Archives for category: CRISPR Technology

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.
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!
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.
***
To discover the scintillating conversation between Lightfoot and Panterr, what is revealed, what concealed, and where they go to next, join my other patrons on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

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!
March, 2020 Excerpt
8
Snatch Job
Creepin’ cryptids, Kinyonga hates hot bloods. Especially young hot bloods with their stink of fur and sweat and mating hormones. Especially young rodents, the humblest Blend of the hot-blood humble.
Let’s face it, ol’ Jimi the One and Only hates kids. He is a walking no-kid zone and not just baby goats, which is what “kid” means, if you want to get technical. He hates Chrome kiddies of every Blend, including baby chameleons.
So they’re cute. So what. Baby leopard Blends are cute. Baby boa constrictor Blends are adorable. Baby scorpion Blends are the darlingest things. Until they grow up big enough and mean enough and poisonous enough to rip out your throat, strangle you, or sting you to death.
Now that is a fitting meditation for Blend Day. Day of grief. Day of despair. Chrome wouldn’t have baby leopard Blends, baby boa constrictor Blends, or baby scorpion Blends if it weren’t for the Tweakers and the Twitchers.
So what happened to the Emirk technicians of two-and-a-half centuries ago? The Tweakers or the Twitchers, as they’ve come contemptuously to be called in the Chromian lexicon. What became of them?
Kinyonga snickers. You can’t fool Mother Nature for very long.
Soon after Kinyonga’s human ancestors were modified with chameleon genes, an aerosol-borne Plague struck Chrome. A genetically mutated mix of bird flu and swine flu and a touch of fascist flu. The Plague killed every human being, every last Tweaker and Twitcher on the planetoid.
Only the Blends with their radically tampered chromosomes could resist the swift, virulent, and highly contagious affliction that started out with a sore throat and violent sneezing and, in a day or two, resulted in death by excruciatingly painful paroxysms.
So don’t fool with Mother Nature, the Blends often snicker.
Kinyonga smacks the rat girl across her pointy gray face. She snaps at him, sinking her teeth into his wrist, drawing blood. Dang, these Feralists and their freakin’ fangs. Why don’t they have the decency to file them like every other civilized Reformist?
The cabbie glances in the rearview mirror with his big bovine eyes. But he doesn’t open the Security Eye on his dashboard or tap his Tatt and wink the cops about a suspicious altercation in the backseat of his cab.
So, okay. A stand-up bull.
“Don’t worry about it, quarryman,” Kinyonga says to him, slugging the rat girl’s jaw hard. He shakes his wrist loose from her nasty little fangs. Considers stabbing her with a dart from his blowgun, knocking her the hell out. Then he decides against it. A waste of good poison. “There’s another twenty credits in it for you when you get us where we’re goin’ to and keep your snout shut.”
The Big Boss had advanced him a generous allowance of free-trade credits to grease paws and claws in this latest installment of the secret evil endeavor. That suits Kinyonga just fine. He should require such generosity in every client’s contract from now on. Free-trade credits are the best kind of currency. Untraceable, good for everything everywhere you go, and tax-free. Don’t leave home without them.
Naturally, he’d skimmed fifteen percent off the top for Number One. Plus he didn’t lease a hydrocar like the Big Boss had told him to, but hired the cab instead. Which saved him another bunch of credits for the better purpose of lining his own pockets. Maybe he’ll remember to thank the Big Boss for the working capital. Or maybe not. Jimi Kinyonga doesn’t do gratitude.
The rat girl flops on the car seat, stunned by his punch, a stain of blood on her thin gray lips. The cabbie continues to stare in the rearview, his hand edging toward the Security Eye.
Perhaps an explanation is in order. Kinyonga sighs, an appropriately heartfelt long-suffering sigh. “She’s, like, my step-niece, three times removed. Messy, messy bond-mate breakup, y’know? Her dad kidnapped her after using up his visiting days. I’m just returning her to her ever-lovin’ mommy. Rats, they are the best when it comes to family. Love them rat kiddies to death. Watch the freakin’ road, okay?”
“Try your step-niece forty times removed,” the cabbie lows gloomily but obediently returns his eyes to the hectic traffic.
Every vehicle on Chrome uses polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, the blue and pink canisters of oxygen and hydrogen gases bubbling merrily on hood or boot. But there all similarity among the vehicles ceases and the Blend of the driver often shapes the vehicle’s style.
A utility vehicle the size of a canary’s country cottage lumbers by, the flap-eared elephant driver plowing through traffic without a glance left or right. Dim-witted or oblivious? Both and then some, in Kinyonga’s astute psychological analysis.
