QSFer O.E. Tearmann has a new queer sci fi book out, book two in the Aces High, Jokers Wild Book series: Call the Bluff.
It costs a lot to win. And even more to lose. Seven Corporations rule the former United States with seven codes of conduct based on their ideas of morality. Comply with the code of the Corporation that holds your Citizen Contract, or suffer the economic consequences.
Or fight back.
For sixty years the Democratic State Force has been fighting to return representative democracy to the country. Living in the no man’s lands between cities and hanging on by their fingernails, the thinly spread guerrilla force hasn’t gotten far. But they have a secret weapon: their finest unit, Base 1407. Handle:
Pulled together after disaster by Commander Aidan Headly, the Wildcards are on top of their game again. They’d better be. They’ve just been called to act as backup in a mission bigger than anything the Force has attempted before. The team that went in first is probably dead.If they pull their mission off, everything will change. If they don’t, they’ll be lucky to survive the year.
Life’s a bitch. She’s got the game rigged. Keep the cards close to your chest.
The rest of the day was chaos. Relocation days always were. Taking a multi-section base apart into its component modular units, unfolding each module’s wheeled undercarriage and hitching the things to trucks for transport to a new site, then putting it all back together was nobody’s idea of fun. But neither was getting a consistent travel pattern around a base picked up by a detailed satellite reading and getting a bomb dropped on their heads. Or running out of water, for that matter.
Like every other Duster base, the Wildcards shifted sites every few months. It was a sensible safety measure. It was also a pain in the ass. Relocations ate up time and everyone’s patience, starting with the nerve-wracking days before a move when hydroelectric officers went out scouting a new aquifer for their base and culminating in the heart-thumping hours of setting up under the watchful sky.
And then there was the paperwork covering a base relocation, which was nearly as bad as the move for the poor bastard who had to fill it out. Once the sun had set and he’d made sure the base was in good shape, Aidan had gotten into his office and started on his part of the job, writing up the reports he needed to file on their new position, their level of security in the new site and the procedural boxes they’d checked in the moving process. He was pretty sure it was never going to end.
“We missed you at dinner,” a quiet voice remarked from the doorway, the cultured syllables warm in Aidan’s ears. He grimaced at his tab. “Had to file a report on the raised danger level in this area after what the twins pulled. Then I had all the rest of this to start on. And I still have to find a good time in the calendar for a full base system shut down and defrag.”
Kevin’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “We traditionally do the defrag over the Winter Holiday. I’m sure Janice has it scheduled already. As for the kids, it could’ve been a lot worse,” the soft voice murmured behind him. Kevin’s thumb ran gentle circles against Aidan’s jacket.
“I know,” Aidan muttered without looking up from his work, “Thank God it wasn’t. I just… I don’t know what I’m going to do with Don and Dilly. They’re trying, but…” He shook his head, finally sitting back in his seat and looking up at his boyfriend. “I know the kids think they’re ready to train for the fight, but I don’t want another disaster like this.”
The lean logistics officer dropped down beside him, sighing. “It’s hard on a lot of the kids without parents,” Kevin remarked quietly. “At least they’ve got their brother around.” Glancing at Aidan’s screen, he quirked a brow. “These inventory counts are my job, you know. You don’t have to do everything.”
Aidan gave his boyfriend a wry smile. “You know how I get when I’m stressed. The more work the better. Otherwise I start thinking too much.”
“And staying up too much. And not eating enough.” Kevin added reprovingly, pushing his old-fashioned glasses up his nose. The lamp kindled highlights in his red hair as he pointedly flicked files off Aidan’s main screen. The old machine struggled to keep the hologram steady and track the movement at once, and the screen blipped and shuddered under Kevin’s fingers.
Aidan gave the other man a dry smile. “Look who’s talking.”
Kevin tipped his head, smiling thinly in acknowledgment. “Touché.”
Aidan leaned back in his chair, studying Kevin’s face. Behind his glasses, Kevin’s eyes were downcast. His shoulders had slumped.
“What’s wrong?” Aidan asked into the quiet.
Kevin pulled off his glasses, tugged out the cloth he kept in his jacket pocket and began cleaning them absently. It had taken Aidan a few months to catch on, but now he knew the signs of his boyfriend’s moods. Fiddling with glasses? That was either fear or worry.
