Authors: Tracy St. John
Book One: Gelan and Wynhod
Investigator Dramok Gelan stood in his superior’s office, a sense of disquiet filling him. Head Investigator Utta’s office hadn’t changed during Gelan’s week-long leave. His home planet Kalquor had not either, nor had the Southwest Mountain Territory Police Headquarters altered the least bit. Yet everything was different.
I’m different. That’s what’s changed. I suppose you don’t watch your partner die a violent death without undergoing some kind of radical transformation.
The department psychologist had said Gelan’s anger and second-guessing was normal and that the young Dramok would gradually get past the acute phase of the trauma. Gelan didn’t care much for shrinks and their ‘acute phases’. What he cared about was finding the people who had ambushed him and Enforcer Nobek Amik, forcing them into the deadly shootout. He wanted to catch those responsible for his partner dying under a hail of percussion blaster fire. Someone had to pay for that.
Head Investigator Utta was Gelan’s last obstacle to going after the gang that destroyed lives left and right in the territory. His supervisor studied the vid report from the psychologist in charge of Gelan’s treatment.
Utta turned it off after a quick perusal. “You’ve been cleared for return to work.”
“Good. The leave was driving me insane. Tell me I’m still on the case.”
Utta raised a bushy eyebrow. The Dramok supervisor had been on the force longer than Gelan had been alive. He had a face craggy enough to look at least thirty years older, yet he was still in his prime. Getting on his bad side would be a huge mistake.
Gelan took a deep breath, let it out, and tried again. “Please, sir. I’m eager to find the men behind Amik’s death. The ones he and I didn’t kill.”
“The Delir gang.” Utta grimaced. “You need to be partnered with another enforcer. No investigator works without one. Plus there’s that matter of you being too close to one of the victims.”
Gelan’s temper flared. “You can say his name. It was Nobek Amik.”
Utta fixed him with a stern glare. “I’m well aware of your deceased partner’s name, Gelan.”
The younger man drew another breath. Damn it, if Utta took him off the case, Gelan thought he would probably tear his supervisor’s office apart. He could see all too well destroying the room with its many vid commendations on the wall, the still shots of Utta accepting awards from important people, the floating desk surface on which his computer and office come were the only objects. He was big enough to bring about such carnage too. Although average height, he had a well-muscled build that intimidated suspects. Dramok Gelan had done a lot of damage in his time for far less reason than he had now. Some said he was as brutal as a Nobek, a comment he took as a compliment.
Right now, he felt like dealing out some carnage. Gelan hadn’t been this angry since he was a teenager. Back then it had only been a matter of dealing with hormones and elders who put what felt like too many restrictions on him. This Delir shit had gotten personal, and he wanted someone to pay.
Gelan kept his voice controlled and steady with herculean effort. “You need me on this.”
Utta raised the other eyebrow.
Gelan threw his hands up in the air. The violent action swept his long, cornrow-braided hair behind his beefy shoulders. “Fine, sir.
need to be on this. Too many people are dying, and when they start taking out our people, you can’t spare anyone. It doesn’t matter how personal it may be to me. I’m needed on Delir.”
Utta finally allowed a hint of a smile to warm his rough features. “I know. That’s why I got you a new enforcer to partner with.”
Gelan blinked, shocked. “After only a week?”
“He applied to come here and we had the opening. He comes highly recommended and has been awarded several commendations. His record is exemplary, and he’s certified ready to move from the regular enforcement team to partner an investigator.”
Gelan was still stunned to already have another partner in place, one from outside the precinct. He felt a bit of a relief, however. Going from a team situation to a partnership involved a long certification process. He’d already checked on the men available here. No one from the precinct had gotten any closer than halfway through the process. It had worried Gelan as to his chances to continue the Delir case as its lead investigator.
Utta switched on his desk com and spoke. “You can come in now, Enforcer.”
Gelan recovered from his surprise and asked, “Where’s he in from?”
“Northwest Mountain Territory.”
Gelan was newly startled. “That’s where I got my start in law enforcement.”
Before he could pursue that thought, Utta’s door opened and Gelan’s new partner walked in. Gelan’s shock tripled.
Half a dozen years had not changed the Nobek that Gelan stood up to face. His eyes were still sharp, the jaw still strong, the face still somehow both wild and stern. His handsome features were broader and less refined than Gelan’s aristocratic, almost haughty good looks. The other man’s sudden smile was as predatory as ever, making something slam hard in Gelan’s gut. Only the hair had changed, the sides shaved away to leave a long mohawk strip that trailed down his new partner’s back.
Gelan could feel his own delighted grin stretching across his face. “Nobek Wynhod.”
Wynhod looked him up and down, his hunter’s smile growing. “Dramok Gelan. It is good to see you again.”
Utta looked from one to the other, his expression turning suspicious. Gelan thought his supervisor had to detect the almost intimate familiarity the two looked at each other with.
The elder Dramok addressed Wynhod. “You didn’t tell me you two know each other.”
Wynhod shrugged, his gaze only releasing Gelan to offer a respectful bow to Utta. “You didn’t mention his clan parentage or where he hailed from. Gelan is a rather common name. I didn’t assume it was someone I’d worked with before.”
Gelan had to restrain a snort. Wynhod knew where the Dramok had transferred to and had no doubt guessed who he was being partnered with. The Nobek had just wanted to see the shock on Gelan’s face.
Besides, they had done a lot more than work together once upon a time, something Utta didn’t need to know about. Gelan had no doubt the head investigator would think twice about making former lovers working partners.
Damn, Wynhod looked good. He seemed bigger and stronger in his red-trimmed armored gray formsuit than he had the last time Gelan saw him. The Nobek stood a few inches taller and he had at least 25 pounds on Gelan, who was no lightweight. Wynhod’s sleeveless formsuit, perfect for the summer months that were now upon them, showed off his broad shoulders and swelling biceps to advantage. Gelan thought about all the times those arms had clutched around him and swallowed. He wondered if Wynhod had found a clan.
