QSFer Missy Welsh has a new MM sci fi book out:
A routine mission from the Mars Colony to Earth ends in the five-man crew of the Swallowtail having been transported to the other side of the galaxy. Met with hostility, captured, and tortured simply for being Human, the three survivors hold little hope for their futures.
Sergeant Ledger Atwater is a simple man: all he wants are food, shelter, and to be able to call his own shots. If that means letting someone implant stolen memories into his brain and infiltrating a palace, he’ll do it. Once he has enough money to get to a place that might give a damn about his refugee status, he’s gone anyway.
But what Ledger finds inside the palace is a fresh start, a chance to be a whole person again. He has a job, friends, and after an unexpected encounter with a king, he might have a lover, too. Is keeping his true identity a secret really so bad?
Pharaoh Setka Nebamun kier Bane has lost so many people in his life, he’s determined to keep those he has close. Unexpectedly, that list now includes a new scribe whose compassion and gentle caring Setka needs. He finds himself relying on Ledger to help him through some of the most trying times of his life—and Ledger seems willing to be there for him.
But secrets never stay hidden for long. When the bill for Ledger’s new life comes due, lives are at risk, and it’s possible everyone will have to pay.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second book in a series with appearances by previous characters and should be read in order. Destination Lost, Book Two
Get the First One Too!
Get book one of the series, Healing Touch, for just 99 cents – details here.
Ledger was having some kind of mental breakdown. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around the things he saw. They were right there outside the vehicle’s window, but it just wasn’t possible they existed. Not here. Like workers over there were using space-age cranes, hover boards, and exoskeletons to lift blocks of stone into position, but that was a sphinx out front of a pyramid. It was like he’d traveled back in time…but into the future, too.
Adjusting to aliens had been difficult, but he’d adapted. Seeing Earth’s ancient past being played out on a whole other planet was… Was…
“I am not fucking equipped for this,” he muttered and turned his head. But looking inside instead of out didn’t help much. He was surrounded by people who looked like extras from a vid show he’d loved as a kid called Pharaoh’s Mysteries. But he doubted there was a plucky priest who’d use a magical ability to wake the dead in order to solve crimes. At least he seriously hoped not because, if that was the case, he wanted to know when he’d died and why this was his version of the afterlife.
His gaze drifted back outside. The streets were narrower now with shops on all sides. The buildings were the same pale rust color of the packed sand roads, but many of them had colorful murals on their walls. Ledger could read the signs, but the paintings also explained what the shops were about by depicting people shopping for their goods.
And the people walking everywhere looked…happy. Nobody had a strangle-hold on their kids, desperate not to have them snatched. Women walked around on their own like there was no need to worry. People nodded and smiled at each other as they passed.
When the bus stopped at a crosswalk, Ledger watched a group of men bow to the woman coming out of a clothing store. He could tell by their eyes that they were lapping up every beautiful thing about her, but they bowed and said nothing. Didn’t harass or solicit her at all.
He definitely wasn’t on Earth anymore.
And that felt…okay. Better maybe.
Ledger settled back in his seat. Earth had had its problems, and Conlani probably did, too. But overcoming decades of government-sponsored hate didn’t seem to be one of the things Conlani was struggling with. The people of Earth had even managed to transfer their issues to the Moon Colony because Ledger hadn’t felt safe being out at night let alone being out as gay there any more than he had been in the shit neighborhood he’d lived in on Earth. Yet here, he was seeing same-gender couples acting no different than the opposite-gender ones and no one paying either any attention.
He was still nervous about what awaited him with this job, but he felt himself settle inside as he let go of the strangeness and really looked at his surroundings. Yes, it was all confusing—he wanted someone to talk to about how Earth’s Ancient Egypt was modern life here—but it was safe, too. After all his time away from Earth feeling threatened with death from a lot of sources, he could relax here. Maybe even rediscover what it was like to have a life.
When the vehicle came to a stop outside a giant set of timber doors, Ledger got out. Brahma had said this was the gate to the palace in the center of the city and that— There. A man would be waiting for him. Ledger walked over and, as he did so, realized he was drawing attention from the bustling crowd. Probably because he was dressed nothing like them in his weird paper-like pants and shirt while they all wore simple wrap dresses and kilts—and some of them wore only loincloths. It was pretty warm out, and these people had no problem showing some skin. A lot of skin.
The bald man with simple sandals and a pleated, white kilt with gold edging eyed him as he approached. “Ledge At-water?”
