Space Escapes

Space Escapes

Angela Fiddler Jason Edding

Price: $5.99

Dark Robe Heart: Dark Robe Society 1 by Jason Edding A disillusioned Jack Harrow escapes the crowded Earth of 2575 and its increasingly militaristic government, hoping to make a new life on the distant small moon of Jupiter. During this long voyage, military recruit Edge Fland catches first his eye, then his lust, but there's more to this quiet man than Jack knows. The Dark Robe Society's assassins are on Jack's trail and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of returning the item he carries to their society. The Bright Side of Midnight by Angela Fiddler Pleasure or pain? The Dose. On paper, it's a mild mood enhancer that takes the edge of drudgery and keeps workers happy. But people are killing to get it and dying to make it. Tavish knows all about it, his lover is one of the dying and he vows that the truth will get out no matter the means. His quest will take him from the sickness that takes over his lover to inside Alpha Site where the man who controls the colony pushes him to his knees and the edge of his boundaries. Will The Bright Side of Midnight be Tavish's ruin or salvation?
PUBLISHED BY: ManLove Romance Press
CATEGORIES: ManLove, Science Fiction
KEYWORDS: gay erotic romance, slash, M/M



COPYRIGHT Jason Edding/2009
Chapter One The stained print of the organism, dyed purple and pink and blown up to poster size, was almost beautiful. Tavish had spent hours staring at it. It had a calming effect on him. It was too bad that something so beautiful infected the lungs of miners digging in the depths of his home colony. Tavish looked out the window to watch Midnight's approach. Midnight, the planet, was growing off the portside viewer. It wasn't an actual porthole; he didn't even know if he had a room on the outside of the ship, but the display showed the murky, dusty planetoid to its best advantage, such that it was. He looked back to the stain, and pressed his fingers against the glossy finish. The door slid open silently. Such easy convenience was one more thing Tavish was going to have to get used to not having. Midnight was nothing but a mining colony and comforts such as automatic doors were a waste of precious energy. He had to go back, not just because the Black Lung was only found in the mines of Midnight. His education had been mostly financed by the colony; he owed them his service. He wasn't exactly like one of the miners bought and paid for body and soul from the company, but he was close. Royal entered, dressed in a white uniform, impeccably tailored, and immediately moved to the rumpled blankets on the lower bunk. He was immaculate, but then he always was. Tavish supposed he started fucking Royal just so he could break up the chestnut hair from its usual casing. He was certainly pretty enough to have caught Tavish's fancy. But once he'd been caught, it hadn't really been what either of them wanted. "Oh, leave it," Tavish said as Royal put the bottled water next to the bed. "We'll be landing in an hour or so." "That's what I came in to tell you," Royal said. He began clearing the textbooks and tablets off the table. The magnetic field would hold everything down no matter how bumpy the landing was, and despite himself Tavish couldn't stop the stab of annoyance flashing inside him. He took the tablet away from him and kissed him, just to get him to stop touching his things. "That's what you pay me for," Royal said. "Remember?" "You're my lab assistant," Tavish said. "Not my mother, not my housemaid." "What part of my job description includes cocksucking?" "That's not a part of your job at all," Tavish said. Royal had said it teasingly, almost, but it rubbed Tavish's already raw nerves. He pushed the button on the stain sample and the casing went soft enough for him to roll it up and stow it with the rest of his belongings. "You love that thing more than me," Royal said. His voice was still light, but his eyes weren't, not in the slightest. Tavish pretended not to see it. He sighed, and took Royal's hand. "We have an hour, you said?" he asked, the brightness in his voice as manufactured as the view screen up against the wall. They almost deserved each other. When they were both in school, both finishing off their doctorates, Tavish had been at the head of the class and Royal somewhere in the middle. So when Tavish had been offered the job, personally asked over holo by Midnight's governor, Patrice himself, he'd asked Royal to come with him as his assistant. He'd honestly thought Royal would refuse the job as being beneath him, but Royal hadn't. On the three-week voyage over, this feeling