#freereads – Adrift Ch 56 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.

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 and Roku share a meal with the Nightingale crew.

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

 


 

adrift banner

Chapter 56

“Bryce isn’t eating with us?” The spicy aroma made Arad’s stomach growl as he took a conservative scoop of noodles from the serving bowl. The Nightingale either had a much better food selection or a proper cook. Maybe both.

“Don’t take it personal. She prefers her own space.” Seated next to Hodge, Yosei poured water into cups from a plastic pitcher. 

Bryce’s voice hovered out of the ceiling. “But I do like to join the conversation.”

“And her decontamination protocols.” Sarcasm dripped from Yosei’s words, but her cups didn’t spill a drop as she passed them around the table to Roku, Arad, and the rest of the crew.

“I’ve never had meningitis.”

“Neither have any of us, which I must say seems highly unlikely given all of our pasts, but if it keeps you from going psycho and murdering us all in our sleep, you do your thing.”

A soft chorus of chuckling circled the group which included Bryce. Arad knew contagious insanity didn’t exist, but witnessing this version began to shake his beliefs.

“You get used to it.” Hodge reached over and slid the main dish closer to Arad. “Here, have a little more. We have plenty. You’re not on the streets. You don’t have to ration it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Nothing I haven’t seen, or lived, before. No shame in survival.”

Arad took another full ladle, grateful the noodles were spicy. It would explain the heat in his face and neck. He’d been reducing his meal size, little by little, for the last two weeks to compensate for Roku’s needs. In Grey District, free meals were hard to come by for those with nothing, so stretching food was an unfortunate skill he didn’t like to broadcast.

Before he’d been cast out, Arad’s family had grown increasingly distant, too obsessed with financial matters to cultivate their personal relationships. The Nightingale crew bantered amongst themselves with a familiarity Arad never knew yet longed for just the same. The differences in how they all interacted only heightened his sense of otherness while it warred with his need to belong. Yet, this ragtag lot of misfits enjoyed each other’s company and radiated closeness. Even Yosei, as the newest acquisition, appeared to enjoy the bond, smiling and joking with them all. Is this what family is? 

As is sensing his unease, Roku reached over and placed his hand on Arad’s thigh. The warm pressure centered Arad at once, reminding him, Nightingale or not, he wasn’t alone anymore.

Conversation continued to flow as they ate, and Arad felt more and more like one of the group as the meal went on. Casual chat eventually shifted to the Ansariland, and Yosei rambled off her newfound knowledge of the ship’s schematics as they planned their repair schedule.

“From what I’ve seen, the hull breach isn’t massive and doesn’t intersect any major internal systems. It’s mostly a panel rupture, so we should be able to patch it and restore access to the engines. After that we should be able to restart the core and get them running.”

Hodge nodded. “Sounds good. We have a stretch before our next appointment. Do we have enough time?”

“I’ll have time to upgrade a few systems as well. Some of the OS protocols are over two versions behind the current model. I have to deal with that so the ship doesn’t explode.”

Alarmed, Arad spun to Hodge, who promptly shook his head.

“No ship ever explodes from old software. Pakko, can you suit up early tomorrow and seal that hole?”

“I suppose I could be persuaded to help out our handsome neighbors.” Pakko leaned over so he could peer under the table. “I like your clothing choices. Kilts rock.”

Roku’s wardrobe was still comprised of what few items of Tank’s old wardrobe could be modified for use. His black t-shirt had been slashed open at the neck and down the sides to give him breathing room. The kilt only reached mid-thigh and like other had to be split near to the hip to avoid indecent exposure.

“I don’t own much. Hopefully if we get the engines functional, I can get something less revealing.”

“Do you see me complaining?”

Arad agreed with Pakko, but he wasn’t about to encourage him. While he didn’t want to think of Roku with anyone else, he knew the tiger was too even tempered to be baited so easily. Even after the scene in the cargo bay, Pakko couldn’t be completely put off. Apparently, if the scowl that vanished as fast as it appeared was any indication, Vosh took issue with Pakko’s flirting. Understandable given their obvious relationship. Pakko seemed hardwired for polyamory and Vosh… not as much. He’d been sizing them up since they’d arrived—normal for security staff—even as he slurped down the last of his food. At first Arad assumed it was simply a case of being cautious, but now he wasn’t so sure. 

With a sly grin, Vosh turned his attention on Roku. “You look pretty sturdy, Roku. How much you bench?”

Roku shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“I’ve heard some felines are quick but not as strong, but tigers can be both.”

“I haven’t spent much time figuring it out. The Ansariland’s equipment is designed for human strength, not DemiShou.”

“I can think of a few ways to test it.”

“Oh here we go…” Hodge rolled his eyes with a laugh as he sat back in his chair.

