9.8.19.CHROME.PRINT.BOOKS.1

CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
CHROME
Chapter 3
Terralina Rustabrin

She knows she’s in big trouble, maybe even in mortal danger, the moment she hears the coyotes stumbling toward her. Yipping and howling. The stomp of their hobnail boots.
Terralina Rustabrin waits on the cobblestone sidewalk outside Bunny Hedgeway’s mansion while the Jamboree party rocks on. “Oh, ugly ugly,” she whispers. Her usual mournful refrain.
“Whoo-hoo!” a coyote barks. “Bobby, get a load of this jabberwock.”
“It’s, like, a turtle. You ever see one of them mockeries before?”
“Never in my life, dog. I can’t abide slitherers. Give me the creepy-crawlies.”
“A turtle wearin’ a dress. And it’s got one of them li’l bicycles. A low-rider.”
“My uncle’ll want a piece of this. He buys and sells ‘em, how ever he comes by ‘em. Heh, heh. Big market for low-riders, what with the cold bloods.”
“And the squirrels?”
“Rats, too. Rodent Blends gross me out. You ever see a good-lookin’ rat girl?”
“With them short dumpy legs? Gag me with a bone.”
“Let’s get it.”
“What, the turtle or the bicycle?”
“Both, dog.”
“Bicycle’s got a lock. Turtle can’t be so lamebrained.”
“Turtles are totally lamebrained.”
“Since when did a lock ever stop us, my pack mates? Whoo-hoo! Let’s go!”
Howl of laughter. And bang! The first kick of a boot on her carapace.
Jabberwock. Mockery. Lamebrained. Slitherer. It.
Oh, really. Terralina Rustabrin has never slithered in her life. She most definitely is a she, not an it. And she’s a tortoise, not a turtle. Get that straight, morons. She never sets her wrinkled little foot in water except for the occasional lavender-scented bubble bath. And even that can be a chore she avoids as long as possible.
As if they’re not jabberwocks or mockeries. Insulting her, harassing her, endangering her while she is quietly minding her own business. Waiting for her bond-promised, Prince Tudine Ruchat Tartus. Waiting to get this dreadful Jamboree over and done with.
It’s bad enough that Tuddy is making her wait while he lives it up at the party. Even worse that she knows what will happen when he rejoins her. He’ll continue their painful conversation about what their bond-mate will amount to. She doesn’t want to continue that conversation. But continue it she must.
A painful conversation?
Try an argument threatening to end their bond-promise. A bond-promise Terralina cherishes. A bond-mate she dearly wants to consummate. To keep till death does them part.
But when they bond-mate, when they fulfill that promise, she, Terralina, will have an obligation. When they bond-mate, she and Tuddy are duty-bound to procreate another Chromian generation. Another generation of tortoise Blends like them. As heavily mutated as them. What else could happen unless the other half, their elusive human half, manages to recombine into something better? Something more human? Minus the carapace, even?
Bang! The second kick of a boot.
Terralina’s human ancestors were Myanmar refugees captured by poachers. And Tuddy’s? Dutch industrialists kidnapped by a rival industrialist. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Emirk Corporation had purchased political prisoners, deposed chancellors, convicted felons, abductees, refugees, sex slaves, medical experiment slaves, child slaves, and all manner of captives from Earth’s traders and traffickers in human flesh. Human beings of all races and all genders from every place on Earth. Every place where people were incarcerated, oppressed, abducted, or bought and sold.
They were shipped up to Chrome.
Something more human. It could happen, Tuddy had pleaded. And if that miracle doesn’t happen, what then? she’d countered. Then I’ll love our children as much as I love you, my darling Terralina, he’d vowed.
That wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t what Terralina wanted to hear. Tuddy had to face the bitter truth. When they bond-mate and assume the Chromian obligation to procreate, she will bear children as crippled by their genetic heritage as they are.
Is that what you want? she’d said. Over and over. Is that what you really want, Tuddy?
Tonight he wouldn’t answer. He wouldn’t plead. He turned away and fiddled with the lapel of his tuxedo. His silence troubled her more than his hopeful pleas.
Sitting on the sidewalk now, she’s thought it over. She can conclude only one thing. Tuddy wants tortoise children. He’s proud of his carapace. He’s an heir to a tortoise dynasty with splendid carapace colors. The co-owner of a castle in Chelonian Park. His human ancestors were endowed with comeliness and vigor. One day Tuddy will take the helm of his clan’s longtime enterprise that is vital to life on Chrome.
Terralina doesn’t enjoy such a pedigree. Such privilege. None of her siblings survived childhood. Both her parents perished young of salmonella. Her human ancestors were half-starved and frail when Emirk took them to Chrome. If it weren’t for Tuddy and the Tartus clan, Terralina would be all alone on Chrome.
Trouble. Trouble all night. The full Moon stirring everyone’s blood with a touch of madness.
A third kick of a boot, and the coyotes surround her, stinking of hard booze and the gamy scent of canid.
