Of Robots, Romance, and Real Possibilities with Asta Idonea – Post + Giveaway

May 25, 2016

Of Robots, Romance, and Real Possibilities

My name is Asta Idonea and this is my first time on the Dreamspinner Press blog, so let me commence with a brief introduction for those who’ve not yet “met” me.

I’m an English-born writer who now lives in Australia. I started writing professionally in 2011 under my mainstream pen name Nicki J. Markus, and in 2014, I branched out into MM, using the alternate pen name Asta Idonea. I work as a freelance editor, and when I’m not busy with that or my own writing, I love going to the theatre and cinema, playing and listening to music, sketching, learning foreign languages, writing to my many pen pals, researching history, mythology, and folklore, and (of course) reading.

Today, I am here to promote Fire Up My Heart, my first standalone release from Dreamspinner Press. This sci-fi novella focuses on a young man named Fane who finds an abandoned service Bot and takes it home. But there’s something unusual about Jo-E, and when Fane finds himself increasingly drawn to the Bot, he must make a difficult decision.

Like many of my story ideas, this one came to me at night. My mind often wanders while I’m waiting to fall asleep, and this story was born from a thought I had during that time. I’d watched some robot-based sci-fi a few days prior, and Fire Up My Heart developed into my personal spin on the theme.

Although I’m not a huge sci-fi reader when it comes to alien worlds and starships, I do enjoy speculative fiction that questions future technology. With new gadgets and gizmos invented every year, I love to consider what else the future will hold and how it will impact our everyday lives. Already technology invades so many things we do, and humanoid robots are certainly on the horizon. When that day comes, I wonder at the ways in which we’ll employ them and the different types of human–robot relationships that might be possible, and that is one of the principal themes in Fire Up My Heart.

Twenty-sixteen is shaping up to be a busy year for me writing-wise with seven new releases already out, two more coming in June, and a number of additional works currently under consideration. Right now, I am working on several projects: three MM short stories for anthology calls closing soon, two MM novellas (one contemporary and one paranormal), a paranormal MF novella, and a Steampunk MF short novel. I often do have a selection of manuscripts in progress at the same time. It suits me to work that way since, if I find I am not in the right mood to continue with one, I can switch to another for the day. Once the first draft is complete, it also means I can set it aside while I work on something else and then return to it with fresh eyes, ready to edit and redraft. So far, I am lucky in that I never run out of story ideas—only time in which to write them. I guess I need a new form of technology to help me draft and edit double-time!

On that note, I’d like to open the floor to comments. If you could have a robot capable of performing any task for you, which task would you choose and why? Let’s try to keep it clean, guys; otherwise, do give your imaginations a workout and be inventive. I will randomly select one commenter to win a copy of my previous Dreamspinner Press release, the contemporary MM short story Northern Lights.

If anyone has any questions for me, please comment below. I’ll be checking this post during the next few days and will do my best to answer them all. Readers and fellow authors are also always welcome to connect with me on social media.

Check out Fire Up My Heart today!

FireUpMyHeart_postcard_front_DSP

Blurb

London bartender Fane thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he finds a rare and expensive service Bot discarded in a dumpster, and he takes it home to get it working again. The Jo-E brings some much-needed companionship to Fane’s lonely life, but there’s something different about this Bot, as indicated by its odd behavior. Fane’s developing feelings toward Jo-E trouble him, and things go from bad to worse when a robotics engineer arrives on Fane’s doorstep, demanding the return of his property. Fane is forced to choose between a hefty reward and following his heart. Giving in to his forbidden desires might get him killed—or change his life forever.

Author Pic 2015

Chat with Asta Idonea!

Blog: http://www.nickijmarkus.com
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Are You What You Read? With Amberly Smith – Post + Giveaway

March 24, 2016

Are You What You Read-

Hello you fabulous readers. I’m Amberly Smith and I’m here to tell you all about my latest novel Waking Jamal, out tomorrow. Plus, giveaway!

You are what you read?

If that were true I’d be super sexy and adventurous and burden with too much angst.  Which isn’t true. Yet as a writer, I believe what we read influences what we write. My critique partner Valerie Roberts writes Sci-Fi Romance where the women are complete kick ass and rescue the hero. So when I thought about writing my first sci-fi book, Waking Jamal, I was dealing with serious bleed-over from reading her stories. But unlike Valerie who has a science degree and experience working in a lab, my science experience and knowledge of technology comes from Star Trek, Firefly and Scalzi’s Red Shirts.

Which makes it a bit overwhelming to tackle a whole futuristic novel. Yet Sci-Fi isn’t about just science. It’s about exploring radical ideas, human ideas like race equality and sexuality and uncharted parts of the universe and the deep, deep ocean. Looking in areas that haven’t been explored before. Finding familiar in the unknown. Right up my favorite alley.

I also had heavy influence from all the shifter romance I was reading at the time. Shifter Romance is the bomb diggety. Love me some aggressive, alpha, omega dynamics. Get downright giddy over pack angst. So it is no surprise that Waking Jamal has similar concepts in it.

Here’s the Blurb:

Their physical and mental survival depends on them bonding.

Jamal Zumati joins the military, determined to repay the country that fed and housed him. But during his Hamask activation, his senses go offline and he enters a berserker rage. The United States Hamrammr Program, or USHP, has only one option: put him into hibernation.

Despite his extraordinary ability to read and manipulate situations, Vargr Lt. Rum Walker has stepped on one too many brass toes, and the USHP demoted him back to teaching new candidates. Rum is one paranoid thought away from self-destruction when he is recruited for a covert mission: pull Jamal from hibernation.

The problem is, no one has ever survived a berserker fury—at least not officially. If Rum is to challenge the military stereotypes, he’ll not only need to wake Jamal—he’ll need to get him to agree to bond as a Hamra Pair, the ultimate supersoldier team.

When Jamal and Rum team up with an FBI Hamra Pair to stop the terrorist group Dios Provee, Rum thinks he’ll show Jamal their true potential lies in an equal partnership, but Jamal is convinced Rum should take the lead. Will Rum stop Jamal from going berserk again and destroying both of their futures?

***

Waking Jamal isn’t standard science fiction because reading Scalzi, Roberts, Collins, Le Guin doesn’t make me a scientist.  It doesn’t have shape shifting because Calmes, Vaughn, McCallister and Singh have done it and done it well. It’s happily a blend of genres, just like me.

If books really were a reflection of us, what would you be? Leave your answer in the comments for a chance to win a book from my back list. Also, I love to hear from readers. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or my website.

Check out Waking Jamal today!

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

HAVOC Class, 2097

ACTIVATION FOR Jamal Zumati started on a Thursday morning. He ate with the others, then gathered his rations and gear and hiked to the farthest shed. The US military insisted on some of the antiquated practices of the early aboriginal tribes in order to bring his abilities online; isolation, little to no food or sleep, and meditation. The hardest part of his training had been the goddamn meditation.

