(This is a novel I began writing about a year ago and I have fallen in love with my main character. It is based on a friend of mine. I do hope you enjoy it. This is my first project of this type, so I began a bit unsure but I am happy with how it is unfolding. This post is the first 50 pages so it is a bit of a read. I have sidelined this project due to life but I am itching to complete it. I’d love to earn my biscuits by writing but as of yet that dream is not my reality. 🙂 I would appreciate any critiques you’d wish to give, good bad or otherwise. Please forgive the editing mistakes I write quite a bit but I find myself lacking in the editorial department. Thank you. -JM)
The light stung Ter’Mari’s eyes when the ancient lady in waiting entered her chamber. The air was still and cold this morning and the thought of a long arduous day placating the squabbles of this corner of the grand king Vilathorn’s kingdom was daunting at best. It was her duty as Lady of House Tiernon. How she longed for the days her father would take her flying over the hills and valleys of the subterranean expanse he ruled. He was gone now and she would honor his name and the sigil of her house; yet she felt troubled as if some impending disaster loomed just out of sight. Hers was one of the most ancient names on the entire planet. There were 343 original settlers to their world. Every child knows this story.
Of the original there were 123 women and 220 men. More than half the men had been sterilized by the poisons which clogged the failing atmosphere of the once glorious earth her ancestors had been from. She thought it odd they called their planet earth. She never understood why they hadn’t named it something pretty. She had watched every film and had examined every picture in the archives and she thought it had to be the most beautiful place in existence. “Earth is dirt mommy.” She had blurted to her mother as she told the story to Ter’Mari no more than five at the time. This received affectionate laughter from both her mother and father.
The men were mostly picked for their knowledge and trade backgrounds and the women were picked based on virility. They had after all been sent to begin a settlement. The texts say that many more ships had been built and were all sent throughout the galaxy to planets which had shown the greatest promise for sustaining life. The settlers had named this new world Copious. It was overrun with game and edible vegetation. To speak that name aloud in Ter’s time was considered taboo; it was believed to be a bad omen.
The old lady busied herself straightening the room as Ter’ pulled the covers over her head and pleaded, “Ten more minutes, sweet Bondy?”
“Sweet miss you’ll miss breakfast if you dally long.” Bondy’s angelic voice echoed through the rafters.
Bondy was the oldest person on their world and Ter’ was all too aware that she too would soon be gone just as her parents were. Bondy was a rarity and had been discussed in great detail behind closed doors during the monthly meetings with all the planets leaders in Vilathorn’s palace. The scientists wanted to study her to see why she had lived longer than anyone else in 400 years. Ter’ already knew the answer and despite her position no one seemed interested in her explanation. She wasn’t a scientist and people of science do not wish to entertain the whims of a mere aristocrat. She felt it was more a matter of pride.
A thousand years after her people arrived on this once verdant planet their sun had begun to die. There was wave after wave of solar radiation. Thousands died and many others suffered severe injuries. Her people fled into the deep quarries, mines, and caverns. The mines and natural caverns provided insulation against the onslaught but thousands more died from malnutrition and exposure. There hadn’t been any warning and they weren’t prepared for such a disaster.
They had survived and they adapted to the subterranean world she had known all her life. They had all the cumulative scientific knowledge of the entire earth at their disposal and all that they had gained in the thousand years before the “darkening” they had come to call it. It took several hundred years before the sun went dark and this had given them time to harness the energy of the planets core itself. The scientist believed that it would be many more thousands of years before the star they circled collapsed and destroyed the entire solar system. This was what bothered Ter’ most. They knew people were dying far too young and that eventually all their descendants would parish in a great cosmic event.
She was almost always furious following the council meetings regarding the fate of her race. She knew better than to openly voice her agitation. To disagree was acceptable but not loudly or passionately. To do so was considered common and anyone acting in such a manner would be drummed out of their position and would be shamed publicly. Her father had taught her to cool her temper before her anger destroyed any chance of making a difference.
Bondy had asthma which further confounded the scientists. They couldn’t grasp how someone with such a debilitating illness would outlive even the healthiest people many years her junior. Ter’ knew it was her father’s doing that had kept Bondy healthy and alive all these years. She was nearly seventy and the next oldest person was forty-two. Bondy had worked for house Tiernon her entire life. She wasn’t a slave or a servant. There were no servants or slaves on Ter’s world but everyone who was able was required by law to work. If you reached age fifty you were relinquished of your duties and then the whole would support you until you passed away but when offered retirement Bondy blurted “Who is goin’ mind that youngun and warsh your shirts Mr.?” That’s all she ever called Ter’s father was “Mr.” but she loved him like a son and her heart was broken when he died. It was her job ten hours a day five days a week and she made it very clear that she was going to keep doing it until she was 150 if the good Lord let her live that long.
Knowing of her condition she was tasked with maintaining the house. The air quality had grown increasingly toxic over the centuries. There were hundreds of engineers who spent tireless hours attempting to filter the air but as the population grew the life expectancy began to falter. Then the populace began to show an increasing sign of respiratory ailments. It was a growing trend and this Ter’ knew had to be alleviated. Her father had fought tirelessly in an attempt to convince the king that each house needed its own air filtration working in conjunction with the massive filters scattered throughout the caverns. They just weren’t doing enough. That’s why Bondy had lived so long even suffering from asthma because she hadn’t set foot outside of Tiernon manner in three decades.
As a child Ter’ abhorred the manor thinking it a prison more than a home until she were old enough to realize her father keeping her in doors was why she was so much healthier than the other children her age. Her father had been an architect and engineer before taking over his mother’s seat as Lord of Tiernon Manor. In his years he had designed and built many working scale models of the air filtration units. There were four purifying the air in Tiernon Manor. It was the cleanest air on the entire planet. Not even the king had such a luxury.
As she thought of her father and her mother she felt an ache in her heart. How she missed them both. Her father spent his entire career as an engineer attempting to better the quality of life for all and her mother a doctor had spent hers treating the afflicted. They both had spent too many years outside in the bad air and had ultimately succumbed to its effects. Even the years inside the manor attending matters of state couldn’t reverse the damage his lungs had suffered. This made her angry but she couldn’t let her emotions get the better of her. How foolish their great and wondrous king was. “Nothing but a fool!” She wished to scream but she was a lady and ladies didn’t behave in such a manner, “At least not when in the company of others.” Her father had told her with a wink and smile, just weeks before his death.
These were the things running through her mind this cold morning. There was no going back to sleep. She checked the time and realized she had been lying there thinking for over half an hour. She jumped from the warmth of her bed into the chill of her frigid chamber. She was slim and very athletic. She knew living in this house with her father’s inventions keeping the air fresher than anywhere else had been almost unfair to the people she resided over but there was no helping it. She did all she could to take the children with the worst asthmatic symptoms into her own home. It had become quite crowded in Tiernon Manor. She didn’t mind the company and she didn’t like waste. She would do anything for these people she could.
She knew that even if she took in every child in the quadrant that would help but it would only be a drop in an ocean and it was only a temporary solution. It was these times she felt the most overwhelmed. To her the dilemma was clear as well as the solution, the purifiers. Or was it? An old memory came flooding back it was something her father had said to her mother when she was just a girl as she sat playing with her toys and singing as she loved to do.
It was his tone that caught her attention and they didn’t notice the singing had stopped. She climbed into an oversized arm chair and peered into the sitting room with her ever inquisitive bright blue eyes and quizzically watched the exchange. Her father never got angry and he never raised his voice so to her seven year old self this was a sight to behold.
“They just won’t listen to me. You know how Vilathorn can be! He thinks all is well and will not hear any sense on the matter. Damn his stubborn pride. At the rate we are going the average lifespan will be five years old in another hundred years. Five year olds don’t have children. You’re a doctor; you know this as sure as I. There is only one solution. These air purifiers they are refusing to use would only be a temporary deterrent. These fools will see us all dead and buried and all the while they’ll sit up in that palace kissing each other’s royal asses with big smiles on their faces.” He paused and turned but little Ter’ was too quick, she ducked low before he saw her. She was astonished. She had never heard her father use such language or say such things about the king.
