Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Not in the Stars

Since the dawn of human expression, man has gazed up at the heavens in wonder, inspired by the wheeling of the stars to explain his surroundings. While our perception of those surroundings have changed, from thinking of the Earth as a flat, stable plane to realizing we’re falling through space in a tiny atmospheric bubble, our wonder remains constant.

Space stations, alien races, far-flung planets—join the Mischief Corner authors as they explore the possibilities the stars might offer. The catch? Returning to mundane old Earth might be harder than you think.

Stories Included:
Finding Connor: The Borillian Twist #1 by Toni Griffin
Mark, a RAAF fighter pilot, is on leave for the first time since the aliens decided to say 'Hello'. He meets Connor, a numbers man for a casino, at a gay bar and danced the night away. Their one night together changes their entire lives and what people think they know about life on Earth.

The Usual Conventions: Unconventional Romances #1 by Mathilde Watson
When Chris meets the alien—man—of his dreams, "Ensign Brodeich Geinn" aka actor Brody Gates, it's as one of the coordinators for the first annual OBX Science Fiction Convention in North Carolina. To his delight, Brody seems to return his interest, albeit in typical alien "Brodeich" fashion. Awkward alien or not, Chris is more than willing to play out any sexual fantasy for his SciFi crush, especially when Brody fumbles over the simplest of human conventions.

Feel Me by Freddy MacKay
One terrorist blast changed Master Tobias Zimmer's entire existence, relegating him to being nothing more than just a "Coppies" because of the metal replacing his flesh. As the once future Shogun of moon colony Orion 1, he now idles his time away keeping tabs on the Loyalists while his father and brother broker negotiations with the Earth Consortium.

A confrontation with his childhood enemy, Dr. Thorsten Nordenfelt, sets into motion events that cannot be undone and puts Tobias's sheltered heart at the center of the colony's attempts to free itself from the repressive Earth's rule.

Shax's War: Brimstone #3 by Angel Martinez
The boys desperately need a vacation. With the not-quite-ill-gotten gains from the Frog incident, Shax takes the Brimstone's crew to the exclusive resort planet, Opal. What could possibly go wrong there?

Finding Connor: The Borillian Twist #1 by Toni Griffin
Chapter One
The world had gone nuts. Well, actually that wasn’t quite correct. The universe had gone nuts. People had been predicting something like this would happen ever since the various governments had held a summit meeting and decided to step up deep space exploration some fifty years ago.

Now they finally had their answer to whether or not they were alone in the universe. Even now, six months after the aliens had landed, Flight Lieutenant Mark Dwyer still had trouble believing everything that had taken place. His head was still reeling from the fact that aliens actually existed, let alone that they were humanoid in form.

Right this second, the last thing Mark wanted to be thinking about was extraterrestrial beings. He had twenty-four hours’ leave from RAAF base Richmond before he had to report back for duty. Ever since the damn aliens had landed, Mark hadn’t had a single day off base and he needed to get laid in the worst way possible.

Mark showered and dressed in the tightest pair of jeans he owned. He knew his ass looked good in them, and he hoped he might be able to garner some attention tonight. He threw on a black T-shirt and laced up his boots. One last look in the bathroom mirror and Mark splashed on a little cologne and ran a comb through his short dark hair.

He walked back into his room and checked his wallet to make sure he had plenty of cash, stashed a couple of condoms and a lube packet inside it, then shoved it in his back pocket along with his phone. As much as Mark would love to leave the damn phone behind, he couldn’t. Even though he was technically on leave until eighteen hundred tomorrow, he could still be recalled to base at any time.

Mark ran his fingers through his hair one last time. Satisfied with how he looked, Mark picked up his helmet and jacket and locked the door behind him. He shrugged into the jacket and wandered down the short path from his door to where his bike was parked, then straddled the machine. Once his helmet was in place, Mark started his custom-made Harley Davidson[TG1] .

His bike was his pride and joy and he rode it whenever he got a chance. That wasn’t to say he didn’t also have a truck, he just preferred his bike to any other mode of transport, except of course the fighter jets he flew for a living.

