April 3, 2017
Hi to all readers of m/m romance. My name is Wendy Rathbone and I have just released my novel “The Android and the Thief.”
This book is a romance set in a far flung future with some dark elements but a lot of heart and two main characters who really came to life for me.
The story was great fun to write. It is difficult to say exactly where the idea originated. The way I generate ideas is to make lists of my favorite things to read including plot points, characteristics of people, etc. I also create prompts for myself with words, phrases or poems. I take some of these prompts and mix them up, pairing things that might seem at odds, then figuring out the story from there.
For this book I knew I wanted a character who was an indentured servant, someone with no rights or freedom to choose his own destiny. The idea of having characters with all choice taken from them has always intrigued me. So I often write about themes involving people who are slaves or created beings or in some way imprisoned. I had created an idea in the past of “androids” who are actually human in every way, simply enhanced genetically to be near-perfect, and grown in vats. Born adult with implanted memories of false childhoods, these “androids” become expensive toys for the rich and decadent, or expendable as space military combat soldiers. (Yes, I am a fan of Blade Runner.) The problem is these androids are fully functioning, physical humans and so this manufacturing process can actually create emotionally damaged or stunted beings if their imprinted programming roles break down and they begin to “wake up” and think outside their given parameters. Thus, Khim, one of the two main characters in the book, was born to my mind.
I love characters with dark pasts, or who are emerging from mind-jolting, mind-awakening traumas.The character of Khim came to life for me a little at a time. I knew he would be a combat soldier, the only life he’d ever known. I knew he would be injured and forced, after ten years, into another life he was not prepared for. Because of his enhanced beauty, that life was going to be a brothel, and it was not going to be pleasant. But it was the only way I could think of to break him and create a story about his slowly emerging real self, an abrupt introduction to his true humanity, and to the transformative experience of eventual love.
Next, in walks Trev, who has lived a very privileged life, the son of a dynamic crime figure whom he cannot escape. Trev’s story, like Khim’s, is also about breaking out of a kind of prison, one where his life is owned and manipulated by his controlling father.
So I have two characters trying to break away from their pasts and, to make things even worse, both get thrown into prison together as cellmates. Khim knows a secret about Trev which makes him hate him right away, so there is lots of conflict. But they aren’t bad guys, not really, and they soon learn that to defeat their demons they are stronger together.
When I put all those ideas together in my head, the story wrote itself.
If I were asked to pick a favorite character between the two, Trev or Khim, I don’t think I could. Each has his own specific problems and thoughts. Each was an equally fun point of view to write.
For readers, I have a question. Who are your favorite characters who are broken but healing, with tragic pasts? You can name from any media, books, TV, movies.
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Rathbone/e/B00B0O9BMS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1490462215&sr=1-2-ent
Newsletter sign up: http://eepurl.com/cqDVcX
Check out The Android and the Thief today!
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.
About the Author:
Wendy Rathbone lives with a cat, three dogs, and her partner of thirty-six years, Della. She has been writing since the age of twelve. She lives in the high desert of southern California.
Male/male romance has been a passion of Wendy’s since before the signature “m/m” was even invented. She wrote a lot of slash fanfic in various fandoms to assuage that obsession but moved on to original writing in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, where she is published in many anthologies and magazines.
She is an award-winning poet, a graduate from UCSD, and runs her own retail business. Her self-published science fiction and m/m romances can be found on Amazon, and her novel The Android and the Thief is available everywhere.
Wendy’s blog: wendyrathbone.blogspot.com
February 10, 2017
I truly love art. I hunt it everywhere I go. I adore standing in front of a piece, imagining what the artist tried to convey. What did the artist want me to feel/think/understand?
Art has the potential to instantly convey a message more accurately than a million words. At the same time, the viewer is allowed to appreciate the things they need to see and take with them.
I remember attending a student exhibit in Philadelphia. The piece that captured my attention was a dead fish nailed to a board. That’s all: just a dried fish attached to a weathered 2×4 with a nail.
At the time, it annoyed me. Well, if that’s art I could do better. But that piece stood the test of time, and it stayed with me. When I had the opportunity, the memory of a dead fish nailed to a board gave me the courage to ask a Chinese Brush Stroke master to teach me watercolor.
Now, years later, I see how that one work containing three items was so much more. It affected how I view art. That simple creation makes me ponder how seemingly simple actions have far reaching implications, and how something can be more than the sum of its parts. (Granted, I’ve given a lot of power to a dead fish on a board. For all I know, it could have just been the product of a lazy art student, and it’s just my interpretation that gives the piece brilliance.)
In many ways, The Craving is my love letter to artists. It honors their talent and their impact on the world. Whether it’s Monet, Botticelli, Klimt, Paul Richmond, Catherine Dair, PL Nunn, Young Fan Chin, Yamane Ayano, K-Koji, and many others who create pieces that make the world a better place. Artists make us think, reflect, and feel. In the best case, viewing art allows us to give to others, changes our thinking on a subject, or encourages us to make a positive change.
The Xantha star system takes the power within art seriously and is credited throughout known space for developing dimensional art. Dimensional art’s ability to morph and to travel beyond its nature determines the level of dimension it achieves. These distinctive works have been credited with preventing wars, helping to focus efforts on positive outcomes, and is utilized in negotiations. As the planets of the system are guided by art, the artists and those who guide them are quite powerful.
First & Second dimension: non-dimensional and convey an image and makes you feel.
Third dimension: morphs and allows the viewer to question a concept.
Fourth dimension: conveys complex information.
Fifth dimension: can influence thoughts.
Sixth dimension: changes people’s actions and promotes the direction of their efforts.
Any artists that reach the third dimension are honored with a place at the Ambrosial monastery. They become initiates and follow a strict regimen. In return, they are given training and support so they may release their full artistic potential.
Life in the monastery is filled with discipline. The Principles of Purity is the foundation. All activities are scheduled. Diet, exercise, sleep, and release are prescribed in precise amounts.
Initiates and monks wear protective units that are removed every eight-sleep cycles allowing for a nonorgasmic release. It’s believed that sexual energy should be refocused back into their art and not wasted in pleasure.
In the purest form, dimensional art is a powerful vehicle that makes the star system a better place, though it can be used to forward agendas that suit certain individuals and not for the betterment of the Xantha star system. The Craving highlights some of the divisions between the monastery and the ruler of the star system.
Art has the power to speak when we aren’t able. It has the power to heal and give hope. Thank you to all the artists on our planet for sharing your talent with us.
Check out The Craving today!
The craving is an undeniable urge that drives K’Dane citizens to find their life mates—if only to sate their uncontrollable physical longings.
Thrilled at being named a Chosen, Phoenix Dotir leaves K’Dane to become an artist-monk who will create dimensional art capable of changing worlds. Living by the monastery’s Principles of Purity will surely help him overcome the craving. But he never accounted for star chaser Zadra Solav.
Zadra doesn’t believe in rules and makes his own future. Fate separates him from the man he loves, but one touch renders him helpless to his own desires. Bonding with a monk is forbidden, and Zadra’s family sends him to deep space to avoid disgrace. Unable to give up, Zadra must find a way reunite with his Chosen.
Tormented by enforced separation, Initiate Riva Quinton struggles with his vow of chastity and risks all to rescue his lover. Together with his Eros, he stows away on board a star craft to follow his heart.
Four men defy destiny and tradition for love… but their love is a crime punishable by death.
