#freereads – Adrift Ch 83.1 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

We’re continuing from yesterday’s installment as part of the Wednesday Briefers. Today we continue the remainder of the chapter and we’ll be back next Wednesday.

Finishing the chapter – looking to the future

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


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Chapter 83.1

(…continued from yesterday)

Arad forced himself not to roll his eyes. Julian didn’t rub his more paranoid instincts the wrong way, so he’d agreed to let him pilot the Ansariland. A little stiff and set in his ways, he’d likely relax once they got to know him in tight quarters. Arad wasn’t too jaded yet to give him the chance.

“I still don’t see why we needed another pilot.” Yosei turned and stuck her tongue out at Julian.

“Because your brilliance is better suited keeping the software at peak efficiency, and Julian’s brilliance is his military piloting and navigational record. Make sure he has all the system privileges he needs.”

Leaning back in his chair, Julian crossed his arms over his chest and smirked at Yosei. “Oo-Rah.”

Her pink hair stood straighter at the taunt. “Don’t get snippy, spot. I’ll lock you in your room without your favorite chewy.”

“Oy! That’s speciesist.”

“No, that’s the truth of what I can do. As far as you’re concerned, I rule here, Mr. Oo-Rah, and don’t you forget it.” Yosei kept poking Julian in the chest. He didn’t flinch, barely registering the motion.

“Forget? I could sit on you and not even notice.”

Yosei lurched back in animated shock. “Making fun of my height? That’s low.”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“I’m gonna airlock your kibble—”

And Arad left the bridge. The risk of being dragged into their squabble… no. Not today. That had better have been friendly banter between them. Arad crossed his fingers and hurried around the corner.

“Arad!”

Paused by the shout, Arad found his chief mechanic jogged up to him. “Pakko, what’s up?”

“I wanted to catch you. Engine’s all tuned up. We’re good to go.”

More physically fit than before Arad’s death, Pakko’s stretch incarcerated hadn’t seemed to do any permanent harm. Head still shaved with matching dark subtle over his jaw, he looked energetic and ready to work. The darkness of the Nightingale appeared lifted.

Arad had been fortunate to visit Pakko in jail, which helped calm his prejudices of the prison system. He’d been well fed and hadn’t appeared to suffer any harm. If fact, he looked healthier than when they’d first met. Once he recognized Arad in his upgrading body, Pakko burst into tears and begged forgiveness for not saving him from Bryce and her insanity. Arad spent a lot of time assuring him he’d never blamed Pakko for that. They’d survived enough together, Arad could forgive.             

“Good. We’ve got about forty minutes left. Is my jump drive working?”

“Hell yes. I wouldn’t go anywhere with you without it.” Pakko grinned, yet hedged his next sentence. “But seriously, thanks for hiring me right out of jail. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next.”

Parole had been granted barely a week ago with minimal stipulations. With Arad as his sponsor, and a good word from Dr. Windsor, he’d been granted leave to accept a job which included interstellar travel.

“I spent weeks getting to know my ship, and you and Yosei figured it out in greater detail in days. I needed a crew that can keep us running smooth. It wasn’t that big of a leap.”

“Y’know, I don’t think I ever had a chance to say thank you.”

“For what?”

Tiny creases formed between Pakko’s brows. “The Nightingale. Hodge. All the crap I was involved in. You didn’t have to choose me for the crew.” Pakko inhaled, his eyes watering.

“Nope. But we all deserve second chances.”

“I won’t forget that. I swear.” Pakko discreetly looked around. Even though he lowered his voice, he barked out a laugh laced with happy near-tears. “I still can’t get over you getting turned.”

Chuckling, Arad gave a hearty pat to Pakko’s shoulder as he continued on his way. “Second chances, man. Second chances. Tell Yosei and Julian we launch in thirty.”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

A fleeting wind of guilt rustled his fur at the thought of Pakko walking into the potential chaos on the bridge, but it vanished just as quickly. Must have come from the ventilation system. Either way, he picked up his pace before anyone became wise.

Despite this, he made a stop at the infirmary, which now was a real live medical center under Dr. Windsor’s guiding hand. Somehow the ship renovators had increased the room’s footprint from the dismal closet space it had once been. In fact, he was pretty sure they’d somehow increased the overall size of the Ansariland in general.

He could almost see the old mountings on the wall for the old, pathetic first aid kit between a pair of panel monitors running final calibration tests. Efficient work surfaces and new equipment made it a place where real help could be provided. Dr. Windsor stood in the center, inspecting a series of medical tools Arad wanted no part of.

Arad rapped the door jamb because he had no interest in crossing the threshold. “We’re leaving shortly. Are you sure you want to come along?”

“I did not arrange all of this to be left behind. Besides, you deserve to have a proper doctor on board with proper facilities equipped to care for DemiShou.” New profiles had been uploaded to the medbed to prevent the “file not found” error loop which kept it from counteracting Shichi’s poison and led to Arad’s eventual death. 

“Blame the crappy facilities on the previous landlord, not me.”

Windsor paused, watching him with an assessing gaze stand outside the door. She lost none of her casual elegance as she opened a drawer and swept all of her devices inside and out of sight. Arad felt a line of tension he wasn’t aware of dissipate.

“Perhaps, but I still want to be there when we find the first of Chakijane’s exiles. I’m better equipped to answer questions than most.” A number of the dignitaries who purchased DemiShou from ApexCorp had gone in hiding, taking their trophy hybrids with them. PlanetGenCo, on behalf of Dr. Windsor had, made deals with corporate authorities to be the point of first contact with the exiled DemiShou to let them know they had options other than quarantine or prison. When she pitched her plan to Arad asking to use the Ansariland and its crew as the ship given the mission, he thought she was crazy.

And he immediately signed the contract.

“I can’t say you’re wrong. It just seems an odd trip for the director of Moreau to be taking.”

“Didn’t you hear? I’m not director anymore.”

“You quit your job?” Arad was so stunned to hear the news, he almost stepped into sick bay.

Brow cocked, she crossed her slender arms over her chest. “I set aside my position so I could focus on the new mission and start bringing awareness of Moreau to more of the DemiShou population. People in my position don’t quit. We resign.”

“And you’re all right not being in charge?”

“You’re far more intelligent than you give yourself credit for and you’re a talented strategist. Your survival techniques should be in training manuals. We may not agree on every decision, but I will defer command to you. Unless, of course, you’re being ridiculous.”

“I do have the security chief on my side.”

“Repressing the serfs already? Your future as a despot is solid. Until that happens, I have a game of chess waiting for us. Assuming you won’t cry when an old woman spanks you.”

Arad’s ears perked up at the mention of chess. “Once we’re underway, you may regret those words.”

“I regret nothing. Your king, however, is going to be used like a two credit whore. Let me know when you’re free.”

Horrified by her trash talk, Arad left before she scandalized him further. The hallway circled past the crew quarters, the exercise room and the lavatory, thankfully now separated by a wall. Every area looked in better condition than he ever imagined possible. 

Once he moved past the engine room, he stopped in front of the cargo bay. Touching the panel, the door slid open, no longer accompanied by the sound of scraping metal on metal. Automatics lights flickered into life and he stepped inside.

Crates no longer formed a wall to hide anything and he didn’t need to navigate the maze. Stacks of supplies lined the walls with room for potentially more in the open center. The cryotubes were gone as well as the mattress he used to lay on while reading manuals and keeping watch on the sleeping Demis.

So much orbited around this room over his time on the Ansariland. First it was the secret space he didn’t have access to, then the home for living contraband. So much violence. So much pain connected a cadre of thieves to the schemes he’d been entwined in. He was only supposed to be the cabin boy.

How things had changed.

Arad walked over to where the cryotubes once sat, shallow scuffs on the floor the only proof of their existence beyond his memory. Hours and days spent being their silent guardian, not knowing what to expect, or what would be required of him.

Massive arms surround Arad from behind. It didn’t startle him. He knew Roku’s scent, and his sharpened hearing caught the tiger’s soft footsteps. The days of his mate sneaking up on him had long since passed.

