This book is available now so this is the last snippet.
A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 23
As Edward had expected, not everyone approved of his decision.
No one said anything, of course. He was the King, and unless a decision impacted national security or national finances no one else could claim a vote in the matter. But it was evident in their expressions which ones were neutral, which ones were mostly positive, and which ones were flat-out against it.
Edward’s wife Cynthia was studiously neutral on the whole thing. Like Elizabeth, she didn’t personally care for that kind of sport, but long experience had taught her that it was a necessary stress release for both her husband and her daughter. She’d also learned over the years that both of them knew what they were doing, and that objections didn’t get her anywhere anyway.
Which was a lesson the rest of them would do well to learn, too. Edward was the King, he wanted to do this for his daughter, and they were therefore going to do it. Period.
Still, as the two hydroplanes pulled away from Samantha’s side he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. If this was Sophie’s last outing for the next twenty or thirty T-years, it needed to be Edward’s last, as well. A King’s responsibility was to lead by example, especially within his own family.
The one upside of the whole thing was at least Elizabeth wouldn’t be giving him That Look anymore whenever he wanted to do anything even remotely dangerous. It was a look she’d figured out when she was eight, and she’d only improved on it since then.
And of course, since her husband’s tragic and violent death four T-years ago, her fears for her brother’s safety had come with an extra edge of guilt and grief attached. Edward would be just as happy to never see That Look, in that context, ever again.
“So how does this work again if we’re not racing?” Sophie’s voice came through his earpiece. “I forget.”
“We just ride elegantly and genteelly across Jason Bay,” Edward said, settling himself snugly in his cockpit seat and peering through the bars of his safety cage. Fifty meters in front of him he could see Sophie strapped into her own seat, her red wetsuit/life vest combo brightly visible through the cage bars.
“Genteelly means fast, right?”
“Up to two hundred kph, yes,” Edward said. “We promised Aunt Elizabeth, remember?”
“I suppose,” Sophie said, a bit of grump in her voice.
“And no donuts, bouncers, or bootleg turns, either,” Edward admonished.
“Yes, yes, I know.” Sophie huffed out a sigh. “She can really suck the fun out of everything, can’t she?”
“Sure can,” Edward said. “It’ll serve her right if you decide not to take her name when you become Queen.”
“What?” Sophie gasped indignantly. “She told you that?”
“It might have come up in casual conversation,” Edward said, smiling. “Or it could have come from one of your bodyguards.”
“They wouldn’t dare.”
“No, probably not,” Edward conceded. “But take that as a handy tip for the future: if you’re in public, everything you say could eventually become public knowledge. You’ll want to remember that.”
“Oh, I’ll remember it, all right,” Sophie growled. “And if I do take her name, I’m going to spell it wrong. So there.”
“Yes, that’ll certainly fix her,” Edward agreed. The row of diagnostics on his display turned green — “Okay, my self-check is done. Yours?”
“Not quite — there it goes. All green, and the tanks are full. Ready to be genteel?”
“Ready,” Edward said. “And remember: under two hundred.”
With a roar and a surge of foam from their underwater jets, they took off.
It was, indeed, a glorious day for a ride. Edward began with a wide circle around Samantha, keeping a close eye on Sophie’s style and precision as she matched his maneuvers. It had been awhile since they’d taken the hydroplanes out, and it was easy to get rusty on something that demanded this much skill and concentration.
But Sophie was keeping up with him just fine, and her turns and bounce adjustments showed no signs of hesitation or over-correcting. And keeping their speed well below the jetboats’ full three-hundred-kph capability would help a lot, too.
“So are we just going to rock the yacht and see if we can dump the appetizer table?” Sophie asked as they finished their third circle.
“Just making sure we had our sea legs back,” Edward assured her. “You got Triton locked on your nav display?”
“Yep,” Sophie confirmed. “I make it eighty-seven klicks straight ahead. Half an hour if we dawdle.”
“Or if we head straight there,” Edward said. “Remember, we’ve got a five-klick lane to play with.”
“I like how you think,” Sophie said. “So once we’re out of Aunt Elizabeth’s sight…?”
“We still don’t do donuts,” Edward said firmly. “And go easy on the turns. Aunt Elizabeth might not be watching, but the King’s Own has three stingships overhead. And she will be able to pull the recordings afterward.”