She sat very still hoping she had not been seen and after a few tense moments she heard her father speak again in a much softer solemn voice, it frightened her because when she braved another glance she saw tears on his cheek. “Dear wife please forgive my outburst. I know you understand how grave this situation is. Only a fool would think differently. You spend your days tirelessly treating these poor children and the sad truth is the only respite they shall receive is death.” His voice broke on the last word and it was then she noticed the tears flowing down her mother’s cheeks. The sight of her mother and father both in tears and the talk of death frightened her worse than being punished for eaves dropping. She ran to them crying her bright blue eyes brimming with tears.
“Oh my sweet darling Ter’ I am so sorry you were not meant to hear that.” He held her close a moment and then he gently sat her on her mother’s lap. She too coddled the frightened child.
Her mother hadn’t spoken or commented during her father’s monologue. It wasn’t until Ter’ was drifting off to sleep had she broken her silence. “The ship.” Ter’s mother died less than a year after that night. She had spent too many long days breathing in the toxic air and like all the others she had died far too young.
Ter’Mari looked into the large floor length mirror. She wore only a nightshirt and had it not been for all the company in the manor she wouldn’t even be wearing that. She just enjoyed being naked especially when she slept at night; clothes made her feel restricted. She let the billowy shirt fall to the floor and purveyed her reflection with that same quizzical expression with which she examined everything new or unusual. She turned this way and that. She knew the men found her beautiful but that meant nothing to her. She wasn’t interested in a man. Her main and only concern was the survival of her people and nothing else. Once she found a way to fix this then yes she wanted a husband and children but she wouldn’t have them living in a hole like the moles she read about from her ancestor’s world.
Her hair was light and most unusual because everyone’s hair was dark; even her own parents had dark hair. They said she was a blessing when she was born. “The sun haired child with sapphire eyes,” they had called her. Her eyes were one of her most exquisite features. They were a blue that hadn’t been seen in millennia. Her eyes seemed to glow and were always the first thing anyone noticed about her despite her many attributes. Her skin was extremely fair as all the rest of her kin having never seen the sun. Her body was lightly toned and this too she found odd because not one other person appeared to be as healthy as she was. Everyone from the king to the lowliest sanitation workers ate the same food. Everything was shared yet she seemed to be the only person who physically prospered. The only difference is the air she breathes. She was twenty two years old and other than when it was necessary she remained inside Tiernon Manor.
She spent a great deal of her free time with the children playing games and teaching them to exercise. She had learned a great deal from her mother about physical fitness as well as from reading the ancient archives. She felt alien looking in the mirror. It wasn’t until she began digging in the archives had she seen anyone who even came close to resembling her. Other than her pale skin she looked just like any other girl from earth. She cut her hair in the fashion of a woman she found in one of the ancient digital magazines. It was short and she never let it grow too far past her ears in spite of being told more times than she could remember that she should let it grow long. Long hair bugged her and she hadn’t let it get long since she was young.
With one last glance in the mirror she began to dress. She was completely stressed and more so than ever, she was not looking forward to her duties as Lady Tiernon. All that kept repeating in her mind was her mother’s sad voice, “The ship.”
She entered the chamber which served as the hearing room just off the main foyer of the grand entrance to Tiernon Manor. The entrance was a sight to behold. There was a twenty foot hand chiseled sculpture of a friendly looking dragon that greeted all who entered. On either side were matching stair cases which rose over forty feet. The thing that impressed Ter’ most, even as a child, was the fact that it was all carved out of solid rock. Her father had very patiently answered all her questions as she would follow him around the huge manor.
“How’d they make this daddy?” She would ask with wide eyed wonderment. He had in great detail explained the history of the manor to her. She gasped when he told her it had taken over ten years to complete and later there were additions carved into the stone walls expanding it even farther. “Daddy, that’s more years than I am old.” He had laughed at this. Tiernon Manor was over a thousand years old. There were thirty-four rooms in total of which twenty two were bedrooms. Each and every room besides hers and Bondy’s were now occupied by the worst asthmatic children from Ter’s quadrant. She filled all the other rooms as well. Word had spread and each and every time someone sought out refuge for their child she would find a bed and a place for them.
She had always cherished her time with her father and shadowed him from the moment he returned home in the evenings until she would fell asleep in a little chair he kept by his desk in his study just for her. He knew one day the desk would be hers and he prayed that his efforts would make her life better.
She was jerked from her reverie as the large metal doors creaked open and the procession of plaintiffs began to shuffle in. She dispensed with formality during these proceedings. She had no desire for the pomposity of the great palace or even her peers which controlled the other quadrants. No, she was a matter of fact in her rulings and in almost every case she could easily find a happy median which would satisfy each party. For this she was widely respected.
It was during these hearings she spent a good deal of time observing her people. She didn’t feel superior to the men and women before her. She felt that each and every person was just as valuable to the survival of her race, maybe even more so than she was. It saddened her to watch the effort it took for some of them just to explain their problems. A man explaining a property dispute had begun to collapse and it was the person he held the grievance against which saved him from falling on the hard stone floor. These acts of kindness were common amongst her people. They, even when at odds, took care of each other. She loved them all for this. She needed to do something. She must do something.
The day carried on like each before and despite her anxiousness to do what she did not know, she listened intently and passed judgment as fairly as she was able. She noticed the time and realized she had been holding court for a solid six hours. She called for a break and directed everyone to the kitchen for lunch and refreshment. She was an extremely generous person. During lunch she didn’t eat she only had what passed for water. It was bitter and all she had every known but she couldn’t help but feel there must be something better. She wondered what real fresh water tasted like. She had seen it in pictures and in the archived footage. It must be absolutely wonderful she mused.
Ter’ was lost in thought. Why had that conversation come to her that morning? Why after all this time had she remembered now. She couldn’t shake this growing feeling of uneasiness and impending doom which had taken hold of her. After an hour break she returned to the hearing room which in a few hours would be housing twenty sick children as they rested for the night. She was relieved to see that there were only a dozen more cases to hear and she could get back to worrying. The thought brought a wave of distress on her and she quickly began the proceedings to temporarily block these negative feelings.
Just as she was finishing up with the last case she heard the door slowly creak open and to her surprise it was Lord Mendleson. He was one of her peers from the western most quadrant. This was a great surprise he must have travelled for four days to get to Tiernon Manor. He like Ter’ had one of the ancient names and by reputation he was kind and generous. Ter’ hadn’t ever talked to the man outside of the council chambers and never about anything other than official business. Mendleson never argued but when she had tried to explain why Bondy had lived so long he hadn’t openly dismissed her comments. He had seemed interested but had kept quiet due to his colleague’s negative comments.
Mendleson’s quadrant was in far worse shape than Ter’s. She knew the air quality in the west was far more toxic due to mechanical failures following a seemingly minor earthquake. It had collapsed the thermal vent which powered the air purifier which was deepest in his part of the kingdom. There was no rush to aid the westerners and to this Ter’ had spoken up and offered aid but as per usual was dismissed. “They can fix it.” This was all the fool king had said and the issue was discussed no more.
Mendleson was a scientist before he took his seat as lord of Mendleson Manor. His specialties included metallurgy and electromechanical engineering. Ter’ remembered several late night meetings between this man and her father. She never thought much of it at the time. Being a child she was more focused on the adventures of a child. She felt all that was about to change.
Mendelson stood quietly at the rear of the chamber patiently awaiting an audience with Lady Tiernon. She approached as the room began to clear. “Welcome to Tiernon Manor Lord Mendleson.” She gave a slight bow.
He grinned and returned her halfhearted curtsy. “Why thank you Lady Tiernon.”
“Perhaps you’d like to join me in my study?” She offered.
“Certainly,” Mendleson quietly followed Ter’ up the stairs and down the long hallway to her father’s study. Her mind raced faster with each step. What could this visit mean? Perhaps he wants to discuss the air purifiers? That was the only probable answer she could conceive. Once inside Ter’ took her place in her father’s ancient chair.
Mendleson sat across from her and as an afterthought stood and quietly closed the door to the chamber before returning to his seat. This act caught Ter’ by surprise. Her imagination began to run wild. The anticipation was nearly more than she could bear. Patience had never been Ter’s strong suit. Her father had on numerous occasions told her, “Good things come to those who wait my sweet impatient daughter.”
Mendleson could see how anxious she had become and at this he grinned, “Your father told me of your impatience. I can see he was not wrong in his description nor was he wrong when he told me of the goodness of your heart. You are the most loved of all the Lords and Ladies of our world. You’ve filled your home with the infirm and this has not gone unnoticed. If that fool king we have would have been half as wise as your father we probably wouldn’t be in such dire straits.” He paused a moment.