You want a former Adderall-dependent guy to focus by sitting quietly and not thinking about anything? So not going to happen. One of the cadre had finally suggested yoga. The poses allowed him to focus on the strain, the heat generating from each muscle, rather than the mind-numbing silence.

The military either ignored the other historical aspects or felt they went a bit too far, voodoo and wives’ tales. So no eating mushrooms, bloodletting, or purging. Which was all fine and good, except being the farthest out meant he went last, and those mushrooms would have at least kept him from being bored.

He spent the week stretching his mind and body.

Some couldn’t handle being alone this many days. For Jamal, it felt like the first couple of weeks at a new group home. You got your bearings, established which of the kids were the bully, the narc, and the druggie, and then you shored up and tried to make it to school each day. There was always food at school.

Jamal kept to himself until the second time the foster had to enforce a rule. The first time they’re on their best behavior, so you don’t get the real picture. Second time, though, when they go apeshit, vein pulsing in their neck, that’s when you see the real them.

Wednesday morning, the sweat dried on Jamal’s chest as he held his sun pose then eased down to upward-facing dog. He heard them activating someone just down the hill: the sound of stomping boots and tears instead of the buzz of insects and the occasional rustle of an animal scurrying past. Maybe it was one of the girls, or a guy who had hung his masculinity on being a bear and knew instantly that he was a wolf. Bear or wolf—it made no difference to Jamal. He had a duty to his country. It had supported him through his whole life: paid his medical, bought his food, provided for his schooling. Now he would pay with his muscles or his mind. He’d act honorably and serve the people.

He placed his forehead to the smooth wooden plank and let the tension wash out the tips of his fingers as he took the balasana or child pose. It was finally silent again outside. Jamal’s ribs slid around loosely, his chest full of liquid heat, revved up to take on this vital step.

As the activation team entered his shed, Jamal stood and saluted his senior officers, no longer self-conscious about his nudity.

“At ease.”

He moved to a parade rest and surveyed the team: four military police, a nurse, a doctor, and Captain Chakosky. Chakosky was a Vargr and would be on hand to help with grounding Jamal if he activated as a Hamask. Chakosky was round of face, his size equivalent with Jamal’s broad shoulders, but Chakosky was rather soft for Special Forces. Genetics could still snuff gym effort.

“Are you ready?” The doctor’s eyes were bloodshot, his clothes creased in odd places.

They must have worked through the night and had one more to activate before they could call it a day. What, they couldn’t be bothered to dress up for the occasion? Jamal had on his birthday suit, so dress blues should at least be required for everyone else.

“Sir, yes sir.” Jamal sat on a wooden chair—the solitary piece of furniture was older than the shed—and stared straight ahead while they prepared his skin.

As he activated, Chakosky was the first thing he was aware of. The man stood in front of Jamal and had his hands clasped as if in prayer.

Wrong. Gross.

Jamal pushed the sickness in his stomach down.

There was a medical tray holding the empty vials and the thirty acupuncture needles, a few tipped with red. Jamal’s eyes felt dry and he reached up to rub at his eyelashes. His nails felt like metal files tearing at wooden lashes. Shit, what have they done to my eyes? He flattened his palm against his cheek and eye socket to gently, slowly rub away the debris. His dry, coarse fingertips shredded his skin like a cheese grater. Tears poured down his cheeks.

God, this is embarrassing. Fuck, yes, it hurts, but I’ve had worse.

Tears were a sign of weakness. Tears made you a target. He just needed to pull himself together. Just give him a minute to calm down, to process.

Chakosky took a step toward him. No. He held up a hand to ward the man off. He just needed another minute.

That wolf shouldn’t be touching me. Shouldn’t be in my territory.

The abraded skin itched, and Jamal staggered to his feet as he scrubbed with his fingernails. He was definitely a Hamask, could even feel the increased power in his arms and thigh muscles. His touch was all haywire, but realization felt distant, almost separate of self.

Chakosky took another step toward him and Jamal raised both hands to hold the Vargr off. “Just give me a minute.”

Something was wrong—his hearing was normal. Not all his senses had come online. That would be okay, no surprise to learn he was subpar at even this.

The nurse pulled out a brown bottle, and as she unscrewed the lid, the smell—lavender and rice starch in rancid water—made Jamal jerk his head back and stumble toward the wall, bile rising in his throat. He bumped into someone and his skin recoiled and shot with pain. “Stay the fuck back,” he whispered to the MP. Stupid jock was going to mess this all up.

They needed to clean the activation away. Left unattended, the chemicals would fry his neural synapses. Shit, he couldn’t focus around the pain. As the nurse advanced, an MP and Chakosky stepped up to take hold of his arms. Caustic bile churned in Jamal’s throat at their repulsive touch and he dry-heaved.

Hold on, you can do this. They’d clean him up, give him fresh water, and then he’d head back to the base with Chakosky keeping him grounded. That was how all activations were supposed to go. Except, even with the Vargr touching him, he wasn’t leveling out. Physical contact should help. “What’s happening?”

He tried to push Chakosky away and realized his fingers were smeared with blood. Had he cut himself on the wooden chair? Moisture dripped from his chin, and a red splotch smeared like oil over water on his chest. Not tears. Blood.

His hearing kicked in at the same time that a deep feeling of hatred, so hot and bright that he closed his eyes, poured through his bones. They had done this to him. Come in with their bullshit B game, used crap chemicals, and blundered around like idiots. Damn them. “Stop. Don’t.”

“Stand down.”

“Attention!”

No.

 

****

LT. RYAN “Rum” Walker could tell the men and women filing down the aisles of the lecture hall were ensigns, privates, cadets, and seamen. They looked like kids, and they had yet to develop that ramrod posture that came with any service past basic. The uniforms—standard issue and for the most part unadorned—told the same story. But being faced with their youth was another slap to his recently demoted face.

He waited for the creak of wooden seats and the quiet murmurs to settle down. His psych and anthropology training divided the room into Myers-Briggs subtypes and recognized those whose body language showed either confidence or secrets. A human map stretched across the tiered rows of wooden seats. With 78 percent accuracy, he could identify those who would be good wolves or bears, who had lied to get here, and who would kill to stay. Those were the things he should be teaching. How to read people. If they were going to pull him from the field because of insubordination, let him teach candidates actual battle-ready techniques, something useful. Instead they assigned him this propaganda bullshit they spoon-fed all the newbies.

Rum had a lesson planned, just not the one the brass were expecting.

As he stepped into view, someone called out “Attention!” They jumped to their feet, and Rum returned their salute. “As you were.” They settled back in their chairs and he let his voice fill the hall.

