Monday, December 28, 2015

Good News and Bad News

The good news first: my sister is here visiting! She drove out from the Chicago area over the weekend to spend some time with us, which is awesome. We both needed some sister time, I think: her husband just deployed and none of the rest of our extended family is around, so we're incredibly happy to have her here.

The bad news is this: between her visit, covering for coworkers and stacking clients so that I can take New Year's Day off, I have absolutely no time. No for writing, not for editing (and oh my god, it hurts to put those off, the pain, it's real): no, my normal MO has been rollicked. So, that means no Redstone tomorrow, and just as I was getting to Robbie's plight, and I know, I KNOW! I'm so mean. I'm sorry, but needs must this week. I promise a story to satisfy very, very soon.

My next post will probably be for New Year's. Take care if you're in a place that's got tornadoes/floods/excessive rain! (I'm looking at you, southern US and England).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas Eve!

Today is a crazy day, and tomorrow will be more of the same for a lot of you, so I'm just throwing this out there now in the hopes you'll get a chance to read for a sec.

I wish I had a wonderful Christmas gift prepared for all of you, a delightful little story for you to read or a snippet of something awesome or a vignette featuring some of your favorite characters, but I don't. Time ran out on me, and so all I can do is wish you and yours a wonderful, safe, and very happy Christmas/holiday/solstice season. I love that you stick with me, that you read my interminable blog stories, and that you put up with my occasional rants. 2016 is looking to be a huge year, career wise (knock on wood) but I plan to keep on posting free stories here, and the new year will have some really excellent giveaways and contests and things like that for you, because you all deserve the best.

So, next week I'll talk plans and accomplishments and ideas and all that jazz. Today, tomorrow, be well and be merry, darlins. I wish you all the best,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Redstone Ch. 17, Pt. 1

Notes: Amazingly, I managed a pre-Christmas post. Times are busy, but so is Robbie! The next one will be very interesting. In the meantime, have some more build-up! And in case I don't get a chance to post about it (I will, but let's cover these bases) Happy Holidays, guys, and Merry Christmas if that's your thing too :)

Title: Redstone Chapter 17, Part 1.

Being a prison guard was in some ways a lot like being a marine. There were long, interminable-feeling periods of waiting, usually standing around somewhere checking IDs or scanning screens for enemy movement when you knew full well there wasn’t going to be any. There were random check-ins on various prisoners, there was the occasional bot foray into Redstone’s heart to organize, but mostly? Same boring shit, shift after shift.

Except, in both professions, there were also moments of shock and adrenaline and terror so fierce it felt like fire scouring your guts, turning you inside out in seconds as you fumbled to react.

Robbie could handle both of those things, but he infinitely preferred dealing with his boredom to leaping into action. Wyl teased him sometimes, called him dull, old-fashioned, but Robbie had had more than enough of those burning, painful moments to last him a lifetime. The saying was one that had become passé over the past few centuries, “to last a lifetime.” When a lifetime was so long, what could ever define “enough” of anything? It was a popular thought to debate in certain modern philosophical schools, with various people who had never lived through a war or genuine hardship musing about esoteric suffering.

Robbie was no philosopher, and he knew full well just how awful things could get, so to him boring was as good as happy most of the time. Unfortunately, this shift he was working with Jora Krighton, Fortay’s obnoxious partner in crime. Krighton was a little more subdued when his louder half wasn’t around, but just being in the man’s presence was a constant reminder that, were circumstances a little different, Robbie could have had him tried for prisoner abuse and locked up in Redstone himself. It would have been brutally poetic, and way more satisfying than debating obscure philosophy as far as Robbie was concerned.

But that wasn’t an option, and so instead Robbie had to breathe same air as the jackass and wait out his twelve standard hours in the Ready Room, the same place he’d stopped these two from raping Kyle earlier. The urge to break things was strong.

Halfway through his shift, Robbie’s day went from bad to worse when an emergency call came in on his comm, pulsing through his ear and straight into his brain: “Guard Sinclair, your spouse has been admitted to Redstone’s infirmary. He is stable and recovering. You will be permitted to join him in 5.39 standard hours at the end of your shift.”

“Bull-fucking-shit,” Robbie muttered, his blood surging through his veins at double the speed I had been a second ago. He got to his feet, and then noticed Krighton doing the same thing. There was a wild look in the other man’s eyes.

“What the fuck?” he demanded into thin air. “What do you mean, Fort’s in Regen? What the hell happened?”

Robbie didn’t need to hear the other end of the conversation to put it all together. Wyl had found his way into the infirmary by picking a fight. “God damn it.” He tapped his comm. “Central, I need permission to leave post and go to the infirmary.”

Cray’s voice came back over the comm. “Nope, Sinclair, you’re gonna have to wait. There’s no one available to cover for you right now, and things are starting to get hot in the Pit. We might have to send you and a bot patrol in to cool it off.”

“My husband is in the fucking infirmary, I need to—”

“I know that, and he’s put one of your fellow guards in the damn tank, so let’s call it even, huh? He’ll be fine for another few hours without you, Sinclair.” Cray closed the channel and Robbie nodded inernally.

He hadn’t actually expected to be allowed to go. It was probably important that he not get to go to the infirmary right now, so that he couldn’t mess up Wyl’s timeline. But Robbie was anxious, angry, and so annoyed that Wyl hadn’t found another way to get himself to medical. And where had ZeeBee been? The bot was supposed to keep this shit from happening.

Robbie took a deep breath and loosened up the fists that he didn’t remember making. ZeeBee was Wyl’s creation; whatever commands Robbie gave him could be countermanded, he knew that. And it was important that Wyl get to the infirmary on schedule so he could meet with Tamara. The facts were there, but the rage still percolated under his skin like sulfur, staining his movements with curt anger and turning his glances into glares. Krighton took one look at him and didn’t make eye contact again.

“Check the main screen. Cray’s voice sounded in the room, not bothering with comms this time. “Does it look like Rory is getting up to some shit to you?”

Robbie obediently pulled up the main camera view of the Pit, careful not to audibly grind his teeth as he did so. It didn’t take more than a second to hone in on what Cray was talking about. The man might be an arrogant jackass, but he had the experience to know when a situation was about to go bad. And this one…well. It was already bad.

It wasn’t that Rory was actively doing anything. All the action was centered on two other people: one of Klia’s lieutenants that Robbie thought was called Pippa, and one of Rory’s newest followers, a flat-faced meteor miner who had been convicted of mass murder for taking out his own crew after they found a huge deposit of pure tungsten during one of their explorations. He’d made a lot of money fast, but not enough to cover his tracks.