Finally, Kevin glanced up. His smile was a small, crooked thing. “Another generation of kids training up for the fight. They’ll be the fourth.”
Aidan nodded, catching on. “Yeah. Sucks, doesn’t it?” He put his hand on Kevin’s knee. Kevin sighed, fingers squeaking the cloth against the plastic of his glasses.
“Seems like our actions don’t have much effect sometimes, you know?”
“They don’t,” Aidan replied softly. “But we have to keep trying. We can’t live like this forever. And giving up isn’t an option.”
Kevin nodded. “I know. Only sometimes I wish…” the sentence trailed off. Replacing his glasses, the logistics officer looked at his boyfriend speculatively, then reached out to run a hand over his cheek. “I do hope you’re going to get some rest now that we’re settled again. If you keep staying up, you can pass yourself off as a raccoon.”
Aidan laughed and caught Kevin’s hand in his. “Maybe that’s my master plan. Disguise myself as a raccoon and sneak into Corporation headquarters to blow the bastards up. I can be like the raccoon in that weird-ass vid you put on for everybody Friday.” He drew his lips back, imitating a character’s snarl from a movie that hadn’t been that good when it was new and hadn’t aged well. They’d laughed so hard that Sarah had fallen off the couch.
Kevin’s lips quirked. “You aren’t nearly vicious enough to be that character,” he demurred, amused, “and I think the Corps tie their trash cans down a little tighter than that.”
“Yeah.” Aidan agreed with a quiet chuckle. He ran a hand gently over Kevin’s hair.
“Don’t worry about the kids. I’m not turning them into soldiers today.”
“I’m afraid they might do it themselves. Or the world will do it to them.” Kevin murmured, closing his eyes and leaning into Aidan’s touch. In this light, with that expression on his face, his gene-sculpted features looked too perfect to be human. Turning his hand in Aidan’s, he lifted their joined hands and kissed Aidan’s knuckles. “Come to my room tonight?”
Aidan smiled softly. “In a minute. I need to finish this first.”
Kevin gave a grumble of annoyance for show, leaning in for a kiss. “The price of greatness is responsibility, I suppose.”
“Go to bed,” Aidan muttered into the kiss. “You’re being weird again.”
“The word you’re looking for is eloquent.” Kevin rejoined with one of his sidelong smirks. Aidan watched him leave with a smile before turning back to his work.
An hour later Aidan finally allowed himself to shuck his jacket, kick off his boots, flop down onto Kevin’s bed and close his eyes, letting out a long sigh.
“I hate relocation days.”
Kevin’s chuckle colored the quiet as the other man set aside the tab he’d been reading from and spread himself out beside Aidan, head pillowed on Aidan’s shoulder. Kevin was shirtless, and his pale skin was cool where it touched Aidan’s.
“Talk to Damian and get the kids assigned an actual vocation training program?” Kevin murmured, dropping an arm over Aidan’s chest companionably. “You’ll feel better, and they’ll be better off.”
Aidan grunted and gently shifted Kevin’s arm away from his breasts under their binder. “We’ll see.”
The fingers toyed with the hem of Aidan’s shirt. “Don’t make Liza and I do it for you.”
“Brat,” Aidan muttered, rolling over to tuck his head under Kevin’s chin.
“Yes sir, of course sir.” Kevin smirked in the soft room lights.
Aidan yawned. “Don’t call me ‘sir’.”
“Yes sir.” Kevin repeated, a teasing note in his voice.
Aidan groaned and shoved at Kevin’s shoulder. “Stop it.”
“That an order?” the laughing voice breathed in his ear, warm on his skin.
“’Course it’s an order,” Aidan muttered, kissing Kevin’s throat.
Kevin chuckled, leaning closer. “Lights out,” he said aloud, and his room lights faded down to the barest orange glimmer.
Aidan smiled in the dark as Kevin’s arms wrapped around him. Maybe they weren’t doing a lot of good. Maybe their fragmented guerrilla force wasn’t changing things yet. But they were still here. They were still fighting for an America worth living in. Nights and lives like this were worth fighting for.
O.E. Tearmann lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, in what may become the Co-Wy Grid. They share the house with a brat in fur, a husband and a great many books. Their search engine history may garner them a call from the FBI one day. When they’re not living on base 1407 they advocate for a more equitable society and more sustainable agricultural practices, participate in sundry geekdom and do their best to walk their characters’ talk.