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.
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!
Excerpt 4:
4
Jimi Kinyonga
If only Jamboree would last forever, he could be happy forever.
But the last giddy hours of Jamboree are winding down and ol’ Jimi, he is going to make the most of ‘em. There’s no better place on all of Chrome to make the most of Jamboree than Club Namib. Especially in the last giddy hours.
A chameleon girl sidles past, goggling her left eye. Pink and orange pixilated patterns flow and swirl over her slim little arms. In a commendable color juxtaposition—to his discerning aesthetic sensibility—green arabesques ebb and flow around the scarlet Tatt on the back of her hand. She’s snugged the rest of her slender self in black faux-leather as tight as a second skin. Her elegant tail coils up at the curve of her butt.
Pretty, pretty.
She sways her slim little hips, sashays out onto the dance floor all by herself. Goggles her right eye at Jimi Kinyonga. Come keep me company, the goggle says.
Creepin’ cryptids. On this glorious night of Jamboree, every order of reptile Blend Chrome has to offer crawls or slithers through Club Namib. Three drunken rattlesnakes gleefully shake their rattles to the pounding music, an obnoxious clatter like off-beat castanets. Two alligators in tank tops and sweat pants, boasting the musculature of professional wrestlers, swagger over. Long, toothy jaws frowning. Scaly fists clenched.
“You wanna muzzle that racket, mutant?”
“You wanna make me, geek?”
“You don’t want me to make you, beastie boy.”
Some pushing. Some shoving. The rattlesnakes knock it off, the alligators back away. And then it’s over.
Everyone is much too happy for fisticuffs.
No jackassery on Jamboree, the Blends like to say.
Plumes of real steam drift up through vents in the dance floor, bathing the club in a fetid humidity.
“Oh, pretty,” Kinyonga mutters, “very, very pretty.” Goggles his left eye at the chameleon girl. The one and only Jimi Kinyonga is a chameleon himself. He is capable of all kinds of cool tricks. He erects his hair off his scalp in stiff blue spikes. Erects the yellow spikes of his beard off his chin. He pulses scarlet and turquoise pigments up his well-muscled arms, around the glittering black Tatt on his right hand. He pumps up his biceps. Oh, yeah. He’s about to sidle out onto the dance floor and join the girl when a demanding hand seizes his elbow.
“Buzz off, you mockery,” Kinyonga protests. Pulls his elbow away. “I am occupied.”
The cold, stifled voice of the Big Boss hisses in his ear. Who else would have the nerve to barge in on his fun? “Shut your jaws. Your only occupation at the moment is having a drink with me. We need to talk.”
“You buyin’?”
“When do I not, you scrawny fubar?”
Fubar. Huh. Kinyonga, he don’t dig that. But he shuts his jaws.
The Big Boss aims one of his blood-chilling glares. Hauls Kinyonga off to a secluded spot along the stretch of black granite of the bar. There the Big Boss’s chauffeur stands guard over two shots of expensive whiskey. With those wide, glassy eyes beneath the cap and a coral-and-black complexion like a nasty case of psoriasis, the chauffeur has got to be a Gila monster.
“Hey, Pancho,” Kinyonga says, “thanks for watchin’ my drink. That’s real monstrous of you.”
The chauffeur opens his maw, thrusts an insolent black tongue in his direction.
Kinyonga grins. He pities the quarryman. His own tongue is long, pink, quick, and sinewy, and he knows just how to use it. The Gila monster’s tongue is—how else to put it?—skanky. Pancho won’t win over many reptile girls—or boys—with that tongue of his. Let alone bedmates of other species. Maybe he can score with a Gila monster girl, but those Blends are scarce. The Tweakers didn’t engineer too many Gila monsters. With good reason.
Then again, maybe Kinyonga has got it all wrong. What does he know about the latest craze among crisper youth? Maybe Pancho’s black tongue is the hot new thing. No telling what a reptile girl or an amphibian boy or even a rodent girl may take a fancy to. Chromian youth are a mystery packaged up as wonderlanders. Kinyonga is just edging out of that wonderland himself and he doesn’t understand them.
Anything goes on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
“Sit,” the Big Boss hisses.
“Sure.”
The Big Boss isn’t actually Kinyonga’s boss but Kinyonga allows him to think he is. Jimi Kinyonga works for no one but Number One—that would be him. He waits for whatever tasty tidbit the Big Boss will throw him. A tidbit he can exploit somewhere else, with someone else. He slides his skinny butt onto the barstool, coils up his prehensile tail. Mutes the multicolored patterns swirling over the coffee-brown skin of his human ancestors. Down come the flamboyant blue spikes from his scalp. Up the yellow spikes on his chin.