A lean, muscular sports car helmed by a lean, muscular jaguar slinks swiftly amid knots of stalled beetle cars. Chunky flatbed trucks driven by rams or impalas bully their way through the gridlock. Bang! Two trucks trade fenders, and the burly drivers climb out, antlers curving from their foreheads. They push up denim shirtsleeves over buff biceps, spoiling for a fight.
The pastel avian cars are the most ridiculous, in Kinyonga’s aesthetic opinion, with their winged front fenders, fancy feathered tails on the back. Some birdbrain of a driver glides her gorgeous hot-pink Falcon sedan through the traffic in erratic swoops, suddenly switches course, and, amid squealing brakes, honking horns, and angry curses, flutters off in the opposite direction.
High above the herds and swarms on the streets swoop sleek silver flivvers. These are the exclusive transportation of visiting Emirk executives and the elite Chromian Blends who staff the Emirk Intelligence Agency. Emirk Corporation leases its used flivvers to the Chrome City police. By Emirk regulations, the Chromian police are only permitted to use the worn and dingy second-hand flycraft, and only for high-alert emergencies.
How can Emirk justify its control of Chromian skies, ol’ Jimi wants to know? Because Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of the airspace over Chrome. Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of everything on Chrome. Who can challenge that?
We Chromians can. Kinyonga snorts in disgust at the arrogant insectile flivver droning in the sky above him. Emblazoned on wing and tail, the Emirk corporate mark, the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square.
“One of these days,” he mutters, the scarlet and turquoise patterns swirling up and down his arms in the heat of his anger, “one of these days, we Blends will ride in the sky, too. Our sky.”
But his Chromian revolutionary sentiment doesn’t jive with the task at hand. He gets down to it.
The rat girl, recovering from his punch, lurches up squealing. Wiggling her pink fingers behind her back. Kinyonga whips her around, winds more duct tape around her wrists so she can’t tap her yellow Tatt and wink for help. Dang, these kids. Have they no respect for their elders? She’s sobbing and squeaking. Far more trouble than he thought she’d be when he’d spotted her on the trash-strewn street of Mysburgh.
Two uniformed dog cops on hydrocycles cruise by, lane-splitting amid the traffic. They slow down, glance inside the cab the way dog Blends do. Not keenly curious like a feline, but looking around. Snuffling around, picking up scents. One cop has the long, narrow snout of a German shepherd, the other flat-faced and pug-nosed like one of them Oriental breeds. Pekinese? Lhasa apso? Kinyonga can never keep straight all the breeds of domestic dog Blends on Chrome. Like he should know about some person with a tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Kinyonga shoves the rat girl face down on the car seat, sits on top of her. Summons up the image of someone respectable who typically would be riding in a commercial cab. Camouflage, baby. He camouflages himself as a young corporate executive. A spaniel in a smart three-piece business suit, button-down shirt, and necktie. The chunk of a faux-gold watch on his wrist. His hand resting not on the rat girl’s neck, but on a shiny black faux-leather briefcase. He spreads his jaws, smiles pleasantly.
The dog cops nod and speed away.
He hisses with relief and reassumes his chameleon identity. That was a serious stretch of his transformative talents, camouflaging himself out of whole cloth. Out of a stereotype, without an actual surrounding background for him to feed off the images. Camouflaging out of his emotional need of the moment.
That’s the only time when his unruly chameleon emotions work in his favor.
Awesome, Number One, he congratulates himself.
The rat girl lies quietly beneath him, subdued. He doesn’t want to suffocate her. He’s supposed to deliver her, like, alive. He slides off her, and she starts squeaking and flailing around again.
His brilliant mercurial mind hits upon a solution. “Muzzle up and sit still,” he commands her in an adult voice. “No one is going to hurt you, honey.”
That settles her down. If only everyone was so easy to lie to.
The bull cabbie pulls out of the stream of traffic on Broadway, speeds onto an off-ramp leading to Outer Chrome Road. The highway stretches before them, a bleak ribbon of concrete taking them far away from the hustle-bustle of Chrome City. Far away from the littered streets of Mysburgh, from Rodentia Valley. Far away from everything civilized on Chrome.
It’s good to head away from the City. Too many cops. Too many diurnals with their prying eyes. But Kinyonga frowns, not relishing where they’re going. He leans back in the seat, mulls the job over.
Who witnessed this latest sorry caper? No one, that’s who. Almost no one. There’s the cabbie. Kinyonga may have to take him out later, as in a snuff job. But maybe killing him won’t be required? Kinyonga considers the question. The cabbie and his sponsor will want to do more business, lucrative business, with a cut-throat mercenary like Jimi Kinyonga. The cabbie will keep his snout shut, if he knows what’s good for him.