The deep rumbling growl of his bike sent vibrations shooting through his body and settled in his balls. Mark felt his cock twitch, as it often did whenever he rode, and palmed his package, enjoying the sensations for a moment.

“You gonna sit there and play with yourself all night, Lieutenant, or are we going to blow this popsicle stand and go and get laid?” Jeffery ‘Van’ Donovan, Mark’s best friend and fellow pilot, asked from the back of his own bike.

Mark flicked up the visor on his helmet, then gave his friend the one-fingered salute. “Where’re the others?” he called, wanting to know where Nemo, Sticks and Doc were. Mark had his own nickname, but under threat of pain of death, none of his friends used it. Mark had been given ‘Top-Gun’ as he graduated first in his class. Only those who wanted to piss him off used his nickname.

Van looked behind him and Mark followed his gaze. He saw the SUV with the other three members of their group drive round the corner and pull to a stop just behind Van.

The driver’s window wound down and Scott ‘Nemo’ Fisher stuck his head out. “What the fuck are we waiting for? Let’s get the hell out of here before someone changes their mind.”

“The man’s got a point, for once in his life,” Van remarked and chuckled.

Nemo just stuck his finger up at Van and wound the window up again. Mark shook his head at his friend’s antics. He would swear on a bloody bible some days he was surrounded by toddlers. Not wanting to hang around any longer than necessary, Mark slapped his visor down, kicked up the stand and took off. Van soon pulled up beside him and kept pace while the SUV followed them.

They took the streets through the base at a slow steady pace. They had to stop when they arrived at the guard gate, but a quick check of the logs and they were allowed to pass through. He waved at the guards as they took off once again. Mark let go of the breath he’d been holding, afraid the man was going to stop them. Once out on the streets of Richmond, Mark opened up his baby as he headed towards the city and what would hopefully be a most enjoyable night. Six months without enjoying another’s touch, Mark was on edge. With the way he was feeling, he’d probably go off like a horny fucking teenager the second some guy touched him.

He knew a lot of the guys fooled around with others on base, but Mark had a specific you-don’t-shit-where-you-eat policy. It had kept him from having to deal with the inevitable crap he’d seen others go through when their little trysts had gone downhill faster than they could say ‘fuck it’.

Mark knew he wasn’t the only one looking forward to tonight. Their entire group had been on lockdown for the last six months, and no matter how many times you jacked off in the showers, it just didn’t compare to sinking your dick into a nice tight ass or having a warm wet mouth swallow you whole.

“Fuck,” Mark muttered as his cock took keen interest in his thoughts. He had a long ride in front of him and he couldn’t afford to be distracted. Mark glanced to his right and was happy to see Van right alongside him.

It took them a good hour or so to make it in to the city, but Mark didn’t care. They needed a break and had to get away from the base. He was sick of being confined to the base without days off, all because fucking aliens decided it was time to come out of hiding and show themselves. Mark had been looking forward to tonight for weeks.

Mark shook his head lightly. He was not going to think about that right now. Tonight he was on the prowl and there was no way in hell he was leaving the bar alone.

They were lucky and found parking just down the road from where they planned to eat dinner. It was nothing fancy, just a good old-fashioned pub with burgers, fish and chips and steak. The beer was cold and the food was plentiful and cheap, which was rare these days.

Van parked beside him and Nemo pulled the SUV in to the other empty space two spots down.

Michael ‘Doc’ Clarkson, Stone ‘Sticks’ Barkley and Nemo all piled out of the car and met Van and Mark on the sidewalk.

“You have no idea how badly my mouth is salivating at the thought of not having to eat base food tonight,” Doc said as they started the short walk back to the pub.

“Oh yeah, I do. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of their smoked hickory bacon burgers,” Sticks announced as he licked his lips.

Mark shook his head, but he didn’t comment. He wasn’t about to tell them he felt the same bloody way. The food on base was all right, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, and after six months with nothing but, Mark was starting to wonder if his taste buds were dying.