of incompatibility grew. Royal made a brilliant assistant. His powers of observation and anticipation ensured that everything Tavish could have possibly wanted in the temporary workspace they'd been given was met. Only that level of care had also carried over into the bed, and that was the last thing Tavish wanted. The more care and concern Royal showed, the less Tavish wanted to screw him. Royal kissed him, pulling him back to the now. "Shall we have sex?" He placed his hands on Tavish's chest. Because Midnight was a corporate mining company, everything had to come from the company. That included workers to work. In order to control the numbers, colonies were usually kept monosexed. He and Royal hadn't been lovers before they left for school, and once they arrived at the co-ed university, Royal had several women as companions. Tavish had made a half-hearted pass at him late one night when they were both working on the organism's genetic map, and he was surprised when Royal had accepted. It hadn't been an easy three months, and as they both graduated and were packing for their return, Royal had become snappish. Whenever he looked at Tavish, he seemed to look through him. Tavish knew he was thinking of running, and had been almost disappointed when Royal had turned up for the ship's departure. Once they were on the ship, however, the overly-caring Royal returned with a vengeance. Tavish almost preferred the old Royal. At least he'd spunk. "How do you want me?" Royal asked, pulling Tavish out of the memory. Tavish blinked, once, and shook his head. Tavish didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to discuss it or draw diagrams or play twenty questions. He put his finger on Royal's lips. "I want you quiet," he said. Royal nodded. He pulled off his tailored uniform and stood naked in front of Tavish. Royal looked better in the uniform than without it. Not that there was anything wrong with his body, it had just already begun to take the characteristics of a person who worked inside at a computer all day. The too white skin combined with the slightly bowed shoulders was something a tailored uniform could hide. Royal's cock was already hard. Tavish pushed his finger into Royal's mouth, making him suck it, but stopped Royal from dropping to his knees. "Let me--" Royal began, but Tavish shook his head. Royal didn't fight him. He sucked Tavish's finger, hard, moaning and Tavish pulled his finger out. He opened his mouth to make a begging sound but kept quiet when Tavish looked at him. Tavish licked his lips, and brought his wet finger down over the tip of Royal's cock. "I could--" Royal cut in. Tavish covered Royal's mouth with his hand. It was over between them. Royal's eyes widened, sensing it, too. Tavish didn't stop jerking Royal's cock. He knew there wasn't enough lubrication but the spray had already been packed. Besides, from the way Royal's hips were moving even with the rough touch of dry skin told him Royal no longer cared, one way or the other. Royal's eyes were closed, so Tavish stared past him, to the holo screen and watched the ship in its carefully planned fall to Midnight's surface. He let Royal pant and groan, grasping onto his shoulders. Tavish kept the pace up, exactly how he knew Royal liked it, and let him come all over the floor. He kissed Royal on the forehead. "It's done," he whispered. Royal jerked free, the bad news fighting with the endorphins for control of his face. He took three deep breaths before he had control over his throat. "I know," he said. Tavish swallowed. "I'm sorry." Royal slowly pulled his uniform back on. His hands shook. "I knew it wasn't going to last." "If you'd rather return to the university, I can pay for it. I don't want you to think that I dragged you here under false pretenses. You're good enough for the job, and I'd still like to work with you." Royal turned, and stared out to the growing hologram of Midnight. "I never wanted to come back," he said. "But I owe them seven years of work. I'd rather work with you than in a mining clinic." "I was surprised you didn't try to run," Tavish said, quietly. Royal's shoulders tensed. "I wanted to." But he knew as well as Tavish did that there was nowhere to run to. Without his accreditation, which belonged to Midnight until it was paid off in full, or his papers, he'd just be another non-citizen trying to find a job at whatever questionable place where his paperwork would be overlooked. He turned. "But I thought at least I had you to go back with." Tavish relaxed, not realizing how tense he was until he felt the knots of his shoulder release. He was about to say he was glad he had him to