CHROME.MED.295.KB

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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Strange Ladies: 7 Stories
“Offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.”
—The San Francisco Review of Books
“Lisa Mason might just be the female Phillip K. Dick. Like Dick, Mason’s stories are far more than just sci-fi tales, they are brimming with insight into human consciousness and the social condition….a sci-fi collection of excellent quality….you won’t want to miss it.”
—The Book Brothers Review Blog
“Fantastic book of short stories….Recommended.”
—Reader Review
“I’m quite impressed, not only by the writing, which gleams and sparkles, but also by [Lisa Mason’s] versatility . . . Mason is a wordsmith . . . her modern take on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”
—Amazing Stories
Summer of Love, A Time Travel
A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of the Year
A Philip K. Dick Award Finalist
“Remarkable. . . .a whole array of beautifully portrayed characters along the spectrum from outright heroism to villainy. . . .not what you expected of a book with flowers in its hair. . . the intellect on display within these psychedelically packaged pages is clear-sighted, witty, and wise.”
—Locus Magazine
“A fine novel packed with vivid detail, colorful characters, and genuine insight.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Captures the moment perfectly and offers a tantalizing glimpse of its wonderful and terrible consequences.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliantly crafted. . . .An engrossing tale spun round a very clever concept.”
—Katharine Kerr, author of Days of Air and Darkness
“Just imagine The Terminator in love beads, set in the Haight-Ashbury ‘hood of 1967.”
—Entertainment Weekly
“Mason has an astonishing gift. Her characters almost walk off the page. And the story is as significant as anyone could wish. This book will surely be on the prize ballots.”
—Analog
“A priority purchase.”
—Library Journal
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel
A New York Times Notable Book
A New York Public Library Recommended Book
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Rollicking. . .Dazzling. . .Mason’s characters are just as endearing as her world.”
—Locus Magazine
“Graceful prose. . . A complex and satisfying plot.”
—Library Journal
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery)
Passionate Historical Romantic Suspense
5 Stars
“I really enjoyed the story and would love to read a sequel! I enjoy living in the 21st century, but this book made me want to visit the Victorian era. The characters were brought to life, a delight to read about. The tasteful sex scenes were very racy….Good Job!”
—Reader Review
The Garden of Abracadabra
“So refreshing! This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
—Goodreads Reader
“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy….I want to read more!”
—Reader Review
“I love the writing style and am hungry for more!”
—Goodreads Reader

April 2020 Excerpt:
10
At The Nepenthe Club
Luna Lightfoot prowls down Seventh Avenue, heading for the Ucayali Building, a pounce in her step, an invitation stored in the Archives of her Tatt. She can’t wait to see what the invite will bring.
Ucayali Corporation is the largest retailer of consumer goods and services on Chrome, the Moon, and Earth. Free two-day delivery on all the worlds with a Ucayali Supreme monthly subscription. The retailer operates on the Instrumentality and out of brick-and-mortar locations worlds-wide. The Ucayali Building is the most spectacular highrise in all of Chrome City, surpassing in magnificence even Emirk’s compound of skyscrapers. And in the penthouse of the Ucayali Building, atop fifty adamantine stories, awaits Lightfoot’s destination. The Nepenthe Club.
An invitation, a destination, and a meeting she wouldn’t miss for all the free-trade credits on Chrome.
She yawns, impolitely baring her fangs to whomever cares to gawk. A rowdy, vicious-looking pack of hyena Blends swaggers past and leers, ugly-doggish jaws agape. They’re decked out in criminal gang colors. Drunkenly chuckling.
They move on at the sight of her fangs.
That’s right, carrion cryptids. Mess with me and I’ll rip your freakin’ throat out.
Though of course she has never made a kill like that. Ever. And never would.
It’s the crime that counts, the Blends like to say, not the thought-crime.
The nocturnal niche is newly born. The sun sinks through the crystal-clear synthy atmosphere into the stark curve of Chrome’s horizon. The neighboring Moon looms large and silvery and pockmarked. Earth floats far away in the twilit sky, a distant wispy blue orb. How can people from that tiny orb pose such a threat to Chrome? But they do. They’re human beings and they do.
What a day. Lightfoot is drowsy and disgruntled from a restless, unsatisfying day-sleep. Her nerves have been on edge since she went to bed at sunrise. She kept waking up at the least little sound. The rumble of the recycling trucks emptying the bins in the alley behind Cave Cove. The wail of an ambulance carting accident victims to St. Francis Hospital. Someone’s radio on a bicycle blaring a lupine tune on Chrome’s hit parade.
She’s more stressed out than she cares to admit.
The most important advancement for every Blend on Chrome to come along in two centuries. Since Liberation Day.
What on Chrome could that be? What had the murderer meant?