Pippa was yelling at the miner as she stood in front of a smaller girl, who looked like she’d been roughed up. The miner yelled right back, and when Pippa finally threw the first punch, Robbie wasn’t at all surprised to see the man dive into the fight with abandon. He got an arm around Pippa’s head and torqued her until she was bent over, then began to pummel blows against her head. Blood spattered the floor as he connected over and over, but his beating was cut short when the small girl leapt onto his back, driving a shiv made from what was probably a bot part down into the space between his shoulder blade and collarbone. He roared and dropped Pippa, who shook her head blearily before trying to get back up on her feet. More of Klia’s girls were already coming to their aid, while Rory—

He just watched. He was sitting at a table not a meter away from the fight, and he wasn’t doing anything. Klia’s folks would fight sometimes without her say-so, but Rory only let his people get away with that when he wanted them to. Which meant that he was deliberately allowing the fight to go on. He didn’t say anything when another of his guys grabbed the girl around her waist and threw her off, then was tackled by Pippa, who’d found her fire again despite her broken, bloody face. This one-on-one fight was fast becoming a brawl.

“Fuck, the last thing we need is to deal with a bunch of body bag forms today,” Cray said with a sigh. “I’m still not caught up on the datawork from the last round of killings. I’m sending in a patrol. You two are going in at the back to make sure no one takes liberties with the bots.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Krighton said, sounding like he’d just bitten the end of his tongue. “It’s one human per every patrol, that’s not enough bots to cover us! Why don’t you just gas the place?”

“Because half the bots are down for repairs and you two are right fuckin’ there! Now get your tac gear on and get ready to go in two minutes.”

Robbie immediately went for the panel that held the tactical armor. As soon as Krighton had mentioned gassing the place, he knew they had to move fast, because probably sooner rather than later, the whole damn prison would be gassed unconscious. He didn’t want to be in the Pit when that happened. He threw a helmet and expandible chest plate at Krighton, who was still sulking. “Get dressed.”

“This is bullshit.”

“Put on the fucking armor or I’ll haul you in behind me without it, and we’ll see which one of us gets called out as an easy target,” Robbie said briskly.

Krighton took the gear and started to jerk it on, glowering the whole time. “You’re a mean son of a bitch, you know that?”

“Do you want to make something of it right now?” Robbie took a spark baton out and pressed his palm to the pressure plate on the handle. It automatically coded itself to respond to him only, and he followed it up with a few handheld gas buttons that he could throw if someone got too close. Lastly, he activated the defensive shield on his armor, and a wave of electricity briefly flared over the surface. “Let’s go.”

The bots were already outside the Ready Room’s door. Robbie let them lead the way, and in under a minute, they were inside the Pit.

Gawking prisoners scattered like cockroaches at the first sign of light. The bots rolled directly into the fight, which had grown to over ten people since Robbie had last glanced at the view screen. He and Krighton let them do most of the dirty work, only intervening when it looked like someone was going to try peeling a part off of one of them.

“Status report,” he asked the patrol leader once the last of the fighters was pulled away. The Pit had gone eerily quiet.

“One human dead, two humans critical, four in need of Regen total,” the bot recited.

“Then let’s—”

Suddenly a siren began to blare. Red and yellow lights flashed as knockout gas began to jet from the air ducts.

“Fuck,” Krighton breathed. “Fuck.” He left the line of bots and ran for the door out of there, but his print wouldn’t open it. “Cray, let us out!” The door didn’t move. “Cray!”

“I can’t, the security system won’t let me override the door’s controls during an emergency! You’re gonna have to…have…you…and Sincla…”

As Robbie’s knees hit the ground, he figured that, yeah, there was somewhere his day could go that was worse than learning Wyl had been hurt. And he was about to discover what it was.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Redstone Ch. 16 Pt 2

Notes: What a morning. Seriously. I'm not entirely sure I'm going to make my afternoon clients, given how the roads are right now, and the fact that I'm driving in a spare. Because REASONS, because karma, because flat tires on snowy days, joy joy joy. I want to punch something, but my hands are too cold.

Anyway. Our last Tamara segment: from here we move on to Robbie, who...oh, baby. What have I done to you?

Title: Redstone Chapter 16, Part 2


One of the enduring fads on Pandora was an incessant fascination with all things Old Earth. Naturals were, in some ways, the most Old Earth of any people alive in the universe today. They, like pre-Regen Earthlings, had to heal the old-fashioned way, with time and care. They got sick, they got broken, they fought through pain and physical and mental hardship in a way that few people on Regen had to concern themselves with. There were the occasional Regen-ready individuals whose body chemistry was so turbulent it led them to physical harm, but they were rare.

That fad facilitated the creation of the Library, a building in Pandora City dedicated to Old Earth memorabilia and mementos. It had media in it that was inaccessible with an implant; you had to actually hold the books in your hand to read them, or play the various types of discs in ancient machines. There were traditional clothes from over a hundred Old Earth countries, and games and dolls and shows of all sorts.

A popular fascination during the early twenty-first century in some Old Earth countries had revolved around creatures called zombies. Tamara tried, but she couldn’t quite divorce herself from being ginger and quiet as she stepped around fallen bodies in the halls. If she imagined herself holding a katana while she did it, that was her own business.

ZeeBee trailed along just behind her, silent except for the whirr of his wheels. She got to the admin halls without difficulty, and wound her way to Warden Harrison’s office as quickly as she could. His door was locked. Oh, of course it was.

Tamara pressed the disc, which she’d stuck to the end of her index finger, to the pad outside the Warden’s office as she checked the time with her implant. Twenty-six more minutes. She should be able to finish this well within the half hour time limit.

The pad suddenly glowed, and the door to the office slid open. Tamara stepped inside and made a face. There was something about the Warden, some faint undertone to his scent that made her think of desiccation. Maybe he kept his clothes vacuum sealed, maybe he forbid the cleaning bots from entering his rooms. Whatever it was, it made her nose itch. She did her best to ignore it as she hastened to the desk in front of her. Warden Harrison was slumped over it, obscuring the control panel on the desk.

“ZeeBee, can you move him?”

“Yes.” She waited, but nothing happened.

“Oh.” Darn these literal bots. “ZeeBee, move the Warden out of the way.”

“Affirmative.” The bot slid his arms underneath the man and laid him out on the floor just to the side of the desk. Tamara took his place, wincing at the smear of drool that hit her fingers as she touched the surface of the pad.

“Nasty.” Nevertheless, she pressed her index finger down hard and waited for the program to access Harrison’s personal files.

