"Let’s get out of this hell hole!" shouted Bryce, after Senior Psychostrategist Charles Sester left the room. He looked warily at the jump gate platform and the shimmering double spiral at the top. His carrot-topped hair flamed red as a flash of energy corkscrewed through the gigantic coil, seeming to disappear at the apex. He gulped, looking at it warily, his feet shuffling in place. "Come on, what are we waiting for?" He sounded like a man in a hurry, looking over the edge of a cliff and wondering which option was worse.
Seated at a long workbench near a row of neatly labeled equipment drawers, Lt. Adrian Stannis didn't glance up, even though a corner of his mind shouted the urgency at him.
High Admiral van Reutensberg and her men were coming for them. For him.
An involuntary shudder passed through him like a breath of arctic wind, leaving behind icy slivers of memories.
The Admiral and people like her were the bane of his existence. She had forced him to build the ultimate weapon to be used against their own people. It was for the defence of the human race against alien invaders intent on wiping them out, but the excuse wore thin these days, if it ever was a good enough reason for barbarity.
Not that Adrian cared about human beings in general. Most of them were irrational irritants he preferred to stay away from, but he did draw the line at outright murder. There had to be limits.
He stared, transfixed by the small, rectangular transceiver in his hand; a deceptively simple device tied to the implant at the base of his brain. With it, the Empire had controlled him and kept him a prisoner; making him a Firster in name only, with the trappings of the privileged but none of the freedom. Its invisible strands tugging at him like the strings of a marionette. He shouldn’t feel it. It made no scientific sense that he should, but he did.
When Psychostrategist Sester helped him to escape, he had been suspicious, but when the man handed him the master control unit-thereby giving him real freedom-he had been shocked.
"Why?" he had asked. He could not understand the logic that would cause an enemy-a man who worked for those who sought to control him-to risk his life to help him. He still could not understand it.
"I wish I could answer that for myself," had been Sester's unsatisfying response.
And now, Adrian was frozen in mystification, staring at the symbol of his vulnerability, seeking the logic that eluded him.
"Adrian, we have to go." Kali touched his arm, making him blink and look up.
He had almost forgotten she was standing next him. Her grey eyes were cloudy with concern as she slung her medical pouch across her shoulders bandolier-style. She wore the same uniform he did, Empire black with the golden fist of authority on the patch at their shoulders, though his was covered by his white lab coat.
"Yes, we must," he repeated her words mechanically, as if he were testing them. He gripped the transceiver tighter, needing to feel its corners digging into his palm. "Are they close?" he asked.
Kali's eyes took on a faraway look as she reached out with her psi senses. Even with the limited success she had with humans, he knew she could still sense their presence. She nodded. "Very close. They're in the building."
The danger finally hit him and its chilly fingers raced up his spine. His mind cleared and he unsnapped the fastenings of his lab coat, quickly slipping the control unit into an inner pocket of his uniform.
Using the panel edge, he pushed himself up, grimacing in irritation as weary limbs responded in sluggish complaint. He gasped, groaning as a sheet of pain stretched across his back. Kali reached for him but he shook his head angrily, not at her, but at this inopportune reminder of what he had to endure these past few months. His jaw clenched as he fought the pain when a barked order, muffled by the door, snapped their heads towards the entrance and his stomach did a back flip at the familiar voice.
Bryce shouted, "They're here! Now, can we go?" He raced halfway up the ramp, turning back to look at them.
"Quick! Through the gate!" said Adrian pushing Kali towards his assistant. He slapped his hand on the beveled activation button. The lights in the lab dimmed and the gate flared its brilliance.
Bryce stumbled back, quickly covering his eyes. "What the hell…" He looked at the gate warily, no longer looking eager to go through it.
Kali took several running steps towards the gate as Adrian ran in the other direction. She stopped. "Where are you going?"
"Keep going!," he told her."I have to retrieve something." He ran to a long row of supply cabinets as Kali dashed up the ramp.
Hidden inside one of the drawers was a bronze leather satchel he prepared days earlier, a survival kit for their eventual escape. He was within two leaps when the door exploded in a shower of sparks. Adrian flattened himself behind a column, stifling a groan when his raw back touched the raised golden fist symbol of the Empire raised on its surface.
A sergeant led the charge as black-helmeted Empire soldiers poured through, their phaser rifles searching for a target. At their heels, High Admiral van Reutensberg stormed in, her face grim and eyes ice-blue.
"Don’t move!" the sergeant yelled. Bryce stuck his hands up while Kali hesitated, trying not to look at Adrian and give his position away. She raised her hands slowly.
