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Feb. 14 – Prologue and Chapter One

Feb. 21 – Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Empty Thrones

Thick black smoke came pouring out of the hatch. Jake could only watch for a moment in stunned almost agonized silence.

“Shit,” it was a low murmur, almost a whisper escaping from his mouth.

You can’t go that way, Jake, he thought. There had to be another way around this mess. The damned maintenance tunnels were unreliable and with the lifts out of commission, the maintenance tunnels were the only option.

“Or are they?” Jake looked over the hatch door down the corridor. Maybe 15 meters away he could see the door to the lift, it had been pulled open, and one side of it left dangling from a few severed circuits.

Standing slowly, he closed the hatch door. Waving away the smoke, he took a few curios steps toward the lift doors. If the lift was out of commission, the ladder system for lift maintenance could be used. However, the lift could be anywhere in the ship, on any deck. And without the computer online the lift was supporting its own weight on the suspension wires.

Jake knew he had no other option. Well, that’s not true. There were plenty of options.

You can watch things happen, you can make things happen, or you can wonder what the hell happened, the voice of Captain Paul Morris echoed through Jake’s mind.

“Fuck it,” Jake said. The wide mouth of the shaft opened in front of him. No lights down there, just darkness like the reaches of space.

He knew the Old Man well enough to see his path, as though being led by clairvoyance.

In drastic times, you’ve gotta do drastic things, his father continued.

Jake found the top rung of the ladder inside the shaft, gripped it with his left hand. The cold metal shocked his system. Pulling himself onto the ladder, Jake climbed down making his way to the deck 22.

In the darkness, Jake had to rely on nothing but touch. Step by step. The sound of his boots on the steel rungs echoed gently through the shaft, the shallow sounds of his breathe and the rustle of his tattered fatigues. There were no other sounds.

“This was a bad idea,” Jake said to himself as he climbed down.

He estimated he had climbed down three decks when he began to see a sliver of light about 6 meters below him. It appeared that a door was open down there, might not be a bad idea to get out of here and regain his bearings.

When Jake was eye level with the open door, he leaned outward, clutching the ladder in his left hand, his right reaching out to the door. He grabbed the lip of the open door and pulled himself from the shaft.

Back on solid ground, Jake took a moment to survey his surroundings. He was on deck 21 one deck above Engineering, and it appeared to have been hit hard. Paneling had been blown from the walls, doors were blown open, the lights above the corridor were broken and hanging from the ceiling. Flickering dim lights lined the corridor, wires hanging like vines in a forest.

Jake began to head aft, taking him closer to ground zero, it appeared. The damage became more and more intense as he moved. Walking through the destruction a montage began to play in his head of imagined events. His father moving through the corridor, his blond hair wet with sweat flying back as he ran with adrenaline coursing through his veins. An explosion to the left, another from the right, shrapnel flying around, glinting in the light of fire, sparks of electricity flying passed his face. The Old Man moved with purpose, perhaps calculating the explosions from the Boat his knew so well.

Eighteen meters in front of him he could see a massive hole had been opened in the floor directly over Engineering. Jake ran to the edge and noted the scorched residue left behind. Someone had cut this hole; it had not been the product of an explosion. The sides were too straight, with hard ninety degree angles resulting in a hap-hazard square shape. He could see the chunk of the floor laying directly underneath, a plasma blade lay next to the edge.

“They weren’t trying to get out,” he said. “Someone was trying to get in!”

He dropped through and found himself directly in front of the Core. The Core was a massive tube almost 45 meters tall surrounded by a tungsten casing to retain the uranium needed for the Core to generate power. It towered over him, making Jake feel slightly dizzy with the flickering lights and the smell of ozone that hung in the air.

“Dad?” he called.

He started toward the main door of Engineering, stumbling over debris and half blind. The flickering lights made it difficult to keep his bearing and focus clearly on his surroundings. Jake thought that somehow off in the distance, he could hear an old dusty guitar playing. He remembered his father playing an old Irish tune back in Alasak. It was a sad song, of goodbyes and moving on to new things. Jake tried to remember the words but couldn’t. To comfort his beating heart he hummed the tune gently and the words came naturally.

