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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!
Praise for CHROME
“An excellent semi-noir full-on SF work by a terrific author. . . .a science-fiction homage, in part, to the noir books and movies of the forties and fifties, only brought forth into a future time a quarter-millennium from now. . .  a fully-realized society.”
—Amazing Stories.com
“So Walter Mosley reread Animal Farm and The Island of Dr. Moreau and says to himself, “Oh, yes indeed, I’ve got a terrific idea for my next best seller.” But! Lisa says, “Hold on, hot stuff. You’re too late. Chrome is already on the streets. Haha!
Wow! I just tore through Chrome. So much fun. Oh, I guess I should take a time-out to say that it was very well-written too, but I was enjoying the characters and the story so much that the superb writing simply did its job and I had to consciously reflect to notice the excellent and clever construction and reveals. Isn’t that the definition of good writing?”
—Reader Review
June 2020 Excerpt:
12
Hades
Descending at high speed from the fiftieth story of the Ucayali Building to the marble lobby, Luna Lightfoot stands two steps away from the infamous Dom Swifty Panterr.
He stares straight ahead at their reflections in the mirror of the elevator cab, his golden eyes hunter-cold. Growls softly to himself.
She smiles. This is as close to puma heaven as Lightfoot has been in a long time.
They log out at the front desk, step into the night-time throng on Seventh Avenue. She matches Panterr’s long stride, and passersby turn to gawk at them. Predator Blends with grudging admiration. Prey Blends with primal fear.
Panterr’s bodyguards trail at a distance. No one would mistake the steely-eyed lynx with their unfiled fangs and illegal pistols bulging in their jacket pockets as unaffiliated pedestrians strolling idly behind them.
“Don’t we make a glamorous power couple,” she jokes.
“In your dreams, Lightfoot,” he snaps. All trace of his ironic banter gone.
Oh, fine. She knows very well Panterr isn’t the kind of manimal who mates for life or even for very long. But it’s more than that. From his scowl she can tell he’s disturbed by her story. Maybe worried about what they’ll find at Hades. A nocturnal foray to Chrome City’s new morgue and crematory, both of them dressed in fancy evening clothes, cannot be his idea of an entertaining evening out on the town.
They turn east toward the Recycling and Reclamation District. The foulest place within Chrome City’s municipal limits. Lightfoot wrinkles her nose as they stalk past a recycling center reeking of garbage, waste products, and the chemicals used to sanitize everything. Through a wall of glass, she spies the squat figures, spindly arms, and bulbous eyes of insect Blends staffing the dimly lit center. Particularly pitiable heirs to Emirk’s experiments long ago, they are nothing if not efficient. They don’t require a lot of light as they scurry back and forth on their loathsome tasks. Like Lightfoot, they’ve got excellent vision when the sun doesn’t shine.
Two dung beetles in olive-drab dungarees squat on the curb outside, smoking illegal cigarettes. Conversing in low, scratchy whispers.
She and Panterr walk past an electric-battery-and-hydrogen-fuel-cell emporium with its own specialized recycling operation, plus a repair shop. The huge neon-lit window showcases a dozen tiny candy-colored hydrocars poised on jacks awaiting work in the morning. Beaver mechanics will get the job done with their long, strong fingers and thick, hairy hides stained by grain motor oil.
Lightfoot shrugs. She’s never owned a hydrocar. Between the trams with routes encircling the planetoid, an occasional taxi, and her own two limber legs, she has no need for such a rare and costly possession. She’s content without a hydrocar.
“This way,” Panterr growls. Strides down a dark, mean-looking alley toward a warehouse.
Lightfoot sniffs, her discerning olfactory sense identifying the smoky stink of burning flesh. As if she needs further proof, a metal sign riddled with bullet holes identifies the place:
Chrome City Morgue and Crematory
“Hades?” she whispers.
“Hades,” Panterr snaps.
“Chromians use the sign for target practice?”
“Yeah.” He turns to her with a mirthless grin, baring the full curve of his fangs. A Feralist, after all. “I used the sign for target practice myself,” he says, “after a wolf pack tore out my father’s throat and I took his corpse here for cremation. Made me feel a little better to plug some holes in a sheet of cheap steel.”
“Oh.” Startled by his revelation, she starts to murmur sympathies. Then bites back her words. Panterr wants no sympathy. She files his father’s murder in her memory for further use.
Two Chrome City Coroner’s vans crowd the alley, plus a private limousine. A busy night for death on our planetoid, Lightfoot thinks unhappily. Panterr pushes open the double doors of smeary glass and strides inside. He doesn’t hold the doors open for her, and they slap back in her face. She pushes through them herself, doesn’t hold the doors open for the bodyguards, either, and they slap shut behind her. Take that.
Morgue staffers in gray-and-white uniforms stride around the overly bright autopsy room. Checking bare feet for tattooed social numbers. Scribbling on notepads. Loading corpses onto autopsy tables or unloading them. Some staffers shove corpses into the lime-green drawers lining the walls or pluck them out.
The staffers—from their knobby bald heads, mottled red double chins, smallish clawlike hands in blue latex gloves, and shuffling gait—are a raptorial Blend.
Vultures.
Lightfoot shivers. She likes accipitridae families even less than chiroptera. But the shiver is more than her distaste for scavenger birds. The morgue is as cold as an ice box. After the sultry spring night, she has to wrap her arms around her ribs. She’s a hot blood. Her metabolism may run fast, but she hates the cold.
A couple of dog cops mingle in the crowd, woofing intently with a staffer. A bearded barn owl holding a faux-snakeskin physician’s bag peers at the corpse of an antelope man sprawled on a dissection table.
Lightfoot takes a sharp breath, steadies her nerves. An unexpected thrill pierces her at the sight of the antelope. A forbidden thrill.
Prey.
Panterr strides among the staffers, heads off to a chamber deeper within the warehouse. Lightfoot follows. Another sign points the way: Crematory.
The crematory is swelteringly hot and arid as a desert. That’s better. Lightfoot’s shivering eases, but not completely. The place is too creepy. More vultures yank open huge steel doors, revealing the leaping flames of Hades. Slide naked corpses on numbered pallets into the ovens.
Is this the way failed experimental subjects were disposed of by Emirk Corporation centuries ago? Lightfoot wonders.
But these aren’t experimental subjects. These are Chromians who have lived out their lives and died.
A little vulture woman hunches over an antique keyboard with a piece of paper threaded around a rubber roll, a ribbon of inked cloth scrolling through a platen. When she taps the keys, steel arms tipped with letters, numbers, and symbols strike the inked cloth, leaving impressions on the paper. The staffer laboriously taps information onto a printed form.
Lightfoot peeks over the vulture’s shoulder. ID (name, social number, Blend), date of birth, date of death, cause of death, time of cremation, next of kin, and so on. The morgue must not have much of a budget, making do with such primitive equipment.
Lightfoot’s acquisitive streak kicks up its heels. An antique typewriter, ooh. She glances around. Is it nailed down?
“Who’s in charge here?” Panterr roars, startling the staff half out of their wits.
That’s a good place to start, the supervisor. But if skullduggery is going down, the supervisor may not have a clue. Or may be the first one in on the take. Lightfoot holds her tongue and allows the criminal kingpin to conduct his investigation the way he wants to.
A tall vulture shuffles forward, the high dome of his bald head wreathed with wispy black hair. Wire-rim spectacles planted on his long, narrow nose. He whips the spectacles off. Hostility gleams in his beady yellow eyes. Charming. Though he is kind of virile, Lightfoot notes, looking him over. Lean. Buff biceps. For a vulture.
“I call the shots for this shift.”
Panterr seizes the vulture’s arm, yanks him aside. “Your name?”
Lightfoot joins the party. Watching. Sniffing. Listening.
“Vinnie Gorge. And a pleasant evening to you, too, Dom Panterr.”
“You know who I am?”
“Only from what I see on the Instrumentality.”
“Stay informed, Vinnie Gorge, and listen up. It has come to my attention tonight that a scam is going down at Hades. A scam connected with the Kinski murder. I want a piece of it.”
Lightfoot stares. Is Panterr serious? Is he bluffing? She reserves judgment. A criminal like Panterr is always on the take. Always looking for an opportunity. She could learn a thing or two from this manimal.
“You don’t want no piece of this lousy business, Dom Panterr.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
The little vulture pushes back from her typewriter, trots up to them. “Hey, Gorge. Got another one of them presto jobs. Same instructions. Burn all of it as soon as possible.” She consults a notepad. “Pallet seventy-six.” Narrows her eyes at Lightfoot and company, suddenly realizing they don’t belong here. Maybe realizing she’s just said something she shouldn’t.
“Thanks, Cathae,” Gorge says, shooting a warning look. She shrugs and shuffles off.
“Want me to take a peek at pallet seventy-six, Dom Panterr?” Lightfoot mutters.
“No, stick around. That stiff’s not going anywhere until we take it.” At Gorge’s sputtered protest, Panterr points out, “The puma lady is my street muscle. Gets her thrills out of hunting birds for sport.” He nods at his lynx bodyguards. “Same for them. So lay it out, Gorge.”
Vinnie Gorge widens his eyes at Lightfoot and the bodyguards. “Ain’t nothin’ to lay out. Guy comes in with a body bag. Pays extra to skip the standard ID and autopsy and a bit extra more to move the body to the head of the line bound for the fire. That’s it. That’s all. The bit extra ain’t worth your time, Dom Panterr.”
Panterr’s predator’s eyes just about burn two holes through the vulture’s long, narrow face. “I don’t think that’s all.”
“But I’m tellin’ ya—”
“Don’t make me repeat myself. Is the coroner’s office in on it?”
“Nah, they don’t know nothin’.”
“What are they? Who are they? Murder victims? A species gang war? You see, Vinnie Gorge,” Panterr says reasonably as he shoves the vulture against the wall and seizes his scrawny neck. “I need to know what my competition is up to. Maybe I can learn something new and different.”
Lightfoot grins. She could definitely learn something new and different from Swifty Panterr.
“How should I know if they was murdered?” Gorge squawks, fear boiling in his yellow eyes. “The coroner never gets a gander. Part of the deal.”
“Who set it up? When?”
“Three, four months ago, this guy comes in—”
“What guy?”
“He don’t exactly tell me his name,” Gorge says sarcastically. Which is either terribly brave or terribly foolish with Panterr’s massive hand gripping his neck.
“What kind of Blend?” Panterr says.
“Beats me,” Gorge says. His sallow cheeks flush. “I can never tell somebody’s Blend. Especially if they’re of a different species, y’know?”
Lightfoot and Panterr trade looks. He’s lying.
