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by Linda Mooney
Category: Erotica/Erotic Science Fiction/Science Fiction TwoLips Reviews Recommended Read
Description: Bock Gammon was a freedom runner. A man with a spaceship for hire. He had heard of Replacements and knew they existed, but he had never personally come across one. In fact, he found the whole idea repugnant--growing a living being specifically for the purpose of harvesting body parts. So did the governments in many of the galaxies who declared Replacements illegal. Which was why he was stunned to discover his latest assignment was to bring a Replacement to one of the wealthiest men in the Chatta Dul system. If he hadn't so desperately needed the money, he wouldn't have accepted the job. It didn't take long for Bock to realize that Rhea 41070 wasn't just one-of-a-kind; she was also unlike any woman he had ever met. And the closer they got to the point of delivery, the more he knew he couldn't walk away and leave her behind to be dissected. He had to somehow find a way to save her, despite the odds and hundreds of well-armed men awaiting their return.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [305 KB]
Reading time: 186-261 min.
Reviewer's Choice Award Rating 4.5 "The sex between Bock and Rhea is electric. I loved how sensitive he was with her in introducing her to sex. Rhea is rather unassuming at first, but she quickly develops an animated, inquisitive personality that rapidly wins the reader over. Ultimately, she exhibits remarkable courage in the face of such atrocity and loss it's almost unimaginable. Be prepared for some bloody scenes in this book, plus the last few chapters that will dig deep and pull so much emotion from you that you'll need a box of tissues handy." Merrylee, TwoLips Reviews
Dust and debris still littered the area of space where the battle had taken place. The war between the Millo Gateans and the Phadrites had occurred over sixty years ago, but signs of the aftermath remained, and would remain for all eternity. A piece of something vaguely resembling an engine part bounced off the outer hull of the Bleak Tempest. On the other side of the porthole where he was watching, the contact barely made a sound.
They were cruising at sub-drive speed--slow, low, and hopefully undetectable from most ship scanners. They were running without their shields, since warships would be able to lock onto them if they were. Bock noticed how the piece of metal casually floated off in a different direction. Without a care in the world. Lucky bastard.
Three feet away, the light came on next to the bulkhead intercom. At the same time, Patt's voice called out, "Where are you, Bock?"
Giving a soft grunt, Bock stepped over and hit the button with a fist. "Just heading your way. Anything yet?"
"No, no sign of anyone's unwelcome mat. But we just got a message I think you need to take."
"Got it. On my way."
He pushed himself away from the porthole and half-strode, half-floated to the bridge. The maneuver was tricky, but he was accustomed to it. By the time he arrived, Patt had moved over to the navigation console, leaving him to man the main panel. Via was at her station and didn't look up when he entered.
Bock fastened the drive collar around his neck as the seat harnessed itself around him. Patt handed him the communications earpiece with a look Bock was very familiar with.
"Please tell me it's good news."
"Depends on what you consider to be good," the Timian replied and turned back to the front viewscreen.
Frowning, Bock placed the piece into his ear and flipped the call switch. Immediately the pulsing swish of space rushed into the device. Every time he heard it, Bock imagined it to be the heartbeat of the universe. Or the muted sound from within the womb.
"This is Commander Bock Gammon of the Bleak Tempest. Go ahead." He had to wait a few precious seconds for the transmission to travel through deep space. The voice that responded was thin and tinny, but understandable.
"Commander Gammon? This is Talmon Do Lorit. I'm the undersecretary on Chatta Dul II. You are familiar with our rawlstone, Emon Ga Veerim, are you not?"
Bock shot his co-pilot a look of disbelief, and was rewarded with a smirk. "Yes, Undersecretary Lorit. I am honored with this call. How can I help you?"
"We have need of your services. Would you be interested?"
We have need of your services. Lorit had to be aware of what Bock was--a freedom runner. A man who shipped illicit or dubious cargo from one galaxy to another. Yes, there were times when Bock carried a load of something that wouldn't get him in too much trouble if he was caught. But the real money was in the transporting of material that was either outlawed or banned on most planets.
