The Rebels (The Empire series)
With Adrian’s jump gate, the Empire is readying to take the fight to their enemies. The Rebel Alliance takes advantage of this opportunity to expand it’s power and bring down this oppressive regime.
The charismatic Tucker and his second-in-command, Dain, are at the vanguard of this Rebel push, but is everything as simple as it seems?
Adrian is once again caught up with factions vying to use his brilliant mind when a bounty hunter recaptures him while Kali and Bryce try to save him.
Will they succeed? Are the Rebels their salvation or is there a hidden agenda that will destroy them all?
Charles Sester the psychostrategist is back and at his manipulative best, but whose interests is he serving this time?
The Rebels – Chapter 7
The shack was swept clear of debris and holes were boarded up as best they could. Kitchenware hung from hooks on the wall, by category, or were stuffed in hastily drafted containers. Tins lay neatly stacked in cupboards, according to food group and expiry date. The room no longer looked as if a tornado had passed through it, and it was far from Adrian’s exacting standards, but this was better than the alternative.
He dipped a coarse sponge into a diluted cleaning agent, squeezed out the liquid so it wouldn’t drip all over the floor, and scrubbed a rustybrown stain next to a table leg. If he hazarded to guess, it looked like a spray of blood that had dried into the boards and then inexpertly cleaned with a caustic agent that burned it into the wood. He leaned into the sponge with his shoulder, ignoring the twinge in his back. After everything they had gone through, he refused to be defeated by a stubborn stain.
Produce. Think. Solve. He shook himself mentally, trying to throw off the litany that had been plaguing him for weeks.
A croaking gurgle from the heater made him lift his head and frown. Warmed air wheezed through the heating system. The unit was fixed but far from efficient. When Bryce returned from town, they would clear the clogged ducts.
He glanced at the light green numbers advancing on his databand. Six hours. He squeezed the sponge harder than he intended and brackish water squirted through his fingers.
Have the authorities arrested Bryce? The lack of up-to-date information was vexing and once he had the equipment, he would build them all comms devices. His, of course, was already connected to the planetary networks.
A creak of a cupboard door drew his attention. Kali removed two chipped mugs and set them on the counter next to a whistling kettle. The previous inhabitant didn’t believe in tea cups, saucers or glasses, just beer-sized mugs.
The idea of beer brought his mind back to his missing assistant. Where is he?
“He’s fine,” Kali told him.
Adrian blinked. “You read my mind.”
“I sensed you were worried and then you looked at the door.”
He didn’t remember doing it, and it was disconcerting how well she could read him.
“You sensed something from Bryce?”
“Vaguely. His impressions are not as strong as yours, but he appears to be happy, so I assume he’s safe.”
A sharp pinch of pain in his knees made him shift his weight. Scrubbing floors was an unaccustomed and menial task, but there was nothing else for him to do until he had more equipment and proper tools. “Can you sense when he’s coming back?”
“Unfortunately, no.” She brought the mugs over and set them on the table.
Steam drifted lazily from the kettle, the calming scent of chamomile teasing him with a tranquility he did not feel. Now that he was pondering it, Adrian realized his assistant had no reason to come back. With money from the sale of the bands, Bryce could build a new life. He glanced up at Kali who was pouring murky brown liquid into a mug. Without him, she would be much safer, and potentially much happier.
“I would not,” said Kali, without spilling a drop or looking in his direction.
Adrian tried to keep a disgruntled tone from seeping into his voice. “I thought you couldn’t read my mind.”
“I didn’t need to,” said Kali.
Dropping the sponge into the bucket, he pulled himself up with the table edge, his knees cracking audibly. “The fact still remains, as long as you stay with me, your life is in danger. You heard the Admiral, she will send people after me. People who will stop at nothing.”
Kali paused in the middle of pouring the tea. Her voice took on the softer tone that made him stiffen. “I’m here because I want to be with you. We’re in this together.”
“And Bryce? He’s not here because he wants to be here. He’s a victim of circumstance. If he had a choice, he would be in his bed sleeping, or in a bar drinking himself into a stupor. He only stays because he doesn’t realize that he’s no longer my assistant, that he no longer has to follow my orders.”
“You’re being unfair to him. If he wanted to, Bryce could have betrayed you many times. He can still sell you for a hundred million credits if he were that kind of man, but he isn’t and you know it.”
Adrian stared out the window at the snow-covered garden and the gaps in the fence. It was a bleak landscape, unforgiving and deadly to those who had no protection. He released a heavy sigh. “I never said he was a traitor.”
