QSFer J.J. Lore has a new MM sci fi romance out:
Dhavi is on his way to getting the professional respect he knows he deserves. He’s landed a corporate sponsorship to be the first paleologist to prospect on a faraway planet, and finding a spectacular fossil there will set him up for life. But when he discovers his worst rival, and former friend, is also going to be there, years of resentment ignite his temper.
Breon is shocked to learn he’s sharing equipment with his old study partner on this important expedition, and he’s worried that the enmity between them will sabotage any potential discoveries they might make. Resolving to make the best of it, he tries to cooperate, but savage creatures, dangerous weather, and geologic hazards all conspire to make the fieldwork every bit as perilous as trying to ignore the attraction to Dhavi.
With the frosty ground shaking under their feet, Dhavi and Breon have to save each other, and in the process, heat up a shared sleeping bag. But when it comes time to return with their findings, those old hurts flare to life, sending them on their separate ways.
There’s one last chance for them at the exhibit opening, but are either of them brave enough to risk their hearts again?
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” Perhaps Dhavi’s rudeness was getting to him. It had been a long time since he’d been so terse with someone. He couldn’t grasp the comm, and rather than continue the struggle, or remove his glove and risk frostbite, Breon gave up for the moment and surveyed the landscape stretched out before him. The water below ruffled with waves, and as he watched with surprise, a host of small dark objects flew out and landed on what appeared to be a sandy shore. The conical creatures moved around in jerky starts and stops, some nearly colliding with others as they emerged from the water. He could hear splashing and a strange hooting noise he attributed to the animals. “Look there. What are those?”
Dhavi shrugged, the movement barely discernable under his insulated coat. “I didn’t read anything about such creatures in the planet report.”
“Considering it was written by a stellar cartographer for the mineral conglomerate’s scouts, I’m not surprised native fauna were given little attention. Unless these animals hold rare oils or minerals in their craws, they aren’t of interest to those who can afford to prospect here.”
Breon was shocked to his cold toes when Dhavi scoffed out a chuckle. Had he really made the other man laugh? Impossible. He began to walk down the slope, intent on a closer look at the creatures. Though he was interested in life from millions of years ago, it was still a valuable opportunity to assess how evolution on Cropax had fared in the intervening millennia.
“You would know all about it.” Dhavi’s voice was near, so he must be following. Breon resisted the impulse to turn and confirm it.
“What do you mean?” Now that they were halfway down the slope, he could see the animals were sleek grey and white cylinders with flippers or paddle-like limbs along their anterior. They were bouncing along the shoreline and still issuing those haunting calls from shiny short beaks. The water behind them eddied and swirled. The little creatures showed no fear as they approached.
“Corporations. Rich people. Privilege.” Dhavi shot out the words like projectiles.
“I’m not rich.” Breon gave up, staring at the curious creatures to face Dhavi. Granted, he had some trusts and would be in line for an inheritance at some point, but since he’d turned his back on the family enterprise, he didn’t collect any sort of income from it as his siblings and cousins did. “I’m only here because I won the grant from Clarion. Just as you did.”
Dhavi shook his head. “Hardly the same as me.”
Breon chose not to take offense. When they were students he’d done his best not to behave in a way which might make Dhavi notice the difference in their circumstances. He’d thought he’d done a good job then, but apparently, the disparity still rankled. “That’s right, Dhavi. We are different. I’m a different person than I was when you knew me before, but it seems you have retained all sorts of youthful resentments.”
Well. Maybe he had taken offense after all. He had changed, due in part to the painful sense of betrayal he’d experienced when Dhavi had cut him off and disappeared from his life. It was the first major loss he’d ever suffered through.
“My feelings on the matter are irrelevant. You’re rich and get the best portions of life as a result. That’s the way it is, and ever was.” Dhavi’s tone was as cold as the ice under their feet.
Breon’s stomach clenched. He wasn’t ready for this confrontation, though he’d known it was impending ever since he’d seen Dhavi in the ship’s cabin. He unwillingly stepped back, his feet slipping on the loose scree. The animals continued to cry out, even more of them flocking to the shoreline. “I don’t owe you a reckoning of my financial status.”
“Don’t pretend it’s of the same measure as mine.”
Now Breon’s stomach was flipping over and his blood was heating, which was a shock considering how frigid he’d been since landing here. It wasn’t his fault the family he’d been born into, just as it wasn’t Dhavi’s. “I don’t care about your bank account. I don’t care about mine.”
“Spoken like someone who’s never had to pass a moment’s worry.”
Dhavi’s smugness was as annoying as the physio exercises Breon still had to undergo each day. He managed not to snap back and tried the voice of reason. “What does any of this have to do with our current situation?”
With a tightening of his jaw, Dhavi turned half away and smoothly pulled his comm from a pocket in his coat and peered at it, as if to dismiss Breon entirely. Ka De crowded closer to a cluster of the sleek creatures, which were pulling themselves along the ground with rough jabs of their paddles. Breon tried to distract himself from his frustration by observing them more closely. Symmetrical arrangement of features, wide dark eyes on either side of the cranium, no size variation, so perhaps a peer group. Was it fur or feather or scales covering them so closely, or something else?
A sudden rushing sound overwhelmed him and he started, turning on his heel to see the water beside them erupting in a swelling wave. The animals around his feet shrieked and flopped, and Breon watched, frozen with disbelief, as a mottled white shape emerged and flung forward onto the gravel shore with a great, huffing wheeze. Its tubular body was at least three meters long and half as wide. As it flexed against the stones, sheets of water cascaded from its thrashing body and a wide maw opened at the near end. Shiny black triangles lined the edges of a wet, blue orifice. A purplish appendage emerged from it to sweep into the scattering creatures, snaring two before it retracted. The two captured animals squealed and writhed, their bodies shaking with effort as they attempted to escape, but the huge predator was too fast for them, closing its mouth with a decisive smack against their bodies after they were impaled on the bigger animal’s mouth spikes. The little paddle beasts shuddered, then went limp as greenish fluid spurted from their beaks.
J. J. Lore has been interested in the dashing men who roam outer space since she was transfixed by Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon a long time ago in a theatre far, far away. Sadly, there is no way for her to join in the fun of intergalactic adventures unless she writes them, so that’s what she does whenever she isn’t taking care of the business of life.
If you can’t find her typing madly on her sluggish keyboard, she’s probably poking around in a thrift store searching for the perfect pair of worn jeans or a vintage kachina bolo tie.
These days she puts her anthropology degree to work when she whips up dishes from many different cultures, most of which benefit from a liberal dose of sriracha or a smear of green curry paste. Her favorite reading topics are costume history, epidemiology, and permaculture, all of which she’d like to work into a story if she’s suddenly overcome with a brilliant idea someday.