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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Bast Books
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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!
Praise for CHROME
 “An excellent semi-noir full-on SF work by a terrific author. . . .a science-fiction homage, in part, to the noir books and movies of the forties and fifties, only brought forth into a future time a quarter-millennium from now. . .  a fully-realized society.”
—Amazing Stories.com
“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. Isn’t that the definition of good writing?”
—Reader Review
May 2020 Excerpt:
11
Chelonian Park
A cool spring evening descends over Chrome, heralding a peaceful end to a dreadful Blend Day. Terralina lies on her side, blissful on Tuddy’s moss-soft bed. She savors the moist heat of his bedroom. Savors him, lying beside her. Both of them rest comfortably on a custom-made mattress curving up behind them, cupping their carapaces. Their lovely human parts revealed to each other.
At moments like these when she’s had her fill of him and he of her, Terralina nearly bursts with love for her tortoise prince. His wrinkled lipless face, his wrinkled stubby limbs, his wrinkled celadon skin are the handsomest features she’s ever seen on any male specimen in all of Chrome.
Smiling, he offers her a strawberry. She takes the berry in her mouth and masticates, savoring the sweetness. Ever since Tuddy’s car and driver delivered her to Castle Ruchat Tartus early this morning, they’ve idled in bed all day. Making love. Drowsing. Nibbling on berries and meal worms.
“My darling Terralina,” Tuddy whispers, “do not ever run off like that again. I was worried sick. I was just about to wink the police. Send out a search party.”
“I’m sorry, Tuddy,” she says, exhausted from the strange events she’s witnessed in the last twenty-four-hour rotation. The tall, thin manimal. The coyote attack. Meeting Luna Lightfoot, bumping Tatts with the formidable puma-woman. Her angry heedless all-night bicycle ride through Chrome City and the boroughs. The abduction she’d witnessed at dawn.
Most of all, she’s exhausted from keeping everything a secret from Tuddy.
“Promise me?” he says.
She doesn’t say I promise never to do it again. She may have kept secrets from Tuddy before, she may keep secrets again, but she never lies. And she can’t promise him she’ll never mount her bicycle again and pedal off into the night, searching for something.
She sighs without answering.
That seems to satisfy him. He pours an expensive Chromian brandy into crystal snifters, presses a snifter into her little hands. He keeps the brandy on his night table in a decanter.
“To us,” he says, clinking his snifter with hers.
“Should we? It is still Blend Day. We’re supposed to abstain from every pleasure. Fast and weep and meditate on our bitter fate.”
“Yes, we should. We’ve already broken most of our vows,” he says with a wicked grin. “May as well break all of them.” He adds, “I need a bit of the hair of the dog that bit me, as the Earthians say.” Drains his snifter in one gulp.
Terralina sips daintily, then sets the snifter on the night table on her side of the bed. A chill runs through her. She’d wanted to tell him last night about the coyote attack and he wouldn’t listen. Now she doesn’t want to tell him, though he is listening. Her account would have to include Luna Lightfoot. Tuddy would never approve of her sudden friendship with a puma Blend.
So many secrets, and they’re not yet bond-mates.
After the taxi had sped off with the chameleon kidnapper and the rat child, she’d tapped her Tatt and winked Tuddy. He’d opened her wink at once. Of course he’d come for her with the car. But rush-hour traffic had ramped up in Chrome City, and the car took an entire hour-and-a-half traveling from Chelonian Park to Rodentia.
While she’d waited that interminable hour-and-a-half sealed up in her carapace, a pack of rat teenagers playing hooky from school discovered her. They taunted her, kicked her around nearly as brutally as the coyotes last night. The only saving grace? Rat teens aren’t as big and as vicious as full-grown coyotes.
They were kicking her around when Tuddy’s car pulled up, and the driver, Vara Rufus, climbed out. Terralina would have been terrified of Vara, a stout goanna, if she weren’t a loyal employee of Dynasty Ruchat Tartus. The goanna whipped her powerful lizard’s tail out of the seat of her trousers, brandished her considerable claws, and opened her jaws just in case the rat teens didn’t get the hint.
The rat teens fled, squeaking and squealing. Without a word, the goanna scooped up Terralina, trembling in her carapace. Flung her and her bicycle in the backseat. Sped away. Sped home.
