Authors: R. Lee Smith
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica
By R. L. Smith
Dedicated to Laura and Tom.
If you hadn’t deleted the original draft,
I probably never would have finished it.
Copyright © 2006 by R. L. Smith
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including, but not limited to, photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, locales, and events are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, and events are purely coincidental.
he Gate was hidden among the moons of the sixth planet, and no one native to that solar system knew it when it powered up and the ship came through. It was an old ship, originally a mining cruiser, later bought by the Jotan Off-World Security Fleet and turned into a prison transport vessel. There was still one prisoner on board. The transporters were long gone.
The prisoner’s name was Kanetus E’Var. He was a smuggler, a chemist, and a slaver, trained to his trade from the age of two, and he wasted no time in orienting himself. Before the glow of the Gate had even subsided, he had turned the ship and set a course for Earth.
The ship. He supposed he owned it now, and certainly he controlled it, but when his business on Earth was done, he had no intention of keeping it. It was a ship, it would serve his purposes, but it wasn’t his. His ship was the
, which was even now decaying in some impound port, awaiting the day when it would be re-fitted into something the Fleet could use. It would make a damned good response cruiser, but whatever they turned it into, for Kane, his ship was gone.
His, not just because he had lived and worked there, but because the man who had commanded it was the man who had taken Kane from the Child-Halls of Jota and given him the name of E’Var. It was a name already made known throughout the darker reaches of Jotan space by Uraktus E’Var. Most knew him as a murderous fugitive. The crew of the
knew him as their leader, a ruthless man who ensured unswerving loyalty through fear and force. Kane had known him as father.
It was an ambush. Such things happened. The Fleet had come disguised in a So-Quaal ship to buy the slaves Urak had just bought from a breeding facility, and they were on board before any alarm could be raised. Then it was nothing but a firefight. Kane remembered only smoke and noise, and then Urak running at him out of the smoky corridor.
“Out, boy!” he’d snarled, catching Kane’s arm and throwing him—actually lifting and throwing him—toward the rear of the ship. “Get to the lifepod!
He had not said he would join Kane later. In Urak’s eyes, Kane had seen that he meant not to. Uraktus E’Var was commander, and the commander fought for his ship.
He had gone, and he’d been lucky enough to escape detection as his lifepod fired out of the Null’s back bay. Kane had waited at the pre-programmed landing place for three days, but no one joined him. When his coded distress call eventually flagged down a So-Quaal contact, he learned that they were all captured. Pax, Dashenke, Sitka, all of them. The crew Kane had known for so many years, some of them literally his entire life, had been taken and were even now sitting for their trials or were already imprisoned. All but one, and that one was dead.
Urak was dead. He’d taken seventeen of the Fleet-raiders with him before he fell, but they had killed him in the end.
Kane couldn’t think about that too hard. Every living thing came into life owing a debt of death. Every son knew he would outlive his father. Kane had learned to walk aboard a smuggler’s ship and he knew better than most how short a life could be. He had survived, that was the important thing. He had survived, and he had spent the next half-year at a So-Quaal breeding facility, planning his imprisonment.
The trickiest part had been finding the right accomplice. Not that there weren’t plenty to choose from, but Kane trusted none of his father’s contacts in the wake of Urak’s death. He was careful. He took his time. And eventually, he’d found Bota Isk.
Isk was a prison transporter, a Fleet rookie too young and too ambitious for that dead-end job. His Fleet record was spotless, which was not surprising, since there were few opportunities either to fail or to shine when one’s sole duty was driving from one port to another. But there were other things in the young pilot’s history, things not a matter of Fleet record. Honest young Isk would seem to have acquired tastes far beyond what could be satisfied within his meager salary. Too, he made frequent calls at the Flesh-Halls nearest to the docking stations during his stopovers, where his access card was rejected more often than not. It seemed that the females even there had set their standards higher than some anonymous transporter.
So Kane made a cautious overture, hinting that he would like to surrender himself, and the ambitious Isk had leapt at the opportunity to arrest such a notorious fugitive. Capitalizing on greed came easy to Kane; he lured Isk alone into So-Quaal space for a meeting.
There, Kane showed Isk the best times of a criminal’s life. He spent money like a madman, introduced him to Vahst and D’gren oil, and at the end, bought him a tour through a Kevrian sex-house and watched while Isk sampled the slavery his Fleet officially condemned. By the time the second sun rose, Kane knew he had his man.
The plan was simple. Kane would allow himself to be arrested. Bota would arrange to be one of the Fleet pilots taking him to prison. Bota would free Kane and Kane would take the two of them to Earth to harvest Vahst. They’d split the profits down the middle, and Kane had sweetened the offer by indicating there might be room for a certain accomplice on his crew once he’d traded his share in for a new ship. Soon, he’d said, Kanetus E’Var would be the sole supplier of fresh human stock to the entire universe, and would Bota like to get in on that trade?
Bota Isk, his Fleet jacket hanging open and his eyes glazed with D’gren oil, had only grinned.
