Hi guys! We have Marguerite Labbe popping in today with her upcoming re-release Pandora, we have a fantastic guest post from Marguerite and a great excerpt so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
Haunted by the screams of the men he murdered, ex-Marine medic Riff Khora is serving a life sentence on board a prison ship. Seeking more punishment for his crime, he strikes a deal with the corrupt Captain Vidal—an exchange of pleasure and pain—and forges a new life leading the team that surveys space wreckage for salvage.
Ship engineer Zed Jakobsen’s psychometric abilities make prison a sentence worse than death, and the barrage of emotional stimuli is an unending torment. His only regret is that he didn’t kill the monster who sent him to prison, and only a glimmer of hope to escape a judgment he doesn’t deserve keeps him clinging to a brutal existence.
When they board derelict ship Pandora and discover a lone survivor, the hell of prison life plunges into abject horror. An epidemic of violence and insanity consumes their ship, driving the crew to murder and destruction. Mutual need draws Riff and Zed together, and their bond gives them the strength to fight a reality they cannot trust. But Vidal possesses the only means of escape from the nightmare, and he’s not letting anyone leave alive.
First Edition published as Pandora in the Deep Into Darkness: Aliens, Alphas and Antiheroes Anthology by Smashwords, 2015.
by Marguerite Labbe
One of the roots for Pandora goes all the way back to my college days. I was taking summer classes at the University of Maryland and my cousin was getting married back home. There was no way that I was going to miss it, but I couldn’t go up with the rest of my family for the week-long party. Missing two days of classes was going to be hard enough. Now that part of New Hampshire/Vermont along the Canadian Border is nowhere near an airport. The nearest train station was marginally closer and less expensive on a college budget. So I decided I’d take the train back down and have a nice scenic tour of New England along the way.
After the partying, and the wine, so much wine. My entire French Canadian side was lit up. My dad drops me off at the train station in Bellows Falls, Vermont still slightly hung over. I remember it was a beautiful morning with the sun streaming through the windows of the deserted train station. The station itself was amazing, small with old wooden benches for waiting. There was a timeless sense about the place and for some reason I was completely creeped out not only about the station but also the view of the mountains outside. I couldn’t wait to get on the train and get out of there. The place made such an impression on me that it ended up in one of my other books Our Sacred Balance.
Not long after I returned to school, my then boyfriend, now husband gave me a book to read, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. My son now has that very same book in his schoolbag. Within the tales was “The Whisperer in the Darkness.” It chilled me to realize that the tale took place within that area of Vermont. Apparently, I’m not the only one who got that creepy vibe from those mountains and I love the New England ranges, just not there. And my apologies to my friends in Brattleboro for thinking that.
Then to really dig in the impression of this story, the man who picks up the investigator is Mr. Noyes. Noyes is an old New England name that is linked to the Salem witchcraft trails for one. It also happens to be my maiden name. That blew my mind and I’ve never forgotten that story. My husband and I have had many discussions about that Noyes character.
So when it came time to name my mysterious traveler who was rescued from Pandora the only name I could come up with was Noyes. I fought against it at first, because I didn’t want it to seem weird, but finally caved when the character kept insisting he was Noyes. And though Noyes doesn’t get mentioned in the blurb by name I wanted his presence felt, so he’s the young man on the cover, the catalyst for the whole novel. I hope he is as intriguing to you as he was to me.
THE DERELICT ship twisted in a slow, graceful spiral against the backdrop of a rogue moon. Signs of life remained. Lights flickered near the nose, slanted down as if poised for an endless dive. A stabilizer sputtered, altering the course of the ship’s rotation by degrees. Scans had come back negative for dangerous leakage, but it didn’t mean there wouldn’t be surprises whenever Riff Khora led a recon for a salvage mission.
It was easy to forget how terrifyingly vast the universe was until Riff came across sights like this and was reminded that their salvage ship, though solid and enormous, was only a speck of dust in an immense sea of stars. The derelict, Pandora, was reported missing a year ago. All this time it had waited, losing hope in its isolation.
Riff pressed his lips together at the unwelcome pang of empathy. “Any chance of survivors?” he asked, taking a step closer to the porthole.