His words had shocked her. Other than that long ago night she had never heard anyone speak badly of the king. “Lord Mendleson I don’t understand.” His comments had only added to her anxiety. She was nearly bouncing in her chair by this point.
“Please Ter‘Mari, if I may, I’d prefer if we dispensed with formalities I find it quit droll and pompous.” He grinned as he spoke. “Your father told me you feel much the same way.”
She knew then that this man and her father had been much more than colleagues, they had been friends. Ter’ decided she liked him as well. It was quite odd to hear someone of such a high position speak in this manner. “I didn’t know that you and my father were so close.”
“We spent many years working together. We spent countless long days as young men laboring on those damnable air purifiers which do little more than prolong our people’s suffering. Then as Lords of the realm we worked ever so tirelessly attempting to fix the problem with the toxicity levels in our homes.” He paused briefly; his skin was paler than usual even for someone who’d spent forty one years below ground. He began to cough and the sound made Ter’ cringe. She ran out of the office to get him a drink. The coughing had passed when she returned a few moments later but the strain it had taken was visible. “Thank you.” He said gratefully as she handed him the water.
She knew the signs all too well. Her father had coughed like that. It was a scenario which was being repeated by many at that very moment all throughout the subterranean kingdom. She knew this man had maybe six months tops but only if he remained in the pure air of Tiernon Manor. “You could stay here. The air here will ease the coughing fits.”
“My dear child you try so hard to save everyone don’t you? “ He looked at her with a sad knowing smile that made her feel uneasy. She imagined that perhaps his visit had nothing at all to do with the air purifiers. “You can’t save them. Not even half. I am most saddened to tell you that you will only save two dozen if you are lucky. I am sorry it has to be me to tell you this. I feel like the executioners errand boy. I’m guessing you thought I was here about the air purifiers but I am not. I am here to impart the greatest secret of our people on to you as your father passed it to me nearly twenty years ago. Dear girl I am here to tell you about the ship.” He could see the light of recognition in her eyes.
“The ship? I woke with that thought in my head this morning. I was thinking of my mother and father and I remembered them talking and yes my mother had said, ‘The ship.’” Ter’ was nearly overwhelmed. What ship? She couldn’t get the words out.
“You’ve read the archives of our ancestors and our history from the time they landed here. You know of the darkening and the death of all life on the surface but there is a second history unknown by all but a few. There have never been more than ten people who’ve known about what I’m going to tell you at any given time. Our king was not deemed worthy to know what you are about to hear.” He began to cough again but far worse this time and she realized that she had been wrong. Six months was a far too optimistic guess, this man wouldn’t last the month.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Although her question was sincere she knew there was nothing that could be done.
He waved her off and after a few more grueling minutes the coughing stopped and as he gained his composure he began again. “After the darkening and we fled below the surface some of our people decided that we needed to find a way off of this planet. Others argued that we could survive indefinitely below ground. Humans were not meant to live in holes. We evolved on a planet with sunshine and fresh air. This is no life. Yes it’s all we’ve known since birth but just look in a mirror. You my child were a blessing because it was your birth that changed it all. Your father was a brilliant architect and engineer, this you knew but he was so much more. Your father was also an incredible inventor and rocket scientist.” He chuckled as her jaw went slack. Ter’ had the funniest dumbfounded look on her pretty face. He couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Then he resumed with a more serious tone. “He worked himself into and early grave so that you my dear wouldn’t have to. Ter’Mari you were the catalyst that drove him and in turn drove us all to finish a secret project that has been underway since our star went dark.”
“That was nearly two thousand years ago.” She stammered.
“Yes child it was. This project was kept secret because of fools like our great king. They felt safe below ground. They ignored the data the scientist had gathered before having to flee and leave their equipment. We had been here nearly a thousand years and so many restrictions were put on our advancement because the people in charge believed that we would end up destroying our atmosphere the same way we destroyed the earths. So there was no advancement in some areas of science at all. They preserved the ship which brought us but the components were cannibalized for other projects. They left only the hull but thank the Gods someone had the foresight to save the schematics.” He paused. He was terribly winded and needed to catch his breath before he triggered another coughing spasm.
She softly spoke. “My father built a ship?” She was asking herself more than Mendleson. “So these people secretly began an aerospace program?” She remembered that when her father would take her flying it was always late at night which she never found odd at the time but it made plenty of sense now. “He was testing his ship and teaching me to fly wasn’t he?” She let slip out louder than her earlier question.
“Yes child. More than anything he wanted you to not be afraid of flight. Remember when he told you the craft was broken and he couldn’t fix it? It was needed elsewhere. We were testing various alloys for the hull of the ship and your little bird was a perfect test craft. We tested fuel mixes and hull density. We had the schematics for a fully functional spacecraft but we had no clue how to build the individual components. So we experimented. We’ve lost good people to accidents. You must understand we knew it could be achieved but we had no definitive instructions on how to do these things. A great deal of our scientific information brought from earth was lost during the solar radiation storms. We had to all but start from scratch. The fools tried so hard to make this planet a utopia that they stifled any chance of escape if something went wrong and regrettably it did.” He paused briefly.
“How many people can we take with us? Where will we go? How long before we can return to get more people?” She was growing more and more excited having forgotten Mendleson’s earlier words.
“I told you Ter’Mari if we try and put any more than twenty-two people on board then there is a chance that none of you would make it to your destination.” His expression was grim.
“Well ok then we can only take twenty-two at a time. That’s not the greatest but we will just have to make more trips.” She was ever optimistic.
“Ter’Mari I need you to understand that this is a one way trip.” She began to argue and he cut across before she could get a single word out. “When our ancestors set out on this journey it was understood that it was one way and one way only. There was never a plan to go back or to ever try and join up with the other settlers strewn across the galaxy. I am afraid that this is the case here Ter’.” He watched as her already troubled expression grew even dimmer.
“The men and women who came here traveled for forty years. They were young when they left and they were rotated in and out of cryogenic stasis. So in a period of forty years they each only aged ten. The ship we’ve built is exactly like the ship that brought them here only much smaller. One of the major obstacles was that we had no raw materials with which to build. The proper alloys needed to build such a machine were very rare on this planet and the fact that the surface is now uninhabitable and incapable of supporting life made gathering these materials that much harder. You couldn’t survive on the surface for more than a minute unprotected.” He could see she was on the verge of tears.
“These purifiers weren’t an experiment for our survival were they? They were prototypes for this ship?” She couldn’t continue for fear of completely breaking down.
“Yes my dear. You were picked to be our representative on this mission. There is something more I have yet to tell you. First let me explain as to how and why I know what I am about to tell you. Your father kept these things from you knowing your impulsiveness would have you jumping head first into this project. He knew that your heart would end up being your undoing and in an attempt to save everyone you would not even be able to save yourself.” The words burned her and he saw it. “I am sorry. If you can save twenty-two then twenty-two you must save. It’s a hard fact Ter’ but it is the truth. Since the start of this secret endeavor we’ve had many triumphs and many failures. The earlier members tried with some degree of success to start settlements on the surface. Many lives were lost and many resources were expended but they did eventually manage to build a fortified settlement. It was quite small but from inside they were able to observe our star.
This fool king and his ilk have clung to their facts and say that we have many thousands of years before the end but I am sad to say the end has already begun. There were twenty two planets in this solar system when we first left the surface. When the first settlement was built there were twenty-two. In your short life time seven of the twenty-two have broken apart. Since the darkening it would seem our orbit has slowed. The seven planets which have been destroyed are closer to our star and had quicker orbits. The earthquake that collapsed the thermal vent in my quadrant wasn’t a random occurrence. It was just the beginning. The earthquake coincided with the destruction of the planet closest to our orbit. Each year our star grows denser and it’s slowly pulling our planet as well as all the other planets closer to it. Our calculations show that in six months and four days our planet will be in the same orbit as the seven already destroyed planets. It is our belief that we shall share the same fate.”
Lord Mendleson was given a room after a bit of jostling around of some of the children. He looked a haggard mess as Ter’ bade him good night. She saw the look of death on his face. It sent a chill down her spine she fought to conceal. It was a look she found was easily recognizable once seen on the face of one you hold dear. She almost felt bad for the relentless questioning she had given him. She wanted to know everything about this ship they had built. She couldn’t conceive of only saving twenty two people.
