Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 1
We are delighted to announce that Gentle Reminders, the first novel in the Legacy Universe by Martin Perry is being serialised right here at SFBook. Each week we will publish a full chapter of the novel starting right here with chapter 1.
You can also visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
In a universe where humans interact with hundreds of other species, the Jump Cannon stands as one of the most highly regarded mercenary ships of known space. However, when one of their crew is kidnapped, an old enemy and a new foe threaten not only the ship, but the future of every race.
Silently hunted by The Gentle Reminder, facing constant physical and mental challenge, the close-knit crew of the Jump Cannon battle on a journey of discovery, which will have life changing consequences for Maur Rosewell, his closest allies, and all of the Legacy Universe.
He could feel the blood rushing to his head, the heavy dizziness of it sitting at the front of his skull. It was a sensation that he wasn't familiar with any more. When he had been younger, a lot younger, he'd broken his arm from a fall after swinging upside down from a tree branch. The injury scared him away from doing it again, and try as he might he couldn't remember the last time that he had been in this position. Held by his ankles, a rotting stench filled his nostrils to accompany the dizziness. Akin to meat that has been left in the sun for several weeks, it gave the overwhelming suggestion that he wasn't anywhere near the fragrant orchard where he had snapped the bone. Instead he could only muddle his brain toward the conclusion that he had been knocked out in the bar.
With that thought he suffered an unfortunate addition to the dizziness. A hangover hitting him hard. He and the rest of the crew had only been in there for few hours before he had consumed more illicit liquor than was required to confine him to quarters for the next two weeks. All things considered, he would not have gotten so drunk, so quickly, had he known that he was heading into this situation.
With a groan he managed to twist his spine left and right, just about pulling his arms up to his face. The rough, splintered wooden cross that he was strapped to, his feet held high in the air but his arms free, cut into his back. He could feel more than a few open wounds. While his current state didn't reinforce the opinion he was in good physical shape, he'd have to try and pull himself up before launching an attack on the shackles around his ankles. The tough part of that would not be finding the tiny laser cutter built into his boot sole. The tough part would be drumming up the courage to actually open his eyes and face the reality of his situation. He wasn't typically a cowardly sort of guy, in fact he considered himself quite brave and believed he had the evidence to back that up. Faced with the dawning reality of kidnap, the foundations of these ideas were being shaken.
There was one vivid memory that supported his self belief, which stuck out not for its grandeur but more because of its pleasing outcome. He had taken out three korak bodyguards and a single human male in order to tell a visiting business woman exactly what he thought of her plans to buy his mothers land back on Earth, in Unified North America. While he couldn't discern what value this land had to her he could certainly tell that the human woman had been spending too much time around the almost feral korakian muscle. She found his display of strength quite attractive. He had enjoyed the fact the battered and bruised brutes had been forced to stand guard while he took advantage of his new-found popularity. The cancellation of the purchase plans was really just icing on the cake. The dark, blue-tinged mercenaries had been left to sweat in the mid-day heat, leathery skin dotted with slow moving beads of perspiration, while he stood topless and bruised waving the woman on after they had spent the night together. It was suitable revenge for the broken rib they had inflicted on him.
These thoughts were, however, rather irrelevant given his predicament. Rubbing his crusty eyes, as if trying to wake up from a bad dream, he overcame the fears bubbling in his stomach. He didn't have to adjust to the light much; there wasn't an awful lot of it. Craning his neck, he looked upwards to see the single source being a thick glass skylight.
The many species of hoof, claw and foot that he watched tread overhead offered some reassurance - whoever his kidnappers were they hadn't moved him out of the relative safety of the urban area. Of course, the fact that the feet were above him pointed unanimously toward being underground. Being underground meant that wherever he was, his escape would most likely be troublesome. Assuming he managed to escape.