Now, with twilight darkening, Terralina stirs fitfully in the bedroom’s moist heat. Her tortoise prince hadn’t come to rescue her himself—as he’d promised. His driver had. Was that good enough?
She isn’t sure.
Tuddy reaches for his snifter, tops it off. “You like the brandy?”
“I like being here with you.”
What tortoise Blend wouldn’t? Every chamber in Castle Ruchat Tartus enjoys sultry air thanks to an ingenious system of subterranean aqueducts, the water kept near boiling by great fires attended by thorny devil lizards in tank tops and denim shorts. The aqueducts, which owe much to the Roman baths on Earth two millennia ago, were designed and built by Tuddy’s great-great-grandfather, Redfoote Ruchat Tartus. In the years after the Plague, Redfoote slowly and patiently established the Ruchat Tartus fortune and social position by gaining domination of the heating and cooling of Chrome’s myriad habitats.
Countless species of Blends prefer heat and moisture in their homes, shunning aridity and cold. Countless other Blends prefer aridity and cold, and shun heat and moisture.
All things are possible on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
Terralina hates that Chromily, which is so patently untrue.
After she started staying the night at Castle Ruchat Tartus, Tuddy had taken her on a tour of the aqueducts. She got an eyeful of the ironwood pyres, the sluices and troughs, the thorny devils who attended them so diligently. If the aqueducts resembled ancient Roman baths, the staff more than resembled ancient Roman slaves.
Tuddy noticed her disapproving reaction. He’d called the foreman over.
“How goes the heat today, Moloch?”
A muscular lizard man, with impressive dust-colored spines jutting from his angular face, brawny shoulders, chest, and thighs, Moloch had grinned and shouted, “We loves the heat, Boss.”
Well. That could have been an act to impress the prospective princess. But she got the message and left the topic of the aqueducts and their staff alone. The aqueducts were not her concern. Not until she comes to Castle Ruchat Tartus to live for the rest of her tortoise life as Tuddy’s bond-mate.
When and whether.
Tuddy drains his snifter, closes his round little eyes, settles back on the custom-curved mattress. Satisfied snores gurgle out of his maw. Terralina smiles. She even loves the goofy way he snores.
But she can’t fall into satisfied snores, not after the idle, drowsy day. She swings back the curved side of the mattress and lets herself out of bed, pulling a green silk dressing gown over her shoulders and carapace.
She waddles to Tuddy’s luxurious bathroom, waves on the lights, checks her contraceptive patch. She’d never worn a C-patch before Tuddy. She’d had no reason to. She’d had no one in her life. And she couldn’t have afforded a C-patch, anyway, which was expensive Earth technology licensed to Chromian manufacturers.
How much her life has changed since Tuddy.
The C-patch on her thigh strobes bright red. That’s good. That means her patch is active and she’s protected. But when she climbed out of bed, she glimpsed Tuddy’s C-patch on his thigh. And his patch looked dull and gray. He’s not protected.
Terralina frowns. They’d agreed they would both wear active C-patches until the day they bond-mated and decided to start a family.
That day hasn’t come. That day may never come. She’ll have to have another painful conversation with Tuddy when he wakes.
Trouble. Trouble, again.
Terralina waves off the bathroom lights, wanders into the sitting room off the bedroom. She settles into one of Tuddy’s custom-built armchairs, the upholstery scooped out of the backrest to accommodate a tortoise’s carapace.
So safe, so comfortable at Castle Ruchat Tartus.
Then why does she feel so uneasy?
To an outsider’s eye, the castle resembles a gigantic tortoise carapace with massive tiles of the dynasty’s colors of red, green, and gold arranged in a mosaic over the dome. Turrets, watchtowers, and battlements jut up here and there. Inside and out, the chambers are watched over by Security Eyes. The World Eyes are strictly programmed for viewing the Instrumentality. Not the other way around.
No one on Earth is watching her. Terralina nods, assured of her privacy.
Two centuries ago great-great-grandfather Redfoote Ruchat Tartus had banned surveillance of himself and his tortoise family. His descendants have observed that ban to this day. Any tortoise, including Terralina, could earn spectacular World Eye royalties, given the monstrous morphing of their genetic heritage. Given the Earthians’ taste for monstrosity.