“Reminiscing?” Roku asked, rubbing his chin over the top of Arad’s head.

“A bit. A lot happened here. Sometimes I wondered what would have happened if I’d never had the urge to come in here after I ranked up.”

“Our lives would have been much different.”

“You probably would have died.” Arad reached up and squeezed the hard muscles holding him tight.

Roku’s chin ground Arad’s hair as he nodded. “Probably.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“I am too. I wouldn’t have you if I did.” Roku gave Arad a sultry chuckle, pointing at the nearby drain. “I believe that’s where we met.”

“You mean the spot where you ravished my drug-addled body into being your willing sex slave?”

Finding Arad’s nipple through his shirt, Roku circled a thumb over the nub while pressing himself into Arad from behind. “Yes. I believe that’s exactly the spot I’m talking about.”

A purr rolled out of Arad at the tempting offer, but he forced himself to pull out of Roku’s grasp with a regretful laugh. “Oh no you don’t. We’ll be launching shortly, and I’m not about to be caught by anyone sneaking in a quickie before we go.”

“Are you sure?” Crossing his arms over that marvelous chest made Roku’s arms flex in a way he knew Arad liked. Since Arad’s conversion, Roku didn’t need to hold back his animalistic nature, and the result allowed him to relax and be more playful. A wonderful change of pace. He’d also gone back to wearing kilts, which Arad heartily approved of, especially his penchant for not wearing anything underneath. The slit up the side exposed his thick thigh and would give Arad ample access…

“Yes, I’m sure.” Arad adjusted himself. His trousers were too snug for this sort of teasing. “Later. After we get settled in, you and I will celebrate our first official day as owners of the Ansariland.”

“Technically, you’re the owner of the ship.”

Arad clasped Roku’s hand and drew him in close. His voice failed him once or twice before he finally forced out the words. “You’re my mate. Everything I have is yours. Anything I can give you, I will.”

“I would never abuse that trust.”

Now the declaration was out in the air, it all became easier. “That’s why I give it to you.”

Roku curled his shoulders until their foreheads touched. “I love you, now and forever, Captain Ansari.”

“And I love you too, Security Chief Eijiro.” 

The kiss was sweet and simple, sealing a bargain they’d already made and would continue to make over and over again. Roku was patient every time, because Arad had difficulty sharing parts of himself because others had used him for their own purposes over the years. His parents. Davis. Torrins. All had their agendas. Arad knew Roku didn’t deserve to be compared to any of them, but habits were difficult to break, and he continued to work on it every day. Not everyone got a second lifetime to compensate for the first.

Arad playfully tapped Roku’s lips with a finger. “You know, my title doesn’t sound so bad when I hear you say it out loud.”

“Then I’ll have to use it more often.” Roku said as he kissed Arad’s fingertip.

“See that you do.”

Roku reached up and caught Arad’s hand in his own and stared deep into his eyes. “I love the brightness of your eyes, Captain Ansari.”

Opening his shirt with his other hand, he guided Arad into palming his chest and stroking the slabs of glorious muscle. “I love the way your fur meshes with mine, Captain Ansari.”

With Arad feeling the hard flesh, Roku wrapped his arm around Arad’s waist and jerked him up and on his toes, aligning their groins together. “I love the way you surrender when I press myself against you, Captain Ansari.”

The length of Roku’s organ snaked upward as it hardened. The pressure drew a husky gasp out of Arad. He rubbed his jaw along Arad’s head and neck, making Arad gently yowl.

“I love it when you take my cock, Captain Ansari.”

Arad found himself grinding into Roku as he whispered in his ear. “Roku… make sure the door is closed and serve your captain already.”

And he did.


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is the end! 83 weeks to work through this story and I can’t believe it’s finished. Thank you all for following along and taking the ride with me. Be sure to follow my Twitter and FaceBook accounts (links at the top) to be kept up to speed with my future stories and general world view.

Thank you all!!!

#freereads – Adrift Ch 83 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

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Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Final chapter – Time to prep for the future.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

 


 

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Chapter 83

“Scan here, sir.”

Arad pressed his thumb to the portable screen and the text turned green. The attendant tapped out a confirmation and sent it to Arad’s private mail account—something he never thought he’d have again.

“Your clearance is complete. The window for departure ends in forty-five minutes. Have a nice voyage, Captain Ansari.” With an efficient nod, the attendant collected his tablet and walked away, leaving Arad standing in front of his ship.

The Ansariland had never been so shiny.

Arad needed to step way back in the hangar to get the full effect. His ship sported a fresh new finish, updated exterior panels and repairs, and renovations going beyond the surface. No more carbon scouring marred the hull. No more evidence of his recent adventures. The veneer of a smuggler’s craft gone, what stood in its place was classy and fit for a legitimately employed man. At Dr. Windsor’s request, PlanetGenCo had paid for upgrading the Ansariland as compensation in lieu of an award for bravery.

A lot of things had been improved in Moreau. Arad’s body. The Ansariland. His potential future.

He had no illusions the repairs were a bit of bribery to coax him into accepting an employment contract. He’d scrutinized every word of the deal making sure no corporate ownership of his vessel had been wormed into it. Nothing legally binding or forcing his hand. Not a bad setup, running unique supplies back and forth between space stations and Moreau as a primary source of income. The idea made him a little giddy. He’d never held a real job for any length of time before. The workhouse didn’t count. Of course, PlanetGenCo’s request to hire him was more complex, but it was voluntary, even if they knew he’d say yes in the end.

It only took another six weeks to get to this point.

Getting Dr. Mercia to sign off on Arad’s mental wellness took some effort, because he refused to believe being turned into a DemiShou hadn’t irreparably damaged his psyche. The look on the doctor’s face when Arad told him being a homeless slug would be no worse as a Demi than as a human with no options. Only much more awesome. Burglary would have been much simpler with claws and night vision and he might not have needed to hustle. Clearly, Dr. Mercia never wondered what scrounging and thieving to feed himself would be like. Dr. Windsor found the whole thing amusing in that polite way she handled everything in her orbit.

Now Arad had been declared fit for duty with new clothes and a new haircut befitting his status as a cargo ship captain. He liked the sound of that.

Validating his ownership of the Ansariland took so long he never thought it would really happen. A near lifetime of distrusting authorities left doubts despite all of Dr. Windsor’s reassurances. The Ansariland was freedom. Now, no one could take it away. He’d dreamed of escaping the ground since the filth of Grey District ground unlaunderable stains into his soul. Now he could stay or leave. Moreau wasn’t a prison made of beautiful buildings for him anymore. 

The colony held an appeal, but he couldn’t get past the reminders of social classes no matter how subtle they were here. Societal divisions existed everywhere and perhaps Arad’s past made him too sensitive to tune out even the tiniest distinctions.

With the Ansariland all prepped and ready to fly, he wouldn’t have to.

The ground crew disengaged from the hull and cleared the bay, signifying the Ansariland was fueled and prepped for launch. All they needed was the captain’s orders.

Arad’s beaming smile could have powered an entire city for days.

Taking one last appreciative look, he jogged up the ramp and entered the ship. Bright hallways without evidence of the old, peeling paint greeted him. He’d vetoed streamlining every surface because it reminded him too much of the Nightingale’s pristine setup, and living in a posh space felt like a lie. That version of upper crust Arad had long since been scrubbed out of him. Instead, the existing walls were clean and vibrant while maintaining the industrial aesthetic he’d found comfort in.

A quick turn to the left had him heading for the bridge, following the voices. This time when he entered the conversation didn’t abruptly stop in a suspicious way.

“Arad!” Yosei squealed at an inhuman pitch sharp enough to make Arad and the new pilot, a wolf DemiShou named Julian, both wince. She bounced up and threw herself at Arad, wrapping him in a excited hug. “I was afraid you weren’t coming!”

“It’s my ship. I’m not leaving it behind for you lot to salvage.”

Letting go, she hopped as she landed, her oversized smile infectious. “Did I tell you how awesome you look these days?”

“At least a dozen times, but it doesn’t get old. Thank you.”