Oh, ugly ugly. She should have known trouble was coming the moment she’d stretched her neck out of her carapace and glanced up at the mansion’s rooftop. An odd sound had alerted her. A soft, metallic creak on the fire escape from the rooftop to the lawn. A slender, powerfully built womanimal in a mask and costume climbed down the wrought-iron stairs. Crouched in the shadows of the railing when the Security Eyes swiveled back and forth. Climbed down again.
What was she doing? And why?
And then.
Then a tall, thin manimal in a disheveled tuxedo strode out of the trade-service door at the back of the mansion. He moved with a peculiar gait, sinuous and powerful. She blinked, puzzled, as he scowled, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief. The white cloth darkening with stains.
An ink-black limousine pulled up and the tall, thin manimal climbed in the passenger seat. A uniformed chauffeur sat behind the dashboard, a nasty reptile with a scrofulous face and wide, glassy eyes staring from beneath the bill of his cap.
Well, fine. It was a big party. Chromians coming and going all night, mostly through the magnificent front door. Terralina had yawned, chilled and exhausted, wanting badly to go home, to climb into Tuddy’s warm featherbed, to go to sleep. She’s diurnal. The sort of Blend who functions best during the day. She had no business celebrating Jamboree so late in the nocturnal niche. Neither did Tuddy.
The limousine cruised past her, and she got a closer glimpse of the manimal. His long, narrow face heavily freckled. His right eye gleamed as if his cornea reflected the moonlight. A collar or scarf bunched up at the nape of his neck. He glanced through the car window, raised his hand to adjust the scarf, and she saw the Tatt on the back of his hand.
Black. Pure shiny black. Glittering with power.
What was that? She’d never seen such a Tatt. Not on any Chromian. Every color under the sun, certainly. But not black. Not glittering.
Those should have been her only troubles for the evening. Witnessing the unusual departure of two party-goers. Oh. And arguing with Tuddy. And refusing to go in to the party.
Now trouble, real trouble, has found her. A kick of a coyote’s boot spins her around in one direction. Another kick spins her the other way.
“Whoo-hoo, dogs!”
“Let’s have some fun, my pack mates.”
“Go, Bobby! Smash it up!”
With a jerk, Terralina pulls her head and her stubby arms and legs inside her carapace. The carapace, firmly rooted at the nape of her neck and extending to mid-thigh, is made of bony dermal plates. Inside, the carapace is surprisingly roomy with a high domed ceiling. She’s equipped it like a studio apartment with a tiny kitchenette and a cot on which to rest her head. The human parts of her—skeleton, internal organs—pulse and gurgle beneath the slick pink surface of the studio’s floor. Everything is entwined by nerve, blood vessel, and sinew to the carapace.
Another kick sends her sliding across Cedar Lane. Boots pound after her. Another kick sends her sliding back.
Terralina scowls, dizzy and nauseated. Why oh why didn’t she go inside with Tuddy and endure the Jamboree like she was supposed to?
Because she didn’t want to. Couldn’t bring herself to. Didn’t want to face all those glamorous predators, those handsome herbivores.
Couldn’t bring herself to in spite of Tuddy’s generosity. He’d spent a bundle of credits outfitting her for the occasion. The olive-drab dress starts with a lace collar wreathing her skinny neck and descends in a cascade of ruffles to her tiny feet. Tuddy even paid for a manicure, the flamingo beautician squawking sarcastically through the ordeal of applying pink polish to Terralina’s tiny, tiny fingernails. Tuddy picked out a mask for her, matching his own. A dragon mask, green sequins on the cheeks, green feathers sprouting from the eyebrows. Tuddy bought her fancy shoes, too, but they pinch her toes. She’s kicked them off. She’s thrown the ridiculous mask onto the sidewalk.
Nothing has helped Terralina cope with Jamboree.
“Whoo-hoo-hoo!”
“Bobby, over here, kick it over here.”
“I got it, I got it, I got it!”
A metallic clatter as her bicycle crashes on the sidewalk.
“Get the bicycle, Bobby.”
“What, carry it?”
“Do I have to tell you everything? Smash the lock, dog.”
Terralina winces. She adores her bicycle. The bicycle is her only means of free speedy transportation around Chrome. The bicycle is her treasured possession. Not so very long ago, the theft of her bicycle would have devastated her. Sent her into a tail-spin. Sent her into desperate schemes how she could raise the credits to buy another.
Now she doesn’t have that problem. Since Tuddy fell in love with her and opened the family coffers of the Tartus clan, she can easily replace it.
Just steal my bicycle and go away.
But the coyotes don’t go away. They do tire of spinning her around and kicking her back and forth. That no longer amuses them. Now a boot slams down on the top of her dome with a sickening crunch. Her carapace is grown of tough stuff, but the bony plates give out a deafening crack!
If they crush her carapace, she’s as good as dead. All those entwined nerves and blood vessels and sinews will rip and tear. She will bleed internally, suffer unspeakable pain. She will sicken and die.