Redfoote had specified in his will that his clan was not to become a spectacle for human consumption. And he was right. Two centuries of diligent development of Chrome’s heating and cooling enterprise have earned the dynasty abundant wealth. No Ruchat Tartus needs to earn demeaning World Eye royalties at the cost of fifteen billion pairs of prying Earthian eyes.
Well done, Great-great-grandpa Redfoote. Terralina whispers thanks to the ancestral patriarch into whose clan she is about to be so warmly welcomed.
Then she frowns. Oh? Oh oh oh!
Did Tuddy defy Grandpa Redfoote’s injunction by accepting Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree invitation and signing a World Eye release? Did he defy the dynasty’s injunction by allowing all of Earth to get a good look at him last night? A very good look at a very strange Blend, someone Earthians have seldom seen. Perhaps have never seen.
Oh, ugly ugly! Publicity hounds are sure to come pounding on the doors of Castle Ruchat Tartus. Thirty members of the clan call the castle their home. They’ll become a sensational treasure trove of unlicensed flashes on the Instrumentality the moment they step out the door.
What will Tuddy’s mother and father think? His aunts and uncles? His brothers and sisters and cousins? His brothers-in-law, his sisters-in-law?
What about her?
No wonder she didn’t want to go inside to that horrid party. She was right. What have you done, Tuddy?
She leans forward in the armchair, apprehensive. Waves her Tatt at the World Eye. She hasn’t seen the Instrumentality since yesterday afternoon when the news was all about Jamboree.
Jamboree. Terralina snorts in disgust. Why should the Blends celebrate Jamboree? It ought to be another day of mourning like Blend Day. The day when a sadistic Earthian scientist centuries ago engineered a mouse with a human ear growing out of her spine, the ear larger than the mouse herself. Paraded the grotesque experimental specimen in the media as if this were something wonderful. An achievement to be proud of.
An achievement, Terralina shudders, to replicate. Which Emirk Corporation has done, twenty million times over.
Witness Chrome.
But the Vacanti mouse, the earmouse, wasn’t genetic engineering, after all. The sadistic scientist, some professor at a university medical school, grew cow cartilage cells in an ear-shaped mold and implanted the thing in the skin of the mouse. The Vacanti mouse was only a stupid prank.
A stupid prank that has become the Chromian mascot for Blend Day. A symbol for what Chromians are.
Terralina waves through viewcasts on the World Eye. Has there been any coverage of Blend Day?
She wants to see the traditional Procession marching down Broadway. The mourners in their hooded black robes. Chanting dirges. Whipping themselves with cat o’ nine tails. The usual parade float draped in black crepe, the gigantic model of the earmouse. Not genetically engineered? No, but tampered with by an Earthian technician, just the same.
The World Eye opens, the Instrumentality flashes, and Terralina sees neither the Procession nor the tiresome advertisements for hair removers and capped teeth.
She sits up, the skin on her arms prickling. Her breath catching in her throat.
A badger viewcaster yelps the news. Zena Kinski, the famous dancer, found murdered at the Hedgeway mansion last night while a high-society herd enjoyed the Jamboree party downstairs. Security Eyes saw no glimpse of the murderer. Motive unknown.
Terralina’s suspicions fly at once to the puma. Luna Lightfoot, a murderer? Just as quickly, her intuition dismisses that. The puma rescued her from coyotes. The puma swore a heartfelt oath of allegiance to Chrome. The puma bumped Tatts with her. No, not possible. The puma may have been up to no good last night, but she could not have been a murderer.
Fang wounds, the badger viewcaster yelps.
Lightfoot was wearing a mask when she climbed down the fire escape. She couldn’t have bitten anyone till she took the mask off.
What about the tall, thin manimal? Touching a handkerchief to his mouth, the cloth darkened by stains. What kind of stains?
Terralina rises to her little bare feet, paces around the sitting room. She should march into the bedroom where Tuddy lies passed out, snoring like a bear. Shake his shoulder, wake him with the news.
No. He won’t understand. Let him sleep.
Her mind reels with fear and confusion.
She needs to talk to someone. Does she know anyone at the Chrome City police? Someone who could tell her more?
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