There were a lot of them. Tamara narrowed her eyes as she stared at the flashing screen. Wyl seemed to have chosen to take way more information than they could possibly use rather than banking on getting too specific and finding nothing, and so everything was being copied and stored on the tiny chip, and from there to several of their personal devices. It was the best way to be sure they got what they needed, but it also took more time than Tamara really liked, especially since she still had to wipe the footage. ZeeBee would help with that, though.

Twenty minutes left. Seventeen…the program indicated it was finished before its tiny icon, a laughing flame, vanished with a virtual poof. Tamara found her way to the camera feeds, then stood up and turned to ZeeBee. “Okay.” She held her arms out from her sides. “Scan me.”

Using a completely current image of her was the only way to be sure they were actually getting her out of the visual feeds. Tamara had been prepared to use a saved image from her implant, but since Wyl had come through with the bot, she didn’t have to. She turned and ZeeBee scanned, a brief flash of green light indicating it was done, and then he stuck the very tip of one of his probes against the panel. Tamara watched as the program winnowed through the footage of her, everything from the moment before the gas was deployed to now, and deleted it. She was erased from the next thirteen minutes of future footage as well, which was a problem she’d solve by taking off her jacket to change her physical profile, just in case the time ran out faster than they’d intended. ZeeBee cleared itself as well, and Tamara grinned as she removed the tiny chip and stuck it beneath her collar.

“Perfect. Let’s get back to the infirmary.” She headed for the office door. The bot didn’t follow.

“ZeeBee?” It didn’t respond, just stared at the camera feed for a long moment. All of a sudden the alarm in the top of its head started going off, startling Tamara so badly she almost fell.

“Baby protocol discontinued! Alpha protocol engaged!” ZeeBee turned and shot past her down the hall, zipping around bodies like it was a sport. Tamara watched it go in complete astonishment, which turned to horror when she heard Warden Harrison groan. Oh, fuck. Fuck. The gas was wearing off early, and ZeeBee was waking people up with his noise. Tamara ran down the admin hall as fast as she could, tracing her path back to the infirmary. She had to get there before Doctor Kleinman woke up, she had to—shit, she had to make sure Wyl was all right, what else could the alpha protocol be?

Tamara was breathing hard again by the time she got back to the infirmary, but while people were stirring, no one was entirely awake yet. She pulled off her jacket, lay down on the floor close to where she’d been with ZeeBee and then, for good measure, smacked her head against the wall hard enough to make herself see stars. That hadn’t been in the original plan, but she needed to make sure no suspicions came her way. It helped that the doctor was so vehemently anti-natural, but it paid to be certain. Dizzy and worried, she calmed her breathing as best she could and waited.

“What in the name of…oh, good grief!” She heard the doctor push himself up off the floor. Demarcos followed with a grunt a moment later, and then cold fingers pressed against the pulse point in her throat. Tamara whimpered.

“Just what I need, another—” They’d never find out what derogatory thing he needed, because at that moment another alarm went off, this one rippling through the walls. Tamara recognized it. It was the alarm that sounded when there was a riot in the prison. “I don’t have time to deal with her; put her back in her room! I’ll return presently!” Doctor Kleinman rushed off, and a moment later a much warmer set of hands found their way under her head.

“Hey,” Demarcos murmured. “Tamara. You okay? Tamara, talk to me, damn it.”

“Mm fine,” she whispered, even though she wasn’t. “Take me to the general infirmary, not the private room.”


“I need to see if someone is there. Please.” She wasn’t too proud to beg. She’d have kept at it until he agreed out of sheer exhaustion, but Demarcos just rolled his eyes.

“Of course you do,” he said. “You’re more cryptic than the president himself, you know that?”

“There’s no need to be rude,” Tamara said, but she smiled a little bit regardless. “Thank you.”

“You owe me so many explanations.” He sounded angry, but he was gentle as he assisted her to her feet and put one of her arms over his shoulders. It was a bit of a stretch but she didn’t say anything, just let him lead her like a docile little child into the larger treatment room in the infirmary, where the Regen beds were kept.

She actually went a bit limp with relief when she saw Wyl lying there, one hand rubbing his throat, the other looking around curiously. He smiled politely when he saw the two of them, giving no indication he’d ever seen either of them before. “Hi there. What the hell happened, huh?”

Fortunately, Demarcos set Tamara down right next to Wyl, where she could make a bit of conversation about what really interested her. “Where’s ZeeBee?” she asked, almost soundlessly.

A slightly panicked look came into Wyl’s eyes. “ZeeBee was supposed to find you! Didn’t…what about…”

“ZeeBee did find me. It was very helpful, ran off at the end! Something about alpha protocol, I thought that meant ZeeBee would be back here with you.”

Wyl frowned. “Alpha protocol comes into play in case of imminent physical damage for the primaries, that’s me and Robbie. But I’m fine, and Robbie should be…” Wyl didn’t just panic this time, he went completely white. “Oh, fuck. Robbie’s on duty. He’d on fucking duty and now there’s a riot, what if he was in the Pit when the gas went off? When did ZeeBee leave?”

“Right after we finished with the visual feeds.”

“ZeeBee must have seen something happening to Robbie.” Wyl got up like he was going to march off into the penitentiary himself, but Tamara jerked him back onto the bed. Demarcos watched the two of them like they were both crazy.

“Running around busting doors down to go after Robbie will only draw attention,” she whispered. “If ZeeBee saw something, it’ll hand it. Besides, Magpie is in there. He can help Robbie.”

“How?” Wyl demanded. “How can he possibly handle anything without blowing his cover? Robbie us a guard; no prisoner stands up for guards. He’s going to be killed.”

“You don’t know that,” she insisted. We don’t know anything, she thought, a bit helplessly. At this point, all she could do was keep Wyl from ruining the game.

Robbie would have to look after himself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Redstone Ch. 16 Pt. 1

Notes: One more segment with Tamara after this, and then I segue to Robbie, who is really going to get the short end of the stick. Fortunately he's a badass and can handle that. Happy Tuesday, darlins!

Title: Redstone Chapter 16, Part 1.


Tamara had always had good hearing. Even for a regular person, her ears would have been good, far better than her eyes, which had taken three surgeries to correct to their less-than-perfect state now. She had also had a great deal of experience in her youth at pretending to be asleep when she was in hospitals, mostly to avoid dealing with her father and the look she knew would be on his face when she woke up. She could even modulate her heart rate, which was a useful trick when she wanted to listen in on a conversation. Especially such a heated one.

“Absolutely outrageous.” She had heard that voice before—not often, but more than once.

