LABYRINTHIAN: first look!

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I wasn’t going to launch into promo for this book until September, but whatever, it’s almost September, and I want to. So here’s the first chapter of Labyrinthian, which – recap – is coming out in January from Samhain Publishing. It’s a (very, very loose) retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur IN SPACE, and it’s set in the Line and Orbit universe, though it doesn’t feature any of the characters from that book and it stands totally on its own. It takes place shortly after the events of Line and Orbit, and if the L&O sequel ever actually gets a release, one should assume that it’s happening concurrent with that.

Here’s the blurb:

A hunter should never fall for his prey.
A hunter’s heart should never fall prey to his quarry.

Still nursing his latest post-mission hangover, bounty hunter Theseus jumps at a high-paying, high-risk job that sounds ridiculously easy. Yet from the moment he nabs the alleged supersoldier with sedative gas, nothing is as it seems.

On the run from the facility where he was created and raised, Taur is desperate to locate his genetically engineered brothers and sisters. To rescue them—and himself—from slavery. Waking aboard Theseus’ ship, his fury is tempered by curiosity about his captor. Despite his doubts about his prisoner, Theseus figures it’d be risky to let Taur go—until they’re thrown together by a shared betrayal. They declare a tentative truce as they flee from a shadowy and immensely powerful organization that will stop at nothing to find them.

But as they wrestle with their growing feelings for each other, Taur and Theseus face an even greater danger. A lethal threat lurking inside Taur’s own body, waiting to explode…

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So here’s the first chapter, which introduces Taur and reveals the fact that he’s not having a very good day, or week, or life.

(Warning: this actually gets pretty violent at one point)

~

Chapter One

Taur couldn’t breathe.

At first he didn’t panic. It made all the sense in the world; when your pilot jettisons the air and leaves you in a cargo hold that’s rapidly turning to vacuum, it would be fairly strange to be able to continue to breathe.

The wind of that coming vacuum whipped around him, around his loose on-board clothing, combing harsh fingers through his hair. Taur closed his hands around a coolant pipe bolted to the bulkhead and prayed—not that he was a praying man—that it was bolted solidly enough to anchor him.

Except he wasn’t exactly a man, and whatever other dubious gifts he had been given, breathing in an environment stripped of oxygen wasn’t one of them. If only they had thought of that. If only they had worked that out somehow.

Well, regrets wouldn’t do much now. He would die or he wouldn’t. There was a comforting simplicity about that.

Pulling himself hand over hand, he clawed his way toward the bulkhead and the emergency comm set into its curved face. Soon there wouldn’t be anything to carry sound anymore, and though yelling was unlikely to do much, it would at least allow him to die with a degree of satisfaction. Maybe even dignity, not that dignity had ever mattered all that much either.

A crate whistled past his head toward the half-open bay doors. He didn’t look at them. His attention was fixed firmly on the call button as he slammed his fist against it.

“Cal! Cal, what the fuck are you doing?”

At first nothing but a crackle, soft and vaguely taunting. Taur swore again, lavishly and in three separate languages, and slammed his fist against the bulkhead. Pain flashed through him; two of his knuckles had split but the bulkhead was dented—it evened out, he supposed.

Fuck, he was going to die. Fuck. Mostly it was very irritating.

So close.

Another crackle. Then, very faint, “Sorry, Taur. The money was too good. You know how it is.” A pause. “Hey, at least it’ll be painless. Mostly.”

“Fuck you.” He punched the bulkhead again, soaking in the pain, smearing the metal with blood. Precious blood. Blood precious enough that they didn’t want to see it get out there in the great big galaxy with no one to look after it. “Just… Fuck you, Cal. Get cozy with a black fucking hole.”

“Goodbye, Taur.”

The comm went quiet. For a moment there was nothing else but the howl of air becoming not-air. Taur squeezed his eyes shut and wondered what it would feel like when they burst their sockets.

No.

He thrust himself away from the bulkhead, his muscles straining, and with a grunt of effort that was closer to a roar he charged toward the bay doors, using the last of his purchase against the deck. Maybe it wouldn’t be enough, maybe it would, but he wasn’t thinking about that anymore. A red mist had passed over his vision, and he was only a moving pile of muscle, a machine, pistoning and shoving and boring his way through the universe. In front of the doors to the interior of the ship he paused, feet braced against a low line of tie-points in the deck, and locked his gaze on the thin vertical line in the center where the doors would open.

Would open.

He lowered his head and charged.

