Part of this new chapter for of Book Three was the second half of chapter 3. I’ve moved it start its new chapter for dramatic effect, then I added more stuff. Check out the renovation and new addition to this chapter and please leave feedback on how I can improve it. I’d greatly appreciate your help in making this story the best it can be!
Terkeshi stirred. A solid ache ballooned in his skull. His eyes fluttered open. Spots of light blurred until thousands of them stabbed like needles. His breath hitched and his body jerked, snapping him to alertness in a blast of realization.
He was surrounded by trillions of lights yet smothered by the vast nothingness of space. His heart jumped to his throat. He windmilled his arms, looking for something—anything—to grasp onto. His pinky finger clipped something, but whatever it was probably floated out of reach. His body turned in agonizing slowness as every limb of his body swung about, hitting emptiness.
Something grabbed at his ankle. He pulled at it, but not to escape. To touch something without resistance sent a relieving sensation throughout his body.
As he pulled, he realized it was his tether. He bent his knee, lifting his leg until his hands grasped the cord.
The rapidity of his breath lessened to a pant as he pulled himself around to face the ship. He tugged hand over hand on the tether until he reached the lip of the crevice. His fingers clutched the rim and he paused until the beating of his heart returned to normal.
After verifying his tether was still secured, he took in the scene before him. The star scape rotated—or rather, the ship spun. The vessel appeared normal until he looked down inside.
The mangled scaffolding screamed ruination. Beams bent at awkward angles, resembling the arms of a twisted cybernetic monster. Debris floated nearby. Most of it was small but at least one panel four-times his size slowly spiraled away.
Someone in a spacesuit drifted upward from the crevice. Terk shoved off and met him halfway. Malkai greeted him with round, green eyes. His mouth moved but no sound transmitted. Terk struck his helmet with his palm, sending a pang through his skull.
“Sir!” Malkai’s voice shot through Terk’s shorted comm. “Are you alright?”
Terk took a mental stock of his body and flexed his limbs. Pain throbbed and pricked, but nothing was broken. “I’m fine. How severe is the damage to the ship?”
“Well, Sire.” Malkai hesitated. “My guess is most of our work has been undone.”
A chill expanded over Terk’s body like ice fractals. Father was going to be pissed. “Can you fix it?”
Malkai’s eyes swelled. “I-I don’t know. If the frames are damaged, this ship will be useless.”
What the goddamned hell! Couldn’t anything go right? This wasn’t his fault, but would Father still turn him into a cyborg?
Malkai went over all the problems this catastrophe had created. Terk half-listened as frustration and worry churned. Several months back, the cyborgs had come and offered an alliance. As a token of goodwill, they’d given Terk and Jori an infusion of undetectable defensible nanites. It was a good thing, too, because when he and his brother had been captured by the Cooperative, Jori had been able to use the nanites to escape.
Those nanites had long since dissolved, but if Father called on the cyborgs again, they might offer permanent technical enhancements. If those enhancements also couldn’t be detected, Father could alter him without triggering the lords into a revolt.
Goosebumps ran from Terk’s arms up to the back of his neck. It wasn’t fair. He shouldn’t have to deal with this shit. Nothing seemed to work in his favor, and it was all Jori’s fault.
Hot tears hovered at the edge of his eyelids. No, it wasn’t his brother’s fault. If Terk hadn’t crash landed on that Cooperative planet to begin with, Jori never would have gotten to know the enemy well enough to want to save them.
Then again, Terk never would have gone into Cooperative territory if the cyborgs hadn’t told Father about the perantium emitter. Those machine-men were trouble. If only he could do his job well enough to keep Father from needing them.
He gritted his teeth. A burning lurked behind his eyes and he scrunched them shut to force it back.
“Sir?” Malkai said. “What do we do?”
The heat of Terk’s shame sparked into annoyance. “How in the hell am I supposed to know? I’m not an engineer, damn it. You are.”
Malkai hung his head. “My apologies, my Lord. I’m at a complete loss. We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Terk huffed. Malkai was right, of course, but Father certainly wouldn’t want to hear this excuse. “None of us have, but I expect you to figure it out.”
“I’m trying, my Lord. I truly am,” Malkai responded in a higher pitched tone. “But-but… I can’t fix this. I wouldn’t even know where to—”
Terk yanked Malkai by the arm, pulling him close enough for their helmets to bonk. “If you can’t fix this,” he said in a low and menacing tone, “then you’re no good to me. Do you understand?”
