QSFer Cari Z has a new MM sci fi romance out:
Their love will either inspire change in the world or tear it apart.
Former starship captain Jason Kim and his lover, Ferran, are starting a life together on Ferran’s native planet. The Perel matriarchs reluctantly allowed their marriage in the hopes of securing better diplomatic relations with humanity, even though the decision ignites anger from traditionalists. Ferran’s family accepts Jason and the love the two men have found, but other influential families are less accommodating and much less willing to welcome an outsider to their isolated, subterranean world. Some of their enemies are willing to go as far as eliminating Jason permanently. Tensions are quickly building toward a breaking point that might push Perelan into a bloody civil war.
If Jason and Ferran have any hope of surviving the coming conflict, they’ll have to rely on their devotion to each other more than ever before. But that won’t be easy when a figure from Jason’s past reappears to make them question everything.
First Edition of Opening Worlds published by Storm Moon Press, 2011.
First Edition of Changing Worlds published by Storm Moon Press, 2012.
JASON KIM looked over the mission log his supervisors had sent down earlier that afternoon and stifled a sigh. Back to Perelan. Damn it, he knew that the Silver Star was the best ship for those particular runs—part container vessel and part upper-class cruiser—but that didn’t make him like them any better.
Admittedly, the cargo was good. There was always a high demand for luxuries on Perelan, and he never had a problem filling the hold while he was there, but the passengers…. He could happily give them a pass. It was part of the deal, though, and while he was captaining a merchant vessel instead of a military starship these days, he always honored his deals. No pretending the life support couldn’t handle an influx of people, no insinuating that their treatment of his highly trained civilian staff was anything other than exemplary. In fact, it was likely his staff would do the civvy version of a mutiny if he refused passengers from Perelan, and Jason didn’t want to deal with that.
He sat back in his chair and glanced at the log again, charting courses and times in his mind. He’d load fuel and foodstuffs for arrival at Ceyla City and pick up passengers there. That would include three Perels, who apparently had decided they wanted to finish their postadolescent “tour of the ’verse” in high and expensive style. Following Ceyla City, they’d stop by Ishtar to load elegant, handcrafted consumer goods that would be snapped up on Perelan, and then finally circle back to the vaunted planet itself to drop off his three interlopers. After that, thank whoever his scheduler was, he was off duty for a month. It was past time too.
“Orders come down the pipe, sir?” his second-in-command asked, smiling slightly. “Fluttering down to you like little angels from on high? Zipping along the information superconduit? Smacking into your brain at warp speed—”
“Thank you for that series of outdated turns of phrase, Flo; you must have been saving them up for a while.”
“Yes, well, I like Old Earth idioms as much as the next person, sir.”
“Or far, far more than the next person.”
“Yeah, that.” She peered at the screen with interest. “Where’re we going?”
“Ceyla, Ishtar, Perelan.”
“Money run,” she noted, not at all put off by Jason’s terseness. “Passengers?”
“Whomever we can fit comfortably, but we’re reserving three suites for some Perels coming aboard in Ceyla.”
“Oooh, they’ll need them,” Florence smirked. “Make sure they get the biggest beds available too. Perels rarely sleep alone.”
“I’m well aware of their preferences.”
“They’ll be good for business. Everyone wants to travel with a Perel….” Florence’s voice trailed off as she remembered why Jason might not like to hear that. “Sorry, sir.”
“Water under the bridge, Flo.”
“Nice one,” she congratulated him.
“For you, I’m willing to make the effort.” Jason looked over the mission log again. “The delivery for Ceyla should be arriving around fifteen hundred hours, local time. Can you handle the loading and preflight check? Make sure all the staff are on board and prepped?”
“Absolutely, sir,” Florence said immediately. “I’ll let you know when everyone is settled and we’re ready to head out. Go and do something relaxing. Have a bubble bath. Hit a punching bag. Holo-snipe something.”
“Point taken,” Jason said dryly. He left the bridge and headed back to his quarters. He paused as he stepped into the foyer, looking around with jaded eyes. As the captain, he was given the nicest quarters on the cruiser, nicer even than the first-class cabins that would be going to the Perels. It really wasn’t right, he mused. He didn’t need all the space, not anymore. He lived alone. Had lived alone for nearly a year now. He had a massive tub that was going to waste, a bed he rarely spent more than a few hours in, and a living room with a couch he never sat on. The formal dining room was always empty, never used for entertaining guests nowadays. When Blake had been with him, they’d had people in at least once a week. The only place that still got the same level of use was the kitchen, and that was just because Jason loved to cook.
