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Excerpt for Star Destiny Episode Four by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

All characters in this publication are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Star Destiny

Episode Four

Copyright © 2018 Odette C Bell

Cover art stock photos licensed from Depositphotos.

www.odettecbell.com

 



Star Destiny

Episode Four



A war is coming, and the Duke intends to use Celena to start it.

Alone, with no one to help her, she must find some way to flee the Duke before he uses her to perpetrate the greatest terrorist attack the universe has ever seen. And even that will only be the beginning, for Parin has his sights on the Imperial throne, and he will cut down anyone who stands before it.

Star Destiny Episode Four is the thrilling continuation of the sprawling space adventure series. It’s sure to please fans of Odette C. Bell’s Betrothed.

Chapter 1

Celena

Something wasn’t right.

She could feel this undercurrent of anger and fear coming off Duke Parin as he stood in front of his command seat.

He was on the bridge of his Imperial cruiser, and along the huge view screen that took up one wall of the circular room was an unrivaled view of the planet below.

It wasn’t some glistening, beautiful M class world that would befit someone of imperial birth.

No, it looked like nothing more than some outer mining colony. Some pitted, broken, barren wasteland of a world that was being mined for its natural resources.

They were conducting a battle, as far as she could tell.

Either Duke Parin had ordered the staff who were running the vessel and kowtowing to his every command not to outwardly discuss the operation, or he was just a titular figurehead, here to stand in front of the captain’s chair and look like he was in control.

He was taking Celena wherever he went now.

Those cold, tiny silver cuffs were still clamped around her wrists, but so too was something else.

The Ares’ Daughter cuffs.

Were they degrading?

Yes.

And yet, every now and then, the Duke would cast a worried glance their way.

Freya always stood just by Duke Parin’s right shoulder.

She never moved, no matter what new scene appeared on the view screen.

Her hands were kept softly by her sides, her palms open, her fingers pressed against the lengths of her legs.

She had the exact same expression she’d had in the healing pool room. The same expression Celena had known she’d worn for most of her life.

Inward detachment.

The look that told everyone that while you technically had a mind, you didn’t need to use it for what your master used you for.

How much longer? Destroy that ship before it has a chance to take off,” the Duke growled once more, repeating a command he’d spat out what felt like 100 times before.

It’s rising now. The artillery guns are in place.”

Are they shielded?”

The shields will cover them momentarily. It is only a matter of seconds now, Duke,” the real Captain of the vessel said, pressing his hands in front of himself and bothering to nod, even though this was a pressured situation. This was not where you would want to distract yourself from ordering your crew around just to mollify the temper of some idiot member of the Imperial family.

There will be no mistakes,” Parin spat.

That was his favorite saying.

It wasn’t a request for everybody to try their hardest. Nor was it a request for people to look for every potential problem and come up with a suitable plan to mitigate them.

No, it was an order. It was Duke Parin imparting his will on reality.

Something she could tell he was very good at.

She still didn’t know his full story. It wasn’t like she had access to a computer and she could look up his bio.

But did she really need to to understand what was going on in the man’s mind?

He’d made a pact with the scavengers. He was a member of the Undone Sect.

He had technology that could keep her locked in place – technology she’d never seen as an Ares’ Daughter, despite the fact she was aware of most of Shan’s most technologically sophisticated weapons.

The Duke, in other words, was a man who thought he was in complete control.

Unfortunately for him – and fortunately for everyone else – it was nothing more than fiction.

A warning alarm blared through the ship. “What’s that?” Parin roared.

We just lost another mech unit. Dammit,” the captain spat.

What? Put it on screen,” Parin roared.

The captain had a chance to slice his gaze over to Celena, as if to point out to the Duke that she was still in the room.

When the Duke’s rage didn’t temper, the captain simply twitched his finger to the side, obviously accessing some remote link.

Across the view screen, the view of the planet suddenly changed, zeroing in on a sight that should not exist beyond Shan’s palace.

There were two towers sitting over a shaft that led down into an underground shipyard.

Even from here, Celena could see the distinct light of Novian ore tracking down the sides of the shaft as a ship rose into the sky.

None of that mattered. What caught her attention – what wrapped around her heart and held it in place – was the view of the suspension bridge.

Imperial Forces were setting up an artillery gun, one that would be used to shoot that rising ship down well before it had a chance to get sufficiently off the surface of the planet to initiate its structural shields.