“Ledger. Hello.” He wasn’t sure if they should shake hands, but when the guy didn’t offer his, Ledger shrugged it off. He keenly felt the need for Brahma’s cultural info. “What is your name?”
“Rudjek. Follow me,” he said after eyeing Ledger.
They went to a more normal-sized door cut into the huge, rough timbers of the gate. On it was a very modern access panel. Rudjek drew something— No, he wrote a hieroglyph on the panel, the press of his finger leaving a light trail that lasted long enough for him to accurately dot the eye of the bird he’d drawn. The door clicked open.
“Stay close,” he said as he stepped through. “We are quite busy today. The Tasunke arrive in the morning.”
Ledger nodded and stayed close. Was that the people buying the moon? He thought that might’ve been the name Ayomide said. Maybe there was a way for him to catch up on local events without having to ask questions that would make people wonder where he’d been all his life.
Inside the gates, the palace was an imposing structure of heavy stone blocks and a billion painted carvings. Ledger thought maybe he’d understand the story behind the images if he had the culture. Right now it was a lot of impressive artwork decorating every inch of every wall and column for two stories.
There had been a few trees of different types outside the gates, but here it was lush green growth everywhere, like the palace had been built in an oasis. Shade was available and the air didn’t feel as dry.
People were everywhere, hurrying about, tending to chores—and they were dressed more conservatively than the people on the street had been. No naked children, no one wearing sheer fabrics. Maybe this was the difference between business attire and casual?
Ledger and Rudjek passed by a group of people trying to pull a wagon full of gray boxes.
“Why can we not use the horses?” one of the men complained.
A woman answered him with, “Because the Tasunke are horses.”
The guy groaned and they all started pulling again.
Rudjek said, “It will be strange having a race of horses as guests. Not that other races are strange here, just that we use daily the un-evolved version of them.”
“So we receive a lot of different…races here?” He kept pace as they veered toward one of the arms off the main building.
“Oh, yes. As the seat of Pharaoh’s power, all important visitors come here.”
Pharaoh. Wow. Ledger paused and looked over his shoulder at the main building. What little he knew about pharaohs was that people had believed they were living gods. Was that the same here?
He refocused on Rudjek and followed him into the smaller building.
It was cooler inside and a bit darker, though windows high on the walls and the clever use of mirrors brought light down into the rooms. Er, alcoves. It looked like this building was a barracks with low walls separating beds. Would he stay here?
“We must hurry,” Rudjek said. “Go in there to bathe while I find you something to wear.” He pointed to a tubular structure at the other end of the room. “Do you know how to use it?”
That Rudjek asked made Ledger think he knew at least some of Ledger’s background. “No. Can you show me?”
They hustled over, and Rudjek pressed a button to open the door. Inside were more buttons and a bar that came down from the ceiling. Rudjek demonstrated going in, which button to push, and holding onto the bar with his legs spread. It appeared he was going to bathe without any water or soap, which kind of made sense for a desert people.
While Rudjek went to get him better clothes—and it sounded a bit like he would steal them—Ledger stripped down and went into the tube. He pressed the right button, held the bar, and soon felt like he was in a tornado. Through his closed eyelids he knew the space was lit up really bright, and the whole time a constant wind swirled around him. His hair lifted up off his back and his dick flapped in the breeze. He chuckled and nearly lost his breath so kept his mouth shut. In a moment, it all died down and the door popped open. It was the weirdest thing, but he did feel clean for the first time in forever.
“Much better,” Rudjek said and held out a kilt to him. “After a few pays, you will be able to afford to purchase more clothing. For now, just remember to take your shendyt into the cleanser with you and place it in the alcove there—” he pointed into the tube “—and no one will notice that it is the same one each day.”
Ledger nodded and accepted the kilt—shendyt. It was knee length and the pleats were horizontal, a flap in the front turning them vertical. He didn’t have to tuck or tie it since it felt like it had an elastic waistband, but it did have a large gold broach engraved with a bird holding the flap beneath his navel. And he’d kept up some form of a workout while he’d been carted around the galaxy, so he thought he looked damn good showing this much skin.
“Try these sandals,” Rudjek said and dropped several simple pairs at Ledger’s feet. The second set he tried fit well enough to keep.
Rudjek didn’t offer him underwear. That would take some getting used to.
“Can I have something to tie back my hair?”
“You could shave it, if we hurry.”
“No, just a tie.”
