#freereads – Adrift Ch 78 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!

(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.)

Run, Arad, Run!!! Save Roku!!!

*** PLEASE NOTE – THIS CHAPTER MAY CONTAIN DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE AND/OR GRAPHIC VIOLENCE ***

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

 


 

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Chapter 78

Catching his breath, Arad shoved himself off the wall, leaving a dirty red blotch in his wake. He wasn’t bleeding, but the pervasive sweat from pushing himself so hard kept the blood smears tacky on his chilling skin. The trek to the brig had been longer than he recalled, but he risked sabotaging a few more doors on the way. He’d only been gone a few minutes at most, but he hoped if Bryce found him missing, it might buy precious seconds. Any spare amount he could gather would be worth it.

Carbon copy doors lined the corridor, but the one with the bright engaged lock display stood out from the rest. 

Multiple people had entered the brig before, and it couldn’t be opened from the inside, so he bargained Hodge had never coded the lock for specific crew members. He counted on Bryce’s ego and a lack of opportunity that access wasn’t restricted from this side. He’d cross his fingers on that bet, but a bunch of them were broken.

Wrecked hand pinned to his bare stomach by his good arm, Arad leaned in and touched the control. He wondered how much penance a heathen would do for making an endless list of prayers in one day. The door swished open and he prepared for the imminent wave of shock.

Roku struggled to say his name. “Arad…”

“Fucking hell! What happened? Did Bryce do this to you?” Pakko’s voice quivered in horror, while Yosei gasped aloud. Arad grimaced. He’d avoided his reflection the whole trip back for good reason. Roadkill had always unsettled him. No need for the visual comparison. Everyone’s reactions said enough.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Arad stumbled forward into Roku’s space, burying his face into the tiger’s chest in case he started sobbing. The silk covered muscle mass couldn’t erase the terrible images in his head or the aching pain woven through his body, but it did a great deal to begin softening its edges.

“Arad… your face… your fingers… I can smell the blood.” Roku’s words devolved into a yowl dipped in distress and frustrated rage. His shoulders bunched as he resisted the manacles holding his arms. Unable to free himself, he was forced to do no more than curl his bulk around Arad. 

It would be enough. “I’ll be okay. Honest.”

The replying growl didn’t leave Roku sounding convinced. “You’re shivering. Pakko, your coat, and get him some water.”

Without a word, Pakko stripped off his light jacket and draped it over Arad’s shoulders with a delicate touch before snatching one of the remaining cups and racing for the sink. 

“Where’s Bryce and Shichi?”

“Distracted on the bridge, but I don’t know for how much longer.” A tap at his shoulder made Arad drag his face out of Roku’s fur where he gratefully accepted the drink from Pakko with his functional hand. “Are you guys okay?”

Hodge and Vosh had been shifted to the side and under a bed with one mattress pulled out of the frame and used in place of a non-existing sheet to cover the bodies. Another mattress had been torn apart and judging by the condition of the walls and floor, had been used to scrub down the evidence of murder. Eyes wide and wet, Yosei gripped her tablet like a security blanket. 

While Arad drank with greedy swallows, Roku didn’t stop nuzzling his head and neck. “I helped Pakko as best I could dealing with Hodge and Vosh. He insisted we couldn’t leave them the way they were. He washed the floor and walls because Yosei couldn’t bear the sight.”

Feeling Roku against his skin grounded Arad, yet the metal security collar bumping along his face and neck continued to remind him of why those massive arms weren’t part of his comfort. Turning his head, he found Yosei staring. Her haunted eyes stayed locked onto all his bruising and swelling that left Arad feeling deformed.

“Yosei, I need you to unlock Roku’s collar and cuffs,” Arad said.

A dim spark of recognition lit her eyes and she nodded. “Right. Just gimme a second.” She tapped at her tablet with timid fingers. “This shouldn’t be so hard.” Sniffling, Yosei paused and wiped her face. “I’ve been trying to delete her dirty spyware out of my pad so I can access Hodge’s server. I can’t believe she hasn’t noticed I’m pawing through her code.”

“She’s been a little preoccupied.”

Yosei winced. “Sorry.”

“Why do you need Hodge’s server?”

Chewing her lip, her efforts gained confidence with each passing second. “So I can make a copy of all his data and do this.”

Roku’s collar and manacles disengaged with a sharp mechanical huff. They fell to the floor making a loud racket. Suddenly free, Roku’s arms hung at his side as he stretched and groaned, trying to undo the strain of being bound for so long. Before anyone could react, he slapped Yosei’s tablet aside and pinned her to wall with one hand on her collar.

His growl frightened Arad. “You betrayed us!”

“Oh, wow. You’re really strong.” Yosei paled and her eyes glossed with unshed tears. “I’m so sorry. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I had no idea Bryce was this crazy. No one was supposed to get hurt.”

“A little late for that now.”

Arad tuned into her last sentence. “Why was no one supposed to get hurt? Are you working for someone?”

She stalled for a moment, but finally blurted out, “I work for PlanetGenCo.”

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Pakko was not happy.

Arad, however, was confused. “Who are they?”

“PlanetGenCo are the original designers of the DemiShou matrix. Ow, ow, you’re squeezing me…” Roku raised her up on her toes and she started talking faster. “They found out Dr. Chakijane had been recruited to make new DemiShou, but they couldn’t track down a list of buyers, so they planted me on the Nightingale knowing Hodge’s survivors guilt wouldn’t let him resist helping out a young innocent tech girl.”

Pakko was disgusted. “Nice profiling.”

“It was the easiest in to the trafficking scheme. My whole goal was to find the client list and get out. The Midas Ascending…I mean the Ansariland going adrift turned it all sideways.”

“You’ve been spying on us this whole time?”

Fear didn’t dampen Yosei’s resolve as she snarled at Pakko. “You were selling people!”

Pakko flinched, his face scrunching up in embarrassment. “We didn’t really get that far.”

“Be quiet, Pakko.” Without moving his eyes, Roku returned his attention to Yosei. “You helped them capture us. Chain me like an animal.”

Yosei lowered her trembling voice. “I didn’t want to, please believe me, but Bryce watches everything. I had to play along and wait until the Ansariland was fully functional before we could get out of here. When Hodge changed his mind, I thought it was over and I could just stow away on your ship and finish my job. I had no idea Bryce was so crazy. That she would…” She inhaled sharply through her nose, as if forcing herself not to cry. “I prepped the way out. No one knows the jump drive is charged and coordinates are already programmed. It’s shielded, remember you totally have a smuggler’s ship? We can bounce out of here now that I have all the data Hodge stole from ApexCorp and no one will be able to chase us.”

“Where do you think you’re taking us?” Roku gave her a shake.

Yosei clenched her eyes shut. “Moreau. PlanetGenCorp’s private colony for humans and DemiShou. It’s a safe space outside any corporate jurisdiction.”

“They want to study us?”

Her eyes shot open, wide in disbelief. “N…No. They don’t want anyone to profit off their designs by creating a black market for DemiShou slaves. They didn’t care when the military classified the process, because it was their idea. They had plenty of other contracts to keep them happy. Geez, ease up, you’re choking me.”

Sidling close, Arad placed a hand on Roku’s arm, feeling the unsteady tremors under the surface. He was far from his peak strength. He squeezed Roku’s triceps to make himself known. Sorting out their conflicted positions surrounding the Nightingale crew members would have to wait. Time couldn’t be trusted.

“Roku, it doesn’t matter how we got here or where we’re going. We’ve got to get to the Ansariland. First Commander Bard is coming.”

Roku snapped his head around in Arad’s direction. “Bard? The officer who killed your crew?” He dropped Yosei and shook out his tired limbs. “We’re leaving now. Yosei, make no mistake, if I even think you’ll turn on us, I’ll maul you faster than you can blink.”

Wide-eyed, Yosei gulped. “Duly noted.”

Not missing a beat, Roku took the jacket from Arad’s shoulders and helped him put his arms in the sleeves and zip up the front. It didn’t fit—Pakko was more than a few sizes larger than Arad—but covering the bloody results of Bryce’s handiwork did a lot to humanizing Arad’s sense of self. Roku led them into the hallway, only to have Pakko dig in his heels at the threshold.

“Wait! We’re not going to leave them…Vosh behind, are we?”

Arad’s heart broke at Pakko’s lost expression, torn between survival and grief over what once was. He wanted to give him the time to process, to lay his captain and lover to rest, but their lives were at risk and none of them were at their best. 

Fingers poking out of the oversized sleeve, Arad touched Pakko’s shoulder. “Pakko. Pakko, look at me. We don’t have a choice. We have to get off this ship now or we’re dead too. Save yourself now and mourn them later.”

Pakko nodded. His shoulder bunched as he stifled a sob. The tears still ran down his cheeks.

The group started down the hall and Roku picked Arad up in his arms.

“I can take care of myself.” Arad rested his weary head along Roku’s neck.

“I know you can,” Roku said.

Arad wanted to run. Instead, he lay cradled in Roku’s arms as the group hurried through the hall. Roku had to keep shifting his weight, something he wouldn’t have to do if he hadn’t been manacled for so long. He hated being a burden, but Arad was running on whispers of fuel and if he wasn’t being carried, they might as well have left him behind with what remained of Hodge and Vosh.

They strode through the halls with a speed on the brink of reckless. Everyone was on high alert. 

The electrified shackles were gone but an ozone tang hung sharp and bitter on the air. All of them could taste it. Arad didn’t have to ask to know. A dangerous spark was coming, waiting to burst into flames. 

No one greeted them when they entered the cargo hold and rushed to the airlock. Every step reverberated over the metal surfaces. Lights were minimized leaving darkness and shadow lurking around every corner and between the stacks of crates. It was not a safe place to be. Nowhere on the Nightingale was safe.

