Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dusty Plains: A Crossover Rainbowcy

Generation Three Heir Vote

Dusty Plains is in need of an Heir Vote! After fifteen long chapters, Zuli finally settled down and ((spoiler)) had babies with Lochi! Lots of babies - three sets of twins in fact! 

First came a set of twin boys - Pelorous and Astral. Conceived in China during their early romance, these two were a handful for the new parents after all the drama during the pregnancy. Still - they’re good looking young men now and have a beautiful mix of colors spanning the generations. Both carried over Lochi’s skin tone while picking up Mirage’s blue and some of Violet/Val’s purple. 

The second set of twins were a boy/girl set. Matisse and Calypso should have been a little bit easier, given that our parents have a bit more experience, but Calypso has been a bit of a grump since the day she was born! At first, I thought Matisse had picked up Lochi’s aqua eyes but they’re actually CAS generic color. In fact, color wise - he’s got nothing of Lochi in him but he’s a good looking Young adult. Calypso may have Lochi’s hair color but I think she’s got Mirage’s personality (and that’s not a good thing!)

Finally, they had a set of twin girls. Danube and Juniper, like their older sister, brought forth Lochi’s hair color but kept with the traditional grey skin tone the Dust heirs have had since the days of Cinder. Both pretty young women, I suspect Juniper will be some fun trouble with that insane trait coming in from birth! And aside from skin tone, Danube’s coloring is ALL Lochi - including the gorgeous aqua eyes!

Soooooo, who do YOU think should be the heir for generation four?

Please drop your opinion in the comments :D

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dusty Plains: A Crossover Rainbowcy

Generation Three, Chapter Fifteen

"Mojo, what's been found?" I asked, gripping the hand grip above me as the car bounced over the sand dunes. We were zipping across the desert now and, so far, I'd been given few details as to the nature of the lead. But everyone on the search team had been excited when I landed.

"It may be better for you to see..." Mojo said, sparing an apologetic glance. "It's both promising and disheartening..."

"Well now you have to tell us man," Cobalt chimed in from the backseat. He leaned forward, only to be jolted back by a large bump. "THIS is why you shouldn't have come Zuli," he pointed out, tugging at his seat belt anxiously.

Mojo glanced down at my belly and I imagined him agreeing with my brother, but he said nothing on that topic. With a sigh, he nodded, "we found a grave. Marked with a metal bar from – well it may be from a plane - and a scrape of blue fabric, which appears to have been torn from a seat."

"Blue? SimAm seats are blue," Cobalt pointed out.

"Yeah but so are the seats on a lot of planes – it's a calming color," I countered. "Have they identified the occupant of the grave?"

Mojo nodded. "It wasn't a deep grave and the sand had already begun to uncover her. Whoever buried her, wrapped her in a SimAm blanket and set her passport on her chest – so identification would be easy. She was a passenger from Flight 627," he said. The car slowed and Mojo hopped out. A crowd of people parted as we approached the marked site.

"How long do you think she's been dead?" I asked, glancing at the wrapped figure.

Mojo shrugged, "not sure – I don't think she's been dead for five months though. There's more," he said, before I could press. "After finding this one, I brought in the whole team and sent them out in every direction." He pointed northeast, "there are two more graves this way. One, about forty-seven kilometers, the other another twenty-three kilometers. Both on the passenger list. We think this one," he said, pointing to the grave at our feet, "was the most recent. Suggesting, they came from the northeast."

"And that at least one person is still out there," I said, turning the opposite direction. "Heading that direction. Someone had to bury this person."

Mojo nodded. "I've got teams going in both directions and we've got an expert coming in to examine the remains. I hope that's alright."

"Why wouldn't it be?" I asked, my brain in a fog.

"Well you sign the checks on all this," he pointed out with a small laugh. At that moment, his radio squeaked to life and he spent a moment speaking in an unfamiliar language. "The northeastern team has found something," he said, making a beeline for the jeep. Reluctantly, I turned away from the southern direction and followed Cobalt and Mojo, climbing into the passenger seat.

We drove for over an hour before the broken rim of the plane came into view. One side had a gaping hole in it and most of it was buried but it was definitely a passenger jet. The nose piece, cockpit and first class section was completely missing, possibly torn off during the landing. In the sand to the left of the hole were rows and rows of graves, each marked in the same way as the others. "There are only seventy-five," I said, counting the markers for a third time.