go back with too, when Royal looked at him. He was smiling, but the distancing look was back in his eyes. There was no way to read anything behind its chill. Tavish suddenly wanted Royal out of his room. Royal left as quickly and quietly as he'd come. They were landing anyway. Tavish lay down on his bed, glad that he hadn't taken Royal there. The static field molded to his skin as he lay down, more secure than any old-fashioned belting-in system, and when next he woke up again, they had landed. He came back to the clanks and groans of a ship locking itself into place. He sat up. The only side effect of the static field was an exceptionally dry mouth. That was what the bottled water was for. He cracked the seal and downed half of it, but the lining of his throat still felt parched. He got up and brought the bottle with him. It was a hard landing on the surface, no tendering necessary, but there was still a queue to exit the ship. He saw Royal, further on in the line. Tavish didn't call to him. Royal didn't look for him. It was going to be an interesting year. Midnight's landing pad hadn't changed. The advertisements up on the walls just demonstrated newer versions of personal air purifiers and sleeker transporters. Tavish's return was somewhat mitigated by the new hospital wing, visible from the hill as they stepped through the controlled air flow. The unconditioned air of the colony was dry enough that Tavish stopped a few steps from the exit pathway and downed what remained in his water bottle. The rolling hills to the west, rich with the symbiote arochos, were a deep red and orange. Before he'd left, there had been huge forests of stone trees. Arochos grew from the stone like land coral, creating huge pillars of stone that branched out like trees to gather in sunlight. Arochos had a rudimentary photosynthesis ability. Behind him, the huge ship with its slick lines and iced-over metallic sheen looked, rightly so, as if it came from a different planet. The Alpha Site was to the north, and somewhat optimistically named. There were no other settlements on the colony big enough to even have a name. Not yet, at least. But the city was big enough now that the controlled air bubble no longer contained it all. Considering how dry Tavish's lungs were from standing just a few minutes in the raw, unprocessed air, he didn't envy those who worked outside the bubble and had to travel through the dryness every day. Inside the bubble, what had been crowded when Tavish had left was now stuffed tight. The original rows of buildings had had some semblance of order six years ago. Now, the rows were only dimly visible through the haze of shacks and gravity-defying bridges. Any inherent order the streets once had was gone. Despite Tavish's best efforts, he ended up standing next to Royal again, pushed by the ebb and flow of the stream of passengers moving past him. Royal nodded at him, the frosty glare gone. Tavish tried again. "That was a crass way to end things," he said. "I'm sorry. I thought I was better than that." Royal nodded again. "I really do want your help," Tavish continued, encouraged. "Though I know it's almost an insult to your abilities, being on the books as my assistant. You could run the lab yourself if you had to." The bleak look, for want of a better name for it, was back on Royal's face. He shrugged. From Alpha Site came a caravan of mismatched transports, some small enough to hold only one or two people, others huge multi-person behemoths. Tavish knew they kept well back from the landing pad in case it became a crash site, but the strain of travel was starting to catch up with him and he was glad to see them none-the-less. With his father dead and his brother...unlikely to make a public appearance, what with the bounty on his head and all, there were very few people likely to come to meet him. Royal squeezed his hand comfortingly, and Tavish was grateful for it. He'd been about to say something to Royal, something unimportant, if the ease with which it had slipped out of his mind was any indication. He squeezed Royal's hand back. "You're thinking about your father," Royal guessed. Tavish nodded. "And my brother." Royal snorted. "You shouldn't be. You're here to solve the world's problems, cure Black Lung and make Dose safe for widespread distribution. If that doesn't scrub your name squeaky-clean, nothing will." "Here's hoping," said Tavish, but the queer feeling in his belly intensified at the mention of Dose. His conscience was clear as far as the practical application of Dose went; whose wouldn't be? There were enough dangerous, black-market drugs out there, all designed to make life