Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 9, Pt. 2

Notes: Another Tuesday, another chapter! This one isn't so long, but it's chock full of revelations that I hope you enjoy. It's almost New Year's, and I'm going to have an enormous, prize-filled contest on the 1st, so keep looking in, darlins. Also, I swear, there'll be a picture of me in a dress as soon as I bloody get one back from somebody who had a camera.

Title: Soothsayer Chapter 9, Part 2.


“I’ve led this empty life for over forty years, and now I can pass that heritage on and ensure that the misery will continue for at least one more generation.” – Larry David

“Six Flags?” Phin repeated. “The theme park?”

“That’s the one.”

The silence was a little longer this time. “I don’t need to know,” Phin muttered to himself at last. “He’ll be there. Look for a rainbow-colored beater with a decal of a mustang on the hood.”

And I was the child here? “Um…okay.”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mid-Holiday Post: Hi!

Hi guys!

So, I didn't get a post out on Christmas, and although I plan on doing a big one for the New Year, with lots of sharing and excitement and possibly a giveaway, I thought I'd add my two cents now.

First off: Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope your season has been beautiful and full of delight. My man and I spent Christmas alone this year, after hosting a huge number of people last weekend for the wedding. Want to see a picture of my pretty sister and her husband on their wedding day?


She and I look just alike, except for the whole tall, thin and redheaded thing. I love the guy she married, he's fantastic, and we're so happy to have him in the family now. I'll post a picture of myself once I have a decent one. We got this from a friend of hers, not the actual photographer.

My folks are coming back for one night, on the 1st, before they fly back to Germany on the 2nd, so we'll get a little more time with them one-on-one. It's kind of odd, honestly. I love my parents and have all sorts of thing I could be sharing with them about my life, but don't, because I know they wouldn't really like learning that I won a Rainbow Award for lesbian fiction this year. Or, well, all sorts of things. Someday I'll be able to share everything without worrying about it, but for now...I just share with you guys!

Speaking of you guys, yeah, I've decided it, there will be a contest starting on the 1st, because you all are wonderful and deserve nice things. More about how fantastic I find you later.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 9, Pt. 1

Notes: Well, I survived the wedding! The weather was gorgeous, just enough snow to make the mountains look scenic but not intimidating. My little sister was a beautiful bride. Because I'm ridiculously happy about it all, I'll post pictures later once guests are home and putting stuff I can pull from up on Facebook. And look, more Soothsayer! We're lightening the mood significantly. I hope you enjoy it, darlins;)

Title: Soothsayer Chapter 9, Part 1.


“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

                When I woke up, Sören was gone. My first instinct was to run out and check the parking lot, because if he’d abandoned me after the fiasco that was last night I didn’t know what I’d do. Die, probably, after a lot of melodramatic running and screaming. Nothing about that thought appealed, so I closed my eyes again, took a deep breath and ran my hand over the other half of the bed. Still warm. Okay, that was good, he hadn’t been gone long.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Update and a New Story Excerpt

Hi guys!

So, the whole family is here now. Last night my parents had a party (in our house) for 20 of their closest friends, and today there's spa-ing and the rehearsal at the church and then the rehearsal dinner, and then tomorrow, starting at 7am, we're jumping down the rabbit's hole of wedding prep.

I thought about adding a bunch of freaking-out gifs, or big piles of wedding cake and people falling down drunk, but honestly I'm having a pretty good time. Everyone who didn't come to my wedding is at this one, so I'm seeing family from all over the world. My sister's fiance is a great guy, and his family is lovely, so there's a lot to like and plenty I'm comfortable ignoring right now.

I'll add some photos of the event after tomorrow, once we get it out of the way. Those of you who've done this sort of thing before know that it's a time sap, so I'm not getting any writing done until people are gone. However, I was convinced by a friend to send a short novella I wrote for something else in to Dreamspinner this week. It's a genderbending, modern-day retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone, and I'm kind of in love with it. I'm going to give you guys a little excerpt today because, darn it, I'm in a good mood and so should we all be! I've no idea if it'll get accepted, I should find out in a month or so, but at least I'm putting new stuff out there.

Have a wonderful weekend, darlins'!


The last farmer’s markets of the year are always the best, in my opinion.

Autumn is the season of abduction, the gasping end of summer’s time of plenty, when everything living in the ground exerts itself with one final burst of fecundity before going gently into that dark wintery sleep. The stalls of the local farmer’s market are filled with produce, fruits that are smaller than their early counterparts but all the sweeter for it and greens that have just barely avoided being touched with frost. It’s the season of preserves, jams and jellies, pickles and sauerkraut stacked in bright clean jars on orange and red tablecloths. It’s the season of keeping and consideration. Even though I know I can get almost anything I want from the local supermarket, even though I could certainly grow it myself if I took the time to build a proper greenhouse here, I like the sense of scarcity. The culinary specificity, as it were.

One of the booths has bottles of last year’s ice wine on display. To make ice wine the grapes have to freeze on the vine, literally perish of the cold, before they’re harvested and pressed. It makes the wine uniquely sweet. I don’t normally drink but something about the metaphor moves me. I buy a bottle and continue my ramble, enjoying the sights and scents of people and dogs—so many dogs, it seems like everyone in this town has one—pushed together in such a small space. Boulder’s farmer’s market is hosted on a small stretch of street between a park and an art museum. Next to the art museum is an ornamental tea house and I’m tempted by it, a chance to escape the chill, but it’s not so bad out that I can’t browse a little longer.

There are stalls making artisanal pizzas baked on the spot, or empanadas, kebabs or gyros, each one with vegetarian options. Children run from the bakeries to the florists to the puppy tied up in the shadow of a tree behind one of the vendors. People jostle for space in front of the booths, hands reaching for samples, voices raised in conversation, debate and laughter. It’s nice. Lively. I like the energy of it, being in such a crowd. Sometimes I feel like a battery, and that I need to be part of a group to properly recharge. Being in a greenhouse gives me the same buzz, and without the headaches that can come when I linger with noisy people a little too long, but I haven’t put down roots here. I won’t. This is a break from my regular life, a stutter in the breath of responsibility that normally fills me and gives me purpose. I like it here, but I can’t maintain it. Have to enjoy it while I can.

I buy a kebab from one of the food vendors, meat so tender the first bite literally melts in my mouth, breaking to pieces under the gentle pressure of my tongue. It’s blissful, and I shut my eyes to savor the flavors more fully. Lamb with a Moroccan flair: I taste coriander and cumin, the heat of ginger and the sweet bite of cinnamon. I finish my bite and reach for another.

Only my wooden skewer is empty. I stare at it for a moment, then down at the dog sitting at my feet, its jaws wide open in a grin. It’s a pitbull, I think, or maybe a pitbull cross of some kind, charcoal gray with two white spots on either side of its muzzle. It looks very pleased with itself, and so it should, I reflect as I shake my head and throw my skewer in the nearby trash can. “Well played.”

A tall man in black jeans and a dark brown Henley is striding toward us, his expression on the grim side. “I’m so sorry,” he says once he’s close enough to be heard over the crowd. His voice is a pleasant baritone, with the slightest hint of an accent I can’t quite place. “Bear got away from me. Please tell me he didn’t knock you down searching for a treat.”

“Nothing so dire.” I pat the dog—Bear—on the head, and his owner sighs.

“That’s a polite way of saying that he did get something from you. If my dog ate your lunch, the least I can do is replace it.”

“It’s fine, really.”

“Please, I insist.”

I look at the man, look a little deeper for the first time. There’s a veneer of irritation over his face, but beneath that I get a sense of depth, of layers. Irritation, affection for the dog, pleasure at a new, impromptu meeting, and…I pull back. It’s none of my business.

“Well, if you insist.”