"Well half the plane is missing," Mojo pointed out, scanning the horizon for any sign of it. "How many were on the flight?"

"Ninety-eight including the crew. Ten first class passengers, the pilot, co-pilot and navigator would have been in the forward section. Probably at least one flight attendant. That's fourteen. Plus seventy-eight graves so far."

"That's only ninety-two. Six unaccounted for," Cobalt said, placing his hand on my back.

"It's possible the other two flight attendants were in the front so maybe only four..." I said, still staring at the graves.

One of Mojo's men emerged from the body of the plane, "no one on board anymore. All the luggage is open and there's not a scrap of food or water anywhere in there. Lots of wrappers though."

"They probably stayed here as long as they could – hoping for rescue. The body of the plane would provide shelter," Mojo surmised. Cobalt was nodding with him as well. "The Bekmes is over three hundred thousand kilometers at it's widest point, without knowing where they were or which way was closest to civilization, staying put probably seemed like the best idea."

"Then why leave?" I asked.

"A few months with no sign of another human being – had to wear on them mentally. Maybe they figured they had a better chance of being rescued out there," Mojo offered, with a shrug.

As I stared out across the harsh desert, I felt Cobalt shift behind me. "There's hope ZuZu, why don't we go back to base camp while these people are identified?" Even as he said it, a squad of jeeps rolled up and people started climbing out to begin excavating and transporting the bodies back to the city. Soon, they'd all be on their way back to their families.

I nodded, reluctantly. As much as I wanted to stay, I knew it was time to start making calls. The press would have the story soon enough and I wanted the families to hear from me first. I waved Mojo over, "I need to make some calls, can someone drive us back to camp?"

Cobalt raised his hand, "I'll drive – if it's okay."

Mojo nodded and tossed him the keys to jeep. He unclipped his radio and handed it to me. "Channel three. I'll relay the identities to you as we uncover them – I assume you want to call the families personally." He'd already given me the names from the other three graves on the ride over – I'd be calling them first.

"Thanks," I said, taking the offered radio and nodding. "Call in extra people – locals, anything. I want the forward section found, and any survivors."

"Yes ma'am, already on it," he said. "Drive carefully. There's GPS on the dash and water in the back."

By the time we'd reached camp, nearly two hours from the crash site, I had the complete list – which didn't have Lochi's name on it. Of the seventy-five graves, two were flight attendants as I suspected. Three out of the flight's five children were buried as well. Cobalt hovered, just out of earshot, as I started making calls. Although there were a lot of tears, there was also a lot of relief at finally having an answer. I called Crete Dingley last and offered him the chance to call the crew's families.

Emotionally drained, I leaned back against the wooden support beam and tossed the phone on the cot. Outside, Cobalt must have sensed the shift because he poked his head around the door. "How you doing?"

"Been better, been worse," I said. I unclipped the radio from my belt and offered it to him. "Wake me up if anything new happens. Anything Cobalt – okay?" He nodded and took the radio from me, then let the door close behind him.


Though it felt like mere minutes, I must have slept for a few hours before Cobalt shook me awake. Outside, harsh, electric lights lit up the camp as night had fallen. "ZuZu, wake up!" Outside, I heard the rev of jeeps as they pulled into camp and the flurry of footsteps as people ran out to greet them.

"Medic! We need a medic!" It was Mojo's shouting that got me moving. "We found six Zuli – they're still alive!" he called out, as he spotted me running toward the chaos. Four of the six moved under their own power, though obviously hungry and dehydrated. They were led toward one tent, which was quickly being converted into the medical center.

The fifth, a young child, clung tightly to Lochi's arm, unwilling to release him. I pushed through the crowd and gave her a reassuring smile. "Coral? Your name is Coral right?" She nodded timidly, with fat tears in her eyes. "My name is Lazuli, I'm a friend of Lochi's and I'm a friend of your mom's." Now her eyes grew wide and she peered out around the crowd hopefully. "If you come with me, we can call her together? Would you like that?" Coral released Lochi's arm immediately and allowed me to scoop her into my arms so the others could move Lochi into the medical tent. She started to struggle as he disappeared in the crowd. "Shh, he'll be okay – they're going to to take care of him," I said, trying to reassure both of us.