“Still thinking like a medic, instead of a lifer. You’d think after three years of serving time that would’ve been scoured away.” Captain Vidal stood with his back to Riff, staring out the porthole, hands clasped behind him. His gaze bored into Riff from the reflection.
Riff kept his face expressionless, but the barb stung. Asshole.
Vidal was short, slight, and carried himself as if he were the largest dog in the pack, which he was. A dog with a vicious bite. His hair held more gray than red and was cut with military precision, as exacting as the way he ordered the rest of his life. He had the colorless pallor of a man who spent years away from the warmth of the sun. The blocky shape of his face, the round eyes that saw everything, and the thin-lipped mouth gave him the mien of a humorless, cold automaton.
“All signs indicate no survivors. No one left to argue over my salvage rights,” Vidal replied with a hard note of avarice in his voice.
Riff’s lip twisted in derision. Of course that was Vidal’s sole concern. His rights. His property. Not one thought for the lives lost.
Riff focused on the ship again. The captain’s suite was the only place on board the penal salvage scow that had sizable viewing ports. The derelict wasn’t large, probably belonged to a rich corporation. A pleasure yacht that had wandered off course and found trouble. Pampered travelers often forgot the dangers of space travel. They only noticed the beauty.
Vidal turned to face him, tapping a riding crop against his leg. His neatly pressed pants, shined boots, and shirt with every tuck and fold in place made Riff very aware of his own nudity. Riff’s gaze drifted to the crop and its restless tapping. He longed to feel the bite with an unrelenting hunger.
“Your attention should always be on me.” The crop came up and patted Riff’s cheek in a move meant to insult. Riff bit down on a hot flush of anger. He’d asked for this. Not for the degradation. He needed the pain, craved it long before he was sentenced here. Then the need took on a whole new life. At least while the whip was singing, Riff wasn’t haunted by screams and long-dead faces. But the slights and humiliations from Vidal burned. “Who are you picking for your team?”
“Tuputala, Quinet, Wilt, and Jakobsen.” Riff met the captain’s cold gray gaze with an insolent stare in return.
Vidal’s mouth pinched. His hand sank into Riff’s hair and fisted hard enough to make him hiss. Riff closed his eyes, savoring the sting. Just a little harder. The captain’s hand tightened as he shook Riff by his hair until he opened his eyes, pushing past the pleasure to focus on Vidal.
“Why Jakobsen? He’s raw. What makes you think he’s ready for a recon?”
“We need a fifth man,” Riff replied. “He has a knack for picking apart salvage for what’s usable. He has experience as a master engineering mechanic. I want to see how he judges an entire ship.” And Zed Jakobsen drew Riff to him on an instinctive level. A reason Riff kept to himself as Vidal studied him.
“On your knees.” The command was deceptively soft and uttered with the assurance of a man who was used to immediate obedience.
Riff hesitated, holding out until Vidal’s hand tightened again, sending pinpricks of pain over his scalp. Riff caught his breath and sank to his knees. Score one for him in their ongoing battle. It was a dance. When Vidal withheld pain, Riff withheld his submission as they waited for the other to give in first. Theirs was a twisted and perverse relationship of mutual gratification. Vidal got more pleasure out of a willing victim, and Riff used that leverage as much as he could to get what he wanted in return.
“Yes, Captain?” Riff’s excitement stirred. If only Vidal would give him a couple of licks before the mission, just enough to see him through until their next meeting.
Vidal used his hair as a handle to pull his head back at an uncomfortable angle. Riff swallowed against a tight throat as he met the captain’s glittering gaze. “Try not to lose another crew member,” Vidal taunted as he released him.
The swift and cutting unwelcome pain killed Riff’s desire with ruthless ease. He looked away, his jaw tightening. It infuriated him to know Vidal got more pleasure out of that blow than any physical one. Riff had no defense against those attacks.
“I accept your reasoning for Jakobsen,” Vidal said. “I expect a full report when you return.”
A full report, what a cosmic joke. It was an excuse for Riff to see him again. His report would involve him being on his knees, and nothing would be said about the derelict vessel. Vidal would get his information from the detailed reports.
