“What has happened?” Aimee whispered hoarsely. She knew this family; they would never set their ship on fire. It was their life support. She gazed the wreckage with teary eyes from the smoke. Mr. Gaston, the aviator, was kneeling on the ground, tears rolling down his plump face; his children were gathered around him, burying their weepy faces on their father’s large chest. Mrs. Gaston was standing behind them, her face tear-stained, holding a heavy bag with both limp hands. Several of the female orchard workers approached her and consoled her in their arms, quietly and tactfully begging for the answers of such a monstrous event.
On the other side of the field, there was a woman standing regal and prepotent amidst disaster and calamity. Her eyes were a sharp jade, with thick glasses framing them; her blonde hair was set up high in her head. She was wearing a gray jacket and plaited skirt, holding a clipboard to her chest. Worst of all, she was smiling victoriously at the burning ship. Two men were behind her, holding briefcases and sporting air-compressed rifles; sunglasses covered their eyes and a bronze metallic mail covered their chest. The woman glanced at the notes of her clipboard and gave directions to the men. They departed from the fiery scene. Aimee followed their progress through the meadow with spiteful and curious eyes, until they mounted their three-wheel vehicle. She was startled by the appearance of a motor buggy; from afar she could distinguish and marvel at the small, open carriage vehicle she had only seen in pictures and drawings, the three-wheel vehicle powered by one cylinder of Dust, or aether, engine. Nobody had access to small ground vehicles, except for the minority of rich people around the world. The main means of transportation were steam-powered trains and ferries, Dust-powered airships, and the classical horse-powered buggy and carriage.
Who are those people? Aimee thought, what is their business here? Rich people were uncommon in the Northern Territories; it wasn’t that much of a class-divided place. Nonetheless, whatever their reason to be here might be, it wasn’t a good one. Aimee and Eliana approached Mr. Gaston, who was now on his feet and assuring his family that everything will be alright.
“I will find a job in the Market, somebody must be in need of an aviator,” he tried to sound confident of his words, but apparently it didn’t cut though for the listeners.
“We didn’t have any other choice,” Mrs. Gaston said soothingly, although she didn’t appear appeased at all. “The big corporations are taking over, and in this game, small Chasers don’t have a chance to play at all.”
“What happened here, Mr. and Mrs. Gaston?” Aimee asked, snaking her way through the throng of listeners. The little children of the Gaston family ran to hugged Aimee and Eliana, who more than once had babysat them. They hold on to them with their little trembling bodies. “Why is the Sky Mariner burning in flames?”
“Those bastards of the Shkein Corporation burned her down,” Mr. Gaston shook in anger. “They promised me that they wouldn’t hurt the Mariner if I cooperated, that I was going to be able to keep her. Those liars,” he broke down into sobs.
“We sold her to the Shkein Corporation,” Mrs. Gaston explained, “it was a decision that pained us, we didn’t want to, but given the present conditions…we had no other choice. They offered us bountiful amounts of money if we agreed to stop Harvesting Lights as local Chasers; they also promised us that we’ll keep our ship.”
“It is clear those thieves don’t want competition,” a worker from the crowd yelled. “Two days ago, they burned Old Timmy’s airship.”
“But Mr. Gaston,” Aimee find it hard to express her feelings and questions to words, lest it should offend the Gastons. “Why did you agreed to such tyrants?”
“My dearest Aimee,” he said kindly, “the local Chasers are going to have a hard time competing against big corporations like the Shkein. They already dominated the Southern World enterprises of Dust; they’re here to colonize our skies. If you haven’t heard of their deal, then perhaps I should tell you. They offer the Chasers one hundred fifty pieces of gold and three hundred of silver. That is worth two year of harvesting Lights! We couldn’t turn down the offer as much as we love to surf the skies, we’re expecting another baby. They promised to leave the ship intact and the money if we didn’t set her on sail to the skies. I promised them that, but they still went ahead and burned her down. It was liability, they said.” He sniffed and blinked back tears. “I tried to stop them but that cursed woman trained a gun on my unborn baby.” He shook with rage and Mrs. Gaston burst in frightful tears. “We didn’t have another choice.”
“This has been happening a lot this week,” a close neighbor of the Gaston said, “I’ve heard news from the East that several ships have been destroyed because the Chasers over there also accepted the deal. Everybody is in a mourning state in the East, and everybody is afraid to lose their life. I am afraid they have spread to the West and we would soon feel their influence upon us, if not already.”
Aimee’s lips were quivering; she didn’t want her family to suffer that ominous fate. “It’s not fair,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. “I have to run back home…”
Everybody had heard her, but their eyes were cast on the ground. They felt bad for the Wilkers and the Chasers in general. Aimee knew what was on their minds; the Lights Chaser must be burning down already. She refuse to believe that, she broke from the circle of people and ran as fast as her legs would allow her to. She wanted to make sure the Chaser was still intact and that her father and brother were not weeping inconsolably. No, they wouldn’t allow that to happen. That thought was what kept her moving forward, against the currents of negative waves that were crashing on her. They would defend their ship against evil and oppressing forces.
Her thoughts were soon drowned by the deafening sound of the wind, carrying the smell of fire to her nostrils. She was out of hearing range from the cluster of people she had left, but one phrase rang loud and clear in her mind, “Poor little Aimee.”