Z. Allora believes in happily ever after’s for everyone. She met her own true love through the personals and has traveled to over thirty countries with him. She’s lived in Singapore, Israel and China. Now back home to the USA she’s an active member of PFLAG and a strong supporter of those on the rainbow in her community. She wants to promote understanding and acceptance through her actions and words. Writing rainbow romance allows her words to open hearts and change minds.
To contact Z. Allora:
November 17, 2016
What is it about the science fiction-romance hybrid that I just can’t get enough of? I’m a queer trans guy, and romance gives me hope, just as science fiction gives me hope. For the first time, with my new novel Built for Pleasure, I’m combining those passions and sharing them with an audience.
Science fiction has always been a special love of mine. It teaches us to think critically about the world around us, to embrace possibility, and to look toward a future of limitless outcomes. Whether we envision a dystopia, a utopia, or a world much like our own—gray and complicated—we see a reflection of our own reality in the pages of the best scifi, a mirror that shows us our human frailties and ingenuity in intriguing ways.
Romance, too, compels me. I crave a happy ending to my stories. I covet true love I’ve never found for myself. Sometimes stories are all we have, the way we connect with and relate to a world that can be overwhelming, coldly impersonal, or full of hate. We can find our friends—our tribe—in books. Fall in love. Inhabit a world we never want to leave.
Despite the fact my hero, Wolf, is a cyborg, his journey is deeply personal to me. His fight for personal identity, basic rights, and real love is one I relate to, and one I hope readers—queer or not—will see themselves in as well. As for my other MC, Mal, his journey is that of a reluctant ally, a man who’s always been so certain of himself, learning that he’ll need to make himself vulnerable and open his mind to leave behind the loneliness that haunts him.
To Wolf, love isn’t real until someone will stand with him on his darkest day and fight for him. For Mal, surrendering to a love that complete is terrifying—almost unthinkable.
In life, happy endings aren’t easily come by… But maybe they mean that much more when we’ve had to fight for them.
Check out Built for Pleasure today!
Retired military officer Malcolm Torvik runs a rehabilitation facility for malfunctioning pleasure cyborgs. When WLF-6759—Wolf—arrives at Reboot Camp, the former battle cyborg presents problems Malcolm’s never faced before. Most pleasure cyborgs are sensation junkies, constantly high on the chemicals sex releases into their bloodstream, but Wolf’s faulty refit means it’s spent a decade suffering through unwanted encounters—and sometimes fighting back despite the consequences.
At first Wolf’s rebellion frustrates Malcolm even as Wolf’s undeniable physical perfection draws him. Then Wolf’s unexpected vulnerability and need open a whole new dynamic between them, and Malcolm finds himself feeling far too much for something that isn’t even human. Or is it? Could Homo sapiens technica be just as human as Malcolm is? And if it is, what’s Malcolm supposed to do about it? Malcolm’s been alone for so long…. Is it possible he’s found love with a cyborg? How far will he go to ensure Wolf’s freedom? Malcolm knows what he must do—for both of them—but it might cost him much more than his comfortable life.
The Thursday Euclid is a strange and elusive creature dwelling in the Texas Gulf Coast region. Frequently mistaken for Bigfoot, Chupacabra, or the monster of the week, he is, in fact, a 30-something black sheep with a penchant for K-pop, geekery, and hot and sour soup. When he’s not playing Dragon Age or SWTOR, he’s probably watching B-movies or talking to his best friend and frequent collaborator Clancy Nacht.
October 28, 2016
I’m not one of those authors who calls her books her babies. Babies are something you nurture and tend to as they grow and, in many ways, never let go of. I don’t think a book should be like that. Books are works of art, and the fastest way to stifle art is by holding onto it forever. A book will rise or fall or coast on its own merits, and usually when I’m done with one, it’s a relief. I let it go, I promote it and treasure it and feel proud, but I never try to reel it back in. Reviews, opinions, everything that could negatively or positively affect it—I might like some of them, or learn from them, or hate them, but I can’t let myself get upset over them. For me, my mantra has been: once your book is out in the world, let it be out there, and move on to the next project.
That doesn’t mean that, given the chance, there haven’t been a few stories I’ve wanted to revisit over the years. For the most part, I don’t look back at what I’ve done before because I tend to focus on what could have been better. I’m still learning as a writer, and I certainly don’t pretend to be perfect. When some of my books go out of print, they’re gone. Just gone. It’s better for everyone that way. Not with Changing Worlds, though.
Changing Worlds wasn’t the first novel I ever wrote, but it was the first one I ever published. That alone should make me want to shrink from it, because in many ways I wasn’t as deft a writer in 2012 as I am now. But this story, more than anything else I’ve ever written, has stood the test of time. It goes down a path I hadn’t tackled before writing it and haven’t really gotten back to since: deep immersion in a completely different world, and all the baggage and excitement that comes along with that.
When I wrote Changing Worlds, I was living in Africa working as a Peace Corps volunteer. I eventually felt like I was doing decent work in my community, but only after a full year of getting a handle on the language, learning not to freak out in the heat, becoming conversant in the social norms of my new home, and generally feeling way the hell out of my depth. And I was lucky, luckier than most volunteers, because I was stationed with my husband. I was never completely alone, and I got to share the good times and the hard times with him.
A lot of Jason Kim’s experiences on his husband Ferran’s homeworld of Perelan stem from my own learning process, my discomfort and my mistakes and my ability to calm down, back up, and try again. I think part of the reason Changing Worlds is still relevant in my eyes is because, even though it’s science fiction, a lot of it comes from my real life, and it has that ring of authenticity to it. It’s why I was so incredibly pleased that Dreamspinner Press decided to take it on and give it a second life. I let Changing Worlds go when it was first published, but I never quite got over my love for it. I hope, this time around, you get a chance to love it as well.
Check out Changing Worlds today!
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.
October 27, 2016
Look! Up There in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane. It’s a… UFO!
For centuries we have been looking up in the sky and seeing strange, unexplainable objects. In 214 BC “an appearance of ships had shone forth from the sky” was seen in Rome. In 776 something bearing “the likeness of two large flaming shields, reddish in color” appeared in the sky over the Frankish Empire. In 1561 the sky over Nuremberg was filled by cylindrical objects, and red, black, orange, and blue-white disks and globes came out of them. The history books are filled with such reports.
It was in the 1940s that the phenomenon reached new heights and one of these flying objects was dubbed a “flying saucer.” There have been hundreds of sightings since.
And some come with some pretty convincing evidence.
It is contact with such ships and the beings within that is the subject of the new Gothika anthology, aptly named Contact. And believe it or not, contact with such beings can be the root of great romance. To prove it, four Dreamspinner authors spin tales of love….
I’ll prove it!
ABDUCTED by Jamie Fessenden
One night, Marc receives a frantic call from his friend, Cody. When he arrives at Cody’s isolated farmhouse, Cody is filthy, half-starved, and under the paranoid delusion that aliens are abducting him and implanting things in his body.
Marc agrees to stay one night, as long as his friend will go to the hospital in the morning. But Cody isn’t mentally ill. Aliens have been abducting him, and in the process of trying to stop it from happening again, Marc is abducted himself. But that’s just the beginning of his nightmare.
Marc learns of two alien races at war. To make matters worse, the Alzhen have Marc and the evil Karazhen have Cody. Marc’s only ally is Dalsing, the Alzhen security chief he feels an unexpected attraction to. They’ll have to learn to trust each other if they’re going to rescue Cody… and prevent the creation of a deadly biological weapon.
