Trying to escape his tortured past, Sergeant Liam Jacks travels aboard the transport vessel, the Santa Claus, as the security chief alongside his best friend and captain, Marc Danverse. Having survived the Civil War, they shuttle amongst the Proxima Centauri planetary cluster, trying to find some modicum of peace. Something of which Liam is in short supply.
During a stopover on the planet Luxoria, they take on a mysterious passenger. Hadrian Jamison’s history is questionable and his effect on Liam is undeniable. The more they learn, the more questions they have. As they are drawn together, Hadrian’s presence threatens to disrupt the quiet.
When Hadrian’s past catches up to claim him, the ensuing conflict is more than any of them expected.
The Luxorian Fugitive
J. Alan Veerkamp © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“Have you found him yet?”
“Hurry! We don’t have much time!”
“Scanner picked up the target in the crowd.”
“I have him in my sights.”
“Sergeant, terminate with extreme prejudice!”
“I…I can’t. You can’t ask me…”
“Take the shot! That’s an order!”
“Captain, you can’t be serious.”
“Pull the trigger, damn it, or we all die!”
“Oh God, forgive me…”
Cold sweat rolled off Liam’s body as he sat upright in bed, sheets tangled around his legs. His deafening pulse drowned out the soft whir of the environmental systems and the mechanical hum of the ship’s movement. There was a hollow quality to the titanium hull of his private quarters that seemed to amplify the resonance of the dream.
“Pull it together, Marine. You’re not a child.” The horror refused to recede even now that he was awake.
Liam looked around his room as his reality began to settle. The windowless space was nearly pitch-black; the only illumination came from the data screen on the wall, its soft cyber-green time code proof that he was not lost in the abyss. Yes, he was aboard the cargo vessel the Santa Claus. Yes, they were en route to Luxoria from Alpha Centauri Prime for a supply delivery and pickup. Yes, he was the security chief of the thirty or so men employed on the ship. Yes, the dream was of a harsh memory, but still just a dream.
“Mrs. Claus. Status report please.” Liam spoke in quiet, shaken tones while threading his unsteady hands through his hair. A synthetic voice, sounding like a middle-aged woman, hummed back in response.
“It is zero three seventeen, Sergeant Jacks. We will be docking at Luxoria Spaceport Alpha at approximately eleven fifteen. System sync to the Luxorian environment is in progress and will be complete in two hours and twenty-five minutes. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No.” His reply was brusque, but Mrs. Claus’s feelings couldn’t be hurt; she was artificial, after all. Normally, Liam found Captain Danverse’s penchant for ancient Earth history—including the ship’s name and the computer’s voice identity—endearing. Marc was his best friend, after all. But that night, there was no comfort in it.
Even without the nightmares, it was hard to sleep well when forced to acclimate to a new planet’s environment and timeline every time you came into port. The ship’s systems were designed to gradually shift the sleep cycles of everyone on board to match up to the active hours for each destination. Add the dreams into the equation, and his rest was as fractured as his self-esteem.
“Lights. Low.” Twin light panels on opposite sides of the small room began to glow. The undecorated metal walls were nothing more than panels hiding the storage spaces within. The large bed looked out of place in the three-by-four-meter space but at his size was required for any chance of a comfortable night’s sleep. Not that he’d seen many of those in a long time. A lone desk sat in the corner with a basic chair on wheels covered in dirty clothes. Several recessed shelves held stacks of paperwork, but the entire room was devoid of anything personal.
Liam peeled himself from the dampened sheets, the fabric refusing to release due to the tackiness of his salty skin. He knew he couldn’t sleep anymore, even if the bed weren’t already cooling and saturated. The ship ran warm, but he couldn’t suppress a slight shiver as the air hit his bare body. Even the dense pelt of hair that covered his chest, arms, and legs provided little warmth at the moment. He slid into a pair of cargo shorts and sleeveless shirt that were piled in the corner, too shaken to care if they were clean enough to wear. A pair of thick-soled sandals waited for him in front of the room’s exit. Out of habit, he picked up his communicator from the random pile on the desk and put it in his ear.
He placed his hand on the plexiglass palm reader embedded in the hull and the door slid open with a loud hiss. From the outside, he slapped the matching panel to close the door and trudged out into the hallway.
His footsteps gave a soft metal echo as he wandered in no particular direction through the dimly lit tunnel. This was no luxury liner; a subtle vibration could be felt at all times from the tech and mechanicals hidden behind the scuffed and weathered walls. The Santa Claus was sturdy, but not designed for creature comforts. Captain Danverse had purchased the decommissioned cargo ship nearly a decade ago and offered Liam a job when the pair had left the military following the Centauri Prime civil war.
Intelligently, Danverse had populated the Santa Claus with a crew of men who could stand the long distance between stops and appreciate the company of their fellow men. Ports were few and far between, and it was a small world to live in for an extended span.
The planetary cluster of Alpha Centauri’s binary star hosted an unparalleled fifteen or more planets that were capable of sustaining life, but travel between them could take weeks or months, depending on the quality of the ship engines. Faster-than-light capability was restricted to military-class vehicles. Subspace Link kept the information systems of every planet connected, and a space station-sized hub kept the entire cluster in range and part of a vast system of cultures and technologies. The current run to Luxoria had taken weeks, and they would only be docked for one twenty-four-hour cycle to load and refuel before making a return trip to Centauri Prime.
