Brady Garrett needs to go home. He’s a conscripted recruit on Defender Three, one of a network of stations designed to protect the Earth from alien attack. He’s also angry, homesick, and afraid. If he doesn’t get home he’ll lose his family, but there’s no way back except in a body bag.
Cameron Rushton needs a heartbeat. Four years ago Cam was taken by the Faceless–the alien race that almost destroyed Earth. Now he’s back, and when the doctors make a mess of getting him out of stasis, Brady becomes his temporary human pacemaker. Except they’re sharing more than a heartbeat: they’re sharing thoughts, memories, and some very vivid dreams.
Not that Brady’s got time to worry about his growing attraction to another guy, especially the one guy in the universe who can read his mind. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just biochemistry and electrical impulses. It doesn’t change the truth: Brady’s alone in the universe.
Now the Faceless are coming and there’s nothing anyone can do. You can’t stop your nightmares. Cam says everyone will live, but Cam’s probably a traitor and a liar like the military thinks. But that’s okay. Guys like Brady don’t expect happy endings.
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I missed physical training, but nobody even noticed because by the time the last bell went the whole station knew that Cameron Rushton was back. It was all anyone could talk about back in my barracks.
“He’s not what people remember,” Moore said, coming out of the head with a towel wrapped around his waist. “That’s why Commander Leonski won’t announce it.”
“What do you mean he’s not what people remember?” Micallef asked. Micallef was new, a skinny sixteen-year-old with buckteeth and a homesick pallor.
Normally Moore would have ignored a newbie like Micallef, but he was just itching to tell the story. And maybe itching to scare the shit out of Micallef. “The Faceless ruined him,” he said, leaning close to Micallef and lowering his voice. “They wrote in his skin, newbie! They carved him up all over!”
Moore worked in the docking bay, so maybe he’d seen it.
Micallef went pale, and he wasn’t the only one who suddenly felt how very, very far from home we all were, spinning alone in the big black like a silver lure on a line.
“Leave him alone, Moore,” Cesari said, and he wasn’t just looking out for the newbie. Everyone was thinking the same thing: the Faceless were back.
When I got the message to go to the medical bay, the guys in the barracks all looked at me, half-afraid and half-envious, and my heart thumped.
I headed up to the med bay, hurrying along one of the station’s arms that led from the barracks in the Inner Ring to the Core. The Inner Ring was living quarters, barracks, rec rooms, refectory, and training rooms. The Core was main operations for Defender Three. It had the Dome, operations, the medical bay, administration, and underneath all that, engineering and the reactor core. Almost everyone you ran into in the Core was an officer. My arm was sore from saluting by the time I finally arrived at the medical bay.
I wondered the whole time why Doc had asked for me.
Doc had always liked me. His name was Major Layton, really, but I called him Doc. He only let a few of his students do that, and I was probably the youngest. He’d told me after my first introductory class that he’d make a decent medic out of me, and for three years he’d been making good on that threat. He said I was smart enough to be a doctor like him, but he didn’t push it. He knew I didn’t want to stay in the military any longer than I had to, and if I graduated as an officer, that would mean another five-year commitment at least. I’d rather stay on the lowest pay grade and get the hell out at the first opportunity, thanks.
When he called me to the med bay, I figured it was probably to check out some idiot who’d fallen off the climbing wall and busted his ankle. That happened at least once a month. It couldn’t be anything to do with Cameron Rushton, because Doc had at least another five doctors working under him, plus a bunch of officer cadets he was training up as doctors. I wasn’t important enough for anything big.
The doors to the med bay opened. For a moment I thought the place was deserted; then Doc appeared from one of the quarantine rooms. He was a big man. His belly pushed at the buttons of his uniform tunic. Doc was also grumpy as shit, and he frowned a lot. You wouldn’t think he’d have much of a bedside manner, and most of the military doctors didn’t, but Doc was a good guy underneath all his bluster. He’d joined late in life, after his wife died, and he didn’t hold much with all that rank bullshit. It was why I liked him so much.
He was smoking as well, even though he always threatened to kick my ass for the same thing.
“Garrett,” he said, and I knew without looking around that there were other officers nearby. Otherwise Doc just called me Brady.
“Major,” I said and gave him my best salute. Which was shit.