A few minutes later, we were settled back in the tent and I pulled out my phone to show her. She didn't know her number but she recognized a picture of Akaroa I had in my contacts and started to get excited. As I placed the call, Cobalt showed up with a bottle of water for the tot and settled down in the chair across from us. After a couple rings, Akaroa picked up and the water was forgotten. "Momma!" Coral shouted reaching for the phone at the sound of her mother's voice. "Momma, you dare?"

On the other end I heard Akaroa sobbing. I stood up and Cobalt nodded, reassuring me he'd watch the child. I ran for the medical tent and saw the other conscious passengers had all been given phones to call their families and a tray of food and water. "They're alright mostly, walked at night and rationed the water they had as much as possible. They were lucky – there have been some rains lately so they were able to collect more," Mojo said, slipping in beside me. "They said he led them out and always gave up his water for the kid," he added, pointing toward Lochi's still form.

"Is he..." I gulped, stepping closer to Lochi. The locals parted immediately, only the medic stayed as he inserted an IV into Lochi's wrist. "Is he going to be okay?"

The medic glanced over at me and shrugged sadly, "I don't know yet. He's breathing at least..."After doing all he could, the medic turned toward the others, waiting patiently as they spoke to their loved ones. "Hopefully some fluids and some food is all they need but the doctor should be here by morning to check everyone out."

Mojo dispersed the observers and brought me a chair before leaving himself. I settled down beside Lochi and took his hand in mine. I felt the tears streaming down my face but did nothing to squelch them. "You have to live Lochi," I whispered. "You have to live because it's supposed to be you and me okay? Five years from now, or ten or twenty. It will be you and me and these twins so you have to live for that. Do you hear me? You're gonna be a father..." Still clutching his hand, I laid my head against him and closed my eyes.

Around us, people celebrated the rescue and rejoiced with their families over the phone. I knew there'd be people flying in soon, ready to hug and kiss their loved ones. I knew I should make more calls – I should call Crete Dingley back at SimAm and I should call the media. I should do a lot of things but I couldn't will myself to let go of Lochi's hand. After awhile, I felt Coral climb into my lap and snuggle there. She had a fresh bandage on her arm – they'd probably given her a bag of fluids to be safe – so I knew she'd be checked over by the medics as well. "Momma come soon," she said simply.

I wasn't sure if she'd meant it as a statement or a question so I merely nodded. "She'll be here before you know it Coral. She'll be so happy to see you and I bet you've grown a lot."

"Lo-key say I big girl," she said proudly.

"Lochi is right, you'd have to be a big girl to cross a desert," I said.

"Lo-key be okay," she said. Once again, I wasn't sure if she was asking or telling but this time I offered no response. Cobalt showed up a few minutes later and scooped Coral into his arms. She was too tired to fight his attempts to tuck her into bed a couple cots away. "Nigh, nigh," she said meekly. Everyone in the cot grew silent for her and began to filter outside or lay down themselves.

"You should get some more rest ZuZu," Cobalt said quietly. "In fact I think I insist."

"Insist nothing, I'm not going anywhere," I protested, squeezing Lochi's unmoving hand. Still, a yawn broke through and Cobalt grinned triumphantly. "I'll sleep right here," I muttered, shifting in the metal chair.

"Oh no you don't. You will go lay down on a cot. I will wake you if there's any change," he said, dragging me to my feet and steering me toward the door.

"You're very over protective," I said, though I allowed myself to be directed out into the desert night. With me moving in the correct direction, Cobalt returned to the medical tent and assumed my cold, metal chair at Lochi's side.

I slept for a few hours, waking up to the sound of loud cheers and laughter within the camp. The sun wasn't completely up yet but it peeked at the edge of horizon, turning the sky pinkish orange. My phone, which I'd silenced the night before, was full of messages. I ignored them all and headed right back to the medical tent.

Cobalt was curled up on Coral's cot, his arm wrapped tightly around the child The other survivors were all crowded around Lochi's cot and talking animatedly about the rescue and their families. I spied Mojo and the medic in the mix and nudged my way through. As soon as they saw me, another cheer went up around the circle and Mojo grinned at me before standing up to offer me his chair. "I should go get an update from my team in the field," he whispered.

