Authors: S. Reesa Herberth,Michelle Moore
Tags: #Gay-Lesbian Romance, #Romantic SciFi-Futuristic
Welcome to the jungle—where the found are lost and the lost are redeemed.
Riv is a man adrift, hoping that running supplies for ReliefCorp will restore his faith in mankind—and in himself. Deep in the war-torn Maltana rainforest, he stumbles upon a local bar that suits his mood: good food, bad attitude. The entertainment, though, is unexpected. A skilled piano player who avoids eye contact, flinches when anyone approaches…and warns Riv of an ambush by tapping out the planetary anthem for Riv’s homeworld of Karibee.
The least Riv can do for the mute piano man, “Ducks”, is take him to the nearest spaceport for help.
On their harrowing journey to escape Maltana, Riv makes a horrifying discovery. Ducks endured torture that scarred his mind as well as his body. Still, before he leaves the man safely in a treatment facility, Riv manages to earn what little trust Ducks has to give.
Months later they reconnect, and while it’s clear their instant attraction was no fluke, there’s still a piece missing. Ducks’ voice. To help him find it again, Riv will have to expose the painful past that tore a hole in his own life. And hope that together, their ragged edges will fit together to form a whole.
Warning: This book contains fluffy blond hair, sugary soda that will rot your teeth out, one unfortunate first name, and one mute amnesiac with a sarcasm fetish, all wrapped up in two selfless but mildly unstable guys who accidentally find their happily ever after. In SPACE!
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
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Macon GA 31201
The Balance of Silence
Copyright © 2010 by S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore ISBN: 978-1-60928-191-5
Edited by Sasha Knight
Cover by Kanaxa
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
t Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: September 2010
The Balance of Silence
S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore
To Michelle, who gave me the stars.—SRH
For the two halves of my heart, with love. And coffee!—MSM
Riv pushed, and the ship sheared off below him, their parting as easy as breathing. Just letting go, as simple as that, and it was almost a disappointment when the lead attached to his harness caught him and he stopped abruptly a few feet away. The O2 monitor flashed across the visor, orange drifting towards red, and he cleared it away with unusually clumsy fingers, tapping at the controls set into the arm of his drift suit.
The indicator that he was nearing the end of his air scrubber capacity stayed visible in the corner of his mask, pushed aside for the schematic he called up again to double check his work. Satisfied that he’d cleaned up the mess caused by an errant bit of space junk puncturing the hull, he set to welding the panel back on. The shiny new metal looked like a fresh wound amidst the rest of the scarred and burned ship.
“Riv, you’re back in three minutes, max. The read says your scrubbers are giving out.” Marc’s voice was a crisp annoyance in his ear as he gathered up his tools, pressing the demagnetizing button to pry them up from the side of the ship and shove them back into his kit.
Just let go—
“Riv, answer me now, or I’m coming out to haul your ass in.”
“I’m here,” he groused back, breath fogging the visor for a second. “Gods, you are such an old woman, Marc.”
“Tell me I don’t have anything to worry about, and I’ll call you a liar to your face,” Marc hissed back, no doubt surrounded by the crew of the
, the ship they’d been contracted to repair.
“I’m fine,” Riv said firmly, passing the strap of the toolkit around his chest and securing it before he headed back to the airlock. The
didn’t have many handholds, so he was forced to use the magnets in his boots and gloves, crawling crablike along the hull until he could pull himself into the lock and hit the compression controls. Buffeted by the rush of air as it filled the chamber, he swayed before dropping the tools and leaning his back against the wall while he fumbled his helmet off. The first breath left him dizzy, as always.
Thankful for his few minutes of compression acclimation, and thus privacy, he dropped onto the metal bench that jutted out from the wall and put his head in his hands. He was only a week back, and he already felt the same frayed edges showing through, and all the meditation in the ’verse couldn’t seem to hold him together. The tumbling forms of two dead men, jettisoned like trash and spinning away into the black, replayed in his mind like a bad vid. He could still see them every time he closed his eyes. The dark alley where they’d died had become a permanent location in his mental geography, and the phantom weight of
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the metal pipe as it connected with flesh sometimes seemed every bit as real as the wrench he’d stowed into his tool kit.
It didn’t help that the first face he saw when the inner door slid open was Marc’s, mouth tight with anger and fear. It was the same expression he’d worn as they’d slammed the airlock closed on the casualties of that gods-forsaken night four months ago. It could just as easily have been Marc himself set to spin in the dark forever, or Denny, or Riv, but it hadn’t been, and he seemed to be the only one who couldn’t be thankful for that fact and let things go.
“You need to fucking. Let. It. Go.” The words were bitten off with barely controlled fury, but Riv could only stare blankly for several seconds, too startled at having his own thoughts shot back at him to react.
Marc crowded into his space, looming over him. “I’m serious, Riv, you’re not going to off yourself on my watch. In fact, I value my
ass enough that I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen at all.
