Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Redstone Ch. 6, Pt. 1

Notes: Oh my god, why am I expanding the cast of characters? WHY? Do I not have enough to do, or something? Am I a secret masochist? Ha, no, that's not a secret, I'm a very open and appreciative masochist, but still, WHY? Enjoy part one of this chapter, guys, it's going to get rough for our boy.

Title: Redstone, Chapter Six, Part One.


“Mod deactivation doesn’t hurt.”

That was what everyone said. They were just add-ons to the basic implant, which would remain active for medical and tracking reasons. That implant was a permanent fixture, almost impossible to fully detach from the brain once it was set inside. It allowed the bearer to connect to information hubs and monitor their own health stats. It took a while to get used to, but most people integrated their implants so well they didn’t even realize when they were using them after a few days.

Any mods that got added in on top of the basic functions were the result of money and profession, for the most part. The more mods you could afford, or the more that were demanded for your job, the more that could be packed in there. Generally, doctors didn’t feel comfortable adding a lot of mods until the brain had stopped the rapid development of childhood and early adolescence. It wasn’t an absolute requirement, especially since the brain would naturally adjust the implant’s programming to suit the body’s requirements, but there was evidence of occasional trauma as a result of losing those early mods.

Kyle had been given his first mod at the age of five. That one was for languages, and was the first of four language adaptations he upgraded with. He got his first combat mods from his sister Berengaria at age eight, even though he didn’t really know why or what to do with them. She made him practice for hours, working alongside him with a grim expression. Overall, Kyle had close to twenty physical and mental implant mods, some that directly affected his nervous system, others that tapped into his memory. To lose them all at once would be—

“Criminal,” his head lawyer argued to the doctor even as Kyle was being strapped into the bed. They’d arrived at Redstone an hour earlier, and the first place Kyle had been taken, fully restrained, was the prison infirmary. He was placed in a private room under guard while his lawyer argued for a gradual drawdown of his mods. Demarcos Gyllenny was a high-profile defense lawyer who specialized in inter-familial cases, so Kyle’s predicament was right down his alley. He had been stymied left, right and center though, and ended up bringing on an entire legal team to keep the appeals and objections going back at the central court while he lobbied to stay with Kyle, to ensure that his treatment was fair. Kyle knew Demarcos was working hard to make that happen, but he also knew that no matter the lengths his lawyer went to, Raymond was going to come out on top. He always did. At least, he had so far.

“Studies show that the sort of mass deactivation you’re planning leads to disorientation, nausea and vertigo,” Demarcos went on. “You can’t send him into the general prison population without ensuring that he’s well enough to take care of himself, at least able to stand on his own two feet.”

“I’m not going to become an accomplice to murder, if that’s what you’re implying,” the doctor snapped as he brought over a machine. It looked…old. Like something out of an early space-era horror film, all sharp bits of metal that somehow fit over his head. Kyle shuddered. “I’ve seen Mr. Alexander’s medical files, and he’s perfectly healthy. He can handle a mass deactivation just fine with a little Regen time afterward.”

“Regen just covers up the symptoms—it doesn’t give the brain time to reset itself after such a massive disruption! He’s going to need at least a few days in solitary confinement to recalibrate before you let him go into the general population—”

“Mr. Gyllenny, of the two of us I think you’ll find that I am the one with the medical degree,” the doctor said dismissively. “I know what I’m doing. Mr. Alexander is going to be perfectly all right.” He positioned the machine above Kyle’s head, gave it a critical once-over and nodded. “I’ll give you a few minutes to talk to your client before I do the procedure. It won’t take more than a few minutes to do the deactivation, and you can watch the Regen process afterward yourself to ensure he’s getting adequate care. I trust that’s acceptable to you?” He left before either of them could say anything.

Demarcos ran a hand over his dark brown head, an anxious gesture that Kyle had seen more times than he could count at this point. “Good thing you’re already bald,” he joked. “Otherwise I’d get you there, huh?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Demarcos said, doing a good impression of amused. “I’ve had way tougher cases than yours.” Kyle could see he was lying though, in the slumped set of his broad shoulders and the tension at the edges of his generous mouth. He wondered if he’d still be able to pick up on those physical cues once his advanced information synthesis mod was gone.

Demarcos sat down on the edge of the bed and took Kyle’s hand in his. Kyle held on hard, wanting the contact more than he was comfortable saying. He had gone into this with his eyes wide open, he knew the consequences he faced, he was supposed to be strong…but right now all he wanted, more than anything, was a hug. A fucking hug. He would have laughed at himself if he’d been able to conjure up the breath for it.

“I’m not going to let him put you in there before you’re capable, Kyle,” Demarcos assured him.

“I know you’ll try your best.”

Demarcos frowned. “Don’t be a martyr, Kyle. I don’t need excuses from you as to why I can’t do my own job, you got it? I’m here to keep you safe and look after your welfare until I can get you to trial, not the other way around.”

“Trial, right.” Kyle knew he sounded bitter but there wasn’t anything he could do to stop himself. “Because that’s going to go so well.”

“It’s going to go way better than you think it will, you’ve just got to get there. You hear me? No fatalism, now, nobody’s got time for an existential crisis today.”

“How about tomorrow?”

Demarcos chuckled. “Maybe tomorrow. But just a short one, you got it?”

“Yeah.” Kyle squeezed the other man’s hand one last time, then forced himself to relax his grip. “I’ve got it.”

“Good.” Demarcos rubbed his head again. “All right. No being stoic now, okay? You don’t feel well, you let us know.”

“I will.”

“Good. Good.”

The doctor reentered the room, a frown on his face. “I’ve got an inmate with a broken pelvis to get into the Regen tank, gentlemen, so let’s move this along, shall we?”

Watching his lawyer leave was almost enough to trigger a panic attack in Kyle, damn the doctor’s tutting at the readings that spewed from his device, but he held onto his calm with the skin of his teeth. He wasn’t going to break down, he wasn’t. He was strong, he had to be strong. He could do this. He’d survive; he didn’t have any other choice.

“Take a few deep breaths, Mr. Alexander,” the doctor advised him as he settled at the top of the device, tightening it around Kyle’s head and neck. “This will all be over soon.”

Kyle had time for exactly one deep breath before the first node of his implant was spliced into. From there, it was…

It was like being in a vast mansion, or maybe a maze. It was a familiar maze, all the twists and turns well established. Only this time as Kyle began to run it, corridors that should have been open were suddenly closed off. Inaccessible. Paths he’d trod for nearly two decades were suddenly blocked, and he turned in circles again and again trying to find his way into him, only to be stymied. The main passages were still there, well-worn avenues, but between one second and the next Kyle forgot the name of the martial art he’d studied with Berengaria. He forgot how to load and fire a shrike gun, he forgot how to say I love you in French and Cantonese and Arabic, he forgot…

It felt like he forgot everything. It couldn’t have been everything, of course not, but his mental maze was filled with fog now, even the main passages obscured in places where Kyle’s mind had made connections with his deactivated mods that now no longer functioned. It was like being drugged, and as the machine was loosened and drawn away from his head, Kyle suddenly rolled over onto his side and vomited helplessly. It was like being twirled on a spit, even though he knew he wasn’t moving.

