Training, sightseeing, and largely hitting dead ends trying to learn any more about the theft of the Maximum. Even when Maximilian returned later that afternoon, an unexpectedly satisfied smile on his face, he still wouldn’t tell them what he was planning, other than that he had finally found a solution to their lodging problem. Among other things.
The following morning, he joined them in packing his belonging and boarding a ferry bound for the neighboring island of Amarrah, all of them eager to see what he had to show them.
“So, how did your appeal go?” Justin asked.
“I got about what I expected to get out of it,” was Maximilian’s cryptic reply. “Which is more than I was originally going to get. Even with the card, most of the money Freedan embezzled is still out of reach, and he and Rawne seem to have kept their dealings with the money they stole here in Alta pretty secretive, though I hear they have some bounty hunter working on that…”
“Whoa!” Max remarked, pointing off to starboard, “That has to be the biggest ship I’ve ever seen!”
“About five hundred feet, to be more precise,” Sebastian informed them, “with a capacity of almost two hundred people.”
“It’s painted like a cruise ship,” Shades observed, “but it’s built more like an old cargo or passenger liner… And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a modern cruise ship with sails…”
Justin gave a low whistle, as it could certainly compete with the largest ships he had ever seen anchored offshore anywhere.
“So this is it then?” Maximilian asked his butler. “The Excelsior?”
“Indeed it is, Young Master,” Sebastian told them. “A part of the Collection that won’t fit in any tower. Your grandfather Chauncey originally purchased this ship in his later years. As I recall, he had this plan for making it a ‘floating hotel’ that sailed around Konosha and Amarrah, but it never really caught on. So for many years, the Excelsior was simply kept dry-docked over here since no one could find a buyer.”
“Looks to be in pretty good condition for being neglected so long,” Shades noted.
“Funny thing, that,” Maximilian remarked. “Before he went after us in the Undercity, Freedan left orders for her to be refurbished and restocked. Most likely, he was planning to take Rawne and his crew with him on this ship when he left Alta.”
“You mean it’s all ready to go?” Max asked.
“Just about,” Maximilian replied. “We even managed to find a crew for her on such short notice, thanks to the Assembly. Not only are they signing on to operate the ship, but they’re even bringing our first cargo, meaning we’re already in business.”
“Cargo?” Justin cocked his head. “But I thought it was a passenger ship.”
“Originally, it carried both,” Sebastian explained, “as vessels of this sort often do to keep their business options open. The last time I was ever onboard was many years ago, but Master Chauncey had certain modifications made to the ship, including turning one of the cargo holds into an indoor swimming pool, and another into a ballroom. She still has at least half of her original cargo capacity, and if need be, we can also use some of the lower staterooms for that since we currently have no other passengers.”
“And you guys are welcome to the VIP Quarters,” Maximilian told them. “I’m afraid I can’t replace your ship, but you’re welcome to sail with us for as long as far as you need to go. We set sail tomorrow.”
“Time and tide wait for no one,” Shades mused.
In spite of all that had happened here, he found he was still in a hurry to be on his way, and not just to continue his search. Even without any more ambushes, like his first morning he slept in, his sleep had been a most uneasy one here in Alta. Now that he had seen for himself what lay underneath it, he suspected this was a bad place for someone like himself to try to get a decent night’s sleep. His experience with the faceless ones was quite enough to convince him that Rod was right about the Zeroes: they were back. Worst of all, his encounter aboard the Empty Set came with the revelation that he no longer remembered how to fight on that side. Zeroes were dangerous enough when you had the means to defend yourself; tangling with them without even that was suicide.
Though his anxiety had kept him from dreaming that deep since then, as he looked out upon the harbor, he quietly hoped that leaving this place, where the boundaries between dimensions was so thin, might give him some breathing room on that front.
“That’s a good way to put it,” Maximilian finally said. “According to Sebastian, I probably could have pressed for provisional control of the company, to see if I could turn it around before dissolving it completely, but I don’t think I ever would have had full control, even if I succeeded. Much as I hate to admit it, Freedan was probably right about one thing. I really don’t think I have any business running a company that large, not with how little experience I have…”
“Young Master…” Sebastian bowed his head.
“You don’t have to call me that anymore, Sebastian,” Maximilian told him. “I’m not your master anymore.”
“Young Master,” Sebastian replied, giving him a level gaze, “I have served the Vandenberg family for so many years— since your grandfather’s day— I would have no idea what I would do with myself without you. There is nothing for me here now. Even if you have no fortune, you are the only family I have left.”
“ ’Bastian… If that is how you feel…” The Young Master nodded. “You know I’m never coming back. Just like you, there’s nothing for me here now. It’s time to get on with my life. Walking in Edric’s footsteps has made me realize that. You guys, too, and Ma’Quiver. I’d rather start over and seek my own fortune in life.”
“So what’s the plan?” Justin enquired.
“Basically, to seek out cargo and passengers to transport from one realm to another,” Maximilian elaborated. “Though, aside from being some form of compensation after Freedan’s treachery, there was one other condition on which the Assembly granted my appeal. Along with the Vandenberg signet ring, I can also use the… what’s that word?… biometric data wired to New Cali to prove that I am my father’s legitimate heir. So, if I should ever find myself in New Cali, I have agreed to make a personal appeal to First Municipal Bank to try to redeem the money that Freedan hid there, with three fourths of it to be wired back to Alta to pay off my father’s debts, the remaining quarter of it my remaining inheritance.”
“Heh,” Justin snorted, “what’s to stop you from keeping it all for yourself?”
“Honor,” Max answered.
“That, and I drew up a contract with the Assembly, which I’m sure they’ve already wired to them,” Maximilian added. “One Assemblyman, Sloan I think his name was, even hooked us up with our current clients, as well. I did what I could to protect the rest of the company, and it looks like the other investors were willing to hire all of them, one way or another…”
“Which means you wrapped things up about as well as could be expected,” Shades concluded.
“All I negotiated for was the ship,” Maximilian shrugged, “and a few of my father’s personal affects. I just wish I could’ve given him a proper burial…”
“It was too dangerous,” Max shook his head, wishing he could’ve at least collected Percival’s skull as he had Chad Owen’s remains back in the Harken Building. Another brave soul taken by a grisly death. “The underdwellers never gave us a chance.”
“I think he understands,” Shades assured him, “wherever he is. The important part is that his memory lives in you.”
“You’re right.” Maximilian straightened up as the ferry prepared to dock. “Today, I begin a new chapter in the Vandenberg family history.”
All of them couldn’t help but stand a little taller at that sentiment as they prepared to disembark.