Backworlds Book 4
Some truths are better left unfound
Some truths are better left unfound.
In the far future, humanity settles the stars, bioengineering its descendants to survive in a harsh universe. This is the fourth book in the science fiction series, The Backworlds. A space opera adventure.
For two years Craze’s dear friend, Lepsi, has been missing. The murmurings of a haunted spaceship might be a message and may mean his old pal isn’t dead. The possibility spurs Craze and Captain Talos into space to uncharted worlds. Searching an unfamiliar region of the galaxy beyond the Backworlds, they stumble upon a terrible truth.
Meanwhile, Rainly remains on Pardeep Station as acting planetlord, dealing with the discovery of her man’s dark and brutal past. Alone and questioning her judgment, her introspection unlocks more than heartache. Latent protocols in her cybernetics activate, forcing her to face a sinister secret of her own.
Cover by: EDHGRAPHICS
Edited by: Kelly Schaub
Visit Pardeep Station for Backworlds extras.
“My very possessive husband would love to hear how his son took advantage of me.” Yerness catted outside Craze’s door, caging him inside his home when he had business to attend to, twirling her ebony hair, her tongue tracing her pillowy lips, wearing a dress that matched her olive complexion and left little to the imagination. The neckline plunged to her navel, the slit rode high on her hip, and the clingy fabric showed her every breath.
Before she married his father, she had been Craze’s gal, so he didn’t need to imagine anything and didn’t want to. Since hooking up with his pa, she had become more vile than the normal mere ex, devolving into revolting, grody, forbidden territory. No way would he let her inside and give her the chance to drug him again like she had last week. If some other woman offered to have her way with him, it’d not be an issue, but this one… the galaxy was too small for the two of them. “I recall it bein’ the other way around, toots. Cause no way would I willingly choose to touch your scuzzy ass or any other disgustin’ part of you. You with Bast now, you best run off ‘n show him your wiles. Besides, how could a low-life like me get one over on you? Little old leecher me isn’t cunnin’ enough.”
Dumb enough was more like it. Either way, he could match her game. With one hitch — she appeared ready to bail on her marriage whereas Craze didn’t want her hanging around if that happened. He crossed his burly arms and drummed his thick fingers on his elbows, caressing the silken fabric as pale as his cheeks felt whenever he remembered that sordid night with her, hoping inspiration would strike as to how to get rid of her for good before she did him in completely. He had no doubt she’d find a way to ruin the dreams and the future he had so carefully laid out. More than anything else, he wished she’d let him forget waking up naked in her arms. The narcotic she had given him left most of those loathsome hours blank except for a few fuzzy bits. Those made his skin crawl.
Stomping a foot, the flimsy strap on her form-fitting dress fell, revealing more of her curvaceous body. She cozied up to the camera to give him a bigger eyeful. “Quit calling me toots. You know my name. You used to whisper it with sweet darlin’ against my throat.”
“That was a lifetime ago.” To him, it seemed so, a time untainted by his father’s betrayal and hers, a time before the Verkinn council branded him a scuzzbag leecher, a time before he came to know Pardeep Station as home. A moon orbiting the planet Azta, Pardeep boasted dust and little else. Despite its deep-set cold and arid nature, Craze had fostered the moon and his floundering business into a respectable tourist destination, and he’d nurture it farther into something grander, envisioning industries, cities, and a forest of cacao trees. Chocolate remained the most prized luxury on all the Backworlds. With a plantation of it he could build paradise several times over.
None of it did he intend to share with Yerness, not even if she begged for a thousand years. “You left me for a fatter bank account ‘n higher status. Remember?”
She must have cracked her head and lost all memory since hooking up with Bast. “So what kind of shit is you pullin’? You think I’m goin’ to take you back? You think you can sidle in now that I finally have more than dust in my accounts?”
From the same race of people, Verkinns, they had similar features — builds as substantial as boulders, wide cheeks and noses, ear holes, skin so irresistibly soft most folks couldn’t stop touching it, and living hair. She let hers flutter as if wind constantly blew in her face. Craze had his braid itself into five tight plaits that spilled down to his waist.
Yerness’s blushing lips brushed against the lens, lips that used to set him on fire. “Leave me out here a little longer ‘n I’ll be screaming.” She held up her tab — a paper-thin data and communications device the size of a card. Her thumb hovered over Bast’s icon. “Let me in if you don’t want to be sent packin’ again.”
He guffawed. He’d not be the one going anywhere, but Yerness’s words poked at a yesterday as vivid as the beer in his hand and the floor under his feet — a night five years ago on his former home of Siegna, a more civilized world than this one, sitting in the family tavern with his pa. Time for you to go son, echoed through his gut. He’d bet she said it to manipulate him. Well, he wouldn’t let her.
“You a piece of work ‘n with a major oogie factor since you now my stepmom,” he said. “Stay out there beggin’ all day. It changes nothin’. You the one bein’ sent off. As soon as the ship is ready.”