“So he comes in that night with a stiff in a body bag. Brings it back to the ovens. Nobody out front gets in his way. Maybe them chemicals make ‘em soft in the head.” Gorge adds, “He’s wearin’ a cap and a suit jacket.”
“Like a chauffeur?” Lightfoot chimes in. “Like the driver of a limousine?”
“Yeah, maybe.”
Panterr bares his fangs. “And then what happened? Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“We talk. His terms sound okay, I say sure. Just doin’ my job like I always do.”
“Cathae said ‘burn all of it,’” Lightfoot says. “Hades doesn’t ever cremate less than a whole corpse. What is ‘all of it’?”
Panterr gives her a heart-stopping glance. Looks at the vulture. “Answer the puma lady.”
Gorge swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his bony throat. “Stiff always comes sealed up in a body bag. Guy’s orders are don’t open nothin’. Burn everything, bag included.” He sniffs self-righteously. “The bit extra pays for that, too. All the other stiffs go into the fire in their birthday suits. No clothing, no shoes. For sure, no body bag. That would create extra smoke and air pollution. I gotta file a monthly report with the Bureau of Atmospheric Quality and Control about our emissions, y’know.”
“We sure don’t need air pollution on Chrome with our synthy cloud cover,” Lightfoot says. “That’s why cigarettes are illegal.”
“You can say that again,” Vinnie Gorge says and coughs. That tell-tale little hack of a longtime smoker.
“Does Cathae get something extra, too?” Lightfoot says.
“She gets a small remuneration for cooperatin’,” Gorge says. “I do all the dirty work. This is my racket.”
Lightfoot goes for it. “So you got curious after thirty, forty sealed bags showed up? I know I would. You opened one of the bags and saw something odd in there. A venom job, maybe?”
Panterr slants her a glance. Annoyed with her for butting in or pleased with her brilliance? She’s hoping for brilliance, but can’t tell.
“I ain’t no doctor.”
Panterr bangs the vulture’s head against the concrete wall. “Talk, Vinnie Gorge, and I’ll think about ordering my bodyguards not to follow you home after your shift ends tonight.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know what freakin’ killed ‘em!”
“Fair enough,” Lightfoot says, playing good puma to Panterr’s bad. “So you decided to collect more than a bit extra on account of what you saw.”
“Somethin’ like that.”
Panterr jumps in. “How did Zena Kinski get involved?”
“I mentioned it to her one morning,” Gorge says.
“While you were in bed,” Panterr finishes for him.
“Zena Kinski in bed with the likes of you?” Lightfoot says.
She shoots an admiring look at Panterr. Nearly swoons to see he’s gazing back at her. We make a good team and a glamorous power couple, she wants to say. But doesn’t. Pumas don’t travel in prides or form couples. He’s a loner. She’s a loner. They’re both Feralists. That’s the way of their ancestral beast.
But Lightfoot suddenly finds herself holding onto hope. They’re Blends, not beasts. They’re half human.
“Sure, why not,” Gorge says. “We’re both avians. I’m a huge fan.” He frowns, his face drooping with sorrow. “Was a huge fan. I showed up at the stage door for an autographed picture. We became Blend-friends, and more. I make steady money. She was always worried about ending her career on the stage. She needed a bodyguard. I was happy to help her out.” He sniffs. Looks up at them fiercely. “Help her out in every way.”
Lightfoot nods. “What’s the account issuing the credits? Whose name is on the account and how did you set it up with the payor?”
“That’s enough,” Panterr snarls at her. “I’m handling this.” He glares at Vinnie Gorge. “Where, like the puma lady asked, do the credits originate and from whom?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
Panterr pulls the vulture away from the wall. Slams him back so brutally, his head bangs against the concrete hard enough to draw blood and raise a bruise. “Think carefully, Vinnie Gorge. Think fast.”
“That was Zena’s thing! I told her about the deliveries, she did some research. Got a bead on the guy giving orders, I don’t know how. Honest,” the vulture adds, a dishonest sheen to his beady yellow eyes. “With them body bags comin’ in every night, I didn’t want to know.”
“And the credits?” Lightfoot says, butting in again. She doesn’t take orders from Panterr.
“They’re free-trade credits, what else? Streamed through a triple-blind account. Generic. Code-free. Transferable by the holder, any holder, to any recipient.”
Panterr listens, head cocked to one side. His thick, pink tongue flicks over his lips. Bet he’d like to get his paws on more of that kind of currency. So would Lightfoot.
“I didn’t ask no questions,” Gorge says with a shrug of his pointy shoulders in a feeble attempt to pull free of Panterr’s grip. “I deposit the bit extra in my account. The big pay-off, that was up to Zena.” The vulture hangs his knobby head. A greasy brown tear leaks from his eye. “I would never have let her meet him all by herself if I’d known how dangerous the guy was. Cripes, I miss her.”
Lightfoot turns to go. Their business here is finished. She can’t wait to escape the charred stench filling her nostrils.
“That’s not good enough, Gorge,” Panterr says, showing no sign of leaving.
“That’s all I got, Dom Panterr.”
The little vulture woman shuffles over. “We’re ready to go on seventy-six,” Cathae squawks. Aims her yellow glare at Lightfoot and Panterr. “I need you to sign off, Gorge.”
“That’s not all you’ve got, Vinnie Gorge,” Panterr hisses.
“I swear!”
“Actually, I do believe he’s got nothing more. Other than another suspicious body bag on pallet seventy-six. Which we need to take,” Lightfoot says. “Right, Dom Panterr?”
“Very well.” He releases Gorge.
The vulture slumps to the floor on his knobby knees, gagging and rubbing his neck.
“Luke, go collect the bag. Danny, wink a cab,” Panterr tells his bodyguards. “And wink Doc Caduceus. Tell him we’re coming over to his office. With a patient.”
“A patient, Dom Panterr?” the lynx bodyguard growls.
“A patient who requires his immediate attention,” Panterr says in his ironic way.
“We?” Lightfoot says. “Does that include me, Dom Panterr?”
“Yeah, I want you along, Lightfoot. Another pair of puma eyes.” Panterr kicks Vinnie Gorge out of his way. Stalks out of the crematory.
Lightfoot smiles slyly. Progress. This is progress.
13
Finesse
Creepin’ cryptids, he’s been, like, waiting in this lousy alley outside of Hades all freakin’ night. Good thing Jimi Kinyonga wears his bomber jacket with the faux-mouton collar. The thick faux-leather warms Number One’s skinny butt in the chill of a faraway dawn that is taking its sweet time to crawl over the horizon.
Not that his wait has been a waste. Far from it. The things he’s seen. Who knew the Chrome City Morgue could be such a lively place to hang out at for the duration of an evening? Half a dozen coroners’ vans came and went. A fancy limousine. A couple of dog cops. An owl with a doctor’s bag. And four wild felines, two great big tall ones, two smaller ones trailing after.
The feline Blends went inside for a while. Then a cab showed up, nosing its way down the alley, and they all came back out. The two smaller felines carried a body bag. They all climbed in the cab and drove away.
Kinyonga had scratched his head. What was that about? Since when do Chromians take a body bag out of the morgue?
Unless whatever was in the bag wasn’t a corpse.
Kinyonga puzzles over that. Is it likely there wasn’t a corpse in the bag? He doesn’t think so, but what does he know? If you can think of a hundred illegal things that can be done with a body bag—smuggle drugs, smuggle weapons—so can a hundred other crispers.
So what’s in the bag? Besides, maybe, a body?
Kinyonga isn’t sure what kind of felines they were. Wild feline Blends, especially the Feralists, all look the same to him. Kick-ass strong. Fangs and claws. Enviably graceful. Meaner than mean. He never wants to go up against a wild feline unless he’s got a serious weapon on his person. Preferably a loaded gun. Though his blowgun and a poison dart would do.
The four felines and their body bag will remain his private observation. The Big Boss has paid him to report back on who Zena Kinski’s connection was at Hades. Who and what that Blend is. What that Blend knows. How Kinski and her ally connected the crazy-quilt dots to the Big Boss and his big-deal secret evil enterprise. That’s it and that’s all.
The Big Boss hasn’t paid him to report back on anything else. Other activities and other Chromians he observes tonight are Number One’s proprietary information.
Kinyonga smirks. Earlier he’d fretted over how he could nail Kinski’s inside connection. Someone who works at Hades or spends a lot of time there. A morgue staffer, a cop, maybe a medical examiner, the Big Boss had said. What kind of sorry lead is that?
As he’d loitered in the alley procrastinating, grinning at the bullet-hole-riddled sign, and generally dreading going inside, he’d hatched a scheme. He would mute his hair and his beard. Wander in, wander around. See what he could see. Ask a bunch of questions. Ask the manager for a job. Drop Kinski’s name. Such a shame. You ever see her dance at the Megametro? See if anyone did a knee-jerk.
It wasn’t the greatest plan for a genius like Number One. But it was all Kinyonga had.
Then Lady Luck smiled on him, as she so often did.
Someone slipped out a back door leading to the lane beside the morgue lined with recycling bins. Someone slipped out so quickly and quietly, Kinyonga might have missed him if he hadn’t goggled his left eye in that direction.
Where does he think he’s going?
Kinyonga stood motionless, camouflaging himself against the brick wall. He saw the flare of a match, smelled tobacco smoke. He caught a glimpse of the smoker. Well, what do you know? It was the vulture, Vinnie Gorge. The very same Vinnie who had stood beside Zena Kinski at the stage door. Boyfriend or bodyguard? Who knew? Who cared? Vinnie and Zena, they’d been close. It was Vinnie Gorge, beyond a doubt.
The vulture stepped into a narrow space between two recycling bins. A little hidey-hole where he could enjoy his illegal addiction unnoticed. He was all but invisible to anyone in the alley or in the parking area in front of the morgue. Good work, Vinnie. Kinyonga has the highest appreciation for anyone who knows how to hide and hides well.
Over the course of the dreary night, Gorge’s gambit went on and on. He must have stepped out for a ciggie break six or seven times. Make that eight. Dang, what are all his ciggie breaks costing us hardworking Chromian taxpayers? Not that Jimi Kinyonga pays any income taxes.
So, okay. Kinyonga knew Vinnie’s name and Vinnie’s Blend. That part of the job, which had seemed the most daunting, was done. Then he fretted over how he was going to approach Gorge. Finesse the information the Big Boss wants.
How did you discover the Big Boss’s identity? Who else is involved? How did you discover this thing, whatever it is the Big Boss is covering up?
