Archives for category: Ebooks

4.4.18.ARA.CYBER_.590.KB

I just discovered two five-star reviews of CYBERWEB while I was collecting the print links. This book was originally published in hardcover by William Morrow, trade paperback by Eos, and mass paperback by AvoNova.
Now a new trade paperback from Bast Books, CYBERWEB is the sequel to ARACHNE.
4.0 out of 5 starsDEEPER THAN DEEP
Format: Paperback
On re-reading CYBERWEB a year later, I don’t think my first review does it justice. The writer has peeled off the difference between conscious robots and flesh and blood man. Almost without fanfare the robots are provided with souls. Her mechanical characters are given both consciousness and emotion. Their only difference to man is in their composition. This becomes very clear when the outmoded Spinner character uploads herself into Patina’s flashy, lifeless bodywork.
I MUST NOW RATE THIS BOOK FIVE STARS.
The writer, thus, dives deeply into the unseen world that controls man’s apparent freewill existence. By using mainframes as purposeful beasts, seeking to control fleshy man, some very deep philosophical questions are posed. She leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks to this very entertaining and thoughtful story.
THE OLD REVIEW READ:
Mason leads her cyberpunk reader into the arena of sci-fi comics. It’s not possible for humans to grasp the feelings and desires of these robot characters but it’s still a lot of fun to try. She challenges your imagination to follow her characters’ avatars, cones, cubes and three headed chimeras as they flit in and out of cyberspace. But hard questions are run up the flagpole. Can bodiless people exist in this virtual world of telespace? Can a soul exist in a nonorganic body? Should robots be discarded like machines when a new model arrives? Can our culture continue to absorb the changes computer power is unleashing? Is our reality but an extension of the bits composing telespace? Even the questions of what consciousness might consist of and whether it is really an advantage to being born as flesh and blood. She makes no attempt to answer these questions but even considering them makes this book a very creative endeavor. You could certainly invest your time on a much less entertaining story. Also it is short and sweet.
5.0 out of 5 starsInteresting…pretty cool actually…
Format: Paperback
Cyberweb is a pretty nifty cyberpunk novel…lots of interesting ideas..
So there you have it, my friends. One reader at a time…..
To wrap up the trilogy, SPYDER is forthcoming!
CYBERWEB is back in print in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984356941
In the U.K. at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1984356941
In Germany at https://www.amazon.de/dp/1984356941
In France at https://www.amazon.fr/dp/1984356941
In Spain at https://www.amazon.es/dp/1984356941
In Italy at https://www.amazon.it/dp/1984356941
In Japan at https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/1984356941
Cyberweb is an ebook on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Cyberweb is also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle.
Join my other patrons on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for delightful brand-new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie recommendations, and more exclusively for my hero-patrons.
Leave a tip to the tip jar at PayPal to http://paypal.me/lisamasonthewriter.
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!

ARACHNE.1.28.18.SMLL

ARACHNE, my first novel, is back in print in seven countries and an ebook in eighteen markets worldwide. We’ve updated both editions for 2019 changes.
I can’t think of a better way to begin again than with a new review at the Libreture Website, of ARACHNE. I found this on Twitter at https://twitter.com/libreture/status/1052661778436505603. The reviewer was kind enough to tag me.
“Arachne is a unique entry in the cyberpunk genre. It steps between the dystopia of William Gibson and the otherworldliness of Philip K. Dick.
Full of ‘almost’ body-horror, corporations so mega that they transact court cases in nanoseconds, and AI characters with more spiritualism in their circuits than the humans that inhabit this post Big-One San Francisco.
A must-read for cyberpunk fans!”
https://www.libreture.com/library/kevin/book/arachne/
And this also on Twitter: @nate_smith “I loved Cyberweb 🙂 Do you think you’ll write a sequel, ever? I’m an unabashed Pr. Spinner fanboy.” To which I replied @lisaSmason “Thank you! I appreciate your readership! Yes, Spyder, the third book in the Arachne trilogy, is in the works.”
ARACHNE
is my first novel, an expansion of the short story, also titled “Arachne”, which I published in OMNI magazine. The book was published in hard cover by William Morrow, reprinted in trade paperback by Eos and in mass market paperback by AvoNova. The book was also published in Japan by Hayakawa, and the short story was translated and published in various foreign anthologies. ARACHNE debuted in the top ten books on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller list. Here’s the review and the reviewer’s website link. The book links—print and ebook—follow below.
Here’s the book description:
High above the dangerous streets of post-quake San Francisco Island, mechanically modified professionals link minds in a cybernetic telespace to push through big deals and decisions at lightning speed. But unexplained telelink blackouts and bizarre hallucinations have marred mediator Carly Quester’s debut appearance before a computer-generated Venue—forcing her to consider delicate psychic surgery at the hands of a robot therapist, Prober Spinner. And suddenly the ambitious young mediator is at risk in a deadly Artificial Intelligence scheme to steal human souls—because the ghosts of Carly’s unconscious may be a prize well worth killing for.
Find the whole story behind the book and more photos at http://www.lisamason.com/arachne.html
“Powerful . . . Entertaining . . . Imaginative.”
–People Magazine
“In humanity’s daring to enter the cybernetic heaven (and hell) of telespace, Lisa Mason reveals the lineaments of all that is tragic and transcendent in our evolution. Once the journey into this vivid and terrifying future has begun, there is no returning until the infinite has been faced and the last word read.”
–David Zindell, Author of Neverness
“Cybernetics, robotics, the aftermath of San Francisco’s Big Quake II, urban tribalism—Lisa Mason combines them all with such deftness and grace, they form a living world. Mason spins an entertaining tale . . . She allows Carly’s robotic allies a measure of personality and sophistication beyond the stock role of a chirping R2D2 or a blandly sinister Hal . . . Her characters and their world will stay with you long after you’ve finished this fine book.”
–Locus, The Trade Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy
“Lisa Mason stakes out, within the cyberpunk sub-genre, a territory all her own.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
“Arachne is an impressive debut by a writer gifted with inventiveness, wit, and insight. The characters face choices well worth reading about. This is cyberpunk with a heart.”
–Nancy Kress, Author of Brain Rose
“There is a refreshing amount of energy associated with Lisa Mason’s writing. The good old values are there: fun, excitement, drama—but served up with new and original twists. Lisa Mason is definitely a writer to watch—and to read.”
–Paul Preuss, Author of Venus Prime
“Lisa Mason must be counted among science fiction’s most distinctive voices as we rush toward the new millennium.”
–Ed Bryant
“Mason’s endearing characters and their absorbing adventures will hook even the most jaded SF fan.”
–Booklist
So there you have it, my friends. I’m delighted to announce that Arachne is Back in Print! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X and on Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arachne-lisa-mason/1000035633.
Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is also an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.
Join me on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate a tip to the tip jar at PayPal to http://paypal.me/lisamasonthewriter.
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!

6.16.17.ALEXAS.FAN.1

From Goodreads came the first review of One Day in the Life of Alexa:
One Day in the Life of Alexa
, by Lisa Mason (Bast Books) incorporates lively prose, past/present time jumps, and the consequences of longevity technology. Kosovo refugee Alexa enrolls in a secret pilot program designed to extend her life span. Her best friend, Marya, is not accepted, but Marya’s infant aka “Little Monster” is. As the decades roll by, Alexa adapts to a life of constant measurement and surveillance. [Plot spoilers omitted] In reflection, the book is as much about the enduring trauma of war as it is about longevity technology, and in this it feels more like mainstream than science fiction. Mason’s skill as a writer sustains a quick, absorbing read with an appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms (like the repeated refrain, “No matter how long I live, I will always remember this”)
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35200314-one-day-in-the-life-of-alexa#other_reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lisa Mason doesn’t disappoint us on that issue and gives us a look …
By R Bruce Miller on October 1, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
“Scifi is nominally about the future and the impact of technology on society. Lisa Mason doesn’t disappoint us on that issue and gives us a look at a desirable biotechnology with some serious long-term and unforeseen consequences. However, like all the truly great scifi writers, what she really writes about is you and me and today and what is really important in life. Alexa lives an improbable life and yet, somehow, is a very real everywoman. Solzhenitsyn would have appreciated the homage. Cats! Grow your own organic food! Yes, there is much fun to be had on this journey, but the message nonetheless is solid and important. I enjoyed every word even though this book spoiled my day because I had no choice but to read it in one sitting while drinking too much coffee.”
And here’s another five-star review, and then I’ll let you decide:
“[Alexa] finds her internal resource that allows her to survive many more days in a much more uplifting manner than poor Ivan Denisovich. Discovering where her strengths [lie] is not depressing but uplifting for this reader.” On US Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711PP65J
“I truly loved Alexa. The homage to Solzhenitsyn was wonderfully well done. Your concept and characters were on the mark and very timely. Bravo!”
Book Description:
Alexa Denisovitch
, a refugee from Kosovo during the 1999 war, is just seventeen when she is accepted by GenGineer Laboratories as a Tester for Longeva, a revolutionary additive that may significantly extend her longevity.
But becoming a Tester has unintended consequences and Longeva causes devastating unforeseen side effects.
Confronting environmental, political, and personal perils of the future, Alexa must grapple with the tough questions of life, love, and death.
So there you have it, my friends. The novel is short, but I took a long time researching and writing it.
One Day in the Life of Alexa is in Print in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan.
Now an ebook on BarnesandNoble, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords!
One Day in the Life of Alexa is also offered as a Kindle ebook at US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories, previously published stories, book excerpts, movie critiques and recommendations, and more exclusively for my patrons.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

10.18.17.TGOA.BOOKS

At her mother’s urgent deathbed plea, Abby Teller enrolls at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts to learn Real Magic. To support herself through school, she signs on as the superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra, a mysterious, magical apartment building on campus.
She discovers that her tenants are witches, shapeshifters, vampires, and wizards and that each apartment is a fairyland or hell.
On her first day in Berkeley, she stumbles upon a supernatural multiple murder scene. One of the victims is a man she picked up hitchhiking the day before.
Torn between three men—Daniel Stern, her ex-fiance who wants her back, Jack Kovac, an enigmatic FBI agent, and Prince Lastor, a seductive supernatural entity who lives in the penthouse and may be a suspect—Abby will question what she really wants and needs from a life partner.
Compelled into a dangerous murder investigation, Abby will discover the first secrets of an ancient and ongoing war between Humanity and Demonic Realms, uncover mysteries of her own troubled past, and learn that the lessons of Real Magic may spell the difference between her own life or death.
The Garden of Abracadabra is an ebook on BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
On Kindle in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and India.