“My name is Lieutenant Walker. Welcome to HAVOC.” He then clicked the old-fashioned wireless remote in his palm.

“Hamask and Vargr Operations Center” projected on the forward wall. There were a few murmurs, and a girl in the front row, her hair tightly braided, shifted in her seat. Her eyes weren’t the only ones that gleamed.

“This morning I will give you a brief summary of what we do at HAVOC and answer any general questions you may have. You will then be divided into groups, where you will watch an in-depth video on the Hamrammr initiative, and then you’ll choose.”

He let the silence draw out. “Choose to be activated or… choose the blue pill. Choose to return to your current posting.”

When they got a Hamask to do the morning introduction for potentials, it turned into parlor tricks. Who used which soap that morning? Which male had masturbated in the last twelve hours? They’d have the class write something down at the room’s farthest corner and then the Hamask would read it. The instructor might even tell you the type of fabric you were wearing. Hello! We’re in uniform. The last one even Rum could do.

Rum squinted at them, glaring the murmurs back to quiet. He tilted his head to one side, leaning his right ear toward the noise, and took an audible sniff.

As a Vargr, his enhanced skills didn’t involve his senses, but his abilities were always in play. Hard to turn off, in fact. If there was a sleep mode for his brain, he sure hadn’t found it yet.

Rum clicked the remote again. Pictures of men and women, often in uniform, always in pairs, slid by on the screen. There was official verbiage on what, exactly, he was supposed to say. However, if he were any good at following orders, he wouldn’t be here.

He lowered his voice, knowing the microphones around the stage would carry to the full room just fine. “You are each here because you have potential. Your ASVAB scores and DNA indicate that you could be activated as a Bear or a Wolf. ‘You’re a wizard, Harry.’” He wasn’t surprised when no one laughed. Sometimes it took people a minute to warm up to him. “Half of an elite fighting pair. Pairs like—” He paused the screen on two female doctors. “—Dr. Janis McCarthy and Dr. Lynn Ladd. Hamask McCarthy is a renowned heart surgeon and Vargr Ladd has revolutionized the organ transplant process.”

He liked using this particular example because it showed possible endgames for those who wouldn’t become career military, and because McCarthy and Ladd weren’t in a traditional bonded relationship.

It would have been nice to include a picture of the FBI pair Bur-Longwei, but that suggestion had been nixed pretty damn high up the food chain.

He clicked the remote again and the screen displayed a new pair. The man and woman stood in front of their WREAC team—War Reconnaissance Extraction Assault Corps. “WREAC and HAVOC. Hamask Tidsdale and Vargr Lange are in the foreground with WREAC Team 3, instrumental in saving thousands during last year’s tsunami in Hawaii.”

A dark-skinned airman with soft eyes scoffed.

Rum snapped an index finger in his direction. “Skepticism. Good. But tell me, Airman…?”

The airman was slightly older than average, tall, broad shouldered. He stood upon being addressed. “Sir, Adayo, sir.”

“Airman Adayo. Why did you assume the woman was Vargr Lange?”

Adayo’s eyes widened, and then he swallowed. “Sir, I—”

Gawd, I love bein’ right. “Unvarnished truth, please.”

“Sir, I reacted to my programmed cultural expectations on gender roles. I assumed that the woman would be the Vargr and the man would be the Hamask. I know that is not always the case.”

And that was why Adayo was here. Because he was smart enough to see his own shortcomings. Rum nodded in acknowledgment, and Adayo reclaimed his seat.

“Less than 25 percent of Hamrammr initiates are women. Though when they make it through training, women have a slightly higher success rate of activation.” Which meant the most common Hamra Pair was two guys. He’d let them do the math.

He clicked to the next picture, a more stereotypical pairing. “This Hamra Pair both specialize in weapons and demolition.” The picture showed the two out in the field and heavily camouflaged, the Hamask distinctive with his bare hands. “A more… traditional team. Currently in deep assignment tracking Christian extremists in South America.”

He explained that those who stayed would face twelve intense weeks of physical and mental training. He highlighted the different military occupational specialties each successful Pair could be assigned to. He sprinkled in a few obscure references to old cultural evidence of Hamrammrs or those with the potential to change into Hamask and Vargr, including how the pair became two halves of a superserum soldier, i.e., Captain America.

“By the end of today, once you make the second-toughest decision, you’ll be housed in coed barracks with your fellow potentials.”

Rum did not talk about bonding, though he identified five of them who practically quivered to ask about it. He did not cover the activation process, though he strongly believed it was something they should know before making the decision to stay. He didn’t warn them of the political bullshit that came with activation. Only a third of the candidates would make it through training, and only half of those would successfully activate. Maybe ten people in this room would become part of a sanctioned, bonded pair.

He turned off the old projector. Military budget restrictions had curtailed the crazy spending that was so rampant fifty years ago, but this ancient tech was sad. At least the mission rooms had holo sets.

“Things you probably all know, but just to be thorough. Hamask and Vargr always work in pairs. Hamask, also called bears, learn to use their senses and strength. Vargr, the wolves, act as a guide, provide a baseline for the chaos bears live in.” That was an oversimplification if he ever spouted one, plus it didn’t explain the heightened speed Vargrs gained in reflexes and mental processing. “Feel free to ask questions, but for the sake of time, please do not stand.”

There were a few chuckles at this. Now to see if the seeds he’d planted would generate the questions he wanted them to ask.

The female marine with the braid raised a hand. He nodded to acknowledge her. “Is it true what they say about the bonding process?”

Rum raised his eyebrows and gave her an incredulous look. Seriously? That wasn’t going to give her the information she wanted. “True that a bonded pair is stronger than an unbonded one? Absolutely. Bonding isn’t a requirement and plenty of pairs never bond.”

Yes, I’m going to make you work for it. Try again.

“Sir, why are only officers activated?” asked a hesitant seaman with more freckles than hair.

“Good eye. Yes, all Hamra, short, of course, for Hamrammr, are designated officers. Upon activation Hamra roll over to an M-rank system, similar to noncommissioned officers. They use officer designations, and though not all of you are officers currently, you all have completed the required college degrees for that status or you wouldn’t be here.”

Which made the two seventeen-year-olds present even more impressive.

A private, so rosy-cheeked that he would probably be carded until he was in his midthirties, raised his hand and asked, “Are Hamrammrs allowed to choose their partner?”

“Yes. Let me emphasize that. Yes.” He nodded and then gestured to communicate exactly how important this was. “The military will make suggestions. If the partner you choose does not qualify for some of the advanced options, that may limit you. Thus the suggested pairings. But you get to choose. You, bear or wolf, get a choice.” A few heads shook in the negative, and Rum immediately labeled and categorized them as American-born, second generation, military service. Military brats.

