Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Reminder on Thanksgiving:

Thank you, Mr. Lincoln (and my friend philangelus):



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sample Sunday

This is #SampleSunday, so I'm offering a sample from my book Deuces Wild: Beginners' Luck.

= = =

Muscles trembled and ached. His head thudded. Nausea passed through him in waves, making him swallow convulsively. Brago's Bands, what happened? Slap opened his eyes and blinked twice before realizing the room wasn't sideways, he was. The side of his face pressed against a cold floor. His hands were tied behind him, the bindings cutting into his wrists.
Tristan lay across from him, eyes shut, a slightly glowing net wrapped around his torso. Where were they? From the metallic, slightly oily smell, he'd guess a ship. And from the narrowness he could see, they'd probably been dumped in a hallway.
Boots appeared near his face.
"That's the one he wants all right. Keep that energy-mesh on him—he's a slippery one."
"We got him easily enough," a second voice said with sneering disagreement.
"Don't underestimate him. I won't rest easy till he's off our hands and we've got the reward."
"What about this other one?" A boot prodded Slap's forehead. "There's no reward on him. Shall I kill him?"
"When we could make a side profit? Look at his size! Sell him to a press gang. There has to be freebooters in port. Now help me get this one locked up. Then you can get rid of the big one."
Several men lifted Tristan. Footsteps faded away.
Slap struggled against his bonds and a hand grabbed him by his hair.
"He's awake." Laughter. A foot nudged against his ankles. "You're going on a trip, boy. A real luxury cruise."
Fury rose in Slap. He swung his legs and contacted flesh. A yell and thump. He lifted his head to see his victim scrambling against the bulkhead, holding a hand to his bloody nose.
Hands grabbed Slap's shoulders from above his head. He sat up and twisted. A body flew over him and flipped, landing on his back. Slap shoulder-dropped onto the man's chest.
The other man leaned against the bulkhead, one hand still on his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers. He dropped his hand to his holster.
Slap scrambled to his feet and dove at his captor. They crashed to the deck—the man softening his own landing, but Slap still struggled to get his breath. His cushion wasn't so lucky; he was out cold.
"Good for you, lizard," he muttered. He rolled off the body and managed to get to his feet again. His first victim lay unmoving, gasping shallowly. He bet he broke the man's ribs and sternum, and despite everything, he winced in sympathy. He'd been kicked by a horse once and suffered broken ribs. It'd been agony. He'd been unable to move or breathe without it feeling like knives were driven into his chest.
He strained his arms, but couldn't loosen the bonds. He eyed the corridor. Not far down to his left a hatch promised a way out. They'd likely been brought aboard and dumped unceremoniously until the captain, or whoever, had checked them over. So—that was the way out. But he needed cover, and a knife. His knife! He could feel the sheath on his back, but he'd bet it was empty. No way to tell with his hands tied—Brago's Bands, how was he going to get untied?
He looked down at the gasping man with what he hoped was a convincing snarl. "You gotta choice. You untie me, or I stomp you."
The man's mouth worked like a fish out of water, and he lifted a hand. Hoping he wasn't going to be stabbed in the back, Slap knelt next to the man. Fingers fumbled at his bonds, and as he felt the cords slacken, he strained and pulled his arms free.
Blood welled from gashes the cords had made in his wrists. He rubbed the circulation into his hands as he stood. "Thanks," he said to the downed man. "Maybe when we're through with you, we won't sell you to the freebooters."
Empty bluster, but perhaps because of Tristan's reputation he was at least half-believed; the man on the deck turned pale. Slap remembered his sheath and felt for his blade. As he thought, gone. "Who's got my knife?" he asked himself aloud.
"Braddon," whispered the man on the deck.
Slap grinned and bent over, taking the man's stunner. "Amazing how a little pain can make you rethink your position, huh?" He stepped to the unconscious one and relieved him of his stunner as well, tucking it in his waistband. "These'll do instead of my knife for now." He looked down the corridor and back down at his ersatz helper. "How many men are on your ship?"
"Twenty one."
