The Empire (The Empire series)
“It will be interesting to discover which will make you beg. Will it be the pain or the pleasure?”
How do you tame a man without breaking his spirit?
The galaxy is under siege from alien invaders. The Empire is the only force that stands in the gap, trading the freedom of its citizens for a tenuous security.
Amidst this chaos, Lt. Adrian Stannis is a brilliant scientist trying to stay out of the limelight. He hides on a research vessel plying the Outer Rim and finds peace of a sort with Kali Mirren, a psi-enabled humanoid. But his days of anonymity may be coming to an end. Someone has discovered his secret and is determined to make him pay for his treachery. He must finish the project he abandoned years ago, one the Council deems essential in its fight against the aliens, but things are never that simple where Adrian is concerned.
Is he more man than machine, or have years hiding behind a mountain of logic eroded his humanity? Can he learn to love and will he be able to survive the tangled web of political expediency and psychological manipulation that surrounds him?
Will Kali be able to save him from himself, or is there a mystery surrounding him that may explode in their faces?
Everyone wants to know the truth, but will it set them free?
The Empire – Chapter 5
Green-uniformed medical personnel, with facemasks that obscured the lower half of their faces, removed Adrian from the restraints after giving him a sedative.
“This is disgusting,” said Penn, the taller of the two assistants, as they lifted Adrian onto a gurney, the slick, partially dried fluids making a slurping sound as they clung to his skin.
Dr. Greenwell, whose pepper-black hair contrasted sharply with his pale face, was an old-timer and had seen many cruel things done in the name of the Empire. Nothing surprised him anymore. “Be glad it wasn’t you.” He retrieved the scientific log kept by the Therapist and read it quickly.
“Someone’s going to have to wash him.” Yuen, the other medical assistant had the face of an ex-boxer, with a crooked nose that angled strangely, but his hands were surprisingly gentle. At a quick look from Greenwell, he said, “I guess that would be us.”
“You guess right.”
Penn’s nose crinkled under his mask. “You know, I never really liked him. Always thought he was a cold, stuck up fish; but what they did to him —”
“Makes you almost wish you could like him?” said Greenwell, who never became attached to his patients; life was much easier that way. That wasn’t to say he was a heartless man, but he expressed his caring in detached, impartial competence and concern.
“Feel sorry for at least,” said Penn.
“We’ll keep him under for now. He’s going to need all the rest he can get.”
“What about…” Yuen’s sympathetic almond eyes rested on Adrian’s tortured body. Being new at this, he still had a personal reaction, but he was learning quickly.
“After what they did to him, won’t he need something?”
Dr. Greenwell’s lips thinned in distaste as he forced himself to read the rest of the log. “Not sure they want him to recover. Or need him to.”
“Well, that’s…” Yuen’s eyes reflected reluctant resignation. “…none of my business.”
Penn adjusted the automated steering controls on the gurney. “You know, I thought he was smart, smart as they came. But letting them do this to him? That was stupid.”
“It’s not our place to question people’s lack of common sense,” said Dr. Greenwell.
“Yeah, s’pose not.”
Captain Tarn strode onto the bridge; his hands clasped behind hi m, the morose look on his face caused everyone to straighten at their stations. He nodded absently to the duty officer and disappeared into his office.
Her eyes followed his passage as Kali ran diagnostics on the life support and environmental systems. Adrian was free, but she still had no idea what was happening to him. His mind was distant and the emotions buried so deeply, she would need a shovel to dig them out.
Bryce worked at his weapons station, his fingers on automatic as he performed the daily diagnostics on the armaments systems. He’d performed this task so many times, he could do it in his sleep. And sometimes in his dreams, he did, much to his horror and consternation.
Day shift was busy, full of routine tasks, but it was still an endless stream of boringness. Without anything to shoot at, his greatest source of excitement was gossiping about the crew. “Psst,” he whispered out of the side of his mouth to Kali.
Kali’s eyes kept flicking surreptitiously to the closed door of the Captain’s office. “I’m busy.”
“You can talk and work. ‘Sides the computers do most of it. We just stare at it and try not to fall asleep.”
“I interpret the results.”