“I’m glad you know that. You cannot drive us away and none of us can survive on our own.”
As much as he wanted to wipe it from his memory, he could not deny the lessons learned this past year under the heel of the Empire. The thought, the stark reality of it sat like a bitter pill that he had to force himself to swallow. Unconsciously, his fingers slid up the much folded sleeve ofhis workman plaid shirt and he kneaded the tight numbness that radiated up his wrist. “I didn’t say I could.”
She fixed him with a stare. “You cannot die on your own either.”
He wanted to correct her, to say that it was very easy, but a lump formed in his throat, choking the response. There was something else he had discovered this past year, something he feared more than life or death or even the loss of his freedom.
“I know you’re concerned, but don’t be.”
Kali put the kettle down and considered him with a speculative tilt of her head. “Adrian, have you ever considered fighting?”
His brows lifted at the strange question. “I don’t engage in barbaric displays.”
“I’m not talking about physical combat. You’ve been fighting the Empire all your life, one way or another.”
He shrugged. “I fight stupidity wherever it may be. It is not exclusive to the Empire.”
“That’s true, but I’m not referring to a lack of intelligence. I mean resistance, rebellion, overturning a system that treats people unfairly.”
“You’re referring to the rebel alliance?”
“Not necessarily. But they are one option.”
“I’m a scientist, Kali. I have no interest in tilting windmills or engaging in violent rebellion.”
“Then become a nonviolent rebel. I’m sure there are many things you can do to make the Empire leaders sit up and listen. They need you.”
“They don’t need me. Only my knowledge and my skills. They want a human computer that can spit out answers, not opinions. And the rebels are the same.”
“Surely not. They’re fighting oppression. They’re trying to help people.”
“Fighting oppression doesn’t automatically make someone good, Kali. Rebels seek to tear down an oppressive system regardless of the consequences to others. Gekka was a prime example. They took over a planet ostensibly to free people from tyranny, but once they did, the rebels indiscriminately enslaved or killed everyone above a level three under the assumption that those who had privilege must be guilty of oppression. That does not make them better than the Empire. Many were doctors, scientists, educators, skilled people living peaceful lives.”
Kali eased herself into the opposite chair and poured the rest of the tea while he wiped his hands on a towel and joined her.
“I’d heard some bad things about Gekka, but it’s hard to believe the official reports.”
“This time, they were truthful. I had access to some of the higher level communications and verified the details.”
“You mean, you hacked the security channels?”
“Quite regularly. It was the only way to obtain the facts.”
“Then you know what the Empire does to people.”
“It’s not that easy, Kali. Unlike Bryce’s entertainment holo-vids, people are not that simple. They do not conveniently wear black or white hats.
We all live in murky shades of gray. We all act according to reasons that are justified to ourselves. I do not like what the Empire did to me, but I understand their reasoning. I just don’t agree with their methods.”
She lifted the mug to her lips and stopped, peering at him through the steamy trails rising from its surface.
“Do you know what I did before I joined the Empire?”
“It was not in your files.”
“You checked my records?”
He cleared his throat, an embarrassed flush warming his face. “I wanted more information about you.”
“You could have asked. I would have told you.”
“Yes, well…it was easier.”
An amused smile made her eyes sparkle.
“Shall I fill in the blanks?” she offered.
“That would be appreciated.”
She pushed a steaming mug across to him. “I was considered a rebel once.”
The bounty hunter slinked in the shadows, following the whistling young man carrying the box. Deeper into the forest they went and further away from civilization.
Outside the repair shop, he’d overheard the mention of a tech and somehow he doubted it was Bryce. So there were at least two of them, two bounties for him to collect, and if the other man was like this one, it should be fairly easy. Bryce didn’t notice he’d developed an extra shadow the last few hours.
Argus breathed in deeply, enjoying the sweet, fresh air expanding his lungs. He felt alive out here, connected to the world in a way he never did behind four walls, breathing the stale air of the recycling systems. His boots barely left a mark on the soft pine carpet, unlike the crunching steps of his noisy prey ahead. No man in his old military outfit would be allowed to be so dangerously incompetent. Others used to call them Ghost Walkers.
The young man, his name seemed to be Bryce, was most likely in a service trade and wasn’t a line soldier.
His lips curled in a scowl. Not that he was either. Not anymore. And his men, his former team mates, would be obligated to shoot him on sight.
It wouldn’t be personal, their line of work rarely was.
The young man slowed and turned to look behind him. Argus melted into the shadows, flattening himself behind a tree, his hand sliding to draw his pistol.
