QSFer J. Scott Coatsworth has a new 99¢ sci fi short out with a bi protagonist: “Chinatown.”
Deryn is a dreamcaster in the new Chinese enclave in what was once San Francisco. He and his girlfriend Gracie scrape together a life, living in an old department store and struggling to live by the Charter under Chinese rule.
But when someone offers a way out, Deryn is afraid he might lose everything if it goes wrong, including his unborn child. Until he learns that a worse fate awaits them all if he doesn’t act.
Deryn stood next to the ivy-wrapped concrete window ledge, staring out at the twinkling lights of Chinatown in the distance, dominated by the JioJinShan Tower—Chinese for Gold Mountain. A strong wind off the Pacific spun the gyros of the turbines lining the roofs of the shorter buildings, and solar panels sparkled in the late morning light.
In the distance, a skipper drone arose, carrying someone off toward the transport center over in what used to be Berkeley.
Behind him, Gracie scraped bits of burnable refuse she’d been able to glean from the junk vendors in Union Square into the cook pit. “Close the shutters.”
Deryn sighed. They’d bonded the year before, and had fallen into a life together, combining his meager earnings as a dreamcaster with her own from the odd jobs she performed in the shells—hollowed out old buildings across the city.
He really didn’t want to know what those jobs were.
Deryn pulled their makeshift shutters closed. They scraped against the window ledge and slammed together, blocking out the garish light.
Gracie lit the pile of garbage with one of their precious matches. It caught, and soon she had a pot of water simmering over the pit. She slipped in vegetables and a protein cube she’d bought in the square, and the small apartment filled with the delicious smell of cooking.
Somewhere past their thin interior walls, a child cried.
Deryn wiped the table. He pulled out two ceramic bowls from the old plastic cabinet salvaged from a place down on Market Street, setting them in place with care. He sat back on a low cushion and watched Gracie as she cooked. She bit her lip, and unconsciously tucked a lock of her dark curly hair behind her ear.
She was beautiful, her auburn skin marred only slightly by the scar that ran across her cheek like memory-made-flesh—a reminder of rough, lean years in San Jose.
They were saving up bit by bit for her sterilization surgery. Neither one of them wanted to raise a baby in this world, not unless they could both earn a permanent place inside Chinatown.
“They hauled Tess and Jenna before the tribunal last week for a carbon violation.”
“That sucks. What did they get them on?” The couple lived on the other side of the floor in the old Macy’s building that had become high-demand apartment space for hundreds of Chinatown’s low wage workers, former Americans connected to the invaders’ enclave.
She sprinkled a little precious salt over the pot. “They were running an old air conditioner on a gas generator.”
He whistled. “Hardcore. Where’d they get the gas?”
“Some kind of enzyme they bought from the market. Breaks down plastic, apparently.” She pulled the battered pot off the cook pit and ladled soup into each of their bowls.
Deryn poured some of the saved gray water from the morning’s dishes over the cook pit. Checking to make sure the fire was out, he opened the shutters again, letting in some fresh air. “I could go for a little air conditioning this summer.”
Gracie shuddered. “Not if it means a partial wipe. Their blank eyes… Tess looked broken.”
Deryn frowned. He worked for the Chinese. They were trying to fix the world, even if their laws were harsh. But mind wiping… there was no world in which extracting bits of someone’s brain could be right. He sipped his soup, staring at the wall thoughtfully. Burning trash was a minor infraction, but using fossil fuels…
Something buzzed in Deryn’s ear. He turned and froze.
A pixie drone had slipped in through the open window and was slowly traversing the room.
He glanced at the cook pit. It was covered. Thank you, Gracie. He hadn’t even seen her do it.
They sat stock-still while the drone did its impromptu inspection of their tiny living space.
No one knew if the pixies were equipped with cameras or just carbon sniffers, but they were coming around more often lately. The invaders—the Chinese called themselves rescuers, but they were invaders nevertheless—had a factory churning them out down in Los Angeles.
The drone fluttered past him, and Deryn could feel the air from the whirring wings on his cheek. It hovered for a moment as if considering what to do with him.
The vein in his temple pulsed.
Seemingly satisfied, it zipped back out the window and was gone.
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.
He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
Scott’s Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com/
Scott’s FB: https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth