Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Issue 8

Page 1


2

Time to peer between the jaws of a proferred equine… I'm not a person given to hyperbole. When a group of young men decided to guess my profession a few years ago (don't ask), they unanimously decided on “teacher”. Because I was “so stern”, they told me. With that in mind, take it from a stern, schoolmarmish type: the SFR community is small, but it's a great place to be! :) The magazine is two years old with this issue, and it has grown in a way that the team and I could never have imagined. Part of it is due to the growth of the genre itself, from something completely obscure to something now only slightly obscure. LOL Part of it is due to the time and heart our reviewers put into reading and writing about SFR stories, and I salute each and every one of them. Part of it is due to our excellent columnists, who aren't afraid to tackle controversy head on. I'm not ashamed to say that more than a few of the short stories we've published have tickled the ole nose, but this entire endeavour could have come to naught without the tangible support of the community of SFR authors. Without them, you wouldn't be reading this magazine right now. A huge thank you to them and to you, our readers, for sticking with us. With all that in mind, I could be writing about the Hugo awards. Or how romance in SF is still stigmatised. Or how to raise the profile of SFR within the greader reader community. But, instead, I think I'll turn this issue's editorial into a community service and write about YOU. Recently, I was involved in a discussion on privacy. And a lot of participants remarked (and I'm paraphrasing here) that they felt completely safe online because they were able to keep separate profiles (real-name and pen-name) on various social media, without one being linked to the other. I was horrified. Because, although it may appear that a person's profiles are distinct, they aren't. I know, for example, that Google and Linkedin are onto me. And, if that's the case, I know Facebook is too, no doubt about it. Just because a service doesn't make it obvious that it can link your different profiles, never assume that they can't. There are a lot of very smart people behind the social media algorithms, and they have serious money behind them; more than you or I are likely to see in our lifetime. If you or I could do a lot with a hundred thousand dollars, imagine what a company with a market capitalisation in the billions could do. And they do. To use an example, I love dogs and, a few years ago, had occasion to “follow” a North American breeder. She joyfully announced that she'd be attending a particular dog show...and went on to post blow-by-blow updates on what route she was taking, where she was staying and even which restaurant she was eating at! I was sitting at my computer twenty thousand kilometres away, tracking her every move. I knew her name, her mobile number, what highway she was on, who she was travelling with, and even what issues she was having with her car. And I wasn't even trying! She was giving me all that information on a plate, with her chatty updates and her geolocation-tagged smartphone. And this was before I'd even heard about a branch of security called “location intelligence”. Whatever you may think of Edward Snowden's actions, because of him I think people have become a bit smarter about the kind of information they disclose...but not by much. In a world where I think I'm now on someone's watchlist because I searched for “terrorists cell phones how to track” so I could properly name the type of intelligence it describes; where my laptop can switch itself on and monitor my conversations; where my smartphone can send usage statistics and conversation recordings to a central server; where my search engine can keep a history of my browsing and, unbeknowst to me, send my details to authorities if its algorithms think I'm doing anything “suspicious”...in a world where all this is known, done and executed, I have to wonder if any company is doing me a favour by providing me with a free service. As the old saying goes, if you're not paying for it, you're the product.


3 And the powers-that-be, and their sweetly cooperative corporate partners, aren't going to err on the side of “innocent until proven guilty”. From the news we read, we know it's always a case of “guilty until proven innocent” with large corporations and the government, even when there's no case to answer (e.g. sloppy bureaucracy, out-of-date or incomplete internal records, general malice). I casually keep up to speed in my old stamping ground of Information Technology, and when articles slide before my eyes with headings like “Data Brokers Are Watching You” (Gary Anthes), “The Internet that Facebook Built” (Michael L Best), the ramifications of “Human-Agent Collectives” (Jennings, Moreau, Nicholson, Ramchurn, Roberts, Rodden & Rogers), or “Big Data's End Run Around Procedural Privacy Protections” (Barocas & Nissenbaum), to name a few, it dawns on me that most of my storyspinning peers who think they're truly safe on a platform like Facebook, Twitter or any of Google's services are not just ignorant, but massively and tragically ignorant. It's as I tell my children: the time for stupid teenage hijinks is over, hardly to begin and never to return. One careless mistake now can come back and bite them in the arse years down the track. Something they do may be legal today but not tomorrow, and they will be punished for it. (How I love retroactive legislation. /sarcasm) I know it may not be cool to mention personal security in a magazine on SF Romance, but we are all—readers and authors alike—affected by this. We may dream that we're coasting hyperspace on our way to a crystal cathedral that houses the Micro Black Hole of Eternal Life, but our feet are still (and unfortunately) stuck on an Earth that's not doing a very good job of fulfilling humanity's ambitions. Oh, it's doing a grand job of granting the grandiose fantasies of a small group of sociopaths (take your pick from the current crop), but it's doing bugger all to grant every person on this planet the barest modicum of decency and respect. So there you have it. The windows you have open on your computer right now? You can't trust them. Any of them. And if I sound alarmist, it's because the situation truly is alarming. Believe me, the more you read about security, the internet, intelligence services and what your can't-do-without apps are processing in the background, the more horrified you will become. And just as I'm trying to teach my children to think about their privacy before sharing anything in a digital landscape, I would urge you to do the same. Remember: If you're providing personal details in return for a “free” location-spanning service, chances are good that you're the product...and everyone wants a piece of you. Get educated and stay (as) safe (as you can). It's a jungle out there.

Kaz Augustin Notice: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Now Offers a New Release Newsletter: This newsletter will go out every two months, and will feature science fiction and fantasy new releases and backlist rereleases from SFWA members. Each newsletter will contain information on works of all lengths from the talented writers admitted to the premier professional organization for science fiction and fantasy. Anyone can sign up! This is a newsletter for readers, librarians and booksellers to help them find their next favorite story. To sign up for the newsletter, visit the SFWA web site [1]. [1] http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-readers/new-release-newsletter/


4

CONTENTS

Editorial........................................................................2 before July releases.................................................... 5 July releases ................................................................ 6 August releases ........................................................ 12 September releases ................................................. 14 The Cosmic Lounge: Romance, Sex & Survival in a Post-Apocalyptic World ................ 18 Reviews ......................................................................20 SF Mistressworks .................................................... 36 Opinion: Finding Sci-Fi Romance Off The Grid ................................................................... 37 Spotlight: Aussie SFR authors visit SFRQ .......39 Fiction: Dolls............................................................. 43 Sneak Peek: Natural Attraction .......................... 49 Sneak Peek: At The Mercy of Her Pleasure .... 59 This issue's team.......................................................74 Advertise with us!................................................... 77


5

Releases - before July We strive to include as many sci-fi romance releases as possible, but with current time constraints, we apologise in advance if your release was not included in our round-up.

CITY OF SIMPLICITY (Rae Lori, short story, $1.01eb, RavenFire Media) Citizen 52701 once had a life that is now a distant memory in her dreams. All that remains is the name she carried over from the time before the change: Lyn. As a by-the-book law enforcer of a newly controlled futuristic society, everything is available at one’s fingertips. Except the one thing that matters most of all. A renegade is on the loose, moving amidst the shadows to stay alive. His one goal is to find the wife he lost when the change took over the city. The problem? She is one of the enforcers eliminating renegades trying to escape the system’s control. He’ll risk everything to try and bring her back to him. No matter who or what he has to take down to do the job. City of Simplicity is an 11k bite-sized romantic sci-fi novelette. Short enough to consume on your coffee or lunch break!

THE ADVENTURES OF CASSIUS FLYNN AND MOLLY MCGUIRE: Reapers #3 (Eleri Stone, novella, $0.00eb, Carina Press) A Reapers novella Cassius Flynn is a smuggler. An outlaw. A scoundrel. Charming, devilishly handsome in a maverick sort of way and fiendishly clever to boot. He's also the only man Molly McGuire has ever loved. Molly'd left him a year ago. Stolen his airship, broken his heart and made him look like a damn fool. Still,

he's rushed to her rescue, storming into Reaper territory to snatch her out from under the repulsive bounty hunter who brought her in. High above the plains, up among the clouds in the most rarefied Scraper city of them all, a ruthless statesman has stolen everything Cassius considers important. And without Molly, without her quick hands, sharp mind and pretty face, he doesn't stand a chance of getting it back...

GAME OF THE RED KING: Once Upon A Red World, #3 (Jael Wye, novella, $0.99eb, Capricorn Press) On a ship sailing to undreamed shores... Martian doctor Sita Chandra left her rich and powerful lover Max Ross years ago to protect their child from his enemies, never thinking she'd see him again. But now she and Max are stuck together on a space ship traveling from Earth back home to Mars, and the passion between them is as hot as ever before—and just as dangerous. Max has never forgotten Sita, or forgiven her for breaking his heart. Now that the beautiful, infuriating woman is back in his life, he can't lose her and his family again. But the shadows that darkened


6 their past together may yet destroy their future. When a madman targets Max for a diabolical experiment, threatening the lives of everyone on the

ship, It will take all the skill and all the heart Sita and Max possess to survive his deadly game.

Releases - July We strive to include as many sci-fi romance releases as possible, but with current time constraints, we apologise in advance if your release was not included in our round-up.

AWAKENING: Book One of Kira’s Story, The Realm Series #1 (Rebel Miller, novel, $4.99eb, Rebel Miller Books) Kira Metallurgist has always felt she was meant for more. Hoping to strike out on her own, she sets out on a new career at a time when the Realm goes through unprecedented change. In a system that is based on castes and predetermined roles, Kira embarks on a tumultuous journey that leads her towards a destiny that involves two men. Tai Corporal was born to a family of warriors. Like his father, he aspires to take on the highest military position in the Realm. A man of his word and with a stubborn sense of duty, he is surprised to find that all in the Realm is not as black and white as he thought. He’s even more surprised to realize that the woman he’s loved for years is the one who reveals it to him. Gannon Consul knows the meaning of power. As next in line for leadership in his caste, he is well acquainted with the lengths to which the Realm will go to stop someone from reaching above their station. Gannon senses that change is coming. He just never expected that it would come in the form of the one woman who calls to him like no other.

SUCKER PUNCH: An Uneasy Future #2 (Pauline Baird Jones, novella, $2.99eb, indie) Vi never liked math and aftermath isn’t floating her boat either…. Hurricane Wu Tamika Felipe has moved north. Yeah, the storm almost killed Detective Violet Baker, but it also blew some romance her way. Her uptight partner, Dzholh “Joe” Ban!drn actually kissed her. But there's no time for any follow-up kissing, much to Vi’s regret. They are hunting something very bad. Something that tried to kill them while they were dirt side during the storm. And has now escaped up into New Orleans New. It’s not business as usual, though there is some deja vu in there, when Vi and Joe get sent to a FEMA camp to check out a dead body. Until that body turns into a trail that might lead to the evil it. Or to its next victim. Just when Vi thinks things are crapeau enough, the MITSC (Men In Top Secret Color) show up and take over their case. Are they after Joe or the evil it? Before they can find out, the evil it lures them into a trap. It’s ‘it’ versus them and it hasn’t lost yet….


7

LUMINOUS (A.E. Ash, short story, $2.99eb, Book Smugglers Publishing) Entry number 3333. Vanguard Station Reckoning. All systems stable. Nothing new to report. It’s been nine years since the war started; nine years since she has received acknowledgement or contact from anyone. Marooned alone on protocolony planet Hestia, aging xeno-geologist Jyothi Agarwal still continues her routine transmissions in the hopes that someone, somewhere, is listening. Then one day, out of nowhere, a brilliant light illuminates Hestia and something falls from the sky. In the west, he wakes up in pain and alone. There is light everywhere. A new sense of weight. A broken body. Words. Knowing. And he realizes that against all odds, he is inexplicably alive. On a planet far removed from everything, the last human and a fallen star find companionship in each other–and perhaps something more. Something beautiful, shining, lasting. Something luminous.

BURN FOR HOME, Part One: Starlight (Ash Elko, short, $0.99eb, indie) Theresa burns to be back in the arms of the man she loves. But nothing is that simple when traveling across the stars… Earth is a pale blue dot in the night sky for Theresa. She yearns to return home and create a new life with her beloved. But she has to get to him first. Rocketing across the stars, Theresa grapples with the

collision of past, present, and future. Humans may have conquered outer space, but love truly conquers all. Blending romance, science fiction, and erotica with a dash of adventure, Starlight is the first story in the Burn For Home novella series. Burn for Home Part 2: Firelight and Part 3: Moonlight are both available online.

FIRELIGHT: Burn For Home #2 (Ash Elko, short, $0.99eb, indie) It was supposed to be a romantic getaway. Or so they thought. Now the pair who’ve traveled the stars struggle to make it out of the wild alive. Finally reunited back on Earth, Theresa and Andrew burn for a romantic reconnection away from screens, spaceships, and all distractions. But these lovers, raised in the stars, find out the wilderness is a much more unpredictable and dangerous place than postcards and virtual feeds led them to believe… Combining romance, science fiction, and erotica with a dash of adventure, Firelight is the second story in the Burn For Home series. Burn for Home Part 1: Starlight and Part 3: Moonlight are both available online.

MOONLIGHT: Burn For Home #3 (Ash Elko, short, $0.99eb, indie) Join Andrew and Theresa as they fall in love all over again, blending love, lust, and a lifetime together. When Andrew thinks of Theresa, he can’t help but smile. From the first time they met, he knew she was special. Over the years, he came to realize just how special she was. Join Andrew


8 and Theresa as they fall in love all over again.

her energies.

Blending romance, science fiction, and erotica with a dash of adventure, Moonlight is the third story in the Burn For Home series. Burn for Home Part 1: Starlight and Part 2: Firelight are both available online.

Athanor devises a risky plan to expose his enemies on the Council and force the Red Queen into the open. His strategy will employ Violet’s empathic skills as his secret weapon. Meanwhile, she wrestles with her erratic talents and doubts about their unequal partnership. In their search for revenge, they contend with the portal crisis, psychic traps and hostile aliens. In the inevitable battle of Grand Masters, Violet and Athanor will face their worst nightmares. What is the sacrifice for victory?

MATRIARCHS: ELIZA’S REVENGE (Susan McDonough-Wachtman, novel, $1.99eb, indie) Winga married Jakor to escape her restrictive home planet, Gaia, which was settled by Earthwomen. Winga wants to experience other ways of life, so she defies her culture and her mother, to marry an offworld man and leave Gaia. Unfortunately, Jakor dies on their honeymoon in what she is told is an accident. Captain Rifkin Lile is told by his superior officer to marry Winga in order to gain entry to the planet and continue Jakor’s investigation. Rif and Winga have to work out their relationship, pick their way through enormous cultural differences, figure out exactly what is going on and why, and determine what to do. If their relationship can withstand the strain, they will make revolutionary changes to society on Gaia.

GRAND MASTER’S GAME: Grand Master Trilogy #2 (Aurora Springer, novel, $3.99eb/$11.99pb, indie) Spin across the galaxy as Violet and her Grand Master hunt their enemies. Cracks in the portal web threaten galactic civilization, and suspicions fall on the mysterious Grand Masters with their immense psychic powers. Once, there were twelve Grand Masters, humans and aliens, on the Council. Now there are eleven. One was killed when the young pawn, Violet, rescued her Grand Master, Athanor, from the Red Queen’s dungeon. The Red Queen fled the fight and now she lurks out of sight, regenerating

TRAITOR: Maelstrom Chronicles #2 (Jody Wallace, novel, $3.99eb, Entangled Publishing) Captain Nikolas EstherVorn is a traitor. Or so it was decreed after Niko disobeyed protocol while trying to save Earth from other-dimensional creatures. Stuck in a prison cell, the last thing he needs is to be in close proximity to sexy-as-sin Dr. Sarah CallenJoseph. Not with him damn near ready to break out just to get to her. Niko's desire isn't quite his own…and Sarah can prove it. He—along with the other soldiers on the disastrous mission—were drugged with some kind of toxin. Niko has no clue how the drug got into his body or why, but Sarah suspects there’s a link between the toxin and the fertility crisis of Shipborn humans. To investigate is forbidden. But as lust becomes something deeper, binding them together in a way neither expected, Niko and Sarah must battle time—and their superiors—to uncover the secret that could save humanity...or destroy it.


9

SPACE COWBOYS AND INDIANS: Cosmic Cowboys Series, Episode 1 (Lisa Medley, novella, $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited, Indie Published/Big Cedar) How can the chance of a lifetime go so horribly wrong? Mining Engineer Cole Hudson signed up for NASA astronaut training, but after washing out short of getting his gold wings, he retreats to Alaska where he stakes out a gold claim. When billionaire entrepreneur Duncan Janson offers him an opportunity to join a mining team on an asteroid, Cole jumps at the chance. But nothing is as it seems. Former NASA reject and rival classmate, Tessa Hernandez, is also a member of the team, and from the beginning of the mission test flight, things go wrong. They soon discover they’re not the only ones on the asteroid. As they try to escape, they are pulled through a wormhole and back to the early 1800s New Mexico desert where aliens and Apaches may be the least of their problems.

FINAL PROTOCOL (J.C. Daniels, novella, $3.50eb, Samhain Publishing) Tip #1: Don’t get on her bad side. Tip #2: There’s no good side. Her name is Silence. If she was ever known by any other name, she doesn’t remember. She is a killer. If she was ever anything else, she doesn’t remember. She has an owner. If she was ever free…well, that she does remember. She was free and then somebody gave her to a madman to

pay a debt that wasn’t hers. She’s his toy, his pet…and his trained killer. She kills at his whim or she dies. She has a target. Her socalled owner…the man who makes her life a living hell. If she could kill anybody in the universe, it would be him. But he holds her life in his hands. And she has a wish—to find a man she barely remembers. A man she knows she once loved. The man who betrayed her and stole away her freedom. With one final target between her and the tantalizing promise of freedom, she moves in for the kill. There’s one problem. There’s something strangely familiar about her mark. Something that echoes in the void where love used to live. Warning: One woman with a mission, one evil bastard who lies as often as he breathes, and a man who’ll stop at nothing to find what he lost. Be warned…some questionable consent lies within.

LIBERATION’S KISS: A SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE: Robotics Faction #1 (Wendy Lynn Clark, novel, $4.99eb/$9.99pb, Wendy Lynn Clark Publishing) The Old Empire has crumbled. Strong factions prey on the weak, and strongest of all are those who ally themselves with the mysterious Robotics Faction… Cressida Sarit Antiata is twelve years old when her diplomat parents learn that her name has appeared on the Robotics Faction Kill List, a classified document of


10 dangerous individuals marked for execution. Calling in all of their connections, her parents smuggle her to a small but wealthy ore-producing moon where she grows up in anonymous luxury, secure that her data is safe. Until now. Xan | Arch is an x-class android with one mission: execute the target n81, also known as Cressida Sarit Antiata. Although he possesses biological skin, hair, fingernails, and eyes – and extensive conditioning to pass as a sweating, swearing, rough-and-tumble everyman - beneath the surface, he is all machine. When he arrives at the moon, something unexpected is waiting for him. Something that circumvents his execution order and forces him to protect Cressida instead. Something that gives him the free will to question his makers, control his destiny, and awaken his heart. Together, they might escape their destinies and forge an entirely new future. If they can survive...

SHADES OF TREASON: An Anomaly Novel #1 (Sandy Williams, novel, $3.99eb / $12.99pb, indie) Ash would have given her life to save her teammates. Instead, they gave their lives to save hers. Lieutenant Ramie Ashdyn is an anomaly, a person whose genetics makes her stronger and smarter than the average human. She’s pledged her life to protect the Coalition, an alliance of thirteen planetary systems, but when a top secret operation turns deadly, she’s charged with treason and the brutal executions of her teammates. The Coalition needs the information Ash’s team stole on their last mission, so they send in Commander Rhys “Rest in Peace” Rykus to get it. He’s the man who’s responsible

for turning Ash into an elite soldier... and he’s a man who isn’t, never was, and never will be in love with the woman he trained. Or so he tells himself. Ash wants nothing more than to clear her name and be the woman her former instructor wants her to be, but the enemy who killed her teammates did more than frame her for treason and murder: they telepathically silenced her mind, preventing her from saying anything that might point to the truth about what happened. Now Ash is trapped and set to be executed, the truth dying with her. Unless she can prove her innocence. But taking that path could destroy the Coalition she’s sworn to preserve and protect...

OURS TO SAVE: ES Siren #9 (Shona Husk, novella, $2.99eb, Momentum Publishing) Micah Stone sees Solitaire as a fresh start. With twenty years’ experience in the agriculture industry, he hopes the colony won’t make the same mistakes that were made on Earth. To most people, Micah looks like a member of the well educated elite, but he’s really a Gaia activist. Not only did he lie about his daughter’s age to get her on board, but his partner is one of the most dangerous women on Siren. Felicity Valez was once an Army explosives expert, and she was also a member of the radical Gaia Movement. After being sentenced to life for sedition, she wound up on Siren. To protect her partner and daughter while they’re on board, she needs to make sure that


11 no one links the family together. But her liaisons with Micah have been noted. And when her daughter’s life is threatened Felicity will do the one thing she promised Micah she’d never do again: rig an explosive that will kill. No one on Siren is safe.

AN ALIEN TO LOVE (Jessica E. Subject, boxed set of 1Night Stand stories, $0.99eb, Decadent Publishing) Five HOT 1Night Stand stories about sexy heroes from other planets. What do a librarian, a nurse, a director’s assistant, a housekeeper, and an orphan have in common? They all end up spending an evening with a gorgeous stranger. But, will one night lead to more, or will the women end up running away when they learn their sexy suitor comes from another planet? Find out in these five sensual 1Night Stand stories by sci-fi romance author, Jessica E. Subject.

THE PROTECTOR: Outer Rim #3 (Diane Burton, novel, $3.99eb, indie) After tavern owner Rissa Dix rescues two girls from a slave ship, she must rally the townsfolk to prevent traffickers from raiding the frontier colony. She’s met with apathy and disbelief. Because she lost her own baby to traffickers, she’s determined that no other mother will suffer the same heartache. Industrialist heir Dillan Rusteran aids her in rescuing more children. Little do they know they’re about to tangle with a

trafficking ring that puts Rissa in danger. Dillan’s loved her for years despite her claim she’s too old for him. As they fight the traffickers, will she finally see him in a new light?

THE GODS OF PROBABILITIES: The Multiverses #1 (Liza O’Connor, novel, $2.99, indie) The Gods require a time shifter to ensure the Path of Light reigns during the final collapse of possibilities. To speed the process of finding an Oceanic with the specific talents needed, God DNA is induced in several batches of Oceanic eggs, resulting in a generation of brilliant tiny blue Oceanic children. One charming boy named Drogan has the ability to manipulate quantum reality in ways that will strengthen the Path of Light. Only trouble is that his gift runs a high probability of killing him and wiping out the path for good. While the bureaucratic Gods will try to assist, in Quantum all possibilities not only can, but do happen, so the future is never certain.


12

Releases - August We strive to include as many sci-fi romance releases as possible, but with current time constraints, we apologise in advance if your release was not included in our round-up.

RELEASING RAGE: Cyborg Sizzle #1 (Cynthia Sax, novel, $2.99eb, indie) Half Man. Half Machine. All Hers. Rage, the Humanoid Alliance’s most primitive cyborg, has two goals—kill all of the humans on his battle station and escape to the Homeland. The warrior has seen the darkness in others and in himself. He believes that’s all he’s been programmed to experience. Until he meets Joan. Joan, the battle station’s first female engineer, has one goal—survive long enough to help the big sexy cyborg plotting to kill her. Rage might not trust her but he wants her. She sees the passion in his eyes, the caring in his battle-worn hands, the gruff emotion in his voice. When Joan survives the unthinkable, Rage’s priorities are tested. Is there enough room in this cyborg’s heart for both love and revenge?

