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Chapter One – Enter the Pirate

Front Steps of Harry Ford Academy

Jennifer and Tayla walked slowly down the path to the parking lot on the last day of school. Other excited students passed them in a rush to begin their summer.

“So glad school’s finally out,” Jennifer said.

Tayla grunted, “After I graduate Sunday, I don’t plan to set foot in this school again. You should’ve graduated with me.”

“Graduating early sounds good, but I still want to walk with my class next year.”

“Well, at least you get to follow your dream this summer.”

Jennifer looked away and shrugged. “If I get in.”

“Come on. You’re way over-qualified. You had a great interview,” Tayla smiled at her friend. “You’ll be starting that internship before you know it.”

Jennifer bit her lip. “Assuming Mom agrees.”

“Your mom understands you and trusts you. She’ll let you go.”

Jennifer looked Tayla in the eye. “I’m going to find him.”

Tayla paused and looked at Jennifer, “Your father?”

“Yes.”

“You think he’s alive?”

“I know he is.”

“The vision thing?”

“Yes.”

They got to Tayla’s car. “You want a ride?”

“I need to think this through. The walk home’ll give me time to do it,” Jennifer patted the car’s fender. “Love you, Tay.”

“Love you more, Jen.”

Chapter One – Enter the Pirate

Hoclarth Patrol Ship Mendex

“We’ll begin our patrol at the blue planet, third from the star.”

The computer navigation system said, “Predex, I’m detecting a rogue ship heading towards the third planet. It has a stardrive.” Predex Kalim Kone of the Hoclarth Alliance, the commander of Patrol Ship Mendex, disengaged the stardrive and decelerated for entry into Earth Space.

Kalim again saw his nemesis on the main screen. He knew this ship. It was the StarCruiser Brilliant.

“Pursue!” ordered the Predex.

Hidden Hills, California

As Jennifer walked home from school on the final day of her junior year at Harry Ford Academy of the Arts, she entered Hidden Hills on Long Valley Road and greeted the Irish gateman, “How’s yer onions, Sean?”

“Arseways, Jennifer. How Ye?” Sean said.

“Alright, Boyo,” Jennifer said.

“Tear your hole off the Haggart.”

Sean and Jennifer always traded Irish slang when Jennifer passed through the gate. Jennifer often stopped to chat with Sean and receive the wisdom that he gained before he came to America. She remembered his old saying, “Knowledge becomes wisdom when experience becomes the teacher.”

 

StarCruiser Brilliant

Sixty-year-old Jack Masing occupied the center seat as commander of the Brilliant. His nineteen-year-old son David sat in the pilot’s chair and Riley McMaster sat behind at the Engineer Console. The ship was returning to Earth from inside the orbit of Saturn after a three-day mission near Comet 2903. In addition to the ship’s crew, five NASA Engineers and three members of a film crew from Tovar Studios, home of the motion picture franchise StarCruiser Brilliant, were aboard.

On the final approach to Earth, David performed the maneuvers to prepare for re-entry.

Yellow alarm lights flashed, and tones sounded, “Sensor alert.”

“Ani, what do we have?” Jack asked.

Ani, short for Artificial Navigation Intelligence, was the heart and brain of Brilliant. “There is an object twenty-degrees above the Mars Ecliptic. It’s decelerating from one-point-one light-speed.”

“Not natural,” Jack said.

“It is a Hoclarth Patrol Ship bound for Earth Space,” Ani said.

“Deploy shields and activate Owwie,” Jack called up the Artificial Weapons Intelligence. “What have we got?”

“Owwie activated. Tracking bogey. Identity: Menday class Hoclarth Patrol ship. Close-in plasma weapons and medium-range Meteor Cannon without AI Guidance. This Menday is not in my database. Maintaining Track,” Owwie said.

“Does he have us yet?”

“He’s turning to pursue.”

“What’s our weapons load, Owwie?” Jack asked.

“Captain, we are light. Only close-in energy weapons.”

“Evasion it is,” said Jack. “Ani, deploy the HoloDrone and release to Owwie!”

“Aye, Captain. HoloDrone deployed, right echelon under weapons control.”

“Ani, time to re-entry?”

 “Eleven minutes to atmostpheric interface. Seven until we are in his weapons range,” Ani said. “If we delay that by two minutes behind the moon, the bogey will lose us.”

“Execute! Find us some lunar shade,” Jack said.

“I’ve lost the bogey,” Owwie said. “Reacquisition in less than a minute.”

Ani reported, “Three minutes to the interface after reacquisition.”

 “Captain, detecting an active scan. He has us,” Owwie said.