They came in thinking that the wolves led the bears around by the nose; that the only way to keep a bear in check was to form a sexual bond and manipulate their own pheromones to keep the wolf as the dominant in the relationship. Total military-culture bullshit. Rum memorized each face. By the end of training, either they’d be gone or they would darn well have a new perspective on partnerships.

The next question was from a female airman with the palest blonde hair Rum had ever seen. “Sir, why wolf and bear? I mean, the transformation rumors have been disproved and the abilities of each don’t really match actual bears and wolves. So…?”

“The words hamask and vargr are from Old Norse. Viking mythology, legend, stories, whichever you prefer, tell tales of sending berserkers into battle. Changed men, fierce as bears and cloaked in wolf skin.” He raised his finger to draw their attention even tighter. Giddy warmth filled his chest even as his shoulders tightened.

“There have always been such people. The aboriginal people of North Sentinel Island. Celtic lore. Even Native American vision quests. When the United States discovered a way to fully activate these abilities, shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York, the first Vargr held a doctorate in Norse history. He chose the terms. Don’t worry. You’ll get more of a history lesson during training.”

A few arms shot up, and Rum indicated a tiny guy from the Coast Guard. Rum wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of those two seventeen-year-olds on the list of candidates.

“Can you explain the bonding process and specifically the sexual aspects?”

Better question. “This is the United States military. We are not known for our sexual acceptance.” It was his first use of “we,” and like most of what he said, it was a strategic decision. “Yes, sexually active pairs are bonded pairs. Do all Hamra Pairs have sex? In my opinion, that’s their business, and no one else’s. Bonding does not require sex.” The military strongly disagreed with him, but he wasn’t about to disillusion potentials. That was more of a week-three activity. “Next question.”

Adayo’s hand was the first one up. “What is the hardest decision?”

Bingo. Now to reel them in. “Good question.” He gestured to indicate the whole conference hall. They’d put in their time and deserved his best performance. “If you believe that I am a Hamask, raise your right hand. Starboard for the seamen in the room.” He smiled. “If you believe I am a Vargr, raise your left hand. Okay, keep your hands up.” He looked through the crowd and watched them look at each other. The training cadre were watching to see who would change their answer, and who were right.

“Adayo.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Why did you choose Vargr?”

Adayo smiled. “At first I thought you were Hamask. You fed that belief by emphasizing your use of senses. Squinting, cocking your head to hear better.”

Rum had also crafted each response and kept a tight lid on his accent. He’d teach them how to pick up on those clues eventually. “But?”

Adayo tilted his head and looked back at him with a critical eye. “Well”—he shrugged—“if you’re not Hamask, then only Vargr is left.”

“That is how most people see the Hamrammr initiative. If you’re not a bear then you’re a wolf. A second choice, less than. Despite the wolf being the leader in the pairing.”

Hell, a lot of what was broken in this program surrounded that inferiority complex.

“Toughest decision that you each need to make before deciding if you’ll stay: does it matter if I’m a wolf or a bear? Until we try to activate you, we don’t know which you are.” He scanned the room. “All of you are Hamrammr, but potential what? If you’ve got your heart set on being a Hamask, can you live with being only a Vargr?”

He checked his watch. 1122. Eight minutes to spare. Perfect. He tapped the watch’s face to bring up the group lists and sent it to the candidates’ smartwatches. “I’m sending each of you an itinerary and group list for the remainder of the day.”

“Lieutenant Walker?” Tiny Coast Guard had his hand up.

Rum blinked at the boy, genuinely surprised at the additional question and the gold bar indicating the seventeen-year-old was an ensign—college degree and officer training completion. “Yes, Ensign—?”

“Sir, Kramer, sir. Are there any potential side effects of being activated?”

Bastian Gero Kramer. Rum’s memory supplied the information. The ensign’s voice spoke of New Orleans and his Latino upbringing.

Damn, he was good. Rum had specifically asked General Khan whether he could cover this and had been shot down. Khan’s exact words were “don’t bring it up,” but he’d also told Rum to answer all their questions.

Rum smiled, and based on a few of their responses, he knew the grin looked evil. “You could fury.”

 

Harmony Ink Presents… A Guest Post by Hayden Scott

March 22, 2016

Is there anything more annoying than a rule follower? Someone who always does what the instructions say, even if the shortcuts are obvious? Someone who doesn’t think too hard about why they’re doing something, because the process was created by people who know better?

I was that guy. I still am to an extent, but I really, really was in high school, even up through undergrad. I think it’s an easy trap to fall into. We spend a decade and a half training kids to trust authority and trust the system, and then we wonder why they resist change and don’t think outside the box. It’s also a great explanation for: 1.) why we as a society don’t fix broken systems, and 2.) the gnawing terror inside each of us that we are a fraud and everyone else has their life figured out.

One of my favorite things about turning thirty is the absolute certainty that nobody around me has any idea what they’re doing.

It was a gradual process to get here. I didn’t believe it at first. It had to be proven to me over and over that there really are very few “experts” in the world. Entering the corporate workforce helped a lot with that.

The quote that “decisions are made by those who show up” is equally inspiring and terrifying, because it’s true. Most organizations will make do with what they have, and that leads to people with generalized skill sets making decisions about very specific problems which they may or may not have any actual experience with. As far as I can tell, every major system and process in our society was created by a bunch of under-qualified people making educated guesses based on limited information.

Unsurprisingly, we screw up—a lot.

I think acceptance of that fact a right of passage. To me, the most important aspect of the coming of age tale is discovering that no one has the answers, especially not the adults you put your faith in. I’d say that’s more significant than finding your own self-confidence. Maybe one inevitably leads to the other.

In “Refraction,” Crush Goodman may be the love interest, but it’s his coming of age tale—Max just has to drag him to it, kicking and screaming. It’s hard to find out you’re not as heroic as you thought you were.

Crush’s mistake is that he assumes he’s the hero of the story because that’s what it says on his résumé. The city (or, the people in charge of running it) branded him a superhero, because it walked like a duck and talked like a duck. And Crush definitely fits the part—he believes in heroism down to his core. He just doesn’t realize that when he puts away bad guys, he’s also cleaning up messes for the corrupt city mayor and associated businessmen. It’s the perfect cover, and Crush is too virtuous to see a double-cross under his nose.

Which leads to another question—is heroism in the intention or the act?

Max and Crush figure it out together in “Refraction,” available for sale March 24th.

RefractionFS

Check out Refraction!