For a second, I considered following him – I wanted to know if the forward section of the plane had been found yet – but my eyes fell on Lochi's face for the first time that morning. His glittering aqua eyes met mine and I nearly fell from the chair as I got to my feet. "You're awake!" I said, grabbing his hand. "You're awake and alive and... oh thank the berry!"

"Zzz..." he reached for his throat with his hand and then saw the IV line extending from it. By now the bag had emptied, pumping much needed fluid back into his body, but his throat was still dry. The medic shushed him quickly and poured a cup of water, with a straw, for him. Carefully, we helped him sit up and take several slow sips. "Z-zuli," he said hoarsely.

"You shouldn't try to talk too much right off," the medic admonished. "But keep taking slow sips – not too much at once or you'll get sick." After switching the IV bag out for a fresh one, he turned his attention to the survivors and urged them all to drink and eat more. After five months lost in the desert – they didn't need to be told twice.

Coral started to stir and fussed under Cobalt's arm until his eyes opened and he shifted for her. "You have a fan there," I said, watching as Coral climbed off the cot and toddled across the room toward them. "You saved her life – maybe all their lives," I said.

"And you saved mine," he whispered, squeezing my hand. He felt the opal ring on my finger and fiddled with it a moment before smiling up at me. "You're still wearing it. Is that a yes?"

"I thought he told you not to talk," I teased, placing a finger over his lips. "I will absolutely marry you but it won't be just us for long," I said, lifting his hand to place on my baby bump. "I left China with a couple stowaways."

"A couple?" he asked, his eyes wide.

"Well, twins run in my family," I said.


End Chapter

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dusty Plains: A Crossover Rainbowcy

Generation Three, Chapter Fourteen

"Oh no you don't!" Lotus shouted, jogging over to take the box from me.

"It's a box of Chambray's stuffed animals – the FOURTH by the way – good luck with that," I argued, trying to grab the box back from him. "My groceries weigh more."

"No lifting! You know better," he admonished, successfully wrestling the box from my hands and heading toward the moving truck with it.

"I'm just pregnant, not an invalid!" I said. Behind me I heard a chuckle and rounded on Cobalt. "I'm not!"

Cobalt shrugged, "you're never gonna convince him. He'd rather you sit on the couch with your feet up and do nothing. When I told him you were coming to help, he yelled at me for twenty minutes because I didn't say no."

With an eye roll, I stomped back to the house. "I'm not even all the pregnant," I muttered.

Chambray, who was on the couch doing nothing, twisted around when she heard my voice. "Doesn't matter," she trilled. "Lotus says that pregnant women are to be honored and protected." Cerulean smirked, echoing my own private thoughts.

"Well you're not pregnant, so why don't you finish packing your own zoo?" I said, nudging her playfully.

"Can't! It's about to be on," she said, pointing to the television. The volume was currently muted as the credits rolled on the whatever had just been showing but in a small cutaway, there was my own face looking back at me.

"Did I miss it?" Sapphy skidded into the room, out of breath. One glance at the television and she was reassured. "Cobalt! Lotus! It's almost time!!" she shouted toward the open front door.

"This is silly, it's a ten-minute interview," I argued as all my family crowded into the living room. Lotus forced Cerulean to get up and offered the vacant seat to me while Chambray unmuted the television.

"Next on Berry Talk, Misty sits down with Lazuli Dust on the three month anniversary of the Disappearance of Flight 627!"

"They make it sound like a mystery novel," Chambray said with a giggle. Cobalt and Lotus shot her simultaneous warning looks and she clammed up quickly. "Sorry ZuZu," she whispered, chastised.

"Don't be sweetie, it does sound like that huh?" I said, pulling her closer to me and wrapping my arm around her. "Hopefully it has a good ending,"I said quietly.

"There you are!" Sapphy exclaimed as the picture shifted to the set of Berry Talk. "Did you meet anyone backstage? Didn't she interview Tangi Tulip the day you were there? Did you meet her?" She was shushed by everyone as Misty placed her hand over mine to begin the interview.

"We're here today with Lazuli Dust – arguably the most recognizable face associated with SimAm Flight 627 – to discuss her continued involvement in the search for the passenger jet. In the audience, at Lazuli's request, are several of the family and friends of the passengers. So, Lazuli – it's been three months now, have there been any new leads into what happened?"

