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Blood Red Tide (Deathlands) Mass Market Paperback – September 2, 2014

4.7 out of 5 stars 42 ratings
Book 62 of 68: Deathlands

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"I smell the sea," Doc Tanner reported.

Ryan Cawdor, leader of a group of seven companions who traveled the Deathlands, still mostly smelled and tasted his own bile from the jump. He stepped out from the shadows of the yawning redoubt blast doors. Someone back in the day had constructed a warehouse-sized building around the entrance to the redoubt. It was a blockhouse, and Ryan suspected it probably served as camouflage too. At some point the ruse had failed. Holes in the walls that a man could step through and twisted iron rebar indicated the structure had taken artillery fire.

The wind moaned through the holes and emptiness. Ryan sniffed the air. Doc was right. They were close to the sea. The air also smelled like rain was coming. Depending on what hemisphere their jump had taken them, a golden sunrise or sunset spilled through the blasted out front door. Ryan looked at the thick layer of undisturbed dust and bird shit coating the floor.

No one had been here in a very long time.

Ryan took point and his companions spread out behind him.

"It smells tropical," Doc opined.

A corner of Ryan's mouth turned up slightly. Doc was definitely damaged goods, but there was nothing wrong with the man's nose. Ryan jerked his head toward the blackened holes on both sides of the building "Jak, Ricky, check our flanks."

Jak Lauren and Ricky Morales, the two youngest members of the group, moved out. Ricky raised his silenced DeLisle carbine and peered out one of the smaller blast holes in the wall. "Nothing but rocks, Ryan. Nothing's moving!"

Jak held his Cold Python and peered to one side. "Jungle. Quiet."

"Hold positions. J.B., you and me, cross fire on the entrance." The two men took oblique angles on the shattered blockhouse entrance. J.B. Dix, also known as the Armorer, squatted behind a pile of rubble. Ryan stood behind solid wall. He shouldered his Steyr Scout rifle and risked a glance outside.

Ryan stared.

J.B. cradled his scattergun and peered at Ryan quizzically. "What?"

Ryan gazed on something he had seen only a few times in his life.

Krysty Wroth, Ryan's lover, held her blaster in both hands and tilted her chin at him. "What is it?"

"Yo, Ryan!" Mildred Wyeth called. "You're starting to freak me out! What do you see?"

The one-eyed man waved his friends forward. The redoubt and the blockhouse concealing it were on a steep hillside. A raddled predark road zigzagged down through the forest to a lagoon painted in pink and gold with the setting sun. All eyes stared at the lagoon and what lay anchored there.

"A full rigged ship!" Doc declared. "How delightful."

"What does that mean, Doc?" Ryan asked. "In my time a full-rigged ship meant a ship with three masts, all square rigged."

Ryan snapped out his Navy longeyes.

He gazed on the vessel, knowing that such a ship was a rare thing. The few villes that could build boats of their own from scratch produced ketches or small fishing boats.

Ricky had been born in a port ville in old Puerto Rico, and he gasped at the sight of something so magnificent.

"She's beautiful!"

Ryan agreed. The ship below was perfect. Her lines were utterly clean. She was a design from some far better time, built to sail the world's oceans using the power of the wind alone. Ryan took in her masts and yards.

"Have you ever seen a ship as nice as that, Doc?"

"In my time, dear friend, and I had never expected to see the like again. Indeed I had the pleasure of touring my country's good sailing ship USS Constitution in my youth, upon an idyll in New York City. She was a frigate, and an antique even then."

"Jesus." Mildred shook her head. "I took a tour of the USS Constitution when I was in college, and that was in my time."

"Big boat," Jak commented.

Doc sighed happily. "This vessel is rather smaller than the Constitution. If pressed, I would name her a sloop-of-war."

"Why?" Ryan asked.

"Well," Doc replied, "she is a wooden ship, Ryan. Given skilled carpenters and blacksmiths, every single piece of her can be replaced. Indeed, except perhaps the keel, I would dare to wager that not one plank or spar upon that boat is original. Like an organism slowly replacing its cells as they wear out, the structure never changes, but new wood, new iron, new crews and new life have invigorated her throughout the centuries and—"

Mildred interrupted him, pointing a finger at the mast.

It flew a blue flag with a white skeleton hand embroidered on it. "Yeah, and they're flying the goddamn Jolly Roger!"

"Hmmm." Doc frowned. "Traditionally the pirate Jolly Roger was black, symbolizing death, or occasionally red for blood. A sea blue ensign should represent the sea and would denote a more commercial enterprise."

