Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Ten, Part Two

 Notes: One more from Johnny, and then next time--SOME DRAMA! SOME ROMANCE! Well, not quite, but the beginnings of romance. About damn time, too ;)

Title: Rivalries Chapter Ten, Part Two


***


Chapter Ten, Part Two

 


 

 

An hour later Johnny was sitting in a chair in the living room with a fresh cup of coffee, one of the muffins that he’d given to Charlie earlier in the week, and a noteworthy view of his freshly-showered companion sitting back on his couch and scrolling through his phone with an intent look on his face. “I’ve still got a lot of friends in the service, but not everybody is going to have the connections we need.”

“What kind of connections are those, exactly?” Johnny asked, almost as interested by getting a glimpse into Charlie’s life as he was in finding someone who could help the Stheno kids.

“When my old unit disbanded, people scattered across the service. I was the only one who had to leave, but more than half of them went into non-combat positions—training, experimentation, that sort of thing.”

Oh, Johnny had more than enough experience with “that sort of thing.” He’d already considered and discarded the idea of asking the experts he worked with for some of the testing equipment he used whenever he went to the “doctor.” It wasn’t that they would reject him outright—it was more than he was absolutely certain that they’d take the price of any request for help out of him in terms of more tests, always more tests, and Johnny was barely able to cope with everything they put him through each month as it stood now. He’d do a lot for his kids, almost anything, but he’d try every other avenue he could think of before he offered up more of himself to professional guinea-pig pokers.

All of this went through his head fast enough that Charlie didn’t seem to notice the slight pause before Johnny said, “So who’s at the top of the list?”

“I’m thinking Jem.” Charlie shook his head. “I mean Lisa Jemison. She was a Delta Force sniper for five years, army sniper for twelve years before that.”

“Ooh, what was her knack?” The army docs had pushed Johnny to experiment with a dozen different knacks when it came to enhancing his ability to see—and hit—things at long distances. Farsight was the best, hands down, but he’d also had some very interesting results with echolocation and other sonar-type knacks. Not gonna lie, standing in that completely darkened lab and seeing things appear in his mind had been a pure superhero moment for him. It had made him feel that hopefully, finally, his strange ability might be party to something that would actually make life better for people instead of boxing them further in.

“Farsight.” Yep, no surprises there. “She’s a drill instructor now—at the same camp I trained at, funny enough. Fort Abenard, it’s in upstate New York.”

“Not so far away,” Johnny said judiciously. “You think she’s got spare equipment, maybe?”

Charlie’s mouth quirked up. “The army would say there’s no such thing as spare equipment, but any decent supply sergeant knows that for the right price, lots of things can get lost in the shuffle.” He stared at his phone contemplatively. “There’s a big market for military equipment in the civilian world—mostly for police departments—and there’s a big black market to go along with that. I’m not happy I might have to play into that system, but…”

“The kids don’t even need that much equipment,” Johnny promised rapidly. “There are only a dozen or so seniors who even want to bother with dueling skills among the Stheno students, and they can trade off. Just, even just four helmets, some dampener vests, a few of the gravity imbuers would be enough.”

“Yeah.” Charlie blew out a breath. “Yeah, okay. I’ll—” All of a sudden his phone was ringing. “What the—oh shit!” He immediately answered the phone. “Huda! Yes, I’m here—no, it’s fine, I’m sorry I wasn’t on my computer, a minor emergency came up but—no. Is he okay? Yeah, I can—let me open it up.” Charlie tucked the phone in between his head and shoulder and reached for his laptop, then paused and looked at me. His expression was agonized, somewhere between “I don’t want to kick you out but I have to” and “Oh my fuck, leave right now.”

Johnny stood up and grabbed his coat. This was none of his business, and Charlie clearly didn’t want it to be either. “I’ll pick you up in the morning,” he mouthed, and Charlie nodded with relief. Right before Johnny closed the door behind him, he heard Charlie say, “Hey buddy! Yeah, I’m so sorry I’m late, I missed you too. How was your day?”

That’s the sort of call someone has with their kid. Does he have an ex? When would Charlie have had the time to be married, in all his covertedness and missioning and martial shieldiness?

