Sometimes it's not our own life we'll fight to save.
Kare's been hunted all his life. His mother, the cruel Empress, demands that he accept his place as her heir. His dead father's rebellion want him to stand as a figurehead for their insurgency. His twin sister's ghost demands retribution.
When he refuses his mother, Kare knows he must face her wrath. He returns to Abendau, his mother's city, to confront her. If he triumphs, he can reshape his future; if he fails, he'll face a vengeance that will destroy him.
Jo Zebedee was named one of Ireland's top science fiction authors in 2018 by The Guardian. I have known Jo for several years, having first made her acquaintance through our mutual editor (and my good friend) Jennifer L. Carson. Jo and I sometimes play "name that food" by comparing American versus Irish cuisine. Abendau's Heir, book 1 of the Inheritance Trilogy, is a space opera packed with action, suspense, and inspiring characters. – Melissa Snark
"Abendau's Heir has exactly what I was looking for: well developed characters, shocking plot twists, and some great action. Last but not least, there were some heartbreaking– Amazon Review
"Star Wars meets Dune—space opera with political conspiracies, betrayals and a dark edge. Zebedee manages to keep a sense of foreboding through a big chunk of the novel while giving enough light to keep your hope up. And then the s*** hits the fan... Great!"– Amazon UK Review
"This is Space Opera done right, in my opinion, plenty of action, entertaining story and not too much deep science. I do sometimes find that some Space Opera novels leave you wishing you had a degree in the sciences so you could understand just what is going on - with Abendau's Heir this is not the case. It isn't Space Opera Lite but neither is it brain boggling stuff, just a well told space romp."– Andy Angel, book reviewer
The ship descended through the atmosphere. Ealyn's hands shook as he laid them on the control panel and commenced the landing cycle. Beside him, entwined in the co-pilot's seat, the twins were quiet, still stunned by events. They weren't the only ones. He shook his head, focusing on the ship; without a port a landing was never straightforward. His hand slipped, sweat smearing the panel, and he'd have pulled out if there was any other way of bypassing planetary security.
Concentrate. He squinted out of the viewing window. The abandoned space yard should be big enough, but any mistake and he'd overshoot. He lowered the ship, and the nose threatened to dip. Hell. Alarms blared but he ignored them and reached forward to reverse the thrust, his touch precise. The warnings stopped, the silence in their wake just as unnerving.
"Come on, land, you bitch." He dropped a little more, holding his breath, forcing himself to take his time. The engines sent dust up, obscuring his view, and he swore but kept lowering the ship, relying on instinct.
Now. He touched down with a soft thud and killed the engines, waiting for the dust to clear. When it did, he saw the ship was settled with perfect precision in the middle of the yard. He hadn't lost that little knack, then. On another day the thought would have cheered him; today it only brought relief. He took a deep breath and pushed his chair back, turning to the usual tangle of arms and legs. "Let's go."
"I feel sick." Kare's small voice came from the depths of the seat.
"You always feel sick when we land," said Karia. She uncurled and leaned forward to look out the window. Kare stayed huddled, paler than usual.
"You'll be all right, son, you always are." For a child brought up on a ship, Kare was a terrible traveller– sick at launches and set downs, white through every jump in and out of hyperspace. Ealyn undid his restraints and stood, the muscles in his neck clicking as he stretched. "Come on, we'll get some fresh air. That'll help."
Karia reached for her brother and he pulled himself up using her arm. Once standing, they focused on Ealyn, their green eyes unwavering, the same green eyes through all his visions. He grabbed the back of his seat at a wave of dizziness. The control room swirled and faded, and he found himself in a darkened cell, pain wracking his limbs. Omendegon. Again.
He doubled and groaned, bringing a shaking hand up to his face. There was no ring; there hadn't been during any of his recent visions. The cell grated open and he heard the Empress' footsteps. He shook his head; how could she do this? She was their mother.
He had to get back to the ship, where the children needed him, but it was like the last time and he was in too deep–
"Dad!" Karia's panicked voice, her hand tugging his, brought him back to the present.
The cell faded and he took a deep breath. "I'm all right," he said, but the cabin was still blurred and threatened to fade. He gulped, a big breath of air, and it steadied.
"You were in a vision!" Kare's accusation made Ealyn wince, but the boy went on in a high voice, "You're not supposed to. You promised Darwin you wouldn't."
That wasn't true. He had promised not to use the prism and had left it at the base. Without it as a trigger, the vision shouldn't have been possible, and Darwin would never have let him leave with the kids if he'd known it could be. What was happening to him? He tried to smile and hide his fear, but it stayed, grinding him down. He had been like this when he'd escaped from the palace and it had taken months to get the visions under control. This time, he didn't have months: if the Empress didn't catch up with him– and she'd been close, many times over the years– his sanity would give out.
Karia slipped her hand into his, and Ealyn squeezed it; he hadn't planned his family, but he'd been blessed to have them. Gods, he would miss them.
