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."