They walked inside and the scents of beer, food and numerous bodies hit Mark. The noise level wasn’t too deafening, for which Mark was thankful. He was sure when they headed off to the clubs later that he would have his share of the thumping brain numbing music.

Now though, there were televisions set up all around the joint. Some showed different sporting events, others had some music channel counting down to something or other. The music played in the background, not loud enough that people couldn’t talk and be heard without having to yell.

“Grab a booth and I’ll get the first round,” Van said as he headed off to the bar. Sticks went with him to help carry the beers back. Mark looked around the dimly lit room, spotted a couple of empty booths over to the left, and headed in that direction.

Mark slid in and Doc sat beside him while Nemo took a seat on the other side. They all picked up a copy of the laminated menu that sat on the table and looked it over. The only thing Mark was looking for was whether they had changed the menu since they’d last been here. They still offered Mark’s double beef and bacon burger and that was all he cared about.

He set down the menu just as Van and Sticks got back with the drinks. Mark picked his beer up and skulled half of it in one go. “Oh God, that’s good,” he said as he placed the glass back on the table.

He watched as the others all did something similar, their expressions of bliss matching his.

Mark looked up as a perky blonde in shorts and a shirt that was probably three sizes too small for her came to a stop at the end of their booth.

“Evening, boys, you know what you want?” she asked them as she pulled out the little notepad from her half apron and removed a pencil from behind her ear. A lot of places had brought in all sorts of technology that the waiters entered the order on and it spat out somewhere in the kitchen, but not this place. They kept things old school, and Mark liked that fact just as much as he liked the food. They went round the table and they all ordered.

“Food shouldn’t be too long, maybe twenty minutes or so,” their waitress said.

“Thanks,” Doc replied before she turned and headed to the kitchen to place their orders.

They settled back and just talked shit until their food arrived. Doc went to the bar and got them a second round of drinks when everyone was empty. Their conversation stayed well clear of work or the reason they’d been denied leave for such a long period of time. Mark had to admit that it was nice to be able to leave all that crap behind him, if only for the night.

The Usual Conventions: Unconventional Romances #1 by Mathilde Watson
Chapter One
"Hey, boss. You wanted to see me?"

Chris Myers stepped out of the elevator and jogged over to where his boss, Michael Glenn, was checking in guests and handing out identification badges. The man nodded to the others working the table and excused himself, stepping away from the chaos and joining Chris next to the back wall.

"Big day. You ready for this?"

Chris met Michael's gaze and nodded. After two years working for his friend, he finally convinced Michael to let him shoulder a little more responsibility. The first hopefully annual OBX Science Fiction Convention was the biggest account the Glenn Event Planning Company had ever landed, and Chris suspected he only caved out of sheer desperation. Still, Chris had control over an entire floor of the event, and he was determined nothing would go wrong on his watch.

"Great. Because your main attraction just arrived."

Michael jerked his head in the direction of the front door, and Chris looked up just as the ragtag group of refugees from the Harec Y'shol walked into the hotel lobby. His jaw dropped and he knew his eyes had to be as wide as saucers. He could only hope he wasn't drooling as he watched Ensign Brodeich Geinn lead his companions toward the check-in table.

"Oh my god, Michael! I thought you said they wouldn't be here," Chris hissed.

Michael laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. "No. What I said was they hadn't responded. I didn't get the call until late Wednesday night."

"It's Friday morning. You could have told me yesterday!"

"I'm telling you now. You want 'em or not?"

"You put them on my floor?"

Having Brodeich and his companions on his floor shouldn't have been a surprise, really. His floor consisted of the small exhibits featuring lesser-known characters from the more obscure shows. Competing against the latest Joss Whedon creation and the overblown Star Trek franchise two years ago, Brodeich's Landing had barely made a blip on the radar. The network didn't even air all of the first season before canceling the show, leaving a small but loyal fan base outraged.

"They're all yours, buddy."