Yosei tapped the airlock control and the door refused to open. “It’s not recognizing me. My access has been revoked.”

Reaching over her shoulder, Pakko tapped twice and punched the panel. “Mine’s toast too.”

“Where’s the manual override?” Arad asked.

“Behind this panel. I don’t have many tools on me.” Yosei pulled a meager pair of micro-wrenches from one of her leg pouches.

“You’ll have to make do. But be quick.”

Dropping to her knees, Yosei attacked the side panel, digging at the hidden bolts. At least six were visible, needing to be pulled and her wrenches were manual, not power-driven. The first one hit the floor with a high-pitched clang and she went after the next.

Roku kept turning in a circle, trying to shield Arad with his body. “We have to hurry. Something smells wrong.”

“Look out!” Pakko jumped in front of Roku and Arad as the nearby shadow shifted, colors rippling and changing. Shichi’s strike came up short, claws raking crimson lines across Pakko’s shoulder and chest rather than Arad’s face and neck.

Rolling Arad to the floor behind him, Roku shouldered Shichi away from the group. He landed on his feet a few meters away where he shifted back and forth in an arc while Roku turned and faced him, standing his ground as they squared off, growling and hissing at one another.

“Clearing your ship access was the first thing I did while caring for our young Mr. Ansari.” Bryce stepped out from between a stack of crates and stopped next to Shichi, stroking his head.

Yosei’s voice quivered, but she was trying to sound brave. “Don’t you mean committing murder and mutiny? Last I heard, that’s a capital offense.” Another bolt hit the floor.

“I knew you’d be trouble when Hodge brought you on. You played his grief and I was the only one who saw through your game. You made him decide to breach contract and put us all at risk.”

Arad shifted next to Pakko, trying to urge him to crawl closer to the door. “No one made you pull the trigger.”

“Someone had to.”

A tremor shook the Nightingale. The lights strobed and an alarm klaxon went off. Bryce’s normally expressionless face bloomed with surprise. 

The ship’s AI broke in. “Captain Southerland. A tractor beam has locked on to the ship. You’re being hailed by First Commander Bard.”

The communication came to life without Bryce’s approval and Bard’s voice filled the room. “Your time’s up, Southerland.”

“I’m completing my contract.” Bryce began to shout, her calm veneer peeling at the edges. Her distress drew Shichi’s attention.

“It’s been withdrawn. Prepare both ships for boarding.”

Her volume peaked into a full scream. “You can’t do that! I need that contract!”

Roku pounced, slamming Shichi backwards and snapping out a kick to the side. It caught Bryce in the chest and sent her careening into the wall. She crumpled to the floor, barely moving.

Chameleon scales rolling into oranges and reds collided with Roku’s golden fur. The pair rolled and landed on their feet, snarling and trading blows. They tore into each other in staccato freeze-frames and bursts of movement under the strobing lights.

Arad said another prayer to a power he didn’t believe in for Roku’s safety while he kneeled next to Pakko, who lay on the floor, hand pressed to his chest. 

“Pakko, are you okay?”

“Shit, that really hurt.” Rusty patches soaked Pakko’s t-shirt. The angry, red slashes marring his chest bled but didn’t appear life-threatening. At last Arad hoped not.

Arad heard another bolt bounce. How may had that been? He’d lost track during the insanity. “My hand’s mangled. Can you help Yosei with the override?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.” Arad lacked the strength to do more than guide Pakko to his feet using his one good hand. His body still bore too many wounds. Plus, he’d heard Bard mention both ships. He intended to confiscate the Ansariland as well. They needed off the Nightingale.

Escalating animal noises drew Arad back to the fight. Half martial arts, half savagery, it was terrifying to watch. Shichi jabbed an elbow into Roku’s shoulder and raked him with his claws drawing blood, adding to the growing number of cuts already there. Roku was not winning. For every blow he landed, Shichi landed three.

 Arad could hear his heart rate over the alarm. Dread tangled its slimy tentacles into his head and chest.

Another strike to Roku’s arm.

What can I do?

Two more to Roku’s stomach and thigh.

I can’t watch him die like this.

Roku kept glancing at them, always knowing where the soft soft humans were, herding the fight away from them. It left him distracted and it was going to get him killed. Shichi was fresh, not burdened with being cuffed for days and being shocked into submission. He was focused. Driven. And the only thing Arad had ever seen to draw his attention was…

Knowing time worked against them, Arad shuffled over to Bryce, half-conscious and moaning. He hesitated, unsure if he could do it.

Roku took another claw mark to the chest. 

Pulling the medical scissors from this pocket, Arad stood behind Bryce and stabbed her in the shoulder. Shichi’s head spun at her pained cry, and his entire body coiled in threat. One look at Arad and every scale flushed into the bloodiest shades of red. All his rancor, all his vengeful thoughts, all for Arad.

Roku struck. 

Those claws that once scarred the metal walls when Arad lost his spacewalk tether found the unguarded patch of Shichi’s neck and ripped it open.

Eyes agog, Shichi futilely clutched his neck, life spilling between his fingers in sanguine rivers as his scales greyed. His body trembled, and before his knees buckled, he lurched forward and sank his fangs into Roku’s shoulder. The agonizing roar echoed off the walls. Roku’s arm flared out straight, his hands quaking and flexing in spasm. He pried Shichi’s limp body off, leaving Roku strangely shaking. Growling uncontrollably, he placed each powerful hand on the top and lower portion of Shichi’s jaw, and tore them apart with a primal cry.

Turning his head, Arad struggled not to vomit. Partly because he’d never scrub the gory image out of his head, and partly because he’d failed to save Shichi like he’d promised. Bryce had exploited his programming and gave them no choice, but it didn’t patch the deep, guilty hole festering in his stomach. Someday, he’s parse the conflicting emotions regarding the DemiShou who’d helped beat and torture him for information he didn’t have. For now, he needed to checked on Yosei and Pakko’s progress. The side panel had been tossed aside and the pair of techs were pulling the hydraulic release. Air gasped through the door as the seals parted and the hatch opened.

“Got it!’ Yosei shouted.

Arad risked a look back to find Roku wavering on his feet. The ship quaked again and he dropped to one knee, but didn’t rise up again.

“That felt like a tractor quake.” Yosei sounded worried.

Pakko’s jaw slackened. “How crazy is this Bard guy?”

“Very. Why?” Like every other sanctioned authority Arad had ever known, if Bard saw this as a battle, the only acceptable outcome would be to win at any cost.

“If he ramps up the tractor beam power high enough, he could crack the hull and call it an accident.”

“Help me get Roku. I think he’s been poisoned.”

“Like Vosh?” Pakko suddenly sounded so small and distant. 

Arad tried to stuff the conclusion he’d already come to down deep because they weren’t safe yet, but tears began to fall. “Maybe. I don’t know. Help me, please.”

A soul wrenching wail rose over the alarm. Filled with wary tension, Arad stared as Bryce rose, allowing her emotionless facade to shred itself in tatters. She screamed as she stumbled to Shichi’s lifeless body and slumped to her knees. Curling over, she cradled the DemiShou that couldn’t embrace her back and sobbed in giant, ugly gulps. Arad knew he should feel some kind of regret, some tiny bit of sympathy because he would be no better if Roku was on the floor, but Bryce had willingly broken that part of him on the operating table without the slightest remorse, and he couldn’t bring himself to care when monsters grieved. 

Besides, he had his own emergency to deal with.

“What do we do about Bryce?” Pakko asked.

“Nothing. She wanted the Nightingale, she can keep it.”

Down on one knee, Roku swayed facing the floor as blood seeped from a variety of slashes. Arad gently lifted his head, trying to see the man inside, who was vanishing. His tiger eyes were dull and unfocused, and a thin line of bloody drool hanging from his saging jaw shivered with each rapid exhale.

 “Roku, we can’t lift you. If you go down, we’ll never get you out of here. I won’t leave you behind.” He shook Roku by the burned fur ringing his neck. “Look at me. You have to stand up. We have to go home.” Muddy awareness grew in Roku’s eyes, and he gave a lazy nod. He nearly toppled as he struggled to his feet with a grunt, but Pakko and Arad both dove under his arms to steady him. Yosei held the door open as is kept trying to close while they shuffled to the airlock, the walk of the critically wounded.

Yosei led the sad group, dashing in front then behind to open and lock doors through the temporary passage connecting the two ships. Blaring alarms greeted them on the Ansariland deck. Arad’s head pounded from the noise and Roku was faltering, so he directed the group to their bedroom, the closest place big enough on board that Roku might find comforting. It took all three to roll Roku into bed without dropping him, and it nearly happened anyways.

“This is your bedroom?” Yosei reached over and picked at a chunk of peeling wall paint. “You guys need a maid.”

“Not really the time…,” Arad hissed.

Snapping to attention, Yosei licked his lips nervously. Sweat glossed her pale skin. “Sorry. A little nervous. I’ll run down to sick bay and get some supplies. I can help him, but you need to get us out of here.”

Arad couldn’t take his eyes off Roku. Fragile and bleeding, he’d closed his eyes the moment he’d hit the bed and hadn’t reopened them. How could they expect him to walk away? “I can’t just leave him.”

With a sniffling inhale, Yosei carefully took a handful of Arad’s borrowed jacket and pulled him closer. Her voice cracked like a whip even if her face didn’t share the confidence. “Captain Ansari, your access is the only one of us in the system. You are the only one who can save us all. Get to the bridge.”

The command splashed cold water over Arad’s maudlin thoughts. Getting this far defied the odds, and not following through after Roku sacrificed himself to remove Shichi’s threat would be a disservice. He placed a kiss on Roku’s feverish brow and headed out. Pakko immediately followed, helping him maintain pace despite his own injuries, because his ravaged body was still a roadmap of pain and weakness.

