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The Human Thing [MultiFormat]
eBook by Kathleen H. Nelson

eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: Captain Jillian D'Lange is a woman with a promising future...until she gets caught in an explosion meant for someone else. Eight months later, she emerges from a coma only to find that the galaxy is a very different place. Her lover is dead, her new ship is three months shy of being confiscated, and she's now a cyborg with memory problems. She's also the focal point of an investigation into corruption within the powerful Spacer's Union. The president of the SU believes that her memories are the key to unlocking the case and tries to bully her into submitting to psychotherapy. When she refuses, he blacklists her, and by doing so, forces her to take a job with a man whose people are ultra-religious technophobes. The job lands her in the middle of a planetary power struggle, and triggers attempted murder, betrayal, and madness. Through it all, she's tortured by thoughts of who she was and what she is now and what she might yet become. This is a story full of intrigue and raw emotions. It is a story about mortals, and mortal failings, and what it takes to be human.

eBook Publisher: Dragon Moon Press, Published: Hardcover, 1999
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2006


22 Reader Ratings:
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Prologue

Jillian D'Lange strode down the steel-enclosed docks of Calypso Station with a spring in her step. She had a three-day to kill, thanks to a client who was running late and willing to pay for the privilege, and she was readyreadyready to enjoy every minute of it. Three days without a care, she gloated, as she walked along. Three days without a cargo or a ship or a crew. It had been a while since she'd had any time to just fritter away.

She had her partner-in-frittering all picked out, too--Denis C. Latimer, captain of Riff-Raff, and her one and only lover for the past five years. He didn't know that she was on her way, for they'd expected to be two of those proverbial ships passing in the night at this conjunction, with no window for a tryst. But this pop-up three-day changed all that. DennyDennyDen was going to be so surprised.

She planned to jump him once or twice just to get his attention, and then talk him into going down to the moon for more of the same. Calypso was OK for a stop-over, but the atmosphere had very little going for it. It smelled of recycled air and propellant. And, from the inside at least, it looked like a cross between the mother of all motherships and a freakin' warehouse. Public flits and flatbed skimmers zoomed up and down the transport corridors, jockeying hard for right of way. The flits moved people, the flats moved cargo: mostly provisions and crewmen for the ships that were docked outside. Nothing exciting about that. She wanted a little glamour, a little adventure, a little gravity. Low-G sex and a grungy bar afterward got to be a bore after a while.

A hawker flagged her down at the top of 'J' sector. She gave him the once-over, looking in vain for an SU emblem, then bought a sweet-and-sour pear from him anyway. It was sticky-sweet, with firm, pink, just-tart flesh. The flavor lingered in her mouth long after the fruit was gone. Denny would appreciate that, she thought.

"Hey there," a flit-driver said, as she strode past his stand, "need a lift?"

"No thanks," she replied in passing. Smart spacers kept themselves in good shape to avoid the bone and cardiovascular problems that were prone to the profession. And as humdrum as walking the ped-ways of Calypso was, it beat the hell out of a two-hour stint on Zephyr's treadmill. Besides, she enjoyed being physical--in every way. The thought shaped itself into an eager grin. The spring in her step became a hip-swinging saunter. A team of dockhands whistled their approval. She tossed her black, unfashionably long hair at them, and continued on her way.

"J' sector was the last of ten 'piers' that protruded like spokes from the station's domed hub. Station Control parked the biggest, ungainliest ships here: ore barges, flying factories, garbage scows, Denny's old tub of a salvager. When she thought of her Zeph, docked in a choice slip back in 'C' sector, she couldn't help but gloat to herself. Zephyr was everything that Riff-Raffwasn't: sleek and streamlined, fast as thought, a pleasure to operate and own. Or almost own, anyway. That was a major plus in Riff-Raff's favor: Denny held it, free and clear. She vented her superior conceits with a sigh.

She could see Riff-Raff's berth in the distance now. As she'd expected, the crew was taking on a load of fresh provisions. And as she'd hoped, Denny was not taking part in the job. She tracked down her lover's stevedore: a barrel-chested man by the name of Sam Quackenbee. He was standing next to the caterer's skimmer, checking his inventory against the auto-serv's.

