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CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
Excerpt 4:
4
Jimi Kinyonga
If only Jamboree would last forever, he could be happy forever.
But the last giddy hours of Jamboree are winding down and ol’ Jimi, he is going to make the most of ‘em. There’s no better place on all of Chrome to make the most of Jamboree than Club Namib. Especially in the last giddy hours.
A chameleon girl sidles past, goggling her left eye. Pink and orange pixilated patterns flow and swirl over her slim little arms. In a commendable color juxtaposition—to his discerning aesthetic sensibility—green arabesques ebb and flow around the scarlet Tatt on the back of her hand. She’s snugged the rest of her slender self in black faux-leather as tight as a second skin. Her elegant tail coils up at the curve of her butt.
Pretty, pretty.
She sways her slim little hips, sashays out onto the dance floor all by herself. Goggles her right eye at Jimi Kinyonga. Come keep me company, the goggle says.
Creepin’ cryptids. On this glorious night of Jamboree, every order of reptile Blend Chrome has to offer crawls or slithers through Club Namib. Three drunken rattlesnakes gleefully shake their rattles to the pounding music, an obnoxious clatter like off-beat castanets. Two alligators in tank tops and sweat pants, boasting the musculature of professional wrestlers, swagger over. Long, toothy jaws frowning. Scaly fists clenched.
“You wanna muzzle that racket, mutant?”
“You wanna make me, geek?”
“You don’t want me to make you, beastie boy.”
Some pushing. Some shoving. The rattlesnakes knock it off, the alligators back away. And then it’s over.
Everyone is much too happy for fisticuffs.
No jackassery on Jamboree, the Blends like to say.
Plumes of real steam drift up through vents in the dance floor, bathing the club in a fetid humidity.
“Oh, pretty,” Kinyonga mutters, “very, very pretty.” Goggles his left eye at the chameleon girl. The one and only Jimi Kinyonga is a chameleon himself. He is capable of all kinds of cool tricks. He erects his hair off his scalp in stiff blue spikes. Erects the yellow spikes of his beard off his chin. He pulses scarlet and turquoise pigments up his well-muscled arms, around the glittering black Tatt on his right hand. He pumps up his biceps. Oh, yeah. He’s about to sidle out onto the dance floor and join the girl when a demanding hand seizes his elbow.
“Buzz off, you mockery,” Kinyonga protests. Pulls his elbow away. “I am occupied.”
The cold, stifled voice of the Big Boss hisses in his ear. Who else would have the nerve to barge in on his fun? “Shut your jaws. Your only occupation at the moment is having a drink with me. We need to talk.”
“You buyin’?”
“When do I not, you scrawny fubar?”
Fubar. Huh. Kinyonga, he don’t dig that. But he shuts his jaws.
The Big Boss aims one of his blood-chilling glares. Hauls Kinyonga off to a secluded spot along the stretch of black granite of the bar. There the Big Boss’s chauffeur stands guard over two shots of expensive whiskey. With those wide, glassy eyes beneath the cap and a coral-and-black complexion like a nasty case of psoriasis, the chauffeur has got to be a Gila monster.
“Hey, Pancho,” Kinyonga says, “thanks for watchin’ my drink. That’s real monstrous of you.”
The chauffeur opens his maw, thrusts an insolent black tongue in his direction.
Kinyonga grins. He pities the quarryman. His own tongue is long, pink, quick, and sinewy, and he knows just how to use it. The Gila monster’s tongue is—how else to put it?—skanky. Pancho won’t win over many reptile girls—or boys—with that tongue of his. Let alone bedmates of other species. Maybe he can score with a Gila monster girl, but those Blends are scarce. The Tweakers didn’t engineer too many Gila monsters. With good reason.