But even that didn’t matter.

As the smart cameras of the ship connected to every single set of Force armor and used the footage being picked up over their visors to create a three-dimensional view of the scene, she saw one thing.

One man.

The man she’d been thinking of nonstop over the past week, despite the fact he’d once been a man she’d hated with all her heart.

Williams,” she stuttered, pure emotion tightening her throat.

The Duke ticked his angry, worried gaze toward her, his hand tightening into a fist.

The idiot is making a suicide attack—” the Captain began.

Parin appeared to make some decision. “Cease-fire.”

What?” the Captain’s voice shuddered, breaking through the ship.

Cease-fire! He’s our target, fool.”

I thought you wanted the complete destruction of Susie and her resistance—”

Cease-fire!” the Duke bellowed.

The next thing Celena knew, that massive glowing artillery gun started to power down – the once lethal bolt of blue-white energy that had been building in its tip disengaging and sinking away, crackles of energy escaping into the buffers held either side of the main muzzle.

Williams was on a platform, making a suicidal dash for the gun. The footage being replayed over the screen didn’t show his face, but she could see his memorable shoulders, his body hunched forward, blood spilled across the cloak he was wearing, splattered across his shoes, too.

She wanted to push forward, but just before she could, Frey’a changed position, turning so gracefully and quickly that no one else on the bridge had time to react. She anchored a hand down onto Celena's shoulder, using a small charge of a star chamber to ensure the move could not be broken, even by the Imperial Forces’ strongest mech unit. “Do not move,” she growled.

Celena couldn’t even register the words.

Her eyes were so wide, the skin around them felt like tearing.

She was pressed up onto the tips of her toes, even though there was nothing she could do to fight against Frey’a’s force.

Short of actually transporting down to that planet, reaching that platform, and embracing Williams, all Celena wanted to do was reach the view screen, push out a hand, and try to catch the image of him in her palm.

The Captain quickly relayed Parin’s message to the Imperial Forces fighting below, and rather than the massive mech warriors who were guarding the gun shooting Williams, they dispersed, letting him slam the platform he was on right into the muzzle of the gun.

Celena’s heart shuddered. She reached a hand out.

Frey’a didn’t need to slap it down – Parin did that.

He stepped into the side, grabbed her fingers, pressed his palm hard against her knuckles, and squeezed.

The move was more than strong enough that a crunch echoed through the room.

Celena didn’t care about the pain.

Pain she could deal with.

Williams’ death, she could not.

Why did she feel as if Williams was her only hope?

A man who, if he hadn’t accompanied her on that cruiser when she’d escaped Jeopardy Station, would have fallen from her life?

Why did she feel as if the universe was on a precipice and it was only the two of them who could do anything about it?

Why did—

Parin snapped in, pressing his snarling face close. “Do not distract me, Ares’ Daughter,” he said as his gaze darted hard across her face, swinging between each eye.

Why was Parin saving Williams? What could he possibly want with him?

Despite the fact Celena was in no real condition to assess this battle as her emotions gave way to the twisted control of the silver cuffs Parin had given her, a part of her battle brain remained. It told her that what Parin was doing made no sense.

He was in a position of full power. If his original target hadn’t been Williams, but instead this Susie whoever she was and the resistance she was controlling, then it made no sense to spare Williams.

But as Parin brought his face close, Celena swore she saw something in his eyes.

This vicious, powerful hatred. But beyond that, if she could sweep it away for even half a second, she saw fear.

Parin wasn’t in complete control, and he knew it.

For the smallest fraction of a second, his gaze darted down to her cuffs.

Did he stare at the silver bangles he’d given her, or her Ares’ Daughter cuffs?

Why do you need Williams?” she snapped, even though she knew he wouldn’t answer.

Parin tightened his grip, such a muscular twitch running through his fingers and up into his palm that Celena was forced to let out a gasp of pain.

Though her eyes momentarily tightened and closed as agony shot through her, immediately she forced them open.

It was in time to see Parin’s control slipping once more.

You need him for something, don’t you?” She kept pushing.

Shut up. Frey’a,” he snapped, “get her out of here. Take her back to the pools.”

Yes, my Lord,” Frey’a said, voice neutral as she yanked Celena back.