Oh, oh, oh! If there’s anything Terralina can be proud of in her tortoise Blend life, it’s the beauty of her accursed carapace. A black-and-gold mosaic decorates the bony plates. Tiny black-and-gold diamonds in a checkerboard pattern line the rim.
Barricaded inside, Terralina taps the sage-green Tatt on the back of her left hand and winks the Chrome City Police Emergency hotline. The dispatcher’s icon pops up, a magpie in a beehive hairdo.
“Coyotes are trying to kill me,” Terralina whispers to the icon. “I’m a tortoise. A little one.”
“The wait time will be twenty minutes,” the dispatcher chirps. “Happy Jamboree.”
Nothing she can do. Nothing she can do.
She mutters a quick angry prayer to the Intelligent Designer that allowed the creation of her miserable Blend. She curses Emirk Corporation. Curses the Tweakers and the Twitchers. Waits to die.
Crushed. Humiliated. Alone.
She doesn’t die.
*   *   *
For the rest of Excerpt 3 of CHROME and to discover how Terralina is saved and by whom, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—four delightful stories, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

CHROME.MED.295.KB

The CHROME cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is comprised of a dozen different elements which Tom carefully researched. We think the imagery looks kind of mid-century. I love the color scheme.
And yes! A Brand-new Reader Review of Chrome, the First One:
“So Walter Mosley reread Animal Farm and The Island of Dr Moreau and says to himself, “Oh, yes indeed, I’ve got a terrific idea for my next best seller.” But! Lisa says, “Hold on, hot stuff. You’re too late. Chrome is already on the streets. Haha!”
Wow! I just tore through Chrome. So much fun. Oh, I guess I should take a time-out to say that it was very well-written too, but I was enjoying the characters and the story so much that the superb writing simply did its job and I had to consciously reflect to notice the excellent and clever construction and reveals. Uh, isn’t that the definition of good writing?
I’m not usually a fan of sequels, but could we please have at least one more romp with Ms Lightfoot and her sidekick Terralina?”
Yes, I’m working next on CHROME COBRA and a third book to round out a trilogy, plus a prequel novella. LIBERATION DAY, which will explore the mysteries of the events leading up to freeing of the Blends from their cages.
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—four delightful stories, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

My 9,000-word story, “Arachne”, my FIRST story, got published in OMNI Magazine, then the premiere genre fiction venue. I’ll have much more to say about how that came about later.
This post, however, is about how to turn a shorter work into a longer one.
First off, I don’t recommend it.
You can easily take a little piece of a book and turn it into a coherent, self-contained story. I don’t make a practice of that, either, but have done so in “Crawl Space”, a Garden of Abracadabra spin-off story that’s very charming. And I have plans to write more spin-off stories in the Abracadabra universe, as well as a YA series featuring Becky Budd, a wonderful teenage character who is just finding her way in Real Magic, with the help of Abby Teller.
I also have plans for stories linked in the same universe that, when they’re all written, could be knit together and become a book. Or at least a story collection that feels like a book. I published a story, “Teardrop”, in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, that got good reviews. This takes place in the Bakdoor universe. I have plans to write more Bakdoor stories. A lot of writers do this, to make good use of a fully developed world and characters.
But what about taking a short story and turning it into a novel? Why do I not recommend the practice?
Because you’re immediately faced with the problem of “padding.” If your story feels self-contained, complete in and of itself, satisfying in and of itself, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, your attempt to expand it will slow the pace to a crawl with useless words, endless descriptions, and silly subplots.
But if you can identify issues in the story that seem “compressed”—as many readers and critics did of the story “Arachne”—then you’ve got a chance for expansion into a good, saleable novel.
For the rest of what I recommend for expanding your story into a novel and the service I’m offering, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—four delightful stories, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

10.29.15.GILDEDAGEBIG

In honor of the Day of the Dead, this is an excerpt of El Dia de Los Muertos, from The Gilded Age, published first by Bantam, a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, now a print book and an ebook from Bast Books. The novel, a sequel to Summer of Love, is an exploration of San Francisco in 1895 and China of five hundred years in the future through the eyes of Zhu, a time traveler.
We’re catching up with Daniel J. Watkins, a twenty-something year old man who has serious problems in San Francisco, 1895.
El Dia de los Muertos
“To Death,” Daniel toasts Mr. Schultz, “in marvelous Californ’.”
Mira muerta, no seas inhumana, no vuelvas manana dejame vivir,” croons the singer through his grinning papier-mâchè skull mask. Ricardo, the one-eyed guitarist, dreamily strums along.
“To el Dia de los Muertos,” Schultz says, raising his shot glass. “Sehr gut, nicht wahr? Speaking of muertos, Danny, got myself in a bit of a fix.”
“A matter of life or death?”
“You might say.”
Daniel pours two more shots from a dust-furred bottle of mescal, smiling at the drowned worm at the bottom. Authentic, this splendid rotgut with the disconcerting effect of making everything appear as ominous and strange as a nightmare. A more decadent drink than the Green Fairy, if such a thing is possible. And, like absinthe, the taste is vile.