Would you be interested? That question alone told him many things. One of which was that what they were going to propose would be worth a lot of money to a man of Veerim's stature. Emon Ga Veerim was a rawlstone, more powerful than a king and wealthier than an emperor. The man was Chatta Dul II.
In that case, the payoff could be worth...
Again, Bock glanced over at the Timian nonchalantly rechecking their coordinates. He caught Via's sly glance just before the engineer turned her back on him. "I read you, Undersecretary. But I'll need to discuss the details with the rawlstone before I can accept or reject the proposal."
"We understand," the man answered. "How soon can you arrive?"
Bock frowned further. "Is there a time issue?" Maybe the cargo was perishable.
"Our rawlstone is extremely ill. Time has become our enemy. We were fortunate to discover you were delivering a package to the Mallonions this week."
"We've delivered the package and were about to clear the Phadra system. With luck we could reach the Chatta Dul system in..."
"Point six centa bars," Patt relayed, already plotting their new course from the looks of it.
"Point seven centa bars."
"Excellent! Thank you, Commander. We will open a beacon to guide your ship to the main concourse once you enter our upper atmosphere. I will personally be on the landing strip to greet you. I look forward to meeting you. Undersecretary Lorit out." The voice disappeared to be replaced by the subtle swoosh.
Pulling the device from his ear, Bock turned to his partners. "They're offering us a job."
"I figured," Patt grinned. "What was that about a time issue?"
"Apparently the rawlstone is ill."
"Rawlstone?" If the Timian had eyebrows, they would have crawled up his bald scalp.
"Emon Ga Veerim."
"Hot shit! No wonder the guy knew we were in the vicinity. What do you think he's wanting us for?" Via finally chimed in.
"I have no idea. The undersecretary wanted to know if we were interested. I told him I couldn't make a decision until I talked directly to Veerim."
"Well, if the man is that ill to need our services, maybe it has something to do with some medicines. Maybe some experimental prototypes he can't get through regular means," Via pondered.
Bock shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe the guy wants to get final revenge on some people before he becomes space jetsam. If that's the case, he can go smoke himself."
That was the problem with a lot of his job offers. Bock's reputation was widespread, but many people misunderstood exactly what he was willing and able to do if the pay was enough. Illegal merchandise was one thing. Mercenary work was another. But contract killings were out of the question. He would never jeopardize his neck to take someone's life, and face the wrath of the victim's family or business associates. Nope. Smuggling was risky enough as it was. And then there are the Adrolls.
Still, it never hurt to check out what the rawlstone had on his mind. With any luck, it would be something Bock could accept and still be able to live with afterwards. Not to mention adding a few decimal places to his credits voucher.
He opened his mouth to comment on that fact when the ship suddenly lurched, followed by a loud boom echoing through the hull. The Bleak Tempest shuddered as a bright flash erupted on their left. Bock sent the skimmer into an immediate nosedive as Patt tried to decipher what had occurred.
"We're being fired at!"
"No fooling! By whom?" Bock called out as he tried to concentrate on getting the craft away. They were still inside the debris field, where random bits and pieces were ricocheting off the outer skin and flying away like blasted pellets as they searched for cover. Bock lifted the shields. Now that they had been outed, there was no sense in trying to keep undercover. At the same time, he searched for the point of impact through the mental connection he had with the skimmer through his collar.
"We're losing fuel in the number two engine!" Via called out. "It might have been caught in the explosion." Her collar glowed a bright orange as she tried to handle the mechanical aspects of the ship.
"How are the others holding out?"
In the back of his mind, he vaguely remembered an asteroid field not too many light years away that they might be able to hyper jump in to. All of that depended, however, on who was firing on them, and why. And how badly they'd been damaged.
"They look like Adrolls." The Timian lowered the semitransparent weapons screens around him, and his seat rotated into position. "Damn, no 'look like' about it. Two Adroll ships are right on our tail. I'd recognize those ugly-ass flits in the dark. Keep her steady."