You need him, don’t you? The rest of your plan won’t work without him,” Celena forced her words out.

Just before Frey’a could yank Celena from Parin’s grip, he stepped in, his boots thumping hard against the floor plating. He wrapped his hands even harder around Celean’s wrist and twisted it hard to the side.

This time Celena showed no pain. She let her gaze dart down to the ground, then she slowly lifted it toward him. “You need him to control me, don’t you?”

The thought slammed into her head, seemingly from nowhere. It was the only thing that made sense.

What did Williams have?

He wasn’t of noble birth, and even if he had been a member of the Royal family, it was now clear that Parin had no loyalty for them.

So what did Williams have?

A passing relationship with a Shan representative?

That would not sway a man like Parin.

Sure, Williams would have access to certain sophisticated systems as a commander of the Imperial Forces, but the men standing around Parin would have more.

So there was only one thing that made sense.

To borrow an old human saying, the penny dropped as she stared up into Parin’s monstrous gaze.

Her breath shuddered out. “He’s the only one who has a neural link to these cuffs, isn’t he? Short of taking me back to Jeopardy Station and finding Sanca, you can’t remove them.”

He slapped her.

The move was hard, and he used the back of his knuckles, her head jerking to the side.

She’d received many a worse blow before. Sure, she didn’t have access to her armor or her implants, but she quickly ignored the pain that sliced through her jaw and down into her throat. It didn’t stop her from peeling her lips back and smiling. “I see,” she said.

Your cuffs will degrade,” he said, voice shaking.

But I can keep them on even if they do,” she realized, every word staccato, slow, and careful. She let her gaze dart between Parin’s eyes as she assessed just how frightened he was of her.

Men like Parin might think they have no fear, but they do. They just bury it deeper than most people.

And the further they push it down, the more it triggers them. Accuse a man as powerful as Shan or Parin of being weak, and they will do anything and everything to prove you’re wrong.

But just like anyone else who spends their entire life denying the obvious, their fear becomes a door in. If someone else comes along – someone with the power to try – they can use that door to break them.

Celena pressed her teeth together, pulled her lips over them, and breathed. “I can keep them locked on me,” she repeated. “No matter what you do to me, I can keep them locked on. As long as I’m wearing them, these,” she looked down pointedly at the silver bangles he’d given her, “won’t work. I’ve seen through your game, Parin. And you will lose.”

He snapped, slapping her again, the move hard enough that a stab of agony darted down her throat and into her chest.

She just chuckled, swung her gaze back to the screen, and hid her true emotion.

She might’ve just seen through Parin’s plan, but Williams was still out there.

If he died, he’d take the codes to her cuffs with him.

It might give Celena a chance.

If he lived?

It would give her hope. For the first time in her life she would take hope over anything else.

Chapter 2

Williams

There was no way he was going to survive. This was a suicide mission. It was only a matter of time. Not hours, not minutes, and certainly not seconds. Microseconds.

As he plowed that platform right toward the front of the artillery gun, his gaze locked on the blue-white energy building in the muzzle, it seemed to be a path right down into eternity.

He opened himself up to it.

In the split second he had left, he let everything flash in front of his mind.

All those victories, all those mistakes.

None of them would count anymore. This would be what he’d be remembered for.

He let that smile spread further over his face.

And Williams waited to be shot.

He just hoped in shooting the platform close enough to the muzzle of the artillery gun, it would create some kind of feedback through the shields and disable the gun long enough that the resistance ship would be able to rise into the atmosphere.

Williams waited.

And waited.

He didn’t wait for seconds – just microseconds as the platform pushed closer to the muzzle.

It was only 10 meters away now, only five, only one.

Zero.

They didn’t shoot.

The front of the platform slammed into the shielded muzzle of the gun.

Williams was thrown forward.

There was nothing he could do to stay on the platform – as it crashed into the muzzle, it crumpled like paper.

He fell forward, flipping over the front of the gun, his body sailing and tumbling through the air.

He was sure that at any second the powerful mech warriors controlling the gun would either shoot him or beat him to a pulp.

They didn’t.

He sailed right over their heads just as his platform ignited some cloud of gas trapped by the gun’s shields.

There was an explosion.

Williams finally struck the floor behind several mech warriors.

The bulk of the mechs’ backs protected him from the explosion as chunks of superheated metal splattered out everywhere.