Don’t be mean. After all, with a few slightly different decisions you could have had a part in all that military bullshit too. It had been very tempting. Johnny hadn’t figured his knack out until really late—he’d been halfway through college by then, and on the verge of losing his mind from the stress of too many credit hours and too little sleep before he saw someone else using a memory knack and, somehow, picked it up and managed to use it. He’d gone to register himself, feeling proud, and a day later the military had come knocking. Or, really, the CIA, but they came under the guise of the military.

We’ll pay off all your student loans. We’ll cover your graduate study fees. We’ll give you a living stipend and a guaranteed job when you’re done with school at a very competitive salary, as long as you give us your time, your mind, your heart. Your knack. Your soul.

Drowning in student debt, it had been tempting. So tempting. But Johnny had refused, and continued to refuse until he’d caught a knack he couldn’t get rid of, one that a mind that hadn’t grown up with it couldn’t properly comprehend, and it had almost driven him insane. He’d caved then, but hired a good lawyer before he made any deals with scientists who were sniffing at his trail like wolves after a deer.

They take so much already. Look at Charlie. Hell, look at poor Roland.

They’re not getting any more from me. Not even for the kids. If Charlie’s deal fell through, they’d find another way. They’d have to.

Please, please. Don’t fall through.

Friday, November 13, 2020

New serial novel Triumvirate!

 Heyyyy!

 Guess who's got a serial novel being published on the Radish Fiction app one delicious chapter at a time? This girl! Triumvirate is an (eventual) m/m/m fantasy romance with magic, shapeshifters, assassins, and more intrigue than you can shake a stick at. You can read the first three chapters for free on the app :) https://radishfiction.com/


 One wedding. Two grooms. Three lovers, preparing to fight for themselves, and their kingdoms. 

 Sy Parador, adopted prince of the tiny country of Bekkon, is getting married. He doesn’t want to. Quite frankly, he’d rather walk over hot coals—he’s got a spell for that—than marry Petur Alloui, the powerful brother of the queen of neighboring Riyale. Petur is a powerful shapeshifter, and mages like Sy and shifters like Petur have a long and violent history. With the Harrier countries making alliances that foreshadow war, though, they have little choice. If it was just that, Sy might see the bright side to marrying Petur, but the prince is already as good as married to his renegade Harrier lover, Deyvid. Sy wants love, but how can he possibly fit in with this pair? 

Petur has a lot of roles to fulfill already. To say he’s displeased when his sister announces he’s marrying the spare heir of their tiny neighbor Bekkon is an understatement. Someone is trying to kill Petur, and he doesn’t need a fumbling bystander getting in the way and possibly getting hurt, or worse. He’ll marry the man—he has to—but he doesn’t have to like it. He certainly doesn’t expect to enjoy it, but Sy—and Deyvid, to his surprise—might just prove him wrong. 

Deyvid Clearyeyes is more than just human—he’s a gifted warrior who’s immune to magic. He and Petur have been together for nearly a decade of relative peace. Now war threatens, Petur is in trouble, and Deyvid might be the only one to see the bright side of this marriage. A powerful mage like Sy could help protect Petur against threats Deyvid can’t fight off alone. He doesn’t count on coming to like Sy—even love him—himself. He certainly doesn’t count on Sy loving him back. Weddings, spells, assassins, and intrigue—Triumvirate is an erotic romance story told from the perspectives of three very different men learning to love and fight for each other, saving their homelands in the bargain.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Ten, Part One

 Notes: We're back to the story! The world is still a shitshow, but at least I'm not glued to Twitter. Enjoy some gents making plans ;)

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Ten, Part One

***

Chapter Ten, Part One

 


 

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god… Johnny sprinted for the baseball field, his mind going a hundred times faster than his body. In a fucking hole in the ground, what the hell did that even mean? How had Charlie ended up in a hole? Why couldn’t he stand?