He did his best to tune out the alarms as they entered the bridge. Both men froze, awestruck as they saw the ship off the Ansariland’s bow.

The original encounter with the flagship hadn’t prepared Arad for the sheer size of the vessel. Monstrous in scale, it dwarfed the view port, blocking out an visible bit of outer space. The hull’s details he’d never noticed before grew as it closed in, a mass of tech and metal and shining pinpricks swelling into full searchlights. Caught in an invisible pull, the Ansariland drifted towards a colossal landing port. A gaping maw large enough to easily house the tethered starships.

Arad shook himself back into the real world. “C’mon. We can’t let that beast run us over.”

Pakko helped him slump into the helmsman’s chair, and Arad groaned in relief. He was held together with fear and adrenaline and the supply was burning his meager reserves. Everything ached. After a few good breaths, he started thumbing through the controls with his one good hand as Pakko took the seat next to him.

“We’re being hailed by the flagship.” Layers of trauma tainted Pakko’s voice. They needed to find someplace safe soon. He’d walked such a fine edge since they’d broken out of the cell and left Vosh’s body behind, it was a miracle Pakko hadn’t melted down by now. Arad wouldn’t blame him if he did.

“Put it through. I need to stall.” Arad didn’t look over as he tried not to scream. Why couldn’t he remember the sequence to open the right control group? How many times had he been through the ship schematics? Broken fingers masquerading as fat sausages throbbed, fracturing his concentration, and he couldn’t move his intact hand faster than an addled grandparent. The murky vision out of his swollen eye wasn’t making matters easier.

Pakko’s hand flew over the communications screen, showing his familiarity after repairing the Ansariland. Probably to make sure they had a competent second crew to man the ship once they’d taken over before Hodge aborted the plan. Arad shoved his resentment down. Deep down. Because he had enough to deal with as First Commander Bard’s arrogant face appeared on the monitor.

“You can’t hide forever by changing the ship’s name, Midas Ascending. Or by running between vessels like vermin.”

“No one’s hiding. That requires real effort. I’ve barely thought of you since the last time.” Arad barely spared Bard a glance. The pressure to find what he needed on top of all the injuries were dragging his efforts. However, he had to keep Bard talking to stay on task. There were too many reasons to obsess over the tiger who might be dying—No. He wasn’t thinking of that.

“You’ve seen better days. Perhaps you should surrender before you drop dead in your seat.”

Arad wanted to shine his middle finger at Bard, but he needed that hand. “I didn’t know you cared.”

A shaky gasp came out of Pakko. “They have weapons locked on us.”

Bard scoffed. “Of course we do. You’re the head of a dangerous criminal organization. We’re expected to take reasonable precautions for our safety as we prepare for your arrest.”

“Really? Is that what you’re going with?”

“Formal charges will be read to you after your vessels are confiscated.”

“Making it up as you go along, I see. I’m sure you’ll have something drawn up once you need it.” Arad shook his head at Bard’s audacity even as he worked to steady his hand. Bard was just like all the rest. From the poorest street cop to corporate military, authority figures craved control. It was a Grey District specialty. As long as they felt they had the upper hand, you could ramble any stream of nonsense at them because in the end, you were beneath them. Why else would Bard waste energy taunting perps other than to jerk himself off?

“You were simply lucky we underestimated you last time. A ship your size shouldn’t have space folding capabilities. Further proof of your criminal activities.”

“Like you needed a justification.” Come on. Where is that sub-file?

“We won’t be fooled again. If we see the first signs of fold engine charging, I won’t waste ammunition crippling your engine. You will be treated as fugitives and there will be a repeat accident of your shuttle and the previous crew. All resistance will be treated as acts of hostility.”

“This sounds familiar. Pretty sure I’ve heard this before.” If his face wasn’t so hot and stressed, Arad would have rolled his eyes. He thought of ending Bard’s sanctimonious gloating from the beginning, but he had better chances of not being turned into scorching debris if he let the narcissist drone on. 

“I’m not going to cry if ApexCorp doesn’t have a living product to sell or not. I won’t be humiliated a second time. Enjoy your last minutes of freedom.” Communications blinked out, but Arad didn’t care. He’d already found the menu, shining and gorgeous in bright holographics.

SPACE FOLD ENGINE AT FULL POWER

COORDINATES LOCKED

INITIATE?

***YES***   ***NO***

“I guess the shielding’s as good as Yosei says it is.” Arad wanted to smile, but anxious threads sewed his body together. The bridge vibrated under another tractor quake, and his ribs crooned a song of thorns as he braced against it.

“What are you waiting for? They don’t know we’re good to go.” Pakko’s fraying sanity leaked from every pore.

“The fold isn’t instant. I’m not going to get us shot before we jump.” The shivers racing over Arad’s dirty skin had nothing to do with his wounds. He hoped. It had to work. They’d been through too much to fail now. He promised to save Roku. Another blasphemous prayer rolled through his panicked brain. They piled up, weighing him down.

“So what are you going to do?”

Gritting his teeth to focus past the disquiet, Arad stared out the cockpit. If he didn’t stop hyperventilating, he’d pass out. The landing bay filled his compromised vision, looming ever closer. Slowly, far too slowly, its edge threw a shadow over the bow and swallowed the ship. 

“Their weapons can’t aim at us once we’re inside, can they?” He reached over and pressed yes.

***WARNING — PROXIMITY ALERT***

Engaging space fold will cause significant structural damage to nearby vessel.

***Safety protocol engaged — Engine paused*** 

Command Override Required. 

“Are you kidding me? Can you not just do what I ask the first time around?” Tapping the onscreen menu, he used his thumbprint to call up his captain’s privileges. Bold red letters centered in the monitor gave Arad a glimmer of hope.

SAFETY OVERRIDE?

***YES***   ***NO***

Pakko’s eyes were more white than color as he clutched his chair’s armrests.“Holy fuck, you’re insane.”

“No. Just too tired to put up with all these pricks.” Arad tapped the inner communications array. “Yosei! Hold on tight! This is going to be rough.”

He punched the control and leaned back, bracing himself as the universe brightened and twisted itself inside out. Exploding lights and violent quaking from every direction overwhelmed the senses. The Ansariland cried out, protesting in alarms and shrieks of metal, while every wound and sealed slice of Arad’s flesh screamed out in horrible synchronicity. An eternity of mere seconds passed before he’d had all he could handle.

As Arad’s consciousness faded to black, he hoped in his zeal to escape he hadn’t killed them all.


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 77 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!

(I’m still cheating on the 1k thing. The muse is shaking me daily so I can’t cut it short now. Enjoy.)

Arad is Bryce’s hostage and she wants things she can’t have. What now?

*** PLEASE NOTE – THIS CHAPTER MAY CONTAIN DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE AND/OR GRAPHIC VIOLENCE ***

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

 


 

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Chapter 77

First there was darkness.

Then the darkness ended with cold shards of reality.

Chemical fire spread through Arad’s oversensitive flesh, forcing his eyes open and into the glaring lights. His back tried to arch as his body seized, but failed due to the unyielding bar across his chest. His ribs ached. His heart pumped at an unhealthy pace. He couldn’t scream with his teeth clenched so tight as he resisted the burn, barely able to hiss frantic air between his teeth. For an all too brief moment, he’d forgotten where he was. Then the doctor’s voice pulled him fully out of the dark his mind yearned to hide inside.

“Just a little stimulant to keep you awake. We don’t want you missing anything important.”

Tears ran in scorching rivers over his cheeks at the sight of Bryce as all the awareness came back. He was still strapped to her operating table.

“Please… Stop,” Arad rasped, his voice having gone dry and raw some time ago.

Nightmares were only supposed to haunt you while you slept. He’d found safety in the darkness. Everything was backwards.

Shichi hovered nearby, sniffing at Bryce while she organized her tools. Arad wondered how long she could wait before the cravings caught hold of her and she’d need a new fix for the addiction his body created. The feeble hope died as fast as it flared. Days could pass before it overwhelmed her, and she wasn’t resisting it the way Arad had at first.

He made a silent prayer to the Saints of Seven Sins that Bryce wasn’t creative enough to dose him with Syn as part of her procedure. Corrupted addicts tended to fetishize their experiences. If Arad had to risk a permanent connection—and it could likely happen—between uncontrollable lust and physical suffering, it might kill him.

What an appropriate thought.

The doctor had started simply enough. A razor thin cut here and there, only to be sealed closed before much blood could be lost. Eventually she bored and the cuts went far below the surface, into the meat after slicing away his shirt for better access. The skin was fused shut, but the bruising showed the internal bleeding in darkening patches. Now, Arad’s right arm was a useless apendage. Those restraints had been lifted for the most recent series of punishments, and the latticework of deep muscle lacerations throbbed far too much to risk moving. 

Seeing the twisted, swollen fingers on his right hand made his empty stomach churn. At least three were broken by Shichi. Ever the faithful servant, he’d done as he was told. No regret. No remorse. Arad had heard and screamed over each snap, one finger at a time. When Bryce had bored, she sent in her minion to keep Arad from becoming used to her tactics.

His right eye was partially swollen shut from repeated blows from Shichi’s fist, but he could see enough to know what hall looked like. Despite being held down, he shifted his weight in an agitated attempt to create some smidgen of comfort only to have his damp clothing saturated with sweat, blood, and other fluids refuse to peel away from his clammy skin.

The whole time he’d laid there, between every abuse, Bryce repeated some variation of the same question.

“What happened to the wolf DemiShou? Where is Go?”

Every time, Arad only had one version of the answer.

“I don’t know. I never saw him.”

The doctor never liked that answer.