easier for the poor worker in the mines and the factories. The cost of addiction, however, and the damage the black market drugs did to the internal organs and the mind of the user was hideous. Dose was a clean drug, non-addictive, government-controlled, and impossible to abuse. Anything over the maximum was turned into simple sugars by enzyme reactions. The enzyme was only found in arochos, which was only found on Midnight. If only Black Lung didn't strike one out of every five miners digging for the raw materials necessary for making the wonder-drug, Dose would be perfect. Which was why Tavish had come back. The first transport arrived, a sleek two-seater that looked like it could get to the launch pad and back before the lumbering multi-person transport had even cleared the city boundaries. It was molded over two large wheels-all black, naturally-and it looked more like an old Earth motorcycle than anything else. When it came to a stop in front of them, it braked so gently it seemed to hover in mid-air, defying gravity. The driver's door opened, pivoting on an internal axis, and a young man climbed out dressed in off-world clothes and a probably-illegal leather jacket. There were things that old-fashioned denim could do to a man's ass that no synthetic fiber could ever match. The man getting out grinned at both of them, showing off pearly-white teeth. His dark hair was a tangle of carefully sculpted curls, and his chin and cheekbones showed fine bone structure. He was gorgeous and he knew it. Tavish was instantly turned off. The last thing he needed was another high-maintenance relationship, even if Mister Nice-Ass was interested in him. "Which one of you is Doctor Pan?" Doctor Pan. It was one of the first times Tavish had heard his full title. He smiled, despite himself. "That's me," he said, stepping forward. "This is my assistant, Doctor Royal McLean." Nice-ass bowed his head towards Royal for a brief moment and then immediately dismissed his existence. Tavish guessed he'd have to introduce them several times before Royal's name stuck in his pretty head. "I'm sorry, I just have room for one. Your assistant will have to take the next mass transport. Dad sent me to bring you right back." "And you are?" Tavish asked. Nice-ass looked momentarily stunned that anyone wouldn't recognize him, regardless of how short a time they'd been planet-side. "I'm Jordan. Jordan Patrice." Tavish stared. He'd met Jordan a few times when he was a kid, but Jordan, as the son of the new governor, was surrogated and paid for by the company. Tavish and his brother, Thomas, were biological-their father had had a wife before he'd chosen to come to Midnight. She'd died years before, and the company had made it worth his while to come and be an advisor to Patrice. Tavish had been two years older, Thomas and Jordan were roughly the same age. He remembered Jordan as a bookish younger boy, serious, constantly at his tablet-screen, reading. This careless fly-boy didn't match the memory in the slightest. "It's been years, Tavish," Jordan, né Nice-ass, said. His tone had changed. Tavish looked up, and Jordan's grin was gone. The expression in its place held the ghost of that serious young man. He met Tavish's eyes coolly, then grinned again and the ghost was thoroughly exorcised. "Are we going or what?" Jordan asked, clapping his hands. "Betty here can go seventy miles an hour in third gear. You want to be gone before the cattle cars come." "My luggage," Tavish said helplessly. Jordan shrugged. "Your assistant can take care of it. That's what he's here for. Come on, those transports chew up the turf too much, and we might as well get out and push Betty ourselves." Tavish turned to Royal. "Are you going to be okay?" "It's what I'm here for," Royal said grimly. "You go. I'll be fine. And don't ask me if I'm sure. Just go." Tavish swallowed his next question. "Sorry," he said instead, and got into the transport-Betty. Jordan grinned at him, closed the doors, and spun Betty around on its-her?