QSFer Hanna Dare has a new MM sci fi book out:
The galaxy’s a dangerous place. Best not to travel it alone.
It’s been over a century since the AIs rose up and attacked, driving humans from Earth and leaving them scattered across the galaxy. Humanity survives, but always fearful of the technology that allows them travel among the stars, never knowing when it may turn against them once more.
An interstellar fugitive.
For Jaime Bashir, born with the ability to communicate telepathically with computers, his gifts are more of a curse. They also make him a target. On the run, he finds himself among a starship crew, one transporting a mysterious cargo. Even more intriguing is Rylan, the muscled guard watching his every move. Jaime has no reason to trust him, but nowhere else to turn.
A disgraced ex-soldier.
Rylan Slate is looking to leave his past behind. Joining a crew of smugglers is one way to do it. But capturing Jaime is both an opportunity and a danger. He starts out as a prisoner, but then becomes something more, testing loyalties in ways Rylan never expected. Will regaining his honor mean betraying Jaime?
The jungle he clumsily crashed through was lush and green. It was also ridiculously humid, so he felt like he was breathing through a warm wet blanket, but despite the squawks and chittering from native wildlife, it was also quiet. No one was pursuing him. Yet. He knew that wouldn’t last. So he kept running, dripping sweat and stumbling over roots and the uneven ground.
He’d overheard the talk in one of the outpost’s grimier bars that morning — it was all anyone was discussing — about the arrival of the Commonwealth ship. It was the sort of bar, in the sort of outpost, on the sort of moon, where the appearance of government agents was going to alarm just about everyone, and Jaime wasn’t the only person in the place to hastily pay up and make their way out. Those others likely had ships of their own to go to, or local hideouts. Jaime had just arrived on this small moon two days ago and knew no one. That had originally been a plus. Now it left him with no option other than to run.
He knew from the brief overview he’d read about the moon that it was uninhabited aside from the outpost, the local fauna small and shy and the flora mostly not poisonous. He could hide out for a couple days and hope the Commonwealth ship was just making a random stop as it passed by the system. Or it needed repairs. Its arrival was probably just a coincidence.
Jaime stumbled down a sudden drop, catching himself before he could fall into a fast-moving stream. He crouched under some overhanging tree roots and tried to catch his breath. His canteen had built-in filters that could make just about any source of water drinkable, and he had a couple nutrient bars he’d stuffed into the pockets of his too-warm coat before he’d run out of his rented room. This spot was as good as any to wait.
He had to hope his luck would change at some point, though it tended to go from bad to worse.
He’d counted on no one coming looking for him. The Commonwealth had every reason to believe he was dead. After all, everyone else he knew was. He woke up every night, shaking, smelling smoke and blood. A training mission, that was all it was supposed to be. And now Jaime was the only one left.
Sitting in the dirt near the stream, he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes and tried to stop himself from seeing their faces. They’d been together for… forever.
The facility was part school, part prison, but for most of them the only home they had left. The only family.
Jaime didn’t even know if the explosion that had killed nineteen of his classmates and friends had been an accident or an attack by extremists. Maybe the Commonwealth government, which had always said it was protecting them — from themselves as much as anything — had decided they were too great a risk. Jaime could just be a loose end to them, one they had tracked to this moon to finish off.
The thought was enough to get him to his feet again, following the stream further into the jungle. He’d been in shock after the explosion — dazed and hurt, but not so far gone he hadn’t taken his chance to run. Some part of him had always been looking for that opportunity. He’d never settled into his new life like the others had — couldn’t accept spending his adolescence and now his adulthood in training to serve a population that tolerated him at best, but mainly feared and despised what he could do.
Jaime had wanted to get out. He still believed he could somehow find his way home. His real home.
He froze, one hand reaching out to clutch a tree root for support. He’d gotten so lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t heard the noise until it was almost on top of him. Under the birdsong and the rustle of leaves there was something else, almost like a whisper against Jaime’s skin. Nothing natural. It had the feeling of machinery.
Jaime crouched down, pushing back into the soft earth of the riverbank. The sound got louder, closer. Jaime got lower, his hand curling around a large rock on the ground — though what he thought he would do with it, he had no idea. Vines and other vegetation hung down in front of him, so if he stayed very still, perhaps whatever patrol or random traveler would pass by. He hoped they wouldn’t have any infrared or sonics — his heartbeat alone felt like it was going loud enough to trip a dozen sensors.