He had informed her that there would be a crew of seven plus herself and the rest would be the healthiest children from their world. This was unacceptable to her saving only fourteen children, but she had learned to keep her objections to herself. Ter’ quietly thanked her father. She knew that this man would not be alive at the launch so she would be the ranking official over the project and she was going to find a way.
It was late but there would be little time for sleep now. Not with so many little lives at stake. She went down into the recesses of Tiernon Manor to her father’s old workshop. There was a terminal with access to the palaces data base. She needed information and she needed it now. She was aware that all access logs to the main terminal were monitored but she was known to access random information at late hours when she couldn’t sleep it was never questioned.
The first thing she downloaded was the original mission files for the ship which had carried her people three thousand years ago. The next were random files pertaining to that time period. Files she had no interest in but she wanted to make her downloads to appear random. Her next important files were the last surface aerial maps of the original city they had built just before the star had begun to emanate the dangerous radiation. Then along with that she downloaded many other non-essential files. If there were inquiries she would just say it was for teaching purposes; she did have a house full of children. Yes the files were for them but not in the way she would make them believe.
She knew that Tiernon Manor sat below the old coliseum built in the style of the romans so she had a reference point to start from. There was so much to do and so little time. She knew what she had in mind was improbable and there was a chance she wouldn’t live through what she intended but she had to know. Was the original ship still there? How badly had the millennia damaged it? Was it salvageable? She was certain that even if she located the ship there would be no real way to fix it in time but she had to know. She would try until the last second and if only twenty two made it off this planet, twenty one would be children with one person to fly it.
She had no intentions of keeping a seat for herself. She was Lady of House Tiernon and no one on this planet save the king himself could question her word. Mendleson assured her that she would be apprised of all the pertinent data regarding the mission the following week when he returned but at this she scoffed. “You just told me about my father’s secret project and expect me to sit here waiting a week to learn more. No sir! I am coming with you.”
Despite his many arguments and misgivings about his already odd behavior having come so far in his condition without a royal decree, she refused to budge. He quickly learned when Lady Ter’Mari of House Tiernon had made up her mind there was no changing it. She didn’t know how to accept the word “no.”
They left together the next morning under the guise that Ter’ wished to see the conditions of the west and its people. Bondy knew better. When she had come in to wake Ter’ she was shocked to find her awake and packed for a journey. Her bed was not slept in and Bondy realized it was time. Bondy with tears on her wrinkled cheeks embraced Ter’ with a strength Ter’ didn’t expect. Ter’ was caught off guard and her cheeks were soon moist with her own tears.
Ter’ began to speak but Bondy hushed her, “Sweet miss I know where you are going and I know why. Mendleson’s presence here will surely be noted by now. I am most certain Lord Rasten sent an emissary to the king the moment Mendleson arrived to recharge his caravan and to take rest. That means the king knew Lord Mendleson was coming here before he crossed our threshold. There will be inquiries and you know how big a fool Vilathorn is. His father and his father before him were thought to be the biggest fools that palace had ever seen but Vilathorn proved them wrong. A bigger fool has yet to be born!” She spat the last sentence and Ter’ couldn’t suppress the giggle it elicited.
“Oh dear Bondy, you’ve kept this secret too? How long have you known?” Ter’ was quite curious as to why even her lady in waiting knew what she had not.
“My father spent his entire life trying to perfect the fuel for that ship you’re about to get on. He’s the one who brung your father in on this project. He died in the pursuit of this mission and you my dear will see it through. All our hopes rest with you now sweet miss.” She hugged her again and walked out of the chamber.
Ter’ sat for a moment stunned and quickly she leapt to her feet and ran after Bondy. “Bondy please, do you know what is going to happen? Do you know about the seven planets? I can’t leave all these children behind! How could anyone expect me to be so cruel? How am I expected to choose so few from so many only to leave the rest to perish?” Ter’ was as close to hysterics as Bondy had seen her since she had become an adult. The sight of the bright eyed girl with so much love in her heart to be nearly crippled with grief nearly made Bondy cry out in pain.
“Oh dear child, yes I know all too well the plight we face. I can’t imagine what your heart must be feeling and I swear if I were a younger woman I’d bear this task with you but I am old sweet miss and my time like most of us here is coming to an end. Your dear father.” Bondy got stuck on the words and needed a moment to gain her composure before she could go on. “Your dear father knew you would not be able to accept taking so few. He even expected that you’d give up your place so that another could survive. I beg you for your mother and father’s sake go and if there is a way to save more, find it. But please sweet miss go. Your parents spent their entire lives making sure you were healthy. The men and women they are sending with you will not survive the journey. They are to get you going and to keep things in order as long as they are able. You miss are meant to survive because the young ones will need you when you arrive to keep them safe. You noticed even as a child you were different, healthier than all the rest. You stood out but that was for a reason. You’ve been given supplements your entire life. Your father and mother put everything into you. You’ve eaten better and lived better than anyone on this planet. Everything from the day you were born until now was all for this trip. It is what they wanted for you.” Bondy was growing winded, Ter’ helped her to a chair on the side of the corridor.
“It is unfair to put this all on you. From a small child you have been educated in our history. Yes all children know the basics but you are the first child ever to sit and read directly from the royal data base. Your father always smoothed over the access violations claiming he was doing research and there was naught else said. It was all for you. You needed to know our history as well as that of our ancient ancestors because if our race is to survive it will be you to make it come to pass.” Ter’ stood there, tears drying on her cheeks, red eyes glazed over shocked at all Bondy had just told her.
The trip was long and slow. On the third day they stopped at house Reston and to their surprise Lord Reston was not there to greet them. Lord Mendleson’s caravan only consisted of two vehicles each powered by ancient batteries that needed recharging only after two hundred miles. They were told to have lasted a full thousand miles on a single charge when they had been new many ages ago. These were even a luxury to the royalty of this subterranean tomb. The thought made her shiver, but she couldn’t shake it. Each face they passed on the king’s road further enforced her sad conclusion. All these people and all they love will soon be gone. No it’s no tomb, they will not have the dignity of a tomb they will be ripped apart and flung into space along with this god’s forsaken planet. She quietly wept not wanting to arouse suspicion from her driver. She was in the second vehicle and Mendleson in the first as per custom. She must act as a Lady and not give any sign that something was amiss.
Lord Reston had left word that Lord Mendleson be given every courtesy of his home and despite the generosity of House Reston both Mendleson and Ter’ felt uneasy about his absence. She knew they had nearly two full days left before they would be free to speak without unwanted ears nearby. The suspense was taking its toll on Ter’. This was obvious to Mendleson and he said only one thing in regards to their deception. “Two thousand years Ter’, you can survive two more days.” He grinned and made no more mention of their true intent.
As they supped the two spoke only of living conditions, water treatment, and air purification. Each certain their every word was being recorded by Reston’s all too eager staff. They made haste with departing house Reston as soon as they had each feigned a nap. They were more concerned that the batteries were ready for the last leg of the journey. It was 382 miles from Tiernon Manor to Mendleson Manor and they each intended to make the trip as quickly as possible.
The workers they passed on the road haunted Ter’. They all work so tirelessly for our survival completely oblivious to the impending doom of this planet and everyone on it. “In it,” she nearly scoffed aloud catching herself as she noticed the driver watching her over his shoulder. “Lady, are you well?” He asked innocently.
“Yes, sorry just thinking aloud is all. I have a great deal on my mind.” She scolded herself quietly; she needed to keep it together. She had never felt so torn in all her young life.
To the relief of Ter’ they could see Mendleson Manor in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold. She had never traveled to the west in all her years but she had seen pictures. It was carved completely in the side of a great wall nearly 300 feet high. She had studied the diagrams of the great elevators which rose all the way to the grand courtyard nestled at the very top. Massive artificial lights had been installed which were used to grow the algae the people in this quadrant survived on. She had never known anything other than these algae and wondered if it tasted the same to others as it did to her. Bondy’s words echoed in her mind. “Supplements,” She had read of such things in her studies and almost surprised herself as she started recounting all the things she did know about food and harvesting. Facts she had tucked away in her mind never really believing they held much value. Hadn’t her mother been extensive with her education of things she felt were unnecessary?
