Joseph and Daniel stood when Adela and Aimee entered the living room. Aimee sat Adela on the couch and fetched her chamomile tea. Adela thanked her and drank, and almost choked her tea out. Daniel suppressed a smile.
“Adela, he is my father, Joseph; and my brother, Daniel,” Aimee said. “We’re Light Harvesters, or what we like to be called, Chasers.”
“I’ve heard about the local chasers from the Northern Territories,” Adela said. “I am…was property of the Shkein Corporation, I heard Miss Gehasa talk about destroying your airships.” Adela shuddered, “she was the one who took me and my brother and enslaved us.” Tears flowed down Adela’s cheek.
“Do you want to tell us about it?” Joseph asked kindly.
Adela inhaled, and continued. “My father worked for Shkein’s Corporation in the South, he had branches in the Caribbean Islands. My poor father died indebted to Shkein and my mother was very sick and needed medicine. We were a poor family back then, just like everyone else in the island. One day, Miss Gehasa knocked on our door and offered us a deal; she said she would intern our mother in the hospital for free if my brother and I gave up our freedom. She said Mr. Shkein was doing us a big favor and that our enslavement was the only way to pay off father’s debt. Five years, he promised.”
“How old were you and your brother?” Daniel asked.
“I was fourteen and my brother eight,” Adela said, “we worked for him for two years. These two years are the worst years of my life. I hate that place so much; they would force us to carry the harvested lights from one plant to another. Some days they refused to give us some food and we were treated harshly, like cattle. When they took us to the Trade, the conditions were worst. We were forced to work harder. I knew we had to escape or else we’d die.” Adela paused, “what will happen to me and my brother? Please, don’t send us back.”
“That is out of question,” Joseph assured her. “After what you told us, we cannot send you back to that monster. However, Shkein is probably looking for you and Pablo. I will go to the Trade tomorrow and offer Shkein to buy your freedom. He wouldn’t refuse; it is business for him after all. Meanwhile, you are welcome to stay here until we figure out how to take you and Pablo home.”
Adela dropped to her knees, “thank you Mr. Joseph, you’re too kind.” Tears welled in her eyes as she bowed her head, “thank you Mr. Daniel and Miss Aimee.”
“Please, stand up,” Joseph said, “you should go wash and sleep some more. It has been a difficult day.” Adela stood up and bowed once more; tears of happiness streaked her face, and left the living room toward Aimee’s room. The Wilkers were immersed in silence.
“I’m going with you, dad,” Daniel said. “I want to see who this Shkein is.”
“Me too,” Aimee said resolutely.
“We’ll go to the Trade to talk to Shkein,” Aimee informed Adela. “Please stay in the house and do not go out. You’ll be safer here.” Aimee was working on the lock of Adela’s collar. The locking mechanism was quite simple, something Aimee had seen before and worked with. Within seconds, Adela’s neck was free from the metal. “This will be proof for Shkein, so that he knows you’re in our house.” She worked on Pablo’s collar now; he was wide awake, staring at Aimee with huge eyes.
“Thank you Miss,” he said in broken English.
Aimee smiled. “Stay safe, I promise nothing is going to happen to you.” Pablo threw his arms around Aimee once his collar was off. Aimee blushed at the sweet embrace, then bid then good bye. She was smiling as she made her way to theChaserwith the collars in her hand.
“Why are you so happy?” Daniel asked. “We’re off to do grim business.”
“Pablo is so sweet,” Aimee replied, “I think I would rather have a younger brother than an older one.”
Joseph chuckled. “You would do a good big sister.”
The trip was not pleasurable when they knew what they were going to do was unpleasant. The Chaser was loaded with last week’s provisions of Dust, and they hoped that was enough to buy the children’s freedom. Last night had been a haunting night, Aimee slept with Daniel in his room, and both of them were staring at the black-dotted sky as the zeppelins harvested the lights. It wasn’t nearly as beautiful as when the sky was clear and only the curtains of light were all there was.
They docked at their usual spot and asked directions for Shkein’s office. It was deep into the heart of the Trade, where they bought the tallest building and now made it its northern headquarters. The Wilkers didn’t bring the Dust with them. They were feeling a bit daunted by the time they reached the building and saw the sentinels standing guard by the door.
Joseph approached them, “good morning, we’re looking to speak to Mr. Shkein. We have a matter that would interest him very much.”
“Mr. Shkein is a busy man,” the sentinel sneered, “why would he be interested in whatever the locals have to say?”
“What if it’s concerning his estate?” Joseph continued, “I am sure he won’t appreciate business being delayed because of his sentinels.”
The sentinel’s eyebrow arched up at the response. He held his rifle tighter, his finger lingering over the trigger. “You might as well repeat.”