His eyes crinkled with a smile, but his voice was gruff. “Garrett, follow me.”
He turned and headed back into the first quarantine room.
I hated those places, and not because of the quarantine rules. In three years on Defender Three I’d only ever seen them used for one thing, and it wasn’t for disease: they were where Doc put the patients he couldn’t leave in the open ward, the ones who needed somewhere quiet to die. They were burn victims, mostly, like after the fire in the reactor. Two engineers and one recruit had died that day, or had begun to die that day. The recruit was called Smith. He’d been in some of my classes. It took him three days to die even after all his skin burned off. I sat with him for a lot of it, because his friends had been too freaked out to do it. It was after Smith died that Doc had told my career supervisor to put me into the medical stream.
I followed Doc inside, and the doors slid closed behind me with a hiss. Another air lock. I stood there with Doc while the air lock cycled through, and then we were inside the quarantine room.
There were six officers inside, including Commander Leonski who was in charge of the station. I was fairly sure he wouldn’t have known my name if it hadn’t been stitched on my uniform. There were over six hundred guys on the station, after all. I wondered what the hell I was doing in this company.
That was when I saw it. Branski had said Cameron Rushton was in stasis, and I guess I’d thought of some sort of plastic pod, all sleek and smooth and rounded, like a throwback to those old sci-fi movies. But this was nothing like that.
This was black, the same oily black as the Faceless battle armor, and it wasn’t sleek. It was bulky and misshapen. It reminded me of a beetle’s carapace. Back home in Kopa we used to get those big hissing rhinoceros beetles, with sharp mandibles and articulated legs. The stasis unit could have passed for one of those, except it was about ten feet long, lying on its back with its legs clamped around an opaque sac of fluid with veins through it. It was fucking terrifying.
Just looking at it, I could feel the blood draining from my face.
There was a body floating inside the milky fluid, and I didn’t have to ask: Cameron Rushton. It looked like he was being consumed by a giant insect, or hatched by one.
I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was grotesque. Why the hell had Doc asked me to be here for this? Whatever this was. I fought the urge to shove my shaking hands inside my pockets. I tried to remember to breathe. If I hadn’t been surrounded by a bunch of officers, I would have cut and run. No fucking question.
“Is this Garrett?” one of the officers asked. He had the stripes of a lieutenant commander on his sleeve, but his arms were crossed over the chest of his plain gray fatigues, and I couldn’t read his name.
In my experience it was never a good thing when a ranking officer asked someone to confirm your name. That was normally the first step to spending a while in the brig. I’d got there twice before in three years, both times for fighting. Six hundred guys, no girls, locked in a tin can in space: everyone spent time in the brig.
“In the flesh,” Doc drawled and clapped me on the shoulder.
“You’re a medic?” the lieutenant commander asked me, drawing his brows together keenly.
I don’t know where I found my voice, or how I tore my gaze away from the Faceless unit.
“Not yet, sir,” I told the lieutenant commander, straightening my shoulders. “I still have three months before I complete my training.”
He waved it away like it didn’t matter, and I wondered again why the hell I was there. Why did they want a medic anyway? I could strap an ankle, I could treat blisters and cuts, and I could, in theory, plug a sucking chest wound well enough to evac a guy back to a medical bay, but what the hell was I doing in a quarantine room looking at some sorry bastard in a Faceless stasis unit? It was way above my level of training. Hell, it was probably way above Doc’s as well.
But nobody told me.
“Take a look, Garrett,” Doc said and pushed me forward.
My stomach clenched and churned.
My skin crawled. I didn’t want to be in the same room with the unit, let alone close enough to touch. I didn’t want to get closer. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to be in my barracks. I wanted to be a million miles away, with the sun at my back and my feet in the dirt. Not here. Not in the black, in the cold, with a nightmare right in front of me.
The unit hummed like a living thing, and I couldn’t shake the idea that if I got too close, it would suddenly attack. One of those mandibles would detach from the sac in a split second and stab me right through the guts. It would be like every horror movie I’d ever seen. Maybe that’s why all those officers wanted me there. I was their test bunny.
I looked back at Doc.
Please. Please don’t make me.
He waved me forward.
I moved closer to the unit, the soles of my boots squeaking on the floor. The unit was inky black. I could see my reflection in it, more or less: a pale face with big, scared eyes and a bad haircut.