“I do.” He glances behind me at the kebab shop. “Although the line here has grown very long. We may as well sit down if we’re going to eat properly.”

I’d been thinking of stopping at the tea house anyway, but… “Will they let you in with Bear?”

“Possibly. If not, then we’ll sit outside. There are heaters set up beside the tables.” He holds his hand out to me, palm facing more up than sideways. When I take it I almost expect him to raise my knuckles to his lips. The thought makes me blush a little, and I hope he doesn’t see it. “Felix Clymenus.”

“Lee Summers.” We shake, and his lip curls slightly.

“A pleasure, Mr. Summers, despite our unorthodox meeting.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 8, Pt. 2

Notes: So, not a super long one today. My parents are in town, the wedding is nigh, there are many preparations and not a lot of time, but I think it's still an interesting addition. Plus there's a song link! It's an Icelandic lullaby that I reference down below. It's beautiful, but kind of haunting. Anyway. Story for you. Happy Tuesday, darlins!

Title: Soothsayer, Chapter 8, Part 2.

(The link to the lullaby)

“Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The smart thing to do would have been to keep going, in line with my original plan. After what happened with the cop though, my eyes burned like my body was trying to cry and my magic just wouldn’t let it. The guilt didn’t abate after two hours, and I wasn’t about to hand the keys over to Sören again, so I pulled off the highway at the next hole-in-the-wall motel I saw.

“Why are we stopping?”

I didn’t say anything, just got out of the car and slammed the door shut. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to that fucking dick right now. I headed into the tiny front office, where a boy who couldn’t be more than eighteen looked up from his video game a little incredulously. “Seriously?”

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Release: Devout

Hi guys!

Okay, so technically I've got a new release today. I mean, today's the day its supposed to be available. Due to personal issues, the press hasn't been able to get everything together, so right now it's still up for pre-order and may not be available for download until the end of the weekend. But! Pre-order means that it's cheaper to purchase, so there's that.

Also, I really liked the theme, which is basically sexy priests. I didn't quite use a priest in my story, but he's close! And he's hanging out with bad company.

Let me tell you more:

Tyson may be the Son of a Preacher Man, but he's certainly no saint. Exorcising demons is taxing work, and his partner, Seb, certainly knows how to relieve the tension. Their latest assignment seems ordinary enough, but Seb's connection to this particular hellspawn means Ty might have to strike a deal, and the terms will be questionable at best.

That's the website blurb. Additionally, it's a spin-off of the Cambion universe, so there is mention of Rio and Devon if you're a fan of those guys.  Want an excerpt? I feel you should have an excerpt. And here's the link to the pre-order, if you're interested. There are also stories by Angelia Sparrow, DK Jernigan, Ann Anderson and Annabeth Leong, it's a pretty decent lineup.


I wasn’t about to walk into an exorcism smelling like come.  I took five minutes to be as thorough as I could stand to be with the water, which never managed to get more than lukewarm, and some uncomfortably rough paper towels before heading back outside toward the car.  At least Seb had warmed it up.

And turned on the radio.  I hated giving him control of the radio; he always searched around for the song he knew would piss me off the most and stuck there.  I sighed and pulled out onto the highway.

“The only boy who could ever reach me,” crash-bam, “was the son of a preacher man!  The only boy who could ever teach me, oh-oh, was the son of a preacher man!  Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was,” bang-bang-bang on the dashboard.  “Sweet talkin’ son of a preacher man, ooh, oooohh—”
I turned off the radio.  Seb’s dark eyes flashed to me, and he pouted dramatically.  “Ty, I was listening to that.”

“You were butchering that.”

“I beg your pardon?  I sing like a choir of angels.  I should know.”

“Funny thing,” I told him as I took the next exit for Couer D’Alene, “the metaphor doesn’t get any more ironic the more often you tell it.”

“No, but your appreciation of it increases, which makes it worth the telling,” Seb said with a grin.  “Besides, I still hold out hope that you’ll learn to love that song.  It’s like your theme song.  Son of a preacher man,” he sang at me, mocking and serious all at once.  His voice really was beautiful, a perfect dramatic contralto that suited the body he was wearing right now, that of a sweet-faced young man, gangling and loose-jointed.  His hair was a mess of short black spikes, and he wore silver rings through his nose, both eyebrows and along both ears.  All he needed to complete the punk ensemble was a cigarette, but I never let Seb smoke in the car.  I had to have some boundaries, damn it.

And I’d never learn to love that song.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 8, Pt. 1

Notes: More Soothsayer, and the competition is taking an interesting turn. Also a kind of sad one. I had no idea it would happen until I wrote it, blame the boys.

Title: Soothsayer, Chapter 8, Part 1.


“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” – Albert Einstein

                Going from the incredibly optimistic app on my phone, it should have taken about 18 hours to drive from Illinois to the tiny town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, home of the Blue Hole and, occasionally, Bobby Garcia. Bobby was the man I needed to see about nature magic, so New Mexico was where we had to go. One really long day, maybe two if we were wasting time sleeping and eating, and then we’d be there.


                “You should let me drive,” Sören said once it was after midnight and the highway had cleared off a bit. We were headed south toward Missouri—it wouldn’t be long before we crossed the border and hopefully made it that much harder for Papa Egilsson and his crew of vicious offspring to find us.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Rainbow Award Win!

What is this madness, people!?!

December is apparently a winning month for me. This is karma paying me in advance for the trials and tribulations that are coming next week, I'm sure. But still, wow!

Caitlin Ricci and I took first place in the Rainbow Awards' Best Lesbian Contemporary/Erotic Romance category for our novel Camellia. We also tied for third in Best Lesbian Novel overall. This is especially amazing to me because I don't write a lot of lesbian romance--hardly any--and most of you read me for my M/M, my science fiction, my...anything but lesbian romance. Especially contemporary, BDSM lesbian romance. And yet! People had really lovely things to say, which I'm going to share because darn it, I'm proud.

Camellia is a beautiful, delicate story that unfolds with the same languid, graceful pacing of a Japanese tea ceremony...and like the ancient art of the ceremony, will engage every one of your senses by the time it concludes. The memory will linger as well, with surprising, subtle strength. And lest you think this story is a snoozefest, I’d best mention the sex was hot enough to leave me wishing for a fan. No fooling.

I normally do not read lesbian novels or BDSM. The genres are not my usual preference. However, after reading this book (first in a series), I was genuinely pleased with the dynamic, tight writing style, the beautiful explaination and demonstration of the BDSM lifestyle, and the introduction into the beauty of tea service. Lucy & Danny are two characters I am willing to visit again & delve deeper into their story.

A book about tea but this romance is so much more than that. Lust swirled between these two characters that exploded off the page and kept me spellbound. With a promising ending, I wanted to read more about these characters and I dreaded getting closer to the end.

I know a book is good when it makes me a fan of a lifestyle that I usually don't find attractive or interesting. BDSM is usually not my scene at all and also if it's a setting so explored and exploited nowadays in literature, a really few reads have been able to engage me during their reading, but this book is one of the winners!

As a member of the BDSM community and a Dom I often cringe when I read books that contain BDSM/Kink elements. I especially cringe when these stories attempt to delve into the mindset of a Dom because they so often get them wrong. However, this story did such a gloriously, magnificent job on both of these jobs that I found myself hard-pressed to put the book down even when I had to go to sleep.

So, there you go! If anyone is interested in reading Camellia, you can find it at Less Than Three Press: Camellia. It's on sale right now, so good timing.

Well. So. Yeah, that happened.

**On a side note, I'd like to say that I've fulfilled a personal goal of mine by both winning a Rainbow Award and being featured in a personal defense magazine article on wielding a knife against a left-handed attacker. Yes, that's right, I've got layers!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Two Neat Things

Hi guys!

