Author's Note: It literally took me a year and a half to figure out a decent way to begin this story. Then, while I was just sitting on my couch, it poured into my head. Review it if you please.
On a side note, I couldn't decide whether to publish this in the"Airborn" category or the "Skybreaker" category. In the end, I chose Skybreaker for the purely selfish reason that it seems to be more active and therefore I'm more likely to get reviews. Seriously though, shouldn't it all be merged or something?
Disclaimer: I don't own Airborn, Skybreaker or Starclimber, nor do I own any characters/places/etc featured in those books.
If Matt Cruse had known just how much things would change over those ten years, he might have steered clear of Kate de Vries.
Not that he was unhappy. On the contrary, he was the happiest he'd been his entire life. The change had been largely for the better. But it was overwhelming.
In two years, Matt had gone from a poor teenage airship cabin boy to an accomplished, well-off, and rather famous man. After that had come an even greater change: marriage. Suddenly he was sharing his home, his bed, and his money—or rather, she was sharing it with him. He couldn't pretend that their manorlike house in one of the richest districts of Lionsgate City had come from his own bank account. Kate had always been very wealthy.
But Matt was working on building up a fortune of his own. Recently, he had achieved his lifelong dream of acquiring his very own airship of which he was captain. Her first voyage had concluded weeks ago, and currently she was on the ground for the summer. Things were looking up for Matt.
If someone had told Matt when he was fifteen that he would soon visit outer space, he wouldn't have believed them. If someone had told him when he was fifteen that he would soon be married and living in a three-story house, he would've laughed in their face. Ten years later, here he was. And it was completely blissful.
On the morning of the fourth anniversary of his wedding, he thought of this as he sat contently in bed waiting to watch the sunrise. Even out of his beloved sky, he was hard-pressed to remember ever being happier.
His wife stirred beside him. She looked at him gazing out the window at the brightening horizon and smiled. "Good morning."
"Morning," said Matt. He stroked her cheek. "I bet you don't know what day it is."
"Hmm... Could it be four years to the day I married the handsomest hero in the world?"
"You did remember," said Matt, grinning.
"Of course I did. Why wouldn't I?"
Matt wove his arms around her waist. "I seem to remember you being late for every solitary date we ever had."
"I never forgot about our dates, Matt. I simply ran into delays."
"Uh-huh." He held her face up and they shared a long, tender kiss. He felt her smile on his lips.
"What shall we do to celebrate?" asked Kate when the kiss ended.
"Dinner. Flowers. Dancing," Matt replied. "But at the moment I'm enjoying what we're doing right now."
Kate laughed softly. "Me too."
She wiggled closer to him and took his face in her hands. Matt pulled her close and kissed her again. They had all the time in the world. Matt smiled as they looked into one another's eyes. "I love y—"
There was a knock at the front door.
Matt groaned in annoyance.
"Who in the world is at the door at this hour?" said Kate.
"I don't know," he replied. "I don't suppose we can just ignore them, can we?"
She chuckled sympathetically. "I don't think so."
The knock was repeated.
Grumbling, Matt threw the bedspread off of himself and sat up. He yawned and stretched like an animal.
Knock, knock, knock.
Matt stood up and walked over to the hook on which his bathrobe was hanging, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming..." he muttered, putting an arm through one sleeve.
BANG, BANG, BANG.
"You'd better get a move on," said Kate amusedly from the bed as Matt was tying the robe's sash around his waist. "I think someone's getting impa—"
Matt jumped violently; Kate nearly toppled out of bed. The door had been busted in.
They heard footsteps on broken glass. "MATTHEW CRUSE!" barked a male voice from the sitting room.
"What the hell?" said Matt in shock. Leaving the sash half-tied, he rushed over to Kate, who had uttered a small scream. "Stay here," he said.
"What do you mean, stay here?" she whispered.
"I'm going to see what's going on."
"What? You are not about to—!"
But Matt was already creeping through the door.
