QSFer Angel Martinez has a rereleased mm sci-fi book out in her Esto Universe: Gravitational Attraction.
A broken pilot falls for a man who might be a walking weapon. They may need to save far more than each other.
A mysterious distress call draws the crew of the Hermes to what appears to be an empty, drifting ship. Empty, except for the gore-spattered corridors and one survivor locked in a holding cell. Drawn to the traumatized man, the crew’s comm officer, Isaac Ozawa, makes Turk his responsibility, offering him kindness and warmth after the horror he experienced.
Turk longs for Isaac, a desperate, hopeless ache he’ll always carry with him.
But Turk’s brain harbors dangerous secrets, a military experiment gone wrong. When an amoral, power-hungry admiral kidnaps Isaac to convince Turk to become the weapon he’s hungered for, it will take Turk’s strength, the Hermes crew’s ingenuity, the enigmatic Drak’tar’s help, and Isaac’s own stubborn will to save them.
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In the launch bay, Travis gave him a quick look up and down but refrained from further comment. “Oz, you’re in number five. Lester ran the checks on it. You’re good to go.”
Lester Morris, from engineering, gave him a nod from across the bay. A good hundred-twenty kilos of solid muscle, Lester would be there for his strength as well as his mechanical expertise. Rand, already climbing into his suit, fumbling with the harness straps, would coax the Marduk’s systems into a data dump. Sylvia, the best shot on board, was along just in case, and Dr. Varga was there as well, since the survivor might not be in the best condition.
Isaac waved across the bay in thanks and pulled himself up into the suit’s compartment. He strapped in with quick, efficient movements and hit the control pad to close the panels around him. The visor came down last, encasing him in weapons-grade polys and a self-contained respiratory system. Audio and display check complete, Travis hit the lock on the bay doors, which rolled back to show the Marduk turning slowly against the star-dappled black void.
Empty silence enveloped them as the suits left the bay. Isaac’s own breaths had always sounded like a windstorm to him in the utter absence of other sounds. New recruits often passed out from lack of oxygen as they fought against breathing too loudly, panic and claustrophobia often weeding out the ones unsuited to deep-space work early in training.
But for Isaac, planet-born dirtsucker that he was, the wonder of moving so freely through space, inimical to life, hostile and breathtakingly beautiful, had never worn thin.
Isaac reached the Marduk first to punch in the code he had left on the temporary airlock hatch. The six of them kept their face shields down as they slipped inside. Atmospheric levels might be all right, but the possibility of breathing in airborne blood particulates was not a pleasant thought.
A little whimper drifted through the audio.
“Hold together, people,” Travis growled. “Oz promised to get us out and back quick.”
“Sorry.” The whispered apology came from Rand, his suit’s helmet swiveling back and forth as he picked his way through the carnage.
“Rand, stop looking!” Sylvia snapped. “Focus on the suit in front of you.”
While Isaac couldn’t run in the heavy exosuit, he did pick up the pace. Unlike his first foray with the remote, now he knew exactly which cross-corridors and doorways to use. Within three minutes, he had them in the lift, headed toward the holding block. The heavy blast door slid aside to show the gruesome tableau at the comm console. A catch of breath in his pickup told Isaac that Rand had probably missed this the first time through. He couldn’t be sure, but their nervous scan tech had most likely been one of the bridge officers throwing up.
“Still only showing one heartbeat,” Isaac said to distract them all. “This way.”
He led them down a corridor marked “A-block” where they passed one empty cell after another, not empty because the occupants had been torn to pieces but entirely empty.
“What kind of Jud ship carries one prisoner?” Sylvia asked.
“Maybe they were trying to evacuate before….” Lester’s deep voice trailed off.
“Don’t waste time on speculating,” Travis cut in. “We’re close.”
The last cell held an occupant, its transparent electrified door still intact and locked tight. The man lay curled in a tight ball against his air pallet, dazed eyes half-open.
“Hey,” Travis shouted through the door. “Can you hear me?”
The man didn’t move, though he shivered violently, hard spasms running along massive arms and a broad back. Probably in shock.
Isaac found himself staring. Dark shadows marred the prisoner’s skin, but the strong jaw and even features spoke to a devastatingly handsome face when he was well. He could see the man was huge, even curled up so tightly, easily two meters tall, maybe more. Golden-blond stubble atop his head indicated a recent shaving, though Isaac had no idea if he wore it that way out of choice or if prisoners were routinely shorn. He wore only a sleeveless midthigh shift. Anger rose in Isaac’s chest. Bad enough they locked him up, but to take away a man’s pants? Such calculated humiliation seemed cruel.
“Get the damn door open,” Travis said, bringing Isaac back to the task at hand.
Rand plugged into the wall jack, and all his uneasy sounds ceased as he concentrated on hacking the door code. The door whispered open on Rand’s triumphant cry.
“Attaboy,” Travis said. “Now go back out to the console and download the logs.”
“Out there? Alone?” The audio picked up Rand’s hard swallow.
“Dammit, son, they’re just pieces of meat out there. Nothing’ll hurt you.”
Travis sighed. “Sylvia, go with him so the ghosts don’t eat him.”
Distracted by Rand’s fears, Isaac had missed the moment their rescuee began to move. He had pushed up on trembling arms, hard muscles corded with the effort, and turned his head to face them, teeth bared in a snarl.
“Shchfteru scum,” he whispered in a cracked, ruined voice. “Damn you….”
He’s going to hurt himself. Or lunge at Travis, and then someone’s going to panic and shoot him…. “Humans.” Isaac held the hands of his exosuit wide. “We’re not some damn chuff, we’re humans.”
A low growl came from the man’s chest, a sound Isaac had never heard from a person before. The man was obviously too far gone and the suits looked too menacing. He reached up, undid his helmet latches, and lifted the whole assembly off his head. “See, human. We’re here to help you. Get you out of here.”
The man stared at him, something flickering in his eyes through the rage. During his moment’s distraction, Travis and Lester grabbed him and pinned him to the decking so Dr. Varga could get him sedated.
Isaac caught a whiff of the foul air and slammed the helmet back on his head, coughing fitfully as he got the latches secured. “Oh shit… that’s horrible… how was he still breathing?”
“Don’t know, bud.” The servos in Travis’s suit whirred as he stood back up for the return walk. “But the shchfteru, if they were here—it explains a hell of a lot.”
“Explains why the crew’s in shreds,” Lester rumbled. “Doesn’t explain why the ship’s whole and the boards are untouched. Or why this guy survived.”
Lester was right there.
“We need to get the Hermes away, Trav,” Isaac said softly. “The chuff don’t leave things half done. They’re bound to come back to finish.”
Angel Martinez writes fantasy and science fiction with queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware, (and full time inside the author’s head) Angel has one husband, one son, two cats, a changing variety of other furred and scaled companions, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.
Visit her website for info on backlist titles, updates on releases, and works in progress.