REFUGEE by Kim Fielding
When World War II ended and army medic Walter Clark returned to Chicago, he discovered that although home remained the same, he had changed. Unable to fit comfortably into his old life, he spent a year gradually making his way west. Now he’s gone as far as he can—the shore of the Pacific—but old memories make ocean views intolerable. He turns inland and finds himself in the hidden hamlet of Kiteeshaa, Oregon, where the locals are surprisingly friendly and the café serves food exactly like his grandmother used to make.
Martin Wright runs the Kitee Motor Court Inn and offers Walter a place to stay for a few nights. Later, Martin offers him a great deal more. But while Martin is a delight, he also harbors secrets—and there’s something not quite right about Kiteeshaa. No matter how far the two men have traveled, they can’t run away from their pasts.
MY FINAL BLOG by F.E. Feeley Jr.
George has never stood out. In fact, the only thing that’s ever been special about him is his sexuality—a source of torment throughout his high-school career. Like many others, George found solace and an outlet for his creativity online. Through his blog, he met kindred spirits, allies, and even someone special—though the only thing George knows about his longtime friend is their screen name: Universal47.
George never pushed for more, but over the years, he couldn’t help developing feelings for Universal. He’s always been there when George needs him most, and when George finds himself trapped in an abusive relationship, Universal steps up once again to help him break free. But the ordeal has left him devastated, and he needs more from Universal. George threatens to cut off contact unless Universal reveals his identity. The truth might be much more than George is ready to accept.
UNUSUAL ATTENTION by B.G. Thomas
Until recently, Adam Brookhart has led what he considers a relatively uneventful life. His biggest problem is that he can’t let his guard down and allow himself to get close to anyone, emotionally or physically—until he meets Shane Farmer.
Shane lives in a small town many miles from Adam and is his complete opposite. In fact, he’s just about the last person Adam can imagine himself in a relationship with. But Adam is drawn to the man, and neither distance nor their differences can keep him away.
Late one night, while driving home from Shane’s house, something very strange happens. Adam loses two hours of time and has no idea how or why. But as he digs for clues, the answers he finds are totally crazy… and the man he is falling in love with might be crazy as well.
I dare you not to be drawn in and contacted yourselves by these wonderful stories.
And before you say, “I don’t like anthologies,” remember this: these are novellas, not short stories. There is plenty to these stories and plenty to sink your mental teeth into, as well as invest your heart.
And you can find all four of these stories in Contact, coming on October 24th from Dreamspinner Press!
Check out Contact today!
About B.G. Thomas:
B.G. is a novelist and blogger. Every day last year he made and entry in his blog. “365 Days of Silver,” where he found something every day to be grateful for. You can find it right here: https://365daysofsilver.wordpress.com/
B.G. loves romance, comedies, fantasy, science fiction and even horror—as far as he is concerned, as long as the stories are character driven and entertaining, it doesn’t matter the genre. He has gone to conventions since he was fourteen years old and has been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He has made up stories since he was child; it is where he finds his joy.
In the nineties, he wrote for gay magazines but stopped because the editors wanted all sex without plot. “The sex is never as important as the characters,” he says. “Who cares what they are doing if we don’t care about them?” Excited about the growing male/male romance market, he began writing again. Gay men are what he knows best, after all. He submitted his first story in years and was thrilled when it was accepted in four days.
“Leap, and the net will appear” is his personal philosophy and his message to all. “It is never too late,” he states. “Pursue your dreams. They will come true!”
Visit his website and his author blog at http://bthomaswriter.wordpress.com/ where you can contact him. He loves to hear from readers and is always quick to respond. You can also find his Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bgthomaswriter
July 22, 2016
Sandra Bard joins us today to chat about new book Finding His Feet, out this week!
Hi, I’m Sandra Bard and I’m here to talk about my second release from Dreamspinner, Finding His Feet.
First of all, Hayley, thank you for inviting me and for putting up with all the absurd questions I’ve thrown your way. I should also thank the wonderful team of editor and cover designers I worked with when this book was going through the different stages. Couldn’t have done it without you.
When I first started the book, my real life was suffering; a difficult job, with an impossible task of pleasing more bosses than I had students to teach. Each day was a dreadful experience, of getting up and going to work wondering what impossible request needed to be fulfilled. So many responsibilities, to my staff, to my students, to myself.
The book as written while I was fighting a silent war with a lot of people. Kaden, my main character, battled hardened and scarred, put on his high tech armor and went out to pretend he was alright, trying to keep himself useful in a world where he was afraid he would be discarded.
I would take the office laptop, a large piece of hardware that was probably new a good fifteen years ago and would type up at least a couple of paragraphs in-between lectures, paper marking and impossible administrative documentations. I even took my tablet with me to meetings and would type out a couple of lines between nodding my head at things like, ‘if you shift your work hours from seven to six, maybe you can complete all the necessary teaching hours’ to stop myself from screaming at idiots who did not know that each day only had 24 hours.
They became characters in my book, nothing major but they helped me shape my alternate world where war was a norm, where people accepted it.
Then of course, I had to travel for workshops and to teach in different locations. My laptop, a seventeen inch monstrosity which sounded like a hair dryer stayed home. Instead, I had to do my writing on a tablet, which was six years old and weighed too much to be held in one hand. I spent so much time in trains, my main characters met on a train. (This might have been where my idea of two distinct types of armor came from.)
Shun is the opposite of Kaden in many ways, he is light and laughter, cheerful and friendly and open… or so it would seem. But deep inside, Shun is as much a survivor as Kaden, having lived through his own war, with his own set of beliefs about how to live. He has his own secrets and his own agenda but not willing to compromise being human for the sake of that.
Kaden and Shun go through a lot of rough spots and their life is made even more interesting by the two cadets Kaden is in charge of, Wayland and Bradley. Kaden, not the greatest person in charge of his life, now has to be responsible for more people.
Some of my fights with my brother and sister played a hand in shaping this sibling rivalry. As the eldest in the family I was expected to be sane, in control, lead by example and pick up the slack for everyone else. On top of my dead end job, the pressure was enormous.
Wayland is loosely based off a student of mine, a large eyed, earnest, small made thing who stood in front of the class once and preached to me about the evils of war while wiping away tears. (It was an oral exam not anything else.) Wayland has strong opinions about life even if they aren’t the ones needed to survive a war. Bradley was inspired by one of my close staff members, who is unsure about life but has a practical eye and the knowledge that life is not always nice.
As events build up, Kaden finds himself making more and more decisions, some of which might not be right. Through the course of Finding His Feet, Kaden slowly changes, to learn that there is more to life than fighting and being useful. Shun also changes in his own way, learning to look at the world from another person’s perspective and gaining something in the process, people to care about and love.
In the end, this is about two people saving each other and finding happiness in a bleak situation.
I made some changes to my life in the end, I changed my job (actually, I quit and stayed home for a month and actually finished writing this) and found the strength to tell several people to leave me alone. I learned to ask for help and to tell when I’d had enough. And my characters grew with me. So this is also the book that helped me preserve my sanity while I was struggling to find my feet and stand on my own against a hostile world.
“I don’t see myself going over there to talk I,” Finzer spat, stressing peace as if it made his body cringe. “Not even if they ordered me.”
“But I hear you moved your wife and kid to a farm on the outskirts,” Alden said mildly, and Finzer flushed and looked away.
“I’m just protecting the next generation of fighters.” Finzer sounded impassioned, though he didn’t look all too happy quoting government propaganda.
“I for one would be happy if my kid didn’t grow up to be the next weapon,” Alden said firmly.