“I was young and brash.” Kali’s hands wrapped around the mug as the scene played in her mind. “Full of ideas.”
She had been appointed as an assistant to Ren Dastrin. It was quite an honor. The soft spoken Senator was one of the most respected leaders on Tellar. People hushed when she spoke, leaning forward to catch every word. Ren Dastrin’s word was law and Kali had learned a great deal from this brilliant, commanding woman.
“My mind was expanded by new ideas and challenges, perspectives I had never known. I learned to see beyond the narrow confines of our world until, one day…” An icy shudder passed through her and her eyes squeezed shut as the memories flooded back.
“I was accompanying the Ren on a diplomatic mission to Sector Eight when we passed near a battle zone. I still remember the flashes in the distance, the ships blowing up. It was the first time I felt so many people dying at once. Their screams paralyzed me. I couldn’t breathe.”
There had been so many of them, souls torn from bodies that did not want to die. She had collapsed, her mind catatonic, unable to shield itself from the onslaught of lives being snuffed out. “They were angry and afraid and there was a hideous darkness.”
Her fingers tightened around the mug and she felt hesitant fingers brushing the back of her hand and tentative warmth reaching out to touch her mind. She opened her eyes and saw hazel ones watching her intently, the hard, machine-like exactness softening with concern.
This was the Adrian people told her didn’t exist, the one who rarely appeared except in their most intimate moments.
“You don’t have to tell me,” he told her.
Kali twisted her hand around to grasp his. “I want to tell you.”
Her body tensed as she plunged into the memories again. “I felt them, Adrian. The aliens. I touched their minds. It was very brief and then it was gone. I think their minds are shielded.”
“Did they know you were reading them?”
Her eyes closed and her brow furrowed as she tried to dredge more details from the sense memories. “I’m…not sure. I felt their minds. One of them at least. I couldn’t get any details but I heard their surface thoughts and I could feel what they were feeling.” Her mind strained. “I think they’ve been watching us for a long time and they consider us dangerous for some reason, but I don’t know why. I felt their hatred though. I could…taste it. It was strong and bitter, like poison. They think of us like a plague, a disease that has to be wiped out.”
He nodded in acknowledgement. “The Empire has known their intentions since they first invaded this galaxy three centuries ago.”
“But it was never real to me, not until that day.” The thought of it still made her ill.
“You were weakened by the shock of the battle.”
“That’s what the healers told me, but it was more than that. Before that day, I firmly believed in our neutrality. I thought it made us superior to the worlds around us, more civilized.”
“You were right.”
Her hand gripped his harder. “I was wrong, Adrian. So very wrong. It only made us cowards, letting others die to defend our world while we were smug in our own neutrality. I finally woke up to the truth and I started speaking out.”
“That would not have made you popular.”
“I didn’t care. I had to make them see the reality of the situation. I pushed Ren Dastrin to give me a chance to speak in the Senate. To plead my case.”
The Senate chambers became deathly quiet when she stood up, her legs shaking, and a cool breeze passed through her thin cream colored attendant’s robe.
Wisps of thought flashed around her. Who is this young upstart? Why does Ren Dastrin allow her to speak?
She had never felt so isolated on her home planet, so alone.
“I told them what happened, what I experienced during the battle.”
Her words echoed in the rounded chamber. “We cannot let other people die while we sit back and do nothing.”
“They didn’t believe you?” asked Adrian.
The collective minds shouted her down, refusing to listen, questioning her authority, her agenda. She had never experienced such chaos on Tellar before, such an outburst of emotions.
“Tellar is an ordered and disciplined society. We believe in peace and harmony above all else. You would like it there.”
“It sounds an ideal place.”
“I thought it was.” It had been an illusion fostered by collective ignorance.
The warmth of Adrian’s hand travelled up her arm, pushing back the spreading chill of her past.
“When they drowned out my voice, I was angry and I did something that was unforgivable. I took what I experienced that day, the feelings and impressions from the aliens, and threw it at them.”
“You cannot deny—this!” She had lifted her head, gathered all of her psi-energy and exploded it outwards. A whirlwind of screams and angry shouts filled the chamber and swirled around her.
“I gather this is not done?” asked Adrian’s calm voice.
She took a shuddering breath. “Not without consent. As telepaths, we are very careful about what we send. Emotions are powerful and can overwhelm; it is considered an assault. To send hatred, without warning or permission, is not accepted in our society.”
“You were trying to warn them.”
“It’s no excuse.”