HONEY MOON (Arlene Webb, novel, $5.50eb pre-order, Totally Bound) Thousands win homes offplanet, too-good-to-be-true questions turn deadly. It’ll take more than wedding vows to learn if happily-ever-afters are real. On a crowded Earth, people are thrilled as technology expands to colonize space. When a prominent dating site offers chance for a better life, thousands apply to hop on board.

Owner of a famous political blog, Sam Dexter understands how to qualify to win a ride to the moon. What he doesn't get is why it’s offered to so many. With a bride on his arm who hasn't a clue concerning his real identity, maybe he can learn. Not like much can go wrong with pretending to be in love with Laree, conning the woman to help him, right? Jenna Jensen is terrified. Fear concerning the potential fate of lovers worldwide steadily grows in her mind. Shuttles geared up to launch, there’s little time to find proof of something nefarious. What she needs is to warn a naive groom or two. After all, what can go wrong with meeting up with a stranger and convincing him to help, right?

CONSCIENCE: The Bellator Saga #2 (Cecilia London, novel, $2.99eb, indie) An escape plan foiled… A determined woman… One last tiny sliver of hope... Jack will find me. The Fed wants answers. And Caroline is determined not to provide them. They pull out all the stops, testing her sanity, testing her strength, testing her humanity. Jack will find me. Subject to cruel and merciless treatment at the hands of a government she once trusted, Caroline clings to her sole lifeline, her only chance at maintaining her tenuous hold on reality: her memories of her husband, Jack, her children, Marguerite and Sophie, and the friends who mean the world to her. Jack will find me.


13 But what happens when hope starts to fade? How long until her interrogators cross over into the unspeakable sadism she fears ? How long before she finally breaks apart? Part Two of a Six Part Saga. Conscience (approximately 120,000 words) is not a standalone and must be read after the first book, Dissident (currently free for Kindle). All books in the series end in a cliffhanger. For readers 18+. This book contains adult situations including graphic violence, explicit (consensual) sex and light BDSM, psychological and physical trauma, and an oftentimes raw, dark, and gritty plot.

THE ENVOY: New Earth #3 (Ros Baxter, novella, $0.99eb, Escape Publishing) New in the fresh, sexy world of The Seek: he can’t trust anyone, so why should he trust his heart? The universe is a very dangerous place when there’s a price on your head. The year is 2098, and a quiet revolution has begun in the space stations of New Earth. The ruling Council has dug in to fight for a new home on Eden 13, but a group of rebels is working from the inside to support the embattled Haitites. Reetor is twenty years old and a deserter from the elite Avengers. He has joined The Backlash, and become an outcast, hunted by the Enforcers. On the outside, he has learned that his fears about New Earth are well founded. He has finally found a mission that matters, but he’s living on borrowed time. The Backlash desperately needs friends on the inside and Reetor’s role is to connect with the rebels and get them the help they need. But something deadly and surprising threatens to disrupt his mission – a lethal bounty hunter with a body made for sin and a heart of pure ice.

5,001 (Tracy Cooper-Posey, short story, $0.99eb, indie) Master Engineer Caelen Williams is the most soughtafter contractor aboard the closed-system marathonclass vessel Endurance, a generation ship at least four hundred light years away from its destination. Captain Lakewood, leader of the space-faring city, demands she resolve a life-threatening issue—the ship is losing water. Caelen’s former lover, Devar, was wrongly persecuted by Lakewood’s people but for the sake of everyone aboard the Endurance, Caelen tries to solve the riddle of the draining water and learns that Devar is not the only one who may have been manipulated…. This is a short science fiction romance story, for fast reading and enjoyment.

SURVIVING OUTBOUND: The Multiverses #2 (Liza O’Connor, novel, $2.99eb, indie) Saran along with her ‘not dead, just no longer human’ soul-bond—Tamara, and their giant blue bull leave in search of a handler so Blue can escape Earth and travel outbound. The man Saran meets and falls in love with turns out to be Tamara’s husband. Their spiritual joining of three sets into play a prophecy written long ago. Together, they become Tamsarandem, the most powerful soul-bond in all the multiverses. The shamans pay for their voyage to Terranue, an unknown planet, never before colonized by humans. In return, Tamsarandem must look after the other colonists and help them to prosper and find their Paths of Light. They


14 will need to do this mostly on their own, for the Gods are running out of authorized interventions. However, the God Pane, with the help of the sentient shipcomputer, Marybell, constantly search for clever workarounds to ensure The Path of Light will reign supreme upon the final collapse. But there is only so

much they can do within their bureaucratic rules. Having failed to stop Tamsarandem from leaving Earth, those who walk the Path of Darkness embed their own people, including their darkest lord, on the ship to ensure it will never arrive at Terranue.

Releases - September We strive to include as many sci-fi romance releases as possible, but with current time constraints, we apologise in advance if your release was not included in our round-up.

BLUE YONDER (Diane Dooley, novella, $2.99eb, Decadent Publishing) Earth is drowning, but Isabel Visconti won’t be going down with the planet. Her earnings as a factory drone and prostitute will soon fund her escape to the stars. All she’ll leave behind is her late husband’s best friend, Daniel Morneau, who has disappeared into the underbelly of the city’s criminal gangs. Until he shows up, pleading for Isabel’s help. It’s the old Daniel, the kind, gentle one. The man who bought medicine for her dying husband then helped her through the grief. It’s the Daniel she couldn’t possibly refuse to help. But Isabel has already been given a choice by Daniel’s psychopath boss. Betray Daniel—or spend months travelling to a far-off colony, servicing a violent criminal gang along the way. When Daniel is abducted, Isabel is his only hope. He may die without her, but is there time enough for love on the eve of the end of the world?

BLOOD SURFER: A Thunder City Novel #1 (Debra Jess, novel, $5.99eb/$10.00pb, indie) Their destiny is written in blood. Welcome to Star Haven, where the police arrest and imprison alternative humans, if not execute them outright. When outlaw Hannah Quinn saves Officer Scott Grey's life by bloodsurfing through his broken body, he winds up on the wrong side of the kill line. Hannah blew any chance she had of escaping Star Haven when she chose to save Scott's life. Scott has a reputation for killing Alts instead of arresting them. Now that she's triggered his dormant Alt ability, he's forced to go on the run with her until she can break his despised Alt power. Suspicion dies hard after a lifetime of conditioning. Despite the threat to their lives, Hannah finds herself falling for the one man she can't trust—and Scott falls for the woman who destroyed his life. With love and mistrust at war in a city where betrayal can earn your freedom, will Hannah and Scott's tenuous bond be enough to save them?


15

BAD KITTY: Chronicles of the Malcolm #2 (Teresa Noelle Roberts, novel, $5.50eb/$14.99pb, Samhain Publishing) When you make the Devil’s bargain, be prepared to take the heat. A lot of heat. Most of Xia’s early memories are repressed, thank the Great Cat Mother. But her body remembers how to kill. The longer she and her fellow Malcolm crewmates are holed up on Cibari hiding from assassins, the twitchier she gets—until the planet’s insanely sexy warlord, Rahal Mizyar, borrows her skills to take out slavers. Rahal suspects Xia is his mate, but the human-raised female never learned the finer points of felinoid rituals. The solution: make her fall hard and fast for him, even if it means playing dirty. Hired to determine if Xia is the long-missing granddaughter of the felinoid prime minister, Cal Janssen has finally tracked her down. Getting past Rahal, though, is a problem—until he’s mistaken for a notorious arms dealer and playboy. And he finds himself the object of both Rahal’s and Xia’s seduction. When their first mission brings Xia’s memories bulleting back to the surface, she realizes she’s fallen for two men who don’t exist. Running away, however, could be her deadliest mistake. Warning: Contains an assassin with a swiss cheese memory, a badass warlord who’s getting tired of his own con, and a freelance lawman. Secrets, lies, and hot sex with no rules.

THIEF OF HEARTS: Prequel to the Pruxnae Series (Lucy Varna, novella, $0.99, Bone Diggers Press) Queen’s Guard Alna Lomig is on the verge of fulfilling her destiny, until she’s kidnapped by handsome

Pruxnæ Gared ab Einif, who has other plans for his Lady Warrior. A novella-length prequel to the Pruxnae Series.

FARRYN'S WAR: Exiles of the Drift, #1 (Christie Meierz, novel, $3.99eb, Parania Press) A novel of love, betrayal, and an opening to the stars The empathic Tolari of the Beta Hydri system shunned space travel for thousands of years, until one man, Farryn, the former ruler of Monralar, tried to shake his people from their isolation—tried and failed, losing his honor in the process. Now an exile, he puts his past behind him by building his own criminal empire among the colonies of Earth. Scholar, political analyst, and one of the most powerful empathic sensitives on Tolar, Farryn’s estranged lover Sharana dares to follow him into human space, desperate to find out what has become of him, hopeful of convincing him that she never betrayed him. Unfortunately, Earth Central Security is watching, and Sharana has no idea what she is getting herself into.

EDEN: Aurora #5 (Amanda Bridgeman, novel, $5.41eb, Momentum) In the wake of the tragic events in Centralis, Captain Saul Harris stands with the weight of the world on his shoulders. With the truth of UNFASP revealed, he realizes that he must embrace his ancestry if he is to


16 survive the coming onslaught. But how far will Harris go to protect the future? Will he sacrifice life as he knows it and become a Jumbo? Or can he face the future as a common man? Meanwhile Sergeant Carrie Welles has been left devastated by what has happened. Uncertain of the future ahead, and with her nemesis, Sharley, on the brink of control, she struggles to pick herself up. But she is left surprised when help comes from the unlikeliest of places. As her life veers off in a direction she never expected, Carrie soon understands that she is running a course with a destiny that lies far beyond her control. A destiny that is strangely aligned with her Captain's.

FARING SOUL: Interspace Origins #1 (Tracy Cooper-Posey, novel, $3.99eb, indie) Rumors emerge that Catherine Shahrazad, possibly the oldest person in the galaxy, has returned from the fringes and has been seen in Federation space. Wherever she goes, her name and her history cause civil unrest, riots and worse. The Federation Board don’t want her there, neither do the leaders of Cadfael College, the educators and moralists of the galaxy. No one pays any attention to the reticent navigator called Bedivere X, who pilots her ship better than she does. The truth about Bedivere threatens the entire Federation. His feelings for Cat might just save everyone. This book is part of the Interspace Origins space opera romance series:

Book 1: Faring Soul Book 2: Varkan Rise Book 3: Cat and Company

BLACK ICE HEART: Space Grit #1 (Ella Drake, novel, $3.99eb, indie) Condemned and in transit to an asteroid prison, he found what he'd never had before--a chance to love. *** Ensign Joan Holly has one last mission before transferring to a secretive, elite unit, the Nex. It's what she's wanted since joining the military as a child. All she has to do is escort the most reviled prisoner on Geonate to meet his fate. Simple, since he's immobilized and nobody has ever escaped the Asteroid Pit. Cenak Bronson never had it easy. He's never been free and never had a future. He accepts his doomed fate until he's rescued by a band of half-aliens, the Scoriah. After the chaos of his breakout, Cenak finds himself reluctantly bound to the only other survivor, his jailer Joan. But they aren't the sole survivors by coincidence and they weren't captured by the Scoriah randomly. To survive, they join forces, uncovering secrets and lies that change everything. Including the future of Geonate itself. Black Ice Heart is a full-length science fiction romance novel that begins the Space Grit series and can be read stand-alone. Warning: This novel is intended for readers 18 and older. It contains explicit scenes, language, violence.

SURVIVING TERRANUE: The Multiverses #3 (Liza O’Connor, novella, $2.99, indie) Leading a colony of frightened people on a new world is rarely easy. The human colonists of Terranue


17 have as their leader, Tamsarandem, the only Soul-bond of Three that has ever existed. Unfortunately, some perceive the innate kindness in the shaman’s choice of leaders as a weakness, thus, challenges begin. From the moment they arrive on the planet, self-survival instincts take hold among the people, putting everyone at risk. To survive, they must act for the good of the colony rather themselves, even when their natural instincts tell them to do the

opposite. First, they must befriend the dominant intelligent life form on the planet, long-haired blue cattle, only slightly smaller than the blue bull Tamsarandem brought with them. Second, they must find a way to survive three of the planet’s five seasons. Otherwise, they’ll be baked, frozen, and pummeled to death. Third, they must protect themselves from the giant bears, saber-tooth lions, and T. rexes that roam their planet. But worst of all, deep within the planet, a seed of evil grows, waiting to devour every living creature on the surface. Every day in their new paradise is a challenge to survive. Despite all the advantages the Gods have provided, success is neither easy nor certain, and people are rarely as good as they need to be.


18

Romance, Sex, & Survival In a Post-Apocalyptic World The Cosmic Lounge with Heather Massey

Post-apocalyptic romance provides yet another setting readers can visit to indulge their fantasies of alternate worlds. These stories take place after a major disaster of some kind and in sci-fi romance, the cause is technology-based. Postapocalyptic romances can be set immediately after the catastrophe or years later and are primarily concerned with how a couple survives in a world with little-tono technology as well as environmental threats. Oracle by Katherine Greyle (1998) is possibly the first official post-apocalyptic romance. Since then, some post-apocalyptic romances lean more towards paranormal while others straddle the fence between PNR and SFR (e.g., Claire Delacroix's Fallen). There are stories that feature zombies (like Delphine Dryden's Love With A Chance of Zombies), werewolves (e.g., Charlotte Stein's Raw Heat), and a bit of time travel (Joss Ware's The Envy Chronicles). Still others explore epidemic-based catastrophes, such as Reawakening Eden by Vivi Andrews and Nico Rosso's The Last Night. A post-apocalyptic setting can feature erotic adventures, action-adventure romances, and ways of exploring the theme of love against all odds. Post-apocalyptic romances are very much character-driven, as evidenced by Alyssa Cole's cozy Radio Silence. Against a backdrop of a massive power outage, this story takes place mostly in a remote cabin, focuses tightly on the romance, and includes the hero's family. On the other end of the action continuum is Anna Hackett's Hell Squad series, which features a battle for survival after an alien invasion made Earth a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And in P.J. Dean's The Felig Chronicles, an alien invasion has limited the resources available to humans. Finding stories that strike a satisfying balance between romance, sex, and a post-apocalyptic setting/plot can be challenging, but on the other hand, finding any kind of balance might not even be the point if one has strong preferences one way or another. Erotically-charged stories may eschew plausibility for raw/edgy/dark/explicit sexual fantasies, while action-adventure ones place more emphasis on survival or battling antagonists bent on hoarding all the resources. Which ones you want to read will depend on your taste and mood. Post-apocalyptic romances involve unique elements and stories vary in how much emphasis is placed on each. For example, in a post-apocalyptic environment, many societal and environmental elements are in upheaval. Can people still grow crops for food? If not, what are they eating? Are there limited food and clean water resources? What kind of medical care is available? How much did the catastrophe impact the society's infrastructure, such as food and power distribution? Do survivors rely on solar power or just natural light? How much time per day must the couple devote to survival? Post-apocalyptic romances can also reframe how a romance develops since the world has changed so vastly. If characters are at a point where survival mode is paramount, what will the couple's courtship be like? Ella Drake's Badland's Edge features a courtship rooted in action and tense face-offs between the hero and heroine, while the lesbian romance of Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia proceeds at a more leisurely pace and includes subversive elements. How often will couples or threesomes be thinking about sex in a post-apocalyptic world? Is the setting used as a way to depict the heroine's sexual awakening such as in Kit Rocha's Beyond Shame? Where are the safe spaces the couple can use to satisfy their physical urges? Are they having sex on the run (Eve Kenin's Driven)


19 or perhaps virtual encounters like in Alisha Rai's Night Whispers? Then there's the issue of birth control. Do we want characters to be concerned about bringing children into a dangerous post-apocalyptic environment? This type of story often allows a different way of envisioning a couple's Happily Ever After. How a story accounts for various issues determines what readers can expect. Post-apocalyptic romances seem to either ask us to suspend our disbelief regarding the true demands of such a scenario in order to explore sexual fantasies (e.g., mĂŠnage Ă trois is alive and well in Kylie Scott's Flesh), or it will invite us to contemplate the more realistic ways in which romance and sex can bloom even in the bleakest of times. In general, post-apocalyptic stories veer unrealistically to a landscape featuring mostly white characters. The erasure of anyone who isn't white and cis gendered is one of the flaws of this genre. So it's important for us to examine 1) why only certain people get the privilege of surviving catastrophes and 2) why we reward those particular stories with our time and money. On a related note, it's also important for authors to be aware of unexamined biases while creating postapocalyptic tales. This is especially true for romance because people of all types deserve a chance to survive in a world where love, at least, is still possible.


20

Accidental Abduction (Eve Langlais) A classic review by Jo Jones

Accidental Abduction is another Science Fiction Romance with a familiar plot; a feisty earth girl meets big strong purple alien and true love follows. It is how Eve Langlais uses the plot that makes this story so much fun. Megan has been pushed overboard and left to drown in the Pacific Ocean by her current boyfriend. Just as she is about to lose strength and give up, she is scooped up by an alien space craft gathering marine samples. And that is when the fun begins. Tren was a successful mercenary who has traded that life for a more peaceful one as a “wrangler and transporter of rare species from undeveloped galaxies”. While the life was boring, at least no one was shooting at him. Boredom went out the window when he scooped up Megan. Tren and Megan are a lot of fun. Megan has a smart mouth. Tren likes to have the last word. Their trip, while predictable, is a lot of fun and full of laughs. Both Tren and Megan fight their attraction. It is only when Megan is in danger that both realize it is more than lust. Eve says that she “loves to write hot romance, usually with hot shifters, cyborgs or aliens”. Accidental Abduction has hot romance and aliens along with a cute story. If you like fun SFR stories, pick up Accidental Abduction or any of Eve’s other Abduction stories. You will be in for some great characters and a lot of laughs. Smashwords published Accidental Abduction by Eve Langlais in 2011. Summary: Accidental Abduction has hot romance and aliens along with a cute story.

An Alien to Love (Jessica E Subject) Review by RK Shiraishi

This anthology includes: * Celestial Seduction * Satin Sheets in Space * Another Night, Another Planet * His Alien Virgin * Her Alien Hero AN ALIEN TO LOVE is a box set of five 1Night Stand stories by author Jessica E. Subject. They are all focused around the premise of a dating service-1Night Stand-in which applicants are matched with potential mates through a mysterious benefactor known only as 'Madame Eve'. Jessica E. Subject’s stories focus on alien and human love matches. These are short, fun, sexy novellas. CELESTIAL SEDUCTION is the story of Frey, now exiled from a world that doesn't allow emotion and true love. He searches for a woman from Earth, knowing he can never return home. Carrie is a divorceeburned by love and not sure it's actually possible. When Madame Eve from 1Night Stand fixes them up they have to come to terms with their feelings and hesitations about love. He wants to feel; she's afraid to. It a good story to start with and capably done.


21

SATIN SHEETS IN SPACE: Danyka is a successful, professional woman used to her height intimidating most men. She meets up via Madame Eve with Galan, the tall, handsome stranger of her dreams. And he is an alien. And he has a twin Volan. This is a sexy, high heat level menage romance, perfect for an escapist read. ANOTHER NIGHT, ANOTHER PLANET: This was my personal favorite of the set. Ava works as a cleaning lady, but saves up money for 1Night Stand with hopes of a release from a future that's not looking to bright. Nate, or Natazekiel, is a human hiding his part Claustrian heritage-a race that is chased and exterminated. He is also the man who broke Ava's heart though not by intention. It's a cute story with characters to cheer for an lots of neat little details of a futuristic society. HIS ALIEN VIRGIN: This is a story linked to SATIN SHEETS IN SPACE. The sister of the two twins, Skylar, is escaping a forced marriage to an alien and heading for earth to find her true mate. Skylar is a tough heroine- a in the horrible situation of being sold to the highest bidder as a wife on a planet called Rebed. She uses 1Night Stand for her first sexual encounter in the hopes that she will find happiness like her brothers. Daran is an alien undercover stuck on earth. They share a past- and Skylar is suspicious of him. I like reading about a character who fights for her freedom. HER ALIEN HERO: Melinda is a romance writer attending a convention. Her own love life does not match those of her novels. Cooper Tate is an alien who learned to live under cover on Earth. (There are crossover characters from CELESTIAL SEDUCTION) Melinda and Cooper have met before when they were younger and their set up via 1Night Stand is likely a twist of fate.There are a few jokes and nods to popular romance novels that readers of the genre will appreciate. It's a fitting, fun conclusion to the set.

City of Simplicity (Rae Lori) Review by RK Shiraishi

CITY OF SIMPLICITY is a novelette by Rae Lori; it's a sweet heat level, dystopian SFR. The heroine is citizen 52710, Lyn, who wakes up to her morning coffee and a dose of emotin to keep her emotions and rational thoughts under check. She goes out to enforce peace and law in the world and help it be perfect…except it's creepy how no one ever seems to have memories and they all dress the same and take heavy does of emotin to get through the day. She is haunted by dreams of another life and a man she must have loved. The hero, Spenser, is working with a resistance group and trying to get Lyn to remember him. The goal is to expose the media controlled world they now live in—that holds a dark secret. It's kind of Brave New World/ Logan's Run-ish and a neat story. It's a intriguing world…and Lyn's process of regaining her memories and discovering the falsehood of the world around her is well done. I hope the author considers working in this universe again with perhaps a longer story.


22

Final Protocol (J. C. Daniels) Reviewed by SFF Dragon

(An ARC was given to me by Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly) Final Protocol is a first-person novel told entirely from the heroine's point of view. It is set on several of the New Earth colony planets where Earth's refugees settled, as well as being inhabited by indigenous species, and at a time long after Earth has been abandoned due to war and disease. It features an assassin named Silence who has no memory of her life prior to ten years ago, and is controlled by her 'handler' using both torture and a device called a bioseal. Tip #1: Don’t get on her bad side. Tip #2: There’s no good side. Her name is Silence. If she was ever known by any other name, she doesn’t remember. She is a killer. If she was ever anything else, she doesn’t remember. She has an owner. If she was ever free…well, that she does remember. She was free and then somebody gave her to a madman to pay a debt that wasn’t hers. She’s his toy, his pet…and his trained killer. She kills at his whim or she dies. She has a target. Her so-called owner…the man who makes her life a living hell. If she could kill anybody in the universe, it would be him. But he holds her life in his hands. And she has a wish—to find a man she barely remembers. A man she knows she once loved. The man who betrayed her and stole away her freedom. With one final target between her and the tantalizing promise of freedom, she moves in for the kill. There’s one problem. There’s something strangely familiar about her mark. Something that echoes in the void where love used to live. Warning: One woman with a mission, one evil bastard who lies as often as he breathes, and a man who’ll stop at nothing to find what he lost. Be warned…some questionable consent lies within. I've read books by this author before, under a different name and loved them, but this is the first sci-fi romance book by this author. It's also the first I've read under the name J. C. Daniels, and, having read the blurb, I expected it to be equally as good, but I almost gave up on it. It didn't hold my attention and I spent the first half of the book wondering if all of it was going to be this disconnected and disjointed narrative, with Silence's thoughts running in all sorts of different directions while she again planned an execution she'd never found the courage to carry out. The second half, though, is totally immersed in a really good story of deceit, lies, betrayal, redemption and re-discovered love. If I hadn't read it from the start, I'd wonder if it was the same book. Silence may have no memories of who she is or where she came from, but she always remembers in her dreams. Sadly she doesn't remember them either when she wakes, but she does remember soft green eyes and being called “my star” by the man they belong to. I had tears in my eyes for the person Silence used to be, the pain she'd suffered and the man she finally remembers when she's sent to kill him. There is one woman, Silence, but Tip 2 is totally inaccurate, because not only does she have a good side, she demonstrates it when she refuses to kill an old man on the planet Aris and then again when she can't kill her final target. The mission could be any one of several over the course of the book, none of which are the one given in the blurb, and it gets confusing until it settles into a definite


23

story around half-way through. If she was ever free, no, actually she doesn't remember that until nearly the end of the book. In fact she has no memories before ten years ago. She has fleeting fragments, like the echoes of memories, but she doesn't remember being free. She knows only what she's told, and that's not strictly accurate either. There is definitely an evil bastard, or three, but the one she concentrates on is the one she thinks of as her 'handler', Gold. She very definitely has a wish, but it's finding a botanist on a planet she'd never visit, who can remove the bioseal from her brain and free her from Gold. The man who'll stop at nothing to find what he lost? He never even started and hasn't done anything to find her in the last ten years because he thought she was dead, then when she is given him as her next target, he wants her to kill him, but she can't do it. The 'some questionable consent' in the blurb? That is very definitely called rape, and she's had to endure it repeatedly along with so much more over the ten years she's been Gold's slave. Fortunately there is a happy ending and something approximating romance, although a rekindling would be more accurate, and I was happy for them. I hoped their actions would include taking down Gold's work, but the book stops before the plan gets further than the beginning, which is a shame. On the whole, I enjoyed the book, especially once it settled into a solid coherent story and the initial rambling ended, although it did provide some history, background and context. I liked several of the characters who only appeared briefly, especially Gnari and the old man, Cree Ru, that she was initially sent to kill at the start of the book. Each gave her something that helped to maintain her humanity and choose a different path than the one she originally walked. I'd like to read more about what happened next, and will read more books by this author, but, despite the second half of the book being a really good and well written story, the first half gave me a headache trying to put things in order, so I've given it 3 stars out of 5.

