Hello everybody! Today I’m hosting a segment of a read-along of The Rebels by Elizabeth Lang. She has also provided an exclusive picture from her Empire Series for this stop to go along with the chapter at today’s stop. And be sure to hang around until the end to enter the giveaway where you could win a Kobo Mini, among other fantabulous prizess. 😀
Adrian’s hand reached out, his fingers trembling. A big red button waited for him, its glossy surface a tempting treat.
An insistent masculine voice pressed behind him, “You must do this. You were trained to do this. Do not disappoint me.”
Sweat crawled down Adrian’s back and he forced his fingers forward. He knew the experiment worked. He had poured his heart into it, spending sleepless nights sweating over every detail.
A dozen functionaries in crisp white lab coats and tall figures in black uniforms attended, making him feel like a lab animal being put through his paces, but he wasn’t. He was a brilliant scientist about to unveil the next stage in solar transfer technology.
The environmental system wheezed and it seemed as if the entire room was holding its breath.
A flicker of light played across the button, forming thin lips. They parted, widening—
Adrian shuddered awake with a mouth half-open to scream, as Kali wriggled closer, snuggling into the crook of his arm. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair, letting her calming warmth soak through his skin, slowing his thumping heart. His back was damp, his hands still shaking.
The nightmares were becoming more vivid, the images starker, and each time the sense of dread grew. It was a dream. Only a dream. A trick played by a stressed and weary mind.
They should disappear once his life became more settled.
Darkness covered the room like a soft blanket, the quarter moon playfully peaking through the window slats. The odor of pine cones was no longer overwhelming, only a gentle balm immersed into the wood. He inhaled deeply.
Kali’s regular breaths had a calming effect, a peaceful counterpoint to the strong, steady beat of her heart. She stirred and mumbled something into his chest, her lips soft and teasing.
“Are you cold?” he asked. “Would you like another blanket?”
“I want to talk a bit, if you don’t mind.”
The streamer fluttered lightly above them and a neat configuration of lotions and cleansers splashed a shadowy pyramid on the wall.
“Are you disappointed?” he asked, when she didn’t continue.
“About our interrupted conversation. You were trying to encourage me to become a rebel and I resisted.”
She lifted her head, her loose black curls lightly brushing his collarbone. “I’m not disappointed, but I think that one day, you may find that you don’t have a choice. You’re going to have to take a more active role in fighting the Empire.”
His head sank into the pillow and his brows knitting together. Adrian wondered how much of her attitude stemmed from her own brushes with rebellion back on her home planet.
A silent sigh escaped his lips. High Admiral van Reutensberg was not a forgiving woman and he had already defied her twice, making a fool of her. Their next meeting may possibly be his last.
The Empire would never give up looking for him. He had no illusions about that. He was too valuable a resource, too tempting a treasure-trove of information and skills. If only he could lose it all, forget what he knew and become someone like Bryce. The young man had a gift for underachievement, just enough to keep him ‘under the radar’ as he was so fond of saying. But the thought of losing his mind was too horrible to contemplate and suddenly, there were not enough blankets on the bed, and only Kali’s warmth by his side kept him from shivering.
Still, the idea of living a violence-soaked life repulsed him.
“You may be right,” he finally said.
“Is your only objection the violence of the rebels?”
“It’s a primary objection.”
“With your abilities, you could give them a greater chance of winning. They could force the Empire to take their grievances seriously.”
She rested her chin on her cupped hands and seemed to be studying his profile. It couldn’t have been that interesting. Though he was careful to maintain an adequate level of physical fitness, he was hardly exceptional by any means.
“You could give them non-lethal technology, like the teleport,” said Kali.
“Which they will promptly use to make stealth attacks against Empire facilities.”
“What about more efficient fuel mixtures so their ships can fly faster?”
“Then they will add direct attacks on military ships to their repertoire instead of just stationary installations.”
“I was thinking they could use it to escape Empire traps and run blockades.”
“I doubt the ideas would cross their minds until it was too late.”
