Archives for category: Philip K. Dick Award Finalist

TaoCoverSmall

I.
Dragon
Sing Lin skips down Fish Alley, seeking fresh shrimp for Master’s supper.
She swings her wicker shopping basket with a frivolous hand, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. The city air is ripe with the odors of raw sea creatures and sandalwood incense, of the mouthwatering scent of peanut oil smoking in someone’s hot wok.
A mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu, not on most days. Certainly not on a day as fresh and crisp as this, with sunlight sparkling high above and a cool west wind from the sea. A day which Cook would have gladly savored for himself.
A lucky day.
But Cook has injured himself. His ankle has swollen up like a bundle of newspapers left out in a night rain. Cook took a wrong step into a pothole on Jasmine Avenue, and now he cannot step at all.
Cook had seized her skinny arm as Sing Lin had knelt over the wash basin, scrubbing the sheets for Master’s bed. He flung her to her feet and said, “Here, you lazy girl, go get two pounds shrimp for Master’s supper, and make quick.”
“Yes, Cook,” she murmured.
Sing Lin had washed her hands and face, and retied her queue, and smoothed the wrinkles from her black cotton sahm. And she set out with Cook’s coins and her wicker shopping basket, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. Shrimp is double good luck because, first, here she is, out of the house in such a long time. And because, second, Master will let Cook give her one spicy fried shrimp with her usual supper of boiled rice and greens. “You the shrimp girl, anyway,” Cook joked in his dour way. “Master bought you for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp.”
Two more skips and a hop and a jump, and Sing Lin finds herself among the peddlers of Fish Alley. They are, one and all, clad in blue-denim sahms. Yet all are not alike in the throng of blue tunics and trousers, a truth that even Sing Lin’s eyes can discern. The ones wearing jaunty felt fedoras have taken to the new ways of the city. The ones in embroidered satin caps have not. And the ones who cannot escape their lot in life no matter where they flee to wear the flat straw cone of peasantry. They are, one and all, men. There is not a woman in sight, unless Sing Lin peeks at her own reflection in a shop window, and even she’s not a woman, not yet.
Master employs many men just like the fish peddlers in his drayage business along the waterfront. Once she overheard him talking to Cook. They are not, of course, human beings, Master had said. They are oxen to be led by a ring through the nose. Later, lying on her straw pallet in the pantry, Sing Lin had wondered for a long time what Master must think of her.
Now she glimpses the longing and the bitterness in the fish peddlers’ eyes and something else, something strange and disturbing. Anxiety casts a shadow on her happiness, and she is only too aware she does not belong here. After all, a mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu. It’s not a proper thing. Not on any day.
Fish Alley is not really much of an alley, and certainly not at all an actual street on which horses and wagons travel as they do on other city streets. It is only a mean, narrow passage permitting pedestrian traffic from east to west and back again. Ancient shacks line its gutters, tenements abandoned long ago by fortune-seekers, their claims staked out now by landlords and merchants like Master. Within these shacks dwell the peddlers and the draymen of Tangrenbu, men tripled up to a room, drifting in and out of the city with the fickle tides of bust or boom.
The clapboard walls are covered over with bulletins, strips of red rice paper announcing the news near and far in bold, black slashes of calligraphy. Sing Lin spies a t’ai chi adorning a lintel, a little circle comprised of two teardrops, one red, one black, with a spot of each color in the opposite drop. The t’ai chi is triple good luck, that’s what Cook says. First, for the red, which is yang, thus fiery and excitable, and, second, for the black, which is yin, thus cool and restful. And third for the spots, which rouse restfulness into excitement, and calm excitement into rest.
Oh! A t’ai chi!
Sing Lin is positively glowing with good luck.