They all knew the government’s interest in armored warriors reproducing was to have more fighters for the future and not a sudden concern over the fall in the birthrate, as publicly claimed. The war between Joscal and the newly independent state of Haria had been going on for 130 years, and both sides expected it to last a hundred more. The Joscalian Army fought with all they had, sacrificing countless soldiers, not just armored units, for the sake of maintaining their border, while the Harians hid behind their remote drones. It was common knowledge that over a hundred million Joscalians had died in the first ten years of the war alone, and nowhere in the country was safe to bring up children.
Kaden snorted and looked away. He didn’t have kids… so not his concern.
“They’re even talking about sending a joint team to salvage what they can from Ground Zero,” Elisha added, sounding amused. Ground Zero was the starting point of the second phase of the war, when Haria had bombed the peaceful Joscalian island of Compen. Situated on the border between Joscal and Haria, it was coveted, and now officially out of bounds to both countries since the incident. “From what I hear, there’s not much to salvage, anyway. They’re even talking about letting some refugees settle near Compen Beach Town, but the island is still off-limits.”
“Makes sense.” Kaden nodded. “No one’s going to hand over that island unless they’re sure there’s nothing worth taking.”
“So everything’s in the planning stage, which is why there’s this long calm,” Claina concluded.
“It’s called a cease-fire,” Elisha told her sharply.
Kaden wasn’t sure he believed it. “Or they’re planning the biggest counterattack ever, and we need to be ready.”
“There is that.”
“From what I hear, our side is the one resisting the change in borders,” Alden added thoughtfully.
“Well, it is our country,” Finzer said firmly. “All of it.”
There was the sound of quick steps and everyone turned to the entrance to see a junior office helper walk in.
“Instructor Kaden Pace,” the helper said.
“Instructor… when did you become an instructor?” Finzer asked the same question Kaden was about to ask.
“I’m not.” Kaden got up and moved to the messenger. He took the message pad from the cadet and frowned. It read To: Instructor Kaden Pace. “Huh.”
“What does it say?” Elisha called, and Kaden realized everyone in the room had ceased whatever they were doing, which wasn’t much, to see what was about to happen.
“That….” Kaden frowned as he read the rest of the message. “I’ve got a mission.”
“That’s great,” Finzer said, and the others added their voices.
Though Kaden wasn’t exactly best friends with the rest, he spoke to them and hung around with them on a regular basis. Recruited at roughly the same time, they had been in a few skirmishes together.
“But it’s an observation mission. Two cadets, Bradley and Wayland Olgesh, who are in training. I’m supposed to watch over them until they achieve their Second Level Competency Grading.” Kaden frowned.
What the fuck was that? Then he remembered that was the same exam he’d taken in his third year of training, then called the Level Clearance 2. He’d been so young then; it had been close to twenty-three years ago, and he’d struggled over the obstacles and the stupid mission he’d been assigned. In a way, he’d expected battlefield missions to be as easy as his very first training operation, so simple to complete under the guidance of his now long-dead mentor.
“Hey, I remember those missions,” Elisha chipped in enthusiastically. “Mine was to guard a supply train from Morgan to Jalen.” Kaden remembered that she had not been a part of their camp during training but had transferred from Morgan after her marriage. “Nothing happened the entire way, not even raiders, but my mentor, Lavinia, was there. Felt better knowing she was watching my back.” She sighed. “She’s retired now, and I think one of last year’s cadets matched up to her armor.”
“Mine was to take a bunch of senior citizens from one of those old hospitals being evacuated to another,” Finzer said quickly, probably to break the depressing memories. No one wanted to talk about a time when their armor was going to be taken away. “I was glad Alden was there, because there was this particularly feisty old gal who kept pinching my bottom.”
“Your armor doesn’t expose your bottom,” Kaden blurted out, caught up in the moment despite himself.
“Well, it did, for that mission.”
The messenger cleared his throat pointedly, and Kaden looked at the pad in his hand. “This isn’t a real mission. I’m playing babysitter for two kids who’re going to go get their nature badge or something.” The administration never paired kids together unless there was a good reason. The kids were most likely too young to be married, so siblings, probably twins. Wonderful. He was stuck with a pair of boys—double the trouble.
Contest time! Comment by sharing an impossible situation you were in or having far too much work and being stuck juggling it all. One lucky winner will win an ebook copy of Finding His Feet!
Check out Finding His Feet today!
Cover artist: Stef Masciandaro.
Release date : July 18th
Kaden Pace, a soldier injured while on a mission, hides the extent of his damage by wearing his high-tech armor, desperate to prove his worth to his administrators and make himself useful in order to hold on to his independence. But during a simple assignment to escort two cadets across the country to retrieve the armor of a dead warrior, things start to fall apart.
They meet Shun, a young man with a secret, who steals the armor they were supposed to recover. Chasing Shun brings them to an abandoned beach town, where they encounter even more trouble. Stranded in the deserted city, Kaden finds himself relying more and more on Shun, the person he’d come to capture, while fighting off an invasion from the neighboring country.
But even when he returns to his camp, Kaden’s problems are not over. Now he has to find a way to save Shun, whom he’s growing to care for, and keep his team alive as they make one last-ditch attempt to get back the armor Shun stole. Armor that is now in enemy hands, on an island in the middle of the sea, at ground zero where it all began.
Sandra Bard started writing when she was quite young because there was always a story inside her head, but never thought of writing for an audience until recently. She only decided to try her hand at writing for the sake of being published after a series of events left her with some free time and in between jobs. Now she has three jobs but writing is still her most favorite thing to do. Sandra grew up travelling the world from Africa to Asia and, though she now lectures full time at a university, dreams of having a job that wouldn’t tie her down to one place. She enjoys reading books, watching anime and, occasionally, visiting a fan-fiction site. She also dabbles in tai chi and yoga in the hope they would keep her flexible and help lose weight. She lives with her pets (fish, cats, and dogs) and has been a volunteer for an organization that takes care of stray dogs (there are many, where she lives) for over ten years.
June 8, 2016
Hello, all! Charlie Cochet here celebrating the release of THIRDS Beyond the Books: Volume 1! Thank you so much for joining me on another stop of the blog tour. Today our resident cheesy doodle crunching THIRDS agent Dexter J. Daley is sharing with you one of his many, many, playlists.
Music plays a huge role in the THIRDS world—including the flash fiction stories—and more importantly, in Dex’s life. It makes up a big part of who he is. As you may know, Dex lives and breathes eighties music. Although he also enjoys some modern tunes, as well as songs dated before 1980, his heart belongs to the big hair bands, classic rock, and electro pop of the eighties. Here he’s put together a special playlist for the love of his life Sloane Brodie. I’m sure Sloane is weak at the knees just hearing it. Well, he’s certainly something.
I have a feeling Sloane’s going to have trouble getting through sexy times with a straight face if this playlist is involved. I see much lip syncing coming from Dex, and not nearly enough restraint from Sloane. Picture it. You know you want to. Here’s a little scene to help you along.
Sloane sat against the headboard, naked under the blankets, his wide eyes on Dex as his boyfriend lip-synced around the room to Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction”.
“This isn’t sexy,” Sloane murmured, not sure what to make of the spectacle before him. “I was promised seduction. You and I clearly have very different definitions of what seduction means.”
It had started out great with Dex stripping for him to Aerosmith’s “Angel”. It was followed by Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” then a couple of cheesy and sappy love songs, which Sloane had endured, lost in Dex’s bright blue eyes, pouting pink lips, and that tight little ass wiggling in his sky blue boxer-briefs. Then it all sort of spiraled downhill.