"You two down, that's nineteen to one." If the man were telling the truth. Slap would soon find out. "I wonder what Tristan would say to these odds?" Without a further glance down, he muttered to the man, "Wish me luck."
This ship was larger than ol' Bertha, and who knew what doors led where. Hefting the stunner and starting down the hall, Slap wondered where Tristan was locked up. Two men came out of a door ahead of him, and Slap shot them. One fell immediately, the other staggered against a bulkhead, his hand fumbling at the gauss gun holster on his back. Slap fired again and snorted at the heavy thud. "Sack o' potatoes. Seventeen."
The first man wore a stunner. Slap tucked it in his belt. He swallowed taking the gauss gun—a nasty weapon. He gazed about. Where might they have Tristan? He opened the door the two had exited. Tristan! Blind luck!
His dark companion leaned upright against the bulkhead, awake, dark eyes glaring. The energy-mesh hissed, almost a sizzling sound. It must be set to max.
"What are you doing here?" Tristan asked.
"Looking for you, what else? How do I get this thing off you?"
"The controls are on a belt."
"Gotcha. I'll check the two guys who just left here." Slap peeked around the doorway and dragged one then the other into the room. He found a small box with several switches on it and yanked it off the belt. He thumbed a switch and the hissing stopped.
Tristan tossed the thing off with a look of disdain and rose. "What are you doing here?" he repeated. He took the gauss gun from Slap.
Slap scowled. "If it slipped your mind, we were both stunned and brought here."
Tristan narrowed his eyes. "I meant, why did you come looking for me. No time now. Let's go." He started through the door and jumped back—a blinding flare hit the left side of the doorframe. The entire edge of the jamb twisted in glowing ruins—the door within the scorched bulkhead destroyed. Tristan muttered a sharp word in his native tongue.
"PBG?" Slap hissed, fear rising through his gut.
Tristan eyed the damage and shoved backwards into Slap. "Or rifle. Get back."
"You're trapped in there," a voice called. "It doesn't matter to us if you give up or not. We get our reward dead or alive."
Slap's gaze darted around the room—no other doors. He grabbed Tristan's arm. "What do we do now?"
Tristan jerked free, lips thinned into a line. His gaze went to Slap's waist and he snatched one of the stunners from him. "Play them," he whispered. "Stall. Tell them the PB got me and you'll give yourself up, but only if they let you go free."
Slap licked his lips, a feeling of certainty, of trust in Tristan welling up in him. "You got your reward then," he shouted. "The particle beam got him. But I have stunners and a gauss gun, and I'll use them if I have to. Let me go, I've got no part in this."
"You'd just walk out when we killed your friend?"
Slap eyed Tristan prying the stunner's case open as he answered, "He wasn't no friend, just someone I hitched a ride with. 'Smatter of fact, with him dead, I can take his ship. I figure you've done me a favor."
Silence for a moment. Tristan was still diddling with the stunner, his slender fingers working quickly, face intent.
Then, from the hall, "And if we don't want to let you go?"
"Well, I figure being dead now is only hurryin' what I'd get in a press gang. And I reckon with this gauss gun I'd take a few of you with me, anyway. So what's say? You get your reward, I just inherited a ship. Call it square."
Tristan looked up, his voice low, urgent. "When I say 'now,' you rush with me, cover our backs—stun anything moving."
"Thing is," the voice called, "how do we trust each other?"
Tristan gestured as if tossing the stunner out the door and winked.
Slap grinned. "For starters, how about if I throw my stunners out to you?"
"Sounds fine."
From an angle, Tristan lobbed the stunner to the right, the direction the particle beam had come from. Shouts of alarm—a burst of light.
"Now!" Tristan hissed.
Slap almost tripped charging out the door, one hand on Tristan's back, spraying stunner fire behind them. Bodies fell, and he turned to see where they were going just as Tristan skidded and pushed against him. "Back! Back!"
Slap needed no urging—he could hear footsteps running their way from beyond the curve in the corridor. He trampled over bodies and felt a pull on his arm.
He saw the stairs and leaped up the steps, his breath ragged with panic. Behind, below, he heard a scream. He jumped up to the deck, belatedly checking for people. Tristan surged up to join him, eyes darting about. He waved a command to follow with the gauss gun and sprinted to their right. Slap stayed on his heels.
