CHROME.MED.295.KB

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.
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CHROME
Preface
In The Forbidden District
The pupils of her golden eyes widen and her nocturnal vision takes in every stirring shadow, every moonlit glimmer.
Dark blocks of buildings brood beneath the starry night, regimented like military barracks. Grim windows glint under eaves, too tiny to crawl through, grilled in by metal bars, some with the panes of glass half punched out. Stacks of rickety brick jut from the endless tarred roofs. Chimneys for the crematories where the failed experiments were once consigned to an oven’s flames?
Lightfoot doesn’t know. A lot of failed experiments, that’s what the histories say.
She spies the collapsed trough of a rain gutter, a door twisted off its hinges, a scatter of shackles abandoned on the gravel where the survivors, newly freed from their cages, had torn their prison apart.
Lightfoot drops to a crouch, stilling the breath in her chest. Slowing the pound of her heart. She shouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t be here, if not for the clue she’d found.
Silence, save the keening wind.
Desolation bears down like the boot of an oppressor. She shouldn’t be here.
So different from the honking, howling, squealing, squawking, yapping, yowling of Chrome City. Different, too, from the boroughs of the Blends, the sprawl of their habitats, their meadows and mountains, jungles and deserts, ponds and aeries. Different even from the Wildlands with its savage brambles and untamed trees.
No life wants to live here. Not in this cursed place.
Lightfoot shivers. Then steels herself, tensing her muscles for the task ahead.
The Forbidden District must be haunted. She can practically hear the ghostly screams of the failed experiments two-and-a-half centuries ago.
The screams of her human ancestors.
1
Luna Lightfoot
Later, when she’s prowling off from the heist, a pounce in her step, the pilfered treasure in her pocket, Luna Lightfoot sees something she is not supposed to see.
On Chrome, the artificial planetoid orbiting Earth, everyone celebrates Jamboree on the cusp of spring, donning masks and costumes and indulging in their fondest fantasies, usually with impunity. Lightfoot loves Jamboree. She’s scored her richest heists while everyone is swilling gin, devouring feasts, and mating up with their specimen of choice.
“Cage free to you, Lightfoot,” growls Dom Swifty Panterr, gnawing a gobbet of bloody beef impaled on a toothpick feathered with green tinsel. “Fine mask.”
“Cage free to you, Dom Panterr,” she purrs, unreasonably pleased the criminal kingpin has noticed her slinking through the ballroom among the high-society herd.
Lightfoot wonders—but only briefly—why he has been invited.
Oh, that’s right. Swipe a slice of bacon and you’re a thief bound for jail-time in a Chrome City lockup. But swindle the hard-earned wages of a million mice and sheep and quite a few dogs, commission and commit extortion and murder-for-hire, prey on gazelles because you just can’t help your instincts, peddle cram and soot and tobacco—all of which Dom Panterr does in the usual course of his enterprise, if the rumors are true—and you’re an honored, respected guest at Bunny Hedgeway’s shindig on a sultry spring evening during Jamboree.
Who can be surprised? That’s the law of the jungle. Only Chrome is no jungle. A higher high-tech megalopolis than Chrome City doesn’t exist among the sorry burgs down on Earth.
This is Chrome.
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