Michael gave his arm a quick squeeze, then hurried back to his post at the check-in table. Chris resisted the urge to pinch himself. If this was a dream, he didn't want to wake up. Ever. Alien or no, Brodeich Geinn was the man of Chris's wet dreams.

Chris did his best to mask his nerves before he approached the daring deserter and the innocent prisoners he'd rescued from the ill-fated Harec Y'shol. He wiped his sweating palms on the outsides of his thighs just before he stopped in front of his fantasy hero.

"Hello. Welcome. We're so glad you could make it."

Chris stared up at the alien's alluring face and held out his hand, praying the man wouldn't notice how badly it shook.

Brodeich stood six foot four inches tall and weighed two hundred and eighty pounds, every bit of it muscle. He had navy blue skin so dark it was almost black, and his catlike eyes were a rich coffee brown. His large, hooked nose only had one nostril, and his ears were small holes behind his temples. He had no hair on his head or on his arms or anywhere visible, and Chris couldn't help speculating whether the trait extended to parts covered by his tight gray uniform.

Of course, Chris knew that Brody Gates, the actor hidden underneath the elaborate costume, had black hair he kept cropped close to the scalp, and his skin was as brown as his eyes. Chris needed to be professional, to remember that these men and women were real people, actors, and not the characters they portrayed. With most of the talent at the convention it wasn't be a problem, but with Brodeich Geinn, the star in his wildest erotic fantasies, standing there in front of him, he knew it would be difficult.

Brodeich's long fingers wrapped around Chris's hand, his firm grip cool, smooth, and soft, like snakeskin. The press of their palms made Chris's heart race, and his mind conjured up images of them together as a couple, like in his fantasies. Brodeich would hold his hand as they walked through the park, and those same hands would caress his naked body when they went to bed at night.

"I love you."

Chris could feel the heat building in his face, and he felt sure he'd turned the color of a cooked lobster. He hoped to god he hadn't said that aloud, but judging by the snickers around them, the startled expression on Brodeich's face, and the sudden hard squeeze of his fingers, he had.

Chris cleared his throat and pulled his hand out of Brodeich's grasp, giving him and his four companions an awkward smile. "I mean, I'm a huge fan of the show. It broke my heart when the title disappeared from the station's listings."

"That is so kind of you to say. It…broke our hearts, too, losing the spot. Our story had only just begun."

Brodeich gave a sad smile that, coupled with his defeated tone, made Chris's chest ache. It seemed strange for such a soft, gentle voice to emanate from so large a man and for so much emotion to be conveyed in so short a speech. It was the quality Chris found most alluring, the way those musical tones settled in his belly and filled him with warmth, even when issuing from the television set. He stared in awe at Brodeich's expressive mouth, the smiling lips and pointed teeth so at odds and yet, somehow, just right. He caught a glimpse of a blue tongue and wondered how it would taste, how it would feel invading his mouth.

Chris shook himself out of the daydream. He had a job to do and it didn't involve standing about and mooning like a schoolgirl. He needed to get the actors upstairs to their booth so they could set up. The doors would open in less than an hour and thousands of Sci-Fi nerds would flood the halls and fill the ballrooms and conference centers.

"So, uh… I'm Chris Myers. I'm running the floor you all are assigned to so if you need anything, I'm the guy you need to talk to."

"Chris Myers. Thank you." Hielo, the young, headstrong half-blood Budgeon offered Chris a wide, toothy grin. "You are too kind." His heavily accented English was his second human language, having learned Spanish from his Guatemalan mother. Were it not for his ability to communicate using human words and his slightly more human-like features, their landing would have gone very differently. He had scaly green and light blue skin, but his eyes had round pupils, his nose boasted two nostrils, and human-like ears protruded from the sides of his head. Quill like spikes covered his head, folded down now, but capable of rising when he became upset like the hair's on a dog's neck.

"Yes, thank you, Chrisss." Brodeich practically hissed his name and Chris couldn't help but smile.

Fuck! He really was a goner.

"Great. We've got a van full of merchandise outside. There are boxes of action figures, costumes, posters, and a few with Goldie's book." Tara Shaw, the human character who'd befriended the survivors when she discovered the crashed escape pod, broke into the conversation, pulling Chris's attention away from Brody.

