Title: The Pull of Gravity
Entry Nickname: Black Holes
Word Count: 122K
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Iari Lenerian wanted to help make the galaxy a better place. He was supposed to be a small cog in a big machine--an informant posing as a palace guard, that’s it. He didn’t mean to attract the Emperor’s attention, didn’t mean to gain his trust. And he didn’t mean to fall in love.
The rebellion that recruited him is going forward as planned. Iari is the only person who can get close to the Emperor--and the only mindfighter strong enough to challenge him. Iari still wants to see his impoverished homeworld free of Imperial exploitation, but he’s not ready to kill the man he loves. Desperate to keep the Emperor safe, Iari takes him hostage aboard the insurgent fleet.
The planet below isn’t so fortunate when Iari’s allies open fire in a last-minute change of plans. Suddenly the galaxy doesn't seem so black and white, and he's feeling more like a traitor than a revolutionary. The Emperor is heartbroken, systems are falling into civil war, and the insurgent leaders are as dangerous as they are powerful. With the destruction of a planet on his conscience and the Emperor's vengeful sister chasing them across space, Iari has to decide if fighting for his ideals is worth sacrificing everything he loves, and becoming a villain himself.
The story is told through two alternating timelines, Before and After.
Iari drew a shaky breath and checked the time, dark digits that glowed against the frosted glass of the lounge window. 7:92. Eight minutes until he betrayed his best friend.
He scanned the sky for ships, but it was impossible to make anything out through the blustery snow. They're out there, he reassured himself, though his heart pounded in his chest.
Dialing up the opacity on the windows, he arranged his face into some facsimile of composure and took a moment to gather courage. Emperor Alexander Furin rested on the lavender cushions by the fireplace, forehead in one hand as he scrolled through the reports scattered around him. On any other day, Iari would have picked up the Emperor’s mug and refilled the coffee. On any other day, he would have collected the discarded silk coat, checked their schedule for tomorrow, and found something unusual to order for breakfast. Not today.
The Emperor shifted, gaze flicking up. Iari's breath caught, but the other's eyes passed over him and dropped back to the report pad without focusing. He looked so ordinary there in the dim stillness of the lounge—the fingers in his light hair, the way he sat on one foot, the furrow between his eyes as he concentrated. Not an Emperor, just Alexander.
Iari steeled himself. The time for such feelings was past. Elise stood guard outside their chambers, planetary defenses were down, and ships from the Independent Alliance had entered orbit that morning under the pretense of border negotiations.