Then again, maybe Kinyonga has got it all wrong. What does he know about the latest craze among crisper youth? Maybe Pancho’s black tongue is the hot new thing. No telling what a reptile girl or an amphibian boy or even a rodent girl may take a fancy to. Chromian youth are a mystery packaged up as wonderlanders. Kinyonga is just edging out of that wonderland himself and he doesn’t understand them.
Anything goes on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
“Sit,” the Big Boss hisses.
“Sure.”
The Big Boss isn’t actually Kinyonga’s boss but Kinyonga allows him to think he is. Jimi Kinyonga works for no one but Number One—that would be him. He waits for whatever tasty tidbit the Big Boss will throw him. A tidbit he can exploit somewhere else, with someone else. He slides his skinny butt onto the barstool, coils up his prehensile tail. Mutes the multicolored patterns swirling over the coffee-brown skin of his human ancestors. Down come the flamboyant blue spikes from his scalp. Up the yellow spikes on his chin.
Muted, he looks like any other lizard Blend impossibly poured into a human being. A slavery ring had sold his human ancestors cheaper than cheap—a crew of Somali pirates—to Emirk Corporation two-hundred-and-fifty years ago.
Jimi Kinyonga is a darting, devious, mercurial chameleon man with chameleon tastes. Having a fine time with that sometimes. Not so happy with himself other times. But making the most of it all of the time.
What else is he supposed to do with his manimal life? Shrivel up and die? Weep bitter tears? He was born this way. He’s at peace with his ancestral beast. Not exactly a Feralist, not a Reformist, either—and that will have to do.
He grasps the shot of whiskey, his two front fingers curling around the curve of the glass, his three hind fingers steadying the opposite side. He flings the thick, potent liquor into his capacious throat. And waits for the payoff.
“So what’s up, Big Boss? Ha, ha, you kill that chickie-bird?”
“Yes, I did.” The Big Boss sips his whiskey, his tongue darting in and out of the amber liquor. What a tongue he has, too. A long narrow shiny piece of scarlet muscle with a dark fleshy fork at the tip.
The forked tongue of the Big Boss kind of freaks Kinyonga out. So does the Big Boss’s confession. He killed her?
“She was greedy and stupid,” the Big Boss adds at Kinyonga’s sidelong glance. “She had no clue what she was getting into. No clue at all. I had no choice but to eliminate her. She would have fouled up my plans. Fouled up the Great Work. I can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah, chicks. What a hassle,” Kinyonga says agreeably. But a shiver of dread tickles his spine. “Well, someone had to set it up for you.” Reminding the Big Boss in case, in the press of his So Very Important Duties, the Big Boss neglects to remember Jimi Kinyonga’s invaluable services for this secret evil endeavor.
A secret evil endeavor that started out like this.
Zena Kinski, the famous ostrich dancer—overrated in Kinyonga’s balletomaniac opinion—threatened the Big Boss with blackmail. She approached him over the Instrumentality. In a carefully stitched wink she notified him she had confidential information. Incriminating information. Ruinous information. She demanded to trade her silence about this information for free-trade credits. But strictly at a distance.
A lot of Chromians prefer things that way. On the Instrumentality, no one knows you’re a worm, the Blends like to say.
The Big Boss was having none of it. The Big Boss needed to know what Kinski had on him. How. Why. Through whom. He needed to question her. He needed to reason with her. He needed to impress upon her the importance of his big-deal secret evil endeavor.
The Big Boss needed to meet her in the flesh. Could Kinyonga arrange it?
Piece of cake.
Jimi Kinyonga didn’t know what Kinski’s incriminating information was. He didn’t want to know. That was between her and the Big Boss. The less he knew about the Big Boss’s secret evil endeavor, the better. Jimi Kinyonga didn’t like complications. He could walk away from the deal at any time.
That’s what he thought at first.
After her performance that night at the Megametro Theater, he joined the fans crowding around the stage door, clamoring for Zena Kinski’s autograph. To her credit, the ostrich dancer graciously signed photographs and theater programs and ereaders for them all. Even the cold bloods, the reptiles and amphibians. Her bodyguard or boyfriend kept a watchful eye. Kinyonga wasn’t sure what the guy’s status was. The way he looked at her suggested he was more than a hired hand. A homely, balding vulture shacking up with the glamorous Zena Kinski?