So, there are two things in my writing life that I should really be sharing. The first is, I've got a story coming out next Friday in Storm Moon Press' Devout anthology. It contains five stories, and mine is an offshoot of my Cambion universe (much like Soothsayer--obviously I have a hard time letting go of my creations, how long have I been writing in the Bonded/Pandora/Paradise universe now? Five years?). Here's a description of the antho, along with a link to buy it:

Let's face it; spirituality can be sexy. That goes double for men of the cloth, who display such passion and devotion toward their chosen deities. For some, nothing is more erotic than men dedicating their lives to faith and service. However, even the most pious men aren't above temptation, and the men of Devout find themselves more than eager to explore a more carnal interpretation of worship. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy five doses of old-time religion spiked with erotic intrigue and a delicious hint of sin that will have you reaching for some holy water, preferably with ice.

This story is the last one I'm publishing with Storm Moon Press, who due to personal issues are closing their doors. I'll put an excerpt of my story up on release day. Yay new releases!

The other neat thing is that a piece of flash fiction I wrote just won Queer Sci Fi's flash fiction contest. The theme was "endings" and we had 300 words to do it in, so hey, let me give you a story!

It’s time to close the crypt. Dayell knows it. Less than two minutes to midnight, and his men are giving him concerned looks. Time to close the crypt, or when Jen’s soul breaks free from his corpse it will seek out the nearest vessel and overwhelm it. It has to be contained, entombed for all eternity, or it will winnow through the living like a scythe as it seeks vengeance. It’s time to close the crypt, but Dayell just can’t do it yet.
Dead by dark magic, denied his rightful journey to the Halls of Valor…it should never have happened this way. Jen had scorned magic, teased Dayell for his precautions against it. “Magic means nothing against hot blood and hard steel,” he’d murmured in the night when Dayell fretted, smiling lips close to his ear. “Magic will fall to will every time.” Magic was a fretful, vulnerable thing, it was true…but even so it was dangerous. Dayell had known how dangerous, but was unable to convince Jen. Unable to save him.
“Day,” his second warns, and he sluggishly rouses himself to lay hands on the cold stone. It’s time to close the crypt, to lock Jen in tight, leave his spirit hopeless and raging…no, he can’t do it. He just can’t. But if he doesn’t, then his men’s lives may be forfeit.
But he can be the vessel, Jen’s second chance for vengeance and valor. Jen won’t hurt him, not after everything they’ve been to each other. He can feel the moment coming, the air thickening with power. He heaves on the stone, rolling it over smoothly, closing off the crypt but leaving just a crack… All he needs is a moment.
It’s midnight. Dayell closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and welcomes Jen’s soul into his bones.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 7, Pt. 2

Notes: Oh my gosh, major revelations at last! A new quest, new trials and tribulations and a whole lot of WTF, honestly. Where do I even get some of this? This one was super fun to write. Enjoy!

Title: Soothsayer Chapter 7, Part 2.


“I wonder what inspires gamblers. Is if the adventure or the love of laziness?” – Paul Bamikole

                I woke up and realized I couldn’t feel my arms. It said something about my state of mind that the first thing I thought was, “Where is Sören?” It was quickly followed by “Oh my fuck, what the hell is wrong with my arms?”

                It took a few seconds for my mind to clear enough that I could figure things out. I was still outside, although now the sky was completely dark, the sun gone and the moon obscured by cloud cover. I wasn’t in the dark, though. The car was about ten feet in front of me, well into the field—how the fuck had it gotten there? Had Sören driven it there? Had he dragged it? Either way, the car was facing me, headlights on, so bright that it hurt to look at them. I could barely make out the silhouette of a man crouched in front of them, rifling through a bag—my bag.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Upcoming Stuff and Getting Shit Done

Hi guys!

Okay, holiday weekend winding down, back to the grind tomorrow, and I've got a big writing schedule for December, so no time to rest on my laurels. December will also be the month of Family/Wedding/Drama/Did I Mention The Drama, so it's good I'm getting some stuff done before things get crazy.

What have I gotten done, exactly? Glad you asked! Some little stuff, like entering a flash fiction contest hosted by the Queer Sci Fi/Fantasy group on Facebook. Some bigger stuff, like finishing the rough draft for my contribution to next year's Out In Colorado boxed set. It's a time-warping, gender-bending version of Hades and Persephone set right here in Boulder. Yeah...I swear I'm not high.

I've also got a new release with SMP coming out on the 12th--also, my last release with them, since they're shutting their doors. If you liked Cambion, this story takes place in the same world. It's called Son of a Preacher Man, and features a new type of demon for the interested. Also, the cover is ridiculously hot. I'll have an excerpt for you closer to the release date.

Last thing: I'm up for a Goodreads M/M Romance Group member's choice award for Best White Collar story, for Making It Work. You know, this one:

If you want to vote for me, or hell with it, vote for whoeverm and you're a member, here's the link: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/20149-m-m-romance  Look on the far right, in little words, where it mentions Polls. That's the place to vote.

Think that's it for now. Here we go leaping into December...good luck and God speed!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Love Letter

Hi guys,

It's Thanksgiving in America. I'm not going to get into the dubious history and politics of this holiday, or the commercialization of it, or the family drama of it. I'm going to try to take it for exactly what it says it is, a day to be thankful for what I have, and go from there.

I'm thankful for my extended family, and also thankful that I'm only seeing a few of them today. I'm thankful for my husband, who is an amazing and wonderful person who supports me in going for what I love. Estoy agradecido por todos mis maravillosos lectores, in Spanish and in English and in whatever language they happen to be encountering me in. I'm thankful I'm healthy, that I have wonderful friends all over the world, that I have a creative mind and a curious spirit. I'm thankful that I'm a writer, and I'm thankful that you're reading this. You contribute massively to my happiness, and I'm so, so appreciative of every comment, every kudos, every click and every story of mine that you read.

So, thank you! I wish I could say it better but I really can't. All I can do is keep writing and giving you reasons to come back.

With much love,

Cari Z

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 7, Pt. 1

Notes: I know this isn't the longest post, but I'm setting a lot of stuff up. Plus, wow, it's been a busy week and we've barely started! Full Credit is up in Spanish on the blog (see the right hand side under Pages), I just got cover art for an anthology I'm in that gets released next month (more on that later) and we can't forget last week's Academy vignette, which apparently a lot of people liked. Thank you! For now, though, on with Cillian and Sören, or...whatever is in the trunk.

Also, I'm sorry, all my Icelandic comes from translation sites, I apologize if there are egregious errors.

Title: Soothsayer, Chapter 7, Part 1.


“Your voice has haunted every inch of my soul since the last time I heard it…my world had been so dark, void of sound and then I heard you sing again—and it exploded.” – Cassandra Giovanni, Finding Perfection

                It took for fucking ever to get out of Chicago. Seriously, I don’t know how they even called it all Chicago, it was like, “Oh, the city center!” and then hours’ worth of suburbs before the highway suddenly spit me out into farmland. I could smell the cow shit from here, and it was not lovely. I would stand out like a five-alarm fire in one of these little farming towns, not that I expected the Egilsson family to be on my tail quite yet. Still, Andre was right. I needed to sleep, and that meant I needed to stop for a while. Sören was safe in the trunk—god, and I hated that he was stuffed back in the trunk but there really was no good way to explain the functional equivalent of a corpse to someone if they happened to look inside.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Spanish Translation for Full Credit!

Hi guys!

Okay, so this has taken waaay longer than it should, and so far I've only got the story up in two places, but whatever, I'm getting there. I never claimed not to be a bit of a Luddite. Anyway!

I have available now a Spanish-language translation of You Get Full Credit For Being Alive, courtesy of the amazing group Traductores Anonimos, whom you can find here: http://traductores-anonimos.blogspot.com/ . Sweet! Where, you may ask, can I find this amazing thing to read?

Well, it turns out Blogger isn't as easy to upload PDFs at as some other sites are *coughWordpresscough* so I've done the next best thing, and uploaded both the Spanish translation and the original English version to Archive Of Our Own. Yes, I know it's primarily a fanfic site, but they allow for original fiction too and you can download it in a lot of different formats there. I'm on AO3 as CariZee. Here's the link to my homepage there, and both fics: https://archiveofourown.org/users/CariZee .

Also, if you look over to the right side of my blog under Pages, you'll see a brand new page listed as Toda Una Vida Por Delante, which has links to both the English and Spanish versions of the fic, plus the Spanish-language version itself posted in its entirety. I'm working on getting it uploaded to All Romance Ebooks and Goodreads, but these things take time and I didn't want people to have to wait, so...here it is! Hopefully there will be more to come.

Huge, huge thanks to the translators who worked so hard at this, and also thanks for the fabulous cover art. I'm doing a sequel in the new year, I hope you'll want to translate that too :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vignette: The Academy: Impatience Is A Virtue

Notes: Okay, people, it's the vignette you've all been waiting for. Time for...AWKWARD! VIRGIN! SEX! Except it's not really awkward in the way you expect and it's only semi-virginal, but it's still Ten and Cody gettin' busy. Rating is R, please don't read if you don't care for explicit scenes, and I really, really hope you guys like it. I definitely did.

Title: Vignette: The Academy: Impatience Is A Virtue


Cody was acutely aware of the passage of time.

Time had been a huge part of his childhood, and not just for normal reasons like waiting for birthdays to come around. His schedule had been rigid, settled, a never-ending train of doctor’s appointments and vaccinations. He’d learned to count before he really knew what the numbers meant, measuring the spaces between visits like the precious things they were. His dad had always done his best to keep Cody healthy, and he knew that had been tough when they were Drifters. Pandora had made things better, and Garrett had thrown a wrench into their carefully-denominated schedule that had meant excitement and fun, but Cody never forgot what the numbers meant, especially for him.

One more year lived was one less year he would live. People on Regen could expect to be healthy and vital for centuries, and even once their original bodies finally refused to respond any longer, they had the option of being transplanted into new growths. It was a controversial practice but plenty of the elite were doing it, unwilling to let go of their long and powerful lives. Functional immortality, which meant there was no impetus to hurry. Why bother? Time was on their side.

Time was never on Cody’s side. He hadn’t noticed it so much as a child, but as he got older he started to see the fear in his dad’s face, a fear that Garrett was very careful never to mirror but that Cody could see all the same. In ten years, he would look as old as his parents. In twenty years he’d have lines around his eyes, in forty years he might be replacing joints. In eighty years he would probably be dead, and his corpse would look ancient in a way that few bodies ever were these days.

He knew this. He’d come to terms with it fairly early, actually. Being in Pandora and getting genetic counseling about his condition helped, and having friends who were in the same boat was definitely useful, but that was part of the reason Cody couldn’t stay on Pandora. Time was heavy there; it weighed you down with its overbearing presence. He wanted a life where people were light and happy and hopeful and careless about time, so that he could try and forget it too. He’d gotten to the Academy, and he could honestly say that he’d never been happier.

Still, Cody thought about time. He thought about how it affected him and the people around him, and the night before they finally landed on Perelan, he knew his time with Ten had almost run out.

Not because they were going to be apart, exactly. Definitely not because he was dying or anything. No, Cody was about to lose the battle for Ten’s attention to science, because once they got down to Perelan there would be no stopping Ten’s curiosity, and Cody knew he would be lucky to distract hir long enough to eat, much less have sex. And fuck it, but they hadn’t actually quite had sex yet.

There had been orgasms, and those were great. It was different with Ten than it had been with Lacey, not just because the parts were different but because Ten was nowhere close to timid. Ten was actually surprisingly patient, and there had been hands and mouths and toys—holy shit, the toys were crazy, weird rotating-grasping-pulling toys that left you feeling like you’d been turned inside out in a really, really good way—and all of that was great. But there were a few things that hadn’t happened yet, and Cody was kind of really ready for one of them to.

One of those things was penetrating Ten. Ze’d brushed it off, saying ze’d done it and didn’t care for it but Cody could if he really wanted to. Which, no. Knowing Ten that meant ze’d let someone fuck hir and had hated it, or gone into it clinically and taken notes the whole time, or forced hirself to for some other reason and if it wasn’t something ze wanted, really wanted, then Cody wasn’t going to go there. Maybe someday Ten would feel differently, but honestly Cody didn’t really care if they ever did that.

What he wanted, and what Ten hadn’t done yet, was fuck him. Maybe the delay stemmed from strange sense of reciprocity, although that wasn’t really the way Ten thought about things. Maybe—probably—it was because Cody hadn’t asked yet, although if Ten could infer anything about the way Cody writhed on that vibrating tentacle thing, it was that he really didn’t mind having something inside of him. Really. Like, holy fuck, really. He’d just like it to be Ten.

So tonight Cody was going to ask. He was ready for it, he wanted it, he kind of felt like he needed it. He’d take anything, he’d take everything. He was stupid in love with Ten, but he was never quite able to turn off that ticking in the back of his mind, that ever-present timer that was counting down his life. They were about to land on an alien planet. They’d had inoculations, they were prepared for the climate issues, but who knew what could happen? Maybe he’d have an allergic reaction to something, maybe there’d be an accident, maybe something else would go wrong. And Cody was not going to die a sort-of virgin.

“Morbid,” he muttered to himself as he twisted under the blanket so that he could see the door. Because naturally Ten wasn’t here, ze was overseeing the packaging and transport prep for hir equipment. They were only going to be on the planet for a month, and ze’d still brought a full lab along, just in case ze wanted to...fuck if Cody knew, but if it could be done Ten had the gear to do it. It was all coming with them too, and Ten had been unpacking and repacking it for the past two hours. Cody sighed and kicked off the blanket. He was tired of waiting.

The door opened silently for him, and he stepped out into the hallway and headed for the cargo bay, wincing slightly at the chill of the metal beneath his bare feet. It warmed automatically before he could take another step, though. Meta-materials with smart sensor systems—Jason had spared no expense for his personal ship. Of course, he was an ambassador, a certain level of elegance was expected, but this was just lovely. Cody could remember being a young child, running along the tight corridors of the Drifter’s enormous homeship, the only kid required to wear shoes. He’d still managed to cut his ankle on a sharp wire that had jutted out from one of the walls, and he’d bled and bled and bled. His dad had been frantic. It was shortly after that that they’d signed on to the Pandora mission.

This ship was fancy but it wasn’t that big, and Cody found Ten alone in the cargo bay, staring critically at hir grav-sheet wrapped pile of stuff. Grav-sheets were the most expensive packaging money could buy, something that would literally slow the descent of a falling object into a soft landing before it could hit the ground, but Ten still looked critical.

“I think I need to change their configuration,” ze said, still staring at the boxes with hir hands on hir hips. Ze’d gone ice blue with hir hair, with lavender tips. Hir head looked like a beautiful, scowling, exotic flower.

“You need to come to bed.”

“No, I need to ensure that thousands of credits worth of precious scientific equipment isn’t destroyed due to my, or other peoples, negligence tomorrow. Admittedly if there’s any negligence involved it’s almost certain to be other peoples, but you can’t guard completely against stupidity which is why I really think I need a few more grav sheets.”

“You’ve already used all of the ones Jason and Ferran keep on board.”

“They really ought to keep more,” Ten grumbled. “How do they keep anything safe otherwise?”

Cody moved in behind Ten and wrapped his arms around hir waist. Ten sighed but didn’t push him away; if anything ze leaned back into the embrace. “I don’t think they need to worry about transporting entire scientific labs very often.”