Blurb: 

Max Jackson is your typical teenage boy, concentrating on his classes at school and being accepted into a good university after graduation. There’s just the small matter of the bomb in his basement, one Max and his fellow members of the “Injustice League” plan to use to level their city’s unethical government. Too bad superhero Crush Goodman puts a stop to their plans. Max understands why Crush would steal the League’s doomsday device, but why is Crush following him around and acting like they’re friends? When the reprehensible Doctor Decay butts his head into Max’s business, Max has to figure out how to save the city he’s always worked to destroy—with or without Crush’s help.

 

Sci Fi in the Making with Caitlin Ricci

February 19, 2016

Sci Fi in the Making

I’m Caitlin Ricci and my newest sci fi novel, Fantasy for a Gentleman, comes out on February 19th from Dreamspinner Press and I’d love to tell you a bit about my sci fi influences.

I love the sci fi genre as a whole because of all the wonderful things that you can do with it, and that the masters of this genre have done.

In high school I had a teacher who loved to give us short stories to read. It made sense since we could read something in the beginning of the week then come back and discuss it by the end. One of the stories that really stuck with me is The Lake by Ray Bradbury, who also wrote another short story, A Sound of Thunder, where we all learned not to step on butterflies while going back in time or else we’ll ruin everything.

But in The Lake, Bradbury gives us an entirely different look at life as half of a sand castle is being built and footprints come out of the lake, presumably those of a child who disappeared on the lake but whose body was never found. It’s a chilling short story, enough that it stuck with me all these years.

After reading his books I then moved into the books by Anne McCaffrey. I loved her Pern books but it was the Acorna series that I fell hard for.

Then, of course, there’s Firefly. I’ve met very few people who didn’t absolutely love Firefly and many of my more recent sci fi influences have come from watching that show repeatedly. Shindig is such a great episode.

The two characters in Firefly that are most like Corbin and Emmanuel from Fantasy for a Gentleman would have to be Inara and Zoe.

Corbin and Inara are similar, and not just for their profession, because they are both adaptable and they love to please whoever they’re with without losing sight of who they really are. They’re strong characters who are formidable while also being able to be gentle.

Zoe and Emmanuel, on the other hand, are far more ruthless in their own ways. I would not want to be up against either of them. The parts of them both that come through most for me are their sense of duty and honor. They follow orders and their own strict codes, which Emmanuel adheres to absolutely until Corbin decides to turn his world upside down by resisting when Emmanuel was trying to kill him. Being a bounty hunter isn’t easy, but it’s made even less so by a sexy aspacian intent on not dying.

Thank you for spending some time with me today. I hope you get a chance to check out my new novel, Fantasy for a Gentleman.

What sci fi world would you most want to live in?

~Caitlin Ricci

FantasyForAGentlemanLG

Bio

Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. She comes from a military family and the men and women of the armed forces are close to her heart. She also enjoys gardening and horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies where she calls home with her wonderful husband and their two dogs. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.

Website

Email: authorcaitlinricci@gmail.com

 

Blurb:

For two decades Corbin Leroux has worked on the planet Wish as a high-priced companion. He loves his life where physical pleasure is encouraged and has no intention of quitting it. Corbin sees his clients almost as part of his family. Not even when bounty hunter Emmanuel Leoniste comes to kill him will Corbin roll over and give up his lifestyle.

Despite being a hired killer, Emmanuel lives by a strict moral code. Killing whores is acceptable, and easy. Or it was until he met up with Corbin. Worn down by the pesky Corbin’s resolve, Emmanuel accepts Corbin’s bribe and calls off the hit. But the truce might not last. Emmanuel’s mounting desires for Corbin cause problems. He refuses to allow anyone close enough to become intimate with him, especially someone like Corbin. Yet with each smile and soft kiss, Emmanuel’s emotional shield is dismantled piece by piece.

 

Get your copy of Fantasy for a Gentleman today!

Of Intergalactic Space Ships and a Paradise on Earth with L. J. LaBarthe – Post + Giveaway

January 18, 2016

Of Intergalactic Space Ships and a Paradise on Earth

Hi there! I’m L. J. LaBarthe and I’m here today to talk about my new release, “Song of Song.”

“Song of Song” is a science fiction novel. I’ve always wanted to write a sci-fi, as I love sci-fi myself. I grew up watching “Star Wars,” the original “V” series’, “Blake’s 7,” the 1980s mini-series “The Martian Chronicles” starring Rock Hudson (one of the last things he made before he died), and more. My father was an avid fan of sci-fi, he loved “Buck Rogers,” which never really appealed to me at all, and “Battlestar Galactica,” which I liked (although I preferred the remake!) My mother was and still is an avid “Doctor Who” fan, and I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books while I was growing up… and I still do!

So as you can see, sci-fi is a genre that is near and dear to my heart. It was only going to be a matter of time before I sat down and wrote one myself, and “Song of Song” is the result. It’s set in the future, a future where the rich have taken over Earth, sending the poor to live in off-world colonies and eke out their own existence, while the rich use Earth as their own paradise and playground. To support the wealthy families, there are groups of genetically engineered humans called Boxies, who live in what are called Box Towers and do things like mechanical repairs, laundry, clothing alterations, and things like that. One Boxie, named Dex, decides to escape with his only companion and friend, an AI cat named Manx.

As AI pets are not permitted to Boxies, Dex decides to run away with the help of his friend, and soon finds himself on board the sentient and organic spaceship Fa’a with her crew. He’s instantly physically attracted to the man who designed and built her—Song. Despite all manner of threats and trouble, the two of them manage to get together and fall in love, even when it seems that their burgeoning relationship may be destroyed by outside nefarious forces.

While I was writing, I had a variety of DVDs on as background noise, things that are both dear to my heart and inspired me to come up with ideas. I alternated between “Star Wars,” “Babylon 5,” and “Blake’s 7,” which makes for quite a mix of dystopian sci-fi, wartime futuristic sci-fi and a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away sci-fi. All of it did help keep me in the zone, though!

SongOfSong

So what’s your favorite sci-fi show or film? Do you prefer the modern ones or the older films, the more kitschy and schlocky ones? (“Planet of the Apes”—the original one with Charleton Heston, “2001: A Space Odyssey” “Alphaville,” “Solaris,” “Logan’s Run,” and “Dark Star” are all favorites of mine from the 1960s and 1970s.)

Leave a comment about your favorite sci-fi TV show or film or both to go in the draw for a copy of “Song of Song!”

You can find me on social media too at the following locations:

Twitter: @brbsiberia
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lj.labarthe.9
Blog: http://misslj-author.livejournal.com/
Webpage: http://www.ljlabarthe.com/

Get your copy of “Song of Song” today!

The Forgotten Ones with E E Montgomery – Post + Giveaway

December 4, 2015

The Forgotten Ones

Hello and welcome. I’m E E Montgomery and I’m here to share the release of The Planet Whisperer with you.