"Bless these old bones!" he said, when he saw her. "If it ain't Capitan Jill, the best-damn-looking face in space. You here to try and steal me away from Denis again?"

"Would I stand a chance this time?" she bantered.

He gave his shaggy gray eyebrows a raunchy waggle, and then snorted so neither of them would take the innuendo seriously. "Nah. Put me on a cushy freighter like Zeph, and I'd be fatter than a Tuluvean houseboy in a fortnight. I need the abuse that salvaging dishes out."

"How'd you guys do this time out?" she asked.

"The hold's full," he said, in a much lower voice, "but on our way in, we found an ark--leastwise what was left of her. Damned pirates had blasted her full of holes. Denny was upset. Still is, for that fact."

"That's sad," she said, and it was. Arks were little more than prehistoric barges, throwbacks to, or occasionally leftovers from, the days when the fastest way between two points was still a straight line. As massive as they were, and as slow as they were, it often took them years to get from one solar system to the next. Like many spacers, Jillian had a sentimental attachment to those archaic rigs and to the legends that they'd inspired over the years. Hearing of one's destruction by pirates was like hearing of childhood-friend's death. "I think I should try and cheer him up. Is he around?"

He checked with his wrist-wiz. "Looks like he's in his quarters. Want me to ping him?"

"Negative," she replied. "I want this to be a surprise. Just open the walkway for me."

"Done."

"Thanks, Quackers. I'll be seeing you."

"Always a pleasure, Capt'n," he said with a grin, and returned to his work.

As she made her way over to the walkway, the airlock swept open and a stocky, copper-haired man clad in a spacer-blue flightsuit came barging out of the tube. He had frosty blue eyes and a deep dimple in his chin, but at the moment, his most distinguishing feature was the brand-new ridge of scar-tissue that ran all the way down the right side of his face. That was one of the hazards of salvage work, she thought. And a scar like that would be noticeable even after he had it sanded down.

"Stars!" she blurted, as she grappled for his name. Matthew? Mark? Something like that. "What happened to you?"

"I cut myself shaving," he said, and then shouldered past her. Too stunned to do anything else, she gaped at his retreating back. A moment later, he jumped into a passing skimmer's bed and was gone.

"Fuck you, too, space-for-brains," she grumbled, as she headed into the walkway. But as she passed through the access tube and into Riff-Raff's tarnished corridors, reason jumped to the man's defense. Salvage work could give anyone the growls, even when the run went right and well. And coming across a gutted ark would've ruined any trip.

The door to Denny's room came into view then; and just like that, she made the ark take a back-seat to lust. She raked her fingers through her hair, checked to see if she had slobbered fruit-juice down the front of her unitard, and then fed an access code to the wall-grid. An instant later, the grid flashed green and the door slid open.

She caught Riff-Raff's captain working, half-dressed, at his pull-out desk. Denny startled at the airlock's hiss, then hastily shoved the desk back into the wall and swiveled about to confront his uninvited guest. The ridges on his high, pale forehead started out as anger, but then arched into surprise.

"Jill?"

"Surprise," she said, as she sauntered toward him. "Happy to see me?"

"Of course," he said, though there was more bewilderment in his tone than delight. "But what are you doing here?"

"I'll give you three guesses." She ran her hands down his hairless, spacer-white chest, then caressed the bones of his pelvis. "And the first two don't count."

"Oh," he said then, and grinned.

"Finally," she teased, and grinned back.

The next thing she knew, they were a frantic tangle of sweaty flesh on the floor. His hands were callused; his lips, chapped. Her back arched to the thrill of rough edges. He rode her fast and hard--just the way she liked it the first time. Climax came quickly to them both.

"Damn!" she swore afterward, as her insides twitched and thrummed. "It's good to be alive."

"I'm glad you think so," Denny said, and then rolled out from under her just as she was starting to get comfortable.

"What's your hurry?" she asked, repositioning herself to give him a better view of her tall, angular, and very naked body. "I don't know about you, but once is definitely not enough for me."


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