The responsibility of education was bore by their parents. If your father were an engineer then you would be an engineer. It was only the royal families who had any choice in the career paths they chose. Her mother had been a Buren far from the south and had studied medicine and botany from the time she was a small child. She had married her father when she was only 16 and he had been 15. Royals only married royals and that was a tradition that went back even before the darkening. A great deal of their history was lost as her people fled the radiation but it was believed the king descended from the captain of the ship which brought them here but those records had not been completely salvaged. Names were augmented over the generations to give them a more royal air but Ter’s father had assured her their name is the same as our ancestor who boarded that ship three thousand years ago. Ter’ had set out at one point to find out the names of the crew and passengers of the ship which brought her ancestors over but it was incomplete. She spent weeks going through the data until one day she found an entry that sent her flying up the stairs and through Tiernon Manor raving like she had gone mad.
She had to suppress a giggle at this memory. She had only been ten at the time and as excited as she was her father wasn’t home so her excitement had to wait. She had found Bondy and for the next hour as Bondy prepared their dinner went on and on about Ensign Matthew Tiernon. She had found proof that yes her ancestor was definitely on the ship and he was a crew member.
To her surprise the caravan drove right into the great elevator and before she knew it they were rising quite rapidly towards the summit. The pictures hadn’t done justice to the immense size of Mendleson Manor. She felt like one of those ants she had studied as a child. She felt tiny and insignificant in the face of such a massive structure. The driver casually spoke. “Impressive isn’t it, it was under construction in one form of another for over 300 hundred years. It is the tallest structure on the entire planet”
Ter’ already knew this but she smiled acknowledgment at the driver just the same. Ter’ was extremely impressed as the elevator rose she became dizzy watching the people grow smaller as she ascended. She had to look away. The driver noticed and smiled at her. She thought he was attractive; more so than most of the men she encountered. He had to be in his thirties and already showing signs of the illness that all eventually fall to. Despite his warm smile her heart sank and she knew he was just another who would soon parish in the great cataclysm.
At the summit they drove through the seemingly endless algae fields and after five minutes they had arrived at the entrance to the great hall. It had a carved archway with intricate patterns which appeared almost delicate in design. She thought if her mission weren’t so dire she could spend days wandering this place admiring the ancient stonework and beautiful carvings.
At last the trip were through and she was about to start battering Lord Mendleson with questions until she saw the state he was in. They hadn’t stopped in hours and though he hadn’t looked well from the time he arrived at Tiernon Manor he looked far worse now.
“My dear Lady Tiernon, please forgive an old man.” Ter’ thought a forty one year old calling himself old was ludacris but isn’t that what he was, old? Bondy nearly seventy could run laps around this poor soul. “Perhaps I was hasty in my misgivings about your visit. It would seem the hour is later than I had thought. Your impertinence it seems has served us well. I doubt I could make that trek a second time.”
“Take your rest kind sir I am certain your attendants can see to my needs.” She was worried. He seemed to have aged ten years since they set out. She wondered if he would make it through the night much less the week.
“We’ve much to discuss. As soon as I am settled I will send for you.” With that he left aided by two younger men neither of which were the picture of health. She felt tightness in her breath; it had started not long after they passed through Reston’s lands. It was if the air was heavier here and she supposed that maybe that and not just the height had made her dizzy.
She was guided to a luxurious guest chamber where she quickly settled in for a nap. Despite her excitement she was truly exhausted and she knew she had better rest while she was able.
Ter’ woke to a knock at the door. It was the handsome driver, he was all warm smiles. He brought her an iced pitcher of water. This she graciously accepted. She had awoken with an acrid smell in her nose and her tongue seemed to have soured in her mouth. The attendant noticed the way she gulped the bitter liquid and spoke. “It’s the air here Lady Tiernon I am sorry for the discomfort. It has grown worse at an alarming rate.” His tone was sullen and Ter’ thought perhaps even sad. Did he know?
“Once you are ready I’ve been instructed to take you to Lord Mendleson’s private dining chamber.” He turned and dismissed himself.
“I need just a moment.” Ter’s mind was racing and her heart was breaking. She had known of the destruction to come for five days but she could not combat the distress she was feeling. No, her distress had not abated but had only grown exponentially worse. To her every minute was a waste and yet here she sat on this bed wishing she could pull the covers over her head and forget the world as she would do as a child when she had been upset or frightened at a noise in the night. She stared at the closed door and realized for the first time in her life that she was terrified. It was a feeling as alien to her as she imagined bathing in real water would be.
The fear wrapped around her squeezing all that was good out of her. She felt she’d never know joy again. “God’s Ter’ you have to get up and do this. What would people think if they saw you sitting here cowering on this bed like a child?” She mocked herself and in doing so she found strength in one word, “Child.” From somewhere in the pit of her stomach she felt a stubborn burst of courage and she could have sworn she heard her father sigh as he did when she did something that made him smile. “The children,” she spoke aloud as she rose.
Lord Mendleson to her dismay looked no better than at their last meeting. Ter’ hadn’t considered the air when she had thought of his returning. He looked bad at Tiernon Manor but here he looked down right ghostly. He quietly spoke with a strained but pleasant smile, “My dear Ter’ your offer to stay at Tiernon Manor was a great temptation I must admit. It seemed I had reversed the effects of this accursed toxicity. It would seem my condition has advanced further now than it was when I first departed. It was as your mother had surmised. It was her hypothesis that once exposed for too long there would be no chance that the body could heal itself. It seems that clean air can at least alleviate the symptoms briefly but not stop the deterioration.”
Ter’ had tears in her eyes. She had witnessed the two people she held most dear die in this manner and even though she hadn’t had the time to get close to Lord Mendleson she truly liked him and couldn’t stop the tears. “I am sorry.”
“I’ve no doubt you are my dear but a difference it does not make. My lungs will fill and I will go like all the rest.” He weighed what he was preparing to say knowing it would sting Ter’ but the time for coddling had passed. “Just as your mother and father and everyone I’ve ever loved and everyone they loved.”
His words did have an effect on Ter’ but she hadn’t flinched. He had made no offense he had only spoken a cruel and tragic truth. The air was a worry for the dead not the living. That time had come and had passed and though they had tried all they had managed to do was keep their people alive like moles in a hole. No one had lived in over two thousand years. They had only survived. Ter’ began to speak but caught herself and nervously looked at the man who had apparently been assigned to her. Mendleson noticed and grinned, “Ah sorry this is Lanon he’ll be aiding you while you’re here and he has been apprised of our situation. He’s been an extremely helpful addition to our efforts. We’ve broken more than a few of our oldest rules regarding the ship. A necessary evil when haste is the priority.”
She surveyed Lanon in her trademark fashion and at her piercing gaze he began to fidget and blush. She jerked away when she realized she had been staring far longer than she had any right.
“I imagine you two will be spending a great deal of time together the next few months. You have many things to see and even more to learn Ter’. Lanon is going to help you.” Mendleson began to cough like before but this time he wasn’t able to stop. Lanon shouted down the corridor and more men rushed in and carried him away on a stretcher like the ones her mother had used. Like the one her mother was placed on when she died and just the same as her fathers. She couldn’t shake the chill this brought on.
Lanon could see the distress the scene had caused her and he made an attempt to console her but she waved him off. “I’m ok. Let’s get to work.” He led her through passage after passage moving deeper and deeper into Mendleson Manor and after ten minutes they arrived at what seemed to be a blank wall with passages heading in three directions. Ter’ thought without a guide an intruder could get lost in there for hours. It was like the Minotaur’s labyrinth she had read of as a child. Lanon looked left, right, and then back the way they had come and as she was about to ask he pushed in a concealed panel she hadn’t even seen it had been so cleverly carved.
The air was the first thing she noticed. It wafted out around her in a cool rush. It was fresh and she reveled in it. They quickly stepped inside and the large stone door banged shut. It was quit ingenious. She recognized the craftsmanship; it had been built in much the same fashion as the massive elevators.
As ingenious as the door had been to her nothing had prepared her for what she saw as she passed under a skillfully carved archway leading into a massive chamber. The fresh air had made her a bit unsteady on her feet but the sight of the massive craft was far more impressive than anything she had ever seen.