She strolls among straw baskets bulging with the sea’s bounty. There are speckled black oysters tossed on handfuls of dank seaweed. Mottled green crabs with their slow, pinching claws. And shrimp, of course, translucent blue and sooty like ill-made glass before they spill into the wok and cook up clean and deliciously pink. She pauses before a basket of salmon, lovely lithe creatures paved in silvery scales. Some of the fish are still flopping. The air is tainted with their brackishness and the smell of their blood. Sing Lin’s heart catches at the sight of the salmon struggling in their death throes.
“Hey, you little girl. Why such a sad face?”
Sing Lin turns, startled. A girl? A girl! Another girl! Whoever sees a girl in Tangrenbu? Yet it’s true, another girl stands beside her. In a black cotton sahm just like hers, a wicker shopping basket slung over her arm, ‘her queue wound around her head in an ebony crown. She is taller than Sing Lin by a handspan and very skinny. Her face is as round as the moon, her eyes almond-shaped slivers of mischief, her skin as flawless as a piece of polished ivory. Her laughing mouth quirks to the left as if she would tell you things you didn’t especially want to hear, but she’ll insist on telling you anyway. Around her neck she’s strung a black silk cord which holds, on the end of it, a tiny t’ai chi. Little shadows pool beneath the high bones of her flat cheeks.
The fish peddlers stare at her—Sing Lin can’t help but notice–as if she is a two-headed, five-legged pig.
“Well? I’m waiting for your answer,” she says. Ah. A little empress she is.
“I’m. . . .I’m sorry the pretty fishes must die.”
The girl mimics weeping and a face full of sorrow, then grins. “Your heart is too soft, little girl. Salmon is delicious! It will put some meat on those matchsticks you call your arms and legs.” She widens her eyes and drops her mouth, the very picture of scandalized disbelief. “Don’t tell me your master is so cruel he never lets a little girl like you ever taste salmon.”
Sing Lin stares down, ashamed. Her big bony toes bulge out of her straw sandals. Peasant toes. She is not someone who tastes salmon, but then–she lifts her chin–she doesn’t want to admit that to this bossy girl. “Sometimes Master gives me spicy fried shrimp with my rice and greens.”
“You mean one little shrimp, don’t you?” At Sing Lin’s abashed nod, the girl throws back her head and laughs, a sound like the tinkling of a silver bell.
The fish peddlers murmur. Sing Lin is only too aware of their eyes. “Don’t laugh like that,” she mutters. “They’re all looking.”
“Ho! Let them look. Come over here into the shade with me, if you’re so worried.”
The girl takes her arm and draws her into the shadows beneath a balcony. The balcony has a great curved railing painted the rich velvety yellow of an egg yolk. “I am Kwai Yin.”
“I am Sing Lin.”
“You are mooie jai?”
“Yes.”
“Me, too.”
The language they once spoke in the old country is as vast as the ancient land from which it had sprung. There are so many dialects that Sing Lin, a girl from the north, would have trouble understanding Kwai Yin, a girl from the south, if they spoke in their mother tongues. So they twist their tongues around another language altogether. The pigeon language of the new country. Of Tangrenbu.
“Where’s your master’s cook, anyway?” Kwai Yin says, looking her up and down. “What’s a girl like you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Cook stepped into a pothole. Now he can’t take a step!” Sing Lin suppresses a giggle, nervous and not a little awed. This bossy girl, a mooie jai, too? And her master lets her taste salmon? What else does her master let her do? “What’re you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Shopping, of course.” As if such a pastime for a mooie jai is nothing.
Which it is not. Not in Tangrenbu.
Sing Lin is bursting with questions, but her throat clenches. The balcony may shield them from the sun and from the fish peddlers’ eyes, but affords no relief from the stink of a bin filled with offal. She spies fish heads and fish fins and husked shrimp shells, the flat little mitt of a manta that wandered into some fisherman’s net. Sing Lin wrinkles her nose, presses fingers to her throat. “Oh, let’s go someplace else!”
But Kwai Yin peers into the bin, avid with curiosity. “Wait, wait. Look there!”