The Garden of Abracadabra is in Print in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan.
“So refreshing. . . .This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
Goodreads: “I loved the writing style and am hungry for more!”
Amazon.com: “Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy”
This is a very entertaining novel—sort of a down-to-earth Harry Potter with a modern adult woman in the lead. Even as Abby has to deal with mundane concerns like college and running the apartment complex she works at, she is surrounded by supernatural elements and mysteries that she is more than capable of taking on. Although this book is just the first in a series, it ties up the first “episode” while still leaving some story threads for upcoming books. I’m looking forward to finding out more.”
So there you have it, my friends! I’m delighted to announce The Garden of Abracadabra is in print and an ebook worldwide.
Join other patrons on my Patreon page and help me after the Attack. https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. I’ve got delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie recommendations, and more!
Donate a tip in the tip jar at paypal at http://paypal.me/lisamasonthewriter
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!
Please disregard any ad you see here. They have been placed without my permission.

9.6.17.TGA.1

New Review of The Gilded Age at http://sfbookreview.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-gilded-age-by-lisa-mason.html:
“The world of 2495 is at an unsustainable twelve billion population. Zhu Wong is a Daughter of Compassion, a group working to enforce the birth restriction laws. She is in jail awaiting trial when she is recruited by the Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications (LISA, I love the acronym) to t-port back to 1895 San Francisco. She accepts the deal. Her mission is to find Wing Sing, take her and the aurelia to the mission run by Donaldina Cameron. In 1967 Wing Sing’s daughter will eventually give the brooch to Chiron at the end of his stay in the Summer of Love project.
Zhu finds Wing Sing, but she doesn’t have the aurelia. They are captured by a Chinese gang. Zhu is bought away from them by Jessie, a madam, Wing Sing stuck with the Tong. Zhu does work for Jessie, but is more valuable as a bookkeeper so avoids becoming a prostitute. Daniel Watkins is the son of a real estate magnate coming to San Francisco to collect on debts. He is low on funds and is referred to lodging at Jessie’s where his life becomes entwined with Zhu’s. Somehow Zhu is attracted to this heavy drinking smoker who has distinct views of women. Despite herself and her mission, Zhu cares about Jessie and Daniel.
I loved the character of Zhu. Somehow I wasn’t repulsed by Daniel and Jessie. They are more a product of their environment doing what they can with their sense of right and wrong. Very enjoyable, I read the last two hundred pages straight through. This is definitely a stand alone novel, though Summer of Love is mentioned several times. I’ll have to read that one as a prequel rather than book one.”
And this is from Library Journal:
“The discovery of a golden brooch that should not exist in the 25th century prompts the Luxon Institute to send a young Chinese woman 600 years back in time. She arrives in San Francisco in 1895 to prevent the future from altering the past. This sequel to Summer of Love (LJ 6/15/94), seen through the eyes of an observer from the future, juxtaposes the tempestuous, sprawling milieu of boomtown San Francisco with its shadowy underside of prostitution and decadence. Mason’s graceful prose and her skill in orchestrating a complex and satisfying plot make this a solid purchase for sf collections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This is from a reader:
https://www.amazon.ca/Golden-Nineties-Lisa-Mason/dp/0553373315
5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic Read
By,Robin Booneon Published on Amazon.com|Verified Purchase
“Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love and The Golden Nineties both have this quality – you want to reread them as soon as you’ve read them. Her writing conveys an abiding love of San Francisco, and interesting bits of California history are woven into the storylines. The writing is so compelling that you feel as though time travel were a possibility. I hope she writes more of these San Francisco fantasies!”
And this is from Publisher’s Weekly
https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-553-37331-8
“Mason’s sequel to Summer of Love is a delightful expansion of that work and a major step forward for her. The tale centers on Zhu Wong, a Chinese national whose lawyer plea-bargains her release from prison so that Chiron and his companions from the previous novel’s Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications can transport her 600 years into the past to find a macguffin called the aurelia. Once in San Francisco, 1895, Mason brings the environment and the times to life with her rendering of the city’s activities, especially its corruption. The several historic personages who appear–including Frank Norris, Jack London and Susan B. Anthony–are all given dimensions that reflect the rigor of Mason’s research without leaving the reader overburdened by minutiae. Zhu Wong finds herself embroiled in a world of decadence and prostitution; she sees friends and companions abuse themselves with such things as alcohol, cocaine and corsets. As with Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, Mason uses the novel partially to explore the role of women in society. As Zhu grows to understand the hypocrisies of the 1890s, she becomes even less comfortable with the presumptions of her own time. She creates several “closed time loops,” apparent paradoxes that impede her mission–and, perhaps more important, thwart her own desires. Eventually she finds her way out of the time loops and in the process teaches everyone–including herself–a few lessons about life. Her bravura performance with this book should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify her position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.
And this just in from an Amazon.com reader
Buy It
By Uke Enthusiast
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
“One of my favorite books. I am delighted it is back in print. A thoroughly entertaining time travel story supported by vivid characterizations and settings.”
Book Description: The year is 1895 and immigrants the world over are flocking to California on the transcontinental railroad and on transoceanic steamships. The Zoetrope demonstrates the persistence of vision, patent medicines addict children to morphine, and women are rallying for the vote. In San Francisco, saloons are the booming business, followed by brothels, and the Barbary Coast is a dangerous sink of iniquity. Atop Telegraph Hill bloody jousting tournaments are held and in Chinatown the tongs deal in opium, murder-for-hire, and slave girls.
Zhu Wong, a prisoner in twenty-fifth century China, is given a choice–stand trial for murder or go on a risky time-travel project to the San Francisco of 1895 to rescue a slave girl and take her to safety. Charmed by the city’s opulent glamour, Zhu will discover the city’s darkest secrets. A fervent population control activist in a world of twelve billion people, she will become an indentured servant to the city’s most notorious madam. Fiercely disciplined, she will fall desperately in love with the troubled self-destructive heir to a fading fortune.
And when the careful plans of the Gilded Age Project start unraveling, Zhu will discover that her choices not only affect the future but mean the difference between her own life or death.
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.” The New York Times Book Review
“Graceful prose. . . .A complex and satisfying plot.” Library Journal
“Rollicking. . . .Dazzling.” Locus Magazine
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.” Publisher’s Weekly
The cover, by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, is styled to look like an 1890s billboard.
The Gilded Age is BACK IN PRINT! Order the beautiful trade paperback in the U.S., in the U.K., in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, and in Japan.
The ebook
is at BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords and on Kindle worldwide at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
So there you have it, my friends
. Bantam Books, a division of Random House, published this as The Golden Nineties. Yes, I changed the title. I think the new title is better. (Wish I’d thought of it in the first place) This is the Author’s Preferred Print Edition.
Whether you’re a longtime reader or new, I hope you enjoy this classic!
Join my other patrons on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/lisamasonfantasyandsciencefictionwriter?alert=2 I’ve got delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie recommendations, and more exclusively for patrons.
Donate a tip in the tip jar at paypal at http://paypal.me/lisamasonthewriter
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!
Please disregard any ad you see here. They have been placed without my permission.

4.12.18.SOL.TGA.350.KB

I’m so thrilled this book is back in print! And as timely as ever! Bast Books has reported that the print books and the ebooks sold in the U.S. and Canada last month.
What readers say:
5.0 out of 5 stars I dig this book!
Reviewed in the United States on March 11, 2020
“Summer of Love is a beautiful work of literature encapsulated within the science-fiction genre. It invites you on an emotionally jostling roller coaster ride.
Lisa Mason is a prolific author who weaves a time-travel story that delves into many underlying themes at a micro and macro level during the famous “Summer of Love” pandemic in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, in 1967.
The author also descends underneath the epidermis of the street’s kaleidoscopic and “groovy” ambiance to reveal what is and what is not through each character’s eyes — and whether or not we can rely on hope to wake us up the next morning.
I felt the characters (even the secondary ones), the moments, the sights, the sounds and the smells of the time. As if I myself was time traveling. I found myself not only reading but tasting each word; sometimes going back to read a sentence, a paragraph or a page again.
This is a novel I will not hesitate to recommend.” https://www.amazon.com/dp/1548106119
“This book was so true to life that I felt like I was there. I recommend it to anyone.”
“More than a great science-fiction, a great novel as well.”
“My favourite SF book of all time, beautiful, cynical and completely involving….Unmissable!”
2018 review of SUMMER OF LOVE at http://sfbookreview.blogspot.com/2018/02/summer-of-love-by-lisa-mason.html
”Ever since the Save Betty project completed there has been degradation in the archives. The Luxon Institute for Superluminal Applications (LISA, still love that acronym) has determined that San Francisco in 1967 is a hot dim spot. They commission the Summer of Love project. Twenty-one year old Chiron Cat’s Eye in Draco will t-port from 2467 to the summer of love where he is to find the Axis, a teenage girl from the Midwest will have important descendants, and protect her through the summer. This Susan Stein takes an alias, so Chiron has only probabilities to know if he finds the right girl.
In 1967 Susan receives a postcard from Nance, aka Penny Lane, who is in San Francisco. Her parents find the postcard, tear it up and burn it. She runs away that night and takes the name Starbright. She arrives hoping to see Penny Lane, but instead meets up with Stan the Man, manager of the Double Boogie band. She is invited to live with them in a house that is a constant party. She loves it, but a week later Stan hooks up with someone new. She meets Ruby again and Ruby takes her in. That first night Chiron saw an eye symbol by Ruby’s shop, decided to hang around there and Ruby let him sleep on the couch. He’s not sure that Starbright is the Axis, but there is a high probability.
Without being preachy major themes in the book include the environment, population control, women’s rights, and addiction. These were put into the setting of real life 1967. Street names referenced in the book exist and the Grateful Dead did have a concert there on August 22. I enjoyed the story without any nostalgic feeling, other than references to old Star Trek episodes and other SF works.
I really enjoyed the book. It was excellent and the first chapter or two set up encounters throughout the rest of the book. I loved all three of the main characters, Starbright, Chiron and Ruby.” By John Loyd
Book Description: The year is 1967 and something new is sweeping across America: good vibes, bad vibes, psychedelic music, psychedelic drugs, anti-war protests, racial tension, free love, bikers, dropouts, flower children. An age of innocence, a time of danger. The Summer of Love.
San Francisco is the Summer of Love, where runaway flower children flock to join the hip elite and squares cruise the streets to view the human zoo.
Lost in these strange and wondrous days, teenager Susan Bell, alias Starbright, has run away from the straight suburbs of Cleveland to find her troubled best friend. Her path will cross with Chiron Cat’s Eye in Draco, a strange and beautiful young man who has journeyed farther than she could ever imagine.
