The Edge Of Desperation

Overview

Over what can love and lust win? Can they win over betrayal? Espionage? Instability? Overthrowing a monarchy? James Buchanan and Jason Edding bring us two stories spanning the universe. Jason continues the Dark Robe Society's story; Jack and Edge return and bring each other and us to the edge again while Toren and Tees share more than a common goal. James introduces us to Alad and Hirah, both out searching for something when they meet, are they the end of searching for each other? All the heroes are on an edge, ...
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Overview

Over what can love and lust win? Can they win over betrayal? Espionage? Instability? Overthrowing a monarchy? James Buchanan and Jason Edding bring us two stories spanning the universe. Jason continues the Dark Robe Society's story; Jack and Edge return and bring each other and us to the edge again while Toren and Tees share more than a common goal. James introduces us to Alad and Hirah, both out searching for something when they meet, are they the end of searching for each other? All the heroes are on an edge, but is it The Edge of Desperation?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608200429
  • Publisher: MLR Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Nealgalt, Xuyi Sector

Quad Cycle 4, Pay Cycle 6, Patrol 4, Day 36

18:65hours army-standard

Gray mist undulated around him and Alad hunkered into his greatcoat, cursing the government, the military, the enemy, religion and pretty much anyone else he could blame for stranding him on this rock in the skanky armpit of the far side of the universe. He'd beg for sun, but none existed here, at least not in this season. Perpetual overcast served up with sides of absolute darkness and intermittent twilight haunted his days. He'd be so stoked when he found a ride off this shit-pit.

Alad stepped from slick twisted root to twisted root, a winding, treacherous and living shortcut from one ramshackle walkway to another. Things slithered through the oily water below. Tumbledown bars, whorehouses and low rent lodgings twisted off in dizzying directions, their location due more to where infrequent patches of solid land could be found than actual planning. All of it castoff MDU and MTO prefabs destined for the scrap heap, salvaged and pressed into service to make up the eyesore known as Desperation Alley--the no-man's land between base and the up-rank civilian settlements. Missing panels patched by biopolymer sheets added off-color dissonance to the grays and muted blue buildings. Shadows flitted behind window openings covered with NatuResin tarps. Here and there, outmoded and damaged shipping containers served as pod barracks: racks of one-bod and two-bod bunks bracketed floor to ceiling for those too drunk or burning to stumble back to base.

Above him, a canopy of steel blue foliage almost three stadion deep hid the makers of all the variousscurrying sounds. Large trunks, bleached white by the salts sucked up through the water, supported networks of vines and explosions of flora in colors the human eye couldn't even register. The whole planet washed out into a charcoal rendering of actual living things. Rotting organic material tainted the air with an ever present miasma of decay. Yesterday was spent searching for companies that would have him and his men. The standard hours akin to daylight today dwindled away in the same futile quest and Alad figured tomorrow would dawn on him humping his ass to various commands. Not even a hint of a future appointment graced his horizon. If he didn't land something soon, well he'd have no choice but to tell his men to split up, try to find a rack on their own with some squad down a couple of grunts. Trying to place an entire patrol ... hard didn't begin to encompass the problem. Xosh, at this point if some other sergeant expressed interest in his boys, Alad would have gladly let them go on without him.

He'd traded half a month's pay off the bar-code scan in his forearm for a third of a month's pay in local trade chits on the black-market. Alad needed them to buy off information brokers in the cumshaw data pool. Really, if he hadn't needed any lead possible, there was no way he'd step into Desperation Alley right now. All the good tips though, they came out of the scuttlebutt haze floating through taprooms, dice dens and sex parlors.

Alad stepped onto the plank walkway that comprised the misnamed Mandera Blossom Highway and huffed. Various beings, each more disreputable than the next, passed him. Alad debated whether to start the search first or fortify himself with the local version of rot-gut to file the edge off the eventual disappointment. Shoving his hands into the pocket of his greatcoat, he stepped into the flow of traffic and let it sweep him towards the quasi-legal establishments.

Heading toward him and away from Desperation Alley, Alad caught sight of another human. Not that humans were uncommon in this area--pisk, they made up sixty percent of the military troops in the region--but by now most were stationed on bar stools or slop shop benches and planning the night's entertainment.