His mind darted, flitting to one line of questioning, then another. It occurred to ol’ Jimi that the Big Boss hadn’t ordered him to find out what the Blend knows about this thing. Everything else but what, exactly. When he’d asked what kind of dirt, the Big Boss had put him off. You don’t need to know. Here he is running errands for the Big Boss again, and he himself has not been fully informed what the big-deal secret evil enterprise is.
That is unacceptable to a cold-blooded mercenary like Jimi Kinyonga. He needs to have a talk with the Big Boss. He needs a clarification. And soon.
Thanks to Vinnie Gorge and his tobacco habit, now Number One knows what to do. He’s got a plan.
He puts his plan into action.
Good thing Kinyonga always carries ciggies on his person, though he himself doesn’t partake of the demon weed. Good thing he always carries cram, too, which works well in the diurnal niche when you need to sort through twenty thousand stolen Winchester rifle parts. The cheroots of soot he also always carries have the opposite effect, a soporific effect, and he likes to toke those once in a while, but only after diurnal business is done. In his experience, Blends who dig tobacco also dig cram or soot. Sometimes both.
He also carries a switchblade, his beloved blowgun and poison darts, and a wire. The wire is a strip of plastic-covered metal he threads through the belt loops of his jeans and fastens at his waist.
That is how Number One comes equipped for a job.
The dawn shift begins. Two dozen Blends trudge up the alley, heading for the double doors of Hades. The night shift ends, and two dozen other Blends trudge out of the doors and down the alley. Talking quietly among themselves. Tapping their Tatts. Lighting up ciggies.
Kinyonga shakes his head. Dang, someone needs to sit them down and have a heart-to-heart. Don’t they know they’ll wind up on one of their tables in Hades too young if they don’t lay off the demon weed?
Most of both shifts are vultures, ugly as mud with their knobby bald heads. Double chins dangling off their jaws, all reddish-looking like a nasty rash. Kinyonga would hang himself if he had to work a daily gig with scavenger birds.
And here comes Vinnie Gorge, saying goodbye to a little vulture woman he calls Cathae. Lighting up another ciggie, his fingers nervous and fumbling.
Kinyonga sheds his brick-wall camouflage so he looks like a regular lizard man in a pretty cool bomber jacket. He erects the blue spikes of his hair, the yellow spikes of his beard. Gives himself that nocturnal-niche hustler vibe. He steps out of the shadows into Vinnie Gorge’s path and mutters, “Ciggies, cram, soot.”
“What?” Gorge says. Up close, the vulture’s long, narrow face looks haggard. A sizeable blue bruise swells on the side of his head beneath the thinning hair. Dark circles underscore his beady yellow eyes. If Kinyonga is not mistaken—and Number One is seldom mistaken—those eyes hold fear. Naked fear.
He’s afraid of me? No, Kinyonga doesn’t think so. Then of what? Of whom?
“Can I interest you in a taste tonight, brother?”
“Beat it, beastie boy.” Gorge walks on with the flock of other staffers, hastening his stride. “I don’t truck with no reptiles.”
Maybe it’s because he’s been standing out here all night, freezing his skinny butt off. Maybe it’s because he’s bone-tired. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t like the putdown of his reptilian class by a freakin’ raptor bird.
Whatever the reason, anger starts to sizzle in Kinyonga’s chest. He maintains the smirk, stretching his lips until they ache. Trotting to keep pace with the vulture’s long stride. “Sure I can’t interest you in a cheroot of soot, brother, now that you’re off of work?”
“I don’t got any free-trades on me.”
“This one’s gratis.” At the vulture’s blank look, Kinyonga adds, “Free. On me. So you can develop an all-consuming taste for the wares and come back to me for more.”
Gorge steps out of the flock. Sidles over to the brick wall. “Okay. Gimme a taste and be quick about it.”
“Sure.” Kinyonga reaches into his jacket for a cheroot, a pack of matches. Flips the cheroot through his two front fingers, then through the three hind fingers. It’s his favorite bar trick. The chickie-birds love it.
Gorge just stands there, a disgusted look on his sallow mug. Kinyonga hands him the cheroot with a flourish, strikes a match, lights him up. He waits until the vulture has taken his first deep draw of the dirty-smelling intoxicating smoke before he starts.
“You like, Vinnie?”
“It’s okay.”
Kinyonga waits, smirking. Smirking. Until Gorge’s yellow eyes dart up at him, widening with alarm.
“How do you know my name?”
“Your gorgeous girlfriend called you that a minute ago when you said goodbye.”
“She ain’t my girlfriend.”
“My mistake. I stand humbly corrected.” He waits for Gorge to take another draw. Finesse, the Big Boss ordered. This will take some finesse. “I can see why. A specimen like you who got to hang around with the late Zena Kinski wouldn’t be interested in a carrion-eater like her.”
Does Jimi Kinyonga have Vinnie’s full attention? Yes, he does. Gorge plants his fist on Kinyonga’s chest, shoves him against the brick wall.
Kinyonga is ready for the move. Sidesteps. Darts away.
“How do you know I knew Zena?” When Kinyonga only smirks, he shouts, “I said how?”
“Take it easy. I get around in the nocturnal niche. I hear things. You wouldn’t believe the things I hear. Like I heard that Kinski spilled a story about you and Hades to the Blend who met her at Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree party. That Kinski told him a scam was going down and you’re running the show. I heard that you and she were trying to squeeze a lot of credits out of the Blend and that’s why he killed her.”
With an inarticulate cry, Gorge charges at him. Drops the cheroot. Balls his fists.
Kinyonga skips away, just out of reach.
“Zena would never rat me out like that.”
“Just tellin’ you what I heard, cryptid.”
“Where? Where did you hear it?”
Kinyonga shrugs. “Here and there.”
“You heard nothin’. It don’t amount to nothin’. It’s a lie.” Gorge is weaving on his feet, the first toke of soot—it’s particularly strong soot—disorienting him. “What’re you doin’ here?” he slurs. “What do you want?”
“I just want a Blend-friendly talk. Like what we’re doing.”
“Go stuff yourself, mutant. I should kill you right now. Dump you in an oven. I got friends on the dawn shift.” He moves toward Kinyonga, scowling. Clenching and unclenching his fists.
“That’s no way to behave.” Kinyonga easily darts away. Thank goodness he stayed clean tonight. “I said let’s talk.”
“I got nothin’ to say to you, you mangy slitherer.”
“I am not mangy. I have never been mangy.”
“Beat it before I wring your lizard neck.”
“No, I don’t think you’re going to wring my neck.” Inspiration strikes Number One. Wild felines taking a body bag out of the morgue. “I think you’re going to tell me how you discovered the identity of the Blend who is on the other end of the body bag scam.”
Gorge laughs in disbelief. “Why should I do that?”
“Actually, you don’t have to. I can guess.”
Pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, and Kinyonga’s nimble mind sorts through them. The Big Boss has been keeping him in the dark for too long. That has got to change.
“So, like, this Chromian stops by the morgue in the dead of night, ha ha, and drops off body bags. Only the body bags don’t contain corpses. They’ve got something else inside. You get something under the table to act as the middleman. Everything done by delivery boys. Then one night, you step out into the lane for a ciggie, like you did eight times tonight, and you see the mastermind. With your own eyes. He’s waiting in a car in the parking area while the delivery boy goes inside. You recognize him from the Instrumentality. You tell the Lady Kinski and she sets up the scam. Only this Blend—I’ll call him the Big Boss—needs to talk with her in person. She goes to the Jamboree party intending to blackmail him and the Big Boss kills her. Have I got that about right?”
Vinnie Gorge stares. After a silence, he says in a strangled voice, “What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me what’s in it for me.” Kinyonga fingers the blowgun in his pocket.
“Why should I do that?”
“You ask a lot of dumb questions.”
Vinnie Gorge continues to stare.
“Hey, mutant, I can be useful to you. More useful than you know. I’ve got connections.”
“Like who?”
“Blends in high places. Who else at Hades is on the take?”
Gorge glowers at him, suspicion simmering in his eyes. “Nobody. Me and Zena, we were the only ones.”
But from the twitch of his mouth, Kinyonga knows he’s lying. Cathae? Kinyonga files that speculation away for future reference. Shakes his head regretfully. He has contempt for bad liars. “If you say so. What did you and Zena see that’s so incriminating you thought you could get away with blackmail?”
A crafty look steals over Gorge’s face. “Oh, now I get it. You freakin’ don’t know what you’re freakin’ talkin’ about. You’re a cheap street hustler who heard loose talk in a bar. Dreamed up this cockamamie story. Now you think you can worm your way into my action. I don’t think so. I’m tellin’ you nothin’. I can handle this myself. You’re of no use to me, splicer. As if I would ever partner up with a reptile. I said beat it. Now beat it.”
Splicer. How Jimi Kinyonga despises that insult. Splicer. Splicer implies a half-baked, stitched-together ghoul. Not the wondrous evil miracle of modern science all Blends are on Chrome. That he is. His impatience with the long wait, his contempt for the vulture conspire in his chameleon heart, sending murderous fury through his blood.
He darts at Vinnie Gorge, who wildly strikes out with his fists, punching the air. Kinyonga evades the vulture’s intoxicated moves. Darts around him. Darts behind him.
Kinyonga strips off the plastic-covered wire from his belt loops—it’s called a garrote, if you want to get technical—whips the wire around Gorge’s throat. Thrusts it under the vulture’s wobbling double chins.
Gorge flails and hacks with a choking sound. Strikes over his shoulder with his fists. But he can’t reach Kinyonga and Kinyonga, who has practiced this move before, has practiced and succeeded, tightens the garrote. Quick and hard and unrelenting.
It doesn’t take long for Vinnie Gorge to go slack. To fall to his knees. To fall on his face on the cobblestones.
Kinyonga flips out his switchblade. Reaches for Gorge’s flopping hand to slash his Tatt.
A vulture girl hurries up the alley, late for work on the dawn shift. She takes one look at him, bending over the body crumpled on the pavement, and she screams.
“Murder! Murder! Murder!” in a screechy hysterical voice.
Two dog cops lope out of Hades, tongues lolling between their filed fangs. Pulling out billy clubs.
Kinyonga pockets the blade. Steps back from the body. Camouflages himself against the brick wall of the alley. He stands very still, though he’s shaking all over. After the cops cart the late Vinnie Gorge into his former place of employment, Kinyonga creeps away.
Dang, he hates it when a girl screams.
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CHROME.MED.295.KB

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
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!
Praise for CHROME
 “An excellent semi-noir full-on SF work by a terrific author. . . .a science-fiction homage, in part, to the noir books and movies of the forties and fifties, only brought forth into a future time a quarter-millennium from now. . .  a fully-realized society.”