There was a slight pause. “Are you going to shoot down everything I say?”
“The Rebel Alliance will.” He let out a long, drawn-out sigh and turned to face her. The pale moonlight smoothed out the lines on her forehead and a tug of guilt pulled on him. She was far too young to go into hiding.
“They do not become rebels by thinking defensively, Kali. To them, everything is a weapon to be used in their fight against the Empire.”
“Including you?” she asked quietly.
The idea drew his lips into a thin line. “I will not be used by anyone, not even the rebels.”
Sester leaned back against the cold cell wall, drawing his knees closer and stared at the featureless ceiling. Blinding white walls seared into his brain, seeking out his secrets, refusing to let him go. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept or if he’d been here long enough to require sleep. It could be a few minutes, or a few weeks, except for a troubling lack of hunger. Maybe he was dead.
A thousand screaming ants scattered his thoughts and he banged the back of his head against the padded wall, each methodic thump freeing him for a moment so that he could think.
Did insanity begin with a bang or a whimper?
There was a disruptive resonance, a teeth-aching screech he could only hear in his dreams; a sub-sonic scratching of sharpened nails.
Maybe he would become a painter, a deranged artist…
He took a deep breath, pushing back the tides of chaos, tasting its frothy foam on his lips.
Adrian should be safe now, and the Empire should be making plans to build jump gates.
A gong echoed in the mausoleum of his mind, and the cell door slid open.
Guild Master Venner stood in the doorway, flanked by cowled guardians. A bemused quiver flicked at the corner of Sester’s lips as he pushed away from the wall and slid off the platform.
The Guild Master’s chalky face and sunken orbs always reminded him of an undead funeral director, a grim reaper with a side job that required him to wear mortal clothing. He didn’t walk in as much as he appeared, winking into existence at the moment of his choosing, daring you to look away, which no one ever dared, of course. Not if they wanted to live.
The guardians stayed outside, their energy staffs planted by their feet.
“Guild Master.” Sester inclined his head, an edge of tension balancing on a knife edge, and yet, sliding into the casual ease of the jester, that balance unique to him, that some would call madness.
Sester was a child again, a novice dwarfed by the towering icon of authority, as butterflies flapped their wings in his stomach and half a galaxy away a death-knell sounded. He cocked his head, a smile playing on his lips—a glimpse of the impish rascal who was never far away.
“Given my present circumstances, you must know what happened. And you’ve come to decide whether it would be more amusing to kill me or send me for rehabilitation?”
“Why did you do it?” asked Venner, his raspy, skeletal voice ringing a crisp bell in Sester’s mind.
When the Guild Master demanded truth, the truth must be given…especially if he already knew it.
“You already know the answer, Sir,” said Sester.
The Guild Master’s eyes bored into his, and it was as if those long, bony fingers plunged into his chest and wrapped around his heart. The heart he was not supposed to have.
The voice of memory hissed in his mind. We are not like others, Charles. We must answer to a higher calling if humanity is to survive, and for that, there are things we must sacrifice.
“What is your decision, Sir?”
The Guild Master hesitated, perhaps exhibiting a brief, fluttering moment of humanity himself. They had been Master and apprentice for a long time. Sester had basked in his favor, reveling in the possibility that he was being groomed for the Inner Sanctum. Many called him the greatest psychostrategist of his generation.
Venner turned and exited without another word, leaving only the emptiness of rejection.
The black-hooded guardians entered the cell, twin specters of death.
Energy staffs were raised and aimed, somewhere to the middle of his chest.
Sester smoothed the lines of his crinkled jacket, straightening the high collar—always the man of civility—and faced death calmly.
Three lives for one; it was a good trade.
He smiled, greeting the end with his customary amusement.
Fingers tightened on triggers.
Time slowed, stretching out in torturous anticipation.
Sester held up his hand. “Wait.”
Two flashes and it was all over.