“What are you suggesting?”

“A little sparring action in the gym. You and me.” Vosh’s idea would seem innocent enough to a casual observer, but Hodge’s reaction confirmed Arad’s suspicion. Every con he’d ever seen and performed happened much the same way. Start a line of suggestions. Lead the mark where you want him to go. Then go for the prize, using their ego against them if necessary. “Unless you think you can’t handle it.”

“Roku…”—Arad put a hand on Roku’s wrist, grinning at Vosh—“Kick his ass.”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

Advertisements

#freereads – Adrift Ch 55 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.

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!

Time to meet the doctor, Bryce.

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

 


 

adrift banner

Chapter 55

“Don’t touch anything,” Hodge whispered as Arad crossed the threshold. If he’d been impressed with the Nightingale’s general upkeep, it was nothing compared to the infirmary.

Translucent plasti-steel walls of antiseptic white glowed from within generating an omnidirectional light source. Pristine medical equipment filled every corner. Arad couldn’t calculate the astronomical cost of this kind of setup. A med bed—much nicer than the Ansariland’s—filled one wall, while a workstation surrounded by a forest of monitors lined the opposite. Most screens contained medical data, active with various biometrics. Arad raised an eyebrow at the others centering on Yosei and the crew in various places on the ship.

Hodge shrugged. “Bryce spends most of her time in here.”

Head shaved to her dark umber scalp, the statuesque doctor wore a form-fitting bio-suit which reminded Arad of when corporate scientists flooded the streets during hazmat incidents. Bryce’s lack of eyebrows minimized her expressions, making her difficult to read. Even her polite smile was reserved.

“It’s simpler to do my work from here and interact through communications.” Bryce raised a hand when Arad made to step further into the room. “Please stay inside the yellow line while I run a decontamination sweep.”

Arad looked down. The three of them stood inside a yellow box engraved into the floor which extended from the entrance. Hodge made no move to cross the line, so Arad followed his lead.

A short, lyrical chime rang as Bryce tapped at one monitor with her gloved hands. “I’m not about to allow some strange germ to ravage the ship.”

Warmth passed over Arad’s skin with a gentle tingle which passed as quickly as it came. Bryce nodded and waved them inside. Hodge wasted no time introducing them.

“This is Captain Ansari, and his first mate, Roku. Gentlemen, this is our doctor, Bryce.”

Without offering her hand, she greeted Arad with a pleasant nod. “Thank you for indulging me.” She focused on Roku, her curiosity obvious. “Interesting. Your stripe pattern is unique. I’ve never known about a splicing that didn’t generate a natural pattern. I’d think it was a custom design. DemiShou were designed to be disease-immune and can’t be carriers, so I won’t need to do a deep bio-scan on Roku.” Edgy inside a doctor’s office, Arad leaned against the nearest station. Bryce’s gaze fixed itself to where Arad’s hand rested on the countertop. “You on the other hand, are a potential breeding ground of plague. Don’t worry. I’m disconnected from the corporate medical database. You’ll have complete privacy.”

“I’m all for privacy, but is that a good idea? I don’t want to void any of my supply contracts.” Hodge’s concerns didn’t surprise Arad. It was his business after all.

“I think it’s for the best. Captain Ansari appears uncomfortable enough. No need to make matters worse.” Without touching him, Bryce directed Arad to stand near a different workstation.

Arad tried to hide his offense. Wealthy people had always seen slugs as less than, so it wasn’t a new experience. “Thank you. You have a good bedside manner. I bet you could make yourself filthy rich as a private physician.”

“I could. But planetside, there are too many people in too small a space. I don’t trust the bio-filters to keep up. And they do nothing when people leave their greasy residues behind.” Reaching into one of her suit’s many pockets, Bryce withdrew a small device and ran its ultraviolet light over the counter where Arad’s hand had been.

Hodge snickered. “She means fingerprints.”

“Residue DNA is residue DNA. I’m better off on board the Nightingale.”

Retrieving a new item from storage, Bryce passed the scanner over his body, checking the reading on the nearby panel. Once complete, her shoulders relaxed as she exhaled.

“You’re in excellent health.”

“That’s good to hear. I’m impressed with your infirmary. Most hospitals aren’t this slick.” Arad walked the room’s perimeter, casually touching devices and surfaces. Bryce followed a polite distance behind, trying to be discreet about using the handheld to sanitize each spot of contact. Petty? Yes, but even though she wasn’t broadcasting any findings to the universe, she’d taken one look at him and implied he might be contagious. Arad pretended not to notice Hodge’s snicker. “I’m guessing since you have Vosh on board, you’re prepped to treat DemiShou?”

“Of course.”

“Our med bed doesn’t have any parameters for Demis. Any info you can share would be appreciated. If something happened to Roku, I’d like to be prepared.”