Danverse had chosen this way of life because, after the civil war, he had lost interest in planetary life, with its conflicting politics and the reminders of all the wasted lives. Liam had similar incentives to live off planet, bearing the invisible scars of a wartime job well done. He lived on the transport ship in an attempt to bury the memories, but the dreams always returned to reignite the guilt in his breast.
And he was remembering it oh so acutely at this late hour.
Liam knew the blueprint of the Santa Claus like it was imprinted in his brain, but that night, he wandered without recognizing what deck he was on or what passageway he was in. A strange sadness filled him, weighing him down as the confusion thickened. He knew he had ridden a lift and walked down several corridors, but he was damned if he was aware of where he was as he rounded a corner.
“Boss? You look like shit.” Mac knelt in front of an open access panel, various tools around his feet and hanging from his utility belt.
“Mac? What are you doing up?” Liam straightened to hide his fragile frame of mind. Even now, his military training was too ingrained to stop maintaining the illusion of rank.
Mac was a rugged, dark-haired man with a sturdy body under the dirty coveralls he wore as the ship’s head tech mechanic. Short and thick, with rounded muscles, Mac was smaller and less defined than Liam, but no less powerful. Dark hair covered his forearms and could be seen on his chest through where his zipper lay open. His youthful complexion was stained with machine oil and other occupational hazards—and too many hours on the job. Mac was the youngest man on the crew but made up for it in his diligence to his profession.
“Look who’s talking. I’m giving the systems a few checkups and prepping the environments on Beta deck. We’re going to have a couple guests taking the cruise.”
“Why don’t you let Mrs. Claus run the diagnostics and environmental presets and get some sleep?”
“First, I didn’t get this good by letting the tech take care of itself. Second, I don’t live on this boat because I trust anything to do my job, boss. That’s kind of the same thing, but that’s beside the point. Synthetic or not, if she strokes out on us, I’ll be the one who gets blamed when we all start screaming ‘Oh God, oh God, we’re all going to die.’”
Usually Mac’s crass sense of humor was infectious, but Liam was having difficulty holding himself together. A tremor was building, making it hard to stand still. Mac’s brow flattened, and his scrutiny only made Liam’s nerves worse. He could imagine the calculations going on in the tech’s mind; he couldn’t hide how disturbed he was. Mac couldn’t know the cause, but he had to see the damage as Liam’s facade started to erode.
“You okay, boss?” Mac’s genuine concern was clear. Still, Liam was not about to share his past.
“I’m fine.” He shifted his feet as he searched for a polite excuse to step away. The rising awkwardness only amplified his tension and made him pause when the ideas wouldn’t form.
“The gym’s always open. I bet no one else is up.” Mac picked up a small tool and began making adjustments to the open logic boards.
“Thanks, Mac. That’s not a bad idea.” Liam was relieved Mac let the matter drop. “Don’t take too long with that. We need you during the docking.”
“Don’t worry. I’m almost done. Besides, I only sleep about four hours a cycle anyway. My brain rarely shuts down enough. Too much nervous energy, I guess.”
“Sounds like you could use a workout, too.”
“How do you think I get the four hours in the first place?” Mac nodded down the hall. “Go on, boss. I have to get this finished, and you’re distracting me.”
Liam called out over his shoulder as he turned away. “All right. I’ll see you before we get to port. You do good work, Mac.”
“Go away, boss.”
It took a few moments for Liam to process his location and head toward the gym, a large section of Beta deck housing a sizable exercise room, connected with lockers, lavatories, and an open shower room for the entire crew and possible passengers. Since the Santa Claus was a former military vessel, most quarters did not contain private baths. The communal bathroom for thirty men was maintained in a near-pristine condition. Mac was obsessed with the sanitary and recycling systems working at optimal efficiency.
Liam stepped off the lift and rounded the corner, stopping in front of Captain Danverse’s quarters. Still haunted and fidgeting, he stared at the plaque engraved on the door. He knew he should go to the gym.
Fists tight, he resisted the urge to ring the door com. He should not be there. Not like this. It wasn’t fair to everyone concerned. He spun away, took one step, and stopped.
“Mrs. Claus, is Captain Danverse in his quarters?” He rubbed his weary brow with an unsteady hand.
“Yes, Sergeant. The captain’s status is marked as In and Do Not Disturb. Would you like me to contact him?”
“No, Mrs. Claus.”
He stood unmoving for countless minutes, admonishing himself over and over. The dream had left him so anxious he could feel his skin crawling. Muscles twitched in uncomfortable patterns as he barely held himself still. In the end, desperation and need won out.
Hands shaking, he turned and pressed the door chime. With his gaze to the floor, he waited the endless seconds for the door to be answered, his guilty conscience overwhelming his senses.
While spending years more focused on visual arts, J. Alan Veerkamp never let go of his innate passion for storytelling, wanting to write and draw comic books when he grew up. Once he discovered M/M fiction, a whole new world opened filled with possibilities. Why couldn’t you have fantastic and dynamic sexy tales with an M/M cast? He started reading the online tales of authors like, Night Tempest, Rob Colton, and Alicia Nordwell, which only fueled his need to create. Eventually he found GayAuthors.org, and with a little coercive nudge, started sharing his tales with an unexpected level of positive response. The experience and support gave him the courage to cross his fingers and aim for the world of M/M publishing.
Born and raised in Michigan, J. Alan continues to type away, wishing it was practical to use an noisy, old fashioned keyboard that clacks with each strike, if just to annoy his loving partner and spoiled miniature dachshund.