—Amazing Stories.com
“So Walter Mosley reread Animal Farm and The Island of Dr. Moreau and says to himself, “Oh, yes indeed, I’ve got a terrific idea for my next best seller.” But! Lisa says, “Hold on, hot stuff. You’re too late. Chrome is already on the streets. Haha!
Wow! I just tore through Chrome. So much fun. Oh, I guess I should take a time-out to say that it was very well-written too, but I was enjoying the characters and the story so much that the superb writing simply did its job and I had to consciously reflect to notice the excellent and clever construction and reveals. Isn’t that the definition of good writing?”
—Reader Review
May 2020 Excerpt:
11
Chelonian Park
A cool spring evening descends over Chrome, heralding a peaceful end to a dreadful Blend Day. Terralina lies on her side, blissful on Tuddy’s moss-soft bed. She savors the moist heat of his bedroom. Savors him, lying beside her. Both of them rest comfortably on a custom-made mattress curving up behind them, cupping their carapaces. Their lovely human parts revealed to each other.
At moments like these when she’s had her fill of him and he of her, Terralina nearly bursts with love for her tortoise prince. His wrinkled lipless face, his wrinkled stubby limbs, his wrinkled celadon skin are the handsomest features she’s ever seen on any male specimen in all of Chrome.
Smiling, he offers her a strawberry. She takes the berry in her mouth and masticates, savoring the sweetness. Ever since Tuddy’s car and driver delivered her to Castle Ruchat Tartus early this morning, they’ve idled in bed all day. Making love. Drowsing. Nibbling on berries and meal worms.
“My darling Terralina,” Tuddy whispers, “do not ever run off like that again. I was worried sick. I was just about to wink the police. Send out a search party.”
“I’m sorry, Tuddy,” she says, exhausted from the strange events she’s witnessed in the last twenty-four-hour rotation. The tall, thin manimal. The coyote attack. Meeting Luna Lightfoot, bumping Tatts with the formidable puma-woman. Her angry heedless all-night bicycle ride through Chrome City and the boroughs. The abduction she’d witnessed at dawn.
Most of all, she’s exhausted from keeping everything a secret from Tuddy.
“Promise me?” he says.
She doesn’t say I promise never to do it again. She may have kept secrets from Tuddy before, she may keep secrets again, but she never lies. And she can’t promise him she’ll never mount her bicycle again and pedal off into the night, searching for something.
She sighs without answering.
That seems to satisfy him. He pours an expensive Chromian brandy into crystal snifters, presses a snifter into her little hands. He keeps the brandy on his night table in a decanter.
“To us,” he says, clinking his snifter with hers.
“Should we? It is still Blend Day. We’re supposed to abstain from every pleasure. Fast and weep and meditate on our bitter fate.”
“Yes, we should. We’ve already broken most of our vows,” he says with a wicked grin. “May as well break all of them.” He adds, “I need a bit of the hair of the dog that bit me, as the Earthians say.” Drains his snifter in one gulp.
Terralina sips daintily, then sets the snifter on the night table on her side of the bed. A chill runs through her. She’d wanted to tell him last night about the coyote attack and he wouldn’t listen. Now she doesn’t want to tell him, though he is listening. Her account would have to include Luna Lightfoot. Tuddy would never approve of her sudden friendship with a puma Blend.
So many secrets, and they’re not yet bond-mates.
After the taxi had sped off with the chameleon kidnapper and the rat child, she’d tapped her Tatt and winked Tuddy. He’d opened her wink at once. Of course he’d come for her with the car. But rush-hour traffic had ramped up in Chrome City, and the car took an entire hour-and-a-half traveling from Chelonian Park to Rodentia.
While she’d waited that interminable hour-and-a-half sealed up in her carapace, a pack of rat teenagers playing hooky from school discovered her. They taunted her, kicked her around nearly as brutally as the coyotes last night. The only saving grace? Rat teens aren’t as big and as vicious as full-grown coyotes.
They were kicking her around when Tuddy’s car pulled up, and the driver, Vara Rufus, climbed out. Terralina would have been terrified of Vara, a stout goanna, if she weren’t a loyal employee of Dynasty Ruchat Tartus. The goanna whipped her powerful lizard’s tail out of the seat of her trousers, brandished her considerable claws, and opened her jaws just in case the rat teens didn’t get the hint.
The rat teens fled, squeaking and squealing. Without a word, the goanna scooped up Terralina, trembling in her carapace. Flung her and her bicycle in the backseat. Sped away. Sped home.
Now, with twilight darkening, Terralina stirs fitfully in the bedroom’s moist heat. Her tortoise prince hadn’t come to rescue her himself—as he’d promised. His driver had. Was that good enough?
She isn’t sure.
Tuddy reaches for his snifter, tops it off. “You like the brandy?”
“I like being here with you.”
What tortoise Blend wouldn’t? Every chamber in Castle Ruchat Tartus enjoys sultry air thanks to an ingenious system of subterranean aqueducts, the water kept near boiling by great fires attended by thorny devil lizards in tank tops and denim shorts. The aqueducts, which owe much to the Roman baths on Earth two millennia ago, were designed and built by Tuddy’s great-great-grandfather, Redfoote Ruchat Tartus. In the years after the Plague, Redfoote slowly and patiently established the Ruchat Tartus fortune and social position by gaining domination of the heating and cooling of Chrome’s myriad habitats.
Countless species of Blends prefer heat and moisture in their homes, shunning aridity and cold. Countless other Blends prefer aridity and cold, and shun heat and moisture.
All things are possible on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
Terralina hates that Chromily, which is so patently untrue.
After she started staying the night at Castle Ruchat Tartus, Tuddy had taken her on a tour of the aqueducts. She got an eyeful of the ironwood pyres, the sluices and troughs, the thorny devils who attended them so diligently. If the aqueducts resembled ancient Roman baths, the staff more than resembled ancient Roman slaves.
Tuddy noticed her disapproving reaction. He’d called the foreman over.
“How goes the heat today, Moloch?”
A muscular lizard man, with impressive dust-colored spines jutting from his angular face, brawny shoulders, chest, and thighs, Moloch had grinned and shouted, “We loves the heat, Boss.”
Well. That could have been an act to impress the prospective princess. But she got the message and left the topic of the aqueducts and their staff alone. The aqueducts were not her concern. Not until she comes to Castle Ruchat Tartus to live for the rest of her tortoise life as Tuddy’s bond-mate.
When and whether.
Tuddy drains his snifter, closes his round little eyes, settles back on the custom-curved mattress. Satisfied snores gurgle out of his maw. Terralina smiles. She even loves the goofy way he snores.
But she can’t fall into satisfied snores, not after the idle, drowsy day. She swings back the curved side of the mattress and lets herself out of bed, pulling a green silk dressing gown over her shoulders and carapace.
She waddles to Tuddy’s luxurious bathroom, waves on the lights, checks her contraceptive patch. She’d never worn a C-patch before Tuddy. She’d had no reason to. She’d had no one in her life. And she couldn’t have afforded a C-patch, anyway, which was expensive Earth technology licensed to Chromian manufacturers.
How much her life has changed since Tuddy.
The C-patch on her thigh strobes bright red. That’s good. That means her patch is active and she’s protected. But when she climbed out of bed, she glimpsed Tuddy’s C-patch on his thigh. And his patch looked dull and gray. He’s not protected.
Terralina frowns. They’d agreed they would both wear active C-patches until the day they bond-mated and decided to start a family.
That day hasn’t come. That day may never come. She’ll have to have another painful conversation with Tuddy when he wakes.
Trouble. Trouble, again.
Terralina waves off the bathroom lights, wanders into the sitting room off the bedroom. She settles into one of Tuddy’s custom-built armchairs, the upholstery scooped out of the backrest to accommodate a tortoise’s carapace.
So safe, so comfortable at Castle Ruchat Tartus.
Then why does she feel so uneasy?
To an outsider’s eye, the castle resembles a gigantic tortoise carapace with massive tiles of the dynasty’s colors of red, green, and gold arranged in a mosaic over the dome. Turrets, watchtowers, and battlements jut up here and there. Inside and out, the chambers are watched over by Security Eyes. The World Eyes are strictly programmed for viewing the Instrumentality. Not the other way around.
No one on Earth is watching her. Terralina nods, assured of her privacy.
Two centuries ago great-great-grandfather Redfoote Ruchat Tartus had banned surveillance of himself and his tortoise family. His descendants have observed that ban to this day. Any tortoise, including Terralina, could earn spectacular World Eye royalties, given the monstrous morphing of their genetic heritage. Given the Earthians’ taste for monstrosity.
Redfoote had specified in his will that his clan was not to become a spectacle for human consumption. And he was right. Two centuries of diligent development of Chrome’s heating and cooling enterprise have earned the dynasty abundant wealth. No Ruchat Tartus needs to earn demeaning World Eye royalties at the cost of fifteen billion pairs of prying Earthian eyes.
Well done, Great-great-grandpa Redfoote. Terralina whispers thanks to the ancestral patriarch into whose clan she is about to be so warmly welcomed.
Then she frowns. Oh? Oh oh oh!
Did Tuddy defy Grandpa Redfoote’s injunction by accepting Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree invitation and signing a World Eye release? Did he defy the dynasty’s injunction by allowing all of Earth to get a good look at him last night? A very good look at a very strange Blend, someone Earthians have seldom seen. Perhaps have never seen.
Oh, ugly ugly! Publicity hounds are sure to come pounding on the doors of Castle Ruchat Tartus. Thirty members of the clan call the castle their home. They’ll become a sensational treasure trove of unlicensed flashes on the Instrumentality the moment they step out the door.
What will Tuddy’s mother and father think? His aunts and uncles? His brothers and sisters and cousins? His brothers-in-law, his sisters-in-law?
What about her?
No wonder she didn’t want to go inside to that horrid party. She was right. What have you done, Tuddy?
She leans forward in the armchair, apprehensive. Waves her Tatt at the World Eye. She hasn’t seen the Instrumentality since yesterday afternoon when the news was all about Jamboree.
Jamboree. Terralina snorts in disgust. Why should the Blends celebrate Jamboree? It ought to be another day of mourning like Blend Day. The day when a sadistic Earthian scientist centuries ago engineered a mouse with a human ear growing out of her spine, the ear larger than the mouse herself. Paraded the grotesque experimental specimen in the media as if this were something wonderful. An achievement to be proud of.
An achievement, Terralina shudders, to replicate. Which Emirk Corporation has done, twenty million times over.
Witness Chrome.