Keep it together, Garrett.
I reached out and touched the bug. It was warm underneath my trembling fingers. It was smooth. It even felt like a carapace. I couldn’t see a power source, but I could feel power humming through it, below the seamless outer casing. I ran my palms over it, just to be sure it wouldn’t move. Then I raised myself up onto the toes of my boots and took a look inside at Cameron Rushton.
A pallid face lay close to the surface of the opaque fluid.
It was the most famous face of my generation’s war, a face I’d seen a hundred times on posters and TV. Immersed in that milky fluid, Cameron Rushton’s face was pale, paler than mine, and thin and angular as though the skin was stretched too tight across the bones of his skull. His eyes were closed; dark lashes lay against his cheeks. There was a tiny bubble caught between the lashes of his left eye. I found myself reaching out to wipe it away. I stopped myself before I touched the sac. Shit. My heart raced. What the hell was I thinking?
Cameron Rushton was naked. He looked like a corpse. Were they sure he was alive? How could they be sure?
I turned around, and all the officers were staring at me.
“What do you think, Garrett?” Doc asked me.
“Is he dead, Major?” I asked, my voice wavering. I thought I could see his body moving slightly, rippling almost, but maybe that was the power thrumming through the unit. What the fuck did I know about Faceless technology?
Doc came and stood beside me. “Touch it.”
You fucking touch it.
Doc winked at me. The gesture was so out of place, so fucking absurd when we were standing beside a piece of humming Faceless technology that could be anything, that could mean we were already dead, that I almost laughed. I caught the laugh before it broke free, smothered it into a cough, and then remembered that this was terrifying.
“Go on,” Doc murmured. “It’s okay, Brady.”
How the hell could he know that? I made a face at him that the other officers couldn’t see and reached out to touch the sac. It was warm. It bowed under my fingertips like a bladder of water, and I pulled back like I’d been stung.
“What is it?” I asked, keeping my voice low. “Is it like, um, amniotic fluid?”
Doc breathed smoke in my face and shrugged. “I’ve got no fucking idea, Brady. Never seen anything like this before.”
I pretended to look at the carapace again and squeezed my eyes shut instead. “Why am I here, Doc?”
“Touch it again,” Doc said. “Put your palm on it.”
Three years in the military had taught me you never get a straight answer.
I pressed my palm against the sac. It pulsed slightly, like it really was amniotic fluid, like there really was a heartbeat echoing through it. And then Cameron Rushton moved.
His hand came up, palm upward, and pressed against mine. Right against it, like he knew it was there even though he hadn’t opened his eyes. The weird rubbery skin of the sac slid between our palms.
“Jesus!” I jumped back again, my heart racing and my throat dry. My guts felt like a pan of water. I wanted to vomit. That was it: that was my horror movie moment.
Doc grabbed my arm. “Watch.”
And holy crap, Moore hadn’t been lying. He glowed. Cameron Rushton glowed. Writing appeared on his torso, a line of alien characters that went from his ribs down to his hip like they’d been carved deep into his flesh. They glowed silver against his pale skin. Like starlight.
“What is it?” I asked as the characters faded away into nothing.
Doc shrugged. “No idea.”
“Shit, Doc,” I whispered, “why am I here?”
Doc smiled at me grimly. “Because it’s time to wake Sleeping Beauty.”
You never get a straight answer.
Title: Darker Space (Dark Space #2)
Author: Lisa Henry
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Release Date: May 14, 2018
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Page Count: 210
Reviewed by: Jewel, Dalia and LenaR
Brady Garrett is back on Earth. He’s living with his partner Cam and they’re raising his sister Lucy together. Life is better than some feral reffo from Kopa has any right to hope, and Brady knows it. He’s even grateful for it, most of the time. He loves Cam, even though he’s afraid that he’s not good enough for him, and he’s still having nightmares about the alien Faceless.
Cameron Rushton loved being a pilot once, and he still feels the pull of the starlight. He’s building a life with Brady now, and with Lucy. Life is good, even if it’s not without its complications. Both Brady and Cam are dealing with the endless cycle of interviews, tests, and questions that the military hierarchy hopes will reveal the secrets of the aliens who could very easily destroy humanity. They have each other though, and together they’re making it work.