"Find him!" the High Admiral ordered. Adrian's heart skipped a beat at her command. The lashes across his back were courtesy of her generous attentions. His jaw tensed. The situation was deteriorating from bad to infinitely worse. The jump gate seemed impossibly far away; it might as well be in the next room.
Overhead lights wavered, dimming further as shadows claimed the corners. The ventilation system sputtered as the jump gate threatened to destabilize the power grid with its insatiable demands.
The Admiral pointed a crooked finger at Kali and demanded, "Where is Stannis?" Her grey hair pulled in a tight bun, glowed angry silver as energy pulses danced in frantic waves across the jump gate.
"He's gone," said Kali, pointing to the glowing gate.
The Admiral's eyes narrowed. "You're lying. He would not go without you."
"We were just about to follow when you arrived."
Adrian heard the nervousness in Kali’s voice, the familiar dryness that made words stick in your throat. She was trying to save him; perhaps trying to buy him time to think of another solution. He gestured sharply, urging her to leave. Kali shook her head imperceptibly, her jaw set with the stubbornness that exasperated him at times. It was the only option left. Didn't she realize that?
Her voice entered his head. We are joined. I will not leave you.
"Sergeant, take a team and go after him," ordered the Admiral. "The rest of you search the lab."
The sergeant pointed to the soldiers to his right. "You, follow me." He ran to the platform, the rest crashing after him in their heavy black boots.
Kali stood forward and spread her arms in a defiant barrier. Her normally light grey eyes had become flint hard.
"Shoot her," the Admiral said without hesitation.
"No!" Adrian stepped from behind the column.
A startled soldier squeezed off a double burst as Adrian jerked back, a phaser tracer tearing a slice into his right sleeve as the other one missed.
"You fool!" The Admiral knocked the gun from the soldier's hands. "I want him alive!" She faced Adrian, each golden star on her collar a license to make his life miserable. "Stannis." Her voice was like a hammer, pounding down a sentence. "You cannot escape us."
Strong men blanched at the scythe-like tone in her voice, but Adrian stared at her, his eyes hard, his face as statue-like as Bryce always accused him of being. "We shall see," he said, refusing to bend. He was acutely aware that if he did not escape, Kali and Bryce would not either and that was intolerable to him.
So, the most sought-after mind in the Empire looked for a solution to an impossible problem. It was what he was good at after all.
He was unarmed and surrounded on all sides. Logic dictated that he surrender, but Adrian didn’t feel like being logical just now, which was a first for him.
Perhaps it was madness on his part. Maybe exhaustion was making him irrational, but he refused to surrender to people who thought violence was an adequate substitute for intelligence. He doubted if Kali would either.
The sands of time slipped through a strangled glass; soon there would be none left. Lights flickered ominously. Adrian looked up, a random part of his mind wondering if the ancients who believed in gods and intervening spirits would be praying now.
"You will be punished for trying to escape," said the Admiral.
"You can try, " he taunted her, which was a suicidal thing to do, except that he was dead either way.
Adrian measured the distances to the human circle forming around him. A mistake there, but was it a useful one? The workbench was a few feet away, a barrier between him and one arc of soldiers. There were no weapons on it, nothing that would give him an advantage or a hope of defending himself.
A disconcerting, wolfish grin lifted a corner of his lips.
They didn't know that.
"But don't count on success," he said confidently.
The Admiral said with a dismissive snarl, "Sergeant, secure him."
Her words were like a starter's gun and Adrian was a streak of motion as he took off abruptly, but not towards the gate or the door. The startled soldiers stared at the racing demon in the flapping white lab coat as he ran, scooping up a beaker half-filled with a sickly green liquid and threw it, splashing a soldier at the largest gap in their human circle. The man screamed and stumbled back, clawing at his face as Adrian raced past him angling sharply for the gate. The stricken soldier clawed at his face, desperately trying to wipe the liquid off with his sleeve before cursing when he realized the liquid was harmless.
The soldiers raised their rifles but they hesitated and looked at the Admiral.
"After him, you fools!" she screamed the exasperated order.
They sped after him as Adrian leapt up on the platform with a clatter, grabbing Kali and Bryce without slowing down. Together, they punched through the energy curtain. The soldiers reached the gate just as the rippling currents dissipated.
"Quick! Reactivate it!" shouted the High Admiral. "Stannis must not get away!"
The sergeant ripped the helmet from his head and ran to the control panel, slamming his rifle on the table and passing his fingers over the controls just as the lights fluttered one last time and plunged them into sepulchral darkness.
The Alternate Introduction for The Rebels