Part 3: The Star Lords
One year after the arrival of the Scavenger rescue mission, court politics throw Hua and De into the center of controversy as they are exiled to the penal colony of Luk-dao by Emperor Saburo and his conniving concubine Sato. Torn from their homes, De and Hua must test their mettle as their worlds are turned upside down. Will De’s fragile new life with Susana withstand the temptations of Luk-dao’s unsavory characters, and will Hua and Dorran escape exile without tearing their family apart completely? Meanwhile, as Jihong Wen and other crew members get the new shuttle running to return to earth, what will they do when they find the person back home who wanted all of the crew dead?
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Here is an excerpt from part 3:
When Hyun returned to the inn run by Zaiton Hong on the palace level of Zhing-piao, preparations were being made for the exile. Hua and Dorran hurried furtively to say goodbye to him and the children. The couple said nothing to each other as they left the inn, and they hadn’t made it very far beyond the palace’s yard before a man caught up with them whom Dorran recognized as one of the members of the Gong-luk’s Royal Guard in charge of Empress Gajha. Next to him walked a figure completely covered from head to toe in billowing black silk. Hua and Dorran slowed their pace as the men approached. The black clad figure grabbed Hua’s hand and pulled her very close, pressing a large, multi-faceted green gemstone into her hand.
“Nien!” Hua said softly in amazement, peering into the folds of his hood and seeing her friend’s face. “What are you doing here? Did you hear the news? Did Gajha send you?”
“Hyun sent word to us right away about the formal announcement of your exile,” Nien said, nodding slightly. “I had wanted to see you both ever since Gajha told me the bad news, but this is the first moment I’ve had to sneak away. Hyun has a plan to save you and the children. You have a good friend in him.”
Hua glanced at Dorran and smiled.
“Gajha and I have a plan to help you, too,” Nien said, pointing at the green gem Hua held. “This magical gem will help you in your new home. It will keep you safe and will show you are under Gong-luk’s protection. You can call on us any time using it.”
Hua looked at the gemstone closely in the dimming light as night approached Zhing-piao. Words were carved into its surface, though it was too dark to read them. She could see a thin, sharp line of purple restlessly dancing in the center of its lush green facets, almost like a thread of lightning.
“How will we hide it?” Dorran asked, coming up beside Hua and looking at the gem over her shoulder. “Won’t they strip us of everything before they take us?”
“One of Haewon’s people will keep it before you go and return it to you when you arrive at your destination,” Nien whispered. “Don’t forget to give it to them.”
“Thank you,” Hua said softly, putting the gem in a small bag she pulled out of her pocket.
“I’m sorry we don’t have more time to talk with you, Nien,” Dorran said, glancing around the square. “We have to arrive on time or else the Emperor will send his guards to get us. It’s already getting late. Give Gajha our regards.” Dorran put his arm around Hua and started to walk forward with her.
“Be careful,” he said, turning to look at them as they walked past him toward the palace. “Gajha and I will be anxious for word of your safe arrival. We will of course keep your secret and look after the children in whatever way we can.”
Dorran and Hua paused a few steps beyond Nien. Dorran looked back at him as Hua seemed to crumple a little in his arms.
“Hopefully, this whole mess won’t last long and Saburo will come to his senses,” he said to Nien. “But De and Susana are already there in Luk-dao, so even if we escape the same fate, we’ll have to do something to get them out, too. It’s unthinkable that it should have come to this.”
“Gajha and I will see what solutions we can come up with and use diplomatic channels to get this straightened out with Saburo.” Nien paused. “Did you know that it was one of your starship mates who pushed to have you exiled? Empress Haewon has given us her intelligence from her spies as to who was behind it, though Sato made the request herself.”
Dorran looked at Nien in surprise.
“One of our starship mates?” he said thoughtfully. “Do you know who?”
“I don’t. Haewon seemed to have a guess that she wasn’t willing to share with us. Do you have any idea who among the crew would do this to you?”
“Alex!” Hua spat, turning around and letting go of Dorran. “He has hated me and De as soon as he learned we weren’t human. I’d bet anything he was behind this.”
“Hua! Maybe it wasn’t,” Dorran said, putting his hands on her shoulders and trying to soothe her. “At least, I hope it wasn’t.” He sighed and looked down at the ground, pulling her close.
“Well, this is all we can do for now,” Nien said, gesturing to his guards that they would be departing. He bowed slightly to Hua and Dorran. “I pray you will stay safe until we meet again.”
Nien and his guards walked briskly to the far side of the street, disappearing down a dim alley. Dorran and Hua stood there a moment, looking at one another.
“Are you ready for this?” he asked her.
“No, but we have no choice,” Hua said, grabbing his hand to pull him along beside her as they walked down the street.