(HardCell Universe: second transmission)
by Damon Suede
- Ox References
- Runt References (don't know that you need them, but just in case)
- Frazetta covers (for mood/vibe references)
- Representative Covers ("covers you particularly like")
- Prequel Cover Art for "Seedy Business" (short story set in same universe)
- Original photo that inspired the story
- Short Synopsis
- Excerpt (first chunk of chapter one)
The image below is the one that I think of as the most perfect... so much so that I had considered licensing the photo for editing and use AS the cover. The photographer and model are friends and offered, but I felt like the modern furniture/architecture was a bad fit. Nevertheless, the pose, luminosity, and exaggeration of the physique is spot on.
In addition to the above image, here're some more Ox-bod references.
"Ox stood easily two and one third meters tall and dense muscle wrapped his bones like tectonic armor. A narrow strip of pale skin and trimmed hair framed his heavy privates.... His bulging arms were longer than Runt’s legs. His broad back was a shifting wall of muscle over a high, square ass. His flaccid penis hung like some kind of blunt trunk.... Brawny slabs of military-grade synthetic muscle covered his frame. "
Ugly/adorable like a bulldog. His face makes him look like more of a murderer than he actually is.
"He had close-cropped tawny hair, bronzed skin, and a stubbled face that had seen plenty of fights... His rugged face was creased, but unscarred. And the heavy stubble pushing through the square jaw was as dense as the whorls of hair over the heroic pectorals and abdomen and legs..."
Runt Reference Images:
Scrappy, stocky fireplug who grew up on the streets. I doubt we'll use him on the cover, but just in case (and to give you a visual on the other half of the duo)
Frazetta covers (for mood/vibe)
I'd love to pull off something a little Sci-Fi retro with the cover... it's a style that's insanely sexy and yet NO gay romance titles have availed themselves of the graphic reference. :) Obviously you can tell by the Frazettas I've pulled here, for this little book I'm drawn to the solitary figures, mostly nighttime or twilight, high saturation... and mostly unclothed. Happy to discuss this idea further if it would be helpful.
"The fifth week, Ox waded out to
the sandbar and strangled a four meter eel with his big bare hands.
His mighty body shone in the water like a statue… baby Heracles and
the serpents maybe, or Laocoön wrapped in dragons. Impossibly primal
and potent, the way advertisements tried to make men seem… .
.A spray of water and Ox popped to the surface wrestling with a pissed-off male, it’s mandibles chewing the air. These conger hybrids could weigh up to fifty kilos, but Ox lifted it like a data cable in the churning water. He pulled it to the shallows and got his feet under him, two predators knotted together."
Frankly there AREN'T a lot of gay romance covers that do what I'm wanting for this book, (hence the Frazetta refs above) but here's some ballparky stuff as far as palette and vibe...
Prequel Cover Art - This is the cover for the "Seedy Business," the short story prequel to Grown Men... and a kind of rough approximation of some of the stuff mentioned in the Cover Art form.
Original Photo... For what it's worth, this is the posted photo that originally inspired the story... Ah, the miracles of photoshop and a kinky imagination...
32,000 word novella
a sci-fi gay romance about building worlds, budding trust, and lovers that literally cannot fit together.
Marooned alone on planetoid HD10307-E, colonist-farmer Runt has been terraforming for the HardCell Corporation for the past 18 months in the middle of an alien ocean. When an overdue crate of provisions crashes on his beach, he's hoping to find his new clonewife with the cargo.
Instead his employers have sent Ox, a mute hulk who seems more like an executive assassin than a simple farmer. Shackwacky and near-starving, Runt has no choice but to work with his giant partner despite their unsettling differences and mounting paranoia… and pray that he hasn’t arrived with murder in mind.
At first, Ox and Runt misjudge each other. As they learn to work together and rescue their farm from ruin, their tentative friendship climbs toward something more intimate and dangerous. But Runt’s fears and Ox’s brutal past collide in a moment of deadly peril that puts everything they have in danger or risk a violent retirement.