Chris gave the intimidating, no-nonsense brunette a nod, acknowledging her statement before looking down at the small, pale yellow man lurking behind Brodeich's elbow. The character's orange veins were pulsing visibly under the surface of his translucent skin, and his goldenrod eyes were impossibly large and round. Chris smiled at the little guy everyone called Goldie, but he knew better than to offer his hand. The silent Gauldsthei couldn't bear the touch of strangers.

"Yeah? I would love to get my copy signed. It's an amazing book, man. I couldn't put it down. I read it all in one sitting. The way you write…" Chris took a deep breath, searching for the right words. "I felt like I lived through it all myself, the anguish was so close to the surface. The devastation of being ripped away from your home and your family, then the confusion of captivity. While I read, I could feel it eating away at my soul…" Chris shivered at the memory, then smiled sadly at the little guy. "I hope there will be a sequel. I'm waiting for the happy ending."

Goldie reached over and wrapped his hand around Brodeich's wrist. Brodeich startled and glanced down at his companion. He patted Goldie's hand and nodded, then looked over into Chris's eyes. "Goldie is waiting too."

Chris didn't know how to respond to the odd exchange. Unlike the rest of the talent he'd interacted with that day, the refugees from the Harec Y'shol were already in character. It made separating the actor from the daring hero all the more difficult. Chris was in for a very long weekend, he could tell.

"Well, I'll, uh, just show you where you need to set up," Chris said, breaking the uncomfortable silence and leading the group over to the elevators. "Then I'll send some guys to collect those boxes for you."

Feel Me by Freddy MacKay
Chapter One
Late in seventeenth century, the industrialized nations pooled their resources to find new kinds of energy, ones compatible with their newly found steam power. Through telescopic magnification and unmanned rockets, they found the moon's surface to be rich in ores, minerals and a special type of helium that they could use in their ships, trains and carts.

A Consortium was built, consisting of a young nation called the United Americas, the British Dynasty, the Dutch Empire, the Swedish Lords, the Prussian Alliance, the Australian Bushwackers and the Japanese Empire.

Other countries soon bought into the Consortium as well, wanting their percentage of profits. The only question was how to get to the moon so they could have unparalleled resources. The answer came in a simple invention during the early eighteenth century, one developed for the increasingly towering houses of the Nobles.

An elevator.

Debates raged. Monies were thrown around. Committees formed. Political alliances were brokered and broken, sometimes in the same day. Eventually though, legal documents were signed and the plans for an elevator to space were made. Once in space, they could build a platform, and from that platform, they could travel to the moon and develop it.

The Consortium poured all their resources, energy and time into the Elevator, undoubtedly the biggest engineering and architectural feat ever undertaken by man. Decades and changing technology as well as alliances caused the building of the Elevator to be slow and often dangerous work. Many young men lost their lives on the project, but some were lucky enough to become old men.

By the time man reached space, several generations had been born, lived and worked on the bustling metal city of the Elevator, the people developing their own culture, language (Latium), moral codes and customs. There they had a new problem with which to contend. How to get to the moon? And more importantly, who would be controlling it?

When the people of the Elevator made it to the moon, they had harsh conditions to struggle against, but their spirit could not be broken. They were made of the sky already and could not be brought back down.

The colonists survived, thrived, and ultimately built a sustainable environment for families to live on the moon colony, Orion 1, because during the decades-long building of the Elevator, invention and innovation had become a life-force of its own, many men becoming great thinkers and modifiers of old technology and bringing new life to it and to the people.

The original engineers and developers of the space colony found themselves now the political juggernauts of the people referred to as the Masters, and the ruling family called the Shoguns. The Zimmer family has…

Lifting his foot off the metal depressor of the exhibit, Tobias sighed and took a step back. He had no desire to hear about the great Zimmers and how they created the bustling hub of Orion 1 with almost two thousand permanent residents. He knew the history forward and backward. He had to. Everyone did. Unlike everyone else, though, Tobias was the genius extraordinaire of the Zimmer family and the next Shogun of the colony. Or he was supposed to have been. Now he was relegated to being a nobody.

