Storm and Lightning began on the 13th January. Catch up here: week one, week two, week three, week four, week five, week six, week seven, week eight, week nine, week ten, week eleven, week twelve, week thirteen, week fourteen, week fifteen, week sixteen, week seventeen, week eighteen, week nineteen, week twenty
On a mining colony planet a long way from Earth, bandit Jedd Lightning dreams of making enough money to get off the planet for good. When a robbery at a high-class brothel goes wrong, he meets gorgeous rentboy Storm and is instantly smitten. But Storm has a few surprises up his sleeve, and when Jedd helps him escape, he realises he might have taken on more than he can handle…
But now, on with the story:
Boots weren’t nearly as comfortable as Storm had imagined. Maybe it was like Jedd had said, and it was simply a case of them being too big for Storm’s feet, but that didn’t explain why his toes felt so cramped or why they rubbed everywhere. Still, it was better than treading barefoot on the burning flagstones outside, so he persevered.
Storm followed Jedd into a very different section of town to the one they’d passed through yesterday. Like the Talmaki district, the buildings were constructed from sun-baked bricks, but these were clearly a lower grade, pockmarked and cracked. As the narrow streets grew more crowded—with market stalls and mostly human customers—Storm pulled his hood right down until all he could see was the patch of street in front of him, and Jedd’s heels.
It didn’t shut out much, though. The mingled stench of unwashed bodies, cooking, rotten food, and raw sewage warred with the sickly sweet incense burning on the window ledges. Storm didn’t blame the inhabitants for wanting to mask the outside smells, but the addition of the incense just made it all even more nauseating. And it wasn’t just the smells—there was noise, so much noise. Chattering passersby, stallholders making fantastical claims about their wares, someone playing a pipe, and at one point a Ranak bellowing in pain. What sick bastard had hurt a Ranak? It was bad enough they were being used as beasts of burden. They shouldn’t have to suffer cruelty too. It wasn’t until Jedd’s hand landed on his shoulder with a hissed “Keep moving. We’re nearly there” that he realised he’d come to a standstill.
But worse than the odour and the noise was the overwhelming range of emotions battering at his psy-field. Spikes of jealousy, bubbles of joy, prickles of anxiety and batterings of anger. He’d never been exposed to this many humans at once. Thinking about it, he’d never before been in close proximity with more than four at a time, and even that had nearly killed him. But at least disguised like this, he wasn’t at the mercy of human lust like he had been with those bandits. No, here it was less concentrated, but more confusing.
They turned into a shady alley and the noise of humanity fell away. Not the stench, unfortunately. That intensified, the dirt beneath their feet littered with detritus. Storm passed by what looked like a bag of bones at first glance, only later resolving into an unfortunate dog, now mouldering down in his last resting place. If they’d been in the desert, Storm could have buried him, but here the best he could do was send up a quick plea to the Twins to look after his spirit.
“We’re here,” Jedd announced, his tone jarringly cheery. “Better keep your hood down while I talk to Yakin. I’ve seen what he’s like, chatting up women. He slobbers all over them.”
“Just like the rest of you humans, then?”
“Wasn’t me doing the slobbering earlier, sweetheart. Now, for the purposes of getting what we need from the old con man, you’re some young thing called Bret who I’m leading around by the dick, okay? Now be a good boy and behave yourself in there.”
“Behave how, exactly?”
“Just keep your nose out of what doesn’t concern you. Yakin can be a right suspicious bastard at times. You don’t want him thinking you’re out to report him to the authorities for any violations.”
“Violations? What kind of violations?”
“You’ll see.” A creaking sound indicated a door opening, and Storm followed Jedd’s heels into a dimly lit interior.
“Lightning. I see there’s no keeping space scum like you away for long,” a rough voice called out. “And you’ve bought company. What’s with the robes? He a fucking monk or something?”
“Or something. Bret’s just shy. And kinky as hell. You should see what he’s got on underneath.”
Storm jumped as Jedd pinched his arse. At least, he hoped it was Jedd. He couldn’t tell where this Yakin fellow was when he wasn’t speaking.
But then Yakin coughed, giving away his position. No, thankfully that was Jedd’s hand currently massaging his arse. “Kinky, or just sun crazy? Must need his head examined hanging around with a prick like you.”
Storm’s pulse raced at the insult, but when he examined the man’s psy-field, there was nothing but a bubbling sensation. That thing that felt like amusement, but had an extra warmth to it. He’d felt it from Jedd earlier, and it stirred up old feelings, long buried. Could it be friendly affection? That might explain why he’d never felt it at Talmak’s. Some of the other whores were nice enough, but they’d always been suspicious of him, and he’d never felt welcomed into their friendships.
“Still ripping off desperate losers, Yakin? I’m surprised no one’s stuck a knife in you yet.” Jedd sounded as amused as his psy-field felt bubbly. Yes, these two were friends, even if they did enjoy trading insults.
Did this mean Jedd was Storm’s friend too? They’d certainly been doing well in the mutual insult flinging stakes. A friend would be nice.
“You got what we need?” Jedd asked, cutting through Storm’s musings. The scratchy-voiced Yakin replied instead.
“I think so. You might want to check the fit of the coat before you leave.”
“I’ll be checking the whole lot,” Jedd said. “You got somewhere he can change?”
“Somewhere more private.”
“What, embarrassed about dropping his pants? Believe me, I’ve seen it all before.”
“Not this you haven’t. Come on. I don’t want anyone else leering at what’s mine.”