The next person to speak spurred a much more immediate sense of recognition. “Keep your voice down.”

“It’s my infirmary, Mr. Gyllenny, and I’ll raise my voice however and whenever I choose to! What sort of idiot goes gallivanting about the universe with all of these disabilities? Honestly, a natural? You might as well plop a baby down in the middle of an ocean and expect them to know how to swim. Their terrible immune systems must make traveling with them an utter nightmare, not to mention their absolute inability to respond to more than the most basic of therapeutic techniques!” The doctor sounded like he was on the verge of despair. “I have too many idiots with major wounds being brought in to deal with something as ridiculous as an allergic reaction right now!”

“But she’s going to be all right?” Demarcos pressed. He sounded genuinely concerned. It was rather nice, actually.

“She’ll be fine. Regen couldn’t do anything for her but the proper antihistamine injection did the trick. She should wake up momentarily. I expect she’ll come up with all sorts of excuses to stay here,” he added derisively. “Naturals are fragile creatures. If you’re staying, then you keep her calm and under control. Any sign of hysterics and I’ll render her unconscious and have her delivered back to her room immediately.”

“Did they not teach you any sort of compassion in your medical training?”

Dr. Kleinman snorted. “You think compassion is what anyone in this hellhole deserves? They deserve to lose power and freeze to death, as far as I’m concerned. My job is to keep the people who end up here alive, not to coddle them, Mr. Gyllenny. If it bothers you so much, I suggest you avoid ending up a patient.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Demarcos said. Tamara heard the door swoosh open, and the doctor briefly cursing at some damn robot, these things are always malfunctioning before it closed again.

“Well,” she croaked, not quite feeling like opening her eyes yet. Her face still felt a little swollen, and her lips were numb. She could breathe without assistance, though. That was good. “He’s a fucking prince, huh?”

“Holy shit.” It came out more like a sigh than a curse, and when Tamara finally looked up she saw Demarcos staring down at her, a combination of relief and anger written all over his face. “What in the lowest ten was that?” he demanded. “You poisoned yourself?”

Tamara winced. “Keep your voice down.” She made as though it hurt her ears, but in actuality she wasn’t pleased that he was trying to give the game away while they were being surveilled. Not that she wasn’t going to do her best to get rid of this footage, but it didn’t pay to get sloppy. “And those were a new brand of crackers; I’d never tried them before.” Obviously.

“Right, right.” Demarcos subsided a little, sitting down on the edge of her bed. It didn’t automatically compensate for his weight like it should have—apparently the leveling system embedded in it had gone to hell and no one had bothered to fix it—and she rolled into the side of his hip. He felt warm even through her jumpsuit. “So what now, Carson?”

“Well, first…” She glanced around, then suddenly put two and two together. “Shit! Open the door!”

Demarcos frowned. “There’s a bot out there acing weird, are you sure you—”

“Open the door! I’m feeling…” She cast about for a reason that a casual observer would accept. “Severely claustrophobic! Open the door, now!” Demarcos rolled his eyes and obeyed, and the bot immediately rolled into the room.

“Close it,” Tamara hissed just as the robot swept her up into its arms and cradled her against its metallic chest. The green eyestrip glowed brightly as it rocked her back and forth and said, “There there. There there. There there.”

The door opened a moment later, and Dr. Kleinman bustled in angrily. “This thing is all wrong! It doesn’t respond to standard commands in a timely fashion. Put her down.” The bot paused in its rocking, and then gently laid Tamara back down on the bed.

“I’ll have this thing deactivated and torn apart,” he muttered. “And you’re awake. Good. Get back to your quarters, and—”

“I feel nauseous.” It was the first excuse she could come up with, but Tamara knew she needed to check her clothes, now, and she couldn’t afford to leave the infirmary to do it. “I can’t go yet.”

“You’re fine, and I have other people to tend to and need this space.”

There was more excuse coming, but Tamara had already heard enough. One of the most useful, and least appealing, parts of her training under Admiral Liang was building in a neuro-sensory feedback loop that would provoke illness. It wasn’t fun, but throwing up backed people off like nobody’s business. Shuffling her feet together, Tamara pressed the ball of her right foot hard into the instep of her left, while simultaneously squeezing the fleshy section of her right hand between thumb and forefinger.

The sudden rush of sickness made her double over, retching as the scant contents of her stomach hit the floor. At least her throat didn’t swell up, although from the look of disgust on the doctor’s face she wasn’t entirely sure he would have helped her if it had.

“It’ll pass,” she assured him, eyes watering and nose streaming. “I just need a few more minutes, I think.”

“Take an hour,” Dr. Kleinman muttered, and he turned and left without another word. ZeeBee didn’t follow him, just stood there placidly.

“What the hell?” Demarcos said quietly. “Are you okay?”

“I need to be in the bathroom.” She held out her arm like she just couldn’t make it all of five feet without his help. Wisely, he took it and escorted her over to the tiny toilet, where Tamara knew they only passively surveilled, in case of an emergency.

As soon as the door was closed, she turned her back to him. “Look for a disc on my clothes, something small, probably transparent,” she instructed as she pulled a fresh water line out of the wall and stuck it in her mouth. She swished viciously, and let the current carry the dirty water back into the piping, then swished again. “Fuck, that’s nasty.”

“You’re telling me.” Demarcos’ hands were a little tentative, but he swept his fingers methodically over her back and arms, working his way down her body. Tamara did her best not to blush as he lightened his touch over her rear, then started on her thighs. “Ah. Here.”

She turned and saw the delicate lens sitting on the end of his pinky finger. “Perfect. Now I just need access to a care portal.”

“Planning on writing up the record of your own illness?” he asked, doing his best not to sound as flustered as he looked.

“Not exactly. Look, you’ve been…very helpful, but it’s best you let me manage things from here. I promise to do my best,” she added when he looked reluctant. “I’m invested in getting Kyle out of here, I swear.”

“I shouldn’t believe you, but I don’t think I really have a choice.” His teeth were gritted as he said it.

“No, I guess not,” Tamara agreed. “Let’s get out of here.”

She was both surprised and incredibly relieved to see ZeeBee still in the room, apparently just finishing cleaning up her mess. The bot straightened and glowed at her. “Baby,” it said.

“Oh thank you, Wyl,” she murmured. She hadn’t been sure that Wyl would make it so ZeeBee would stay with her, but apparently the baby protocol he’d described was still in place.

“I will take good care of you.”

“What is going on here?” Demarcos asked.

“I know you will,” Tamara said, ignoring her human companion. “I need to access a care portal.”