Dex jumped on the bed singing about explosions. Sloane wanted explosions. He’d been promised explosions. Dex was definitely sexy. The faces he was making as he lip-synced were… something else. Dex ignored him, dropping to his knees as Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” came on. Sloane was lost all right. Lost in Dex’s determination to sing rather than get jump his bones. Was he losing his appeal?
Sloane arched an eyebrow at Dex. “You got carried away, didn’t you? You hijacked your own seduction playlist and now I’ve got—What is this? “Cherish”? Seriously?”
There was only one thing to do. Sloane locked his gaze on Dex, stealthily got up while Dex had his eyes shut tight giving it all he had to Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is”, and then he did what jaguar Therians did best. He pounced.
Dex let out an impressive yelp as Sloane grabbed him, lifting him into his arms.
“Ooh, are we having An Officer and a Gentleman moment? I knew I should have added “Up Where We Belong” to the playlist.”
“I’m hijacking my seduction back,” Sloane said with a low growl, tossing Dex into the middle of the bed before climbing over him and pinning him to the mattress. He kissed Dex passionately, thrilled by the noises coming from Dex and the way he writhed with need under Sloane. He was going to show Dex real seduction. His hands roamed over Dex’s smooth, soft skin, his mouth devouring Dex’s plump lips until they were forced to come up for air. Beneath him, Dex let out a breathless chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Sloane asked, bemused. Mischief filled Dex’s pale blue eyes.
Sloane narrowed his eyes. He kissed Dex again, determined to teach him a lesson. To show him how it was done. He pulled back suddenly.
“Wait a minute.”
Dex bit down on his bottom lip. Sloane stared down at him. He looked gorgeous and sinfully ravished. He also had “guilty” written all over his pretty face.
Sloane gasped. “You did it on purpose!”
Dex burst into peals of laughter.
“Oh, you sneaky little bastard.”
Once Dex managed to catch his breath and his laughter downgraded to a chuckle, he planted a kiss on Sloane’s jaw.
“So, you gonna teach me how it’s done?”
Sloane grinned wickedly at his delicious prey. “Challenge accepted.”
Dexter J. Daley’s Songs to Seduce Your Jaguar Therian Partner by:
Dexter J. Daley’s Songs to Trick Your Jaguar Therian Partner into Seducing You When You Should Be Seducing Him.
Angel – Aerosmith
You’re the Inspiration – Chicago
Endless Love – Lionel Richie
I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston
Lost in Your Eyes – Debbie Gibson
Cherish – Madonna
I Wanna Know What Love Is – Foreigner
What music do you enjoy listening to? Any recommendations for Dex?
ABOUT THE BOOK
Genre: Gay Paranormal Romance, Shifters
Published: June 8th, 2016
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Ebook ISBN-13: 9781634773072
Join us as we celebrate the THIRDS universe with this collection of flash fiction stories written to prompts submitted by fans. Sometimes we want to know more about our favorite characters. Where they came from, how they became who they are, their families, friendships, and past heartaches. These snippets of moments in time offer an inside look at the lives of our favorite THIRDS characters. Whether it’s first shifts, the forging of unbreakable bonds, or a night full of shenanigans, these stories are sure to enrich your THIRDS reading experience.
** All royalties earned from THIRDS Beyond the Books are being donated to Big Cat Rescue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charlie Cochet is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters, to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!
Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.
Big Cat Rescue Tote bag with Big Cat goodies inside!
Release Day Event: June 8th – Love Bytes Reviews
Check out the THIRDS on Pinterest.
May 25, 2016
My name is Asta Idonea and this is my first time on the Dreamspinner Press blog, so let me commence with a brief introduction for those who’ve not yet “met” me.
I’m an English-born writer who now lives in Australia. I started writing professionally in 2011 under my mainstream pen name Nicki J. Markus, and in 2014, I branched out into MM, using the alternate pen name Asta Idonea. I work as a freelance editor, and when I’m not busy with that or my own writing, I love going to the theatre and cinema, playing and listening to music, sketching, learning foreign languages, writing to my many pen pals, researching history, mythology, and folklore, and (of course) reading.
Today, I am here to promote Fire Up My Heart, my first standalone release from Dreamspinner Press. This sci-fi novella focuses on a young man named Fane who finds an abandoned service Bot and takes it home. But there’s something unusual about Jo-E, and when Fane finds himself increasingly drawn to the Bot, he must make a difficult decision.
Like many of my story ideas, this one came to me at night. My mind often wanders while I’m waiting to fall asleep, and this story was born from a thought I had during that time. I’d watched some robot-based sci-fi a few days prior, and Fire Up My Heart developed into my personal spin on the theme.
Although I’m not a huge sci-fi reader when it comes to alien worlds and starships, I do enjoy speculative fiction that questions future technology. With new gadgets and gizmos invented every year, I love to consider what else the future will hold and how it will impact our everyday lives. Already technology invades so many things we do, and humanoid robots are certainly on the horizon. When that day comes, I wonder at the ways in which we’ll employ them and the different types of human–robot relationships that might be possible, and that is one of the principal themes in Fire Up My Heart.
Twenty-sixteen is shaping up to be a busy year for me writing-wise with seven new releases already out, two more coming in June, and a number of additional works currently under consideration. Right now, I am working on several projects: three MM short stories for anthology calls closing soon, two MM novellas (one contemporary and one paranormal), a paranormal MF novella, and a Steampunk MF short novel. I often do have a selection of manuscripts in progress at the same time. It suits me to work that way since, if I find I am not in the right mood to continue with one, I can switch to another for the day. Once the first draft is complete, it also means I can set it aside while I work on something else and then return to it with fresh eyes, ready to edit and redraft. So far, I am lucky in that I never run out of story ideas—only time in which to write them. I guess I need a new form of technology to help me draft and edit double-time!
On that note, I’d like to open the floor to comments. If you could have a robot capable of performing any task for you, which task would you choose and why? Let’s try to keep it clean, guys; otherwise, do give your imaginations a workout and be inventive. I will randomly select one commenter to win a copy of my previous Dreamspinner Press release, the contemporary MM short story Northern Lights.
If anyone has any questions for me, please comment below. I’ll be checking this post during the next few days and will do my best to answer them all. Readers and fellow authors are also always welcome to connect with me on social media.
Check out Fire Up My Heart today!
London bartender Fane thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he finds a rare and expensive service Bot discarded in a dumpster, and he takes it home to get it working again. The Jo-E brings some much-needed companionship to Fane’s lonely life, but there’s something different about this Bot, as indicated by its odd behavior. Fane’s developing feelings toward Jo-E trouble him, and things go from bad to worse when a robotics engineer arrives on Fane’s doorstep, demanding the return of his property. Fane is forced to choose between a hefty reward and following his heart. Giving in to his forbidden desires might get him killed—or change his life forever.
Chat with Asta Idonea!
Amazon Author US: http://www.amazon.com/Asta-Idonea/e/B00RMGGVYO
Amazon Author UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Asta-Idonea/e/B00RMGGVYO
March 24, 2016
Hello you fabulous readers. I’m Amberly Smith and I’m here to tell you all about my latest novel Waking Jamal, out tomorrow. Plus, giveaway!
You are what you read?
If that were true I’d be super sexy and adventurous and burden with too much angst. Which isn’t true. Yet as a writer, I believe what we read influences what we write. My critique partner Valerie Roberts writes Sci-Fi Romance where the women are complete kick ass and rescue the hero. So when I thought about writing my first sci-fi book, Waking Jamal, I was dealing with serious bleed-over from reading her stories. But unlike Valerie who has a science degree and experience working in a lab, my science experience and knowledge of technology comes from Star Trek, Firefly and Scalzi’s Red Shirts.
