Excerpt The Company Man

Chapter One

Deneb Prime
February 2542

Captain Alyn Evans reported to the Outer Spiral Trading Company’s offices in Swan City right off the boat. The big red URGENT on his orders demanded it. Only a week ago he’d been enjoying some relaxation time, waiting for the company to allocate him a ship. That could take a couple of months, they’d told him. He should relax while he could. Then, ten days into his vacation, his orders had showed up.

Proceed with all speed to OSTC station on Deneb Prime and report ready to take command of Red Dragon.

He’d looked up the details of the Red Dragon before he left. Not one of the company’s more prestigious vessels, even though at his interview panel they’d told him he’d get one of their best ships—something befitting a former warship captain. These orders made him fear they’d been blowing smoke up his arse after all. But he’d signed the contract, so he had no choice but to pack up and take the next transport to Deneb Prime, sadly leaving behind a resort populated with good-looking young men happy to wear as little clothing as possible. The only comfort was the name of the ship. As a Welshman he hoped that might prove a good omen.

“I don’t even have a uniform yet,” he told the receptionist at the office.

“Mr. Wright’s ordered those sent to your hotel room,” she said. “We have your measurements.” Her glance up and down suggested she appreciated those measurements.

“Can’t I see Mr. Wright now?” George Wright, head of the company’s Deneb Prime station, might at least have the answers his staff seemed reluctant to give. Alyn had sensed an air of barely controlled panic as soon as he entered the offices.

“I’m sorry, Captain. He’s, ah, busy, dealing with this whole situation with the Red Dragon. He’s up there right now.”

“What exactly is going on with the ship?” He barely managed to avoid saying “the bloody ship.” According to the local news, the Red Dragon had arrived in orbit two weeks ago, and the police and company officials had gone aboard and arrested the captain and the company’s onboard trader. When Alyn had reported to the receptionist and said he was the new captain of the Red Dragon, she had blurted out, “Oh, I’m sorry,” before pulling herself together. This did not bode well.

“Mr. Wright’s going to meet with you and with the new onboard company rep tomorrow morning. He’ll tell you everything.”

“You can’t tell me anything now?”

“It’s all very complicated. It’s best for you to wait for Mr. Wright.”

Better to get the full story than half a wrong one, Alyn supposed, attempting to remain philosophical about it. “Then I’ll see him tomorrow. You mentioned something about a hotel?”

“The company is putting you up in a suite in the best hotel in the city for the night.” Her voice lowered, and she leaned across her desk. “I took care of it personally.”

He glanced at her narrowly, wondering if she was hoping for an invitation to a luxury hotel suite. Instead what he saw in her eyes looked more like pity.

“I’d suggest you make the most of it, Captain,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “Try to relax.” He heard her unspoken implication. This would be his last chance to relax in fine accommodations for some time.

* * * *

Alyn left one of Deneb Prime’s better restaurants and strolled through the dark streets. He’d be returning to Deneb frequently, and there were establishments other than the restaurants he’d like to check out. So he set out to see what else Swan City at night had to offer a new company captain about town.

“Night” was an illusion. The city lay under a dome of force fields, and they simulated a twenty-four-hour day/night cycle for the inhabitants. It bore no relation to the planet’s rotation and which hemisphere faced its vast star, the blue-white giant, Deneb. But night was the same everywhere Alyn went, artificial or real. Men and women came out in their finery, to see and be seen. Predators swam through the crowds, out to steal or to lure away. Brightly decorated and noisy bars were transformed from the often dingy premises of the day.

Alyn caught the eye of a man or two as he strolled up the main boulevard through the center of the city, busy and bustling with the evening crowd. An admiring glance here, a once-over there. He didn’t take it any further than eye contact, but he had plans for more. He suspected he’d be shipping out on the Red Dragon soon. He could even be aboard the ship tomorrow and starting a four-month journey to Earth shortly after. Since he didn’t screw anyone under his command, tonight might be his last chance for some companionship for a long time.

An hour later he arrived at a men-only sauna recommended to him most highly by a barman when he’d asked about somewhere clean and well lit.

“Somewhere with some class, right?” the barman had said. “For a gentleman like yourself.”

A gentleman. Right. He could cling to that, he hoped, that he was still an officer and a gentleman, even in a different uniform.

When Earth’s government had decided to cut the military fleet down by half, they’d offered generous payoffs to warship captains, but Alyn hadn’t even considered volunteering. A young captain like him, only forty-two, he felt sure he had a long future ahead of him with the fleet. When the offers failed to produce enough volunteers, the compulsory notices had started to come out. Even then Alyn hadn’t expected one. They’d thin out the deadwood, he thought, and he wasn’t that. He’d only been captain five years. The service hadn’t yet got the full return on the years they’d spent training him to command warships. No, he hadn’t expected to receive a notice.

He’d been wrong.

The sauna was named Hadrian’s. Someone around here had some classical education. It did indeed have a touch of class, with a comfortable, smartly decorated reception area. Alyn paid his fee, collected a couple of very clean, thick towels and a pair of plastic sandals, and made his way to the locker room. He had that to himself as he changed. Maybe the place filled up later in the night, after the bars closed. If they ever closed. He undressed and tied one towel around his waist, draped the other around his neck, put on the plastic sandals, and walked through into the sauna.

It was a damn good one, and he mentally thanked Freddy for the recommendation. The place sparkled, clean enough to eat your dinner off the floor. Full facilities, including all the usual steam and heat rooms, several hot tubs, and a plunge pool big enough for at least a short swim. The walls were decorated with mock-ups of Roman mosaics, all featuring young men who’d mislaid their clothes but didn’t let that stop them from taking part in athletic pursuits of various kinds. A comfortable lounge had an attendant to bring refreshments, and a few men were in there cooling off. Alyn made a note of its location for later and continued to explore.

There were large rooms and small ones. The large rooms held several men, and the most they seemed to do in there was look. Sometimes a couple of guys would leave at the same time and find one of the smaller sauna cabinets or the other rooms dotted around. The sounds from inside didn’t invite interruption. A classy place, which meant you didn’t get to watch unless invited. Suited him. He preferred a bit of privacy. With the lack of a private life aboard ship, especially as the captain, who had all eyes on him, a man learned to value the privacy he could find on shore leave.

He entered the dry-heat room, his favorite spot. Maybe he’d stick around in here for a while before he went seriously on the prowl. The night was still young. He found a few men on benches and loungers in the cooler end of the room, and they all checked each other over. Alyn slid the towel from his shoulder and enjoyed the admiring looks he garnered. But he did suck his gut in a bit, conscious of carrying a couple of extra kilos after his vacation. When he’d tried on his uniforms earlier, they’d been a little snug around the waist. But at least the jackets sat well around his shoulders and chest, which were bulky and usually difficult to fit. The dress uniform jacket even had his decorations on. Someone had made sure every detail was perfect. Along with the nice hotel suite, that worried Alyn. In his experience, someone being so good to you usually had an agenda.

One youngish guy, who’d been lying naked on his stomach on a lounger, caught Alyn’s eye and rolled over, allowing his towel to fall away before he slowly covered himself again. Alyn almost moved in to close the deal immediately. The guy was all hard muscle, and his well-tanned skin shone with sweat. His cock was impressive even at ease. He smiled lazily at Alyn. Invitation. Alyn returned the smile and took a step, but movement caught his eye and made him glance away. In the hottest end of the room, he saw another man, and their eyes locked.

Alyn forgot the man on the lounger. Something in the other man’s eyes drew him. He walked on through to where the other man sat on a bench. A very different-looking man from the big guy on the lounger. Middle Eastern, Alyn guessed, skin light brown, hair black and worn quite long. Midthirties probably. A good body, lean and long-legged. He’d be a little taller than Alyn when he stood. But in this temple of the body, a place where Alyn usually looked at asses before faces, the man’s eyes drew him most. They were hazel and gave him a piercing gaze Alyn found hard to turn away from. He smiled at the man.

“Room for one more?”

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