Game of the Red King (Jael Wye) Review by Marlene Harris

Game of the Red King is the short but slightly epic conclusion to the author’s Once Upon a Red World series. The series begins with Ice Red (previously reviewed on SFRQ and also at Reading Reality) and continues with Ladder to the Red Star (also reviewed at Reading Reality). The setting is a future solar system, where Earth is overburdened and underfunded, and the future of humanity looks like it will happen on the advanced tech Mars colonies. Earth is dying, slowly but probably inevitably, and Mars is in the ascendant. Earth has exploited all of her resources, where Mars and the asteroids are still untapped. Earth is also extremely polluted and at the bottom of deep gravity well, where Mars scientists have developed gene therapy to keep them from dying of radiation poisoning, and incidentally cure every disease from the common cold to old age. The colonists may not be immortal, but they can be pretty sure of seeing their second century, and possibly even their third, if they keep up their “Correction” treatments. “Correction” has the added benefit of functioning as a Fountain of Youth, keeping their appearance in their late 20s to early 30s, no matter how many extra decades they’ve experienced. In the first two books of this series we met Max Ross and his incredible daughters, Bianca and Devi. Max is the genius behind the Earth Space Elevator, but is possibly the worst father in the universe. In Ice Red, Bianca is nearly murdered by her stepmother’s goons, and in Ladder to the Red Star, Devi is nearly murdered by her dad’s psychopathic ex-partner.


24

Dad is not very good at picking business associates. He’s been much too busy looking for new projects to conquer. His daughters seem to love him anyway. So it is fitting in Game of the Red King that all of his past mistakes come back to haunt him, possibly to the point of death. It’s about time that he is threatened directly, after all the times his associates have tried using his daughters to reach his heart or his wallet. It’s been a good thing that his daughters have rescued themselves, because Max Ross’ possession of a functioning heart is certainly questionable. When Devi brings herself to her dad’s attention, he had no idea that she existed. And now that he does know, it’s time for him to settle things with her mother, possibly his first and biggest mistake. At the time Devi was conceived, Max was too busy courting partners for his proposed space elevator to recognize that Devi’s mother Sita was the best thing that had ever, or possibly would ever, happen to him. And he threw her away on the altar of his ambition. Now he’s angry that she hid his daughter from him for over 30 years, and she’s still angry that he doesn’t see that his own actions precipitated the break. But even after 30 years, the fire between them is still burning. So is all the anger. And so is Sita’s fear that Max will love her and leave her again, without seeming to even look back. Instead, the last vestige of one of Max’s ill-considered partnerships rises up from the past to finally put Max in the same life-threatening danger that nearly took both of his daughters. And it’s up to Max to use his genius to find a way back to the life he left behind, and the heart he never recovered. Escape Rating B: Game of the Red King is very short, about half the length of the two previous books. A lot of the worldbuilding has already been done. However, this means that it is necessary to read the other two books in the series before embarking on Game. I’ll also say that because it has been a while since I read the first two books, it took some definitely memory searching to figure out how this whole scenario fit together. I enjoyed the first two books when I read them, but they are a bit like cotton candy—they tasted good at the time but the flavor didn’t linger. In the first two books, there was definitely a fairy tale theme going on, as the author attempted, with some success, to recast traditional fairy tales into a high-tech Martian setting. This was particularly apparent in Ice Red, but less so in Ladder to the Red Star. I didn’t see that theme in Game of the Red King, but maybe it’s there and I missed it. I still really like both Bianca and Devi. While Max was a neglectful father, he also didn’t hamper Bianca, and Sita did a good job with Devi. Both young women are intelligent, and are not shy about inserting themselves where needed and making sure shit gets done. If they are fairy tale princesses, they owe way more to Princess Leia than Cinderella. But the main story in Game of the Red King is Max and Sita. It feels like she did the right thing 30 years ago by leaving Max. He was a selfish and self-centered (also incommunicative) ass, and he deserved what happened. Of course, his response was to retreat even further into his engineering and let other people (very, very unscrupulous people) handle the business aspects of his very lucrative business. In every story, Max’s tunnel vision has come back to bite someone. First it was Bianca, and then it was Devi. It feels good that this time the person who gets threatened with death and dismemberment is Max himself, because it really is all his fault. That he gets himself out with a whole lot of MacGyver and some timely help from Sita made a satisfying solution to his dilemma. Unsatisfyingly, however, is that his problems are caused by a villain who has tipped way too far over into bwahaha evil. And also into sheer nutjob territory. All in all, though, a fitting conclusion to the series.


25

Grand Master's Pawn (Aurora Springer) Review by Rachel Cotterill

Violet puts herself forward to be a pawn to one of the twelve Grand Masters, mysterious and anonymous beings who rule the galaxy from afar. If she's chosen, she'll have the chance to travel, undertaking missions for her Master, and she hopes to have the opportunity to learn more about the Grand Masters and their politics. Violet is a good student, but there's one complication -- she's hiding psychic powers that mean she shouldn't be eligible for the job. Suppressing her abilities has been a longstanding part of her life, though, and the selection interview is just one more hurdle. I liked Violet, but I found her motivations a bit mixed up in the early pages: at times she seemed ambitious, sometimes she was driven by curiosity about the Grand Masters, sometimes by altruism towards her friends or just the possibility of an adventure. Which may be a fairly realistic representation of the shifting focus of the average mind, but in a book, as you're trying to get to know the main character, it's quite distracting. I struggled to get a sense of her primary motivation. I didn't manage to get into this book, despite several attempts. At least ten times, I picked it up and read a few pages, hoping to find something that gripped me. I read through Violet's selection, meeting her fellow pawns, and the beginning of her first mission. I sadly didn't get as far as the romantic element, and Violet's Master remained a distant enigmatic figure -- although I was intrigued by the set up, it wasn't enough to keep me reading. Unfortunately, this one just wasn't for me.

Honour Bound (MA Grant) Review by Marlene Harris

I reviewed the first book in this series, Lace & Lead, all the way at the beginning of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, possibly even the very first issue. (You're absolutely right, M! It was in Issue 1 –Ed) As part of the SFR Galaxy Awards, I also gave Lace & Lead an award for Best Space Western. I called it the Firefly in a Jar Award, because Lace & Lead felt a lot like Firefly, even though that isn’t logical when you break it down. I never expected a sequel to Lace & Lead, and now that I’ve read Honour Bound, I’m still not sure I have one. Honour Bound is the second book in the author’s Lawmen of the Republic series, but there’s nothing here to reference the previous book. They can be, and according to the author they are, set in the same universe, but the perspective on this universe is so different in Honour Bound that there is no need to read Lace & Lead before embarking on Honour Bound. Not that you might not want to - Lace & Lead was awesome and surprisingly complete for such a short novella. I want to say that Honour Bound is the icing on what was already a marvelous cake, but I just can’t do the visual on icing that is more than three times bigger than the cake it covers. So, while Lace & Lead read like a space western, Honour Bound reads more like epic fantasy with a romantic twist. I certainly found shades of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera in the relationship between Cade and Talia, and also in its similarity to a fictionalized Roman Empire, but there was also a lot of political skullduggery, outright bigotry, and lots and lots of military tactics and action. Where Lace & Lead reminded me of Firefly, Honour Bound feels more like Pern or Darkover, in that it is science fiction that feels like epic fantasy. There’s no magic, so it isn’t really fantasy, but there’s also very


26

little high tech tech to push it into the military SF camp. What tech there is feels very contemporary, meaning contemporary to us now. I don’t see the kind of advanced tech that firmly grounds a story in SF. But this is definitely not our world, so SF it is. The story in Honour Bound is about a system that’s gone to hell, as told from the perspective of a small group of people who at least at the beginning believe that the rot can still be cut out. Again, shades of an alternate Roman Empire. Our hero is a man who has seen his world from both sides. While he is technically an aristocrat, his mixed race makes him a despised outsider to his own corrupt class. He has come to consider their hatred for him as the highest compliment. As a “prole”, Alexander Cade is given the worst military assignments in the Republic, in spite of having been the top graduate of his class at the Lawmen Academy. He forms a tight unit with the men he both leads and befriends, and uses an obscure law to make sure that they all stick together and watch each other’s backs. They survive when they are not supposed to, sometimes only by the skin of their teeth, or the skills of their medic. Which brings us to our heroine, Talia. Cade meets Talia when he is part of the liberation of the labor camp that she was imprisoned in at the age of 8. The labor camps appear to be operated by the Rebel faction, and they are horrific. Talia survives by becoming a cage fighter. After meeting Talia, Cade makes it his mission to eradicate all the labor camps he can locate. He is effective, but makes many more political enemies along the way. There is something very rotten at the heart of the Republic, when his exposure of the network of labor camps nets him more political enemies than it does praise. The blueblooded upper class that he hates is making money from the supposedly Rebel labor camps, and does not want its gravy train disrupted. But as we see Cade rise in rank and gain horrific experience, he is always searching for Talia. When they met, he was all of 19 and she was 13 or 14, but her fighting spirit inspired him to continue his lonely crusade for justice. When they finally meet again, they are both scarred adults who have been through too much in their too short lives. But they are finally both ready for each other. And in the middle of a war to save as many of the despised tribal peoples of the Northern wastelands as they can, Cade finds himself at a terrible crossroads. Talia is the only woman who will ever be his equal, but the Lawman’s code he swore to uphold states that she should be killed for having seduced him away from marrying a pure blue-blooded woman and maintaining the pure bloodline. Exposure of their relationship will get them both killed, along with all the men in Cade’s unit. But his life isn’t worth living without Talia. And is a system that would require that he kill the woman he loves just because of her mixed race worth spilling his own blood for? Is the Republic he serves worth saving? Escape Rating A-: Honour Bound was marvelous. Up until 3 am marvelous. The only reason I didn’t finish was that I could tell they were about to experience something very dark and ugly before the end, and I didn’t want that to be the last thing I read before sleeping. The revelations at the end of the story are brutal and disgusting. Not unexpected, but it was the effect that those events had on the characters that sticks with me. I was very, very glad to discover on the author’s


27

website that she is continuing the series, because there is just so much left to uncover. And hopefully fix. The setting definitely has the feeling of an updated Roman Empire, or similar analog of a place that started out with the best of intentions and went completely to hell in the handbasket. The center is so corrupt that it is obvious that it needs to topple, the only question is who will do the toppling? We aren’t there yet, but I hope that getting there will be at the heart of later books in the series. The romance in this story is a relationship between equals, and I always love those. While Cade has the formal military training, Talia has learned in a school of very hard knocks, and is every bit his equal as a warrior. Different, but equally tough and strong. The difference is that he is a leader, where Talia has always fought alone. Part of the story here is not just about Cade and Talia finding their balance together, but also Talia learning to work as part of a unit. The members of Cade’s unit are all very different individuals, but they have a team spirit that can overcome anything, including their own government. Seeing the way that they work together in spite of their differences is a treat. But as much as I enjoyed the romance and the camaraderie, it’s the political situation that has kept me thinking about this book. The saying goes that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The Republic has become expert at silencing, suborning and ultimately killing good men (and women) so that they are not able to effect change. It’s hard to fight back when you’re dead. They’ve tried to get Cade and his men killed in a military action to prevent them from fighting for change. We see them fight back at every turn, thinking that they are fighting the good fight. Then suddenly they are. And it’s awesome.

I Am Ebony Strike (KS Augustin) Review by Rachel Cotterill

Ebony Strike hasn't been called that for a while. It was her pseudonym while she was fighting in martial arts contests, but she's since established herself as a security expert under a different (equally false) name, so it's a surprise when someone turns up at her door asking for Ebony's time. And even more shocking when she learns that her home is threatened -- and the local administration hope she can dig them out of a hole by entering the most dangerous and lucrative contest of them all. I loved Ebony herself from the first page. There aren't nearly enough older heroines in sci fi, nor black protagonists, nor women with proper martial arts expertise. Add in the fact that she has a strong sense of justice just beneath the tough exterior, and I was lost. I was also drawn in by the setting, a televised tournament with something of a Hunger Games aesthetic: although the Rewards Series is voluntary, there's a high risk of death or permanent injury, and only the last one standing will take home the prize. Ebony herself admits that she'd never have chosen to sign up for such a thing, but for her home, she'll take risks she'd never have considered for wealth or fame. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that our heroine does well in the early rounds of the competition. In the final round of the tournament, the two remaining finalists must live together as they face various further challenges, and to provide extra "entertainment" their food is spiked with drugs to reduce inhibition and inhance libido.


28

And this is where I started to struggle. The drugs introduce huge issues of consent, despite it being clear from Ebony's internal monologue that she's genuinely attracted to her rival. And there are consensual sex scenes, too, but the drug-induced sex is graphic, while the consensual scenes are soft-focus and mainly offcamera, giving the reader an uncomfortable sense of being one of the series' voyeuristic fans. It's cleverly done, in that respect, but this is being pitched as sci fi romance, and lack of consent is about as unromantic as you can get which turned me right off. I was also somewhat dissatisfied with the ending, in which Ebony fails to take responsibility for the resolution of either the action or romance plotlines. After showing herself to be more than capable of problem solving in the earlier chapters, I was disappointed with her sudden resignation when her surroundings shift, and the way she leaves her fate to the decisions of others. Overall, this was an entertaining if not quite satisfying read, featuring a stand-out main character who I'd like to read more about, preferably in a story where she retains more agency and initiative.

Keir (Pippa Jay) Review by Norm Zeeman

This is a book where you have to read the first 100 pages without stopping. I kept getting confused each time I picked it back up, so I finally just went back to the beginning and read right through. The background information on the characters, the setting and the history is sparsely divulged and while I hate a huge infodump right at the beginning I, as the reader, was constantly challenged to make sense of what I was reading without one. I loved the diversity of the three planets that we see, one is highly technological and one is medieval and one I’m not sure about, but all are different. Even though the title of the book is “Keir”, the main character seems to be gorgeous, 300-year- old Tarquin Secker, snarky and independent, who has the ability to create gates or portals to other worlds, but you don’t find out until page 187 that Quin can only make gates when she has access to an external power source and it seemed like the author just tacked that on to make the plot flow better. She has this power because she accidentally melded with a sentiac, who is an advanced being who changed Quin’s DNA and made her almost immortal. The almost is important towards the end of the book, but may be part of what, according to other characters, makes her an extreme risk-taker with trouble and disaster following in her wake. I wish there had been more information given on the relationships of the other characters to Quin and why she was a friend or not, but the author keeps that information to vague hints that don’t really satisfy. The other main character is blue-skinned Keir, also a descendant of the sentiac, who although untrained, can make gates. His family is not blue-skinned and the feudal world he was born in thinks he is a demon. Because of his skin color, they kidnapped and mentally and physically tortured him when he was still a young child, by painfully and all at once putting tattoos all over his body. Thus, Keir has almost insurmountable trust issues. Quin rescues Keir once and heals him from his injuries. Then, with Keir (even though you know that is a really bad idea), she returns to Keir’s planet searching for the sentiac, Rulk, to find out where Rulk sent Ryan. Unfortunately, they are both captured, and because she was reckless in her use of non-native tech, Quin must rescue herself and Keir while using lots more nifty tech. We discover that because they are both


29

part sentiac, they have a mental bond. You would think this would be useful, but the author sometimes uses it and sometimes it doesn’t work, and the reasoning behind whether it does or doesn’t is iffy. The second rescue takes Quin and an injured Keir back to her base. The author spends much of the beginning telling us how mistreated and unloved Keir is. There is much effort made to make Keir trust Quin but again and again it doesn’t seem to work. Keir’s untrained use of his power makes Quin’s friends uncomfortable and afraid that he will hurt them after he accidentally uses his gatemaking skills to go back to his planet and stupidly try to free his mother. Early in the book, we hear the three names that deeply and grievously haunt Quin: Ryan, Darion and Jared, but we get such little information on them that I wanted to shake the author. It makes it more confusing because Quin keeps bringing them up as an excuse for many of the crazy things she does or doesn’t do and I don’t know why. I also need to know who the Emissary is way earlier than when I finally do find out, and why was it such a mystery anyway? It should have been a great opportunity to explain some of Quin’s backstory. We also get mentions of Jinx, Chei-haven, Gethyon and, two-thirds of the way through, we find out she had a daughter, but we get nothing more on any of those people. Who are they? Why is it important that I know about them, and why don’t I know more about them if they are important enough to mention? For me, the author does a poor job of explaining the deep and immediate bond Quin and Keir have and the extreme limits Quin goes to to repeatedly save him, because I don’t feel it in the writing. Maybe it is supposed to make her seem stronger yet still compassionate, but it makes it harder for me to connect to her. Quin constantly evades answering Keir’s questions about her past so I am also left equally confused and illinformed and wondering why he likes her so much. The 50-page, nine-day, angst-filled, island interlude may have been designed to get Keir and Quin in bed, but again, I didn’t feel it and it absolutely stopped the storyline dead as they take time to bond. If you have 24 hours in a day and your characters say less than ten sentences to each other with no indication of how the rest of the day was spent and, with every conversation, misunderstandings abound, I’m confused. They can read each other’s minds, so why is this happening? Then when they do fall into bed, it is way too easy. When Quin and the Emissary finally meet, the whole climax only takes 10 pages and after 270 pages of buildup, I really wanted a more complete resolution. We learn bits and pieces about the sentiac and the Siah-dhu and, in the beginning, it seems they are vitally important, but it never seems to have a resolution and when you get to the end and discover this is only volume one of a series about Keir and Quin, you wonder where the author can take it from there. At the very end you get a short two-page teaser from the next novel that tells you nothing except they are still together. From the beginning, this feels very similar to C.J. Cherryh’s, very awesome, Morgaine stories: same strong female lead who can make gates to other worlds, same haunted past, same hunky sidekick who loves her, same friends and foes on planets she visits, same attempting to fix things she did wrong in the past. You do get a “Happy For Now,” but for all the reasons listed above, I didn’t love this and I probably won’t read the sequel.


30

Liberation's Kiss (Wendy Lynn Clark) Review by Jo Jones

I liked how Liberation’s Kiss starts with a kiss seen from the perspectives of the two main characters. Cressida sees the two adults kissing and thinks the kiss is a romantic moment while Xan knows that the kiss was used to change his programming. Cressida is on a Kill List and has been on it since she was 12. Her parents have hidden her and as a result she has lead a very sheltered life. Xan is an android programmed to carry out the kill order. Then the kiss happens and Xan’s programming changes from kill to protect. For the first time he has free will. When he finds Cressida she thinks he is the person sent to rescue her and is so happy she kisses him. The first kiss changes Xan’s programming and the second kiss adds lust to the story line. A great set up for the two to grow and change. The change happens as they escape from one dangerous situation after another with some time for lust and romance in between. The tension builds to an exciting ending with a set up for the next book in the series. Protecting Cressida is the main point of the plot with lust and trust issues an added undercurrent. There is a lot of excitement but for me there were some things missing. There was world building but I wanted more. The same was true of back-story. I wanted to know more about the history behind the fall of the Old Empire and more about who is taking its place. There was the mysterious woman who kissed Xan but that is all I know about her. Is she part of a group? Who is she working with? Other than looking for Cressida’s sister what are else is ahead for Cressida and Xan. I think adding some of what I found missing would have added additional layers to the story line and made it stronger. Wendy Lynn Clark is the publisher of Liberation’s Kiss.

