Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Birthdays, Father's Day, Travel, and Writing

Hey darlins!

Sooooo...why aren't I starting a new story this week?

There are a few reasons. First and foremost, it was my birthday on Sunday (and Father's Day too, this happens every now and then and it's a sweet intersection) and I wanted to spend it hanging out with my family and enjoying delicious meals and eating birthday cake, as opposed to plotting. Mission accomplished! I do plan to post the beginning of a new story next week, but updates will be a little erratic for a while, since the honey and the baby and I are traveling at the beginning of July. Wish us luck managing on a plane!

What else is up...I've got grad school beginning at the end of July, which is intimidating but should be fun. It'll be a big drain on my already-intensely-managed time, but I'll figure it all out. I've got a few books coming out in the next few months, and you can find them...*dum dum DUUUUH* on my website!

Yeah, really! It's updated and only has a few broken links, swear to God. I'm still in the process of fixing it but it doesn't completely suck right now, so there's that. Find it here:

www.cari-z.net

That's basically it right now. I'm coauthoring another Bad Behavior book with L.A. Witt, I'm running around after my 21-month-old, I'm prepping for this year's knife camp...busy times! I hope your spring/summer is going wonderfully.




Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mutable: Epilogue

Notes: OH MY GOD, WHAT?!? 89,000 words later, we have...the end? RLY?

Really. At least, this is the end for now. A sweet, sexy ending for my long-suffering readers just WAITING for the promised HEA.

Up next: whatever comes after The Tower. I don't have a title yet, but I'll put one together shortly. And yes, there will be more sex in that story--I basically wrote myself out of logical places for sex in this book. This long, looong book. Almost 90k, lord. No wonder it took so long. You all are amazing for sticking with me, and I love you.

Title: Mutable: Epilogue

***


Mutable: Epilogue



The sun never set on Axia Mara, the planet that Cas and Rone and the children had chosen to settle on. Only half of the planet was really habitable thanks to an unforgiving axis of rotation, but it had a good-sized population whose culture emphasized education and environmentalism, and more importantly, who had no reason to dislike Imperians yet. They were welcomed by the governor of the largest city as official Imperian representatives, set up with a house and staff and private lab, and expected to contribute to local society and bring new trade deals to the government.

The trade deals, at least, came easily—Amiru wasn’t happy about exiling Rone, but he knew he couldn’t send Cas away without Rone going with him, and exiling Cas was the price of keeping his kingship strong. It wasn’t fair, but Cas had never expected life to be fair, so it didn’t hurt to leave a place he hadn’t lived in long enough to know as home. The children came with them, more excited than sad over the prospect of living in a new place, and a military escort and science staff joined them as well. Fillie—now Lieutenant Fillie, the head of their escort—had been the first to volunteer.

It was good, especially now that Cas could relax in the knowledge that he’d done everything he could to avenge Beren, and the rest of his murdered people. Vengeance was a surprisingly faint comfort prepared to the pit of grief inside of him where their loss still lived, but it eased the pain a bit. His enemies were gone, and he was still alive. It was time to embrace that, as well as really settle into not cohabiting with a phage any more.

Losing the strength and speed had been inconvenient, but not too bad. Losing the ability to transform had resulted in some unexpected tears, but again, he’d gotten over it. He still had most of the physical skills he’d had before, just in a slower body. Honestly, the hardest part about learning to live without a phage was realizing that Cas didn’t have the same control over his body’s involuntary reactions that he used to.

Sweating wasn’t terrible. He could do without it, but he recognized that a normal person without a phage recycling their moisture needed it. Fine. Blushing? Yeah, all right. Same with spots, a rumbling stomach, and waking up with weird crust in the corners of his eyes. The one that he really wasn’t used to? Waking up with an erection.

He had trained himself out of it when he was younger, the phage eventually getting the idea and putting a stop to it before he could do more than stir. Now, though, it seemed like he woke up hard every single day, without any regard to what he did or didn’t do the night before. It would have been annoying, if he wasn’t so well-occupied with his husband.

“Slower,” Rone said, putting his hands on Cas’s hips and stilling him. “Take it easy. We’ve got time.”

Intellectually, Cas knew that was true. The kids were occupied, work wasn’t going to take them out of the house until that afternoon…he could relax into this. But it was hard to abolish the habit of years, hard to get over wanting to be fast and furtive and as quiet as possible. Rone was guiding him through taking sex at a more leisurely pace, and sometimes that was great.

Other times, it verged on sadistic. “I want more,” Cas groaned, shifting his hips over Rone’s. He was filled up, fully seated on Rone’s thick cock, just the right side of too big, and he wanted to move. “You can make it bigger.”