Between murderous roots and the seed of a relationship, Runt’s fears and Ox’s brutal past collide in a place on the edge of the galaxy where hope might have room to grow.
Transport delivered his murderer at sundown.
Runt had been semi-starving for three weeks when he returned to his habitat and found the huge cargo container in a shallow crater in the sand.
He might have missed it till morning, but coming back from the eelbeds he spotted one bold crab scuttling toward the water dragging a shiny mealpak in one claw, trying to cadge dinner. Runt gave a whoop of relief and rescued the food from the startled, spiny thief.
Without even rinsing off the day’s grit, Runt popped the recovered mealpak open and sucked the nutrient paste like a scavenger. Wasn’t like anyone could see him out here except the eels offshore and the insects sleeping in the palm trees. He turned to jog up the beach in search of the fresh provisions.
Runt’s habitat sat tucked under a steep rock wall in view of the cove that provided some windbreak; the cargo had been dumped about 12 meters away in the hot sand. The long crater around the container indicated the drop-ship hadn’t even slowed as it passed.
“Thank you!” His shout at the empty sky echoed off the pumice cliff. Knobjobs.
The container itself had split at one corner but the contents remained intact thanks to the impact-foam. Runt had gone hungry too many weeks to complain. If he couldn’t get this bitch open any other way, he’d hack in with the submachete.
Food. Real food and gear. Runt almost passed out in relief.
At least he’d brought an industrial weapon with him. He stabbed the sand with the submachete and left the blade there, freeing his hands to dig out the treasure buried inside this overdue shipment. And her?
On the undamaged end, Runt bent over the keypad. With a calloused finger, he tapped in his farm code—Hisssss— A meter-long side panel sighed open on the container’s side and fell into the hot sand.
I wonder what she looks like.
Dispatch had wedged mealpaks and canisters and paraphernalia into every centimeter and braced them in impact-foam for interstellar transport.
Hands shaking, Runt dug his fingers into the dense padding and peeled off a thick strip. Reaching into the dark container, he grabbed a handle and hefted out a tank of phytoplankton.
I’m saved. She saved me.
HardCell, the conglomerate that owned Runt’s contract, had marooned him here in the middle of an alien ocean a year and a bit ago, long enough that his bare feet had leather soles, and his skin didn’t burn anymore. His bosses had shipped him to terraform remote planetoid HD10307-E almost as soon as they’d extracted their seismologists and genetic engineers. They’d altered its orbit to increase daylight, melted its ice into freshwater oceans, and dumped a few patented life forms into them to fight and fuck.
Like the ads blared: HardCell means business!
At a meter and a half high, the container stood almost as high as he did and so jam-packed Runt hauled out a few crates to gauge the contents. Atop a barrel of acid, a folded smart-net sat ready for action. Throw that in the ocean and it would go find dinner for him! His logical brain knew that this big delivery seemed oddly softhearted for HardCell, but he ignored it.
He tunneled back through padding and packages with hope in his heart. His stomach hummed pleasantly around the rich meal after being empty so long, but food wasn’t what he was looking for.
C’mon, cmon! Where is she?!
Dispatch always tossed in a few pretend-we-give-a-shit extras: candy and dice and lubricant, shiny gewgaws to keep the terraformers from getting shackwacky.
Runt saw something glowing faintly and gave a bark of relief, wrenching fistfuls of transport foam free to expose a tray of specimen tubes that just might save his ass.
Bee-Moths! The redesigned bee-moths.
His heart hammered. These little beauties had made it all the way to this crappy system in Andromeda from the corporate labs. HardCell’s biodesigners spliced moths with bumblebee DNA to groom and pollinate vegetation, but rarely replaced them. Freed of the packing and woken by the tropical warmth, striped caterpillars glowed pale lavender in the shadows of the container. His crops would be saved in time!
As if handling lace coral, Runt extracted the tube trays in slow motion and set them in the shade until he could take them to the hive for hatching by the digital queen.
He knew it was foolish, but the fresh moths planted hope in him. Again he tunneled into the provisions looking for the woman and found more mealpaks, food tanks.
He shook his head in wonder. All this had to be a mistake at the depot. Schmuck’s luck. At least he wouldn’t starve this season.
Runt peeled away the cushion of impact-foam that had cradled the phosphorescent grubs and a tub of biotic lotion. Beneath he found a bigger surprise from Dispatch: a lumpy four-meter roll of mirror-bright flex-canvas to wrap his habitat against tsunami and scavengers.
Runt unzipped it a few centimeters to see. Sure enough! The dense material lay folded and stashed inside packaging which resembled an oversized life-support sack.
Hope made him stupid. He should have unpacked and unrolled it first thing, but in his eagerness he skipped it. All this bounty convinced him his bride was inside.
Maybe someone loves me. Maybe this is a dowry.
Runt’s farmstead covered a small patch of a hundred-acre igneous landmass that looked like a disk with a wide bite taken out of it. Almost a month ago a storm had ravaged the island’s little cove and he still hadn’t finished repairing the devastation. A fuck-awful night, that: ground lightning striking the curdled sky and his plasticrete walls split in two places.
Worst of all, the sky had thrown the bolt of charged ions back at the island obliterating Runt’s little cocoon-shed with an answering crack; for two nights after the tempest, thousands of bright scraps drifted on the tide as the scattered moths tried and failed to fight their way back to their farm. The air had smelled like burnt ozone for a week.
Some genius goofs, grunts pay the price. Business as usual.
Once HardCell finished sculpting the climate, the storms would cease and the planetoid would stabilize like every corporate combine: islands of fertile dirt and brackish oceans, perfect for eel-ranching and irrigation. In the meantime, Runt had patched his habitat best he could. Losing the moths had ruined his meager harvest and he’d started rationing to be safe.
Then this loaded container: twelve cubic meters of salvation. With his shitty harvest stats? He should feel grateful. He cleared a path through the supplies to the back of the container and his stomach growled louder.
Dispatch had sent the upgraded bee-moths and the habitat canvas and twice the food.
A few of his requests were missing like always, but he’d gotten his essentials and more: eight crates of spirulina pellets, six barrels of desiccated vegetable cubes, clean worksuits, a case of bright pink Soyshimi, fresh medkits, new tools, two pairs of sea boots twice his size, even some fresh holo-porn from the company’s sex resorts.
HardCell hadn’t supplied this much when they hired him. He logged the contents quickly as he shuttled packages onto the warm sand.
That silvery weatherproofing for his habitat would change his life. He had requested it after the tsunami and given up hope; some pinhead engineer had finally approved it. With luck this one would be flexible and reflective enough to cover the entire habitat against the blinding double daylight and drop the temperature inside by thirty degrees.
Still no wife. Yet.
His stomach growled at the nearness of all those nutrients. For the first time in his life, saliva pooled in his mouth at the thought of the “savory” mealpak paste. Hunched inside the cool darkness of the transport container, he sat on the bag of architectural fabric and devoured another two mealpaks, forcing himself to go slowly.
With a beggar’s wisdom, he chose textures and entrees he loathed (curry and pickled tongue) to save the good stuff. His taste buds exploded. In seconds, he had new favorite cuisines and let himself lick the wrapper to get at every millimeter of them.
Now sated, Runt climbed out and shuffled the supplies into piles: edibles for his habitat cook-space and the meds, new blades and lotion for the wash-space and auto-privy. Hammergun and seed to the greenhouse, pipe and plasticrete and cubes of krill to the shed, the stasis canisters of eel pups to the brood tanks. He plucked the massive supply container clean, not wanting to waste anything Dispatch might have sent to help him not die out here. Even the packing would prove useful.