He and Schultz lounge at a table in Luna’s, finishing their fifty-cent Suppers Mexican. Frank Norris’ recommendation amply deserved. The restaurant is quaint. Bright peasant pottery, dried gourds, red-and-white checked tablecloths. The singer’s skull mask is quite a fright, though Daniel’s dyspepsia is mostly caused by the Supper Mexican. Remains of their scorching hot dinner lie scattered in the colorful crockery—spicy pork sausages, tortillas, chiles rellenos, frijoles fritas, tamales, salsa. Daniel could never have dined on such a feast in St. Louis. Or in Paris or London. Only in marvelous Californ’.
Schultz sighs and knocks the shot back, licking salt off the rim of his glass. “I’ve been given the boot.”
“Things crummy in Far East shipping?”
“Things are bang-up in Far East shipping. Not so bang-up for me.” Schultz pours another shot. Just a small one.
Daniel’s tongue has become quite numb. “Why so, old man? You seem to have been doing well. Plum position.”
“Can’t control the drink, and that’s the truth. God knows I’ve tried. You and I, we start in on the brandy at breakfast.”
“Don’t I know, sir,” Daniel says. “Not to mention Miss Malone and her accursed champagne.”
“She’s forever pouring me another and adding it to my bill.”
“Brushes her teeth with the bubbly.”
“At any rate,” Schultz says gloomily, “showed up corned at the office one time too many. Not that the old man doesn’t do it. He just manages to hold his liquor better.”
“Plus he’s the old man.”
“Guess we’ve all got an old man somewhere.”
“By blood or bad luck.”
They laugh unhappily.
“Lousy bit, Schultz.”
Schultz’s mustache stiffens. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any paying work for hire, do you, Danny? Help out a pal? I’m not asking for a handout. I’m no beggar.”
“Wish I did.”
“You just sold that property of your vater, didn’t you?”
“A patch of worthless weeds on Geary Street. Nothing going on in the Western Addition. I daresay that will be the fate of it for some time. The other lot has got no takers, and the rest of the deadbeats are giving me grief. That old fool Ekberg on Stockton Street has stalled me for weeks. As for Mr. Harvey in Sausalito, the good gentleman sent thugs as his answer to my request for payment. They followed me, Schultz, while I was taking my stroll along the Cocktail Route. Worried me up quite a bit.”
Daniel would rather not confess that his mistress, costumed in coolie’s clothes, gave Harvey’s thugs a run for their money while the thugs gave him a goose egg on the noggin, sore kidneys, and a bad scare. He’s spotted suspicious characters lurking around the boardinghouse. He’s taken to sneaking in and out of the tradesmen’s door rather than promenading out the front. It’s an unhappy way to live. He’s been screwing up his courage for weeks to go and confront that damnable Harvey.
“Perhaps you need a manager.”
“A bodyguard is more like it.”
“Can’t help you there. No good with a pistol or fisticuffs, I fear.” An ugly look of envy curdles Schultz’s large, puglike features. “You’ve got some scratch. Me, I haven’t got one thin dime. And I can’t quit the drink.” He knocks back the shot, toys with the bottle. “I’m weary to my bones. What I need is a cure.”
A cure.
They both contemplate that possibility as the singer launches into another melancholy ballad, “Esta alegre calavera hoy invita a los mortales para ir a visitar las regions infernales.
Daniel knows no Spanish, but the meaning leaps out—We invite you mortals to visit hell. Mescal, by God. Now he is comprehending Spanish. He doesn’t know Schultz well enough to confide his darkest secrets, but Daniel is no fool. He knows exactly what Schultz is talking about. A cure. He behaves like an ass when he’s stinking. Look at how he treats his mistress—his ugly words, his uglier actions. Shoving her about. Having his way with her whenever they’re alone without asking her if she wants it. He hasn’t struck her—not yet—but he cannot promise himself that will never happen. Not when he’s stinking.
He’s not sure where his cruelty comes from. Even less sure why she allows him to get away with it when she has amply demonstrated she’s no whore or dimwit. He would venture to say—only to himself, of course—that Zhu possesses more intelligence than ten gentlemen strolling along the Cocktail Route. Oh, she has her peculiarities. She claims she’s from the far future like a creature out of Mr. Wells’ novel, which only makes him angrier with her when he’s stinking. She goes temperance on him. Drinking’s going to kill you, she says, tears lingering on her lashes. Lunatic, he shouts at her. Off to the loony bin with you.
He awakens after every binge feeling soiled, stupid, and contrite.
He’s been binging every day. Brandy with breakfast, sir, to start.
Those are his scruples. What about his physical constitution? His health, which he’s always taken for granted, is no longer so vibrant. He suffers frequent nosebleeds, a sore throat. Paunch has started thickening his middle. His gut is frequently on the blink. His hands tremble. And the headaches. His head aches something fierce when he awakens. Relief only comes when he’s got his morning brandy under his belt.