Everyone wants to do more business on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
Then there was the little turtle he spotted camping out on the sidewalk. In Mysburgh, of all places for a reptile to be. That made no sense. Which arouses his suspicions. He took note of the black-and-gold design on her carapace. Pretty, pretty. Unusual, too, from what he’s seen of turtles and tortoises, who live on the east side of Cretaceous Way. The turtles and tortoises he’s seen mostly have unremarkable carapaces of drab olive. She—he knew she was a she on account of the frilly dress—seemed to be asleep.
But maybe not. The turtle could have been watching him from inside her carapace. Number One does not discount the watchful reptilian eye of a Blend who set herself down where she did not belong.
They watch. They listen. They spy.
And no one knows they’re spying, huddled up inside their carapaces. He’s heard strange tales about turtle Blends. Tortoises, too.
She could have witnessed the kidnapping. Could have seen him, with his own distinctive markings. Could have seen the cab with that tacky billboard on the roof.
She could have seen everything.
This information isn’t something he will share with the Big Boss anytime soon. This information is Kinyonga’s very own personal business. He may have to take out the turtle, too, as in eliminating her. But later. Later.
The bull cabbie speeds down Outer Chrome Road, navigating the cab toward the district where the Big Boss has instructed Kinyonga to take the snatch job. It’s a long drive, but the streets will be emptier. Everything is emptier in that forsaken place.
After this gets done, he’s off to the second part of the job. A much tougher assignment than the snatch job. He’s not looking forward to it. Hades.
“Step on it,” Jimi Kinyonga hisses. Then clamps his jaws shut. Dang, he hates having to small-talk with a cabbie.
9
Naja de Capello
Do not taste the air. He resists the ancient urge, applying all his will. All the years of his schooling, his self-discipline. He clasps his shapely cold hands beneath the table. Clasps them so tightly, his knuckles ache. He blinks his eyes against the overly bright lights in the conference room on the sixth floor of the Capitol Building. Concentrates on the voices around him. Yapping, growling, hissing. Lilting.
Facilis est descensus. The descent to hell is easy.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
A human being—an Earthian, a pure Earthian—presides at the head of the conference table, the ebony tabletop so polished it shines like a long, black mirror. The lilting voice belongs to her. In the course of two centuries dealing with the Plague, Emirk Corporation has vastly improved the safesuits. This latest visiting corporate executive sits comfortably inside a transparent bubble surrounding her entire body. Her oxygen supply and waste products units are tucked in a sculptural nodule below the base of her spine.
The safesuit amply reveals her perfect human face. Her eyes as blue as jewels. The crisp curls of her peach-colored hair. Her perfect womanly figure, a figure fashionably clad in a business suit the color of Emirk blood-blue. The Emirk corporate mark—the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square—decorates her lapel, the earrings on the lobes of her tiny pale ears, a ring on the finger of her right hand. The ring on her left hand is a gold-and-diamond wedding band.
Her six human bodyguards, in safesuits and blood-blue uniforms, form a phalanx around her, gripping the latest deadly make of handheld assault weapons from Earth.
Two dozen Chromian bodyguards stand watchfully around the human entourage, gripping less powerful, less modern guns. But they’ve got guns, too. Also serious assault weapons. The Chromian bodyguards wear blood-blue uniforms, the Emirk corporate mark on their lapels. “Emirk Intelligence Agency” flashes across the backs of their jackets. With their perfectly filed teeth, smooth waxed faces, and no trace of a tail, you might almost mistake them for human beings.
Except for one thing: they don’t wear safesuits. That’s the tip-off. They don’t fear the Chromian air, the Chromian water, the Chromian food. Why should they? No matter what cosmetics they’ve applied or surgeries they’ve endured, they are Blends. Extreme Reformist Blends, to be sure. But native Chromians immune to the lingering Plague.
Naja de Capello happens to know these particular bodyguards are Doberman pinschers. In spite of the filing and waxing and cosmetic surgery, there is no concealing the lean ferocity of their ancestral beast. Not from his eyes.
De Capello doesn’t often see any kind of weapon carried openly by Blends on Chrome. Since Liberation Day, weaponry on Chrome has been declared illegal by Emirk Corporation, except for the imported guns worn by the elite E.I.A. officers. Worn, too, by Special Forces officers patrolling high security areas—the Emirk space shuttle launchpad in the Airfield District, the Emirk headquarters in downtown Chrome City where the visiting executives must sequester themselves when they’re not presiding over meetings like this.
As a Chromian government official, of course De Capello carries an illegal concealed handgun. An antique Walther PPK with eight rounds, which he bought for an exorbitant sum on the black market. The rounds he parcels out judiciously. Blackmarket bullets are difficult to come by and expensive. He sniffs, indignant. As a high-ranking official in the Bureau of Human Affairs, he ought to be able to carry a weapon legally. He’s exposed to Feralists every day.