“The closest is 2.4 meters away, in the main hall.”

“Is there anyone in the main hall right now?”

“Dr. Kleinman is approximately 4 meters away.”

Tamara whirled on Demarcos. “I need you to distract him. Just long enough for me to access the care portal and release the gas.” She was already removing her elaborate collar and folding it into the portable fumigant mask it doubled as. From a camera’s distance it would be hard to tell what she was doing, but she kept her hands low anyway.

“You’re releasing the gas on this place?”

“It’s the only way I can get access to the right office. Please,” she added when he looked like he wanted to fight about it.

“You do realize how many laws you’re breaking, right?”


“And you get that they could put you away here and you’d never see starlight again, for however long you managed to survive?”

Tamara shivered but held her ground. “Yes. I know.”

Demarcos sighed. “Then I guess I can’t scare you into changing your mind. Give me a minute to work on him.”

She reached out and put her hand on his arm. “Thank you.”

“Tell me that when you get out of this thing alive,” he replied, then opened the door and raised his voice. “Hey! Haven’t you heard of liability before? I’ve never seen so many violations of—” The door shut on his impending argument, and Tamara took a moment to shut her eyes and lean into ZeeBee, still feeling a little sick, and shaking with nerves.

A metal hand found her shoulder and patted. “There there. There there. There there.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. They stood in silence for another minute before she asked, “Is there anyone in the main hall now?”


“Good. Escort me to the care portal and then support me in front of it.” She made a show of stumbling a bit as she moved into the hall, walked a little ways and then sagged against the wall. ZeeBee trundled up right behind her and propped her up, and Tamara transferred the chip from her finger to the sensor of the care portal.

It was a clever design, just enough to bypass the routines that required passwords but not enough to treat her as anything other than an employee. Tamara had already researched and trained up on this particular care system, and so she knew just where to go to find the emergency security protocols. She might as well have been Dr. Kleinman herself, the way the chip hacked through the safeties and accepted her assurance that, yes, there was indeed a riot going on and yes, gassing was necessary. And oh yeah—suspend Redstone’s inter-zone filtration system for the duration of the active gassing.

The hall lights went from plain white to flashing red and orange. That was all the warning anyone got before the gas began to flow. Tamara brought her mask to her face and buried her head against ZeeBee’s chest, and prayed that the seal held.

“What’s happening?” Dr. Kleinman exclaimed as he ran out of his office, Demarcos hot on his heels. “What is this? I didn’t give orders for this!” He just barely made eye contact with Tamara before he wilted to the ground. Demarcos lasted a few seconds longer, but then he followed suit.

Two minutes later the lights went back to normal, but nothing else did. Tamara removed her mask and took a shaky breath, and was relieved not to collapse herself. So far, so good.

“There there.” ZeeBee patted her again, and Tamara laughed shakily. “There there. There there.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Redstone Ch. 15 Pt. 2

Notes: So, better late than never! More Redstone, this time with Tamara in the lead. She'll be showing up next week too, and after that I start fucking with Robbie. Yeah, spoiler, life is going to get complicated and Robbie will be at the center of it. Poor darlin.

Title: Redstone Chapter 15, Part 2

Going now. Ten-fifteen minutes.

Tamara felt her breath catch in her throat, but forced herself to reply. Understood. Good luck.

She closed her eyes and forced air through her lungs, pushing past the stuttering, adrenalized fear response that had taken what seemed like forever to break herself of. She was not going to break down right now, damn it. She was going to do her job like the professional she was, and she was going to do it well. And someday, someday when she was old and looked more like her father’s peer instead of his daughter, she was going to tell him this story, about how she was an integral part of a daring escape, about how they saved someone who was going to help save the Federation as they knew it. And then he would see her for a real person, a person who could achieve things and live a full life even if it was a short one, and they would finally be equals.

But first she was going to dismantle her Morse device, because if everything went to hell it wasn’t going to help her to have that lying around. Tamara disconnected the parts with brisk competence, reassembled the pieces into the innocuous communicator they’d once been, then stood up and went for her secret stash of perishable death: a very thoroughly wrapped package of snack crackers that had been imbued with peanut powder.

Peanuts. Tamara had an allergy to peanuts, of all things. So quaint, so much something that just didn’t happen to people anymore. A lot of modern doctors hadn’t even heard of allergies, as Regen usually inoculated people against local sources of irritation while they were still in their mother’s womb. For those who traveled to other planets allergies occasionally popped up, but again, Regen worked wonders. And then there were the naturals, for whom the most innocuous thing could become a fast-acting pestilence for one.

Tamara had first learned about her peanut allergy when she was three years old, visiting an aunt who owned a farm on Rhysis. Being a farmer was actually a quite elevated position on a lot of worlds, and her aunt had been very proud of her crop of peanuts—“one of the only naturally-grown sources for them in the galaxy,” she’d said. And so, inevitably, Tamara had eaten one along with her cousins, and less than a minute later her throat had closed up and she’d stopped breathing.

It had been the first of many family outings she’d ruined. It helped, in a way, to know that her weakness was now going to be the very thing that made her infiltration possible. It wasn’t perfect, but it did take the sting out of what she was about to do. Not literally, though. Literally, it was going to sting like a son of a bitch.

Tamara tucked the package of crackers into her pocket, then headed out of her room. She needed to be in a public place for this. She checked her watch—five minutes had passed. Now was as good a time as any for her to get started. She walked into the common room, opened the package and popped a cracker into her hand. It lay there, brown and crispy and smelling just like she remembered. Peanuts. Fuck. She’d better get a damn note in her file that said willing to go above and beyond the call of duty once this was over. She raised the cracker to her lips—

And a large, hard hand closed around her wrist before Tamara could actually eat the cracker. The hold startled her into dropping it, and she turned toward the source of her surprise angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Demarcos said, his body language relaxed but his voice intent. The casual layer of prison surveillance wouldn’t pick up anything amiss as long as they kept looking relaxed. “What happens in ten to fifteen minutes, Miss Carson?”

It felt like her blood stopped moving for a moment. “I beg your pardon?” she asked through numb lips.

“I believe I heard a message that mentioned that timeframe. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to miss anything.”

“How did you hear that?”

“Good ears,” he said flatly. “What’s going on? And don’t try to play me; I have had it up to here with being lied to. If this is some kind of plot against my client—”

“Do you really want to get into this here?” Tamara asked lowly. “Where anyone could walk in on us?” God, she was so stupid. She should have protected herself better. She should have been paying closer attention to her surroundings instead of letting herself get distracted with reminiscing. If she got locked up at the end of this, she would deserve it for being a fool.