Jaime held his breath.
A man hopped down from the riverbank, boots splashing in the stream. He was half-turned away from Jaime, and he had a canteen much like Jaime’s own in his hand. He squatted down and held the canteen in the water with one hand, rubbing the sweat from his forehead with the other. Jaime could see that the man wasn’t in any sort of a military uniform, not even in the sober suits Commonwealth agents favored. He was dressed in an assortment of work clothes — heavy boots, khaki pants, a white tank-top with a gray shirt tied around his waist. His hair was close-cropped, but long enough on top that Jaime could see that it was blond and slightly wavy. The man was big; that was clear even bent down like he was. The tank-top revealed broad shoulders and muscled arms. He looked too tanned to be from a ship, but maybe he’d spent time with the UV emitter cranked. Whoever he was, he wasn’t some local out for a nature walk, because Jaime could also see that the man had on, under the tied shirt, a belt and holstered weapons.
Jaime made himself breathe before he passed out. The man hadn’t spotted him in his hiding spot. Maybe he would just fill his canteen and move on.
Jaime waited, his legs beginning to burn from holding his crouch. How big was this guy’s canteen? The man didn’t seem in any sort of rush, his head was up and slowly looking around in an abstracted way, like he was enjoying the scenery. After having spent the better part of an hour crashing through it, Jaime could’ve told him the jungle was green, except for the brown bits, and was mostly filled with annoying branches and awkwardly placed roots. It was also hot and sticky, and Jaime could feel sweat trickling down his back and any number of itches starting up.
The man tilted his head, almost as though he could hear Jaime’s impatience. He started to turn his head — a little bit more and he’d be able to see Jaime’s hiding spot.
Jaime’s hand was still on the rock and he quickly lifted it and threw it further down the stream, hoping the sound would distract the man. But instead of turning in the other direction the man’s head immediately whipped around to look exactly where Jaime crouched.
He was pinned by the fierce blue eyes staring at him. Any doubts he had about the man being military were erased when, in a fast and practiced movement, he stood and faced Jaime, a gun in his hand and pointing directly at him.
“Identify yourself,” the man barked.
Jaime felt his limbs and his tongue loosen. “Whoa, whoa, big guy,” he said scrambling up, hands held out. “Just out for a stroll. My mistake. This is a popular spot. I’ll let you do your thing and I’ll just —”
The gun was huge and unwavering. “Who are you?”
“Yeah, where are my manners? I’m Jaime. You are?” He held his hand out, his most innocent smile on his face.
“No closer,” the man snapped. “Hands where I can see them.”
“No problem,” Jaime said, lifting his hands back up.
His grin was slipping, but his breathing was steady, and he felt more in control
than he had all day. Because he’d finally identified the itch under his skin. The stranger’s gun was standard issue, powerful, deadly, but purely mechanical. The hand that held it — the entire arm for that matter — was something else entirely. Beneath the real skin and blood, there were synthetic bones and joints, and connecting it all together, allowing the man to send and receive nerve impulses to feel and control his arm, was a tiny computer.
It was well-shielded, of course — had to be, or the man would never have been allowed to travel — but this was what Jaime was trained to do, this was what he was. He turned his mind towards the machine and whispered to it swiftly and silently, so in the half-second it took the man to blink, the gun was dropping to the ground and the hand on the arm Jaime now controlled moved to grip the man’s own throat.
“Okay,” Jaime said, voice hard and bright, “so here’s what’s going to happen—”
The man gave a roar and Jaime felt a sudden internal snap as the connection he’d formed with the computer was severed in a way more definite than he’d ever felt in a hundred training sessions. One hand and then the other — the one that was supposed to be on Jaime’s side, dammit — grabbed Jaime and lifted him right off his feet, pinning him against the riverbank.
The man glared at him. Jaime coughed around the hand against his neck and offered a weak smile. “Could we maybe talk about this?”
There were shouts coming from the jungle. The man tilted his head and gave
Jaime a half-smile. It was in no way friendly.
“Hey!” the man yelled, voice pitched to carry. “Looks like we got ourselves a
© copyright Hanna Dare 2018
A writer-for-hire for more than ten years, Hanna Dare now writes what she loves to read: well-written, character-driven stories of men exploring their identities and discovering their own unique kind of happily ever afters… usually through sexytimes.