“Damn it,” the doctor muttered irritably. He pushed a syringe of some kind into Kyle’s neck, and the nausea subsided but the whirling sensation stuck with him. “I can’t put you into the tank like this, you’re a mess. Broken pelvis first, then you.”

“My…” Kyle spit to clear his mouth of foulness. “My lawyer…”

“Later, once you’re tidied up. I should have guessed you’d make this difficult.” He left, and a moment later a bot came in and started to clean things up. Kyle stared at it blankly. He should have known what kind of robot it was immediately, he should have known its make and model and capabilities but where those memories resided was just…fog. Slick, crawling fog that stuck tight to his brain and concealed his own thoughts.

Kyle had no idea what was going to happen next. He wondered if he’d known a few minutes ago.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality in the US!

As of today, the Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutional right of same sex couples to get married in all fifty states!

I'm so fucking proud to be an American right now. Colorado made same-sex marriage legal last October, but I honestly wasn't sure what the Supreme Court would have to say on the issue. And it was a contentious ruling, which undoubtedly precedes a continued tumult in our culture with a myriad of objections yet to come, but...guys. GUYS! This is amaaaazing! The legal benefits that our country bestows on married couples now applies to ALL, and I'm just so happy. Last weekend was Denver Pride, and this was certainly a topic of conversation there. And now...well, you know.

Have a completely awesome weekend, darlins'!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Redstone Ch. 5

Notes: So, I don't really know where this chapter came from. You can consider it bonus content if you want, because it doesn't really fit within the structure of the narrative all that well, but I was thinking about how everyone was getting their little introductions before we jump in and decided to try something with Admiral Liang. I've no idea if it worked, but hopefully you understand a little more about him now.
PS, the picture is from an beautiful and enormous Inari shrine in Japan that I visited last month. I just though it applied well to what's going on with Liang in this vignette.
Title: Redstone Chapter 5



Stephen Liang stood at the base of the four-story pagoda and looked through the open door in front of him. It was a beautiful structure, surprisingly festive with its coruscating red roofs, each one glowing in the sunshine, and the gold trim beneath them curled into watchful foxes. The walls were white, and painted with elegant black kanji that spelled out thousands of prayers for the dead. The room just beyond the threshold where he hesitated beckoned him like a lover, while the gentle breeze across his back pressed him forward.

Stephen sighed. He shouldn’t have put this off for so long, but given the way his week—no, his month—had been going, it felt like a miracle he could even take the time to be here now. He clapped his hands twice and bowed, then reached out and gripped the heavy cotton rope that hung down from an enormous bronze bell ten feet above him. He took a deep breath, then swung the bell. The thunderous hum of it was almost enough to take his breath away. He stepped forward into the vestibule of the temple, and a moment later a warm hand landed on his shoulder.

“It’s been a while since you’ve visited.”

The voice was perfectly familiar, Stephen’s constant companion in his current life and the last vestige of his furthest one. He turned and looked at the speaker, a tall, slender man with white-blond hair and a small smile on his beautiful face. “I’ve been busy.”

His companion nodded. “I can see that.” Even now the algorithm in the machine was doing its work, analyzing Stephen’s brain chemistry and physiology and spinning new threads out from his mind, adding to the tapestries that lined the walls and the frames that filled the room. After some experimentation, Stephen had found that cloth was the best representative of memory for him. It had depth and texture, two things that made resurrecting his older memories easier as the pure images faded from his perception. Plus, you could always add on to cloth, which…he stepped up to the nearest frame tapestry and watched it elongate, watched new threads appear and connect. He stared at the cluster that represented Cody and his friends, all in merry masks as they danced around a distant jewel. A planet far, far away. It was a good place for them, and Stephen was almost sorry they’d be coming back soon.

The brightest, most chaotic cluster in this particular piece of his mind was Garrett Helms, new threads drawn into his burr-like exterior, others being cut off or sloughed away. Garrett Helms was like a seed that tangled in the coat of an animal and was carried off by it, to make a new home in a distant land. Only he had many homes, and many threads. Stephen reached out and plucked one with his finger. For a moment the room melted away, replaced by the memory of his last conversation with Garrett.

“Hummingbird is already in place,” he said soothingly. “Wyl and Robbie won’t be alone.”

“We’re not going to have long,” Garrett repeated, his handsome face drawn and exhausted. “Not even the length of the trial, because Alexander is never going to take the chance of Kyle getting on the stand. No more than a few standard months, and the faster we move the more likely we are to make errors.”

“So we control for those errors,” Stephen replied, not changing his tone at all. He needed to be a bulwark for Garrett, a bastion of dependability in the wake of so much chaos and change. “We add people, we improve equipment, we innovate, we engage. We won’t be taken by surprise, Garrett. It’s going to be all right.”

“You sound like my dad,” Garrett said, but he was smiling now.

“Your father is a wise man, you should listen to him. Get some sleep. I’ll check in with my agents and give you an update in thirty-six hours.”

“I’m not going to sleep for that long.”

“I have a few things to attend to myself. None of us can go without care forever.”

Garrett chuckled wryly. “I guess not. Sleep well, then.”

“And you.” The call ended but even though Stephen was tired, he didn’t head for his bed, he headed for his…

“And here you are,” his companion said as Stephen stepped out of the memory back onto the temple floor. When Stephen looked at him again, this time he was a shorter, dark-haired man with light brown skin and a mischievous look on his face. “But you will take your own advice after this, won’t you?”

“It’s almost time for another visit to Regen,” Stephen said regrettably as he stepped around the tapestry and moved toward the back of the room. More threads were developing, expanding the tapestries that made up the Academy and his underground network of spies. He had a few new potentials in development that showed promise, glimmering like tiny golden beads. “I’ll have to get through that first.”

“I see. Everything is prepared to guide you through the reconciliation, isn’t it?” his companion asked as they ascended to the second level.

“It always is,” Stephen said absently. Ancient gods stared placidly at Stephen as he climbed the narrow stairs. The second level was a purely technical place, the cloth memories harder-edged. This level contained his hard-won skillsets, and Stephen wandered through them and watched the occasional new thread develop here or there. For the most part, though, this place was firmly established, less of a problem than any other level due to it’s static nature. Many of the tapestries had gone dark, shadowed over with age and obsolescence. Stephen tapped one thoughtfully, and a moment later he was…

Woooohooooo!” The radio crackled with static, but a little disruption wasn’t enough to mask the thrill in Navi’s voice as the glider wings suddenly deployed, abruptly slowing their brutally fast descent toward the moon’s surface. Stephen felt his spine elongate, then snap back into place, and thanked whatever god was listening for painkillers as they leveled off several hundred meters over the icy face of the moon.

The glider wings glowed like platinum in the faint reflection of light coming from Jupiter’s surface. They were on the wrong side to get pure sunshine right now, faint as it was this far out, but the glider was a technological wonder when it came to solar power absorption. Stephen adjusted for their lift and pulled his instrument panel up on the face of his helmet. “We’re going to need to jog right in a few hundred meters, ice plume.”