"Sorry." He took a deep breath and held his other hand out for Kare. What lay ahead for them, what path would they follow….
"Dad!" the twins chorused. Kare took his hand and nipped it, making him jump. The threatened vision faded.
The hatch opened and he stepped onto the gangway, his eyes scanning the yard, alert and ready to retreat. There was no one nearby: the area was full of shipyards– some legal, most not– and his unmarked freighter hadn't merited close attention.
He sucked in a deep breath of the air, metallic and smoky from industry, and the twenty-five years since he had left Dignad fell away, bringing a blast of nostalgia that made the yard shimmer out of focus. He tightened his grip on the twins' hands, wishing he could close the hatch and take them back to space.
The yard started to fade, and he shook his head. How they'd managed to get back to the rebel base last time he had no idea, but he couldn't risk it again. He lifted his right foot and stamped down on his left, so hard his eyes filled with tears. "Come on," he said.
They walked down the gangway. The red sun hung low over the planet, colouring the clouds so the sky looked orange. Around them, stunted vegetation grew in the smoggy heat. Skeletons of abandoned ships, long since stripped of their parts, loomed like sentinels.
Ealyn glanced at the perimeter fence. He wanted to walk out of here and through the streets of Dignad. He would point out places from his childhood, take the children to Shug and make sure his son was safe before he left.
The temptation bit hard, making his breath catch, even though he knew he didn't dare: here he was remembered as a real person, not a holo on a wanted poster. Here, the Empress' army had left his parents lying dead in the street like dogs, and his sister, Marine, running for her life, packed off with one of the apprentices from Shug's yard. He'd fled that day, barely escaping the planet.
The twins let go of his hands, hanging back, their eyes casting around the yard. They moved nearer to each other, staying in the shadow of the ship. It was no wonder: apart from their infrequent visits to the Banned, they were never out in the sunshine.
"It's time," he said.
They looked at him with identical expressions of mutiny. Ealyn beckoned, but neither moved. He sighed, walked over and crouched down.
"You know I have no choice."
They didn't answer, but instead looked at him with their green, green eyes. He looked again around the bleak yard. The boy knew no one on the planet. At least Karia would be with people connected to the Banned, who could call for support if they needed it. But his son would be cast out from everyone.
Decided, he pulled a comms unit and the Banned's beacon from the pocket of his flying suit. He placed both in his son's hands, closing his small fingers around them and holding them shut. The beacon would allow the child some sort of chance, a way off planet if he needed it. Kare's hand felt tiny in his own. A chance? He was seven. He needed more than a beacon– he needed love, a place to grow, someone to train him how to use his powers with the control he'd need. He needed his father.
Somehow, he let go of Kare's hands. He couldn't waver. He'd been over and over this, with Darwin and again alone on the ship, weighing up everything, and there was no other way.
"Remember to call me," Ealyn said. "I'll stay in orbit until I hear from you."
"I'm not going."
"You are," he said to his son. "You're going to walk out of the yard, follow the directions on that comms unit and go to Shug; he's expecting you. He'll take you to your Aunt Marine's. When you're there, let me know, and… "
He couldn't say the words and it was Kare who whispered, "And then you're going to leave me."
God help me, I am. Kare's vision had shown the boy with Marine and that only happened if there was a pathway to it. Besides, there was no one he could trust more than Marine. The very fact she'd survived the attack on the family when he'd left the planet, that she'd been strong enough and tough enough to make it through those hellish days, told him what he needed to know: hers was a place of safety. He had to take it; there was nothing else open to him, not now. He nodded. "I'm going to leave you where you're safe, and take your sister somewhere where she's safe." He tried to smile and hoped it looked reassuring. "Your aunt– she'll look after you."
"Why can't we go together?" asked Karia. The question they'd asked all through the flight, separately, together, pleading. An acrid taste flooded into Ealyn's mouth: to know where they both were, to be able to check…. No. He'd chosen one destination, Darwin the other, arranged as a hand-over in a day's time. That way, if either man were taken, both twins wouldn't be given up. He choked out the answer. "It's safer to be apart."
He looked between the children, and wondered which would be harder: knowing and being unable to come back, or the aching blackness of total loss.
"You promise to come if I need you?" whispered Kare, his eyes huge in his pale face. His lip trembled a little and Ealyn guessed he was only just holding back from crying.
"I won't go anywhere until I hear you're safe." He hugged the small, thin body close, trying to ease its trembling. "I love you," he whispered into his son's hair, struggling to keep his voice steady. Kare nodded– a small nod, like he had no fight left in him– against his dad's shoulder.
Karia joined them and Ealyn moved to let her embrace her twin. Their arms tightened around each other, Karia's head buried against Kare, his head on her shoulder. They were so close it looked like they might become one being. She touched her brother's forehead, pushing his jet-black hair back, revealing his eyes.
"Keep sending your thoughts," she said. "No matter where I am, I'll pick them up."