For all her schoolgirl exuberance, Yosei still knew how to be discreet. She’d avoided mentioning Arad’s recent conversion, because it was illegal, and while Julian had come well recommended by Dr. Wilson to join the new crew, Arad wasn’t ready to fold the newcomer into the secret circle. Not yet.

“Leave him alone, Yosei. The captain was outside admiring his ship before we break gravity.” Julian’s respectful teasing was appreciated. Being ex-military, the structure of rank would be forever ingrained into his habits and went a long way in easing Roku’s acceptance of another DemiShou on board.

“Because the Ansariland is the best ship in the galaxy.” Arad wasn’t totally joking.

Julian gave him a toothy grin. “You won’t hear me complaining.”

“As long as you can pilot him, I’m good.”

“I can pilot anything, sir.”

“And that’s why we hired you. And I told you, call me Arad. Not captain or sir. I’m not military and I’m not old.”

A casual salute joined Julian’s nod. “I’ll do my best, sir.”

(…to be continued)


TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR THE REST OF THE CHAPTER


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#freereads – Adrift Ch 82.1 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

We’re continuing from yesterday’s installment as part of the Wednesday Briefers. Today we continue the remainder of the chapter and we’ll be back next Wednesday.

Continuing the tour with Dr. Windsor, Arad, and Roku.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


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Chapter 82.1

Tiny lines formed at the corner of her eyes, giving away the guilt at her decision, no matter how well thought out. Arad knew Roku had suffered in his absence. It showed in barely-there anxious tremors when he stepped away for a moment because shadowing one another in the public restroom raised eyebrows. Or how Roku turned his head, focusing on the silverware rather than respond to Windsor’s confession. It made his chest ache to hear, but he refused to dwell on the unchangeable past. He was alive, bigger and better than before. Sadness was overrated, so he kept his positive mood up front and center.

“I’m not complaining, but if the chances were so low, why’d you do it?” Arad asked.

A warmth filled Windsor’s eyes as her smile returned. “Yosei made a compelling argument. Here we have a young man with next to nothing and nothing to gain, finds a batch of DemiShou sleeping in chrysalis. With no idea of the potential risk or outcome, he assigns himself as their guardian. Even when the scenario turns horrible, and he comes to true harm, he still strives to put their lives before his own. He brings them home, sacrificing himself in the process. It only seemed like fair payment.”

Peering into Arad’s eyes, Roku took his hand. “I don’t think I can thank you enough, Dr. Windsor.”

“We beat the odds. And seeing the two of you together makes the risk worthwhile.”

Arad raised their linked hands to his lips and kissed Roku’s knuckle. When they got back to their quarters, he planned to make up for lost time. But until then, he still had questions to ask of the doctor since she was in such a good mood to share.

“So… why a lynx?”

“It was the name on the wall the dart hit.” Dr. Windsor’s words were as serious as her next sip of tea.

Jaw slack, Arad goggled. “Uh, what?”

“Oh my, you should see the look on your faces. That was far too easy.” Raucous laughter uncharacteristic of her standard demeanor shook her shoulders and she had to set down her cup while she composed herself. “Honestly, we ran a genetic comparison between you and the templates on file. Of the three profiles that came back as a match, the lynx seemed the most suitable. Strong, agile, smaller than Roku, yet fast enough to keep up with him. You had to be based off a predator if you’d be mated to one, and I wasn’t about to make you into a canine. I’m not a fan of excitable peeing.”

Hopefully his new fur would hide the blush. Arad’s face heated, she caught him so off guard. He chuckled as he looked around, comparing himself to the other DemiShou visible in the diner and walking outside.

“My features have more human elements compared to Roku.” It was true. The main difference was his face. He didn’t have a muzzle or snout like some. Yes, he had spots, fur, and feline eyes, but his appearance could be mistaken as an excellent costume to an untrained eye.

“I was saving your life, not designing a soldier.”

Arad lowered his voice so it couldn’t drift beyond the table. “I’ll accept that, but isn’t it illegal now to turn people into DemiShou?”

Looking over the edge of her teacup, her brow quirked. “Yes it is. But when I run your DNA, every database says you don’t exist. So under the circumstances, I was willing to embrace the technicality.”

“I like technicalities.” Arad nodded and Roku did the same with a grin.

“I thought you might.” Windsor set down her cup and put her hands together on the table in full doctor mode. “Tell me, do you remember what happened to you?”

Roku’s back tensed and straightened. “I don’t think we need to make Arad relive any of—”

Arad squeezed Roku’s hand. “It’s all right, Roku. She just wants to know if my memory is intact.” Once Roku relaxed a bit, Arad faced Windsor. “Mostly. More and more comes back when I think about it. Does this mean Roku’s memory will come back?”

“I’m sorry, but it’s doubtful. There’s actual damage in his memory centers compared to yours. Felix is a brilliant geneticist, but others were more skilled at synaptic programming. I read the cryotube logs. The nanotech scrubbed Roku’s memories during the synaptic phase with all the finesse of a ice cream scoop. He resisted the procedure and went into seizure, then arrested.”

“But I was there and pulled him out.” Recalling the day, Arad gripped Roku’s hand harder.

“Yes. Your timely intervention saved him.”

Brow furrowed, Arad dug up the question that had nagged him from the moment he found the sleeping DemiShou. “Is that what happened to Go?”

“According to the logs, it appears so.”

Dr. Windsor’s practiced calm under unpleasant news had the potential to be annoying, but it helped. The idea of Roku dying in the tube was something he’d fought back and smothered for months. It didn’t keep him from comparing the fate of others.

“Except when it happened to him, there was no one to help.”

No one answered to that.

They finished their drink in quiet with Arad leaning into Roku. The solid wall of his body helped shore up his resolve as he navigated the changes to his body and environment. Fading away one day and waking up the next seven weeks later as a new species, no matter how much of an improvement, bent the mind a bit.

Dr. Windsor tapped a finger to the mini-kiosk built into the table to pay and they left to continue the colony tour.

Once outside, Arad found himself half-listening as Windsor pointed out various aspects of Moreau’s construction. A small transport glided by overhead filled with passengers and Arad followed its path between the skyscraper network without the slightest traffic congestion. The amount of free space was staggering. The streets were open and lacked the overdeveloped claustrophobic quality he’d grown up surrounded by. Buildings in Grey District were practically constructed on top of one another and crowds were common. Wealthy or slug, the experience had been version of the same life density. No wonder being closed in on the Ansariland had come so easily, so second nature.

The transport drifted out of sight and Arad’s mind drifted to his time in space, and connected it back to their previous conversation thread before the depressing news of Go’s fate snipped it short.

“What happened to Hachi?” he asked.

Windsor glanced around to see who might be near, giving Arad a sense the information she continued to share was privileged. “Once we formulated repression meds for him so his mating instinct wouldn’t endanger anyone, we woke him. He passed his evaluations, so I had him placed in Moreau security. It was what he was programmed for, and we didn’t want to disrupt him more than necessary. He’s doing well. Rumor has it, he’s a gifted card player.”

“So he’s okay?”

“He’s doing wonderfully.”

Her sincere smile couldn’t halt the next step in Arad’s thoughts. “I wish I could have saved Shichi.”

“Don’t feel guilty about that. It’s entirely misplaced. Shichi’s programming was… nightmarish and Dr. Southerland exploited it.” Windsor’s spine stiffened as she spoke, radiating her displeasure. “He was a custom design for a paranoid dignitary. At some point, his life would have ended the same. His death was regrettable but unavoidable, and most likely saved many lives in the end.”

“Are you just saying this to make me feel better?”

Windsor huffed. “No. I may withhold information from people when necessary, but lying lacks integrity, and I have always strived to possess that quality.”

They continued touring through the prime market square, Dr. Windsor pointing out various vendors. Moreau sat off the public grid, so supplies ran exclusively through PlanetGenCo. The upside was many goods were quality handmade, and fresh grown produce was easy to find as people made due with available materials. Combined with all the high-end tech, Moreau’s quality of life sat galaxy’s away from Grey District.

The unexpected comparison didn’t endear it to Arad.