But the Vacanti mouse, the earmouse, wasn’t genetic engineering, after all. The sadistic scientist, some professor at a university medical school, grew cow cartilage cells in an ear-shaped mold and implanted the thing in the skin of the mouse. The Vacanti mouse was only a stupid prank.
A stupid prank that has become the Chromian mascot for Blend Day. A symbol for what Chromians are.
Terralina waves through viewcasts on the World Eye. Has there been any coverage of Blend Day?
She wants to see the traditional Procession marching down Broadway. The mourners in their hooded black robes. Chanting dirges. Whipping themselves with cat o’ nine tails. The usual parade float draped in black crepe, the gigantic model of the earmouse. Not genetically engineered? No, but tampered with by an Earthian technician, just the same.
The World Eye opens, the Instrumentality flashes, and Terralina sees neither the Procession nor the tiresome advertisements for hair removers and capped teeth.
She sits up, the skin on her arms prickling. Her breath catching in her throat.
A badger viewcaster yelps the news. Zena Kinski, the famous dancer, found murdered at the Hedgeway mansion last night while a high-society herd enjoyed the Jamboree party downstairs. Security Eyes saw no glimpse of the murderer. Motive unknown.
Terralina’s suspicions fly at once to the puma. Luna Lightfoot, a murderer? Just as quickly, her intuition dismisses that. The puma rescued her from coyotes. The puma swore a heartfelt oath of allegiance to Chrome. The puma bumped Tatts with her. No, not possible. The puma may have been up to no good last night, but she could not have been a murderer.
Fang wounds, the badger viewcaster yelps.
Lightfoot was wearing a mask when she climbed down the fire escape. She couldn’t have bitten anyone till she took the mask off.
What about the tall, thin manimal? Touching a handkerchief to his mouth, the cloth darkened by stains. What kind of stains?
Terralina rises to her little bare feet, paces around the sitting room. She should march into the bedroom where Tuddy lies passed out, snoring like a bear. Shake his shoulder, wake him with the news.
No. He won’t understand. Let him sleep.
Her mind reels with fear and confusion.
She needs to talk to someone. Does she know anyone at the Chrome City police? Someone who could tell her more?
To read the rest of this excerpt and discover who Terralina personally knows at the Chrome City police and what her friend reveals to her, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
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CHROME.MED.295.KB

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories
“Offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.”
—The San Francisco Review of Books
“Lisa Mason might just be the female Phillip K. Dick. Like Dick, Mason’s stories are far more than just sci-fi tales, they are brimming with insight into human consciousness and the social condition….a sci-fi collection of excellent quality….you won’t want to miss it.”
—The Book Brothers Review Blog
“Fantastic book of short stories….Recommended.”
—Reader Review
“I’m quite impressed, not only by the writing, which gleams and sparkles, but also by [Lisa Mason’s] versatility . . . Mason is a wordsmith . . . her modern take on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”
—Amazing Stories
Summer of Love, A Time Travel
A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of the Year
A Philip K. Dick Award Finalist
“Remarkable. . . .a whole array of beautifully portrayed characters along the spectrum from outright heroism to villainy. . . .not what you expected of a book with flowers in its hair. . . the intellect on display within these psychedelically packaged pages is clear-sighted, witty, and wise.”
—Locus Magazine
“A fine novel packed with vivid detail, colorful characters, and genuine insight.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Captures the moment perfectly and offers a tantalizing glimpse of its wonderful and terrible consequences.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliantly crafted. . . .An engrossing tale spun round a very clever concept.”
—Katharine Kerr, author of Days of Air and Darkness
“Just imagine The Terminator in love beads, set in the Haight-Ashbury ‘hood of 1967.”
—Entertainment Weekly
“Mason has an astonishing gift. Her characters almost walk off the page. And the story is as significant as anyone could wish. This book will surely be on the prize ballots.”
—Analog
“A priority purchase.”
—Library Journal
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel
A New York Times Notable Book
A New York Public Library Recommended Book
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Rollicking. . .Dazzling. . .Mason’s characters are just as endearing as her world.”
—Locus Magazine
“Graceful prose. . . A complex and satisfying plot.”
—Library Journal
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery)
Passionate Historical Romantic Suspense
5 Stars
“I really enjoyed the story and would love to read a sequel! I enjoy living in the 21st century, but this book made me want to visit the Victorian era. The characters were brought to life, a delight to read about. The tasteful sex scenes were very racy….Good Job!”
—Reader Review
The Garden of Abracadabra
“So refreshing! This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
—Goodreads Reader
“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy….I want to read more!”
—Reader Review
“I love the writing style and am hungry for more!”
—Goodreads Reader

April 2020 Excerpt:
10
At The Nepenthe Club
Luna Lightfoot prowls down Seventh Avenue, heading for the Ucayali Building, a pounce in her step, an invitation stored in the Archives of her Tatt. She can’t wait to see what the invite will bring.
Ucayali Corporation is the largest retailer of consumer goods and services on Chrome, the Moon, and Earth. Free two-day delivery on all the worlds with a Ucayali Supreme monthly subscription. The retailer operates on the Instrumentality and out of brick-and-mortar locations worlds-wide. The Ucayali Building is the most spectacular highrise in all of Chrome City, surpassing in magnificence even Emirk’s compound of skyscrapers. And in the penthouse of the Ucayali Building, atop fifty adamantine stories, awaits Lightfoot’s destination. The Nepenthe Club.
An invitation, a destination, and a meeting she wouldn’t miss for all the free-trade credits on Chrome.
She yawns, impolitely baring her fangs to whomever cares to gawk. A rowdy, vicious-looking pack of hyena Blends swaggers past and leers, ugly-doggish jaws agape. They’re decked out in criminal gang colors. Drunkenly chuckling.
They move on at the sight of her fangs.
That’s right, carrion cryptids. Mess with me and I’ll rip your freakin’ throat out.
Though of course she has never made a kill like that. Ever. And never would.
It’s the crime that counts, the Blends like to say, not the thought-crime.
The nocturnal niche is newly born. The sun sinks through the crystal-clear synthy atmosphere into the stark curve of Chrome’s horizon. The neighboring Moon looms large and silvery and pockmarked. Earth floats far away in the twilit sky, a distant wispy blue orb. How can people from that tiny orb pose such a threat to Chrome? But they do. They’re human beings and they do.
What a day. Lightfoot is drowsy and disgruntled from a restless, unsatisfying day-sleep. Her nerves have been on edge since she went to bed at sunrise. She kept waking up at the least little sound. The rumble of the recycling trucks emptying the bins in the alley behind Cave Cove. The wail of an ambulance carting accident victims to St. Francis Hospital. Someone’s radio on a bicycle blaring a lupine tune on Chrome’s hit parade.
She’s more stressed out than she cares to admit.
The most important advancement for every Blend on Chrome to come along in two centuries. Since Liberation Day.
What on Chrome could that be? What had the murderer meant?
When she had awakened in the late afternoon and tapped her Tatt, she discovered a messenger-icon waiting for her on the Instrumentality. The messenger-icon—a pigeon in a jaunty blue cap and gold-braided uniform—held out a sealed envelope, which Lightfoot opened with another wave of her Tatt.
Well, what do you know?
It was an invitation from Dom Swifty Panterr to join him for cocktails at the Nepenthe Club. “To discuss your impressions of Bunny Hedgeway’s Jamboree,” the messenger-icon dutifully cooed. “Was it a brilliant social success or the boring same-old? Cocktails Around Chrome has asked Dom Panterr to relate his account. He would greatly appreciate your cultured opinion.”
Lightfoot had laughed out loud. Winked her acceptance at once. Dismissed the messenger pigeon. The criminal kingpin, critiquing Bunny’s party for a society show after a murder was committed? In a million years. Maybe.
What is the real reason for Panterr’s invite? Try this. If anyone has moles planted deep in the Chrome City Police Department, Dom Panterr does. Lightfoot guesses he obtained insider lowdown from an informant. And tracked her, Lightfoot, through the Instrumentality. Therefore the messenger pigeon. Winks delivered on the Instrumentality aren’t as secure as a private wink, not even on Chrome. Or so the rumors say. And Lightfoot has not bumped Tatts with Dom Swifty Panterr. Therefore the pretense.
He wants to see her.
She definitely wants to see him.
Striding down Seventh Avenue, Lightfoot glances over her shoulder, more wary than her usual vigilance. Every species of Blend mobs the City in the interstices of the diurnal niche and the nocturnal. Diurnal Blends trudge home from their day-jobs, bound for their boroughs. Nocturnals, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, head off to their night-jobs or for an evening’s entertainment.
But everyone on Chrome is half human, too, and human beings notoriously live in every ecological niche. Dwell in hot climes and chilly. Function in the day and the night. Both predator and prey lurks in their chromosomes.
A pair of genets, their black-and-silver hair sweeping over their elegant shoulders, stride fiercely among a crowd of tittering chipmunks. Genets are predators. The chipmunks give them a wide berth.
Pert pastel dresses on the chipmunk ladies. Natty suits and bowties on the gents. Their little round faces giddy. Stripes of white and sable-brown rim their big, dark eyes. Chipmunks and squirrels do well in Chrome City’s banking business with their ancestral beast’s instinct for gathering and hoarding. Some are off to a dinner date and a movie, staying up in the nocturnal niche. But not too late.
Lightfoot smiles at the chipmunks but she greets the genets, brandishing her hand. Unsheathing and retracting her claws. She likes genet Blends, with their feline attitude. The genets grin, return the predator’s greeting. Brandish their hands. Retractable claws, way to go.
Not for the first time, Lightfoot admires the revolutionary beauty of Chrome. Viverrids and rodents mingle in the city without fear—not too much fear—because everyone has plenty to eat. Food is the first law of the jungle. Every Chromian should thank Emirk for the Vats and their GMO bounty. At least that.
One great big happy monstrous mutant cryptid half-human family, that’s Chrome.
Sort of happy. Sort of one great big family, each Blend engineered with a genetic heritage, not out of choice. Every Blend exiled on this planetoid for as long as Chrome exists.
Lightfoot shrugs. She can’t worry too much about happiness. Maybe happiness is overrated. Or maybe happiness is something you don’t know you’ve got till it’s gone.
At the corner of Seventh and Broadway, she strides up to the Ucayali Building. Pads past the exterior Security Eyes into the lobby. A luxurious cavern of rose-pink marble, the lobby boasts sustainable teak plank floors. Polished bronze fixtures. Abundant potted palms, dragon trees, and morning glories set the mood for a rainforest theme, recalling the corporation’s name. The Ucayali is the main tributary of that gigantic South American rainforest river down on Earth, the Amazon.