Minder Rising (Carol van Natta) Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Chavanch Press Publish Date: Out now Reviewed by: E How I got this book: ARC from Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly A millennium into the future, all children are tested for minder talents, and the best are recruited for the Citizen Protection Service. Agent Lièrén Sòng is recovering from a near-fatal crash. He should want nothing more than to get back to using his talents to interrogate criminals for his covert CPS field unit, but being sidelined gains new appeal when he makes friends with a woman and her son. Imara Sesay, road crew chief and part-time bartender, breaks her ironclad rule never to get close to customers when she asks Lièrén to teach her son how to control his growing minder talents. Unexpected deaths in his field unit make Lièrén suspect he isn’t a lucky survivor, he’s a loose end. He should pull away from Imara and Derrit to keep them safe, but when the local CPS Testing Center is entirely too interested in Derrit’s talents, Lièrén must make an impossible choice. Can he stay alive long enough to save Imara and her prodigy son? (Blurb from Goodreads)


31

I was looking for something new to read several months ago and stumbled on a list of science fiction romance by women authors. I looked at the blurbs and titles and decided to read Overload Flux, book 1 of the Central Galatic Concordance series. I really enjoyed it so when the list of books available for this issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly came out and it contained Minder Rising I almost tangled my fingers up sending my request in as quickly as possible. While you could read Minder Rising without reading the first book, some of the events are linked, and there is a brief reference to what might be setting all sorts of things in motion across Galaxy. Lièrén barely survived a fatal crash and lost his work partner at the same time. As he continued his healing, instead of being assigned to another covert unit he was stuck undergoing repeated questioning about the accident, his partner, and his previous cases. To escape from the confines of his hotel room or from busy work in the office he regularly stopped in a local bar and ended up becoming friends with Imara, a part-time bartender, her son Derrit, and another employee. As they grew closer, he started to learn some of their secrets and began to help Derrit control his mental abilities. As tempted as Lièrén was, he tried to maintain a certain distance since from the family because he fully expected to be assigned elsewhere as soon as he was cleared to return to full duty. However, other members of his former team started to turn up dead, some by violent means, others by what appeared to be undiscovered health issues and his attempts to get a date to return to full work were never answered. When Lièrén himself started to encounter a series of accidents and incidents, he began to wonder how long he would manage to survive his unknown enemy. After Derrit’s routine minder testing appointment became anything but routine, Lièrén began to have serious fears about CPS and its seemingly unlimited power. I really enjoyed several aspects of this story from the world-building, the characters, the romance, and the intrigue. Lièrén’s job and his quiet personality combined to make him into someone who adored his rarely seen family but did not tend to make friends or have lasting relationships. Imara and Derrit on the other hand were both seemingly open and friendly but they had secrets of their own. Watching the three of them slowly build a relationship on several levels was very rewarding. Imara and Lièrén became friends and then transitioned to a lovely gentle romance as they tried to live their lives under the shadow of CPS and its multiple threats. I really liked how van Natta showed the changing bond between Derrit and his mother as he matured under Lièrén’s guidance and training. Lièrén and Derrit’s parental/coaching bond really touched me especially when Derrit called Lièrén, “uncle” in Mandarin. As much as I thought the expansive world was fascinating and enjoyed the variety of different Minder abilities, what struck me the most was how the Galatic default appeared to be Asian in nature. While other languages were spoken, the language of business seemed to be Mandarin. I also thought the combination of fluidity and yet rigidity of family bonds, obligations, and benefits were strikingly different from North American attitudes. I really liked the differences because they helped to anchor me to the story and kept me wondering if/when “family” was going to interfere. I absolutely ended up loving Sòng’s family and Imara’s family by choice. While I enjoyed this story a lot, I did find myself wishing van Natta had been a bit clearer about CPS, its testing, and its information technology network. I was a bit confused when Lièrén was manipulating data. Even with this distracter to the flow of the story after I finished reading, I decided van Natta was on my list of authors to follow for new releases. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next in the Central Galatic Concordance. I give Minder Rising a B


32

Natural Attraction (Catherine Haustein) Review by Psyche Skinner

My book reviews often devote a lot of space to what I see as the flaws, limitations, and other dubious qualities of a book, but that will not happen on this occasion. I adored NATURAL ATTRACTION by Catherine Hastein from beginning to end. I read it with an enthusiasm rarely felt in my life since early puberty when sci fi, romance and western novels were an escape from what I then saw as an unbearable dull small town existence. In essence NATURAL ATTRACTION is the story of Clementine, a mid-Victorian era woman in America who wishes to pursue a career as a natural scientist and discover new species of rodents on the Western frontier. In order to do this, she takes a potion developed by the chemist-slash-alchemist in her small town and is assisted by her wise woman/grandmother in completing the disguise as a man in order to join a mining expedition as their gentlemen scientist. The semi-gender swapping potion McGuffin is the only arguably science fiction element in the book, and you know what? I don’t even care. Haustein takes the gender-swapping historical that is so often implausible and trite, and ends up reinforcing the very gender roles she begins by challenging. She comes up with something that's sometimes absurd, utterly fresh, and includes discovering that femininity does in fact have its advantages. Which is largely the same thing but…. Good. Look at me, reduced to saying: “This is a good book. You should totally read it.” How the jaded have fallen. To give some context I have to disclose that I have an existing significant interest in the Victorian era, ethology/natural history, the history and sociology of gender, and even in the gender swap trope in sci fi and/or romance (THE SEX GATES, THE BRAZEN MIRROR etc). So if someone was to custom write a romance for me, it would probably look a lot like NATURAL ATTRACTION, which plays with all these notions in a way that is both cheeky and erudite. The romance between Clementine and Wesley is central to the plot and the heroine’s journey without ever robbing Clementine of her sense of self-determination even when she is as confused as hell about her feelings, and perplexed by almost everything that happens during her madcap and occasionally tragic adventures. Wesley in some ways has almost over-blown alpha male qualities and yet never actually fits within this trope (which is just as well as I am at best indifferent about the ubiquitous romance alpha male). Perhaps at first this is mostly because he thinks Clementine is a man, but later because he comes to respect her as a woman and as scientist and (imagine that!) as a person. Whom he loves. If MOBY DICK and PLAYING THE JACK had a love child that was educated at Harvard and had a side gig as a stand-up comedian in a steampunk-hipster bar it might be a little bit like NATURAL ATTRACTION. But other than that I quite give up on trying to describe this book; you are just going to have to read it yourself. [Catherine Haustein's NATURAL ATTRACTION is one of our Sneak Peeks for this issue, so make sure you don't miss the first two chapters of this highly rated book! —Ed.]


33

Peripheral People (Reesa Herbert & Michelle Moore) Review by Norm Zeeman

From the very beginning, I couldn’t put this down. There is an introduction at the beginning and it gives some background on the characters and plot so you can just jump right into the story. Talented Imperial Enforcement Coalition Inspectors Westley Tavera, a psychic Reader and all around pain-in-the-ass, and his partner/Ground/Anchor, Gavin Hale, are joined by decorated veterans with an equally incredible solve rate, Corwin Menivie and his partner Nika Santivan, in a case involving a serial killer who kills using mental torture and leaves no DNA or physical evidence at the scene. I don’t much like Corwin or Westley in the first chapter when they meet – Corwin is too grouchy and West is too carefree, but they are professionals so I hope they work it out. Spending time together on a spaceship traveling to assigned cases means that the partners become close, and Gavin and Nika are the first to pair off. West’s off-the-charts ability causes some hilarity on the readers’ part as West tries to stay out of Gavin’s head during bouts of “sexual healing” with Nika. West and Gavin have a running joke about their “Rules” on West staying out of his partner’s head and there are a lot of them, but they help break the tension of a bad Read, so it’s fun. Gavin and Nika’s relationship makes West realize that he is more alone than ever and he tries to reach out to Corwin. Corwin’s mental shield is impenetrable and West needs to learn how he constantly maintains that tight of a shield, after a disastrous Read of one of the murdered victims leaves him overwhelmed and vulnerable. Corwin’s shield covers some major insecurities and secrets of his own that he doesn’t want to share with anyone and West has to make him understand that he won’t give any of Corwin’s secrets away. Character development is nicely-paced and follows the plot – as the action ramps up, we learn more about the characters. West comes across as over-the-top-gay, but I can’t tell if the author means it as a manifestation of his talent or of his personality and it makes him harder to relate to in the beginning. Many personal revelations inadvertently happen when a psychic of such great strength is around and the author does a credible job of putting it out there so you get it - but it doesn’t overpower the story. Much of the characters’ history and personality are revealed in conversations in the galley while enjoying Tavera’s cooking. I really liked the way trust was built between the characters although West does get on my nerves when he constantly tries to deflect everyone’s concern by using stupid humor. On page 180, when West stomps off in a huff, Corwin thinks, “The quiet retreat of West’s footsteps seemed more like ellipses than a full stop, and he hated indefinite punctuation.” I loved what that said about how Corwin reacts to sharing an intimate memory from his past. Nika is a strong female who is funny, cute and good at both her job and at acting as Corwin’s conscience, but she feels the least developed as the story revolves around West and Corwin learning to work and live together in a very small spaceship. Some alien species are mentioned as supporting characters, but there is very little detail on their differences from humans and I would have loved to hear more about them. The storyline and the characters grew on me and a second read-through reminded me that some tiny bits of common police procedure were left out, possibly because of space constraints and possibly because of author ignorance and it would have made the story that much tighter if they had been included. Corwin makes a big deal out of their arrest record being based on not using psychics, but you see so little actual police work, that it feels more obvious that it wasn’t there. At over 400 pages I was ready for the reveal and it was a good one and not at all what I expected from the heavy foreshadowing. Setting is not so important here as the story revolves around the relationships of the four main characters


34

and their attempts to solve the crimes. Much of the action takes place in the galley (kitchen) of a starship, police headquarters or in West’s head as he chases psychic leads and the visuals are striking and disturbing in their nightmarish intensity. It’s not often that book design is exceptional, so when I notice it, it deserves a mention. Chapters and sections breaks are separated by the same cool three-sided design that is on the cover and it gives a little pizzazz to the breaks. I found one or two grammar errors and one spelling error and that is less than what you find in a bestseller, so kudos to the editing team. Psychic killers and their hunters are also wellrepresented by Kay Hooper’s extensive “Haven” series (if you need more of these), and I was intrigued to see how the romance would work here between such jaded police-persons in this more scifi-oriented story. There is some m/m sex, but it is not in-your-face and as a tool for growing the relationship, it works. This is not a HEA or even a HFN, but it is heading towards a ‘we can make this work’ so it still fits in the romance category and I would happily revisit these characters if they showed up in a sequel – hint, hint!

Synthetic Dreams (Kim Knox) Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Carina Press Publish Date: Out now How I got this book: From the Publisher via Netgalley Vynessa Somerton was just a girl when she learned about true evil. An encounter with the tyrannical Corporation scarred her body and exiled her to the crime-ridden S-District. Now an adult, Vyn creates glamours, worn by those who visit a virtual playground to live synthetic dreams. She’s tried to stay unnoticed by the Corporation, but her latest invention has brought their agents to her door. Paul Cross works for the Corporation, but he’s been plotting their downfall since they took his brother and replaced him with an imposter. Paul has a plan to get his brother back, but he’s going to need Vyn and her invention to carry it out. Vyn agrees to help Paul, but their alliance shatters the barriers she’s put up to protect herself, tempting her to give in to desire. Just as Vyn starts to trust Paul and believe he wants her, scars and all, the Corporation prepares for its final move. Can Vyn trust Paul completely, or has he been using her all along? (Blurb from Carina Press) I never know quite what I am going to get with a Kim Knox title, and I mean this in a good way. I will look at the title, read the blurb and how I think Ms Knox is going to take me there is never how it really goes which I love. If a book is too predictable for me along the journey then I find myself losing interest. I have never lost interest in an of Ms Knox’s books so when I saw that she had a new release coming out from Carina Press I had to request it for review. Once again Ms Knox took me on an exciting journey. The world that Vyn lives in is controlled by hungry mega-conglomerates that ruled the planet. Britain in this particular world is ruled for the Corporation, which has a very exclusive complex virtual system where your access to different areas is directly related to how important you are to the Corporation. Of course in those different areas there are different “amusements” available all of which contribute to how much the Corporation controls you. If you are part of the Corporation you are one of the haves, the elite. You live in secluded expansive mansions with bodyguards and everything that money can buy. As one of the elite you


35

also have to be free of physical defects to include scarring from any physical accident because you have money to buy all the skill a doctor has. The Corporation controls everything to include randomly grabbing and replacing people with replacements that look like/sound like the original but aren’t. If you happen to visibly notice or mention the switch you put yourself at risk for being replaced. No one knows what happens to the original but they are never seen again. Obviously not everyone can be part of the Corporation. S-district is one of the places that the non-elite live. It is pretty bad but could be worse. Vyn used to be part of the elite but after an encounter with some sadistic upper level members of the Corporation she was left with a network of silver scars all over her body. Despite her family’s money the doctors were unable to remove them so she has become an outcast. Living in S-district Vyn tries to stay out of sight while making a living providing cosmetic enhancements otherwise known as glamour to people’s mental avatars. Part of the Corporations rules about playing in their virtual world is that they have to appear as themselves with only the addition of legal glamour. Legal glamour is tagged so anyone who looks can see that they have altered their physical appearance. Vyn develops and refines illegal glamour while working on the holy grail of virtual programmers. She is trying to perfect what is known as simulacrum which would allow a person to seamlessly appear as someone else to the virtual mind of the Corporation. Anyone who could achieve that could set their conditions for the rest of their life. Vyn is testing her attempt at a simulacrum when she first encounters Paul Cross. The two of them both had reasons not to trust each other and while Paul knows more about Vyn then she thinks neither of them is prepared to face what the Corporation has in store for them. As I mentioned earlier how Ms Knox never takes the journey I am expecting with her work. She threw several twists into this one some of which made me glad I don’t live in a fully wired world. One of the things I enjoyed is how Paul and Vyn traded being the person who had to take charge to ensure that they were able to escape the grip of the Corporation. Overall the world-building, the twists, and how Vyn grew were what carried this book for me. I give Synthetic Dreams a B.


36

Ark Baby (Liz Jensen) From SF Mistressworks—this issue's review is courtesy of Ian Sales

Although not published as a science fiction writer, many of Jensen’s novels have been based on science-fictional conceits – My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (2006) on time travel, The Rapture (2009) on the end of the world…and Ark Baby, whose plot is based an evolution, the “Missing Link”, an infertility epidemic and scientific methodology… The story of Ark Baby runs in both 2005 and 1845. In the present-day narrative (although near-future, given when the book was originally published), vet Bobby Sullivan is sick of treating pet monkeys, which have become child substitutes since the UK is suffering from a “Fertility Crisis”, and the last monkey he treated he actually euthanised on the husband’s wishes, but the wife didn’t know and now she’s threatening legal action… So Sullivan heads north, re-inventing himself en route, and takes over as the only vet in a small village on the North East coast. Meanwhile, back in the nineteenth century, in the same village, Thunder Spit, the local parson finds a baby in his church, and takes it home and adopts it. He and his wife christen the baby Tobias, and he grows up to become a strangely hirsute young man with deformed feet. In London, also in 1845, Dr Ivanhoe Scrapie, a famed taxidermist, is putting together a zoo of stuffed animals for Queen Victoria, all of which are clothed. From the returned ship of an arch-rival, Scrapie rescues Cabillaud, the only surviving member of the crew, who is employed by Scrapie as a cook and develops a cuisine of exotic meats using the innards of the animals Scrapie is stuffing for the queen. Scrapie’s daughter, Violet, becomes a gourmand, thanks to Cabillaud; and Scrapie’s wife, nicknamed the Laudanum Empress because of her addiction to opium, dies and becomes a ghost. Back in 2005, Sullivan finds himself in a relationship with the Ball twins, who have more body hair than is normal and deformed feet. And it seems the twins have become pregnant, the first women in Britain to be in that state since the Fertility Crisis began… Ark Baby‘s plot resists summarising because there’s so much going on in the book. The three main narratives are plainly linked and, while the links are not stated, they’re not hard to work out. It’s clear, for example, that the Balls are descended from Tobias Phelps (and Violet Scrapie). What is not said, but hardly constitutes a spoiler as the clues are obvious, is that Tobias’s father was actually a species of intelligent ape, known as the Gentleman Monkey. In fact, like the dodo, the Gentleman Apes have been hunted to extinction. But it takes Tobias most of the book to work this out for himself, and pretty much all of the book for Sullivan to do so. What this somewhat glib plot précis fails to get across is that Ark Baby is very funny. Perhaps that’s obvious from the plot – it’s not, after all, as if its elements appear entirely serious. But Jensen writes with wit and humour, and still manages to make Tobias a sympathetic character. As the story jumps from narrative to narrative, Jensen keeps the level of invention high, successfully evokes the various periods, and peoples her story with a cast of amusing oddballs. As well as this, there are some serious points made – not least about the treatment of the Gentleman Apes, but also Cabillaud and his cuisine zoologique, the fate of Tobias’s mother, the Fertility Crisis (which is actually limited to the UK), and taxidermy. Every time I read one of Liz Jensen’s novels, I tell myself I should read more of them. In that respect, Ark Baby was no different. Finishing it, I wanted to read one of her other books. For the meantime, however, I shall have to content myself with recommending this one.


37

Finding Sci-Fi Romance Off the Grid Opinion from Alyssa Cole

Off the Grid exists largely thanks to the Mayans—yes, those Mayans. Rather, thanks to the end of the world “prophecy” attributed to them a few years back. While many people awaited December 201 2 with a mix of derision and “maybe I should stock up on canned beans,” I was pretty certain some diligent Mayan calendar designer saying, “Eh, I’ll come back and start 201 3 later on” didn’t mean the world was going to end. But it did activate the “what if” centers of my brain: what would people do if the apocalypse struck? How would they survive? This line of questions sparked the image of two best friends, vegging on the couch when the electricity suddenly goes out…and never comes back on. And that, kids, is how Radio Silence, and the Off the Grid trilogy, was born. I’ve always been a bit of a survivalist. My mom tells stories of having to check my bed for the “weapons” I slept with to protect my family if a burglar broke in. (One time, I almost took out my dad with a gift shop slingshot when he came home later than usual. After that, I only received keychains and non-lethal mementos from their parental trips.) While a bit extreme, the basic drive behind my childhood idiosyncrasies formed the seed of the series for me, and especially book one, Radio Silence. The idea of an apocalypse is scary: not having food, water, or help from trained authorities. But what’s even scarier about a world without laws or oversight? The harm that can come to you is frightening, but I think the horror of worrying about those you love trumps that. Radio Silence, Signal Boost, and Mixed Signals cover an apocalypse, of sorts, and the recovery from it. But, although they each have action sequences, suspense, and tension (and sex!), the stories are driven not only by the characters’ desire to survive but also by the ties of family and friendship. And also by the idea that love in a time of fear and despair can help carry us through. Because of this, and because this is sci-fi romance, the focus of the series is very tight. The stories revolves around Arden Highmore (heroine of Radio Silence) and the Seong family: John (her best friend and hero of Signal Boost), Gabriel (oldest brother and hero of Radio Silence), and Maggie (youngest sister and heroine of Mixed Signals). Although the wider world is discussed and speculated on, most of the story is set in upstate New York. The majority of the first book takes place in a cabin! That doesn’t mean there isn’t world building, of course—I did lots of research for these books and tried to provide enough info for readers to draw their own conclusions, especially in Signal Boost and Mixed Signals. Keeping the scope tight simply means that I had to be very selective about what details were relevant to each romance and gave readers an idea of what was going on in the world at large. I really enjoyed writing romance set in a post-apocalyptic world because the stakes are really high when you don’t know if you’ll survive to get to a third date. It makes the romance that much more intense when you have to figure out whether your feelings are real or driven by fear, and whether someone is worth sharing your rations with: rations of food and emotion. Although the overall themes are common for any book with a hero(ine)’s journey (discovering a sense of self and one’s place in the world at large), the books also deal with things like coming to terms with illness and grief, dealing with depression, exploring one’s sexuality, and the fact that the world just isn’t fair


38

sometimes. It was also important to me that people who aren’t commonly viewed as heroes, but in reality do heroic stuff all the time (women, people of color, nerds, gay men) get their opportunity to be shown as badasses in their own specific ways. All of this is rolled into the story with healthy doses of banter, sexual tension, hot sex, and humor. It was really important to me that the books, which are set against an often bleak backdrop, make the readers laugh along with the characters as well as care about their survival. With Mixed Signals out this October, it’s a little sad thinking that I’ll have to say goodbye to Arden, the Seongs, and all the friends they made along the way. But I look forward to checking in with them from time to time. One of the best parts about creating a post-apocalyptic world? The adventures awaiting your characters are limitless.


39

Australian SFR Authors Visit SFRQ Science fiction romance authors reside in various countries across the globe, but they ain't always easy to find. In order to help close that gap, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly invited a few Australian authors to chat with us about science fiction romance. Each discusses what she believes are the genre's key ingredients as well as SFR's appeal. You'll also learn a bit about their books. Enjoy!

Yolanda Sfetsos Author of: The Recast Series. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? For me, it's the interaction between the characters, action, and adventure. I also enjoy a bit of mystery, secrets, and passion in my story. I like the same elements in all the stories I read and write. Science fiction just offers the added bonus of foreign and exciting new worlds to discover. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? I love the freedom to enter and create whole new worlds filled with a bunch of different species, planets and tech. I also love the ease with which we can include robots and genetically-enhanced humans/aliens into these worlds. But my favourite thing is the fact that SFR doesn't concentrate on the hard science, but on the people/beings inhabiting these worlds. I enjoy reading and writing SFR because it's got heart.

Donna Maree Hanson Author of: Rayessa and the Space Pirates. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? For me an SF romance story has to have an element that is science fiction. By that I mean that the world setting can be in the near future, future, on another planet or on a space ship. It doesn’t have to be too heavy on the SF but it should be plausible SF unless it’s a spoof. The other balancing element is the romance side of it. This can encompass the central element of the story or just have romance as part of the plot within the SF setting. I make these distinctions to differentiate from fantasy romance. Of course, there is a caveat and that’s science fantasy! What do I mean? Well Star Wars is science fantasy. It’s got elements of SF and also some far-fetched stuff that borders on magic and is very cool. This I would also slot into science fiction romance. It is difficult once you start categorising things that you find exceptions to the rule. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? The first novel I ever drafted (but never published) was a science fiction story. It also had feminism and romance, with an alien as central to the plot. I didn’t realise then that SF romance was a thing. I’ve had a few story ideas kicking around that are SF romance so I guess it does appeal to me as a writer. As a reader I was totally taken away by Johanna Lindsey’s Warrior’s Woman, which was SF romance. It was an eye opener and I’ve read it many times (and the rest of the series). I’ve always been a fan of SF. I grew up on Astro Boy, Lost in Space, UFO, Star Trek and in my teens Star Wars. I love the ideas, the breadth of vision and life in the future. Romance softens the edges for me. I can’t imagine a life without love, and so for me romance is an essential element of fiction. For a while there I didn’t think I could write a story without


40 romance. I have probably achieved that now, but romance adds a positive slant to a story, I believe. That has to be good. Rayessa and the Space Pirates was originally meant to be an SF adventure story. It just happens to have a romance arc in it too, which is why it was published by Harlequin’s Australian digital imprint Escape Publishing. The sequel, Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures is more in the SF romance category, of course there is an adventure thrown in. I have another SF romance in the making, maybe that’s two. I best get writing then.

S.E. Gilchrist Author of: The Darken Warrior and Mars Academy series. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? For me the key elements of a scifirom are: romance, action, adventure, exciting alien worlds, danger and of course, a compelling female heroine and her hot guy all on a planet, far, far away. Sounds like the perfect recipe for escapism. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? The concept of space travel and worlds beyond our own, has fascinated me since I was a little girl. It's like the last frontier, a place where anything and everything could happen - even if, at the moment, it exists only in our imagination. Like romance, it’s a beacon of hope in our often difficult and ordinary lives. I love series where the world building and politics of a region really have a chance to expand in depth. In particular, I love series where there are different protogonists with the main story thread continuing to evolve in each story and I hope I achieved this with my Darkon Warrior series (kicked off by Legend Beyond the Stars with the last story, a novella titled Touring the Stars out in July 2015). My latest series, The Mars Academy, also follows a similar story structure (book 1 - Stranded and book 2 - Cosmic Fire are out now). Anna Hackett's series, Hell Squad, is a great example of this type of sci fi romance and also Linnea Sinclair, Dock Five Universe series. Both are writers whose books I read and follow avidly because they tick all my boxes for sci fi romance.

Shona Husk Author of: The Decadent Moon and ES Siren series. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? SFR is a science fiction story with a central romance and a happy ending. That leaves a whole lot of wriggle as there are so many different types of sci-fi and romance! I think one of the key elements is world building, it doesn’t matter if it’s futuristic Earth or alien societies I have to be transported to another time and another place. I don’t need the gritty scientific details, as long as they sound plausible and the characters are comfortable with the technology (and not explaining how a simple something works when it’s part of their day to day life) I will buy in. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? As a reader it is about visiting somewhere else (it’s the same reason I love reading historicals or fantasy). I want to see how other societies and other people deal with the issues that we all face. Not just finding a partner, but crime or war or pollution, pandemics. Big topics can be explored through fiction. Reading SFR is fun, there is usually an element of action or suspense. Kris Delake Assassin’s Guild series has plenty of action and mostly


41 humans, but if you want an excellent alien culture Claimings, Tails, and Other Alien Artifacts by Lyn Gala is great. As an author I love to world build. In the ES Siren series I worked with Mel Teshco and Denise Rossetti to imagine what the future might be like if we don’t stop and look after the Earth and the gap between rich and poor widens further and faster. In my new series, starting with Desire to Fall in October, I got to recreate society. This is a planet where biology has made ménage relationship the norm. The women have wings but the men don’t. Their society is structured completely different to ours, their technology is different…and yet getting a date can be just as tricky. And then there are the gangs that like to clip wings. It’s not enough to just make the aliens look different, their whole world would be different because they are biologically different. Being able to create entire worlds or universes is a lot of fun :)

Anna Hackett Author of: The Phoenix Adventures and Hell Squad series. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? Number one for me is a strong, satisfying romance. I’m a romance reader and writer, and I don’t want to be let down by a lackluster romance. Even if there is the most amazing world-building and coolest sci-fi gadgets, if the romance is short-changed, the story just isn’t a SFR winner for me. Number two is amazing science fiction world-building. I want to see a rich world, with some interesting and unique things (be that species, planets, spaceships or gadgets). I say have fun with it and let your imagination run wild. All those limitless possibilities are what makes the genre so awesome. Number three for me is action and adventure. This is my personal catnip. You can absolutely have a SFR story without action and adventure…but I won’t be reading it. I want space pirates, rogue smugglers, space adventurers, aliens, starships, and their breathtaking escapades. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? The appeal of science fiction romance (both as a reader and writer) is all about those limitless possibilities and the potential for action and adventure. When I started writing my sci-fi romance series the Phoenix Adventures (think treasure hunters in space), I wanted to capture that sense of adventure that I think we just can’t get today. Space really is the final frontier, and I wanted to be able to push some boundaries with my adventures and have fun doing it. My latest series, Hell Squad, is post-apocalyptic SFR with invading aliens. It’s a bit darker and grittier, and all about the action and the battle for survival. Two SFR series that I’ve loved reading (that capture all the things I love in a SFR) are Ruby Lionsdrake’s Mandrake Company and Veronica Scott’s Sectors Series.