“A terrible oversight.”

“Mmhmm.” Cody kissed the back of Ten’s head. “Come to bed.”

“I won’t fall asleep.”

“I don’t want you to fall asleep.”

“You…wait, what?”

“I don’t want you to all asleep,” Cody repeated. “I want you to come to bed, with me, so you can fuck me before we land on Perelan tomorrow.” There. Honesty.

“Um.” Ten craned hir head back to look at Cody. “Uh, no, that’s okay.”

“What?” That was not the response Cody had been expecting.

“I think we shouldn’t, not tonight, you can use the Morpher instead, I programmed it to do all the things you like, or, or I could use it on you,” Ten babbled, “that would be good, wouldn’t it? I think that would be good.”

“Ten.” Cody tried to marshall his thoughts. “Are you saying you don’t want to fuck me? Because you wanted to four days ago.” The only reason they hadn’t was because Cody had been sore from his first time with Ten’s bigger shape-changing toy.

“I’m saying you’ll like it better if I don’t.”

“Why the hell would I like it better if you didn’t fuck me?” Cody demanded. “If you don’t want to that’s one thing, but…” He glanced over Ten’s shoulder. “It looks like you want to from here.”

“Stupid spontaneous erections, you just don’t have these problems with vaginas,” Ten said disconsolately. “Look, I want to, but I’m not going to be able to give you what you like.”

Cody still wasn’t following. “I like you.”

“No, no, you like being stretched. I’ve been cataloguing your physiological responses to stimuli and you definitely like being stretched the best, it makes you come harder and longer, especially when I’m using my mouth on you at the same time. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but when it comes to circumference I’m not exactly able to achieve the widths you seem to prefer, and so I won’t be able to do it the way you like it and so I don’t think we should try.”

Cody was dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? We haven’t done it enough for you to make that kind of call!”

“Seventeen orgasms is a decent sample size,” Ten argued.

“Yeah, but like…eight of those were from hand jobs, right? Your hands on me, nothing else. And then there were blowjobs, and then finally there were the ones where we put something inside of me, and honestly, the only thing I really wanted out of any of them was you.”

“Bullshit,” Ten said, but hir voice was softer, less confident. “You like…”

“You. First and foremost. I don’t care if we never use any of your toys again,” although he would miss the one that vibrated in time with his heartbeat, that was pretty cool. “I’d rather just have you. I can’t believe I have to explain this to you,” Cody added incredulously. “I’m the inexperienced one here, right?” Except he was starting to get a sense of Ten’s ‘experience,’ and it didn’t stand up very positively to scrutiny.

“I would really, really like you to come to bed and fuck me,” Cody said finally. “It’s all I could think about all day. I haven’t touched myself, I’ve been waiting for you to do it and I feel like I’m about to explode, so please don’t make me beg. Unless you really want me to, because I probably will right now.”

Ten turned around in Cody’s arms and stared at him. Whatever ze saw in his face must have been convincing, because suddenly ze smirked and leaned in to kiss him. They rubbed against each other, ramping up the tension, and finally it was Cody who pulled back and snapped, “We aren’t doing this here, come on.”

“We were just kissing!” Ten said faux-innocently, hitching hir groin against his again and making Cody groan.

“I am not coming in my pants somewhere with surveillance. Bed. Now.” He took Ten’s hand and towed hir along down the corridor, away from hir precious cargo, and was gratified to see that Ten didn’t look back once. They got into their room and onto the bed in record time, and then they were kicking off clothes and shifting around until Ten was perched naked on top of Cody, staring down at him like ze wanted to eat him alive. Which, at this point, would be a relief. Ze stroked Cody’s cock and he almost bit through his lip.

“No,” he gritted, “not like that. Inside me.”

“You really do like it when I touch you, don’t you?” Ten marveled, not letting go but keeping hir touch light. “You respond much more strongly when it’s me than when it’s a toy, and even when we bring them into sex it’s usually after a decent period of stimulation with me.”

“Yes, fascinating, now how about you stop that before I come all over you?”

“You’re eighteen, you can get it up again fast.” But Ten did let go, leaned down and framed Cody’s face with hir hands and kissed him, hard. Ze hovered hir body over his own, not quite making contact, but Cody still felt the sticky drip of precome on his stomach, and he knew it wasn’t his. “You’re amazing,” Ten whispered. “I don’t understand you completely yet, but I’m going to. I’m going to figure out everything about you, right down to the proteins that make up your DNA, and I’m going to memorize every one of them.”

“Do that tomorrow,” Cody gasped, feeling lightheaded. “Do me right now.”

“Right. Yes.” Ten let go of him and sat back. “Roll over.”


“It’ll be better this way! We can do it the other way later, there are a million ways to do this and we can do them all, just roll over already!”

Well, that was encouraging. Cody rolled onto his stomach, shifting onto his knees so that his cock didn’t touch the bed. He was so hard, and Ten wasn’t even touching him yet. How the fuck was he going to do this?

“You’ll be fine,” Ten said, and Cody figured he’d accidentally said the last part out loud. “You’ll like it.”

“I already do,” Cody managed as Ten began to rub slick fingers over his hole. “Oh, fuck, you really don’t need to take your time. Seriously.” One slipped inside of him, and he groaned. “Seriously, I’m not going to last, I’m fine, just…Ten, c’mon.”

“We need a blocker,” Ten said meditatively as ze switched to two fingers. Cody opened easily—he did really like the Morpher, they’d used it last night and yeah, he liked being stretched, but this was better. This was Ten. “Some people use injections, but there are external devices we could put on you to keep you from coming. Rings used to be really popular, I could make on that has a warming element, I could put it on a timer…that would actually be really fun, I’m going to do that.”

“Ten…” Cody was aware of just how ragged he sounded, and finally Ten had mercy on him. Ze slipped hir fingers out, pressed hir body close to his and then slowly, so slowly, pushed inside of him. Hir cock was smaller than Cody’s, definitely smaller than the Morpher, but it was bigger than hir fingers and right now it felt like all Cody could handle, almost more than he could handle. He exhaled heavily and tried to remember to breathe but oh god, it felt so good, his whole body seemed to throb in time with Ten’s slow thrust and he couldn’t even think about touching his cock, he couldn’t, because he was going to go off like a fucking bomb…and then Ten was all the way in, leaning over him and moaning softly, a sweet, low sound that Cody had never heard hir make before.

“Fuck,” Ten said, and Cody laughed, then groaned at the way it made him tighten. “Fucking…don’t do that, you’re going to make me come and I just got in here, just don’t do anything for a minute.”

“Maybe you need a ring too,” Cody suggested. Ten punished him by pulling back and then pressing in again, and Cody whined.

“Maybe you need to be quiet and let me have you.”

“Mmm…just…move.” The ache was gone, there was nothing but fullness and a sense of incredulous pleasure. Ten was inside of him, and it was brilliant. “Move.”

“You’ll come in fewer than ten strokes if I do, and I won’t even have to touch you,” Ten said, but Cody didn’t care.

“Just do it.” Ze pulled back and thrust in, smooth, small movements of hir hips that left hir chest pressed to his back, over and over and oh shit, ze was right, Cody was going to come, he couldn’t help it, it felt so fucking good, oh god, god, right there

He was gone, clenching and crying out as he shot all over the bed, his body rocked by the strength of his orgasm. He was loud, too, loud and inarticulate, and fuck, Ten was probably recording the decibel level and Cody didn’t even care, it was so good it was almost too much, every muscle trembled and ached with pleasure and he was going to collapse onto the bed but he wanted Ten to stay in him, and so he reached back and gripped Ten’s hip as he slowly went supine, holding hir close.

