"worthwhile effort... well worth the investment... something a little more unusual."
- Apex Digest
The darkness is coming...
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Sci-Fi Author S. D. McKee
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Defeated Prologue(note: to access a narrated & illustrated version of the prologue, click here.)
There was darkness, so much darkness that had consumed everything, save a small splinter of light that sneaked through unnoticed. Or perhaps the light had been noticed and the darkness simply didn't care. It was timeless and powerful after all, and the light was nothing more than a trivial speck, weak and insignificant. Or was it? The light gained in strength. Slowly but surely it brightened, waiting for precisely the right moment. It came. The light rose up and overpowered the darkness, defeating its ancient enemy after what had seemed like an eternity of waiting, hiding amongst the rapacious shadows. The door to the old starship had slid open.
The silhouette of a mysterious robed individual appeared, stepping into the pocket of commanding light. There he lingered until a small hovering orb moved into view above him, bathing him in a soft yellow light that remained after the door swished shut. His royal-blue robe shimmered in the silky radiance, looking unmistakably majestic. Yet his face was curiously veiled behind the shadows of the hood that draped his head and his arms were folded, pressing and partially obscuring a golden object against his chest. A chiseled ruby crest hung at his neck, clasping the two ends of his robe together, trembling ever so slightly as he walked.
The floating light followed, keeping the darkness at bay while revealing the individual's path as he walked through the gloomy metal passageway. His steps were awkward, almost painful, removing any ambiguity about his age. He approached a control panel that was covered in age-old dust and studied the archaic interface. Wiping it clean with one arm, the elderly figure looked over the console, examined it, as if waiting to recall its purpose and method of operation. He eventually tapped a few of the pressure-sensitive areas that were offset with a feeble red glow. Power began flowing through the ship, coursing through a labyrinth of wires and circuitry like blood transfused into a dying patient's veins. A quiet hum drifted across the musty air as the overhead lights flickered, struggling to illuminate the enormous vessel.
The sounds of shuffling footsteps resumed as the robed figure continued through the maze of corridors, walking a pre-determined path. When he came upon what appeared to be an elevator, he stopped and pressed the access button, leaning his full weight against it as he rested. The distinct squeal-like hum of the approaching elevator drifted down through the sealed tube, growing louder as it heeded its beckoned call. The doors soon rustled open, though not completely. But the gap was sufficient enough for him to squeeze inside.
"Bridge access," he mumbled, sounding shaky in his old age.
"Access . . . granted," the muffled feminine voice of the computer responded, sounding old and tired as well.
Bouncing a little from lack of maintenance, the elevator struggled to ascend the high-rising tube. And once the end of the journey was reached, the elevator jerked to a screeching stop, allowing the doors to stutter open, though no wider than before. Out stepped the robed figure, shuffling across the metal mesh flooring of the cold, dark room. Electricity had failed to reach the bridge, leaving the heart of the ship ostensibly lifeless, save a ghostly yellow glow that radiated from the orbiting light.
Creeping up a set of steps, he approached a railed perch that overlooked both levels of the circular room and eased himself into the dusty chair. The vinyl covering was a little stiff, groaning almost as much as he did, yet the chair still maintained a degree of comfort. Taking his time to scan the bridge, he reminisced of days long gone, bringing a serene atmosphere to the room. And the more he slipped into fond recall, the more animated the bridge became, until his imagination had brought the room to life. He could hear the familiar voices of old friends and acquaintances, surrounding him in a warm embrace. The sounds of laughter and cheery conversations helped diminish the effects of the stale, chilling air.
"You had a good crew," he professed to the ship. "They served us both well."
Though spoken with sincerity, his remarks brought a sharp end to the tranquil sounds. Faint screams faded in from the shadows, growing louder with each pounding of his heartbeat. The elderly figure began to weep as the room was overrun with the calamitous sounds of war. The ship would not let him forget its dreadful past.
"I remember," he cried. "I have not forgotten the cataclysmic events that brought death to so many. How could I ever forget such a thing, such a terrible thing?"
The room quieted, leaving him alone, lamenting the past. Exhaling with a deep, bitter breath, he cast his eyes down at the peculiar device that rested in his lap. Gold plating was exquisitely molded around the many wondrous symbols that decorated the exterior of the creation, which vaguely resembled a book, though it had no pages. Such beautiful craftsmanship was certainly worthy of attention, but it was the striking centerpiece—a sparkling white crystal in the shape of a diamond—that had commanded the entirety of his gaze. He remained silent for a time, staring at the precious gemstone, which seemed to draw the troubles from his mind.
One of his veiled hands moved over the strange device, causing a small, etched symbol in the upper-right corner to glisten with a blue radiance. Clearing his throat, he began to speak.
"My son, I leave these words for you today speaking as one of the Defeated, in the native tongue of our ancestors. You have become a wise and noble leader, respected and revered by our people. Your life and upbringing have prepared you well for the burdens of leadership, but it is your heritage, your blood that will make you a great and just ruler.
"I will soon travel beyond the veil of life, entering into the peace of those who have gone before me. I now entrust this most precious archive of our people to your care. It contains much of the history, knowledge, and insights of mankind. It also contains the teachings of Rael Kashan, that great and noble leader who shaped the destiny of our people through his suffering and sacrifice. Learn from his unparalleled wisdom and use it to illuminate your path. His spirit will be watching over you, bringing you comfort as he did for me in my times of heartache.
"The archive also bears record of the Great Awakening, when mankind's destiny was fully realized, establishing order during a time of dreadful chaos.
"And lastly, my son, I have included a full account of the Great War, based on my own recollections as well as the testimonies and memories of those who fought so bravely. But there are many whose voices will never be heard. So many precious lives were lost. The historical account of the Great War was recorded so the suffering of our people would never be forgotten. History must not be allowed to repeat itself—a burden that is now yours to bear.
"If your mother was still alive I know she would be proud, as am I, of what you have accomplished. I wish I could be there to hand over the mantle of leadership and authority myself, but I have already outlived the time allotted me. I cannot escape death any longer. Live with honor, Noble One, and remember that I will always be with you on the long, difficult journeys of your life.
"In death, I choose to be known as Jonathon Quinn. Remember me not as your leader or superior, but as your father and your friend. Goodbye, my son."
Waving his hand back the other way, he caused the illuminated symbol to dim and brought the recording to an end. He then draped his arms across the armrests of the chair and reflected on his previous words. His head grew heavy with fatigue and slumped with the passing time, with the fading of his life. Before long, he spoke again, sounding even shakier than before.
"I will listen to the full account, one last time, before I enter the great sleep."
Peering down at the centerpiece, it began to shine with an angelic glow, responding to him as if it knew his thoughts, as if he and the gemstone were one. His head drifted back against the chair and his eyes, which had witnessed so much suffering, so much wonder, gazed out into the blackness. He no longer feared the darkness, which had once stalked among the stars. He had been but a speck of light, yet he had risen up and defeated the shadows that had nearly consumed everything.
But that was history, a terrible history, an unforgettable tale of the twilight of humanity.
The recorded history of the Great War began to play. . .