinese âSuper Hong Kong' project is predicted to surpass Cherbourg when completed in 2089 . . .”
FranÃ§ois shook his head to fast-forward the Coach. He looked again at the ship, stared at it to make the device recognize what he was seeing.
Without a slip the woman's voice said, “S.S.
Sir Guy Carleton,
a steam turbine cargo vessel of 15,412 tons. Canadian registry, the ship is operated by a Panamanian company, Conejos SpA.” FranÃ§ois continued to stare at the ship, but the Info-Coach had nothing more to say.
Standing on a street overlooking the Darse Transatlantique in Cherbourg's inner harbor, FranÃ§ois Martin saw his father advancing up the gentle hill toward him. The company car, a graphite-colored Mercedes, waited at the curb behind him like a patient dog.
His suit was the same color as the Mercedes. Not similar, but exactly the same color. This was the latest executive style. FranÃ§ois thought it made his father look like a Lego man.
“There you are,” said his father.
FranÃ§ois looked past his father to the
. Streams of water poured from drains at the ship's bow. They were trimming her for sea.
“I came to ask you one last time: will you come with me on the
was the new solar-powered supership about to make its maiden voyage to Canada and America. It was anchored in the outer harbor, beyond the Jetee des Flamands. Serge Martin's company had installed most of the sunship's environmental systemsâheating and air-conditioningâthus earning Monsieur Martin a berth on the
's much-heralded first trip.
FranÃ§ois shook his head no. By doing so, he woke the Info-Coach at skull-blasting volume. It roared something about the weather in Nova Scotia until he flung it from his ear. It tinkled off the curb into the gutter.
Serge Martin picked up the little silver bead. He smiled at his son until he put the Info-Coach in his own ear. Dialing down the volume with twitch of his eye, Serge removed the device.
“Why did you choose that voice?”
FranÃ§ois put the bead in his pants pocket. “Why shouldn't I want to hear my mother's voice?”
He hadn't seen his mother in three years, since the divorce. She lived in Montreal now. Serge Martin invited FranÃ§ois to go with him to Canada on the
with the unspoken promise he would see his mother on the other side. When FranÃ§ois found out the
was going on its final voyage along with the sunship, he hacked into his father's travel account and changed his berth from
to the old steamship.
His father said nothing. He beckoned, and the Mercedes crawled up beside him. Silently the door opened. Serge Martin leaned in and brought out a second soft suitcase, which he set on the walk by his son's feet. He got in the car and said to the machine, “Jetee des Flamands terminal.”
The car door slowly closed, sealed. With only the sound of its tires crushing loose grit on the pavement, it rolled away. FranÃ§ois picked up his bags and started for the Darse docks.
Ten meters away, Leigh Morrison was also headed for the
dock. He saw FranÃ§ois and his dad, or more accurately, he saw the smooth sedan lurking behind the well-dressed man. He knew from the contours and the color it was the latest model. People said the 2055 Mercedes had the most advanced guidance system in the world. In a missile it could take you to the moon if you told it to. Leigh liked the color, too. He had a pair of shoes that shade. He envied the guy, not only because his old man had stylish wheels but he had the latest model Topkapi PDD, personal data device. It fit in one ear, and you could adjust it with a simple head or eye movement. Leigh had a two-year-old Quipu model, the twin-ear kind joined by a hair-thin wire. Old stuff now, but at least it allowed him to tune out Julie when he needed to. She was going full blast now.
“Gala, what do you mean he won't go? He's got to! Do you see what Pam van Zant is wearing? What trash! God, who picks clothes for that show? He has to go, Gala! Is it raining again? You must be swimming to school, Miki!”
Julie Morrison, two years younger than Leigh, walked about half a step behind her brother. She was talking to friends in Dallas and Jakarta while the video feed from Your/World covered half her gold-tinted shades. Her parents couldn't understand how she could carry on two conversations, watch a program, and walk at the same time. All it took was practice, Julie said. She'd been practicing for sixteen years.
The stranger's voice cut through their ear traffic. The Morrisons stepped apart and a tall bronze figure flashed between them. Leigh and Julie stopped in their tracks and gawked. In a silver tank top and electric blue silk shorts, the runner practically glowed with energy in the fresh morning light. The appliques on her feet glittered as they rose and fell.
“Hey!” Julie called, putting her friends on pause. “Are you in training?”
The running girl glanced back over her shoulder. “Yeah! For 2056!” Her English had a Caribbean lilt.
“Good luck!” Leigh called. The Summer Olympics in Montreal were a year away. He watched the girl overtake the slow-moving Mercedes and pass it. The car turned right, but she kept straight for the Darse Transatlantique.
“Too much sweat,” Julie said, starting Your/World on her glasses again.
“You can't be an athlete without sweating,” Leigh replied.
“Who wants to be? I mean, she's all toned and everything, but she must have to shower five times a day. And being that tall, where does she find shoes?”
“Runners don't wear shoes.” Competitive athletesâand those who wanted to look like themâwore nylon soles glued to their feet.
“That's what I mean! Appliques are smooth at the beach, but you can't wear 'em to aâ”
Leigh turned up his old PDD. It was better than listening to one of Julie's rants on style.
His translator software converted local news to English.
“All eyes are on Cherbourg's Grande Rade, awaiting the departure of the all-solar powered ocean vessel
” said the bland news voice. Leigh asked for a deeper translation. Grande Rade meant “Great Roadstead.” What the hell was a road doing in a harbor?
“A roadstead is a place outside a harbor where a ship can anchor. It's an enclosed area with an opening to the sea,” the PDD explained. It reverted to news.