"I'm trying! I'm trying! We've been hit in the flanks, but I've sealed off that part of the hold." Shit. No telling how much it was going to cost to repair the old rust bucket. That area had been his main cargo bay.
His eyes caught the rapid blinking of the communications light letting him know of an incoming call. There was no need to answer it; it would be whoever was in those ships gunning for him, demanding his surrender. Or his head. Or both. And considering he was still in hock up to his ass to the priumverate over on Greater Adroll, having them sneak up on him like they had wasn't surprising. These people weren't out to kill him. Permanently disable his ship, definitely. Capture him, yes. Then they would kill him if he wasn't able to cough up the money they believed he owed them. Stupid furry felines.
Another blast shoved the lightweight skimmer. This time the residue reflected varying shades of blue. A plasma blast. These people weren't fooling around.
"Fuck 'em! They got part of the rudder!" Via let out a little growl of frustration.
"Patt? Where's the solar cannon?" Bock yelled as he struggled to keep the ship stable.
"I'm having problems with the hydraulic doors! Hold on!"
Seconds later, Bock heard the soft pew-pew-pew spouting from their tail section. So intent on following them down through the fog of debris, the Adroll had made the same mistake so many unsatisfied customers did when they tried to disable him. They believed Bleak Tempest was armed through her nose, her underbelly, or her wings, as ninety-nine point nine percent of skimmers were. Such was not the case here, since Via had used her expert knowledge to reroute the guns into both sides of their exhaust. The nearest Adroll ship exploded from the inside out.
The Timian let out a yell of victory. "Got him!" Via also cheered. Bock, however, wasn't ready to celebrate.
"Thought you said there were two."
"Picky, picky. Keep her steady, will you?"
"Hey, you wanna drive?" Bock growled as his fingers gripped the arms of his seat. He was having a hell of a time as it was trying to keep the ship stable with a damaged rudder.
Patt stared at the display dancing across the weapons screen where one white dot pinged almost dead center. A pair of smaller blasts struck them on their starboard side, and the ship started to tilt at a steep angle.
"Come on...come on, you flying piece of screw worm dung..."
The white dot floated into the crosshairs. Patt tapped the screen at that exact moment, and their tail guns spat out another dozen rounds. When the second ship split apart in a spray of lights, the sight of it reflected into their cockpit. Patt whooped for joy, to be joined by Via.
"All right, all right. Good shot," Bock acknowledged. "I'm needing some help here. Plot me the straightest route to Chatta Dul. I think we're missing part of our wing, too. Via! How's our fuel?"
"Still calculating, but I'm guessing we have enough to get us to Dul II."
"Let's hope those two Adrolls were the only ones looking for us," Patt commented as he laid in the course. As soon as the ship's computer locked on, Bock could release some of his mental hold on piloting the craft.
"Maybe that's all that were in this sector," he told his friend. "But you know they're not going to give up looking as long as Ki Al believes I rooked him out of all that money."
Patt scratched the horn protruding from the right side of his head. "Which we both know you didn't, but the man isn't about to believe you. Not unless you can come up with enough creds to make up for his loss."
Bock snorted. "I seriously think not even then. I believe Ki Al will keep a bounty on my head simply for the thrill of the hunt." His eyes swept over the console. "What's our time?"
"Seven centa bars. Lucky for you, you ran in the direction we needed to take. Want me to see if there's any way we can cut that down a bit?"
"Not with a vaporized rudder and most of one wing gone," Bock said. "Let's just hope we don't run across any other Adrolls between here and there."
"Or that others didn't catch that transmission from the undersecretary," Via added.
Bock swore. She was right. Although the call had been made on a scrambled channel, a halfway decent navigator could trace the relay back to its planet of origin.
Sighing, he leaned back in his chair and tried to relax. Not an easy thing to do with a damaged ship, a race of blood-hungry felines searching the galaxies for him, and another stress headache coming on.