This guy seemed different. Tall, whip crack lean, his shoulders rolled in a resigned, but still defiant, manner. Black hair shorn in military fashion, longish on top, but buzzed so short it barely rated as fuzz in a halo from above his ears to his neck line, marked him as infantry--what they called the collar cut so that neck armor wouldn't rub. It set off features so sharp a man could cut himself on his chin. His eyes damn near glowed blue-white like eons old ice flows. All the more striking when contrasted with the cinnamon tones of his skin. A cold and reserved air blew off the man ... must have been what kept his pupils from melting.

Alad hadn't seen anything that enticing in six patrols.

Waffling, unsure, he paused. He couldn't let his troops down, but xosh, it'd been almost a cycle since Alad allowed himself any real R&R. A little booze-up followed by a little naked bust-up, Alad got hard just working the possibility. The man approached, completely absorbed in whatever drove him from the Alley. Three steps. Two steps. If Alad didn't act soon opportunity would pass him up. As the man started to walk by, Alad decided; he jerked to the side and bumped the man's shoulder. The man stumbled on the slick planks, running up onto the roots of one of the many Handoatoa trees.

"Sorry," Alad mumbled, even though he wasn't a bit remorseful, and offered a hand.

The indignation boiling through those ice blue eyes radiated such frost it burned. After glaring for a moment, the man took the proffered grip and allowed Alad to help him back onto the walkway. Everything from about mid-thigh down dripped water. Shudo! Alad had forgotten that Handoatoa tended to act like sponges and purged sucked up swamp at the slightest bruise.

"You need to watch where you walk," the man spat, "subin!"

No telling who this man was. His bearing, even under insufferable circumstances of being knocked into morass of vomited up swamp water, spoke to rank. Nobody however, except the greenest of the green, wore their confetti into Desperation Alley. Too much of a chance someone would roll you for the decorations. Unwritten protocol dictated that no one asked who was who, either. The most anyone traded over was a first name.

"Yeah, I'm clumsy." He grimaced in mock apology. "Alad," offering up his name as greeting equaled the first tentative step. "Let me buy you a drink to apologize for the damp boots," made up the second.

A hard once over ran up and down Alad's body, those ice colored eyes somehow burning into his gut. "A drink?" This time the words sounded more incredulous than antagonistic. The guy's nostrils flared as if taking in Alad's scent. As the air moved, a slight fluttering of the skin on the right side of the man's nose caught his attention. Xosh, a notch had been cut out of the nasal fold. Alad shivered despite the greatcoat.

Still, the black haired soldier--Alad knew he was a soldier--reeked sex ... or maybe fight-lust. Both equaled about the same to Alad. "Yeah, a drink." Pretending indifference, Alad turned his eyes away. He drew in a deep breath, touched his index finger to his left cheek and slowly brushed it toward his ear. "To apologize for being ... clumsy." The thumb up the bridge of your nose meant you were indiscriminate about your choice of partners. Pinky on your right eye and you wanted the opposite sex. Alad had indicated he wouldn't be opposed to a hookup with this man, in a way that let everyone pretend nobody suggested anything about sex. Nobody cared about your choice in partners. Saving face in the event of a refusal though, everybody cared about that.

Slowly he eased his gaze back toward the man with the thick black hair. The guy huffed. Alad waited for a signal. Yeah, the guy was leaving Desperation Alley, but hope sprung eternal. Alad also realized he shouldn't be putting his dick ahead of his boys. Pisk, though, he'd been stumping for days to get placements. Blowing off some juice would help his concentration.

As Black Hair raised his left hand, Alad stepped back and sucked in his breath. The correct hand, but xosh, the man's pinky and ring finger both were severed at the first joint. Not that Alad hadn't seen a freighter load of combat wounds. These seemed different somehow; clean cuts, but like they hadn't healed right. And something that could take off the first joint of the pinky would have clipped the other finger off at the knuckle, so it wasn't a frag grenade, spinner round or other mechanical mayhem.

Black Hair's eyes went wide and Alad blinked. He didn't even have time to register why when a large form slammed into him from the side. His boot skidded on the wet walk despite its grip treads. Alad stumbled. Twisting, he lurched away from the massive ungulate before it ran him over completely. Alad jumped again to avoid a tail swipe, and bumped into another being.