“Almost lost in the furor over
s debut is the final voyage of the world's last steam-turbine ship, the Canadian freighter S.S.
Sir Guy Carleton
. Once the old steamer reaches its final destination, Boston, U. S. A., it will be scrapped. Fossil-fueled, carbon-emitting transportation will soon be part of history.” The PDD said nothing about there being any passengers on the
Sea travel of any sort was new to Leigh. Since enrolling at the University of London last year, he'd been back and forth from the U. S. to Europe half a dozen times, but always by air. He didn't know anyone, not even his ancient grandmother, who'd ever traveled by ship. Leigh was taking final exams when he heard about the last voyage of the
. The idea of going home on the last steamship in the world appealed to him in a way he couldn't quite explain. Julie, visiting him on the excuse she might also want to attend the university, had a major tantrum over the idea.
“Ships sink!” she cried. Had Leigh ever heard of the
“Planes crash!” he snapped back. “So do airships! Ever heard of the
“Ships are slow!”
“Ships are romantic,” he countered.
She snorted. “Like there'll be anybody on board but Forties and nostalgia freaks!”
In the end, she had to give in because their parents transferred money for the trip to Leigh's account. He bought two one-way passages on the
from Cherbourg to Boston. The
started its voyage in Britain, at Portsmouth, but Julie had to shop in Paris before going home, so that put them on board at the steamer's last European stop. Leigh ended up carrying four bags of stuff Julie bought in Paris in addition to his own luggage. Julie, as usual, carried herself. As they trudged down the hill, boarding was already underway.
was due to depart Cherbourg at 1400 hours today.
Loping past the Americans, Jenny Hopkins instantly classified them. Football player. Cheerleader. She had watched the Your/World series
long enough to know the types.
The street ahead was almost empty. A three-wheel Vivo truck rattled by with a bed full of seafood crates on ice. Jenny watched for spilled shavings on the road. It wouldn't do to slip now and break an ankle before tryouts in Canada.
She'd been seriously training since spring. British weather being what it was, Jenny hadn't had many field workouts. She'd run indoors all winter, lap after lap in the Southampton Sports Hall until she knew every rivet in the rail, every scuff in the rubber-paved track. Working harder than the next girl was like breathing for her. Not being a college student, she had to train on her own where she could.
People did help. The sports hall let her run when the gym was supposed to be closed. Local shopkeepers who knew her parents donated running gear and sometimes free meals. Jenny was known as the Running Girl of So'ton (which was what local folk called Southampton). If she made the cut in Canada, Jenny would run for Britain in the 2056 summer games.
Time was short. She had no time to waste even on a flight to Canada. Her father heard about the old ship crossing the Atlantic and thought it would be a perfect way to get to the tryouts. Jenny could run all through the voyage.
The ticket wasn't cheap, so they had a block party to raise money for her. So'ton's West Indian community turned out for barbecue, and Jenny got a berth on the last steamship to America.
Ahead, a guy was walking down the hill with a suitcase in either hand. Trudging, really, with slow, heavy footfalls. As she flashed past, she gave him a sideways glance. Euro, no doubt, about her age. Not an athlete. He had the clothes and posture of
She wasn't pushing hard, just keeping her tempo up. As the hill flattened out, more people appeared. A bus squatted by a blue stop sign, heat shimmering from the drippy fuel cell on its tail. Families filed off with lumpy travel bags attached to their clothes. To Jenny they looked burdened and slow, like crabs on the beach at Nassau, where she was born.
More cars entered from side streets, and she reluctantly slowed to a walk. The fire of her own exertions caught up with her in a rush. Sweat trickled down her neck, behind her ears, and pooled in the appliques on her feet, making each step squish and squeak.
A black limousine ten years out-of-date turned ponderously into the lane, halting by the river of bus passengers flowing through the street to the Security and Customs office. Inside, Emile Bequerel peered through the severely tinted windows. He did not see tropical crabs, laden with their lives. The travelers headed for the
seemed happy, carefree. They looked much alike, wherever they came fromâshorts, light shirts in intensely artificial colors, sunhats. Older people wore tinted sunscreen, the blues and oranges Emile remembered from childhood trips to the beach. Children looked more natural. They used SPF pills to protect them from the sun.
Behind him, his three older sisters were all talking at once, as usual. Catharine was giving him advice again (he didn't listen), Jeanne was correcting Catharine, and Michele, loudest of all, was urging the chauffeur to drive through the crowd.
would get out of the way when they saw the blunt nose of the limo pushing toward them. Dirk the driver said, “Ja, ja, madame,” but he didn't obey.
“I'll get out here,” Emile declared quietly.
“No, you won't,” Michele replied.
“Why not? The booth is right there, and we're stopped.”
Before the Bequerel sisters could unite in their disapproval, Emile pulled the door handle. He stepped out of the chill air of the limo into the late spring sunlight and slammed the door before anyone could follow.
A window slid soundlessly down.
“Where are you going?” Jeanne demanded.
“Canada and America.”
“I know that! What about your luggage? Your PDD?”
“I don't need them. I don't need any of it.”
Emile slipped into the crowd of brightly dressed travelers. The last thing he heard behind him was Michele's shrill cry, “What will Papa say?”
He'll say, good for you, son. Get away from those harpies. At least that's what Emile wanted him to say. Emile saw his father at breakfast. They parted with a firm, manly handshake and no words at all.
Emile fell in line behind a woman and a girl wearing matching hats. The girl, about Emile's age but annoyingly taller, wore a white sundress that showed off her smoothly tanned shoulders. Her mother, also clad in white, had sleeves down to her wrists and slacks down to her ankles.