But from out in the black, Kai-Ren is still watching and everything Brady and Cam think they’ve won, they stand to lose all over again.
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Dark Space Series
Some guys are meant to be heroes. I was never one of them.
There was probably never a time in my life when I didn’t want to try to become a better person, while at the same time seeing the sheer fucking impossibility of striving for anything at all, so fuck it, right? Disappointment was always easy enough to get used to, whether it came from my dad’s quiet, rueful smiles, or from that hot, angry place inside me that knew exactly how worthless I was, how pointless, and how I’d never be anything better than the reffo piece of shit I’d been born.
I stole. I lied. I got in fights.
I dropped out of school to look after my baby sister.
Kept stealing and lying and fighting, because even though I wanted to be better, those things had become the pattern of my life. The wanting came late at night, in the quiet moments, in the dark, and the certainty came with it: I could change. I could be better. But all my certainty, all my dreams, were as fragile and ephemeral as moments captured on old photographic negatives, created in the darkness and the quiet. Light and rough handling destroyed them. The daylight killed them.
In the daylight I wanted to be better still—I wanted a better future—but I discovered I had nothing in me but resentment and nowhere to direct it.
My dad’s job in the smelter ate his lungs away, day after day, but I didn’t know that yet.
Stole. Lied. Fought.
When I was sixteen, I was conscripted. After four weeks of basic training, I was sent to Defender Three, into the black, to sit and watch for the Faceless. To protect the people back home, except nobody ever said how being cannon fodder for aliens helped anyone at all. The Faceless could rip through our Defenders like they were rice paper if they wanted. If they ever came back.
Then, one day, they did.
First they sent Cameron Rushton, captured years before, as their messenger, harbinger, or whatever. I was his medic, his pacemaker, or whatever. When I touched him, it happened. Suddenly, we shared a heartbeat. We shared our thoughts and our dreams. I saw everything the Faceless ever did to him. More than that, I felt it. Claws sliding down his spine–my spine, as he–I—pulled uselessly at the restraints. Everything they did to him, I shared. I relived it every fucking night.
I still did.
I came up from sleep like from under water, gasping.
I sat bolt upright, shivering in the darkness as the tendrils of the dream slipped away.
I couldn’t remember the specifics of the dream, but I didn’t have to. Fucking Faceless. Fucking Kai-Ren. My skin crawling as he touched me.
It took a little while for the unease to fade, and then I couldn’t sleep anyway. I lay back down and pulled the sheet up again and watched the blades of the ceiling fan cutting through the night. In the darkness they were hazy, and I didn’t know if I could actually see them at all, or if I only imagined I could. If I squinted, they seemed to stop altogether.
Beside me, Cam dreamed on.
I was still trying to be a better person. For Cam, for us. Still trying, and still falling short by miles. It wasn’t supposed to be so hard, was it? The happy-ever-after bullshit.
I turned my head and looked at the book on my nightstand. It was an old hardcover, the title long ago worn off the cracked spine. The cover was stained. The pages were so worn the edges felt as soft as velvet.
I’d learned to read from that book. It had been my mother’s, when she was a kid. Why she’d kept it, I don’t know, but she’d written her name in the inside cover in uncertain, childish letters: Jessica. Underneath that, separated by a few inches and about twenty years, was my name: Brady. And under my name an uneven scrawl put there by my little sister that was supposed to say Lucy but was mostly just a scribble.
I didn’t remember my mother, not really. Sometimes I imagined I did, but most of the stuff I knew about her didn’t come from my memory, but from what my dad had told me about her. Her dark hair, her crooked smile—both things I’d inherited—and the way she could light up a room just by walking inside. I missed out on that one, I guess. Anyway, she’d died before I could make any memories of her that belonged just to me, so I borrowed my dad’s, and I took the book as well and learned to read by listening to Dad’s voice and following the words along the page.
It was a book of fairy tales.
When I was a kid, I’d loved those stories. Maybe there was something in them that I recognized. Hungry, dirty kids—though never as hungry or dirty as in real life—getting saved by magic, by love, because they were good and clever and brave. They deserved it; they deserved not to be poor.