Which makes it a bit overwhelming to tackle a whole futuristic novel. Yet Sci-Fi isn’t about just science. It’s about exploring radical ideas, human ideas like race equality and sexuality and uncharted parts of the universe and the deep, deep ocean. Looking in areas that haven’t been explored before. Finding familiar in the unknown. Right up my favorite alley.
I also had heavy influence from all the shifter romance I was reading at the time. Shifter Romance is the bomb diggety. Love me some aggressive, alpha, omega dynamics. Get downright giddy over pack angst. So it is no surprise that Waking Jamal has similar concepts in it.
Here’s the Blurb:
Their physical and mental survival depends on them bonding.
Jamal Zumati joins the military, determined to repay the country that fed and housed him. But during his Hamask activation, his senses go offline and he enters a berserker rage. The United States Hamrammr Program, or USHP, has only one option: put him into hibernation.
Despite his extraordinary ability to read and manipulate situations, Vargr Lt. Rum Walker has stepped on one too many brass toes, and the USHP demoted him back to teaching new candidates. Rum is one paranoid thought away from self-destruction when he is recruited for a covert mission: pull Jamal from hibernation.
The problem is, no one has ever survived a berserker fury—at least not officially. If Rum is to challenge the military stereotypes, he’ll not only need to wake Jamal—he’ll need to get him to agree to bond as a Hamra Pair, the ultimate supersoldier team.
When Jamal and Rum team up with an FBI Hamra Pair to stop the terrorist group Dios Provee, Rum thinks he’ll show Jamal their true potential lies in an equal partnership, but Jamal is convinced Rum should take the lead. Will Rum stop Jamal from going berserk again and destroying both of their futures?
Waking Jamal isn’t standard science fiction because reading Scalzi, Roberts, Collins, Le Guin doesn’t make me a scientist. It doesn’t have shape shifting because Calmes, Vaughn, McCallister and Singh have done it and done it well. It’s happily a blend of genres, just like me.
If books really were a reflection of us, what would you be? Leave your answer in the comments for a chance to win a book from my back list. Also, I love to hear from readers. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or my website.
Check out Waking Jamal today!
HAVOC Class, 2097
ACTIVATION FOR Jamal Zumati started on a Thursday morning. He ate with the others, then gathered his rations and gear and hiked to the farthest shed. The US military insisted on some of the antiquated practices of the early aboriginal tribes in order to bring his abilities online; isolation, little to no food or sleep, and meditation. The hardest part of his training had been the goddamn meditation.
You want a former Adderall-dependent guy to focus by sitting quietly and not thinking about anything? So not going to happen. One of the cadre had finally suggested yoga. The poses allowed him to focus on the strain, the heat generating from each muscle, rather than the mind-numbing silence.
The military either ignored the other historical aspects or felt they went a bit too far, voodoo and wives’ tales. So no eating mushrooms, bloodletting, or purging. Which was all fine and good, except being the farthest out meant he went last, and those mushrooms would have at least kept him from being bored.
He spent the week stretching his mind and body.
Some couldn’t handle being alone this many days. For Jamal, it felt like the first couple of weeks at a new group home. You got your bearings, established which of the kids were the bully, the narc, and the druggie, and then you shored up and tried to make it to school each day. There was always food at school.
Jamal kept to himself until the second time the foster had to enforce a rule. The first time they’re on their best behavior, so you don’t get the real picture. Second time, though, when they go apeshit, vein pulsing in their neck, that’s when you see the real them.
Wednesday morning, the sweat dried on Jamal’s chest as he held his sun pose then eased down to upward-facing dog. He heard them activating someone just down the hill: the sound of stomping boots and tears instead of the buzz of insects and the occasional rustle of an animal scurrying past. Maybe it was one of the girls, or a guy who had hung his masculinity on being a bear and knew instantly that he was a wolf. Bear or wolf—it made no difference to Jamal. He had a duty to his country. It had supported him through his whole life: paid his medical, bought his food, provided for his schooling. Now he would pay with his muscles or his mind. He’d act honorably and serve the people.
He placed his forehead to the smooth wooden plank and let the tension wash out the tips of his fingers as he took the balasana or child pose. It was finally silent again outside. Jamal’s ribs slid around loosely, his chest full of liquid heat, revved up to take on this vital step.
As the activation team entered his shed, Jamal stood and saluted his senior officers, no longer self-conscious about his nudity.
He moved to a parade rest and surveyed the team: four military police, a nurse, a doctor, and Captain Chakosky. Chakosky was a Vargr and would be on hand to help with grounding Jamal if he activated as a Hamask. Chakosky was round of face, his size equivalent with Jamal’s broad shoulders, but Chakosky was rather soft for Special Forces. Genetics could still snuff gym effort.
“Are you ready?” The doctor’s eyes were bloodshot, his clothes creased in odd places.
They must have worked through the night and had one more to activate before they could call it a day. What, they couldn’t be bothered to dress up for the occasion? Jamal had on his birthday suit, so dress blues should at least be required for everyone else.
“Sir, yes sir.” Jamal sat on a wooden chair—the solitary piece of furniture was older than the shed—and stared straight ahead while they prepared his skin.
As he activated, Chakosky was the first thing he was aware of. The man stood in front of Jamal and had his hands clasped as if in prayer.
Jamal pushed the sickness in his stomach down.
There was a medical tray holding the empty vials and the thirty acupuncture needles, a few tipped with red. Jamal’s eyes felt dry and he reached up to rub at his eyelashes. His nails felt like metal files tearing at wooden lashes. Shit, what have they done to my eyes? He flattened his palm against his cheek and eye socket to gently, slowly rub away the debris. His dry, coarse fingertips shredded his skin like a cheese grater. Tears poured down his cheeks.
God, this is embarrassing. Fuck, yes, it hurts, but I’ve had worse.
Tears were a sign of weakness. Tears made you a target. He just needed to pull himself together. Just give him a minute to calm down, to process.
Chakosky took a step toward him. No. He held up a hand to ward the man off. He just needed another minute.
That wolf shouldn’t be touching me. Shouldn’t be in my territory.
The abraded skin itched, and Jamal staggered to his feet as he scrubbed with his fingernails. He was definitely a Hamask, could even feel the increased power in his arms and thigh muscles. His touch was all haywire, but realization felt distant, almost separate of self.
Chakosky took another step toward him and Jamal raised both hands to hold the Vargr off. “Just give me a minute.”
Something was wrong—his hearing was normal. Not all his senses had come online. That would be okay, no surprise to learn he was subpar at even this.
The nurse pulled out a brown bottle, and as she unscrewed the lid, the smell—lavender and rice starch in rancid water—made Jamal jerk his head back and stumble toward the wall, bile rising in his throat. He bumped into someone and his skin recoiled and shot with pain. “Stay the fuck back,” he whispered to the MP. Stupid jock was going to mess this all up.
They needed to clean the activation away. Left unattended, the chemicals would fry his neural synapses. Shit, he couldn’t focus around the pain. As the nurse advanced, an MP and Chakosky stepped up to take hold of his arms. Caustic bile churned in Jamal’s throat at their repulsive touch and he dry-heaved.
Hold on, you can do this. They’d clean him up, give him fresh water, and then he’d head back to the base with Chakosky keeping him grounded. That was how all activations were supposed to go. Except, even with the Vargr touching him, he wasn’t leveling out. Physical contact should help. “What’s happening?”