“Fat chance you’d catch me leering at one of your pretty boys,” Yakin muttered, but he didn’t sound offended. “Okay. He can go through into the lounge. I’ll stay back here.”
Jedd’s hand landed heavily on Storm’s shoulder, and he allowed himself to be steered through into another room. “The caveman act ends as soon as he’s not watching,” Storm murmured. “I’m not your property, Captain Machismo.”
Jedd chuckled in reply and he landed a pat on Storm’s behind. Infuriating bastard! Storm curled his hands into fists. But he could play a part, couldn’t he? He’d spent most of his adult life pretending to be what others wanted. He could do it now, especially as he was free to choose this time.
“No funny business in there,” Yakin called out. “I know what you’re like, Lightning. There’s a time and a place for hanky panky. I’ll never forget that time I opened the cockpit door to find you with your hand stuck right up—”
“Keep your trap shut, you old peeping tom, or I’ll tell Bret here about some of your bad habits.”
Yakin cackled and wheezed. “Oh, and while you’re in there, check out the crate nearest the door. All kinds of crap from some barmy archaeologist chick. Said she needed a hiding place for it, but she never came back to collect. Fuck knows if it’s got any value, but if you can think of a buyer, let me know.”
The door closed behind them with a thud, and moments later, Jedd pushed back Storm’s hood. Captain Smug filled his vision, looking infuriatingly appealing up close. His lips were the shade of a freshly opened cactus flower, and Storm already knew they tasted every bit as sweet.
But no. Not here. Not now. Especially not when Jedd was smirking at him like he knew exactly what Storm had been thinking. He stepped back and scanned the room instead. It was low ceilinged, cosy, and lit by a series of fretwork lamps. Sumptuous fabrics lined the walls, and an area was fitted out around a stove with low divans and cushions. It could have been a lower class version of Tavkel’s, were it not for the piles of crates that filled the rest of the room. Storm sniffed, recognising the pungent scent of cordite he’d first encountered on the mercenaries’ ship. Talmaki pictograms covered the outsides of the crates, and Storm recognised the seal on several of them. It matched the designs on Senator Artaxico’s robes. Those were government seals.
This Yakin fellow must have a deathwish! “Are these stolen ex—” Jedd cut him off with a finger to his lips.
“What? You needn’t act so shocked. You knew what I do for a living when you signed up for this life.”
“I’m not signed up yet,” Storm muttered. But he undid the clasp at the neck of his cape and shucked off his tunic quickly, ignoring as best he could the lust emanating from Jedd’s direction. The black trouser suit Yakin had given them was much smarter looking than the utilitarian outfit Storm had expected, but it looked tough enough to stand up to life on the run. Better yet, it was made out of some high tech elasticated fabric. Perhaps he wouldn’t burst out of his clothing with the next enforced change.
A change he was going to do his utmost to avoid.
The long suede coat covered most of the outfit, but felt pretty comfortable. He glanced up to see Jedd rummaging through a box in the corner. “How am I going to disguise my face?”
Jedd pointed vaguely in the direction of a heap of stuff lying on a crate. “Try those. Should be something that suits. Man, you should see some of this crap. Who’d be interested in a load of old junk buried in the sand, anyway?”
The pile of stuff resolved itself into assorted headgear as Storm moved closer. He picked through the variety of masks and hats, trying to work out which would be the least conspicuous. “What’s this for?” He lifted a plain brown leather mask with fine mesh covering the openings for eyes, nostrils and mouth.
“Miner’s mask. Keeps the dust out when you’re working underground, and the sand out when you’re above.”
“Do people ever wear them in the city?”
“Not that I’ve noticed.”
Storm dropped it back onto the crate and picked up another. This black leather mask would only cover the top half of his face, around the eyes and over the bridge of the nose, but the punched designs around the border appealed to him. He put it on, pleased to feel it mould comfortably to his face. Now he just had to disguise his mouth and chin… There, a black and white patterned bandana. Storm knotted it behind his head and pulled it up to cover his mouth.
“How about this?”
This time when Jedd turned, he stared, open-mouthed. “Holy fuck. You look hella sexy like that. Hang on. Wait a minute. You need one more thing. Yakin! You got any wide-brimmed hats lurking around the place?”
The door opened and a black hat whizzed into the room, Jedd catching it as it flew past. “Here. Try this one for size.”
Jedd walked over and placed it on Storm’s head. “Suns above, you should see yourself. You’ve got that whole bandit vibe going on. Wait, there’s a mirror around here somewhere.”
Storm followed Jedd around a pile of crates until they found the hidden mirror. In the dim light it was hard to see the details, but he had to admit, the overall effect of the outfit was sleek and attractive. “Is it going to draw attention, though? I want to disappear, not to have people notice me.”
“They’ll notice, but not in a way that makes them wonder too hard. You’ll just look like another wannabe bandit poseur in head to toe black. The bars around here are full of them, reckoning they’re dangerous outlaws. All talk and no trousers, usually. Only I’ll know you’re the real deal.”
“I’m an outlaw now, am I?”
“You’re an alien fugitive, on the run. Hell yes, you’re a fucking outlaw.”
Storm stared at his reflection and tipped his hat. The man in the mirror looked a hundred times more dangerous than he felt, but maybe the image would help him toughen up. “Come on then. Let’s get out of this place and kick some arse.”
Will Storm manage to kick any arse? And what’s in that box of stuff? Find out in next Friday in another thrilling installment of Storm and Lightning!Storm and Lightning – © Josephine Myles, 2012. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission of the author. Thank you!