“I’ll have Yosei check to see if the protocols from ours are compatible with your equipment. We might be able to upgrade you.”

“That’s very kind of you, Doctor. I have the impression you seem to know a great deal about DemiShou biology. Am I correct?” Roku’s rumbling voice drew Bryce’s complete attention.

“Better than most. I never saw DemiShou as monsters or second class citizens. I was sick a lot as a child. DemiShou resistance to illness would have been a blessing. At one point, I was even in line to receive DemiShou genetic splicing before the program was banned.”

“I think you would have made a fine DemiShou.”

Contrasted against her skin, Bryce’s smile was vivid. “Thank you. That’s very kind. Would you like a screening?”

“No thank you. My health is not in question.”

“All right. But while you’re on board, I expect you to contact me if need anything. Both of you. The channels are always open.”

Roku dipped his head in agreement. “Of course.”

Hodge stepped to Roku’s side and clapped his shoulder. “I’m hoping you boys will stay with us long enough to share a meal tonight. We can use that to figure out what you need to get running again. Don’t worry. We know how to feed a Demi.”

Arad wrung his hands together. The best meals were always made by someone else. Plus, he was one step closer to fixing his ship. “That sounds like a great idea.”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

#freereads – Adrift Ch 54 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.

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!

This week included the following prompt: Use section, icon, and intriguing.

Arad and Roku tour their neighboring ship.

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

 


 

adrift banner

Chapter 54

“I don’t know how we’ll be able to pay you for helping us. Roku and I are pretty much broke. We didn’t actually get paid before the crew got ashed.” Arad kept pace with Hodge’s casual steps. He’d ordered his crew members to go away so he could escort Arad and Roku in peace.

“Don’t worry about it. When I die, it’ll look nice on my good deeds list.”

Compared to the Ansariland, the Nightingale’s brighter interior was sleeker and more polished. No peeling paint on the wall plating from lack of maintenance. High contrast graphics clearly marked one section from another. The crew wouldn’t need this level of identification, so the ship must have hosted guests often enough to make the effort worthwhile. Intriguing. The Nightingale was nice, but it was no cruise ship.

Arad found the differences welcoming, but the Ansariland felt like home, in spite of how he acquired it. Something he’d given up as possible a long time ago. He’d take his dodgy clunker with its sordid history any day. 

Although, Arad still needed to make the most of Hodge’s hospitality. “Lively crew you have.”

“Ha! More like a motley crew, but they have their uses. Vosh and Pakko know their jobs and they’re harmless as long as you stay out of their bed.”

“That will not be a problem.” Roku chiming in behind them was not unexpected.

Since setting foot on board, Roku displayed an increased level of possessiveness. Given his memory loss, Arad wondered if it was a common trait among DemiShou. It may have been a touch embarrassing in front of Hodge and the crew, but he added it to the layers building between them, reinforcing their growing connection. Vosh had used the term mated. A deliberate choice of word that left Arad with more niggling questions he didn’t have time to dig into. Why not simply say together? Or shacked up? Or something equally obvious? Perhaps later he’d have the opportunity to ask Vosh to fill in some gaps in his understanding of DemiShou. It seemed all of the Nightingale’s crew might have useful knowledge to share.

Arad decided he might as well start with the most obvious. “Yosei’s a character. What’s her story?”

Hodge tapped a control, opening a hatch he left open behind them as they passed through.“Yosei’s our newest acquisition. I found her on a colony station looking for work about five months ago. Brilliant as hell, but not a lick of common sense. A group of crooks found her tech status and tried to hire her. You know how she bombarded you with statistics and questions until she scoped you out?”

“Yeah. That’s an eerie talent.”

“She did that with them and deciphered their entire smuggling operation in public. If there weren’t so many witnesses, they probably would have killed her. It didn’t occur to her that she was doing something dangerous. So I hired her before something really messed up happened to her. Keep her out of trouble.” Hodge huffed and shook his head. “All intellect, no street sense. Reminds me of my daughter.”

“We didn’t meet her, so I’m guessing she’s not on board.”

Hodge’s chipper mood dimmed a tad. “No. She passed away several years ago.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

Sadness tinted Hodge’s grey eyes, yet his pleasant veneer failed to falter. Arad understood, having seen that look on other’s faces who survived in Grey District. Grief existed in his past. He respected how it shaped him, but refused to allow it to own him. 

“Nothing to be sorry about. Lost Jonna and her mother after a transport accident. The available auto-medical was fried and the local med-kiosk wasn’t equipped to handle trauma. They were gone before emergency services finally arrived. It’s why I focus mainly on shipping medical tech. Street level med-equipment is traded down from the nicer facilities, so keeping the improved models flowing helps everyone at some level.”

“Explains why the kiosks in my neighborhood looked like cheap hand-me-downs.” Arad looked around the hallway. “You figured out how to work with it all right.”

With a smirk and a shrug, Hodge took a right turn. “If you want to do well in this universe, you gotta understand your niche market.”

So far, Arad found every member of the Nightingale intriguing, especially Hodge. The man’s natural charisma drew him in without the flash and glam of a captain like Torrins. It was the very characteristic that made Arad hesitate to follow. Too many schemers and charlatans had played their games with him. Some more successfully than others. But each success added a brick to his wall of skepticism. A barrier which kept him safe when nothing else did. Once completed, only Roku had ever been truly allowed through. Some like Davis, though they had, but they’d been wrong.

Roku gently cupped his shoulder, as if sensing Arad’s indecision. They needed the help the Nightingale could bring, and no real alarms had gone off as he scrutinized the people and their odd interactions. Caution was fine—appropriate even—but it shouldn’t govern his every step forward until he swam in paranoia. Because that was where he was heading in the presence of strangers. Old habits were hard to break.

Patting Roku’s hand, he took a step, then another until they were following Hodge once again. Thankfully, he’d ignored the interruption and didn’t say anything as he waited patiently for them to catch up. Perhaps Hodge understood how overwhelming all this new interaction could be.

Polite conversation continued. Nothing too deep, but it bred a familiarity that took off some of the rough edges of Arad’s distrust. Roku’s presence bolstered his inner strength, and he found himself enjoying the company as their pace slowed. Emblazoned in emergency red over the upcoming doorway was the universal medical icon. They’d arrived at the infirmary.

With a smile, Hodge stood with an outstretched hand, coaxing them through. “Time to meet Bryce.”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

#freereads – Adrift Ch 53 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.

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 learns more about the Nightingale crew.

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


 

adrift banner

Chapter 53

“We got fired on by pirates. They didn’t really explain. Shot the main engine and then the captain and crew abandoned ship. Pirates blew them out of space.”

The moment Arad began explaining, he became the center of everyone’s orbit. Hodge stood quietly with a hand on Yosei, possibility the only thing keeping the vibrating pixie from exploding with a barrage of questions. Even Pakko had stopped pouting and returned to the group with Vosh as his faithful shadow. Security being the bear DemiShou’s job description, he wasted no time testing Arad’s tale.

“The crew left you two behind?”

Arad scoffed. “I didn’t say they were upstanding citizens.”

“How’d you get away?” Less pessimistic than his Demi partner, Pakko sounded a tad awestruck.

“Emergency space jump. It trashed the sensor array, and knocked out communications and navigation. We’d been drifting since until I figured out how to fix it.”

Doubt and a touch of accusation tinged Vosh’s voice. “So you’re captain now? That’s quite the promotion.”

“When the crew died, the ship automatically upgraded my rank. I didn’t know it would happen, but now the ship’s legally mine. I’d be stupid not to use it to my full advantage.”

“Why you and not him?” Pakko pointed a thumb at Roku, then ducked his head, looking chagrined. “No offense.”

“I don’t think they thought I was important enough to give a rank in the system.” Displeasure made Roku’s growl more prominent, whether aimed at Pakko or Torrins and his dead crew.

“So they thought of you as a slave?”

“Not even that much.”

Roku played his role better than Arad expected. He’d agreed to let Arad take the lead and speak only when necessary so Arad wouldn’t have to speak for him, which would raise eyebrows. They needed the Nightingale’s aid, and Roku’s honorable streak might not hold the story if pressed hard. Lying, even indirectly, chafed him. A cop or military officer in his previous life maybe, but not a spy. Nope.

Vosh brought the questioning back to Arad. “What was your job?”

“I was barely a mechanic. They gave me the crap jobs.”

“If the crew were so awful, why would you join in the first place?”

Arad sighed. He didn’t need to fake this part. “No money, no food, no options, no choice.”

Stories fed to strangers went down smoother when peppered liberally with bits of truth. Learning to sweet talk colony authorities was one of the first things Sketch taught Arad. No had the right to know everything. Knowledge was ammunition filling the guns of corporate-run law enforcement.

When he was younger, Arad considered himself a good person. He valued honesty and integrity in spite of his wealthy family’s failings. But living on the street quickly taught him the virtues of lying, cheating, and sometimes stealing to keep from starving. They weren’t skills he prided himself on, yet understood their necessity. Survive first. Over the years, the guilt lessened to where he barely felt it these days.

Either way, the answer satisfied Vosh enough, he backed off and left the floor for anyone else.

“I can help you optimize the ship systems.” Yosei’s comment, while off-topic, was oddly polite and reserved.