Williams instantly ducked down, bringing his hands over his head, lacing his fingers over the back of his skull.

And he pushed up.

He spun.

The resistance ship had already risen past the suspension bridge.

In the time it had taken him to crash his platform, it had already turned on its thrusters, and it was now a hundred meters up. With every second, it climbed another hundred meters.

The mech warriors around him didn’t pivot and beat him to a pulp.

They instantly threw themselves forward and started working on the gun, trying to control the shield’s fluctuations. If it kept fluctuating, they wouldn’t be able to fire.

He watched them work in silence, despite the fact that he knew their internal comms would be blaring as they screamed at each other to work.

Williams tried to shift up, but in falling, he’d broken some part of his leg. Excruciating pain split up his thigh and into his hip.

He didn’t care. He stared up at the ship. It was now more than a kilometer up.

And finally, just as those mech bastards in front of him got the shields to stop fluctuating, the ship initiated its main shields. He watched them flicker over the massive bulk of the sleek black-silver vessel. Blue light shot out, in the most glorious halo he’d ever seen.

Williams chucked his head back and laughed.

He’d won.

Sure, he was about to die – but—

The ship suddenly fired something. Something shot out of a small artillery bay at the back, and it moved so fast, he only picked up the trail of air it left through the atmosphere.

Instantly one of the mechs beside him brought up its arm, activating the huge gun that was lodged along the length. A red bolt of power built at the tip of the gun.

The mech shot that black dot just as it sailed down to them.

The mech’s aim was true, and his massive charge of energy slammed into the black dot just as Williams realized it was some kind of targeting bot.

But a second before it did, the bot split apart.

The second part moved so fast, the next thing Williams knew, it reached the suspension bridge.

It buried itself into the metal floor just a meter in front of Williams’ knees.

He instantly crunched backward, despite the pain stabbing through his broken leg.

What—” he began.

Transporter probe,” somebody screamed from further down the bridge.

Transporter probe….

Williams had a single second to appreciate one thing – he’d just been saved.

Two blue lasers shot out from the probe, one locking onto his head and one locking onto his chest.

One of the massive mechs reached for him, wrapping an arm around his back.

It was too late.

Williams started to transport.

He was disassembled at the atomic level.

He didn’t have a chance to smile.

He re-materialized in a massive hangar bay.

He wasn’t alone. The huge mech was around him.

The guy jolted back, bringing up his gun, but he wasn’t fast enough.

Susie was standing several hundred meters away.

She brought up a huge range rifle – one she would presumably only be able to carry because it had gravity thrusters on the back that would ensure it didn’t weigh as much as a small elephant.

With her expression as cold as steel and a rumple in her brow, Susie fired.

Williams ducked forward, flattening himself, expecting the blow to be so strong and powerful that it would burn him on the way past.

It didn’t.

It slammed into the chest of the mech warrior, but rather than blast it apart, it lodged onto the guy’s chest plate.

As soon as the bolt struck the mech, it turned into a gelatinous liquid.

It locked onto the man’s armor, spreading down his chest plate and instantly wrapping around his arms and legs.

It froze him in place.

The next thing Williams knew, he darted his head up in time to see the mech fall down onto its knees, then onto its face.

It was still.

Steam and gasses issued from its broken joints.

Susie let the gun drop. Opening her hands wide, it swung on its thrusters until it locked against the magnetic holster along her back.

She took several steps forward, crossed her arms, and looked at Williams pointedly. She tapped her pinky finger against her bicep. And finally, she smiled.

Williams looked up at her from under his bloodstained brow. He was so damn injured, it felt as if someone had slain him alive. Every part of him bled, and if it didn’t bleed, it was too bruised to try.

He let out a shuddering wheeze. “Thank you,” he managed.

I’m the one who should be thanking you. The only reason we managed to get out of there was your suicide mission.”

He grinned. He brought his hands up, and despite the fact all he wanted to do was let his tired muscles rest, he went through the act of patting down his chest, legs and arms, as if to check they were really there.

They were there, but damn were they painful. He was nursing one broken leg, a couple of broken ribs, and too many cuts to count.

Don’t worry about your pretty face, Commander – there are medical resources on this ship. We’ll have you up and running in no time.”