When she had awakened in the late afternoon and tapped her Tatt, she discovered a messenger-icon waiting for her on the Instrumentality. The messenger-icon—a pigeon in a jaunty blue cap and gold-braided uniform—held out a sealed envelope, which Lightfoot opened with another wave of her Tatt.
Well, what do you know?
It was an invitation from Dom Swifty Panterr to join him for cocktails at the Nepenthe Club. “To discuss your impressions of Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree,” the messenger-icon dutifully cooed. “Was it a brilliant social success or the boring same-old? Cocktails Around Chrome has asked Dom Panterr to relate his account. He would greatly appreciate your cultured opinion.”
Lightfoot had laughed out loud. Winked her acceptance at once. Dismissed the messenger pigeon. The criminal kingpin, critiquing Bunny’s party for a society show after a murder was committed? In a million years. Maybe.
What is the real reason for Panterr’s invite? Try this. If anyone has moles planted deep in the Chrome City Police Department, Dom Panterr does. Lightfoot guesses he obtained insider lowdown from an informant. And tracked her, Lightfoot, through the Instrumentality. Therefore the messenger pigeon. Winks delivered on the Instrumentality aren’t as secure as a private wink, not even on Chrome. Or so the rumors say. And Lightfoot has not bumped Tatts with Dom Swifty Panterr. Therefore the pretense.
He wants to see her.
She definitely wants to see him.
Striding down Seventh Avenue, Lightfoot glances over her shoulder, more wary than her usual vigilance. Every species of Blend mobs the City in the interstices of the diurnal niche and the nocturnal. Diurnal Blends trudge home from their day-jobs, bound for their boroughs. Nocturnals, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, head off to their night-jobs or for an evening’s entertainment.
But everyone on Chrome is half human, too, and human beings notoriously live in every ecological niche. Dwell in hot climes and chilly. Function in the day and the night. Both predator and prey lurks in their chromosomes.
A pair of genets, their black-and-silver hair sweeping over their elegant shoulders, stride fiercely among a crowd of tittering chipmunks. Genets are predators. The chipmunks give them a wide berth.
Pert pastel dresses on the chipmunk ladies. Natty suits and bowties on the gents. Their little round faces giddy. Stripes of white and sable-brown rim their big, dark eyes. Chipmunks and squirrels do well in Chrome City’s banking business with their ancestral beast’s instinct for gathering and hoarding. Some are off to a dinner date and a movie, staying up in the nocturnal niche. But not too late.
Lightfoot smiles at the chipmunks but she greets the genets, brandishing her hand. Unsheathing and retracting her claws. She likes genet Blends, with their feline attitude. The genets grin, return the predator’s greeting. Brandish their hands. Retractable claws, way to go.
Not for the first time, Lightfoot admires the revolutionary beauty of Chrome. Viverrids and rodents mingle in the city without fear—not too much fear—because everyone has plenty to eat. Food is the first law of the jungle. Every Chromian should thank Emirk for the Vats and their GMO bounty. At least that.
One great big happy monstrous mutant cryptid half-human family, that’s Chrome.
Sort of happy. Sort of one great big family, each Blend engineered with a genetic heritage, not out of choice. Every Blend exiled on this planetoid for as long as Chrome exists.
Lightfoot shrugs. She can’t worry too much about happiness. Maybe happiness is overrated. Or maybe happiness is something you don’t know you’ve got till it’s gone.
At the corner of Seventh and Broadway, she strides up to the Ucayali Building. Pads past the exterior Security Eyes into the lobby. A luxurious cavern of rose-pink marble, the lobby boasts sustainable teak plank floors. Polished bronze fixtures. Abundant potted palms, dragon trees, and morning glories set the mood for a rainforest theme, recalling the corporation’s name. The Ucayali is the main tributary of that gigantic South American rainforest river down on Earth, the Amazon.
Lightfoot admires the display of Ucayali’s interworld wealth. The front desk where she has to check in strobes with security icons quite a distance away across the plank floors.
Can I stalk to the front desk without being seen?
Her pride in her puma talents took a serious blow when Xander King and Chan O’Nally informed her she was seen on Bunny Hedgeway’s rooftop. I don’t think so, she had said. Think again, the cops had said.
She was seen. Why else has Panterr summoned her?
She drops to a puma crouch. Stalks around a potted palm. Crouches, freezes motionless when a Security Eye swivels toward her. Stalks again, swiftly, stealthily. On silent puma feet. Reaches the front desk and startles a big-eyed screech owl smartly clad in a scarlet uniform.
“Hootenanny!” he exclaims, looking up from his monitors. “Where did you come from?”
“The front door,” she says and preens, pleased with herself. I haven’t lost my touch. She gives her name, presses her thumbprint on the ID pad. Asks him to inform Dom Swifty Panterr upstairs that Luna Lightfoot has arrived.
She nods to the elf owl staffing the elevator. Steps into a mirrored cab larger than her bathroom.
Going to the top?” the owl chirrups, winking his round yellow eye.
