As we stood in line to board the ship, the governor’s son came up to me and pulled me aside. “Do you still think you can help me?”
“I think I can, and I’m willing to try. I don’t know if I’ll succeed though. I can’t promise that.”
He shifted his feet and looked longingly at the gangplank then he looked back the way he had come. There was a pair of guards there, but I have no idea whether that influenced his decision or not. “All right, I’ll try it. I don’t want to live like this any more.”
We stepped back in line and I said, “Mom, meet my brother . . . .”
“Colin,” he supplied.
Mom looked at us in stunned surprise, but then she smiled. “You really must find some other way to make friends, Liam. Beating them up first is just . . . bad taste.”
We all had to laugh, even Colin laughed about it when I told him about my other three friends. Make no mistake, laughing hurt, but we did it anyway, carefully.”
I took the ticket from my mother and handed it to the ticket collector. There was a little problem there since our ticket claimed six people and their records said that we were a party of five, but when we all handed over our IDs, which, with another bit of slight-of-hand, confirmed what our ticket said, they let us pass. Someone had made a mistake somewhere; they would investigate it through the proper channels but they couldn’t afford to delay us from our flight. I’m sure Colin thought we had second-guessed him and had things changed in advance, but he never asked about it.
First class passengers got staterooms. Common class passengers all sat in padded seats, not unlike fat recliners, arranged four wide in rows around the common room on the lower level. That seat was where we would live for the duration of our trip. We would sleep there and sit there whenever we did those things, and there was a large compartment overhead for our luggage. There was a common bathroom at the back of the compartment where we could shower if we wanted, and a small cafeteria where we could eat our meals during the appropriate time of day.
Even the light boost used by the ship to leave the system was hard on Colin, but I used my magic to buffer the boost and bolster his strength.
I stayed by Colin constantly during this time. Pip was the only one who guessed what I was doing. Not even Colin knew. I had Georgy bring us our meals, but Colin could hardly eat. I asked a steward if I could have a library hookup and he brought me a small touch-sensitive screen for my use. Using it, I was able to look up much of the information I needed to know, then I used my magic to search for the materials I would need to use. I felt fairly certain I would find it, but knowing where it was would help. I didn’t want to draw from any-old-where.
I reached over and touched him on his wrist. “How are you doing?” I asked. I didn’t need to ask, but I used it to distract him from what I was doing. Drawing on the massive sides of beef in the freezer, I began to add the necessary bulk to his bones and muscle. I stopped when he started to shiver. I hadn’t quite expected that, but I decided to use it as a limit each time.
“Oh,” he grimaced, “I’m doing all right, I guess. I had almost forgotten how pleasant this can be.”
I found some excuse to touch him every few hours but found that even that was too often for him, at least for now, as he pulled out his blanket and struggled with it.
It took us two days to clear the system. During that time I managed to add about five percent to his bone and muscle mass, but now came the preparation for the jump to faster than light.
Dad coached us in detail. Georgy had never been on a ship that went faster than light; he’d never had to go far enough to bother. Colin was plainly terrified, but to his credit, he buttoned his mouth and didn’t say anything.
When the announcement came over the intercom, the stewards came around to make sure everyone was buckled up and all our things were properly stowed away. Our steward offered Colin a stiff narcotic, but he declined.
And then it began.
There was an alarm light at the front of the cabin and it started to flash red, then the disorienting stretch of reality came and pulled at my very fiber. In reality, it all happens quickly, but your perception of it seems to last an eternity while you are aware of each cell attaining its new speed.
My fear was that my magic might rear up and try to do something to counter this perception, and if it did, I feared that it might throw everything off. I figured that I could stop this ship if I tried, or I might divert its course and send it into a sun, or something else just as deadly. I might short out half the circuitry in the ship. I might . . . . The list of my fears went on and on, but none of it happened. I concentrated on keeping Colin in one piece and I think that’s what kept me in one piece.
After the ugly part, there were a few moments of weightlessness and then the gravity plates were turned on.
Five percent additional bone and muscle mass weren’t enough. Colin made a few gasps and then fainted. Desperate to keep him alive, I kept his blood flowing and full of oxygen, and then I added another twenty percent of bone and muscle mass and made it ten degrees warmer in his immediate area.
Now it was up to him. He needed to build up his strength. I could build muscle mass, but I couldn’t make it strong for him.
When he woke up, he was still shivering, but he felt better than he thought he would. I told him they lightened the gravity plating and encouraged him to get out of his seat for a little exercise. I opened the luggage compartment and pulled out two metal staffs; there was precious little matter that could easily be turned into wood here. The other passengers cleared the central floor as soon as they saw what we intended to do. He lasted nearly half an hour that day, but with that encouragement, he kept at it each day and no longer noticed the faint chills from the new mass I added every day.
Within a few weeks, it was the three of us in the center of the cabin and we had a captive audience. I would teach Georgy and Colin the sword, and Colin would teach Georgy and me his way of fighting with the staff. It was a lot of fun and many of our goof-ups were punctuated by laughter throughout the cabin.