Looking around at the blackened stone walls that surrounded him he had located a few potential sources of the stench. In the far corner, about a meter away, there were a pile of perhaps three or four bodies. It was difficult to tell exactly, he was on a multi-species planet so counting limbs wasn't going to be a great way to judge. He thought he saw three torsos, but a ragged cauterised lump could either be the fourth or any number of non-human extremities. He resigned himself to the fact that he might never be sure. The brown liquid streaming down the walls and toward the holes in the ground was certainly something he wanted to remain ignorant about too. At best, it was engine run-off from the old class of junker crafts that littered this part of space. At worst, it was raw sewage leaking in from nearby ducts.
Bloody stainless steel implements, vague in their purpose beyond their intent to cause pain, were strewn across the floor, adding a red tint to the brown liquid running past them. Hopefully they had been used to greater effect on the gang in the corner than on his numb body. Regardless, it was time to move away from them quickly. With a whimpering grunt he pulled himself up with a jerk, grabbing the leather strap that held his left leg in place. His spare right hand found the seam hidden in the rubber sole of his filthy brown boots. He tried to ignore the beheaded, moulding skull that adorned the top of the rack as he went to work on the straps that held him against it. With a tug he pulled the seam free, a small rubber handle now in his hand, the business end of a small laser cutter sticking out of the top.
He hoped that its use the night before hadn't completely drained the small plutonium battery. It had been put to work slicing up limes for the tequila he was drinking out of the pale greenish belly button of a puran girl spread out on the table in front of him. The first few tests weren't promising; shoving the button in as hard as he could resulted in a light red flicker and not much else. He smacked the bottom of the handle against the frame of the wooden torture apparatus to which he was suspended. Then, blowing into the shaft of the laser, getting rid of any pesky bits of grit and dust, he pointed at the leather once again. A further click. No luck. The frustration was mounting. Staring into skinny shaft, he started rapidly clicking the the button that was supposed to begin his ascension to the world above. Of all the people to waste his escape on, the puran didn't seem as though she merited it. More clicking. She had been a nice girl and she probably felt a bit embarrassed about the whole thing now. He definitely did. It wasn't like him but then he had been extremely drunk. Thinking about it he could only hope none of his team would remember. More clicking. Click. Click. Click. Searing pain.
Trying to stifle the sharp, girlish scream that had filled his lungs, he felt the warm blood from the self-inflicted cut that now circled the outside of his right eye socket. The eyebrow hair would most likely grow back, but even at this point he could tell a scar was going to form. Given the diminutive size of the cutter there would be no significant damage, but a cosmetic disfiguration was serious enough. No matter, at least the cutter was working now. He worked through the pain, and the laser made quick work of the straps. In his haste he had left himself dangling from his right foot. As he made the final cut he tried to anticipate the feeling of the sludge covered brick floor that his head was about to encounter.
With the ultimate snip, he was free, experiencing a short descent before crashing into the ground. Groaning, he reached around the feel the back of his skull for damage; a decision that he instantly regretted as he ran his fingers through the brown sludge that was quickly clumping his hair together. Slowly, taking about as much time as he had opening his eyes, he brought his hand up to his face. With a sharp intake of breath he was forced to reel backwards; face contorted, nose offended, mind shocked. He was now, without a shadow of a doubt, lying in a pool of intergalactic shit.
There was a silver lining, he thought, surprised by his own spirit. The fact that it was sewage pointed towards him being in the very near vicinity of a sewer and, while not his favourite holiday destination, they ordinarily feature multiple exit and entry points. Sure, every exit and entry point would be littered with unpleasant matter but at least they led to the hot sticky air of Pura and away from the hot shitty air of the sewer. Shifting his weight from his neck to his back, legs flopping to the ground now properly free from the suspension apparatus, he quickly checked himself for injuries. His shredded combat trousers and now rather off-white shirt, itself cut into tiny pieces, made this whole process much easier but no more pleasant. There were several large cuts on his legs. They looked as though they had been inflicted by an electrified whip. On top of that there was an open gouge, green around the edges, just below either of his bottom ribs. While he couldn't quite fathom the intent of the injuries, he was glad the the perpetrators who had inflicted them had since decided to break for lunch. Or perhaps dinner. He wasn't sure what time of day it was.