These days, criminals and crazies get their weapons, all kinds of weapons, on the black market. Chromian politicians, too.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
To read the tense and eventful confrontation between Naja de Capello and the Earthian Emirk executive, Mrs. Fraternale, please join me at my Patreon Page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
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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.
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 5:
Blend Day
A rude, unnecessarily loud knock-knock-knock on the door to her lair jolts Luna Lightfoot to her feet just as she’s slipping on flannel pajamas and preparing to bed down for the day.
Today isn’t any ordinary day. Today is Blend Day.
If Jamboree is a day of wild celebration, of indulging in forbidden pleasures, of making mischief, then the day that follows—Blend Day—must be observed, according to two centuries of Chromian tradition, by somber reflection, fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-abnegation.
Some Chromians look forward to Blend Day with a self-righteous dread. To the Day when even the powerful and glamorous predator Blends bend down on their knees, raise their eyes to the pitiless stars, and ponder the meaning of their tormented unnatural lives. When every Blend curses the ancient Tweakers and the Twitchers of Emirk Corporation for creating Chrome.
Not Lightfoot. No self-flagellation. No moaning, no sobbing, no tears. She loves her puma life too much. Loves her puma talents. She doesn’t even mind that her human ancestors were political prisoners smuggled up from Croatia and blended with puma genes.
CRISPR, that’s what they dubbed it, the molecular biologists who pioneered the gene-modification technique three centuries ago. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. With CRISPR, Emirk’s technicians created entire races of genetically modified people with inheritable traits by blending the chromosomes of creatures with the chromosomes of human beings.
Blends.
Blends often sarcastically refer to each other as atlantean, beastie boy or girl, chimera, cordwainer, creep, cryptid, freak, fubar (fouled up beyond all recognition), GMO, gryphon, half-and-half, jabberwock, mockery, monster, moreau, mutant, quarryman or woman, splicer, toba sojo, weaver, or wonderlander.
Bang bang bang.
Who on Chrome could it be?
Irritated, Lightfoot waves off the World Eyes in her bedroom flashing with the news of Zena Kinski’s tragic demise. Views of Bunny Hedgeway twisting a lace hanky, dark tears streaking her plump little face, do not show the Pomeranian to her best advantage. Get a grip, Bun, Lightfoot will have to tell her. When she wakes at sundown, she’ll wink Bunny. Show her sympathetic support as a Blend-friend.
Bang bang BANG.
She stalks into the living room, the kitchen, the library, all around her lair. Aims her Tatt at the World Eyes stationed everywhere and waves them shut. When open, the World Eyes blink views to the Instrumentality of her sleeping the day away. That’s all fifteen billion human beings on Earth ever get to see of her. A puma Blend in pajamas sleeping in her luxurious lair. Curling up in the cashmere blankets. Uncurling, yawning, stretching. Curling around on her other side. Prowling to the kitchen for a glass of cool water.
For this, Lightfoot earns considerable monthly royalties from the Instrumentality.
What’s so unusual about her sleeping the day away? Not a thing. Lightfoot is nocturnal. She’s up all night, like her ancestral beast. And what she does at night, nefarious or innocent, is strictly off-limits to the Instrumentality. Terms of her contract.
Another obnoxious knock, and she sighs. The royalties will amount to a little less this month now that she’s waving the Eyes off. She stalks to her front door. “Yes?”
“Open up, Lightfoot,” says a masculine canine voice. She knows the voice and the canine only too well. He goes by the moniker of Xander King, homicide detective for the Chrome City police. “We gotta talk.”
“Have some respect, Cop King,” she says through the door. “It’s Blend Day. I’m contemplating my cruel fate.”
“You’ll be contemplatin’ more than that.”
“Excuse me?”
“You really stepped in it this time.”
You’d think him a lion Blend with a name like that, but you’d be wrong. Only a golden retriever could get away with such a grandiose name when he’s merely a middling officer in a corrupt police department on an artificial planetoid. And no, Lightfoot has never entangled herself in a homicide investigation. She’s acquainted with Xander King because she sells him hot nasty tips whenever she daintily trips across them on her nocturnal prowls through Chrome City.
She cracks open the door, leaving the chain lock on. “Dunno what you’re whining about,” she purrs pleasantly. “I’m off to my beauty sleep while fifteen billion Earthians pay to watch me dream. You’re wasting my prime time. Bye-bye, have a self-punishing day.”
“Wise up, Lightfoot,” barks another masculine canine voice. That would be Chan O’Nally, King’s partner. “The fang job at Bunny Hedgeway’s place last night. You know what we’re talkin’ about, and we know you know.”
“Everyone on Chrome knows what you’re talking about, Detective O’Nally. All everyone has to do is wink the Instrumentality.”