Amanda Bridgeman Author of: The Aurora series. Learn more at her website. What do you think are the key elements of a science fiction romance? I think the key elements of science fiction romance are action, exploration, and intrigue. As opposed to a straight romance, the plot surrounding the relationship between two characters plays a much bigger part and takes as much attention from the reader as does the romance between the leads. It is in many ways both more intricate and larger in scale. Whether the plot revolves around a secret scientific project or an inter-galactic war, the stakes are generally much higher, although they still mirror the stakes between our hero and heroine, who grow and evolve along with


42 the twists and turns in the plot. Why does SFR appeal to you as a reader and writer? As with most women, I like a little romance, but I also like action and big stakes on the line. I am the kind of woman who is equally happy watching a romance as I am a big Hollywood blockbuster, so if ever I have the option for the two to meet, then I am in heaven. That’s what I’ve tried to do with the Aurora series. It is a space opera with strong romantic elements. As the main characters fight for survival, they also grow and evolve as people and learn a lot about themselves and of love, friendship and loyalty. Their personal stakes are just as relevant and important as the stakes presented by the over-arching plot. So basically, I like the romance to go hand-in-hand with the action and intrigue – not overshadow it, or be overshadowed by the plot. I like a balanced story. A book along that line that I have thoroughly enjoyed is Nina D’Aleo’s ‘The Last City’.


43

Dolls Short Story by TJ Land The only time Günther found his human body anything other than inefficient, riddled with redundancies, generally defective, and intensely ugly was when it was immersed in hot water. Which was peculiar, because one of the things he’d least enjoyed since returning to the satellite and to the wonders of being organic was how damp everything was. On Earth, he’d been able to lift a ton of debris without his body showing the slightest sign of strain; now, just holding his palm over a hot surface for long enough would make it grow moist with sweat. On Earth, all he’d needed to do to reenergize himself was go outside and stand in the sunlight; now, his food steamed and dripped and oozed, and he was expected to ingest it along with nutrient pills dissolved in water, and then more water to wash away the taste. On Earth, he hadn’t had a bladder. Things had been better on Earth. Not, of course, for anyone who wasn’t an indestructible armored doll guided by the consciousness of someone whose moist little body was safe and sound two hundred and seventy miles overhead. Anyone who had the misfortune to have a bladder on Earth these days likely didn’t have much use for it, given that what water remained was at least thirty-five percent salt now. One should, he acknowledged, take care to count one’s blessings. Like baths. Dear God, how he’d missed baths. Although, admittedly, the one they’d installed in his absurdly elaborate quarters was a touch undersized for a man almost seven feet tall. He had to bend his knees. “Good God. Look at the sight of you,” came a voice, as he sank deeper into the water, relishing the sensation of heat seeping into his muscles. “You look like the archetypal debauched, hedonistic Terran officer. Change the bathwater to blood, add in a few strategically positioned dead babies, and you could be on a rebel propaganda poster. If we sent pictures of you to their outposts, we’d have a third Colony War on our hands in minutes.” “You’re welcome to join me in my hedonism,” Günther replied. He hadn’t gotten used to having to actually move his lips and tongue to communicate, and all his words felt overenunciated and formal. The footsteps that padded across the tiles towards him were curiously soft, and he opened an eye. His lieutenant’s tread had, of course, become significantly quieter since they had returned, now that they didn’t weigh three and a half tons and weren’t bristling with weaponry. But even so… Ah. There was the reason. Shukri wasn’t wearing shoes. He wasn’t wearing anything. “You could also be on one of our propaganda posters,” Shukri said as he approached the tub. “The sight of you naked and clean and enormous could triple our recruitment rate.” He walked with a certain deliberation, far removed from the effortless grace for which he’d been famed during their deployment. It wasn’t just the novelty of having muscles (and toes—Günther still hadn’t been able to acclimatize to his own. They looked so odd poking out of the ends of his feet). The satellite’s gravity was slightly less than Earth’s. “If you’re going to talk, you’re going to leave,” Günther growled, without meaning it. The surface of the water rippled as Shukri’s slender brown body sunk in and settled upon his chest. (And it


44 was his body, Günther told himself, for all it looked nothing like the being who had served at his side for the last decade). There came a few moments of silence. They both liked silence. It was familiar. The only noises on Earth were the wind, rare smatterings of rebel gunfire, and the occasional distant howl of a mutant. But now that he’d begun to think about it, the strangeness kept tugging at him. List-making was a habit he’d fallen into years ago; they’d all needed something to pass the time between salvage operations and mutant raids, and he’d never taken to Shukri’s endless books of brain puzzles. Now, he found that he generated lists even when his mind had a plethora of entertainments with which to occupy itself. In his mind’s eye, the title appeared in bold: Shukri’s body and Shukri’s ‘body’: Points of Comparison Similarities: 1.

Sharpness. Boney elbows, pointed chin, long, narrow fingers. Not so much unlike the spikes and blades and acute angles that had jutted from his Earth body.

2.

Smoothness. Shukri had been born into one of the last remaining civilian outposts in China, barely five years before the planet had been declared uninhabitable. As a result, he had been among the final victims of the biological weapons program that had leant the second Colony War its distinct and stimulating character (hah). One of the lingering signs was that he didn’t grow hair. The thick carpet of black follicles on his scalp was the result of costly surgery, his eyebrows were drawn on, and every other inch of his body was bare. What was more, because he’d been piloting for almost his entire military career, his skin bore no scars, no radiation burns, no suspicious lumps. His doll had been similarly sleek, as invulnerable to bullets as it was to bug bites.

3.

He was, in either form, beautiful to look at.

Discrepancies: 1.

Smell. Sweat, and shampoo, and the faint chemical stink that haunted all those whose bodies had spent years at a time sealed in a capsule while their minds did more impressive things. His doll had had no smell, save for when it had been coated in the blood of mutants and scavengers.

2.

Size. On Earth, he’d been as tall as Günther, who had himself topped ten feet. Now, he was only five foot eight, albeit that his haughty way of carrying himself tended to make him look taller.

3.

His doll would not have fit half so snugly against Günther’s chest.

Günther was mulling these points over when a fourth discrepancy made its presence known. “Stupid thing. I had a filthy dream about you last night, and it hasn’t given me a moment’s piece all day,” Shukri muttered. “That physician—Myers?” “Myler.” “Dr Myler told me that priapism is one of a range of conditions often experienced by pilots returning to… to normalcy. Apparently, they’ve had several cases so extreme that penile gangrene set in.” Wincing, Shukri said, “If I give you a handjob, will you promise to never, ever use the phrase ‘penile gangrene’ again?” “Agreed.” Günther made an appreciative noise as Shukri’s hand curled around his cock. “Oh, that’s a surprise,” Shukri said, in low, teasing tones. Günther winced. The words were a mimicry of his own, when, a month ago, he’d emerged from his capsule and


45 laid eyes on his lieutenant’s true form for the first time. His surprise— shock, really— had been prompted by the fact that, up until that exact moment, he’d had no idea that Shukri was a man. Looking back, he tried to pinpoint the source of his misassumption. Certainly, Shukri’s doll had been no more feminine than Günther’s own. He suspected that it had more to do with the fact that he’d developed an infatuation within two days of Shukri’s arrival at the underground base in what remained of Nebraska (a crater and a fallout zone). And, given that all his previous partners had been women, he’d fallen prey to a logical fallacy: Premise 1: I am attracted to and sleep with women. Premise 2: I am attracted to and want to sleep with my new partner. Conclusion: My new partner is a woman. It was an error Günther would have become aware of sooner, had protocol not curtailed any discussion of their pasts or their private lives while on duty. Had they communicated via speech, pronouns might have tipped him off, but the dolls spoke to one another in images and instincts, not words. Unbidden, the awful memory of their homecoming returned to him. As Shukri had stepped out of his capsule, naked but for the electrodes still plastered to his scalp, he’d stretched, and given Günther a cheeky wink. Then he’d noticed Günther staring at him in shock. ‘Oh, that’s a surprise’ had been Günther’s attempt to make light of the situation, and it had failed categorically. The mortified silence between them as they’d presented themselves to Dr Myler for brain scans and blood tests would, Günther suspected, haunt him for the rest of his life. The next morning, Günther had spent a sizeable chunk of his savings and an even larger chunk of his dignity purchasing a bouquet of synthetic roses. It had been only the first of many, many gestures of contrition needed before Shukri allowed him to take him out for dinner. “Just so we’re clear, I’ll be holding that over your head for the rest of your life,” Shukri murmured, pressing his mouth against his neck. Humming, Günther threaded his fingers through Shukri’s dark, expensive hair. Giving one of his nipples a pinch, Shukri continued: “You were a surprise for me too, you know. I didn’t expect you to look like Orion Greenbelt.” Scratching through his memory, Günther placed the name alongside an image of a strong-jawed silver fox sitting at a piano and looking mournful. “The one on your poster?” “The musician, yes.” “I don’t look anything like him. That nose.” “Shush. He’s gorgeous, and a genius. When we’re finally paid, I’m going to drag you to Europa to see a live performance.” Shukri kissed his chin. “And you look very much like him.” “Just because we’re both old and grey.” “Not so old,” Shukri murmured, coaxing him on gently. It dawned on Günther that, while he was enjoying Shukri’s fondling, it was likely time for him to return the favor. And he was furious with himself that this, this, of all things, was a problem. Standing his ground in the face of a slavering mutant on the charge, scouting in rebel-held territory, even the time his doll had become trapped in that ravine, unable to move for the four days it took Shukri to find him—not once, not once had he ever been even mildly susceptible to panic. ‘Almost inhuman stoicism’—the assessor’s words, not his—was one of the reasons he’d been entered into the pilot program in the first place. Shukri sighed as Günther slipped a hand below the water and took hold of him, and for a while Günther thought he was doing quite well. Then he realized that Shukri’s own ministrations had stopped, and that his lover was resting his chin upon his


46 chest, and staring up at him with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know where you got the idea that you’re difficult to read,” Shukri said. And, as always, his lieutenant’s derision made him bloody-minded. Sitting up, he hoisted Shukri out of the water and onto the lip of the tub, sloshing water onto the floor. Then, securing him in place with his hands cradling his hips, Günther nudged his knees apart. “Yes, yes, that’s very sweet of you,” Shukri sighed, petting his head. “But we will need to talk about this.” Günther ignored him. He’d never done this before; he needed to concentrate. He took Shukri’s cock into his mouth quickly, worried that hesitating might undo his resolve. Why was he so tense, for God’s sake? He’d had enough blowjobs to understand the logistics. And he’d gone down on two of his girlfriends—albeit several years ago —and had received an enthusiastic response on both occasions. Surely it couldn’t be that different? But it was. He kept noticing things, and whenever he did a jolt of discomfiture went through him. For example; Shukri’s foreskin. Hardly unforeseen. Most men had one. Except it had never occurred to him to wonder what one might feel like in his mouth. He didn’t dislike it, but it was… strange. Distractingly strange. And then there was the frustrating fact that he couldn’t get it all the way into his mouth. Günther knew that such a thing was theoretically possible; he had a very vivid memory of the first time someone had taken him into their throat. But he was worried that if he tried, he’d gag and make a fool of himself. Shukri was kind enough not to comment on what Günther felt sure had to be the clumsiest blowjob he had ever received. Even when Günther couldn’t quite bring him to completion, he simply chuckled and slid back down into the water, winding his arms around Günther’s neck. “I will improve,” Günther said, gruffly. “You probably will. I know you. You can master any physical activity you set your mind to. Martial arts, shooting mutants, bomb diffusion, piloting a doll…” Shukri’s thumb came to rest under his chin. “But, love, I don’t really want to be a new skill for you to have to learn, you know?” They lay in the water for a while, saying nothing. Günther stared up at the ceiling, compiling a new list. Potential Outcomes of This Conversation: 1.

Shukri would shake his head in disappointment and disgust at his erstwhile commanding officer’s weakness of character, and then he would leave.

2.

Shukri would tell him that he cared for him very deeply, and that they would always be friends, and then he would leave.

3.

One or other of them would lie, and, in doing so, turn what they had now into something sad and grubby.

Shukri stretched, straightening his legs beneath the water and craning his neck. He said, “I’m so much shorter than you now. I can’t decide if I like it or not.” “I do,” Günther heard himself say. “I like everything about the way you are, in this form or the last one. But I’ve felt… adrift from myself since we came home. My skin doesn’t feel right. Even eating is strange. It’s not that I don’t want you. I do. The problem is that I’m not what I was on Earth, and when I touch you, I’m reminded that I’m not what I thought I was when I was last in this body. I feel as though I don’t know myself at all anymore.” The water was growing cold. Slowly, Shukri said, “I’ve been catching up on what we missed while we were down there. You know, things change so fast on the colonies. I think that’s why I like Earth so much. Everything’s always still and stable. Anyway, one thing I was reading up on yesterday was advances in doll technology. It’s amazing, how far


47 they’ve come since we were first deployed. Dolls aren’t just for military use anymore. They make domestic models. Soldiers who’ve been paralyzed get one for nothing. And they aren’t like ours, they’re made to look as human as possible. Most people can’t tell the difference.” Günther thought back to his own beloved doll— in storage twenty metres underground the surface of the Earth—and of its armored carapace, its six arms, its featureless face. What would it be like to pilot something that could pass for human? He couldn’t imagine it. “Apparently there’s a whole brothel full of them on Europa,” Shukri continued. “The employees sit in nice clean offices and pilot them, while the clients don’t even know they aren’t fucking the real thing.” “I suppose it minimizes the risk of disease,” said Günther, unable to discern the direction in which he was headed. “So what if, theoretically, I could get my hands on one? A pretty one. I don’t know what you like, but they come in all shapes and sizes. Or I could try and find a blank, and you could choose what you wanted it to look like. And then we could…well…try and make a go of it.” Günther stared at him, trying to work out if he was joking. “You… you are suggesting…” Hurriedly, Shukri added, “Look, it’s just sex, isn’t it? And… alright, fine, I know it sounds weird. But stop and think about it logically for a moment. Why did we use dolls on Earth? Because these bodies, our bodies, they’re too weak and flawed to do the things we needed them to do down there. So instead we wore bodies that could get the job done. So why can’t we do the same thing now?” After a lengthy pause, Günther said, “I don’t want to sleep with something that doesn’t look like you.” “How gallant,” Shukri said, flicking his nose. “But let’s be sensible, love. You didn’t know what I looked like until a month ago. And I’m sure you’ve slept with plenty of things that didn’t look like me in the course of your life. So…” “Lieutenant, you’re missing the point,” said Günther impatiently. “I don’t want to sleep with something that doesn’t look like you ever again. I can’t imagine it. I want to marry you, and I don’t want my husband to spend the rest of his life in a capsule just to accommodate my preferences.” Oh, fuck. Günther cursed himself. He’d had a plan, he’d had a fucking plan. It had involved taking Shukri to the Valles Marineris for a week of sightseeing and Martian wine tasting, at the end of which he’d go down on one knee and propose like a fucking gentleman. Fuck. “Oh,” said Shukri, blinking as though he’d accidentally looked directly at the sun. “You… really?” “Yes,” muttered Günther. “Really?” “Yes!” Günther swallowed, and worked to keep his voice even. “Would you like to get m—” “Yes,” said Shukri, emphatically. “Of course. I mean, you may not have noticed, but I’m actually pretty crazy about you. Cock-phobic jackass that you are.” A list titled Things I Have Done In My Life To Deserve This popped into Günther’s head, with an empty space beneath it. He felt his facial muscles move — still couldn’t get used to those things — and suspected that he was beginning to grin. “Okay, commander, so now that we’ve got your epically shitty proposal out of the way, here’s mine,” said Shukri, standing up and stretching. The sight of him, his lean limbs and strong thighs, knocked the breath out of Günther’s lungs. “I’ll give the blowjobs from now on, and you can cover being handsome and romantic. Deal?” Günther abruptly rose to his feet. Shukri made a curious noise as he was scooped up for a second time, and


48 carried, dripping, out of the bathroom. After baths, mattresses were Günther’s favorite part of being back. Dropping Shukri onto his, he swooped down on top of him and proceeded to pepper his face with kisses. “I will improve,” he promised. “Will you teach me?” “Oh, alright. If you insist.” Shukri ran his fingertips over his face. “Although… if we were to be deployed again, sex wouldn’t really be an issue, would it?” Incredulous, Günther said, “You want to go back to Earth? We only just came home!” Shukri’s palm cupped his jaw, soft and smooth and slightly damp. “No, I don’t think we did.” Günther knew exactly what he meant, but a part of him couldn’t believe either of them were actually considering it. What did Earth have to offer? The mere sight of the planet was so unappealing that real estate prices on the Moon had been in freefall for decades. There was nothing on Earth for anyone but dust and the ruins of civilization. And his doll. And endless days spent doing nothing but watching Shukri’s doll practice its aim on mutants and rocks. And the sky, which was still a perfect shade of blue you couldn’t find anywhere else in the solar system. And Shukri. Günther realized he’d already made his decision. “Not much of a honeymoon,” he grunted, sliding a hand up Shukri’s thigh and wrapping a hand around his cock. By God, he’d get it right this time if it killed him. “Oh, don’t be contrary,” Shukri said, kissing him as he hardened in his grip. “You’re just as excited as I am.” As he set about educating himself, Günther contemplated the prospect of another decade spent in his real body, with only his husband for company, and had to admit that he was.


49

Natural Attraction (Catherine Haustein) Release date: May 11, 2015 Publisher: Penner Publishing Price: Paperback $13.99 / eBook $2.99 Links: Buy the book at Amazon – Author's website – Publisher's website CHAPTER ONE I was beginning to doubt this notion of me posing as a man. We had arrived at the decision easily enough. It was to be an experiment in biological mimicry—a harmless insect posing as a poisonous one to avoid being eaten—a form of evolution that Alburtus had observed while classifying butterflies in the Amazon with British naturalist Henry Walter Bates. Alburtus, my natural history tutor had set up the internship: I would be a naturalist traveling with the Malachite Overland Mining Company, a position open only to a young, healthy male. His chemist friend, Theophrastus, had made the tonic. Granny had stitched the trousers. She’d taken scissors to my pale hair that morning. I’d tried not to look at the floor as the strands fell like spider silk. In Spookstad, we were matter of fact. Neither falling hair nor tonics rattled us. The four of us stood together in the apothecary shop. In the window, fish shaped glass jars and bottles decorated with birds and stags caught the early sun. The chemist held out a brown coffin-shaped bottle. “Oh, Theophrastus. Why the coffin?” Alburtus was bald with crooked teeth, like a rubber-pap-suckled goblin. Theophrastus, chubby as an eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), waved his hand. “It is less apt to be stolen disguised as a poison.” Theophrastus considered transformation his specialty. “The tonic will take away the inconveniences of being a woman,” he told me. I couldn’t wait to be rid of bobbing breasts and bothersome flow. I grabbed the elixir, the giver of forbidden opportunity, and wrapped the large bottle in a spare union suit, placing it in my knapsack between my Field Guide to Order Rodentia, and my sketchbook, a gift from Alburtus when I’d completed my apprenticeship. “What’s in it?” I didn’t mean to question his scientific authority—he was twice my age with an established potion business—but I was curious. “It’s patented,” was all that he said as he held out a tin flask. “Here's a discreet container of a concentrated version for the train ride. Two spoons at night for the first two weeks, then one spoon. If you miss a dose, don't worry; the effects linger. After that, begin on the large bottle. It’s soporific—it will make you sleepy. Take it before bed. There's an extra month's worth here, maybe more.” “Will it hurt much?” I asked. “Not that pain matters when a man is determined.” Theophrastus studied me. “Certainly being a cowardly man is not good. But no. Trust me. It doesn’t hurt. You’ll make an attractive man.” He held a lantern to my face and peered into my eyes. “Don’t worry. Women, they’re built for transformation.” He opened a drawer and fumbled through it. Alburtus put his hand to my chin. “You've got features similar to that man who plays Mars in the burlesque shows.” Granny smiled. “Henry Montague.” Theophrastus pushed a tube of ointment across the slate counter. “Use this. It enhances beard growth.