It wouldn’t be long. In mere days, several of his close pals would go farther out on the Edge — the part of the Backworlds Pardeep belonged to — to where known space ended, in search of a missing friend. Craze feared what they’d discover about Lepsi and what he would find here when he returned if he went with them. He didn’t trust his senior hire-on, who’d certainly take command of managing his tavern if Craze went sailing off. Besides, Craze preferred hearing bad news second hand. For those reasons, and the fact he didn’t want to spend one more minute with his soul-sucking relatives, he decided to stay behind. The freighter starting his friends off on their journey would take Craze’s kin to a world where he hoped they’d forget about him. He counted the seconds until they left.
“The elders won’t go. The captain is the offspring of a leecher.”
To a Verkinn, leecher was the worst thing a person could be. If every man, woman, and child didn’t spend all their time angling for position and scheming on how to take every soul out there for every possible chip, then they didn’t deserve to be Verkinn. Craze had been dubbed a leecher to get him off Siegna, leaving his father free to keep all the chips they’d earned together and to marry Yerness without guilt.
Up until recently Craze would’ve sold his left leg to be restored to the council’s good graces, to return to the rainforest, to have his gal squirming and giggling in his arms again. Now he didn’t want any of it back and especially not her, not his father’s sloppy seconds. No way!
He shuddered and sipped at his ale, moseying over to the large orange sofa taking up the center of his living space like a warm hug. Plopping down, he stared up at the chandelier singing with soft chimes, wishing it’d drown out her sleazy pleading. Calming gray drapes, tables, and cabinets, ivory plush throw rugs, and some sparkle from crystal and silver soothed a lot of crud the Backworlds tossed Craze’s way, but not enough for Yerness. Needing more relief, he resorted to what never failed him — mentally rearranging bottles of booze. He visualized the shelves behind his bar upstairs, moving spirits around into the perfect order. Vodkas from cheap to expensive, pure to flavored, liqueurs from sour to sweet.
His pulse finally slowed, and he answered, “The Edge has far worse things than leechers. Besides, Captain Kaesare has a business ‘n owns her freighter. She’s hardly a leecher.” He slid half the mug’s contents down his throat. It took a lot to defend Kaesare, a woman he hated, but getting rid of his ex and his family required it.
“I’m not the one you have to convince.” Some rustles sounded over the speakers from the hallway. “I’m naked, lover man.” Her cooing little cackle grated, threatening to engrave scratches in his freshly epoxied floor.
He rose and sauntered over to the area of the room designated the kitchen. Gray counters sat on gray cabinets with gray upholstered bar stools around the island. Taps embedded into the island gleamed in chrome. Grabbing a fresh plasticine tankard from the refrigeration unit, he filled it with more of his handcrafted ale. He drank long from the frosty mug as if praying, steeping his lips and tongue, hoping she’d just go away.
She clucked out there with all the exasperation of an alcoholic going too long without any hooch. “Did you hear me? I said I’m—”
Setting the beer down, Craze wiped remnants of ale from his upper lip, his fingers whisking back and forth over it. “How many times do I have to say we is done? Do I have to brand it on my forehead?”
“Oh, don’t go getting—”
“Yerness! Boy!” The words bellowed down the hallway like gunshot. The rough-hewed voice unmistakably belonged to Craze’s pa. If Bast broke off with Yerness and left her here, well, that couldn’t happen. Not her.
Craze flew over by the door, slapping it and the wall. “Get dressed, ‘n get the frick away from my place.”
She bent to paw at her discarded garment and held up a packet of powder. Ripping it open, she held it poised over her mouth, probably the same crap she had laced his malt with the other night. “No. He’s going to think I just left you.” Her smile shone as cold as a frozen asteroid field. “Stoned as a junkie ‘n without any clothes.” She raked her nails down her arm, gouging red welts into her flesh. “Used well ‘n hard, too.”
Bast’s determined strides reverberated down the corridor. “Wife Two! You git home or I’ll cast you off!”
Then she’d find a way to crush Craze again. He had no doubts about that. His father wouldn’t be kind either, scheming for vengeance, calculating how to bring Craze and his rising fortunes back down into the dirt.
“Get out of here!” Craze hit the door with more force.
Her tongue dabbed at the narcotic. “I’m not returning to them bogs.”
Shit. Why couldn’t she understand what they had ended the moment she started up with Bast? Craze slapped the control on the doorframe, sliding the entry open, grabbing onto her wrist and her mislaid dress, yanking them both inside. Quietly, he resealed the door and placed his hand over her mouth. “If you make one sound or move, I’ll have the planetlord throw you off the landin’ deck.” The docks took up the uppermost floor of the tower, the only ode to civilization on Pardeep Station.
Bast reached the entry, threatening to beat it down. “Open up, leecher boy! I know you in there! Where’s my wife?”
She stomped on Craze’s foot and shoved his hand away. “I’ll stay quiet ‘n go hide,” she whispered, “if you promise I won’t be living in the bogs ever again.”
“Craze! If she’s in there, you ‘n I is dueling. Do you hear?” Bast’s threats jarred the whole residential floor.
Craze felt as trapped as if outside without an oxygen tank. Frowning at his former love, his gut screamed not to trust her, but if it’d get her and Bast out of his life for good… “Deal.”