And there, next to the manta, lies another dead little creature, speckled gray, serpentine like an eel. But it is not an eel. It has four fragile legs, each tipped with a foot, and stubby toes, and claws as thick as darning needles. In the way that a sea horse resembles a horse, the tiny head resembles that of an ox. There are bovine ears and round eyes, a broad snout with flaring nostrils. The jaws hang slack, baring fangs that would have given your finger a nasty bite.
“Poor thing,” Sing Lin murmurs. “What is it?”
“Your heart is way too soft,” Kwai Yin says. “That is lung.”
“What is lung?”
“It’s a dragon. Did you ever see such a lousy little dragon?”
“A dragon! That’s a dragon?”
“I know, it was so tiny and weak. Thrown away with the fish heads. The sea must be awfully full of poisons these days.”
Sing Lin eyes the creature. “But there’s no such thing as a dragon. Not really.”
Kwai Yin whips around, her eyes flashing. “Then what is that, I ask you? It is lung, the dragon, I’m telling you, one of the four Fabulous Creatures. Usually he’s bigger and stronger than ten oxen. And his roar! Usually his roar shakes the rooftops off castles. Usually he’s handsome and powerful and brave. Ignorant girl, don’t you know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures?”
Sing Lin shakes her head. Yet she will not stare at her toes, not now. She’s eager to learn. “Please tell me.”
“They are the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Unicorn, and the Tortoise,” Kwai Yin says in her imperious way, counting out the creatures on her fingers. “My Teacher taught me this, and many other things.” She adds in a voice not quite so proud, “I had a Teacher once, you know.”
She pulls Sing Lin away from the vile bin. Angling down from the balcony is buttress of iron scrollwork, which reaches halfway to the street. Kwai Yin slings her basket handles over her head, and leaps up, and seizes the scrollwork in her fist. She walks her feet up the wall, hooks her leg over the buttress, and straddles it, flushed and triumphant. Mounted on her perch, she leans down and holds out her hand. “Come on up. Let’s get some fresh air.”
Sing Lin slings her basket handles over her head, too, and leaps up, and seizes Kwai Yin’s hand. She walks up the wall, too. Kwai Yin pulls her onto the buttress, and they climb up onto the cool stone floor of the balcony. They sit with their legs sticking out beneath the egg-yolk yellow railing and dangle their feet, gazing down at Fish Alley.
Sing Lin is tingling with excitement and also with anxiety. She’s never done such a bold thing, climbing up on a stranger’s balcony. She glances over her shoulder. “What if the man who lives here comes home and finds us?”
“What if, you silly girl? Do you think he’s an ogre who will eat us?” She grabs Sing Lin’s arm and pretends she’s chewing on it, which makes Sing Lin laugh. “Stop being afraid of things that don’t matter. Now, listen. My Teacher said, the four Fabulous Creatures are manifestations of the Tao. Just loaded with so much luck you can’t even believe it.”
Sing Lin peers down at the little dead dragon. How could that could be lucky?
“They are rare and flighty things, the four Fabulous Creatures. You just don’t see a Fabulous Creature every day of the week.”
“I’ve never seen a dragon in my whole life. Not even a little one like that.”
Kwai Yin bobs her head. “Me, neither. My Teacher said, if ever you see a Fabulous Creature in the world, it means that the Tao is near. That the magic of the Tao will touch you.”
Sing Lin shivers with delight. “Magic!”
“Yes, but just look at that lousy little dragon. I see no Tao in Tangrenbu. I see no magic for mooie jai like you and me.”
Sing Lin does not want to be so easily discouraged. “But maybe magic will come!”
“Maybe.” Kwai Yin shrugs. “When did you come to Tangrenbu?”
“In the Year of the Tiger. The Swallow brought me here.”
There was a time when Sing Lin could not speak of that time at all. Of how her father sold her to a slaver in the seaport. Who sold her to the master of a clipper-ship named for a quick-winged bird. It didn’t seem right that a ship with a lovely name like the Swallow was a notorious slave ship, but so it was, carrying illegal human cargo from the old country to the new.