“And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stoup,

And surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

“And there’s a hand…”

There was a hand! On the floor just in front of him, in the chaos of the lights, he could just barely make out the Morris Family Crest on his father’s ring: black and yellow shield, a griffin clawing the skies and the old Irish family motto on a yellow ribbon above a sliver helmet. Si Deus nobiscum qui contra nos.

“If God be with us, who can be against us,” Jake remembered.

He knelt to the ground and grabbed his father’s hand, “Dad?”

The Old Man did not move. Jake felt up the arm and found the whole man sprawled on the ground, face down. Just next to him lay Alia Hansen. They appeared to be unconscious. Jake took his father by the shoulders and with great effort turned the man onto his back.

“Dad!” he shook the man in panic. “Come on, Old Man. Don’t give up on me yet.”

“Jakers?” Paul breathed, eyes opening in small slits.

“Hey,” Jake smiled. “Hey Dad, it’s alright. I’m here.”

“Jakers?” Paul opened his eyes wide with terror. “The Boat!”

“She’s okay, Dad,” Jake put a hand on his father’s chest to keep him from sitting up. He could feel the wetness of blood under his father’s uniform. “Bennie’s working on her. We’ll have her heading home in no time.”

“Can’t . . . go . . . home,” Paul managed.

“Not right now, but soon,” Jake answered.

“The Protectorate,” Paul whispered his eyes full of panic.

“I’ll get in contact with them as soon as we get communication restored,” Jake replied, “I’ll have them send assistance.”

“No!” Paul shook his head and. “Must . . .”

“You gotta rest, Dad,” Jake said comfortingly.

“Rest,” Paul repeated. “No rest, Jake. It went bad. Alia.” He gestured to the young woman. “You have . . . to get her . . . out.”

“I’ll come back for her,” Jake answered. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“No,” Paul shook his head. “Now, son.”

Jake nodded. There would be no talking Paul out of this. His mind was made up. He came here to make sure the girl got out and now Jake had to finish what his father started. Gently, he scooped her off the floor and carried her to the main door. He kicked the emergency switch and the blast door fell into a slot in the floor. Carrying her out into the corridor, Jake saw the havoc the Core Leak had created. He laid her gently on the floor and went back in for his father. He found the man where he left him. Paul was breathing heavy.

Jake grabbed his father’s arm and began to pull him to his feet. Paul let out a cry in pain.

“Stop!” he begged.

“I have to get you out of here,” Jake said.

“You,” Paul breathed. “You must lead them.”

Jake felt the heat of his tears begin to sting.

“Don’t,” Jake took a deep breath to keep his voice steady. “Don’t talk like that.”

“You,” Paul put his hand on Jake’s.

“No, Dad,” a tear fell from Jake’s eye. “I can’t do this without you.”

Paul nodded with great effort. “You can. You must. They need you. Erina needs you.”

Jake didn’t understand. Paul grabbed his son’s hand and squeezed. They locked eyes. They were mirrors of each other.

“En Ceann,” Paul gasped. “En Ceann.”

Jake shook his head, “I don’t understand.”

“An Ceann,” Paul gasped again. “Find An Ceann. Find Erina.”

“I will,” Jake nodded. He didn’t understand the words. An Ceann, Erina. They were names, so familiar to his ears but their meaning clouded.

“You look so much like your mother,” Paul struggled to get the words out, they came in small gasps. Paul clutched Jake’s hand. “She was so beautiful, Jakers.”

“I wish I could have known her better,” Jake chocked back his agony.

“She loved you very much,” Paul breathed. “And I love you, Jake.”

“I love you too, Dad.”

“I’m proud of you, son,” Paul pressed something into Jake’s palm. “You are captain now.”

Paul laid his head back against the floor and let out a sigh.

Silence.

Paul’s eyes went dim, like someone had just turned off a light behind a curtained window.

“Dad?” Jake asked.

Paul did not move. His eyes still locked on Jake and yet distant.

He’s gone, Jake thought. He could not control his grief. Resting his head on his father’s chest, Jake wept.

***

“Well, you comin?” Paul asked. He was standing at the terminal gate at the Alaskan Aerospace Base in Kodiak, Alaska.

16-year-old Jake Morris stood just out of reach, his over-sized hooded sweatshirt hiding his tattoos.

“Yea, I’m comin,” Jake responded passively.

Paul cackled with evil laughter, “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” Jake’s voice was dripping with irritation.