Still aching from the final barb, Riff dressed and left without another word, passing by the two guards at the entrance to Vidal’s suite. Another guard, Regina Flaubert, escorted him down to the prep room. Flaubert’s long face was expressionless, but Riff recognized the familiar contempt in her eyes. Contempt for a lifer. Contempt for his so-called relationship with Vidal.
“You should be grateful,” Riff said in an undertone as they passed through the security separating the captain’s side of the ship with the rest. The long, narrow hallway connecting the two sections thrummed from the giant engines underneath. The dim corridor had all of the soft luxury stripped away, leaving bare decking and cold, dark walls with no chance of seeing outside. The prison and workrooms on the other side were even starker. Riff actually preferred the reality to the illusion that Vidal and his crew were any better than their prisoners.
Flaubert glanced at him, the corner of her hard mouth slanting in a sneer. “Why? Because you suck the captain’s dick for perks you don’t deserve?”
“Because if it wasn’t for me and the other prisoners’ labor, you wouldn’t get that fine payout of yours.” Riff sneered, his voice full of scorn. The dig hit, and her eyes flashed. “And if Vidal didn’t have prisoners to use and abuse, he’d turn to a guard without a moment’s thought. He’s god on this ship, and no one would intervene if you complained.”
“Lucky for me his tastes don’t run toward women,” Flaubert replied. The decking clanged under their boots down the long passage toward the second guard station. They nodded her through, and to Riff’s surprise she stayed with him when they reached the first of the vast, echoing salvage rooms. There was no need for an escort unless she wanted to keep him from speaking with another inmate or stopping by his cell. Or just to be a bitch and make him feel even more caged.
The salvage room hummed with activity as men and women worked on sorting and repair under the watching eyes of guards. There was always work to do. The routes between planets were littered with the remnants of ships left over from the constant wars, the depredations of pirates, and the occasional ill luck of a breakdown or accident. If they weren’t working on cleaning up a mess, they were dismantling the salvageable bits to sell to the highest bidders.
“You believe you’re the feudal lord to his god, but you don’t have as much power as you think,” Flaubert continued. “You weren’t able to help Bryce, were you?”
Riff halted and turned a bitter glare on her. “The only reason I couldn’t help Bryce is because you and your cronies are the worst hypocrites I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet. You make my old sergeant seem like Lord Vishnu. One of these days, I’m going to find out who tormented Bryce so bad he felt he had no other way out.”
“And when that day comes, you won’t do a damn thing about it.” Flaubert punched in the access code for the recon prep room and gestured for Riff to go in. “Be a good boy. Take your place.”
Riff clenched his jaw, gritting his teeth against his impotency. First the captain, now Flaubert, throwing Bryce’s death at him as if he were the one responsible for his suicide. Flaubert was right. There wouldn’t be a damn thing he could do about getting payback. Picking at the guards brought temporary relief but did nothing to change the situation or stop the constant bubbling anger. No amount of prayers over his tulsi mala eased that anger. He touched the beads around his wrist and told himself he only needed time; Bryce’s death was still a raw wound, but he didn’t think time would heal this one. The light of his faith sometimes had a difficult time shining through a growing tide of pessimism.
He got to work, examining each evac suit, making sure there were no rips or worn areas where dangerous substances could slip through. His thoughts returned to the problem of the derelict. It still concerned him that the ship hadn’t had a chance to send out a distress signal when there was no obvious external damage.
Marguerite has been accused of being eccentric and a shade neurotic, both of which she freely admits to, but her muse has OCD tendencies, so who can blame her? She loves writing stories about the beauty of love with all of its fascinating quirks and the strength of family, whether it’s the family you’re born into or the one you create. Marguerite was born in New Hampshire, grew up as a military brat, moving from one end of the U.S. to the other before settling down in Southern Maryland. She married her next-door neighbor and best friend, and they have one son and two cats who rule them. To her dismay, she has failed to convince her Alabama born husband to move north, where being a passionate Red Sox fan is perfectly normal. She runs Apocrypha Comics Studio with her husband and they often trek off to comic book conventions on the weekend where they celebrate all manner of geek culture. In her spare time she loves reading novels of all genres, enjoying a table top role-playing games with her friends, many which end up on the Role With Us podcast, and finding really good restaurants where she can indulge in her love of food and wine.
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