He knew his own strength. He remembered being tested, being trained, pushed to the very limits of what he could do. He had believed that nothing about himself could surprise him anymore, not after everything he had done. But the part of his mind that was capable of higher-level thinking noted the buckle and break of the doors with that same surprise that he hadn’t thought he could feel.

The rest of him was too busy forcing his considerable body mass through and into the corridor beyond. Very far in the background, he could hear Cal screaming through the comm.

Oh, he’d scream.

Taur didn’t slow, though he stumbled and dropped onto his fists, for a few seconds a four-legged animal with its head down and its teeth bared. He used them to shove himself forward and up again, to the end of the corridor and the ladder that would lead to the cargo shuttle’s cockpit.

He took it in two upward leaps. The heavy cockpit door was already sliding downward, but he arrested it with a single hand, shoving himself under it with a hard grunt, the protesting screech and the sound of it slamming shut after him ringing in his ears like the music of destruction.

What he’d been made for.

He smelled Cal before he saw the man. He stank of fear-sweat, of panic, and the smell excited both new rage and a dark kind of eagerness to close in and finish the kill. Taur stood, panting, staring at the little man who cowered against the pilot’s console.

He barely took notice of the gun Cal was pointing at him. It was small, unimportant.

“Don’t come any closer.” Cal licked his thin lips and appeared to try to get the tremble out of his voice. “I’ll shoot you, Taur, I swear.”

“Like you wouldn’t shoot me anyway. Your assignment is to make me die, isn’t it, you scummy little prick? Why the fuck wouldn’t you just finish it?” The words were another faint surprise, that he was able to form them at all. That enough of his higher functions were in control. He took a step forward. “Come on, then. Do your fucking job. If you can.”

Cal wavered. The gun shook in his hand. Strangely, what Taur found his attention fixed on wasn’t Cal’s narrow face or the barrel of the pistol but the stars in the window behind him, bright and clear.

Those stars had meant freedom, once upon a time. In simpler days. They had meant so much.

He had no idea what they meant anymore. If they meant anything.

He charged. Cal fired.

He felt the bullet graze the flesh of his shoulder—more heat than pain—just as his body crashed into Cal’s, slamming his frame back against the console. He also felt pain and the heat of blood, but like the wounds on his knuckles and the gun itself it was unimportant. What was important was the body giving way under his, the feeling of bones snapping. Cal screamed and tried to twist free, and then he was twisting only in agony as Taur closed his hands around Cal’s wrists and wrenched them backward.

Cal’s arms tore off in his hands. What the part of Taur’s mind that remained above the mist noted was the ragged flesh as the limbs fell away, the yellow of fat and the slick paleness of the shattered bone, and it noted this with only distant interest.

Cal’s screams cut off as his ribcage caved in. Taur stopped, held him there. Watched the blood pour out of his mouth. Watched his staring eyes as he drowned in it.

And flung his body away. It hit the bulkhead with a wet smack and crumpled.

Taur sank into the pilot’s seat—slick with spattered blood—and dropped his face into his equally bloody hands. This was not how he had hoped his day would go.

Not how he had hoped his life would go.

And yet there did seem to be a trend developing. The dead Peacekeeper back on Hagar Station. Before that, the corpses littering the hallways of the facility, the blood painting the walls. All wearing the faces of friends. But they hadn’t been. Friends didn’t lie to you. Friends didn’t get rid of you when you weren’t what they hoped you would be.

Isn’t this what you made me for? Isn’t this what you wanted?

At length Taur lifted his head. The stars. They meant he was still alive, and there was a big galaxy out there. As long as those things were true, he had a chance.

He touched the console and punched in a heading, let the computer plot a course. After a minute frowning and trying to figure out what he was forgetting, he issued the command to seal the outer bay lock. As he did, the oxygen level indicator chimed, and he let out a short, bitter laugh. Wouldn’t that have been a stupid way to die.

Well.

Scrubbing his hands over his face—smearing blood on top of blood—he sat back and watched the stars fade into the white streaks of slipstream. “Thanks for the ride,” he murmured, and glanced back at the ruin of Cal’s body. He would probably have to shoot it out an airlock before too long, before it started to stink up the place. Then he would have to do something about the blood.

It would be very nice if, at some point, people would stop making him kill them. Not that he held out a lot of hope.

He looked out at the stars again, his hands loose in his lap. Whatever. He had a job to do. His own job.

“Hang on,” he whispered to the black. “I’m coming. Fast as I can.”

Because he was fighting something worse than people, something worse than vacuum.

He was fighting time.

 

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