“We’re talkin’ about you and where you were last night,” O’Nally snarls. He’s an Irish setter Blend whose human ancestors two-and-a-half centuries ago were political dissidents incarcerated in the prison of an Asian country until the Central Committee sold them to Emirk Corporation for a rock-bottom price.
Moi?
“Quit stallin’ and open up,” King growls. “Security Eyes on the rooftop captured your beauteous image in the moonlight.”
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“Think again,” O’Nally snaps.
She thinks again. Damn, it must be true. She’s a puma Blend. No one and nothing sees her when she sets her mind on moving invisibly. No matter the surroundings, urban, suburban, or the Wildlands. No one and nothing sees her. But her mind had been unsettled last night. She herself slightly clumsy when she leapt from the bedroom terrace back onto the roof. Witnessing a murder will do that.
“Guess you weren’t up to your usual stealth last night,” King says.
Guess you don’t know what you’re yapping about.”
“Guess we do,” O’Nally says. “Get yourself decent and let us in. We gotta talk before someone less forgivin’ than us collars you for your presence at a fang job.”
“Give me a moment, detectives.”
She shuts the door.
Not up to her usual stealth?
No kidding.
She knew from the start the mysterious Rex was all wrong. She just didn’t know how wrong.
“We haven’t got all day, Lightfoot,” King barks.
“Coming,” she trills.
*   *   *
To discover how Lightfoot’s interview with the police goes, what they accuse her of, what she admits to, and especially what she doesn’t admit, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full excerpt and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

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CHROME.MED.295.KB

Here’s Steve Fahnestalk (with 19,000 subscribers):
“Next month, January 2020, will be my seventh consecutive year of writing for Amazing Stories® online! I hope you’ve enjoyed my writing as much as I have enjoyed being a part of Steve Davidson’s reboot of this famous magazine, and I hope to be able to do this for a long time to come. For my last column of the 2010s (and 2019 in particular), I’ve chosen to review two very good genre works, one an excellent magazine, and the other an excellent semi-noir full-on SF work by a terrific author I’ve reviewed before, and (as the cover above says, a New York Times notable author). I’m talking about Lisa Mason’s new novel Chrome, first.
I hesitate to characterize it, because it’s so much more than a short description can convey, but in my mind it stands out as 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. There’s no world-weary Robert Mitchum-type ‘tec as a protagonist; rather, our hero is a beautiful half-human, half puma thief named Luna Lightfoot, who makes her main living as what we might call a video star. Millions of people back on Earth pay for the privilege of watching her at home while she eats, sleeps, and carries out her home life for their voyeuristic pleasure. She also hangs out with the rich and famous.
Luna lives on an artificial planetoid, called Chrome, at one of Earth’s LaGrange points, put there 250 years ago by one of Earth’s wealthiest and greediest corporations, the Emirk group. (If you want to know where Emirk came from, the name refers to a tributary of one of Earth’s big rivers, according to the author. When you get to that part, you’ll understand.) Back in our time (and this is true), a Chinese scientist claims to have gene-edited a couple of children using the CRISPR method, which is sort of like gene cut-and-pasting. Scientists around the world—and, finally, this own government—decried the use of CRISPR on humans. However, in this book, Emirk started experimenting (at first, openly, but then, thanks to public and governmental outcries, covertly) with “improving” the human genome by adding genes from practically every oxygen-breathing species of animal on the planet. Spending billions to build Chrome, Emirk’s experiments were moved there and continued. Human subjects were given or sold by outlaw governments and factions to Emirk’s scientists; and now there exists a whole society of human/animal interbreeds, called “blends,” on Chrome. Humans can not live there anymore, thanks to a plague that killed off (and continues to kill off) any unmodified humans, yet Emirk still owns Chrome, and figures it owns all the inhabitants too.
Luna attends a party given by Bunny Hedgway, one of Chrome’s glitterati in order to steal an artifact from Bunny’s treasure room, but while she was engaged in this theft, witnessed the murder of Chrome’s prima ballerina, an ostrich Blend named Zena Kinski, by an unidentified Blend who was wearing a wolf costume, but who may not have been a wolf. Because she was witnessed on the roof of Bunny’s place at the time of the murder, Luna needs to clear herself and find out who the Blend is who actually killed Zena. In the process, Luna finds herself becoming familiar with Chrome’s criminal underworld, and gains enemies as well as new friends and allies. One of those is the tortoise Blend Terralina Rustabrin, who is about to be bond-mated to a Prince of tortoise Blends. (Blends are not legally humans; therefore, cannot marry, according to Emirk Corporation. So “bond-mating” is their substitute.) Although Terralina’s eyesight is poor, she happens to be close to several significant happenings related to the murder, and actually saw Luna come down off Bunny’s roof.