After the first hour or so, Arad was convinced she believed him. He’d screamed through it all, confessing everything he knew about Torrins, Roku, and the other DemiShou. It didn’t stop her switching from elegant sadism to Shichi’s brutality, no doubt as payback for not knowing what she wanted to hear, or because deep down she was really just that sick. Arad had lost track of how long this went on before he’d passed out and Bryce had woken him.

With a ragged inhale, Arad steeled himself, promising to be strong in spite of the terror hooked solidly into his tattered flesh. If these were his last moments, he would bear them with what little dignity he could muster. Which wasn’t much, considering how hard he trembled from either the cold, the trauma, or both.

Bryce selected the familiar scalpel, its razor edge stained red. “I have three of the four DemiShou in my possession. I believe you when you say you don’t know where the wolf is.”

“Then you’ll let me go?”

 “I’m afraid not. You may have gone from cabin boy to captain in a bizarre set of circumstances, but you were present the entire time the DemiShou were housed on your vessel. I’m convinced there’s some tiny bit of information, some random bit of pillow talk hidden in your memories that will give me a lead to follow.” Bryce sighed. “Our results have been less than stellar so far. We may need to apply more drastic measures to dredge them up.”

Arad’s spine braced, knowing things could only go worse from here, because Torrins had his secrets and took them to his grave. Even when the man drank—which wasn’t often—he was too much of a control freak to babble. He offered nothing worthy of gossip to the man who shared his bed. The arrangment with Arad didn’t come with confidences.

Bryce may not have shown the satisfaction on her face, it radiated from every line in her body. She was eager, looking forward to the next step in interrogation, but allowed the quiet to ratchet the tension higher. The only audible noise was Arad’s short, rapid breaths until the ship’s AI broke the stillness.

“Captain Southerland, the Nightingale is being hailed.”

Mouth pursing at the interruption, Bryce replied to the ceiling. “Forward it to my location.”

A gentle static pop heralded the communique opening through the hidden speakers, the only precursor to an unwelcome, yet familiar voice.

Nightingale, this is First Commander Hyland Bard, Alpha One Flagship. Respond at once.”

Arad gasped, a new layer of dread spiking into the chaos. Bryce’s gaze flitted to his face, clearly noticing the tension he failed to hide.

“This is Captain Southerland of the Nightingale. What can I do for you, First Commander?”

“You’re not the captain. Where’s Hodge?”

“There’s been a change of venue. I’m a busy woman, Commander. I assume there’s a reason for your call.”

“My vessel is en route. I’ve been seconded to ApexCorp to retrieve stolen property. Prepare to be boarded.” Bard’s arrogance came through in full force, the bearing of a man whose rank allowed no amount of insubordination. Since losing the Midas Ascending, his impatience had grown alongside his attitude and Arad feared a clash with Bryce, because who would survive in the aftermath?

“If this is regarding what I believe it is, I’m currently under contract with ApexCorp to retrieve the property.”

“Your contract has been revised.”

Annoyance tinged Bryce’s tone. “I was not notified—”

“I am not discussing the details of confidential documents outside of an encrypted command channel. Contact me when you’ve done so.”

The communication’s abrupt cutoff left a still silence in the air.

“Ship, reroute a command channel to the infirmary.”

The synthetic voice was polite yet devoid of emotion. “I’m sorry, Captain. Command channel locations are fixed on the bridge or day cabin. Rerouting is not possible.”

Bryce set the scalpel down on the tray hard enough to make the other instruments jump and clatter, losing their methodical alignment.

Arad wasn’t sure which thread he found more troublesome, but Bard on board would lead to a different type of disaster. “Don’t trust him. Bard is the pirate that crippled the Ansariland to get to the Demis. Once he has them, he won’t need you anymore. He’ll cleanse the ship like he did Torrins and the crew.”

The narrowing of her eyes was nearly imperceptible. “Why are you telling me this? Do you honestly think it will protect you from more questioning?”

Arad’s pained laugh lacked any shred of humor. “I’m dead whatever happens. I just want to save Roku.”

Meeting his gaze, Bryce pondered Arad without the slightest arch of her brow. Focusing on her cold stare kept him from paying attention to her bloodstained hands. He winced as she pulled off her surgical gloves with an aggressive snap. 

“It’s fortunate I still have need of you to keep Roku in line. Don’t go away. I’ll be back soon to continue our conversation.”

Bryce turned and strode to the exit, gesturing for Shichi to follow. The door swished shut leaving Arad grateful to finally be alone.

“Can’t wait.”

He wanted to cheer, but he had to press the tiny advantage. His right arm wasn’t shackled and the controls were within reach. Hopefully he could use them correctly, or the chance would be lost.

It might have only been an arm length away, but given his current condition, it might as well have been mounted on his destroyed shanty in Grey District. It hurt so much, but he told himself the pain was fake, he could endure it, just a little longer.. Sweat burst across his skin as he reached over the bed’s edge to the adjustments. He’d watched when she’s released his arm earlier. It was the small panel next to the large one. The controls didn’t seem to be overly complicated, but he had to find the right spot on the panel, and do it with his thumb since his broken fingers couldn’t do the job.

A baritone buzz mocked him with an incorrect choice.

The restraining bar across his chest and tender ribs prevented a deep inhale and exhale. As best he could, Arad relaxed for a moment before trying again. Maybe the other corner of the pad.

Another buzz.

“Oh come on…” Arad’s eyes welled in frustration. There were no guarantees on how long Bryce and Shichi would be occupied. First Commander Bard’s arrival provided an opportunity, but could hardly be called a blessing. It bought Arad time, but he could imagine far too many ways the man’s presence would doom them all. If ApexCorp tapped him, escaping was the only option. Again. Groaning at the effort, Arad stretched his thumb down to another edge of the panel.

Please, please don’t make this worse. 

Wet salt leaked from his eyes crushed tight. He swore if this worked, he would find the street preacher who used to shout brimstone scripture in his face and join his congregation.

A bright chirp sounded and the entire series of restraints retreated into the table with a gentle whirr.

Choked laughter and tears of relief spilled out of him. “Oh man, I’m going to need so much therapy after this.”

The release lightened his soul, but he could only indulge for a moment. Danger lingered, and he was damaged goods at best. Rolling out of the bed squeezed more awful noises out of him, and when his feet touched the floor, he had to rest a moment before he could bear his full weight on them. His bare torso chilled in the recycled air, and so many points and lines on his body protested. The effort left him lightheaded. He’d never felt so fragile before.

Even so, he’d never join the church in Grey District. They were a bunch of certifiable kooks.

Given his physical condition, he needed a weapon, but couldn’t bring himself to touch the scalpel or the wad of bloodstained gloves. He pocketed the scissors Bryce used to cut away his shirt then picked up a pair of clean medical-grade pliers made of heavy surgical steel. Thankfully she hadn’t yet found a use for them. He wished he had the energy to rummage through cabinets and shelves. Bryce had a fully stocked infirmary, which meant drugs and other items with multiple uses, but he couldn’t waste valuable time trying to decipher them. Not now, when if they came back and cornered him in the room, he’d never survive.

Now that he had his opportunity, Arad had places to be. However, nowhere on the Nightingale was safe or out of her sight. To give himself a fleeting chance, he would need to put out her eyes.

Weilding the pliers in his shaky hand, he hammered each and every monitor, splintering the fragile screens into masses of static. Nothing hurt so much and felt so good at the same time. Except maybe his moment of pure pettiness when he rearranged the pieces on her chessboard.

“Pawn blinds Queen, you bitch.”

Leaning against the counter, Arad stalled to ease his panting, his stamina too thready for strenuous action. Saying he was held together with adhesive and string wasn’t too far fetched. He needed a chance to recover. Maybe he’d get lucky and have the chance later.

 Arad staggered out of the infirmary, bouncing off the door jamb crossing the threshold. Cradling his right arm, he closed and locked the door before cracking the control panel as deftly as he had Bryce’s bank of viewscreens. Ignoring the tearing fire in each step, he trudged down the hall in the direction of the brig. Weariness flooded each step, but he let the goal give him strength.

“I’m coming for you, Roku.”


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 76 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!

(Okay, I cheated on this chapter and totally wrote a lot more than 1000 words because I’ve been too excited to stop that soon. Enjoy)

Hodge and the crew have come to talk. About what?

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

 


 

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Chapter 76

Nothing short of a plasma torch could release him from Shichi’s steel grip, yet Arad cursed and thrashed until they crossed the border of the infirmary. When no one stopped inside the lines for decontamination, Arad freaked. His feet flailed out recklessly, kicking over a tray of instruments. Only when Shichi slammed him onto a bed hard enough to force the wind out of his lungs did he stop yelling.

“Be quiet or I’ll have Shichi remove your tongue. You don’t need it to keep Roku’s imprinting instinct in check.” Bryce tapped at the bed’s controls near his right hand and restraints spun out, lashing him down at the ankles, thighs, waist, chest, arms, and wrists in the space of a second.

Anger and fear braided into a tight coil, making it difficult for to find his breath as Shichi stepped back to give Bryce room to maneuver. She wove around the pristine space, picking up the scattered medical devices he’d knocked to the floor.

“Where’s number five?” Bryce asked without looking.

Arad’s had never been so furious and frightened in equal measure, but the fear was gaining and confusion blunted his racing thoughts enough to answer. “Number five? What are you talking about?”

Pausing, she sighed, the soft sound filled with quiet aggravation. “Number five…the wolf DemiShou.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Bryce set down her instruments and stepped closer, forcing herself to speak slowly as one would to a child. “Hachi, eight. Shichi, seven. Roku, six. Go, five. They’re numbers, not names.”

“Go was a wolf?”

“Good. You can understand me. Where is he?”

“I have no idea.”