Roku must have sensed something. Perhaps anxiety left a bitter scent in the air, because the tiger held Arad close as they walked, arm around his shoulder, sides brushing against one another. An argument could be made he was staking his claim, unwilling to risk another DemiShou to come sniffing around. Arad doubted that. If they were going to live on Moreau—or anywhere else for that matter—it would be together. While they hadn’t had any opportunity to discuss it, they’d been through too much to contemplate any other scenario. As long as he had Roku, he could learn to appreciate the differences which rubbed him the wrong way.

Hopefully.

Centered in the public square, a news kiosk broadcast stories and data from multiple sources, all focused on the ApexCorp scandal. Stock feeds, press releases, and other sordid details spewed forth, absorbed by the milling crowd. Spokespeople from ApexCorp’s legal team shouted denials and vowed to find the ones responsible for “fabricating this slander.” Identities of the newly birthed DemiShou remained classified, but it would only be a matter of time before the details leaked and people came looking.

Roku viewed the newsfeed with special interest. “Are we going to be watching over our shoulder for ApexCorp from now on?”

Sighing, Dr. Windsor answered as honestly as ever. “Possibly, but I’d wager you have some time to breathe. The files for Felix’s program were leaked to the public and the whole debacle has gone pandemic. DemiShou manufacturing and slavery makes for poor bedfellows. No one wants to be involved. ApexCorp’s stock is in freefall, and the board of directors is being indicted for conspiracy. Other corporate powers are circling. I’d read memos about possibile dismantling of their power structure and selling off the assets. ApexCorp has its hands full.”

“What about First Commander Bard?” Arad asked.

“Incarcerated. Courtmartialed in disgrace. ApexCorp lawyers are trying to make him into a scapegoat, but the other corporations are far too excited over the blood in the water. ApexCorp has made no friends with its competitors.”

“Including PlanetGenCo?”

“Especially them. No one likes their intellectual property stolen and abused.”

Arad closed in on the kiosk to read the financial feed. The numbers and financial codes had meant more to him so many years ago in a life long lost, but he could read enough to get by. “Isn’t this place owned by PlanetGenCo?”

“It is, but they only keep a loose oversight on Moreau. More like absentee landlords. Since the research and development of DemiShou has been shut down, it serves as a sanctuary of sorts.”

Steeling himself by not facing her, Arad found the strength to ask the nagging voice whispering under all the good things Moreau had to offer. “So if I don’t want sanctuary, if I decide to leave, you won’t stop me?”

The lack of answer drew Arad to turn and find Dr. Windsor frozen in place. Wounded surprise colored her face, filling Arad with a stomach full of guilt.

“Arad, you’re my patient, not my prisoner. You and Roku both. I would hope you would stay until we’ve completed all the medical assessments, but we don’t have any right to keep you if you want to leave. Moreau is not a gulag.”

Roku jumped in before Arad could say more. “You put Pakko in jail.”

“You did what?” Arad blurted out.

Windsor’s raised hand stalled any further outrage. “Even if he’s seen the error of his ways, Pakko Garcia was part of a trafficking scheme selling DemiShous. As director, I couldn’t turn a blind eye to that. Given ApexCorp’s public scandal, there would be a dangerous amount of criticism, and rightly so. However, I managed to convince the magistrates to be lenient. Thanks to his testimony and Yosei’s recommendation, he received an extremely light sentence in minimum security. You’ll be seeing him again soon.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Jailtime brought enough dread to Arad, because in his experience, people didn’t come back once arrested. He wanted to trust Dr. Windsor’s word that Pakko would return.

Stopping in front of the kiosk, Windsor watched the newsfeed made her look sad. “We always knew there would be consequences and prejudice when we introduced the DemiShou into the population. To help combat the backlash, Moreau was intended to be a safe haven for human and DemiShou both.” 

“But not every DemiShou knows about it.”

Nodding, Windsor paced in a lazy arc, arms clasped behind her back. “That’s true. I hope to improve on that before long. We’ve stayed isolated outside of any other jurisdiction for protection of the colonists, so any changes will require careful planning.”

Eyes, Roku caught some hidden meaning. “What kind of planning?”

“I have a few ideas brewing. Let’s continue our tour and I’ll share them. If they sound interesting, once we clear Mr. Ansari for work, I may have an narrowing opportunity for you both.”


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Next chapter will begin next Wednesday. Keep an eye out!

#freereads – Adrift Ch 82 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Dr. Windsor gives the boys a tour of the colony of Moreau.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

 


 

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Chapter 82

It was hard not to adore Dr. Kian Windsor.

Once Arad and Roku had showered and redressed, she oversaw the remaining tests to ensure Arad’s health. She even countermanded her more zealous colleagues regarding more invasive testing for more passive options. As Arad’s memories became clearer, lying on an examination table triggered a bank of panicked thoughts. Roku’s protective instincts were strung so tight, every doctor’s safety was at risk. Windsor had been happy to scan him standing up.

True to her word, she took Arad on a tour of Moreau, stopping first at a local diner. She laughed at Arad’s reaction when he ordered a standard meal portion instead of DemiShou sized. He’d underestimated his newfound lynx-human hybrid appetite. There were so many adjustments to his new body. He wasn’t the street slug anymore.

Grey District could go to hell. After setting foot on Moreau, Arad vowed to never go back.

Clean architecture gleamed in every direction, lacking zones defined by class and poverty. DemiShou and humans coexisted without the blatant bigotry he’d been used to. Little faults could be seen when you searched for them—Arad’s cynicism denied utopia’s existence. However, the hard differences between those with wealth and those without were far more blurred than the life he’d led before this.

More DemiShou intermingled than Arad had ever seen in one place. They existed in Grey District, but the population was a sparse minority. He didn’t know much about other districts, but the impression he had was that the percentages didn’t fluctuate much. Here, that was not the case and the numbers intimidated him a bit.

It was ridiculous, especially now he was one too, but there so much to absorb. Their proximity raised the hair on the back of his neck as well. Such as the wolf DemiShou waiter bring them a new round of drinks.

Dr. Windsor practically giggled as she took a sip of tea. “Stop growling, Arad. He’s not going to poach your mate.”

“I’m sorry. It slipped out.” Ducking his head in embarrassment, Arad kept a hand on Roku’s sleeve and an eye on the server who was polite enough not to mention anything. Perhaps he understood. Roku’s protective streak had been in full force, refusing to allow Arad out of his sight. On top of that, they’d been in near-constant contact of some sort all day, with Arad using Roku as a rod to direct emotional lightning into the ground. He wasn’t upset per se, but the newness of his body left a sandpapery edge to all his heightened senses only Roku could smooth. He felt good, stronger and more alive than he could ever remember, but everything was a little too bright, a little too loud, and a little too close to his territory.

“The mate bond is new and fresh. Your reactions are going to be a little exaggerated around Roku for a while until it settles.”

Arad glared at the waiter as he walked away. “He didn’t have to stand so close to Roku, does he?”

“Now you know what I felt like after I woke on the ship.” Roku covered Arad’s hand with his own. “Wanting to protect you even though we were alone. Imagine if I took a spacewalk and didn’t come back.”

“Hey. I made it back.” A frisson of panic burned through the memory’s resurgence, brighter than it should have been considering the outcome.

“Yes, you did. But I nearly went mad when it happened.”

Arad scrubbed at his face to bring himself back to what served as normal. His feelings were purer and more potent, most likely the animal genes learning to play nice with the human. In a sort of, messed up kind of way.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think this is the most awesome that’s ever happened to me, but am I gonna be oversensitive to everything forever?”

Windsor’s smile had all the hallmarks of the comforting mother he should have had. “It will take some adjustment, but yes you will. Every DemiShou we ever made went through the same thing.”

Slumping in his chair with a sigh, Arad tipped his head to face the ceiling. “I’m going to need an owner’s manual.”

“We have all the support you’ll need here as you transition into your new life. It’s not as if any of this had been planned.”

“No, it wasn’t. Why didn’t you tell me what was happening to Arad?” Roku asked.