Jason brushed his fingertips across the back of a mahogany dining chair, a piece he had inherited from his parents. He should probably have the dining set sent back to his home on Jacksonville, or just put them into storage, but there was always the possibility that he’d have to use the set at some point. When someone important enough came on board, he’d have to follow the old tradition of inviting them to dine with him. In the meantime, he could deal with the empty spaces. He was very good at that.
Jason went into the kitchen, carefully laying his captain’s jacket over the back of a stool as he did. He glanced in his cooler, looking over his selection of fresh foods. Not much to choose from, and they wouldn’t reach Ceyla City for another week. He activated his com and put a call in to the ship’s steward. “Kayle?”
“Yes, Captain?” The Dorn’s smooth, harmonic triple voices were immediately soothing, and Jason felt his shoulders relax. He hadn’t even realized they were tense.
“I’m running low on produce. Could you have one of my regular orders brought on board before our departure?”
“Certainly, sir. May I add some Chinese cabbage to your order? I’m having some brought on board for our guests and thought of you.”
It had been months since Jason had made kimchi. He quickly ran an assessing eye over his cupboard. “Can you find some red chili pepper as well? And fresh ginger?”
“I will endeavor to meet your needs, sir. The ginger may be quite expensive.”
“That’s all right. If you find it, I can afford it,” Jason said. It had been a long time since he splurged on anything for himself, and ginger was a versatile luxury.
“Yes, sir. Anything else?”
“No, thank you, Kayle. Check in with Flo before you finalize the order, though. She’ll be a bear if she doesn’t remember to get some of her ice cream on board before we head out.”
“Very true, sir.” The lowest of Kayle’s voices was heavy with irony, and Jason knew that Kayle remembered that week as vividly as the rest of the crew did. Florence Zelenkar was an excellent officer and a generally cheerful person, but she had her weaknesses, and a certain brand of ice cream only available at their current berth was one of them.
“Kim out.” Jason turned his com off and rolled his neck in a circle, listening to the minute cracks and clicks with a frown. If he had time in Ceyla City, he’d get a massage. There was a relaxation therapist on board, as well as countless holo programs for exercise and stress relief, but Jason didn’t really want to bother his crew with his tension, and he never seemed to be able to lose himself to the virtual reality of a holo like he should. Blake had given him massages that seemed to melt his bones, but those had stopped coming long before their relationship had ended.
Jason closed his eyes and sighed. If he could go back and do it over…. No, never mind. There was no point in speculating on the past. He headed toward the bathroom, his lean fingers reaching up to undo his shirt buttons. The tub might not get a lot of use, but the shower was almost as good.
“SIR?” FLORENCE appeared at his elbow in the loading bay. “We have embarkation starting in five. Time to smarten up and impress the masses.”
“Mm,” Jason replied, watching as his hold was rapidly emptied of its cargo. “I’ll be right there.”
“Of course you will, sir. And I’ll just wait here for you.”
“Commander Zelenkar, I’m not going to stand you or our passengers up,” Jason gently chided, knowing what she was thinking.
“It will mean a lot to them to be personally greeted,” she said unrepentantly. “I’m only staying in order to take over if something goes wrong and you’re unavoidably detained or something like that.”
Jason stared flatly at his first officer. “You’re coming very close to implying dereliction of duty on my part, Commander.”
“That isn’t at all my intent, sir. I merely wish to facilitate the execution of your many duties as best I can,” Florence said with a perfectly straight face. “That includes me being on hand to assist you in any way possible.”
Jason glanced down at his chrono. “I should probably leave now if I’m going to get to the doors on time.”
Florence just kept looking attentive.
“My pleasure, sir. I’ll finish things up here.”
“When you’re done, meet me in the bridge. Ceyla’s control tower is opening the shields for us in forty-five minutes, and we don’t want to be late.”
Jason walked away with the barest hint of a smile on his face. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he had been thinking that he might be a little late, but time was tight, and it was important to get the cargo unloaded as safely and efficiently as possible. His first officer was perfectly capable of overseeing that, however, and the cartel he worked for did specify that the captain of the ship be there to greet all incoming passengers, as well as see them off at their destinations.