Light snuck up over the horizon and the bounty hunter leaned into the shadows, pressing in, barely bruising a pine needle. He slid a pistol from his holster, angling the grip to checking the charge. It was full, of course, but he still had to verify it. PKs had a tendency to bleed the charge when age wore down the filings and this one was almost as old as he was. But it had served him well.
A red-throated thrush-like creature spread iridescent wings, twittered and pushed off, sprinkling a dusting of snow on his head. He brushed the flakes irritably and absently rubbed an itch at the back of his neck.
Sweeping boughs jostled each other in the glow of the shack. Stannis was an early riser and would be putting a pot on the cooking plate before his ablutions.
Adrian Stannis. Of all the places to run into the most wanted man in the Empire, it had to be a backwater planet with barely enough technology to be rated Tech-4.
He knew why Stannis was here, but the interesting question was how?
The wanted roll for him only went out three days ago. No one could get from Earth to the Outer Rim in less than two weeks.
Argus breathed in deeply, forcing expanding lungs to bursting before letting it out.
If he didn’t take Stannis, someone else would. The best Hunter teams would already be after him. The pistol pulsed to life as he flipped the switch. Why let someone else benefit?
The door creaked opened and the younger man came out, the light making his hair flaming orange. Good. Bryce is delivering the fixed compressor to town.
A light breeze whispered through the pines and a panther-like creature scratched along a branch and jumped to the next tree, its wings halfspread.
There was a family of them around somewhere, constantly foraging for food. The woman always talked to it as if it were a friend.
Bryce set off, his steps light, whistling a happy tune. Argus waited until he was out of earshot. He moved forward like a light brush of wind.
To the left, clumps of dirt had been clawed and scraped by Bryce and Kali revealing an abandoned garden.
The panther creature twittered loudly behind him. He glared at it, knowing it was trying to give a warning to those inside. It was a good thing it didn’t know how to speak or he would have killed it days ago.
His head angled to listen as he approached the door. One swift kick to take Stannis by surprise and a punch if the woman proved difficult. He planted his left leg, ready to kick with his right. The door opened without warning and he flattened himself behind the door, holding his breath.
“I heard something.” Kali’s voice came from the other side of the door and puffs of air trailed from her mouth.
There was a faint reply from Stannis. He must be in the bedroom.
“I’m going to check,” she replied, and the door opened wider. She stepped out and stared at the tree line. “Eelie,” she called, nudging the door closed with a foot.
She didn’t see him. A single crack with the butt of his pistol to the base of her skull and he grabbed her before she crumpled to the ground.
The panther creature screeched, flying at him with viciously-sharp talons spread.
He aimed and hesitated, at the last moment thrusting Kali in front of him. The bird squawked and angled off, flapping back into the trees.
“Kali?” came a worried query came from inside.
Damn. Argus let the woman down quietly and grabbed the door handle, holding it fast as the man on the other side tried to push it open.
“Kali, open the door.” It wasn’t a shout, but there was a note of tension.
Argus yanked the door open, seized a fistful of tattered brown shirt, and pulled, sending the man flying out into the garden, crashing on a mound of snow. A laser probe dropped from the scientist’s breast pocket. He always seemed to carry it.
“Don’t move, Stannis.” He aimed the gun at Kali’s head.
The fallen man sputtered, spitting out a mouthful of snow and crushed pine needles. His glare was deadly when he saw the gun but there was a momentary glint he couldn’t hide. “Who are you? What have you done to Kali?”
Argus’ voice was a low rumble. “She’s still alive for now. Get up and keep your hands where I can see them.”
“If she dies…” Stannis stood, a shower of powdery snow flying from his shirt as he brushed it off.
“No sudden movements.” Argus made a circle motion. “Turn around and place your hands behind your head.”
A large shadow dropped from above. Adrian took a half-step back, his eyes wide, and shouted, “Watch out!”
Argus dove to the ground. Twisting, he fired off a shot as a man on a hover bike plunged down to crush him. He thrust with both legs, kicking a side funnel, and the bike careened away like a drunken sailor.