He shut the bedroom door soundlessly and snuck around the corner. There was a settee against the wall next to the stairs, with just enough space for him to crouch behind it.
The door had smashed a framed photograph on the wall next to it, the shattered pieces of which were littered all over the walkway. The man entering his home was smaller than Matt had expected, for such a powerful voice. He was short and slight, and his boots were about two-thirds the size of Matt's own. The man raised a shiny revolver and looked around; Matt saw a glimpse of his face and almost made a noise of surprise.
It was a teenage boy.
"MATTHEW CRUSE!" he yelled again. "Your time has come!"
Matt stayed stock-still and silent, watching the boy, whom he could have easily overpowered—except that he had a gun.
"COWARD!" the boy bellowed. "Come out here!" He muttered a curse and started up the stairs, holding the gun in front of him.
Once he had gone, Matt swiftly moved into the open and cast around for something to use as a weapon. But before he had found something he could use, he heard his bedroom door swing open, followed by a gunshot and a female scream.
"KATE!" Matt bounded down the hall to his bedroom, where the invader spun around and pointed the gun at him. He breathed a sigh of relief; Kate was fine. The boy had shot the wall.
"Cruse," growled the boy, his eyes darkening with hatred. "Hands up!"
Matt raised his hands above his head, not taking his eyes off the silver revolver. There was something he very vaguely recognized about this boy's face, like the shadow of a childhood memory.
"Walk around there," the boy ordered, jerking his head at the bed. "Stand by your wife."
Matt edged around the boy and backed up next to his bed, the gun following him every step of the way. The kid was about fourteen: eleven years younger than Matt. What could he possibly know him from?
"Matt, who is this?" Kate whispered in distress.
"No talking!" barked the boy aggressively. "Where's your bank passbook?"
"I beg your pardon?" said Kate in a choked voice.
"Where is it?"
"In that pouch on the nightstand," said Matt.
The boy snatched the passbook out of the pouch Matt had indicated."Now get dressed," he said. He pointed at their closet. "Both of you, where I can face you both."
Matt helped her out of bed and they both walked slowly toward the closet. Kate took a cream-colored dress off its hanger.
"Give that to me," their aggressor said before she put it on. He felt around it, presumably checking for weapons or other hidden items. "You too," he commanded Matt, and tossed the dress back at her.
Once all of their clothes had passed the test, the boy made them put them on and place their hands on top of their heads. He nudged Matt's back with the end of his gun and growled "Move."
He forced them back into the sitting room. Matt's mind was racing; he had no idea how to get out of this—he didn't even know who this boy was. But the boy obviously knew him... No one stared at a person they didn't know with such utter loathing.
"Out," said the kid.
Light was just beginning to appear on the horizon. Matt and Kate were pushed towards a black motorcar in front of their house. Standing outside the motorcar were two more adolescent boys, each of them holding a gun of his own. They were slightly burlier than the first boy.
One of them opened a door to the back seat. "My lady," he said, grinning.
Legs shaking, Kate sat down in the back. Matt was directed to the front passenger seat. The first boy sat at the wheel. The other boys sat on either side of Kate.
"People are going to look for us, you know," said Kate with as much attitude as she could muster.
"By that time we'll be long gone," responded the leader offhandedly.
"With a lot of money," added one of the boys in the backseat.
"Shut up, Benjamin," said the leader at once, sounding aggravated.
"Oh, come on, Theodore. They're gonna know soon enough anyway."
Theodore... Why did that name sound familiar?
Matt looked back at Kate. He could see the nervousness behind her eyes, but she was glaring at the boys on either side of her bravely. Then Matt looked at the boy named Theodore, who was starting the car, brushing black curly hair out of his piercing blue eyes...
...And then suddenly he realized.
A lightning-fast vision shot through his mind's eye, a decade-old memory: "Hello, Theodore," ... "Papa!" ... "He's a fine lad, don't you think?" ... "He'll look like you when he's grown."
This boy was the son of Vikram Szpirglas.