In this book, Lisa has created a world and a society that mirrors our own in many respects; although we have no (to the best of my knowledge) actual Blends on Earth, corporations and governments on this planet are actively trying to (and in some cases have succeeded) treat humans as if they were Blends, or property. And you can just bet that these kinds of experiments will happen somewhere on Earth if they aren’t already happening. Like what happens to most enslaved people everywhere, many Blends are rich or getting rich by actively helping Emirk subjugate their fellow blends. There are Blend geniuses, one of whom created the “Tatts,” a type of tattoo that acts as a communications device, archival device, amanuensis (a blend of Alexa and Google in some ways) and other things. It’s a fully-realized society that takes some of the attributes of the animal parts of Blends and applies what those traits might mean to humans who have them.
And as for the noir mystery part; whether Luna solves her own problem (of being a suspect and a fugitive from the killer(s)), you’ll just have to read the book to find out. I really appreciate the fact that the ending is not a “pat ending. I suspect Lisa may someday turn out a sequel to Chrome. Anyway, I liked this book and recommend it; it’s available in Kindle format in most countries.”
Here’s the Amazing Stories link so you can see the beauteous photo of me holding an issue of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy in which I’d published a story a little while ago. Not the F&SF issue in the Amazing Stories review, though Steve Fahnestalk compared a theme in one of the stories in the November-December issue to my theme in CHROME. https://www.amazingstories.com/2019/12/my-last-column-lisa-masons-chrome-and-fsf-nov-dec-2019/
The CHROME cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is comprised of a dozen different elements which Tom carefully researched. We think the imagery looks kind of mid-century. I love the color scheme.
And yes! A Brand-new Reader Review of Chrome, You’ll find it on Amazon:
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. Uh, isn’t that the definition of good writing?
I’m not usually a fan of sequels, but could we please have at least one more romp with Ms Lightfoot and her sidekick Terralina?”

Yes, I’m working next on a second CHROME book and a third book to round out a trilogy, plus a prequel novella. LIBERATION DAY, which will explore the mysteries of the events leading up to freeing of the Blends from their cages.
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I need your support! I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, book, and more.
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!

We’re mildly disappointed in “Avengers: Endgame.” At over three hours, the film is a mishmash of numerous superhero Marvel universes. The producers have actually taken out a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter tauting the film’s “seamless weaving of several storylines.) And I *like* complex films (and books and stories) with several storylines interwoven.
But A:E presupposes fluency in the *all* the characters and universes brought into play. That’s not us. We’ve seen a number of Marvel movies, but by no means all. And even with fluency, the over-all story is slow, full of unexpected sadness, and laborious, culminating in a violent blow-out battle typical of all Marvel films. Only combining all those characters and universes like a stew made of leftovers.
The result is dissatisfyingly unfocused and diffuse. And they take a full hour to get around to their (plot spoiler alert) time machine! Sheesh. I nail down my time machine on the first page of Chapter 2 of Summer of Love and on the first page of Chapter 1 of The Gilded Age, both of those chapters told from the point-of-view of the respective time travelers.
Mostly for diehard Marvel fans, though reasonably entertaining.
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

‘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.
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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.
*   *   *
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9.8.19.CHROME.PRINT.BOOKS.1

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
Chapter 3
Terralina Rustabrin

She knows she’s in big trouble, maybe even in mortal danger, the moment she hears the coyotes stumbling toward her. Yipping and howling. The stomp of their hobnail boots.
Terralina Rustabrin waits on the cobblestone sidewalk outside Bunny Hedgeway’s mansion while the Jamboree party rocks on. “Oh, ugly ugly,” she whispers. Her usual mournful refrain.
“Whoo-hoo!” a coyote barks. “Bobby, get a load of this jabberwock.”
“It’s, like, a turtle. You ever see one of them mockeries before?”
“Never in my life, dog. I can’t abide slitherers. Give me the creepy-crawlies.”
“A turtle wearin’ a dress. And it’s got one of them li’l bicycles. A low-rider.”
“My uncle’ll want a piece of this. He buys and sells ‘em, how ever he comes by ‘em. Heh, heh. Big market for low-riders, what with the cold bloods.”
“And the squirrels?”
“Rats, too. Rodent Blends gross me out. You ever see a good-lookin’ rat girl?”
“With them short dumpy legs? Gag me with a bone.”
“Let’s get it.”
“What, the turtle or the bicycle?”
“Both, dog.”
“Bicycle’s got a lock. Turtle can’t be so lamebrained.”
“Turtles are totally lamebrained.”
“Since when did a lock ever stop us, my pack mates? Whoo-hoo! Let’s go!”
Howl of laughter. And bang! The first kick of a boot on her carapace.