"Leads? Yes. Leads that went anywhere? No. As you know, SimAm has essentially stopped their search. Their assumption is that if anyone had survived the crash – we'd know by now. But the people in your audience still need answers," I replied, crossing my legs on screen.

The audience erupted in applause and Misty joined them, nodding vigorously. "You've been very involved with the search – even after leaving the airline. And you've been very outspoken about their decision to call off their search."

I nodded, though she hadn't actually asked a question. "I have been, yes. I realized after my last press conference that I couldn't stand up there and deliver the no answer answers in this case. When they announced they were calling off the search last month – I admit, I spent an hour yelling at the walls in my house. It felt like they'd given up on their crew and I couldn't stand it! I've been on a flight crew before and I'd always assumed that if anything happened, the airline would do EVERYTHING possible."

"So do you blame SimAm for the accident? Are you angry with them?" Misty asked.

"Let's be clear here – we don't know what happened to Flight 627. We can assume and we can guess but until we find the plane, until we find the black box, until we find evidence – it is a mistake to call it an accident. That being said – no, I don't blame them. Captain Diamond is one of SimAm's most experienced pilots and I am certain he did everything possible in whatever situation they were in," I said, taking a long pause to drink from the mug. "Am I angry though? I'm a lot of things lately – I am three months pregnant after all," this garnered gasps from the audience and Misty.

"You're pregnant? Congratulations!" she exclaimed, easily sidetracked from interview.

I thanked her quietly and let her gush for a moment before continuing. "I have moments of anger toward them and I have moments of sadness and exasperation as well. I understand, as the people here do, that there has to be a certain level of practicality involved. There is only so much money and the Bekmes Desert is huge. Meteorologists and geologists have confirmed that the sandstorm that day dramatically altered the landscape. There could be one tomorrow that changes it again and reveals something! Or they could have flown longer than predicted and ended up in the Casper sea. These are all areas our organization is searching."

"Let's talk about your organization for a moment. I understand you've fronted a lot of personal wealth to fund the continuing search – is that the only source of revenue?" Misty asked.

"No, actually – many of the families and friends of the passengers have made donations ranging anywhere from ten dollars to thousands of dollars. Our crowdfunding campaign was enormously successful, raising over two million dollars in the first forty-eight hours and it's still climbing. Meanwhile, we have people working the phones and emails and even a letter writing campaign to bring more awareness. We get a lot of nos, and that's fine – but we keep going," I said.

"If anyone would like to donate to the cause, information is already available on our website so please check it out," Misty said, addressing the cameras directly. "Lazuli, let's say you find Flight 627 next week, what will the remaining funds be used for?"

"If there are survivors, the funds will partially be used for their transition back into the real world, they've been lost in a desert for three months presumably, it will take time and a lot of care to return. Sixteen of the passengers on board had children – we hope to set up scholarship funds for each of them as well," I said, trying hard not to reach for my own belly as I said it. "Honestly, there are many possibilites but it will depend, entirely, on what's left when we do find Flight 627."

"When. When folks – not if," Misty stressed, getting another massive cheer from the audience.

"I don't intend to give up Misty," I said with a faint smile. I gazed out on the audience, all familiar faces, "and I don't think they will either."

"No, I don't think they will," Misty said. "Thank you Lazuli, for coming on the show today." We shook hands and fake chatted for a moment as the camera faded to commercial.

"You were great ZuZu," Chambray said, giving me a light squeeze. "I can't believe you announced your pregnancy on national TV!"

"Well it was going to get more obvious soon enough," I said, stroking my belly absently. I hadn't felt any movement yet, it was still early, but I imagined them squirming around inside me.

"Okay, break time is over – we should ALL get back to packing," Lotus looked pointedly at Chambray and Cerulean – who had thus far managed to avoid the hard work. "Except you Zuli," he added, gently pushing me back down on the couch as I started to get to my feet.

I intended to argue but my phone started ringing then. As the others shuffled toward the door, I glanced at the screen before answering it. "Hey "GiGi." Dispensing with the pleasantries, her words came out in a rush but I caught enough to catch their meaning. "Oh my sweet berry!" I exclaimed, placing a hand on my head.

Lotus, who hadn't made it out the door, immediately called Cobalt back in and rushed to my side in a panic. "What is it? Are you alright?"