“Yeah, that’s later.” Bryce chewed on his lower lip as he noticed her preoccupation. “About before, I’m really sorry I couldn’t help. I—” Several lights on his panel turned orange and beeped urgently at him. “Damn.” He rapped the monitor numbers but the indicators blinked obstinately.
The duty officer, Pincer, a balding man with a mole on his chin, said, “What’s the noise over there?”
Grumbling under his breath, Bryce said in a suitably respectful voice, “Just a few warning signals on the output flow regulators, Lieutenant.”
Pincer was a by-the-book officer, and his book told him to take care of warning signals before they developed into greater problems. He rushed over. “What’s wrong with them?”
“I’ve already started the secondary diagnostics,” said Bryce, who had just that second, entered the commands to begin the sequence.
“Good. Good.” The mole on Pincer’s chin jumped with excitement.
“It’s probably just a faulty reading. We get those all the time. It’ll even out in the secondary diagnostics. You’ll see.”
Pincer nodded slowly, “Yes. Could be.” He eyed Bryce intently. “But then that would mean the system sensors need to be reset, won’t it?”
“Ensign Mirren, report to my office,” the Captain’s strident voice came over the oval comm speaker on the wall.
“Go on Mirren. I’ll watch the diagnostics,” said Pincer.
Kali stood at attention in front of the Captain’s desk, staring at a spot on the wall, waiting for Tarn to say something.
Tarn leaned back tiredly like a balloon slowly deflating, losing form and life. He stared at her over laced fingers. “At ease, Ensign.”
Kali relaxed a little and dared to look at his face. She’d been audacious the other day, barging through the officer’s quarters and confronting the Captain with her ideas to save Adrian, but she was acutely aware that he was the most senior person on the ship and she only a lowly ensign.
“You don’t need to be nervous. I’m not Barker.”
“Yes, sir. Is—” Her questions were like a flood of water waiting at the sluice gates.
“He’s in the medical unit.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’s recovering,” he said curtly, his words like a door shutting in the face of unwanted questions.
“I’d like to see him.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
The tension around the Captain’s eyes was nothing compared to what Kali sensed from him, the waves of guilt and worry that rolled towards her. “I don’t understand, I thought you said he was recovering.”
“Physically he is.” A ripple of tension made his jaw tighten. “You saved his life, but I’m not sure he’ll thank you for it.”
“Does he blame me?”
“I never told him your full part in this.”
“What did you tell him, sir?”
“I told him you asked to be transferred to the Trykor. But you didn’t understand the implications.”
“You lied to him?”
“He doesn’t need to know it was your idea.” He said it easily, as if it were a natural thing to do.
“I will not keep the truth from him, Captain.”
“You don’t have a choice if you’re going to help him. He’s going to need someone he can trust.”
She shook her head at the irrationality of what she was hearing. “Then I can’t lie to him.”
“Are all Tellarans this stubborn? Morality isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t produce the right results.”
“I don’t agree.”
“You’re going to have to. Barker and the therapists were never able to break him. He fought them to the very end.”
Adrian’s eyes haunted the Captain; the brokenness and surrender, the anger and pain, the self-hatred and a love he didn’t acknowledge, but which brought a proud man to his knees. Hidden beneath the prickly, icy exterior, Adrian was human, and the vision of those deep, anguished eyes burned into Tarn’s memory. “But he broke when I threatened you.”
Tarn leaned forward, his eyes like lasers, and his shoulders heavy with burdens of his own making. “Do you understand what that means?
That’s why he can’t see you now.”
Kali couldn’t believe her ears. “Adrian never broke,” she said fiercely, “What he did…” Her voice faltered; the memory of the pain, the anguish, and the horror of what they did to him… “What he did took a great deal of courage.”
Startled by her outburst, Tarn lowered his hands to the table. “Perhaps, but he won’t see it that way. He will see it as a weakness.”
Sadness dulled her gray eyes and her heart was heavy. At the back of her mind, she had known it was a possibility Adrian might push her away. He would see her and be reminded of the cost he had to pay. She nodded, her throat too tight to make a response.
“You’re a good woman. They’re going to watch both of you carefully on the Trykor. Adrian will have no choice except to do what they want, and he will consider that worse than dying. Be careful when you’re over there.”