-back wheels, spitting coarse sand at Royal and the other travelers. Inside Betty they sat in comfortable pods on either side of the two huge wheels. The engine hummed, almost too loudly to hear Jordan screaming out points of land that were slightly less uninteresting than the rest of the nothing around them. But since they were both from Midnight; the failed landings and all the other abandoned would-be Alpha Sites that hadn't managed an economical toe-hold were a familiar object lesson. Patrice, Jordan's father was the first governor who had actually run Midnight in the black. Jordan hit the brakes and the bike-Tavish had stopped trying to think of it as "Betty"-skidded about ten yards before coming to a stop. The doors swung up together, and Jordan got out. The sand dune in front of them didn't look any different from the surrounding dunes. Jordan poked his head back through the open door. "Coming?" The vacuous grin was back. "What if I said no?" Tavish demanded. "I'm not above dragging you out kicking and screaming. It's not like there's anyone around to hear you." The threat was followed by another brilliant grin. Tavish shook his head, but got out of the transport. The sand here was packed enough for the wide tires of most transports to have no problem, but walking on it was hard going. Each step was a struggle. Jordan ran through the sand, ten, fifty, a hundred yards from the transport, pulling Tavish behind him. From the top of the dune, they could see the Alpha Site. From this angle, the impossible bridges that spanned at all angles, directions, and levels were even more obvious. "Those are new," Tavish said noncommittally. "Last couple years, office space was at a premium. Anyone in the B class got moved into mass dorms, and any free space was built up. We'll be there in plenty of time-the mass transports can't navigate the streets. Everyone else will have to walk from the city's edge." "What about the bags?" "They'll be delivered. Never underestimate the capitalistic nature of the B class." The smile disappeared, and it was the serious boy again. The serious, all-grown-up boy, Tavish quickly amended. The desire flickered through him, fleeting and treacherous, to reach up and smooth Jordan's curls with his fingers. But at any minute, the grin would come back. Tavish imagined those perfect teeth biting his fingers off, and shuddered. But the smile didn't come back. "Have you heard from your brother?" "You don't think I'm going to tell you, do you?" Tavish asked. His brother Thomas, all conflicting feelings aside, was still his brother, and he in no way, shape or form wanted to see him fall under Patrice's control. "You're still loyal, then," Jordan said. It was the longest stretch yet that Tavish had seen his serious face. "I suppose that's a mark in your favor." "What's that? A disloyal thought? Are those even allowed?" "They are out here," Jordan said, and waved to the transport a hundred yards away. "This is the furthest we can get from any listening device, and I had to know. We can go back now." The ever-present wind picked up, and Tavish gasped, feeling his face flush. The air quality out here seemed even poorer than he remembered. "That's it?" "That's all," Jordan said, and grinned. "What did you think there, partner?" Tavish shook his head. Just like that, Jordan's mask was back up. Just like with Royal. They headed back through the hard-packed sand, and this time, Tavish kept up enough to hear Jordan panting too, and that gave him some small measure of satisfaction. They passed by the transport terminal just as the huge mass transport arrived, in a long queue waiting to unload. There had been forty replacement miners that had gotten off the ship with them. "Where do the bodies go?" he asked. Black lung was supposed to kill at a rate of two or three a day. Jordan hesitated. "I don't know. Patrice keeps them somewhere." "How clever," Tavish said. "Midnight is all about expedition." He was glad Jordan's transport glass windows were tinted so Royal couldn't see him. Tavish could see him, though, and Royal looked exhausted. He looked hot and tired, after a trip with close quarters, no elbow room, and no air conditioning. Tavish angled an air vent at himself and sighed. Jordan's bike, of course, had a conditioner mounted on its small dash. "We can crack the windows open now that we're in the bubble, but I think the site has more people than air these days," Jordan told him. The engines were slightly quieter now that they had slowed down to a jogging speed in the crowded streets. Lean-tos, shacks of corrugated metal and any other sort of shelter that could be scrounged, fought for space with kiosks selling everything from grilled meat to outerwear and electronics. Recyclers, bookies, and pretty boys all vied for prime real estate. The last time Tavish had seen these streets, they'd been bare. That was without the looming, gravity, defying bridges that stretched between the buildings like umbilical cords. He couldn't help ducking his head as they passed under them. "Don't worry," Jordan said. "They hardly ever fall down." "Are you serious?" The words slipped from Tavish's lips involuntarily. "Twice," Jordan said, seriousness showing through again. "Both times very late at night." There was real relief in