It could happen. On Chrome, love is blind, the Blends like to say.
Okay. So there was this vulture bodyguard or boyfriend hanging around. When Kinski turned toward Kinyonga, he camouflaged himself as one of the fanboys in the crowd. A floppy-eared, blue-jeaned, adoring dog boy with a glossy, full-color photo of Kinski clutched in his paw. Which he held out for her scrawl. The acne sprinkled on his cheeks was a nice touch.
“He needs to speak with you,” Kinyonga murmured as she signed, taking the photo back with an innocent smile. “In person.”
“What did you say?” She widened her huge eyes, fluttering her false eyelashes. Or maybe they were real, the eyelashes. She was an ostrich Blend.
“At the Hedgeway mansion. During Jamboree. He’ll meet you on the third floor. Midnight. Be there. Or you won’t squeeze one single free-credit out of him.”
She stood, gaping at him, as he darted away. She called to the vulture, “Gorge, detain that boy.”
The vulture was tall with a longer stride than Kinyonga’s. He strode into the alley. Searched the crowd.
Kinyonga pressed his spine against the dark brick wall and camouflaged himself. Thrust his hand in his jacket pocket, fingered his blowgun loaded with a poison dart. He was prepared to act, and act fast, if the vulture discovered him. Got nasty
But Gorge saw no trace of Kinyonga standing two steps away, pressed against the bricks, suppressing snickers. He peered, his little yellow eyes perplexed. Squinting at the wall, at the fanboy crowd, back at the wall. Then he shrugged. Strode to his post by the door.
“What was that about, Vinnie?” Kinski whispered and the vulture replied in low, stuttering tones he didn’t know.
Kinyonga waited, very quiet and very still, until Kinski, the vulture, and the fans emptied out of the alley. When at last he was alone, he shook off his camouflage. Crept away into the night.
These details—there was a bodyguard or boyfriend, a vulture Blend name of Vinnie Gorge—Kinyonga does not disclose to the Big Boss. The Big Boss hired him to contact Kinski and arrange the meeting. He has done exactly that. Additional information about what he saw and heard is not included in the fee they agreed upon.
This is how Jimi Kinyonga looks out for Number One.
The Big Boss glares at him through the antiquated eyepiece over his right eye. An Earthian affectation. A human affectation that does nothing to flatter him, in Kinyonga’s sartorial opinion. Kinyonga doesn’t dig the glare. “Yes, you set it up, fubar.”
Does the Big Boss sense his disloyal thoughts? Wayward thoughts?
Scarlet and turquoise swirl up his arms. Kinyonga silently chants his Zen mantra—om mani padma om, om mani padma om—struggling to still the storms of his heart. He admits it. This is his one and only flaw as a ruthless mercenary. A chameleon’s thoughts and feelings, disloyal, wayward, or otherwise, have a way of showing up as swirls of color on his skin.
The Big Boss says nothing more. Laps up his whiskey. A lot of relationships are dicey on Chrome and their particular relationship is very dicey. Kinyonga is a predator and also prey. His ancestral beast hunted, killed, and ate smaller specimens of the ancestral beast of the Blend seated beside him. Same for the Big Boss, both predator and prey of Kinyonga’s crowd.
The instincts go way, way back.
Kinyonga grins around his shot glass. “So, like, there’s another problem?”
“Yes, there is another problem. Kinski got her information about my endeavors through someone else. I told you there had to be someone else and there is.”
“There’s always someone else,” Kinyonga says pleasantly. Should he sell what he knows right now? Ask a good price? Or dangle a lure? There was a guy with Kinski at the stage door. But not his name. Scoring the name, that would be the next job. The guy’s Blend, too. Maybe the alley was too dark. Maybe Kinyonga didn’t get a good look. A sweet job it would be, too. Kinyonga loves raking in credits for information he already knows. He’s about to propose a new deal when the Big Boss volunteers more information.