Based on their original on-screen conversation, her restraint impressed Arad. He’d been prepared for a verbal ambush by the eccentric tech, but clearly she’d somehow managed to leash her enthusiasm into a more manageable level.

Well, marginally manageable. Tapping her clunky boots in a rapid patter, she ground her teeth and fidgeted with her hands held behind her back. If she didn’t release the pressure valve on her curiosity soon, her skull would burst and spray them all in techie blood.

“Thank you. I’d appreciate that.” With a sigh, Arad took pity on her. “Go on. Ask already before you stroke out.”

Without warning, Yosei exploded, words practically running together in quick-fire succession, not bothering the breathe between sentences. “You said communications and navigation were down. I checked the specs on your ship. You’re flying in a repurposed XS-B278A corporate cargo carrier, theta class, designed to house up to six crew including the captain. The AR-657 sensor array has a history of cascade failure caused by short circuit due to traumatic events. I assume you attempted to reboot the system and failed. Finding the error would be easy enough, but how did you correct the anomaly and re-establish connectivity?”

Her intensity nearly dazed Arad. “Um…I did a spacewalk.”

“So you manually realigned faulty hardware, and reset the parameters.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Slick. Space folds aren’t usually so violent to a vessel of that size, so I’m guessing you were jumping in a star or planet’s gravity well, doing a panic jump to keep from getting blasted to atoms?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Listening to Yosei’s evaluations through Arad off-kilter. He’d spent weeks learning the Ansariland’s specs and Yosei’s knowledge appeared to eclipse his in spite of the few short hours they’d been aware of each other’s existence. His tech skills were good. Better than he let Torrins know, but Yosei… she was in a class all her own. The urge to bow down and pledge his unworthiness to the master grew strong.

Hodge burst in before Arad could embarrass himself in front of everyone. “Okay, okay. Enough of the inquisition. How about we give you boys the tour and tomorrow we start figuring out what essential repairs you need?”

Bryce’s forceful, yet sultry voice reappeared through the speakers causing everyone present to search the ceiling. “I didn’t close the channel, gentlemen. If you’re planning on walking through the ship, you need to make a stop in the infirmary first.”

“And here I though I was the captain.”

“My contract has medical authority privileges that supersede you.”

A bark of laughter exploded out of Arad. “I think I’ll stay out of this battle.” Chuckling, he gave Roku a playful swat. “You heard the lady. Let’s get a check up.”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

#freereads – Adrift Ch 52 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.

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!

This is WEEK 52! A year of Adrift! Can you believe it? And there’s plenty more to go!

Welcome to the Nightingale!

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


 

adrift banner

Chapter 52

The cargo door slammed shut with Arad’s hand on the access pad. Green text switched to red.

***LOCKED — Rank Access Enabled***

The Ansariland would only allow a captain or above to open the door and grant access to supplies and the sleeping DemiShou inside. When it was still the Midas Ascending, Arad remembered Serene’s attitude and all the restrictions based on his status. Repeating the process made him feel a bit hypocritical, but he promised to protect Shichi and Hachi, and he refused to break his word. The Nightingale’s crew didn’t need to know about them to repair the ship.

“You remembered to close out the history and sensor logs?” Roku asked.

With a finger swipe, Arad blanked the screen. “Yep. With a little luck, it’ll keep our cover story. Let’s get going. They’re waiting.”

Arad turned and headed for the airlock with Roku in tow. The argument over leaving Roku behind to prevent any problems with the new crew was quashed as fast as it appears. Roku would not be Arad’s dirty secret.

Outer space didn’t greet them when they opened the airlock. A claustrophobic tunnel docked the two ships together, allowing access between them. Arad touched the control on Nightingale’s side to signal their arrival. He hoped they wouldn’t have to wait long. Arad wasn’t fond of the airlock these days. Air blew through the tunnel as the outer hull hatch motored into the wall. The interior door sat wide open with a full view of the Nightingale’s cargo hold and their crew.

The space was larger yet less open than the Ansariland’s, with rows of shelves and metal boxes eating up the available real estate. Strangely, Arad found himself thankful not to see a series of containers filled with sleeping DemiShou.

Leaning against a stack of crates, Hodge sipped from a steaming metal cup, hands safe from the heat by a pair of thin insulated gloves. Everything about the man screamed sensible relaxation. Standing by his side, Yosei would likely challenge that in her, pink hair, jumpsuit, and clunky boots. Her spiky hair barely the height of Hodge’s shoulder, the pixie-sized tech’s eyes and smile practically filled her face as Roku stepped through the doorway. Hodge placed a hand on her shoulder before she launched herself at them. Vibrating with excitement, the impending question avalanche stayed barely restrained. When she settled, he placed his cup on the crate, and walked over to shake Arad’s hand.