Lightfoot admires the display of Ucayali’s interworld wealth. The front desk where she has to check in strobes with security icons quite a distance away across the plank floors.
Can I stalk to the front desk without being seen?
Her pride in her puma talents took a serious blow when Xander King and Chan O’Nally informed her she was seen on Bunny Hedgeway’s rooftop. I don’t think so, she had said. Think again, the cops had said.
She was seen. Why else has Panterr summoned her?
She drops to a puma crouch. Stalks around a potted palm. Crouches, freezes motionless when a Security Eye swivels toward her. Stalks again, swiftly, stealthily. On silent puma feet. Reaches the front desk and startles a big-eyed screech owl smartly clad in a scarlet uniform.
“Hootenanny!” he exclaims, looking up from his monitors. “Where did you come from?”
“The front door,” she says and preens, pleased with herself. I haven’t lost my touch. She gives her name, presses her thumbprint on the ID pad. Asks him to inform Dom Swifty Panterr upstairs that Luna Lightfoot has arrived.
She nods to the elf owl staffing the elevator. Steps into a mirrored cab larger than her bathroom.
Going to the top?” the owl chirrups, winking his round yellow eye.
“Am I ever.”
At the entrance to the Nepenthe Club, a pretty hat-check gal informs Lightfoot she’s got to leave any weapons on her person in the cloakroom. The hat-check gal wears a neon nametag at her slender throat that strobes “Millie.” Little multicolored wings flutter on her bare shoulderblades.
“Millie,” Lightfoot tells the butterfly gal, “I am the only weapon I need.”
She steps through the Art Deco wickets of a metal detector. And she’s in.
All of Chrome City sprawls out around her. Lightfoot’s golden eyes widen at the cityscape.
Fifty stories up is high enough on a clear spring night to admire the towers topped with pyramids or domes or statues of the animal-headed gods and goddesses of Earth’s antiquity. There’s the Chrome City Chamber of Commerce. The Capitol Building and Capitol Plaza. The Chrome City Police Department Main Station. The blood-blue spires of the Emirk Corporation Building, the Emirk Intelligence Agency Tower. The emerald-green spires of the Bank of the Worlds Building. Hundreds of Earth embassies identified by glow-lit flags, many of them stacked one upon another in multicolored amalgamated blocks. They are locally staffed by hired Blends and by icons communicating through the Instrumentality. No human ambassadors are stationed here. Not for more than three days.
Lightfoot sniffs disdainfully. For any Chromian, Earth embassy work is a plum prize. Staffers tend to be chosen for the predominance of their human physical attributes.
There’s no accounting for taste, the Blends like to say.
Gigantic Eyes all over downtown blink nonstop ads for Cola, Diet Cola, Chocolate Cola, Coffee Cola, Cherry Cola, Termite Cola, Blood Cola.
Lightfoot has tried Blood Cola. The stuff is disgusting. Give her a Carnivore’s Bloody Mary any time.
But enough of the spectacular views outside.
Behold the Nepenthe Club!
Walls of curved glass hold the massive round room in a transparent embrace. Bar stools and banquettes of black-and-scarlet faux-leather flash glimmers of steel and rose-gold in rivets and rails. Imported walnut adorns the tabletops. Antelope Blends in sequinned costumes circulate among the dining tables and gaming suites, offering silver trays of illegal tobacco and soot.
Lightfoot trails her enraptured gaze over the most powerful predators on Chrome.
The white tiger sprawling in a corner booth is Tiaga Tigri Tremaine. A well-muscled specimen with sky-blue eyes in a masculine alabaster face framed by dark feline stripes around his eyes and cheekbones. The tiger slams the innards out of his opponents on Chromian football fields. Too bad he’ll never get the chance to compete against Earthians. Now there would be a match to watch. Tiaga Tigri mangling human athletes into a bloody pulp.
Lightfoot sighs. Tiaga Tigri. What a manimal.
The wolf seated at the bar, the one with the crafty gray eyes, high cheekbones, and hairsprayed coiffure? She is Peachy Lupster, a high-ranking official in the Bureau of Canine and Canid Affairs. She keeps her fangs filed, her face, arms, and legs waxed, and her tail well concealed in specially tailored dresses. Peachy strives for that all-important human look coveted by Chromian bureaucrats. But she can’t quite conceal her inner pack animal. Which is just as well. Maybe her inner pack animal is why she’s so successful in Chromian politics.
Peachy lets loose a belly laugh that would freeze Lightfoot’s blood in a deserted alley.
That’s a wolf. Prime womanimal.
And, at last, there’s Panterr in his customary tuxedo, minus the mask he sported last night at Jamboree. He holds court at a table of predators while he—Lightfoot notes—surrounds himself with gazelles. His specimen of choice? They’re tall, tall girls with big, glancing eyes and impossibly skinny faces. Their long legs are impossibly skinny, too, in skin-tight leggings leaving little doubt just how skinny they are.
Lightfoot hates gazelles.
You’d think that prey Blends would steer clear of a notorious predator. But maybe that’s the attraction. Aside from other attractions such as Panterr is fabulously rich, incredibly handsome, physically powerful, and dangerously criminally inclined.
Dangerous, Lightfoot reminds herself.
She slinks to his table. This is too fine. Panterr was first on the list of Chromians she wanted—needed—to talk to about what happened last night. But she had no idea how to contact him other than a public wink forwarded by some anonymous receptionist at Panterr Enterprise. Now he has invited her? Too, too fine.
“Luna Lightfoot,” Panterr says, rising to his feet. He pushes away the gazelle clinging to his arm, strides around the table to take both her hands in his. He unsheathes his claws, pressing the lethal tips against her palms. She boldly returns the predator’s greeting. “Cage free to you, puma lady. You look lovely. As always.”
The gazelle pouts. Trots off to the gaming tables.
His fierce eyes could melt metal with their heat. He wants something from her. Excellent. She wants something from him, too.
Reciprocity is the key to every relationship, the Blends like to say.
***
To discover the scintillating conversation between Lightfoot and Panterr, what is revealed, what concealed, and where they go to next, join my other patrons on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
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ALEXA.CVR.MED.LARGE.5.17.17

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

 

CHROME.MED.295.KB

CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
March, 2020 Excerpt
8
Snatch Job
Creepin’ cryptids, Kinyonga hates hot bloods. Especially young hot bloods with their stink of fur and sweat and mating hormones. Especially young rodents, the humblest Blend of the hot-blood humble.
Let’s face it, ol’ Jimi the One and Only hates kids. He is a walking no-kid zone and not just baby goats, which is what “kid” means, if you want to get technical. He hates Chrome kiddies of every Blend, including baby chameleons.
So they’re cute. So what. Baby leopard Blends are cute. Baby boa constrictor Blends are adorable. Baby scorpion Blends are the darlingest things. Until they grow up big enough and mean enough and poisonous enough to rip out your throat, strangle you, or sting you to death.
Now that is a fitting meditation for Blend Day. Day of grief. Day of despair. Chrome wouldn’t have baby leopard Blends, baby boa constrictor Blends, or baby scorpion Blends if it weren’t for the Tweakers and the Twitchers.
So what happened to the Emirk technicians of two-and-a-half centuries ago? The Tweakers or the Twitchers, as they’ve come contemptuously to be called in the Chromian lexicon. What became of them?
Kinyonga snickers. You can’t fool Mother Nature for very long.
Soon after Kinyonga’s human ancestors were modified with chameleon genes, an aerosol-borne Plague struck Chrome. A genetically mutated mix of bird flu and swine flu and a touch of fascist flu. The Plague killed every human being, every last Tweaker and Twitcher on the planetoid.
Only the Blends with their radically tampered chromosomes could resist the swift, virulent, and highly contagious affliction that started out with a sore throat and violent sneezing and, in a day or two, resulted in death by excruciatingly painful paroxysms.
So don’t fool with Mother Nature, the Blends often snicker.
Kinyonga smacks the rat girl across her pointy gray face. She snaps at him, sinking her teeth into his wrist, drawing blood. Dang, these Feralists and their freakin’ fangs. Why don’t they have the decency to file them like every other civilized Reformist?
The cabbie glances in the rearview mirror with his big bovine eyes. But he doesn’t open the Security Eye on his dashboard or tap his Tatt and wink the cops about a suspicious altercation in the backseat of his cab.
So, okay. A stand-up bull.
“Don’t worry about it, quarryman,” Kinyonga says to him, slugging the rat girl’s jaw hard. He shakes his wrist loose from her nasty little fangs. Considers stabbing her with a dart from his blowgun, knocking her the hell out. Then he decides against it. A waste of good poison. “There’s another twenty credits in it for you when you get us where we’re goin’ to and keep your snout shut.”
The Big Boss had advanced him a generous allowance of free-trade credits to grease paws and claws in this latest installment of the secret evil endeavor. That suits Kinyonga just fine. He should require such generosity in every client’s contract from now on. Free-trade credits are the best kind of currency. Untraceable, good for everything everywhere you go, and tax-free. Don’t leave home without them.
Naturally, he’d skimmed fifteen percent off the top for Number One. Plus he didn’t lease a hydrocar like the Big Boss had told him to, but hired the cab instead. Which saved him another bunch of credits for the better purpose of lining his own pockets. Maybe he’ll remember to thank the Big Boss for the working capital. Or maybe not. Jimi Kinyonga doesn’t do gratitude.
The rat girl flops on the car seat, stunned by his punch, a stain of blood on her thin gray lips. The cabbie continues to stare in the rearview, his hand edging toward the Security Eye.
Perhaps an explanation is in order. Kinyonga sighs, an appropriately heartfelt long-suffering sigh. “She’s, like, my step-niece, three times removed. Messy, messy bond-mate breakup, y’know? Her dad kidnapped her after using up his visiting days. I’m just returning her to her ever-lovin’ mommy. Rats, they are the best when it comes to family. Love them rat kiddies to death. Watch the freakin’ road, okay?”
“Try your step-niece forty times removed,” the cabbie lows gloomily but obediently returns his eyes to the hectic traffic.
Every vehicle on Chrome uses polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, the blue and pink canisters of oxygen and hydrogen gases bubbling merrily on hood or boot. But there all similarity among the vehicles ceases and the Blend of the driver often shapes the vehicle’s style.
A utility vehicle the size of a canary’s country cottage lumbers by, the flap-eared elephant driver plowing through traffic without a glance left or right. Dim-witted or oblivious? Both and then some, in Kinyonga’s astute psychological analysis.