Muted, he looks like any other lizard Blend impossibly poured into a human being. A slavery ring had sold his human ancestors cheaper than cheap—a crew of Somali pirates—to Emirk Corporation two-hundred-and-fifty years ago.
Jimi Kinyonga is a darting, devious, mercurial chameleon man with chameleon tastes. Having a fine time with that sometimes. Not so happy with himself other times. But making the most of it all of the time.
What else is he supposed to do with his manimal life? Shrivel up and die? Weep bitter tears? He was born this way. He’s at peace with his ancestral beast. Not exactly a Feralist, not a Reformist, either—and that will have to do.
He grasps the shot of whiskey, his two front fingers curling around the curve of the glass, his three hind fingers steadying the opposite side. He flings the thick, potent liquor into his capacious throat. And waits for the payoff.
“So what’s up, Big Boss? Ha, ha, you kill that chickie-bird?”
“Yes, I did.” The Big Boss sips his whiskey, his tongue darting in and out of the amber liquor. What a tongue he has, too. A long narrow shiny piece of scarlet muscle with a dark fleshy fork at the tip.
The forked tongue of the Big Boss kind of freaks Kinyonga out. So does the Big Boss’s confession. He killed her?
“She was greedy and stupid,” the Big Boss adds at Kinyonga’s sidelong glance. “She had no clue what she was getting into. No clue at all. I had no choice but to eliminate her. She would have fouled up my plans. Fouled up the Great Work. I can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah, chicks. What a hassle,” Kinyonga says agreeably. But a shiver of dread tickles his spine. “Well, someone had to set it up for you.” Reminding the Big Boss in case, in the press of his So Very Important Duties, the Big Boss neglects to remember Jimi Kinyonga’s invaluable services for this secret evil endeavor.
A secret evil endeavor that started out like this.
Zena Kinski, the famous ostrich dancer—overrated in Kinyonga’s balletomaniac opinion—threatened the Big Boss with blackmail. She approached him over the Instrumentality. In a carefully stitched wink she notified him she had confidential information. Incriminating information. Ruinous information. She demanded to trade her silence about this information for free-trade credits. But strictly at a distance.
A lot of Chromians prefer things that way. On the Instrumentality, no one knows you’re a worm, the Blends like to say.
The Big Boss was having none of it. The Big Boss needed to know what Kinski had on him. How. Why. Through whom. He needed to question her. He needed to reason with her. He needed to impress upon her the importance of his big-deal secret evil endeavor.
The Big Boss needed to meet her in the flesh. Could Kinyonga arrange it?
Piece of cake.
Jimi Kinyonga didn’t know what Kinski’s incriminating information was. He didn’t want to know. That was between her and the Big Boss. The less he knew about the Big Boss’s secret evil endeavor, the better. Jimi Kinyonga didn’t like complications. He could walk away from the deal at any time.
That’s what he thought at first.
After her performance that night at the Megametro Theater, he joined the fans crowding around the stage door, clamoring for Zena Kinski’s autograph. To her credit, the ostrich dancer graciously signed photographs and theater programs and ereaders for them all. Even the cold bloods, the reptiles and amphibians. Her bodyguard or boyfriend kept a watchful eye. Kinyonga wasn’t sure what the guy’s status was. The way he looked at her suggested he was more than a hired hand. A homely, balding vulture shacking up with the glamorous Zena Kinski?
It could happen. On Chrome, love is blind, the Blends like to say.
Okay. So there was this vulture bodyguard or boyfriend hanging around. When Kinski turned toward Kinyonga, he camouflaged himself as one of the fanboys in the crowd. A floppy-eared, blue-jeaned, adoring dog boy with a glossy, full-color photo of Kinski clutched in his paw. Which he held out for her scrawl. The acne sprinkled on his cheeks was a nice touch.
“He needs to speak with you,” Kinyonga murmured as she signed, taking the photo back with an innocent smile. “In person.”
“What did you say?” She widened her huge eyes, fluttering her false eyelashes. Or maybe they were real, the eyelashes. She was an ostrich Blend.
“At the Hedgeway mansion. During Jamboree. He’ll meet you on the third floor. Midnight. Be there. Or you won’t squeeze one single free-credit out of him.”