With the help of Ruby A. Maverick, a wise and feisty half-black, half-white hip entrepreneur, Susan and Chi discover a love that spans five centuries. But can they save the world from demons threatening to destroy all space and time?
A harrowing coming of age. A friendship ending in tragedy. A terrifying far future. A love spanning five centuries. And a gritty portrait of a unique time in American history.
The cover, hand-drawn by Tom Robinson, is styled to look like a 1960s psychedelic poster.
What the professional book reviewers say:
“Captures the moment perfectly and offers a tantalizing glimpse of its wonderful and terrible consequences.” The San Francisco Chronicle
“A fine novel packed with vivid detail, colorful characters, and genuine insight.” The Washington Post Book World
“Remarkable. . . .the intellect on display within these psychedelically packaged pages is clear-sighted, witty, and wise.” Locus Magazine
“Mason has an astonishing gift. Her chief 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
5 stars From the Readers
Calling All Fans
Amazon Verified Purchase
‘Summer of Love is an important American literary contribution that may very well have a strong and viable fan base. Where are you? Join us!
This novel is loads of fun to read. The majority of the characters are hippies from the 1960s who meet a stranger from the future who’s looking to save his world. This fellow, Chiron, needs to find a troubled adolescent teen named Susan (a.k.a. Starbright) for a very compelling reason. The book has a great deal to offer: swift action, lovable characters, spiritual insight, and well-chosen primary documents such as essays, poems, and news articles which round out the reader’s understanding of the worldview of the novel.
I think Summer of Love has excellent potential for a wider audience. I hope it continues to enjoy a healthy amount of sales in the used books market on this site. I wish even more for it to be in wider circulation. Some books talk about the sixties. This novel IS the sixties, thanks to the spirit and scholarship of its author. And, as one reader aptly put it, ‘the sci-fi stuff is just plain off the hook.’ Get a copy. Most people who have read it seem to respect it and enjoy it every bit as much as I do.”
New Reader Review! “Just checked to see if this book was on Kindle. It has been many years since I’ve read it but I remember it as one of my very favorite books. Time to go back and re-read it!”
New Reader Review
Kent Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Story
10 February 2015 – Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Summer of Love, A Time Travel is a fine story. Lisa Mason takes three interesting characters, a time traveller from a future 500 years hence, a 14-year-old midwestern runaway flower child, and hip shopkeeper and places them all in the fascinating place and time that was San Francisco’s Summer of Love, 1967.
Mason has certainly done her homework. You can almost smell the pot and patchouli, see the painted faces and hear the sounds of Janis and the Grateful Dead as Chi, Starbright and Ruby fight to hold on to what really matters at a time when everything seems possible and even the smallest things can have huge consequences.
The time travel plot is nicely (if a bit predictably) done and the glimpses from Chi’s future world are fascinating, frightening and ultimately hopeful. Starbright is 100 percent convincing as a confused, loyal, idealistic, moody teenager who really could hold the key to what is to come. And Ruby Maverick, the shopkeeper who reluctantly gives the two young strangers shelter and strength in a strange and wondrous time is strong and smart and the kind of friend you’d want holding your hand or watching your back when the trip starts going strange.
Summer of Love, A Time Travel is not a rose-colored look backwards. It’s is a kaleidoscopic look at a time of both darkness and light, of confusion and clarity. It’s scary and beautiful, a strange trip where maybe all you need is a little love and some flowers in your hair.
New Reader Review
Eos
5.0 out of 5 starsTime travel done right
20 August 2017 – Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This is a longtime favorite novel. Mason’s time travel tale is fascinating as both a tale of the future and of the past. I am delighted it is now available as a Kindle edition as my paperback copy is long past its prime.
New Reader Review
paula ferre
5.0 out of 5 stars… the last 20 years – it is such a great story.
26 September 2016
Verified Purchase
I’ve read this book 3 or 4 times in the last 20 years – it is such a great story.
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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.
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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
June 2020 Excerpt:
12
Hades
Descending at high speed from the fiftieth story of the Ucayali Building to the marble lobby, Luna Lightfoot stands two steps away from the infamous Dom Swifty Panterr.
He stares straight ahead at their reflections in the mirror of the elevator cab, his golden eyes hunter-cold. Growls softly to himself.
She smiles. This is as close to puma heaven as Lightfoot has been in a long time.
They log out at the front desk, step into the night-time throng on Seventh Avenue. She matches Panterr’s long stride, and passersby turn to gawk at them. Predator Blends with grudging admiration. Prey Blends with primal fear.
Panterr’s bodyguards trail at a distance. No one would mistake the steely-eyed lynx with their unfiled fangs and illegal pistols bulging in their jacket pockets as unaffiliated pedestrians strolling idly behind them.
“Don’t we make a glamorous power couple,” she jokes.
“In your dreams, Lightfoot,” he snaps. All trace of his ironic banter gone.
Oh, fine. She knows very well Panterr isn’t the kind of manimal who mates for life or even for very long. But it’s more than that. From his scowl she can tell he’s disturbed by her story. Maybe worried about what they’ll find at Hades. A nocturnal foray to Chrome City’s new morgue and crematory, both of them dressed in fancy evening clothes, cannot be his idea of an entertaining evening out on the town.
They turn east toward the Recycling and Reclamation District. The foulest place within Chrome City’s municipal limits. Lightfoot wrinkles her nose as they stalk past a recycling center reeking of garbage, waste products, and the chemicals used to sanitize everything. Through a wall of glass, she spies the squat figures, spindly arms, and bulbous eyes of insect Blends staffing the dimly lit center. Particularly pitiable heirs to Emirk’s experiments long ago, they are nothing if not efficient. They don’t require a lot of light as they scurry back and forth on their loathsome tasks. Like Lightfoot, they’ve got excellent vision when the sun doesn’t shine.
Two dung beetles in olive-drab dungarees squat on the curb outside, smoking illegal cigarettes. Conversing in low, scratchy whispers.
She and Panterr walk past an electric-battery-and-hydrogen-fuel-cell emporium with its own specialized recycling operation, plus a repair shop. The huge neon-lit window showcases a dozen tiny candy-colored hydrocars poised on jacks awaiting work in the morning. Beaver mechanics will get the job done with their long, strong fingers and thick, hairy hides stained by grain motor oil.
Lightfoot shrugs. She’s never owned a hydrocar. Between the trams with routes encircling the planetoid, an occasional taxi, and her own two limber legs, she has no need for such a rare and costly possession. She’s content without a hydrocar.
“This way,” Panterr growls. Strides down a dark, mean-looking alley toward a warehouse.
Lightfoot sniffs, her discerning olfactory sense identifying the smoky stink of burning flesh. As if she needs further proof, a metal sign riddled with bullet holes identifies the place:
Chrome City Morgue and Crematory
“Hades?” she whispers.
“Hades,” Panterr snaps.
“Chromians use the sign for target practice?”
“Yeah.” He turns to her with a mirthless grin, baring the full curve of his fangs. A Feralist, after all. “I used the sign for target practice myself,” he says, “after a wolf pack tore out my father’s throat and I took his corpse here for cremation. Made me feel a little better to plug some holes in a sheet of cheap steel.”
“Oh.” Startled by his revelation, she starts to murmur sympathies. Then bites back her words. Panterr wants no sympathy. She files his father’s murder in her memory for further use.
Two Chrome City Coroner’s vans crowd the alley, plus a private limousine. A busy night for death on our planetoid, Lightfoot thinks unhappily. Panterr pushes open the double doors of smeary glass and strides inside. He doesn’t hold the doors open for her, and they slap back in her face. She pushes through them herself, doesn’t hold the doors open for the bodyguards, either, and they slap shut behind her. Take that.
Morgue staffers in gray-and-white uniforms stride around the overly bright autopsy room. Checking bare feet for tattooed social numbers. Scribbling on notepads. Loading corpses onto autopsy tables or unloading them. Some staffers shove corpses into the lime-green drawers lining the walls or pluck them out.
The staffers—from their knobby bald heads, mottled red double chins, smallish clawlike hands in blue latex gloves, and shuffling gait—are a raptorial Blend.
Vultures.
Lightfoot shivers. She likes accipitridae families even less than chiroptera. But the shiver is more than her distaste for scavenger birds. The morgue is as cold as an ice box. After the sultry spring night, she has to wrap her arms around her ribs. She’s a hot blood. Her metabolism may run fast, but she hates the cold.
A couple of dog cops mingle in the crowd, woofing intently with a staffer. A bearded barn owl holding a faux-snakeskin physician’s bag peers at the corpse of an antelope man sprawled on a dissection table.
Lightfoot takes a sharp breath, steadies her nerves. An unexpected thrill pierces her at the sight of the antelope. A forbidden thrill.
Prey.
Panterr strides among the staffers, heads off to a chamber deeper within the warehouse. Lightfoot follows. Another sign points the way: Crematory.
The crematory is swelteringly hot and arid as a desert. That’s better. Lightfoot’s shivering eases, but not completely. The place is too creepy. More vultures yank open huge steel doors, revealing the leaping flames of Hades. Slide naked corpses on numbered pallets into the ovens.
Is this the way failed experimental subjects were disposed of by Emirk Corporation centuries ago? Lightfoot wonders.
But these aren’t experimental subjects. These are Chromians who have lived out their lives and died.
A little vulture woman hunches over an antique keyboard with a piece of paper threaded around a rubber roll, a ribbon of inked cloth scrolling through a platen. When she taps the keys, steel arms tipped with letters, numbers, and symbols strike the inked cloth, leaving impressions on the paper. The staffer laboriously taps information onto a printed form.
Lightfoot peeks over the vulture’s shoulder. ID (name, social number, Blend), date of birth, date of death, cause of death, time of cremation, next of kin, and so on. The morgue must not have much of a budget, making do with such primitive equipment.
Lightfoot’s acquisitive streak kicks up its heels. An antique typewriter, ooh. She glances around. Is it nailed down?
“Who’s in charge here?” Panterr roars, startling the staff half out of their wits.
That’s a good place to start, the supervisor. But if skullduggery is going down, the supervisor may not have a clue. Or may be the first one in on the take. Lightfoot holds her tongue and allows the criminal kingpin to conduct his investigation the way he wants to.
A tall vulture shuffles forward, the high dome of his bald head wreathed with wispy black hair. Wire-rim spectacles planted on his long, narrow nose. He whips the spectacles off. Hostility gleams in his beady yellow eyes. Charming. Though he is kind of virile, Lightfoot notes, looking him over. Lean. Buff biceps. For a vulture.
“I call the shots for this shift.”