Johnny swiped through the list of knacks he continually updated in his mind before chancing on a useful one. Speed—minor speed, more like something you’d get as a boost in a video game than a genuinely useful knack, it let him go faster for ten seconds or so before the price it enacted came due. It was one of his least-favorite knacks because it always left him gasping, but screw it, he was going for it today. He focused, took a deeper breath than his already gasping lungs wanted to, then activated the knack and—

Zoomed for the next ten seconds, his stride so long that his feet barely seemed to hit the ground and shit, if he wasn’t careful he was going to go right past the baseball field and have to backtrack and if Charlie was watching, that would mean having some explaining to do and he did not want to—

The knack exhausted itself five feet from the edge of the enormous hole where home plate used to be. Johnny stumbled to a stop, bent over his aching legs and desperate for air. He forced himself to walk the rest of the way to the hole, though, looked over the edge, and—

Jesus Christ. There was Charlie, lying on his back and grinning like he’d just won the lottery. He was filthy too, covered in dirt and grass, and wasn’t that going to be a delight to load into Johnny’s car, but his grin was so genuine that Johnny couldn’t help but grin back between gasps.

“What…the…fuck?” he managed, and then Charlie was laughing like he had over the phone and it wasn’t manic or desperate or, god forbid, frightened, it was a sound of pure joy.

“Yes, exactly,” he said, pointing his hand at Johnny. “What the fuck, I know, that’s what I’ve been saying since this happened.”

“What…did happen?”

Charlie’s eyes closed, and for a second he looked almost beatific. Filthy, but beatific. “I made a shield.”

“You made a…” Johnny looked at the scene in a whole new light. He’d been told this sort of thing could happen when he was learning to make his own shields, and had come close a few times, but he’d never managed this level of destruction. “Oh, wow. First time in a long time, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Made quite the, um, the bang, I guess.”

“It definitely did.” Charlie sat upright with a groan. “Don’t go making any refractory period jokes.”

“Me?” Johnny raised his hands. “No, nope, none of that juvenile behavior from me! Nothing about taking yourself in hand at last, or—actually, huh.” Now it was his turn to smile. “You cast a shield with just one hand? That’s great!”

“Not…exactly.” Charlie shrugged. “I was kneeling at the time.”

“So you cast a shield through your…legs?”

“More like my knee and my hand.” He described the scene, and all Johnny could think was What set you off, buddy?

Now wasn’t the time, though. “That’s so cool. Here.” He held out a hand, and after a second Charlie took it and let Johnny pull him out of the hole. “I’m not sure of the practical applications of dropping a knee every time you want to make a shield, but it’s still cool.”

“It’s better than nothing,” Charlie agreed, brushing some dirt out of his hair. By unspoken agreement, they moved over closer to the bleachers and Johnny handed over his bottle of water. Charlie used it on his face, then stripped off his shirt, turned it inside out, and put a little more on the cloth before wiping at his neck. Johnny forgot to breathe for a moment. Charlie had done it so casually, clearly not thinking about the picture he painted, a beautiful man covered in fresh bruises and old shrapnel scars. The scars sliced across his torso and back, a rough red cascade of them centered around his right shoulder. Johnny wondered if it still hurt much. He wondered if Charlie ever got massages, and if so…

Johnny cleared his throat, trying to get back on track, get the conversation going so Charlie wouldn’t realize he’d been leering like a perv. It was too late, though—Charlie had seen him staring, and his smile dropped away as his shoulders hunched. Shit, no, he’d gotten the wrong impression—the wrong wrong impression, damn it, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. “I can—I have a jacket in my classroom, let me—”

“You can have mine. What made you cast the shield?” Johnny took his jacket off, resolutely keeping his eyes on Charlie’s face. He wasn’t going to make this any more awkward than he already had, god damn it.

“Um.” Charlie ducked his head as he maneuvered his way into the jacket. “Frustration with Principal Cross, actually.”

“That seems totally understandable. Tell me more while we head back to the car.” They’d already pushed their luck by staying at the scene of the crime, so to speak, for so long without someone coming by.

Charlie explained, and by the end of it Johnny was seeing red. “Are you…she can’t…funding priorities that were an issue, what, two decades ago, and now all of a sudden she’s decided it matters? What the fuck?”

“I know.”

“That’s not right! Euryale kids don’t even use that equipment, they will probably never use it again because no one in their right mind who comes here to teach dueling is going to show up short on gear. So Stheno kids have to suffer because of it?” Johnny twisted the key in the ignition so hard he was afraid he’d break it off, then rammed the shift into drive. “That’s bullshit.”