He looked up. Just blast him back to last pay cycle and let him start over. Hazy blue mottled skin, receding thick lipped jaw and nasal folds that covered half the face in snot: Nofre. A yanked, insulted Nofre at that. Of course Nofre were insulted that other beings existed--running into one boded well for a fight.

The Nofre's two tongues wandered out from between his lips and explored each nostril. He reached out with a thick fingered paw and thumped Alad in the center of his chest. "You pushed me." The thing's accent fell so thick Alad could hardly understand it.

Alad stepped back, hands held forward in pacifying manner. "A thousand apologies." Not that he thought that he owed the Nofre one apology much less a thousand. But reasoning with them was like wanking off to Hesloid porn, never did you a bit of good. "Didn't mean to." Nofre were easy to anger, always up for a brawl and harder to put down than an armored transport.

One of the Nofre's companions, with a deep blue stripe tattooed across his epicanthic ridges and, if anything, bigger than the first, shuffled around towards Alad's flank. "You did it on purpose." Another, with a ragged scar cutting across an already flayed face moved off to the right. Xosh, damn creatures were trying to circle and pin him.

"Accident," Alad gave up a few steps to keep the big oafs from getting behind him, "I swear." With fists the size of his face, Alad wouldn't last long in a pummeling by them.

"The Nirapatuat ran by." A reedy voice on his right came to his defense. Alad spared a glace at the speaker. "They no look where they go." A rust-colored Disshad, its feather like pelt fluttering in agitation, ambled up. It reached out with a disproportionally long arm and patted Alad on the top of his skull. Remarkable reach since the Disshad barely stood as tall as Alad's belt. "He fall. You move. He there. It happen."

"Here my friend." The black haired man eased up on Alad's left. Pisk, Alad hadn't even gotten the man's name yet and there he was choosing sides on a dust-up. "There is no reason to be angry. It serves no purpose." He cajoled. His voice, the way he spoke, the patter was almost hypnotic. "Let him apologize as soldiers do. Let him buy you and your comrades a drink."

"He insulted me." The first Nofre grunted, shuffled in and thumped Alad in the chest again.

"No, I got pushed into you." He didn't have to keep reasoning. It was fairly obvious that the Nofre were looking for a fight.

"Are you questioning his truth?" Barked the Nofre with the scarred face.

"It's not that he is questioning." Wary, the black haired soldier eased around to keep the one with the scar in his sights. "There are many versions of the truth as there are eyes to see it." Although he coaxed, Alad noticed his eyes were bright and shoulders tense. Everyone knew they were about to brawl. "Give a thousand men a drop of water and they will tell you a thousand things they see in it." Seemed that no one wanted to make the first move. "All of them will be that man's truth."

"They too stupid get you pretty words." The Disshad gagged out the sentence. Well, trust the Disshad to throw the first real insult. Alad had known a couple and they were as eager brawlers as any race. They, unlike the Nofre, thought it was just great fun. They'd pick the side most likely to lose and jump in just to see if they could turn the tide. "You convince you own leg worm," adding emphasis that even the Nofre would be able to understand, the Disshad brushed Black Hair's inner thigh with the back of his hand. "That it a female hole, before you change him mind."

Blue face growled. "Miserable little tree hanger."

"Dumb herd animal that eats its own dung," the Disshad retorted.

For some unfathomable reason Nofre resented their lineage. Best way to light one was to point out that they basically stampeded at any provocation. Or chewed cud. Or fifty thousand other truths that none of the race wanted to hear.

The black haired soldier hissed. "Let's not do insults here." There was a subtle difference between an angry Nofre and a rampaging one--survivability often hinged on that subtle difference.

"You take his side, tailless simian?" The scarred Nofre reached in and swatted the Disshad. That lit the fuse. The Disshad shrieked and launched itself into its attacker.

The Nofre that Alad had bumped body slammed him. Alad sprawled back onto the walkway and the crowd who'd gathered to watch the initial trading of barbs scattered out of the main path of the melee. The Nofre scrambled over Alad, pinning him. One leg on either side of his body, and the third between his knees, the Nofre's hand went up. That huge fist slammed hard into Alad's head. For a moment he saw five of everything. Then Alad brought his knee up, catching the guy in the balls from the back. At least on a human it would have been the nuts. He had no clue where a Nofre's 'nads might actually be situated. Good enough though, the blow pitched the Nofre forward over Alad's head.

