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.
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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February, 2020 Excerpt
An Invite to the No-Tell Motel
That last whiskey at Club Namib had not been required. He squints his thin-lidded eyes against dawn’s glimmer. Rubs his high, distinguished forehead with a shapely cold hand. Instead of calming his nerves, that last whiskey had kept him awake all night. Fitful. Jittery.
First sunlight pierces the bedroom curtains, and he lurches up. He’s exhausted from Jamboree. From the terrible confrontation. From the sleepless night. He taps his Tatt and winks Elfie Syrus.
As a high-ranking Servitor, he’s facing a big Blend Day ahead. Meetings with the visiting Emirk corporate executive, responding to her demands, her agenda. A public appearance later at the Quarterly Hearing, which will be viewed on the Instrumentality by everyone on the Earth, the Moon, and Chrome.
Gravely important work to be done.
But he must know. He must find out.
What has she heard?
Elfie Syrus works the five a.m. to noon shift at the Chrome City Police Department. At the Main Station downtown. She fetches coffee for the cops, flirts outrageously. She enters data in the database, sees and hears all kinds of confidential information. She keeps her big eyes and bigger ears wide open. She has to walk through the security wickets going in and out, of course, but like every born gossip she has an extraordinary memory, mostly accurate, for the nitty-gritty.
She opens his wink at once. Giggles when he proposes that she meet him for breakfast at their usual rendezvous, the No-Tell Motel. This charming rent-by-the-hour dive lies ten blocks behind the Capitol Building where the neighborhood turns from grand governmental avenues and destination eateries to seedy bars, massage parlors, and establishments like the No-Tell.
“Oh, I’ve got the inside scoop, honey,” she squeaks in her irritating way, “and plenty of it.”
He may be a cold blood, but the human half of him feels an icy shock.
He widens the wink, preparing himself for the ordeal of having to see her in the flesh. Elfie’s icon stands before him. He would much prefer simply to transfer credits to her bank account in exchange for her chatter.
But Elfie wants more.
An elephant shrew, Elfie is reasonably more attractive than the moles who populate the staff in menial positions at the Chrome City Police Main Station. Chubby little mole women with tiny eyes and shapeless faces. Elfie’s got large pink ears and bright brown oval eyes that blend well with her Polynesian human ancestors, call girls sold to Emirk by a disgruntled pimp back in the day. She’s got a long, narrow nose and silky chestnut hair. She’s got nice legs.
He could do worse for a police informant.
He hisses in exasperation when she whispers the things she wants him to do to her at the No-Tell Motel. Elfie has found herself in an enviable position, demanding an hour of rough sex, together with his credits, in exchange for what comes to her naturally.
But why? She must like the danger and excitement of mating with a manimal like him. A Blend who could grievously harm her, kill her, with one ill-placed kiss.
He closes the wink, taps off his Tatt. Goes to groom and dress. An important Blend Day ahead. A lot of responsibility. A lot of exposure. Exposure on the Instrumentality.
Elfie is a fool. One day, he just may kill her when she squeaks.
Dawnlight streams over Chrome’s stark horizon in streaks of pink and gold as Terralina Rustabrin mourns Blend Day. Chromian life is so unfair. So wicked and mean. And there’s nothing she can do but live her life as a tortoise Blend and die. And she will die no matter how well or poorly she lives. So what’s the point? What’s the point of anything?
She has pulled her head and limbs into her carapace. Barricaded herself inside and .fastened the hinges tight. Her head protrudes from the peach-colored wall of her mobile studio apartment—the wall behind her neck—and each of her stubby arms and legs protrude from the peach-colored side walls.
She’s the original outside-inside girl. Or is it the other way around?
She masticates a breakfast salad. It’s a tasty salad, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkled with the twenty-four spice mix she likes. Baby lettuce, cactus pads, corn kernels, dandelion leaves. Tiny white meal worms squirm deliciously over the lettuce. Everything grown in a Vat, well, what food isn’t grown in a Vat on Chrome? What food isn’t a GMO? Chromians themselves are genetically modified organisms, too, so why should they care how engineered their food is?
Chrome-grown, the Blends like to say.
The meal worms should make her happy, but they don’t. They don’t.
Who can care about this tear-stained life? Chromian life is a joke. A cruel joke. Why was Terralina born?
Fifty short years after the creation of Chrome, the Tweakers or the Twitchers had populated the Emirk laboratories with chimeric people embodying the characteristics—physical, mental, and behavioral—of the creatures they were genetically blended with. They were kept in cages, of course, since they were experimental subjects and no longer, strictly speaking, human beings.
To what purpose? Everyone on Earth wanted to know. Why do this?
To improve and enhance Earth’s weary, diseased, pollution-riddled, and resentful workforce with the vitality, natural talents, docility, and diversity of the animal kingdom, came Emirk’s confident reply.
Creating a Better You! became the corporate slogan.
A good purpose?
Noble, even?
The CEO of Emirk Corporation, standing before a gigantic World Eye, had announced the exciting news at a shareholders’ meeting. The Eye displayed an artistic animation of beefy bull boys hauling rocks out of a quarry, hippopotami girls pirouetting on pink ballet toeshoes. Everyone had applauded.
The descendents of the first fifty years’ of experimental populations are now, two hundred years later, heirs to the random genetic chances of good old-fashioned bonking-and-babies.
That’s how Terralina Rustabrin was born.
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