He jumped up and fired again just as the bike swiveled around. Smoke belched from the rear engine pod and from behind him, he heard the short whine of laser tracers slicing through the air. Argus ducked and whirled as flashes flared against a trunk beside him.
Two more hover bikes dropped from above, one in front and one behind him. Men in black, studded jackets and bandoliers slung across their chests.
Three men; a hunter team, and they weren’t after Stannis.
Argus faced his executioners.
One of the bikers lifted his face plate, revealing a battle-hardened man with mismatched eyes. “You know we don’t need you alive.”
“Likewise,” Argus snarled.
By the shack, Adrian knelt by Kali and placed a hand under her nose, relieved when warm air touched his fingers. He spotted the laser probe and picked it up, clipping it into his pocket. A shrill wind sliced through his flannel shirt.
A bounty hunter and a Hunter team. He had to get Kali away from them.
The other biker said with a mocking voice, “We should thank you for leading us to him.” He jerked his thumb towards Adrian. “Two of the most wanted men in the Empire. It must be our lucky day.”
Adrian glanced at the bounty hunter sharply. He brought the laser probe up.
“Your last day,” growled the bounty hunter.
Adrian squeezed the trigger a split second faster than the others, his shot drilling into the biker’s chest as they both fired. He whirled and aimed at the second Hunter when a red beam streaked forward and pierced the mocking biker’s forearm. The bounty hunter fired and dove, a double flare hitting the man in the abdomen, as he twisted in mid-air and brought down the last man. Hardened faces turned to blank horror as they toppled from their bikes.
The bounty hunter jogged over and booted their guns out of the way before checking if they were dead.
Adrian draped Kali’s arm around his shoulders.
“You missed,” said the bounty hunter.
Adrian blinked and looked up. “I wasn’t trying to kill you.”
The bounty hunter gestured with his gun. “Put the woman down.”
“I just saved your life.”
“I would have killed them all without you.”
The reply dripped like acid from Adrian’s lips. “I have no doubts.”
The bounty hunter scowled. “Put her down or I’ll kill her. You should have no doubts about that either.”
Adrian lowered Kali, and raised his hands. “I should have let them kill you.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t.”
“A momentary lapse in judgment. It won’t happen again.”
The bounty hunter’s eyes swept him from head to foot and spotted the laser probe in his breast pocket.
“Take that out slowly, with two fingers.”
“It’s only a laser probe and the charge has been depleted.”
“You used it to shoot the Hunter.”
“Once, but it’s dead now. The burst overloaded the circuits.”
“Yet you put it back in your pocket.”
“Merely a habit. Who are—”
He barely had enough time to register surprise as the butt of the pistol cracked against his skull and he descended into a swirling abyss of darkness.
Want to read more? Be sure to follow along on the read-along!
The Edible Bookshelf — Chapter 1
Vixie’s Stories — Chapter 2
Decadent Decisions — Chapter 3
Independent Writers Association — Chapter 4
Self Publish or Die — Chapter 5
Reviews From Beyond the Book — Chapter 6
Great Alpha Speaks — Chapter 7
The Kat Daughtry — Chapter 8
03/14/2013 — Natasha Larry Books — Chapter 10
03/27/2013 — Castle Macabre — Chapter 11
03/28/2013 — My World — Chapter 12
03/29/2013 — The Cro’s Nest — Chapter 13
03/30/2013 — Tink’s Place — Chapter 14
03/31/2013 — Reading, Writing And More — Chapter 15
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?
About the Author
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.
Page Turner Book Tours is fronted by the face behind Read2Review Kate. Page Turner Book Tours has been put together to help promote authors and give something back to the writing world. Kate has put together a team of incredibly talented people to help with the project by incorporating their individual skills into making new, fresh and exciting promotional plans that we hope you agree are amazing. If you would like to book a tour with Page Turner Book Tours please check out their tour packages. If you would like to become a tour host with Page Turner Book Tours please check out their Tour Host page. You won’t be disappointed!