Captain’s holding me personally responsible for your well-being, and I really prefer to not let Bin down.”
Riv snickered, he couldn’t help himself. Not the wisest reaction, but the thought of Bin assigning Marc to babysitting duties was humorous, to say the least. Not that Marc wouldn’t do it, his mother-hen tendencies were legendary, but that Bin would ask.
“I’m glad you find this amusing,” Marc said sourly.
“Just a little.” Riv hunched in on himself, staring stubbornly at the grated metal floor. If he met Marc’s eyes, it was going to quickly become evident just how not-funny he found the whole situation.
“Look, I’m okay, all right? You don’t need to worry.”
The disparaging snort spoke volumes, but to Riv’s relief, he didn’t press the matter. “Come on then, I think we’re done here. Ditch the suit and let’s get back to the
folk are just weird. They give me the heebie-jeebies.”
“You mean they’re normal.”
“That’s what I said, wasn’t it?”
The engine room of the
wasn’t the best place for an argument, and especially not when he was backed into the pit, Bin on one side of it and Marc on the other.
“You planning on braining me with a wrench?” Riv squinted up at them. “Because hanging over me like that is making me a little jumpy.”
Bin crossed his arms, far from amused. “Don’t know why we’d waste the effort. You seem intent enough on taking care of that yourself.”
He hadn’t intended to have this conversation right now, and certainly not with a length of pipe jabbing him in the ribs and grease on his hands. He’d pictured something a bit more civilized, like maybe seated in the galley with something fortifying to drink. And an escape route, should things get uncomfortable. Which
S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore
they already were, if the disapproving vibes drifting his way were any sign. It was kind of like a gentle rain of anvils.
“Actually, since I’ve got you both here, there
something I wanted to talk to you about.” Riv drew a deep breath, trying to ease some of the tension twisting his neck and shoulders. “I’m resigning my commission to join ReliefCorp.”
“The fuck you are,” Bin exploded before Marc could say anything.
Riv managed to not wince. Bin in a temper, a real temper that was, and not his usual bluff, was rare enough to be a little intimidating.
“I already submitted my application,” Riv said, trying to sound unruffled. “I’m scheduled to do a med run on Maltana week after next.”
Apparently it was enough to silence Marc as well, mouth slightly open as he stared. He did dart a quick sympathetic glance in Riv’s direction, but then his eyes snapped right back to Bin.
“Then I suggest you get your ass to the comm and tell them you won’t be able to make it.” Bin had recovered, voice as calm as Riv’s now, only the white-knuckled grip on the edge of the pit betraying his anger.
“Do you think we could move this conversation somewhere a little more comfortable? Where maybe we could sit down?”
Bin nodded. “I think that sounds like a fine idea. Someplace closer to the comm.”
Trudging after them to the bridge, it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to go smoothly. “Hear me out, okay?” Supposing that silence was nearly as good as acknowledgment, Riv sat in the comm chair with a sigh. “It’s not like I’m running away to join the circus or something.” He looked up to find both of them staring at him, Bin’s expression one of somewhat patient reserve, Marc’s just restrained annoyance. “I need to do this,” he said calmly. “I can’t live with myself this way, not anymore. Somewhere there has to be a balance between what I’ve done and how I live, but I can’t find it, and I need to be doing something more for the universe than patching up ships until I can.”
, Riv. When are you going to get it through your head that you weren’t committing some random act of violence, you were saving the life of your friends? You think I’m happy about it? You think I’m the kind of guy who goes around killing people in cold blood?” Marc’s tired outrage was so familiar that Riv almost didn’t hear it anymore, but Bin just shook his head and put a quelling hand on Marc’s shoulder.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen officers with years of battle under their belts wake up one morning, sick with what they’ve done. Empire, homeworld, glory—none of it changes that one day you have to reconcile taking someone else’s life with the fact that you’re still kicking around the ’verse.” Bin leveled a dirty look at Riv and pointed his finger. “And running off somewhere and getting yourself killed isn’t the way you deal with it, you hear me? I’ve lost enough family already, don’t think you’ll be adding to the total.”
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“Wasn’t planning on it.” Riv kicked Marc’s ankle gently. “I just think that helping someone else might be the thing that forces me to get my head out of my ass.”
Marc mock glared at him and raised his eyebrows. “That’s a pretty drastic life change there, Riv. I mean, what if your ears get cold?”
“Bin can knit me a hat,” he said, smirking, and let the subject drop.
The ReliefCorp compound was only a block away from the spaceport, just far enough that Riv was sweating profusely in the steamy heat by the time he crossed under the clasped-hand logo on the barricaded gate. The barbwire fencing surrounding the compound was lined with people, families mostly, and the crowd swayed in his direction as the uniformed men waved him through, stopping only when the guards raised their weapons threateningly.
The briefing room was impossible to miss, the only space that wasn’t overflowing with equipment and boxes. Apparently he was the last one to arrive, and the other four people there eyed him with open curiosity.