“Got it.” Flying through the frozen drops of methane was like flying through a sea of stars, so much more immediate and disorienting than pure space travel. Stephen extended one thickly-gloved hand and watched the tiny droplets bounce off his fingers, and grinned to himself.

“Pretty fucking cool, huh Stevie?” Navi asked smugly.

“Yeah,” he breathed. “Yeah, pretty fucking cool.” He reached a little farther…

And stepped back onto the second level. He almost stumbled, disoriented by the sudden loss of acceleration, but his companion gripped his upper arm and steadied him. Now it was a woman, with kind almond-shaped eyes and grey hair piled high on her head. The voice was the same, though, a masculine baritone edged with warmth. “Shall we move on, my dear?”

“Is there really anything new to add up there?” Stephen asked a little bitterly, but he went. This time the stairs were lined with leering demon faces, fanged mouths gaping with glee as they plunged wrongdoers into torment. The third level was smaller, and packed with so many tapestries that it was all Stephen could do not to run into one as he slowly paced the length of the room, circling around and staring at all his emotional detritus. Many of these were dusty, and some even bore scorch marks, remnants of his less-sane times, when all he’d wanted to do was forget. Only a bare few threads wafted out from his mind, small and tentative, and Stephen ignored them in favor of approaching a long gray cloth that looked like it was draped over a box.

Stephen knew better, he did, but his mind had brought her to him, and it would be disrespectful not to face her now. He reached for the top of the cloth and pulled it back in a rush, and…

“You have to drink.”

Faying shook her head weakly. “I won’t.”

“This is ridiculous.” It felt like he’d been saying this forever, ever since he realized that she wasn’t going to do another round of Regen. “There’s no need for you to do this. There’s nothing wrong with prolonging your life! Why shouldn’t we take advantage of our own technology?”

“You…know why.”

It was about what had happened to him. Of course it was. “That was a one-off. A problem with the machine. They assured me it’ll be fine next time.”

Faying’s eyes welled with tears. “Oh, my dear. You asked me not to tell you before, but I have to now. I know I have to.”

Stephen felt his heart speed up. “Tell me what?”

“It wasn’t…wasn’t the first time.”

“What…” He shook his head. “What do you mean?”

Her breath rattled on a sigh. “It wasn’t the first time you’ve been subjected to Regen. It was the third, with me. The first time we did it together, and when you came out and you didn’t remember anything, I thought…” She paused to breathe. “I thought it had to be an accident. A terrible accident. You did another round right after, to try to fix things. It didn’t work.” Her hand tightened around his for a moment before she couldn’t maintain the pressure any longer. “You were worse. You couldn’t remember the simplest things, my darling. That’s when we moved out here. I taught you everything again, how to speak, how to read. You only remembered a few things, a few people, and none of them—” Her voice caught in her throat. “None of them were me.”

“No,” Stephen said, uncomprehendingly. “No, that’s not possible.”

“It is,” she wept. “It is. We swore it would be the last time, that we wouldn’t use Regen again. And then we aged, but not together. No matter what I did, I grew old faster than you. You knew how it bothered me, and you asked me to regenerate again with you, and I…” Faying squeezed her eyes shut around the tears. “And I did, for more time was all I wanted. But it happened again, and it will keep happening, and my darling…I can’t go through this again. I just can’t. I can’t watch you lose everything and everyone, and lose all memory of me. I just can’t.”

“That’s…how can that be possible?” He felt gutted. “Why don’t I remember this?”

Faying sighed. “We’ve been trying to figure that out for three lifetimes, my dear. I’m tired. Too tired for another one.”


“You didn’t speak my name,” she said sadly, staring at their clasped hands, hers spotted with age, his…not. “You only spoke his.”


She pressed her lips together and turned her face away. Stephen leaned over to ask again, to demand she tell him, to beg her not to die, but instead…

He fell onto the floor. The gray cloth lay crumpled in front of him, no box of truth beneath it, just emptiness. He stared at it but didn’t dare touch it again. He didn’t want to see her, to see the hurt in her wrinkled face, too many years of devotion and dedication to him, all subsumed by fatigue and a deep pain in the knowledge that she wasn’t the closest thing to his heart.

“Hey.” A new hand stroked over his head, cupping the back of his clammy neck. “You’re gonna be okay.”

Stephen forced himself to nod as he got to his feet. “I know.”

“You ready for the last level?”

He smiled mirthlessly. “I suppose. Although,” he added as he headed for the stairs, “I don’t know why I keep trying. It’s been so long, I don’t see how I’ll ever add something new to this room.” The walls of the stairwell were pure black, dark like the heart of a black hole, only it was Stephen’s own heart they were heading into. The closest thing he had to a representation of it, at least. The hand rested against his back, warm and supportive, and he wanted nothing more than to turn into it and look at the man it belonged to, but…it never worked. He never saw him, and when he tried to force it, his memory evaporated. He couldn’t make demands, he could only visit time and again and hope that someday, he would see the reality that time and technology had stolen from him.

Inside the room was…nothing. Emptiness, not even a dust bunny in the corner. But the walls echoed with words, words that fluttered through the nothing and made it feel welcoming. The air was filled with the voice that haunted Stephen’s dreams, that he’d programmed every machine he owned with, that belonged to the arms that wrapped around him now. Soft lips pressed gentle to the back of his neck and Stephen closed his eyes, then turned around into the embrace and laid his head against the shoulder of the man who held him.

“I don’t remember your name,” he said quietly. “I don’t remember your face or what we were to each other. But I know I must have loved you fiercely then, to love you so well now. And you must have loved me, because otherwise I wouldn’t want to keep you so badly.”

“I do,” the man said fervently. “I do love you, more than anything. More than everything, I promised you that. It’s still true.”

Stephen nodded, his throat tight with emotion. “I’ll be back soon.”

“I know you will.”

He kept his eyes closed during their kiss, a kiss so perfect he knew it could only be imagined, or perhaps it was the memory of the real thing polished by centuries of renewal and faith. At any rate, he didn’t want to go, but he knew he had to.

“I love you.” I love you, I love you, I love you… It echoed through the chamber until it surrounded him, the sound of his own love, his own heart, and when Stephen finally opened his eyes, he stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom in pure bewilderment for a moment, wondering why he was crying, before reality crashed back in.

“Admiral Liang?” Hermes asked politely in the voice of Stephen’s lover, and he made a noise somewhere between a sob and a laugh as he contemplated his own creative cruelty toward himself. “Are you well?”

“Yes, Hermes,” he said, sitting up out of the machine laid out on his bed and wiping off his face with the back of his hand. “I’m fine.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Redstone Ch. 4

Notes: Finally, the Wyl and Robbie chapter! Plus sexy times! Because you guys deserve a blow job for having to wait, damn it ;) Yes, I am literally bringing EVERYONE I've ever written in this entire bloody universe into this story. Because I can. And it's fun.

In other quick news, Camellia 2 came out yesterday, yay, and my M/M Romance Group story Ten Simple Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse is downloadable now. I'm going to be at Denver Pride all weekend at the Out In Colorado booth, so hey, if you're around, come visit me!