He tried to push Chakosky away and realized his fingers were smeared with blood. Had he cut himself on the wooden chair? Moisture dripped from his chin, and a red splotch smeared like oil over water on his chest. Not tears. Blood.
His hearing kicked in at the same time that a deep feeling of hatred, so hot and bright that he closed his eyes, poured through his bones. They had done this to him. Come in with their bullshit B game, used crap chemicals, and blundered around like idiots. Damn them. “Stop. Don’t.”
LT. RYAN “Rum” Walker could tell the men and women filing down the aisles of the lecture hall were ensigns, privates, cadets, and seamen. They looked like kids, and they had yet to develop that ramrod posture that came with any service past basic. The uniforms—standard issue and for the most part unadorned—told the same story. But being faced with their youth was another slap to his recently demoted face.
He waited for the creak of wooden seats and the quiet murmurs to settle down. His psych and anthropology training divided the room into Myers-Briggs subtypes and recognized those whose body language showed either confidence or secrets. A human map stretched across the tiered rows of wooden seats. With 78 percent accuracy, he could identify those who would be good wolves or bears, who had lied to get here, and who would kill to stay. Those were the things he should be teaching. How to read people. If they were going to pull him from the field because of insubordination, let him teach candidates actual battle-ready techniques, something useful. Instead they assigned him this propaganda bullshit they spoon-fed all the newbies.
Rum had a lesson planned, just not the one the brass were expecting.
As he stepped into view, someone called out “Attention!” They jumped to their feet, and Rum returned their salute. “As you were.” They settled back in their chairs and he let his voice fill the hall.
“My name is Lieutenant Walker. Welcome to HAVOC.” He then clicked the old-fashioned wireless remote in his palm.
“Hamask and Vargr Operations Center” projected on the forward wall. There were a few murmurs, and a girl in the front row, her hair tightly braided, shifted in her seat. Her eyes weren’t the only ones that gleamed.
“This morning I will give you a brief summary of what we do at HAVOC and answer any general questions you may have. You will then be divided into groups, where you will watch an in-depth video on the Hamrammr initiative, and then you’ll choose.”
He let the silence draw out. “Choose to be activated or… choose the blue pill. Choose to return to your current posting.”
When they got a Hamask to do the morning introduction for potentials, it turned into parlor tricks. Who used which soap that morning? Which male had masturbated in the last twelve hours? They’d have the class write something down at the room’s farthest corner and then the Hamask would read it. The instructor might even tell you the type of fabric you were wearing. Hello! We’re in uniform. The last one even Rum could do.
Rum squinted at them, glaring the murmurs back to quiet. He tilted his head to one side, leaning his right ear toward the noise, and took an audible sniff.
As a Vargr, his enhanced skills didn’t involve his senses, but his abilities were always in play. Hard to turn off, in fact. If there was a sleep mode for his brain, he sure hadn’t found it yet.
Rum clicked the remote again. Pictures of men and women, often in uniform, always in pairs, slid by on the screen. There was official verbiage on what, exactly, he was supposed to say. However, if he were any good at following orders, he wouldn’t be here.
He lowered his voice, knowing the microphones around the stage would carry to the full room just fine. “You are each here because you have potential. Your ASVAB scores and DNA indicate that you could be activated as a Bear or a Wolf. ‘You’re a wizard, Harry.’” He wasn’t surprised when no one laughed. Sometimes it took people a minute to warm up to him. “Half of an elite fighting pair. Pairs like—” He paused the screen on two female doctors. “—Dr. Janis McCarthy and Dr. Lynn Ladd. Hamask McCarthy is a renowned heart surgeon and Vargr Ladd has revolutionized the organ transplant process.”
He liked using this particular example because it showed possible endgames for those who wouldn’t become career military, and because McCarthy and Ladd weren’t in a traditional bonded relationship.
It would have been nice to include a picture of the FBI pair Bur-Longwei, but that suggestion had been nixed pretty damn high up the food chain.
He clicked the remote again and the screen displayed a new pair. The man and woman stood in front of their WREAC team—War Reconnaissance Extraction Assault Corps. “WREAC and HAVOC. Hamask Tidsdale and Vargr Lange are in the foreground with WREAC Team 3, instrumental in saving thousands during last year’s tsunami in Hawaii.”
A dark-skinned airman with soft eyes scoffed.
Rum snapped an index finger in his direction. “Skepticism. Good. But tell me, Airman…?”
The airman was slightly older than average, tall, broad shouldered. He stood upon being addressed. “Sir, Adayo, sir.”
“Airman Adayo. Why did you assume the woman was Vargr Lange?”
Adayo’s eyes widened, and then he swallowed. “Sir, I—”
Gawd, I love bein’ right. “Unvarnished truth, please.”
“Sir, I reacted to my programmed cultural expectations on gender roles. I assumed that the woman would be the Vargr and the man would be the Hamask. I know that is not always the case.”
And that was why Adayo was here. Because he was smart enough to see his own shortcomings. Rum nodded in acknowledgment, and Adayo reclaimed his seat.
“Less than 25 percent of Hamrammr initiates are women. Though when they make it through training, women have a slightly higher success rate of activation.” Which meant the most common Hamra Pair was two guys. He’d let them do the math.
He clicked to the next picture, a more stereotypical pairing. “This Hamra Pair both specialize in weapons and demolition.” The picture showed the two out in the field and heavily camouflaged, the Hamask distinctive with his bare hands. “A more… traditional team. Currently in deep assignment tracking Christian extremists in South America.”
He explained that those who stayed would face twelve intense weeks of physical and mental training. He highlighted the different military occupational specialties each successful Pair could be assigned to. He sprinkled in a few obscure references to old cultural evidence of Hamrammrs or those with the potential to change into Hamask and Vargr, including how the pair became two halves of a superserum soldier, i.e., Captain America.
“By the end of today, once you make the second-toughest decision, you’ll be housed in coed barracks with your fellow potentials.”
Rum did not talk about bonding, though he identified five of them who practically quivered to ask about it. He did not cover the activation process, though he strongly believed it was something they should know before making the decision to stay. He didn’t warn them of the political bullshit that came with activation. Only a third of the candidates would make it through training, and only half of those would successfully activate. Maybe ten people in this room would become part of a sanctioned, bonded pair.
He turned off the old projector. Military budget restrictions had curtailed the crazy spending that was so rampant fifty years ago, but this ancient tech was sad. At least the mission rooms had holo sets.
“Things you probably all know, but just to be thorough. Hamask and Vargr always work in pairs. Hamask, also called bears, learn to use their senses and strength. Vargr, the wolves, act as a guide, provide a baseline for the chaos bears live in.” That was an oversimplification if he ever spouted one, plus it didn’t explain the heightened speed Vargrs gained in reflexes and mental processing. “Feel free to ask questions, but for the sake of time, please do not stand.”
There were a few chuckles at this. Now to see if the seeds he’d planted would generate the questions he wanted them to ask.
The female marine with the braid raised a hand. He nodded to acknowledge her. “Is it true what they say about the bonding process?”
Rum raised his eyebrows and gave her an incredulous look. Seriously? That wasn’t going to give her the information she wanted. “True that a bonded pair is stronger than an unbonded one? Absolutely. Bonding isn’t a requirement and plenty of pairs never bond.”
Yes, I’m going to make you work for it. Try again.
“Sir, why are only officers activated?” asked a hesitant seaman with more freckles than hair.
“Good eye. Yes, all Hamra, short, of course, for Hamrammr, are designated officers. Upon activation Hamra roll over to an M-rank system, similar to noncommissioned officers. They use officer designations, and though not all of you are officers currently, you all have completed the required college degrees for that status or you wouldn’t be here.”