“I know.”

“And we can’t go back into Stheno high for another month, minimum, due to structural damage. I can’t even sneak in there, they’ve got all kinds of fancy safeguards set up, so I can’t retrieve our own gear. Shit. Shit.” He pressed too hard on the gas and the car jerked forward.

“I know. It’s bullshit, but Johnny…” A warm hand on his shoulder jolted Johnny out of his rage rant. “Let’s not get into another accident, okay?”

“Sorry. Right. Sorry.” He stopped at the parking lot entrance and took a deep breath. “But we can’t let this stand, you get that, right? The kids need to be able to practice, this is make or break for some of them when it comes to getting into the right branch of the military or getting the attention of a talent scout.”

“I know.” Charlie looked thoughtful. “I actually think I’ve got an idea for that.”

“Let me help.”

Charlie half-smiled. “Don’t you have other things to do tonight than solve my problems?”

“These are my kids, their problems are my problems.”

The smile became a full one. “Okay, then. Let’s head to my place and I’ll put you to work.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

FUCK YEAH!

The election has finally been called. Biden and Harris win.

FUCK YES!

 



That's it, that's the whole post ;)

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

It's Fucking Election Day, Let Me Give You Stuff!

Hi darlins...

So...

How 'bout that election?

Seriously, though, I'm in a mild state of panic and coupled with some angsty news I got yesterday (nothing bad on the personal front, just some professional sadness) the best thing I could think to do with myself right now was watch nature documentaries and avoid all mention of politics. I know stories help us through times like these, but my writing brain just couldn't hack it yesterday. So instead, let me give away some ACX codes for my recent m/m thriller with L.A. Witt, Hitman Vs Hitman.

 


 

I have five, count 'em, five ACX codes for this brand-new, Michael Ferraiuolo-narrated, snarktastic and incredibly fun audiobook, and I want to give them away. To you! Because I love you, and we all deserve nice things! So, if you're interested, email me at carizabeth@hotmail.com with the subject line ACX (because I can't reply to comments on my own goddamn blog, because 2020) and the first five I get will get ACX codes. I'd love it if you left a review, but there's absolutely no obligation. Take care of yourselves, no matter where you live. These codes are for the US store, but I can see about getting a UK code if need be.

Fuck it, know what? I'll also give five people e-copies of any one of my books. Any of them. You want a book I wrote with L.A. Witt or Marie Sexton? I will do that for you (although I've only got one format for the one I wrote with Marie right now). You want to dig deep into my backlist? You want a copy of one of my blog or Literotica or AO3 stories? ANYTHING! You can have ANY OF IT, because I want all our lives to be a little bit better.

You have to email me though, because again--no commenting on my own blog. *facepalm*

I'll be checking my email Wednesday morning to see if anyone pops up. In the meantime, please know that I truly appreciate you, and I hope nothing but the best for you. Be well, darlins.




Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Halloween Story

 Hey darlins!

I wrote a short Halloween story for my Patreon group and, now that they've had first dibs, I'm sharing it here :) It's a lighthearted science fiction story with the beginnings of a sweet romance, a reprogrammed helper bot, and a giant spider. Enjoy!



 

It was Halloween, and Franklin Russel was in space. Specifically he was in the next-generation space station Journey, floating almost a thousand miles above the surface of Earth, part of a crew that was the living proof of concept of an international space station that had permanent artificial gravity. Commander Russel was, in fact, the chief engineer for the station, edging out that bastard Kavanaugh back on Earth for the position. There was nothing about that that wasn’t cool.

Being in space on Halloween and while stuck in a conduit a quarter of a mile into the station’s guts because of course tonight was the night one of the major electrical couplings that controlled the station’s lights decided to crap out, now that wasn’t so cool. Especially not when Franklin was still wearing his Halloween costume, which was decidedly bulky and but at least thick enough to keep him warm this far away from the living areas of the ship.

“Fuck,” Franklin muttered, catching a tuft of fur on a screw. What the hell was a screw doing sticking out of the middle of the conduit wall? These panels were all supposed to be held together magnetically. And here was a fucking screw? One of his staff was being sloppy with their repairs, and he was damn well going to figure out who and ream them over it.