He made it to the doors with thirty seconds to spare. The rest of his crew was on hand as well to welcome the passengers and guide them to their cabins.
“How many are we taking on?” Jason asked in a low voice as he stopped next to Kayle. The Dorn was bent gracefully in two, a ritual posture signifying welcome, or so Jason had found out a while back. Kayle was still a foot taller than most of the Terran crew.
“Twenty-seven, sir.” Kayle’s harmonics were serene. “All human except for the Perels. I have prepared their cabins to their specifications.”
“Good.” Naturally, Kayle had everything well in hand. He should; he had six of them, after all. Jason looked at his chrono again. “Open the doors.”
The cruiser’s wide passenger doors opened, revealing the high-ceilinged entrance hall, his uniformed, attentive staff, and himself, hopefully looking friendly. Blake had often told Jason that his poker face couldn’t improve on his normal imperturbability, and that he’d seen statuary with more emotion. Or some variation thereof. Well, expressionless was better than unhappy, Jason reasoned.
He did his part in welcoming every passenger aboard, shaking hands, clasping shoulders, or bowing depending on the newcomers’ preference. Jason was well acquainted with most of the human-inhabited systems in this part of the ’verse and their protocols. The new arrivals were whisked away, and finally there were only the Perels left to board.
All three were male, the only gender allowed off Perelan without a vast accompaniment. Two of them were perfectly identical, answering a question Jason had wondered about before regarding their reproductive process. The twins were slightly shorter than he was, with moon-pale skin and glossy, silky hair that tapered to sharp, quill-like protrusions from the top of their head in a line down their spine. Their stylish black jumpsuits, made of far better material than usual for the standard spacer’s clothes, were backless to accommodate their alluring anatomy. They had nearly human features, but their eyes were twice the size of a human’s, dark brown and almost without white. Their chins were sharp and pointed, and their ears were shaped like tea leaves, pointed back alongside their heads. They were beautiful, dream-like creatures with the morals of an alley cat, and judging from their perky welcomes and lingering caresses to his hand, they were both in the market for partners.
The third was similar, but also strikingly different. Every Perel Jason had ever seen before was a single tone, from the smooth skin over their front halves to the lustrous pelt across their backs. This one was two-toned, the same white-pale skin, but his hair darkened as it changed, becoming an amber brown at its tapered points. His ears were slightly tufted with darker pieces as well, and his large eyes were the same amber as his head and back. His features were a little less pointed, a little less ethereal, but he was just as beautiful as the other two. He looked curiously at Jason, who suddenly realized that he’d been keeping the Perel waiting.
“Welcome aboard,” Jason said stiffly, disturbed by his lack of focus. He offered his hand, and the Perel shook it gently.
“Thank you, Captain.” His voice was a warm, husky sound, not exactly a purr, but not a normal speaking voice from a human perspective.
“This is Kayle, the steward on the Silver Star. He’ll accompany you to your quarters and answer any questions you might have.” Jason stepped back slightly, more than glad to pass the responsibility of settling their passengers off to the capable Dorn. “We’ll be departing shortly.”
“I am Ferran,” the Perel said quickly, his introduction cutting off Jason’s retreat. “These are Neyarr and Garrell, my cousins.” His bright eyes were fixed on Jason’s face, startlingly intimate.
“Honored to make your acquaintance,” Jason said automatically. “Please excuse me; I need to supervise our departure.” He nodded slightly, and then turned and walked away, trying not to move faster than he normally would. Externally, he was fairly sure he looked the same; internally, he was unsettled. Jason had never been affected by a Perel before. Generally, he found them beautiful but not attractive—sexual but not sensual—creatures. He certainly had never been aroused by one before.
Not, Jason mentally berated himself, that he was aroused now. Interested, perhaps. Yes. Interested. And so would all twenty-four of the other passengers be, and most of his crew as well. He didn’t care to be one more brief conquest for a voracious Perel. He didn’t want to be anyone’s brief conquest. Transitioning in and out of relationships with ease had never been one of Jason’s traits, and he wasn’t going to change at his age. Squaring his shoulders, he made his way to the bridge.
Author Bio: Cari Z. is a Colorado girl who loves snow and sunshine. She writes award-winning LGBTQ fiction featuring aliens, supervillains, soothsayers and even normal people sometimes.