Story Treat: Upgrading (The Cybernetic Tea Shop)

The below is a short story treat starring characters from The Cybernetic Tea Shop, as requested by Doug. If you have a scene you’d like to see with any of my characters, drop me a line over here before the end of December!

 

“I’m sorry,” Clara says, as gently as she can. “But there’s no such thing as a battery that can last forever.”

The box is still clutched loosely in Sal’s hands. She’s disappointed; Clara can tell that much from how the lenses of her eyes have widened, so that Clara can only see three or so of the concentric rings, rather than the seven or eight of when Sal is interested and focused. Her face doesn’t show it much, though; she just lowers that wide-lensed gaze to the box she is carrying.

“He told me that it was a new product,” Sal says. “That it was somewhat experimental. But it should be compatible with the old Sarah units, and charge through the energy created when I move about.”

It hurts, to try to discourage Sal like this. That Sal wants a guarantee that her battery will last isn’t a bad thing; you’re supposed to live when you’re alive, after all.

Clara takes the box from Sal and opens it, shaking the battery out into her hand. She examines it carefully, the shape, the manufacturer’s code, the product number. She even hooks it up to her screens to run a full diagnostic on it, just in case.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, finally. “This battery is pretty uncommon to see, so they probably thought they could pull one over on even the most astute users. It’s a proprietary brand for a specific farming robotics company—it stopped being used about ten years ago. Whoever sold you this must have bought up a stack of these from the company and repackaged them. It’s a scam, sweetheart.”

Sal nods slowly. She folds her fingers together, filling the space where the battery had been. “That’s all right,” she says. “I can make do.”

“It’s not really all right,” Clara grumbles. Discontentment churns in her gut “Someone out there tried to take advantage of your fears. That’s not all right.”

“I’m fine, though,” Sal says gently. She shifts over, unclasping her hands to put one on Clara’s shoulder. “See? I’m a little embarrassed. But that’s all. Except…”

“Except?”

Sal glances down again. “I can make do,” she says. “There aren’t many others like me, but those that are… are probably also wearing down. They might not have a mechanic like you in their lives. Someone they trust. To me, it might have been… useful? A relief, but a relief in thinking about the future, not the present. For them, it might be more …pressing.”

That discontentment wants to erupt into fury. Clara lifts a hand and squeezes Sal’s. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promises.

And she does. She starts with sending out messages to acquaintances of hers—her area doesn’t lie in ‘investigative programming’, as it were, but she’s worked in lots of places and has lots of contacts. It takes less than a day for the host of the online parts shop that Sal bought the battery from to take the site down, and only a day and a half for the robotics ethics committee to promise to follow up with the site’s owner, whose identity was uncovered by the host—and cross-referenced by a few of Clara’s contacts, so she’s sure that the name they found wasn’t a cover.

The rest takes longer. Clara has already done all the research on the best parts to swap into a Sarah unit, but Sal wasn’t the only type on the market from Artiface Industries, let alone from other old robotics manufacturers. Clara spends a while working with Sal to uncover a complete a list as she can, and then folds her contacts into that as well, starting up debates on what currently-available options are the best substitutes for parts that stopped being manufactured long ago, what converters might be needed, what additional items could be acquired, and from where. When she has more time she’ll add an algorithm sort through additional suggestions based on what a user is searching for and what they have purchased already. For now, getting a functional base is most important.

When she gets it online, it’s as complete as she can make it without delaying the release too much, and she knows it will only become more complete as new people find it and weigh in. Her contacts have promised to pass it onto their contacts, shop owners and resellers and unions and professors. They’ll list it where they can. She hopes it will become as widely available as possible, and easier to find than any individual scammer.

It’ll require a lot of work to keep updated, even with the automatic submission of items from trusted sources.