Halloween was one of the few holidays that the crew of the Journey was allowed to celebrate, given its current non-religious incarnation. A celebration meant everyone on board getting dressed up for a party that would be broadcast back to Earth, because like it or not they were all celebrities who had to perform like dancing monkeys for their audience—and their funders.

Franklin hadn’t come prepared. He felt like the only one of the crew who hadn’t come prepared for costume parties, and New Year’s parties, and all the other parties they somehow managed to throw despite the fact that they were so far from Earth they could barely see it out the biggest window the station had.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a spare you can borrow,” Captain Jessica Andover had assured him three years ago, back when this mission first started. The spare ended up being a hot pink gorilla suit with a snarling blue mask. It was the very definition of hideous…but at least behind it, no one could see Franklin roll his eyes.

Don’t be such a party pooper, Jessica had told him half a dozen times. The crew needs outlets like these, and you’re senior staff. They want to see you having fun!

“I’ll have fun when I don’t have to clean vomit out of another work station,” Franklin muttered to himself, peering in at the panel in front of him. He’d have to test the couplings one at a time…delightful. “Jimmy, pass me a scanner.”

“Yes, sir.” The squat, solid helper bot ejected a scanning tool from its gut compartment and extended it to Franklin, who took it with a nod before turning back to the job in front of him with a sigh.

The steady, rhythmic repair work was something he usually found calming. Tonight, though, Franklin would have preferred to get out of the conduit as soon as possible. Therein lay the second problem he was confronting tonight—the fact that for the first time in three years, he would have appreciated staying at the damn party. The new arrivals had shown up five months ago now, bringing a huge load of supplies as well as new experiments to be housed, powered, and run by the incoming scientists. One of those scientists was Lawrence Chieng, an MD/PhD from Malaysia who also happened to be…to be very…

“Commander Russel?”

Speak of the devil. “Doctor Chieng, go ahead,” Franklin said after activating his communicator by gently knocking his ear against the wall—he’d broken two of them so far, but when he was in the middle of delicate work it was the easiest way to get the thing to turn on.

“I don’t suppose you’ve managed to locate Daphne yet, have you?”

Aaand there was problem number three, by far the worst one as far as Franklin was concerned. “Not yet.”

“And you haven’t seen any signs at all?”

“The lights are out, Doctor Chieng,” Franklin said in a tone far kinder than he would have used on almost anybody else on the whole ship. “I can’t see much that my bot’s lamp isn’t already illuminating. But no, I didn’t notice any of the things you said to look for. Once I get the lights back on, the search will be easier.”

“I hope so.” It was hard to tell, because Lawrence tended to sound even-tempered, even genial, ninety-five percent of the time, but right now Franklin was detecting more than a bit of dejection in the poor guy’s voice. “Doctor LaSalle still hasn’t come out of the bathroom. I don’t think she’s crying anymore, at least.”

Doctor LaSalle should have been given a more stringent battery of personality tests before being sent to Journey. But no, that was unkind. The poor kid had made a mistake, that was all…a mistake that meant that one of the animals they were using for a variety of experiments here on the station was now loose. The fact that the animal was a Goliath birdeater spider whose legs spanned a foot and whose body was bigger than Franklin’s fist was just the icing on the cupcake.

“Spiders don’t need to eat all that often, do they?” Franklin asked, eager to sustain the conversation while he worked alone in the darkness with only the faint orange emergency lights and Jimmy for company. “So it won’t starve.”

“No, she should be fine on that front for another week. These surroundings are rather inhospitable for this species, though. They’re burrowers, and tropical, and tend to be aggressive. I worry that one of the crew will happen upon her and be…unwise with their use of force.”

I worry that our expensive giant spider will be squashed by some startled arachnophobe. “I’ll set up sensors tomorrow to help us track her down,” Franklin promised. It was a bit of a rash thing to guarantee, but he was gratified by the relief in Lawrence’s voice.

“That would be fantastic, thank you so much, Commander Russel.”

“Call me Franklin.”