“Right,” Sophie said. “So what are we waiting for?”
“Nothing I know of,” Edward said. “Go for it.”
And with a vibrating bounce as her hydroplane kicked off the waves, Sophie did exactly that.
Edward smiled as he fell into position five hundred meters behind her and a hundred to the side. For all her grousing about Aunt Elizabeth’s restrictions, Sophie was keeping her speed well under the agreed-upon limit, running between one-seventy and one-ninety. Her turns were conservative, too, less like her favored hard-point zigzags and more the kind of amiable S-turns a less experienced hydroplaner would prefer.
But with all that, she was still clearly determined to get the most out of this last adventure. She was running back and forth between the edges of their lane, making only slow progress toward the island, getting as much water time as possible without actually turning back toward Samantha.
Which she could certainly do, of course. They had the time, and as Sophie had already noted their hydrogen tanks were full. In fact, once they finally reached Triton, Edward had every intention of running them a few rings around the island before they finally came in to dock.
Samantha was just out of sight over the horizon behind them, and the tallest of Triton’s trees were just peeking over the water ahead of them, when Sophie’s hydroplane did a sudden small yaw to starboard. The glitch barely had time to register in Edward’s brain when the boat made another, even larger yaw back straight and then to portside —
And before Edward could even gasp his daughter’s boat overcorrected, flipped over sideways, and roll-bounced violently across the water.
No! The word screamed through Edward’s mind. Dimly, he was aware that voices were shouting through his earpiece — the King’s Own in the aircars, arrowing down toward the boat still bouncing its tortured way to a stop.
But they would never make it in time. Even as Edward kicked his own speed to full power and chased after her he could see the torn section of hull near the fuel tanks. If the tanks had ruptured, and if hydrogen was accumulating inside the hull…
Sophie’s hydroplane had finally come to an upside-down halt, the torn hull bobbing forlornly amid the low waves, by the time Edward reached it. A hard bootleg turn and a few seconds of full power from his jets, and he was floating beside her.
The boat was a wreck.
Sophie was nowhere to be seen.
“She’s still in there,” he snapped into his mic as he popped off his restraints and slammed open the side of his cage. The voices were shouting in his ear again, ordering him to stay where he was, but they were too far out and he was five meters from his daughter and damn his own stupidity and pride in letting them do this in the first place. He slapped at the side of his helmet, sealing the neckpiece and starting the emergency oxygen flow, and dived over the side.
The sudden slap of cold water was a shock to his skin and heart and limbs. He barely noticed. A few quick strokes took him alongside the hydroplane, and a surface-dive took him beneath the waves and under the edge of her hull.
In the faint light from the still-glowing monitors and status board he could see Sophie. She was upside down in her cage, still strapped into her harness, not moving. Her neckpiece had deployed properly, and he could see from the indicators that her oxygen tank had gone active and was feeding air to her.
But that emergency equipment had now become a two-edged sword. The bubbling of hydrogen from the ruptured fuel tanks had been joined by a trickle of bubbles from Sophie’s own oxygen supply. If the mixture reached any of the hydroplane engine’s hot surfaces, the whole thing could go up in a massive fireball.
Someone in the aircars must have spotted the bubbling, too. The voices were shouting in Edward’s ear again, ordering him to get out.
But he was here, and they weren’t, and he might have only seconds to get Sophie out. He swam to the cockpit, pried open the cage, and unfastened her restraints.
He was maneuvering her out of her seat when the hydroplane exploded.
* * *
The only warning that something was wrong was when Samantha’s engines abruptly surged to power, sending the passengers bouncing into each other, the rails, and the deck furniture.
Travis’s first thought was that the King’s Own aircars and high-cover stingships overhead had detected some incoming threat that the yacht was running from. A look upward seemed to confirm that: the handful of guard vehicles had broken formation and were racing ahead toward the island at full speed. Clearly, something deadly serious was happening.
And then, through the low roar of the wind and the hiss of Samantha’s prow slicing through the water, he heard the distant crack of an explosion.
“We’re not going back,” Lisa murmured, gripping his arm with one hand and the rail where they’d been thrown with the other. “They’re heading forward, and we’re heading forward.”