With new political implications coming down the pipeline from the negotiations planetside, no one wanted to be caught unaware, and Tobias's father wanted to make sure everyone sympathized with the colonists. The fresh set of treaty talks that had been ongoing for the last five months were why the exhibit had been installed in the Observatory last month.

Direct orders from Shogun Zimmer. "Keep people—colonists and tourists alike—up to date about Orion 1's history." Or, at least, tell the Zimmers' version of the colony's history.

Tobias took several steps away from the exhibit, his left leg dragging, grumbling about the state of the Observatory. It really should be cleaner than this. The metal segments had one too many scuffmarks on them. Litter could be spotted in a couple corners instead of in its rightful place in the Recyclers. Someone wasn't doing his or her job. Tobias made a mental note to radio the cleanup crew when he got back to his hub. They should get a sweep team to come through so the tourists wouldn't have anything to complain about when they took the transport back to the Elevator.

Darn it, his leg hurt. Tobias couldn't get his extremity to cooperate. Anger flashed through him like a hot spark of a miner's drill. Why did walking have to be so hard?

Needing a moment, Tobias stopped in front of one of the two largest windows in the colony, the one that gave the best view of the Elevator when they passed it during orbit and the best view of the planet. The other window, on the opposite side of the Observatory, gave the best view into space. Tobias's shockingly bright silver hair reflected off the glass momentarily before his face came into focus, his crystal blue eyes large against his white skin. He blinked and concentrated on the scenery beyond the window: the docking station and, after an empty expanse, the Elevator, standing tall and proud against the Earth like a beacon home for any weary space traveler from Orion 1.

With a tentative hand, Tobias reached out to the pane. Never had there been bigger ones synthesized. Normally glass was too delicate to have large panes exposed to the vast vacuum of space, but not these. These had a specially developed resin made from minerals on the moon that made them stronger than any metal. The rivets holding the window in place had a specialized sealer concocted from the moon dust that helped meld the metals and keep the hub airtight.

A sigh escaped Tobias when he noticed the warning on the bottom casing not to touch the window for too long; it could cause frostbite—and would for a normal person.

The glass should feel cool against his hand. Cold to the touch. But a person had to have the ability to feel to be able to discern things like temperature. Something Tobias didn't have, not in his hands or several other places on his body for the past seven months, not since the blast that almost took his life in the Arboretum at the center of the colony hubs. A lot of colonists died that day. Getting blown into space hampered rescue operations. Many more were hurt, not just Tobias. He hadn't been the only one to lose something that day, but had anyone lost as much as he had?

He had lost his inheritance of the colony.

Tobias withdrew his hand from the windowpane. Closing his eyes against the pain thrashing inside him, Tobias slowed his breathing like the doctor showed him and then opened his eyes again, observing the remnants of the attack.

His Sustainers.

The gears whirred and clicked as he stretched and clenched his new fingers over and over. He could see the device responding to him, following the directions his nerves were sending to the wires, tubes and gears, but his mind couldn't wrap around the idea that this cold metal was his, attached to him as permanently as his real flesh and blood hands once were.

Tobias clenched his teeth, holding back the pain, agony the doctors told him was all in his head.

It didn't do to dwell on phantoms.

With effort, Tobias put one foot in front of the other, forcing himself to walk away from the newly built Observatory constructed to replace the colonists' broken Arboretum. Their air supply was too precious to put at risk again.

Several people said hello as he passed by, but Tobias barely returned the gesture. It took too much effort on his part. Walking wasn't as easy as it used to be, especially in this low gravity. Each step forward meant his left leg had to shuffle to keep up, scraping along the copper flooring, hitting rivets and uneven flashing, not moving like it should. Considering he helped improve the design and engineering of the Sustainers, he had hoped his would work better than the models before them. No such luck.