Her head bowed as she remembered meeting with Ren Dastrin a few days later. The senator’s high cheekbones made her seem even more grim.
“What were you thinking, young one?” the senator had asked. Her voice wasn’t cold, but neither was it friendly.
Kali had raised her head, her lips trembling. The last thing she wanted to do was to disappoint her mentor, her idol, but she could not, would not, take back what she said. “I’m not sorry for what I did, Senator, but I am sorry for how I did it. That was wrong of me.”
“It was,” Dastrin said with a disapproving tone.
“I was expecting to be reprimanded and kicked out. Told never to come back.”
They sat in silence as Ren Dastrin contemplated the future of her most junior attendant and then she said something Kali did not expect.
“But it worked.”
“Why did she allow you to speak in the Senate chamber?” asked Adrian.
Kali looked at him in surprise. It was as if he had heard her thoughts.
“It seems odd that she would let you speak,” he noted, “knowing the controversial nature of your topic.”
“You’re right. The senator told me she’d been arguing against neutrality for years, trying to get the Senate to recognize the seriousness of the invasion, but people were content in their ways and the battles were always on the other side of the galaxy.”
“Out of sight. Out of mind.”
“Too much out of mind.” She took a sip of the tea, not caring that it was no longer hot. “When I read the alien’s mind, his emotions, she saw a chance.”
“Can other Tellarans read Andromedan minds?”
“Not that I know of, and I only did it that once. That’s why I think they’re shielded against psi energies.”
“Quite possibly.” He tapped her hand speculatively, his eyes hooded in thought. “Are you considered a powerful telepath?”
“I was rated as having potential, but I’ve never developed it.”
She looked away, embarrassed. “I never wanted the responsibility of having that kind of power.”
“You wanted to be normal.”
“Most Tellarans can read each other’s thoughts but just the conscious, surface ones. There are some who can reach beyond the psyche and invade memories and the deeper levels of awareness.”
“An invasion of privacy.”
She felt his discomfort, the sensation of nakedness. “Even Tellarans are not entirely comfortable with it.”
He let go of her hand and lifted the mug, grimacing when the tepid liquid moistened his lips. Putting it down, he asked, “Is that why Tellar joined the Empire? Because of your warning?”
“Ren Dastrin led the debates and discussions and they finally held a full referendum months later. The vote was close, but she won and Tellar sent a diplomatic mission to the Empire Central Authority on Earth. The rest you know.”
“Except how you end up being assigned to a science vessel not involved with the defensive efforts.”
A wry smile touched her face. “I was encouraged to leave Tellar.”
“Your people exiled you?”
“They didn’t call it that, but I had, as your people would say, ‘rocked the boat’.“
“And saved your world in the process.”
“They were polite about it.”
A sarcastic snarl curled his lips. “How very civilized of them.”
The door swung open and Bryce bounded in, a cheery smile on his face and a load of goodies in his arms. “I’ve got treats for everyone!”
Adrian’s brow quirked at the strange idea coming from his assistant. “You sold my services to fix farming equipment?”
If a pin dared to drop, the silence would have deafened it.
Bryce stopped unwinding the scarf. Any minute now, the woolen strands would become a noose around his neck. This was fast becoming the worst idea he ever had. “I thought it might be a change for you.”
In a staccato burst, he said, “I know I should have asked you first but it seemed like a good idea at the time. And we needed money and you’re a genius who can fix anything and I just thought you could do this little thing and people would know how wonderful you are, and you could get more jobs, you know, ones more befitting your station and—”
“You’re trying to flatter me.”
Bryce lifted his eyes hopefully. “Is it working?”
“I figured, since we need money, we’d have to work for it, and I don’t have any valuable skills except stealing.”
“And being presumptuous,” added Adrian.
Bryce smiled. When Adrian lost his humor, that was when to watch out. “So you’ll do it?”
“The idea is not entirely without merit. As long as we keep my face out of view.”
“I told them you were shy.”
Adrian was about to glare at him, but Bryce flipped open the box and dug out the worn leather pouch and laid it on the table. “They said you could keep that if you fixed the compressor.”
“This is a tool kit.” Shoving his cold mug to the side, his fingers trembling, Adrian undid the strap and spread the pouch on the table. “A standard mechanic’s repair kit. Not very sophisticated, but functional enough for farm equipment.”
A random ray ventured past the window slats and lit up the room. Bryce beamed, unrolling the rest of the woolen scarf. He mused, “Adrian and Bryce’s Fixit Service. It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
“Don’t push your luck.”
The assistant’s smile tempered to a smirking grin.
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: