by Damon Suede
(HardCell Universe: first transmission)
Release date: 30 October 2011 (Riptide Publishing)
a sci-fi M/M novella about building worlds, budding trust, and lovers that literally cannot fit together.
30,000 word novella
Every future has dirty roots.
Marooned in the galactic backwaters of the HardCell company, colonist Runt struggles to eke out an existence on a newly-terraformed tropical planetoid. Since his clone-wife died on entry, he’s been doing the work of two on his failing protein farm. Overworked and undersized, Runt’s dwindling hope of earning corporate citizenship has turned to fear of violent “retirement.”
When an overdue crate of provisions crashes on his beach, Runt searches frantically for a replacement wife among the tools and food. Instead he gets Ox, a mute hulk who seems more like a corporate assassin than a simple offworld farmer. Shackwacky and near-starving, Runt has no choice but to work with his silent partner despite his mounting paranoia and the unsettling appeal of Ox’s genetically altered pheromones. Ox plays the part of the gentle giant well, but Runt’s still not convinced he hasn’t arrived with murder in mind.
Between brutal desire and the seeds of a relationship, Runt’s fears and Ox’s inhuman past collide on a fertile world where hope and love just might have room to grow.
"5 out of 5! Since this is subtitled HardCell Universe: First Transmission, I am going to assume that we will be seeing additional titles by Mr. Suede that take place in this universe. I certainly hope so...This story of survival, hope, and friendship is more than just a good read. It is worth reading twice...I don’t in general seek out science fiction, but I’m very glad I picked up Damon Suede’s novella Grown Men. He brings his setting and his characters to brilliant life from the very first page, immersing us in the world almost as if we were participants in the storyline…I felt as if I were standing right alongside the characters experiencing their lives as they wrangle eels, count the stars, and dream of the future. Mr. Suede is a talented author, and he has definitely won my admiration. (Bobby D. Whitney for Book Wenches)
"I thoroughly enjoyed Grown Men…. I am not usually much of a science fiction reader but I had no trouble jumping into this story….I loved the slow development of the relationship between Runt and Ox. And I thought the themes of growth and the blending of two lives together were beautifully done. I can't wait for the rest of the series and highly recommend Grown Men!" (Joyfully Jay)
"There’s imagination, then there’s, whoa, IMAGINATION, and Damon Suede seems to be possessed of the second type, the kind where you’re reading along and thinking, now why can’t I do this?...With a generous attention to world building, a briskly paced plot, descriptive language that paints the ideal mental picture of the setting, as well as an introduction to a couple of unlikely yet likeable heroes who will, as this series moves forward, have more to reveal to readers, Grown Men is a weird and wondrous beginning in the HardCell conglomeration." (Lisa for Top2Bottom Reviews)
"Rated 5 Seashells! Mr. Suede has done an outstanding job of world-building, yet there are components of the story that are familiar and make it a comfortable, if very exciting, read. There is so much more to [this book] than an outer space adventure or a futuristic escapade. Mr. Suede enjoys words and uses them creatively. He is at his wordsmithing best when he’s able to create a whole new lexicon … With elements of Robinson Crusoe, GLBT romance, and Survivor all rolled into one…creative and scorching hot sex… I enjoyed Grown Men very much and recommend it to readers who enjoy Sci-fi, m/m, a stranded on a desert island trope, and a serialized adventure series." (Hazel for The Reader’s Roundtable)
"This is a science fiction novel in the classic sense, not a space opera… The story draws us into this world immediately and keeps us there with each new discovery. The bits of bio-engineering mixed with practical tech were marvelous…. The Hard Cell universe comes to us fully realized…lovingly detailed…Runt and Ox are real and believable characters, even with Ox’s freakish size. Their interactions are marvelous, the way their relationship grows and evolves without Ox speaking a single word absolutely captivating… a story I enjoyed immensely from the first anxious moments to the final, inventive solution, with characters I hope, very much, to see again!" (Angel Martinez - Off the Beaten Track Reviews)
(In this scene from Chapter One, terraformer Runt discovers that his bosses have sent a giant, deadly surprise with his provisions.)
Runt had almost turned toward the habitat when the huge bundle jerked and curled like a monstrous metallic worm.
Runt’s shout sent 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 nearby. 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 . . .
His recruiter had warned him that, if he didn’t meet their terraform schedule, forcible termination was likely. Fuck. His numbers were shit and he was behind schedule.
I’m a dead man.
After a scant 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.
HardCell means business.
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.
All that’s their food.
Legs braced to pounce, Runt gripped the whirring submachete and circled the enormous squirming life-support duffel. He could see big angled bumps like limbs inside straining hard at the closure.
The reflective packaging moved again and one of its occupants gave a bass groan. Transport anesthesia wearing off. With a tearing sound, the flex-wrap split, and one gigantic hairy arm clawed at the sand a moment as Runt’s 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 superhuman 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 a mealpak sitting on my executioner.
Runt circled nearer, submachete by his side with the safety off. 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 on the hot ground, heaving.
Fuck, he’s huge. 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.
Runt knew he had about a thirty-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 centimeters above the ground as he crept.
Closer . . . closer.
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 had close-cropped tawny hair, bronzed skin, and a stubbled face that looked like it had seen plenty of fights.
He’s a killer.
Brawny slabs of military-grade synthetic muscle covered his frame. 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. A small smile . . . no triumph, no cruelty, a faint hopeful curve of childlike pleasure which dampened Runt’s murderous thoughts. As if the big dumb freak was happy to be naked and puking on the sand at the ass-end of the universe.
Shit.A human smile after so long.
Excerpted from Grown Men by Damon Suede
published by Riptide Publishing