Tobias lurched forward, grabbing onto a nearby walking bar. Dang. His leg was dragging more than it should.

Tobias stopped, banged the metal casing a couple times. The frustrating partial thigh replacement was acting up. It clicked and groaned instead of giving off a low hum like the gears should. He'd have to see Doctor Goldstein again.

Oh, now wouldn't that make Doctor Goldstein's day? Tobias hated visiting his Modifier. The doctor was, unnervingly so, creepy. Between the doctor's crooked smile and how he caressed the Sustainers, Tobias had to exert much-practiced self-control not to shudder when Doctor Goldstein touched him, even if Tobias couldn't feel it. The gestures themselves made Tobias feel dirty.

"You all right, Tobias?"

He looked up and saw Guardian Wu watching him with a worried expression. "Ah, my, um Sustainer seems to be having problems."

"Need a hand to Doctor Goldstein?" asked the amiable law keeper.

"No, I was actually on my way to the Ichiban for something to eat and some shopping," answered Tobias quickly. He needed to make rounds, make sure everything was running efficiently and take note of any unusual activity. "Essentials, you know. The stalls will be too busy if I wait for long."

Guardian Wu regarded Tobias, then sighed. "I suppose you're right. Need a lift to the Ichiban? The hub is still four sectors away, Tobias. That's quite a long walk…"

An awkward pause filled the space between them. For you is what Guardian Wu probably added silently. There had been a time Tobias would have as well: when he saw Coppies on the colony or the times he'd visited Earth. Now I am one.

"Tobias? Um, I mean, Master Zimmer?" called the Guardian, his great black eyes wide, overflowing with concern. Apparently Tobias had missed something. "Are you sure you shouldn't see Doctor Goldstein now? I can take you to him."

"Yes. I'm sorry, I've been walking a lot recently. Tires me out more quickly than I realized, but I'm well. The exercise is good for me."

A warm, gentle smile formed on Wu's lips. "I understand. Are you sure you wouldn't like me to call a Rikker at least?"

"No! I can manage!" said Tobias quickly, hating the flare of rage about to overtake his mind and proper manners. "As you said, the Ichiban is only four hubs away. Thank you, Guardian Wu."

"If you're sure, Tobias." The Guardian did not seem to be taking his dismissal well if the expression on his face was anything to go by.

"I'm sure." Pride, his pride, would be the ruin of Tobias. All the kind remarks and hushed voices dug in like a Modifier's blade, hurting worse, actually. At least the good doctor had numbing agents to ease the pain. "Need to build my stamina."

Shax's War: Brimstone #3 by Angel Martinez
Chapter One
Shax yelped as the trauma ball hummed against his palm, the surface shifting from swirling orange toward yellow. Before it could deliver its nastiest shock, he flung the thing at Verin's head.


Sparks flew as Verin swung his horns and batted the ball away. He aimed right for Ness, who sidestepped and caught the ball as it powered back down to blue. Wings spread for balance, tip of his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth, Ness spun and ran the three steps up the ramp at the court's far end, aiming for the hovering sphere goal.

At the last second, the goal moved left and Ness's shot caught the magnetized lip, which hurled the trauma ball back at him at some ridiculous, unsafe speed. Shax winced at the sharp crack when hard ball met angel head.

"Ow." Ness flopped down at the top of the ramp, rubbing at his temple.

"Someone gonna explain to me again how this is fun?" Corny called from where he balanced on the swinging planks that made up midcourt.

He'd been stuck on the water hazard for several plays, his muscular body and high center of gravity an indisputable disadvantage since the wrong move would send him into the water and cost him a five-minute penalty. Their cowboy had figured out the hard way in the first quarter that the pool itself enforced the penalty and didn't let the penalized player out a second before.

Good thing Corny can tread water.

The ball was now happily rolling along the elevated sidewall ramps, and Shax prepared to jump for the rings that would put him at the right height to catch it when it rolled free. Had they been playing teams…but no one could agree on a fair way to pair the four of them up, so solo it was.