“The Hoclarth is hailing us, Captain,” said Ani.

“Let’s see who we’re dealing with.”

“StarCruiser Brilliant, I’m Predex Kalim Kone of the Hoclarth Alliance ship Mendex. Heave to and make ready to be boarded. If we are happy with what you have to offer, we’ll leave you with your lives and your ship,” the pirate said.

“Sorry, Mendex, we are hungry and homebound. You’ll have to save your visit for another time,” Jack said. “Secure coms.”

Mendex is locking Meteor Cannon,” Owwie said.

“Owwie, turn the HoloClone to attack the Mendex. Position so the Meteor shot passes Earth.”

Mendex is tracking the clone. He took the bait.”

“Ani, dive the gravity well. We are going to have to go in very steep and wake up Southern California.”

Mendex has fired on the clone. The meteoroid will enter Earth’s atmosphere.”

“Thirty-five seconds to interface,” Ani said.

“Owwie, fire a plasma salvo at the Meteor to break it up.”

“Engaging. Three shots on the mass,” Owwie said. “It has broken up. Captain, a three-ton mass will reach the Earth’s surface.”

“Damn!”

 “We’ve entered the atmosphere,” Ani said.

Hidden Hills

Excitedly, Jennifer walked along Long Valley Road towards home. She paused. The letter will be there or it won’t. I’ll get the internship or I won’t, she thought. But Dandy Lion depends on me for a treat every day.

She walked back half a block and clapped her hands. The light-orange Tabby strutted out into the front yard with a regal air as if to say, how dare you force me to wait for my treat!

Jennifer presented Dandy Lion with his treat. The cat sniffed then consumed the gift with royal relish.

Brilliant

“Captain, we entered the atmosphere southbound over Vandenberg Air Force Base. We’re putting on quite a show,” David said.

“Make your turn and contact SoCal Air Traffic Control.”

 

Hidden Hills

CLAP!

Dandy jumped, Jennifer jumped, and windows rattled. The sound echoed off the nearby hills. I know that sound. Sonic boom! She looked to the Northwest sky and she saw a red ionization trail. And then it turned toward her. She spoke a single word, “Impossible!”

Jennifer watched the red trail.

Brilliant

“The FAA will be busy explaining this one. Owwie, what was the trajectory of the mass?” Jack asked.

 “The mass entered at a thirty-five-degree angle from north to south,” Owwie said.

“Will it make it to the ocean?”

“No, sir.”

“Where?”

“The valley, sir. It is going to hit a house in Hidden Hills.”

Jack slumped. A tragic end to a successful mission. The Hoclarth were now in Earth Space. Jack thought, why did that Hoclarth captain look so familiar?

Hidden Hills

BOOM!

Another sonic boom Jennifer looked North and saw a fireball coming toward her and Dandy. She knew it wasn’t going to turn away.

Dandy jumped into her arms and Jennifer ran straight west. She made it three houses, took a right turn behind a house and the neighborhood exploded. Her ears rang. Then all she could hear were car alarms. A fireball shot skyward. It was the Nesbitt house, Dandy’s home.

Jennifer walked back toward the blaze. In an empty lot that used to be a house there were only raging flames. Residents came out of their houses.

Before the fire trucks, the Battalion Supervisor arrived in a red SUV and got out, “Did you see what happened, young lady?”

 “Yes. A supersonic fireball came from the north. I ran west before it hit,” Jennifer said.

“Was there anyone inside the house?”

“The Nesbitt family gets home later. The house was probably empty. Dandy is their cat. I was feeding him a treat like I always,” Jennifer said.

“The house is a total loss,” the fireman said. “What’s the tabby’s name?”

“Dandy Lion, but everyone calls him Dandy.”

The fireman rubbed the head of the regal yellow tabby, “Well, Dandy, you can credit one of your nine lives to this nice young lady. What’s your name; we might need more information?”

“Jennifer Gallagher,” she said. “Kailyn and Kamryn Nesbitt will be devastated. At least they will have Dandy.”

Mendex

The Meteor shot missed Brilliant. The display tracked the rock to the ground to a destroyed mansion. “Bacnaath!” Kalim said. The bearded captain focused his blue-green eyes on the display to a crimson-haired girl holding a yellow animal. Why does she look so familiar? he thought.

Hidden Hills

Three fire trucks arrived, knocked down the house fire, and watered down adjacent properties. Two distraught parents came to the Police Line clutching their screaming twins. They saw the yellow bundle in Jennifer’s arms.

“Dandy!”

Dandy jumped from Jennifer’s arms and ran to the girls.

“You saved Dandy Lion. Are you okay? What happened?” Mrs. Nesbitt asked.