Travis felt his stomach tighten. She was right. And if the aircars were running toward the source of the danger — and Samantha wasn’t running the opposite direction —
“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand.
Together they hurried forward, weaving their way through other civilians and Navy personnel who had come to the same conclusion. They were still twenty meters back from the bow when Travis caught the glint of metal as a couple of aircars converged over the water.
In the direction the King and Crown Princess had gone.
Someone gasped. Someone else cursed. Then all was silence. More aircars converged on the scene, and stingships dropped from the sky like hunting ospreys, as the Samantha continued speeding forward,
But it was too late. Deep within Travis was the cold, bitter certainty that it was too late.
“Travis?” a voice murmured, jolting in the taut silence.
He turned to look. Lisa was standing beside him, her body pressed close to his side, her hand gripping his. Her eyes glistened with tears as she gazed out at the sea ahead.
Her face blurred, and Travis realized that his eyes had gone moist, as well.
And then, somewhere ahead, someone started crying.
* * *
Elizabeth had been on the bridge, clearing up a small snafu with the chefs at the Lodge, when the report of the catastrophe came in. Five seconds later, she had ordered the Samantha to full speed and called for the King’s Own to bring Cynthia immediately to the bridge.
The King’s wife had just arrived, her face flushed with fear and horror when the aircars began their desperate convergence ahead.
“Oh, God,” Cynthia murmured, her eyes transfixed on the horizon as Elizabeth hurried to her side. “Oh, God. Elizabeth — please, God.”
It’s all right, were the first soothing words that sprang to Elizabeth’s mind. “I’m here, Cynthia,” she said instead.
Because it wasn’t all right. There was no way in heaven or hell that it was all right.
And they both knew it.
They stood there together, clinging silently to each other, as the reports came in.
One of the hydroplanes, totally destroyed.
The other hydroplane, superficial blast damage only.
For a few minutes Elizabeth dared to hope. Cynthia’s pleadings to God began to take on a tentative hint of gratitude.
But there was to be no hope that day. Five minutes later, the final, horrible news arrived.
Crown Princess Sophie. Dead.
King Edward. Dead.
Beside Elizabeth, Cynthia turned into her sister-in-law’s arms and collapsed in complete and unrestrained sobbing.
Elizabeth held the other woman close, her own heart shattering within her. A hundred memories flashed across her eyes: memories of her brother and niece, of laughter and anger and love and tears. Memories that would now forever be darkened.
And as Cynthia’s tears flowed in bitter grief, Elizabeth wondered why she herself wasn’t crying.
Hadn’t she loved her brother and niece? Of course she did. Didn’t she love Cynthia enough to share in the other woman’s anguish? Of course she did.
A whiff of moving air touched her cheek. Colonel Petrov Jackson, head of the King’s Own, was standing beside the two of them, his face carved from granite. “Yes, Colonel?” Elizabeth asked. Her voice, too, seemed to be under the same inexplicably superhuman restraint as her tear ducts.
“Major Felton has been alerted, Your Highness,” he said quietly. “The Lodge is being prepared, unless you would prefer we return to Landing.”
Elizabeth swallowed hard. Why was this her decision?
Because apparently it was.
“We’ll continue to Triton,” she told him. “It’s closer and…more private. You’ll see to…you understand? Whatever arrangements are necessary?”
“I understand, Your Highness,” Jackson said. “Is there anything I can do for you?” His eyes flicked to Cynthia. “For either of you?”
Elizabeth reached up to stroke Cynthia’s hair. “No, thank you,” she said. “Maybe later.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” Something unreadable flickered across Jackson’s face. “Your Majesty,” he corrected with a slight bow. Turning, he headed toward the com board.
Leaving his final words whispering through Elizabeth’s mind.
And that, she realized suddenly was why she wasn’t crying.
Edward’s wife could mourn her late husband. Sophie’s mother could mourn her late daughter. The Star Kingdom could mourn them both.
But not Elizabeth. Not yet. Not as deeply as she wanted.
Because a Queen’s life was not her own.
There was no longer an Elizabeth Winton-De Quieroz. There was only Queen Elizabeth the Second.
And she had never felt more alone in her life.