I got conscripted when I was sixteen, and my dad packed the fairy-tale book in my bag. The book went all the way into the black with me, to Defender Three, where I hardly looked at it, because I didn’t want to get laughed at or have the pages ripped out by some asshole who hated me, but mostly because it hurt so much to think of home and leaving Dad and Lucy behind. And later, when I found out Dad was sick, I hated even thinking of those stories he’d read to me in his gravelly voice, from the book my mother had once held.
Everything in my life then was loss and darkness and fear.
And then there was Cam.
If I were still a kid, maybe I’d say that Cam was like my fairy-tale prince, come to rescue me from my shit life. Except I’d never been good enough or clever enough or brave enough to deserve a handsome prince, and fuck it, life is not a fairy tale. Love isn’t.
I turned my head again to look at Cam’s profile in the darkness.
We weren’t a fairy tale, but he’d saved me all the same, and I was trying my hardest to be the sort of guy he deserved.
Sleep eluded me.
After a while I climbed out of bed and crept through the dark apartment. I checked on my sister, Lucy, first. She was sleeping, curled up in a tight little ball in her bed with her blankets pulled all the way up to her chin. I shut the door quietly and headed back to the kitchen. Lucy’s birthday present was sitting on the kitchen counter, shiny paper gleaming dully in the scant light, loops of ribbon cascading off it. I took my cigarettes from the top of the refrigerator, then slid open the door to the small balcony. I leaned on the railing and smoked, and tried not to look at the stars.
I looked at the city instead, across the road to the apartment buildings that receded down the hill. Most of the windows were black at this late hour, but the city was never truly dark, not like Kopa had been. People like me were still awake, I guess, watching their flickering blue television screens or moving in silhouette across the occasional tiny, illuminated squares of their windows. During the day I could see all the way to the park by the river if I leaned out over the balcony. At night the view was hidden by the darkness.
At the end of the street, on the crest of the hill, a steady stream of headlights swept by.
Cities were bigger once, bigger than anything we had left, but only the smaller ones had survived the coming of the Faceless. That was a long time ago, three generations past, but the Earth still had the scars: huge, empty charnel grounds of twisted metal and concrete, where tens of millions of people had died. A number like that, it isn’t real. You don’t see the faces when there are that many of them. They become less than they ever were. Just a blur. Just a number too big to really visualize. Too big to mourn.
How could they?
And why would they?
Those big glowing cities of glass and steel, shining like beacons even in the middle of the night. Whole countries lit up. Whole continents. They were nothing but fucking targets, and the Faceless had burned them off the surface of the planet.
Sometimes I wondered if there was any time when people looked up into the sky and didn’t think about the Faceless. If we ever looked at the stars and weren’t afraid.
If the Faceless came once, they could come again. And all the Defenders hanging in the black couldn’t stop them. The Defenders were just as fragile, just as useless as the treaty that Cam had devised and Kai-Ren had signed.
I flicked my cigarette butt over the railing, watching as it arced through the darkness and landed in a burst of embers three floors down. I lit another one and closed my eyes, and waited to feel tired enough to drag myself back to bed and sleep.
The nightmares had been bad this whole week. They usually were when I was worrying about stuff, even dumb stuff like tomorrow.
The door slid open, and I turned around.
Cam blinked at me. “Brady. You okay?”
“I thought you quit,” he said, nodding at the cigarette.
I considered blowing smoke in his face just to be a prick about it. “I’m going to.”
“Okay.” He was obviously too tired to give me the whole lecture. “Just don’t throw your butts in the garden. It pisses off the rental association.”
“Fuck the rental association.”
Cam wiped his eyes. “You won’t say that when we’re living in a box in an alley.”
“I could handle it, city boy.” I turned back to the view.
Cam slid his arms around my waist and rested his chin on my shoulder. “I know you could.”
The warmth of his body crept through me. I let the cigarette burn down to my fingers, then flicked it over the railing.
“Brady.” Cam sighed.
“You’re not the boss of me, LT.”
Cam slid one hand under the elastic of my pajama pants, his fingers moving against my abdomen. “Is that so?”
“Jesus,” I said. “If the rental association doesn’t like cigarette butts, I bet they’ll really hate if you jerk me off on the balcony.”
About Lisa Henry
Lisa Henry likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied history and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.Website Blog Twitter Facebook Newsletter More Reviews