“I stopped to give Dandy a treat. I heard multiple sonic booms and saw a fireball headed our way. I picked up Dandy and ran.” Jennifer explained.

She said, “Thank goodness, you’re okay. The girls will never forget this.”

“I know now how important it is to give Dandy a treat on the way home from school,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer resumed her walk home. Her mind buzzed. The sonic booms. The fireball.  The explosion. Her mind returned to the letter. Jennifer thought, It’s important, but the studio will say yes. My father would say yes. Now, if only mother will say yes….

Seventeen Years Earlier

Sunday evening dinners were a Gallagher family tradition. The father, Sean Gallagher, helped his wife Ciara prepare and serve the meal. Aiden and his younger sister, Sheila, set the table. Sean’s older sister, Aunt  Joanne, the family historian sat opposite her brother.

“Those sons-of-bitches at Tovar blame for the accident that killed that actor, Anthen. They canceled all our contracts,” Sean said. “There is no evidence and no body. I think they staged the fake accident just to cover their asses. I don’t think Navvy is in on it.”

“Will GGG survive? They’re a big part of our business,” Aiden said.

“We’ll be fine, son,” Sean said. “Some of the other studio heads have been urging us to expand. But I hate to lose Tovar.”

“It’s too bad. They made it clear that we weren’t even welcome at the funeral.” Ciara noticed the wetness around Sheila’s eyes, “Honey, were you dating him again?”

Sheila began to sob. Her mother hugged her. “We’ll all miss him,” Ciara said.

Sheila covered her face with her hands. “Mom, I’m pregnant!”

“Are you sure?” Sean said.

“Anthen and I planned to get married. I was going to tell him. And then….” More sobbing. “I loved him!”

“I know, honey. We’re here for you. Have you seen the doctor?” Ciara asked.

“Yes. The baby’s due in late June.”

“You’re on track to graduate,” Sean said. “What about Stanford?”

“Sean, it’s too early to talk about law school. Let’s give her some time,” Ciara said.

“Again, the Gallagher curse,” Aunt Joanne said.

“Joanne, not now,” Ciara said. Joanne often volunteered unspoken family truths.

“What’s she saying?” Aiden asked.

“The first child in each Gallagher generation has been on the plane before the pilot and copilot filed the flight plan,” Joanne said. “My mother was six months along with me at the altar. It goes back to Sean Senior.”

“Joanne, you always bring such colorful context to our family dinners,” Sean rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“I met our great-grandfather once,” Joanne said. “Sean Senior’s the one who started Gallagher Gaffers and Grips. He told me the story where he met Clark Gable. On his first day, he saw an actor moving one of his cables. He said, ‘Hey, bud. Stay away from my cables. That’s my effing job.’

The tall actor stood, and said, ‘If you did your effing job right, people wouldn’t be tripping over your cables and falling on their faces.’ “

The wrinkles at the corner of her eye showed, “Great Grandfather never feared for his life like he did at that moment. He said, ‘I’m very sorry, Mr. Gable. Let me get them out of the way.’ He never made that mistake again.”

“And he never used the word ‘effing’ either,” Ciara said.

Aunt Joanne bit her lip and then said, “No, I don’t think he did.”

“Sis, we’re all here for you.” Aiden said. “I’m looking forward to being an uncle!”

Executive Office Suite at Tovar Studios – May 27, 2067

The third-floor office of Navilek Kelrithian, Chairman and CEO of Tovar Studios, reflected the accomplishments of the most successful studio executive in Hollywood. The walls contained photos with actors of note. A large picture window displayed the busy lot with the stunning Angeles National Forest framing the sky. There were numerous awards, including four for Best Picture. A model of StarCruiser Brilliant, a ship of his design, dominated his desk. The clutter in the office reflected one who was extremely busy yet well-organized.

Navvy Kelrithian and Jack Masing were sharing a drink after a long day.

“The Hoclarth came from nowhere and jumped us. Brilliant was just not ready,” Jack said. “We weren’t carrying the weapons we needed. We weren’t carrying the crew we needed.”

“You can’t blame yourself, Jack. You couldn’t have foreseen the Mendex coming in right at that moment,” Navvy said.

“David’s a solid pilot, Riley McMaster is one of the best engineers we’ve had, but I need a solid tactician.  I need a First Officer who can see the big picture, plan out a mission, and see what’s coming. I need you, Navvy. No one died today, but it was close.”

“Jack, I’m seventy-four years old. I’m too worn out to be a space warrior,” Navvy said.

“Seriously, old Friend, with you on board, the Brilliant was always one step ahead of any disaster.”

“We wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t made that one mistake.”