She stood, gaping at him, as he darted away. She called to the vulture, “Gorge, detain that boy.”
The vulture was tall with a longer stride than Kinyonga’s. He strode into the alley. Searched the crowd.
Kinyonga pressed his spine against the dark brick wall and camouflaged himself. Thrust his hand in his jacket pocket, fingered his blowgun loaded with a poison dart. He was prepared to act, and act fast, if the vulture discovered him. Got nasty
But Gorge saw no trace of Kinyonga standing two steps away, pressed against the bricks, suppressing snickers. He peered, his little yellow eyes perplexed. Squinting at the wall, at the fanboy crowd, back at the wall. Then he shrugged. Strode to his post by the door.
“What was that about, Vinnie?” Kinski whispered and the vulture replied in low, stuttering tones he didn’t know.
Kinyonga waited, very quiet and very still, until Kinski, the vulture, and the fans emptied out of the alley. When at last he was alone, he shook off his camouflage. Crept away into the night.
These details—there was a bodyguard or boyfriend, a vulture Blend name of Vinnie Gorge—Kinyonga does not disclose to the Big Boss. The Big Boss hired him to contact Kinski and arrange the meeting. He has done exactly that. Additional information about what he saw and heard is not included in the fee they agreed upon.
This is how Jimi Kinyonga looks out for Number One.
The Big Boss glares at him through the antiquated eyepiece over his right eye. An Earthian affectation. A human affectation that does nothing to flatter him, in Kinyonga’s sartorial opinion. Kinyonga doesn’t dig the glare. “Yes, you set it up, fubar.”
Does the Big Boss sense his disloyal thoughts? Wayward thoughts?
Scarlet and turquoise swirl up his arms. Kinyonga silently chants his Zen mantra—om mani padma om, om mani padma om—struggling to still the storms of his heart. He admits it. This is his one and only flaw as a ruthless mercenary. A chameleon’s thoughts and feelings, disloyal, wayward, or otherwise, have a way of showing up as swirls of color on his skin.
The Big Boss says nothing more. Laps up his whiskey. A lot of relationships are dicey on Chrome and their particular relationship is very dicey. Kinyonga is a predator and also prey. His ancestral beast hunted, killed, and ate smaller specimens of the ancestral beast of the Blend seated beside him. Same for the Big Boss, both predator and prey of Kinyonga’s crowd.
The instincts go way, way back.
Kinyonga grins around his shot glass. “So, like, there’s another problem?”
“Yes, there is another problem. Kinski got her information about my endeavors through someone else. I told you there had to be someone else and there is.”
“There’s always someone else,” Kinyonga says pleasantly. Should he sell what he knows right now? Ask a good price? Or dangle a lure? There was a guy with Kinski at the stage door. But not his name. Scoring the name, that would be the next job. The guy’s Blend, too. Maybe the alley was too dark. Maybe Kinyonga didn’t get a good look. A sweet job it would be, too. Kinyonga loves raking in credits for information he already knows. He’s about to propose a new deal when the Big Boss volunteers more information.
“Someone else,” the Big Boss hisses, “in a place I know of.”
“Kinski mentioned the place?”
“That’s what I’m telling you, geek. Are you freakin’ listening to me?”
“I’m all ears, Big Boss.”
Kinyonga goggles his right eye at the Blend seated beside him. The Big Boss is a commanding manimal, tall and thin. Kind of handsome, if your definition of handsome doesn’t object to the bald head, the mottled olive complexion, the distinctive feature at the back of his neck. A feature he covers up with an expensive gray cashmere scarf.
Kinyonga has seen the Big Boss’s distinctive feature in action once and only once. He could live the rest of his days without ever seeing that feature again.
And if your definition of commanding doesn’t object to the sibilant voice, deep and masculine, but emerging strangely strangled out of his mouth. Kinyonga knows why that happens, too, the speech pattern. He’s seen this other distinctive feature of the Big Boss in action once and only once.
He could live two lifetimes without ever seeing that again.
*   *   *
To learn more about what Jimi Kinyonga’s new nefarious job from the Big Boss will involve, read the rest of Excerpt 4 at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206!
‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
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 is available at CHROME is in Print at https://www.amazon.com/dp/108732727X
CHROME is on US Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TTD7FKS.
On Barnes and Noble Nook at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/chrome-lisa-mason/1132307377?ean=2940161461488
On Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/947267
On Apple https://books.apple.com/us/book/chrome/id1471596301
On Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/chrome-7