QSFer Wendy Rathbone has a new MM sci fi book out:
Will love set them free—or seal their fate?
In the sixty-seventh century, Trev, a master thief and computer hacker, and Khim, a vat-grown human android, reluctantly share a cell in a floating space prison called Steering Star. Trev is there as part of an arrangement that might finally free him from his father’s control. Khim, formerly a combat android, snaps when he is sold into the pleasure trade and murders one of the men who sexually assaults him. At first they are at odds, but despite secrets and their dark pasts, they form a pact—first to survive the prison, and then to escape it.
But independence remains elusive, and falling in love comes with its own challenges. Trev’s father, Dante, a powerful underworld figure with sweeping influence throughout the galaxy, maintains control over their lives that seems stronger than any prison security system, and he seeks to keep them apart. Trev and Khim must plan another, more complex escape, and this time make sure they are well beyond the law as well as Dante’s reach.
TREV LET the cascading liquid from the pink waterfall flow over his full bodysuit. The neon waterfall was the main decorative feature of the museum’s interior and his only means for navigating from floor to floor to avoid the laser traps and heat sensors.
The material of his suit was lined with sensors that absorbed the dampness and made him invisible as he climbed up fake, jutting rocks to the museum’s third floor. So far he’d avoided all security detection.
It was the middle of the night in Fire Town. The museum sat in the center of the floating city’s main cloud. Getting in unseen had been a peach. Back at his flier, parked at the end of the street, he’d drenched himself from head to toe. But the time it took getting to the side entrance and breaking in allowed his suit to dry out too much to avoid detection for long. The waterfall solved that problem. Now, climbing the waterfall forced him to rely on all his talents. He could perform flips and wide leaps, scamper across narrow ledges at great heights, fit into tiny ducts, and run soundlessly down streets or dark corridors without getting winded. Climbing this wall should have been easy, but the rocks were slick with a green, alien algae he had not accounted for. He’d assumed this palace of knowledge that catered to the rich was better maintained. He’d been wrong.
The comm on his wrist chimed underneath the seals of his suit. He ignored it. Set on low, it wouldn’t trip any sensors, but it was annoying him. “Breq, leave me alone,” he muttered softly to himself. He should have left the comm in the flier.
“Fuck.” His left foot slipped. He’d left his grav-boosters behind; they would’ve fucked up the security system big-time. For this job he relied on experience and physical strength alone.
He grabbed frantically at an emerald-tinged rock just above his head, fingers sliding along its surface, heart rate increasing a fraction as he tried not to flail. His right foot still had a pretty good purchase, and his right hand was half-pressed into a crack between two rocks. He took a slow breath, accidentally let a little neon water into his mouth, and sputtered. It tasted of metal and scum, lichen, and—unexpectedly—honey. That would not do.
He focused, clinging to the wet wall as a continual cascade the color of party champagne poured onto his shoulders and head, clumping his dark bangs into his eyes where they had escaped his tight hood.
Take it slow, he prompted himself. His fingers discovered a bump in the rock and closed over it. He lifted his left foot and felt along the wall for another crack, found it, and rebalanced. He had about fifteen feet to go.
Slowly Trev crawled up the soaked rocks and through the pouring falls until he landed on the third floor, dripping thin puddles the sensors would ignore. He’d found the building’s vulnerability to water when he’d studied the security system and its layouts, discovering that two years ago the building had flooded due to a maintenance oversight and the alarms had not gone off. The following morning, workers had opened the doors to a mess. A report had been filed and repairs made, but the system had not been updated to tag the encroachment of water as a threat, and the cascade of the waterfall left the sensors unaffected. Obviously the program ignored the motion of water. An oversight, to be sure, and one Trev enjoyed exploiting tonight.
He had calculated the air temperature and humidity, knowing he had just under three minutes before his suit and its embedded sensors began to dry and his invisibility to the museum’s security system failed. He had plenty of time.
He knew exactly where he was heading. Aisle 3, Case 2.
He moved with practiced stealth past arching alcoves containing innumerable treasures. The museum’s lighting made everything clearly visible. He navigated with ease.
Case 2’s lock did not have an alarm, but there was one hidden inside, underneath the velvet. The object inside was worth a lot, but for some reason extra alarms had not been installed. It took him about ten seconds to pick the lock, and another ten to slip a sensor neutralizer under the artifact so he could lift it out.
The item was too fragile to be handled or exposed to air. Encased in seamless crystal, it was something to look at but never touch, for fear it would crumble to instant dust.
Through the transparent casing, Trev could see it clearly. He smiled, blinking at its beauty. It was an imperfect white page, slightly yellowed, the fading artwork of a mushroom behind an ascending rocket. And four beautiful words. The Machineries of Joy. The real-book he’d been looking for to complete his collection.
“I’ll be the antihero of the Bradbury cults,” he whispered to himself on the dry air.
When the museum found this one missing, they’d search the black markets for a while but never find it. One of hundreds of items he’d stolen—most for the Damicos, his adopted family, who sold them at great profit—but this one he was taking for himself, and he would never part with it.
He glanced around. This particular alcove was filled with Bradburys, but this was the one he wanted. With not even a twinge of conscience, he put the real-book in a protective pouch at his waist, turned, and headed back for his climb down the waterfall.
Trev could not help the satisfied feeling he got at the weight in the pouch rubbing the edge of his hip. It made his climb down, although more precarious than going up, easier and quicker.
He slipped only once as the pink waters lashed him, dropped the last three feet to the pool, and waded out of the shallows and into the foyer of the lobby.
Just then the air turned red. An alarm crowed, shocking him. He froze. Somewhere, somehow, he’d miscalculated.
The orange glow at the front doors, only thirty feet away, was a sign that the lasers were coming back online.
Trained to perfection, his body shed the shock and flew into a sprint. As he ran, he reached into another pouch and pulled out a candle tube, illegal on nine hundred worlds. He aimed it at the glass doors, fingers flashing over the code buttons to unlock it, and pressed the diamond-shaped trigger. The doors shattered and he ran through them, his feet crunching broken glass, and never looked back.
The streets of the floating city were wet, the clouds low and humming, backlit in gold from late-night air traffic. Some of that traffic would already be heading his way.
The walkway, striped in rainbow neon from the advertising screens mounted on just about every building, was clear. The demisters in the gutters kept the fog at bay. Trev was fast and light on his feet, but out here he stood out like a beacon. He used his candle to shoot at the demisters, fog rolling up behind him as he ran. Cameras would be recording. His programming talents were vast, but he couldn’t immobilize them all, so he pulled his hood down over his face and kept going, a thief on the run, a ghost in the mist.
Wendy Rathbone has had dozens of stories published in anthologies such as: Hot Blood, Writers of the Future (second place,) Bending the Landscape, Mutation Nation, A Darke Phantastique, and more. Over 500 of her poems have been published in various anthologies and magazines. She won first place in the Anamnesis Press poetry chapbook contest with her book “Scrying the River Styx.” Her poems have been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling award at least a dozen times. You can visit her blog at: http://wendyrathbone.blogspot.com/