Massive hands latched onto Alad's feet and yanked. As he slid, Alad caught the first Nofre's knees. The momentum flipped it off the walkway into the water. Since Nofres couldn't swim, and if the water was deep enough, that one was gone.

Black hair guy kicked up, caught the Nofre goon, the one with his hands on Alad's legs, across his mid section. Must have been like kicking a brick wall, Black Hair twisted. Fell. Sputtered curses in a language that Alad didn't comprehend but somehow understood. Scar Guy punched the small of the black haired man's back as he went down. Black Hair dropped, dodging the worst of the blows, and weaved. The weight of the punch glanced off. Scar Guy kicked and Black Hair jumped back. Alad scrambled to his feet and waded in, landing punches here and there. Kicks, shoves got passed around like a drill instructor's wrath.

An elbow slam to the side of his head knocked Alad onto his back. He skidded to a stop on the slick walkway. He flipped onto his knees. The crowd had swelled to catch the brawl and Alad caught the flash of coins in his peripheral vision. They were betting on the outcome. Catcalls and hoots in a dozen different languages egged them on.

The Disshad was all fingers and toes and teeth on the Nofre with the blue stripe tattooed across his eyes. Blue Stripe writhed and pried. Every time he threw the Disshad off, it screeched and wrapped around another part of his body.

An outraged bellow sounded as Black Hair and Scar tumbled into a Vormenta Bondoar. It blasted again. Alad's ears rang. The Vormenta reared up. Countless segmented appendages flailed and thumped everything in reach. Black Hair danced away, lashing out with his boot at his Nofre attacker. Scar doubled over. Alad launched himself, catching Scar shoulder to shoulder and driving him back. The Vormenta unhinged its jaw, twisted the sinuous neck segments and latched onto Scar's legs. It whipped around and with a snap slammed Scar into the walk.

There wasn't much that could put a Nofre down quick. That did it.

Alad turned to see Black Hair straddling Blue Stripe. Once a Nofre was on its back, they couldn't get back up. Black Hair had one knee in the Nofre's leg joint and his boot heel pinned Blue Stripe's palm against a post. With his left hand shoving that ugly face to the side, Black Hair slammed his fist into the soft spot behind the Nofre's ear slit.

Alad took two steps in their direction and heard it: MP's whistles.

Xosh! A buzzing whine shot past Alad's ear. The projectile slammed into the walk, splintering the wood and splattering a glowing yellow gel around the impact area. "Dye markers!" Yelling, he jumped to Black Hair, grabbing the man's coat collar, and tried to yank him back and up.

The soldier shook him off. Another dye marker whizzed over their heads and exploded on a Handoatoa. "Come on!" Rank swamp water spewed from the wounded plant. Wet thuds sounded as Black Hair continued to pound.

Like he'd lost all sense, Black Hair's blows kept landing around the thing's eyes, it's only real vulnerable point. "This Nofre's a meat stick," Alad yelled. "Let it go!"

The Disshad scrambled to Alad. "Must go now!" and pulled at the tail of his greatcoat.

Alad pushed him away. "Go! Go on!" He ordered. Not bothering to see if the Disshad obeyed, Alad caught the soldier's elbow. He yanked, using leverage to pull the man up. Black Hair spun. Those frozen blue eyes locked on Alad. With a roar, he launched himself at Alad and caught him across the chest. They went down. As more shots whizzed over their heads they skidded off the walk into the swamp. Alad rolled away across the set of gnarled roots which broke his fall. He scrambled to his knees. The other soldier erupted out of the shallow morass spitting water. Adrenalin pumped hard through Alad's veins. From foe, to friend, to let's just get ourselves killed ... the man had vapor locked on combat. "Look ass-head." Alad pointed toward where the shots had come from. "Military Fucking Police!"

They locked eyes. Another dye marker tore through the foliage. Like he shook off a neuro-block the man shuddered. "Seppe!" He hissed and scrambled up on the roots.