None of the wounds were debilitating in themselves, but in combination they were certainly going to make a trip through inter-species waste even more tortuous. Clambering up to his feet, desperately trying to shake away some of the confusion that was clouding his mind, he looked down on the bloody implements and tried to pick one. They were truly bizarre, a mix of corkscrews, hooks and bladed coils that would definitely harm but seemed to be better purposed towards the torture of stationary candidates. He bent over, partly to ensure that he still could but mostly to have one more shuffle through the options, but something else caught his eye while he rummaged around. In the muddle of body parts in the corner, he noticed a primitive gunpowder based firearm strapped to one of the legs.
Limping over, he pulled the weapon free. It had a long, wide cylindrical barrel, running into the bullet housing. It loaded from the top, a fresh clip was confirmed after a quick check, and the wooden handle was delicately detailed with carvings that seemed too delicate for human hands to have carried out. Its shiny metallic surface was adorned with what could only be described as a meat cleaver, the blade of a common kitchen instrument welded under the barrel. Entirely odd, entirely unfamiliar, but it would have to do for now.
He had never seen this side of Pura before; there wasn't a strong market for sewage tourism on any planet. The pile of bodies and weapons wasn't the only debris in the room. Waste cabling, rubble, a headless children's doll and expired electrical equipment long ago stripped of any valuable materials. All of it discarded by the population of the sometimes intimidating city above.
He tried to see what else was worth scavenging. It was important to locate human bodies if any of the armour was going to fit. A short pang of guilt fired through his mind when he uncovered a man of similar height and build to him. He didn't have much choice though, pulling free the slick black chest piece and the full-length arm and leg braces that had failed to save his fellow human. Clamping on each part he felt the wounds on his legs fill up with WoundGel, the promised pain relief offering only mild numbing. At least it would fight off some of the infections he was bound to encounter in his forthcoming trip through raw filth. Still, he was thankful that the braces had dispensers built in, although his survivor's guilt soon passed when he realised that the man in the corner hadn't splashed out on a similar feature for his chest piece. His ribs would have to wait.
Armed and armoured he made his first motions towards the arch that broke up the far wall. He had been left alone for a remarkable length of time, assuming that he hadn't woken up immediately from a torture session that he could no longer remember. Retrograde amnesia wouldn't be reason enough for his kidnappers not to tie him up again, he had to get moving. Once in the archway he decided to head right after looking either way down the dark, bricked hallway that greeted him. Starting slowly, he worked up to a jog, choosing not to look into the other alcoves that no doubt housed similar horrors as to the one he had just left.
He got to the end of this hallway and was met with the same dull choices. Choosing to go right again, and then once again he started to become frustrated by the maze, an anger building up thanks to the blend of pain and defeat. He moved faster and faster down the corridors. They seemed to go on and on, with more and more alcoves promising horror after horror if he dared look in. Fear was growing, any cockiness he might have had left fading as the gravity of his situation failed to ease while he rushed around. His mind became even more clouded, the confusion of his apparent memory loss mixing with terror to completely block out the world around him. With panic absolutely set in, he broke into a limping sprint. His legs throbbed.
With a loud roar of complete shock, his leg muscles were stretched beyond what the WoundGel could manage. It tore away from his skin as he glared down, toes leaning over a sheer drop, seeing a raging torrent of extremely filthy water. In his despair he hadn't heard the crashing and gurgling of the river and had almost gone head-first into it. Arms flailing backwards he steadied, shifting his weight onto his heels before staggering backwards. He hunched down, palms spreading over the cold armour covering his knees while he tried to catch his breath.
