Kodiac slowly turned to face Captain Michael McKenzie, his face a snarl of pure animal fury.
“You! I told you the last time if you got in my way I would kill you. I think it’s time I made an example out of you, Orion pig.”
Kodiac advanced on Michael, hatred seething in his eyes. Michael stepped away until his back was against the wall of the tool shed. Kodiac jabbed hard with his right fist, but Michael shifted his weight, taking a glancing blow to the chin instead of the hammer that surely would have cleaved his skull in two. Even so, it spun him to the floor in a foggy daze. He reached out with his quaking hand as his mind tried to fight through the shock and eye-watering pain of the blow that had just struck his face. He tried to focus as adrenaline flooded his body, but his mind could only wonder how it had come to this.
Captain Michael McKenzie had been sent to the prison planet Bellerophon after he was given a life sentence for sedition against the Terran Empire. He had used his position as a Terran starship captain to help hide and provide surveillance for the growing Valdi armada as they built and refitted their starships within two hyperspace jumps of the nearest Terran system. When the Valdi attacked, the Empire had been completely surprised.
Michael’s fingers felt the cold steel of the traction wrench on the floor, just beyond his grip. With an exertion of pure will, he forced his mind to send the signal to his legs to stiffen so he could reach the wrench and close his hand around it. As Kodiac reached down to haul Michael to his feet, Michael swung the wrench with all his might and felt it connect with the side of Kodiac’s bull head. It broke the skin, and a rivulet of blood trickled down the large man’s face. He spat blood onto Michael’s jumpsuit and smiled.
“Is that all you’ve got, Orion? Surely you can do better! You’re going to die today.”
Michael had heard that threat in its various forms uttered to many during his brief time on Bellerophon. Death was a frequent visitor here. The grim reaper probably had his own suite in the guardhouse.
Kodiac knocked the wrench free and grabbed Michael in his meaty hands, slamming him against the wall of the tool shed. Dust from untold decades settled onto the stains that decorated his sad excuse for a prison uniform. Michael’s attention was on Kodiac’s face, but he could sense the other prisoners watching, just out of reach. None of them were Orion. If they were, they would have come to his aid—probably.
“Stop it! Don’t kill him, you imbecile,” screamed a muscular woman. She had heard the commotion and stomped over, and the crowd parted to admit her. A white scar splashed across her face, imparting a harsh beauty. Those who knew how she acquired it gave her their respect. She walked up to the two combatants without fear.
“If you kill him without his gang here to observe it, there will be reprisals.”
Kodiac seemed to hesitate for a split second. She took the opportunity to wedge herself between him and Michael, forcing the large man to confront her. She was right. Many races were represented on the prison world, and there were the Orion gangs to contend with. Not that Michael was any particular threat, but his nationality could not be ignored.
As Kodiac’s rage ebbed, he released Michael and let him sag to the floor, like some loathsome bacteria he wanted to rinse from his hands. He looked down at Michael and hardened his gaze.
“Get in my way again, Orion, and it will take more than the voice of this woman to save you.” Michael was vaguely aware that Kodiac had stalked out of the shed as the woman helped him stand and then pushed him through the crowd of prisoners. The clan bosses find out about conflicts soon enough and administer their own form of justice. Michael knew that his failure to avoid Kodiac would earn him yet another punishment.
Michael wiped his brow. It was hot on Bellerophon.
Closer than Mercury is to Sol, Bellerophon orbits 51 Pegasi, a massive, yellow G4 star in the Pegasus cluster. The planet is always in a hurry, orbiting its star at the fantastic rate of one circuit every four days. Even so, the brutal orbit does not leave any time for a change in seasons. Not that anyone would notice. The surface of Bellerophon is over one thousand degrees—not exactly a vacation spot.
|Emma Watson||as Traci Ganner|