Also, last thing: my birthday was lovely. I have the best husband. Period.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Title: Redstone Chapter 4


 Five minutes until his shift—his final shift—was over. Robbie Sinclair went through the motions, checking in with each gate guardian and going over the fresh statistics for each ward. Caravan was a thoroughly modern prison, but it still emphasized human contact over purely machined policing, so every ward had four rotating guards to watch over their prisoner population, averaging about forty prisoners per ward. It wasn’t perfect, but it kept the inmates happier when they could see that they weren’t being forgotten by the people in charge, and was a decent deterrent against violence—better than leaving a mech to watch over things. And when violence did break out, well…that was kind of what Robbie was for. He was the captain of the special squad, called in when things got really rough. Not that they had more than a half dozen times over the past three months. Caravan’s commanding officer had a handle on things.

He let the machine scan his implant and bid it farewell as he signed off, then headed for the door. If he was lucky he’d be able to grab Wyl and get to the transport ship before—

“Officer Sinclair!”

Busted. He turned back toward his commander’s office. “Yes ma’am?”

“Come here, please. I need to speak with you.”

Damn it. So much for a low-key exit. Robbie followed her into the office, the room plain and functional just like its denizen. That wasn’t really fair to retired Colonel, now Head Warden Grace Grave, whose parents had been practically prophetic in their naming of her. She was more than functional, she was a genuinely good leader, concerned for her employees and inmates alike and constantly working to improve prison stats on mental health, training and rates of recidivism. Caravan was a max security penitentiary, but not all of the prisoners there were lifers. In fact, the very concept of life in prison was outdated now, considering that Regen could keep people healthy for centuries. But a century’s span of time wasn’t considered to be unjust when it came to punishing the worst crimes, and so people stayed in for longer periods than ever. If they were ever to rejoin society with any semblance of normalcy, continual training and education was needed. Grace was a pioneer in moving the prison system beyond punishment and into genuine rehabilitation for the especially-aged prisoner.

Her concern now was endearing, but Robbie preferred it when it was directed toward others. Still, he sat down across from her and inclined his head. “Ma’am.”

She looked at him—yes, gravely, Wyl joked about it far too much—and folded her hands. “When you told me you had put in for a transfer, I didn’t think twice about signing off on it because of your excellent record here, despite the brevity of your service. I wondered why the location of the transfer was under blackout protocols, but I know you have an extensive record and assumed it pertained to something classified in your past. However, your transport ship has arrived, and once I recognized the name on it I knew something had to be wrong.” She leaned forward, dark eyes swallowing the light. “Why are you transferring to Redstone?”

Robbie sighed. “Ma’am—”

“Is it blackmail of some kind? Or some sort of delayed punishment against you? Because there are steps that can be taken, very private and cohesive steps, to ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of for something you did in the past, whether it was on the books or not. I won’t have anyone in my prison being abused in any way.”

“Grace.” It was the first time he ever used her first name, and was enough to stop her in her tracks. Grace was accustomed to formality from all her employees and Robbie had always been more than happy to give her that before. Right now, though, he didn’t have time for it. “I promise you, I’m not being coerced into doing this.”

Her narrow lips thinned even further. “Redstone is considered a punishment duty for Federation guards sent there. I know it, and although I dislike the precedent that sets and the mentality it encourages toward the inmates, without consideration from the upper echelons there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’m quite certain, however, that you haven’t done anything that would merit this sort of contemptuous move.”

“It’s a private matter.”

“There are no private matters when it comes to the professional setting.”

“Except there obviously are, or Redstone wouldn’t be used as a punishment for guards,” Robbie pointed out. Grace huffed.

“Don’t mince words with me, Robbie. Are you telling me that you can’t tell me why you’re being sent to Redstone?”

“Yes, Warden.

“And yet…I see here,” she looked down at her tab, purely for show because Robbie was certain she had already memorized whatever she was looking at, “that you’ve also made a request for spousal accompaniment.”

Uh-oh. Robbie kept his expression impassive, but he didn’t like the way this was going. “Yes, I have.”

“You’re aware that there are practically no extracurricular options for Redstone spouses. In fact, very few employee spouses are given permission to travel to Redstone due to its very poor accommodation of them. Spouses have literally been driven to injure themselves while confined there, and the rate of divorce coming out of a stint on Redstone is triple the Federation average.”

“I’m aware, ma’am.”

“And yet you persist in wanting to bring Wyl with you?” She shook her head. “I expected better of you, Robbie.”

Robbie didn’t expect her disapproval to hit him quite so hard. He already had a mission, working for Grace had always been secondary to that. But she was a good commander, and a fair person. Moreover, she was completely charmed by Wyl, just like almost everyone else who met him. “I gave him the option to stay here or go to another planet, ma’am. He refused.”

“Of course he refused, you’re practically newlyweds.” Robbie shifted in his seat, but she waved his objection away. “Anything under fifty years is practically newlywed. He adores you; of course he wants to be with you. But Redstone isn’t conducive to happiness, Robbie. I’m worried about you. Both of you.”

“I appreciate that.” And he did, very much. “But Wyl and I are good. He won’t hesitate to tell me if he wants to leave, you know him well enough for that. In the meantime, he’s bringing plenty of things to occupy himself with while we’re there. It’s only for six months, ma’am. We’ll be all right.”

“I can see you’re determined to do this.” Grace sighed, faintly but just loud enough Robbie could pick it out. “And to keep your reasons to yourself.”


“Very well, then. I’ve approved the transfer, as well as a promotion for you. The very least I can do is ensure that you’re choosing your own shifts. You’ll be third in command, after the Warden and his lieutenant.”

Well, that was…a surprise. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“I also increased your weight allotment to make sure that Wyl can have his tools. Redstone wreaks havoc on electronics and mechanicals, but if anyone can engineer something to make it work in that place it’s your husband.”

“That’s very generous.”

Grace shrugged and looked down. “I thought the situation merited a big gesture. I rarely have the chance to make them.”

Robbie considered her, this staunchly plain woman in an age when you could be as beautiful as you wanted, her lovely red hair kept short, her uniform pressed and clean, no jewelry, no mourning marks. He knew she’d been married once, and that her wife had left her several years ago. No children or other close family that he knew of. Garrett would have to meet her, Robbie decided. He’d adopt her in an instant. “Thank you. You’ve been one of the best commanders of my entire career. It’s been an honor to serve under you.”

Grace smiled a little. “Careful, your marine is showing.” Most of the prison guards were civilians, highly trained but without a military background. It could be a sticking point in interpersonal relations, each group with a chip on their shoulders when it came to capability.

“I mean every word.”

“Well, then.” She stood up and offered Robbie her hand. “The honor is all mine.” They shook firmly. “You have a little under six hours to get everything onto that transport, Robbie. I suggest you go and start motivating your husband.”

“I’ll do that.” He turned and left, and resolutely didn’t let himself think about might-have-beens. It wasn’t that Robbie loved being a prison guard, but he liked having purpose, order, a certain structure to his life. Since retiring—again—from the military, he’d lost a lot of that. Being here, if only briefly, had felt like slipping into his old uniform again. It was comfortable and comforting.