“Someone else,” the Big Boss hisses, “in a place I know of.”
“Kinski mentioned the place?”
“That’s what I’m telling you, geek. Are you freakin’ listening to me?”
“I’m all ears, Big Boss.”
Kinyonga goggles his right eye at the Blend seated beside him. The Big Boss is a commanding manimal, tall and thin. Kind of handsome, if your definition of handsome doesn’t object to the bald head, the mottled olive complexion, the distinctive feature at the back of his neck. A feature he covers up with an expensive gray cashmere scarf.
Kinyonga has seen the Big Boss’s distinctive feature in action once and only once. He could live the rest of his days without ever seeing that feature again.
And if your definition of commanding doesn’t object to the sibilant voice, deep and masculine, but emerging strangely strangled out of his mouth. Kinyonga knows why that happens, too, the speech pattern. He’s seen this other distinctive feature of the Big Boss in action once and only once.
He could live two lifetimes without ever seeing that again.
*   *   *
To learn more about what Jimi Kinyonga’s new nefarious job from the Big Boss will involve, read the rest of Excerpt 4 at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206!
‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!
CHROME is available at CHROME is in Print at https://www.amazon.com/dp/108732727X
CHROME is on US Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TTD7FKS.
On Barnes and Noble Nook at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/chrome-lisa-mason/1132307377?ean=2940161461488
On Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/947267
On Apple https://books.apple.com/us/book/chrome/id1471596301
On Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/chrome-7

Petrossian purveys all kinds of caviar, plus smoked salmon and other smoked fish, smoked duck breast, wild boar saucisson, and other exotic meats, blinis and breads, macarons, cookies, and candies, and gift sets for the holidays. Check out Petrossian.com.
Back in the days when now-vegetarian Tom ate a bit of fish, he spurned caviar. “It tastes like bait,” he said.
Because of the fishiness, they want you to put a spoonful of caviar on a dollop of crème fraiche, all of that on a blini or a toast point. Which kind of makes for a . . . glorified tuna salad sandwich.
There, I said it.
Seriously, though, I *like* caviar. When presented with the opportunity, I eat caviar straight up. None of that sissy crème fraiche on a blini stuff.
Some years ago, Avon Books held a party in San Francisco for local authors and other bookish folk. The trade paperbacks of Arachne and Cyberweb were published by AvoNova (the hardcovers were published by William Morrow), so Tom and I got an invite. I met the publishing heavy-weight Carolyn Reidy, who was very gracious, and other New York publishing folk
Avon Books put on quite a grand spread, including caviar. While I was piling cheese and spooning caviar on my paper plate, Charles Brown (I always called the founder and publisher of Locus Magazine “Charles,” not “Charlie” like everybody else did) said, “Every freeloader in town is here.” And he proceeded to fill his plate.
After the party, Charles took Shelly Rae Clift, Tom, and me to a Japanese restaurant down the street and treated us to sushi. There was a center island where the chefs prepared the sushi and loaded each piece on a little boat. The boats traveled on a narrow water channel around the prep island. We diners sat on a bench around water channel and island and plucked the sushi we wanted off the boats as they floated by.
It was a wonderful, memorable night.
Meanwhile, Arachne and Cyberweb are once again available as ebooks and trade paperbacks.
ARACHNE is in print in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X
In the U.K. at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/198435602X
In Germany at https://www.amazon.de/dp/198435602X
In France at https://www.amazon.fr/dp/198435602X
In Spain at https://www.amazon.es/dp/198435602X
In Italy at https://www.amazon.it/dp/198435602X
In Japan at https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/198435602X
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
CYBERWEB is 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.
‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

6.3.18.LADIESSMALL

Updated for 2019! Published in print in seven countries and as an ebook on eighteen markets worldwide.
As I mulled over my published short fiction, I found seven wildly different stories with one thing in common–a heroine totally unlike me. I’m the girl next door. I have no idea where these strange ladies came from.
In The Oniomancer (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), a Chinese-American punk bicycle messenger finds an artifact on the street. In Guardian (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), an African-American gallerist resorts to voodoo to confront a criminal. In Felicitas (Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion [Carroll and Graf]), an immigrant faces life as a cat shapeshifter. In Stripper (Unique Magazine), an exotic dancer battles the Mob. In Triad (Universe 2 [Bantam]), Dana Anad lives half the time as a woman, half the time as a man, and falls in love with a very strange lady. In Destination (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), a driver takes three strangers from a ride board on a cross-country trip as the radio reports that a serial killer is on the loose. In Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis (Fantastic Alice [Ace]), Alice considers life after Wonderland.
Five stars on Facebook and Amazon! “Great work, Lisa Mason!”
“Hilarious, provocative, profound.”
From Jeanne-Mary Allen, Author on Facebook and the Book Brothers Blog: “Kyle Wylde and I are thrilled to have found such a talented, dedicated, and brilliant collection of shorts in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories…Your style/craft is highly impressive.”
From the San Francisco Book Review: “Strange Ladies: 7 Stories offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.” http://anotheruniverse.com/strange-ladies-7-stories/
From the Book Brothers Review Blog: “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….Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is a sci-fi collection of excellent quality. If you like deeply crafted worlds with strange, yet relatable characters, then you won’t want to miss it.” http://www.thebookbrothers.com/2013/09/the-book-brothers-review-strange.html#more
5.0 out of 5 stars This one falls in the must-read category, an appellation that I rarely use.
“I have been a fan of Lisa Mason from the beginning of her writing career, but I confess that I often overlook her short fiction. That turns out to have been a big mistake! I have just read Strange Ladies thinking I would revisit a few old friends and discover a few I had missed. Well, I had missed more than I had thought, and I regret that oversight. This collection was so much fun! I loved each and every story and enjoyed their unique twists, turns, and insights. I thank Ms Mason especially, though, for the high note ending with the big smiles in Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis. Uh oh, I guess I still am a child of the summer of love. Well played. You made me laugh at the world and myself.”
“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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection that will make you think
Format: Kindle Edition
“My definition of a good short story is one that you keep thinking about for days, and this book had several of them.”
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
On Kindle at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is in Print in the U.S., in the U.K., in Germany, in France, in Spain, in Italy, and in Japan.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies there for you with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

9.8.19.CHROME.PRINT.BOOKS.1

CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
CHROME
Chapter 3
Terralina Rustabrin

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

In honor of the Day of the Dead, this is an excerpt of El Dia de Los Muertos, from The Gilded Age, published first by Bantam, a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, now a print book and an ebook from Bast Books. The novel, a sequel to Summer of Love, is an exploration of San Francisco in 1895 and China of five hundred years in the future through the eyes of Zhu, a time traveler.
We’re catching up with Daniel J. Watkins, a twenty-something year old man who has serious problems in San Francisco, 1895.
El Dia de los Muertos
“To Death,” Daniel toasts Mr. Schultz, “in marvelous Californ’.”
Mira muerta, no seas inhumana, no vuelvas manana dejame vivir,” croons the singer through his grinning papier-mâchè skull mask. Ricardo, the one-eyed guitarist, dreamily strums along.
“To el Dia de los Muertos,” Schultz says, raising his shot glass. “Sehr gut, nicht wahr? Speaking of muertos, Danny, got myself in a bit of a fix.”
“A matter of life or death?”
“You might say.”
Daniel pours two more shots from a dust-furred bottle of mescal, smiling at the drowned worm at the bottom. Authentic, this splendid rotgut with the disconcerting effect of making everything appear as ominous and strange as a nightmare. A more decadent drink than the Green Fairy, if such a thing is possible. And, like absinthe, the taste is vile.