Rone chuckled, dark and wicked. “The phage isn’t a sex toy. You don’t need it to be satisfied.”

“Then I need you to let me move!”

“Go ahead.” Rone ran his fingers down Cas’s aching thighs. “But slow.”

“Slow,” Cas muttered. “Slow my ass.”

“Exactly, honey.”

It was frustrating, how well Rone knew him by now. Cas arched forward and lifted up, forcing his muscled not to clench as he let go, let Rone slide closer and closer, almost out—then down again, just as painfully slow. He felt every inch, and Rone was right—he didn’t need any more of them. Cas was gleaming with sweat, and his back and legs burned from the glacial pace, but the diffuse pain just heightened the intensity of his pleasure. He groped backward with his hands, bracing them on Rone’s lifted knees, and rolled his hips into it, over and over, a needy, trembling mess.

“Touch me,” he gasped. His cock stood out from his body, flushed and drooling. “Touch me, I’m going to come, please...”

Rone liked to tease him, but he never left him wanting. He reached up and stroked Cas’s cock, working his balls with the other hand, and Cas sat down on him hard and came, digging furrows into Rone’s knees in an effort to keep himself upright. Fuck, fuck—“…fuck!

“That’s so good,” Rone said in a low voice. “So good, Cas, god—you don’t—” He got a hand behind Cas’s back and rolled them over, driving into Cas’s trembling, hypersensitive body with a few more short thrusts before coming himself. Cas tightened around him, holding him close and so satisfied but also wishing it would never end. They both shook as they finally separated, Rone plying Cas with soft, searching kisses as they caught their breath.

“Good morning,” Rone said at last.

Cas laughed. “Good morning to you too.” Pale sunlight filtered in through their window, the unit automatically programmed to provide blackout conditions while they slept and gradually lighten things as the day progressed. “How about we stay in bed for the rest of the day?” Cas suggested with a subtle stretch of his back. Now was when he missed the phage—he’d be living with sore muscles for a while.

“I’d love to, but I need to feed the beast before it eats through my stomach.”

Cas rolled his eyes. “It can go for days without food. You spoil that thing rotten.” Rone’s progress at mastering the phage was impressive, but he was inclined to give in to its cravings.

“We can afford to spoil it, and ourselves now. We’re not at war. We’re not fighting anybody anymore.”

That was true, and the novelty still hadn’t worn off. The last time Cas had even looked at a gun was the one Glynnis had held, almost three standard months ago. Her death had been ruled a suicide. He was grateful he hadn’t had to stage it. “I know that, but I still feel…a sort of background franticness. Like static in my mind, telling me I need to be doing something.”

“You’re doing plenty,” Rone assured him. “You’re parenting, you’re taking classes, you’re teaching Fillie how to fight without embarrassing herself. The noise will fade as other things start to fill you up.”

Cas quirked a smile. “Is that a suggestion? Because that was fantastic, but I’m completely spent.”

“Maybe later,” Rone said, kissing the corner of his mouth. “For now, how about breakfast with the kids?”

“Sounds perfect,” Cas replied.

And it was.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two

Notes: Okaaay, this could be a triggery chapter for people, so let me say this upfront: warnings for suicide! I don't care if it's a spoiler, there be emotional land mines ahead! Tread cautiously.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two

***


Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two
 
Glynnis Marigo/Melaria Yoshika



Her inn was conveniently empty the day Melaria found out about the Imperian ship arriving at Utellie, at the spaceport in the heart of the great city. She’d set the system to water all the outdoor plants, but preferred to do the indoor ones herself. It was meant to be soothing, or so she’d heard, but Melaria went about it with mechanical precision instead, dispassionately watering the tufts of salvia and tomillo until the pots glimmered blue. The newscast was nothing but background noise until she glanced at the video playing on her lounge room wall.

Melaria pressed her hand to her throat as she watched the royal couple disembark from the ship, accompanied by their young children. She never forgot a face, not even one she’d only seen once before. There was just one reason for her to see this one now, when he was so capable of changing his form. It was a warning, and she knew it was meant for her. Get your affairs in order.

Melaria had been the person to sink down onto the sofa and watch the ceremonial entrance, but it was Glynnis who stood up when the newscast ended. She made a list in her head as she moved into the kitchen, absently pouring hot water over her favorite loose tea. She would give herself the day to get things done. Firstly: cancel the upcoming stays.