“Welcome aboard, Arad.”

“Thanks. This is Roku, my first mate.”

Without the slightest hesitation, Hodge reached around Arad and gave Roku a hearty handshake. “Good to meet you. Sorry it couldn’t be under better circumstances, but I’m glad we can show you a little hospitality.”

Hodge’s lack of shock or surprise at Roku caught Arad off guard. It shouldn’t have, but he knew the unfair hostility sometimes directed at the DemiShou. One look at the remaining crew answered where Hodge’s comfort came from as he led them to the others present.

“This is Vosh. He handles security on the Nightingale.”

Bigger than Roku, the brown bear DemiShou filled his snug overalls. Big feet solidly planted, he stood with his burly, bare arms crossed over his swollen, furry chest. If his size wasn’t domineering enough, his tone as he narrowed his eyes at them amplified the effect.

“You’re really the only two on board a ship that size?”

Vosh’s sudden scrutiny unnerved Arad, but he refused to let it show. “Um, yes. It’s a long story.”

Head shaven with full, dark brows, the bearded man standing next to Vosh came forward, clasping Arad’s hand with a hearty pump. His eager smile was dazzling against his dusky skin.

“Ignore him. Vosh’s suspicious of everyone. It’s part of his job. I’m Pakko, the mechanical engineer. I’m really glad to meet you. I do everything Yosei can’t ‘cause she’s tiny.”

“Hey!” Yosei whined.

Pakko’s overly friendly greeting must have concerned Roku, because he stepped up close to Arad’s back and placed a hand on his shoulder. Marking his territory? Vosh watched the display and leaned forward, giving a few indelicate sniffs in their direction. Bending over to speak in Pakko’s ear nearly folded the bear in half.

“They’re mated. No baby bear for you on this trip.”

Pakko’s smile curled into a frown. “Dammit!” The engineer stomped off in a childish pout over into the corner. Sighing, Vosh sighed and followed him, rubbing his shoulders in sympathy.

“Sorry, babe.”

“I really wanted a cub.”

Vosh slid his hands over Pakko’s chest, enveloping him in a smothering hug. “Maybe we can do a group thing next time.”

Yosei’s face twisted into a comical of disgust. “You guys are so gross.”

Rolling his eyes, Hodge nudged them all away from the bear and his boy. “Sorry about that. Pakko grew up on a small colony where polyamory was standard. He doesn’t take monogamy well.”

“We don’t share.” Roku had yet to let go of Arad’s shoulder.

Hodge chuckled. “That’s obvious.”

Arad looked around the carbo bay. “Is this everyone?”

“Just one more. Bryce, our doctor. She’s working in the infirmary right now.”

A woman’s voice drifted down from the ceiling, echoing between the crate stacks. “I may not be in the room, but the channel is open, gentlemen. I can hear ever word you say, so don’t start talking about me. Welcome, Captain Ansari. Welcome, Roku. If you’re planning on spending any amount of time on the Nightingale, I expect both of you to stop by my office for a quick medical scan. I don’t like sick people on my ship.”

Arad couldn’t remember the last time he’d been seen by a live doctor rather than the medical kiosks littering the streets of Grey District. “I’m not sure how long repairs will take. Any idea?”

Hodge gave a minimal shrug. “We’ll have to figure that out. It might help if we knew what happened. How’d you guys get stranded in the first place?” 


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

#freereads – Adrift Ch 51 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.

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!

This week I used the following prompts: “Don’t look at me like that.” and “How soon is he coming?”

Looks like Arad is going to get his first impression of the Nightingale’s crew. Hope it’s a good one. They can’t afford to be choosy.

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


 

adrift banner

Chapter 51

“I wasn’t sure anyone would get the message this far out. The ship had a bad fold jump and the main engine’s dead. I don’t suppose you have a mechanic on board?” Never show how truly desperate you are unless it gets you somewhere. A rule born on the streets of Grey District. The Ansariland needed aid, but Arad didn’t know Captain Hodge and couldn’t be sure the man wouldn’t exploit the situation.

“Sure do. The Nightingale’s a cargo vessel specializing in medical tech transport. We wear a fair number of hats on this crew to keep up. How long you been out here?”

“A number of weeks now. I only got the sensors and communications back online this week.”

Hodge grimaced. “Ouch.”

“It made for a nice vacation, but it’s time we got moving along.”

“Fair enough. I bet we can probably spare some supplies to get you on your way again. Where are you headed?”

Arad shrugged with a grin, not wanting to give anything away. “Nowhere in particular. Once I can read the navigation again, I’ll plot a course somewhere sunny.”