Jabberwock. Mockery. Lamebrained. Slitherer. It.
Oh, really. Terralina Rustabrin has never slithered in her life. She most definitely is a she, not an it. And she’s a tortoise, not a turtle. Get that straight, morons. She never sets her wrinkled little foot in water except for the occasional lavender-scented bubble bath. And even that can be a chore she avoids as long as possible.
As if they’re not jabberwocks or mockeries. Insulting her, harassing her, endangering her while she is quietly minding her own business. Waiting for her bond-promised, Prince Tudine Ruchat Tartus. Waiting to get this dreadful Jamboree over and done with.
It’s bad enough that Tuddy is making her wait while he lives it up at the party. Even worse that she knows what will happen when he rejoins her. He’ll continue their painful conversation about what their bond-mate will amount to. She doesn’t want to continue that conversation. But continue it she must.
A painful conversation?
Try an argument threatening to end their bond-promise. A bond-promise Terralina cherishes. A bond-mate she dearly wants to consummate. To keep till death does them part.
But when they bond-mate, when they fulfill that promise, she, Terralina, will have an obligation. When they bond-mate, she and Tuddy are duty-bound to procreate another Chromian generation. Another generation of tortoise Blends like them. As heavily mutated as them. What else could happen unless the other half, their elusive human half, manages to recombine into something better? Something more human? Minus the carapace, even?
Bang! The second kick of a boot.
Terralina’s human ancestors were Myanmar refugees captured by poachers. And Tuddy’s? Dutch industrialists kidnapped by a rival industrialist. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Emirk Corporation had purchased political prisoners, deposed chancellors, convicted felons, abductees, refugees, sex slaves, medical experiment slaves, child slaves, and all manner of captives from Earth’s traders and traffickers in human flesh. Human beings of all races and all genders from every place on Earth. Every place where people were incarcerated, oppressed, abducted, or bought and sold.
They were shipped up to Chrome.
Something more human. It could happen, Tuddy had pleaded. And if that miracle doesn’t happen, what then? she’d countered. Then I’ll love our children as much as I love you, my darling Terralina, he’d vowed.
That wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t what Terralina wanted to hear. Tuddy had to face the bitter truth. When they bond-mate and assume the Chromian obligation to procreate, she will bear children as crippled by their genetic heritage as they are.
Is that what you want? she’d said. Over and over. Is that what you really want, Tuddy?
Tonight he wouldn’t answer. He wouldn’t plead. He turned away and fiddled with the lapel of his tuxedo. His silence troubled her more than his hopeful pleas.
Sitting on the sidewalk now, she’s thought it over. She can conclude only one thing. Tuddy wants tortoise children. He’s proud of his carapace. He’s an heir to a tortoise dynasty with splendid carapace colors. The co-owner of a castle in Chelonian Park. His human ancestors were endowed with comeliness and vigor. One day Tuddy will take the helm of his clan’s longtime enterprise that is vital to life on Chrome.
Terralina doesn’t enjoy such a pedigree. Such privilege. None of her siblings survived childhood. Both her parents perished young of salmonella. Her human ancestors were half-starved and frail when Emirk took them to Chrome. If it weren’t for Tuddy and the Tartus clan, Terralina would be all alone on Chrome.
Trouble. Trouble all night. The full Moon stirring everyone’s blood with a touch of madness.
A third kick of a boot, and the coyotes surround her, stinking of hard booze and the gamy scent of canid.
Oh, ugly ugly. She should have known trouble was coming the moment she’d stretched her neck out of her carapace and glanced up at the mansion’s rooftop. An odd sound had alerted her. A soft, metallic creak on the fire escape from the rooftop to the lawn. A slender, powerfully built womanimal in a mask and costume climbed down the wrought-iron stairs. Crouched in the shadows of the railing when the Security Eyes swiveled back and forth. Climbed down again.
What was she doing? And why?
And then.
Then a tall, thin manimal in a disheveled tuxedo strode out of the trade-service door at the back of the mansion. He moved with a peculiar gait, sinuous and powerful. She blinked, puzzled, as he scowled, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief. The white cloth darkening with stains.
An ink-black limousine pulled up and the tall, thin manimal climbed in the passenger seat. A uniformed chauffeur sat behind the dashboard, a nasty reptile with a scrofulous face and wide, glassy eyes staring from beneath the bill of his cap.
Well, fine. It was a big party. Chromians coming and going all night, mostly through the magnificent front door. Terralina had yawned, chilled and exhausted, wanting badly to go home, to climb into Tuddy’s warm featherbed, to go to sleep. She’s diurnal. The sort of Blend who functions best during the day. She had no business celebrating Jamboree so late in the nocturnal niche. Neither did Tuddy.
The limousine cruised past her, and she got a closer glimpse of the manimal. His long, narrow face heavily freckled. His right eye gleamed as if his cornea reflected the moonlight. A collar or scarf bunched up at the nape of his neck. He glanced through the car window, raised his hand to adjust the scarf, and she saw the Tatt on the back of his hand.
Black. Pure shiny black. Glittering with power.
What was that? She’d never seen such a Tatt. Not on any Chromian. Every color under the sun, certainly. But not black. Not glittering.
Those should have been her only troubles for the evening. Witnessing the unusual departure of two party-goers. Oh. And arguing with Tuddy. And refusing to go in to the party.
Now trouble, real trouble, has found her. A kick of a coyote’s boot spins her around in one direction. Another kick spins her the other way.
“Whoo-hoo, dogs!”
“Let’s have some fun, my pack mates.”
“Go, Bobby! Smash it up!”
With a jerk, Terralina pulls her head and her stubby arms and legs inside her carapace. The carapace, firmly rooted at the nape of her neck and extending to mid-thigh, is made of bony dermal plates. Inside, the carapace is surprisingly roomy with a high domed ceiling. She’s equipped it like a studio apartment with a tiny kitchenette and a cot on which to rest her head. The human parts of her—skeleton, internal organs—pulse and gurgle beneath the slick pink surface of the studio’s floor. Everything is entwined by nerve, blood vessel, and sinew to the carapace.
Another kick sends her sliding across Cedar Lane. Boots pound after her. Another kick sends her sliding back.
Terralina scowls, dizzy and nauseated. Why oh why didn’t she go inside with Tuddy and endure the Jamboree like she was supposed to?
Because she didn’t want to. Couldn’t bring herself to. Didn’t want to face all those glamorous predators, those handsome herbivores.
Couldn’t bring herself to in spite of Tuddy’s generosity. He’d spent a bundle of credits outfitting her for the occasion. The olive-drab dress starts with a lace collar wreathing her skinny neck and descends in a cascade of ruffles to her tiny feet. Tuddy even paid for a manicure, the flamingo beautician squawking sarcastically through the ordeal of applying pink polish to Terralina’s tiny, tiny fingernails. Tuddy picked out a mask for her, matching his own. A dragon mask, green sequins on the cheeks, green feathers sprouting from the eyebrows. Tuddy bought her fancy shoes, too, but they pinch her toes. She’s kicked them off. She’s thrown the ridiculous mask onto the sidewalk.
Nothing has helped Terralina cope with Jamboree.
“Whoo-hoo-hoo!”
“Bobby, over here, kick it over here.”
“I got it, I got it, I got it!”
A metallic clatter as her bicycle crashes on the sidewalk.
“Get the bicycle, Bobby.”
“What, carry it?”
“Do I have to tell you everything? Smash the lock, dog.”
Terralina winces. She adores her bicycle. The bicycle is her only means of free speedy transportation around Chrome. The bicycle is her treasured possession. Not so very long ago, the theft of her bicycle would have devastated her. Sent her into a tail-spin. Sent her into desperate schemes how she could raise the credits to buy another.
Now she doesn’t have that problem. Since Tuddy fell in love with her and opened the family coffers of the Tartus clan, she can easily replace it.
Just steal my bicycle and go away.
But the coyotes don’t go away. They do tire of spinning her around and kicking her back and forth. That no longer amuses them. Now a boot slams down on the top of her dome with a sickening crunch. Her carapace is grown of tough stuff, but the bony plates give out a deafening crack!
If they crush her carapace, she’s as good as dead. All those entwined nerves and blood vessels and sinews will rip and tear. She will bleed internally, suffer unspeakable pain. She will sicken and die.
Oh, oh, oh! If there’s anything Terralina can be proud of in her tortoise Blend life, it’s the beauty of her accursed carapace. A black-and-gold mosaic decorates the bony plates. Tiny black-and-gold diamonds in a checkerboard pattern line the rim.
Barricaded inside, Terralina taps the sage-green Tatt on the back of her left hand and winks the Chrome City Police Emergency hotline. The dispatcher’s icon pops up, a magpie in a beehive hairdo.
“Coyotes are trying to kill me,” Terralina whispers to the icon. “I’m a tortoise. A little one.”
“The wait time will be twenty minutes,” the dispatcher chirps. “Happy Jamboree.”
Nothing she can do. Nothing she can do.
She mutters a quick angry prayer to the Intelligent Designer that allowed the creation of her miserable Blend. She curses Emirk Corporation. Curses the Tweakers and the Twitchers. Waits to die.
Crushed. Humiliated. Alone.
She doesn’t die.
*   *   *
For the rest of Excerpt 3 of CHROME and to discover how Terralina is saved and by whom, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—four delightful stories, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
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