GiGi was jabbering incessantly so I covered the mouth piece to address them. "Mirage just just donated two million dollars," I whispered. "And he, apparently, wants to arrange a celebrity gala for the families to raise more money."

Cobalt's eyes grew wide and Lotus fell back onto the coffee table, his mouth hanging open. "Take the money," Cobalt said, obviously sensing my desire to refuse any association with our father. "Take it Zuli – you've already invested almost all of your inheritance into this, when that's gone, all those little donations aren't gonna stretch far."

I knew he was right and after a long moment, I nodded. He sat down beside Lotus on the coffee table and grabbed his hand. "GiGi, GiGi! Just tell his people...." I gulped, hating what I was about to say, "tell them to have him call me directly. He has my number," I said, opening the door to invite him back into my life most unwillingly.

With his free hand, Lotus took mine and gave it a firm, reassuring squeeze.


We were still a couple blocks away when our limo pulled into the long queue of cars leading to the venue for the gala and began the slow crawl toward the front. As butterflies danced in my stomach, I reached out for Cobalt. "I wonder if this is how mom felt?" I mused. Even with the windows rolled up, I could hear the noise of screaming fans, no doubt pressing against the velvet ropes that separated them from their celebrity crush.

"Mom was a pro at this," Cobalt pointed out. "Now Nepal... Nepal I imagine felt like a fish outta water."

I giggled, imagining Nepal climbing out of a limo only to be met with onslaught of cameras and shouts. "He would have gone into protective mode – never letting Mom out of his grasp."

A tap on the driver's window made us both jump but with the screen partition up, all we heard was a muffled exchange of words. After a minute, the limo pulled out the queue and we were zipping past the rest of the waiting cars. "Seems you get the VIP treatment ma'am," the driver called as he lowered the partition.

One glance at Cobalt and we both nodded, "Mirage," we muttered simultaneously.

Attendants had already held up the queue, leaving a gap for our limo to slide into right in front of the venue. A deep red carpet ran between the velvet ropes up to the entrance, lined on both sides by fans, photographers and reporters. Through the tinted limo windows, I could see the shape of a man jogging toward our car so when the door opened, I wasn't surprised to find Mirage extending his hand for me. Before taking it, I glanced back at Cobalt, "don't leave my side."

Although the crowd cheered and photographers clamored for photos as our trio passed, I knew it was primarily directed at Mirage. I didn't even begrudge him as he posed with "his two kids" and soaked in the attention. It had been two months since the talk show, two months without any news, and we would need every penny earned from this gala to continue the search – so I didn't argue when he put his hand around my shoulders for the cameras. I didn't like it, but I didn't argue.

Once inside, Mirage disappeared to make the rounds and left Cobalt and I on our own. "That was painful," I whispered. I clutched my brother's arm as we made our way around the edge of the room, carefully avoiding any clusters of people. A band played in the front corner of the expansive ballroom and family photos of the passengers flashed across a massive screen on the back wall. We'd made half a lap when I saw a nervous group of a familiar faces and made a beeline for them.

A dozen or so family members had clustered together, unsure of where to go or how to act amongst the continuing flood of celebrities. There were noticeable looks of relief as they recognized me though. "Oh Zuli, this is all so crazy!" one said, claiming from free arm. "How on earth...?"

"It wasn't really my doing," I said. "Have you all found your tables? Sandia, I think you're sitting at a table with Azure St Tropaz!" She let out a squeal and soon the group followed me through the tables until each had found their nameplate and discovered their celebrity company. It was the only real part I'd played in planning the event, making sure the tables were a mix of the families and the celebrities coming. In order to keep myself busy, I made it my mission to greet the families as they came in and set them at ease. Eventually the trickle of guests slowed and I felt Cobalt's hand on my arm, tugging me toward our own table at the front of the room – naturally seated with Mirage.

As the band's music reached a crescendo, Mirage took his place behind the microphone and the room silence. "Welcome, welcome to tonight's gala event. I'd like to thank everyone for coming and supporting this cause – which is very personal to many of the people in this room. Please join me in welcoming Lazuli Dust, without whom, none of this would have happened."