his voice, not the gleefully scandalized mock-concern Tavish had expected, along with all the gory details. Tavish stared at Jordan's far-too-pretty profile, and didn't like the inscrutability he saw there. "So did I pass your test?" he asked finally, because he had nothing else to say. "What test?" "I'm the son of a dead traitor and the brother of a living one." "That wasn't a test," Jordan said dismissively. "I had to know where your loyalties lie." "Hey, no, wait. I didn't say any of that. I said I wouldn't betray my brother. I didn't say I was disloyal to your father or my work here. And if you even hint that I'm not-" "You'll do what, exactly?" Jordan asked, voice deceptively mild. "Deny it," Tavish said firmly. "I would deny it." "You've come all this way to help cure a dreadful, fatal disease," Jordan said. "I wouldn't dream of getting in the way of that." "You're a very strange person, Jordan Patrice," Tavish said. "And you're very hard to read." "Please," Jordan said, the grinning mask back up. "I've only got the one thing on my mind. Say the word, and you and I can be doing it together." The clutter and bridges cleared up once they entered the center of the Alpha Site. Here, at last, the streets were clear, and the transport-bike could open its engines again. It took that much time for Tavish to realize what had been bothering him all this time about the site. As strange as he had found the mix of men and women six years ago, now he found it equally strange to find only men in the streets, shops and sidewalks. He remembered how shocked some of the other students had been when he remarked on the co-ed environment, but they hadn't come from a colony where everything, even the next generation of workers had to be bought and paid for like any other non-renewable resource. The company provided everything at a premium. He supposed he was one of the lucky ones, to be gay by inherent preference. Royal wasn't, but took male lovers out of necessity. He wondered if Jordan really was, or if it was just another mask he'd thrown up. Some had been unable to function in a monosexual environment and never returned after they'd completed their schooling, forfeiting huge educational deposits if the colony had provided any part of the finances at all. Others simply went completely non-sexual, as Tavish's father and brother had done. Jordan bared his teeth and skidded into another stop. "Here we are, then. I'll have your man bring your bags to your room once he finishes navigating through the streets. Tell me, do you need one room or two for the pair of you?" "Two rooms," Tavish said distractedly. Just then, the big man himself came down the stairs in front of the original government building. It was also the grandest, and held what was laughingly referred to as the Parliament. Real bricks and marble covered the whole of the first floor and the stairs leading up to the mezzanine, brought to Midnight brick by brick and slab by slab, had a classic, rich feel that was lacking in all the other prefabricated plastic buildings. Still, it was a striking facade and the steps leading up made it an even more impressive sight. Against the haze of the air bubble overhead it was imposing. Tavish didn't know how his father had walked up those steps the day after he had tried to betray his leader. That was obviously on Patrice's mind too, when Tavish climbed out of the transport. His expression was stormy, and he reared up to his full height. It helped that he was up a step, gaining the height needed to look down his nose at Tavish. It was a needless gesture. The thought of betraying him terrified Tavish. The moment Patrice saw that on his face, he smiled. "Now you're getting it," he said. "You know I would destroy you." And Tavish knew he would. "You have nothing to fear from me." "Of course I don't. Your father and brother, they didn't have the greater good to help them through their weak times. But you do. I need your research, Tavish. I've followed your progress through your studies. You're quite brilliant." Tavish, not Doctor Pan. If there had been any doubt as to his position on staff, that answered it. Not that Tavish cared. As long as he was left alone in his lab undisturbed for long stretches of time, he was happy. "You're late," Patrice said, glancing at Jordan. His annoyance was so sharp that Tavish would not have been surprised if he had raised his hand to his cheek and found blood where Patrice's glance had passed by him to skewer Jordan. Jordan only shrugged, brilliant, empty smile back firmly in place. "I didn't want to scare the boy, Dad. I told him Alpha may be bursting, so I took him to the