A lean, muscular sports car helmed by a lean, muscular jaguar slinks swiftly amid knots of stalled beetle cars. Chunky flatbed trucks driven by rams or impalas bully their way through the gridlock. Bang! Two trucks trade fenders, and the burly drivers climb out, antlers curving from their foreheads. They push up denim shirtsleeves over buff biceps, spoiling for a fight.
The pastel avian cars are the most ridiculous, in Kinyonga’s aesthetic opinion, with their winged front fenders, fancy feathered tails on the back. Some birdbrain of a driver glides her gorgeous hot-pink Falcon sedan through the traffic in erratic swoops, suddenly switches course, and, amid squealing brakes, honking horns, and angry curses, flutters off in the opposite direction.
High above the herds and swarms on the streets swoop sleek silver flivvers. These are the exclusive transportation of visiting Emirk executives and the elite Chromian Blends who staff the Emirk Intelligence Agency. Emirk Corporation leases its used flivvers to the Chrome City police. By Emirk regulations, the Chromian police are only permitted to use the worn and dingy second-hand flycraft, and only for high-alert emergencies.
How can Emirk justify its control of Chromian skies, ol’ Jimi wants to know? Because Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of the airspace over Chrome. Emirk claims exclusive legal ownership of everything on Chrome. Who can challenge that?
We Chromians can. Kinyonga snorts in disgust at the arrogant insectile flivver droning in the sky above him. Emblazoned on wing and tail, the Emirk corporate mark, the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square.
“One of these days,” he mutters, the scarlet and turquoise patterns swirling up and down his arms in the heat of his anger, “one of these days, we Blends will ride in the sky, too. Our sky.”
But his Chromian revolutionary sentiment doesn’t jive with the task at hand. He gets down to it.
The rat girl, recovering from his punch, lurches up squealing. Wiggling her pink fingers behind her back. Kinyonga whips her around, winds more duct tape around her wrists so she can’t tap her yellow Tatt and wink for help. Dang, these kids. Have they no respect for their elders? She’s sobbing and squeaking. Far more trouble than he thought she’d be when he’d spotted her on the trash-strewn street of Mysburgh.
Two uniformed dog cops on hydrocycles cruise by, lane-splitting amid the traffic. They slow down, glance inside the cab the way dog Blends do. Not keenly curious like a feline, but looking around. Snuffling around, picking up scents. One cop has the long, narrow snout of a German shepherd, the other flat-faced and pug-nosed like one of them Oriental breeds. Pekinese? Lhasa apso? Kinyonga can never keep straight all the breeds of domestic dog Blends on Chrome. Like he should know about some person with a tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Kinyonga shoves the rat girl face down on the car seat, sits on top of her. Summons up the image of someone respectable who typically would be riding in a commercial cab. Camouflage, baby. He camouflages himself as a young corporate executive. A spaniel in a smart three-piece business suit, button-down shirt, and necktie. The chunk of a faux-gold watch on his wrist. His hand resting not on the rat girl’s neck, but on a shiny black faux-leather briefcase. He spreads his jaws, smiles pleasantly.
The dog cops nod and speed away.
He hisses with relief and reassumes his chameleon identity. That was a serious stretch of his transformative talents, camouflaging himself out of whole cloth. Out of a stereotype, without an actual surrounding background for him to feed off the images. Camouflaging out of his emotional need of the moment.
That’s the only time when his unruly chameleon emotions work in his favor.
Awesome, Number One, he congratulates himself.
The rat girl lies quietly beneath him, subdued. He doesn’t want to suffocate her. He’s supposed to deliver her, like, alive. He slides off her, and she starts squeaking and flailing around again.
His brilliant mercurial mind hits upon a solution. “Muzzle up and sit still,” he commands her in an adult voice. “No one is going to hurt you, honey.”
That settles her down. If only everyone was so easy to lie to.
The bull cabbie pulls out of the stream of traffic on Broadway, speeds onto an off-ramp leading to Outer Chrome Road. The highway stretches before them, a bleak ribbon of concrete taking them far away from the hustle-bustle of Chrome City. Far away from the littered streets of Mysburgh, from Rodentia Valley. Far away from everything civilized on Chrome.
It’s good to head away from the City. Too many cops. Too many diurnals with their prying eyes. But Kinyonga frowns, not relishing where they’re going. He leans back in the seat, mulls the job over.
Who witnessed this latest sorry caper? No one, that’s who. Almost no one. There’s the cabbie. Kinyonga may have to take him out later, as in a snuff job. But maybe killing him won’t be required? Kinyonga considers the question. The cabbie and his sponsor will want to do more business, lucrative business, with a cut-throat mercenary like Jimi Kinyonga. The cabbie will keep his snout shut, if he knows what’s good for him.
Everyone wants to do more business on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
Then there was the little turtle he spotted camping out on the sidewalk. In Mysburgh, of all places for a reptile to be. That made no sense. Which arouses his suspicions. He took note of the black-and-gold design on her carapace. Pretty, pretty. Unusual, too, from what he’s seen of turtles and tortoises, who live on the east side of Cretaceous Way. The turtles and tortoises he’s seen mostly have unremarkable carapaces of drab olive. She—he knew she was a she on account of the frilly dress—seemed to be asleep.
But maybe not. The turtle could have been watching him from inside her carapace. Number One does not discount the watchful reptilian eye of a Blend who set herself down where she did not belong.
They watch. They listen. They spy.
And no one knows they’re spying, huddled up inside their carapaces. He’s heard strange tales about turtle Blends. Tortoises, too.
She could have witnessed the kidnapping. Could have seen him, with his own distinctive markings. Could have seen the cab with that tacky billboard on the roof.
She could have seen everything.
This information isn’t something he will share with the Big Boss anytime soon. This information is Kinyonga’s very own personal business. He may have to take out the turtle, too, as in eliminating her. But later. Later.
The bull cabbie speeds down Outer Chrome Road, navigating the cab toward the district where the Big Boss has instructed Kinyonga to take the snatch job. It’s a long drive, but the streets will be emptier. Everything is emptier in that forsaken place.
After this gets done, he’s off to the second part of the job. A much tougher assignment than the snatch job. He’s not looking forward to it. Hades.
“Step on it,” Jimi Kinyonga hisses. Then clamps his jaws shut. Dang, he hates having to small-talk with a cabbie.
9
Naja de Capello
Do not taste the air. He resists the ancient urge, applying all his will. All the years of his schooling, his self-discipline. He clasps his shapely cold hands beneath the table. Clasps them so tightly, his knuckles ache. He blinks his eyes against the overly bright lights in the conference room on the sixth floor of the Capitol Building. Concentrates on the voices around him. Yapping, growling, hissing. Lilting.
Facilis est descensus. The descent to hell is easy.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
A human being—an Earthian, a pure Earthian—presides at the head of the conference table, the ebony tabletop so polished it shines like a long, black mirror. The lilting voice belongs to her. In the course of two centuries dealing with the Plague, Emirk Corporation has vastly improved the safesuits. This latest visiting corporate executive sits comfortably inside a transparent bubble surrounding her entire body. Her oxygen supply and waste products units are tucked in a sculptural nodule below the base of her spine.
The safesuit amply reveals her perfect human face. Her eyes as blue as jewels. The crisp curls of her peach-colored hair. Her perfect womanly figure, a figure fashionably clad in a business suit the color of Emirk blood-blue. The Emirk corporate mark—the stylized blood-blue “E” inside a silver square—decorates her lapel, the earrings on the lobes of her tiny pale ears, a ring on the finger of her right hand. The ring on her left hand is a gold-and-diamond wedding band.
Her six human bodyguards, in safesuits and blood-blue uniforms, form a phalanx around her, gripping the latest deadly make of handheld assault weapons from Earth.
Two dozen Chromian bodyguards stand watchfully around the human entourage, gripping less powerful, less modern guns. But they’ve got guns, too. Also serious assault weapons. The Chromian bodyguards wear blood-blue uniforms, the Emirk corporate mark on their lapels. “Emirk Intelligence Agency” flashes across the backs of their jackets. With their perfectly filed teeth, smooth waxed faces, and no trace of a tail, you might almost mistake them for human beings.
Except for one thing: they don’t wear safesuits. That’s the tip-off. They don’t fear the Chromian air, the Chromian water, the Chromian food. Why should they? No matter what cosmetics they’ve applied or surgeries they’ve endured, they are Blends. Extreme Reformist Blends, to be sure. But native Chromians immune to the lingering Plague.
Naja de Capello happens to know these particular bodyguards are Doberman pinschers. In spite of the filing and waxing and cosmetic surgery, there is no concealing the lean ferocity of their ancestral beast. Not from his eyes.
De Capello doesn’t often see any kind of weapon carried openly by Blends on Chrome. Since Liberation Day, weaponry on Chrome has been declared illegal by Emirk Corporation, except for the imported guns worn by the elite E.I.A. officers. Worn, too, by Special Forces officers patrolling high security areas—the Emirk space shuttle launchpad in the Airfield District, the Emirk headquarters in downtown Chrome City where the visiting executives must sequester themselves when they’re not presiding over meetings like this.
As a Chromian government official, of course De Capello carries an illegal concealed handgun. An antique Walther PPK with eight rounds, which he bought for an exorbitant sum on the black market. The rounds he parcels out judiciously. Blackmarket bullets are difficult to come by and expensive. He sniffs, indignant. As a high-ranking official in the Bureau of Human Affairs, he ought to be able to carry a weapon legally. He’s exposed to Feralists every day.
These days, criminals and crazies get their weapons, all kinds of weapons, on the black market. Chromian politicians, too.
Do not taste the air. Do not.
To read the tense and eventful confrontation between Naja de Capello and the Earthian Emirk executive, Mrs. Fraternale, please join me at my Patreon Page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, beautiful covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

CHROME.MED.295.KB

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!
February, 2020 Excerpt
6
An Invite to the No-Tell Motel
That last whiskey at Club Namib had not been required. He squints his thin-lidded eyes against dawn’s glimmer. Rubs his high, distinguished forehead with a shapely cold hand. Instead of calming his nerves, that last whiskey had kept him awake all night. Fitful. Jittery.
First sunlight pierces the bedroom curtains, and he lurches up. He’s exhausted from Jamboree. From the terrible confrontation. From the sleepless night. He taps his Tatt and winks Elfie Syrus.
As a high-ranking Servitor, he’s facing a big Blend Day ahead. Meetings with the visiting Emirk corporate executive, responding to her demands, her agenda. A public appearance later at the Quarterly Hearing, which will be viewed on the Instrumentality by everyone on the Earth, the Moon, and Chrome.
Gravely important work to be done.
But he must know. He must find out.