The feeling of the criss-cross pattern printed into the mould used to make the coverings seemed odd as he scratched his fingernails across it in the long seconds after the shock. Whenever he went to a showroom to upgrade his armour, he always stuck with the same smooth protective material. The salesman would call it Ramlar, and spout some nonsense about how the smoothness made it more prone to cracking and how the more expensive materials wouldn't. All he knew was that it made it far easier to slide across the floor of the maintenance bay when you wanted to make adjustments to the underside of a scout all-terrain-vehicle. Plus, it was cheaper.
A deep breath of rank, profusely scatological air later and he snapped out of it. He questioned whether or not he had been drugged, there must be a reason for why he was finding it so hard to concentrate when he knew that focusing on his escape was of paramount importance. They must have; despite his alcohol intake he was never one for passing out. He considered the raucous nature of the bar he and his crewmates had inhabited that night, but his knuckles were too smooth for him to have been in an out-and-out brawl. Standing straight, he ran his left hand over his right fist, clenching hard and trying to remember.
The violent crashing of the water recalled the noise of the bar, but not the cackles of Kerra as he mocked his other friends. Her laughter, a noise he revelled in, brought back the wide bar stools, the silver tiled floor, the wall panels with circling blobs of colour, the thundering bass and the sight of the cylindrical bar that stood twenty feet away from the table. It had been one of the bar-maids that volunteered her belly button for the tequila, but the bump of Kerra's knee against his throughout the night had reminded him over and again that he was only really interested in one patron of the bar.
Shortly after telling whatever joke had set her off he had stood up, the stool moving from under his legs as he shifted it back across the bumps between the tiles. The glass he held in his hand, long and still filled with golden bourbon, was thrust down onto the table as he declared that the seal must be broken. Staggering toward the toilets, he had had to search for the human male signage that directed exactly where his urine was supposed to go. He remembered scoffing at a puran as he exited their specific facilities. While the females were remarkably attractive, the males had rough, lumpy skin and famously inoffensive genitalia that required special assistance when nature called. He doubted that the effeminate individual was responsible for his incarceration. He just wasn't that good at offending people. Not quite witty enough.
He had definitely made it to the bathroom though, he remembered the feeling of relief as one too many shots were evacuated. Try as he might he couldn't remember anything beyond that point, and quickly hit the more recent memory of blood rushing to his head. While it was somewhat ironic that his being assaulted in a toilet led to his torture in a sewer, there currently wasn't enough positivity in his bones to appreciate it. Swinging his arms, he twisted round and headed back down the corridor at a much slower rate now that he had calmed. He made it to the opposite end. This time he wasn't met with a continuous flow of water, but instead a large red, studded steel door. There was an expectation as he pressed his ears against it, gently laying his hands against the cold metal.
He expected to hear the murmuring of his captors, but instead he heard the stomp of their boots as they rushed toward the alarm he had just set off. A pressure sensitive alarmed door - why hadn't he thought of that before pushing himself up against it?
It was time to panic again. Turning on his heels once more, his boots scratching against the ground as he pirouetted, he darted back down from where he just came. His destination was obvious, he had discovered only one exit despite how long he had spent marching around this maze-like underworld. He tried his best to stride forward, arms pumping into the air and the WoundGel now entirely separate from the edges of the gouges in his legs. His chest pounded, hearing the steel door crash against the dripping black walls with such force that small bits of dust and ceiling brick came free, raining down upon his broken, filthy figure. Angry grunts followed him down the corridor, the noise of flapping fabric just about audible over the thundering boots and the clanging of cold, bloody, metallic instruments colliding with each other. He had hoped not to encounter those again, so the only direction he looked was forward.
The only thing that met his gaze was a crashing flood of dread.