That was the easiest part. Melaria’s inn, Shyne Cottages, was located in a scenic mountain hamlet several hours out from Utellie by hovercraft. It had never been a very busy place, but her clientele had been steadily growing over the past few months. What a shame she wouldn’t be able to host guests when her orange phoralia trees blossomed in a few months. The scent was absolutely enchanting.

“Of course, you’ll get a full refund of your deposit,” she told the last customers, an elderly couple who had once lived in the village, but had moved down to live with their daughter in the capital a few years ago.

“I’m not worried about that, my dear, just about your health! You’re seeing a specialist for the problem, aren’t you? Utellie has some of the best doctors in the entire system.”

“I am planning on seeing a specialist, yes,” Glynnis said around the unexpected lump in her throat. “But I’m afraid they won’t be able to do much good. It’s…related to where I used to live.”

“Oh, no. Did you bring something with you from that dreadful planet? Is it contagious?”

“Not contagious at all, I assure you. Thank you for understanding, Maria.” She ended the call, took a deep breath, then moved on to the next bullet point in her head: Juney.

The cat was dozing in the sunshine, a lazy puddle of fur splayed beneath the bay windows. Glynnis sat down next to him and carefully stroked his back. Juney opened one eye and growled at her, but let it go for the moment. “Prickly thing,” she chided him gently. “We never really got a chance to get along, did we?” The cat had been left behind by the previous owners of the inn, and had never exactly warmed up to Glynnis. Who could blame it, she mused distractedly. Who could warm up to ice? “You survived before when people just let you be. I think you’ll manage it again, don’t you?” The cat glared at her, and lashed a hind leg out to scratch the back of her hand. “I’ll leave the neighbors a note, then.”

The rest of it was slightly more complicated, but only because Glynnis hated the thought of leaving another mess behind her when this was over. She’d done that once already, and the fact haunted her. Daphna would have been so ashamed of her.

As long as she kept moving, it was possible—just possible—to keep thoughts of her daughter, so lively and lovely and fierce and gone, at bay. Glynnis cleaned the entire inn from top to bottom, folded the sheets and blankets and resolutely refused any assistance from the housekeeping system when it beeped insistently at her. If there was a stain, she would own it. A dustbunny, she would eliminate it. And when it came time for her past to swallow her whole, she would meet that head-on as well.

She had a gun, in a box beneath her bed at the very top of the main house. It wasn’t her old field piece—this gun had bee Daphna’s. It was one of only two personal effects returned to Glynnis after she was informed of her daughter’s death. The other had been a single earring, a small red cave crystal stud, that she’d turned into a ring and now wore on her right hand. When the inn was clean, and the sun was beginning to get low, she took out the gun and stared at it, set it in her scoured left hand and ran a finger over the grooves in the barrel. There was no blood there now, but there might as well be. Glynnis had helped bring ruination to an entire people because of this gun—her own people. She had laid them to waste more effectively than the Leelingers ever could have, and all because she’d been tired. Tired, and heartsick, and missing her child. So many others had suffered the same way, but she was the only one in a position to do something so drastic with her pain. In hindsight, she knew that she’d been at least partially insane at the time, but that was worse than cold comfort now.

Glynnis didn’t quite know how long she sat there, quiet and alone, until she heard the downstairs door open with a creak. There was no “hello” or “hola” or any variation, so…well. He was here, then.

Part of her wanted to scream, to leap for her console and call the police. Part of her wanted to take cover on the stairs and start shooting—the gun had three manual projectiles left, although its energy cell had died months ago. The biggest part of her, though, decided to sit right where she was.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Her stuttering heartbeat slowed, calming. It was time for this, she realized, and in a way she was relieved not having to wait any longer. Someone would have found her out eventually. At least he was a professional.

Cas Farling, Phage Operative, appeared in the door, holding Juney in his arms. The damned cat was actually purring. “Sweet pet,” he said.

“Not for me,” Glynnis replied, pleased that her voice was steady. “But I think I always knew he had it in him.”

“Almost everything does, until something goes wrong. How are you, Commander Marigo?”

Hearing her name and rank pierced her heart, but Glynnis didn’t bother to wipe the tears away. What good would it do to hide them now? She was already discovered in every way that mattered. “I’m here. That’s about all I can say for myself.”

“That’s a shame,” Farling said, “considering how dearly you sold your present location. I wish for your sake that you loved it here, and were full of rage and horror to see me.”

“I wish that too,” she agreed. “But I couldn’t let myself go, even when I knew it was the only comfort I was going to get. I couldn’t let her go.”

Farling glanced at the gun. “Your daughter’s, I take it?”

“Yes.”