He entered his private quarters, and heard a loud, “Fucking damn it!” from the back room, and grinned. Then again, comfort was relative.

“You okay?” he called out as he set aside his weapons, which were sucked from the entryway table into the wall and secured.

“Fine,” Wyl called out irritably. “I just cut my finger on this stupid damn lump of iron. Iron, for fuck’s sake. Do you know how hard it is to match these resonant frequencies? Redstone better be exactly as advertised or my system isn’t going to work, and then I’ll be pissed.”

“Your communications system?” Robbie unfastened his jacket as he headed into the back. There was Wyl, perched on his work stool and wrestling with a chunk of iron the size of his head.

“Yeah. It’s just about done, which is good because I won’t be able to work on it on the transport ship and we’ll want to deploy shortly after we get to Redstone. Actually, en route would be best but since it’s not our ship there’s no way to do that. Which, hey—how are we going to get access to a ship while we’re there?” Wyl swiveled to look at Robbie. “Because I’m not spacewalking these over the surface of that place, it’ll probably make my suit malfunction.”

“It looks like I’ll have access to the station’s ships as a result of my new promotion,” Robbie said, leaning against the doorframe as he took in his husband’s state. Messy dark hair, scarred fingers despite regular Regen use because he was always more excited than cautious when it came to his work, plain white shirt and brown pants covered with oil and grime…Robbie had never loved anyone so intensely in all his life. It hit him, looking at Wyl now, how stupidly lucky he was to have him. Wyl was happy right now, and Robbie wanted to keep him that way forever. Maybe Grace had a point.

“Promotion?” Wyl grinned. “Aw, see how your boss loves you!”

“I think she loves you more.”

“I’m very loveable.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“You’re being very agreeable.” Wyl put down his tool. “That means something’s wrong.”

“Nothing is wrong.”

“Yes it is; I usually have to pry compliments out of you with a sonic screwdriver.” Robbie must have winced a little, because Wyl frowned. “That was just a joke. What’s going on?”

Robbie sighed. “I don’t want you to feel like going to Redstone is something you’ve got to do.”

“Actually, I do have to do it.” Wyl cast his hand over his cluttered table. “Who else will get all this installed?”

“I’m not helpless with tools.”

“Who’ll code out messages in Morse?”

“My dad taught me Morse code, I’m sure I can remember most of it.”

“Who will keep you from sinking into a depressive pit of funless responsibility?” Robbie didn’t have a response for that, and Wyl pointed a finger at him. “Exactly! So shut up, I’m going. What brought this bout of nerves on, anyway?”

“Warden Grave seemed very upset that I’m selfishly subjecting you to Redstone during my punishment tour there.”

Wyl shook his head. “Grace is oversensitive to relationship stress. Redstone isn’t going to be any worse than Hazard, and I survived there okay. Hell, at Redstone I won’t even be a prisoner!” He looked up at Robbie seriously. “Besides, Isidore is counting on both of us. I’m not going to let him down. If it’s supposed to be bad for us, it’s got to be ten times worse for him.”


“So it’s settled. I’m going.”

Robbie smiled. “Yeah, it looks that way.”

“Are you done thinking silly thoughts?”

“Define silly,” Robbie said as he stepped forward and dropped down onto his knees in front of Wyl’s chair. “Does going down on your in your shop qualify?”

“Nnnnooo,” Wyl drawled, his brown eyes wide as he let Robbie spread his knees. “That’s not silly at all, that’s probably the best idea you’ve had all day, oh my god, Robbie—fuck—uh—” He’d already opened Wyl’s pants, eased him out and sucked him gently into his mouth. Wyl wasn’t hard yet but Robbie liked touching him like this, feeling Wyl’s cock swell between his lips and slowly work its way toward the back of his throat.

Wyl’s hands fluttered over his head for a moment, like he couldn’t quite commit to touching Robbie with them before he murmured, “Fuck it,” and threaded into Robbie’s hair. “You knew what you were getting when you decided to do this before I’ve had a chance to clean up,” Wyl said hoarsely. Which means his hands were filthy and now so was Robbie, but Robbie didn’t care. “You, oh fuck, shouldn’t we…Robbie, yes, that,” he said as Robbie pressed his tongue hard against the nerves beneath the head of Wyl’s cock.

Newlyweds, Grace had called them. Robbie felt like it sometimes, when he’d had a long shift and seeing Wyl again was like suddenly getting feeling back into a dead limb. He’d been pleasantly alone for much of his life, but he couldn’t imagine going back to living without Wyl. He couldn’t even imagine a brief separation, at this point. Robbie ran his hands up Wyl’s taut thighs as he bobbed his head, sucking Wyl deeper every time, finally sliding his hands under Wyl’s ass and pulling him bodily forward, as deep as he could get. It was too much but Robbie didn’t care, he just wanted Wyl to arch and moan under him like this, to say his name like a curse and a prayer and clutch tighter at his head, to writhe and try to press even deeper as he— “Robbie, fuck, fuck, babe I’m coming, I’ve got to, ah, ah, ah, fuck!

Wyl pulled back after the first pulse, painting Robbie’s tongue and then his lips before thrusting back in with a groan. Robbie let Wyl have control, move Robbie however he wanted to, whatever made him feel best. Even after he finished coming, he didn’t let go of Robbie’s hair for another minute, holding him in close as his legs quivered where Robbie’s broad shoulders kept them splayed. “You…are the best,” Wyl finally said, bending over to kiss Robbie’s forehead, then his nose, then finally his lips. “Shit, what brought that on?”

“Nothing in particular,” Robbie said softly. “I just wanted to, that’s all.”

Wyl grinned. “Well, right now I want you to fuck me in the shower. Do we have time?”

Robbie pretended to consider it. “I’m not sure, how quickly can you pack all this up?”

“For you?” Wyl got to his feet and drew Robbie up to stand with him. “I’ll figure out a way to put time on hold.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New Release: Spring Blossom, Camellia #2

Hi guys!

Life is still crazy and coverage is still going, but here's a shout out to my and Caitlin Ricci's new F/F release Spring Blossom, the sequel to last year's Camellia. That book actually ended up winning two Rainbow Awards last year! It's contemporary F/F BDSM, mostly of a spanking-type nature, because don't we all need spanking every now and then? I know I do. It's available at Less Than Three Press here: Spring Blossom.

But what is it about, pray tell? Have a blurb!

Relationships, BDSM, and family are all complicated enough on their own—and almost impossible when they come crashing together unexpectedly. When Danny's brother sees a bruise that Danny obtained while in a scene with Lucy, she faces judgement from her family and their reactions send her running to Lucy for a safe place to clear her head.

But staying with her girlfriend isn't the solution to the problem, and if she's going to untangle the mess that her life has become, Danny first has to start with taking control of herself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Darn it.

I got called in for coverage tomorrow morning, all morning. There goes my writing time. I'm so sorry that I don't have more Redstone for you tomorrow/today, I've got to move the post to Thursday thanks to my day job but I SWEAR it will be a really, really good one.

Now, to bed, so I can get up at 6 am on my birthday and commute 50 miles! Yaaaay!...wait...

Two Amazing New Contracts!