Lanon gripped her elbow as she nearly fell. “Lady Tiernon please be careful, we need you.” She had indeed nearly toppled over staring nearly straight up at the behemoth craft. She placed her hand on his and held it a long moment as she continued to gaze upward. She had seen the photos of the ship which had brought her ancestors to this world but she couldn’t fathom what must have been sacrificed to construct such a craft on a world with nearly no access to natural resources.
She became aware that she was touching Lanon and a it occurred to her that she had never touched a man other than her father and the occasional accidental brushes but she had never even so much as held a man’s hand. Lanon’s hand was course and rough against the soft flesh of her palm. His touch was warm and before she realized she was no longer focused on the craft but was staring blankly across the cavernous hall only thinking of his touch.
She flushed as she looked up into his eyes, “Ter’, please call me Ter’, and thank you.” She slowly removed her hand from his and immediately longed to touch this man, pull him close and press her lips to his. The flush worsened as they started towards the back of the hall where a group of haggard over worked men were preparing a sparse meal and talking quietly. She couldn’t shake the desire Lanon had woke in her. She felt strange almost alien in her own skin but she liked what she was feeling. She had to focus on the task at hand; that was to save as many children as she could. Everything else had to wait.
The men almost hadn’t noticed as she approached. Once aware they all leapt to their feet. “Lady Tiernon they all spoke nearly simultaneously.” They each gave a cursory bow.
“Please, let that be the end of this pompous drivel. My name is Ter’Mari, and I prefer Ter’ so please be done with all this Lady and bowing nonsense.” Her comment almost seemed to confuse the men as if it was a trick and she found their reactions more than she could handle and began to laugh so loudly it echoed all around them.
Ter’ knew that to see a “Lady” act in such a manner must have been a sight to witness for people who had spent their entire lives kowtowing to Ladies and Lords. They adhered to ancient customs she felt outdated and foolish but she had been a servant to tradition her entire life just as they had been.
She caught her breath and coughed a few times then cleared her throat. “You guys really need to learn to relax.” It was a phrase she had picked up, as a child, from an ancient text about a young girl who solved mysteries. She had ran around Tiernon Manor using it on all she encountered enjoying the silliness of the sound of her own voice.
To this some of the men actually began to chuckle. “That’s better,” she beamed at them. None of the men present had ever met Ter’ but they knew right away that the choice they had made had been right. If she were to be the legacy of man they wanted someone who would be a kind and fair leader. Ter’s parents had trained her and had spent her entire life preparing her even without Ter’s knowledge but a decision still had to be made. The project had been worked on for many generations and many had given all to aid in its progress. Her father knew this but he had been right in knowing that she would be accepted because she had a mind for business and a heart for the people. Yes his daughter would lead as many as she was able and he had every faith that she would be successful. The others with a vote had agreed with Lord Tiernon and everything had been geared towards Ter’ leading the mission.
“Captain, if I may,” The voice came from a man wearing a strange silvery suit which she immediately recognized from the archives. It was a space suit. The man couldn’t have been more than thirty five but the lines on his face said eighty. “I’m Arnon; I am in charge of getting this ship in the air and off this planet.” His eyes were stern and she could see this man was all business. She felt like a child again. She felt she was about to get reprimanded for being disruptive during one of her mother’s many lessons on botany. The reprimand hadn’t come but she now knew what Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole.
“Captain,” she said befuddled. She hadn’t realized she was going to be the first captain in three thousand years. Vilathorn would be thrilled, this thought made her grin. “Yes Arnon, let’s begin.”
Ter’ spent the next six hours going over the ship with Arnon; she at several points had to stare in wonder at the sheer capacity of this man’s brain. He seemingly knew everything about everything. He too had marveled at how Ter’ absorbed the information as quickly as he could recount it. Ter’ was surprised at how much she knew about the technology. He father had been an integral part of the design team and she had studied engineering under his tutelage for nearly her entire life. Ter’ was an extremely brilliant designer in her own right. She had for fun built many gadgets and she had built twice as many more beyond the assignments her father had given her.
Now more than ever her seemingly directionless education made sense to her. They were training me to survive on a ship for a very long time with limited resources. She understood how to maintain and operate the air purifiers. The algae hydroponics system she could have built by the time she was eight. The only truly alien component to her on the ship was navigation. This Arnon made clear would take her months to truly grasp and she showed no signs of distress at this news only an eagerness to get underway.
She had paused as the thought of how selfless her parent’s actions had truly been. She had been trained in medicine, botany, alchemy, engineering, electronics, hydroponics, ceramics, and many other things she had found funny but now they all seemed to make sense. She felt her cheeks warm and her eyes begin to moisten. She could see her mother’s ceramic work on some of the larger electrical components. They had used these ceramic parts as insulators.
Arnon noticed Ter’s reaction and quickly he understood. “I loved your mother and father as if they had been my own family. Sometimes it is hard to look around this ship and see the work of so many I cared about. Good people who are no longer here to see their work come to fruition. All I can say is that they did this for you and for the survival of our race. This ship was built by love and paid for with lives. You remember that and you tell your children their stories. Remember us and live that is all we ask.” Such sweet words from this stern man caused Ter’ to let a few tears fall but his words had instilled her with a purpose.
Arnon busied himself for a moment on an open circuit housing allowing Ter’ a moment to gain her composure. They continued their tour after a few moments. Ter’ was silently keeping a running total and estimate of everything that she could remove from the ship without effecting its operation. This she kept to herself, she would inform the rest once she were fully prepared with a plan of action.
The tour concluded with the inspection of the small hangar bay which held the small plane her father had taken her up in so many times when she were a child. It was decisively different than she remembered. Arnon noticed her deep interest in the changes. “This bird has been built and rebuilt over twenty times. It has been to space.”
“My father,” she began but was stopped.
“No, it was Lord Mendleson’s son Elton.” Arnon replied with a grave expression.
“I never met him. I heard he died in a fall exploring the forbidden caves.” Ter’ replied.
“That’s what was publicly announced, but there was a faulty seal. He began to lose compression, it was a small leak but it was enough. Although he managed reentry the damage was already done. He is a hero; with his dying breaths he saved the ship and landed just above this structure where it could be safely retrieved.” Ter’ listened intently as Arnon had conveyed the story. How many people had died for this over the millennia she was afraid to ask but she must know. A history must be kept. She will never let anyone forget what had been done and sacrificed by so many for so few to live.
“Vilathorn called Elton’s death a foolish act and refused to have a royal burial at the palace which has been tradition since our time began here. Lord Mendleson has never forgiven him this trespass. Elton did more for the people of this world than the past two dozen kings combined. They care for nothing but their serving girls and that damnable paste they consume.” Arnon nearly spat the words and quickly regained his composure, “Lady Tiernon, please forgive my vulgar language.”
Giggling Ter’ countered, “Oh no dear Arnon, anytime you wish to make me laugh at that fools expense feel free. I encourage vulgarity whenever I speak of our most humble King Vilathorn.” She bowed low as she spoke Vilathorn’s name and at this Arnon couldn’t stop his own laughter from escaping.
Ter’s brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the day. After Arnon had completed the tour of the ship she began to pour over the records which had been kept for generations but were noticeably more focused in recent decades. She gleaned the older records but found little that would aid her in her ultimate mission.
The records of her father’s involvement were what she was most concerned with. They hadn’t even begun construction until fifteen years ago. Luckily the predecessors had taken to stockpiling whatever materials could be salvaged from the surface and the rare deposits sometimes found in the forbidden caverns. The caverns were unsteady and prone to collapse. The caverns were ordered forbidden many generations ago by one Vilathorn or another for whatever whim they had at that moment.
It hadn’t thwarted the efforts of the ship builders. That’s what they called themselves in secret when really only those involved in the past fifteen years had an actual hand in building a ship. Ter’ noticed that these men though content and seemingly happy were extremely serious about their work. They were healthier than most she encountered and they worked nonstop.
There was no end of the day or beginning of the day for them they just worked while they were awake and if they needed to rest they would rest. They worked like no men she had ever seen; tirelessly and selflessly. She had been glued to the data viewer where they had meals for nearly eight hours. She had to stretch and eat. She was famished and realized she hadn’t eaten in days. She saw a makeshift cold cabinet in the corner. As she opened it she was surprised to see that it was actually working. Arnon happened to notice her curiosity. “It’s something isn’t it?” She looked up smiling as in answer to her query. “This is the system for cryogenics. At least this was one of your father’s miniature models. We’ve expanded but it’s taken a combined effort and over fifty years to perfect this technology even with instructions from the ancients.”