How grateful she’d been when they dragged her out of steerage and off the hellish ship into the cold sunlight of Tangrenbu. Grateful when they stripped off the filthy rags she’d worn for weeks. Grateful still when they stood her up, naked, on an auction block, and an auctioneer displayed her to a crowd of merchants. Grateful at last to go to Master for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp. She is mooie jai, fated to serve at Master’s beck and call. She is grateful for one spicy fried shrimp with her boiled rice and greens.
She can say no more about the Swallow. What’s done is done.
“Oh ho, in the Year of the Tiger,” Kwai Yin is saying, her tone as tart as green oranges. “And how many celestial creatures did you count before the Tiger?”
Now Sing Lin grins. She likes this game of recounting the celestial creatures. She may not know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures, but the twelve celestial creatures, the creatures each of whom who rules over each year, these she knows well. Cook often asks her to recount the celestial creatures, too, and suddenly she realizes he has asked her this so she will remember how old she is. “I remember the Year of the Dog, but only a little because I was little.”
“Go on.”
“Then came the Boar, the Rat, and the Ox. Then the Tiger.”
“So you were five years old when your father sold you?”
Sing Lin says nothing. She cannot even say “yes,” though it’s true. “What about you?”
“Well, I can recount two more celestial creatures than you,” Kwai Yin says in her haughty way. “I saw the Monkey and the Rooster come and go long before the Year of the Dog.”
“Oh!” Sing Lin is delighted. Kwai Yin is two years older than her. Like a sister!
But Kwai Yin is stern, quizzing her further. “And after the Year of the Tiger?”
Sing Lin thinks carefully. “After the Tiger came the Hare.”
“Yes.”
“After the Hare came the Dragon.” She doesn’t want to look at the little dead dragon. “After the Dragon came the Snake. Oh, I’m afraid of snakes.”
“Now that is something to be afraid of. Once I picked up a sack of rice shipped in from the old country. And there, coiled underneath the sack, was the prettiest little piece of string, the color of a shining emerald. And do you know what that pretty little string was? It was a bamboo viper, the most deadliest snake in the whole world! If my master himself hadn’t pulled me away and killed it, I wouldn’t be here at all, talking to you.” She smiles at Sing Lin’s wide eyes. “Go on.”
“After the Snake came the Year of the Horse,” Sing Lin says cautiously. “Now it is the Year of the Ram.”
“Correct. And the new year coming?”
“The new year coming is the Year of the Monkey. I like the Monkey. He’s the Trickster. He likes to play games.” She improvises. “He’s the protector of bossy girls.”
“Yes, yes, very good.” Kwai Yin rewards her with a squeeze of her hand. “I was born in the Year of Monkey.”
“Then the new year coming will be your best lucky year!”
“Ho! Lots of luck, but who knows what kind.” A door suddenly bangs behind them. Kwai Yin cocks her head. “Oops, I hear the ogre. We better go!”
She swings herself over the railing, slides down the scrollwork, and leaps to the street–very much like a monkey. Sing Lin follows, clumsy with panic, banging her elbow hard on a strut of iron. There will be a bruise she will have to explain to Cook.
“Come on!” Kwai Yin says.
The girls dash away from the ogre, who is only a withered old man leaning over the yellow railing of his balcony with a perplexed look. They come to a breathless halt where the alley empties out onto Jasmine Avenue. A horse and hansom clatter by, and people stride by, too, clad in denim sahms or in the grand sweeping robes of merchants. Men, all of them men.
Men who stare at two mooie jai.
The girls press themselves against the wall of a dry goods shop, both alarmed, both trying to become invisible.
“I have seen twelve celestial animals come and go,” Kwai Yin says, shrinking from the traffic, her manner no longer so bold. “That’s why my master makes me eat salmon.”
Makes you!”
“Yes. Till my belly can hold no more, and sometimes I feel a little sick.”