Having to concentrate to keep his tone steady, Gelan asked, “What has it been, six years?”
“Seven.” That almost feral smile reappeared on Wynhod’s face. That smile said he remembered everything, not just how many years had elapsed.
Utta interrupted their reunion with business. “Enforcer Wynhod has already been briefed on the case, but of course he’ll want to hear your take on it, Gelan. You’re hereby off leave.”
Gelan didn’t know what made him happier: being free to pursue the Delir case or seeing his former lover in the flesh once more. Utta had partnered them, no less.
He bowed deeper than usual to Utta. “Thank you, Head Investigator.” Trying not to sound too eager, he asked Wynhod, “Shall we discuss this over breakfast?”
“Since I’ve only had one meal so far this morning, absolutely,” Wynhod said, his voice that pleasing rumble Gelan remembered all too well.
Gelan chuckled, remembering how he used to tease the Nobek that nothing standing still was safe from Wynhod’s stomach. Obviously, his prodigious appetite had not changed.
They left Utta’s office, Gelan suddenly nervous and excited. He couldn’t wait to get Wynhod alone and find out how he’s ended up in this territory. His mood was even good in the wake of the Nobek’s appearance. The fury he’d fallen into after Amik’s death had finally lessened to a need to find and incarcerate rather than mindlessly destroy.
* * * *
The eating establishment Gelan took Wynhod to had a nice balcony cut into the side of the mountain it was housed in. It overlooked the same valley his apartment did, though the restaurant resided several levels higher. With summer, the peaks were densely forested, offering a silvery-lavender carpet to the scenery. It was still early enough in the day that the heat hadn’t yet become a factor in enjoying the outdoors.
The balcony had been hewn right from the mountain’s rock itself and polished to a high sheen. It wasn’t heavily populated right now, the workday having begun for most. Gelan and Wynhod had the corner area right next to the railing all to themselves.
Gelan tried to concentrate on the menu vid in front of him. He suddenly felt awkward with Wynhod. Seven years had passed without communication despite the fact they’d been inseparable when he lived in the Northwest Mountain Territory. They’d cut off the relationship when he transferred, deciding the distance made it too troublesome to keep up. It had been a clean, amicable breakup. Still, Gelan had missed his former lover, the man he’d once thought he might clan. He hadn’t dwelled on Wynhod too much, certainly not enough to make his life miserable. Yet, the absence had been there all the time, kind of like a missing tooth that you got used to not having anymore.
Now Wynhod reappeared in his life. The man sat cross-legged on a thick cushion across the low table from him, bigger than life. Now his partner, no less.
Gelan forced himself to choose food, not sure he really wanted the vina meat with stemmed sprouts on fresh-baked bread. The dish simply fell under where his finger poked. Wynhod chose the same and finalized the order. The menu winked out.
They were left with nothing to do but eye each other uncomfortably. Seven years. Gelan couldn’t get past the thought now that the initial excitement of seeing Wynhod had passed. What did one say to a former lover after that stretch of time?
The Nobek tried a smile that looked nearly painful. “So. Other than the obvious issue of your partner’s death, how are you?”
After that single word, Gelan’s verbal skills abandoned him. Ancestors, what was he supposed to say to this man? Ask after Wynhod’s parents? Question the Nobek about the work he’d done after Gelan had left? Talk about his hobby of mountain climbing? Seven years seemed like a lot of ground to cover, more like a stretch of eons.
Gelan suddenly decided not to do that awkward dance. It wasn’t his style, and it had never been Wynhod’s either. Neither of them had ever been about finesse.
Baldly he asked, “Are you clanned?”
Wynhod looked relieved by the abrupt honest inquiry. “No. You?”
“No.” He gave the Nobek a grin that showed his appreciation, both past and present. “I’m surprised no one grabbed you up.”
Wynhod grinned back. “They tried. They weren’t you.”
Gelan started. He believed in brutal openness, but he hadn’t expected Wynhod to say something like that.
His new partner shrugged. “It’s true.” Then he looked Gelan over with frank evaluation. “You look better than ever, but who knows? Maybe in the years that have passed, I built you up to more than what you actually were.”
Gelan nodded his agreement. “We were very young. I suppose I idealized our relationship as well, because no other Nobek ever came close.”
The Dramok felt good to know they were on the same page. But then, they always had been. Gelan tried to push aside the ease of falling back into the old patterns, the idea that he knew what Wynhod was thinking just by the other man’s expression. It had been seven years. Surely it couldn’t be the same as it was before.
Wynhod tried to scuttle that theory by speaking almost exactly what had been in Gelan’s head. “It will be interesting to see if it’s anything like what we remember. Of course, time changes men. It could be we’ll end up despising one another.”
Gelan snickered and shook his long, cornrow braids back. “I hope not, since you’re my enforcer.” That gave him a less uncomfortable dialogue to pursue. “What’s your kill rate?”
His tone was matter-of-fact, not boastful at all. Gelan whistled, giving him his due nonetheless. “Damn. Why aren’t you a sniper?”
“I’ve thought about it. The trouble with that assignment is the killing is a little too clean. I still like getting in people’s faces, giving them a chance to shoot back.”
Gelan laughed. Some things you couldn’t expect to change, especially when it came to a Nobek. Wynhod had always appreciated a good fight and odds to overcome.
Their food arrived via a hover cart that wove its way through the tables. They grabbed their plates and cups of curdled ronka milk. Gelan was amused to see Wynhod still put his full concentration on eating, not showing interest in anything else until his plate and drink were almost empty. He didn’t come up for air until then.