“We could go to my rooms and you could explain yourself there.”

“That—no.” Because damn it, she needed to be in a public place for this to work. “No, I can’t do that.”

“What, you think I’m going to hurt you?” Demarcos laughed hollowly. “I think it’s rich that of all the bad guys you could have picked out, you’ve decided to put the role on me.”

Tamara took a deep breath to settle her jangling nerves. “Sit with me.”

“I’d rather—”

“Let go of my goddamn wrist and sit down with me on that lounge over there,” Tamara hissed, “before you ruin everything for Kyle.”

Demarcos’ eyes narrowed, but after a second he did as she said. They walked over to the lounge together and sat, and Tamara did her best to put a friendly expression on her face while keeping her voice as low as possible. “Listen to me, and listen good. I am not your enemy.”

“You haven’t done anything to make me think of you as a friend,” Demarcos countered softly.

“I’m not what I seem.”

“I’m not even sure what you seem to be.” He sounded unduly agitated by that. “You’re a spineless official on a charity loan to the biggest name in Federation politics, but you’re also sending secret messages via Morse, which is about as antiquated as it gets, to someone else in the prison who, what, is planning some sort of breakout?”

“You got all of that from being an eavesdropper?”

“It’s not eavesdropping when I’m listening in Morse, which I didn’t think anyone off my planet knew anymore.”

“Clearly you never got schooled at the Academy.”

“I had better things to do with my time than learn to be a killer,” he said. “You keep blinking.”

“I’m checking the time.” Her implant had started a countdown timer in the corner of her vision, and Tamara could read it better when she blinked. “Shit. Look, you have no reason to trust me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“But I’m asking you to, because I am planning to get some people out of here, and one of them is your client. But I can’t do that if I don’t get to the infirmary in the next five minutes.” Shit, time was passing by too quickly.

“Why would you—”

“Ask yourself why a natural would choose to align herself with President Alexander, even out of desperation, when he’s lobbying to have the planet that was given to people like me excised from the Federation,” Tamara said. “Ask yourself why I would support a man who is willing to let the fallout of his brother’s murder—and that’s what will happen if we don’t act now—come down squarely on me in his stead. Ask yourself who in the hell I could possibly be talking with in Morse code. If it was someone official, why would I bother?”

“You could be here for someone else,” Demarcos said, but some of the suspicion had gone out of his voice.

“And I am, but that person was only here originally to be Kyle’s fallback plan. He’s making sure that Kyle stays alive while the rest of us work on getting him out.”

“Breaking him out of prison won’t make the charges against him go away.”

“Breaking him out of prison before publicizing the heinous crimes his brother perpetrated against him as a child is the only way to keep him alive, though.”

Demarcos’ eyes narrowed. “What crimes?”

“I’ll tell you when this is over. For now, though, please, trust me. Or at least trust the man who’s paying for you, because he knows all about this.” It was a risk, bringing Garrett into things, but surprisingly that seemed to relax Demarcos even further.

“That twisty son of a bitch,” he muttered. “Fine. What do you need?”

“I need to eat something.”

“The cracker?” He glanced over, but a cleaning bot had already swiped it off the floor. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay, I have more.” Tamara popped another one onto her palm. “Just…don’t interfere, all right?”

“Interfere in what?”

“In what happens next.” She bit into the cracker before anything else could go wrong, chewed and swallowed quickly. The back of her throat tingled. “Oh, yay, it’s working.”

“What’s working?”

Tamara would have tried to answer him, but she started to cough instead. And once she started, she couldn’t make herself stop.

“What…” Demarcos’ hand smacked her on the back, but there was nothing to come up. It was biochemistry blocking her airway now, and Tamara would have smirked if she hadn’t been freaking out because she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t breathe and the itching was spreading and the lights were fading already, and she couldn’t…she was going to…

Unconsciousness had never felt so welcome.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Time: I Don't Have It, So Have An Excerpt Instead

I'm sorry, darlins, I should be posting the next Redstone right now, but between NaNo and a short story that was due on the 30th and end-of-month logging for my real job, it isn't done yet. I know. It sucks. I won't go far as to say I suck, but I wish I could have gotten it done on time.

If I'm lucky, I'll get a client cancellation that will allow me to post late Tuesday.

If I'm not, then it won't be up until Wednesday.

Arg arg arg.

How can I make it up to you?

How about an excerpt from the holiday story I have coming out, what...jeez, today? Timing. TIMING, I DON'T HAVE IT!

Yeah, okay, excerpt from Worth The Wait, coauthored with Caitlin Ricci and out with Dreamspinner Press, which you can find here: Worth The Wait.


The rain wasn’t heavy, but it was constant, a continuous misty drizzle that infused the air with more of a chilling sensation than was actually there. In a few months, once spring arrived, Tate knew there would be pale green buds just starting to appear on the tips of the maple trees in their neat little sidewalk enclosures, and the scene outside the Tattered Cover bookstore should have been a lovely one. Instead it was three days until Christmas, and the rain was quickly turning into sleet around him. The remaining light from the pale winter sunset was just enough to make the wet ground sparkle a bit, reflecting in the store’s windows, which were ringed with plain, perfect white pinpricks of light.

A long line of people stood on the sidewalk outside the store, in bulky multicolored coats or under sturdy umbrellas, chatting and waiting impatiently for the line to move forward. It was, objectively, a lovely evening scene, one which Tate might have enjoyed if not for his quickly soaking feet as he stood in the wet and wished he hadn’t agreed to go to the bookstore during the last minute mad rush of Christmas shoppers.

Subjectively, it was a special sort of punishment for the shortsighted. Tate shivered as a tiny rivulet of ice water slid down the side of his face and dropped onto his sodden shirt collar. His hoodie was entirely insufficient against the weather, but he hadn’t planned on being outside long enough for it to matter and had come straight from work, with no time to change between. He had a better coat, far away where he’d left his car before hopping on the Sixteenth Street Mall bus to get here, but if he went back for it now he’d be giving up his place in line. He was already close enough to the back that he didn’t want to surrender any potential advantage when it came to getting these books signed. The plastic crinkled under his arms as he gripped his package tighter, and Tate sighed. At least he’d had the foresight to wrap the books up in a plastic grocery bag to keep them dry before heading out.

This wasn’t exactly how he’d seen his Friday night playing out. Then again, since his usual Friday night would have been going home and crashing on the couch after ten hours of mostly inane help desk queries, he couldn’t say this was worse, exactly. At least he had a purpose other than mindless relaxation tonight.