Ter’ was impressed it was as advanced a piece of technology as she had ever seen in person but yes she had studied cryogenics as well. “I always pondered why I the daughter of a Lord in a subterranean kingdom would need to understand cryogenics. So much makes sense to me now.”
After a quick meal of algae and water she buried herself back in the archives. She stayed glued to the screen until her eyes betrayed her intent and she were no longer able to force them open. She slept. She dreamed of strange moons with clouds of red and green. She saw animals unlike those from the stories and history lessons, but these seemed to be from a surrealistic nightmare but there was no fear in her dream. There was no fear in her. Even as she slept she felt her purpose, her mission, and her destiny were divine and that neither hand of man nor claw of beast would sway her from her duty.
Ter’ jumped up from the table ready to fight some unnamed horror from her sleep only to find herself standing alone near the giant ship. Her viewer tipped over and her things were scattered about the floor. She had believed she were alone but just as she began to right her viewer she saw Lannon approaching. The sight of him excited her. She felt a wave of passion flow through her body and the closer he got the more she ached.
“Lady Tiernon, are you well?” He was earnest in his asking. She could tell he was a kind soul. Despite very little conversation on the trip from Tiernon Manor he had not let an opportunity to address her wellbeing pass. His constant coddling made her feel cherished.
“Ter’, please call me Ter’.” She wanted him so badly and she didn’t care that royalty didn’t mix with commoners. All she knew was this man before her was all she wanted right now and nothing was going to stop her from having him.
“Yes my Lady, as you wish.” He started to bow and she reached out and grabbed his shoulder to stop the motion. He was strong and despite looking sickly before the oxygen rich cavern seemed to refresh him. He no longer appeared sickly but virile and healthy.
Yes she wanted him and in the face of certain disaster and her current situation who would stop her? “No one,” she whispered aloud as she wrapped her arms around Lannon’s neck and kissed him deeply. Her first real kiss and she enjoyed it more than she had ever imagined. Lannon did not try to stop her. He had wondered since the second he had lain eyes on her what it would be like to kiss someone so beautiful. He was frightened of her. To him meeting a Lady who carried herself and spoke in such a manner was akin to seeing an actual angel walking down the king’s road. She was an anomaly and he was already in love before she had pressed her lips to his.
“Take me to my room please.” Ter’ had decided and when Lady Tiernon made a decision it was set in stone.
Ter’ made her intentions clear when they reached her chambers. She did not speak, she only guided him through the doorway by the hand and once the door had closed she again kissed him deeply. He stood almost stunned watching as she disrobed. Lannon’s eyes were glued upon Ter’s and he too let his tunic fall to the floor. They each in turn examined the others nakedness. He had never seen a woman so alive and healthy. There were other beautiful women in Mendleson Manor but in comparison to Ter’ they no longer existed. He knew that she had been trained and nourished far better than any other and he could see the results before him.
Ter’ felt her face catch fire as she traced the naked man in front of her with her eyes. Her breathing was deeper and she could barely stand the heat rising up from inside. He seemed to be chiseled from pure white stone. Each and every muscle stood out. She could see he needed to gain a few pounds but to her and for her he was perfect. Her eyes went lower and Lannon could see the look she quite often gave things she was studying and he also began to flush.
Ter’ noticed his nervousness and reached out to him. He joined her on the bed each lying quietly staring into the others eyes. Ter’ broke the silence first. “I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I have never seen a man unclothed before.” As she said this she felt a bit embarrassed. “Have you been with a woman?” She asked timidly.
“I was married but I lost my wife to the cough two years ago.” He had a solemn air in his voice.
Ter’ using her hand traced the outline of his face. Yes he is handsome she thought. She rubbed his chest tracing the lines his muscles made below the skin. She was growing more curious and anxious with each touch. Lannon was still quite nervous by what was happening. He other than his wife had never wanted someone so badly in his entire life yet he was frightened to touch her.
She sensed his hesitation and she guided his hand to her lips where she kissed his fingers and smiled the sweetest smile he had ever seen. The look in her eyes and the desire for her overcame his misgivings. She may have been inexperienced but she was no child. Ter’ set out with the same overwhelming passion she applied to every aspect of her life.
Ter’ dozed wrapped in Lannon’s arms that night. In the morning she woke to find him dressing, but she pulled him back into bed naked. She was not yet satiated. Ter’ knew sadly what was to come. He would not be allowed on the ship and even she couldn’t argue taking a man who may be irrevocably ill in place of a child who might have a chance.
As they lay together naked she realized that she had never felt this kind of closeness to any other person in her entire life. Two things occurred to Ter’, she loved this man and she would have to leave him to die. She cried silently in his arms until she fell back to sleep.
Lannon gently rubbed Ter’s shoulder. It was far later than she had intended sleeping. She rose slowly and wrapped her arms around his bare chest. She was shaking and he could hear her soft cries. Lannon knew why she was upset but he also knew he couldn’t allow Ter’ to lose focus on the mission at hand or their people would be doomed.
Ter’ began to speak but Lannon silenced her with a kiss. “I know beautiful why you are sad but there is no reason. I have had too many years in the bad air. This state I am in is nearly magical. I could barely breathe before I was brought in on this project. If I stayed two weeks outside this oxygen rich environment I would be choking on every breath and within two months I’d be bedridden. Your mother wrote the book on this condition I am certain you have read it. Not all follow the path but I am a very typical case. Following your mother’s pathology I have six months to live. Lord Mendleson is not so lucky. He will not live to see us launch.”
Ter’ knew that what he said was true. Her mother had “written the book,’ and there was no denying the inevitable fact that even under the best circumstances he would be gone before the year was out. She did not fight the tears which came. She knew that no one would have the chance to cry over him when the time came so she would let him see her love for him while she could.
“This is love?” She asked Lannon rhetorically and quickly continued, “This is love. How can it be I meet the first man I have ever loved only to get a few months with him? The god’s cruelty knows no limitations.” Her tears had stopped but the look of sadness never left her eyes as again she guided Lannon to her. Despite all that had to be done she pulled him close and as they indulged in each other’s passion she whispered I love you.”
Ter’ and Lannon’s arrival to the lab that afternoon had gone unnoticed. It was the way they functioned. Each man had a special area of expertise and toiled many hours alone. Being from a subterranean world it was easy to mix one’s days and nights. Ter’ was deep in thought. She hadn’t been descriptive; she had only said she had some ideas that needed to be discussed.
“How much faster could we work if each man had a twenty man crew under them?” She said to Lannon without ever removing her gaze from the ship.
“The progress would definitely increase exponentially but we mustn’t let that fool king get wind of what we are doing. He’ll have the castle guard at our door ready to shut this all down.” Lannon answered cautiously.
“The castle guard is a joke Lannon. Those fat fools wouldn’t make it a mile much less the entire march to Mendleson Manor.” Ter’ smiled as she told him this. Lannon laughed at her irreverence. Yes he knew there were no other women like her on the planet and he guessed even if every ship had survived the mass exodus of ancient Earth that there could be no one like her in the entire universe.
Lannon set out on his usual duties. He was more or less the glorified gopher of the project but his services were priceless. Each and everyone loved having him around. He wasn’t trained as royalty but he had worked with engineers his entire adult life and was one of the most mechanically inclined people Ter’ had met. He was adept at problem solving. His ability to look at things and not reference a text as she had studied with many unavailable options to her, he referenced his experience and looked for practical ways to solve the issues at hand with available resources.
Ter’ wondered had allowing only royalty to study been a dramatic hindrance to her people? “This is one rule that will be abolished if I am going to be the one to start over for our people.” She blurted aloud and jerked a little in her chair startling herself. She looked around to see had anyone heard her. She whispered, “They would think me mad.” Then she giggled.
Lannon had seen her busy in her work and thought it best to give her a wide birth not wanting to distract her. She did not eat when the others ate she was oblivious to their chatter as she worked. Her plans were ambitious and more than a little dangerous. She knew in council her ideas and plans were readily dismissed but here she hoped for a better audience. She was new and had a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps she could come up with another way that could save more lives.
