Meri didn’t feel at peace again she flew.
She knew it was selfish, on some level, to find a sense of peace in being able to take to the skies. The Reinhardt wouldn’t take to the skies ever again. Her Sera-R, though, proved more than up to the task of soaring into the heavens. The damage from the battle and landing were light, leaving the robot more than capable of lifting off. Now, it shot through the Avalonian sky at a relatively leisurely pace, making a trip that would take an hour on foot in fifteen minutes. She expected to spend as much time finding a landing space as she did getting to the outskirts of Grand Casar.
She didn’t mind the scenic route, though. For all that Meri loved flying for the solitude, she didn’t mind having an audience. Sel Harcourt was the best audience that she could ask for.
“Incredible!” he said, softly but sharply, as he looked out the window and watched a cloud race by.
It brought a smile to her face. He was probably Lera’s age, she thought, though the pang of guilt did not make her mind linger on the subject of her daughter. “It’s something else,” she said. She thought of the first time she stepped into a cockpit. That was a cold Kohinglen day, and the KN Garrison that she made stand up moved with a tremor and a clamor that Seraphim never did. “Nothing lets you feel more free than flying. It’s probably why Abdiel Zion stuck with Diamond.”
She laughed. “I forgot. You never heard of him. He was the first pilot of one of these things. Things got complicated, because of politics. He could have bailed. But…” She trailed off, looking thoughtful. Hannibal de’Zama’s voice echoed in her mind and she saw her daughter’s face. “He didn’t. I think the chance to fly these had to be why.”
“Oh,” Sel said. He looked out the window and stayed quiet for a little while longer, while more wispy clouds rushed by. “With this, you could go anywhere, right?”
She looked sideways at the dark-haired young man, then nodded. “This baby’s anti-gravity drive would get me off planet, if I wanted to.” But it couldn’t get the entire crew of the Reinhardt off planet. It couldn’t get her past the White Cell forces that made them flee. It certainly couldn’t stop the other Malakim coming for her. “I could probably go anywhere on Avalon with it.”
“I’d go into the Web, if I could,” he said immediately and with a conviction that surprised her.
“Away from here?”
“Yeah,” Sel said. “We hear about it, still. All the old history books mentioned it. I’ve wanted to see it, instead of hearing about it.”
“It’s…” Meri started to try to explain the entire Web of Worlds, before she realized what a futile idea that was. “It’s vast. Hard to comprehend. There’s so many people, so many places, and they’re all different from one another.”
“Mm.” He hesitated. “Sounds better than here.”
She fell quiet at that for a time, not knowing how to reply. She could understand how the Web might seem better than here; she couldn’t say enough about Avalon to know whether that was true, though. Finally, she shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. Her eyes grew distant with thought. “But after you leave home, you miss it.” She swallowed. “Them.”
He murmured something noncommittal, then gasped with surprise. “That’s Grand Casar!”
He had never seen the city from above, Meri realized. It sprawled out more than most towns she had seen; for the Avalonians, this was a city, but for her, it was something else. There were still many patches of open space. The center of town remained quite packed, but it wasn’t so tall. Beyond that, though, most homes and buildings had broad yards. Two large, paved roads went through the city and intersected in the southeastern part, near the center of the town. She looked the city over, spying the large castle on a hill in the midst of it. She whistled lowly.
“It’s something else. Let’s land on the outside of the town, though,” Meri said. “I don’t wanna give them a scare.”
“This thing will,” Sel told her.
She turned the Sera-R, banking southward and going into a spiral that took her towards the ground below. As she did, she caught sight of a large bulge rising from the earth. Before, she thought it had been a hill, but now she saw that it protruded from the ground at an angle. It looked like a fat tower, covered in dirt and faintly rust-colored, half-buried in the earth. The lines, she realized, were wrong for something natural.
“What’s that?” she asked Sel.
“Up ahead? That’s the Aldressor,” Sel explained. He took a moment to realize that his explanation wasn’t sufficient. “She was one of the colony ships we came in. Had some kind of malfunction and botched the landing.” His voice grew distant. “It was bad. None of them made it out of that one alive.”
She could see a huge gash in the side, now that she knew to look, leading into the graveyard ship’s guts. Meri fought down a shiver. “We’ll give it a wide berth,” she said. “Here we go. We’ll drop down here.”
Meri made the Sera-R descend rapidly in a tight spiral. Sel grabbed onto a handhold in the seat behind her, while Meri brought it down The robot’s legs operated automatically; they hit the ground with a crunch she felt through the whole frame, and then the machine kneeled down. The cockpit hatch hissed as it came open, then popped wide open. Sunlight flooded into the cockpit; she raised a hand to shield herself, which was when she caught a silhouette: a chocobo, she thought, pulling something.
“Looks like we have company,” Sel said, peering over her shoulder.