“Anthea Withershine will be signing her books there, Uncle Tate!” his ten-year-old niece had informed him yesterday, awe and avarice warring in her voice. “I have all of them. I’ve got The Mystery of the Falling Star and The Lost Kingdom of Lyonne and The Boy With the Clockwork Brain and—”

“You don’t have to list them all, Addie,” Tate’s brother, Jim, had pointed out from where he was monitoring their Skype conversation.

“Yes I do!” she’d insisted. “So he knows which ones I’ve got!”

“You just said you have them all.”

“All except her newest one, Dad,” Addie said, not able to restrain an eye roll. “It’s not out yet, but her website says she’ll be selling copies at the bookstore. Uncle Tate”—she turned her big, pleading eyes on him—“can you please, please, please go and get me a copy for my birthday? And get it signed? Can you tell her to make it out to Addie and tell her how to spell my name right?”

“Begging isn’t attractive,” her father informed her. “Don’t put your uncle on the spot. Go and get ready for bed.”

She’d reluctantly given up her spot in front of the computer, and Jim waited patiently for Tate to shotgun the rest of his coffee. He didn’t mind getting up early to talk to his niece, but the fifteen-hour time difference from Denver to Gunsan meant he couldn’t do it without some serious caffeinated fortification.

“You don’t have to do this, but if you want to I’ll send you some cash for the book,” Jim said when he seemed sure he had Tate’s attention again.

“You don’t need to do that,” Tate protested. “It’s her birthday. I can manage one book.”

“If you do, you’ll be her favorite uncle. Addie’s been on a Withershine kick for the last six months, and the new releases are always slow to get here.”

Tate chuckled. “I’m her only uncle, but I’m sure I can do this. When’s the signing?”

“There’s this thing called the Internet. It magically connects you to information without you ever having to leave your apartment—”

Tate flipped his brother the finger. “Jackass.”

He’d figured it out eventually, and figured that since the signing was on a Friday from five to close, he could just show up after work. He’d bought used copies of two of Withershine’s other books in advance, just in case they sold out of the new one, and had congratulated himself on his foresight.

Tate had had no idea that people had been lining up for this signing since morning, but his naiveté was disabused the moment he got off the bus. The line stretched for three blocks back down the mall, parents and kids and plenty of other interested readers all waiting impatiently for the inches to go by. Tate had gotten in line at the end, his head swimming a little, and had checked his watch. Four thirty. And he’d thought he was being clever by leaving work early.

Now, an hour and a half later, he was half a block farther along and very, very cold. His skin crawled beneath his clothes, and Tate suppressed a shiver. He bounced on the balls of his feet a little, trying to warm up a bit. He rolled his neck, then his shoulders, then—“Shit!” The plastic bag holding his used books tumbled out of his hands and spilled onto the pavement. “No, no, no.” Tate dove for the bag, which still had one of the books in its protective skin, but the other…. Where was it? Tate looked around wildly but couldn’t see anything book shaped in the fading light. The streetlamps would flicker on soon, but by then it would be too late. The book would be ruined.

“Hey.” A light voice pulled Tate out of his growing panic. “I think I found your escapee.” 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Redstone Ch. 15. Pt. 1

Notes: Aaand thus we start the inexorable slide into the American holiday season. This Thursday is Thanksgiving, which will be a pretty easy event for us--ie we're not cooking--but life in general will get busier. I know that's true for a lot of you, so thanks for finding the time to read along. I am very thankful for my wonderful readers, guys, so... *hugshugshugs*

Title: Redstone Chapter 15, Part 1.


Today was the day. Wyl was nervous; not a strange reaction to the beginning of what he hoped would be the end, but he was feeling it more than he thought he would.

It would all come down to timing, every piece of the puzzle having to snap into place at just the right time. There was a little leeway in a few places; as long as Wyl got to the infirmary before Tamara, he could plant the data chip in the drop spot for her. Then she’d need to get to it before anyone else found it or it was cleared away, but she seemed confident that she could. The chip was smaller than a fingernail and completely transparent, so the odds of someone else finding it when they weren’t actively looking weren’t good, so. They had some breathing room there.

After that it was up to Tamara. She was the one who’d been spending time in the administrative wing, so she had the best idea of when to open all the vents and trigger the gas so that the fewest people would be between her and Warden Harrison. Once the gas was set off, people would fall where they stood and be out for a good half an hour, or at least that was what Robbie thought. There were uncertainties there as well. The supply of gas was finite, and it would be dispersed throughout a wider portion of the prison than usual, so it was entirely possible that it would be less potent than the data suggested. Half an hour wasn’t much time for Tamara to break into Harrison’s office, steal the data she needed to and wipe the cameras. Less time than that meant her success would be a toss-up.

If it all went well, then they’d get hard evidence of malfeasance to Garrett by the end of the day, and be off this fucking rock in another 48 hours. If it didn’t…well, Wyl didn’t care to think about that. He didn’t have time to think about it, either. It was time to get this caper started, and that meant getting hit in the face. Thank fuck Robbie was on shift right now.

“ZeeBee,” he told his robot, whose eyestrip shifted obediently to face him. “Enact one-time only five second delay on defensive protocols.”

ZeeBee’s strip dimmed. “Defensive protocols are not to be tampered with, per previous commands.”

Wyl frowned. “What commands?”

“Per Christopher Robin’s alpha command. As follows: ZeeBee, no matter what, don’t let Wyl talk you into turning off your protections, okay? You stay on him and you watch him and don’t let anybody hurt him.”

It was creepy; ZeeBee even did Robbie’s voice perfectly. Wyl hadn’t known these robots had that capability. It would be cooler to have found out when Robbie wasn’t cockblocking his plan, though. “Override Christopher Robin’s alpha command, authorization Wyl-bonder-thirteen. Enact previously stated delay on defensive protocols.”

“Five second delay enacted. Per Christopher Robin’s beta command, I am instructed to tell you: goddammit, Wyl, don’t be an idiot.”

Wyl grinned, shaking his head as he battled with the nerves that made his hands want to tremble. “Thanks, ZeeBee.”

So much that could go wrong here…it wouldn’t take a lot of digging to work out that he’d built the chip if it was found, and if that happened, then it would be easy to dump Wyl and Robbie in the depths of Redstone to fight it out long before Garrett could do anything about it. Not to mention Tamara, who as a natural had far fewer of the inbuilt resources that the rest of them had. She would be royally fucked, and then Kyle would never get out of here and Isidore’s faith would be repaid with utter chaos.