Ten was shaking too, but probably for a different reason. “I knew it,” ze said breathlessly. “Seven, I knew it, you made it to seven, oh fuck, but I’m not ready to…I can’t…”

“Just wait,” Cody said, still holding Ten close. “Just wait, I’m eighteen, remember? I can go again, I can go right now, just don’t leave.”

“Pulling out is not part of the plan,” Ten snapped, sounding much more like hirself as they both relaxed a little. “I just don’t want to hurt you.”

Cody laughed. “How would you possibly hurt me?”

“It can hurt, sometimes. You might be too sensitive, you might be sore, your skin might be abraded—”

“Not with the amount of lubricant you used.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Ten repeated, and Cody finally got what ze needed.

“I’ll tell you if it bothers me, I promise,” he said. “But it doesn’t hurt right now, it feels amazing. You’re fucking perfect, and I’m ready, I am, please.” Keep going, he wanted to say, but he could wait for Ten to feel comfortable.

Fortunately Ten took him at his work. Ze braced hir knees outside of Cody’s and thrust in again, and yeah, oh fuck, he was sensitive, expecially when the head of hir cock passed right over his prostate, but it felt so good too, it was the sort of pain he could bear and he was already getting hard from it. “More,” he begged, finally begged and Ten gave him more, fucked him slowly but hard and deep. Hir weight was a welcome burden and hir heat set him on fire, and by the time Ten finally came inside of him Cody was coming too, lasting long enough to touch himself this time, just a few quick strokes of his cock and then bam, gone.

There was just enough room on the bed that when Ten rolled them to the side, they avoided most of the mess. Not that Cody wasn’t going to need a shower anyway, but it was still thoughtful. Ten got hir arms in a vice grip around Cody’s waist and buried hir face against his neck.

“Sometimes I just want to bury myself in you and never leave,” ze confessed.

“Feel free to do it as often as you want,” Cody offered languidly. He felt exhausted and exhilarated all at once. “That was awesome.”

“It really was.”

“You still sound surprised.”

“I told you, you still surprise me.” Ten kissed his shoulder, used hir tongue to taste his skin. “I think you’ll surprise me forever.”

Cody wanted to agree but even now he could still feel it, the invisible force that ruled his life and measured out his moments. They didn’t have forever, but at least they had right now.

That was good enough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Soothsayer Ch. 6, Pt. 2

Notes: Finally picking things up again! I now this isn't the resolution you were looking for, but it's the last chapter before we get to meet Sören, so there's that! Yes, next chapter I introduce our mystery man, who is not about to become less mysterious, unfortunately. However, would you like a picture of him? A beautiful picture courtesy of http://tavvi.deviantart.com/ ? Because it's beautiful and wonderful and I love it.

PS, there will be an Academy post later this week as an apology for being behind. Stay tuned!

Title: Soothsayer, Chapter 6, Part 2.


“I can’t be a legend yet. I’m not dead.” – Maynard James Keenan

                Andre obviously didn’t share my relief at escaping relatively unscathed from the Omni parking garage. He was silent for the first few minutes of our drive, opening his mouth every now and then to start yelling and then stopping before more than a hitch of breath emerged. It happened five times before I finally spoke.

                “Just get it off your chest; I don’t want you to have a stroke.”

                “And I don’t want to punch you in the face so hard your daddy feels it, but that’s where I’m at right now, so you give me some goddamn space.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cyberpunk excerpt

Hi there!

So I've got posts to make up, I know. More Soothsayer, I've got an Academy coming as well, I've got an announcement for Spanish speaking readers that most people probably already know about (which is so fucking cool), but I wanted to put something out there for you guys now that I'm not hacking up a lung or sleep deprived. So...how about some cyberpunk? It's my NaNo story, and while I'm not being nearly as productive as I should be with it, it's coming along. Plus, it's just kind of cool. I mean, cyberpunk. Cool!

So have a rough beginning (very rough, first draft rough) and rest assured I'll have more serial story for you on Tuesday. Happy Sunday, darlins'!


It was the second time that night that Greg burned to death, but this one hit him with far more subtlety than the house fire.

At first there was nothing at all, just an empty black expanse that seemed somehow spacious despite the fact that Greg had no way to judge distance or perspective in the barren mindscape. He turned in a circle, scanning for a clue of what he was about to face, looking up at the darkness above, staring down at his own feet. He could see his feet, his bare, hairy feet. Where was the light coming from? Or was it just that he knew what they should be, and so there they were?

He mistook it for a sunrise at first, a faint glimmer on the newly-appeared horizon. There was a distant crackle like static, or crushing trash beneath your shoes. Greg squinted and stared at the source of the light. It became brighter, bigger, a shimmering wave of orange and red. It was beautiful, almost hypnotic. He stared at it for a long moment before swearing as he began to feel the heat. 

“Fuck, fuck.”

Asbestos suit, remember the one way-vent this time, the cooling system—the devil was in the details. His feet disappeared, covered by thick white boots. The wall of flame roared toward him, and then it was on top of him, the last of the black vanishing in a blaze of light. Hot, so hot. He sweated inside his suit, felt the air begin to thicken—air. No air, he had no air, he needed air. Greg tried to adjust the cooling system to supply oxygen as well but it was too late, he’d lost the fine control required to adjust on the fly, he was losing his clarity, he was losing his—

He was burning to death

Greg’s eyes shot open as his head jerked back, triggering the bugout button beneath the headrest. His throat was freshly sore, like he’d been gargling gravel, and his eyelids felt like they were scraping him raw when he blinked. “Shit.” The burning sensation was already gone, all that heat dissipated by the cold sweat he suddenly realized he was sporting.

Ryu handed him a bottle of water, making sure Greg’s shaky fingers had a grip on it before letting go. “Can’t you die without screaming, Connelly?”

“That’s a stupid question.” Greg took a wavering sip and ignored Ryu’s cheeky grin. The drugs on top of the mindscape networking had shot his fine motor control to hell, but that was the price of staying awake long enough to get his practice in.

“I’m just saying, s’not very subtle. They kick you out of the bigger dens for losing control like that. People don’t want to hear screams unless they’re paying for them, y’know?”

“Good thing I’m working with you, then.”

“Not paying me, though.”

Greg grimaced at the younger man, not amused after spending the past three hours getting knocked around in the mindscape. “I haven’t arrested you yet. Sounds like you’re getting something out of this to me.”

“All right, all right!” Ryu held his hands up. Fluorescent green tattoos lit up his bare arms from shoulder to wrist, illuminating every vein and artery. As Greg watched the color shifted to red, then purple. He stared, unwillingly transfixed by the display. Last time Ryu had sported a strobe app that made his implants pulse with light. It had given Greg a massive headache after a few hours. “You going back in, then?”

“Back in,” he affirmed. Ryu shook his head.

“You sure? He’s making street meat out of you.”

Greg sighed. “I’m not going to learn anything if I let either of you get away with babying me.”

“Good luck, then.” Ryu reached behind the headrest and reset the bugout button. Greg’s head popped forward, the connection between his neural implant and the network suddenly live again, and when he opened his eyes in the mindscape this time, he was met by Specter, sitting on a stool, his hands clasped lightly around one knee.

“Welcome back.”

“No fire this time, I do feel much more welcome,” Greg said. He concentrated on conjuring his own stool, imagined the feel and the weight of it, the height of it, how far he had to bend his knees to sit. It helped that he had one at home, by the kitchen counter. Soon a perfect replica sat a foot in front of him, and he settled onto it with a wince. Back in the mindscape everything felt sharper, a little closer, and even though there was no fire to be seen Greg still felt like he could feel the remnants of the heat charring his bones. The house fire had been worse, actually. Then he hadn’t been able to conjure up a suit in time, he’d had to try jumping through a window. The broken glass had been horrifically painful against his burns.