There was a significant silence, and Franklin decided to interrupt it before it ventured into awkward territory. “We’re off duty, after all, and tonight is supposed to be relaxing. Not that it has been for me, but…”

Ugh, fail on the awkward front. Thank god the scientist interrupted him before he could make it worse. “Then call me Lawrence, please.”

“Sure.” Franklin was torn between being grateful and embarrassed that Lawrence was playing along.

“I hope you finish up the lights soon,” the other man said, taking over the conversation with the ease of someone who was adept at small talk in a way Franklin had never mastered. “It would be a shame if you didn’t get to enjoy the party yourself.”

“Eh, I’m not really much of a party person.” He turned his head toward Jimmy. “Spotlight straight up sixty degrees.”

“Yes, sir.” Jimmy dutifully moved his spotlight higher up the wall, and Franklin kept testing couplings. Up, down, note the readings…up, down, check again…honestly, he ought to be able to program Jimmy to do this kind of thing; the bot was advanced enough.

“As long as you’re not a teetotaler, I think there’s something at this party for everyone,” Lawrence said, sounding more than a little amused. “There’s vodka in the luminescent jello shots, the punch has been ‘elevated’ with rotgut…even the apples people are bobbing for have been injected with apple liquor.”

“Apple liquor? Someone’s been holding out on us,” Franklin said, still testing the couplings. Up, down, take a reading…up, down, take a…wait, why did the reading look so pink? Or was that…red?

It took a moment for him to realize that the color wasn’t in the panel, it was coming from Jimmy.

He turned around and stared at the bot. Sure enough, its little spotlight had gone from white to blood red, and was beginning to strobe. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“What is it?” Lawrence asked quickly. “Is it Daphne?”

“No, it’s a dumbass prank that’s going to make my life a lot more difficult.” Franklin resisted the urge to just keep swearing. “Is Lieutenant Hawkins there?”

“Um, would that be the one dressed as the pirate?”

“That’s the one. Do you mind putting them on your com?” Because Franklin was willing to bet that his number two engineer wasn’t carrying their own com tonight—not when they’d been promised the night off for an evening of drunken revelry.

“Of course not. One moment.” Lawrence stopped speaking, leaving Franklin with nothing to focus on except the freaky strobing red light that had turned Jimmy from his faithful helper bot into something you’d find in an old-school haunted house.

“Hey! Boss!” Riley Hawkins shouted into the com, sounding merry as ever. More disgustingly merry than ever, now that they were drunk as well as highly extroverted and well-socialized. “Boss, omigod, I’m sorry, did you take Jimmy-bot with you tonight?”

“Yeah.” The other bots were Bendy and Twisty, respectively. “What the hell did you do to it?”

“I, um, I maybe programmed it to run a really, actually it’s really a funny scenario, it’s from an old movie only I changed it up a little, I was going to have it startle people at the party—”

Oh, they didn’t. “Damn it, Riley, did you Hal my helper bot?”

“No!” Riley protested. “I Audrey’d it, what kind of uninspired trash do you take me for?”

Sure enough, a second later Jimmy began to make menacing snapping and hissing noises before bursting into song. “Feed me, Seymour,” it sang in a deep, wholly unexpected voice. The light turned green, then red again. “Feed me, Seymour!” The voice got deeper and deeper, and all of a sudden—zap!

“Jesus, ow, fuck!” Franklin jerked his hand back, away from the bot’s electric-blue spark. “What the fuck else did you program it to do?”

“Give people a little jolt! It’s totally harmless, like an old-fashioned low voltage taser. It won’t hurt anybody, it’s—”

“God fucking damn it, Riley.” Franklin shut his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m alone in a corridor with a bot that supposed to be helping me turn the lights back on, and instead you programmed it to give me a jolt every time it gets close enough to be useful. Do you understand the situation you’ve put me in?”

“Oh…shit. Um…yeah.” Riley, to their credit, was never malicious about these things. They just tended not to think before they acted on their “great” ideas, and usually they were around to shut them down before things got too out of hand.

Not this time, unfortunately.

“Um. I can come to you? I just need to—woops! Sorry, did I spill your drink?” Riley’s voice turned extra friendly. “Can I get you another one?”