"We'll come back to each other," said Kare. "As soon as we can." Her shoulders were shaking with silent tears, and he patted her. "It'll be all right. I promise."
Ealyn pulled her away, wrapping his arm around her, and nodded to Kare. "We have to go."
The boy stepped back until he was right up against one of the perimeter fence's launch-shelters.
"Good lad," mouthed Ealyn. He walked up the gangway, his arm around Karia's shoulders. The walkway blurred and he had to blink before his vision cleared. When he looked back, his son's face swam under tears.
He closed the hatch and went to the control room. Karia sat in her seat, silently crying, her eyes focused on the yard and her brother. Her face was so bleak, so lonely, Ealyn could think of nothing to say to comfort her. There was no comfort in any of this. He primed the engines, breathing hard, and stabbed his finger down, taking the ship away from the planet, past the checkpoint and into space beyond.
Dignad seemed to fall away, the yard vanishing into the red background, his son swallowed up with it. He focused on the control panel– he still had to get Karia to safety. He glanced at her: to do this again, leave her as well. And after, he'd–
He'd walk the paths of the future and hope to see evidence– any evidence– that he'd kept them safe. Blow his brains out with Seering, if that's what it took to find out.
"Daddy," Karia said, bringing him out of his thoughts. "There's a ship ahead."
A cruiser waited at the edge of the atmosphere, huge, dwarfing his ship. The same one as before, tracking him? A leak from the Banned as he'd suspected? It didn't matter; nothing did, except he got away from it.
It turned to him. Gods. Any other ship he'd face– he had, many times– but a cruiser would easily outpace him. And this time there was no Roamer fleet to hide behind, nowhere to go that wouldn't draw planetary security onto him instead. He glanced at Karia, saw her pinched cheeks, and fought to keep his voice steady. "I see it."
"Daddy, what if they're there for us?"
"They are." He stared at the cruiser, struggling to keep his breathing regular, keeping his ship out of the range of its tractor beam. He thrust to port but the bigger ship turned, graceful against the darkness of space, and tracked him. He squeezed his eyes shut. Let me be lucky for another day. After that, they could take him and do what they liked, but please let him get Karia to safety.
"Should we go back?" she asked.
If he did, they'd be caught on the planet and he'd be even more vulnerable there. He hit thrust and the ship streaked forward, firing at the cruiser's starboard cannons. A plasma bolt arced towards him and he ported, barely avoiding it. He cursed; whoever the pilot was, they were good. Better than good; their positioning had cut him off from the safety of space beyond.
The tractor beam surged out from the cruiser and Ealyn reversed thrust, pulling out of range. Its light filled their cockpit, casting over his hands on the control panel, making them look ghost-like and pale. He glanced at Karia, sitting forward in her seat, and remembered his visions of the torture chambers and what their mother would do to them. His hands clenched and unclenched– he couldn't give them up to it– he had to get her to safety.
"What will they do?" asked Karia in a small voice.
"They'll try to take us."
The cruiser waited. Ealyn darted from side to side, keeping out of range, but too far back for his lasers to be of use. He moved to starboard, away from the beam. The bigger ship closed the distance, approaching more confidently now. Ealyn's hands clenched, wanting to blast into space, knowing they'd take him if he did. Wait. If this was a random pick-up, they might not know what he was capable of. He had a chance, if he could just make it to the spaceward side.
His eyes flicked between the control panel and the cruiser until, at the last moment, just as the tractor began to pull on his ship, he dived. He used the planet's gravity, thrusting to port and twisting. He emerged close to where he'd hoped, and sped up. The first bolt missed, streaking past and exploding in front, making him turn his head from the blinding light. He darted forwards and started to smile; once again he was better, faster and smarter. They'd taken everything from him: his sanity, his friends, his son. But he could still fly–
The ship lurched from a heavy hit on the starboard flank, and his smile faded. He struggled to pull her back but drifted towards the planet, the gravity pulling the ship down. He lifted his hands from the controls. Think. His ship drifted, disabled. He reached forward, tried to thrust back into space, but it was sluggish. The cruiser moved and blocked him, its tractor coming round to where his ship was. Think.
A restraint clicked open and Karia came over to him. He pulled her onto his knee and kissed her soft hair.
"Can't you fly?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I can't steer, honey…"
She looked out of the window. "You don't need to steer." Her eyes– far too old for her age– met his. "You need to make sure they don't know it's only us," she said. "Then, Kare might get away…"
Ealyn hugged her to him. So brave, it put him to shame. What would she have become, this gentle, clever child of his? He couldn't bear to think about it. He whispered, "Say a prayer for him."
"I did." She rested her head against his chest.
Ealyn put his right hand on the control panel, and Karia nodded against him. He cupped her head, turning her face towards him so she couldn't look forwards, and closed his eyes. He paused for one moment before sending his ship forward into the cruiser and quick, painless oblivion.