Wyl wondered, not for the first time, if Garrett really understood what he asked of people. He was clearly getting used to maneuvering on a grander scale than Wyl could see. He wondered, when would they stop being his friends, and start being pieces on a board?

Not fair, he chided himself. Garrett was a spoiled, elitist jackass sometimes, but he never evaded his responsibilities and he never forgot about his friends and family. There was no doubt that he loved his husband and kid more than anything, and the rest of them, those who had been brought into the sphere of his affections; they were more than lip service. Wyl knew that; it was just hard to remember it sometimes, when they were so far apart, and things seemed so fraught.

Nah, it’d be fine. Or at least, it would if Wyl got himself carried to the clinic in the next five minutes or so. He reached over to his Morse machine and tapped out a final message: Going now. Ten-fifteen minutes.

Understood. Good luck.

Nice and succinct, good. Wyl made sure the chip was securely attached to the back side of his earlobe, then headed for the door of their apartment. It was time to pick a fight.

He was in luck today. Of his two most forward suitors, if violent-minded rapists could be called that, only one of them was downstairs in the common room, zoned out in front of the holoscreen. There were a few other men there with him, but Wyl didn’t care about them. They might follow the man’s lead, but Wyl had ZeeBee as his ace in the hole.

He walked down the stairs to the main floor, and made it almost all the way to the lounge in the center of the room before the man—what was his name, Fortay, that was it, Horace Fortay—even noticed him. And then when he did notice him, well. Wyl hardly had to do any work at all.

“He lives!” Fortay said, grinning widely. Nobody should have a mouth that wide. At further glance, Wyl could see that the edges of his lips had been cut and extended, deliberately creating the skin-tight rictus effect he was seeing now. It was one of the simpler, creepier mods he’d ever seen on a person. “Hey there, little lady. Are you looking for you daddy?”

“No,” Wyl said, affecting a sigh. “He’s working and I’m bored in our rooms.”

“Well, sweetheart.” If his grin had stretched any further it would have overtaken the rest of his face. “Why don’t you come and sit down next to me? I’ll keep you company until your daddy comes back.”

“Thanks,” Wyl said with a simper. He sat down on the edge of the lounge and scooted in toward the middle, where Fortay was spread out. The man reached a hand out, grabbed his upper arm and pulled him in even closer, until Wyl was reluctantly plastered against the man’s hard, bony chest.

“There, baby,” Fortay murmured. His breath smelled like stimulants and burnt hair. Wyl didn’t want to imagine what he’d been eating. “S’better like this, yeah? You wanna get a little more comfortable?” He pressed his groin against Wyl’s hip; he was already hard. Fuck, what kind of drugs was this guy on? Did he walk around with a perpetual boner? “We could get really comfortable. I could show you a real man’s cock, not that old, gray thing you’re used to.”

Oh, so astonishingly original. Wyl was already done with this. He pursed his lips and pretended to think about it. “Hmm, we could. Except I think my eyes might fall out of their fucking sockets if I have to look at what you’re deluded enough to call a real man’s cock.”

Fortay was caught off guard, his jaw actually dropping. One of the onlookers laughed nervously. “I mean,” Wyl continued, warming to his subject, “you look like more of a stretcher than a fattener, so you’ve either got a filament-thin little poker of a dick coiled up in your mommy’s underwear or it’s long and floppy and hangs down to your knees, but I can’t get any traction with that, if you know what I mean.”

“Wha—you—my dick ain’t fucking modded, you little cocksucker!”

Wyl smirked as he eased back toward the edge of the lounge. “Oh no? Then I guess I’d be lucky to be able to find it at all, it’s probably so itsy-bitsy—”

Bitch!” Fortay lunged, and Wyl helpfully stuck his face forward, hoping for a nice, smooth punch right across the cheek. Instead he got fingers around his throat, and the weight of Fortay’s body crashing into his, propelling him to the hard ground.

Wyl gasped and clawed at Fortay’s arms, trying to break his grip, but the guard was far stronger than Wyl. He tried to remember his training but it had been a while since he’d practiced, and was he blacking out? Fuck, blacking out wasn’t part of the plan…when would the five seconds be over? When would…he…

“Alert! Alert!” One bright green zap later and Fortay had been literally blasted off of Wyl’s chest. Wyl tried to inhale but somehow couldn’t, and after another moment he went unconscious.



Waking up in the infirmary was good. Waking up and not knowing how long he’d been there, that was bad, really fucking bad. Waking up and seeing the doctor standing over him, staring down sourly as he pulled a syringe straight out of Wyl’s throat, that was extra bad.

“Try not to cough,” the doctor advised a second after Wyl started coughing. “You dislocated your hyoid bone. It’s been stabilized and I’ve given you an intramuscular injection of Regen to jumpstart the healing process, but you’re not going to want to speak for another few hours if you can help it.”

“…long?” Wyl managed to wheeze.

The doctor glared at him. “What did I just tell you?”

“How long…here?” Wyl persisted.

“Fifteen minutes. Your husband has been informed, but his duties prevent him from visiting you right now. I’m keeping you under observation until I can relinquish you into his custody.”

Oh shit, Robbie knew. Robbie knew that Wyl had basically had his fucking throat crushed. He was probably spitting iron.

“This unit brought you to me,” the doctor went on, turning his glare on ZeeBee, who stood calmly in one corner of the room. “It has since refused to leave. I informed the techs that it’s malfunctioning, but they say it’s a low priority, so you’re going to have to put up with its company for now.”

Wyl waved a hand to indicate fine, and silently promised himself he’d modify ZeeBee’s code to hide his tampering better. The last thing he wanted was for the robot to be taken away and reprogrammed from scratch.

“Now, I have another patient to see to. What a day,” the doctor muttered. “First a spouse, now a natural; I don’t even have a treatment plan for someone so primitive.”

A natural. Oh, shit, Tamara was here already, and the doctor was going to see her now. The doctor turned and left, and as soon as he was gone, Wyl motioned for ZeeBee, well aware this was all being recorded. Fuck it, he’d deal with it somehow, and in the meantime he’d make this as innocuous as possible.

He reached up to scratch his ear, and came away with the chip in his hand. “ZeeBee,” he whispered, touching the robot on the arm and sticking the chip to it. He patted it once. “Go make Tamara your baby.” It was a fairly complicated command for his bot, since it had never met Tamara before and could only work off of conjecture, but after a moment of perfect stillness apart from its eyestrip pulsing, ZeeBee said, “Accepted,” and left the room.

Wyl sank back into the bed, conscious of the burn in his throat and his creeping fatigue. He’d done his best. It was up to ZeeBee and Tamara now.