He and Schultz lounge at a table in Luna’s, finishing their fifty-cent Suppers Mexican. Frank Norris’ recommendation amply deserved. The restaurant is quaint. Bright peasant pottery, dried gourds, red-and-white checked tablecloths. The singer’s skull mask is quite a fright, though Daniel’s dyspepsia is mostly caused by the Supper Mexican. Remains of their scorching hot dinner lie scattered in the colorful crockery—spicy pork sausages, tortillas, chiles rellenos, frijoles fritas, tamales, salsa. Daniel could never have dined on such a feast in St. Louis. Or in Paris or London. Only in marvelous Californ’.
Schultz sighs and knocks the shot back, licking salt off the rim of his glass. “I’ve been given the boot.”
“Things crummy in Far East shipping?”
“Things are bang-up in Far East shipping. Not so bang-up for me.” Schultz pours another shot. Just a small one.
Daniel’s tongue has become quite numb. “Why so, old man? You seem to have been doing well. Plum position.”
“Can’t control the drink, and that’s the truth. God knows I’ve tried. You and I, we start in on the brandy at breakfast.”
“Don’t I know, sir,” Daniel says. “Not to mention Miss Malone and her accursed champagne.”
“She’s forever pouring me another and adding it to my bill.”
“Brushes her teeth with the bubbly.”
“At any rate,” Schultz says gloomily, “showed up corned at the office one time too many. Not that the old man doesn’t do it. He just manages to hold his liquor better.”
“Plus he’s the old man.”
“Guess we’ve all got an old man somewhere.”
“By blood or bad luck.”
They laugh unhappily.
“Lousy bit, Schultz.”
Schultz’s mustache stiffens. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any paying work for hire, do you, Danny? Help out a pal? I’m not asking for a handout. I’m no beggar.”
“Wish I did.”
“You just sold that property of your vater, didn’t you?”
“A patch of worthless weeds on Geary Street. Nothing going on in the Western Addition. I daresay that will be the fate of it for some time. The other lot has got no takers, and the rest of the deadbeats are giving me grief. That old fool Ekberg on Stockton Street has stalled me for weeks. As for Mr. Harvey in Sausalito, the good gentleman sent thugs as his answer to my request for payment. They followed me, Schultz, while I was taking my stroll along the Cocktail Route. Worried me up quite a bit.”
Daniel would rather not confess that his mistress, costumed in coolie’s clothes, gave Harvey’s thugs a run for their money while the thugs gave him a goose egg on the noggin, sore kidneys, and a bad scare. He’s spotted suspicious characters lurking around the boardinghouse. He’s taken to sneaking in and out of the tradesmen’s door rather than promenading out the front. It’s an unhappy way to live. He’s been screwing up his courage for weeks to go and confront that damnable Harvey.
“Perhaps you need a manager.”
“A bodyguard is more like it.”
“Can’t help you there. No good with a pistol or fisticuffs, I fear.” An ugly look of envy curdles Schultz’s large, puglike features. “You’ve got some scratch. Me, I haven’t got one thin dime. And I can’t quit the drink.” He knocks back the shot, toys with the bottle. “I’m weary to my bones. What I need is a cure.”
A cure.
They both contemplate that possibility as the singer launches into another melancholy ballad, “Esta alegre calavera hoy invita a los mortales para ir a visitar las regions infernales.
Daniel knows no Spanish, but the meaning leaps out—We invite you mortals to visit hell. Mescal, by God. Now he is comprehending Spanish. He doesn’t know Schultz well enough to confide his darkest secrets, but Daniel is no fool. He knows exactly what Schultz is talking about. A cure. He behaves like an ass when he’s stinking. Look at how he treats his mistress—his ugly words, his uglier actions. Shoving her about. Having his way with her whenever they’re alone without asking her if she wants it. He hasn’t struck her—not yet—but he cannot promise himself that will never happen. Not when he’s stinking.