Panterr seizes the vulture’s arm, yanks him aside. “Your name?”
Lightfoot joins the party. Watching. Sniffing. Listening.
“Vinnie Gorge. And a pleasant evening to you, too, Dom Panterr.”
“You know who I am?”
“Only from what I see on the Instrumentality.”
“Stay informed, Vinnie Gorge, and listen up. It has come to my attention tonight that a scam is going down at Hades. A scam connected with the Kinski murder. I want a piece of it.”
Lightfoot stares. Is Panterr serious? Is he bluffing? She reserves judgment. A criminal like Panterr is always on the take. Always looking for an opportunity. She could learn a thing or two from this manimal.
“You don’t want no piece of this lousy business, Dom Panterr.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
The little vulture pushes back from her typewriter, trots up to them. “Hey, Gorge. Got another one of them presto jobs. Same instructions. Burn all of it as soon as possible.” She consults a notepad. “Pallet seventy-six.” Narrows her eyes at Lightfoot and company, suddenly realizing they don’t belong here. Maybe realizing she’s just said something she shouldn’t.
“Thanks, Cathae,” Gorge says, shooting a warning look. She shrugs and shuffles off.
“Want me to take a peek at pallet seventy-six, Dom Panterr?” Lightfoot mutters.
“No, stick around. That stiff’s not going anywhere until we take it.” At Gorge’s sputtered protest, Panterr points out, “The puma lady is my street muscle. Gets her thrills out of hunting birds for sport.” He nods at his lynx bodyguards. “Same for them. So lay it out, Gorge.”
Vinnie Gorge widens his eyes at Lightfoot and the bodyguards. “Ain’t nothin’ to lay out. Guy comes in with a body bag. Pays extra to skip the standard ID and autopsy and a bit extra more to move the body to the head of the line bound for the fire. That’s it. That’s all. The bit extra ain’t worth your time, Dom Panterr.”
Panterr’s predator’s eyes just about burn two holes through the vulture’s long, narrow face. “I don’t think that’s all.”
“But I’m tellin’ ya—”
“Don’t make me repeat myself. Is the coroner’s office in on it?”
“Nah, they don’t know nothin’.”
“What are they? Who are they? Murder victims? A species gang war? You see, Vinnie Gorge,” Panterr says reasonably as he shoves the vulture against the wall and seizes his scrawny neck. “I need to know what my competition is up to. Maybe I can learn something new and different.”
Lightfoot grins. She could definitely learn something new and different from Swifty Panterr.
“How should I know if they was murdered?” Gorge squawks, fear boiling in his yellow eyes. “The coroner never gets a gander. Part of the deal.”
“Who set it up? When?”
“Three, four months ago, this guy comes in—”
“What guy?”
“He don’t exactly tell me his name,” Gorge says sarcastically. Which is either terribly brave or terribly foolish with Panterr’s massive hand gripping his neck.
“What kind of Blend?” Panterr says.
“Beats me,” Gorge says. His sallow cheeks flush. “I can never tell somebody’s Blend. Especially if they’re of a different species, y’know?”
Lightfoot and Panterr trade looks. He’s lying.
“So he comes in that night with a stiff in a body bag. Brings it back to the ovens. Nobody out front gets in his way. Maybe them chemicals make ‘em soft in the head.” Gorge adds, “He’s wearin’ a cap and a suit jacket.”
“Like a chauffeur?” Lightfoot chimes in. “Like the driver of a limousine?”
“Yeah, maybe.”
Panterr bares his fangs. “And then what happened? Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“We talk. His terms sound okay, I say sure. Just doin’ my job like I always do.”
“Cathae said ‘burn all of it,’” Lightfoot says. “Hades doesn’t ever cremate less than a whole corpse. What is ‘all of it’?”
Panterr gives her a heart-stopping glance. Looks at the vulture. “Answer the puma lady.”
Gorge swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his bony throat. “Stiff always comes sealed up in a body bag. Guy’s orders are don’t open nothin’. Burn everything, bag included.” He sniffs self-righteously. “The bit extra pays for that, too. All the other stiffs go into the fire in their birthday suits. No clothing, no shoes. For sure, no body bag. That would create extra smoke and air pollution. I gotta file a monthly report with the Bureau of Atmospheric Quality and Control about our emissions, y’know.”
“We sure don’t need air pollution on Chrome with our synthy cloud cover,” Lightfoot says. “That’s why cigarettes are illegal.”
“You can say that again,” Vinnie Gorge says and coughs. That tell-tale little hack of a longtime smoker.
“Does Cathae get something extra, too?” Lightfoot says.
“She gets a small remuneration for cooperatin’,” Gorge says. “I do all the dirty work. This is my racket.”
Lightfoot goes for it. “So you got curious after thirty, forty sealed bags showed up? I know I would. You opened one of the bags and saw something odd in there. A venom job, maybe?”
Panterr slants her a glance. Annoyed with her for butting in or pleased with her brilliance? She’s hoping for brilliance, but can’t tell.
“I ain’t no doctor.”
Panterr bangs the vulture’s head against the concrete wall. “Talk, Vinnie Gorge, and I’ll think about ordering my bodyguards not to follow you home after your shift ends tonight.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know what freakin’ killed ‘em!”
“Fair enough,” Lightfoot says, playing good puma to Panterr’s bad. “So you decided to collect more than a bit extra on account of what you saw.”
“Somethin’ like that.”
Panterr jumps in. “How did Zena Kinski get involved?”
“I mentioned it to her one morning,” Gorge says.
“While you were in bed,” Panterr finishes for him.
“Zena Kinski in bed with the likes of you?” Lightfoot says.
She shoots an admiring look at Panterr. Nearly swoons to see he’s gazing back at her. We make a good team and a glamorous power couple, she wants to say. But doesn’t. Pumas don’t travel in prides or form couples. He’s a loner. She’s a loner. They’re both Feralists. That’s the way of their ancestral beast.
But Lightfoot suddenly finds herself holding onto hope. They’re Blends, not beasts. They’re half human.
“Sure, why not,” Gorge says. “We’re both avians. I’m a huge fan.” He frowns, his face drooping with sorrow. “Was a huge fan. I showed up at the stage door for an autographed picture. We became Blend-friends, and more. I make steady money. She was always worried about ending her career on the stage. She needed a bodyguard. I was happy to help her out.” He sniffs. Looks up at them fiercely. “Help her out in every way.”
Lightfoot nods. “What’s the account issuing the credits? Whose name is on the account and how did you set it up with the payor?”
“That’s enough,” Panterr snarls at her. “I’m handling this.” He glares at Vinnie Gorge. “Where, like the puma lady asked, do the credits originate and from whom?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
Panterr pulls the vulture away from the wall. Slams him back so brutally, his head bangs against the concrete hard enough to draw blood and raise a bruise. “Think carefully, Vinnie Gorge. Think fast.”
“That was Zena’s thing! I told her about the deliveries, she did some research. Got a bead on the guy giving orders, I don’t know how. Honest,” the vulture adds, a dishonest sheen to his beady yellow eyes. “With them body bags comin’ in every night, I didn’t want to know.”
“And the credits?” Lightfoot says, butting in again. She doesn’t take orders from Panterr.
“They’re free-trade credits, what else? Streamed through a triple-blind account. Generic. Code-free. Transferable by the holder, any holder, to any recipient.”
Panterr listens, head cocked to one side. His thick, pink tongue flicks over his lips. Bet he’d like to get his paws on more of that kind of currency. So would Lightfoot.
“I didn’t ask no questions,” Gorge says with a shrug of his pointy shoulders in a feeble attempt to pull free of Panterr’s grip. “I deposit the bit extra in my account. The big pay-off, that was up to Zena.” The vulture hangs his knobby head. A greasy brown tear leaks from his eye. “I would never have let her meet him all by herself if I’d known how dangerous the guy was. Cripes, I miss her.”
Lightfoot turns to go. Their business here is finished. She can’t wait to escape the charred stench filling her nostrils.
“That’s not good enough, Gorge,” Panterr says, showing no sign of leaving.
“That’s all I got, Dom Panterr.”
The little vulture woman shuffles over. “We’re ready to go on seventy-six,” Cathae squawks. Aims her yellow glare at Lightfoot and Panterr. “I need you to sign off, Gorge.”
“That’s not all you’ve got, Vinnie Gorge,” Panterr hisses.
“I swear!”
“Actually, I do believe he’s got nothing more. Other than another suspicious body bag on pallet seventy-six. Which we need to take,” Lightfoot says. “Right, Dom Panterr?”
“Very well.” He releases Gorge.
The vulture slumps to the floor on his knobby knees, gagging and rubbing his neck.
“Luke, go collect the bag. Danny, wink a cab,” Panterr tells his bodyguards. “And wink Doc Caduceus. Tell him we’re coming over to his office. With a patient.”
“A patient, Dom Panterr?” the lynx bodyguard growls.
“A patient who requires his immediate attention,” Panterr says in his ironic way.
“We?” Lightfoot says. “Does that include me, Dom Panterr?”
“Yeah, I want you along, Lightfoot. Another pair of puma eyes.” Panterr kicks Vinnie Gorge out of his way. Stalks out of the crematory.
Lightfoot smiles slyly. Progress. This is progress.
13
Finesse
Creepin’ cryptids, he’s been, like, waiting in this lousy alley outside of Hades all freakin’ night. Good thing Jimi Kinyonga wears his bomber jacket with the faux-mouton collar. The thick faux-leather warms Number One’s skinny butt in the chill of a faraway dawn that is taking its sweet time to crawl over the horizon.
Not that his wait has been a waste. Far from it. The things he’s seen. Who knew the Chrome City Morgue could be such a lively place to hang out at for the duration of an evening? Half a dozen coroners’ vans came and went. A fancy limousine. A couple of dog cops. An owl with a doctor’s bag. And four wild felines, two great big tall ones, two smaller ones trailing after.
The feline Blends went inside for a while. Then a cab showed up, nosing its way down the alley, and they all came back out. The two smaller felines carried a body bag. They all climbed in the cab and drove away.
Kinyonga had scratched his head. What was that about? Since when do Chromians take a body bag out of the morgue?
Unless whatever was in the bag wasn’t a corpse.
Kinyonga puzzles over that. Is it likely there wasn’t a corpse in the bag? He doesn’t think so, but what does he know? If you can think of a hundred illegal things that can be done with a body bag—smuggle drugs, smuggle weapons—so can a hundred other crispers.
So what’s in the bag? Besides, maybe, a body?
Kinyonga isn’t sure what kind of felines they were. Wild feline Blends, especially the Feralists, all look the same to him. Kick-ass strong. Fangs and claws. Enviably graceful. Meaner than mean. He never wants to go up against a wild feline unless he’s got a serious weapon on his person. Preferably a loaded gun. Though his blowgun and a poison dart would do.
The four felines and their body bag will remain his private observation. The Big Boss has paid him to report back on who Zena Kinski’s connection was at Hades. Who and what that Blend is. What that Blend knows. How Kinski and her ally connected the crazy-quilt dots to the Big Boss and his big-deal secret evil enterprise. That’s it and that’s all.
The Big Boss hasn’t paid him to report back on anything else. Other activities and other Chromians he observes tonight are Number One’s proprietary information.
Kinyonga smirks. Earlier he’d fretted over how he could nail Kinski’s inside connection. Someone who works at Hades or spends a lot of time there. A morgue staffer, a cop, maybe a medical examiner, the Big Boss had said. What kind of sorry lead is that?
As he’d loitered in the alley procrastinating, grinning at the bullet-hole-riddled sign, and generally dreading going inside, he’d hatched a scheme. He would mute his hair and his beard. Wander in, wander around. See what he could see. Ask a bunch of questions. Ask the manager for a job. Drop Kinski’s name. Such a shame. You ever see her dance at the Megametro? See if anyone did a knee-jerk.
It wasn’t the greatest plan for a genius like Number One. But it was all Kinyonga had.
Then Lady Luck smiled on him, as she so often did.
Someone slipped out a back door leading to the lane beside the morgue lined with recycling bins. Someone slipped out so quickly and quietly, Kinyonga might have missed him if he hadn’t goggled his left eye in that direction.
Where does he think he’s going?
Kinyonga stood motionless, camouflaging himself against the brick wall. He saw the flare of a match, smelled tobacco smoke. He caught a glimpse of the smoker. Well, what do you know? It was the vulture, Vinnie Gorge. The very same Vinnie who had stood beside Zena Kinski at the stage door. Boyfriend or bodyguard? Who knew? Who cared? Vinnie and Zena, they’d been close. It was Vinnie Gorge, beyond a doubt.
The vulture stepped into a narrow space between two recycling bins. A little hidey-hole where he could enjoy his illegal addiction unnoticed. He was all but invisible to anyone in the alley or in the parking area in front of the morgue. Good work, Vinnie. Kinyonga has the highest appreciation for anyone who knows how to hide and hides well.
Over the course of the dreary night, Gorge’s gambit went on and on. He must have stepped out for a ciggie break six or seven times. Make that eight. Dang, what are all his ciggie breaks costing us hardworking Chromian taxpayers? Not that Jimi Kinyonga pays any income taxes.
So, okay. Kinyonga knew Vinnie’s name and Vinnie’s Blend. That part of the job, which had seemed the most daunting, was done. Then he fretted over how he was going to approach Gorge. Finesse the information the Big Boss wants.
How did you discover the Big Boss’s identity? Who else is involved? How did you discover this thing, whatever it is the Big Boss is covering up?
His mind darted, flitting to one line of questioning, then another. It occurred to ol’ Jimi that the Big Boss hadn’t ordered him to find out what the Blend knows about this thing. Everything else but what, exactly. When he’d asked what kind of dirt, the Big Boss had put him off. You don’t need to know. Here he is running errands for the Big Boss again, and he himself has not been fully informed what the big-deal secret evil enterprise is.
That is unacceptable to a cold-blooded mercenary like Jimi Kinyonga. He needs to have a talk with the Big Boss. He needs a clarification. And soon.
Thanks to Vinnie Gorge and his tobacco habit, now Number One knows what to do. He’s got a plan.
He puts his plan into action.
Good thing Kinyonga always carries ciggies on his person, though he himself doesn’t partake of the demon weed. Good thing he always carries cram, too, which works well in the diurnal niche when you need to sort through twenty thousand stolen Winchester rifle parts. The cheroots of soot he also always carries have the opposite effect, a soporific effect, and he likes to toke those once in a while, but only after diurnal business is done. In his experience, Blends who dig tobacco also dig cram or soot. Sometimes both.
He also carries a switchblade, his beloved blowgun and poison darts, and a wire. The wire is a strip of plastic-covered metal he threads through the belt loops of his jeans and fastens at his waist.
That is how Number One comes equipped for a job.
The dawn shift begins. Two dozen Blends trudge up the alley, heading for the double doors of Hades. The night shift ends, and two dozen other Blends trudge out of the doors and down the alley. Talking quietly among themselves. Tapping their Tatts. Lighting up ciggies.
Kinyonga shakes his head. Dang, someone needs to sit them down and have a heart-to-heart. Don’t they know they’ll wind up on one of their tables in Hades too young if they don’t lay off the demon weed?
Most of both shifts are vultures, ugly as mud with their knobby bald heads. Double chins dangling off their jaws, all reddish-looking like a nasty rash. Kinyonga would hang himself if he had to work a daily gig with scavenger birds.
And here comes Vinnie Gorge, saying goodbye to a little vulture woman he calls Cathae. Lighting up another ciggie, his fingers nervous and fumbling.
Kinyonga sheds his brick-wall camouflage so he looks like a regular lizard man in a pretty cool bomber jacket. He erects the blue spikes of his hair, the yellow spikes of his beard. Gives himself that nocturnal-niche hustler vibe. He steps out of the shadows into Vinnie Gorge’s path and mutters, “Ciggies, cram, soot.”
“What?” Gorge says. Up close, the vulture’s long, narrow face looks haggard. A sizeable blue bruise swells on the side of his head beneath the thinning hair. Dark circles underscore his beady yellow eyes. If Kinyonga is not mistaken—and Number One is seldom mistaken—those eyes hold fear. Naked fear.
He’s afraid of me? No, Kinyonga doesn’t think so. Then of what? Of whom?
“Can I interest you in a taste tonight, brother?”
“Beat it, beastie boy.” Gorge walks on with the flock of other staffers, hastening his stride. “I don’t truck with no reptiles.”
Maybe it’s because he’s been standing out here all night, freezing his skinny butt off. Maybe it’s because he’s bone-tired. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t like the putdown of his reptilian class by a freakin’ raptor bird.
Whatever the reason, anger starts to sizzle in Kinyonga’s chest. He maintains the smirk, stretching his lips until they ache. Trotting to keep pace with the vulture’s long stride. “Sure I can’t interest you in a cheroot of soot, brother, now that you’re off of work?”
“I don’t got any free-trades on me.”
“This one’s gratis.” At the vulture’s blank look, Kinyonga adds, “Free. On me. So you can develop an all-consuming taste for the wares and come back to me for more.”
Gorge steps out of the flock. Sidles over to the brick wall. “Okay. Gimme a taste and be quick about it.”
“Sure.” Kinyonga reaches into his jacket for a cheroot, a pack of matches. Flips the cheroot through his two front fingers, then through the three hind fingers. It’s his favorite bar trick. The chickie-birds love it.
Gorge just stands there, a disgusted look on his sallow mug. Kinyonga hands him the cheroot with a flourish, strikes a match, lights him up. He waits until the vulture has taken his first deep draw of the dirty-smelling intoxicating smoke before he starts.
“You like, Vinnie?”
“It’s okay.”
Kinyonga waits, smirking. Smirking. Until Gorge’s yellow eyes dart up at him, widening with alarm.
“How do you know my name?”
“Your gorgeous girlfriend called you that a minute ago when you said goodbye.”
“She ain’t my girlfriend.”
“My mistake. I stand humbly corrected.” He waits for Gorge to take another draw. Finesse, the Big Boss ordered. This will take some finesse. “I can see why. A specimen like you who got to hang around with the late Zena Kinski wouldn’t be interested in a carrion-eater like her.”
Does Jimi Kinyonga have Vinnie’s full attention? Yes, he does. Gorge plants his fist on Kinyonga’s chest, shoves him against the brick wall.
Kinyonga is ready for the move. Sidesteps. Darts away.
“How do you know I knew Zena?” When Kinyonga only smirks, he shouts, “I said how?”
“Take it easy. I get around in the nocturnal niche. I hear things. You wouldn’t believe the things I hear. Like I heard that Kinski spilled a story about you and Hades to the Blend who met her at Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree party. That Kinski told him a scam was going down and you’re running the show. I heard that you and she were trying to squeeze a lot of credits out of the Blend and that’s why he killed her.”
With an inarticulate cry, Gorge charges at him. Drops the cheroot. Balls his fists.
Kinyonga skips away, just out of reach.
“Zena would never rat me out like that.”
“Just tellin’ you what I heard, cryptid.”
“Where? Where did you hear it?”
Kinyonga shrugs. “Here and there.”
“You heard nothin’. It don’t amount to nothin’. It’s a lie.” Gorge is weaving on his feet, the first toke of soot—it’s particularly strong soot—disorienting him. “What’re you doin’ here?” he slurs. “What do you want?”
“I just want a Blend-friendly talk. Like what we’re doing.”
“Go stuff yourself, mutant. I should kill you right now. Dump you in an oven. I got friends on the dawn shift.” He moves toward Kinyonga, scowling. Clenching and unclenching his fists.
“That’s no way to behave.” Kinyonga easily darts away. Thank goodness he stayed clean tonight. “I said let’s talk.”
“I got nothin’ to say to you, you mangy slitherer.”
“I am not mangy. I have never been mangy.”
“Beat it before I wring your lizard neck.”
“No, I don’t think you’re going to wring my neck.” Inspiration strikes Number One. Wild felines taking a body bag out of the morgue. “I think you’re going to tell me how you discovered the identity of the Blend who is on the other end of the body bag scam.”
Gorge laughs in disbelief. “Why should I do that?”
“Actually, you don’t have to. I can guess.”
Pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, and Kinyonga’s nimble mind sorts through them. The Big Boss has been keeping him in the dark for too long. That has got to change.
“So, like, this Chromian stops by the morgue in the dead of night, ha ha, and drops off body bags. Only the body bags don’t contain corpses. They’ve got something else inside. You get something under the table to act as the middleman. Everything done by delivery boys. Then one night, you step out into the lane for a ciggie, like you did eight times tonight, and you see the mastermind. With your own eyes. He’s waiting in a car in the parking area while the delivery boy goes inside. You recognize him from the Instrumentality. You tell the Lady Kinski and she sets up the scam. Only this Blend—I’ll call him the Big Boss—needs to talk with her in person. She goes to the Jamboree party intending to blackmail him and the Big Boss kills her. Have I got that about right?”
Vinnie Gorge stares. After a silence, he says in a strangled voice, “What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me what’s in it for me.” Kinyonga fingers the blowgun in his pocket.
“Why should I do that?”
“You ask a lot of dumb questions.”
Vinnie Gorge continues to stare.
“Hey, mutant, I can be useful to you. More useful than you know. I’ve got connections.”
“Like who?”
“Blends in high places. Who else at Hades is on the take?”
Gorge glowers at him, suspicion simmering in his eyes. “Nobody. Me and Zena, we were the only ones.”
But from the twitch of his mouth, Kinyonga knows he’s lying. Cathae? Kinyonga files that speculation away for future reference. Shakes his head regretfully. He has contempt for bad liars. “If you say so. What did you and Zena see that’s so incriminating you thought you could get away with blackmail?”
A crafty look steals over Gorge’s face. “Oh, now I get it. You freakin’ don’t know what you’re freakin’ talkin’ about. You’re a cheap street hustler who heard loose talk in a bar. Dreamed up this cockamamie story. Now you think you can worm your way into my action. I don’t think so. I’m tellin’ you nothin’. I can handle this myself. You’re of no use to me, splicer. As if I would ever partner up with a reptile. I said beat it. Now beat it.”
Splicer. How Jimi Kinyonga despises that insult. Splicer. Splicer implies a half-baked, stitched-together ghoul. Not the wondrous evil miracle of modern science all Blends are on Chrome. That he is. His impatience with the long wait, his contempt for the vulture conspire in his chameleon heart, sending murderous fury through his blood.
He darts at Vinnie Gorge, who wildly strikes out with his fists, punching the air. Kinyonga evades the vulture’s intoxicated moves. Darts around him. Darts behind him.
Kinyonga strips off the plastic-covered wire from his belt loops—it’s called a garrote, if you want to get technical—whips the wire around Gorge’s throat. Thrusts it under the vulture’s wobbling double chins.
Gorge flails and hacks with a choking sound. Strikes over his shoulder with his fists. But he can’t reach Kinyonga and Kinyonga, who has practiced this move before, has practiced and succeeded, tightens the garrote. Quick and hard and unrelenting.
It doesn’t take long for Vinnie Gorge to go slack. To fall to his knees. To fall on his face on the cobblestones.
Kinyonga flips out his switchblade. Reaches for Gorge’s flopping hand to slash his Tatt.
A vulture girl hurries up the alley, late for work on the dawn shift. She takes one look at him, bending over the body crumpled on the pavement, and she screams.
“Murder! Murder! Murder!” in a screechy hysterical voice.
Two dog cops lope out of Hades, tongues lolling between their filed fangs. Pulling out billy clubs.
Kinyonga pockets the blade. Steps back from the body. Camouflages himself against the brick wall of the alley. He stands very still, though he’s shaking all over. After the cops cart the late Vinnie Gorge into his former place of employment, Kinyonga creeps away.
Dang, he hates it when a girl screams.
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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:
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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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6.3.18.LADIESSMALL

We all could use a laugh these days, so I present for your enjoyment “Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis”. The story was commissioned by editor Margaret Weis and published in the anthology Fantastic Alice, New Stories from Wonderland by Ace Books. The story was republished in my first story collection, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories by Bast Books. Here are what of the some of the critics say about the collection:
“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 Philip 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 Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”
—Amazing Stories
Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis
I want to thank you all for inviting me here tonight to this, the thirtieth anniversary of my Fall into Wonderland. Yes, thank you, thank you very much. I would never have come if the Dodo hadn’t promised there’d be a fat speaker’s fee in it for me.
It’s not as though any of you have kept in touch. It’s not as though you’ve given me a jingle just to say, “How’s tricks, Alice?” It’s not as though you give a sh—oh, I beg your pardon. I don’t mean to offend. It’s not as though you’ve got the slightest notion what I’ve been through all these years.
Whatever happened to Alice, you want to know? She was, after all, such a strange little girl. Ever a scowl. Ever a snippy word. Had herself an attitude.
What could I do, what else was I fit for, after Wonderland? Of course I became a writer as my big sister encouraged me to do. You should see how much money I owe her. Oh, but you’ve never heard of me. You’ve never seen me on the list of the top ten richest writers in the world. You’ve never seen a trilogy of movies based on my books.
What are my books? Surely you’ve read The Shapeshifters, Down and Out in Berkeley and Boston, and TartGate: the Swindle and Tea-tray. Thank you, thank you very much. You congratulate me. How glamorous, Alice, you say. How exciting! What an adventure!
Have you got the slightest notion how the publishing business works these days?
One slaves in solitude over a book for two or three years, compromising health, sanity, and financial security. One’s editor pays an advance that covers the bills for two or three months, not counting food, phone service, and lottery tickets. One’s book gets noticed for two or three weeks. Booklist is snide, TLS brutal. After production costs, printing, paper, binding, marketing expenses, and general overhead to keep the publisher in posh digs, one earns two or three cents in royalties. One’s book is remaindered in two or three days while one’s editor implores one to get off that lazy bum and write ten more before the year-end.
Never mind the fantasies of hanging oneself. These will pass.
Who would ever aspire to a literary career? One would have to be raving mad.
But you don’t care. That’s on me, you say. Get a job. You don’t give a sh—oh, I beg your pardon. I don’t mean to suggest you’re an insensitive dullard who would rather veg out in front of the tellie every night than read a good book now and then. You don’t want to hear about the troubles of a girl of forty. The compulsive weaving of daisy-chains. The soporifics acquired without a prescription. The anonymous encounters in seedy laundromats with persons who refuse to make change. The arrests for disorderly conduct in tony shopping malls during lunch hour. Oh well, you say. You’re an Artist, Alice. Drowning in one’s own sorrow. It’s in the cards.
You want to romanticize Wonderland. You want to hear how cool it was. What a rave. What a romp. What a beneficent influence Falling into Wonderland had on my life. How Wonderland transformed me.
Transformed us all.
Have you got the slightest notion what happened to the White Rabbit? Every advantage, that’s what he had. Got admitted to Harvard Law School. Graduated summa cum laude. Joined the blue-chip law firm of O’Hare & Leporiday. Made partner in five years. White-collar crime and commodities fraud his speciality.
Yet there was always something too precious, too fussbudgety, about him. I suppose we should have seen it coming when the White Rabbit became an animal rights activist. Joined Small Mammals Against Savage Humans. Stands in SMASH picket lines outside Saks Fifth Avenue every Saturday, flinging ketchup on ladies in fur coats. Frequents the petting zoo every Sunday. Travels round the country delivering speeches supporting cruelty-free cosmetics dressed in a Givenchy gown, spike heels, and full makeup.
His poor old mum, whom you never hear about, nearly had a stroke when he posed, shaved bald and nude, for the cover of Vanity Fair. She calls me. “Where did I go wrong?” she wants to know. “Every advantage, that’s what he had.”
“Exactly, mum,” I tell her. “It’s postmodern life. Life after Wonderland. None of us knows who we are anymore.”
You’re silent now. Not chuckling? Not applauding? Do I suggest that the White Rabbit’s youthful experiences underground had some bearing upon his wantonness later in life? Do I suggest that Wonderland was an incitement to explore the dangerous depths of the subconscious mind? An inducement to abandon the moral strictures and conventions that Society, our schools, and our families have struggled so mightily and with the best of intentions to impose upon us?
In exchange for what? Illicit freedom?
Uncommon nonsense, you say? Ridiculous? Paranoid?
Well. It makes no difference to me if the White Rabbit pickets KFC franchises dressed in a chicken suit, but his law partners didn’t feel the same way. Hounded him out of the firm. Of course he’s suing. His mum won’t speak to him. And he still frequents the petting zoo every Sunday. You may draw your own conclusions.
But that’s the White Rabbit, you say. The White Rabbit is a shining example of the Dr. Spock generation. Those coddled Boomer kids. Me yesterday, Me tomorrow, and Me today. Give ‘em what they want when they want it. Every advantage, that’s what they’ve had. And see how they turn out?
Have you got the slightest notion what happened to the Mock Turtle? There’s another casualty. Diagnosed schizophrenic with delusions of bovinity. But since when has mental illness ever interfered with stardom? Since when has delusion ever impeded huge fame?
Those big brown eyes, that throbbing tenor raised in song! The sighs, the sobs. The disingenuous self-pity, the sudden sulking silences. Those maudlin dance tunes! What tabloid on the grocery store checkout stand hasn’t told the tale of how he became the idol of millions overnight? Mock Turtle, the King of Sop.
Of course Wonderland left its mark on him. I only became aware of how deeply damaged he was when we dated ten years later. The Mock Turtle is not exactly a fellow you want to introduce to your mum. But when we met again on the beach at Mazatlan, I fell for him hard. Always was a soft touch for his Poor Me act. One day he took me to a Miami Dolphins game. We stood up for the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and what do you suppose he said?
“A wedge of lemon in my glass
Of salt-rimmed tequila;
And with my French fries dipped in lard,
One burger
In a bun
With mustard and relish for all.”
Eating disorder, nothing. Obsessed with food, he was! Always crooning about soup and fish sticks. A foodaholic, a gourmand in extremis. A skinny reptile struggling to get out of that shell. Food fetishes? Try peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches. Couldn’t get through the day without a box of Ritz crackers. No wonder he packed on the pounds. Heart attack material, that’s what he became. And that’s what did the Mock Turtle in. Right in the middle of a performance on a Las Vegas soundstage. That’s the truth—it was a coronary. Not the booze, the pills, the teenage girls.
Of course everyone knows the consumption of mood-altering substances was commonplace in Wonderland. The mysterious liquids in those little stoppered bottles. The cakes of unknown ingredients left out on a side table. The smoke twisting up from herbaceous tinder. Could one contend that the fungus which induced the sensation of growing larger or smaller actually altered the body, such as steroids do? Or merely altered the mind? Though plenty of body-altering there. Take one’s liver, for starters. Never mind one’s brain cells. But oh so good, as the song goes. Can you imagine enduring the rat race without coke and Jack on the rocks? No wonder so many of us in postmodern society seek consolation in chemicals.
Who can blame us, after Wonderland?
To read the rest of the popular humorous story and discover whatever happened to the Caterpillar, the King and Queen of Hearts, the Gryphon, the Cheshire Cat and other denizens of Wonderland, please go my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. You’ll find new and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie recommendations, and more exclusively for patrons.
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11.19.13cube

The Oniomancer
The Chinadoll denies she’s a thief. She swears she’s never stolen anything. She finds things, that’s all. She’s always found things. From street curbs and trash bins and secret city places, things come to her like hungry cats.
She’s delivering a Priority One Hour to some bigwig at the Hyatt Hotel when she finds the cube. Talking heads from the tube, with their techs and camera crews, are swarming all over the lobby. Craning their necks to get a gander at the headline of the hour.
Fame scenes cut no ice with the Chinadoll. Not when she’s hustling down another zip code. The suits check out her fuchsia croptop, fourteen motley hoops banging down her hearwings. Lone Ranger mask drawn in kohl across her peepers. Beat-around black leather, rude girl rags. Security guards glare at her like she just crawled out from under something.
Then there it is: a small object getting kicked around by all those shuffling feet. Tumbling here, tumbling there across the tessellated marble floor. The Chinadoll can empathize.
So she scoops.
It kind of bounces up into her hand, this perfect cube. Size of a medium Rubik’s. Iridescent like mom o’ pearl. Strung from a stud on its crown on a superfine chain with the high, silvery sheen of platinum. It hums. Not a machine hum, but a soft rolling purr-purr.
Little hungry cats. How the Chinadoll loves you.
Quick as a wink, she stashes the cube in her T-shirt pocket. Dashes across the lobby, takes the elevator upstairs, makes the delivery. The bigwig’s got a girlfriend lounging on the bed, so he doesn’t come on to her like some of the drop-offs do.
Down she goes, zooming through the lobby again, and the scene has suddenly gotten weirder. Everybody jazzed, talking in loud, excited chatter. A voice of authority crackling with feedback issues garbled commands. “Nnnn—stay calm, and proceed in an orderly fashion—eeee!
She doesn’t stick around to find out what’s the hassle.
The cube pokes through her pocket like a Picasso nipple. A Real Find, Chinadoll. Not for nothing is she known as an oniomancer. And she thought she was down on her luck. Knows right away she can’t tell Flash about this. For sure, don’t let Bulldog see it.
Out at the rack, she unlocks her Schwinn.
From inside her pocket, the cube hiccups. The soft little sound of a lost thing that’s been found.
*   *   *
The Chinadoll came to see finding as a gift, though she didn’t always see it that way. She first discovered finding when she was a sorry little five-year-old named Suki Fong. It’s possible she found things before then. But that’s the first time she remembered the finding.
And what came after.
It was a fresh autumn day with a bit of wind, and Mama had come home from shopping on Grant Avenue. Pink cardboard boxes of dim sum and fried rice dangled from one of her hands, a whole roast chicken swung from the other. Papa was in the living room, watching ninja moves on Channel 60. All Chinatown smelled of Sunday supper.
The kids were in their playground: the sidewalk in front of Yick Sing Meat Market. Ben and Jimmy quarreled over a blue paper dragonfly kite. May and Kim whispered over a pocket mirror and a contraband lipstick May had shoplifted from Three Spirits Pharmacy.
Suki, the youngest of them by some years, sat alone on the curb and sniffed roast chicken. “Go away, baby,” May had ordered. Jimmy had pushed her. So she scratched in the gutter by herself, hummed lullabies, picked at scraps. From the TV inside came clatter and shrill sounds. She could hear the bloodcurdling scream of some ninja lopping off a demon’s head, made tinny by Papa’s ancient Sony.
With that thin, scratchy scream, the finding feeling came. Empty cup contentment. Waiting but not waiting. Nothing-full.
A crumpled wad, the soft gray-green of a dried herb, skittered past Suki’s toes. She scooped it, smoothed it flat across her knee. She saw small pictures on the crinkled paper strip. There was a tiny old-fashioned car and tinier pedestrians. A grand building with tall columns. On the other side, a curly-haired grandpa who wouldn’t look at her, but that was okay. Suki knew curly-haired grandpas didn’t look at a Chinese girl like her unless they had some evil on their minds.
She smiled. She smiles to this day at that tiny Model T.
From inside the apartment came Mama’s wail. “Cheat me! Mr. Yee cheat me! And rent due! I go back!” She ran out onto the street, dragon-faced. Stopped short in front of Suki.
“Oy!” Mama said. “What that you got there, girl?”
Suki held up her find.  Grateful for attention, any attention, from Mama.
She snatched the bill from Suki’s hand. “So here my ten dollar. Mr. Yee didn’t cheat me. Where you get this, girl?”
“I found it, Mama.”
Mama jerked Suki up off the curb by her skinny arm and hauled her inside. Suki heard May and Kim giggling.
“I say where you get this, girl?” Mama demanded,
“I found it, Mama. I found it.”
Mama slapped her across the face, one two three times. Suki’s lip stung against her teeth. She tasted shame.
“I teach you not to be a liar,” Mama said. “Youie? Youie?” Papa grunted, tore his eyes away from the TV. “This girl, this runt, this accident, she steal money from her own mama. And rent due. You teach her not to steal.”
“But I found it, Papa. I found it!”
Mama slapped her again. Papa stood, unbuckled his belt, slid the leather strip from his pant loops. Mama wrestled Suki over the kitchen table, pinned her arms down on the greasy oilcloth. Then Papa lashed the belt across her tiny butt, smack smack smack. Suki couldn’t count how many times.
That’s when she learned not to show or tell.
She would have given up finding, if she’d known how. She didn’t try to do it any more than she’d made Mama forget the birth control on the night five years ago when Papa knocked her up with a fifth child. A pinch-faced, unwanted little Suki.
But not long after her first humiliation, some-thing else tumbled into her hands like the temptation of an evil spirit.
Mama sent her out before dark for cooking oil. It was a lovely cool evening, the breezes scented with coming winter. Lipped with arabesques of light, Cathay House Pagoda shone against the scarlet dusk. Suki skipped down Grant Avenue, filled with the unaccountable joy of childhood.
At the edge of her eye, she saw something. A scrap bounding across the concrete like a wind-blown leaf.
The finding feeling came. A ghost push. Seeing and not seeing.
She scooped.
It was another piece of that velvety green paper. This time a cocky, bushy-haired fellow looked her right in the eye. Andy Jackson. A twenty dollar bill! She could hardly believe it, having only just learned the dark passions such velvety green paper inspired.
She carefully folded the bill, tucked it in her jeans pocket. She brought the cooking oil back to Mama. The next day, she bought herself a bag of candied pineapple rings at Mrs. Lee’s sweetmeat shop, a jade ring at Canton Bazaar, a tiny ivory horse at Shanghai Fine Arts, and one of those polyester bags that passes for embroidered silk, all green and purple chrysanthemums. She kept a dollar ninety-seven in change.
And said nothing to anyone.
But secrets can be hard to keep.
*   *   *
The streets around the Hyatt are jumping. State-of-siege cha-cha-cha. The wind socks grit in the Chinadoll’s eyes, sending tear tracks down her facepaint. She dodges cop cars, minding business.
Bucks her bike, rolls onto Drumm Street. Hauls out her cell phone, punches up headquarters. The dispatcher at Speedster & Company has her on for one last pickup at 815 Market.
Shoot! She’ll have to pedal her ass eight blocks west on a slow but steady uphill grade. It’s nearly five o’clock in the p.m. and she’s cat-o-nine-tails beat.
For luck, she fishes the cube from her T-shirt pocket, checks it out. The closure on the clasp is out of whack, so the lock won’t lock. No wonder someone lost it. What a cheap piece of trash, this clasp. She can’t imagine securing a chain of such fine links to hold a cube of such rare beauty with a safety catch that isn’t secure and can’t catch onto anything.
She bites the clasp, shaping the metal with her teeth. There you go, baby.
The cube feels warm, tingling, jingling, like a fistful of hot copper.
Not for the first time, the Chinadoll wonders how things of true value can be treated by the world with such disrespect.
*   *   *
Finding—it was Suki’s pleasure, the search for treasure amid the doldrums of daily life. Just a kid, she stalked the streets alone.
And found things all the time.
Sure, there was junk. She found knuckletop computers the size of a postage stamp. What excuses did the scamps around town tell their lovers when they didn’t message? She found flat plastic rectangles with miniature holograms and necklaces of numbers. How many credit lines got hacked due to lost credit cards? She found Ziploc bags filled with white powder that tasted bitter. What illicit dreams had been abandoned in shadowed alleys?
These things meant nothing to a kid. Just junk.
Some things, though, were truly treasure. She filled soup cans with coins, preferring pennies and dimes. Made a twelve-foot daisy chain out of red and blue rubber bands and paperclips in cool shapes. Stockpiled chewing gum packets and breath mint rolls, hundreds of them perfectly packaged, the safety seals still sealed.
She saw treasure everywhere, the hint of it, the glint of it.
She hid everything in a secret place.
Finding seemed so natural in the free-for-all of the City. Maybe the wrong of it was she got something for nothing. Mama said they had to pay their dues. Papa said they had to work hard. And finding was so easy. Things fell into her hands with no work on her part. No dues paid. That had to be why she couldn’t show or tell.
Too easy. She had to wonder if other people found things, too. Surely they must.
In a bold mood one day, she asked her sister May, “Do you ever, like, find things? You know, on the street?’
“What do you mean, Suki?” May said sharply.
Bad timing. That afternoon, May had seen that Suki had seen her smoking Marlboros with her boyfriend in Washington Square Park.
“Find things on the street? Like some bag lady, some street person, some Vietnamese? You stealing again, Suki? You’re stealing again, you little creep, you spy. Mama!”
Mama searched the bedroom Suki shared with her sisters and found her secret place—two Kinney shoeboxes beneath her underwear and socks. Mama found all things she’d found and took them away. Even the jade ring and the ivory horse and the purple-green bag, pretty things Suki had bought, fair and square. Mama had Papa take off his belt again.
She should have known then she should have given up finding for good. Turn away from the shimmer when she saw it. Finding should have been like any other unhealthy habit, subject to will and discipline.
But Papa’s belt, Mama’s slaps, her brothers’ and sisters’ jeers, they insulted her. Wronged her.
And like a benevolent devil confirming her conviction, not long after Mama took her things away, she found her first Big Find. Lying right in the middle of the sidewalk on Broadway near the corner of Kearny.
From the edge of her eye, she saw the glitter. Gutter-bound daystar. Maybe worthless, maybe wealth. She guzzled the empty cupful. She scooped.
It was a solid silver key with a handle in the shape of a four-leaf clover. Inside one heavy loop, next to the jeweler’s stamp of authentication, was a Tiffany trademark. Inside another loop, the logo of the car the key fit. A Mercedes Benz.
The silver dazzled in the sunlight as she turned the key over in her hand.
Suki knew at once the key was a sign. An omen. A promise that the best revenge would be hers one day. Never mind that the lock the key fit was nowhere in sight.
She walked back through Chinatown in a dream.