And it isn’t only his scruples and his physical constitution. He is plagued by odd feelings. Melancholy and guilt. Memories of his father and mother intrude on his peace of mind. And so on and et cetera until he cannot abide this anymore. There must be something he can do.
“Know of a cure?” Daniel says cautiously.
“Heard a fellow talking about it at the Bank Exchange. Dr. Mortimer’s Miraculous Cure for dipsomania. Guaranteed, money back and all. There’s the trick for me—money. The cure costs an arm and a leg, but is well worth it. Or so the fellow said.”
Daniel tries to overlook the unfortunate fact that this hot tip was imparted in one of the busiest bars along the Cocktail Route. “This Dr. Mortimer, he’s in San Francisco?” He apportions the last finger in the bottle between himself and the worm. “To the handmaiden of Death,” he toasts the worm.
Ja, Dr. Mortimer’s got his clinic in the Monkey Block,” says Schultz, succumbing after a short struggle to the last drops of mescal. He seizes the bottle and empties the remnants, worm and all, into his mouth. Suddenly he looks green and dashes out of Luna’s to the gutter where he noisily airs his paunch. The scowling maitre d’ and a scullery maid dash outside with buckets of hot salt water and vigorously splash the pavement clean. Mr. Schultz’s antics are a terrible reflection on their establishment.
Daniel picks up the tab—a dollar for two splendid Suppers Mexican. A dollar fifty for the terrific rotgut. A penny each for the maitre d’, the waitress, the singer, the guitarist. He reluctantly counts out coins. He’s not exactly flush, himself. He strides out past Schultz on his hands and knees, heaving. What won’t a drunk do, Daniel wonders, to stiff his pal for the bill?
*   *   *
To read the rest of this excerpt and find out how Daniel fares at Dr. Mortimer’s marvelously dubious clinic and what the miraculous cure is, exactly, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there—book excerpts, previously published stories and brand-new stories, recipes, movie reviews—with more on the way.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
The Gilded Age is BACK IN PRINT! Order the beautiful trade paperback in the U.S., in the U.K., in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, and in Japan.
The ebook
is at BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords and on Kindle worldwide at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my brilliant husband Tom Robinson, and more!

This story was commissioned by Katharine Kerr for her anthology, The Shimmering Door: Sorcerers and Shamans, Witches and Warlocks, Enchanters and Spell-Casters, Magicians and Mages, and published by HarperPrism in 1996. The anthology includes so many wonderful writers of fantasy, I can’t type all the names. I’m pleased and honored to be among them.
The Hanged Man
Lisa Mason
There is no such thing as magic in telespace. Telespace is the aggregated correlation of five billion minds worldwide, uploaded into a computer-generated virtual reality. In a word, technology. And technology is scientific. Provable. Repeatable. Logical.
Whereas, magic. Well, magic is superstition. The belief that supernatural forces exist. That you can contact them, these supernatural forces. Manipulate them. Command them. But that’s an illusion, all right? You cannot depend on magic.
So Snap was outraged when a Hanged Man popped out of nowhere in the industrial telespace he was jacked into. “Damn telespace! Crashing again?” He’d been wrestling with a recalcitrant code and muttering to himself. He would never finish the TeleSystems infrastructure proposal if telespace crashed again.
Sometimes you cannot depend on technology, either.
A gruesome sight he was, too. Snap had never seen such a thing. Not some purple-faced, black-tongued, bug-eyed corpse throttled at the neck and dangling as hanged men do. Snap could have dealt with that. He would have thought Chickeeta was pecking at the resolution switch again. Was it Halloween? Snap had jacked in for three days straight, burning hypertime on the infrastructure proposal. For a moment, he couldn’t remember what month this was. What day. Dawn or dusk.
No, the Hanged Man dangled from his foot, his long, golden hair streaming down. A noose bound his right ankle. His left leg was crossed behind his right knee. His arms were trussed behind his back. He wore scarlet leggings, an azure jacket. And the Hanged Man was alive. He gazed at Snap with lucid, sorrowful eyes. His expression of silent agony was terrifying.
Then ping! he was gone.
Fear prickled through Snap’s telelink. He felt nauseated and dizzy, like the time some mooner had bumped the back of his motortrike in the gridlock and nearly killed him. Black streaks oozed in his perimeters. He dropped the code, which landed on the floor of the industrial telespace with a resounding plop and lay there, gelatinous as a jellyfish out of water.
“So help me,” Snap muttered, an expression he’d picked up from Chickeeta. “Whip you into shape later,” he promised the limp code.
Snap talked to himself a lot these days. He’d been ungainfully employed as a freelance telelinker ever since he’d been downsized out of a steady job with a utilities company two years ago. Except for a rented friend who’d been hired for three days because Snap couldn’t afford a longer term, he lived alone with Chickeeta. He saved the three days’ work on the TeleSystems infrastructure proposal to his backup drive, praying that the drive had enough space.
Praying. Now there’s some magic for you.
He jacked out of telespace.