“Don’t try to find me, you’re too drunk to find your own feet,” Franklin ordered. “Give the com back to Doctor Chieng.”

“Right! Right, look, I’m so sorry, and the program will only run for, like, five minutes before it switches back over to normal. You can wait it out or do a hard reboot, boss.”

A hard reboot would take ten minutes. Waiting it out wins, then. “You are going to be overseeing all station-wide routine maintenance for a month,” Franklin said.

“Aw, boss, come on! I just—oops, hey Lawrence! Yeah—what, oh right, yes! Hang on.”

A second later Lawrence was back on the com. “I take it something has gone wrong.”

“You take it right.” Franklin sighed and eyed his bot. As long as it didn’t suddenly activate its wheels, he was apparently out of range. “Riley decided to try to be funny.”

“A Halloween prank gone awry?”

“Something like that.” Aaand there the program went on auto—Jimmy was making the hissing, gnashing sound again. To Franklin’s great surprise, something hissed back. “What the…”

“Franklin? Is everything all right?”

“Hang on.” He took the com out of his ear and focused intently on the noise around him. There was the mess coming out of Jimmy, and the ever-present hum of the station, the closer, higher-pitched hum of the open electrical console beside him, and—

Hisssss!

Franklin resisted the urge to pound his hand against the wall. “Lawrence, do goliath birdeater tarantulas make any sorts of noise?”

“Ah, well, they do make a bit of a tapping noise walking on hard surfaces. And when they feel threatened, they can create a stridulating sound that’s something like a hiss.”

“Stridulating sound. Great.” And now that he was tuned in to it, there was the tapping as well. The fucker was on the move. “Oh my god.” He had fallen into a horror movie on Halloween, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Franklin made a slow circle, trying to narrow in on the source of the motherfucking stridulation while not antagonizing either the spider or his poor hijacked helper bot.

Franklin wouldn’t call himself arachnophobic, but he couldn’t think of anyone who wanted to come across a spider the side of their head in total darkness. Especially since he wasn’t allowed to smash the thing. “Uh…so I think I’ve found Daphne.” In a manner of speaking.

“You have? That’s fantastic!” Lawrence sounded really upbeat about it. God damn it all to hell,  now Franklin really couldn’t smash the spider, not when it made the guy so happy. “I’m so pleased to hear it. I actually have a catch net with me—if you can guide me to you, I’ll retrieve her.”

“Um.” Slowly, Franklin reached to his left and began flipping couplings again. He only had a hundred or so more to go—one of them would turn the lights back on. Light would be really, really nice right now. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“Why not?”

There was the tapping again. The hissing sounded closer now. Franklin flipped the coupling switches faster. So fucking what if he didn’t get a good reading on which one was fucking up and why right now, he’d come back tomorrow and measure them all again—or better yet, send Riley to do it. “I can only split my focus in so many directions, Lawrence, and right now—”

“Feed me, Seymour!” Apparently the spider got too close to the bot, because all of a sudden it was singing again, singing and brandishing its miniature lightning rod. “Feed me, Seymour!”

“Oh, fuck.” Would a zap from that thing be enough to kill Daphne? She was a big damn spider, but she was still just a spider.

At least there was some light now. Reddish-greenish horror show light, but enough light to see the spider standing there not two feet in front of Jimmy, hissing and doing something that Franklin couldn’t quite make out, but shit—his face was starting to itch. The smart thing to do would be to put his gorilla mask back on and wait out the chaos.

And lose his crush’s freaky fucking spider, which was getting closer and closer to Jimmy’s electric arc.

“Franklin? Is everything all right?”

“No,” Franklin said. “But what the hell.” Before he could have second thoughts, he grabbed the helmet up off the ground, knee-sprinted over to Daphne and got his rubber gorilla mask over the top of her just in time to keep the helper bot from zapping her.

His bare hand got zapped instead. Again.

“Jesus, ow, fuck!”

 

 

Five minutes later, the lights came back on. Cheers rang out across the station’s mess hall, which had been appropriated for the party. Five minutes after that, Doctor Lawrence Chieng was leading his tearful research assistant out of the bathroom when the door on the opposite side of the mess hall opened with a bang.