Bryce’s jaw drew tight, and a fleeting hint of mania danced in her dark eyes. “Don’t take me for a fool. I’ve seen the unsecured logs. Even if your promotion to captain was a fluke due to those morons’s deaths, you were still part of the crew before Torrins picked up this custom group for delivery. Time stamps prove it. The wolf is the only product unaccounted for.”

“I never laid eyes on him. When I found them, his cryotube was already empty.”

Arad’s breathing came in quick, unhealthy puffs, and his pulse rate had yet to slow, but it couldn’t stop his memories from sharpening into focus. The day it all began, he’d walked onto the bridge and interrupted the conversation between Torrins, Franc, and Daiko.

Are you sure they’re still going to be there? We’ve already lost Go.

Go, the wolf had likely died, possibly the way Roku almost did had he not been present. Torrins had sent Arad into the maintenance shafts for hours before, probably to given them a chance to dump the body without him knowing, because he wasn’t really part of the crew, and they needed to keep their secrets. There wasn’t any other reason for them to have parked so close to that star. Destroying evidence.

Not knowing whether the truth would be good or bad, Arad held it to himself as potential leverage. Bryce’s subtle unhappiness resulted in impatient movements that led her back to her workstation, ignoring Arad for now.

Arad had every reason to worry, since Bryce could have asked all of this without resorting to killing Vosh and Hodge. If only he could forget the sight of each of them going down and her clinical regard for homicide. He tried to rein in his nerves, because repeating the scene in his head roiled his stomach, and the brace around his neck restricted him enough to be a problem. The last thing he needed was to drown in puke.

Since he could look around—within reason—Arad scanned the infirmary, hoping for the tiniest bit of information he could add to the truth about Go. Something he could use. When he craned his head to the right, Shichi stepped into his sightline. Unobstructed by murky cryofluids, Arad could see the details he’d previously missed.

Practically carved in stone, Shichi’s body appeared layered in a fine, pebbled texture which hyper-defined each sculpted muscle. The chiseled effect’s severity made him look larger and more dangerous than Roku. Every color shimmered over his skin, courtesy of the flexible scales vying for attention, although the dominant sheen currently cast shades of green and blue. From what he’d seen, it could be anything Shichi wanted. Miniature rainbows rippled down every inch from the top of Shichi’s hairless skull to his powerful chest and abs, leading to the proof swinging between his reptile thighs that DemiShou designers were all a bunch of pervs.

“Can we put some pants on him? I’ve seen enough bare penis for one day.” A humorless laugh escaped that nearly triggered Arad to cry. Settling himself would be harder than he thought because he knew his life sat more precariously now than it did before inside the cell.

Bryce gave a sultry chuckle and raked her dark gaze over Shichi’s naked body. “Why would I do that? He’s perfect the way he is.”

Shichi kept inching closer to her as she moved around, the imprinting obvious to anyone who could see. His otherwise cold eyes, fixated on her every move. Roku admitted he’d struggled in the beginning to keep his hands to himself until Arad had been ready, but their introduction had been complicated with medical emergency, Syn, and Roku’s half-conscious instincts. Bryce may have otherwise been insufferably collected, but it didn’t look like she was being coy regarding his needs. The last thing he wanted was to watch her get mounted by the lizard Demi, so he turned his head to search out the other side of the room before anything went pornographic.

Searching the room did more to draw his fears in line than rummaging his memories. It wasn’t extinguished, rather drawn into a constant flow he could tune out. Somewhat.

Every major area of the Nightingale could be seen live through the monitors lining the wall. One of them must have been the brig, but it sat outside his field of vision, there were so many screens. The desk on the far wall, while still tidy, held a few personal items including a checkered game board hosting a well in-progress chess match. Even from the awkward vantage point, he could see it clear enough. Half the pieces were already captured on both sides. White held the advantage. A castling would be required to prevent checkmate.

It explained her Knight takes Bishop reference. Interesting that she saw Hodge as the Bishop and not the King. Did she see herself as the Queen? It didn’t take much to guess she saw Arad as a lowly, sacrificial Pawn.

“That’s a chess board. An antique game of strategy from the Old World that never loses its elegance. I don’t expect someone of your status to understand, so I won’t waste time going into detail.”

Someone of Arad’s status? Arad had been weaned on chess well before his parents had enrolled him into a private elementary school. If not for his family’s greed, he would still be living a life of privilege Bryce could only hope to beg for. What kind of classist stooge would he have grown up to be then? She would be seen as beneath him, less than in every way, and the irony wasn’t lost on him. A scheming murderer believed herself to be better in wealth, breeding, and intellect than a young, penniless man who lived on the streets even though he once sat at a much different dinner table. If that wasn’t proof that constructs of social standing were a farce.

A shame that it took a psychopath to make him realize being a slug was just a worthless word to describe a man’s circumstances, not a rank or true value of person. If he hadn’t been strapped to an operating table, he might have cheered.

Closing his eyes, Arad inhaled deep through his nose, swallowing against a new rise of panic. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. A line of hot salt seeped out, trailing to his temple and soaking the hairline. Opening his eyes to find Bryce standing over him did nothing to improve the situation.

The doctor examined him up and down, the faintest sneer curling his lips. “You’re such a filthy human being.”

Arad’s voice trembled as he babbled. “In all fairness, I haven’t had the chance to bathe recently, and when you go unconscious, you tend to piss yourself. Not my fault. If our places were reversed, you’d be a filthy human too.”

“Well…not for long.” When it appeared, he wanted to slap Bryce’s smug grin off her face. With a hammer.

Creepy smile aside, her comment tripped a relay in his head. The significance spun wild and clear, a beacon in his hysterics. He gasped as the reason coalesced into something solid.

“Is that what they promised you? To turn you into DemiShou?”

“Aren’t you the clever one. But, yes. With my revised contract, once I deliver the four of them, that is my main compensation as well as a stipend.”

“Why would you do that?”

Her head titled, the only visible sign she thought he was being ridiculous. “Why wouldn’t I? After all, they are the superior species.”

“Is that what you told Vosh?”

“Vosh was a necessary sacrifice. He wanted to be human rather than be better. I couldn’t leave a dangerous bear at my back that couldn’t be trusted. He had to go.”

“What did you do to him?”

Bryce pulled the hypodermic gun from her pocket. “A type of genetically engineered venom. It’s unique to Shichi’s design, but he was kind enough to provide an ample amount. I needed something potent enough to take down the strongest DemiShou on board.”

“Roku is stronger than Vosh. You saw.”

Cocking her delicate brow, Bryce shook her head with a sigh. “Roku is a product. Not an adversary.”

“What about Hodge?”

“He was in the way.”

The fact Bryce was so willing to answer Arad’s questions didn’t give him feel any sense of security. Only the certifiably insane or stupid confessed—or bragged—every detail of crimes when they were already ahead. And Bryce was not stupid. But maybe, just maybe, if he could keep her talking, rambling on about all her machinations, he might manage to piece together some sort of plan to save himself and Roku. He hadn’t given up on his promises. Hopefully he could drag something useful out of her, some tiny tidbit he could use, but his ability to stay focused frayed with each passing second he continued to be exposed to her ruthless lack of empathy. He’d met enough heartless executives growing up, but Bryce made them all look like whining toddlers. The danger was crested and it was all he could do to not start screaming.

“So you had Shichi kill him. How did he do that thing? Appear out of the hallway the way he did?”

“A custom camouflaging skill his client requested for clandestine mercenary work. A biological version of high-end military skin suits. Designs were initially extrapolated from Earth chameleons. Shichi’s is infinitely more advanced.”

“I’ve never seen that before.”

Bryce scoffed. “Of course not. Police officers don’t require that kind of sophistication to control the unwashed masses.”

“What happens when Shichi’s client wants him back?”

“They’ll change my scent in processing which will break his imprint. Shichi will be free and reintroduced to the correct buyer. A shame that won’t be your future when Roku is acclimated with a new master. I imagine you’ll be another nameless slug piled at the top of the incinerator heap.”

“Once ApexCorp turns you, I hope they sell you to a zoo.”

A stoic mask came over Bryce’s face, washing away any last hints of emotion. She opened a small drawer and drew out a pair of surgical gloves. With slow, deliberate expertise, she pulled them on without looking, covering both hands and her coat’s form-fitting sleeves to mid-forearm. She raised a hand, stretching out each finger in a wave, before she balled it into a fist and struck Arad in the face, breaking his nose.

Crying out in blinding pain, Arad coughed and sputtered, spitting all over himself in reflex so he wouldn’t choke on the sudden pool of blood rushing down his throat. Searing agony flared through his nose and cheeks, tearing loose the dam blocking his tears.

“That was for calling me voyeur bitch.” 

Bryce gestured to Shichi, and her obedient servant rolled a surgical cart over to her lined with various medical instruments, many of which were mundane enough for Arad to recognize despite his blurry eyes. She selected a slender scalpel from the grouping, the glow from several screens glinting off the blade. “Now, I need all four DemiShou to fulfill my contract and you’re going to help me. I’m going to ask you about the wolf’s location. If I don’t like the answer, I’m afraid there will be consequences.”

Rapid breaths sped into erratic gasps as Arad thrashed against the bed’s restraints to no effect. His stuttering voice went shrill as he fixated on the knife’s near-invisible edge. 

“P…Please. Don’t do this. I don’t know where he is.” 

Bryce’s inexpressive face didn’t move a fraction, but an unmistakable storm glinted from behind her eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

He jerked again, trying to flee as she brought the scalpel closer to his arm. Inside his head, Arad screamed.

Roku, I’m so sorry.


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 75 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!

(Okay, I cheated on this chapter and totally wrote a lot more than 1000 words. Enjoy)

Hodge and the crew have come to talk. About what?

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

 


 

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Chapter 75

Every muscle in Arad’s body continued to ache, so he kept his seat, arms resting on his knees and head propped up against the wall. He refused to show Hodge and the crew any more weakness. The buffer Roku provided between them bolstered his confidence and a bit of snark all at once.