He’s not sure where his cruelty comes from. Even less sure why she allows him to get away with it when she has amply demonstrated she’s no whore or dimwit. He would venture to say—only to himself, of course—that Zhu possesses more intelligence than ten gentlemen strolling along the Cocktail Route. Oh, she has her peculiarities. She claims she’s from the far future like a creature out of Mr. Wells’ novel, which only makes him angrier with her when he’s stinking. She goes temperance on him. Drinking’s going to kill you, she says, tears lingering on her lashes. Lunatic, he shouts at her. Off to the loony bin with you.
He awakens after every binge feeling soiled, stupid, and contrite.
He’s been binging every day. Brandy with breakfast, sir, to start.
Those are his scruples. What about his physical constitution? His health, which he’s always taken for granted, is no longer so vibrant. He suffers frequent nosebleeds, a sore throat. Paunch has started thickening his middle. His gut is frequently on the blink. His hands tremble. And the headaches. His head aches something fierce when he awakens. Relief only comes when he’s got his morning brandy under his belt.
And it isn’t only his scruples and his physical constitution. He is plagued by odd feelings. Melancholy and guilt. Memories of his father and mother intrude on his peace of mind. And so on and et cetera until he cannot abide this anymore. There must be something he can do.
“Know of a cure?” Daniel says cautiously.
“Heard a fellow talking about it at the Bank Exchange. Dr. Mortimer’s Miraculous Cure for dipsomania. Guaranteed, money back and all. There’s the trick for me—money. The cure costs an arm and a leg, but is well worth it. Or so the fellow said.”
Daniel tries to overlook the unfortunate fact that this hot tip was imparted in one of the busiest bars along the Cocktail Route. “This Dr. Mortimer, he’s in San Francisco?” He apportions the last finger in the bottle between himself and the worm. “To the handmaiden of Death,” he toasts the worm.
Ja, Dr. Mortimer’s got his clinic in the Monkey Block,” says Schultz, succumbing after a short struggle to the last drops of mescal. He seizes the bottle and empties the remnants, worm and all, into his mouth. Suddenly he looks green and dashes out of Luna’s to the gutter where he noisily airs his paunch. The scowling maitre d’ and a scullery maid dash outside with buckets of hot salt water and vigorously splash the pavement clean. Mr. Schultz’s antics are a terrible reflection on their establishment.
Daniel picks up the tab—a dollar for two splendid Suppers Mexican. A dollar fifty for the terrific rotgut. A penny each for the maitre d’, the waitress, the singer, the guitarist. He reluctantly counts out coins. He’s not exactly flush, himself. He strides out past Schultz on his hands and knees, heaving. What won’t a drunk do, Daniel wonders, to stiff his pal for the bill?
*   *   *
To read the rest of this excerpt and find out how Daniel fares at Dr. Mortimer’s marvelously dubious clinic and what the miraculous cure is, exactly, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there—book excerpts, previously published stories and brand-new stories, recipes, movie reviews—with more on the way.
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8.14.19.SKULL.1

On the September 2019 Tier Four, Nutritious Sustenance, I posted Excerpt 2 of Sticks & Stones Will Break My Bones, a memoir-in-progress about the violent criminal Attack on me in July 2018.
For October 2019 I’m shutting down Sticks & Stones, at least for now and at least temporarily. I’ve got about 40,000 words written of the memoir, but the material needs organizing and expansion and, frankly, I’m finding reliving the events too depressing.
Since I’ve got several fiction projects outstanding, the memoir is stealing much valuable time away. Accounts of people’s medical problems appear to be popular and elicit sympathy on Facebook, but I don’t know how much Patrons would want to contribute to them. If I get comments from Patrons and more Patrons support this Tier, I’ll carry on.