And found himself strapped into the workstation tucked in his shabby studio apartment a story above the gravity dancing club deep in the wilds of the nightclub district. What the gravity dancers lacked in technical skill, they more than made up for in charm. Snap himself never patronized the club, but he often saw the dancers crowded around the front door, sneaking a smoke of this or that. Flashing gap-toothed grins, they lingered there in their fourth-hand danceskins and retreaded athletic shoes.
Snap’s studio apartment was not the kind of place to show your grandmother, but he liked it fine. Plus the price was right for a freelance telelinker. Snap unclipped the straps, cut the electro-neural. Feeling like three loads of dirty laundry, he dragged himself out of the workstation. Swigged a can of tweaked Coke. Threw open the window shade.
The damp chill and glimmer behind the eastern hills told him maybe four-thirty, maybe five a.m. Chickeeta huddled by the wallboard heater, eking out a bit of warmth, and glanced at him with glossy eyespots that always seemed too wise. Or wise-ass.
“Hey, idiot, where’ve you been?” Chickeeta said, ruffling its plumes. “I want to live, I want to dance, I want to cha-cha-cha.” Chickeeta let loose a tremendous shriek, then muttered, “So help me, ol’ salty boy.”
Snap grinned. He’d acquired the microbot from one of the sailors who frequented his lovely neighborhood. The sailor had mooned out in back of the club next to the door that led up to Snap’s studio. Someone had relieved the sailor of just about everything but the shirt on his back and the microbot.
Snap let the sailor sleep it off upstairs, gave him a pair of jeans and a ten-credit disk. For that small favor, the sailor gave Snap the microbot. A tiny, graceful entity with a bright copper head, anodized emerald aluminum plumes, and a silver rotary propeller extruding from its slender spine.
The exchange with the sailor turned out to be a good deal. Snap had the microbot appraised and discovered it could fetch up to five thousand credits through classy first-hand markets. Wow! But when a potential buyer responded to his telespace posting, Snap had to admit he didn’t want to sell, after all.
He’d grown attached to Chickeeta. The microbot was a pretty little thing. Smart. Sassy. Always nagging him. And at least Snap could complain to someone—something—other than himself.
Snap finished the tweaked Coke, which lessened the pounding in his head, sweetened the sourness in his stomach. A decent deal. He shuffled to the fridge. A small glacier calved out of the freezer. Down below, the fridge held the withered wrapper from a toner cartridge and half an organic apple that had seen better days.
Snap shredded the wrapper for Chickeeta. Sliced the apple for himself. Boiled tap water, mixed up instant coffee. Which could have been dishwater except it was black.
“You look like hell, amigo,” Chickeeta said, seizing wrapper shreds in its beak. The microbot processed metals and motor oil, automatically repairing its internal hardware.
“Tell me about it,” Snap muttered. “So help me.”
“Heh, heh, heh, so help me,” Chickeeta said. “Yeeeek!
An anomaly, that’s what the Hanged Man was. Snap sighed and sipped coffee. The brew tasted like freeway grit, but the caffeine wended its way to his exhausted brain. An anomaly. He’d heard of them, of course. Who hadn’t? The Hanged Man’s eyes were glossed with some awesome emotion, a strange intelligence that Snap couldn’t place at all. He shivered. Anomalies were random manifestations in telespace, erratic bits of electro-neural energy. Anomalies could never be completely deleted, not even with all those terabytes of artificial intelligence.
Yes, but telespace was technology. Technology was science. You could depend on science. Couldn’t you?
The Hanged Man meant Snap’s telelink was whacked. He didn’t know how it happened, but he had to get himself fixed. And fast. The TeleSystems infrastructure proposal had a deadline. He was depending on landing this gig. He tried to cast away the thought of his debts stacking up, the rent due in a week, his empty fridge. His unemployment compensation had long since expired. He would wind up on the street if he didn’t land this gig.
Snap stroked the microbot’s gleaming back. Chickeeta nuzzled his elbow. If Snap were to give up Chickeeta on the street, bargain and sell the microbot, he’d be no better off than the sailor in the alley. He’d be without Chickeeta. He’d be no good at all.
“Gotta go downtown, big bopper,” Snap said, draining the last drops of the coffee.
“What’s happenin,’ massa?”
Microbots cannot really understand concepts, Snap reminded himself. They don’t have much memory, let alone intelligence. They just repeat routines they’ve learned.
“Need to check with Data Control. Ah, what am I saying. You don’t really know what I mean, right?”
Chickeeta winked. Or maybe the microbot just had to clean a speck of dust on its eyespot.
“I won’t be long,” Snap added, just in case.
Chickeeta ruefully picked at the shredded wrapper. The microbot was looking rather scruffy lately. So was Snap.
“I’ll get some decent grub for us, too, okay? I’ll charge it, what the hell.”
Microbots can’t smile, either, but a grin curved Chickeeta’s beak. “Charge it, what the hell, heh, heh, heh!”
*   *   *
The gridlock idled downtown, emitting a filthy haze over the morning. The toiling masses were decked out in their facemasks and oxygen tanks. Since the air-borne San Joaquin fever caused a half million deaths in the city last year and toxic fumes claimed nearly another million, masks and tanks had become a necessity, despite escalating robberies and police protests.