“It’s your house, don’t wait on my account. But you might want to keep your distance. Roku’s been looking mighty murderous these days.”

Hodge crossed the threshold, hands still open, as if making a point to appear non-threatening. “How’re you feeling? That was a nasty jolt you took. Those devices don’t take well to being messed with.”

Ignoring the strain, Arad shrugged. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fabulous. Thanks for rushing in with the medical attention.”

“Thought about it, but the last guy who came in here got the shit kicked out of him.”

“So I hear.” Leaning way over for a better view around the wall of Roku, Arad raised his voice for everyone’s benefit. “How you holding up there, Pakko?”

Vosh growled. Yosei covered her mouth, smothering a snort. Bryce stood back silent, ever watching. Pakko gave Arad the finger. Straightening back up, Arad laughed in that low, mean-spirited way the corrupt police back home used to before stealing a vendor’s money then kicking over their fruit carts.

Looking around the room, Hodge’s gaze landed on the twisted wad of metal at his feet.

“You can have your tray back,” Arad said.

“I misread you. You didn’t strike me as this aggressive.” 

Usually, Arad’s sense of survival tactics didn’t include this much viciousness—normally, he’d vote against it at every opportunity—but he’d lost the will to be charitable. He wasn’t going quietly anymore. He deserved better. 

“What can I say? The Nightingale’s hospitality brings out the best in me.”

Blowing out a lungful, Hodge dropped his head, deliberately avoiding looking Arad and Roku in the eye. His mouth opened and closed several time, whatever words he had stalling under an expression and body language Arad could only link to… shame?

Vosh’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why are the rest of us here?

Arad wondered that too. If they hadn’t come as a group, what did Hodge have to say that required an audience? It took an effort to appear nonchalant when his curiosity was so well primed. Thankfully, Hodge found the strength to speak.

“The Ansariland’s engines are initializing. She’ll be ready within a few hours.”

Roku’s voice held an unending tone of menace. “Congratulations. That should make for quite a payday.”

Hodge raised his head. “I expect you two to be on that ship.”

“Come again?” Arad asked.

The weight balanced over Roku’s feet lost a hint of that ready-to-strike agitation. Keeping the shock off Arad’s face was easy. He didn’t trust Hodge enough to believe this wasn’t a ploy to get them to behave. Surprise however, found itself painted on the face and posture of every Nightingale crew member as well as a fair amount of confusion.

Not surprising, was Vosh breaking the silence as he stepped forward into the doorway. “You’re letting them go?” His ursine shoulders swelled, but Hodge appeared unaffected by the display.

“Yes.”

“What about the money? We could use that.”

Hodge’s face darkened. “I know, and if I could see a way to cut them loose and get paid, I would.”

Pakko snorted. “Good luck with that.”

“Hey. None of us are angels and we’ve all done a lot of shady crap lately, but no one’s ever died because of it.”

“That you know of.”

A ragged sigh deflated Hodge. “Maybe. But I know it now, and I can’t live with that. You still wake up screaming from the shit you did on your last tour behind enemy lines, so I’m not sure you can either.”

Right there, Arad could see the crack in Hodge’s veneer, the first signs of truth seeping through. The chances he and Roku would walk out of this cell were growing, but not guaranteed. Too much had happened to simply take him at his word, and Arad frankly was still pissed off. Pressing a knife into Hodge’s guilt wounds came to Arad without a second thought.

“A lot harder to sell the product when you meet it face to face?”

Hodge winced. “A little something like that. I’d like to think that someday when I meet my wife and daughter on the other side, they’ll be able to look me in the eye.”

A sobering thought. It had been years since Arad had entertained the idea of facing his family again after casting him out. Hodge’s family were dead rather than he being dead to them, as in Arad’s case. Arad supposed he couldn’t understand the wish, but questioned whether Hodge would end up with his lost family in heaven.

Before he said something counterproductive, Arad changed the subject. “Forgive me if I’m feeling a bit skeptical, but what’s the plan here?”

“Once you’re on board and ready to leave, we’ll send you the command keycodes to unlock Roku’s restraints. Then you go on your way, and we never cross paths again.”

“So far I like the plan. Why don’t you just let him free now?”

Hodge’s gaze shifted squarely on Roku. “I don’t want you killing us all in our sleep.”

While his stance may have retreated from pouncing, Roku managed to keep his presence commanding and unforgettable despite the shackles. His throaty chuckle chilled. “The idea has merit.”

Everyone’s reactions were at various levels of visiblity, but all of them unsettled, even Vosh.

“What about the other DemiShou?” Arad asked. He wasn’t leaving without them, but they weren’t in a position to fight to force the crew’s hands given the current situation.

“Take them with you. I’m canceling the deal.”

Vosh’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “Are you kidding? ApexCorp won’t let us breach contract.”

“The contract is illegal, even by their own standards. Besides, I’ve gathered enough evidence to make them keep their distance.”

“They have lots of contacts. We’ll be looking over our shoulders in every port.”

Hodge turned his full attention on Vosh, standing inches away. “If you want to stay on this ship, it’s not up for debate.”

“You can’t do this.”

“Stop being an asshole,” Hodge barked. “The only reason you don’t like Roku is because you had a dick measuring contest in the ring and came up short. There is always someone out there bigger and badder than you. Have a little honor about losing in a fair fight. You should be better than that. It’s why I hired you in the first place, because I can trust you to watch my six.”

Vosh flinched at Hodge’s assessment. The core of his animosity towards Roku was prime toxic alpha male crap that couldn’t be easily bred out of thousands of generations no matter how hard some might have tried. Arad had seen it far too may times, the men whose entire egos were built on being stronger than the rest around them. A waste of time when a man with a bigger gun comes along.

“I did some digging and snatched a copy of ApexCorp’s customer list. The people on it…” Gritting his teeth, Hodge shook his head. “There’s no way we’ll walk away from this, once this deal is done. Contract terms or not, the law will override them all. We’ll be accessories to murder and they have the clout to pin that on us. Don’t think they won’t.”

Arad wasn’t impressed, but kept his mouth shut. Guilt might have spurred Hodge’s change of heart, but the rationale for bringing the rest in line was all about saving their collective butts. Pointing that out at this stage wouldn’t do him any favors. He needed to sit back and let this play out, praying it ended with he and Roku safely back on board the Ansariland. It was the only option he had.

“What’ll we do?”

“What we should have done from the start. Not do the job. We have our own contacts. We can barter our safety with the information I have. There’s more than just the list archived. A lot more. If they leave us be, we stay quiet and go about our business, in another sector if need be.”

“You’d better be right—ow!” Vosh turned to Pakko. “Did you pinch me?”

“No.”

Frustration and impatience in his voice made Hodge’s volume rise. “Dammit, Pakko. Can you keep it in your pants for five minutes? This is important!”

Looking positively affronted. Pakko clamped his mouth tight, crossed his arms over his chest, and faced away.

Vosh and Hodge locked eyes. A long, tense minute dragged out as the consummate leader held his ground under the stare of the ego driven DemiShou. A hint of challenge tainted the air which no one interrupted. Eventually, Vosh exhaled, his shoulders relaxing.

“Do you really think we can do this?”

Clapping a hand on Vosh’s arm, Hodge nodded. “We’ll figure it out. I won’t let us all down.”

“I never liked working for ApexCorp anyways.” Vosh wavered on his feet.

Hodge’s eyes narrowed. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Not really. Something’s wrong…”

Vosh stumbled two steps forward and collapsed hard, taking Hodge with him to the floor. Panic flashed across Pakko’s face as Vosh began to groan only to have any noises turn to forced grunts as his eyes rolled back in his head and his entire body began to seize.

Pakko dove to his knees. “Vosh!” Over and over he reached out, hands coming up short, as if afraid to touch Vosh and make matters worse.

Swearing, Hodge tried to pry himself out from under the massive bear as the fits increased.

Something very wrong hovered in the room, thickening the air enough Arad couldn’t bring himself to take advantage and run out the door. 

Roku took a careful step backwards, crowding Arad as he growled. “Something smells wrong.”

Vosh’s arm flailed out and caught Hodge in the face. “Shit! Bryce! Help us here!”

The doctor came into the room, pulling a hypodermic gun from her pocket. Calmly, she stepped over Vosh, keeping a careful eye on his convulsions. Frothing at the mouth, the bear sounded like he was drowning.

Giving up trying to free himself, Hodge’s cries became more harried. “Dammit, Bryce! Do something!”

“I am,” she said in her insufferably stoic tone, holding the device over Vosh as his movements slowed. “I’m waiting for him to die.”

“What?”

Bryce reached down near Vosh and picked up an object: the dropped control to Roku’s collar. She raised it and pressed the button. Sparks brightened the room for a good thirty seconds. Roku’s deafening roar faded, and he fell, slamming into the bed’s edge and slumping over Arad. Breathing shallow and unmoving, his solid weight held Arad down. 

“Bryce! What the fuck are doing?” Hodge shouted.

Pakko lunged at her and she snapped a knee into his face, sending him sprawling. The audible crunch had been sharp over the noise.

Bryce side-eyed Hodge while scanning the cell. “ApexCorp was afraid you’d bail on the project. So they made me a counteroffer.”

“You bitch!”

“I’m afraid your commission has been revoked.” Over her shoulder, she called out into the hallway. “Knight takes Bishop.”

Arad’s attempt to climb out from under Roku stalled as a man-shaped section of the corridor…moved. It shifted—walked—forward, and shoved Yosei with a yelp into the room next to Pakko. The figure’s surface rippled, like a million miniature sequins rolling and shivering, changing color until each individual dot returned to a range of solid tones leaving a muscular, scaled DemiShou standing before them all. Arad couldn’t do more than whisper his name into the chaos.