The river of sewage was the only place to go. Perhaps it was the only place he should have gone instead of stupidly setting off that alarm. It screamed in his ears, almost laughing at him as he bore down upon the watery exit. Grabbing the scavenged weapon from its holstering strap at his side, he leaned his arm backwards and fired off a few loud, obnoxious rounds in a limp attempt to delay his captors. Almost there, he thought, almost drowning in shit, piss and whatever dearly departed pets had been dispatched down here to keep him company.
He made an almighty leap, or at least the best that he could manage, screaming into the air as his feet left the slick ground and launched into the murky abyss. The water, and all it contained, collided with him, immediately soaking through the gaps in his borrowed armour and the ragged clothes he wore underneath. Once his hair dunked under the water, it swept into his face and stuck there, meaning his vision was almost completely blocked when he bobbed back up. He crashed his arms against the surface, hitting more solid objects than he wanted to, trying to find an equilibrium. Finding balance, only just, he could just see the darkened forms of his captors at the edge he had leaped from. The small glass skylights didn't offer nearly enough light to see anything of them that was decisive.
The torrent rushed him onwards quickly, and what little he could see was lost as he clattered downwards into an even darker area of the sewer. The noise of the water changed enough to warn him of a sharp drop just ahead. In truth, he didn't care any more. He was resigned to ending up wherever he was taken, provided he could keep his head above water. When it came, he limply fell over the edge, letting out a dejected sigh as the ghastly waterfall hurled him downward. Another dunking, another mouthful of abhorrent liquid, and another poorly lit stream. With a clang, his head hit against meshed bars, iron girders crossed over each other to filter out the larger chunks of waste. Apparently he was one of them.
He clung to the girders and pulled himself toward the nearest bricked edge. The energy was now completely sapped from his body. He was unable to muster anything other than a feeble dragging motion. A few of his fingers now felt broken, although the armour had staved off any fatally concerning injuries to the rest of his body. The smell was irrelevant, so caked from head-to-toe in the various atrocities that he had encountered that he was past caring. Eventually reaching the side of the filthy pool he dumped his arms onto the surface of the cold, black blocks that he now knew so well.
Mustering a final push of energy, his feet were once again against solid ground. Picking some of the larger chunks away from his face he stood tall and stared ahead of himself. The outline of a ladder was just about visible. Some small shafts of light from above caught its edge and glinted toward his eyes, a glistening prize in a dungeon of stomach churning humiliation. Now, much slower than the walls of this horrid place had yet witnessed him move, he shuddered toward it. Bleary hopes that it wasn't some sort of hallucination blinked in and out of his mind as he tried to think of happier times and the warm cot that he hoped awaited him on the other side. On the brink of escape, a well of pity rose up in his stomach for the poor souls that had imprisoned him. He did not envy the jailers for having to work and live down here; the thought of it summoned a mix of a chuckle and a gag from his windpipe.
His left foot made contact with the bottom rung, clearing away the worries of hallucination. He took a grip, wincing in pain as he realised that there definitely were some broken fingers on his right hand. A slippy, unsure ascent followed, his shattered mind and degraded body hulking itself upwards towards sanctuary. The hefty metal cover met him at the top. It was a final slap in the face that he rallied against with what little force he had left in his body. It was lifted just enough to squeeze himself through. A blast of cool night air splashed against his face, grit between his fingers rather than slick block, a rotten corpse dragged onto the streets of Pura. He ached, and couldn't run from the scuffling footsteps he could hear approaching from ahead of him.
"Maur? Maur, is that you? Guys, get over here. I think I've found him." It was Kerra's voice.
* * * * *
We'll lie in the gutter,we'll swim in the swill, Because all the filth in the world can't break korakian will. Our blades are sharpened, our shields are battered, We'll muster desperate cries, our enemies will be shattered. On the dark sand of Korak, to the bleak winds of Elsevern, We'll set fire to your houses, and send your children to Heaven. But we'll take our greatest victory, after you are under our thumb, We'll unsheathe our manhood, and have our way with your mum.
Roughly translated korakian battle song, year unknown.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Two of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)