“Fire is a classic shock and awe tactic in the mindscape, Detective.” Specter looked as calm and cool as ever, explaining complex lucid mindscape battle theory in his three piece suit. He had skin the same lively, shifting brown color as a sandstorm, dark eyes under a high, heavy brow, and a strong jaw that sported an elegant length of stubble. Greg ran a self-conscious hand over his own face. His stubble had migrated with him into the mindscape, and it was anything but elegant. “You need to learn how to counter it if you’re going to become a half decent fighter.”

“I know.” Fire was one of the things the guys in the Mind Crime department at work were always bitching about, how sometimes the masters they chased down were so good with it that they swore the smell of charred flesh lingered in the real world with them. Having been on the receiving end of Specter’s demonstrations, Greg felt like he could identify with that sentiment now. “I couldn’t think of ways to block it fast enough.”

“Then you know what your homework is,” Specter told him. “Don’t try to conjure up items to help you piecemeal. That will relegate you to being reactionary, and once you’re reactionary, you’ve lost your advantage in the mindscape. Shock and awe works precisely because it’s overwhelming force, designed to intimidate you into losing your lucidity and falling prey to their construction. If you have a plan for the most common attacks, then you can respond immediately and start thinking about how to counter much faster.”

“I know.” He did know. This wasn’t the first time Specter had talked to Greg about what he needed to succeed unfettered in the mindscape, outside of the government’s restrictive, safety-conscious firewalls and patrolling AI programs. If Greg was going to get anywhere in his investigations, he had to be competent at mindscape combat. That, it turned out, was way easier said than done.

“Good.” Specter stood up and clapped his hands together. Greg felt the echo like a slap upside the head, and frowned.

“Do you have to do that?”

“Just keeping you awake, Detective,” Specter said blithely. “Shall we make another attempt?”

“Can you pick something other than fire this time?”

“Certainly.” Greg didn’t like Specter’s sudden bright, toothy smile. “I have just the thing.” He stood up, his stool vanishing like it had never been there. “Are you ready?”

Greg stood up too, and nervously shook out his arms. He didn’t feel the movement exactly the same here, didn’t feel the pull and release of aching muscles that he knew awaited him back in Ryu’s den, but it still seemed to work out a bit of his mental tension. “Go for it.”

The parts of Specter that made him recognizable, the shape of his nose and the curl of his full mouth, faded away into something strange and malleable-looking. The crisp lines of his suit went the same way, until he was nothing but a silhouette filled with gently churning…water?

Greg had just long enough to gasp before Specter’s silhouette dove at him, the water breaking over his head and filling up his world, enveloping him completely. Water. Well, here Greg had a leg up. He’d only watched The Little Mermaid with his daughter about a million times when she was a kid, playing an ancient DVD in their retro-fitted entertainment unit, the one Shelby had thought was more appropriate for young children than networking. It only took a second, and then Greg could breathe again, could actually move with his long, swishing tail. He even had a trident grasped in one hand.

The water around him was fairly dark, murky shapes drifting just beyond his sight. Greg frowned. He needed to take control of the mindscape, but he wasn’t good enough yet to project and maintain his own landscapes, not even the fairly simple ones that Specter had used on him so far. He needed a way to separate himself from Specter’s design. Maybe a submarine…

One of the blurs suddenly materialized a few feet in front of him, huge jaws opened wide to showcase rows upon rows of white, serrated teeth. Greg jerked back but didn’t quite bugout, spinning his new body down and around so that he was beneath the beast before he fired a bolt of electricity at it with his trident. It worked just like his tazer, noisy, bright and effective, and Greg grinned as he got the shark right across its broad belly, stunning it into stillness.

He got the second shark as it came up from beneath him, and the third and fourth as well, but by the time the fifth one joined in the frenzy Greg forgot what he was trying to do and lost himself to the panic inherent in being attacked by things that wanted to eat him, holy fuck, he was too slow, they were going to eat him alive

Greg hit the bugout button so hard he felt his vertebrae creak, eyes flashing open as he frantically looked down and checked to make sure he still had his tail—no, his legs, fuck, he was expecting to see his legs. They were both there, stiff and cramping and completely unharmed. He was out of the network, out of the mindscape, he was fine. Just fine.

“Connelly. Greg. Greg.” He finally noticed Ryu trying to get his attention. The young man held out the bottle of water again, his mouth tight with concern. “I don’t like this.”

Greg grasped the bottle with both hands, both of them shaking so hard he was glad the thing had a one-way spout to drink from. He swallowed a few gulps with a grimace; water was the last thing he wanted right now, but he knew he needed it. After a moment he handed it back to Ryu. “It’s not my favorite thing either.”

“Can’t you hire someone else to do this? Get a ronin, or one of the Elite’s gunslingers. Hell, lean on your cop buddies some more if you have to do things the legal way, but not this. It’s too hard on you; your blood pressure was off the charts.”

You’re too old, Greg heard unsaid, which was true. He was far older than the average user who went playing outside the lines. Most of the people that worked in Mind Crime on the force were retired from active hunting by the time they reached his age, a ripe and un-prolonged, completely organic forty five. Nine months ago, Greg had never imagined he would be spending every off hour that he didn’t absolutely have to spend sleeping in an illegal networking den, getting his mental ass handed to him by a government spook so he could go searching for a psychopath. Nine months ago, he’d had no reason to.

These past eight months had certainly been educational, and that was about the most charitable thing Greg could think to say about his experiences in Specter’s hands. He had asked for the fast track, and his wish had been granted. “I’ll get there.” He had to get there. There was no other choice but to improve. He couldn’t afford to hire a mindscape hitman, not on a detective’s salary, and he’d pushed the Mind Crime unit about as far as they could be pushed without filing more serious complaints about him.

“You won’t get there if you have a stroke.”

Greg rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to have a stroke, for god’s sake.”

“It happens to younger people, even inside the firewalls.”

“Ryu.” Greg laid one of his shaking hands on Ryu’s forearm. He could feel the coiled tubing just beneath the skin, pulsing with blood and electricity. “I’m going to be okay. One more time.”

“Just one,” Ryu warned him even as he reached to release the bugout button. “One more, and then I’m cutting you off for the night.”

“Got it.” Greg shut his eyes and felt his head ease forward, the network connection sparking to life in his mind. A moment later, he was with Specter again. “That was fucked up.”

“You responded well, especially in the beginning,” Specter reassured him. “I liked the trident. What made you decide it could fire lightning?”

“I wanted it to work like my tazer. Plus, it’s in the movie.” Specter looked blank. “The Little Mermaid. Old Disney film, you’ve never seen it?”

“No. Is it for children?”


“It seems very violent, if that’s the case.”

Greg laughed. It didn’t hurt his throat, in here. “Less violent than what you were doing to me!”

“True.” Specter didn’t sound sorry. He was almost never sorry for anything he put Greg through. In his more thoughtful moments, Greg appreciated that. He didn’t need a teacher that was hindered by worrying about his feelings instead of pushing him. On the other hand, a little compassion every now and then wouldn’t go amiss.

“You’re making progress,” Specter said, and that was more welcome than any apology would be. “Living longer, fighting harder. Soon we’ll experiment with you setting and controlling the mindscape scene on your terms, although I have the feeling that’s not going to be the best technique for you. Your strengths seem to lie with knowing yourself and your own capabilities. Shock and awe, while traditionally American, won’t be the best fit.”

Greg wouldn’t deny that he was slightly relieved by that. The sheet amount of concentration that had to go into not only controlling the mindscape but remaining lucid while you tried to overwhelm your opponent seemed almost impossible to him. “You do it well.”

“I’ve been training for far longer, and from a much earlier age.”

“For the government?”

Specter smiled. “You always ask, and I never answer. Why do you persist, Detective?”