Sing Lin cannot picture this tall, skinny girl eating so much salmon. For one thing, such rich meals have added no meat to the matchsticks she calls her arms and legs. Sing Lin should be glad Kwai Yin can feast so well on rich food her master insists that she eat. But her heart catches, like when she saw the salmon fishes dying. “Why does your master make you eat salmon till you’re sick?”
Kwai Yin says, cold and grim, “Because I must grow fat before I go to meet my fate.”
II
Phoenix
Sing Lin skips back to Master’s house, carrying two pounds of shrimp in her wicker basket and a handful of copper coins in change. More coins than you might think. After meeting Kwai Yin, she’s started feeling bolder herself. She smiled sweetly at the shrimp vendor instead of casting her eyes down and, in return, he gave her a very good price and a very nice smile of his own.
Cook, taking his ease in the servants’ quarters, his swollen ankle propped up on a cushion, counts out the coins. He glances up at her, startled, and parts his thin lips, revealing two fence rows of teeth stained brown by tobacco. Cook’s rendition of a smile. “Very good, girl. I tell Master you not so lazy, after all.”
“Thank you, Cook. Is there any other thing you wish?”
A tough little knotty man, like an oft-tied leather shoestring, Cook regards the whole world as if deciding how to skin and gut and slice and boil it. Sing Lin averts her eyes from him and keeps her own mouth from smiling. She’s fresh and rosy-cheeked, her hair disheveled from the sea wind, she’s unaccountably happy, and she knows Cook notices this. She knows he is speculating just exactly how she came up with the extra coins and is deciding whether or not he approves of her cleverness.
He doles out another dime from his leather purse.
Late sunlight slants over the western hills, casting long shadows over Tangrenbu. But the day is not yet done.
“Yes, another thing. Go to the sweetmeats shop and buy some sugar plums for Master’s dessert. And a coconut candy for you. But just one. And bring back change.”
“Yes, Cook.”
“And, for goodness sake, put something over your sahm.”
Cook lurches to his feet, and takes off his jacket, and pulls the garment over her shoulders. “Tuck up your hair, take a hat.” He knots her queue into a coil at the nape of her neck, jams his slouch hat over her head. The hat is way too big and smells of Cook’s sweat and his suety hair oil. She giggles, already too warm beneath the jacket and hat. Cook shakes his finger at her. “No laugh. You must pass for a boy. I made a mistake earlier today. I cannot send a girl like you alone into Tangrenbu.”
“Cook, why are there no mothers in Tangrenbu? Why no girls?”
He yanks the jacket over her scrawny chest. “The governors of the new country have passed laws. These laws say we cannot bring our wives or our daughters from the old country to Tangrenbu.”
“Why?”
“Because we came here to work and make a new life, but the governors and the people who live here do not want us to stay and make a new life after the work is done.”
Why?”
“You’re too old to ask why, why, why like a baby child.”
“But why?”
He buttons up the jacket all the way, from her neck to her thigh. “The governors fear us. If we cannot bring our families to Tangrenbu, the governors hope we will return to the old country when the work is done. But many of us cannot return. I cannot return to my wife and daughter. After all my work in Tangrenbu, I cannot save the fare for my sea passage. It would be better for me to make a new life here with my family and pay for their fare. I very much want that. But if I have no fare for myself, have can I provide fare for them?”
Sing Lin ponders that. “Cannot stay, yet cannot go. Cannot go back to family, cannot bring family here to settle down. Like a fish caught in a net, thrashing about.” She thinks of the dead dragon, but decides not to tell Cook about it. Beneath the tough nutshell of his face, she can discern the kernel of his sorrow.
“Yes. And so here we men must stay alone, in Tangrenbu. And here in Tangrenbu, there are only mooie jai and–” But now Cook claps his jaws shut.
Sing Lin is puzzled and a little frightened. “And who else, Cook?”
“And daughters of joy.”
That sounds lovely to Sing Lin’s ears. She’s reminded of Kwai Yin, of her own joy today. “Oh, I should like to meet a daughter of joy.”