Hodge’s easy chuckle soothed some of Arad’s rough edges. It wasn’t forced with a readable agenda under the surface. Just polite and personable. A rare quality of men in Arad’s orbit, save Roku. Hodge sat close to the screen, only head and chest visible, like in a private chat, defusing what might otherwise be read as a captain’s pompous authority. First Commander Bard could have taken a few lessons from him.

There wasn’t much to see behind Hodge. Low lights with enough monitor glow reminded Arad of the bridge. A young woman’s impatient voice could be heard offscreen. Apparently he wasn’t alone. 

“How soon is he coming?”

Brow cocked in disbelief, Hodge slowly turned his head. “I don’t know that he is. We’ve barely started talking.”

She huffed as her voice pitched into a whine. “Hurry up.”

“Do you mind?”

Without warning, a ginormous head with shocking pink hair shoved between Hodge and the screen.

“Are you coming over?”

“Yosei! What the hell?”

She narrowed her eyes through her tech goggles as the lenses spun and focused on an unknown number of details. That kind of eyewear had any number of scanning capabilities. Her face filled the screen so closely Arad was looking up her nose. “The screen’s all crappy. Don’t you know how to tune your own com?”

Leaning back in his chair to create some distance, Arad barely remembered he wasn’t wearing pants and stayed seated. Even so, he muttered a response. “Um… the sensor array is kinda busted.”

Hodge attempted to corral her out of the way, but she squirmed out of his hold and shoved him back with a hand in his face. Clearly, he held back, trying not to hurt the smaller woman, but she was relentless to hold court with the screen. Slapping his hands away, she nearly pushed him out of his chair.

“Agh! Would you sit down so I can talk to the man?”

While they wrestled, Yosei continued her barrage of questions as if she wasn’t vying for dominance with her captain in front of a total stranger. “Why is there carbon scoring on your hull? Were you in a fight? There’s a rupture near the main engine. Was it pirates? Why did they leave you alive?”

Horrified by the spectacle, Arad stayed quiet. Slugs wrestling for a blanket in winter were less ruthless.

“I’m in the middle of a conversation here…” Speaking through gritted teeth, Hodge struggled to keep his seat from being hijacked by the hyperactive woman. Yosei may have been petite in comparison to the captain, but thrashed like a stray cat over a puddle. Hodge had his hands full.

“How many crew do you have? Your ship’s shielded. That’s not normal. Are you guys crooks?”

“Yosei, get off!”

Yosei crammed both her hands into Hodge’s face, trying to stay in possession of the screen. “Why are you stranded? Are you on quarantine? Do we need to sterilize the ship?”

With a frustrated yell, Hodge stood. They spun in the monitor as he wrapped his arms around the flailing crew person and manhandling her out of view.

“Sit down and let me bloody well finish!”

Hair askew and wide eyed, Hodge returned to his seat, appearing positively frazzled. He spun in his seat, and pointed—obviously at her—silently promising retribution.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Yosei said, the pout audible, if not visible through the com.

Skin flushed a dusky scarlet, a touch of mania thrummed through Hodge as he faced Arad once again. The  effort to regain his composure—and a certain amount of his dignity—was almost comical. Almost. Arad decided laughing might not be in his best interest.

“Sorry about that. Yosei is my resident tech genius and she means well”—titling his head, he shouted over his shoulder—“but she lacks boundaries.” Hodge paused, glancing her way, body tensed, preparing for a fresh interruption. When it didn’t happen, he relaxed and continued. “Back to where we left off, if you’d like, I’d be willing to give you a hand.”

Arad nodded. “I think that’d be a good idea. Let me chat with my crew and I’ll get back with you over the details.”

“Sounds good. Nightingale out.”

The monitor winked out and Roku emerged from the shadows.

Arad’s shoulders deflated as he blew out the awkward frisson from the conversation. He smothered a peal of uncomfortable laughter with a hand over his mouth. “That was unexpected. Oh man, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

“We can’t send them away, but for now, I think it’s safe.”

“I think you’re right, although it’s not as if we have much of a choice.” Standing, Arad collected the handcuffs and lube from the captain’s station, then cupped Roku’s ample manhood as he walked past. “Let’s finish what we started, and then we can get ready to meet the crazy neighbors.”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge

#freereads – Adrift Ch 50 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.

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!

This week I used the prompt: “He hugged him tightly, as if afraid he’d vanish if he let go.” (I made small adjustments for identification.)

Someone’s calling. Will it be helpful, or Jehovah Witnesses and they’ll have to close the door?

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


 

adrift banner

Chapter 50

Roku tensed under Arad, and not in a carnal way. His eager erection flagged, and slid from its welcome home to slump between his thighs, the moment lost. The interruption gnawed at Arad. In full force, the craving stupidly urged him to finish what he’d started and answer the com afterwards. Thankfully he had enough sense not to listen to the newfound demands of his sex drive.

