I just finished talking to the junior and senior crew. I told the junior crew I’d give them full compensation for senior benefits for the day, even though the senior staff members were in position. I warned the senior staff that the next brawl would result in anyone involved losing their commission. That should hopefully set them straight, and keep them from doing anything foolish.
Tensions are still high, but the ship is under control and fully staffed again. And I’m off the clock. On alert, but officially off the clock.
I went down to the ship’s arboretum and found my favorite spot. Letting my thoughts drift for a bit, I thought back to the events of twenty years ago.
I took off my mag-shoes and let myself float above it all. I looked out into the market square as I floated up to my favorite spot up on the highest maple tree on the ship. I grabbed onto the branch and peered out. I looked at the magnificently carved dragons, especially the yellow one with the scales and fins. That one was my favorite. I pulled out my drawing pad and flipped to my picture of the dragon.
Last week while eating at the Ming restaurant, I asked Mr. Ming what the yellow dragon’s name was. He told me it was named Huánglóng, and represented the Chinese Emperor and the center of the four directions. That’s why it was my favorite. I’d climb up onto the tree and draw Huánglóng so I could get myself centered after a bad day.
“I knew I’d find you up here Angel. Had a tough day again, huh?”
I looked over at my mother’s face and saw the telltale bags under her eyes that let me know that she had a tough day too. I didn’t want to ruin her day more with my problems.
“No, I just wanted to draw a little.”
“It’s OK sweetheart, I know something’s bothering you. You know you can always talk to me.”
I looked down at the mismatched socks on my feet. I put quickly put on a red one and a pink one this morning because I was so excited to be going to school since I felt like a girl again after so long feeling like a boy. I frowned at that thought and continued to stare at my feet. “The kids made fun of me again when I came into school as a boy, after being a girl for almost a week. Maybe they’re right, I should just pick a gender and stick with it. It would be so much easier.”
My mom took off her mag-shoes and floated up towards me. After she gripped onto the branch by mine, she lifted my head towards hers. “Honey, don’t even think of going against who you are. You need to do what feels right to you. I know that it’s hard, but you need to be true to you. You’re lucky that you know who you are at age 10. I didn’t know who I was until much later.” She smiled that big bright smile that I loved so much and kissed me on my forehead. “You’re special, and I know you’re going to do great things.”
With my mind back in the present, I wiped my tears and hoped that my mom’s faith in me was well-founded.
“I knew I’d find you up here Angel.”
I looked down from my perch on the tree to see the tired face of the retired Captain Martin looking up at me.
I pushed myself off of the tree, as I had many times before, with enough force to push me back down to terra firma. I quickly put my mag-shoes back on and met my mentor and friend.
“I am so glad to see you, Captain.”
“You know there’s no need for that formality now. I’m retired, you’re Captain, and I’m just Rob.”
Heaven knows how much I needed this man’s advice right now. I grinned broadly and hugged him as tightly as I could.
“Let’s go grab a bite to eat while we talk. I’m sure your usual table at the Ming is still there waiting for us.”
Walking past the dragon sculptures at the entrance to the Ming that I loved in my youth seemed to melt my troubles away, at least a little. And, wouldn’t you know it, the table under the large sculpture of Huánglóng actually was available.
Míng Zhāngwěi, the son of the Mr. Ming that I knew in my youth, and the eleventh generation Ming to own the restaurant, came up to our table.
“Hello, Captains. It’s great to see you two together again.”
Zhāngwěi was also one of the children I went to school with. He actually turned down an opportunity to become a cadet in order to continue his family’s business. My mother and Captain, well at the time, Commander Martin, tried to convince him otherwise, but he was steadfast in his resolve. I think that’s why we got along so well, since we were both deadset in following the family business, even if opportunities tried to pull us elsewhere.
I wish I could remember what else he had said, but despite my insistence that my worries had somewhat dissipated, I’m afraid that they hadn’t. All I can be sure of is that I ordered the kǒushuǐ jī, or mouthwatering chicken, as that’s what I always ordered when I was here. I must have been out of it for a while, since, no longer than I thought this, our meals appeared at our table.
I picked up the chopsticks and poked at my food. “OK, might as well just jump into things, I thought”.
“I assume you heard the announcement.”
Captain, er, Rob Martin, nodded. “You did a great job mitigating what could have been a terrible disaster. Things are back to relative peace. I know your mother would be proud of you. Heck, I’m proud of you. I’m not even sure I would have done as good of a job had I been in command.”
“Don’t say that sir, I know that if you had been in command…”
“Let me stop you there. First, you don’t have to call me sir. I’m not your commanding officer, I’m your friend. Second, I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted. Nothing like what happed this afternoon has happened on this ship in centuries. You did more than an excellent job, getting all parties to come together. Releasing that shipwide video message with the fighting parties calling for unity was a masterstroke.”
“It’s not my message that bothers me. It’s the one that came before it: the one that showed the counselor beating the mother of two of my crewmen. It only showed part of the situation, and worse still, it was unauthorized. I’m going to have to investigate the crew for sabotage.”
I actually took a bite of my food, the first since I had come into the restaurant. “It’s this kind of stuff that I dreaded when I became Captain of this ship.”
Rob Martin rubbed the dark skin at his temples and furrowed his brow, deep in thought. “Yeah, you and me both.”