He stared at her for a moment before sending her into the hungry jaws of fate. So young and inexperienced when she first joined the crew. Full of hopes and ideals, a few less now than when she started. Reality had a tendency to do that, dash the aspirations of the uninformed.
The conversation had ended, but something tugged at Tarn, one final truth that had to be told. His fingers tapped together as he contemplated what he was going to tell her. He was her superior officer; he was not supposed to get personal. But Adrian’s face haunted him. “Stannis saved my career. Did you know that?”
Kali’s eyes widened. “I didn’t.”
Tarn leaned back, his elbows resting on the molded arm rests, allowing the past to creep up to him. “We’re an exploration vessel.” Not much of one.Kali’s eyebrows rose in puzzlement.
“But the ship hadn’t found anything worth reporting in years. No valuable minerals. No planets worth colonizing. Nothing of note. Command was going to recall the ship, probably demote me.” He remembered thinking his career was over until he wandered into Adrian’s lab. Tarn wasn’t sure why he turned to Stannis for help; it had been an act of desperation and insanity on his part. “Stannis spent months developing a new scanner to give them.”
“I thought…he was obsessing over it.”
“No one knows. He made me swear not to tell anyone.” He sighed tiredly; there was nothing he could do for either one of them. “You’re being sent over as his consort. You will share a cabin together.”
“No, I don’t—” Her voice trailed off in shock. She knew Firsters had ‘connections’ arranged by special appointment. Directed genetics.
Perhaps they were interested in her psi abilities. How would Adrian feel about this, or would it merely be an order he had to follow? “We don’t have that kind of relationship.”
“You’re going to have to work something out.”
“You are being used as leverage against his cooperation. They have to believe you’re intimate. I don’t have any choice.”
It wasn’t what she thought, it was even worse. “He’s not going to like it.”
“He’s an adult. I’m sure he’ll manage. We’ll be arriving at Base 337 in three days.”
She shook her head vigorously. “We really don’t have that kind of relationship. He barely tolerates me helping him.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something. You’re dismissed Ensign.”
Feather-light fingers slid down Adrian’s body in caressing circles, seductive warmth that went straight to the pleasure centers of his brain. He bit back a moan, his body betraying him.
“No!” his eyes snapped open, a hoarse, angry denial on his lips as every muscle tensed.
“You’re safe, Lieutenant,” said the comforting tenor of the medical assistant, Yuen. “You’re no longer in Security Section. It’s all right.”
Adrian blinked in the glare of the panel lights. Blurry vision sharpened, horror gave way to reality, which was only horror waiting to happen. He flinched and pulled away as Yuen’s hand unexpectedly rested on his arm. His teeth bared in a snarl.
Yuen lifted his hand quickly, his eyes sad. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I didn’t mean to alarm you.”
Adrian hated people, hated eyes filled with pity whenever they looked in his direction. He wanted to finish the Neutron Wave Project, and then he wanted it to end. Human beings could destroy themselves as much as they wanted to; it didn’t concern him any longer. Mental walls thickened, trying to find impenetrable perfection in anger as he buried pain and shame in a mountain of logic.
An envious gleam brightened Bryce’s eyes when he found out Ka li was going over to the Trykor with Adrian. “Oh, you’re luuucky. What I wouldn’t give, and then some.”
He sighed wistfully, imagining the beautiful women—he couldn’t imagine a flagship without lots of them—and all the mouth-watering foods waiting for a discerning palate like his. Just the thought of it made him think of the fresh, sweet strawberries he’d stolen from a fine restaurant once, well maybe more than once, and the taste of fresh meat, the delicious juices squishing out as he took a bite.
“That’s not why I’m going,” snapped Kali.
“You’re in a cheerful mood.” Bryce eyed his partner-in-line as they waited their turn at the food dispensers. He didn’t understand why she should be in such a foul temper. She was going to a place of his dreams, and Adrian was fine, if a little worse for wear. What was her problem? So
what if the silly man didn’t want to go. Adrian would find heaven irritable. That wasn’t anything new.
“You wouldn’t understand.” Kali stepped up to the dispenser and punched in her ident-code. She touched the screen, scrolling through the menu, a simple line drawing of each food category served as icons.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just a lower rank, what would I know?”
