In world under siege, a man tries to survive.
Humanity is in danger of annihilation as a centuries old war with the Andromedans heats up again. The Empire, an increasingly totalitarian society, is the only force that stands in the gap.
Thrust into this chaos of alien invasion, rebellion, and political intrigue, Lieutenant Adrian Stannis is caught between the ends and the means. No one knows why this brilliant scientist chooses to hide himself in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, doing research on an insignificant science vessel. His days of anonymity may soon be coming to an end, whether he wants it to or not.
Adrian's freedom, and his very survival may depend on friends he's afraid of having. Kali, a psi-enabled humanoid who is the only person he gets along with, just barely, and Bryce, his personal assistant and one-time conman and thief, may be his only hopes, if he doesn't push them away, not to mention a mystery surrounding him that may explode in their faces.
Everyone wants to know the truth, but will it set them free?
Why does time seem so slow when you're waiting for something to happen? Is it simply a trick of the mind or is there a dimension you enter, a special mocking place, where time expands just to drive you crazy?
Ensign Kali Mirren didn't care if it moved faster or slower, or if all the laws of physics broke down in a messy heap; she only wanted to know one thing, where is Adrian?
Lt. Adrian Stannis was their resident Science Officer and computer expert. His preferred epitaph, if he bothered to have one, would be "Leave Me Alone--or Else."
She drummed impatiently along the edge of the control panel, unconsciously following an old marching tune. They'd arranged to have this shift together--or rather, she did, and he didn't object--but his tactical station was conspicuously empty. A quick call to his cabin produced nothing. She checked the log for the medical unit. Still nothing. Her fingers tapped harder. Adrian is never late. Something must be wrong.
Stars stared at her from the main viewscreen, sprinkles of light moving sedately past their antiquated science vesselship. Don't worry, he's fine, they seemed to be telling her, but she didn't believe that for one minute, not in this galaxy.
The bridge was quiet, always too quiet for her. It was the curse of being a Tellaran on a ship full of humans--their minds closed to each other. The Sedener was an old science and exploration vessel with a complement of under two hundred. Everything was well past it's expiration date but was meticulously kept in good repair. The institutional gray walls were well-scrubbed, with the golden fist symbol of the Empire stamped at appropriate intervals.
She closed her eyes, placing blunt-nailed fingers to her temples, and pushed her mind out, concentrating on an image of the missing man, even though it shouldn't make a difference. Liquid hazel eyes stared back at her, chestnut brown hair, fastidiously regulation short, and a cultured face with a faint boyish quality that tempered his normally serious demeanor. He might have been handsome if he bothered to look agreeable instead of staring coldly at people.
Sighing, she pushed harder, stretching her mind to its limits, feeling the tension like a band ready to snap. Adrian hated having his privacy invaded, but she had no choice. Whispers of emotions from the crew licked against her consciousness like gentle waves.
Where is he? Is he blocking me?
Adrian had been agitated today. Tightly held emotions, normally strangled into submission, had escaped the bonds of his control more than once. She had hoped to ask him about it, but now, it may be too late. She couldn't delay any longer; the shift required a Duty Officer.
It was the last thing she wanted to do. Once she reported him, Adrian would be in trouble with First Officer Barker, a thin whip of a man with a perpetual twist of a sneer on his lips. Her own lips curled in distaste at the thought of the most detested man on the ship, the head of Security Section, the one who meted out discipline. He was the 'Eyes and Ears' of the Empire on the ship. Even the Captain was wary of him. Barker didn't like people who were smarter than he was, and he positively hated Adrian.
The Security personnel loved their work, more so because they were a sadistic lot, Kali suspected, than for an actual love of the Empire. On the Sedener, there was little scope for their 'talents'. Infractions tended to be minor. The only one immune to their attentions was the Captain.
Adrian had not felt the 'wrath of Barker' yet. His mind was far too valuable to risk the 'retraining' methods employed for officers. He was a First in the Privilege Levels, someone considered genetically valuable, to be treated with care. Without a gross breach of discipline, Adrian was untouchable. Unfortunately, not fulfilling one's duty was a serious offence.