The previous delight in Windsor sobered, leaving her face tinted with regret. “It was kinder not to. When the DemiShou program was in its infancy, we tested the process on medical cadavers. Dr. Felix Chakijane had a breakthrough in reversing necrosis and reanimating the donor, but the success rate was poor at best. Add in the moral and ethical equation and we ended that direction and used what we learned to open the door to live trials. Felix took the decommissioning of the DemiShou project hard, but I had no idea he’d been recruited by ApexCorp. The files Yosei acquired from Captain Hodge outlined his new project analysis using  the early research as a launching method. One hundred forty-eight body donors were listed, all ApexCorp employees having their post-mortem clauses enacted. Only thirty-two survived to be rebirthed, and some of those weren’t fortunate enough to make it to the end. Arad coded twice over the last six weeks, but thankfully we were watching closely and resuscitated him.”

“That still doesn’t answer—”

“We didn’t tell you because I couldn’t give you that kind of hope only to watch you lose it again.” Her delicate sign made her whole body sag. “Arad’s first death devastated you. I doubted you’d survive a second. I couldn’t be that cruel when the odds were against us.”

(…to be continued)


TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR THE REST OF THE CHAPTER


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 81.1 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

We’re continuing from yesterday’s installment as part of the Wednesday Briefers. Today we continue the remainder of the chapter and we’ll be back next Wednesday.

Time has passed and now we see the first glimpse of how Roku is handling the events of last chapter.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


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Chapter 81.1

“He’s looking kind of healthy right now. Is this really happening? Hello, we’re right here.”

“Oh wow. This should not be happening in front of me.”

“Dr. Windsor, what should we do?”

“From the looks of things, I’d said you give them some privacy or it’s going to get awfully awkward in here.”

“Kian, you’re leaving?”

“I don’t need to watch this show. I already know how it ends.”

“All right, that’s enough. Everybody out! Clear the room!”

Voices disappeared, leaving only needy animal noises between them. The swell of meat between Roku’s shoulder and neck called to him. Arad clamped his jaws around it, and Roku’s answered with an approving trill while mirroring the bite on Arad.

Using his legs to press himself up and down, Arad’s frenzy grew. Roku’s pants shifted down under bouncing movement, and his cock slipped beneath Arad, tapping the tender space under his balls, and sliding deeper. Some areas were still slick with soup.

Roku’s hold increased and they spun until Arad’s back was crushed up against the wall. They rutted into one another harder and harder, losing themselves to a new craving they’d missed forever. Curling his body, Arad caught the tip of Roku’s slippery knob at his hole. He’d never wanted anything more. Jaws still holding each other tight, Roku paused, his sounds muffled as Arad squirmed, determined to capture the swollen head. His weight shifted, and he sank, slippery soup, perseverance, and gravity helping Roku’s tool drill its way where it belonged.

The burn and the heat and the oh so full screamed the words, mate, mate, mate into every corner of his consciousness. They growled and thrust and clutched at each other, desperate to bond, desperate to be one.

Arad folded himself nearly in half to give Roku room to bury the entire length with each furious slam of his hips. Yowls vibrated through his flesh, setting every inch of him on fire. The heat spiked and Arad let it take him. With a reckless cry, he came, splashing between them, mixing the heady scents together. Roku roared and shoved himself in as deep as possible, trying to go deeper still as he spilled, squeezing the air from Arad’s lungs in the process. They stayed locked together for so long, neither willing to let go, even as both their bodies began to twitch, losing their strength.

Roku carefully slid them both to the floor. A sound of joy, rapture, and tears echoed of the walls. Arad couldn’t be sure if it was himself, Roku, or both as they lay tangled on the tile floor.

Each sawing breath sharpened the world more and more. Arad stretched out his arms and legs, joints popping, loving the delicious ache of muscles waking. Curious. His arms looked different. Firmer. Stronger. The skin color was a different shade of brown, but it wasn’t skin he was seeing, was it? A silky sheen coated his forearms and hands, but didn’t it couldn’t cover the new defintion in the muscles. Arad rolled to the side, his eye catching a shiny metal surface.

The reflection confused him. He blinked once, twice. The reflection did the same, but by someone he didn’t recognize. Roku lay behind the unfamiliar furry male with bright eyes shining back at him, who he somehow knew he should be familiar with. Understanding crystalized in steps. Long threads of memories stitched themselves together into a tapestry which held the secrets to his universe.

Lightning. Darkness. Soup. Doctors.

“Arad. It’s all right. You’re perfectly fine.” Roku placed a hesitant hand on Arad’s back, his whisper filled with hope.

The door in his head creaked open, shining light on the most recent parts of his recollection.

“I was gone?”

“Yes. But you’re here with me now.”

“You’re laughing. And crying.”

“Because I’m happy. So very, very happy to see you.”

The door in his head, opened further, letting in a deluge. The volume threatened to explode his skull, sweeping in with every memory wanting to be heard at once. Crashing behind his eyes and ears in a giant tide of information and identity smothered under trauma.

Pawn takes Queen.

Blood in her face, Torrins’s gun in my hand.

I saved you Roku. I kept my promise.

Is that my heartbeat? It sounds slow.

Old thoughts twined themselves with new ideas, some less formed than others, but his all the same.

Purring. Scents. Mating. Fur.

Arad gasped as the wave settled, and it all became clear.

“I’m… a DemiShou.”

Time paused, no one speaking as the revelation cemented. Roku stayed silent and didn’t interfere as Arad crawled closer to the reflective surface.

Feline eyes circled in black were centered within fine white fur surrounded by warm sandy brown. Spotted striped touched the edges of his face framing it in dark walnut. The stripes continued down his neck and back, marking his upper arms and legs.

He was taller, more muscular than before. Still smaller in scale than Roku, but a marked increase overall. Even his penis looked bigger. DemiShou designers were all a bunch of pervs. Where had he heard that before?

Ears lengthened to a point which peaked through his standard thatch of wild black locks, grown out long enough to brush his shoulders. In spite of the fur and markings, his features were less feline than Roku, but there would be no mistaking him for human.

Not ever again.

“Arad?” Roku’s voice had gone timid in a way that didn’t fit his fierce presence. He was terrified.

Why shouldn’t he be? Arad remembered the final fight with Bryce in bits and pieces, ending with the medbed. He knew he’d died. And now he was alive again but different. Roku had the benefit of not knowing what came before he woke up changed. It was all he knew. Arad’s life, while nothing to envy, couldn’t be returned to. Not it the way he knew it. 

“Arad, speak to me. Are you all right?”

Turning them palms up, Arad pondered his hands. He was convinced there were claws in there. Spreading his fingers out didn’t make them pop out. “I’m a DemiShou.”

“Yes.”

“How long have I been…” Arad couldn’t finish the sentence out loud.

“Seven weeks.”

Dropping his hands, Arad turned to face Roku. The memories haunted him still, shining through his eyes no matter how thankful he was to see Arad again. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

“I don’t care. I have you back.” Crawling over with his pants still half down his thighs, Roku took Arad’s hands in his own. “I think you’re beautiful.”

“You do?”

Gaze averted to the floor in embarrassment, Roku’s head bounced with an eager nod. “Yes. Very much so. What do you think?”

“I’d be lying if I said I’d ever ask to become DemiShou. But now that I am…” With a hand to Roku’s chin, Arad nudged him to raise his head. “This is beyond awesome.”

Roku’s big, tiger eyes glossed with tears on the edge of falling. “Really?”

“Coming back as a Demi is worth it if I get my mate back.”

Lurching forward, Roku snatched Arad in his arms. Head pressed into his shoulder, Roku let the dam break and sobbed. Body heaving, he held Arad tight as if he couldn’t risk letting him go. That was fine with Arad.

Face hidden in Arad’s neck, Roku’s voice broke. “I love you so much. I don’t know how I survived without you.”

Picturing the sorrow choked Arad’s words. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“I’m never letting you out of my sight again.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

“Okay.”

They embraced until the tidal wave of grief subsided and the floor warmed under their bodies. Time passed, lost in their bubble, laying in each other’s arms and basking in the warmth. It was almost worth dying for.

