QSFers Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus have a new queer space opera adventure out, Virasana Empire: Dr. Laurent Book 2: Red Claws, Blue Ink.
Testing his decision to become a travelling agent of the Circle of Thales, Rene Laurent accepts two training missions – one to beautiful Shiraz, another one to the thousand island planet of Gui Lin. Compared to his adventures with Brother Riccardo, merely copying reports of a local werewolf sighting and fetching a book from a remote island estate sure sounds harmless enough.
But things are never as simple as they appear, and while figuring out how to navigate the wildly diverse cultures of the Virasana Empire, Rene gets to explore himself and his psionic powers. He realises that his powers aren’t as benign as he thought them to be, and that it is indeed a very fine line separating man from monster…
‘Red Claws, Blue Ink’ is a colourful space opera adventure, a coming-of-age travelogue and the second book in the ‘Doctor Laurent’ series.
“Step back, please, ladies and gentlemen. Step back, please. The train is approaching.” The station warden walking up and down the platform emphasised his announcement by ringing a handheld bell. He sported a dark blue uniform with a matching cap, an impressive moustache, and the expression of a man fully aware of the great importance of their task and of their authority.
On a Floor tube train platform, he would have been ignored at best. Here on Shiraz, people obediently stepped back from the tracks, pulling along their children and luggage. All of them looked as though they had climbed straight out of a movie. The women wore long dresses or fancy leather armour and the men uniforms or tight pants and billowing shirts. There was an abundance of lace, frills, embroidery, and fur trims on everything. And hats, so many hats – from tiny things pinned to complex hair-dos to floppy leather hats with feathers to giant, overdecorated monstrosities. Even most of the kids were equipped with a cap of some kind.
In their midst, Rene felt like he should be surrounded by some sort of crackling purple lightning, signifying reality rejecting him. He didn’t fit in at all in his worn out combat boots, black jeans, band t-shirt, slightly ragged cardigan hood pulled up, and green tinted, round sunglasses. He didn’t even have a fancy leather suitcase, just a large travel bag and his trusty canvas satchel. He had decided to keep his usual attire as – according to his reading on the subject – people on most planets of the Empire were known to be more lenient towards those who were obviously foreigners.
He had expected to be stared at, but all he drew were some glances of either curiosity or hauteur, which was what he should have expected. After all, he had studied Shiraz extensively before leaving Floor on his first ever mission as a Circle agent. Also known as ‘the better Terra’, Shiraz was famous throughout the Empire for its pleasant climate, beautiful landscapes, and producing excellent food of all varieties as well as the best wine one could ask for.
During the Black-and-White War, several decades ago, it had changed ownership from the now extinct House Grebenstein to the matriarchal House Cournicova, narrowly avoiding being given to House Ndewane, who had brought the Grebensteins to their knees. The Cournicovas didn’t gloat, but instead made a point of treating their new subjects kindly and easing them into their new style of rulership.
Historically, Shirazans looked down upon everyone not from their planet with a mix of pity and disdain. After all, it wasn’t the tourists’ fault they didn’t come from the best planet in the Empire, and it was good manners to welcome them and let them see what they were missing. It was still a bother to have the poor clods underfoot all the time. They were, however, adjusting surprisingly well to Cournicova rule and adapting to the fact that their military was now predominantly female and that men were expected to be handsome rather than capable. It helped that House Grebenstein and House Cournicova had always been on friendly terms, so the Cournicova were seen less as usurpers than saviours from the dreaded fate of Ndewane rule.
“The 10.30 train to San Fonterulo is now approaching,” the station warden announced, ringing his bell again. “Please stay clear of the track until it has come to a full halt.”
Over the din of the station hall, Rene hadn’t heard the rumble of the train, but now it was drawing close enough that its noise was beginning to overpower the sound of voices trapped in the high hall. The noise the tube trains on Floor made was a mix of high pitched whining and hissing. This train’s rumble was a lot deeper in timbre, the sound of a huge machine working hard. It came into view and Rene couldn’t do anything but stare in awe – an authentic, massive steam engine huffed and blew dark smoke from its chimney as it pulled metal and wood passenger carriages, which were painted red and green and had cute little windows, pull-down stairs at the doors, and polished brass handrails. The whole thing looked like it had come right out of a children’s book. Even the train driver, currently looking out of the locomotive’s window, fit perfectly, wearing another version of the station warden’s uniform with matching cap and moustache. The station hall filled with the screech of the brakes.
The entire scene was absurd, technologically primitive and inefficient. And it was marvellous.
The station hall was as spectacular as the train, his fellow passengers, and the people working there. Constructed mostly from burnished steel, it rose in graceful arches to heights one would have expected in a cathedral. Huge panes of stained glass filtered in the planet’s warm sunlight to paint the tiled floors with stripes of pastel colours. Everything was clean, well maintained, and made adorned with much attention to detail. Even the flowers in the planters which separated the platform from the rest of the station matched the colours of the windows.
Rene had used the time he had waited for the arrival of his train to draw quick sketches of everything he saw into his travel journal. Everything here was so different, his mind was reeling from all the impressions.
He had arrived on Shiraz only three hours earlier. After having spent over a week in the narrow confines of his tiny cabin and the equally tiny mess of the small freighter he had travelled on, stepping out into the balmy morning air of the planet had felt like an overload of pleasantness. Everything looked pretty and smelled nice. Even the tiny spaceport of Veruccio was pretty.
Shiraz’s main spaceport was located in the capital, Syrah. The freighter had carried medical equipment to Veruccio, the seat of this continent’s earl and a big city for Shiraz. This had been perfect for Rene since his destination was located in the same province. First, he would take the train to San Fonterulo and, according to his travel research, from there, he could take the stagecoach to get to the small village of Tregoli. He had been truly interested in picking up the reports on werewolf sightings until he had arrived on Shiraz. Now, he felt overwhelmed and side-tracked, pulled into every direction by the sheer amount of things to gawk at. Even watching videos beforehand hadn’t prepared him for how very different everything was here, particularly when compared to his homeworld.
An artist by heart, Beryll was writing stories even before she knew what letters were. As easily inspired as she is frustrated, her own work is never good enough (in her eyes). A perfectionist in the best and worst sense of the word at the same time and the driving creative force of our duo.
An entertainer and craftsman in his approach to writing, Osiris is the down-to-earth, practical part of our duo. Broadly interested in almost every subject and skill, with a sunny mood and caring personality, he strives to bring the human nature into focus of each of his stories.