*   *   *
The Chinadoll slings the superfine chain over her fuchsia croptop, dropping the cube inside her T-shirt. It nestles against her skin, stinging her cleavage like dry ice. She picks up the package at 815 Market, drops it off at the Civic Center. Then scoots back to the headquarters of Speedster & Company for her daily bread.
She skids Market, slides New Montgomery, bops onto Mission. A ghost-gray candy cotton of fog rolls in from the ocean, chilling her bones. Then her hearwings yow with a bike messenger’s cry, an earsplitting banshee shriek.
“Yee Wee Wing Fooong! Hah Hah Haaah!”
Ain’t he sweet. That’s Flash’s yell for the Chinadoll.
*   *   *
After Suki found the silver key, she started a new stash. She found new secret places. When fall term began at Chang Wo Elementary, she kept her treasure in her school locker where Mama would never find it.
She liked school. She didn’t understand most of what they tried to teach her—having learned words like “rapacious” and “perspicacious” from Jimmy’s Fantastic Four comic books—but she was quiet and did what they told her and kept to herself.
She found lots of things in the school halls. Bottles of Robitussin Extra-Strength Formula; packages of Trojan rubbers; cartons of Camel nonfilters; a pair of soft turquoise mittens spangled with solar chips that kept the winter chill off her hands.
She loved those mittens.
She developed standards. She no longer took the worst junk, baby stuff like rubber bands. She kept three Kinney shoeboxes in her school locker, one for junk worth taking, one for cool things, one for actually valuable things. She carried the silver key in her jeans pocket. But she never showed it to anyone.
And she might have still liked school and done what they told her if she hadn’t found the ball of wastepaper.
It was early March, just before spring break, and the school halls were charged with the tension of tests being taken. There she sat in the girls’ lavatory, perched on a potty after taking a tinky. Pondering how she, of all twelve-year-old people, could possibly write an essay about the doctrine of manifest destiny on her history exam.
Suddenly a ball of wastepaper bounced merrily in, as if someone had flung it under the stall door. She picked it up, smoothed out a sheet filled with teeny, tiny rectangles.
The time was half-past nine. She was half awake. She walked out of the stall, gawking, doing a slow eureka. Then a hall monitor burst in the lavatory before she could think or explain. The monitor dragged her down to the principal’s office.
Then everyone got dragon and talked at her too fast in English.
The ball of wastepaper turned out to be a crib sheet for a test in a class she wasn’t even taking. No one cared. She got detention for the rest of the semester. They couldn’t prove a thing, but a report that she was a cheater went on her permanent record that was transferred when she started Galileo High.
At home, Papa got out the belt. Mama’s face got dragon every time she looked at her. May and Kim, who were prom queens at Galileo, wouldn’t say hi in the halls. Ben, who’d become assistant manager at Chung Quon Imports, declared that everyone in Chinatown knew Suki was a cheater, a liar, and a thief, and took his belt to her for shaming the family. Jimmy, starting at City College in business administration, made her lick his shoes.
She ran away. The cops did their own finding and brought her back. She cut school. The principal put her on probation. She flunked classes. Papa took his belt to her until her back was riddled with scars.
She tried to reform. She did community service at an old people’s home. She ran errands for Mama, cleaned the whole apartment every day after school. But five-dollar cans of litchi nuts, cut-crystal ashtrays, cashmere sweaters kept tumbling mysteriously into her hands, into her backpack, into her shopping bag. Store clerks accused her of shoplifting.
She gave everything back, but it was no use. On her seventeenth birthday, Galileo High expelled her. Mama said out.
Finding—it was Suki’s curse.
But as she trudged past Yick Sing Meat Market for the last time, something beckoned, shiny and sweet, at the curb. She laughed and did not laugh. She wept and did not weep. No one was there to say or not say what she was doing was wrong.
She scooped.
It was a charm, the kind that hooks onto a charm bracelet. A tiny ship of solid gold, three tiny sails unfurled with golden wind.
*   *   *
The Chinadoll spots Flash’s waist-length mane, crowned by the yellow propeller on his beanie, as he ducks down the stairwell into Speedster & Company’s basement digs. She does the duck down, too. The digs are full of razzmatazz and dooby stench and bike messengers yapping it up. Mohawk greased high over his coffee-bean brow, Mug the manager bends over the books of account.
The Chinadoll scores her commissions in cash, considers gourmet for dinner. Maybe a Martinetti dry salami and a bottle of Settler’s Creek Chablis instead of her usual peanuts and a pint of milk. Hey, this babe is rich.
Her whoop-dee-doo must be more than her daily sweat-and-tears ought to merit, because Flash is eyeballing her, grinning his zen grin.
“Hey, Chinadoll,” he says. “You find something today?”
“Nope. Stash your own trash.”
That guy. He of all people would know, just by looking at her, that she Found Major today.
Because Flash is an oniomancer, too.
*   *   *
There’s this poignant word of advice from the I Ching that goes, “It furthers you to cross the great water.” Meaning, move your hindquarters, fool.
Suki’s little golden ship was a sign.
From Chinatown, she fled to North Beach, past the strip joints on Broadway, the Italian eateries on Columbus, the literati cafés on Grant Avenue, and on to where the Tower Hotel crouched halfway up Telegraph Hill.
There Suki leased a room. Once a bohemian hotel, the only beats at the Tower now were dead-, not -nik. On the age-worn front door, someone had taped the sixteenth card of the Tarot. The wicked shrieking, lightning striking, an edifice of madness tumbling down.
Cozy place.
A room the size of Mama’s clothes closet with an odoriferous mattress and an orthopteran zoo, cost fifty George W’s a week. The communal john down the hall boasted special effects.
Then there was her lovely next-door neighbor.
“Hey. Hey. You. Bug,” said a voice like a rusted-out muffler as she lugged her meager possessions into her room.
A bunch of white kids at Galileo High called the Chinese kids that—bug—so she turned, assuming the voice was addressing her.
“Gimme five bucks, bug.”
An ugly hulk blocked her passage in the narrow hall. Her nose came up to the swastika hanging over his leather-vested chest. She gave him three dollars, which was all she had left after the hotel manager had taken two weeks’ in advance.
That was just the beginning. Bulldog bullied her daily. He extorted her money, stole her food, dirtied her clean towels. He hid water balloons over her door, set a mouse loose in her bed.
When she didn’t receive his direct attention, she cringed beneath his constant presence. The heavy-metal rock he blasted. The rattletrap van he parked in the towaway zone and revved up at five in the morning, waking her with its hacking motor, sending noxious fumes in her window. The steady stream of rag-tag women who, for reasons Suki could not fathom, found Bulldog endlessly fascinating. The notorious dealers, bikers, and rowdies who came by to pay their respects and wound up trying to beat Bulldog’s brains out. When the fistfights started around midnight, beefy bodies would crash against her flimsy wall like Godzilla taking on King Kong.
She considered her options. Trap guns, trip wires, poison. A black widow spider set loose in his bed. A pipe bomb under the wheels of his van would do the trick. Kablooey! at five in the morning. Or it was just possible she could electrify the communal shower from the phone booth in the hall.
She plotted how one day Bulldog would get his.
*   *   *
The Chinadoll clears out of Speedster & Company before Flash can case her much longer. The guy has an eye for detail, like any self-respecting oniomancer should. If she sticks around much longer, he’ll spot the cube nestled under her T-shirt, the superfine chain at the back of her neck.
She hightails it out of there. Up Third Street, to Sutter, to Kearny, to Columbus Avenue. Hustles down her humble repast at Rossi’s Market, beelines up Grant Avenue to the Tower. Scoots into her room.
Bulldog is nowhere in sight but through the wall she can hear his rusted-out voice jabbering next door. At least she knows where he is. She deadbolts her door, flops on her mattress, chills out.
Then she flips the superfine chain up off her neck, takes the cube in her fingertips. Gawks at it. Golly, what a Find. What a strange thing. A pretty-pretty, so shimmery. Full of wonder, she strokes the cube’s iridescent flanks. Smiles at its purr-purr.
Suddenly, the cube begins to glow, pale blue at first, then blushing violet. Warm, then hot. Hotter. Oh no! Has she inadvertently turned on some switch? She strokes its flanks again, frantically hoping to undo whatever she just did.
The purr becomes a roar.
The Chinadoll’s fingers sizzle.
*   *   *
Suki would have loved to rely on finding. Make it her career, explore the subtleties, refine her technique until she could call finding an Art. But rent came due, and she hadn’t found so much as a dime in three weeks.
She couldn’t rely on finding, not yet, that much was clear.
As for a regular job, what could she do? She was Suki Fong, high school expellee extraordinaire. She had no credentials, no connections, no confidence.
She found the Help Wanted flier thumb-tacked to a telephone pole on Sutter Street.
Speedster & Company welcomed any body as long as you could perform one simple task—pedal a bike all over town, uphill and down, eight hours a day, and not, repeat not, get yourself killed in traffic. Through the gridlock, in the rush hour, past massive buses and brute trucks, the lonely bike messenger tempted fate with the faith of a zealot.
For despite smart phones and emails, despite microwaves and pixels, the world still required the actual transfer of things. Contracts with original signatures. Computer equipment. Flowers and chocolate. Really hot lingerie.
The urgency of delivery lent drama. A messenger had honor. Responsibility. Gods and human beings have always depended upon messengers.
Suki said as much and more at her interview.
Mug the manager hired her on the spot. Paid a week’s wage in advance so she could eat a little better. “Kid, you gonna need some more meat on them bones,” he said and tucked a Luna bar in her hand.
In no time, Suki learned about Flash, Speedster’s star, the fastest, most reliable bike messenger in town. An urban legend all his own. Every messenger knew and respected him. To every passing messenger, he gave his tribal cry, “Yee Yee Heee! Hah Hah Haaah!”
Even the suits knew him, his waist-length hair, the ferret face with granny glasses, a red-and-yellow beanie with a yellow propeller that told which way his wind blew. Newspaper columnists wrote stories about him. How he’d broken his arm three times, for speed’s sake. How one day, when he’d accidentally locked himself out on the exterior stairwell of a first-floor office, he’d hopped over the railing and dropped to the concrete, only to be arrested by a passing cop.
Suki wasn’t in Flash’s league, not yet, but she was inspired by his example. She razored off all of her black waist-length hair except a strip down the middle of her scalp which she bleached platinum, and streaked broad strokes of fuchsia dye across the remaining crew-cut. She had a skull-and-crossbones set inside the petals of a rose tattooed on her left biceps. She blew the first ten Abe Lincolns she’d earned on kohl, vintage velvet, recycled leather.
She became the Chinadoll. She found face.
*   *   *
The cube turns scarlet neon, red-hot as an explosion. The room vibrates, then lurches crazily.
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