Shax cocked his head, listening to the rumble of the ball as it trundled downward. Ness was still on the ramp. Corny was stuck. Verin was navigating the sponge quadrant where his claws were sticking. Perfect. He leapt, caught a ring in each hand, got a good swing going, and let go with his right hand just in time for the ball to drop from the chute.

With a whoop, he swung free and dropped with the ball clutched to his chest, only to be hit from behind with the force of several megatons. Wind knocked out of him, he could only watch as Verin snatched up the ball.

"Attempted murder isn't supposed to be part of the game," he wheezed as Verin took his shot. It seemed to be too far right, but the sphere turned and the ball shot inside.

"You're all right, you baby," Verin growled. "Get up before you really get fucked up."

Shax heaved himself to his feet, staggering a few steps before the floor decided he'd been in one place too long and started bucking.

Ness had moved now too. "Shax? Sure you're all right, love?"

"I'm good. There are two of you right now. Don't mind. Two of you are nice."

All four of them managed to reach the sand quadrant closest to the near goal where they crouched in anticipation, waiting for the sphere to spit out the ball. Shax got Verin's elbow in his ribs and a playful shove from Corny as they jockeyed for position, but they might as well have stood still. The sphere rumbled and disgorged the trauma ball with a hacking cough, sending it high and wide. Ness, with his superior height and reach, snagged it easily, holding it up to keep it out of reach.

Any second, Verin and Corny would charge him and then Shax wouldn't have a chance. An evil thought percolated in his mind, and he sidled up close to Ness, blew a breath across his bare nipple, and reached down to cup Ness's balls through the tight game shorts. A strangled whimper caught in Ness's throat. His jaw slack, eyes saucer-wide, he fumbled the ball and dropped it.

Shax caught it before it hit the sand, snatched a quick kiss, and bounded away toward the far goal. He slammed the trauma ball into the sphere just as it hummed over to yellow again.

"Ha! That's three for me! Game!"

His elation died when he turned to find his opponents glaring at him.


"How could you?" Ness's jaw was so tight, it looked like his teeth might break.

Shax spread his hands, his smile faltering. "What? It was all in fun. It's just a game."

"You used how I hunger for you."

"It was just a little squeeze, cupcake. Really, you're taking this too seriously."

"Yes. I take my feelings for you very seriously." Ness flipped his wings tight to his back, turned, and strode for the door.

"Ness? Where're you going?"

"For a fly. A long one."

Author Bios:
Toni Griffin
Toni Griffin lives in Darwin, the smallest of Australia’s capital cities. Born and raised in the state she’s a Territorian through and through. Growing up Toni hated English with a passion (as her editors can probably attest to) and found her strength lies with numbers.

Now, though, she loves escaping to the worlds she creates and hopes to continue to do so for many years to come. She’s a single mother of one and works full time. When she’s not writing you can just about guarantee that she will be reading one of the many MM authors she loves.
Freddy MacKay
Freddy grew up in the Midwest, playing sports and running around outside. And honestly, that much has not changed since Freddy was small and throwing worms at other kids, expect worm throwing has been replaced with a healthy geocaching addiction. Freddy enjoys traveling and holds the view a person should continually to learn about new things and people whenever possible.

Freddy's contemporary LGBTQ book, Incubation: Finding Peace 2, won 3rd Place - Best Gay Erotic Fiction in the 2012 Rainbow Awards. In 2013, Freddy's story, Internment, tied for 3rd Place - Best Gay Fantasy in the Rainbow Awards. Freddy's steampunk/SF story, Feel Me, was a finalist and honorable mention in the 2014 Rainbow Awards for SF.

Mathilde Watson
What can I say about me? I am a work in progress. I don't much resemble the girl I was ten years ago. And ten years from now I guarantee I'll be somebody else again. I'm okay with that and wouldn't have it any other way.

Angel Martinez
Angel Martinez currently lives part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head. She has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.

Angel's alter ego writes the all-ages science fiction - Sandra Stixrude.

Toni Griffin

Freddy MacKay

Mathilde Watson

Angel Martinez


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