“Shichi.”

With uncaring eyes, the lizard strode across Vosh’s twitching body and grabbed Hodge by the hair and raked his claws across Hodge’s throat with the other. Blood splashed the walls, ending Hodge’s frantic struggles with a wet choke. Yosei clasped both hands over her mouth and shrieked at full volume, scuttling backwards, deeper into the corner. Pakko did the same, his voice lost in horror.

Shichi released Hodge’s and turned his steely attention on Pakko. Bryce laid a gentle hand on Shichi’s shoulder, stroking him tenderly. “No. We need the techs. For now.”

A faint rush of air escaped Vosh and he stopped moving. Bryce kneeled and pressed a finger to his neck and scanned the data displaying on her small wrist monitor. “A touch slower than I expected, but still effective.”

Arad hissed and shook Roku, whose dead weight pinned him down. “Roku, wake up. Wake up!”

Standing up, Bryce ignored Arad, letting her hand drift up Shichi’s chest and neck, across his hairless skull. The multicolored scales shimmered in shades of dangerous reds and orange, bleeding into less heated shades of yellow and green as he leaned into the touch, sniffing along her wrist and forearm, all without losing sight of everyone else. His body relaxed, but the remnants of Hodge’s throat dripping off his claws made it clear he would kill anyone in the room if Bryce asked.

“ApexCorp suspected Hodge would breach their trust and were kind enough to give me Shichi’s verbal command codes so I could secure the ship. He was designed to be a private mercenary to his client.”

“I can’t believe you’re touching him.” The amount of contact she’d had with Shichi flew in the face of everything he’d seen and understood about her. Not just him, but everyone else as well.

“DemiShou don’t spread random disease like standard humans. They’re superior in every way.”

“You woke him?”

She shrugged. “His processing was complete. Shichi just needed someone to give him direction, isn’t that right, darling? Binding him to me wasn’t a hardship.”

“How did you get in my cargo bay?”

Bryce nudged at Hodge’s pale corpse with the toe of her boot, satisfied with the lack of reaction. “I copied your command access off Yosei’s pad days ago.”

Arad gasped as he watched how Shichi gravitated towards Bryce, following her every motion. “He’s imprinted on you.”

Bryce’s sly smile chilled Arad as she leered over Shichi’s naked body, pausing at the thick organ swaying between his legs. “Like I said, it wasn’t a hardship.”

What was that noise, Arad thought, that pounding, growing louder by the second, reverberating through Arad’s chest and head, suffocating all reason? No one’s heartbeat should have such power. Arad hadn’t known this level of terror had never spiraled under Arad’s ability to decipher a way out in all the messed up circumstances of his life. He was so screwed. They were so screwed. Blinking back tears, Arad shook Roku again. He didn’t respond.

They might actually die here. Today. He thought they’d have more time.

“Ship, identify the Nightingale’s commanding officer,” Bryce said to the ceiling.

A synthetic male voice replied. “Protocols following the cessation of Captain Hodge’s life signs have auto-promoted Dr. Bryce Southerland to rank of captain.”

Pocketing the hypodermic gun in her lab coat, Bryce couldn’t look more pleased with herself. “Perfect. Now, Hodge was correct about one thing. We need to talk. You and I need to have a serious conversation about the future of the DemiShou.” See nodded in Arad’s direction to Shichi. “Bring him.”

Without hesitation, Shichi stalked his way. Arad shouted and shoved at Roku in a last ditch effort to wake him, but he didn’t react, barely making a sound when Shichi tossed the tiger’s unconscious body aside. One look into Shichi’s cold stare and panic flooded Arad. 

Run, run run! 

He scrambled to escape, too get out of reach in this tiny, tiny space. Diving onto one bed, he scramble-crawled to get around the killer Demi, only to scream out in pain as Shichi’s bloody hand caught a fistful of his hair. Arad grabbed at Shichi’s wrist, trying to prevent his scalp from being torn off in chunks as he was hauled outside.

Let go of me! Roku! Wake up! Roku!

He kicked at his captors as best he could, being kept out of Bryce’s reach as she locked the cell door with everyone else inside. He never stopped fighting for all the good it did as they pulled him down the hallway and away from Roku.


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

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 74 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!

Arad just got shocked off Roku’s restraint collar. Yikes!

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

 


 

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Chapter 74

“Arad. Can you hear me?”

Phosphorescent fireflies danced as the dark and blurry world came back into view. All Arad could see was the ceiling and a distressed DemiShou hovering over him.

“Arad. Are you all right?”

His whole body twitched and ached, like every muscle had contracted and refused to release. Both hands were numb, but life seeped back into them replaced by a hot sensation at his fingertips, bright red from instant burns. By sheer luck, he’d taken a shock intended to take down a strong DemiShou and lived. And yes, it hurt, much like the endless depths of concern in Roku’s eyes. 

Arad coughed to ease his tight chest. “Yeah. Only my pride’s wounded.”

Roku didn’t appear convinced.

The collar still sat fixed around Roku’s neck. Arad reached up for it, but Roku jerked backwards. “Don’t. I think it’s still active. I can feel an electric hum through the device.” The access panel sat slightly ajar but pinprick lights inside told him Roku was probably right. If the collar contained tampering countermeasures, the shackles could have the same features. The Nightingale crew were well prepared.

“I’m sorry, Roku.”

“About what?”

“I thought I could free you, and we’d have a chance to escape.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. No part of this is your fault.”

Kicking his doubts would take a lot of work. Arad had spent years having been told being a slug was his own fault, a lack of effort on his part. He knew better, but self-loathing could be a harsh companion. The best strategy was to replay Roku’s faith in him over and over, because the man had never lied to him before and probably never would.

Arad grunted at the effort to stand, his flesh scraped as raw as his soul, leaving behind aching waves of exhaustion. The energy required to fuel his anger lacked the potency to draw a real reaction out of Arad. A cold numbness seeped into him, drowning any emotion short of apathy. There wasn’t much else to be done.

Sleeping away the daylight until his time came held a fair amount of appeal. He scanned the cell’s attached beds, debating on the most comfortable, and came across the trays of uneaten food. Arad sighed, knowing he couldn’t rest yet.

“Come on. If I’ve learned nothing else over the years, you don’t waste good food.” Because some days you didn’t know where the next meal would come from. 

He sat on the bed and arranged the trays for ease. Neither of them had eaten since they’d be captured. Thankfully, they provided one tray with a larger than human amount. Roku would need his strength, for whatever came next. Arad motioned Roku over and the tiger kneeled in front of him. Both of his arms were stuck in the awkward position from being fastened behind him. It had to ache after so much time, yet he didn’t complain, didn’t say more.

The Nightingale crew had wisely not given them any utensils that could be used again them. Growing up, Arad had been taught knives and guns were the providence of criminals and the insecure. It left him uncomfortable with hand weapons, even in defense, but this situation left him feeling the urge to shank one or more of his captors.

Breaking off a piece of the ration bar, Arad fed it to Roku, mindful not to touch the collar. He wasn’t about to make him eat like a pet, face first in his dish. Roku accepted graciously, one piece at a time, taking care not to harm Arad’s stinging fingers. He took drinks from the cup held by shaky hands without complaint other than insisting Arad eat too, whether he had an appetite or not.

He’d never done this before, shared this special intimacy with another man. None of his clients back in Grey District made the time or had the interest for such role play except maybe Davis, but he’d been too busy spending their transactions under the influence of Syn to be creative.

Under other circumstances, this would have been fun. A lover’s game both of them could enjoy, but Hodge and his seedy gang had ruined it for what few hours, days, weeks they had left.

Once both trays sat empty, Arad stood to place them near the exit, out of their way. Without a word or a shout, he swung the metal trays against the door. Over and over, he slammed metal against metal until both trays were a mangled, useless mess. They dropped to the floor with a dull clang. Arad tipped his head upward and shined his middle finger to the ceiling as he pointed to the wad of ruined, cheap steel.

“This is trash. I am not. Learn the difference, you pieces of shit!”

Hopefully, the entire crew watched, not just Bryce.

With slow resignation, Arad waked back and slumped into a seat against the wall opposite the door. His body felt marginally better, but he was still wrecked. Roku took a spot next to him, leaning in close, offering comfort while Arad quietly seethed. Before this was said and done, someone was going to die. Yes, by all accounts Arad was the most likely, but he wasn’t convinced it would be a solitary experience.

He couldn’t be sure how much time passed. Minutes could stretch into hours and vice versa with nothing to occupy himself other than his rage and fears. Roku’s ears twitched and his sudden movement startled Arad. He rose to his feet with a feral growl, shifting to a position between Arad and the door as the cell opened with the Nightingale crew standing in the hall. Hodge, Vosh, Pakko, Yosei, and even Bryce, none of which made him feel at ease. Roku’s warning grew in volume even as his legs tensed and his feet braced.

Hodge raised both hands, palms out and empty. “We didn’t come here to fight. We need to talk.”


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 73 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #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!

Tensions run high in the Nightingale’s brig.

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

 


 

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Chapter 73

Less than a minute later, Vosh made a show of the collar’s remote as he entered the open cell, brandishing it like some ancient ward against evil. Arad placed a hand on Roku’s shoulder. He could feel the muscles wound and tense, ready for action under his touch. A warning yowl made Arad shiver. Roku had rolled to a crouch, poised on a hair trigger to take another shot at Vosh, restrained or not.

“Don’t. Please,” Arad whispered. The tension remained, but Roku eased back a bit. Now was not the time.

One eye on them, Vosh crouched down to check Pakko.

“You oughta zap him.” Whiny and dazed, yet coherent, Pakko would be fine. Arad had seen worse over the years.