Tristan pulled up by a door. "Get ready to stun."
Before Slap could nod, the door slid open, and he peppered the room—the bridge from the look of it—with stun bursts. Two men slumped in chairs.
"Overkill, but effective," Tristan said, as he locked the door, glancing around.
"What do we do now?"
Tristan went to a small cabinet embedded in the bulkhead and pulled out several tools. With one hand, Tristan hauled a body out of a chair and let it flop to the deck. Falling into the seat, he began working on the console's cover.
Slap leaned back against the bulkhead on the other side of the room. The better to keep an eye on Tristan, the unconscious men, and the door. "What are you doing?"
"Taking advantage of opportunity and buggering their ship."
"Do we have time for this?"
"You have any place to go?"
"Yeah. Away from here." Slap put his hand up to push back his hat and realized it was gone. Great. He ruffled his curly hair instead. "Preferably alive."
"This won't take long. You have a few moments to catch your breath before we make a run for it."
Slap jerked a thumb at the door. "Just don't forget there's eighteen guys standing between us and a way out."
"Most are piled up on the deck. Just wait."
Wait. Right. Like Slap had a choice. He twirled the stunner then stiffened. "Hey, one of them has my knife!"
"If you want to go out there and ask kindly for its return," Tristan said, head bent to his work, "be my guest."
"They took my whole bloody vest." His voice sounded bitter. Slap could understand why. Tristan's vest had lots of little secrets and unusual devices hidden in it. "We can replace whatever we've lost, but not our lives."
Slap leaned against the bulkhead. Tristan was right. But still, it burned. That had been a good knife.
"So what are you doing, anyway?"
"Let's just say I'm increasing the odds that they won't get this ship off planet any time soon." His lips spread in a grim smile. "Just in case we don't escape, they can't either."
Tristan set the cover in place and swiveled to access the communications console. He studied something for a bit, then seemed to be nosing in files.
Finally he stood. He returned the tools to the kit in the wall and turned. "Get ready!" Lifting the gauss gun, he walked toward the door.
Slap pushed up from the bulkhead.
A deafening flash—shock knocked him back against a console, his neck and spine recoiling like a whip. He blinked, unable to see, his body tingling with electricity, his back screaming with pain, his ears ringing. What? What? An explosion? He tried to straighten and fell to the floor. Smoke and burnt-metal tang invaded his nostrils, choking him. Crawl. Move. His hand bumped into something and he grabbed, felt. An arm. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them. Things seemed furry and like negative images, but he saw Tristan, face pale, eyes closed, bloody. No!
Hands jerked him to his feet. With a roar, Slap swung fists, connecting with flesh. Three men, two down. The third he grabbed by the throat and crushed until he felt soft tissue and cartilage give before throwing him against the far bulkhead.
The ship fell silent except for Slap's gasping breaths. He looked down at Tristan and knelt by him. Blood poured from a wound in his chest. Fingers felt for a pulse at his throat. Weak, but there. Brago's Bands, Tristan, don't die on me! He pressed his hands against the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood.
Footsteps thudded in the corridor. Slap fumbled on the floor with one hand for a weapon, any weapon. He snatched up a stunner, but before he could aim it, the first of two men skidded to a halt and called, "Don't shoot! We're here to help."
Slap didn't lower the stunner. He looked over the two intruders. They weren't dressed like the mercenaries. No space vests, and their dark blue clothes had straight lines, the jacket a high collar. They had a military air about them. "Prove it."
The man nodded toward Tristan. "He's hurt. We'll take him to a hospital."
Slap looked down at the bloody, still figure and licked his lips; his worry for Tristan battling with his fear to trust. He looked up and nodded. "Help him. Don't let him die."
= = =
If you like what you read, you can get Deuces Wild: Beginners' Luck in Kindle, Nook, and other e-book formats at Smashwords. The second edition of the print version will be available in the near future. 

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