His arrest was kept quiet—Jotan media had already claimed that all of Urak’s crew were in custody—and the trial was brief. He was sentenced to the Tyuk prison station in the Far-Point sector, which suited him fine, and Bota Isk was waiting when Kane was put on the transport vessel. Bota took care of his co-pilot. Kane took care of Bota. And now here he was, back in familiar territory, alone.
Kane could handle the controls of the prison ship by himself just fine. The human homeworld had no defenses, even after all the years that Jotan and So-Quaal had been coming here. Kane scanned for interceptors out of habit, but saw only Earth’s own media satellites and a few thousand chunks of derelict debris. When he switched on the channel feed, he heard only the usual deluge of human chatter bleeding over every radio wave. It was a miracle the humans hadn’t attracted more attention than they already had. In Kane’s opinion, any race this arrogant deserved an occasional picking-over.
He was in view of the planet now, hanging in orbit around its yellow sun with its single grey moon dangling before it. It was a pretty planet, he’d always thought so, so much more colorful than Jota, with all that blue and green and white. It was too bad such a pretty planet had gone by luck of universal draw to such a clueless clot of natives.
Kane didn’t think much of humans. But Uraktus now, old Urak had
humans. As long as Kane could remember, Urak had been fascinated by the flimsy little things. He’d even tried to keep them as personal pets, despite the high price of human slaves in other parts of the universe…a price that was about to climb even higher.
But Kane hadn’t come to Earth for slaves this time. In the blood-stained seat beside him was Bota’s last gift to him-a chemist’s pack containing forty ampules waiting to be filled with Vahst, and all the materials Bota had thought he’d need to make it. All, of course, excepting dopamine, which would be supplied by the humans.
Some of Bota’s preparations were exceedingly strange. He’d apparently believed Kane would need to run a full tox-filter on every harvested human and he’d laid in enough Jotan pharmaceuticals to stock the
medical bay, but he hadn’t thought to store any food or water. That was all right. Urak had schooled Kane thoroughly in survival. He’d make it long enough to make his Vahst, at any rate, and that was all that mattered.
Kane laid in the coordinates for Urak’s favorite hunting grounds by memory. It was a good spot, cool and green and wet, well-populated without being overrun, and easily navigated by foot. When he saw the trees rising up to envelope him, Kane imagined he could feel Urak’s hand resting on his shoulder, hear his father’s rough voice saying, ‘Feels like coming home, boy.’ And it did.
It was dark where he touched down. There was no one to see his ship land, and of course, once the shift-shield was on, no one would be able to see it even if a human were to walk right into it. That would probably present a whole new batch of complications if that ever were to happen, but in all the years Urak had been coming to Earth, it hadn’t happened yet. Some things you just had to learn to leave to fate.
Kane gathered his pack, matched the locator on his wrist to the ship’s coordinates, synchronized his computer to Earth’s peculiar mode of time (why twenty-four hours, for hell’s sake? They didn’t even count all twenty-four, they counted twelve hours
), locked everything down and stepped out into Earth’s warm, pleasant night. He was calm, he was organized, and he was ready to hunt.
When day broke, it would be the first day of what the human media would call the Summer of Hell, and Kane would be partly responsible for the name. It was the sort of thing that might ordinarily give him a tickle, if he were aware of it. But when the sun came up, it would also bring the first day of the worst run of record-breaking temperatures in more than a hundred years for that part of the world, and that being the case, Kane would soon be about as far from ticklish as a Jotan could get.
It was never a good thing to get a summons from Fleet Command first thing in the morning. It was worse to get one on the first day back from deep-space duty. And worst of all was to receive the addendum that one had just been promoted to
, which qualified one for top-risk solitary duty.
Tagen Pahnee, fourth-rank officer in the Jotan Security Fleet rolled over in his bed to find just such a summons (with just such an addendum) flashing on the monitor of his media station. He stared at it for a long time.
His off-world tour had lasted a full year this time. There had been no homeworld leave. This was his first opportunity to sleep in his own bed. He could still feel the vibrations of the ship’s engines humming in his bones, and now he had to wake up to this.
“Congratulations,” he muttered, flinging back the covers. “You have just become expendable.” He rose to look for a clean uniform. If one was about to be drafted into suicide detail, one might as well dress for the occasion.
Too short a time later, Tagen walked into Fleet Headquarters and was swiftly ushered to a private debriefing room. He was the only one there. That was disconcerting.
Tagen sat down and waited, thinking quiet and rueful thoughts of his bed at home. Eventually, the door hissed open and admitted two figures. One was a female, wearing the white robes of a High Magistrate. The other, a harried-looking male holding a sealed supply pack. Intriguing. Tagen stood up and began to raise his hand.
“Don’t salute,” the Magistrate said, looking pained. “Formalities would be grotesque, all things considered. I’ve seen your record. I imagine I got you out of bed. Were you alone?”
The question caught him off guard. For a moment, he wondered if she were flirting with him. “Yes,” he said warily.