In walked a familiar man with short brown hair, wearing a bright pink gorilla suit and an unfortunate scowl on his handsome face—Commander Russel. He held a tightly-clamped mask in one hand and a powered-down bot in the other. All conversation stopped as people turned to stare at him. He honed in on one person in particular, his very jocular pirate lieutenant, marched over and shoved the bot into their arms.

“Fix it,” he ground out, then scanned the room until he focused in on Lawrence, whose heart literally skipped a beat. The commander stalked over, and even in the gorilla suit it was one of the most intimidating, transfixing things Lawrence had ever been the subject of. Only—

“You Doctor LaSalle?” Commander Russel snapped, ignoring Lawrence in favor of glaring at his assistant. Kimmy nodded, speechless.

“Your goddamn spider is in here.” He shoved the mask into her hands. “Do not lose her again, you hear me?”

“You found Daphne?” Kimmy went from dejected to rapturous in the space of half a second. “Really? Oh my god, thank you so—”

Commander Russel held up a hand. “Do not thank me,” he snapped. “I never want to be thanked for anything in conjunction to that thing, ever. Ever,” he added when she opened her mouth again. “I’m serious.” He paused for a second and looked at Lawrence, who found himself holding his breath. Was the commander about to…

But no. The commander sighed and looked down at the ground, then marched over to where the captain was watching the whole thing play out with a bemused expression on her face.

“Next time, you can wear the monkey suit.”

With that, he turned and headed for the hallway he’d just entered from, scraping one hand irritably across his face. Lawrence looked at Kimmy, who was staring into the mask and cooing at her enormous spider, and said, “Please put her back as soon as possible.”

“Of course, Doctor Chieng, I—Doctor Chieng?” But Lawrence was already striding away, practically pushing through the other partygoers as he worked to catch up with Commander Russel. By the time he got out into the hall, the man was already halfway down the corridor.

“Commander!” Lawrence called out. “Wait!” For a moment he wasn’t sure the other man was going to respond to him, but Commander Russel slowed, then stopped and turned.

“Yeah?”

It was said briskly, meant to dissuade further contact most likely, but there was a look of something deeper than loneliness in the commander’s face. Lawrence decided to go with his instincts.

“Are you all right, Franklin?” he said, still daring to use the man’s first name even though they no longer had the comfortable distance of a com to separate them.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked gruffly, but his face expression had already softened a bit.

“If Daphne was stridulating, then she was probably releasing urticating hairs as well,” Lawrence explained. “It’s another defense mechanism. If they lodge in the skin, they can be very irritating.”

“Daphne just gets better and better, doesn’t she?” Franklin asked dryly.

“She’s a remarkable creature,” Lawrence said, deliberately misunderstanding the sarcasm. “And so are you, for going to such great lengths to get her back. I have the feeling it wasn’t as simple as just catching her in your mask.”

“You have no idea,” Franklin muttered.

“No,” Lawrence agreed. “But I’d like to.” He stepped in a little closer. “Maybe we should go back to my quarters and check your skin for urticating hairs.”

Franklin’s eyes widened, then he began to laugh. Lawrence almost shied back before he realized there was nothing but genuine pleasure in Franklin’s voice. “Is that what kids are calling it these days?”

“Not for anything improper,” Lawrence said, blushing a bit. “Just…I really would like to make sure you’re all right, and I’d be pleased to get to know you better in more…private surroundings than the station’s Halloween party. I could make coffee.”

Franklin sighed, brushing one hand over his short hair. “That’s the best offer I’ve gotten all day,” he said. “If you don’t mind me hanging around in a gorilla costume.”

Lawrence smiled. “I think I’ve got something you can borrow.” He indicated the right split in the corridor. “This way.”

“Checking me for hairs, making me coffee, letting me borrow clothes…” Franklin joked as they headed down the hall side by side. “Did rescuing your spider really mean this much to you?”

“Daphne is important, of course,” Lawrence said, “but you’re much more so. Besides, it’s Halloween, and you’ve already had plenty of tricks played on you. I think you deserve a treat as well.”

Franklin laughed again. The sound sent a thrill down Lawrence’s spine. “Happy Halloween to me.”