Greg shrugged. “Just curious, I guess. I mean, we were introduced by a Fed, it stands to reason you’d have a connection to them.”

“Connections don’t necessarily mean collusion, and the Fed who introduced us was going outside of her professional mandate by doing so. I’m afraid you’re going to have to be curious for a while longer.”

“I guess I’ll have to live with it.” Greg rolled his shoulders and shook out his arms again, repetitive, but it helped get him into the right headspace. “So. Go again?”

Specter shook his head. “Not tonight, Detective. I think we could both use a break.”

Well, that was unexpected but not unpleasant. “Sure. Same time tomorrow?”

Specter tilted his head a little as he surveyed Greg. “Consider taking a day off, Detective. You’ve been at this almost nonstop for months. Someone is surely noticing the change in your appearance.”

Greg frowned. “What change?”

Suddenly there was an image of himself beside Specter, standing perfectly still. Greg stared at it, a little disconcerted. Something was off about it. “This is how you looked when you first came to me.” Another image sprang up next to the first one, and Greg almost did a double take. “This is how you appear now. Your mind is a faithful mimic of your physical self, Detective.”

Well, that was…huh. The hair was the same, salt-and-pepper gray with the salt rapidly winning the battle. The clothes were the same, a cheap Chinatown suit with a black trench coat over the top. The suit in the second image was looser than in the first, though, and his stubble was longer. His face had lost some of its boyish roundness, something Greg would have killed for back when he was in his twenties and still getting ID’d at bars, but coupled with the bruise-like shadows under his eyes the thinness just made him look haggard. His light brown eyes were bloodshot, and his head hung low with exhaustion. Fuck, he looked like a junkie. Then again, he was popping synthetic adrenaline almost every night to keep him awake enough for training, so maybe the comparison fit.

“So you’re saying I need a break.”

“Not a long one. One night, Detective, with no pills, no networking, no bugouts. One night to refresh yourself. When you come back, I’ll start teaching you Yakuza combat techniques.”

Greg shut his eyes and sighed heavily. It felt wrong to take a night off, even if his body was clamoring for it. Jade didn’t get any nights off, why should he? Why shouldn’t he push himself hard, harder even, so he could go after her sooner?

“Greg.” Big hands cupped the curves of Greg’s shoulders, startling his eyes open. Specter rarely touched him, preferring to interact through talking or the medium of mindscape control. When Greg met his gaze, his expression was terribly earnest. “This will help you. Trust me.”

“I do,” Greg said automatically. “I trust you.” It was true, and rather foolish when he thought about it. He knew nothing about Specter other than the Fed in charge of his daughter’s case had recommended him as “powerful and discreet.” He didn’t know the man’s real name, or where he lived, or what he did for work. He didn’t even know if he was a man. His mental projection could be a front, especially if he had the sort of control Greg thought he did. He might even be a new type of AI, although Greg doubted it.

“Good. Then listen to me. I’ll see you in two days’ time.” Specter stepped back and, a moment later, was gone. Greg was left alone in the empty mindscape, the secluded corner of the network that Ryu patrolled and maintained. It felt…strange, to be in here alone. Creepy. Closing his eyes again, he let his mental body fall backward, tilting toward the ground—

His head pressed down on the bugout button, and Greg opened his eyes to see the familiar cracked concrete ceiling of Ryu’s storage unit above him.

“That looked better,” Ryu commented as he disengaged Greg’s implant from the chair’s network plugin. The chair released him and Greg sat up with a wince. His neck ached from being held in place for hours, and he had the beginnings of a very familiar headache. “Less violent.”

“I was told to take a break.”

“Hallelujah.” The tone was sarcastic, but Ryu looked kind of relieved. “Does that mean I can get some real work done tomorrow night? Because I like you, Connelly, but you’re so needy sometimes.”

“Yeah, I won’t be bothering you tomorrow night.” Greg tried to sit up and almost fell over. Ryu clucked his tongue and passed Greg the water bottle again.

“Electrolytes, man, you need them. And protein. Go eat a steak.”

Greg chuckled around the spout. “Who can afford a steak?”

“I know all sorts of people who eat steak every night,” Ryu said as he shut down his network hub. The screens went dark, the generators stopped whirring, even the dampeners blinked out until all that was left was the tiny red light of the alarm system and the single, flickering neon light by the door. “You chose the wrong profession, Connelly. Watarimono and Elites, they eat like kings.”

You’re Watarimono,” Greg pointed out as he finished off the water. Watarimono meant wanderer, it was the name the Japanese immigrant community had originally taken for themselves after the tsunami almost three decades ago that had decimated Japan. The word had quickly been usurped by the Yakuza, who went to work almost immediately carving out a place of power for themselves in City West, the enormous conglomeration of people and technology that made up America’s west coast. The middle of the country was almost unlivable thanks to dust storms and drought, and so the population congregated along the coasts, the most enormous migration in the history of the states. “Where’s your steak, Ryu?”

Ryu grinned, looking so young for a moment. “Working my way up the ranks, Connelly. I’ll get there eventually.” He used his arms to lift himself off the comfortable platform he favored when he was running his network and shifted smoothly into his mechrider. Ryu had been born without legs, just stumps ending at the base of his hips. A lot of the Watarimono had been affected by the radioactive pollution that ruined Japan, and birth defects were rampant in those born after the tsunami.

To compensate, Ryu used a mechrider, a mechanical assistive device that ranged from simple wheelchairs to complex integrative body sheaths. Ryu’s was a little different: it had a custom saddle that responded to the impulses and weight shifts of his body, and it had eight legs that could crawl over everything from oil spills to overturned cars without dislodging its rider. It was functional, but more importantly it was distinctive, which Greg knew was something that Ryu craved. He’d grown up in group homes, overlooked like so many other damaged, abandoned children. Ryu craved the spotlight, and Greg facilitated his more theatrical urges by not arresting him for minor crimes in exchange for the occasional tipoff, or more recently, for time in Ryu’s unofficial network.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Greg warned him as he stood up and put himself back together. Shoes, suit jacket, trench coat. He hung his weapon on the clip on his belt, its weight a pleasant reassurance.

Ryu snorted. “I think you’ve got the monopoly on stupid right now, Connelly.”


“Just being honest, man. If you burn your mind out I’ll have to butter up another detective, and that would take way too much work.”

“You say the sweetest things.” Greg’s voice was drier than the desert. “Ready to head out?”

“Sure.” Ryu walked over to the rolling door of the storage unit and lifted it up about four feet. Greg ducked down as he exited, and Ryu followed behind, his mechrider’s multi-jointed legs bending low as he scuttled forward. Ryu rolled the door back down, locked down the bar on the outside meant to discourage casual pillaging, then straightened up and made a face. “Fucking rain.”

It was drizzling, the sort of cold, misty drizzle that happened so often in this part of City West, halfway up the coast. It was rarely a full-out downpour, but Greg couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d seen the sun either. “You know it’s going to be like this,” he said as they headed toward the end of the alley where Ryu’s storage unit was situated. The ground was slick with more than rain under Greg’s feet, but he had a lifetime of experience in these streets, and barely even noticed as he shifted his weight forward to compensate for the slipperiness. “Why don’t you wear a jacket?”

“Hello?” Ryu flexed his muscular arms and the lights buried within them flashed in an attractive, circular pattern. “How else will people admire these babies?”

“Vanity.” Greg shook his head. “You’re risking pneumonia for vanity. Oh, to be young and an idiot again.”

Ryu shrugged. “Got to attract attention somehow, it’s not like I’m already married with children like…you.” Too late he realized his mistake. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

Greg forced a smile. “It’s fine. Go home, I’ll see you in a few days. Be careful going through the Choke Zone!”

“Yeah, I will.” Ryu turned right and Greg watched him go for a moment, then headed left himself.