Terraforming was lonely bloody work, but at the end of a seven-year tour he’d own a stake in the farm he’d build here on the edge of nowhere and have the right to vote as a HardCell shareholder. Runt knew he was stubborn and stupid enough to take himself hostage if it meant a shot at corporate citizenship and comfort.
They were building paradise. He was.
Finally, the orbit and rotation of the planetoid had settled on something like Old Earth calendar and clock. What’s more, the manmade climate was tuned to tropical paradise and the sea had cooled to an endless rolling pound the temperature of arterial blood.
What Runt really needed was his new clone bride. Odd’s Gods! Eighteen months of masturbation doesn’t breed too many brats to help at harvest.
Assigned mates were one of the only perks of terraforming. Runt knew he was too small and too rough to court a civilized bride, but he knew he’d be able to charm whatever fertile female they cooked up for him, no matter how ugly or ill-tempered. Clone spouses were engineered for compatibility.
No wife yet. Still, the lavish provisions eased his let-down.
Facing the broiling suns on the horizon, Runt cracked his neck and decided to store the crates of food first. Thankfully the past year had packed so much sinew onto his compact frame that he could manage alone. It was grunting, sweaty work, even in the twilight.
This was three times the produce the transport pricks had dropped last time. Odd. He’d almost starved last season. As he hauled a hundred kilos of mealpaks and food tanks into the habitat cook-space, his gratitude and hunger made the chore seem like a treat, even working solo.
HardCell always placed cofarmers in mated pairs for safety and entertainment, but Runt’s original partner had died on entry. She had vaporized inside the cheap delivery pods used by space freighters for dropping nonsentient cargo. Some blind date, huh? From lifemate to hot dust before he’d even laid eyes on her. Just his fucking luck. And just hers, apparently.
Trouble was, no replacement wife (or explanation) had arrived. Runt hadn’t seen another sentient being in months. There were terraformers posted on other islands of course, but in a year and a half he’d not met one.
The geologists had scattered landmasses carefully across these roiling seas; HardCell Corporation discouraged any kind of contact or conversation that might lead to discontent or unionization. Planetoid HD10307-E was to be an agricultural combine harvesting high-yield produce and protein that would feed HardCell employees as far away as Algol.
Runt vibrated with bone-deep relief at seeing his shelves full of nutrients again. Several trips cleared the food from the beach, then he tackled the gear, chewing dry tofu-bacon.
Until he rebuilt the hive, the tubes of shimmering caterpillars went in his sleep-space, the only one that hadn’t sustained storm damage. He’d have to rig a new hatchery first. Until then, best to be cautious.
It took him an hour to sort and snack until his belly was full, the sand clear, and the transport container scooped clean.
Nearby, the creamy heap of foam shreds shrank as wildlife swiped it to line nests. By morning it would be gone. Frankly, Runt appreciated the cleanup and the biodegradable padding would only help the island’s ecosystem.
Then, only the architectural tarp remained inside the container, probably three meters long across its floor. Runt grabbed the handle at one end of the sack and dragged the dense silvery roll onto the sand.
Chance’s pants it was heavy! Too heavy this late in the day.
The smaller sun was coming down and night bugs were chittering in the brush. He decided to leave the fabric for daylight so he could check it for parasites… If rats or millipedes had hidden in its folds, he didn’t want them catching him barehanded.
Runt almost turned towards the habitat when the huge bundle jerked and curled like a monstrous metallic worm.
Runt’s shout lifted a few surviving moths fluttering from the bluish palm trees. He fell to the ground and scrabbled back on his ass toward the heavy-duty submachete still planted in the sand. Noisy, but the only accessible weapon.
The resurfacing tarp moved again, a wriggle all along its length, something packed alongside the fabric.
Something alive stuffed inside the sack.
What the hell could be that big?
Hogs, dogs, humans….
Too big to be her. A cofarmer couple probably, sent to kill him and confiscate his farmstead and his stock options. Could he retire both of them?
His recruiter had warned him that if he didn’t meet their terraform schedule that forcible termination was likely. Fuck. His numbers were shit and he was behind schedule. Becoming a HardCell shareholder took more than work. Runt’s chances had been fucked from day one.
I’m a dead man.
Runt realized HardCell had sent a new pair of terraformers stashed in foam to retire and replace him. Duh. Runt was undersized and had been trapped working solo.
HardCell means business.
After eighteen months, they’d finally sent his retirement plan in a corporate Trojan Horse, the cracked container packed with terraformer nibbles and he’d fallen for it like a hungry idiot.
All that’s their food.
Legs braced to pounce, Runt circled the enormous squirming life-support duffel with the whirring submachete. He could see a few limbs inside straining hard at the closure.
The reflective packaging moved again and one of its occupants gave a bass groan. With a tearing sound, the flex-wrap split and one gigantic hairy arm clawed at the sand a moment, as one assassin struggled free from the life support sack and the silvered fabric.
A man, large enough to be two people, but no mate.
Because he’s too oversized to share a stasis sleeve.
Huge. Naked. Drugged. Alone.
Runt goggled in confusion as the enormous body squirmed out of the shiny canvas like a colossal larva to flop on the sand and gulp the briny air.
I sat on him. I ate sitting on my executioner.
Runt circled nearer, submachete by his side with the safety off. He only had one chance and this was it.
He took a step. He took another one.
Still shivering from the drugs and the bruising impact, the strapping stranger didn’t react. He twitched and curled in the sand. Cramps and dehydration wracked his frame.
Runt lowered the mechanical blade but held it close. Had they sent an ex-con to steal his claim? Fuck, he’s huge. Was he human? Why didn’t he say anything? Runt took another wary step.
He’s a fucking mutant.
The stranger unfolded his limbs and rolled onto his side. His bulging arms were longer than Runt’s legs. His broad back was a shifting wall of muscle over a high, square ass. His flaccid penis hung like some kind of blunt trunk. Even out here under the sky, the mighty physique took up so much space.
Runt had about a 30 second window as the transport tranquilizers wore off. If he was going to kill his replacement this was the only moment. The submachete whirred softly in Runt’s calloused hand a few inches above the sand as he crept.
Runt’s mouth hardened into a scowl under his salt-stiff mustache. If he slaughtered this circus clone now he could claim the goon had died on entry like his long-lost wife.
The groggy giant gasped and spat, then rolled onto all fours, his head hanging. He shuddered and drool ran from his mouth.
He’s a killer.
He had close-cropped tawny hair, bronzed skin, and a stubbled face that had seen plenty of fights. Brawny slabs of military-grade synthetic muscle covered his frame. Upgraded for combat or security to superhuman dimensions. Maybe not a full clone, but growth hormones out the wazoo, obviously. The broad paw spread on the ground had a palm bigger than Runt’s entire face.
Don’t look at him.
Runt’s eyes scanned for the sweet spots: throat, kidney, groin. He raised the humming submachete, his hand sweaty on the gel grip. He glanced up at the habitat, his crop terraces, the little kingdom he’d built by himself for eighteen months a millimeter at a time.
Retire him now.
Suddenly, the troll turned his head and looked right into Runt’s eyes and simply smiled in relief… as if greeting an old friend, as if he didn’t see or fear the buzzing blade at all, as if Runt had saved his life. A small smile… no triumph, no cruelty, a faint hopeful curve of childlike pleasure which extinguished Runt’s murderous thoughts. The big dumb freak was happy to be naked and kneeling at a smaller man’s feet like a stray cub, puking on the sand at the ass-end of the universe.
A human smile after so long.
Excerpted from Grown Men by Damon Suede
published by Riptide Publishing