That night it was her who found Lannon. He was busily insulating wire couplings by hand. It was an arduous task and he took his work very seriously. This was his go to position when not busy with the requests of the other workers. She hugged him from behind and as she laid her head on his shoulder he closed his eyes and savored the moment. They were very much in love and even Ter’, whom was a slave to her wild imagination, even found the situation a bit logically unsound, was blissfully happy for it.
“Can we go now?” Ter’ asked coyly and without words Lannon rose and kissed her forehead and took her hand and pulled her towards the door. She loved how he looked sat her. His gaze made her feel alive like there was no wrong in the world and that everything was going to be ok. She knew this to not be true but then and there as he smiled down at her she promised herself that no matter what she was not going to let her sadness overwhelm the time they had together.
They showered together in the bitter water. It emanated a smell when heated for the shower. Her whole life Ter’ had held a great distaste for the smell. For the first time she realized as they stood together enjoying the warmth spending far too much time according to a Vilathorn kingdom wide decree that she would miss this smell, she would miss him. Ter’ caught herself before she could let the reality set in. “Enjoy the moment while it’s here.” She spoke softly.
Ter’ could not remember a time in her life when she laughed so much. Lannon was her equal in every way. He was a bit of a smartass just as she was and for someone without access to literature as she had been, he was quite intelligent. They laughed themselves to sleep and lay curled in each other’s arms. The next day they woke earlier. Ter’ had insisted, but still couldn’t resist yanking Lannon back into bed for another half hour before they set out for the day.
Ter’ spent the next twelve hours poring over schematics, maps and lists of the workers in Mendleson’s quadrant as well as her own. The night was wonderfully the same as it had been the previous evening and they woke at the same time and started their day in much the same way, they each had an untamable smile as they parted ways for the new days’ work.
The third day Ter’ spent just as the first two and before she and Lannon fell asleep that night she told him, “Tomorrow I’m going to call a meeting. I’ve spent three days coming up with a plan and let’s just hope they take me seriously.”
“I’ve no doubt my dear that they will not take you any way but seriously.” With that he kissed her and they each slept soundly.
Ter’s plan was unorthodox and went against every secrecy rule put in place many ages ago by her predecessors. Ter’ realized that they could proceed as originally planned and save a dozen and that would be commendable but she wasn’t looking for commendable she was searching for a miracle in the texts and from her people. “This needs to be a combined effort or we could all perish.” She said to no one, as she studied her presentation.
She knew that to travel to a new world with so few could be folly. With so few they could easily be wiped out by disease or any number of natural sources even predators. They needed strength to pull off mission success and what had she read somewhere in an old magazine file? “Strength in numbers,” as she said this, Ter’ smiled as the first few attendees for the meeting approached.
Arnon was the last to arrive. He stood ominously at the rear of the chamber they met in. Ter chose it for the lengthy conference table but more so for the large view screen mounted on the wall. Ter’ had designed extremely detailed and intricate plans for what she had in mind. “Please Arnon take a seat this, is going to be a lengthy presentation. I know you have been warned that I may be a bit impulsive but I assure you that if it becomes apparent that any of my ideas are going to hamper our mission then they will be scratched. I’m not up here giving orders. I am up here because as many of you know I was specially trained for this, a fact I wasn’t even privy to. So I beg of you gentlemen a few hours of your time to hear what I have come up with would be stupendously appreciated. I do not mean to stand up here and discredit generations of work and loss. I am a fresh set of eyes and sorry to say gentlemen it is quite obvious none of you has set foot outside this place in ages.” As she finished Ter’ gave them her brightest smile and all were silent except Arnon.
“We are listening Lady Ter.’” Hearing him call her Lady Ter’ made her giggle. She loved the nickname and from that point on it stuck.
She began as earnestly and as passionately as she was able. “I have gone over every schematic and every diagram and in turn, every piece of data on all the test results simulated and actual. No matter what these numbers tell us we must find a way to save more. If I arrive at an alien planet capable of supporting human life there is a good chance other things will be living there too. One adult with twelve children on such a mission could be disastrous.”
Ter’ paused, waiting on the inevitable rebuttal, but none came. So she continued on offering ideas on decreasing the weight of the ship without decreasing stability or soundness. She believed that the decreased weight would allow for more passengers and a larger life support system. Ter’ talked nonstop and she was pleased to notice they all listened attentively and some even took notes. It was silent until she said, “What if we launched the ship empty and use the little ship to shuttle the passengers up. Perhaps we could build another. With help we’d have time?”
Two hours had passed since she began and Arnon as well as everyone else in the room realized that she had just turned their project upside down. Some of her ideas had been privately thought of but no one dared say them aloud. Ter’ wasn’t afraid of anyone, not with so much at stake. It was a matter of survival. She meant to survive and take as many people with her as possible. These forbidden thoughts were out and there was no forgetting them. Lady Ter’ had made up her mind and this was going to happen. She laughed and told Lannon, “I always get my way I was just humoring them by giving them a choice. “ Lannon gave her a quizzical look and she blurted as she began to laugh hysterically, “I was terrified.”
They had broken for lunch and reconvened shortly after. This was the discussion portion and she was still worried about what they would say.
Arnon cleared his throat and the room grew silent. “We need lots of folks you know?” He did not pause for an answer. “There will be repercussions and Vilathorn will come and he will try and stop us. His guard will be in tow and they will attack if we do not give in to his demands.” Again he cleared his throat. “I spoke to Lord Mendleson during our recess and I speak for him and myself both, when I say, To Hell with Vilathorn and his ilk!”
To this Ter’ breathed a deep sigh of relief and sank into her chair, the men cheered. “It’s going to happen.” Ter’ spoke with a single tear in each eye.
The next few days were a whirlwind. It was chaotic but necessary. There were heated discussions and much more laughter than ever before. Ter’ was pleased but growing more anxious with each day. Finally they met again this time out by the ship.
Arnon slowly began, “It would seem that if we built another shuttle designed for passengers and freight we could accommodate eighty passengers but and I say this regrettably there are some major obstacles to overcome. Life support adjustments will be a major issue, cryogenics, hydroponics, as well as fuel consumption, just to name a few.”
“We need kingdom wide cooperation. This is where it gets messy.” She gave Arnon a weak smile.
Lannon arranged a conference call with all four houses. Arnon spoke for house Mendleson. Arnon gave Ter’ an introduction and took a seat in front of his own viewer. Ter’ walked in front of the camera and nervously began.
“Lords and Ladies of the kingdom I have dire news. This planet and all who abide within shall be destroyed in a great cosmic event in less than six months.” There were gasps and she signaled Lannon who began sending the data supporting these horrifying claims. “You can see for yourself it is true. The king will view this is a traitorous act so I ask you to choose carefully how you act. We here are committed to this mission no matter the costs. It is the survival of our race I am concerned with not keeping Vilathorn happy.” There were a few gasps as she finished but she could have sworn just off camera she heard a young girl giggle.
She continued to explain how nothing less than a kingdom wide effort would allow them to succeed. “I trust you as the most highly educated of the realm will see the truth in this and aid in saving if not all at least some of our children. I will contact you each in twenty four hours. If I am not answered I will assume that is your answer and will begin our preparations for what is to come along.” Ter’s eyes were red and she was dead on her feet. The call had wiped what energy she had left out.
The next twenty four hours were going to be the longest of Ter’s life. She couldn’t eat or sleep. She was a mess. Even Lannon couldn’t lift her spirits even though he sweetly tried. Ter’ had given up on sleep and was lying in bed going over schematics passing the late hours as Lannon peacefully slept beside her. Just being near him gave her a sense of peace but the hour was late and even Lannon’s presence was having difficulty appeasing her worries. For fear of waking Lannon she went back to the ship. She needed room to pace and a place to be noisy without disturbing her what? She mused to herself. My lover? At this she smiled and spoke, “Yes my lover.”
She was oddly alone in the hangar. As big as it is you could pass the whole day with ten other people in there and barely see any of them, but it was truly deserted so she was brainstorming loudly and extremely animatedly as was her way. Her father had loved her quirks. He adored how she would find old sayings from ancient earth and use them until she got bored and found a new one to mimic. His all-time favorite he had told her was, “Right on!” It never failed to get a laugh out of him even years after she was grown.
The thought of her father made her feel alone and she couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be than curled up in Lannon’s arms. She slept soundly the rest of the night.