It’s an exciting time for me right now because my first Science Fiction novel is about to be released through Dreamspinner Press. The Planet Whisperer touches on a lot of things: ethics of scientific experimentation, changing the evolutionary path of planets, criminal justice, care of children, trust and honor, to name just a few. But at its heart, The Planet Whisperer is a love story. It’s a story of hope and joy and future.

Where did it all come from? The human brain is a wondrous thing that I’ll never understand, but I’ll be forever grateful I can pull random facts from mine and link them together, no matter how obscurely.

This is where it all began…

No one could ever confuse me with one of the popular kids, not even as an adult. I’m not a geek either. Sure, I love Dr Who and Star Trek and random facts (like the Earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to land a spacecraft, or buttons were once made of bone, sometimes human bone) but I don’t have the memory I need to be a ‘real’ geek. I fall somewhere in the middle—the forgettable middle.

That’s where I fall in my family as well. While my mother did go through a stage of forgetting my birthday (I received my parents wedding presents hurriedly wrapped in newspaper for a few years), I didn’t actually feel like I was a forgotten child. There were numerous times my family noticed what I was doing and decided I needed to be spoken to. :/

I’ve often wondered what it would be like—to be forgotten.

Tolifax is home to thousands of forgotten people. Some of them began life as a remembered person, only to do something against the laws of the day and end up abandoned on the planet commonly known as the garbage dump of the universe. They were dropped there and, as individuals, were forgotten.

Under the rule of a conservative and narrow-minded government, the people of Tolifax eked out an existence. Some of them thrived, some got by, but most of them floundered, forced into harsher and harsher lives by those climbing over them so they could survive.

Jonah is one of those forgotten people. He was a child, helpless and vulnerable, at the bottom of Tolifax’s food chain. No one knew, no one cared. At seven, he was caring for his mother after a john broke her jaw. He procured customers for her, kept her clean and kept her fed. He discovered he had an affinity with plants and grew vegetables for them to eat and to sell. Apart from his mother’s injury, life was the best it had ever been. Then the john came back. Jonah, in protecting his mother, committed a crime that would have horrified even the most hardened criminals on Tolifax. His mother, who’d seen more of the underbelly of humanity than any person should, was more terrified of her eight year old son than she was of anything else.

So she sold him.

And forgot him.

For years, Jonah remained forgotten. He might have been used and abused, but his existence wasn’t important to anyone. No one would have noticed if he had disappeared completely.

Then Wes saw him, and bought him. Jonah thought that, finally, someone noticed him, and he pinned all his hopes and dreams on being important to Wes.

Wes wasn’t the prince charming Jonah had hoped he’d be, but at least Jonah was no longer forgotten.

Sometimes though—sometimes he wished he was.

Jonah’s life from eight to sixteen wasn’t the stuff of romances. Nor were the following sixteen years with Wes. They happened, nothing can change that. Through all of it, Jonah never lost hope that somehow he’d have a better life; that now he’d ceased to be one of the forgotten, he’d be remembered for the right reasons.

And there you have it: the single thought that caused Jonah to become real, for his whole life to exist, if only in my imagination—and now yours.

Has there been a time in your life you’ve felt like you were forgotten, or wanted to be? I’d love you to tell me about it. I’ll get an independent person (ie family member) to choose a response at random. That lucky person will receive an ecopy of one of my backlist books (your choice).

PlanetWhisperer[The]_postcard_front_DSP

 

Blurb:

Jonah Starovski, a Planet Whisperer, harnesses the energy surrounding dead planets and redirects it into new growth. Abandoned by the man who bought him from a brothel sixteen years ago, Jonah flounders in a world he’s ill-equipped to deal with. He must accept the help of a stranger in order to rebuild his life.

First Lieutenant Marcus Davis volunteers as Jonah’s assistant without realizing the terraforming process requires Jonah’s sexual release. Balanced on the knife-edge of fear and ambition, Marcus is faced with his mother’s machinations and threats to his career. Marcus’s parents bring their illegal scientific experiments to the planets Jonah is terraforming just as Marcus learns to accept himself and his feelings for Jonah. At the same time, Jonah’s past catches up to him, putting them both in danger.

Jonah and Marcus must trust in each other to put a stop to the illegal activities, rescue an endangered animal, and create the future they both want—a future they can share.

 

Author Links:

Web, blog and free short stories: www.eemontgomery.com

Email: eemontgomery11@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ewynelaine.montgomery

Twitter: @eemontgomery1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5347023.E_E_Montgomery

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/E-E-Montgomery/e/B008LO3SBA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1427806072&sr=1-2-ent

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/eemontgomery11/

Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/e-e-montgomery

Not Quite Skynet with Clancy Nacht

November 18, 2015

Not Quite Skynet

I’m Clancy Nacht, and I’m here to talk about my new book, the sci fi thriller romance, Strange Times.

This isn’t my first time at the m/m rodeo. I’ve written several novels and novellas in the past, including the Black Gold series and The WASPs, which was originally released at Dreamspinner Press way back in my early days of writing. Funnily to me, the books I often read are horror and thrillers, but what was in my heart and soul to write was always romance. I think when it came to romance, I had things to say, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really started to merge those interests.

Like many kids, I was taken to see the Star Wars series as a child and I loved it. I wanted to be Han Solo (though in the neighborhood I was always cast as Leia–she’s not bad either but hrmf) but I wanted a light saber. I spent hours with other kids playing war with sticks, imagining epic battles between good and evil. As I got older, I read Asimov and Bradbury, planting the seeds for a love of a genre I wouldn’t write in until much, much later.

This is my first longer work of sci fi. I’ve written the odd short story where you can create a very quick sketch of a vision of the future, but this story required me to think a lot harder and more deeply about what this vision of the future was.

I was working for an electric company and spent a good deal of time considering the power grid. As we add more electric conveniences, we are, as with everything in America, adding to an already overburdened infrastructure which may or may not be able to handle it. Pertinent to this particular novel was the concept of the Smart Grid, which is a blanket term for an electrical grid that can communicate with appliances in your home.

Say your air conditioning/heating unit is able to talk to the grid, which is then able to talk to an application on your smartphone. Say you’re on vacation and realize that you left your thermostat set to 72 and it’s 100 degrees outside. You don’t need to pay for all of that extra cooling, so you set it to 85 from wherever you’re vacationing. Thermostats are the front line for this concept, but the idea is to get all appliances on that grid so you can turn lights on or off, check on your fridge, basically control all your electronics remotely.

It’s hardly Skynet, but amusingly, some people are very, very alarmed by this and would write in on social media that the “chatter” between the thermostat and the grid gave them headaches. Others became very concerned that their appliances might be spying on them. Both suggest very interesting ideas and stories, but this idea of appliance spying and our reliance on smartphones is really what inspired the world of thought control in Strange Times.