50

Results vary.” I tucked it in my knapsack. “Yes, I’ll look like a man, but how should I act?” Theophrastus and Alburtus exchanged glances, as if they had a secret between them. “Don’t say much. Men have few words,” Theophrastus said at last. “Keep to your studies,” said Alburtus. “Don’t capitulate. Be strong. Remember, Darwin weathered seasickness and the wrath of parental disappointment. Face what comes with aplomb.” I turned to face Granny. “Do you have the note for Mother and Father?” “Yes. I'll give it to them,” she said. The morning light caught her gray curls and I heard the waves on the shore of Lake Michigan break like a heartbeat. “Your parents will come to understand that you were made for more,” said Granny. “They won’t,” I said. My father was made for business, my mother for beauty. I was born a premature, bald, bug-eyed disappointment. When two years later the baby they wanted, ten-pound Todd, arrived, I learned to hold my arms out for Granny and she’d sweep me up with kisses. It was Granny who showed me affection, showed me how to climb a dune, and introduced me to her friend Alburtus. She had a mysterious inheritance too, one that set father up in business and secured her a cottage and a cow. Churning butter for Granny showed me that work could bring transformation. Selling it taught me numbers and negotiating. Her Oudwijf friends—the town’s elder, wise matriarchs—filled my head with tales of hopping boats to Chicago on a whim and they brought me pencils and paper and gave me a penny each for my sketches of flowers and driftwood. At times, Alburtus, a confirmed bachelor, would join us for coffee and later came Theophrastus. I was a child burnished by the community of old women. And old women have the habit of answering to no one. I didn't want to say goodbye to Granny, but of course, she wouldn't have been allowed on the expedition. I’d have no wise woman once I got to the secret mining site somewhere out west. Here was my first problem with being a man—resolute good-byes as I sought my fame. Men, as I imagined them, didn’t let love hold them back. My second problem was that I was afraid and couldn’t show it. It had been easy to make a bold decision from the safety of home and with Winter closing in. Now it was Spring and I’d never ridden a train before. I was well-versed in boat travel but couldn’t risk the journey as it would leave us conspicuously open to the probing of the captains, who did business with my father’s sawmill and would surely recognize us. I couldn’t turn back. Arrangements had been made. I’d taken a coveted spot as a naturalist and I couldn’t quit now. I would have to go through with it. I clasped my hands together to hide the shaking. And really I didn’t want to turn back. I wanted this desperately. “As a naturalist, you won't be in much danger,” Alburtus said. “Do what MOM tells you,” he said, using my new employer’s common name. “Keep your eyes open. The mining operation pushes into uncharted territory this year with their new road. Undiscovered species will be there. Just remember, with science, patience is rewarded. Discoveries will open doors.” He pulled a blue-gray feather from his pocket and pinned it to the lapel of my overcoat. “Take a bit of home with you. Setophaga kirtlandii, the Michigan warbler.” A dull orange carriage pulled by black horses arrived in front of the pharmacy. Granny took my hand and we spoke to a wrinkled woman wearing all black with a white lace collar and little red cap. Her name was


51 Gesternte, an Oudwijf. “Take care of my granddaughter. She'll do great things.” The Oudwijf rubbed the loose cartilage of her nose. “She’s precious to all of us.” Granny kissed my cheeks and her eyes grew teary. “Find new animals. New species. Clementine, be safe, dear.” I hoisted my knapsack. “Calvin,” I said. “Call me Calvin.” “Don't let anything stop you.” Granny had given birth to Father and had been a widow by the time she was my age. She’d settled into a life of little acclaim other than raising a rambunctious boy, now the manager of a sawmill, owned by Solomon Bongo of Chicago. “I'll keep my focus, Granny.” I kissed her. She tightened the grey ascot around my neck. “Stay warm. Keep your neck covered.” “I love you, Granny.” That was it. I left in the dull orange carriage, off to catch a train. Behind me, lay the only place I had ever been: my tiny hometown of Spookstad, Michigan—one city block long plus a sawmill, a shot tower, and a few houses—and a note that said I’d taken a job too good to pass up. During the six-day train ride, as the transforming hand of science moved over me, Oudwijf Gesternte, a retired teacher of classics on a trip to visit her sister in San Francisco, patted my hand and called me “sonderling,” which sounded close to the Dutch term for “odd.” On occasion, she whispered clove-scented advice on how to be a man. “Don’t cross your ankles. Sit with your knees apart.” “Keep your hands off your face unless it is to scratch something.” “When thinking, put your hand to your chin, or place your elbow on your knee and rest your chin in your palm.” “Look straight at a person when you address them. Casting your eyes down is for women.” “Shake the hand of a man firmly. Kiss the hand of a woman.” I wrote her advice in my sketchbook and studied it as the train rode on. Spookstad’s roll of water on sand and fog horn’s moan were superseded by the rhythmic strain of pistons in cylinders and the startling shriek of steam whistle. Until this time, I’d gone nowhere but Chicago by boat. The train didn’t reach Spookstad yet and our only visitors were lumberjacks rolling logs down the Zwart River. We were a place few could find and even fewer left. I re-read The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and studied my Field Guide to Order Rodentia, pouring over drawings, descriptions, and observations of connection and struggle between living things. When my ardor and choleric ambitions exhausted me, I slept in the steamy sway of the Pullman, traveling the path forged by General Dodge and his crew with nitroglycerin. In a coal-fired haze, I questioned why I wanted to be a scientist at all. It began, I decided, when Granny and I turned over a pine log and found a salamander – simultaneously aquatic and earthy, a product of water and forest. I knew then the enticement of discovering hidden things and that every species has a story to tell filled with intimacy of different ilks. Among the salamander, the male will court but leave his spermatophore on the ground, letting the untouched female retrieve it. Some animals knew how to make things better for the females of the species. I had good hands for sketching and a mind for numbers, both traits valuable to scientists. Science drew me towards it as a well-adapted mate. I didn’t take after my mother, a beautiful woman with a tiny waist, love of


52 French fashion, a perfect passionless disposition, and a life that was pleasant, settled, but done. I feared such an early resolution to my own brief existence. A man such as Darwin, by example, wrote his incendiary book at age fifty and rumors are that he has more to come – a tome on sexual selection and human origin. A man over sixty barely getting his start! A scientific mind won’t fade as beauty does. The passing of time sharpens it and leads to greater boldness. When the trip stretched across the prairie, I recalled the giddy feeling of getting my letter of selection informing me that I'd been chosen as the naturalist for the expedition. I craved the recognition that was withheld from women. If I stayed in Spookstad, my parents expected me to marry someone agreeable, my father's bat-eared banker friend. That wasn't happening, even though I had given my family false hope by sharing one dry kiss with him. After that, there was a wet kiss tasting of coffee with Lars the lumberjack at Lumberjack Days in the nearby town of Singapore. I’d spent just a moment in those strong arms and we whispered our names to each other before being spotted by my brother Todd, who pulled me away. For many months following he called me Swamper Sally, a swamper being a lumberjack who cuts branches off the felled trees. Having kissed two men, I had a reputation. I would be a scientist now and if I kissed at all, it would be with someone intelligent, bursting with vitality, a native, mysterious and deep. It would be kept secret from the town of Spookstad. Perhaps I wouldn’t go back at all to a place so small that family and Oudwijfs watched all. I’d be a man with status, a famous naturalist. Taxonomy was the rage, and I was to compile sketches, and, of course, seek out something new to name after the leader of MOM. As the train brought me closer to my future, I sketched and noted the change in the meadowlarks’ calls, from the sliding trill of the Eastern variety to the precise bell tones of the Western species. At times, my reflection flickered in the glass window of the train. Alburtus had been right: As a man, my intent gaze, high forehead, and newly lean face had me looking like a fair-haired version of the actor Montague or maybe like my father. I allowed my hands to flicker across my shrinking chest. I pulled down my ascot, alarmed at how my neck, as delicate as white jasperware, now looked swollen at the throat like Father’s. I had thought that was due to his yelling. After hundreds of miles through the spiky short-grass prairie—a dry and windblown Poaceae desert tunneled by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), big-eyed and breathlessly barking at the end of their mating season—the conductor and the whistle’s scream signaled my stop. I'd taken the tonic each night. It had tasted of cherries and made my skin sensitive. My clothing touching me left a pleasant tickle that threatened to break into waves of some sort. My breasts were gone, but was it enough? When would I get that beard? Was I too short? Gesternte saw the tightness in my mouth as I said goodbye. She said, “You’ll do well. One more bit of advice. If you get in a fight, keep your chin down, use your hands to cover your face, and keep your thumb outside your fist.” Grateful, I gave her my sketch of the Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) and a bead carrying the image of a whale. I'd found it washed up on the beach close to the port city of Singapore, over the dune from Spookstad. It had struck me as out of place, even though the Great Lakes had its own giant: the sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), whose females could live for 150 years, growing to six feet in length. She held the bead in her hand and looked down at it as if it was a note with small printing. “You found this?” “Yes, on the shore. Is there something the matter?” “No. It’s just.” She cleared her throat. I felt my nose and my powerful arms. Inside, I didn’t feel like a man. I felt like Clementine, whoever she was. “Tell me Clementine, what do you seek? I mean, what do you love? What do you need to know more about than anything else?”


53 I stood up, my legs clumsy and muscular. What was it I wanted from a life of science, besides the beauty of observation and the thrilling potential of discovery? One could, after all, look at many things and discover nothing at all. “I wish to know the truth.” The old woman rubbed her nose. “And if there is more than one truth?” The tonic made me cocky and the altitude left me dizzy. The combination had me soaring. “I wish to know my truth and to live it without fear.” “That’s a tall order,” she said. “But I wish it for you.” I kissed her hand, grabbed my pack and left her, catching a hasty escort to the Inn for the Nation in a mule cart driven by a man who resembled a jackrabbit (genus Lepus) with a ponytail. “You look like that leg show guy, Henry somethin’.” He pulled the brim of his Stetson, turning to stare at me as the cart rolled along the dusty path. “Hmm.” I sat alone in the back of the little cart, trying to look at the mountains in the overcast evening. What I had imagined, in my Midwestern ignorance, to be clouds were clearly snowcaps. First impressions were tricky at this altitude. Knowing natural history didn’t seem enough to keep me safe. I was out of my habitat. “Leg shows tickle your fancy?” the driver asked, scratching the side of his head. “No.” The two grey mules shook their ears. Perhaps I should’ve said yes. “That’s good. We ain’t got ‘em here. The women will love you, though, if you got money. Got any money?” “No.” It occurred to me that he might rob me. “You from the damn city?” he asked. His nose twisted to one side as if he smelled feces. “No. Not at all.” My hand tightened around the strap of my knapsack. “You got a preciseness. You’re precious.” “I’m a scientist.” “Bless my soul. One of the gentlemen.” He whistled as if at a woman. “I’ll be seeing you again. My Belgians is the best mules MOM’s got. Used for the cargo that can’t take it rough. Here’s the place.” The Inn for the Nation had a flat false front held up by timbers to the flat roof, making it look more substantial than it was. It had been tossed up quickly in anticipation of profit. It was a sad display of human hastiness. In nature, even an ephemeral mayfly has wings delicately wrought, as if living for a day is as important as existing for eternity. The muleskinner spat over the side of the wagon. “See ya later, bud. My name’s Cyrus Persey.” I held out my gloved hand and he shook it. “Call me Calvin.” Key in hand, I walked up the stairs, picking my way past men sleeping in the hallway. Inside my room, I locked the door. I put my overcoat on the coat rack, stripped down to my union suit, and fell onto the bed, letting the first light of doubt creep in. Clearly, we would not all succeed. My options, if I failed, were limited. I could be a wife or a prostitute, or perhaps like Granny, a solitary woman, a stigma that my family was already beginning to fear. I took a sip of the tonic and put the flask under my pillow. The wind was blowing. At least I was inside. I was road-weary and isolated, alone with my dreams and my echoing heart in my chest. March 14, 1871 The notion of things belonging in a place ordained by God was tossed out with Newton and yet tonight, I think back to Spookstad, its waves, and the black dresses of the Oudwijfs with sand and sawdust on the hems. Its only fault is that I know it too well. Here I know nothing but the harsh law of action


54 and reaction and the consequences of my choices. I prefer it this way and, with time, being a man will suit me. CHAPTER TWO—A Preacher Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) Alert quadruped. Slightly less than 2 feet long with a bulky body and bushy tail. Brown coat and yellowish-brown belly coat, white snout, and small ears. Prefers grasslands, but can be found at up to 4,000 meters elevation. The call can be a chuck, trill, or whistle. Incisors grow with age. Long hibernation period. Wyoming Territory. I landed my first punch, not sure where it struck, only that it connected with the person climbing into bed. No one had warned me of the bed sharing that went on out west. His voice was deep. “If it’s a fight you want, you’ll not get it. My handbook forbids it. Here now, give me your paw and we’ll shake like gentlemen. Wesley King, preacher,” the man said, pumping my hand as he climbed into bed. “Did I injure you?” I hoped I had. This preacher, whoever he was, needed to be put in his place. “No. A face punch is almost always ineffective.” As he settled into bed the mattress didn’t sag as it would for a large man. “Do you work for Malachite Mining?” I asked, trying to establish his connections. As Darwin said, our classifications are often plainly influenced by chains of affinities. I didn’t want to twice punch a man headed in the same direction and working for the same company that I was. “Yes. It's my first assignment.” “As it is for me. Are you going to be sleeping in my bed?” Heat radiated from his torso and was oddly welcomed on this cold night in March in the mountains. “Well, it's either that or one of us sleeps in the hall with those rough-hewn men. They probably go through people's packs as they sleep,” he said. “They aren’t gentlemen as we are. You are a gentleman, aren’t you? You don’t always speak with your fists, I presume.” I didn't want any rough-hewn man going through my pack. It contained my mimicry. I needed to be friendly to this man, if indeed, he was anther gentleman. “I’m a naturalist,” I replied. “I’ll study the animals along the trail. I hope to find a new species and name it after Solomon Bongo, the leader of Malachite Overland Mining. It gives an air of respectability and scientific relevance to a prospecting expedition to employ a naturalist.” “Ah yes. You know science. That seems very useful, as does flattering the powerful. You'll keep your neck that way. What did you say your name was?” “Calvin. Why are you coming into bed so late?” “I came by train. The driver sent to fetch me was late. He had stopped for a drink. An inevitability out here, I am beginning to learn” I was completely awake now and brushing shoulders with him through our union suits, repulsively, yet intriguingly aware of his body in bed next to my own. “Why does a prospecting expedition need a preacher?” I asked, annoyed with myself for engaging in conversation. Back home in Spookstad, it was considered improper to speak so informally with a man who wasn’t a relative. “I keep the men in line and bury the dead,” he said.


55 “Dead?” “Prospecting’s a fatal business. But I’m sure you knew that. Or are you awfully young?” In the darkness, I couldn’t be sure, but I imagined his eyes boring into the back of my body and his form shifting every-soslightly closer. The clock in the town square struck midnight. The wind rattled the windows. I forced a cough. His proximity was unsettling and I hoped to scare this man. “The dust. It’s the dust in my lungs. Or perhaps tuberculosis.” “Tubercu…?” “It’s the new word for consumption.” The preacher shifted slightly. I coughed dryly and considered how I might keep him quiet. There was the narcotic tonic. I wondered what it might do to him. Certainly it would calm him. There wasn’t need for physical force when chemistry would suffice. “I think I feel some sputum,” I said. “I’m going to have some tonic. Would you like some? Good for consumption. It keeps away cholera, too.” “What about syphilis and pox?” “It’s a cure-all.” Or at least a cure for your talking, I thought. I handed him the flask, hoping it would put him to sleep. I didn’t know about the velvet bean in it. I was still naive, childish, with the optimistic curiosity that launches all great and foolish things. Once mature, a person can look back and see what might have been done better. The bloom of age gives you wisdom. This however, is not a tale of caution or regret. It’s a tale of navigation, of transformation, of walking through the fire, of what one does to get to the other side of a dream. He sipped the tonic as if he were one of Granny’s Oudwijf friends having coffee. “Thank you. You’re killing me with kindness. It tastes of cherries from back home in Kalamazoo,” he said. He was from Michigan too? I wouldn’t tell him where I was from, lest he grow more familiar. I would keep some control of our potential friendship in my hands, at least for now. “I know that area. Have another drink. A big dose for a big man.” I played upon his pride. Larger men carried status with other men. As a small man, I knew this already. “HA. A big man?” The preacher touched my face. “You must be positively miniscule.” I pushed his hand away. “May I have my pillow back?” He took a long swallow. This sharing of tonic was a mistake. I had extra but not enough to cover enthusiastic gulping. “So. You’re a scientist. A seeker. Like me. But I seek for the infidels. And you seek … what do you seek?” He took a final sip and fumbled as he passed the flask back to me. “My specialty is rodents.” “Rodents?” His voice trembled. I got that reaction at times when I revealed my passion and my area of expertise. He handed me the pillow and turned his back to me. “Yes. They are very interesting.” “Ah-h yes. I imagine they are. Good-night now.” He chuffed like the train as he yawned. ***


56 Slowly, light came through the window. Harness couplings jangled and clanked on the street below as horseand mule-drawn wagons groaned into their daily service. Soft snorts and hoof beats filled the air with anticipation. I ran my hands over my body, muscular with no give to the flesh. My womanly softness had abandoned me. I had no breasts and across my chest were sparse hairs. My belly was flat and firm. I was nearly a full-fledged man. I had been afraid to touch myself much before this. I’d been told it was a sin. However, as my fingers flitted across the downy hair and between my legs they told me that I still had the genitalia of a woman. I let out a shivering gasp. There was no mistaking it. Had Theophrastus mentioned this? How would I pass myself off as a man? This tonic had its flaws. None the less, some of what Theophrastus had promised was working well. I'd missed my flow the day before. Both parents had always kept track of it, marking it on a calendar, making a fuss about it and giving me medications of unknown composition if it wasn't regular. This behavior had frightened my younger brother and sister, Todd, and Greta, but was a common occurrence in most devout households. Now, thanks to my tonic, I didn't have it at all, and I didn't have to wear a corset either. The preacher slept. He was on his side with his arms hanging over the bed, his brushy brown hair falling back as he snored. In the light, he looked younger than I'd imagined at midnight. His small ears and Van Dyke beard gave him the appearance of a marmot or a porcupine, although the preacher had a lush lower lip. I hadn’t given him too much of the tonic, had I? I felt his pulse. It was strong and steady. Would it do anything at all to him? Curiosity took root. I would, perhaps if I ran into him again, give him a little more and just observe. With a snort, he rolled onto his back. His union suit was unbuttoned, revealing a shocking display of auburn chest hair the size of a flat iron used for pressing clothing. I stepped back. I couldn’t recall ever seeing the chest of a man and had no idea that they were so hairy. My hands flew to my own nearly hairless chest. Maybe this man was an aberration but I suspected that I was the one unnatural. I turned my gaze from him. It was wrong for me to gawk and I didn’t want him casting his eyes on me. I would get myself dressed before he woke and leave as quickly as I could. Perhaps I wouldn’t be seeing him again. I opened the parcel left on a chair as quietly as I could although the paper rustled, and I slipped into the naturalist’s suit, which had been sewn based on the measurements I'd sent. The brown suit, with its vest, apricot ascot, sturdy boots, and white shirt, fit perfectly. Of course, I'd had to do some calculating and predicting of the measurements I'd have as a man. I was good at calculating although father had said it wasn’t a skill that women knew. I pinned the warbler feather Alburtus had given me into the lapel. I glanced at the preacher. He was still sleeping. I tucked my grey ascot from Granny into the front of my pants. I stared at myself in the mirror. Like Father, I had a fine cliff of a nose and a chin that looked robust enough to withstand a punch. I was a better-looking man than he. I had a bigger eye stage and didn’t have those nose hairs or that forehead crease. I was excited for all of this—to be a man with a future ahead of him. I felt alive and on the verge of great things. I swiped some beard-growing ointment across the chin and smeared some by the ears. I made a line drawing of my transformed face and wrote a quick note in my sketchbook: March 15,1871. When I signed on to be a natural historian for this expedition, I didn’t expect that I would be sleeping with a preacher. However, I put him in his place with a single punch and a touch of tonic. Furthermore, my monthly guest has packed her bags and departed. Praise be! I can’t wait for all that will happen next. ***


57 I went to the lobby of the inn and registered with the Malachite Overland Mining Company. I stood in line for a medical exam. My stomach felt like a six-pound cannonball left from the war. If I was inspected in detail I wasn’t going to pass and then what? I’d no doubt be sent home with nothing to show for myself. I stood as the other men, straight backed with my hands clasped across my groin. At least the doctor seemed in a hurry. I bit my tongue to keep myself from nervously squirming and giving myself away. When it was my turn, the doctor put a stethoscope to my chest and listened attentively. He glanced in my mouth, then, as I had feared, grabbed between my legs. “Cold today, isn’t it?” he said as he put a check next to my name on a list. “Don’t worry, son. The mountain will make a man out of you.” All of the new members of Malachite Overland Mining were to be oriented to their goals and rules. Solomon Bongo, the charismatic leader, would be here to welcome us, and I wanted to get a glimpse of him. This is not a book of secrets, so I'll tell you: My granny claimed that he had been her youthful lover and that he was my natural grandfather. The family Bible said otherwise, and my family strictly adhered to the Bible. With the others, I stood in the convention room waiting for Mr. Bongo, who had struck it rich with his finds of agate and, more importantly, of copper and silver together; “half breed,” he'd called it. Taking things out of the ground brought wealth. The sound of clapping announced the arrival of Solomon Bongo. He had small ears, large front teeth, and huge eyes. His white hair was well oiled. He dressed as a gentleman and carried a walking stick with a copper head. I doubted Granny's tale. Perhaps she had known him, but he didn't much resemble Father except through the eyes. “We aim to be the world leader in mining,” he shouted. “We take the worry out of prospecting by providing you with a fully outfitted experience: transportation, tools, guides, and explosives. Your future begins today. It’s a new dawn!” He waited until the applause died down. “Your comfort, safety, and fortune are our top concerns. We offer prime opportunities in gold, silver, iron, and lead, plus help with claim-staking and defense. Soon, you will be escorted to your future.” Mr. Solomon Bongo asserted that by the year’s end, the men would be seasoned prospectors. Then they could sign up with MOM again for 2 percent higher pay. Times were changing, he said, and it was no longer possible to be a solitary entrepreneur, one man with a pan or a pick axe, no matter how romantic and selfsufficient that sounded. It now would take a company with provisions and technology to be a successful prospector. He went on, seducing the group with the beauty of prospecting. “Tomorrow you rise and go to the mountain. What she will give is yet unknown, but listen close to what may be found within her. Silver, a woman — beautiful but coy — can be found as argentite when she meshes with brimstone to form cubes of bluish hue with a vein of yellow running through. Silver may be found with her guardian father, lead. Galena is his form, showing the pattern of a cube as if in boxes born. Bullets, he makes, and pipes. “Copper and gold are women bold, for they show themselves plainly and wars will be waged for their beauty. If you find a vein of quartz, those pretty sisters could be lurking inside, for quartz is a home for them. Iron, the god of war, can be found red in blood ore or grey when hiding, or may lurk as a woman to bring fools to folly. Not expected to be found but one to fear, red hexagonal cinnabar to quicksilver runs when mixed with iron from a gun.” He reached into his pocket and brought out a green stone the size of an apple. “Here, my friends, is our namesake: Malachite. Luck in love and luck in money it brings. The might of Malachite!”


58 The men cheered, and I nodded to show solidarity, but in truth, I found it silly to believe in such superstitions. Solomon kissed the stone. “Following your successful prospecting, leave the worry to us. Our team of Cornish miners will exploit your claim, digging far into the earth. Your share, a generous 1 percent, will be sent to you by U.S. Mail.” Well, in this way he was like Father – stingy. “And now, introducing to you your guide and Cornish miner, Trevor Snell from the tough mining town of Gwennap in South England.” Trevor Snell was stocky and triangle-faced. We clapped for him, and he gave us lengthy descriptions of prospecting styles and types of mines and variations of blasting powder. “It is much safer now than in yer Uncle Jim’s day,” he assured us. Two women with dark hair parted in the middle and fastened at the neck walked through the crowd and joined Solomon at the front of the room. They wore the boots, aprons, and shorter skirts of working class women. One was tall with broad shoulders, and the other, petite. Solomon put his arm around the tall one. “Here is a woman none of you will want to make angry: our cook, Carolina Harris.” He used his copper-headed cane to point towards the petite woman. “And our seamstress and Carolina's right-hand woman, Rose Bengal. If you touch either of them, they have my permission to kill you.” So they weren’t exactly servants. Solomon had bestowed some status on them, due I imagined, to their good work. There was hope for change in the world, or at least in remote places like this. The men laughed nervously, and Solomon went on: “Your signature is required to show your commitment to this venture. Only the committed will be accepted.” A woman with a blue hood and cape whisked through the crowd with a stack of paper. She thrust a form at me, along with a pencil. “Put your X here,” she pointed. I signed my name. At the back of the room, the preacher was arriving late and unsteady on his feet.