What has she heard?
Elfie Syrus works the five a.m. to noon shift at the Chrome City Police Department. At the Main Station downtown. She fetches coffee for the cops, flirts outrageously. She enters data in the database, sees and hears all kinds of confidential information. She keeps her big eyes and bigger ears wide open. She has to walk through the security wickets going in and out, of course, but like every born gossip she has an extraordinary memory, mostly accurate, for the nitty-gritty.
She opens his wink at once. Giggles when he proposes that she meet him for breakfast at their usual rendezvous, the No-Tell Motel. This charming rent-by-the-hour dive lies ten blocks behind the Capitol Building where the neighborhood turns from grand governmental avenues and destination eateries to seedy bars, massage parlors, and establishments like the No-Tell.
“Oh, I’ve got the inside scoop, honey,” she squeaks in her irritating way, “and plenty of it.”
He may be a cold blood, but the human half of him feels an icy shock.
He widens the wink, preparing himself for the ordeal of having to see her in the flesh. Elfie’s icon stands before him. He would much prefer simply to transfer credits to her bank account in exchange for her chatter.
But Elfie wants more.
An elephant shrew, Elfie is reasonably more attractive than the moles who populate the staff in menial positions at the Chrome City Police Main Station. Chubby little mole women with tiny eyes and shapeless faces. Elfie’s got large pink ears and bright brown oval eyes that blend well with her Polynesian human ancestors, call girls sold to Emirk by a disgruntled pimp back in the day. She’s got a long, narrow nose and silky chestnut hair. She’s got nice legs.
He could do worse for a police informant.
He hisses in exasperation when she whispers the things she wants him to do to her at the No-Tell Motel. Elfie has found herself in an enviable position, demanding an hour of rough sex, together with his credits, in exchange for what comes to her naturally.
But why? She must like the danger and excitement of mating with a manimal like him. A Blend who could grievously harm her, kill her, with one ill-placed kiss.
He closes the wink, taps off his Tatt. Goes to groom and dress. An important Blend Day ahead. A lot of responsibility. A lot of exposure. Exposure on the Instrumentality.
Elfie is a fool. One day, he just may kill her when she squeaks.
7
Witness
Dawnlight streams over Chrome’s stark horizon in streaks of pink and gold as Terralina Rustabrin mourns Blend Day. Chromian life is so unfair. So wicked and mean. And there’s nothing she can do but live her life as a tortoise Blend and die. And she will die no matter how well or poorly she lives. So what’s the point? What’s the point of anything?
She has pulled her head and limbs into her carapace. Barricaded herself inside and .fastened the hinges tight. Her head protrudes from the peach-colored wall of her mobile studio apartment—the wall behind her neck—and each of her stubby arms and legs protrude from the peach-colored side walls.
She’s the original outside-inside girl. Or is it the other way around?
She masticates a breakfast salad. It’s a tasty salad, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkled with the twenty-four spice mix she likes. Baby lettuce, cactus pads, corn kernels, dandelion leaves. Tiny white meal worms squirm deliciously over the lettuce. Everything grown in a Vat, well, what food isn’t grown in a Vat on Chrome? What food isn’t a GMO? Chromians themselves are genetically modified organisms, too, so why should they care how engineered their food is?
Chrome-grown, the Blends like to say.
The meal worms should make her happy, but they don’t. They don’t.
Who can care about this tear-stained life? Chromian life is a joke. A cruel joke. Why was Terralina born?
Fifty short years after the creation of Chrome, the Tweakers or the Twitchers had populated the Emirk laboratories with chimeric people embodying the characteristics—physical, mental, and behavioral—of the creatures they were genetically blended with. They were kept in cages, of course, since they were experimental subjects and no longer, strictly speaking, human beings.
To what purpose? Everyone on Earth wanted to know. Why do this?
To improve and enhance Earth’s weary, diseased, pollution-riddled, and resentful workforce with the vitality, natural talents, docility, and diversity of the animal kingdom, came Emirk’s confident reply.
Creating a Better You! became the corporate slogan.
A good purpose?
Noble, even?
The CEO of Emirk Corporation, standing before a gigantic World Eye, had announced the exciting news at a shareholders’ meeting. The Eye displayed an artistic animation of beefy bull boys hauling rocks out of a quarry, hippopotami girls pirouetting on pink ballet toeshoes. Everyone had applauded.
The descendents of the first fifty years’ of experimental populations are now, two hundred years later, heirs to the random genetic chances of good old-fashioned bonking-and-babies.
That’s how Terralina Rustabrin was born.
To read the rest of this excerpt of CHROME and discover what crime Terralina is a witness to, friends, readers, and fans, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
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

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
Excerpt 5:
Blend Day
A rude, unnecessarily loud knock-knock-knock on the door to her lair jolts Luna Lightfoot to her feet just as she’s slipping on flannel pajamas and preparing to bed down for the day.
Today isn’t any ordinary day. Today is Blend Day.
If Jamboree is a day of wild celebration, of indulging in forbidden pleasures, of making mischief, then the day that follows—Blend Day—must be observed, according to two centuries of Chromian tradition, by somber reflection, fasting, celibacy, and other forms of self-abnegation.
Some Chromians look forward to Blend Day with a self-righteous dread. To the Day when even the powerful and glamorous predator Blends bend down on their knees, raise their eyes to the pitiless stars, and ponder the meaning of their tormented unnatural lives. When every Blend curses the ancient Tweakers and the Twitchers of Emirk Corporation for creating Chrome.
Not Lightfoot. No self-flagellation. No moaning, no sobbing, no tears. She loves her puma life too much. Loves her puma talents. She doesn’t even mind that her human ancestors were political prisoners smuggled up from Croatia and blended with puma genes.
CRISPR, that’s what they dubbed it, the molecular biologists who pioneered the gene-modification technique three centuries ago. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. With CRISPR, Emirk’s technicians created entire races of genetically modified people with inheritable traits by blending the chromosomes of creatures with the chromosomes of human beings.
Blends.
Blends often sarcastically refer to each other as atlantean, beastie boy or girl, chimera, cordwainer, creep, cryptid, freak, fubar (fouled up beyond all recognition), GMO, gryphon, half-and-half, jabberwock, mockery, monster, moreau, mutant, quarryman or woman, splicer, toba sojo, weaver, or wonderlander.
Bang bang bang.
Who on Chrome could it be?
Irritated, Lightfoot waves off the World Eyes in her bedroom flashing with the news of Zena Kinski’s tragic demise. Views of Bunny Hedgeway twisting a lace hanky, dark tears streaking her plump little face, do not show the Pomeranian to her best advantage. Get a grip, Bun, Lightfoot will have to tell her. When she wakes at sundown, she’ll wink Bunny. Show her sympathetic support as a Blend-friend.
Bang bang BANG.
She stalks into the living room, the kitchen, the library, all around her lair. Aims her Tatt at the World Eyes stationed everywhere and waves them shut. When open, the World Eyes blink views to the Instrumentality of her sleeping the day away. That’s all fifteen billion human beings on Earth ever get to see of her. A puma Blend in pajamas sleeping in her luxurious lair. Curling up in the cashmere blankets. Uncurling, yawning, stretching. Curling around on her other side. Prowling to the kitchen for a glass of cool water.
For this, Lightfoot earns considerable monthly royalties from the Instrumentality.
What’s so unusual about her sleeping the day away? Not a thing. Lightfoot is nocturnal. She’s up all night, like her ancestral beast. And what she does at night, nefarious or innocent, is strictly off-limits to the Instrumentality. Terms of her contract.
Another obnoxious knock, and she sighs. The royalties will amount to a little less this month now that she’s waving the Eyes off. She stalks to her front door. “Yes?”
“Open up, Lightfoot,” says a masculine canine voice. She knows the voice and the canine only too well. He goes by the moniker of Xander King, homicide detective for the Chrome City police. “We gotta talk.”
“Have some respect, Cop King,” she says through the door. “It’s Blend Day. I’m contemplating my cruel fate.”
“You’ll be contemplatin’ more than that.”
“Excuse me?”
“You really stepped in it this time.”
You’d think him a lion Blend with a name like that, but you’d be wrong. Only a golden retriever could get away with such a grandiose name when he’s merely a middling officer in a corrupt police department on an artificial planetoid. And no, Lightfoot has never entangled herself in a homicide investigation. She’s acquainted with Xander King because she sells him hot nasty tips whenever she daintily trips across them on her nocturnal prowls through Chrome City.
She cracks open the door, leaving the chain lock on. “Dunno what you’re whining about,” she purrs pleasantly. “I’m off to my beauty sleep while fifteen billion Earthians pay to watch me dream. You’re wasting my prime time. Bye-bye, have a self-punishing day.”
“Wise up, Lightfoot,” barks another masculine canine voice. That would be Chan O’Nally, King’s partner. “The fang job at Bunny Hedgeway’s place last night. You know what we’re talkin’ about, and we know you know.”
“Everyone on Chrome knows what you’re talking about, Detective O’Nally. All everyone has to do is wink the Instrumentality.”
“We’re talkin’ about you and where you were last night,” O’Nally snarls. He’s an Irish setter Blend whose human ancestors two-and-a-half centuries ago were political dissidents incarcerated in the prison of an Asian country until the Central Committee sold them to Emirk Corporation for a rock-bottom price.
Moi?
“Quit stallin’ and open up,” King growls. “Security Eyes on the rooftop captured your beauteous image in the moonlight.”
“I don’t think so,” she says.
“Think again,” O’Nally snaps.
She thinks again. Damn, it must be true. She’s a puma Blend. No one and nothing sees her when she sets her mind on moving invisibly. No matter the surroundings, urban, suburban, or the Wildlands. No one and nothing sees her. But her mind had been unsettled last night. She herself slightly clumsy when she leapt from the bedroom terrace back onto the roof. Witnessing a murder will do that.
“Guess you weren’t up to your usual stealth last night,” King says.
Guess you don’t know what you’re yapping about.”
“Guess we do,” O’Nally says. “Get yourself decent and let us in. We gotta talk before someone less forgivin’ than us collars you for your presence at a fang job.”
“Give me a moment, detectives.”
She shuts the door.
Not up to her usual stealth?
No kidding.
She knew from the start the mysterious Rex was all wrong. She just didn’t know how wrong.
“We haven’t got all day, Lightfoot,” King barks.
“Coming,” she trills.
*   *   *
To discover how Lightfoot’s interview with the police goes, what they accuse her of, what she admits to, and especially what she doesn’t admit, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full excerpt and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
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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!

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.
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

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, the First One:
“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 CHROME COBRA 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 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.
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!