“Oh, my ass,” Paul shook his head. “You’re so full of shit it’s coming out of your ears, Jakers.”

Paul walked to his son and placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s this or the mines; Jacob,” he said calmly. “You did this to yourself.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jake challenged.

“Didn’t do anything wrong?” Paul scolded. “You know exactly what you did and I don’t need to remind you. And to make matters worse, you spouted lies about the Guardians and slandered the Protectorate.”

“It’s not a lie!” Jake raised his voice.

“You need to watch your tone,” Paul moved closer, his beard brushed against Jake’s cheek, “You want to bring these people down, you need to come with me now!”

Paul pulled away. Jake could see in his father’s eyes that he meant business. Jake nodded and without another word followed his father through the terminal gate to the launch site. From here they would board a small shuttle that would transport them from Kodiak, Alaska to the Alaskan Space Station home of The Alaskan Aerospace Military Vessel The Kodiak; his father’s own vessel.

The Kodiak was scheduled for her maiden voyage to the asteroid belt in a few weeks, and this would be Jake’s first trip to see her.

They spent the rest of the trip to the launch pad in silence as Paul introduced Jake to various admirals and other senior officers in the Military.

Jake remained largely unimpressed by these drones, as he liked to call them. Void of such things as free thinking and imagination. He never did understand what his father saw in this organization of dry and boring old men preparing for a battle that would never come.

His entire life he had been schooled about the Tramentariums and their hatred for mankind and their blood enemies The Guardians. The Military was created to keep Humans and the Guardians safe from the impending doom of an invasion until An Ceann came to free them all. In all his life, never once had there been any sighting nor indication that the Tramies even existed, or the Guardians, or their fabled An Ceann.

Jake sat next to his father in the shuttle. He estimated a grand total of 15 other passengers were on board heading to their next assignment.

“Buckle up,” Paul grinned. “It’s going to get bumpy.”

Jake did as he was told begrudgingly.

“I really have no intention of being a military man,” Jake reminded his father.

“You will if you want to stay out of the mines,” Paul reminded his son.

“Pop, listen, I’m not buying it,” Jake’s voice began to rise again. Paul clapped a large hand over his sons’ mouth.

“If you know what’s good for you,” Paul was deathly serious in his tone. “You’ll shut your mouth and look out the window. There’s no going back now, Jacob.”

Jake rolled his eyes and did as his father asked.

The thrusters engaged. For a moment the shuttle shook so violently that Jake was certain it would break into a million pieces. Without realizing it, he was clutching his seat.

Then, the shuttle exploded forward. Jake was pressed back into his seat. It felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. Paul was in his seat laughing wildly. He hollered something, but in the racket Jake could not make out his words. Then, just as suddenly as it began, it ended. Jake saw the blue of the sky gradate to black, then the twinkle of stars in the distance.

“See it over there,” Paul pointed.

Looking out the window into the deep black of space Jake saw her: The Kodiak, bright blue with a yellow stripe across her center. She must have been over 300 meters long! A large window at the bow jutted back at a 45 degree angle to her pot-bellied center and four large thrusters at her aft, controlled by The Core in Engineering. Jake was speechless. He had never seen a space vessel in person. On one of the aft stabilizers, a large albatross had been painted with care. Its wings spread wide in flight.

“That’s The Kodiak?” he breathed.

“She’s beautiful, ain’t she,” Paul beamed like a proud captain. “She can be yours someday, Jakers, but you gotta earn it.”

Jake turned to his father quizzically.

“I’m not gonna be around forever, Jake,” Paul responded. “She’s going to need someone to take care of her for me.”

Paul put a hand on Jake’s shoulder and leaned in, whispering in his sons’ ear. “She’s going to need young men and women to lead the way into freedom. If you really believe the things you say, then come with me and I’ll help you bring them down from the inside.”

***

The lights on the ceiling flickered to life. Jake looked up in surprise, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Looks like Bennie did it,” Jake said to his father’s corpse.

Jake gently closed his father’s eyes and placed his hands over his chest. The gleam of his father’s tags seemed to smile at him. Jake took the tags. He opened the clasp and hung both the Captains Ring and the Morris Family Crest ring on the chain. They rang like small bells as they came into contact with the tags. Closing the clasp he put the bundle into his pocket.