“Yes, there is that.”

“If only I could’ve foreseen the gravity drive failure, we would still be on our timeline….”

Aboard StarCruiser Brilliant – May 23, 2227

The Great Energy Wars of 2025 were now over two-hundred years in the past. After a dark period when the world’s population declined due to starvation and conflict, the Second Renaissance brought a century of progress and recovery.

StarCruiser Brilliant was the crown jewel of the reawakening. Designed by Navvy Kelrithian of the United Space Exploration Academy, Brilliant would take humans to other star systems for the first time.

The prototype was on her shakedown cruise. Captain Navvy Kelrithian and twenty-year-old Pilot Jack Masing were on a mission to test the gravity drive deep in the sun’s gravity well. Navvy’s wife, Hanna, acted as ship’s engineer.

“Pilot, we’ll begin our outbound turn inside Mercury’s orbit at my mark. Engage the gravity drive to point-one light-speed outbound.” Navvy said. “Engineer, report systems status.”

“Em drive nominal. Gravity drive indicates ready. Stardrive available,” Hanna said.

“Five seconds to turn.” Navvy looked at all the indicators, “Pilot, make your turn and engage the gravity drive.”

The sun appeared as a giant yellow ball on the view screen. It moved to the left off screen, and Jack said, “Engaging.” Jack pushed the t-bar with his right hand to mid-range.

Red lights flashed, audio signals blared. Hanna’s eyebrows went upward, “Captain the main gravity drive relay has failed!”

“Pilot, engage the em drive!”

“Em drive at full power!”

The navigation computer said, “Alert. Decaying orbit. Collision with the surface of the sun in 47 minutes.”

“Hanna, can you fix it?!”

“Captain, it will take me three hours to replace the relay.”

“Navvy, we need to engage the stardrive!” Jack said.

“The stardrive is untested; we don’t know what will happen.”

“I can’t repair the relay in time, Nav!” Hanna said.

Navvy and Hanna went down a deck to the gravity drive and inspected the failed relay and returned five minutes later. “The main relay is fried.”

“Alert. Decaying orbit. Collision with the surface of the sun in 40 minutes,” Navigation said.

“Navvy, we need to save our child!”

Navvy turned his chair, and his eyes were wide open. “Hanna?!”

“I woke up sick this morning. I tested. We’re pregnant,” Hanna said.

Navvy turned back with clenched fists and leaned forward, “Engineer, report when ready to engage the stardrive!”

Navvy pressed the com button on his chair. “Academy, this is Brilliant. Our main gravity drive relay failed. I’m sending a complete data dump. We will engage the stardrive to escape the gravity well. We may not see you again, so hug our families for us and tell our parents that they will be grandparents. Brilliant out.”

“Alert. Decaying orbit. Collision with the surface of the sun in 35 minutes.”

“Captain, the stardrive is ready in all respects.”

“Very well. Pilot, engage!”

There was a flash on the screen. The starfield blurred and shifted.

Two minutes later, “Pilot, disengage stardrive!”

“Disengaged.”

“Navigation, report position.”

“We are six astronomical units from the sun.” Brilliant was outside the orbit of Jupiter.

Navvy pressed the communicator, “Academy, this is Brilliant. Com check.”

“There are no space wave frequencies active,” the coms computer said.

“That’s not good,” Navvy said. “Navigation, evaluate celestial positions and compute the exact time.”

“It is 2:37 p.m.”

“We’ve gone back two hours. We should be able to contact the Academy.” Navvy thought for a moment. “Navigation, what is the exact date?”

“The current date is October 15, 2027.”

“Omigod, two centuries?” Hanna said. “That’s just two years after the nuclear wars.”

“Let’s repair the gravity drive and go back to Earth.”

Jennifer’s Home – 2067

Jennifer arrived home about an hour after the explosion. As she climbed the hill, she visualized the feeling of success when she opened the mailbox. The large envelope would contain her invitation to the internship.

Biting her lip, she worried about the fight that it would take to convince her mom.

 “So begins the rest of my life.” She opened the mailbox. She found a large number of letters, but no large packet. She pulled out the stack and began sorting. Bill. Congratulations, you’ve been selected… Bill. Cremation Ad. Tovar Studios.

It was a simple white envelope from Tovar Studios that could only contain a very polite letter that will congratulate and thank the applicant in elegant business-like prose to soften the real message typed on the expensive cream-colored stationery: “REJECTED!!!”

Jennifer turned her head away and looked over the valley without expression. Her valley. Her company town.

Her hands were shaking as she held the mail. She struggled to get her keys out of her backpack and, unlike her, she fought back the tears.

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