To read the rest of “The Hanged Man” and find out how Snap solves his problem, the woman he meets who changes his life, and an Afterword about the story’s setting, please join Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there—more stories, recipes, movie reviews, book excerpts—with more on the way.
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Call me a fan girl and an SF geek, but I loved the Marvel Studios film, “Captain Marvel” (CM). This delightful film is the most woman-centric comics piece I’ve seen since “Wonder Woman” with the wonderful Gal Godot, who was born for the part. I truly hope she isn’t typecast for the rest of her career but that’s a risk actors take when they sign up to be a superhero.
While WW has more of an ethereal superhero plot, CM has the most personal storyline I’ve seen in quite a while in a comics film (caveat: I haven’t seen them all, but quite a few), exploring, as its central themes, the empowerment of women, friendship between women, and warm relations between black and white folks. My favorite themes in fiction and my own fiction (especially my novel, Summer of Love). The main character’s personal journey of discovering her true self, discovering her personal empowerment dovetails well with the greater plot.
Brie Larson is terrific as the lead, Carol Danvers. She captures the unruly emotions of her character, is funny, tender, and kick-ass deadly when she needs to be. Samuel Jackson, as Shield Agent Fury, is adorable (if digitally “anti-aged”), and there’s an even more adorable ginger tabby cat (a nod to “Alien”).
The story was created by a woman and a man, the screenplay written by the same woman, the same man, and an additional woman, and the film was directed by the woman story-screenplay writer and the man. No wonder it’s so good. Woman power is bred in its bones.
The screenplay is practically a perfect textbook example of what you should accomplish in your screenplay. (Note: you want to sell your screenplay, not a shooting script, which is a much different entity.) After the first screening, to acquaint me with the content, I sat through a second screening with a stopwatch and a notepad and pencil to take notes. I’m presently working on a screenplay adapting my print story that I sold to a major studio and needed some guidance and inspiration.
The rules about three-act structure aren’t arbitrary; they work to present the viewer (or reader) with a dynamic creation that carries you from start to finish. I’ve observed many effective books and stories that consciously (or unconsciously) follow the three-act structure. When I analyze my own work, stories and books, I see that I’ve consciously (or unconsciously) written often according to that structure.
A bonus: after the usual montage of Marvel Comics heroes, we see a 60-second montage of the cameos of Stan Lee in films, followed by a black page with red lettering THANK YOU STAN, and one final shot of his joyfully smiling face. As a young man, Lee started writing and drawing comic books around World War II. The comics industry had its ups and downs, publishers went out of business, but Lee persisted to create the powerhouse that is today Marvel Studios. His hilarious cameos in the films were always something to anticipate (like spotting Alfred Hitchcock in his movies). Lee died at age 95 last year. Sure enough, Stan makes a cameo in CM but I don’t know if it’s digital or was filmed before he died.
Now then: in Act One we open with Carol, known only as “Vers”, is beset by scattered disturbing dreams that seem to indicate an unknown life she had. This is always a tricky proposition to portray. The viewer has to pay attention, but attention is rewarded throughout the film, as we revisit the dreams—her fragmentary memories of a mysteriously lost life—in Act Two and Act Three and by the end make total sense of them.
Vers finds herself on HALA, the high-tech home planet of the Kree (a nod to “Forbidden Planet” and the high-tech Krell). The high-tech city, with dynamic images scrolling across the sides of buildings, is reminiscent of the futuristic Los Angeles in “Bladerunner.”
She is in training to “become the best she can be,” according to her mentor (played by Jude Law) as soldier in an on-going war fought by the Kree. She reports in to the Supreme Intelligence—an A.I. who rules the Kree and who appears as a woman. Vers’s problem is that she’s too emotional, too ready to laugh.
The Supreme Intelligence tells her “to serve well and with strength,” which is reminiscent of the oath in “Gladiator”, “Strength and honor,” and sure enough in the next scene, the African hunter from “Gladiator” appears as a member of a Kree military team.
She’s sent on a mission with the Kree team, there’s fighting (the writer-director is wise enough not to let any of the fight scenes go on too long—a problem for me in many comics films) with an alien race, the Skroll, whose appearance strongly resembles certain beloved aliens in “Star Trek”.
The Skroll capture Vers and probe her mind—more of those fragmentary memories emerge, including a woman who was once her mentor (the Supreme Intelligence takes the mentor’s appearance) and her best friend, a young black woman training to be a fighter jet pilot with Vers.
Then, at twenty minutes almost to the second, there’s a huge plot point that marks the end of Act One and spins the story around in a totally different direction.