Before he tried to continue, he climbed from Roku’s lap and unlocked the cuffs using the key on the console. Fun time was over. Roku strode to Franc’s old station with a determined step, where sensors struggled to pull basic information from the incoming call. He tapped the screen trying to clean up the scrambled transponder data.

“It’s too small for a cruiser and too large for a warship. Possibly freighter class. How’d they find us?”

Arad shouldered himself between Roku and the console, forcing the tiger back and brushing his big hand aside to make his own adjustments. “I put out an automated distress beacon days ago when we knew the array was fixed. Communications are still a little spotty, and I wasn’t sure how far it was transmitting.”

“Better than you realized.”

“Or we’re more remote than we thought.” A series of numbers settled long enough to read. “They’re within 10,000 kilometers.”

“How many are on board? Do they have weapons?”

The tactical question unnerved Arad. No matter how appropriate, Roku’s shift into authoritative, military-esque point of view brought a perspective Arad hadn’t considered. The new arrivals could just as easily be dangerous as well as beneficial.

“No way to tell. The sensors aren’t working that well.”

Torrins had always bragged about how the Ansariland’s shielding could keep out corporate level scanners. In its current condition, hopefully no one could see the DemiShou hidden in the cargo bay.

“We need to get dressed,” Roku said.

Frowning, Arad passed his gaze between Roku’s fabulous nudity and the monitor’s signal, being briefly reminded of what they were up to only a minute ago. How long would the hail last? “I don’t want to waste time hunting for our clothes. Wherever they are.”

“Then sit in the chair and keep your bottom hidden.”

“Yeah, yeah, like I’m gonna flash our potential savior unless absolutely necessary.” Roku gave a soft growl. “I’m kidding. Seriously, calm down. That’s not happening.” A sobering yet obvious thought came to Arad. “You realize this might mean we’re not stranded anymore. What happens next?” 

Endless possible scenarios skittered through Arad’s imagination, sharpening his anxiety. He’d only just found Roku and didn’t want to give him up, but there were dangers lying in wait. Some corporate stooge was still out there trying to collect him, and business men rarely gave up when large sums of money were involved. Making Roku and the rest of the DemiShou must have cost a fortune.

“I’m not going anywhere without you.” Roku hugged him tightly, as if afraid he’d vanish if he let go.

Arad hugged him back just as fiercely because he understood. As unconventional as their lives may have been—adrift and at risk of starvation after enough time—the Ansariland had been their world and strangers were about to breach their private borders for good or bad. Change could be tasted on the recycled air, but the harsh flavor gave up no answers.

Although that was no reason to pass up a potential lifeline. Their lives had an expiration date given the current scenario. The Ansariland, no matter how freeing, was a deathtrap if things stayed the same.

Leaning back as best he could inside the crushing embrace, Arad stared upward into Roku’s eyes. “I have to answer this before they give up and move on.”

“I know.” Roku’s sigh vented his concern. “I’m just nervous.”

“You and me both.”

“I’m going to step aside, out of view while you answer. We don’t need to scare them off before we know if they can help.”

Arad hated the self-loathing undertone he was hearing. “Roku, you’re hardly a monster.”

A faint crease of disbelief marred Roku’s brow. “Maybe not, but you know I’m right. We need their aid, but if I’m going to keep us both safe, I’d like to know more details about them first. They might not be willing to help a DemiShou.”

“All right. But I’m not lying about you if they ask. I’m not ashamed of you.”

Bending forward, Roku pressed his lips hard to Arad’s. Nothing sexual was shared in the moment, only an affirmation to one another. An unspoken promise which Arad answered with equal intensity.

Cradling Arad’s head in his huge hands, Roku stroked Arad’s cheek with his thumb. “Be careful. We don’t know who they are or if they can be trusted.”

“I’m a slug. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many people I trust, and I still have a lot left over.” Holding up a single index finger, Arad poked Roku in the chest. The DemiShou stood tall, almost preening, and stepped out of range as Arad took his seat. He shifted and tugged at his shirt hem, making sure his bare ass was well hidden. Clearing his throat, he reached for the communications control with a hesitant hand and made the connection. 

“This is Captain Ansari of the Ansariland.”

The main screen came to life, flickering and static-ridden. Slightly off-center, a handsome man with kind features filled the monitor, gray peppered throughout his simple, unpretentious hairstyle. Fine lines creased his eyes as an easy smile graced his face.

“You have no idea how good it is to see there’s someone alive onboard. Salvaging a dead ship gets a little creepy. Not a fan.” The man breathed out in relief between digital squalls distorting his image. “Greetings, captain. I’m Captain Hodge of the Nightingale. It was a bit of a mess, but we came across your distress call. What can we do to help?”


 

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

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

cropped-wedbriefs-badge