“Yes, what would you know?” Kali’s voice was harsh as she tapped the pictures for a plain multi-protein sandwich and a steaming mug of hot coffee.Bryce’s nose twitched in distaste when he saw the unappetizing items rolling along the food conveyor. “That’s disgusting. Do people really eat that? Oh, I forgot, you’re an alien. Probably don’t have taste buds.”
Sliding the plates onto her tray, she gave him a slicing glare but it glanced off Bryce’s thick skin.
He grinned impudently. It took someone higher up the food chain and much more intimidating than Ensign Kali to faze him.
“I may be alien,” her voice was taut with anger, “but at least I try to be human.”
Bryce shrugged. “Never said I was human.”
Kali didn’t hear his words as she scanned the crowded room, looking for a free spot to sit.
“You planning to drink that coffee or strangle it until it begs for mercy?” asked Bryce.
“Oh.” Kali looked down in surprise. Her fingers wrapped around the dull green coffee mug, squeezing it ever tighter until the bones stood out on her knuckles. “It’s all yours.”
She dropped the mug haphazardly on the tray, black liquid spilling from the sides, and stepped back from the dispenser to let Bryce have his turn.
“Hey, Kali, you want to sit with me?” asked Bryce.
Startled out of her thoughts, Kali stared at him before looking down at her tray. The gray spread of protein between two lifeless slabs of offwhite bread made her stomach turn. “You’re right. This is disgusting. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Bryce looked back at the fast-growing line. No one was about to let them slip back in to get another order. “S’alright. Lucky I took extra then.”
A tall stack of blueberry pancakes, smothered in butter and syrup, was leaning dangerously on his plate. “You can have some of mine.”
Kali followed him reluctantly as he led the way to a corner table and elbowed them some room. He slid a few pancakes onto her plate.
“Sorry about before.” She poked at a pancake, stabbing it listlessly with her fork.
“I deserved it,” Bryce mumbled, as he chewed a mouthful. “I know you’re worried about the Lieutenant.”
Putting her fork down, Kali stared glumly at the butter melting into a pool of golden yellow. “Do you think the rumors are true?”
Bryce glanced at her nervously, stuffed another forkful in his mouth and chewed slowly this time. “What rumors?” he asked innocently.
“You know which ones. They’ve been all over the ship. “
“Maybe I have.” In fact, he knew quite a bit. The lower ranks grapevine was far more efficient than the ones for the officers.
“I want to know.”
“You’d better ask him.”
“Captain Tarn said that he wasn’t ready to see anyone, but…I think he doesn’t want to see me.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it isn’t personal.” He squirmed in his seat and crossed his legs under the table. “What they did to him wasn’t pretty. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to see anyone.” He hoped she didn’t want any details. The pancakes lay neglected on the plate, staring up at him in accusation, berating him for his lack of common sense. “It’s better if you don’t know.” He’d promised himself that no one was ever going to do that to him. Nothing was worth being tortured like that.
“So it’s true.”
He looked up at her, and her eyes made him hesitate. What was it like to have someone care about you like that? “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re going to find when you see him.”
Adrian slid shaky legs over the side of the bed, pausing as he caught his breath and glanced up to make sure Yuen wasn’t making any motions to help. The medical assistant’s face was carefully schooled to express only mild interest. Adrian suspected sympathy lay hidden away behind those almond eyes, but the man was smart and seemed to know what his patient needed. He noted this fact and concentrated on his next move as his legs dangled from the edge of the bed. This step had been rehearsed numerous times in his head. He touched his toes to the floor, feeling a shock of cold tingling up his leg. His body tensed and muscles contracted as he angled to put more weight forward. He felt like an infant taking his first awkward steps. Weak and a twinge of pain, but it was manageable. So far, so good.
Gripping the padded support bar, he sucked in a quick steadying breath and let it out slowly as he increased the weight on his legs. His jaw tightened as hot needles of pain threaded through his calves. He stood, a bit wobbly and out of breath, but he was upright. It was taking all of his concentration to keep standing, but most important of all, he did it alone.
“It’s amazing how much muscle tone can be lost when you’re immobile for any length of time,” said Yuen, as if he was a commentator at a sports event. “Do you want to try a few steps?”
Adrian’s legs were shaking. Standing took more out of him than he anticipated and in his state, he would most likely fall flat on his face without help. “Perhaps not today.”