59

At the Mercy of Her Pleasure (Kayelle Allen) Release date: Aug 17, 2015 Publisher: Romance Lives Forever Books Price: Print $12.95 / All eBook formats $3.99 Links: Book page – Author's website – Author's blog Chapter One Tarthian Empire, Kelthia Miraj City, Crooktown District Wintresq 12, 4662 Tradestandard date Deep in the shadows outside a ruined warehouse, Senth Antonello shoved back the hood of his sensor-blocking cloak and fanned his face. The Thieves' Guild tech let him hide from copbot scans, but it didn't cool him. Sweat beaded on his face. Using his fangs, he unfastened first one glove, then the other, and peeled them off. He tucked them into one of dozens of hidden pockets in the cloak, and wiped his face. The faint sound of gang chant carried in the chilled night air. Gangs in the Crooktown District hunted mixed breeds like him. At first glance, Senth appeared human, but with his catlike eyes and fangs, no one could miss his Kin nature. In moonlight, his eyes would glow. The chant grew louder, along with the sound of glass breaking. The deeper darkness that followed meant two things: another streetlight had met its end, and that gang was closer than Senth had thought. "You come down here I skin you." Senth flattened himself against the brick wall. "I skin you, the Grand Master skins me. Let's do each other a favor, huh, boys?" Worse, the Grand Master would inform Senth's Sen'dai. His guild master. The crime lord all the other crime lords feared. The Man. The Harbinger. Luc Saint-Cyr. The Guild didn't accept non-humans, unless they were enslaved to a human member. No one could rise past level ten, unless related to a human member. Guild-arranged marriages and adoptions happened regularly. To keep the Guild happy, Saint-Cyr was Senth's lord and master and his adoptive father. No way Senth wanted the Man angry with him. The last time he'd almost... Senth shook off the thought, drew his hood forward again, and edged around the corner into a darker alley. "Ffffftt!" The Kin cuss word hissed past his fangs. Where was Khyff? He had to be close. Senth had looked for hours. His HalfKin sense of smell caught a faint whiff of male, mixed with... He took another sniff. Someone--or something--else. Pressed against the wall, Senth slipped around a corner, and hunkered down. He melted into the concealing darkness behind a barrel, and narrowed night-sensitive eyes. His human half brother leaned against the opposite wall of the trash-strewn alley. Khyffen Antonello's blond hair shone in the muted light. A female pinned him, arms around his neck. She tore open Khyff's shirt and ran her hands over his chest. Senth folded himself into the tight space behind the barrel and settled in to wait. Protection of his brother went before any assignment. Family came first. At least tonight. Senth's mother had died after birthing him. Khyff, who'd been three, had been told Senth was dead, and Khyff


60 had been sold into slavery. Neither of them knew the other lived until a month ago. Neither had a clue about their biological fathers. Until Khyff found him, Senth's "family" consisted of the Man. Pulling out a square of paper, Senth angled it to catch the dim light and read the words he'd copied from SaintCyr's note once more. Get your half brother and meet me at The Ghost. I have a job for you. Do IT and I'll buy Khyffen and free him, but it's going to cost you. Of course it would. The Man didn't do anything for free. But if it got Khyff out of that hellhole, Senth would do it. He tucked away the note, and slipped on his gloves. Senth's master had raised him to believe that no one should have to sell his body to survive. Saint-Cyr owned one slave, and that was Senth, and only so he could rise within the Guild. Senth and Saint-Cyr might not agree on much, but they both believed Khyff needed his freedom. With Khyff's record, freeing him wouldn't be easy, nor cheap. A scritch signaled rats. When one ran across the toes of his boots, Senth bared his fangs. He clamped down on a hiss before Khyff could hear it. The gang chant grew louder, bringing the rustle, clink, and crunch of feet shuffling through trash and broken glass. Senth braced himself for a fight. A gust of wind kicked up dust and mold. Senth fought a sneeze. The spike of wind brought the whine of a hovercar's engine. The hum of a window lowering added rock music and female voices. Male voices mixed with laughter, then the sound of doors opening and closing. The car's hum faded, leaving quiet. That was close. Senth blew out the breath he'd been holding. Khyff! Hurry up! Khyff and the woman walked over and stopped in front of the barrel where Senth hid. Pulling his hood farther forward, Senth leaned back and rested his gloved hands atop his drawn-up knees. The woman, blonde and beautiful, looked at least forty. Wealthy, judging by the material of her jacket and pants, yet something about her scent was off. Rich women didn't come to Crooktown. Not to mention hire a slake. She didn't look like the type who paid for men. Despite what they'd been doing, Senth had to wonder if she knew how Khyff made his living. Her clean hair, new clothes, and unscuffed shoes said big city, not Crooktown. What was she doing here? "Let's meet again in three days." She had a husky voice. "Someplace safer." "No." Khyff tilted his head. "You like it up against the wall in an alley. You like danger. That's why you come to me." The woman threw both arms around Khyff's neck and kissed him. "You're so right, you beautiful creature." "You've had enough for one night." Khyff shook off her embrace and tossed blond hair out of his eyes. She reached for him again. "I said no, Liu. Go home. You shouldn't linger in Crooktown after dark." "Take this." The woman dangled a silver debit bracelet on the tip of an outstretched finger, as if offering food to a dangerous animal. "It's a thousand draks. You can spend it anywhere." A thousand? The floor-length leather coat Senth's brother wore cost a fraction of that, and Khyff didn't wear cheap stuff. Khyff tucked a strand of his hair behind one ear. "You already paid me." Senth bit back a startled laugh. Khyff sounded as if he were turning it down. "You made me happy. Come on, Khyff. Please? Think of it as a tip."


61 "I can't take that. You think I want people knowing about us? You think I want your banker knowing you've got a slake?" That made more sense. Khyff didn't want his DNA in her bank's possession. Or his master knowing he was moonlighting. "It's debit, not registered. Untraceable. Come on." She jiggled the bracelet. "Let me do something for you. I want to. Put it in your freedom account." Khyff hesitated, reached out, and then took the bracelet. "You carried this kind of money here? Are you crazy? You could have been buzzed. There are thieves everywhere. One could be watching us right now." Ain't that the truth. Senth suppressed a snicker. She ran her hands over Khyff's chest. "You care about me?" He moved her hands away. "You know I do." "Oh, Khyff." "Oh, Liu." Oh, please. Senth mimed gagging himself. When the woman exited the alley, Khyff's smile flicked off like a switch. He dropped the bracelet into a pocket and patted it like an old friend. Senth rose to his full height, level with his brother's shoulders. Khyff lunged into him, grabbed Senth by the front of his cloak, picked him up, and slammed him against the brick wall. Khyff's raw, physical power rendered Senth immobile. "Easy! Khyff, it's me." "Sen?" Khyff set him back on the ground. He shoved back the cloak's hood. "You deadlurking me, Bro?" Senth dusted himself off. "I cozied your back. Peak freaks out there, sniffin' out drugs and buzzin' clinkers. Didn't want them shoppin' you." "I'm sorry. What? Yes." Khyff held up both hands. "I know my street slang sucks, but what does that mean?" "I was watching your back. Didn't want junkies messing with you while you were working." "Why couldn't you say that?" Senth spread his arms. "I did." Khyff rubbed a hand across his brow, shaking his head. He jerked a thumb in the general direction of the street, and started walking. Senth fell in step beside him. No shops stood open at this hour, all the windows and doors barred. Clouds covered Kelthia's single moon. Those streetlights unsmashed by gangs cast too dim a glow to banish shadows. "Say, Khyff? I'm goin' sly a few days. Wanted to tap you." Khyff raked a hand through his hair. "Try that again, in Etymis." "Leaving town. I got a pull. A job. Facing a buyer." "Facing a-- Could you please just--" "I'm meeting a client, okay?" "Where?" "The Ghost." His brother snorted. "You're meeting a client at The Ghost. That place is the worst club in Crooktown. It butts right up against the slakehouse where I work. No way you're going there. I won't have it."


62 "Got to." Senth handed him a piece of paper. "Scope this." Khyff halted in the middle of the sidewalk and tore the paper in pieces. "Hey!" Senth grabbed him, but the body under all that butter-soft leather felt like iron. With both hands on Senth's chest, Khyff shoved him. Paper remnants fluttered to the ground as Senth danced backward to keep from falling. "I told you!" Khyff raised balled fists. "No one touches me." He shook his fists at Senth. "Not you. Not anybody." "She touched you." "She paid for it, Sen. Back off!" "I didn't mean to annoy you, Khyff. I'm sorry. It won't happen again." "It better not. And stay out of The Ghost." "Can't do that. The Man said to meet him there. He said to bring you." "Why would the Man want me?" "You think I'm gonna ask him why he does anything?" Neither brother had said the name of Senth's Sen'dai. No one did. "The Ghost is no place for kids." "I'm old enough to join the armada and vote. Stop calling me a kid." "If you were free." Khyff turned on his heel and started walking. Senth growled low in his throat but followed. "Why'd you...you know? Back there. I thought you hated doing that." "I do." "Then why?" Khyff halted and swung toward him. Senth backed up a step. "Look, Sen, it's different when you're not forced. Besides, the money's easy, the tips are great, and on the street, I decide how much of my clothes I take off." He pulled the bracelet out of his jacket. "Here. Do you know how much this is?" "I heard." "You know where to put it." Straight into the freedom savings account entitled to slaves. Like all children born into slavery, Senth would be freed at age twenty, in two years. Khyff's time in prison and parole delayed his freedom for at least eight more years, or until he had enough money to buy himself. Senth stuffed the bracelet in a pocket. "You keep getting tips like this, you can buy me too. She must like you." Khyff snapped him a look, then chuckled. "Guess Liu does look female." Senth's cheeks flamed. "That was a guy? I thought he smelled different." "Not male. Chiasmii. An Androg. Fully male and fully female. You never see one that close before?" "I thought he seemed different. Or is it she?" "Liu uses the female pronoun, but most of her friends use phe. She's beautiful, huh? Androgs always are, no matter which gender phase they're in. There've been a lot of them at the clubs lately. Liu's fascinated with humans. They can't imagine what it's like being one gender all the time. They switch every quarter. I make good money catering to them." "Does it matter which phase they're in?" Khyff made a noise halfway between a grunt and a sigh. "Like slakes ever get to pick the menu."


63 Senth contemplated that for a moment. "Is it true Androgs can make you feel what they're feeling?" "Sure, when they want to. I'm guessing that's not happening in a dark alley." He punched Senth in the arm. "Come on, Bro. Let's get you over to The Ghost. It's time to put you to work for a while." **** As Senth approached The Ghost, the club's beefy Kin bouncer put out a hand. "Hold up, kid. You--" She motioned toward Khyff -- "Wait over there. Now..." She motioned Senth aside. "You got ID?" Senth opened his cloak, revealing the lining with its unmistakable Thieves' Guild insignia, a skeleton key inside a slashed circle. He gave his Sen'dai's hand sign. "Ffffftt!" The bouncer made an apologetic shrug. "Sorry. Why didn't you say you were the Man's right up front?" "His shouldn't have to." Senth brushed a hand down the front of the cloak. "And I'm no kid." "Sorry, sir." She opened the door for both of them and bowed. Once inside, Khyff held out one palm, and Senth slid his down it, hooked his fingers as Khyff did, and with hands clasped, gave one downward shake. "C'mon, Bro." Khyff led the way past the darkened foyer. Inside, music pulsed like a living entity. Throbbing bass tickled Senth's chest, and he coughed. Drums pounded. Colored lights swept the cavernous room. Strobes flashed across the congested dance floor, highlighting bobbing heads and upflung arms. Light glinted off human bodies slick with sweat, while bared and damp Kin furskin stuck out in points, laden with glitter. "Stay close," Khyff shouted over the pounding music, standing next to Senth. He headed for the rear and left no chance to argue. They skirted around the crammed dance area. Senth liberated a few loose credit stubs clipped to belts and stuffed them into the pockets of his cloak. Females ruled on the Kin planet Felidae, and the majority who visited The Ghost had more than one male in their company. A single Kin female at the bar turned and looked Senth over from head to foot. Tall and slender, she wore brown leather the same color as her hair. She slid her tongue across her upper teeth, back and forth between her fangs, and wiggled her cute feline nose. Then she twitched her pointed ears toward Senth. A jerk on his arm drew Senth's attention. "Stay away from her, Sen." Khyff glared at the Kin. "She'll take you to bed and then eat you for breakfast. That's not a figure of speech. HalfKin who leave with her aren't seen again. She's working this floor for someone. Watch this." Khyff slid a hand down his body, giving the Kin a slow smile. The female crooked a finger at Khyff and smiled back. When Khyff rubbed his fingers and thumb together in a sign for money, and she turned away. "Yeah, I thought so." "You wanted her?" His brother snorted. "You couldn't pay me enough to screw a Kin. Come on." Senth followed him deeper into the club. At another bar, two female Betters conversed with each other, ignoring the human males chained to their wrists like pets. The men wore pants, boots, and chain harnesses across their chests. Enhanced humans with every sense fine-tuned, Betters were bred for intelligence, leadership, beauty, and lust. Khyff had told him they went into heat like animals, and that once you'd had a Better in heat, you couldn't be satisfied with a normal human ever again. To curb potential problems, Betters were not permitted to hire slakes


64 or enter slakehouses. Ever. Senth walked into a solid wall of muscle, and backed up. He flinched, ready to duck. Khyff glared, arms folded. "You better be glad it was me." He grabbed Senth by the arm and shouldered through the throng with him in tow. "Quit hawkin'." Khyff glanced back. "You want talons in your eyes?" When they rounded a corner, the noise level lowered. To the left, wide marble stairs wound upward. Bouncers stood guard on the first landing, weapons cradled in their arms. Beside them, arrowed signs pointed in different directions. hotel. cashier cage. exit to slakehouse. Senth started up, but stopped at a tug on his cloak. He turned and looked straight into Khyff's eyes. "Here." Khyff dug into his pocket. "My master's in the club. I saw him. Take this." He offered a wad of soft money. "He'll pat me down before he puts me to work." Senth hid the cash in a pocket. Khyff set one foot on the bottom stair. "They won't let me go up there." "The Man's note said to bring you. You're coming with." "You prolly misread it." "I'd show you but you ripped that sucker up, remember?" Khyff clamped his jaw shut. Lighting in this section cast a warm glow over his features. For the hundredth time, Senth wondered at their relationship. They couldn't be more opposite in looks. But SaintCyr had tested their DNA, and they shared the same mother. "Come on." Senth turned and headed up the steps, and after a brief delay, he heard footsteps pounding after him. Senth let himself smile. On the hotel level, six of his Sen'dai's private, no-nonsense goons in dark suits and dark glasses blocked the hallway. Senth flashed the Harbinger's hand signal. One man scanned him with a handheld, glanced at the display, and with a grudging nod of respect, opened a door. "He said you should wait inside." Senth and Khyff entered a darkened room. The door shut behind them with a click. Background noise ceased. "You gonna turn on a light?" Khyff's voice sounded hollow in the dark. "Don't need one." Besides being HalfKin, Senth had been trained to work in darkness. An interior door opened, and though Senth could not see the Harbinger, he felt the Man's presence. A native-born Kelthian, Luc Saint-Cyr's dark chocolate skin and habitual black attire made it possible for him to disappear into the shadows. If the Harbinger himself was on Kelthia, this was an important job. A small light clicked on, but that made the shadows darker. You still couldn't see Saint-Cyr. "Senthys. Khyffen. Thank you for coming." The Man took one step, and the light revealed part of his face. "Sen'dai." Senth bowed. Khyff bowed also. "Khyffen. Good to see you." Saint-Cyr offered his hand, and Khyff wiped his hand on his pants before he shook it. "Your brother has the opportunity to take a sizable job, and if he accomplishes it, I'll help him buy your contract and free you." A full Kin could smell emotion, and while Senth could not match their prowess, he couldn't miss the scent his brother gave off. Like the air after a rain, fresh and clear: hope. A tinge of tart fear followed.


65 "Thank you, sir, but why would you do that?" "You're blood to my blood." Saint-Cyr squeezed Senth's shoulder. "I made your brother my slave to foster him into the Guild. I have no others. A man should be free. Now, how much did you get tonight?" "For what, sir?" Senth understood his brother's hesitance. If anyone reported Khyff working the streets without a license, he could be sent back to prison. "It's all right." Saint-Cyr stepped all the way into the light. Like most people, Senth avoided looking directly into Saint-Cyr's eyes. The man wore contact lenses that turned his eyes solid black. Raven's eyes, peering, intent. Vulturous. "Your secrets are safe with me. Liu Alderon is one of my people. Did she treat you right?" Khyff glanced at Senth, as if seeking approval. Senth gave a slight nod. "Yes, sir. She paid me, and then tipped me." Senth made a handsign, and Khyff continued. "She gave me a thousand draks, sir. Best tip I ever got." "Good, good." Saint-Cyr steepled his fingers. "Since Senthys told me about your situation, I've been matching what you earn on the street and putting it into your freedom savings account." "That's generous of you, sir, but why would you do that?" "I know you're in a bad spot. I'm doing everything I can to help you." "What do you expect in return?" "The better question is, what does your brother expect?" Khyff narrowed his eyes, sending a questioning look Senth's way. Resisting the urge to shrug, Senth waited for Saint-Cyr to jump in. It didn't take him long. "I want Senthys for a job. If he's successful, he could buy his freedom. Since I won't part with your brother, I hit on this solution. What do you say?" "So you're using me to get my brother to do something dangerous." A slow smile eased across Saint-Cyr's face. "Well put. If you want assurances that he'll be safe, I can't give them. Nevertheless, there are certain guarantees. It is a union job after all, and they require a 'safety net' in the contract terms. The job will bring in a tidy sum, and I'll owe him more than what the union dictates. Yes, it holds risk, but I know my son. He can handle it." That might not sound like much in the way of praise, but coming from Saint-Cyr? Senth rocked on the balls of his feet. His Sen'dai motioned to Khyff. "Senth will be paid, as usual, but the job is important enough to warrant sweetening the deal. I think helping your brother help you should make us even." Khyff looked from Saint-Cyr to Senth and back again. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate your offer, but I'd prefer you freed my brother. I'll be able to--" "Son." Saint-Cyr tapped his steepled fingertips together. "You were not listening. I'm going to repeat this once. I'm not ready to free him yet. I need him for this job. You're being offered your freedom. That offer is contingent upon your brother succeeding. I suggest you accept." Senth winked. "Do it, Bro. Get out of there." After a glance between Saint-Cyr and Senth, Khyff nodded. "Thank you, sir." "All right, Khyffen. If you'll excuse us, your brother and I have work to do. He'll be off planet for a few days, so say


66 your good-byes. Walk him to the club, Senthys, and then meet me back here." "Yes, Sen'dai." Senth accompanied Khyff back outside the room and down the stairs to the entry point for the club. "Look, Sen. I'd still rather he freed you." "Take the offer, Bro." Senth set a hand on the railing. "I've got two years and I'm free. The Man and I-- we have our issues, but he is my father. He's taken care of me since I was three. It's okay. I trust him." Khyff's narrowed his blue eyes at Senth like a weapon. "You're sure." "Positive. Look, since you and I found each other, I've bargained everything short of my soul to buy your contract and free you. They treat animals better than your master treats you. Let me help you." Khyff rubbed the back of his neck. "If I do this, promise me you'll be careful. The job is dangerous or he wouldn't be bargaining for it. You gotta know that, right?" "You think you can shirk my cozy without a drip? Man, Bro, yo' cover is for gloom." Senth stuck up a thumb. "I got you happy." Khyff frowned. "Uh..." Senth sighed. "You gotta learn how to talk if you're gonna make it on Kelthia, Bro. I said you can't get rid of me that easy. No one watches your back better than I do." Khyff grinned, shaking his head. "Go to work." He turned and shouldered his way into the crowded club. Back upstairs, one of his Sen'dai's goons bowed and opened the door for Senth. No one was in the semi-darkened room when Senth entered. Without moving, he sized it up. High ceilings, subdued lighting, heavy furniture, marble-topped tables. No paintings. Two statues, obvious fakes. Dense drapes, deep carpet, wood-paneled walls. The positions of the door and windows, plus the spacing of the panels meant a hidden safe. No visible security cameras but nowhere the Guild set up a meet lacked them. That inner door opened again, letting in a shaft of light. In the middle of it, a silhouette revealed the Harbinger. "With me, Senthys." Senth grimaced at his master's use of his full name, but he followed. Nicknames lack dignity, he mouthed, mimicking Saint-Cyr's oft-used phrase. After leading Senth through another room and to a flight of stairs, Saint-Cyr paused. "How much was it?" Senth lifted his head. "Sir?" "Khyffen's tip tonight. How much?" Senth held his Sen'dai's gaze, focusing on the centers of the solid black orbs. "A thousand, sir. Like he told you." "Good. I meant what I said about matching what he earns, so it won't help him to hold back or lie." "I told him that on the way over here." "Did you now? Good." They continued up the stairs. "You know your brother's master and I are old...friends." SaintCyr's emphasis on the last word sent a chill up Senth's spine. "I want to free Khyffen from that man. Your brother would be an exceptional asset to my face business." "Which one?" "For Women Only." Saint-Cyr's private security company offered premium protection services to celebrity female clientele. "I agree, sir. I'll do whatever it takes to help him." Saint-Cyr shook a finger at him. "What have I told you about being too eager?" "Sorry, Sen'dai. You surprised me."


67 "Bargains are always a surprise. Keep that in mind." "Yes, sir." Senth lowered his head in respect. "If this job suceeds, I guarantee your brother will be freed in a week." Senth tried not to show his glee, but a smile pasted itself across his face anyway. The Harbinger shook his head in a way that said, What am I to do with you? "What do I have to do for Khyff's freedom?" "Khyffen was right. The job we're meeting about tonight is risky. I don't usually give you a choice, but this time I'm going to because of the job's importance. In return for your brother's freedom, I want a few promises." "I'll do whatever it takes." The Harbinger's mouth lifted at one side. "Never admit that to anyone again." "Sorry, sir." "Senthys, you understand why I've kept you on Shackle?" While Khyff's master had addicted Khyff to Thrust, which put his sex drive into overload, Shackle did the opposite to Senth. Since puberty, he'd never known life without it. "Yes, Sen'dai." "Good." The Harbinger tapped a knuckle against his mouth, frowning at him. "You know what they'd do to you if you lost control again, don't you? Where they'd take you this time?" "Yes, sir." He stiffened. "I don't want that." "Keep that in mind over the next week. After five days without Shackle, you'll start withdrawal. Your heart will pound. Your head will feel like it's splitting apart. You'd be as high and strung out as Khyff is on weekends. There's a possibility of stroke if you quit cold. It's dangerous. You must taper off the drug. Do you understand?" He nodded. "I do, sir." "This job should take four days, so it's important to return as soon as it's over." "Yes, sir." "I'll dose you before you leave to ensure you have the full five-day effect." "Thank you, sir." "The reason I've told you all this is because you'll be working side by side with a Better." Senth opened his mouth, shut it again, and then mouthed, Better? "Listen to me, my young Deshai. Despite the romantic nonsense you've heard about Betters being extraordinary lovers, their kisses can poison you. If her saliva mixes with yours, she can control your mind. The touch of her hands will drive you insane. There are ancient myths about sirens, women who used their voices to lure men and then slay them. Betters aren't mythical. They're real. If she subjects you to her passion, you'll be at the mercy of her pleasure forever." Senth swallowed against the tight feeling in his throat and nodded to show he understood. "This woman is dangerous. Under other circumstances, I wouldn't let any of my people work with her kind, but in this case... I have my reasons. I trust you to obey me. As long as you return in fewer than five days, losing control won't even be an option. Shackle will protect you from her. Besides, if you come back to me no longer a virgin, I will know. The deal for Khyffen's freedom will be off." "How would you know I wasn't a virgin?" Senth bit his lips the moment the words escaped, shocked at himself for even asking the question.