Which made the two seventeen-year-olds present even more impressive.
A private, so rosy-cheeked that he would probably be carded until he was in his midthirties, raised his hand and asked, “Are Hamrammrs allowed to choose their partner?”
“Yes. Let me emphasize that. Yes.” He nodded and then gestured to communicate exactly how important this was. “The military will make suggestions. If the partner you choose does not qualify for some of the advanced options, that may limit you. Thus the suggested pairings. But you get to choose. You, bear or wolf, get a choice.” A few heads shook in the negative, and Rum immediately labeled and categorized them as American-born, second generation, military service. Military brats.
They came in thinking that the wolves led the bears around by the nose; that the only way to keep a bear in check was to form a sexual bond and manipulate their own pheromones to keep the wolf as the dominant in the relationship. Total military-culture bullshit. Rum memorized each face. By the end of training, either they’d be gone or they would darn well have a new perspective on partnerships.
The next question was from a female airman with the palest blonde hair Rum had ever seen. “Sir, why wolf and bear? I mean, the transformation rumors have been disproved and the abilities of each don’t really match actual bears and wolves. So…?”
“The words hamask and vargr are from Old Norse. Viking mythology, legend, stories, whichever you prefer, tell tales of sending berserkers into battle. Changed men, fierce as bears and cloaked in wolf skin.” He raised his finger to draw their attention even tighter. Giddy warmth filled his chest even as his shoulders tightened.
“There have always been such people. The aboriginal people of North Sentinel Island. Celtic lore. Even Native American vision quests. When the United States discovered a way to fully activate these abilities, shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York, the first Vargr held a doctorate in Norse history. He chose the terms. Don’t worry. You’ll get more of a history lesson during training.”
A few arms shot up, and Rum indicated a tiny guy from the Coast Guard. Rum wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of those two seventeen-year-olds on the list of candidates.
“Can you explain the bonding process and specifically the sexual aspects?”
Better question. “This is the United States military. We are not known for our sexual acceptance.” It was his first use of “we,” and like most of what he said, it was a strategic decision. “Yes, sexually active pairs are bonded pairs. Do all Hamra Pairs have sex? In my opinion, that’s their business, and no one else’s. Bonding does not require sex.” The military strongly disagreed with him, but he wasn’t about to disillusion potentials. That was more of a week-three activity. “Next question.”
Adayo’s hand was the first one up. “What is the hardest decision?”
Bingo. Now to reel them in. “Good question.” He gestured to indicate the whole conference hall. They’d put in their time and deserved his best performance. “If you believe that I am a Hamask, raise your right hand. Starboard for the seamen in the room.” He smiled. “If you believe I am a Vargr, raise your left hand. Okay, keep your hands up.” He looked through the crowd and watched them look at each other. The training cadre were watching to see who would change their answer, and who were right.
“Why did you choose Vargr?”
Adayo smiled. “At first I thought you were Hamask. You fed that belief by emphasizing your use of senses. Squinting, cocking your head to hear better.”
Rum had also crafted each response and kept a tight lid on his accent. He’d teach them how to pick up on those clues eventually. “But?”
Adayo tilted his head and looked back at him with a critical eye. “Well”—he shrugged—“if you’re not Hamask, then only Vargr is left.”
“That is how most people see the Hamrammr initiative. If you’re not a bear then you’re a wolf. A second choice, less than. Despite the wolf being the leader in the pairing.”
Hell, a lot of what was broken in this program surrounded that inferiority complex.
“Toughest decision that you each need to make before deciding if you’ll stay: does it matter if I’m a wolf or a bear? Until we try to activate you, we don’t know which you are.” He scanned the room. “All of you are Hamrammr, but potential what? If you’ve got your heart set on being a Hamask, can you live with being only a Vargr?”
He checked his watch. 1122. Eight minutes to spare. Perfect. He tapped the watch’s face to bring up the group lists and sent it to the candidates’ smartwatches. “I’m sending each of you an itinerary and group list for the remainder of the day.”
“Lieutenant Walker?” Tiny Coast Guard had his hand up.
Rum blinked at the boy, genuinely surprised at the additional question and the gold bar indicating the seventeen-year-old was an ensign—college degree and officer training completion. “Yes, Ensign—?”
“Sir, Kramer, sir. Are there any potential side effects of being activated?”
Bastian Gero Kramer. Rum’s memory supplied the information. The ensign’s voice spoke of New Orleans and his Latino upbringing.
Damn, he was good. Rum had specifically asked General Khan whether he could cover this and had been shot down. Khan’s exact words were “don’t bring it up,” but he’d also told Rum to answer all their questions.
Rum smiled, and based on a few of their responses, he knew the grin looked evil. “You could fury.”
March 22, 2016
Is there anything more annoying than a rule follower? Someone who always does what the instructions say, even if the shortcuts are obvious? Someone who doesn’t think too hard about why they’re doing something, because the process was created by people who know better?
I was that guy. I still am to an extent, but I really, really was in high school, even up through undergrad. I think it’s an easy trap to fall into. We spend a decade and a half training kids to trust authority and trust the system, and then we wonder why they resist change and don’t think outside the box. It’s also a great explanation for: 1.) why we as a society don’t fix broken systems, and 2.) the gnawing terror inside each of us that we are a fraud and everyone else has their life figured out.
One of my favorite things about turning thirty is the absolute certainty that nobody around me has any idea what they’re doing.
It was a gradual process to get here. I didn’t believe it at first. It had to be proven to me over and over that there really are very few “experts” in the world. Entering the corporate workforce helped a lot with that.
The quote that “decisions are made by those who show up” is equally inspiring and terrifying, because it’s true. Most organizations will make do with what they have, and that leads to people with generalized skill sets making decisions about very specific problems which they may or may not have any actual experience with. As far as I can tell, every major system and process in our society was created by a bunch of under-qualified people making educated guesses based on limited information.
Unsurprisingly, we screw up—a lot.
I think acceptance of that fact a right of passage. To me, the most important aspect of the coming of age tale is discovering that no one has the answers, especially not the adults you put your faith in. I’d say that’s more significant than finding your own self-confidence. Maybe one inevitably leads to the other.
In “Refraction,” Crush Goodman may be the love interest, but it’s his coming of age tale—Max just has to drag him to it, kicking and screaming. It’s hard to find out you’re not as heroic as you thought you were.
Crush’s mistake is that he assumes he’s the hero of the story because that’s what it says on his résumé. The city (or, the people in charge of running it) branded him a superhero, because it walked like a duck and talked like a duck. And Crush definitely fits the part—he believes in heroism down to his core. He just doesn’t realize that when he puts away bad guys, he’s also cleaning up messes for the corrupt city mayor and associated businessmen. It’s the perfect cover, and Crush is too virtuous to see a double-cross under his nose.
Which leads to another question—is heroism in the intention or the act?
Max and Crush figure it out together in “Refraction,” available for sale March 24th.
Check out Refraction!
Max Jackson is your typical teenage boy, concentrating on his classes at school and being accepted into a good university after graduation. There’s just the small matter of the bomb in his basement, one Max and his fellow members of the “Injustice League” plan to use to level their city’s unethical government. Too bad superhero Crush Goodman puts a stop to their plans. Max understands why Crush would steal the League’s doomsday device, but why is Crush following him around and acting like they’re friends? When the reprehensible Doctor Decay butts his head into Max’s business, Max has to figure out how to save the city he’s always worked to destroy—with or without Crush’s help.