proposed Beta Site." "I don't think any empty dune is different from the next on this damned planetoid." The look Patrice gave Jordan was withering, but Jordan's expression didn't change. That didn't seem to jive at all with the child Tavish recalled. His father, of all people, should realize the smile was an affectation, but the disgust on Patrice's face was quite real. Jordan reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. And then that piece of paper crinkled like plastic, and the pieces started to fit together in Tavish's head. Jordan pulled a tab of Dose free and an instant later relief filled him, his face slipping into a near-orgasmic expression. Patrice's lip curled back far enough to show teeth yellowing up by the gum line. He still had some of the handsomeness that was such a weapon on his son, but it was padded by years of the good life. He smelled of actual tobacco and the black hair on his head seemed too uniform to be natural. His off-world clothes were tailored perfectly, which meant either someone on his staff did it for him, or he had a tab with an off-world business who knew his body sight unseen. Neither option was cheap. For once, Jordan's smile looked a little goofy. "Relax, Dad, it's all good." "That stuff will rot what's left of your brain," Patrice snarled. Jordan ambled up the stairs, threw his arm over his father's shoulder, and lightly punched his chin, in what for everyone else but Jordan, was slow motion. "It's non-addictive, remember?" he asked, and nodded his head to music only he could hear. It was possible he did have a personal media player running, what with the improvements in implants the last decade, but somehow, Tavish doubted that was the case. "I'll have someone take you to your rooms," Patrice said grimly. "Both of you." "Relax, Daddio. I can see us both safe and sound, if you know what I mean." Jordan took Tavish by the hand. "It's all good." Patrice made the same disgusted sound he had when Jordan popped the tab of Dose, and swept up the stairs. "You'll have to excuse him." Jordan reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of shades. Dose users were photosensitive. So were people in early-stage Black Lung. It was one of the first signs that the organs were under attack. First went the cones in the cornea, then the muscles in the heart. The rods were left in perfect shape. "You're addicted, then?" Tavish asked. That explained the mood swings. If Jordan was riding the weaker second wave of the drug, that would account for the flashes of familiar personality. He'd needed his next Dose. Tavish was just glad he hadn't been on that first euphoric high while out on the dunes or navigating the narrow city streets. "Relax, Doc. I wouldn't risk your pretty neck," Jordan said, still nodding along to music only he could hear. "Besides, Dose lets you work smarter and harder, remember? The pretty holo brochure says so on the first page." Tavish's mouth tightened. Jordan was quoting the promotional copy verbatim, but there was a reason the chemists who created it weren't users. Tavish had seen users at the university. Dose wasn't available commercially yet. They still had to settle that small issue of it killing the miners who dug for its raw components. But if you knew someone who knew someone from Midnight, it wasn't impossible to procure. In less kind moments, Tavish had even thought Royal might have had something to do with it. "Do you believe everything you read?" Tavish asked. Jordan smiled wryly. Not grinned, smiled. It made him beautiful. Jordan was high enough that he wouldn't have felt the touch if Tavish had dared. "I did." A pause. And Tavish counted the seconds until the drug took hold again. He didn't get to four. "Anyway, like I said, don't worry about the old man. He's just in an exceptionally bad mood. He's trying to decide by what margin of victory he's going to win. His advisors are trying to tell him to low ball it, but he wants to have an epic win for the CEO's visit. He's not telling me which way it's going to go. Pity, I could make a killing with the bookies." "What you're saying is treason," Tavish said carefully. His father had been executed for less. "Yes, it is," Jordan agreed. Tavish wondered how blown his pupils were. "What are you going to do? Arrest me? Turn me in to my father? Men have tried before. Funny thing, none of them showed up for work the next morning. Or ever, really, if one were to keep track of such things. He knows I'm too much of a coward to cross him again. And once he thinks he knows someone, he thinks it's set in stone. Tongues wag in the first wave. Again, it's in the small print. You'd do