Hi guys!

Yay, I finally get to spill the beans! I just finalized contracts for two novels, both to come out next year, both with either a new publisher or someone I haven't published with in a long time. This isn't because I'm not incredibly happy with my current publishers (Riptide, I love you) but timing wise it just worked out better this way.

The first novel is a completely new one that I talked about, like, two years ago. It's my massive epic fantasy, genderbending m/m romance version of The Little Mermaid, tentatively titled Tempest (here, have a tongue twister), to be published by...wait for it...Samhain!

Sploosh of happiness!

This is big for me, because I've tried to publish with Samhain twice before and been very nicely turned down. I don't have an agent, I'm not a big name, I wasn't at all sure they would go for this but I thought I'd try again with this novel. I sent it to them and settled in to wait, and then they got back to me in a week! It should be coming out next April, and I'm just...incredibly pleased by this. I think this story is really special, probably my best so far.

The second novel is technically a reprint, but not really, because the first time around it was free. Yeah...if you've read my stuff on Literotica, then you know I've got a ton of stories on there. You also might have noticed that one of them has been taken down. Not Bonded or Pandora! It's Shadows and Light, my take on the vampire mythos, and it's going to Totally Bound's new Pride imprint. It should be out in March of next year.

Luke Evans as Rafael, because omg why not? WHY NOT!?

So, yeah! Two novels next year, I'm so thrilled. Plus I've got Where There's Fire coming out next month, and In Memoriam, and Camellia 2 is out on Wednesday. Lots of stuff. 

Also, tomorrow is my birthday, so look for something special as your serial update ;)

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Don't Read in the Closet story is here!

Happy Friday!

It's that tiiime again!

Yep, it is, and my story Ten Simple Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse is live! About 29,000 words of snarky humor, frenemy roadtripping and constructive, plot-driven violence in the post-apocalyptic world. I'm really happy with this story, Jenni Lea had such a great prompt and was super encouraging. The download isn't quite available yet, but you can read it on the Goodreads M/M group's website if you're a member.

Here's the link: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/12062422-ten-simple-steps-for-surviving-the-apocalypse-by-cari-z-6-12

Here's the original prompt, in case you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about.

Dear Author,

Those of us who survived the virus that wiped out 50% of the population are the lucky ones. Those of us who survived the subsequent wars that decimated the world as we know it, throwing us back into a pre-industrial era are the lucky ones. Those of us who survived are the lucky ones.

Except… Some of us are different. Some of us are changing. Some say the virus mutated. Some say it is a result of genetic warfare. All I know is that I can see better in the dark, I can hear from further away and I am stronger now than I ever have been before. And I have claws.

We may not be the lucky ones after all.

And ooh, once it's posted I do have a custom cover for it, courtesy of Caitlin Ricci.

Please read and enjoy! I hope you like it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Redstone Ch. 3 Pt. 2

Notes: More Redstone, more Isidore and more other people you might not be expecting! I'm still laying the groundwork here, but it's going to be so much fun.

On another note...ARG! I have SO MUCH to tell you guys, but without contracts I just can't yet. So, what I can say: In Memoriam comes out in July and I'll let you know more soon, and also there's this thing happening on Friday...this thing I do every year...and it's coming around...is that non-specific enough? I hope so.

Title: Redstone Ch. 3, Pt. 2

From the moment Isidore met Symone St. Clair, she had seen more deeply into him than he was really comfortable with. Beggars couldn’t be choosers and he’d been glad to have a place to go after Paradise was taken away from him, but in a way, Isidore felt like he’d exchanged one prison for another. Not because he was locked in a cell or abused in anyway, but because he was desperately unprepared to be anything other than what he was. On Solaydor, stasis was synonymous with death. To Symone St. Clair, it was even worse: stasis was boring, and boredom was the touchstone of an uninspired mind. Such things could only be dealt with in one of two ways: burning the source of boredom out of her social circle, or coercing it into a chrysalis from which it would emerge, by force if necessary, completely rejuvenated.

She’d seemed doubly intent with Isidore because of her unfortunate insights. He’d tried to hide what he felt during their first meeting in her ridiculously large office, but she’d split his skull right down the middle and laid his brains out like a book.

“First point: you feel ludicrously guilty for something you had no control over.”

He’d frowned at her. “I wasn’t blameless, either.”

“But you don’t need to carry such an enormous stone around behind you. Good lord,” she’d sighed, rolling her vermillion eyes. “If I wanted to expose myself to this kind of self-flagellation I’d get a membership at the local masochist’s club. What was Garrett thinking, sending you to me?”

“I’m wondering the same thing,” Isidore had muttered.

“I’m sure you are. Second point: you’re in love with Garrett, even though you obviously know it’s hopeless because he’s ridiculously infatuated with monogamy, of all things.” She’d tilted her head at him. “He knows how you feel, of course. He knows everything, that little brat.”

“I don’t expect anything from him,” Isidore said, and that was completely true.

“No, you don’t, but not because you don’t want it or enjoy the drama of a star-crossed romance. You don’t feel worthy of it, on top of the obvious unsuitability between the two of you, which is, again, quite tiresome.”

“No one asked you to psychoanalyze me, you know.”

Symone smiled thinly. “Oh darling, I never have to be asked. It’s a pleasure. Everyone is refreshing, even if only for our first meeting. Third point: you have no idea what to do with yourself now. Your guilt has ruined your trade for you, hasn’t it? Your…mechanics. Engineering. Whatever it is you do.”

“Vehicle maintenance,” Isidore said faintly.

Vehicle maintenance, good grief. At least Garrett’s other pet mechanic has a sense of creativity. Wyl is an artist and you’re, what, a wrench monkey?”

Isidore felt his face flush, not with shame now but with anger. It was unfamiliar, this burn in his chest. He hadn’t allowed himself to get angry in a long time, not since he was first arrested. The shame of what his cousin had done on Paradise was too much, and it was just easier to let himself be treated badly, because he deserved it, didn’t he? So many people had died, and Isidore had facilitated that, he’d damaged people he respected, people he loved. And yes, it had ruined his life, and he had been spit on and beaten and lost his family and his planet and on top of all of that, Garrett had come to save him and then sent him away, but what right did he have to be angry about that? About any of it?

“Poor little wrench monkey,” Symone cooed sarcastically. “Pulled away from all he’s ever known and thrown to the wolves. Whatever will you do with yourself now, since your mechanic’s hands are tied?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” Isidore snapped.

“Because that would completely miss the point of this little exercise. And speaking of points, point four: you’re lying to yourself if you think you can continue not to care. You’re going to care sooner or later, and I suggest you get with the program sooner, because otherwise you’re going to spend some uncomfortable years here on Solaydor. Every immigrant to this planet is put to work, and if you can’t or won’t perform to your aptitudes, then you’ll be stuck doing menial labor. We could let robots do it, but…” She shrugged. “Then where would we send people to work through their life crises?”