“Am I ever.”
At the entrance to the Nepenthe Club, a pretty hat-check gal informs Lightfoot she’s got to leave any weapons on her person in the cloakroom. The hat-check gal wears a neon nametag at her slender throat that strobes “Millie.” Little multicolored wings flutter on her bare shoulderblades.
“Millie,” Lightfoot tells the butterfly gal, “I am the only weapon I need.”
She steps through the Art Deco wickets of a metal detector. And she’s in.
All of Chrome City sprawls out around her. Lightfoot’s golden eyes widen at the cityscape.
Fifty stories up is high enough on a clear spring night to admire the towers topped with pyramids or domes or statues of the animal-headed gods and goddesses of Earth’s antiquity. There’s the Chrome City Chamber of Commerce. The Capitol Building and Capitol Plaza. The Chrome City Police Department Main Station. The blood-blue spires of the Emirk Corporation Building, the Emirk Intelligence Agency Tower. The emerald-green spires of the Bank of the Worlds Building. Hundreds of Earth embassies identified by glow-lit flags, many of them stacked one upon another in multicolored amalgamated blocks. They are locally staffed by hired Blends and by icons communicating through the Instrumentality. No human ambassadors are stationed here. Not for more than three days.
Lightfoot sniffs disdainfully. For any Chromian, Earth embassy work is a plum prize. Staffers tend to be chosen for the predominance of their human physical attributes.
There’s no accounting for taste, the Blends like to say.
Gigantic Eyes all over downtown blink nonstop ads for Cola, Diet Cola, Chocolate Cola, Coffee Cola, Cherry Cola, Termite Cola, Blood Cola.
Lightfoot has tried Blood Cola. The stuff is disgusting. Give her a Carnivore’s Bloody Mary any time.
But enough of the spectacular views outside.
Behold the Nepenthe Club!
Walls of curved glass hold the massive round room in a transparent embrace. Bar stools and banquettes of black-and-scarlet faux-leather flash glimmers of steel and rose-gold in rivets and rails. Imported walnut adorns the tabletops. Antelope Blends in sequinned costumes circulate among the dining tables and gaming suites, offering silver trays of illegal tobacco and soot.
Lightfoot trails her enraptured gaze over the most powerful predators on Chrome.
The white tiger sprawling in a corner booth is Tiaga Tigri Tremaine. A well-muscled specimen with sky-blue eyes in a masculine alabaster face framed by dark feline stripes around his eyes and cheekbones. The tiger slams the innards out of his opponents on Chromian football fields. Too bad he’ll never get the chance to compete against Earthians. Now there would be a match to watch. Tiaga Tigri mangling human athletes into a bloody pulp.
Lightfoot sighs. Tiaga Tigri. What a manimal.
The wolf seated at the bar, the one with the crafty gray eyes, high cheekbones, and hairsprayed coiffure? She is Peachy Lupster, a high-ranking official in the Bureau of Canine and Canid Affairs. She keeps her fangs filed, her face, arms, and legs waxed, and her tail well concealed in specially tailored dresses. Peachy strives for that all-important human look coveted by Chromian bureaucrats. But she can’t quite conceal her inner pack animal. Which is just as well. Maybe her inner pack animal is why she’s so successful in Chromian politics.
Peachy lets loose a belly laugh that would freeze Lightfoot’s blood in a deserted alley.
That’s a wolf. Prime womanimal.
And, at last, there’s Panterr in his customary tuxedo, minus the mask he sported last night at Jamboree. He holds court at a table of predators while he—Lightfoot notes—surrounds himself with gazelles. His specimen of choice? They’re tall, tall girls with big, glancing eyes and impossibly skinny faces. Their long legs are impossibly skinny, too, in skin-tight leggings leaving little doubt just how skinny they are.
Lightfoot hates gazelles.
You’d think that prey Blends would steer clear of a notorious predator. But maybe that’s the attraction. Aside from other attractions such as Panterr is fabulously rich, incredibly handsome, physically powerful, and dangerously criminally inclined.
Dangerous, Lightfoot reminds herself.
She slinks to his table. This is too fine. Panterr was first on the list of Chromians she wanted—needed—to talk to about what happened last night. But she had no idea how to contact him other than a public wink forwarded by some anonymous receptionist at Panterr Enterprise. Now he has invited her? Too, too fine.
“Luna Lightfoot,” Panterr says, rising to his feet. He pushes away the gazelle clinging to his arm, strides around the table to take both her hands in his. He unsheathes his claws, pressing the lethal tips against her palms. She boldly returns the predator’s greeting. “Cage free to you, puma lady. You look lovely. As always.”
The gazelle pouts. Trots off to the gaming tables.
His fierce eyes could melt metal with their heat. He wants something from her. Excellent. She wants something from him, too.
Reciprocity is the key to every relationship, the Blends like to say.
***
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