Vosh touched and prodded for injuries. “Shut up. You should’ve waited for me to be ready. Any of us would’ve done the same.”

“You bet against me.”

With gentle care, Vosh lifted Pakko easily, cradling him in his arms like a child. “I bet you wouldn’t be dumb enough to go in alone.”

“Nope. I’m dumb enough, for sure.” Pakko didn’t raise his head, falling asleep on Vosh’s shoulder.

Arad wanted to puke watching Vosh treat Pakko like something precious while imprisoning and selling other people without seeming to care. It was tempting to sic Roku on them all. With his skills, he could probably beat Vosh with his arms tied behind his back.

Apparently his thoughts broadcast over his face, because Vosh gave him the nastiest sneer as he settled Pakko. “Stay right fucking there.”

“Don’t worry. Roku’s stuck in here. I’m not leaving him behind.” Arad had yet to stop touching Roku, silently asking him to hold back and to ground himself. Perhaps the imprint included something psychic, because Roku didn’t move, only staring daggers at Vosh.

“I don’t want anymore trouble out of you, slug.”

Arad removed his hand from Roku. He stepped forward, head cocked, reading Vosh’s audacity and outright stupidity. “I may be a slug, but where I come from, you wouldn’t rank any higher as a Demi. We’d both by on the job lines, no matter who you’re sleeping with.”

“I’m not DemiShou.”

A laugh filled with outrage and disbelief erupted out of Arad. “Why? Because you were drafted? Roku didn’t ask for it. ApexCorp waited for him to be gunned down and used some messed up legal loophole to put him through the program. He sure wasn’t a volunteer. It doesn’t make him any less a DemiShou, and he shouldn’t have to suffer for it because you don’t like your reflection.”

Vosh hedged, glancing between Pakko and Arad, as if he might dump the one to maul the other. The old adage about not poking bears came to mind. He suspected the man in Vosh’s arms was the only reason he was still standing, so Arad eased back his hostility.

“I get it, Vosh. Corporations like ApexCorp keep a stranglehold on their employees. Do the job, get paid, everything turns out fine, right?”

“You don’t quit from these places. They retire you.” Vosh looked down at Pakko. “And everyone you know or love.”

Honestly, Arad tired of hearing how the entire crew had elevated self-preservation into a reasonable excuse for acting like dicks. He understood how blackmail turned good men bad, but seriously…they all needed to grow spines. Or at least eat a healthy dose of reality.

“What happens when one of ApexCorp’s customers decides they want a bear slave? Or they realize there’s more profit in using DemiShou already on the payroll rather than making new ones if you fit the description? Do you think you saying, ‘I’m not a Demi’ will matter to them? If they’ll put you down for not doing a job, don’t think for a second they’ll protect you over increasing their sales bonuses.”

Vosh glared at Arad, but kept his mouth shut as he strode out carrying Pakko. Yosei stood in the hall, gave Arad a small smirk and nod, then closed and locked the cell door.

“I guess he didn’t like the truth,” Roku said.

“No, I don’t think he did.”

Taking digs at the crew was Arad’s only weapon. Each attack, however, returned less and less satisfaction as time passed. He couldn’t count on them leaving him and Roku alone for what he had left. The deadline, whenever it might be, was looming. Roku was hobbled and he wasn’t strong enough to fight. Not against this group. 

Arad needed to even his odds.

Spinning, he assessed the cell in closer detail. Everything was welded to the wall or bolted down. Except the food trays. Arad snatched one of the hard plastic cups, dumped it out, and laid it on the floor.

“What are you doing? “ Roku asked.

Since Bryce might be watching, he didn’t answer. He stomped the cup until it broke into several shards. One of the sharper ones might be sufficient. Impatient, he spun and grabbed Roku by the collar, dragging him close. Roku didn’t resist. Arad didn’t miss his implicit trust. He counted on it.

He searched over the collar’s surface, looking for access seams. They were tight, but on close inspection, they were there. Two matching lines, each in front and back had to be the hinge and locks. What he wanted was a different port. The locks didn’t matter unless the device’s power could be severed. Finding a subtle panel along the side, he slid the shard’s point inside the groove, looking for a little give.

“I’m a tech. A good tech. I can do this.”

Just slender enough, the shard lifted the panel a hair, giving him a chance to get under it. He worked the edge until he found the catch. The panel released and he carefully swung it out of the way, showing the hardware inside.

Sparks shot out of the collar. Arad screamed as the violent quake ripped through his whole body, and the shock slammed him backwards against the wall.

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 72 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

Happy New Year!

Time to start off 2020 with a fresh new chapter!

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

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!

Roku and Arad are trapped in the Nightingale’s brig. Waiting…

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

 


 

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Chapter 72

Hours later, the lights returned to full brightness, bathing the cell in artificial light. Still pressed into Roku’s warmth, Arad woke from his troubled sleep, shielding his eyes from the glare. The tiger continued to stand guard, his sharp gaze fixated on the door. Something passed in front of the window, the lock chimed, and the door hissed open.

Pakko edged in, a tray in each hand, a careful eye on Arad and Roku. He set the trays on the bed opposite, and stepped back keeping his distance.

Arad climbed out of bed, reading Pakko’s tension. Roku didn’t move. The trays were loaded with food, one carrying DemiShou sized portions. The rations looked normal enough, undoctored at first glance and smell.

“I’m surprised you’d bother to feed us.”

“We’re not monsters.”

“Says you. You have to keep Roku healthy.” Arad waved a hand at the food trays. “Why waste good food on me? Is this my last meal?”

“It’s not going to be like that.”

Arad scoffed. “Keep telling yourself that. If you doubt it, talk to your employer.”

“Hodge would never—”

“I’m not talking about Hodge.”

A tiny flinch and Pakko’s face darkened in disquiet. He’d yet to stop twitching and his discomfort grew. Every reaction revealed Pakko understood Arad’s fate, and his denial was fracturing.

“ApexCorp owned the transport vessel Hodge’s family died in. They settled the wrongful death charges with him for the Nightingale. He leveraged work from them in the process because he’d lost everything in the accident.”

Arad crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes at Pakko. His clients often tried to clear their consciences by spilling their secrets since he had no power to share them, and the more he appeared to disbelieve, the more they said to prove him wrong. Remorse made men predictable and Pakko was not unique.

“It costs a lot to keep a ship like this running. They sucked him in. Now it’s too late to walk away. Sometimes I think they conned him to recoup their losses from the accident settlement.”

Arad almost laughed. “So Hodge is the victim. Got it. Vosh now, I can’t believe he’s involved. Selling his own people into slavery.”

“Vosh never wanted to be DemiShou. His commanding officer ordered him up as part of the last batch processed. He doesn’t see himself as Demi.”

“But he does seem to have a problem when he’s beaten by one.”

“That’s not what happened.”

“I guess you and I were watching different matches. I’m screwed because he’s a self-hating Demi who enjoyed being dominated a little too much.”

“That’s not fair.”

“No. It’s not really fair, is it?”

Roku stayed silent as Arad continued to dig verbal needles under Pakko’s fingernails. He’d been called too clever for his own good by more than one person in Grey District. With the right prodding, any guilty person would confess for a chance at absolution. The dodgy preacher taught him that. He just hadn’t needed to be so cruel about it in the past. 

Well, no one ever accused him of being unadaptable.

“So what’s your excuse for selling out your friends? Because I find it hard to think you’ve been faking it these past few days.”

Lines creased Pakko’s face, twisting his beard into an unappealing frown. “I wasn’t…You don’t understand.”

“Enlighten me.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were only supposed to pick up and transport product. None of them were supposed to be awake.”

“And now you have to see them as living, breathing people.”

“We know too much. It doesn’t matter what we want. Corporations like ApexCorp won’t let us breach contract. We’re fucked.”

“No, you just have to feel bad and watch the deposit fill your bank accounts. We’re the ones everything is actually happening to.”

Brow tight, Pakko shook his head. “It’s not gonna be that bad—”

“Stop pretending you don’t know what’s going to happen!” Arad snarled, his voice booming in the confined space. “Stop pretending they aren’t going to break my connection to Roku! Stop pretending the company won’t murder me to do it!”

“They…they won’t do that…”

“Yes they will, and make someone filthy rich in the process, even if it’s not you! Stop pretending you’re okay with all of this!”

“I… I…” Scrubbing a hand over his face, Pakko ducked his head and turned away, guilt radiating from him in toxic waves. “I…I’m sorry.”

Arms still shackled, Roku pounced off the bed, landing without a sound behind Pakko before snapping his leg out and sweeping Pakko’s feet out from under him. Pakko had barely hit the deck before Roku placed a brutal kick to his midsection and vaulted for the door, which had stayed open since Pakko entered.

“Follow me,” Roku growled over his shoulder.

Roku lunged for the exit only to jerk backwards as his collar sparked to life. He collapsed to the floor, grunting as he landed on his bound arms and rolled over. Arad flew to his side, ignoring Pakko’s pained moans in the corner.

“Roku, are you all right?” Arad ghosted his hands over Roku’s body, afraid to touch him and get caught in the shock powerful enough to subdue the tiger. He breathed a sigh of relief as Roku nodded, gasping air between his teeth. No fresh scent of burned fur. The charge had been short compared to Vosh’s earlier treatment. A sound in the hall caught Arad’s attention. 

Back against the wall, Yosei sat, compad in hand. She watched stoically from the corridor, her usual frantic mirth subdued.

“Sorry, dude. The sensor grid’s configured across the doorway. I was really hoping you wouldn’t test it, but he’ll get zapped if he tries to cross the threshold. You’d better get comfortable.” She tapped her pad’s screen. “Vosh, looks like you’re gonna have to come down here and get Pakko. I told you what would happen if you sent him in alone. You owe me twenty credits.”

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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