A woman’s smooth voice broke into the serenity over the speakers. “Mr. Eijiro?”

Roku’s eyes opened wide as reality came crashing in. Face falling in shock, he glanced around the room, finally seeing where they were, his unerring focus on Arad shattered. It reminded Arad of the time Davis complained about the police—calling them pigs—with an officer standing behind him. The stammered backtracking was worth the price of admission.

“Yes, Dr. Windsor?” Squirming on the floor in more ways than one, Roku shimmied his pants up over his hips like he’d been caught by his parents with the boy next door.

“If the reunion with your mate has hit a lull in the action, perhaps we can allow Mr. Ansari an opportunity to get cleaned up and dressed and my team can complete his health check.” Amusement colored Dr. Windsor’s maternal tone while Roku figuratively paled. “He’s been through a great deal and I would like to be sure there are no lingering effects to his procedure. Afterwards, I’d be happy to answer your questions and take our young Arad on a tour of the colony. Would that be acceptable?”

“Very, ma’am.” He tugged ineffectively at closing his shirt.

Arad made no effort to cover himself and burst out laughing. He had no shame.


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Next chapter will begin next Wednesday. Keep an eye out!

#freereads – Adrift Ch 81 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

What will happen now?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

 


 

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Chapter 81

Lightning crackled.

Darkness.

Heart jumped.

Thunder and lightning gave way to dense fog.

Wet fog. Dense like molasses. Soup.

Smothered murmurs from behind the door.

Lights stabbed into the soup. Searching. Spying. Finding a ship’s way home.

Invisible spiders crawled over the skin. Inside? Outside? Both?

There’s no way to scratch.

Darkness.

More overlapping voices. They’re more distinct, but the effort to understand is worthless. Unrecognizable noises underwater. Breathing in the fog, thick and wet, felt normal yet shouldn’t. Floating weightless in the warm, wet soup. Fluid?

Spying lights flickered across the eyes. 

Can’t sleep with interruptions. Just want to sleep.

Darkness.

Itch, itch, itch with no way to scratch. Feel the spiders, but can’t see them. On the flesh, in the flesh, always itching.

Move a finger. Voices rise and fall. They make no sense.

Darkness.

Itches became tingles. Electric fireflies danced on every inch.

A few words are said. They made no sense. Broken down. Reassembly.

Chimes. Signals. Constant when the voices are not. 

Heartbeat.

Voices are louder. Clearer, but still made no sense. Something’s happening.

The soup was leaving. Draining away. Coughing up the soup until there’s nothing but air. Skin feels slippery slick.

Warmth replaced by a chill.

The wall opens. It’s too bright outside.

“Turn down the lights.”

Multiple hands. Wash and dried. Laid down on something firm yet soft.

“Can you hear me?” Voices are gentle.

I can hear. Stop the lights in my eyes. 

A hand presses his chest. “Don’t sit up yet, please.”

“Vitals are good. Synaptic responses are healthy.”

Lights were low but he could see. The walls were bare, clinical. Strange men and women stood nearby. Visors and white lab coats and gloves. Familiar? Why? Bryce wore lab coats and gloves. Medical table. Operating table. Just like Bryce’s.

No.

Gloved hands tried to hold him down. Restrain him. He growled (growled?) and shoved one lab coat away. Noisy table of tools flipped over. Other gloves gripped tighter.

“Dammit, he’s really strong. I don’t think we can hold him much longer.”

“Is Seo Eijiro still out there?”

“He’s waited seven weeks. You really think he’s not?”

“Screw your sarcasm, Gerald. Get him in here! Now!”

More yelling and another lab coat flies with a push. The rest shouldn’t be able to hold him, but he was groggy. Muddied brain. He spied doors and leaped for them, landing closer than he expected. 

More shouting. More chaos. Too loud. Too much noise. 

Covering his ears didn’t block the sound.

Flee.

The doors burst open, and the most handsome tiger blocked the path. Do I know you? It made him pause, but he needed to run.

“Don’t let him out!” a lab coat yelled.

He tried to dodge the tiger, but he was too fast, and snatched him off the ground. The tiger’s arms felt right, slowed his struggles, but he needed to go. Lab coats would get him. Just like Bryce. No more pain.

“Arad. Stop. It’s me. It’s Roku.”

He (Arad) stopped. The words surged into his head. 

It’s Roku. I know you. 

All urges for flight vanished. Roku cupped his head in firm hands. Amber tiger eyes hypnotized him, bright and sad all at once. Beautiful and strong, they nudged opened a door in Arad’s head, causing all kinds of awesome thoughts and recognition to leak in.

Arad’s chest squeezed with glorious pressure. “Roku.”

A wet, joyous laugh choked out of Roku. “Yes! Yes! I can’t believe you’re here. You’re beautiful, Arad. I missed you so much.”

“I was gone?”

Roku’s nodded. “For a very long time. But you’re here with me now.” His glossy eyes overflowed, tears catching in the fine hairs coating his cheeks. He was moments away from sobbing.

Arad reached up and thumbed away the wetness. “You’re laughing. And crying.”

“Because I’m happy. So very, very happy to see you.” 

Roku pulled Arad close and scrubbed his head along Arad’s. It felt like home. Arad pressed his face into Roku’s neck, relishing the fur. A purr rolled out and the most fabulous smell appeared. Musky and sharp, it rolled into his nostrils and filled his head, triggering a full body shiver. He didn’t know the scent, but he needed more. Nosing his way down Roku’s neck, a collar got in his way.

Stupid shirt. 

The fabric parted in two easily, giving him access to that broad chest. He couldn’t remember why he thought he should be finding wounds, but they weren’t there, so it wasn’t important now. He wanted the scent. It belonged to Roku. Arad craved it on him, so he rubbed his whole body against the tiger. Best application method ever.

Smells so delicious. Must taste.

“Um… uh oh. Mr. Eijiro, we need to finish examining him.”

Arad wrapped his legs around Roku’s sturdy thighs for leverage. It allowed him to scrub himself against the hard planes of furry muscle while allowing him to lick his way up Roku’s neck. Taking more scent in, he shivered all the way into his hardening groin.

“Arad. Perhaps this isn’t the right time…” Roku shuddered as he protested, yet tightened his ridged stomach for Arad to better grind himself. The intoxicating scent wafting off Roku intensified.

Lab coat voices rose around them, which Arad promptly ignored.

“Geez, you think you can wait until you’re back in your quarters?”

A gloved hand landed on Arad. Roku tightened his hold on Arad and let out a threatening yowl, primal and territorial. The hand vanished as fast as it came. Smart hand.

“This is exactly why I didn’t want him in here. We can’t assess his health like this.”

Without looking, Arad found Roku’s belt line and yanked his pants open. A wayward thought of how a kilt would be better breezed through and was lost as quickly. The column of pulsing flesh thickening in his hand was a great prize. He tugged at the length, his circling thumb and fingers being forced apart as it swelled.

(…to be continued)


TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR THE REST OF THE CHAPTER


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 80 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

(I’m still cheating on the 1k thing. I mean, seriously cheating. This one is huge. The muse is shaking me by the scruff of my neck, so I can’t cut it short now. Enjoy.)

Time has passed and now we see the first glimpse of how Roku is handling the events of last chapter.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

 


 

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Chapter 80

Dulcet tunes and operatic vocals sang of how to survive heartache and lost love.

The control panel cracked under Roku’s fist and the audio stream abruptly ended. Lies were meant to be silenced. No one ever survives losing their love.

Fingerprints smudged the over-touched holographic image of Arad Yosei had imported from the Ansariland’s security files. Between the point where they’d finally given into each other and finding the Nightingale, he grinned watching Roku paint in his tablet. Arad was happy then.

Roku let out a shuddering exhale. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t shed any more tears, but some days keeping his word seemed a wasted effort.

The sketching tablet laid on the floor, gathering a fine layer of dust. He couldn’t bring himself to paint new images, and paging through the sketches had ruined him for days. Memories cut far too deep. Some day they might bring back a tide of fondness, but for now they only drowned him.