That world has been hit by war and disaster but picks up the bones of civilization as we know it–now put under the control of a violent right wing extremist who is deadly serious about eradicating homosexuality. There’s also a symbiotic species of alien whose arrival on earth saves us from ecological disaster….but the aliens have their own agenda and are rumored to feast on humans. Those named criminals are sacrificed to the aliens.

Just to be who they are in this oppressive world, our heroes have to become rebels. Homosexuals are given the option to be reprogrammed and join the military or die. One of the main characters, Turk, is an ex-soldier who turns militant rebel. Alex is a young man about to enter college who’d successfully hidden his homosexuality until being caught in a honeytrap set up by the oppressive government. It’s Turk’s job to save him.

On top of being sexy and exciting, I hope this story also gets people thinking. To that end, one of the ideas posed does have to do with our devices. When you think about it, with GPS on in our phones, our banking information, our email, our texts, our contacts…our devices can paint a frighteningly accurate picture of us. Never before have we had such an invasive set of information collected in a one-stop shop sort of place. Yet, it’s just so convenient to have and use.

***

Do you ever think about the data that is being compiled? Do you worry about that? Do you think only people doing things that are bad should be worried? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

For these and other slightly frightening thoughts, you can find me in spooky omnipresence:

Blog: http://www.clancynacht.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clancy.nacht
Twitter: https://twitter.com/clancynacht

Life’s Sacrifices by J. J. Lore – Post + Giveaway

November 11, 2015

Lifes sacrifices1

Drumroll please and here it is, my big debut, both as a Dreamspinner Press author and as a writer of m/m romance. It’s pretty nerve-wracking for any author on release day, but with those additional factors, I’m a bit of a wreck right now. My new sci-fi book, Raider Captured, is finally available after what has seemed like months and months of writing, submitting, waiting, and editing. Hold on a minute, that’s exactly how long it has taken. Hopefully all that hard work both on my part and all the talented folks at Dreamspinner will result in an entertaining read for you.

Raider Captured, as the title implies, is, in addition to being a romance and outer space adventure tale, my exploration of the strictures and pressures of imprisonment on both sides of the cage. My initial inspiration for the story was putting two characters in opposition to each other in the most fundamental way; prisoner and jailor. How could I weave romance into such a power imbalance? Both characters would have to overcome many obstacles to eventually place trust in each other and finally discover love. Equally important was having each character empathize with the other’s position. Sagiv, the captured warrior, knows that Daran, his young captor, is facing tremendous pressure to return him for a ransom. Sagiv is certain none of his people would offer up anything for his return as he’s disgraced in defeat. Daran realizes he should feel nothing but disdain for Sagiv, a man who attacked his ship, but he can’t suppress his innate curiosity about the mysterious fighter. There is a connection between them, forged first in the manacles around Sagiv’s wrists, and only strengthened when Daran decides to remove the restraints and free his fearsome prisoner.

There’s always an element of risk when falling in love. Oftentimes we have to give up things we thought were important in order to create that emotional bond with another person. We might have to move, face a friend or family’s disapproval, or open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection. Everyone has to make a leap into the unknown for the chance at romance.

I’m curious about what you had to risk in order to find love. Please leave a comment below for the chance to win a copy of Raider Captured or something useful if you’re ever captured by an alien.

Check out Raider Captured here!

RaiderCaptured_FINAL

 

Check out J. J. Lore’s website and follow J. J. on Twitter! 

Bugs and Hisses Free Fiction: Survival by Chris T. Kat

October 15, 2015

To celebrate Halloween this month, some of our paranormal authors will be sharing with us some free fiction.

 

Survival

(This story is set between Breeding Stations and Battle Stations)

 

“Berit! Faster!” Tom yelled behind me.

What did he think I was doing? Taking a stroll in the park?

Since I didn’t have enough oxygen left in my lungs to keep breathing and ranting at him, I remained quiet. Well, as quiet as one can be when one is being chased by a group of rams. I hated those creatures. I hated all those fucking war beasts the Tash’Ba, our worst enemy, created. Period.

Rams were particularly nasty because they hunted in packs and their razor-like claws could slice you open before you realized what was happening. Add to that their sickly greenish and yellow scales and the red ridge on their heads and they were a nightmare come true.

“Berit! Run!”

“I am running,” I wheezed out.

“Watch out!” Tom’s warning came too late. A ram, a rather large one, stepped out behind a large tree with white, fern-like leaves. My momentum propelled me right into the beast’s chest where I impacted with a morbid smack.

That was it. I was dead.

I glanced up, forcing my muscles to stop trembling so much. The ram blinked at me from reptilian eyes as it tilted its head. Slowly, I moved my left hand to one of the many pockets of my pants and searched for a bluster. The ram threw its head back and emitted an ear-piercing trill. Other rams answered immediately.

A branch snapped to my left, and the ram and I looked toward the noise’s source. Tom stood there, the sun glinting on his glistening skin. His frill folded out in all his red and orange glory. “Berit.”

“I’m sorry.” My voice broke when one, two, no, three rams hurried through the undergrowth, appearing at Tom’s back. He clutched his gun in both hands and his chest heaved.

“No giving up,” Tom said.

I gave a short, startled laugh. No giving up? What were we supposed to do? We couldn’t survive this. From the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of more and more rams closing in on us. We were dead, so dead.

I opened my mouth to inform Tom of our impending demise—or maybe I was going to tell him that I loved him more than life itself—when shouts and splintering wood attracted our attention.

Carson, my best friend, crashed through the brush, followed by his wildly firing mate, Niyara. She was yelling at him to go faster. What was it with our Nadisc mates today? There was only so much a human body could do.

An elgoth chased my two friends, trampling whatever got in its way. The elgoth swished its tail from side to side, destroying trees left and right.

“Carson!” I shouted.

His head snapped toward me, his eyes widening even more in his pale face when he discovered me. I didn’t even want to imagine how I must look—on my knees in front of a looming ram—the picture of pure defeat.

He faltered in his steps, which gave the elgoth enough time to catch up with them. An overturned tree trunk cut off their escape route. Niyara took a protective stance in front of Carson. Her tail whipped through the air, obviously annoying the elgoth, who roared at them.

This couldn’t be it. We couldn’t end like that. We’d found the watcher’s station but none of us had managed to get inside because of those damn Tash’Ba war beasts. Although… where was Fleur? She’d come in handy right now.

The rams trilled to each other. What were they talking about? Who got the first dip on the tasty meat right in front of them? I shuddered. Rams didn’t kill their prey before they ate it, and I’d seen enough of my comrades mauled by rams that I knew I wouldn’t go without a struggle.

My fingers closed around the bluster when the ram next to me scurried away. Confused, I watched it leave, whistling a sharp, commanding trill. The other rams formed into a triangle-like formation and scuttled after the one who was obviously in charge.