“No, no! Never, never meet a daughter of joy.” Cook frowns and dark shapes move in his eyes. “You listen to me, girl. You must never go to Soot Alley. Never go to Bleak Place.”
One time, in the Year of the Snake, Sing Lin had walked with Cook past Bleak Place. It was a dreadful dark alley in a labyrinth of many such alleys in Tangrenbu. She recalls the strange, birdlike cries she’d heard when they passed by. She recalls how they’d seen men dragging something out of one of the shacks. A burlap sack that might have held the corpse of a large dog. How the men had tossed the sack onto the flatbed of a garbage wagon, and how Cook had made her hurry.
“Never, never go to those places,” Cook says and darkness moves in his voice. “For that is where the daughters of joy are kept hidden. You sabe?”
She isn’t sure if she understands, but she says, “I sabe.
And she sets out for sugar plums for Master’s dessert, plus one coconut candy for herself. She brings back the coins in change, which Cook takes, along with the candy. He splits the candy in two, giving her half, and pops the other half in his mouth. No matter. Half a coconut candy is well worth another taste of freedom.
*   *   *
To discover what Kwai Yin’s terrible fate is, Sing’s danger, Tao Magic, and the rest of the Four Fabulous Creatures, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full story of “Daughter of the Tao” and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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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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Excerpt 5:
Blend Day
A rude, unnecessarily loud knock-knock-knock on the door to her lair jolts Luna Lightfoot to her feet just as she’s slipping on flannel pajamas and preparing to bed down for the day.
Today isn’t any ordinary day. Today is Blend Day.
If Jamboree is a day of wild celebration, of indulging in forbidden pleasures, of making mischief, then the day that follows—Blend Day—must be observed, according to two centuries of Chromian tradition, by somber reflection, fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-abnegation.
Some Chromians look forward to Blend Day with a self-righteous dread. To the Day when even the powerful and glamorous predator Blends bend down on their knees, raise their eyes to the pitiless stars, and ponder the meaning of their tormented unnatural lives. When every Blend curses the ancient Tweakers and the Twitchers of Emirk Corporation for creating Chrome.
Not Lightfoot. No self-flagellation. No moaning, no sobbing, no tears. She loves her puma life too much. Loves her puma talents. She doesn’t even mind that her human ancestors were political prisoners smuggled up from Croatia and blended with puma genes.
CRISPR, that’s what they dubbed it, the molecular biologists who pioneered the gene-modification technique three centuries ago. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. With CRISPR, Emirk’s technicians created entire races of genetically modified people with inheritable traits by blending the chromosomes of creatures with the chromosomes of human beings.
Blends.
Blends often sarcastically refer to each other as atlantean, beastie boy or girl, chimera, cordwainer, creep, cryptid, freak, fubar (fouled up beyond all recognition), GMO, gryphon, half-and-half, jabberwock, mockery, monster, moreau, mutant, quarryman or woman, splicer, toba sojo, weaver, or wonderlander.
Bang bang bang.
Who on Chrome could it be?
Irritated, Lightfoot waves off the World Eyes in her bedroom flashing with the news of Zena Kinski’s tragic demise. Views of Bunny Hedgeway twisting a lace hanky, dark tears streaking her plump little face, do not show the Pomeranian to her best advantage. Get a grip, Bun, Lightfoot will have to tell her. When she wakes at sundown, she’ll wink Bunny. Show her sympathetic support as a Blend-friend.
Bang bang BANG.
She stalks into the living room, the kitchen, the library, all around her lair. Aims her Tatt at the World Eyes stationed everywhere and waves them shut. When open, the World Eyes blink views to the Instrumentality of her sleeping the day away. That’s all fifteen billion human beings on Earth ever get to see of her. A puma Blend in pajamas sleeping in her luxurious lair. Curling up in the cashmere blankets. Uncurling, yawning, stretching. Curling around on her other side. Prowling to the kitchen for a glass of cool water.
For this, Lightfoot earns considerable monthly royalties from the Instrumentality.