68 His Sen'dai lowered his eyelids and angled his head toward Senth like a bird of prey sighting its next meal. "Is that going to be a problem?" Senth reached a foot back, feeling for the next lower step. "No, sir." "You know what happens when you displease me." "I wouldn't want to do that." "No, you wouldn't." The Man leaned in until the dark, predatory eyes filled Senth's vision. When Senth stumbled on the stairs, Saint-Cyr grabbed his arm, steadying him. Senth raised a hand to his brow. "Senthys? Are you all right?" "Fine, Sen'dai. Sorry." "Good. And you're right. They do." "Uh... Pardon?" "Nicknames." Saint-Cyr gave him a closed-mouth smile. "They lack dignity." He made a hand sign--a fist with thumb down and then up--which put Senth on guard. "It's time to meet your Better partner." Chapter Two Kelthia, Miraj City, Crooktown District The Ghost Captain NarrAy Jorlan of the All People's Liberation Army resisted the urge to plug a finger into each ear. Up here on the third-floor balcony of The Ghost, the noise level was deafening to a Better. Below, two female Betters posed at the bar and surveyed the crowd. Her kind hid as well as the sun on a clear day. Perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect bodies. Perfectly lonely lives. Everyone wanted the pheromone-induced lust a Better could provide. Few desired their addictive nature. And since enactment, the Better Laws ensured few dared taste the exquisite pleasure. NarrAy's human security expert, Lieutenant Broxus, stood at her side. As part of their cover, both had worn party clothes to The Ghost. When NarrAy had appeared in a low-cut red dress, the staid officer had gone wide-eyed and started stammering. Her aide, Encie Falehla, milled about down there among the heaving bodies, flicking her pointed catlike ears to the music. Why does she like jam-packed noisy places? And what is it with Kin and the smell of sweat? Just down from the Betters, Encie turned from the bar and flirted with someone in the crowd. Please, not another HalfKin. Another disappearance ranked high on NarrAy's avoid-at-all-costs list. The APLA might shelter thieves, ruffians, and even cold-blooded assassins, but not suspected serial killers. Even knowing the truth, NarrAy had sworn she'd fire Encie if she was involved in any more HalfKin disappearances. The fragile state of the fledgling rebellion warranted all due care. After turning from the railing, NarrAy moved back into the room where the Harbinger had agreed to meet. Her security aide came to attention. "Any word, Brox?" He touched the ear where his comm had been inserted. "Not yet, ma'am." Broxus didn't meet her gaze. This dress was a mistake. Too revealing, too short, too red. She suppressed a sigh. "Tell me about the Harbinger." He glanced toward her feet. "Didn't you meet him, ma'am?"


69 NarrAy rubbed her arms and shuddered. "Those eyes." Broxus flipped open his notereader and tapped the screen. "You thought his eyes were cold, try his reputation. Saint-Cyr's been tied to everything but prostitution and homicide, but never arrested. Ops says folks around here won't talk about him. No one even says his name, and they flinch when an outsider does. Creeped me out doing background research on him, tell you that. But what they did say gave me the impression he's some kind of father figure." She snorted a laugh. "I have a little trouble picturing him as the daddy type." "From what we can tell, he looks out for his people. There's no crime in his territory. One thing's for sure"--Broxus turned off the notereader and tucked it into his pocket--"no one crosses him. Police can't get a snitch anywhere close." "And Senthys Antonello? Anything on him?" "No, ma'am. The name's known, but that's all. No arrests. No warrants. Rumors indicate he's young, but nobody talks except to say he's the best. Trained by Saint-Cyr himself." "I heard he was adopted, but he's a slave. How does that play?" "Thieves' Guild rules, ma'am." Broxus hadn't looked at her since they arrived, at least not the direct way he did when she was in uniform. "The kid's half-human. The Guild won't allow them to train, unless they're slaves being trained by a member." "Yeah, but adopted and a slave?" "Did some checking. The Harbinger doesn't own any slaves except the one. He's adopted others. Records indicate he has five other sons who are all professional thieves." Broxus paused. "I take that back. Five who were. One of them's a cop now. Detective. A good one, per the notes I saw." NarrAy had to chuckle at that. "Family reunions must be a bitch. All I care about is that this son can do what he's hired to do." "The Sleeper himself recommended him. Senthys Antonello's ranking is advanced interior security, level nineteen, which means he can break into government holding areas." "That's all we need." Brox folded his arms across his wide chest. He filled out that plain suit as well as he did his usual uniform. He lifted two fingers to his ear, and then nodded to NarrAy. He motioned toward the door. NarrAy turned, tugging the skirt of the tight dress down a bit more. She held herself more erect. After two knocks, the door opened. The Harbinger stepped inside, another person behind him. "Ms. Jorlan." Saint-Cyr made a slight bow. She clenched her teeth behind her returned smile. The man's whiteless eyes made it impossible to see where he looked. "Mr. Saint-Cyr." She laced her fingers behind her hips. Because the Better Laws forbade touching, the customary handshake of greeting wasn't an option. "May I present my Deshai--that's protĂŠgĂŠ in the guild--Senthys Antonello." The Harbinger gestured to the handsome youth with him. "Senthys, Ms. NarrAy Jorlan." "Ms. Jorlan." Senthys extended his hand. To his credit, his blue-eyed gaze never strayed. His shoulder-length hair, a mass of dark, unruly curls, made him look playful rather than studious. I'd like to play with him, NarrAy mused, ignoring his hand. "My apologies, ma'am." The Harbinger nudged Senthys. "Betters don't touch others, son."


70 The boy glanced up at him with clear surprise. NarrAy had the impression he reacted to the title "son" rather than the belated instruction. "Yes, sir." He ducked his head. "My apologies, ma'am." "Quite all right." She motioned to Lieutenant Broxus. "Please show Mr. Saint-Cyr and his Deshai to the door." Broxus did not hesitate. "This way, sir." "Ms. Jorlan?" The Harbinger turned his head from her to Broxus and then back. "Is something wrong?" "I contracted with you for a professional, not a child. He can't be a day over fourteen." Senthys threw up his hands. "I am not a kid!" He turned to the Harbinger. "Sen'dai, tell this woman, whoever she is, that my qualifications are impeccable. It shouldn't matter how old I am." He turned toward NarrAy and clasped his hands behind his back, his shoulders straight. "I can do the job. That's what's important. Not my birthdate." "He's right." Saint-Cyr agreed. "My Deshai has more credentials and experience than three-fourths of his peers of any age, and as for his youth? He has a baby face. He's eighteen." NarrAy scrutinized the Harbinger. Had he obeyed an order? There's more to this boy than I thought. Senthys took a step closer. "Ms. Jorlan, I can accomplish whatever your contract requires. I've spent the last fifteen years learning my craft. How many years have you studied yours, whatever it is?" With a smile, NarrAy nodded. "Point well taken." She made a slow perusal down his lean yet muscular frame. Huge, pale eyes the color of a dawn sky, with the feline pupils of a Kin. Nothing else catlike about--Ooh, look at those irresistible little fangs. Senthys' dusky skin and symmetrical features were not unlike a Better's. With his young face, his masculine beauty seemed gentle, but she sensed an inner and physical strength she hadn't noticed at first. His leashed energy all but hummed. And he doesn't fear Betters. Well, well. "Come, Senthys." Saint-Cyr touched the youth's arm. "Ms. Jorlan does not--" "Wait." NarrAy spoke to Senthys. "Do you have gloves?" "Yes, ma'am." Senthys pulled them out of a pocket. Broxus lurched toward them, but NarrAy stopped him with a lifted hand. Saint-Cyr stretched out a hand to stop Senthys. "I don't think that's a good idea, son. It's against the law to touch a Better." Again NarrAy caught Senthys' faint look of surprise. She flashed a look of irritation at Broxus, who backed away. The young thief smiled. "The law's never stopped us before, Sen'dai." Saint-Cyr glared at NarrAy but moved aside. NarrAy offered her hand. She'd practiced shaking hands with her father. "A gentleman doesn't try to overpower a lady's hand, NarrAy. But he isn't afraid to be firm either." When Senthys reached for her, she held his gloved hand between both of hers. "Mr. Antonello, I can see you're a gentleman." His cheeks reddened. "It's Senth, ma'am. Not Mr. Antonello." He shot Saint-Cyr a harsh glance. "And never Senthys." Saint-Cyr narrowed those black eyes, but said nothing. NarrAy gave Senth's hand a squeeze. "Senth it is, and I'm NarrAy. Not Ms. Jorlan, nor ma'am. Not on this job. Understood?"


71 He met her gaze. "Does that mean you want me?" He blushed again and glanced down at their still-joined hands. "For the job, I mean." She bit back a laugh. What an innocent you are. "So long as we're clear on who's in charge." "When it comes to theft, I am. For everything else, you are, in every way." You have no idea. She grinned at him. He had never once tried to look at her body. Maybe this dress will be okay after all. "Come sit." She gestured toward an adjacent room. "Let's talk business." **** NarrAy crossed her legs, exposing a good portion of her skin under the short dress. If she'd been sitting opposite Senth, the length might have been welcome. But the Harbinger lounged in that chair, and Senth sat beside her on the couch. Her position put her a little closer to him. "Empress Destoiya murdered my parents," NarrAy continued her story, "as surely as if she'd been the one who shot them in the back. They were scientists working on secret technology. When rumors got out that they were planning to give their findings to the rebellion, the Conqueror had them killed and then confiscated everything, including their personal belongings. There was a locket my mother inherited from my grandmother, which my grandmother inherited from her grandmother. It's mine, and I want it back." She met Senth's penetrating gaze and held it. She heard rather than saw Encie enter the room and take up a place near the door. Broxus moved to stand beside her. NarrAy couldn't take her gaze off Senth. How did I ever see him as a boy? He had a man's hands, well-groomed nails, and sinewy forearms that revealed power and strength. His biceps bulged. Angular jaw, a firm mouth with lips made for kissing. A hot flutter rose within her, and she tamped it down at once, refusing to let her pheromones get the upper hand. Senth watched her, gaze narrowed, head tilted. He gave a sniff, and then eased into a smile. His proximity heightened her desire. He smelled clean, fresh, and ruggedly male. A tingle signaled the imminent letdown of her pheromones, and she clenched her hands into fists, fighting to calm the spike of lust flickering through her like a torch about to combust. Senth's faint smile revealed nothing, but he lifted his head, sniffing the air. Kin could smell emotion and desire. Could HalfKin? He asked me something. Pay attention to business and not your body. She sat up straighter. "I'm sorry. Would you repeat that, please?" "What I said was no one hires a level-nineteen thief, transports him to another world to break into a government building, and then wants him to steal back a locket with sentimental value. Especially one in the custody of the Conqueror. What's it really worth?" "It's a priceless heirloom." She set a hand against her bosom. Senth didn't follow her hand movement. Instead he tilted his head as he leaned back against the couch. "I'm more skilled at this job than you are beautiful, NarrAy, and that's saying something. Tell me the truth." Her cheeks warmed. When had she ever blushed over an offhand compliment? Senth turned over one hand, palm up. "If you want me to take a job stealing from the Conqueror, you have to be after more than your mommy's jewelry. What's the locket's true value? I have no intention of marketing it, but I need to know what kind of security I might be up against."


72 "Market...?" "Fence." The Harbinger steepled his fingers. "Oh." She turned back to Senth. After a long pause, she let out a sigh. "Very well. It is an heirloom, but an inscription inside leads to a numbered account holding my inheritance. The Conqueror has no idea I want that piece. Our intel says my family's property is being held in a government warehouse on Tarth. It has no higher security than any other warehouse. That account is a fortune, and I want it back." Senth passed a hand across his mouth, casting a glance at the Harbinger. The man remained immobile except for tapping his steepled fingers together twice. Some kind of signal? A code? NarrAy bit the inside of her cheek. "Okay." Senth stretched out his long legs. I can see that as a reason. Where's the building?" She motioned to Lieutenant Broxus, who gave Senth a notereader. Senth opened it, thumbed through several screens, withdrew the stylus, and made notes. "It's in one of Tarth City's outlying districts, sir." He handed the reader to the Harbinger. "A Vassindorf?" Saint-Cyr perused for a moment, then gave it back to him. "No doubt." "A Vassindorf is a kind of security system, NarrAy. The company upgrades them frequently. I'd need to train on certain protocols before we arrive." "I don't understand why a level-nineteen thief needs training." "It's standard procedure for any job over a specific skill level. I'm more than qualified. If someone else were doing this job, I'd be called to train them. Certification is insurance against getting caught between software and security upgrades. I could be certified by noon tomorrow." "All right. I guess I see why you need the training. Keep those notes. When can we leave?" "Around two in the afternoon." "I'll be the one picking you up." NarrAy stood. "Where should that be?" Senth stood and held out a chip for a debit bracelet. "Meet me here. We'll have a final briefing, sign a contract, and be on our way." When she reached for the small chip, he held it up before him, causing her to meet his gaze. "You don't have to worry about my ability. I can and will do what you hired me to do." He dropped the chip into her outstretched hand. "We'll get your locket and be back here within four days. Five, at the absolute most." "You're sure?" "Oh yeah." Senth flashed a look at the Harbinger. "Count on it. Grab and go." He snapped his fingers. "This job will be a cinch."


73

Write for us! Length: 2,000 to 7,500 words. Payment: 2.5 cents/word (US) paid upon publication, promotional biography with two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement. Deadline for Issue #9: 15 November, 2015. Rights sought: Six-month exclusive world digital rights from date of publication; non-exclusive thereafter. Other info: One short story will be published per issue. Please send only edited and polished work. Due to time constraints, we are unable to give personalized feedback on rejected stories. Stories that tie-in to a previously established world will be considered, but story must stand alone. All sub-genres of science fiction will be considered. Any heat level, from sweet to erotic, will be considered. Original, previously unpublished fiction only. No fan fiction, please. Story should meld the Science Fiction and Romance genres, and must have an upbeat ending. Not quite sure what we’re looking for? Read our original fiction in previous issues. No multiple submissions. No stories that have previously been rejected by us. Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but please inform us if the story is placed elsewhere.

Submit! Standard manuscript format, please. Send brief cover letter with biographical information and publication history, along with attached story (.RTF or .DOC format) to Diane Dooley — Fiction #at# SciFiRomanceQuarterly #dot# org — by deadline.


74

Meet the editorial team Editor: Kaz Augustin is an ex-Brisbanite (Australia) who loves space opera, SFR and all things geeky. She currently lives in Malaysia, where she loves the shopping for tech gadgets, but hates the heat! Her website is at www.KSAugustin.com and she and her husband also run Sandal Press. If you’re a Twitter fan, you can find her at @SandalPress . Send all feedback about this magazine to editor {@} scifiromancequarterly {.} org

Fiction Editor: Diane Dooley is the Fiction Editor for Science-Fiction Romance Quarterly. Born in the Channel Islands, raised in Scotland and now resident in the USA, she is an author, an editor, a voracious reader, an unrepentant troublemaker, and a geek of intergalactic proportions. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter. Live long and prosper! Releases Editor: Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author. Her stories will entertain you with fantastical settings, larger-than-life characters, timeless romance, and rollicking action. When Heather’s not reading or writing, she’s watching cult films and enjoying the company of her husband and daughter. To learn more about her work, visit HeatherMassey.com .

This issue's contributors Toni Adams is here to voice her opinions. Toni Adams resides in Los Angeles. Among the normal plane of reality, she has B.S. in Molecular, Cellular Developmental Biology and works as a veterinary technician. She has dealt with Felis catus, canus lupis familiaris, reptilian creatures, various avians, lagamorphs, rodentians, chelonians, and testudines. In her loving care are four felis catus, one canus lupis familiaris, and one pogona vitticeps. In summary, she really loves animals. When she is able to shed off the shroud of a Responsible Adult, she partakes in so many guilty pleasures that the guilt has long worn off. To name them all would make your brain explode from the sheer power. Just know, that it involves a blue police box, ponies with absurd markings on their rumps, a norse alien god, a rock band from the nineties, gaming (trading cards, board games, consoles), random international romantic dramas, and lots of crafting. The guiltiest pleasure of all has been decades of reading romance novels. From corset ripping heroines to gun toting she-devils, she continues to devour story after story. Romance and science fiction is a blend that can either intoxicate her to dangerous levels of excitement or entice boiling frustration. Bring on the excessive transfer of heat and get some hydrogen elements shakin'! The Book Pushers are six book-loving girls from around the world who share a love of all things romance. From small town contemporaries, to sweeping historicals, to gritty paranormal, to the futuristic science fi,


75 they read it all. They are known for their fun, conversational style joint reviews, and can be found lurking on their website, on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Booklikes. Marlene Harris is currently the Technical Services Manager at The Seattle Public Library. She's also one of the co-editors of SPL's Romantic Wednesdays feature on Shelf Talk, which gives her a chance to expose her love of romance novels. In addition, she's also a reviewer for Library Journal's Xpress Reviews, and the author of their annual Librarian's Best Ebook Romance feature. Because she can't resist talking about the books she loves, and occasionally the ones she hates, she has her own book blog at Reading Reality. In her professional persona, before coming to Seattle she previously managed Technical and Collection Services Departments at libraries in locations from Gainesville Florida to Anchorage Alaska to the Chicago Public Library. Jo Jones is a retired pilot who, after retiring, had an RV and traveled 6 months out of the year. After traveling seven years she left on a trip and realized that she was ready to spend more time at home so she sold the RV. She isn't giving up travel; she just takes the trips that did not fit with RVing. When at home, she gardens, reads, plays bridge, hikes, visits with friends, and volunteers. Jo is an unabashed big cat lover and shares her home with TC, her shelter cat. Both of them live in the Ozarks in Northwest Arkansas which, they unanimously agree, is one of the best places in the country to live. Reviewer RK Shiraishi R.K. is a long time science fiction fan, as well as a fan of all things fantasy and paranormal. She spends her spare time deep in the world of classic SF television, movies, and even radio plays. Her alter ego is as fantasy writer Echo Ishii. Her first novella, MR RUMPEL AND MR GRIMM is available from Less Than Three Press. You can follow her on Facebook (RK Shiraishi), Twitter and Pinterest (mrsbookmark). Reviewer Psyche Skinner is a working scientist with a taste for imaginative fiction. She is constantly seeking novels that combine hard speculative science with well-rounded characters--although she also appreciates a good space opera. Reviewer Rachel Cotterill grew up hiding from the real world in a succession of imaginary lands, and has no particular wish to return to Earth. She likes fast-paced plots, greyscale morality, and characters who remain believable when they find themselves in situations that are anything but. She’s always searching for her next favourite author, and is half of the feminist SF book blog Strange Charm, which exists to showcase the best in speculative fiction by female authors. When she isn't reading, Rachel is professionally and perpetually indecisive, splitting her time somewhat haphazardly between writing, computer science, linguistics, recipe development, and travel. Rachel's third novel, Watersmeet, is a romantic and optimistic fantasy published earlier this year. You can find her on Twitter at @rachelcotterill. Reviewer SFF Dragon is an avid reader, some might say bookworm, who lives in England and grew up on a steady diet of home cooking and proverbs. When her head wasn't stuck in a book, she was out being active or


76 volunteering to do charity work. As an adult, animals, any type of sport involving cars, swimming and lots of reading are her main past-times. She also likes watching war, western, spy, sci-fi/fantasy, Christmas stories of any kind and romance films and series, and thinks the best ones include all of these categories. She loves science fiction, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and any feel-good Christmas story which she reads all year round to maintain her perspective on what's important in life and loves nothing more than a happy ending. She has individual Degrees in Computer Programming and Business Studies, a Masters in HR Management and shares her home with her partner, loads of gadgets, and thousands of books and DVDs. When not reading, which isn't often, she can be found doing anything from learning a new language to designing and making her own clothes and jewellery, as well as gardening for a little light relief. You can find her on Goodreads and Facebook. Ian Sales has recently been working on a quartet of novellas, the Apollo Quartet. The first, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, was published in 2012. It won the BSFA Award for that year and was shortlisted for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. The second book, The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, was published in early 2013, and the third book, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, in late 2013. The final novella, All That Outer Space Allows, will appear in 2014. He is represented by the John Jarrold Literary Agency, can be found online at www.IanSales.com and he also tweets. Our Opinion contributor, Alyssa Cole, s a science editor, pop culture nerd, and romance junkie who recently moved to the Caribbean and occasionally returns to her fast-paced NYC life. When she’s not busy writing, traveling, and learning French, she can be found watching anime with her real-life romance hero or tending to her herd of pets. Her website is at AlyssaCole.com The short story “Dolls” was written by TJ Land. TJ is a South African doctoral student and aspiring novelist, with an M/M novelette titled Midsummer Nights coming out in January 2016 from Ninestar Press. The cover for Issue 8 was designed by KS Augustin.


77

Advertise with us! Here at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, our mission is to empower and entertain with sci-fi romance stories and original artwork. To accomplish this goal, we rely on the sustenance of your advertising contributions. Advertising with Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is a smart way to grow your readership because our readers are passionate about SFR. If you’d like to support this magazine and also reach a highly motivated audience of power readers, then please consider advertising with us. Deadlines for Issue 9: Quarter- and Thirds-page ads – 15-December 2015 Two-chapter excerpts – 01-December 2015

Quarter-page ads For a quarter-page ad in SFRQ, we require an image that is: 300px by 375px (please note larger dimensions, beginning Issue 9, at no extra cost!) Full colour Minimum 140dpi One URL (for click-through) The ad will appear on the website and in the EPUB, Mobi, PDF and Flipbook formats of the magazine. Price: $16 if you supply the magazine-ready ad / $26 if we create the ad for you.

Thirds-page ads (NEW!) For a one-third page ad in SFRQ, we require an image that is: 600px wide by 375px high Full colour Minimum 140dpi One URL (for click-through) The ad will appear on the website and in the EPUB, Mobi, PDF and Flipbook formats of the magazine. Price: $29 if you supply the magazine-ready ad / $39 if we create the ad for you. Questions? Email Promotions ~at~ SciFiRomanceQuarterly ~dot~ org

Two-chapter excerpts *Please read this section carefully and do NOT send any funds unless specifically requested by us. Any funds prematurely sent to us will NOT be refunded (they will be regarded as donations!), so make sure you understand what’s in this section first.* In order to satisfy readers’ curiosity about SFR releases, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is currently soliciting


78 excerpts for a new section we call “SFR Excerpts.” Excerpts will appear on the website and in the EPUB, Mobi, PDF and Flipbook formats of the magazine. “SFR Excerpts” submission guidelines > Only excerpts from current releases will be considered (i.e., last quarter, this quarter, and the following quarter) > The excerpt must be suitable for readers ages 13 and up. Excerpts with sex scenes will be automatically rejected > Create a new document. On the first page, include the book’s title, your name, release date, publisher, available formats, price, click-through URL and your contact email address > Place the first two chapters of your book after the title page > Save your document in DOC/DOCX/ODT format > Send the document to Promotions ~at~ SciFiRomanceQuarterly dot org, with “EXCERPT – [book title] – [author name]” in the Subject line > The Editorial Team will evaluate your submission. Any excerpt with sub-par cover art, formatting errors, copious typos and/or grammar mistakes will be declined. > All rejections are final. Rejected excerpts are ineligible for future consideration >

Authors will be notified if their excerpt has been rejected/approved

If your excerpt is chosen and you wish to have it included in the magazine: > Cost is $30 per excerpt. An author may advertise up to two (2) approved excerpts in a given calendar year. > Bonus discount: If you purchase a quarter-page ad for the same issue where the excerpt is running, the price will be $41 for excerpt plus a DIY ad, or $51 if we create the ad for you. (Regular price $46 / $56) Disclosure As you may know, Heather Massey, Diane Dooley and KS Augustin (i.e. the Editorial Team) are SFR authors themselves. With this in mind, and to preclude any perceived conflict of interest, the Editorial Team will be restricted from using this opportunity for a full year of issues; that is, from Issues 5 to 8, inclusive. Questions? Email Promotions ~at~ SciFiRomanceQuarterly ~dot~ org. We are constantly thinking of opportunities we can offer to help promote SFR, so watch this space! And thank you for your support! For short story and artwork submissions, please refer to our website at www.SciFiRomanceQuarterly.org

Snuggle up to Issue 9 on 31 December 2015


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.