Also for October 2019, I’m setting up Tier Five, Delicious Sustenance, limited to ten participants per month and for considerably more of a monthly charge ($25). You’ll receive access to all other material, but at this Tier I’m inviting my wonderful Patrons to send me 1,000 words of your prose for a critique (that’s about five pages double-spaced). I have attended many writers’ workshops in twenty-five years and am known to be fair and sympathetic, but also honest. If the concept or language isn’t working for me, I will tell you. Also, I’ve written and edited technical material, nonfiction material, and screenplays, as well as short stories and books.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
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10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

About Me
I’ve published eleven novels including Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Recommended Book of the Year, The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, three screenplays, and forty stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. My Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child”, sold outright as a feature film in 2001 to Universal Pictures. But that sale occurred eighteen years ago. Will the movie ever happen? Who knows? I’m working on a new screenplay for it.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area with my artist husband, Tom Robinson, and our Siamese-Angora cat (a breed otherwise known as a rag doll). Athena.
CHROME is my new speculative fiction novel.
Why Patreon?
Books take me years to research and write. Stories, even, may take months. If I try to rush, the result never comes out good.
I wish I could have written hundreds of books and stories like some other authors. But I can’t. I have too much respect for you, the reader, and for the work itself. The work is my legacy. The work will last long after I’m gone.
When a writer sells a book to a traditional publisher, typically that writer signs up for a modest advance against which a miniscule percentage of earnings are charged before the publisher pays out a royalty—every six months. When a writer, rebelling against the System as so many traditionally published writers have, goes to publish independently, there’s a huge personal investment in production, distribution, and promotion.
But I’m not on Patreon to complain that the lives of writers and artists is difficult. You can read such complaints anywhere. And they’re legitimate complaints—that’s why Patreon exists.
No, I’m on Patreon because something terrible and unexpected happened to me.
On July 11, 2018, I was walking around Lake Merritt on a sunny afternoon, with the dog-walkers, the moms and baby strollers, the bicyclists and joggers, as I’ve done virtually every day since 1996—rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter, three and a half miles—when a man jumped out of the bushes and confronted me on the sidewalk.
He tried to beat me up, I fended him off, then he shoved me into two lanes of oncoming traffic on the street. To avoid plunging into the traffic, I backpedaled with my feet, and fell on the concrete curb.
The police apprehended him after he assaulted several other people around lake. From the back of an ambulance, I identified him.
Then I went off in the ambulance to a big urban hospital where I underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthetic for a fractured hip and a broken thigh.
Now it’s a year later and I can’t walk like I did before. Half a mile to the market and back takes nearly an hour. I can’t walk three miles daily to my publishing office, where I earned a good salary. I can no longer walk around the lake, which I miss terribly. The Attack has inflicted me—a former ballet dancer, a swimmer, and an athlete—with a partial disability, daily pain, a nasty limp, and nastier scars. Other health complications may be ensuing.
That’s why Patreon.
I’m prepared to give you, my wonderful Patrons, in exchange for your Sustenance, my best efforts on a monthly basis.
For the September 2019 Tier One, Essential Sustenance, I posted a tribute to my late friend and Japanese translator, Yoshio Kobayashi, my recipe for California Spicy Rice, and my movie review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For Tier Two, Vital Sustenance, I posted a delightful urban fantasy, “Crawl Space,” a spin-off story from my novel, The Garden of Abracadabra, an Introduction to the story, and Afterword about the extensive research I undertook for this 4,000-word story, and the September Writer’s Tip about inadvertent repetition in your writing. (August 2019 was a lovely cat fantasy, “Crazy Chimera Lady.”)
On Tier Three, Necessary Sustenance, I posted Excerpt 2 from my new SF novel, CHROME. (August 2019 was Excerpt 1.) Also I posted to the public the first five-star review.
I’m making changes to Tier Four, Nutritious Sustenance, and adding Tier Five, Delicious Sustenance. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow or the next day.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!