What’s so unusual about her sleeping the day away? Not a thing. Lightfoot is nocturnal. She’s up all night, like her ancestral beast. And what she does at night, nefarious or innocent, is strictly off-limits to the Instrumentality. Terms of her contract.
Another obnoxious knock, and she sighs. The royalties will amount to a little less this month now that she’s waving the Eyes off. She stalks to her front door. “Yes?”
“Open up, Lightfoot,” says a masculine canine voice. She knows the voice and the canine only too well. He goes by the moniker of Xander King, homicide detective for the Chrome City police. “We gotta talk.”
“Have some respect, Cop King,” she says through the door. “It’s Blend Day. I’m contemplating my cruel fate.”
“You’ll be contemplatin’ more than that.”
“Excuse me?”
“You really stepped in it this time.”
You’d think him a lion Blend with a name like that, but you’d be wrong. Only a golden retriever could get away with such a grandiose name when he’s merely a middling officer in a corrupt police department on an artificial planetoid. And no, Lightfoot has never entangled herself in a homicide investigation. She’s acquainted with Xander King because she sells him hot nasty tips whenever she daintily trips across them on her nocturnal prowls through Chrome City.
She cracks open the door, leaving the chain lock on. “Dunno what you’re whining about,” she purrs pleasantly. “I’m off to my beauty sleep while fifteen billion Earthians pay to watch me dream. You’re wasting my prime time. Bye-bye, have a self-punishing day.”
“Wise up, Lightfoot,” barks another masculine canine voice. That would be Chan O’Nally, King’s partner. “The fang job at Bunny Hedgeway’s place last night. You know what we’re talkin’ about, and we know you know.”
“Everyone on Chrome knows what you’re talking about, Detective O’Nally. All everyone has to do is wink the Instrumentality.”
“We’re talkin’ about you and where you were last night,” O’Nally snarls. He’s an Irish setter Blend whose human ancestors two-and-a-half centuries ago were political dissidents incarcerated in the prison of an Asian country until the Central Committee sold them to Emirk Corporation for a rock-bottom price.
Moi?
“Quit stallin’ and open up,” King growls. “Security Eyes on the rooftop captured your beauteous image in the moonlight.”
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“Think again,” O’Nally snaps.
She thinks again. Damn, it must be true. She’s a puma Blend. No one and nothing sees her when she sets her mind on moving invisibly. No matter the surroundings, urban, suburban, or the Wildlands. No one and nothing sees her. But her mind had been unsettled last night. She herself slightly clumsy when she leapt from the bedroom terrace back onto the roof. Witnessing a murder will do that.
“Guess you weren’t up to your usual stealth last night,” King says.
Guess you don’t know what you’re yapping about.”
“Guess we do,” O’Nally says. “Get yourself decent and let us in. We gotta talk before someone less forgivin’ than us collars you for your presence at a fang job.”
“Give me a moment, detectives.”
She shuts the door.
Not up to her usual stealth?
No kidding.
She knew from the start the mysterious Rex was all wrong. She just didn’t know how wrong.
“We haven’t got all day, Lightfoot,” King barks.
“Coming,” she trills.
*   *   *
To discover how Lightfoot’s interview with the police goes, what they accuse her of, what she admits to, and especially what she doesn’t admit, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full excerpt and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
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Updated for 2020! CHROME, the new novel and reviews, new reviews of Summer of Love, The Gilded Age, Arachne, and Cyberweb, new stories and interviews, plus blogs, round tables, Tom Robinson’s bespoke jewelry and artwork, cute cat pictures, forthcoming works, and more! Visit me at http://www.lisamason.com

9.18.19.BOOKSHELF.5_NEW

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 and learn the shocking reason I’ve opted for Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/lisamasonfantasyandsciencefictionwriter?alert=2 I’ve got delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more.
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CHROME.MED.295.KB

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

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

Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I need your support! I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, book, and more.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

CHROME.MED.295.KB

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