Farling stared in silence for a long moment. “I came here ready to fight, but I think a part of me knew it wouldn’t be necessary. I could snap your neck, or take that gun and shoot before you managed to close your hands around it, but I don’t believe I need to. Do I?”

As soon as he said it, the way forward was clear. “No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Perfectly sure.” Her hands were steady, her heart still calm. “Would you like to wait and verify?”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary.” He was still holding Juney. “What would you like me to do with your cat?”

Glynnis had an epiphany. “Take her with you, please. Give her to your children; they might enjoy having a pet.”

“They’ll have a menagerie before long,” Farling said with a faint smile. “Thank you, though.”

“You’re welcome.”

He paused, then freed one hand from under the cat to give her a formal salute. “Be strong, Commander.”

Be strong. Be brave. You are the hope of your civilization, the shield of your family, the heart of your people. It was in the Delacoeurian oath of service, one that all who served in the military took. Slowly she pressed to her feet, the gun still in her left hand, and returned the salute. “Thank you for your service, Operative Farling.”

He nodded, then turned and walked back down the stairs, Juney still in his arms. Glynnis waited for the door to shut, then looked down at her daughter’s gun. Be strong.

For the first time in over a year, and only for a split second, she had the satisfaction of knowing that she was.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part One

Notes: The wrap-up begins! Let's visit a distantly-mentioned Delacoeurian now, living a safe, boring life on another planet. What did he do? What's he been doing? What does he get now? *hint--he gets more than he can handle*

Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part One

***


Chapter Thirty-One, Part One

Jasen Pendry/Holden Kaske



The arrival of the Imperian vessel in the city of Jannisah was all anyone had talked about for the past three days. They had bypassed the larger cities, including the continental capitol, for talks in Jannisah! How peculiar, how daring, how flattering! The prime minister was meeting with the Imperians here—word was that the prince himself was on board the ship!

“I heard he’s been exiled from his own planet,” Sumi Shaw told her psychologist, Holden Kaske, during her court-mandated half-hour appointment. Thirty minutes, every week, to make sure she was still following the corrective measures she’d been given after her last episode. Dr. Kaske was the only psychologist in the entire town who would work with her—it was because he was a foreigner, people whispered. He couldn’t be expected to know how awful the things she’d done were—how could he? He came from a place where people lived in caves! It was hard to offend the sun when you never saw it.

“I heard he tried to kill his brother after the king fell in love with the prince’s new husband,” Sumi Shaw went on, fingers excitedly twisting the silk trim on the pillow she clutched in her lap. “Can you imagine such a forbidden love? What could a husband do, stand idly by while he watched his heart be stolen away by his own brother? Of course not, but how could he act against his king? It would make a very puzzling story.”

Doctor Kaske smiled narrowly. “I’m more interested in your own story, Sumi. Have you been trying the visualization exercises I talked with you about last time?”

“Oh, some,” she said airily, waving a hand in a vague circle. “They’re quite hard for me to understand, honestly. I like things to be simple. If I were in charge of the story of the prince and his husband, I would have had the prince killed for his disloyalty and the husband sent into exile. We must always show our proper deference to our rulers, even when they steal our hearts.”

“Sumi…” Doctor Kaske was saved from having to keep himself from strangling his patient by the gentle chime that signaled the end of their session. “Keep working on those visualization exercises, please. Try to put this Imperian visit out of your mind. They’ll be gone soon enough.”

“Perhaps,” she said as she pushed to her feet. “Perhaps not. The prince’s children are from Shiva, did you know? New Kolkata, I believe. He’ll probably be heading there next. It’s very exciting!”

“It certainly is. Goodbye, Sumi.” Doctor Kaske waited for her to close the door before tugging off his spectacles, setting them on his knee, and rubbing the bridge of his nose in pure irritation.

How many years was he supposed to spend wasting his time in this backwater town? He’d try to appeal to his probation officer again—five years in the sticks was far too long to need to prove himself an able citizen. He was barely through a single year of it, and he already wanted to strangle half of his insipid patients. He was meant for more, and in a bigger city he could become more again—meet the right people, extend his influence, double down on his status as an exotic refugee to improve his lifestyle.

Perhaps he would marry again…or maybe not. Trina had died in Shyne, too slow to get to the transport out in time, too slow to meet the terms of their bargain with the Leelingers. Jasen hadn’t been able to convince their transport to wait, although in truth he hadn’t tried too hard. Trina had been a simple woman, content to rule over a hole in the ground. Jasen had always been meant for greater things.

Holden, damn it. Remember, it’s always Holden here. It was an elementary precaution, and one he was determined to stick with, even though it was impossible that anyone from his past life would ever find him here. He’d come to Shiva to start over. He had to give up everything he’d ever been before, in order to make that happen.