Malkai shrank back. “But—”
Terk raised a fist, considering. Father would have struck the man to emphasize the threat. Why didn’t he?
Because he was a coward.
“Yes, my Lord.” Malkai’s head bobbed.
The man’s distress filtered into Terk’s senses. His gut fluttered as though something gnawed at his insides. He released the shokukin and shoved himself away. Two doses of regret filled him—one for not having the courage to use force the way his father would have wanted him to and one for considering it.
Damn it. This was all so hopeless. If only he wasn’t so worthless.
Terkeshi maneuvered the controls. The shuttle touched down with a slight bump. A thump followed as the docking bay clamps took hold.
The artificial gravity of the Dragon tugged him to his seat, magnifying the soreness in his body. He dropped his head into the back of his chair and sighed. Father wanted to see him as soon as possible, but Terk didn’t want to go. Just the thought of reporting to him knotted his insides.
He released his harness with the half-life slowness of xenon-124. Every movement sent a twinge to his temple, so he paused and massaged it with his thumb. A beep through the comm stabbed through his respite.
He answered with a growl. “What is it?”
“I just wanted to make sure you’re alright, my Lord,” Sensei Jeruko said.
Terk ended the conversation and left the pilot seat with a huff. Why Sensei Jeruko took such an interest in his well-being when he hadn’t shown any for Jori was beyond him. If the man had expressed even half this concern a couple weeks ago, Jori might still be alive.
He stormed off the shuttle and marched passed Sensei Jeruko without so much as a glance. The man and the other personal guards followed at a silent distance. Terk’s trek through the ship was a blur of brooding and spiraling doubts. By the time he reached the command deck, an imaginary two-ton pack weighed him down.
Father wasn’t in his office so Terk pulled back his shoulders and entered the bridge. The fury spewing from the command chair seared through Terk’s façade. He held his breath and planted himself before the looming figure of the Dragon Emperor. “Sir, I sent the report you requested.”
“Give me the highlights.”
Terk braced himself. “The scaffolding that was erected has been severely damaged.”
Father’s eyes flared. “How severe is severe?”
Terk shifted his stance. “We have to start over.”
Father shot to his feet. Terk’s breath halted in his throat as his father brought his hand up. Instead of palm out as though to strike, he held it out. Terk handed him his tablet. While Father swiped through the images and reports, Terk tightened his hands behind his back to keep from fidgeting. Each passing moment increased his anxiety and riled his father’s temper.
Father flung the tablet back to him and Terk scrambled to catch it before it fell.
“Who attacked us?” Terk asked tentatively.
“Who in the hell do you think?”
Father plunged back into his chair and a shadow crossed his features. “Don’t be an idiot, boy. Who else has been a thorn in my side since…” He flicked his hand with vehemence.
Fujishin. Terk didn’t dare say the man’s name out loud. Considering his father’s level of anger, he didn’t ask whether he’d escaped either. “Although we have to rebuild, I’m confident the shokukin will catch back up in a couple of days.”
“And after that? How much more time to fix the emitter?”
Terk hesitated. “Four months, maybe mo—”
Father clawed at his arm rests and lurched forward. “Four months? You said you could get this done, boy! What happened to making sure the shokukin don’t slack off?”
“They lack the knowledge to move forward,” Terk replied quickly, “so they need time to study up.”
“So motivate them to get it done faster.”
Terk’s jaw tightened. “Sir, this kind of knowledge takes years to learn. They’re doing the best they c—”
“Damn it, boy! I don’t need your excuses. Jori would have had this done already.”
“No, he wouldn’t ha—”
“Your level incompetence is disappointing to say the least. You don’t have Dokuri’s strength, and you don’t have Jori’s intelligence. Tell me, what good are you?”
Terk’s cheeks burned, and he avoided Father’s glare. “Dokuri was eight years older than me.”
Father balled his fists. “Excuses, boy. I have no time for it. You might as well go play on the aviation sim while I call in some real help.”
“It’s not my fault,” Terk muttered.
“Dismissed.” Father waved him away.
Terk marched out, avoiding the smirks of the bridge crew. The soreness from the bashing he’d received on the Fire Breather was nothing compared to his shame.
I wonder if Father would’ve cared if I’d been killed? Probably not.