Mildred rolled her eyes. "Um, and the skeleton hand?"

"What that denotes I cannot fathom," Doc admitted.

"It's been in a fight," J.B. stated.

Ryan nodded. The Armorer was right. The ship's sides were torn and scored. The sails were currently reefed, but Ryan could see blackening and damage. Men worked in the riggings and hung from the ropes along the sides, effecting repairs on holes that were clearly cannon shot. They moved with clear purpose. Ryan stepped out of the blockhouse. His friends followed him, blasters trained on their flanks. He crossed a weed-choked wag parking circle and took point at a shattered guard gate that had once stood sentinel on the road. He waved his companions forward. Ryan pointed his longeyes down the hill. Men on the beach were tending cook fires. Others loaded barrels onto a pair of small boats, and Ryan suspected they were barrels of fresh water. He eagerly scanned the sailing ship again from stem to stern.

"I'm getting a real strong idea we're probably on an island," Ryan surmised. "And we're probably going to need a way off. Maybe we'll need a parley."

"No need for a parley!" an opera-quality voice said, then laughed. "Your ship awaits!"

Ryan spun and snapped his longblaster toward the roof of the blockhouse. A bronze-skinned man looked down at him from the eaves. He stood barefoot and wore striped pantaloons and no shirt. Platinum-blond ringlets curled around his skull. Doc would describe his features as "cruel and sensuous." He was muscled like a gladiator, and his every muscle, tendon and sinew stood out in high relief. Veins snaked down his arms in road maps of strength. Nonetheless he stood languorously relaxed. Ryan put his crosshairs between the man's golden brown eyes. It was bad enough that he stood there, unafraid. Even worse that he stood there unafraid and unarmed. "Who are you?"

"Your superior, and I command you to drop your blasters."

"I could chill you," Ryan stated.

"You could," the titan responded. "Worst mistake you'll ever make. All your mates will die."

Ryan considered the fact that in his experience only a handful of people knew about the mat-trans units and what they did. Any jump without a specific code was random. The fact that there was an ambush here, waiting for them, minutes after a random jump was thought provoking.

Ryan fired. The man above twisted with incredible alacrity even as the Scout kicked against his shoulder in recoil. He realized that the man had dodged his shot and flicked the bolt for a follow-up shot, but the man had already dropped out of sight. The man's voice boomed from the roof. "Now, Mr. Hardstone!"

The ground shifted beneath Ryan and his companions' feet. The earth opened up and swallowed them. The one-eyed man had only moments to register that a pit trap large enough to hold seven people and constructed thick enough up top to escape detection had been built outside the redoubt. Ryan hit the layer of underbrush that had been laid there to cushion the fall. Dirt had been piled three feet high above the trapdoors to conceal them, and the dirt cascaded all over the companions. Ryan landed on his feet and he spit dirt as the jolt ran up his legs.

"Cast your nets, boys!" the man of bronze called. Heavy deep-sea netting fell across Ryan's head and shoulders and entangled the Scout. He dropped his longblaster and went for his panga and SIG Sauer handblaster. A second net and a third weighted with iron fell across him as he struggled to draw steel. Men leaped into the pit. As they landed on the netting, it encumbered the companions and pinned them down more. Ryan shoved his SIG free of the heavy strands. The bronze man suddenly stood next to him. The man stomped on netting, and it yanked the rope over Ryan's blaster arm down. The shot busted cuttings on the pit floor.

Ryan's vision went white as a belaying pin rammed into his back just above his right kidney. He heard J.B.'s Uzi snarl off a burst and their captors shouting. "Watch him! Watch him! Watch him!"

A man screamed. "He cut me! Little white runt cut me! Oh, rads and fall out," the kidnapper moaned. "He cut me bad…"

Jak was still in the fight.

A huge hand closed around Ryan's wrist and squeezed. The one-eyed man's blaster hand popped open against his will and the SIG fell. "You're fast," the man admitted. "Fastest I've—"

Ryan struck quick as a snake strike with his blade. He thrust straight for the right eye. The strong man snapped his head aside, but the edge still whispered a hair-thin cut across his cheek and nicked his ear in passing. Ryan found his wrist plucked out of the air like a bird before he could retract it. The bronze hand squeezed with sickening strength. "So fast," the titan mused. He jerked his head at the man behind Ryan. "Onetongue!"

A thick arm snaked around Ryan's neck and Onetongue slapped a wet mass of folded rags across Ryan's mouth and throat and held it there with great strength. The sop reeked.

