DSPP author Marguerite Labbe has a new queer horror/sci fi book out:
Haunted by the screams of the men he murdered, ex-Marine medic Riff Khora is serving a life sentence on board a prison ship. Seeking more punishment for his crime, he strikes a deal with the corrupt Captain Vidal—an exchange of pleasure and pain—and forges a new life leading the team that surveys space wreckage for salvage.
Ship engineer Zed Jakobsen’s psychometric abilities make prison a sentence worse than death, and the barrage of emotional stimuli is an unending torment. His only regret is that he didn’t kill the monster who sent him to prison, and only a glimmer of hope to escape a judgment he doesn’t deserve keeps him clinging to a brutal existence.
When they board derelict ship Pandora and discover a lone survivor, the hell of prison life plunges into abject horror. An epidemic of violence and insanity consumes their ship, driving the crew to murder and destruction. Mutual need draws Riff and Zed together, and their bond gives them the strength to fight a reality they cannot trust. But Vidal possesses the only means of escape from the nightmare, and he’s not letting anyone leave alive.
First Edition published as Pandora in the Deep Into Darkness: Aliens, Alphas and Antiheroes Anthology by Smashwords, 2015.
THE DERELICT ship twisted in a slow, graceful spiral against the backdrop of a rogue moon. Signs of life remained. Lights flickered near the nose, slanted down as if poised for an endless dive. A stabilizer sputtered, altering the course of the ship’s rotation by degrees. Scans had come back negative for dangerous leakage, but it didn’t mean there wouldn’t be surprises whenever Riff Khora led a recon for a salvage mission.
It was easy to forget how terrifyingly vast the universe was until Riff came across sights like this and was reminded that their salvage ship, though solid and enormous, was only a speck of dust in an immense sea of stars. The derelict, Pandora, was reported missing a year ago. All this time it had waited, losing hope in its isolation.
Riff pressed his lips together at the unwelcome pang of empathy. “Any chance of survivors?” he asked, taking a step closer to the porthole.
“Still thinking like a medic, instead of a lifer. You’d think after three years of serving time that would’ve been scoured away.” Captain Vidal stood with his back to Riff, staring out the porthole, hands clasped behind him. His gaze bored into Riff from the reflection.
Riff kept his face expressionless, but the barb stung. Asshole.
Vidal was short, slight, and carried himself as if he were the largest dog in the pack, which he was. A dog with a vicious bite. His hair held more gray than red and was cut with military precision, as exacting as the way he ordered the rest of his life. He had the colorless pallor of a man who spent years away from the warmth of the sun. The blocky shape of his face, the round eyes that saw everything, and the thin-lipped mouth gave him the mien of a humorless, cold automaton.
“All signs indicate no survivors. No one left to argue over my salvage rights,” Vidal replied with a hard note of avarice in his voice.
Riff’s lip twisted in derision. Of course that was Vidal’s sole concern. His rights. His property. Not one thought for the lives lost.
Riff focused on the ship again. The captain’s suite was the only place on board the penal salvage scow that had sizable viewing ports. The derelict wasn’t large, probably belonged to a rich corporation. A pleasure yacht that had wandered off course and found trouble. Pampered travelers often forgot the dangers of space travel. They only noticed the beauty.
Vidal turned to face him, tapping a riding crop against his leg. His neatly pressed pants, shined boots, and shirt with every tuck and fold in place made Riff very aware of his own nudity. Riff’s gaze drifted to the crop and its restless tapping. He longed to feel the bite with an unrelenting hunger.
“Your attention should always be on me.” The crop came up and patted Riff’s cheek in a move meant to insult. Riff bit down on a hot flush of anger. He’d asked for this. Not for the degradation. He needed the pain, craved it long before he was sentenced here. Then the need took on a whole new life. At least while the whip was singing, Riff wasn’t haunted by screams and long-dead faces. But the slights and humiliations from Vidal burned. “Who are you picking for your team?”
“Tuputala, Quinet, Wilt, and Jakobsen.” Riff met the captain’s cold gray gaze with an insolent stare in return.
Vidal’s mouth pinched. His hand sank into Riff’s hair and fisted hard enough to make him hiss. Riff closed his eyes, savoring the sting. Just a little harder. The captain’s hand tightened as he shook Riff by his hair until he opened his eyes, pushing past the pleasure to focus on Vidal.
“Why Jakobsen? He’s raw. What makes you think he’s ready for a recon?”
“We need a fifth man,” Riff replied. “He has a knack for picking apart salvage for what’s usable. He has experience as a master engineering mechanic. I want to see how he judges an entire ship.” And Zed Jakobsen drew Riff to him on an instinctive level. A reason Riff kept to himself as Vidal studied him.
“On your knees.” The command was deceptively soft and uttered with the assurance of a man who was used to immediate obedience.
Riff hesitated, holding out until Vidal’s hand tightened again, sending pinpricks of pain over his scalp. Riff caught his breath and sank to his knees. Score one for him in their ongoing battle. It was a dance. When Vidal withheld pain, Riff withheld his submission as they waited for the other to give in first. Theirs was a twisted and perverse relationship of mutual gratification. Vidal got more pleasure out of a willing victim, and Riff used that leverage as much as he could to get what he wanted in return.
“Yes, Captain?” Riff’s excitement stirred. If only Vidal would give him a couple of licks before the mission, just enough to see him through until their next meeting.
Vidal used his hair as a handle to pull his head back at an uncomfortable angle. Riff swallowed against a tight throat as he met the captain’s glittering gaze. “Try not to lose another crew member,” Vidal taunted as he released him.
The swift and cutting unwelcome pain killed Riff’s desire with ruthless ease. He looked away, his jaw tightening. It infuriated him to know Vidal got more pleasure out of that blow than any physical one. Riff had no defense against those attacks.
“I accept your reasoning for Jakobsen,” Vidal said. “I expect a full report when you return.”
A full report, what a cosmic joke. It was an excuse for Riff to see him again. His report would involve him being on his knees, and nothing would be said about the derelict vessel. Vidal would get his information from the detailed reports.
Marguerite Labbe has often been called both Trouble and Sunshine by those who know her. She’s not sure how she manages to make both those nicknames work together, but apparently she does. She’s a New Hampshire girl who married an Alabama boy, an Air Force brat who has somehow managed to settle herself firmly in Southern Maryland, with one overgrown son and two crazy cats.
Marguerite loves to spin tales that cross genre lines, where stubborn men build lifelong ties of loyalty, friendship, and family no matter the odds thrown against them, and where love is found in unexpected places. She has won the Rainbow Award for Historical Romance with Fae Sutherland, as well as the Rainbow Award for Paranormal and the Rainbow Romance Award for Excellence, also in Paranormal.
When she’s not working hard on writing new stories, she spends her time reading novels of all genres, enjoying role-playing and tabletop games with her friends, and helping out her husband with Apocrypha Comics Studio.