Williams, though he knew there was no reason for it, forced himself to stand. His bad leg shuddered, sending agonizing pain splitting up into his hip. He had to clench his teeth, locking them hard in his skull as he finally pulled himself up. “What’s going on? How many ships are following us? Have we jumped?”

We’re about to jump. As for ships,” she took a shuddering breath and didn’t finish her sentence. She tipped her head to the side, and from the specific look in her gaze, it became obvious she was making a neural link to somebody.

Though Williams understood courtesy and appreciated this is where he should just let her speak, he couldn’t stop himself from taking a pressured breath. “What is it? Who are you talking to? What ships are out there?”

Susie didn’t answer. She continued to listen to some report, then she clenched her teeth together and hissed. “Just do whatever you can to jump. That’s a priority. The station is lost. I don’t care about the self-destruct. They can pick it apart and find out what we knew. Just jump.”

Williams pushed all of his strength into his good leg, then, though it was the stupidest damn thing he could do, he staggered forward. His leg was so badly broken, he almost fell onto his face, but a combination of grit and balance allowed him to take just the smallest step toward her. “What is it?”

You don’t need to worry about getting out of here. Leave that to me. Get to the med bay, instead.”

Williams’ eyes darted from left to right as he searched hers. “There’s heavy resistance out there, isn’t there? More Imperial Forces? Even the Duke…?” he trailed off, realizing the question was stupid.

There was no damn reason for the Duke to be here personally. This was just some outer colony world, and though, technically, Susie had a history with him and she was obviously heading up some resistance, Parin would be too busy—

Williams saw her face. Her cheeks contracted and her lips pulled thin.

I’m right, aren’t I? God, he’s out there.”

It took a single second for something to snap into place in Williams’ head.

Despite the fact he’d had to use all his coordination to stagger forward before, now he took a balanced step. Momentarily, his shattered leg didn’t matter. Getting to Susie did. He took a breath that felt as if it split his lungs down the middle. “We have to fight them, break through his defenses. We have to get to—”

If you’re about to tell me that we have to get to the Ares’ Daughter he’s holding, there is no damn way. We have to get out of here.”

I’m not leaving her behind,” he spat.

Commander, neither is this your decision nor is it possible. We’re just one ship. They have several. The Duke has brought his personal Imperial cruiser. It’s more than anything we can match.”

I’m not leaving her behind,” Williams repeated, his voice fracturing with emotion.

He hated people who became hysterical in situations like this. He’d fought enough battles to appreciate that people like him – people who could hold onto their emotion in times of need – were often the deciding factor between victory and loss.

But he couldn’t control himself.

It felt as if someone had stabbed his heart and with every second blood was just spilling out of his mouth.

I’m not leaving her behind, not when we’re this close,” he said as he took one more shaking step toward her.

Maybe there was something about the fact Williams was forcing himself to walk on such a broken body, because for the first time, he saw something other than defiance gathering in Susie’s eyes.

She shifted her head up and down, staring at his injuries then finally back at his eyes. “ I underestimated you.”

I don’t care about anything like that at the moment. I just want to—”

I get it, Commander. We won’t leave your friend behind. We’ll find a way to get to her. There is no way we’re going to let Duke Parin get his hands on another Ares’ Daughter.”

Williams pressed his lips together.

It took him a long time to appreciate she’d just said Celena was his friend.

Even when that realization struck, he didn’t correct her. He just kept staring, his lips pressed so thin, they were starting to become cold from blood loss.

Susie let out a pressured breath and ticked her head to the side, her gaze unfocusing as she once more tapped into some neural communication.

Williams, though he swayed, stood there by her side, staring at her, waiting.

She flashed her gaze forward. “We’re about to jump.”

What’s Parin doing?”

Everything he can to get to you.”

Sorry?” Williams’ voice shook with surprise.

He wants you, Commander; it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

What are you talking about?”

I wager he tracked you to our world.”

I’m not an idiot – I wouldn’t let myself be tracked.”

Then one of his many spies on our world saw you and alerted him.”

Williams shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Duke want me?” Even as he asked that, he reminded himself of the fact that back on Halifax Two, those soldiers had been looking for him. Hell, the more he put together the dots, the more he realized that though the pirates had tried to kill him, the scavengers and mech units had only ever tried to capture him – albeit with semi-fatal attacks that could be healed once he was caught.

Susie watched him clearly as realization marked his face.

Why does the Duke want you?” she demanded.


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