Rudjek shrugged and went into an alcove to rummage in a drawer. Ledger started braiding his hair. He loved it long—loved when other men loved it long—but getting it out of his face had become an obsession. He was a little giddy about finally getting to do that. Once he reached the end, Rudjek was back with a gold barrette that had teeth and an arch, making it perfect for holding onto his thick hair. Ledger sighed and smiled.
Then they were off again. They entered the main building from the side, through a door guarded by a man and a woman who eyed them, but said nothing. Inside here it was much brighter from a lot more high windows and wall sconces that held torches, but they looked like they might be electric. The modern and ancient mixed more here. There were monitors on some of the walls, but every wall had carved and painted murals and patterns. Signs had been carved above doorways in the script version of Hi’toka, but smaller plaques were also tucked into the corners repeating the name in Bedelso. And Ledger knew the difference, which was weirdly amazing.
The office they entered was that of the Head Scribe. To the man seated behind a desk, Rudjek bowed his head and hunched his shoulders, bringing his hands up, palms down, near his head. Guessing, Ledger mimicked him.
“You may go,” the man said to Rudjek. “Sit,” he said to Ledger.
Before Ledger could say thank to Rudjek, he’d run off. Maybe he’d see him again.
“Sit,” the guy said with a smack of impatience.
“I am Pawah.” His back was ramrod straight, a frown pulling down his aging features. Like a lot of the men Ledger had seen, Pawah shaved his head bald and put something on it to make it shine. He’d be a handsome guy if he relaxed.
“Officially, you work for me as a scribe. Unofficially, you will report anything related to trade deals or materials suppliers between Conlani and the Tasunke to me so that I may pass that information on to our mutual acquaintance.” He said those last words with such obvious distaste, Ledger had no doubt Pawah knew Ayomide.
“Give me your dominant hand.”
When Ledger didn’t do so fast enough, Pawah waved impatiently at him. Ledger gave him his right hand. He had to speak up when Pawah aimed a gun-shaped device at his palm.
“What is that?”
“You require an implant. Everyone has one.” Pawah pulled the trigger, and Ledger’s palm stung. Pawah let him go. “On the chip is identification and at least one payment source. Your residence is listed as here. You have a simple palace account into which your pay will be deposited each phase.”
Ledger regarded his palm. Aside from a tiny red prick, he couldn’t see anything else. But because of a microscopic chip he had i.d. and a bank account like a real person again. He had to swallow hard to keep a sudden burst of emotion from choking him up. When he could speak he said, “Regardless of how or why I’m here, I want you to know I’m grateful for the opportunity. Thank you for helping me.”
Pawah stared at him, eyebrows raised. Had no one ever thanked him before? Then he leaned back in his chair and relaxed for the first time. “You are most welcome.”
“I will do my best to represent the professionalism of this office.”
Pawah actually smiled. “I appreciate that. But until you are more familiar with our culture, I would like you to work among the cleaning staff.”
Now it was Ledger’s turn to relax. Yeah, he could write and could probably takes notes like he had in school again here. But considering he’d be among heads of state? Nope, not yet, thanks. “That sounds reasonable. Do I start today?”
Pawah looked away as though considering his options. “No. Use the day to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Guards will keep you from any restricted areas, and you should not leave the palace compound. Otherwise, acclimate and become comfortable.”
That felt like a gift from someone as uptight and business-focused as Pawah. “I appreciate that.”
“In the morning, when the others rise, join them, and report again to me. I will have someone here to explain your duties.”
Pawah got up and went over to the chest behind him. From it, he removed a course, tan sack and two loaves of dark bread. Ledger accepted the surprisingly heavy loaves and put them into the sack when Pawah held it open.
“This is your dinner and breakfast. Return to the barracks Rudjek took you to once they light the torches for the night, and he will make certain you have a bed.”
Ledger looped the sack’s strap across his chest since it was long enough. “Thank you again, Pawah.”
This time Pawah smiled a little and ducked his head as he returned to his chair. He waved a bit, so Ledger left the room. He headed back the way he’d come, wanting to remember this path particularly for tomorrow morning.
While the day hadn’t started so great, it was turning out to be a better one than he’d had in a long time. Being clothed and fed was great. Having a job that didn’t require shoving drugs up his ass was a huge bonus. But being able to change his circumstances was everything to him.
Missy Welsh lives in Northeast Ohio and works in the marketing department of an independent insurance agency. A nature enthusiast, she paints landscapes in her spare time. She is a monthly donor to The Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, and Sierra Club. #RESIST