But then again, it’s a lot of work for the end users to keep themselves updated, too.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing hosting with your shop for now,” Clara says, as she finishes explaining. “It seemed like the fastest way to get the database up. I can see about moving it over later—”

“No, this is fine,” Sal says. “It seems appropriate. Cybernetics and tea.” She slides a cup of the aforementioned tea into Clara’s hands; Clara accepts it gratefully. Sal’s voice is warm. She seems impressed—no, Clara thinks. Not impressed.

Inspired.

Sal keeps her hands apart a little after handing Clara the cup, like she’s holding that hope in them again. She says, “You’ll need to show me how to keep this current.”

“I don’t mind doing it—”

“I know,” Sal says. She puts her arms around Clara and sighs, holding her between them too, warm and heavy and comfortable. “I just mean… for the future.”

Story Treat: Winter’s Light (Empty Vessels)

The below is a short story treat starring characters from Empty Vessels, as requested by Achichinkla. If you have a scene you’d like to see with any of my characters, drop me a line over here before the end of December!

 

The horned boy sits on the bone girl’s couch and turns his antler over and over in his hands as the bone girl attempts to stick a bandaid over the lightly bleeding stump.

“Winter is the worst,” he complains. Neither of them are particularly fussed about this moment; it happens every year at this time. The other antler will soon follow suit; annoyingly, they never seem to go at the exact same time. It doesn’t hurt much, but the change in weight is disorienting, tilting his head against his will.

The bone girl frowns and sticks a second bandaid on. He can feel the glue catch in his hair, but that’ll come out with time too. “You’re like the sun,” she says.

He knows her well enough by now that he can almost follow her leap in logic. His eyes track to the yule log burning in her hearth; it was taken from the forest out back, found on her land, as tradition required, and started with the last charcoal from the previous year’s yule log. A celebration of new light being born from the old. Like the sun, his antlers will regrow with the spring. “We’re all like the sun,” he counters. “Yourself as well, m’love.”

After all, Others like the two of them are just an essence that carries on between bodies. When the bone girl isn’t bone any longer, her life will still bear the same light she has now.

The bone girl wrinkles her nose. “That too,” she allows, but it’s clear that something that existential wasn’t entirely what she meant. She kisses his forehead, smudging the blood trying to trickle down there, and takes his antler from him. That she carries into her kitchenette, to place with the rest of the bones she collects to eat. He’s glad he can, at least, provide her this; he’s a good source of free bone, though only once a year.

She comes back out a moment later, bringing out the tea she’s been steeping. He takes his mug with a smile, and doesn’t drink, because he knows how bitter her tea is, but he lets it warm his hands as she settles in beside him, sipping her own tea.

They watch the yule log burn. He leans his side against hers, letting the unbalanced weight bear his head to her shoulder and, despite the throbbing in his forehead, he is content.

December Story Treats

Hi all! I’ve got some time off next week and I’m ready to get into the holiday spirit ❤

So I was thinking of doing some Story Treats!

Here’s how this works:

You comment to this post with 1) the name of one or more of my characters or even just one of my book titles and 2) a prompt, which can be a word, a quote, the link to a song, whatever you like!

I will then write a little piece of fiction, or character vignette, or something similar based on your prompt, probably around 100-500 wordsish!

Examples: “Clara and Sal, Snowball Fight” or “Saul and Theo do a horror-themed puzzle room!” or “Talia and idk something with this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpd9AZ6twC8”

(As well as my published stories, things like my Septimus and Sweet or Uncanny Valley interactive fictions are also fine! For editors and friends and anyone else who might be familiar with my WIPs or things not yet released, you’re welcome to ask for those characters too!)

Gay Book Reviews – Reader’s Best of 2017

Here’s a fun thing going on over at Gay Book Reviews for readers to vote for their favorite M/M book of 2017! You can pick up to 3 (and can fill it in at the bottom to add it in if not already on the list). Looks like, once this closes, the top ten books will move on to a final round of voting.

Also… my book Empty Vessels is on the nomination list. If you read and enjoyed it, it’d be awesome if you’d be willing to vote for it!