Unfortunately, nothing could be done for Arad. He’d been dead long before the ship could approach the colony of Moreau. Yosei was brokering clearance when Roku had woken. Alarmed by the blood still lingering on the scrubbed floor, he followed the scent of his mate to find him pale and still in the medbed. Gone. Forever. He’d clawed the bed refusing to let them near even though he wouldn’t be going anywhere. The medical staff had to sedate him—

No. He wasn’t taking that road today.

Six excruciating weeks had passed—wait, make that seven—and he’d been on that path every day, sometimes more than once a day. If he didn’t find a new route soon, he would fade into nothing.

Roku just didn’t know how.

He kissed the image and carefully placed the frame on the nightstand, so he could say goodnight to him every night and wake up to him every morning. From the way his body ached all the time to the pull of tangled clothing he’d been wearing for the past three days, climbing out of bed was a trial. It wasn’t as if he’d slept. Last night he’d spent hours patting the side of the bed where Arad should have been and never would be.

An unpleasant amount of light spilled into the small studio quarters as the shutters pivoted open revealing the colony of Moreau’s elaborate architecture. Pristine spires of every height imaginable dotted the landscape interconnected with walkways allowing easy travel between them. Sleek transports floated between building in designating airways, making no sound to disrupt the serenity.

Roku wished he could enjoy it.

The morning was the usual exercise in forced routine. Having forgotten to set the program again, he had to set the beverage dispenser to make coffee, needing the caffeine jolt before he chewed down a flavorless ration bar formulated for his specific dietary requirements after his doctors and therapist noticed the first signs of weight loss. Eating was easier than receiving lectures.

Stripping off his shirt, he crossed the room to the lavatory. It took less than a dozen steps since his quarters were more of a hotel room than apartment. Everything: bedroom, the virtually unused kitchenette, and sitting area existed in one cube shaped space with doors for a closet and restroom flanking the bed along one wall. It was just enough to pace a circle in.

He did what needed to be done, following a routine of hygiene ingrained in him by a life long past scorched out of his brain. Showering required more inertia than present, so he opted to splash hot water on the foulest body parts. A haunted creature spied back at him in the mirror. The medical staff had done marvelous work undoing the damage wrought by Shichi and Bryce. Not a scar showed, not a mark on his flesh. The epitome of physical health. Except where what should be sleek fur, laid dull and matted in places.

“What are you doing to yourself?” he asked the reflection.

Arad never gave up, no matter how slim the odds, ever the master of surviving anything thrown his way. He’d taken spacewalks and endured torture only to come back to save them all. Tenacity was his gift. Sullying his memory was unacceptable. The least Roku could do was honor his mate by learning the lesson. 

To do so, he would have to leave the apartment. Again, if only to keep the therapist from knocking on his door. But before he could leave, there was one thing he had to do.

He retrieved the medical dispenser from the shelf and check the readout. Only four days left, he would have to com Dr. Windsor to refill the prescription. She’d make him endure another round of conversations about his physical and mental health and being excluded from details of the investigation into ApexCorp’s affairs. However, the meds were critical, and he would persevere. Staring into his own reflection for courage, he touch the device to his shoulder and pressed the button, feeling the warm tingle feed under his skin.

“I promise, Arad. No other mate. I will love you forever.”

The drug would suppress the stupid biological trigger he couldn’t escape. He’d already imprinted once. There wouldn’t be a second time. It wasn’t safe to set him loose in Moreau without it. Grief had held it off in the beginning, but Dr. Windsor’s tests showed it could reemerge without warning. So the formula was tailored for him exclusively. Apparently, only the black market DemiShou had this problem and each had to be dealt with individually. Roku hated the association of being considered illicit property, even if he was now a free man.

Kilts were no longer part of his life outside the Ansariland, so he walked the street to the recreation center dressed in shirt, boots, and pants. DemiShou of every breed and species walked in equal numbers with humans, everyone coexisting without fear or suspicion. He understood the prejudice, even if he couldn’t attached a specific memory to it. Moreau was designed for his kind. A paradise of sorts. Most politely nodded as he passed, likely curious at the new arrival who rarely saw daylight, but they never interrupted him, as if they could scent the pain and loss staining his soul.

The architecture continued to be unfazed by his pain. Sleek and efficient in shades of white and grey, the entire colony appeared to be more about clean aesthetics and practicality than making any kind of artistic statement, in spite of the impressive network of building structures.  It succeeded in function untouched by the lives of its inhabitants.

The neutral environment allowed Roku to stride to the center without finding something fascinating to focus on because these days nothing held much interest. Only a few minutes passed before he arrived, the building much like its surroundings of plastic, metal and concrete. Thankfully, well-designed directional signage hung on every corner and facade. It was difficult to get lost here, and Roku had tried on more than one occasion.

Frosted into opaque panels, the handleless door sat cleanly mounted into the outer wall. Roku touched the adjacent monitor as prompted. A perfunctory beep accompanied the change in displayed text.

Seo Eijiro

Classification: DemiShou Tiger

ID: A621-S35FC

***Access Granted***

Every time he saw the name, he had to look twice. Dr. Windsor had shared some information regarding ApexCorp when records of the project’s sealed “donor list” had surfaced and Roku’s identity had been verified. 

Seo Eijiro of EarthAsian descent. Military employee of ApexCorp killed in action during a food riot. Without memories of his past, the name lacked connection and the attached photo was of a stranger. Of a man who didn’t exist anymore. Hardly an endearing way to view oneself. 

Apparently he was Seo Eijiro, but in the end he didn’t know who that man was. 

“Excuse me.”

Startled out of his fog, Roku turned and found a young woman waiting to enter.

Averting his eyes as if it could hide his embarrassment, he stepped to one side. “I’m sorry. “

“Nothing to worry about,” she said as she tapped the panel for access and entered without a worry. Without the specters lording over his every second of every day. She went inside and moved on with her life.

Straightening his spine, Roku took her example and stepped through the open door.

Human and DemiShou both made up the fair number of facility users, although there was some segregation based on DemiShou strength levels for safety. Rows of strength machines and exercise areas dotted the floor plan. Roku ignored them all, heading for the section in the corner fitted with martial arts training equipment. The sparring circle made his eyes burn with too many memories of the Nightingale, so he gave it his back in favor of the striking dummies.

He choose one mounted centered along the wall, focused on the grey mannequin’s lack of features. It could stand in for anyone he’d ever met or any person he’d ever forgotten before his rebirth. Perfect.

Air in through the nose, out the mouth in a controlled rush. Roku tried to wash his nerves into a steady flow as he adjusted his stance, centered his weight properly. He snapped out a fist and struck the dummy. The padded surface remained unblemished, fortified for a DemiShou’s power level.

So he struck it again. Then again. And again.

The dummy was no one.

It wasn’t Vosh.

It wasn’t Hodge.

It wasn’t First Commander Bard.

It wasn’t Shichi.

It wasn’t Bryce.

All of them dead and only one by his hand, yet the target took their punishments in kind. Each and every one of them had a hand in Arad’s end. Nothing could absolve them of that or his failing to protect Arad from their machinations. Guilt fed into rage and the only outlet was right here, beating their effigies until the urge eventually passed.

The room reduced down to the smack of fist against padding, his rapid pulse, and his heaving intake of oxygen. Over and over and over.

“Seo Eijiro, stand down! That’s an order!”

The jarring command shocked Roku back into the world. His hands ached, knuckles bloody, and the sparring dummy’s seams were burst and the padding in tatters. Stepping back in a daze, he turned, scowling at the interruption. A crowd had formed, human and DemiShou both, wel outside his reach. A palpable tension thickened the air. 

One human woman stood out from the crowd, standing closer yet still at a safe distance, because Moreau’s primary director, Dr. Kian Windsor, was no fool.

“Forgive me for issuing a command, Eijiro, but I guessed I needed something more dramatic to get your attention. I’m told you’ve been at this for over thirty minutes. Perhaps it’s time to time a break?” Tall and willowy, Dr. Windsor’s frail appearance belied her inner strength. Her authority was forged in a fierce intellect and gentle demeanor which disarmed the most jaded opponent. Anyone who believed her weak, found themselves schooled in the most subtle ways. Roku couldn’t imagine her raising her voice, which is probably why she was able to break his single mindedness in the first place.