Holden tapped in his final notes, turned his secretarial office bot off, and left the tower that housed his third-floor, two-room office. It was raining outside—again, why did Shiva have to have a monsoon season that lasted half the damn year—so instead of walking the kilometer back to his apartment, Holden stepped onto a bus, flashing his ID to verify that it was taking him in the direction he needed to go. Shiva was very inflexible when it came to the movements of its citizens—control was more important to the people in charge than personal freedom, and any deviation from your normal schedule had to be petitioned and scheduled at least a week in advance to be approved, or no public transport would take you. Very few personal transportation vehicles were allowed, and walking would only get you so far before you tired out or the cameras caught you and patrollers were dispatched to put you back in line—literally. If there had been anything good at all about Shyne, it was the fact that there was no surveillance.

Holden departed the bus in front of his apartment building, another multi-level monstrosity, but at least one where he was lucky enough to get an apartment on the ground floor. He shook his raincoat off at the front entrance, walked down the hall to his place and glanced over at the freshly-painted door across from his, where a new tenant was supposed to take residence within the next day or so. They better not cook laas every evening like the last one. It was laas season, and Holden had had it up to here with the stench of the fermented vegetable drink that was so popular.

He wearily waved his ID in front of his door and walked in, shutting it behind himself with another sigh. It took nearly three seconds for him to realize that he wasn’t alone, and by the time he did it was too late to scream.

Not that he didn’t try.

“So slow,” a voice whispered in his ear as a thick piece of cloth descended over his face, obscuring his breathing and his vision while it pulled him into an arch. Holden tried to lash out with his hands, to strike back at his attacker, but he grasped nothing but air as he was pulled backward into an arch—until his head impacted the floor with a thud, leaving him dazed. He rolled over onto his stomach to try and push up onto his hands and knees, but the cloth moved with him, wrapping him up even tighter as he shifted, and a heavy weight settled into the small of his back, pinning him. Holden’s shoulders were off the ground, his neck twisted back almost too far to breathe, and the cloth was so thick he couldn’t see through it. He tried to scream, but a hand clapped down over his mouth before he could get out more than a whimper.

“There’s no one to hear you,” his attacker said calmly. “Even if you did scream. Your apartment is at the end of the hall, your next-door-neighbor is at work, and as for the new arrival across the hall…well, that’s me. And I think it’s quite clear that I don’t care about the noises you make.”

“Please,” Holden tried to say, clear enough even though it was garbled against the man’s palm. “Please, please, please…”

“You want to try begging?” There was a brief pause, and then a sigh. “All right. I guess it’s fair to let you have your say.” He moved his hand, and the words poured out of Holden like a waterfall.

“Please, I’m—I’m not trouble, I’m not any trouble for anyone here, I’m just a—a refugee, I swear! Not a member of any of the gangs, I just do my job and come home and do my job and come home again!”

“So you do,” his attacker agreed. “You live a very monotonous life here on Shiva. Is it what you thought you’d get, Jasen? When you betrayed your people? When you sold your leadership over an entire city of Delacoeurians for a chance at another existence? Is this what you thought you’d get?” The voice moved closer, until it was right next to his ear. “Because I have to say, Mister Mayor, all things considered I think you got more out of Shyne.”

Mayor…Jasen… “Are you Delacoeurian?” he choked out. “Oh, I—I’m glad, I am, I’ve missed my people so much, I can’t even tell…and I didn’t betray us! It was all Marigo, she’s the one who practically invited the Leelingers in!”

“And she’s going to pay too,” the voice said agreeably. “But I know you, Jasen, and I know what happened in Shyne, and I know that you’re the one who told them how to strike, and where. Marigo might have cleared the way, but she couldn’t have done that without your help. So I suggest you relax now, and think of something that makes you happy.”

“What?” Holden—Jasen—god, what was his own name again? The weight on his back increased, arching him harder. “No! Listen to me, there’s money to be made here, I can help you, I can—”

Crack! Jasen Pendry’s neck broke without fanfare, and his attacker conscientiously sat on top of him and help his broken position a while longer, just to make sure there was no chance of the man reviving. Then he got to his feet, removed the soft cloth from around Jasen’s neck, and checked for bruises. Nothing obvious. He moved the desk chair closer, then tipped it on its side. It would look like Jasen had fallen while adjusting one of the vents on the ceiling. Lovely.

He adjusted his disguise, then walked out the door and down the hall, back outside. The cameras caught him moving, and briefly tried to follow him, but between one block and the next, he vanished into the press of vehicles and was gone.