Security and Political Officer. Adrian had said it with a faintly cynical sneer when she expressed shock at Barker's behavior after she had been on the ship a few months. Her home world, Tellar, was nothing like the Empire, but alien invasions from the Andromedan galaxy had forced her people to abandon neutrality for the sake of survival.
"An interesting combination, don't you think?" he had added in his characteristically flat voice. There had been a flash of interest from him, quickly suppressed. He regarded her with sharply intelligent eyes, always searching for something, and she immediately felt a strange connection to this mysterious man.
Why had he spoken to her that day? She never found out.
Banks of status lights read green. Environment, navigation, weapons, scanners, all fine, except for Adrian.
"Kali!" Bryce, their ship's weapons specialist raced in, his shock of burnt-orange hair, just a little too long, waved like flames on top of his head. He came to a wheezing halt and gave her a bright smile, his out-of-shape lungs protesting the increased demand for oxygen. Bryce liked Kali, from her fine midnight black hair, gray eyes that changed from dark to delightfully soft with her mood, to the fine athletic build that was curved in all the right places. Of course she was also an officer, wearing the authoritative black uniform with the golden fist emblem of the Empire over the right breast. Untouchable for a low-leveler like him, but he could always dream.
"I'm trying to find Adrian." She tapped the side of her head in emphasis. "Trying to contact him. He didn't show up for his shift."
"Oh yeah, that's why I'm here. Thought you should know." Bryce wore the gray jumpsuit of the lower ranks, a color he hated. They didn't go with his eyes, which were a deep sea green and usually full of mischief.
Kali's heart quickened in apprehension. She said in a rush, "What's wrong? Where is he?"
"He's in the brig."
"What?" Kali asked in shock. As far as she knew, Adrian had never been in the brig before. "What happened?"
"Beats me." Bryce shrugged, his thin eyebrows lifting briefly. "Saw two of the bullyboys dragging him off."
She asked in a stuttering voice, "Did they do anything to him?"
"Didn't see any bruises if that's what you're asking," said Bryce. "'Sides, he's a Firster and an officer; they wouldn't dare lay a finger on him."
Kali's lips thinned. She wasn't so sure that Adrian wouldn't be hurt. The security staff might not dare, but the First Officer was a different matter. "Was Barker there?"
"Oh, you mean old grom…I mean, our esteemed First Officer?"
"One of these days," warned Kali, "they'll throw you in a punishment cell." An orange light blinked briefly on her panel. She tapped it. Nothing major, just the air recycle system switching tanks.
"What do you mean, one of these days? I was there two weeks ago." He shivered involuntarily, remembering the cramped cell, the pain sticks, and the ghoulishly smiling faces of the Security men. There was no way he was ending up there again, not if he could bribe, cheat, or steal his way out.
"I thought you said you were on leave?"
"Yeah, well…" Bryce's light green eyes lowered in embarrassment. "I was supposed to be. I sort of started early."
"You didn't?" she asked incredulously.
He shrugged. "I didn't think anyone'd notice."
Kali's gray eyes darkened slightly. Their weapons specialist had a reputation, and following the rules wasn't one of them. "You've done this before, haven't you?"
"Well, if you must know, yeah. Never been caught though. And what's a few extra hours? It's not like we're doing anything important. I haven't had anything to shoot in ages."
"I hope you've learned your lesson."
"Oh, was I supposed to learn something?" asked Bryce, an unrepentant grin on his lips. The look of exasperation on her face made him chuckle. "Good old Adrian. I knew he was alright when Barker didn't like him."
"We've got to help him," said Kali. She knew it would be hard convincing anyone to help Adrian. He had a natural tendency to alienate people.
"Why? It's not like we're friends."
And there it was. She had to try though. "Bryce, he only has us."
Bryce grimaced at the tone in her voice. He was always a sucker for a damsel in distress. Probably because he'd watched too many entertainment vids. "What d'you want me to do?"
"I must stay here until my shift ends."
"Oh. You want me to do some digging 'round?" He gave her a conspiratorial wink.