Good enough for Alad. He bolted. Black Hair dashed after him. More dye-filled balls splattered the trees. Alad had no bead on what happened to the Vormenta and Disshad. When MPs showed up, it was best just to bail. Even if they didn't latch onto you right away, the dye markers would paint you as wanted. That shudo stained skin three layers deep.

Insane trying to outrun the MPs. Their only real chance was that police started firing into the crowd from a distance, figuring to round everyone up and then sort it all out. They dodged and scrambled, hearing the MPs tearing the brush for them. Someone must have seen them duck into the trees. Branches whipped Alad's face. Black Hair paced him as they scurried up, under and around. Falling farther behind them was the stomp of what sounded like half-a-hand of MPs.

Alad jumped from root to root. No way would he stop until he knew the MPs were gone. Alad heard Black Hair yell. Spinning, he saw Black Hair stumble on the slick bark. Alad grabbed a vine, jumped and grabbed Black Hair's hand. Alad hung by his fingers from the hard segment of creeper, the toes of his boots barely clinging to the roots, suspended over the water. A smile slipped between them, barely visible in the dim shadows that made up the passage between insipid daylight and full dark. Alad hauled himself back. Black Hair used the grip on Alad's arm to winch himself up until they stood on the same root.

Chest to chest, Alad tasted the adrenaline seeping off Black Hair's skin. "Hey." He stuttered out and then cursed himself silently for sounding like some fry-brained burnout.

Black Hair leaned in and whispered, "Hirah thanks you."

Alad assumed that was the guy's name and not some religious figure. He started to give his own name, sort of half realizing he might have already said it, when the vine in his hand twitched. A long, muscular section of body looped behind Hirah. Gold-glowing segmented limbs spread out and snapped shut over his legs. With a yelp Hirah went ass over end and vanished into the canopy. Alad tried to jump. The vine he held wrapped around his arm. With a spine jarring snap, it jerked him up.

Breath knocked from his lungs, Alad found himself nose to undulating eyes of a Vormenta. Its gibbous mouthparts oozed. Alad swallowed hard. Above the Vormenta's myriad visual apertures appeared the grinning face of the Disshad.

Alad assumed it was a he as he'd never heard of a female Disshad venturing offworld. And it wasn't too hard to conjecture that the Disshad smiled. The race carried a freighter load of similarities to the extinct great apes of ancient Earth. Well, except for the rainbow colored sex organs on their shoulders ... and the fact that their soft, luxurious fur was actually colonies of symbiotic organisms.

The Disshad slapped its oral opening with long, flat fingered hands, creating pops of compressed air. Alad figured it meant that they should be quiet. He was about to hiss it to Hirah when Alad noticed him putting his fingers to his lips. The universal human gesture for shut the pisk up.

As the swamp shushed around them, Alad heard it: MP's moving through the twisted vegetation. They all clung to the tree, half a stadion up in its branches, and held their breath. The MPs slowly approached then the sounds of their movements dissipated. Finally, Alad remembered to breathe. "Thanks," he whispered to the Vormenta and hoped it'd understand him.

A series of whirrs, click and groans emanated from the Vormenta, sounding, to Alad, like some archaic machine on its last functioning legs. The Disshad, apparently noticing and comprehending the confusion that must have been written on Alad's face, translated. "She say she always find humans strange. You never look up. Come have drink with us. I, Pemtch, ask of you. Come, come. Is good."

Alad slid his gaze toward Hirah. "So you up for a drink? I owe you one."

"I'm up..." Hirah paused and actually added a smirk, "for a drink."

"Very much pleasure for me, you have drink with us." Pemtch grabbed each of their skulls with his huge hands, palms on their foreheads and his fingers reaching to the back of their skulls. Like he played with youngsters, Pemtch tussled with them a bit. "You fight good for human." The praise sounded like a proud father commending a rather slow child.

As the Vormenta wrapped around them and deposited each onto the damp ground Alad respectfully acknowledged, "That would be a pleasure."

Hirah added, "Definitely a pleasure." Since he looked into Alad's eyes as he said it, Alad figure there was a special part reserved just for him. In that thin moment Alad forgave Hirah for turning on him--justified it as combat rush, it could screw up anybody's wires. Plus, how he said it, Hirah was accepting Alad's earlier proposition. Had to be. Then Hirah turned his smile toward Pemtch and Vormenta, including them with, "To have a drink with such warriors."

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