With a slow breath and a strained smile, I got to my feet. I allowed Mirage to kiss my cheek as he ushered me forward and then took his place behind the microphone. "Mirage gives me more credit than I'm due," I said with chuckle. "He is right though – this is a very personal cause and the fact that so many celebrities have come out to support it is nothing short of amazing." As the audience clapped, I took a second to catch my breath. "Ninety-eight people, there were ninety-eight people on Flight 627. A drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things but those ninety-eight people meant the world to the people in this room. They were fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, friends and lovers – they are ordinary people who we miss dearly," I felt my cheeks burn as the tears welled up. To my right, Cobalt started to get to his feet but a held up a hand. "I had a speech ready, all about the hard work and the cost of running an ongoing search and rescue operation but, the fact is, I've talked a lot about all that in the last five months. What I haven't talked about is my connection to Flight 627. Most people assume I knew someone on the crew because I was a SimAm flight attendant but I know a passenger. His name is Lochnivar Viking and if I don't find him, then my children will never know their father," I said, placing a hand on my baby bump. A collective gasp and corresponding whisper rippled around the room for a long moment. "So thank you for being here and supporting this very personal cause. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to invite the other loved ones that are here to share their own stories if they'd like."

Sandia, who was usually quite shy, got to her feet immediately. She gave me a long hug and then assumed my place while I returned to Cobalt's side. "You did great," he whispered. Tears stung my eyes and slid down my cheeks but I didn't try to swipe them away.

One by one, the families told stories about the passengers of Flight 627. Somewhere, a techie scrambled to display the correct pictures each time a new person stepped up. This went on for over an hour but no one rushed them, even as waiters waited in the wings with dinner. Looking around the room, more than one person cried – especially when Akaroa Creamsicle talked about her husband and their three year old daughter, the youngest passenger on the flight.

As the last person left the stage, Mirage nodded to the waiters and they rushed out, eager to serve the first dish of dinner. Though I should be starving, I pushed my salad around on the plate absently while Cobalt looked on with concern. "You should eat ZuZu," he whispered. "The night has only just begun." Though I nodded and took a bite to appease him, the waiter whisked my mostly full salad plate away a few minutes later.

He was right though, the night had barely begun. The three course meal led into mingling and some mild dancing. Every celebrity in the room seemed to seek me out, offering a mix of congratulations and condolences. And offering money. In exchange they wanted a few minutes of my time a picture or two – it wasn't hard but it ate up all of my time that evening. Every time I tried to disappear for a moment, someone was calling my name or tapping my shoulder.

As such, when my phone vibrated in my purse, I thanked the berry gods and excused myself. I didn't care who was on the phone, just that they'd bought me a few minutes to excuse myself. "Hello?" The signal was patchy at best, I could barely make out the voice on the other end. "Hello? I can't hear you!"

"Ms. Dust!" Finally, the voice came through clearly – too clearly as he was shouting in my ear. Even as every four or five words cut out, I could piece together their meaning and I nearly dropped my phone as I staggered backwards into Cobalt's arms.

I glanced back at him, eyes wide, as the person on the other end continued to talk. "I'll be on the next flight," I said, cutting him off. "I'll have GiGi forward my flight information as soon as I know it." With a snap, I hung up the phone and leaned heavily against Cobalt. "I have to go, I need to go... can you get the limo. No that'll probably take too long."

"Zuli what's going on?" Cobalt asked, trying to draw my attention back as my mind zipped in a million directions. "Zuli!"

I stared at him for a long moment and then grinned. "They found something – something real," I whispered, peering around him for any snooping reporters.

Cobalt didn't smile, in fact his face filled with concern. "Zuli, you're five months pregnant with twins – you can't just fly off to berry knows where. Let them investigate and get back to you."

I pulled away from him, shaking my head quickly. "No, I have to go Cobalt – I have to see for myself. As you said – I'm five months pregnant, not nine. I can go flying off to berry knows where – and it's the Bekmes Desert of course. I'll be fine Cobalt."

"Zuli, stop and think for a minute. What if you get there and it is Flight 627 and everyone is..." he trailed off. "Let someone else discover that – you wouldn't subject Sandia or Akaroa to that..."

I shook my head, "I have to know Cobalt. Maybe you're right and that's what I'll find but I have to be there. I can't explain it..." Without another word, I turned away from him and started dialing GiGi's number. She picked up on the second ring, sounding sleepy, "I need a seat on the first flight out of Berrywood to Tuatara."

Cobalt snatched the phone from my hands, "make that two seats GiGi, I'm going with her."

End Chapter