He placed his father’s body respectfully in the center of the corridor next to Alia. He looked like he was sleeping.

Jake stood and began searching for a blanket in the quarters nearby. Finding a sheet on the floor, he returned to his father’s side.

“I’ll be back in a little bit, Dad,” he pulled the sheet over his father’s body.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Jake picked up Alia and began to carry her back to Sick Bay. Her breath was shallow. He remembered a night, so many years ago when she lay in his lap in front of a fireplace. He walked in a daze, playing the last hour over and over in his mind. Had he gotten here sooner would he have been able to save the Old Man? There was no way of knowing.

He was on autopilot as he walked, memories of his father playing through his head. This could not really be happening. This was a nightmare. He’ll be waking up any moment now.

As he reached the Maintenance Tunnel that would take Alia to Sick Bay he stopped. Placing her on the floor, he gently tried to revive her.

“Alia,” he whispered.

Her eyes sprung open.

“You’re okay,” he soothed. “I can’t carry you up the ladder to sick bay. Can you stand?

“What happened?” she asked frightened.

“I don’t know,” Jake shook his head. “Bad things.”

“Where’s Paul?” she asked.

“He’s…” Jake could barely find the words. “He’s outside of Engineering. I will need someone to go . . . get him.”

Alia stood slowly. “I will get him.” She said.

“No.”

“I can do it!” she barked.

“That’s not my meaning,” Jake answered. “I need someone from Sick Bay to get him. He’s . . . He needs assistance. Please, Alia. Can you make it to Sick Bay on your own? And send Madi to get him. She will find him just outside of the main blast door.”

Alia nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Thank you,” he answered. “I have work to attend to on the bridge. Please excuse me.”

He opened the hatch to the Maintenance Tunnel and closed it behind her. He waited for a few moments to make sure she didn’t try to come back. Alia was known for disregarding direct orders. He did not want her to find the Old Man like that.

He returned to the bridge to find both Lt. Bennie Elliot and Lt. Commander Kara McCall leaning over a console. Jake moved silently to the Captain’s Chair in the center of the bridge. The chair was one of the few things still standing. He put his hand on the head rest and stared at it in dismay.

Kara turned to see Jake standing there.

“Sir,” Kara asked cautiously. Jake did not respond

“Jake,” Bennie moved to is friend, “What happened, Jake?”

Jake could say nothing for a moment. He looked at his friend in dismay.

“He’s. . .” Jake stopped. He opened his hand and showed his friend Paul’s tags.

“No,” Bennie knew.

“We lost him,” Jake forced it out of him.

The finality of that sentence shocked him to the very core.

Of all Jake’s classmates, his father loved Bennie the most. Jake remembered the first day Bennie came aboard The Kodiak, Paul allowed him to lay in a course around the solar system and handed the helm over to the two of them. Jake and Bennie found the experience not only liberating but exhilarating at the same time.

Kara stood next to Jake and placed her hand on his back to show support. Jake embraced Bennie in grief and for support. The pain and loss shook from him and he felt overwhelmed with it. He stood there in his grief for many moments.

Jake took a deep breath in, collecting himself. He pushed Bennie away, brushed Kara’s hand away. He wiped away the tears.

“McCall,” Jake cleared his throat, “report.”

“Sir,” Kara paused.

“Report Lt. Commander,” Jake repeated, his voice still shaken with emotion.

“Heavy casualties, sir,” Kara answered, “of the 580 crewmen, less than 200 have survived the battle.”

“I was able to restore limited power to the helm,” Bennie chimed in, “She’ll hold true while we work on the Core. Dex came through a while ago, he’s pretty banged up but he’s got his wits about him. I sent him down to Engineering to check on Alia, still no word from her.”

“I sent her to Sick Bay. She is well enough, but unaware about what happened to The Old Man. I’d like to keep it that way for now. She has been ordered to send Madi to retrieve my father. Please make sure those orders are carried out, Kara.” Jake nodded, turning from them. He took a few steps toward the bow.

“It’s thirteen hundred hours,” Jake said looking out into space, “Send word through the Boat to the crew. I’ll need to brief them soon. Have them assemble in the Galley in two hours. Let’s not let word get out that the Captain is. . .”

Jake turned to leave.

“Where are you going, sir?” Kara asked.

Jake stopped, without turning he answered, “I have some unfinished business.”

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