She’d been smart and hateful and hurtful, and Isidore had gone away with an immigration counselor and absolutely no desire to ever see Symone St. Clair again. Sure enough, he’d failed his aptitudes and gotten put in a work group that did something new, and generally simple, every day. Gardening, trash pickup, chauffeuring, basic maintenance for large-scale city machinery, food synthesis, waiting tables: the list went on and on. As people gravitated toward something in particular, they were taken out of the general program. Isidore resisted for as long as he could, but then a random trip to a body parlor as an ink-stocker opened his eyes to something new.


They were as common on Solaydor as sand was on Paradise, but taken to a completely new level. These weren’t just iris insets or Regen-assisted programs for strength and speed. These were complete reimaginings of humanity, or in some cases the gleeful abandonment of it. These were people who wanted the legs of a giraffe, the wings of a phoenix, or eyes like a solar system. People who wanted to soar and dig and run, people who wanted to be three people at once, or couples who wanted to try living in constant contact. This was barely regulated insanity, at first glance, but it intrigued Isidore. He came back on his own time, to look and feel. A week later, he was moved out of the general program and into cosmetic modification. But first, naturally, he had to meet with Symone again.

“Cosmods.” She’d sounded surprised. “You’re going into cosmods! I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming. Sometimes the best change is the biggest one.”

“I don’t want to learn this for myself.” It was tantalizing, the thought of just changing everything, never looking at his same old face again in the mirror, but it wasn’t what he wanted. Isidore needed…something, something larger than himself to provide him with a sense of purpose. He could change his appearance, but he could never reach into himself and change the parts that hurt the most. But maybe he could help other people with their pain.

“You need a medical background to be a fully-licensed modification surgeon,” Symone had said. “It’s about thirty years of study, all put together. Not impossible, of course.”

“I don’t need to go that far,” Isidore said.

“How far do you need to go?”

“I’m…not sure yet.”

“Hmm. Well.” She’d smiled and shown him the door. “I’ll be in touch again when you are sure.”

The learning had been a slow process. There were a lot of different levels of cosmodification, from simple surface work like skin tints and hair dyes to changing the very bone structure and vasculature of an individual. In five years, Isidore went from knowing next to nothing to being able to do entry-level surgical work on skin and nails, more carving and shaping than tinting. After ten years he’d moved on to custom visual fabrication, bone seeding, and had a certain reputation for surprising self-defense mods.

“Why self-defense?” Symone had asked on one of her infrequent visits, which had sweetened more over the years as the sourness of Isidore’s guilt had gradually been beaten back. It helped that he’d had visits from Wyl and Robbie, even from Garrett and Jonah once during their honeymoon trip. It helped to see them happy together now, far more than it hurt. That sweetness didn’t diminish the sharp flare of wanting in Isidore’s chest, but he was able to ignore it and show his friends a good time regardless.

“It’s important.”

“Obviously, but why is it so important to you?”

It was hard for Isidore to put into words. He tried anyway. “Here, it seems like appearances are everything. Back home, though, they were…almost nothing. How you looked mattered far less than what you could accomplish. Both places have their own endemic problems with assault and rape and murder, though. Same problems, different reasons. Here, your appearance invites comment, sometimes criticism, sometimes more. On Paradise, you ruled through strength, however you could get it. In both places, you’ve got to be careful not to get hurt. I can help people do that. Quietly.”

“Sneakily,” Symone corrected with a sly grin.


“You put a sap in someone’s palm that only activates at a certain velocity. It fractured her attacker’s skull. That’s not discrete, that’s deliciously disturbing.”

“Um…thank you?”

“You’re welcome,” she’d said. Her hair had been a whirlwind of flyaway locks that day, each one dancing to its own private hurricane. The algorithm that kept them from tying themselves into a knot had to be fantastic.

Symone’s approbation, it seemed, only went so far. The next time they met she was fuming, but for once not at Isidore. “Before we get started,” she’d said coldly as he’d entered her office, “I want you to know that I disapprove not only of the messenger of this offer but also of the message, its ramifications and the effect it’s going to have on you.”

Isidore had just stared at her, completely lost. “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t tell you unless you agree to certain draconian privacy restrictions,” she’d snapped.

He had only ever seen Symone this affected by two people: Tiennan, her ward, who frankly affected everyone like this, and Garrett. Isidore had nothing to do with Ten, so it had to be…

“I agree.”

“You haven’t even read them yet!”

“I agree,” Isidore had said firmly. “Now tell me what’s going on.”

The story he got was complex. Even with all the revelations that poured over him, Isidore knew he was only seeing a small part of a much grander picture, but he didn’t care. Because the person telling him the story was Garrett, and the task he was being asked to do, while dangerous, was important.

“I’m not asking for your help lightly,” Garrett had said. They’d spoken over the comm, and to Isidore he looked washed out, more than the interference of light years of distance could account for. He was tired, burdened: that was something Isidore could ease. “If we’re lucky it won’t be needed at all. Kyle will be sent to Caravan and I’ll leave his extraction to Robbie and Wyl, but on the off chance that he goes to Redstone…you’re the only person with the necessary background to get a berth there, given the timeframe we’re working with.”

“I understand.”

Garrett had sighed, run a hand through his loose hair. It was longer than Isidore remembered. “If he goes to Redstone, his safety has to be your first priority. However you keep him alive, you do it. I’ll get you support staff, we’ll work out the details, but you have to understand: this could kill you. This could mean you giving your life for someone you’ve never met and have no reason to support.”

“But it’s important.”

He thinks it’s important,” Symone had interjected, but without her usual venom. Apparently she thought it was important too.

“Then I’ll do it.”

“Of course you will.” Symone shook her finger at Garrett. “If anything goes wrong, this is on your head, do you understand me? You can’t just do this to me! You can’t give me your people and then expect me to hand them back to you to do with as you please!”

“If I recall, the last transaction of a personal nature between us was your own ward being handed off to me and my family,” Garrett snapped right back. “So get your head out of the self-righteous clouds and get to work, Symone! You didn’t have to agree to help but you did and now you’re committed. And so is Isidore, so calm down and help me figure out how to make this as foolproof a plan as possible. But first,” he turned back to Isidore. “I need to introduce you to Sir.”

It had only sped up from there. Isidore became entangled in a web with strands that extended beyond his sight, but that was fine. He liked his place in it. He liked being needed, being necessary, having a purpose beyond carving a niche for himself.

And if he’d come to Redstone with a few more little secrets that his fellow inmates didn’t know about, well…he’d probably need them all once Kyle got here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Redstone Ch. 3, Pt. 1

Notes: It's time to meet a familiar face! Kind of. This chapter is a bit exposition-y and not very intimate, but it sets the stage for more next time. I had a limited amount of time to write, so...sorry. I hope you enjoy it regardless.

Title: Redstone, Chapter Three, Part One.


As prisons went, Redstone was in some ways fairly standard for the Federation. It was a floating prison, not stationed on a single planet. Planetary prisons were for local miscreants, people who had committed crimes that necessitated locking them up but either weren’t bad enough or ambitious enough to be judged by Federation courts. Federation prisons were mobile, either repurposed asteroids or bulked-up generation ships, or some mishmash of the two. Most of them had split staffing, part robot and part human, and they were required to have complete medical, psychiatric and legal facilities available to prisoners.