Vers finds herself on C 53, Earth, Los Angeles in 1995. She crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, curiously picks up a video of “The Right Stuff,” blasts off the head of a cardboard Arnold Schwarzenegger display, and searches for communication equipment from a nearby Radio Shack so she can contact her mentor back in the Kree universe. This is a humorous nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with Pan Am as the brand on the space shuttle taking people from Earth to the Moon. The screenwriters of “2001” didn’t know the brand not only wouldn’t last until what was then the far future, Pan Am didn’t last past the 1970s. Blockbuster and Radio Shack, which seemed like indestructible brands in 1995, similarly didn’t last past the 2000s. So we viewers got a laugh out of that.
Enter Shield Agent Fury, Sam Jackson, in a scene reminiscent of “Men in Black”. Complications ensue. Certain personal details about Fury and Vers are skillfully revealed and then pay off a little later in plot points. I love it when writers pay off a setup and I become very annoyed when a setup doesn’t go anywhere.
CM also pokes fun at what appears to us now as clunky computer tech in 1995 (Carol awkwardly pecks with two fingers at a keyboard). There’s a fight between Vers and an alien enemy (the Skroll can shapeshift, taking on the appearance of whomever they see) atop a subway train reminiscent of “Indiana Jones.”
Act Two continues for fifty-five minutes with more complications circling around the storyline. There’s a midpoint at twenty minutes into Act Two. The script doctor, Linda Seger, is a big believer in the midpoint of a screenplay as a restatement of the overall themes. In CM, the two lead characters, seeking Carol’s long-lost best friend, travel in a futuristic jet plane from Los Angeles (L.A.) to Louisiana, (La.) where the friend lives. (“L.A.” to “La”—that’s a nice touch.) Vers is “going home” to her friend who has an appealing and intelligent young daughter, so we get some mother-daughter development. The personal relationships and Carol’s story of personal discovery, her personal empowerment are ramped up.
Then at fifty-five minutes, a HUGE mind-boggling plot point spins the story into a totally different direction, signaling the end of Act Two. I am NOT going to spoil the plot at this point, but my fedora is tipped at the screenwriters for a superb, memorable plot twist.
Act Three then lasts forty minutes, which is a bit long. But because of the HUGE plot twist, the writers have to re-establish certain back-stories and the forward momentum of the overall plot. Be assured the pace never flags. There are more fight scenes with multiple characters (as in all the comics films) and plenty of video-gamish space jets chasing and shooting at each other like in Star Wars. Because of the length, the writers cleverly slip in a hilarious midpoint twenty minutes into Act Three. (Okay, plot spoiler alert: the adorable cat isn’t really a cat.)
The conclusion for Carol, reinforcing her friendship with her best friend and her daughter, and for Agent Fury are fully satisfying (and the cat makes one last adorable cameo) and yet open the door to more of Captain Marvel. Indeed, a coda notes she will continue in “Avengers: Endgame”. We look forward to the film and intend to see it for Tom’s birthday in December, if the film is out on DVD.
With Captain Marvel by itself, though, a great time was had by all. If you don’t catch the film allusions (I probably missed many more), that’s okay. The film stands firmly by itself. Recommended.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. My first story “Arachne”, my first story published in OMNI magazine, appears exclusively there, plus a forthcoming account of how I published my first story in the premiere story venue at the time and the research I did. This review plus other movie reviews, and a couple of recipes with more forthcoming. Give back!
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All Is True” has a glacierly slow beginning but a painterly cinematography of Stratford-on-Avon, an idyllic village far from London. This was William Shakespeare’s home town and where he married, raised a family, and built a substantial brick-and-stone house on a lovely plot of land. He was also seldom at home, having gone off to London, written a body of work—plays and sonnets—praised in his own time as the greatest poetry ever written, earned good money from his genius, and managed the complex business of the Globe Theater where his plays were performed.
When a stage prop malfunctioned and burned the Globe Theater to the ground, Shakespeare, now middle-aged verging on old, returned to Stratford-on-Avon, to his family and house, and never wrote again.
(Plot spoiler: EVERYone back home is pissed off at WS when he went off to London and became a famous playwright.)
This film tells of that time and is a sad revelation of Shakespeare’s last years, of the tragedies and scandals which befell his family and his confrontation of them.
There are points of wit, as you would expect of a film about Shakespeare. A fan, a young man, approaches WS as he is laboriously digging a garden, and asks him about writing. WS snaps, “You become a writer by writing.” But the fan insists, where do your ideas come from? WS replies from his imagination. When the fan persists, WS says, “Cherrio. Cherrio.” And in a conversation with a friend, WS says, “I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
There’s even a ghost story, as appropriate for Shakespeare.
If you enjoy an intimate character study, with tear-jerkers along the way, and an ultimately redemptive ending, “All Is True” is for you.
A bonus feature of getting the DVD: This is a Sony Classic Picture, and half a dozen interesting small films are pitched in the preview: “Stan and Ollie”, which husband Tom wanted to see and I didn’t so much (I’ve never cared for old-timey black-and-white slapstick), but the preview made me laugh, so that’s a Go. Films about the first all-women crew to sail a sailboat around the world in a competition, a film about Oscar Wilde, a film about underground artists in Nazi Germany, and more. I wrote the titles down for future reference.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206  and help support me after the Attack. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!