Despite the center’s security staff’s warnings, she stepped forward at a cautious pace but without fear. Roku respected her too much to harm her. Dr. Windsor had been his personal doctor since he woke up in Moreau after being sedated on the Ansariland. She oversaw his rehabilitation and therapy instead of relegating his care to a lower ranking but capable staff member. It made his integration into Moreau marginally tolerable.

Kind eyes, and sympathetic hand on Roku’s arm, Dr. Windsor spoke just loud enough to keep the bystanders out of the conversation. “I think I’d like to take a walk, Mr. Eijiro. Would you be a gentleman and keep an old woman company?”

Without waiting for a reply, Dr. Windsor circled and walked through the parting crowd, proving it wasn’t really a question in the first place. He thought about refusing her implied demand, but the tiny voice buried under his lost memories urged him to comply with authority. People gave him a wide berth as he followed her out the door and into the courtyard.

Serene and elegant, her wavy silver hair had been tied back in a loose bun as always. Her footsteps light and ethereal, Windsor’s delicate coat flowed as she glided through the unoccupied greenspace. Most likely, she’d requested to clear the area for privacy. If she was upset with him, it didn’t show. She led the way down stone pathways until they ended somewhere near the center he guessed, at a circular copse of trees resting behind a masonry retaining wall. She took a seat on a bench opposite and waited with a casual patience for Roku to share the space. He did.

“I don’t think of you as old.” Oh, Roku knew Dr. Windsor had been subtly modified—humans didn’t stay in their prime well past one hundred years as she had—but he’d always had the impression extending her lifespan was more about her dedication to her work than vanity.

Even Windsor’s laugh was artful and disarming. “That’s lovely of you to say. And here I’d always pictured you as too honorable to lie. Isn’t life strange when it surprises you? Even so, don’t think I don’t appreciate the sentiment. A lady likes to be appreciated at any age. Tell me, how are you doing today?”

Clutching the seat’s edge, he forced his claws not to extend. Windsor knew exactly what state he was in. Never unkind in her observations, she still carried a sharp wisdom with her experience. The facility had notified her. Most likely, his file had her contact information for odd or aggressive behavior, and his session with the training dummy was certainly aggressive. And that truth ashamed him, so he avoided it for now.

“I need a refill on my repression prescription.”

A knowing hum sang from her. She’d seen his evasions on more than occasion. “Make an appointment. I want to check your baseline before I approve it.”

“Can’t I just stop in at one of the clinics?”

Windsor tipped her head back so she could look at the treetops. “You know how this works. Your customization is classified. Just like the others we’ve liberated from ApexCorp’s scheme. You know that. The fewer who see your genetic profiles, the safer you’ll be. My office. 0800 hours sharp. A little flattery is not going to exempt you from the rules.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Silence in the courtyard bordered on sanctuary. Little by little, Roku felt his anger abate, in no small part to the nonjudgemental woman sitting next to him. His files were open to her at any time. She’d written most of them in fact. However, she never weaponized them. Any self-recrimination he experienced was all his own doing.

“Have you seen your friends lately?”

Speaking of which…

“You mean Yosei and Pakko? I wouldn’t exactly call them my friends. More like co-survivors.”

The treetops no longer fascinating, Windsor shifted her attention to the flower beds in the distance. “A fair description. All of you shared a unique experience. Often people bond under such extreme circumstances in ways other people can’t understand.”

Roku sighed. “I’m trying hard to forget everything about those circumstances.”

She turned her head to focus on another part of the gadren, and he couldn’t help but appreciate her efforts. No stares he could interpret as accusatory. No eye contact to wither underneath. Their conversation had more hallmarks of a mother and son talking than doctor and patient.

“No one ever forgets things like that. Not really. The best we can hope for it to make peace with it. Although avoiding the topic isn’t exactly the solution either.” Her gaze examined the flowers at the base of the trees. “Trying to forget. Does that have anything to do with the dirty look you gave me when I called out your name in public?”

“I’m not used to that name. Seo Eijiro. I don’t know who that person is.”

“Would you prefer I call you Roku?”

“I don’t want anyone calling me that anymore.” Too many dashed memories were associated with it. He didn’t have the strength to say it out loud, but she knew regardless.

“What would you like me to call you then?”

Roku paused, looking for the answer amidst a shaky inhale.  “I don’t know.”

Reaching over, she patted his hand in a grandmotherly way. He continued to grip the bench, using the sturdy form to anchor him in more ways than one. Eyes burning, he cast his gaze to the treetops, hoping he might find some answers in the green.

“Yosei said she hasn’t heard from you since she showed you the Ansariland security feed.”

“Don’t blame her. I insisted.”

“I’m well aware. I only wish she’d waited until you were better ready.”

“There is no better time. I needed to see how it happened. I needed to know how he died.” Roku hadn’t known there even was a security feed to view before Yosei mentioned it. She’d surreptitiously activated it when she started working on repairs in case she needed additional evidence. Torrins has disabled the feature, no doubt to hide proof of his less than charitable activities.

He’d watched the video of Bryce ambushing Arad while he slept, helpless from Shichi’s bite. Bryce’s sadistic ranting. Arad’s heroic resistance. Bryce injecting him. Arad gunning her down before he succumbed to the poison. How many times had he repeated the scene?

“Did it help?”

Roku scrubbed his face against his shoulder without dislodging his hands. “Arad died saving us all. He was a man with nothing, jaded and cynical, who shared everything. Knowing he died a hero makes me proud, even if it’s killing me that he’s gone.”

“You awoke only a few months ago as a DemiShou and in that short time, you have been part of something equal parts wonderful and horrible. Everything I’ve heard from our discussions, Yosei and Pakko Garcia’s testimony, and my own research tells me a story of your Arad being a worthy man who was lost far too soon.” Sympathy, not pity, wove it’s way between every syllable. It didn’t make it any easier to hear.

“Why are you saying this as if I don’t already know it?”

“Because you’re allowed your grief. You’ve earned it better than most. If you weren’t so depressed, I’d say something was seriously wrong with your reaction.”

“I’m not depressed.”

She finally pivoted her head to face him. “If you were any further down the hole, I would have you on suicide watch.”

His brow creasing left a near-blinding pressure on his eyes, as he ground his teeth. “I already have a therapist.”

“And I expect you to make another appointment with Dr. Mercia before he ends up on your doorstep again.”

“I’m assuming you have some purpose to this visit beyond dredging up my psychiatric schedule?” He hated this line of conversation enough to growl involuntarily.

Windsor, as usual, was not intimidated. “Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. At some point, we need to decide what you’ll do longterm.”

“I’m not ready to make that decision.”

“Oh, I know. And I’m not trying to rush you either. I felt it was time to plant a seed or two. If you decide to continue living on Moreau, we need to find you employment. You don’t strike me as a man who will lay back watching soap operas all day gorging on sweets.”

He huffed at the ridiculous image. “No. I can’t picture myself doing that.”

“I think we can help find you someplace you’ll be content. And maybe someday happy.”

“I can’t picture that either.”

Windsor sighed, her lithe shoulders dropping a fraction. “I don’t suppose you can. Whoever coined the phrase time heals all wounds should have his eyes gouged out.”

“Can I help?”

The tiniest smile brightened her whole face. “See? You made a joke. Dark and morbid, but still a joke. There’s hope for you yet.”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, there’s no need to worry right now. I don’t expect you to make any significant choices anytime soon.”

“Thank you.”

With an effortless glide, Windsor rose to her feet. A single lock of silver hair had come loose, brushing her cheek and neck, yet she paid it no mind. As in everything, nothing fazed her composure. It made her a reassuring beacon within his dismantled world.

“In the meantime, would you come with me to the lab?”

Titling his head, he narrowed his eyes at her. “Why?”

“I’d like to show you something.” Windsor glanced down at his hands. “But you’ll have to let go of the bench first.”

He did.


Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

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