Ryan's vision spun, his limbs loosened and his gorge rose even as he tried to hold his breath against it. His knees buckled beneath him. The titan held his wrists effortlessly.

"The knife!" a man bellowed from somewhere. "Someone get the fish-white son of a gaudy slut's knife!"

"I got his knife!"

"Well, he has another— Fuck! That's twice! Together! One three! One…three!"

Ryan heard a net-snared Jak snarling as his opponents piled on and the meaty sound of blows landed like rain. Ryan struggled as well, and consciousness drained out of him like a barrel with the bung knocked out. He couldn't hear any of his other companions as darkness claimed him.

Chapter Two "Wake up, ya rad-blasted lubbers!" A cascade of cold sea-water drenched Ryan and wrenched him out the blackness the drug had taken him to. His skull split from the sedative hangover. The shouter shouted on. "And your sluts, too! Wake up!"

Seawater flew by the bucket, and Ryan's friends gasped and jerked awake. Rough hands yanked Ryan up and kept him from falling as the shackles binding his legs tried to trip him. His hands were manacled before him. The one-eyed man blinked in the dimness and confusion and fought to collect his wits as he was hustled forward. His jacket, boots and all weapons and equipment had been stripped from him. As his head slammed into a low beam, he saw stars and buckled. Rough laughter greeted his discomfort. He could hear his comrades' moans and groans as they were manhandled behind him. Ryan was half carried, half dragged up two companionways between decks.

"Make way! Make way! Seven fresh fish for the captain!" Male and female voices hooted and catcalled. Ryan was bum-rushed into the blinding light of the sun and a broadside ofjeers.

Despite the hangover from the drug, Ryan instantly knew he and his friends were at sea. He also knew he had been deliberately thrown facing into the sun. He got a knee beneath him and rose. He perceived the bronze gladiator figure from his capture whipping forward. Ryan raised his manacled hands, but the huge fist shot beneath and buried itself into his guts. Ryan dropped to boos and derision. It took a supreme act of will to keep from vomiting.

Ryan forced his limbs to obey him and rose again.

A voice from the side spoke low. "Strong bold bastard, I'll give him that."

The one-eyed man shook his head and tried to blink his vision straight. The voice belonged to a red-haired, bullet-headed man built like an aged, sun-ravaged gorilla. He gave Ryan a look of grudging sympathy and lifted his chin in warning. "Best look to starboard, mate."

Ryan blinked and caught the next blow coming out of his right peripheral vision. He was too drug addled to do anything about it. The fist took him in the side of the neck and dropped him with white fire racing down his right arm.

The bronze gladiator loomed over him. He wore a bandage over the knick Ryan had given his cheek and another on his ear. "Captain will speak to you now."

Ryan squeezed his manacled hands into fists, pushed off the deck and stood again. Mixed mutters of admiration and speculation greeted his effort. He reeled. The deck spun and he could still barely see. Ryan spit. "And just who's the captain of this bastard tub?"

The bronze fist hit Ryan in the guts again, and he doubled over. An uppercut ripped him erect, and a right cross crushed him to the deck, vomiting. The blond, bronze enforcer squatted over Ryan and leered as he cocked his fist.

"Oh, you."

A voice like a rasp on slate spoke. "Mr. Manrape."

All chatter and cheering ceased. Ryan's abuser shot to his feet. "Captain!"

"Every man on this ship has the right to ask who the captain is exactly twice," the voice continued. "Once, when he is first brought aboard and doesn't know, and the second, the day he kills me and stands before crew."

The assembled men on the deck chanted in unison. "We know the code! We keep the creed!"

Ryan rose for the third and he thought possibly the last time. The only good news was that throwing up seemed to have cleared his head a little. He took in the crowd. He estimated about a hundred were on the deck and in the rigging. That told him the ship probably kept four watches. Most were on deck now effecting repairs from the previous battle and watching the spectacle the new prisoners presented. The worst part was that Ryan couldn't see land on the horizon. The crew was different than any Ryan had encountered before. Despite the relaxed discipline of the moment, the symmetrical arrangement of the crowd told Ryan each man or woman was standing at their station.

Product details

  • Publisher : Gold Eagle; Original edition (September 2, 2014)
  • Language : English
  • Mass Market Paperback : 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0373626282
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0373626281
  • Item Weight : 4.8 ounces
  • Dimensions : 4.16 x 0.82 x 6.65 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 42 ratings

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