“You’re right,” said Yuen. “Would you mind if I help, sir?” He looked over at Dr. Greenwell who was speaking to another MA nearby. “Not because you need it, you understand. I have to look like I’m doing my job.”
Adrian’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t refuse when Yuen put arms around his shoulders and helped him back onto the bed.
The Captain entered the medical unit. “Lt. Stannis.”
There was no reaction on Adrian’s face but his heart beat harder. This man had witnessed his downfall, had preyed on him like an animal smelling weakness.
Yuen stood to attention. “Sir.”
Tarn waved his hand in dismissal. “Leave us.”
Glancing at Adrian’s blank face, Yuen nodded and removed himself from the room.
“Captain.” Adrian’s voice was expressionless as he leaned back on the pillow.
“We’ll be arriving at Base 337 tomorrow. How are you feeling?”
“I will be mobile.”
“That’s good,” said Tarn, though it was clear he had reservations. “You need to behave yourself on the Trykor. There are many more Barkers over there.”
“It’s not the Barkers that concern me.”
The accusation hung between them, a choking smoke that refused to clear. Tarn said, “Kali Mirren will be going over as your consort.”
Adrian froze. He asked harshly, “What do you get out of this?”
“A few more years of reprieve. And then, maybe an early retirement.”
“Is that all?” Sarcasm dripped like hot wax. “It’s disconcerting to discover I’m worth so little.”
“You may not believe it, but I’m doing this for your own good. You have to learn to play the game. It’s the only way to survive.”
“You’ve made that very clear.”
The temperature was dropping quickly. “The Empire is all we have. We might as well make the best of it.”
“If you have no further orders, Captain, I would like to rest.”
“There is one other thing. The matter of your personal attendant. I know you’ve never wanted one, but as a Firster, you are entitled to one. The Fleet Admiral will most likely assign you one of his own men. Do you understand?”
Having a PA was an irritant Adrian had never encumbered himself with. He would lose some of his precious privacy and there was little enough of it already, but if Tarn was right… “You will provide one from the Sedener?”
“I want you to pick your own. You may not trust anyone on this ship, but at least it will be a familiar face. It’s the least I can do for you.”
Adrian looked off in the distance. Tarn was right. Other than for Kali, he had little faith in anyone on this ship. He had trusted the Captain to a limited extent, but that had obviously been a mistake. “Bryce.”
“Sorry?” Tarn leaned forward, as if he hadn’t heard right. “Did you just say Bryce?”
“Of all the people, why Bryce? The man is a thief and a cheat. He barely escaped a trip to a penal colony because he took the military service option. Plus he’s lazy and unreliable. I thought you detested those qualities?”
Tarn shook his head. “Then I don’t get it. There must be someone better qualified.”
“But you want Bryce?”
“That is my choice.”
“All right, it’s your funeral. I’ll tell him to pack his things. I imagine you’ve just made his day. Tarn stared at him for a moment as something occurred to him, but he left it unsaid.
Adrian returned his stare, his face blank.
After the Captain left, Adrian lay back down to rest. His carefully laid plans were unraveling. With Kali designated as his consort, it was virtually impossible to ignore her. The symbol of his weakness would be in his room, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, and sleeping in the same bed. From a distance, it had been a pleasantly diverting thought, but not when it was forced on him like this. He would have to find a way to maintain a strictly professional relationship. In the same room.
She would insist on doing things for him, but he had Bryce now. The irritating thief and busybody was going to have to earn his keep.
Concentration needed to be maintained in order to keep Kali out of his mind. It was difficult. Even now, he heard her gentle voice at the edge of his consciousness. She was his weakness. He could not afford one on the Trykor.__
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About Elizabeth Lang:
I'm a science fiction writer who started off life as a computer programmer with a love for reading, especially science fiction, fantasy and mystery.
Being in computers, I found my writing skills deteriorating so I decided to take up writing. It became a joy to create characters, stories and worlds and writing soon became a passion I couldn’t put down. As a writer, I like to explore, not only the complexity of characters but the human condition from differing points of view. That is at the heart of the Empire series, of which ‘The Empire’ and ‘The Rebels’ are the first two of a four books series.
You can connect with Elizabeth Lang at the following places:
Author Page on FaceBook