well not to listen to a single word I say when I'm Dosing. The chances are that any of it being remotely truthful is slim. Practically non-existent. I'd have my bookie do a sheet for you, but I'm into him for a good long roll, so that's not really advisable. This is your room." They'd crossed the street, gone up the lift in the huge prefabricated building opposite the state building, and up to the ninth floor, all the while that Jordan had let his mouth run in that amazingly slow way of his. They'd gotten off the lift in a long, empty hall with rooms running symmetrically all the way down, doors ten yards apart. The room was probably a closet when compared to Jordan's room or Patrice's, but compared to the dorms or the berths on the ship, Jordan was sure it would be large in comparison. Tavish had taken Jordan's arm and propelled him along when the Dose had hit and walking and talking at the same time became an issue. He had been afraid that Jordan would lead them up and down the same halls for hours. But when Jordan produced a magnetic strip from one of the pockets of his leather jacket, it turned the door sensor green on his first try. "Smarter and harder," Jordan said, and tried to point at his temple. He missed and hit his parietal lobe instead. The effect was somewhat of a mixed bag. "And in we go." Jordan stepped in first. The room looked like a standard set-up, small for a luxury room or huge for a standard room, depending on your perspective--living space, a counter with a mini-refrigerator unit and a cooking plate. The couch was larger than Tavish's old bed. The bathroom was one of two possible rooms to the right-rooms, plural. The other was most likely a separate bedroom. "Are you one of those people who needs to be humored with a grand tour of a ridiculously small space?" Jordan drawled. "Nope," Tavish said. "Not me." "Good," Jordan announced, settling the matter loudly enough that Tavish jumped. His face was frozen and expressionless, in a way that his father would have been proud to see. He started to shiver. It looked like an overdose. He was having a diabetic reaction to the sudden excess sugar in his body. Tavish tried to take his arm, but Jordan fought him off with an animalistic fury. Tavish backed off and pointed to the couch. "Let's sit down, then." Jordan nodded, but with such severity that it looked silly. He straightened his jacket-again, too meticulously-and led the way into the living area. He sat down, something different in a room dedicated to boring sameness, from the prefabricated couch and carpet to the beige, bland walls. Equally bland curtains were drawn over one wall, but since the building didn't have any windows, Tavish didn't even try to open them. Jordan's skin was too pale, made whiter by the contrast to his dark curls. Tavish patted him down until he found the insulin spray any Dose junky carried. It was in his right pocket, and Jordan, docile as a kitten should such beasts exist on Midnight, opened his mouth and lifted his tongue for Tavish to spray beneath. Without a nailbed glucose reader, Tavish had no way to know if the single pump of spray he had administered was enough. Color returned to Jordan's cheeks, though, and the shaking stopped. He sank back onto the couch, and closed his eyes, settling into sleep. He would wake completely parched, but hopefully with no permanent damage done. Much like Royal had for him, Tavish went to the fridge and found a bottle of water for Jordan when he woke. He had put it in easy reach and had just found which of the two doors was the bathroom when someone banged on the door, probably Royal from the angry force behind the blows. Tavish opened the door, and Royal burst into the main living area without waiting for an invitation, Tavish's bags in tow. "Don't," Royal spat, "ever do that to me again." "Sorry," Tavish said guiltily. "I had no idea how the transfer arrangements were going to play out." "But you certainly did nothing to change it," Royal said. He stopped dead as he noticed Jordan asleep on Tavish's sofa. For a moment, he said nothing, but then Royal bent down, and deliberately took the bottle of water, cracking the lid open. Tavish said nothing, deciding he owed Royal at least that much. "That's a record for you," Royal said, once he'd downed half the bottle. "Seriously. First pull that took less than six months. Congratulations." "It's not like that," Tavish said, not knowing why he was protesting. "Sure, Tavish," Royal said. He looked back to Jordan, and shrugged. "I wish you the best, for what it's worth." "Thanks," Tavish said. "Really, thanks."

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