Inhaling deeply, I rose to my feet. Relief flooded my veins when Tom materialized at my side, sliding his tail around my waist to anchor me to him.

“What just happened? I can’t believe they let us go,” I asked.

Tom’s tail tightened and his eyes darkened. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. I glanced in the direction the rams were heading. A shocked gasp tumbled over my lips. The rams took up position around the elgoth and Carson and Niyara.

“No! Carson!”

Tom pulled me against his chest, leaving me absolutely no room to move. Niyara wound her tail around Carson, imitating Tom’s movement. Even from this distance, I could see tear tracks on Carson’s face. Everything in me turned to ice. This was my best friend. I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.

“Tom,” I groaned. “I gotta help him.”

“If we shoot now, we might hit him or Niyara.”

“But—”

I was cut off by the elgoth’s roar. The rams snarled before they attacked. I screamed, “Carson!”

One second one of the rams closed its muzzle on Carson’s right arm and the next moment it dissolved into a puddle of stinking glob.

Carson stared at me, disbelief and relief written all over his face. Niyara pumped a fist into the air, yelling in triumph before she whirled Carson around to kiss him senseless.

I sagged against Tom, battling the urge to curl into a ball and cry. Tom caressed my face as he folded up his frill. “Fleur. She must’ve gotten inside the watcher’s station and found the decoder.”

A yank on my leg caused me to jump. When I looked down, Fleur climbed up on me in her typical lizard-style gait. She bumped her cold, wet nose against mine, then purred, “Berrrit. Fleur help.”

“You did. Thank you,” I said softly.

For now we’d survived. Again.

***

Thank you for reading!

 

You can learn more about my books on my blog (there are also links to a couple of free stories):  http://christikat.blogspot.com. You can also follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/christi_kat and on GoodReads http://www.goodreads.com/ChrisTKat.

Erotic Sci-Fi Excerpt from Chris T. Kat

October 15, 2015

Someone else cried out, and I whirled around. Parsol, I think was her name—it had become a challenge to remember all the names because on every mission we lost people, so many people—held up her right arm. A ram stood next to her, gnawing on the part it had just ripped off her.

I choked as I lifted my gun again. The ram trilled before it stared at me from cold, reptilian eyes. Parsol was still staring at her limb, gushing with blood, when her knees buckled and she sprawled on the ground. The ram’s head whipped around, the red ridge on its head flaring. Seconds later we listened to crushing bones and tearing flesh.

Tom grasped my hips in his hands and lifted me up, so I could reach a low hanging branch. On autopilot, I grabbed for it and hauled myself up. I reached for the next one and had to assure myself with a glance at my fingers that I was indeed holding on tight because my fingers felt numb.

Tom patted my ass, probably to encourage me, but to me it felt like a slap, and not of the good kind. Startled, I moved up higher. Not a second too soon.

A ram showed up below us, tilted its head sideways, and inspected the tree trunk. After a snapped whistle, another ram appeared next to the first.

On our way up, Tom had made sure to destroy the low hanging branches, probably to stop the rams from following us. How we were supposed to get down from the tree was his secret. For now, it was more important for the rams to stay on the ground.

We stopped our climb halfway up the tree. Not because we couldn’t go up farther, rather due to the gusting wind that threatened to blow us off. When I peered down through the pouring raindrops, my heart stopped for a beat. Seriously, it did.

With a trembling finger, I pointed at the scene below. “Tom? Are they doing what I think they’re doing?”

Tom’s eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. He wrapped his tail around the trunk and me, anchoring me. I had no time to process whether I should give him a piece of my mind or not because the first ram had finished climbing on the shoulders of the second one and now vaulted up on the first branch within reach. After its landing, it threw its head back and screeched.

Even through the thundering rain, the scream sliced through my body. Tom lifted his gun and fired right at the ram’s head.

He missed.

The ram had ducked aside and was now steadily climbing the tree, winding around it like a slithering snake. No matter how hard we tried, our shots always missed the target.

I glanced down again, only to see another ram ready himself for the climb. I fumbled with the pocket on my right thigh, grabbed a bluster and lobbed it at the two rams on the ground. As they tumbled down, the bluster went off, destroying both of them. Two less to worry about.

In the distance, I heard more gun shots and another bluster going off. Maybe we would survive this attack after all.

Right at that moment, claws appeared an inch below my boot. I reversed my gun and slammed the butt of it onto the claw. The ram screeched in pain but didn’t let go. Instead, it hauled itself up on a branch opposite Tom and me. Why the fuck didn’t the bough snap under the ram’s weight?

I swiveled the gun around to aim, but the ram’s claw closed around the muzzle. Even though I pulled the trigger, the ram pulled and flung my gun to the ground.

Tom withdrew his tail from the trunk—not a second too soon, because the ram tried to snatch it with its claws—but kept it around my waist. We moved farther away from the trunk, carefully balancing on the narrowing branch. Another blast of wind almost chucked us off.

The ram’s head peeked out from behind the trunk for a moment, then withdrew. Was it pondering its options?

“I’ll throw you to that tree in the back. Do you think you’ll be able to get a hold on a branch?” Tom whispered.

I froze. “Excuse me? What do you mean by ‘you’ll throw me’? We’re like… like high above the ground, and I don’t have wings or anything.”

Tom jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing at a tree close to us. “You can’t jump this kind of distance, but I can throw you. Will you be able to hold on?”

“I have no idea!” I burst out. “I’ve never tried before!”

“Berit,” Tom said, his voice so soft it hurt. “I know you haven’t done that before, but if I can’t trust you to find a handhold, I can’t risk the move.”

“I can’t promise,” I said in sheer desperation. What would be worse—getting killed by a ram, or falling to one’s own death? “Can’t you just shoot the damn thing?”

“It always ducks behind the trunk, so, no, I can’t. Ready?”

“No!”

“Berit!” he snapped. With his free hand, he grabbed for one of my hands and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll follow right away.”

“If you can follow, maybe that beast can too,” I protested.

“It has to come out of its hiding place, and that’s when I’ll kill it,” Tom replied.

“Oh. Well, that sounds reasonable.”

Tom squeezed again, and this time I reciprocated.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Now is probably not a good time to confess that I’m not the adventurous type, huh?”

Tom chuckled. “I’d beg to differ anyway. On three.”

_______________

Chris T. Kat loves to write and to read. She writes whatever floats her boat, which means her stories vary from contemporary to paranormal, fantasy, bittersweet dreams or sci-fi. All of her books have a strong romantic element and she’s happiest if she can write about shapeshifters. In real life, Chris is a teacher and couldn’t have hoped for a better job. She’s blessed with a wonderful and supportive family.