Redstone’s core was a solid iron meteorite, a two kilometer chunk of rock with a heart of metal that disrupted even the most modern communicators. Redstone had a strange sort of magnetism, the kind that pulled at the iron in a person’s blood, put people off-balance and brain dizzy if they stayed there too long. The meteorite’s manufactured facilities had clean rooms designed to combat the effects of the blood tide, but no guard ever served there for more than a year unless someone really hated them. Serving at Redstone was a rite of passage for Federation penitentiary employees, a necessary evil and nothing that anyone wanted to do more than once.

Out of deference to peoples’ health, the authorities in charge split the staffing seventy-five/twenty-five instead of fifty/fifty like most places, letting the robots do almost all in-population work with the prisoners themselves. It would have been a good system, if not for the high rate of malfunction in the robot guards. They went down sometimes—not easily, but occasionally, and their carcasses were stripped to nothing and disseminated among the prisoners before any human guard could get to them. The black market in scavenged electronics was booming, and prices were sky high.

Redstone wasn’t quite anarchy, but it wasn’t a drugged up and dulled down population of prisoners either. There were two sorts of criminals who ended up in Redstone: psychopaths who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be fixed by Regen, and political prisoners. Shockingly, the brutal murderers, obscene rapists and mad scientists were more often cowed by the imprisoned politicians than the other way around: there was nothing like the flame of righteousness to invigorate someone in their own defense.

You could choose a side in Redstone, if you wanted to. Most people did. It was easier to be part of a pack, to be one of many wolves, staking out your claim and pissing on it, sometimes literally. Deals were made and promises broken every day, and blood flowed smooth and steady in the dark zones, a simmering, seething cauldron of violence just barely stopped from boiling over. When the violence became overly blatant, guards would order a time-out, when sleeping gas poured into the cells and common areas and put everyone under. People reacted differently to time-outs, no telling who’d wake up first, and no one wanted to be the last person back on their feet. The aftermath of a time-out was when most of the revenge happened in Redstone, and there was no way to get around that sort of helplessness. None of the leaders of the packs wanted to be overthrown, so they modulated their violence carefully, found the edge and stuck to it as best they could.

Some people weren’t offered a side, even if they wanted one. They were either too abhorrent for even the locals to stand, or too clearly an invitation to a feud. No one wanted a weakling in their group, and the few lambs that made it to Redstone were too quickly turned into ground meat. And the abhorrent ones, well…you couldn’t trust someone who was completely crazy, right? Couldn’t predict them, couldn’t bend them to your will, so you didn’t let them in to play. Social isolation was the way to go with the sharks, and the sharks seemed to agree.

Then there were the straddlers. They were usually people who’d been refused entrance into a pack, and yet somehow survived despite the lack of protection. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who had a skill that was useful and kept them alive, people who kept their heads down and did the occasional favor, but put themselves first. Lone wolves could be tolerated, as long as they stayed alone. No new packs, that wasn’t how the hierarchy went. You paid in blood to get to the top; you couldn’t just make something out of nothing. If you paid in blood to be left alone, well, maybe you’d last. Isidore Cain had already lasted longer than anyone thought he would.

At first glance he was a perfect little lamb. Slender and soft-spoken, it was hard to believe he’d orchestrated a successful attack in the heart of a Federation outpost on the planet Paradise, connected to the former governor’s mansion nonetheless! He’d run afterward, and had finally been caught a few months ago on Solaydor. His trial had been fast, his sentencing even faster and then he’d come to Redstone. Dusky skinned, with a face that would have been heart-shaped if he were a healthier weight, black hair that brushed his shoulders and dark, fathomless eyes—he was the very definition of a lamb, right down to his gentle voice. And lambs were only good for a little bit of play before you ground them up.

Two people tried to take advantage of Isidore Cain on his first day in Redstone. He’d barely been in gen-pop for more than a minute, looking lost in his dark red uniform as he hovered by the doors he’d been tossed through, when one of Kliassne’s men went after him. The guy had barely had enough time to say, “Know what your mouth’s gonna be doing for the next fucking hour, bi—” before Cain had closed the distance and punched the man so hard in the side of the head that blood was already sloshing out of his ear as he fell to the ground. Which…

Okay, Cain moved fast, but so did a lot of people. Mods were supposed to be completely shut down, but some older versions made it through the scans, devices disguised as necessary for health. Other people were just insanely juiced, especially when they first came in, something that took a while to drain away. Knocking someone out didn’t mean Isidore Cain wasn’t a lamb, it just meant he might be lucky. So later that evening, Rory’s second in command gave assaulting him a try. He didn’t open with conversation, just walked up behind Cain during dinner and grabbed his pretty, ridiculous hair, yanking hard.

A second later he fell back, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest and biting back a scream. He was lacerated from fingertip to palm, a hundred cuts overlaying each other. And that was the sort of mod that shouldn’t have been so easily overlooked, and that meant one of two things: either Isidore Cain had bribed the fuck out of someone to get away with that, or he was a prop. Either way, nobody wanted to deal with him after that. He would have been written off entirely and isolated like the sharks if it weren’t for the fact that he managed to grab some important parts off an “aggressively decommissioned” robot guard the very next day. Important, life-saving, deal-making parts. In less than a standard day, Isidore Cain carved a careful place for himself in the fabric of Redstone. Lone wolf, mechanic, pretty face with dead eyes. He was fucked up, the pack leaders declared. Fucked up but worth working with, as long as he managed to stay alive.

He’d stayed alive for three months now.

Isidore bunked in a room that had been partially-hewn out of the bedrock of Redstone itself, close to the dark, icy heart of the place. It was easy to decamp there because the room made people uncomfortable: only the crazies lived so close to the rock. He could feel the pull of the iron tear at his cells, twist his blood in his veins and make his heart labor harder than it was meant to. Isidore could feel the effect the place had on him, and it wasn’t a good one. But it was safe because of that, and he wouldn’t be here long. And there were plenty of advantages to privacy, after all.

Isidore Cain didn’t speak much, people said. When he did speak, he talked so softly that you had to lean in to hear him, lean close to that razor hair and those blank, abyssal eyes. People would rather strain to hear him than lean too close, because there was no telling what the man might do. He was a political prisoner, after all. Those fuckers were crazy. Isidore Cain was someone you left alone until you needed just the right part, and how had he accumulated all of those, anyway? No one went to check his bunk, in the dark, painful center of the prison. No one followed Isidore Cain, and everyone said that was the best way of dealing with him.

Crazy, they whispered to each other. Fucked in the head. He won’t last long down there, they said. He’ll be spaced soon enough, nobody’s problem then.

It was all perfect. It was all wrong. It was, as Isidore’s handler and backup reminded him time and time again, just what needed to be happening, and only short-term.

The truth was, Isidore Cain wasn’t hard. He wasn’t soft any longer, not the silver-eyed boy who had somehow caught the attention of the most beautiful man in the room, or the hollow-faced wretch who bore the responsibility, merited or not, of his radical cousin’s actions on his soul. Isidore was somewhere in between now, rough and granular in some places, smooth and delicate in others. He hated Redstone, hated his role, hated everything about what he was doing.

Except for how wonderful it felt.