The Valley

I live in California’s San Joaquin Valley. If you’re from anywhere else in the world, I need to tell you that this area isn’t the California you think you know. No beaches here (we’re a couple hours inland). A few famous people came from this area–George Lucas, Jeremy Renner, James Marsters, and Timothy Olyphant all grew up around here–but none of them stuck around here. The politics in this area tend to be pretty far to the right of my own. We have lots of dairy farms; almond ranches; vineyards; and fields with corn, beans, and melons.

There are some good points about living here. It’s affordable by California standards. We have access to lots of fresh produce and excellent Mexican food. With a two hour drive we can be at the beach, in San Francisco, or in the mountains. Traffic isn’t usually too awful.

But there are downsides. Our summers are beastly hot. And yes, it’s a dry heat, but that’s not much solace when temps can top 100F for days or weeks on end. Our air quality is awful, partly due to pollution from local agriculture and partly because pollution from the Bay Area and smoke from wildfires get trapped here in the valley. And then there are the allergens.

I took this photo this morning, about three blocks from my house. Almond trees. They’re lovely in bloom, aren’t they? And I can smell them as soon as I step outside; they have a very pleasant aroma. Unfortunately, they make me cough and sneeze and give me headaches.

So excuse me while I go grab a new package of tissues.

Stress relief

This last week was a rough one. It was the first week of classes, which is always a little crazy anyway. But two years of pandemic has been incredibly stressful to everyone in education (and elsewhere!), resulting in excessive amounts of… difficulty. Not so much from the students this week as from administrators and faculty. Patience is a virtue I need to work on anyway, and I had plenty of practice doing that last week.

So I’ve been dealing with the frustration and anxiety in my usual ways. Okay, I may have added in some bonus chocolate and tequila, but I’m doing two of my favorite things: writing and dreaming about travel.

Writing-wise, I’m nearly finished with book 9 in the Bureau series. I love writing in that world. This one takes place in the 1970s, mostly in California’s Sierra Mountains. Ralph Crespo plays a small part in this one, but the main focus is on two new guys. One of whom is not entirely human. 🙂

As for travel, it’s hard to get too emotionally invested after two years of cancelations. But if all goes well, this year I may be looking at a cruise to Mexico (to make up for last month’s canceled Caribbean cruise), plus trips to Paris, Lisbon, Portland, Port Townsend, and Austin. At the moment, the cruise is sounding the most appealing because I’m picturing myself sipping margaritas and working on a novel while overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Here’s a fun memory from my last trip to Paris, in 2019: me looking dorky as I hold one of my books, which I found for sale at Les Mots a la Bouche, a great bookstore in Le Marais.


Serendipity: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for. (Merriam-Webster).

It’s one of my favorite words–and one of my favorite things. It’s just such an amazing thing when the planets unexpectedly align in your favor and the universe hands you a surprise gift.

Perhaps my best serendipitous event happened when my dean sent me an email with this subject line: Do you have a valid passport? As someone who adores travel, that certainly got my attention! It turns out that she had some funds that had to be spent on something international-related by the end of the semester–which was in three weeks (they’d been earmarked for something else that was cancelled). She’d done a Fulbright in Zagreb not too long before, during which she’d met a criminologist at the university. She thought maybe my department and the Croatian professor’s might be able to work out some research partnerships.

So, a couple weeks later, I was on a plane to Zagreb! I’d never really given Croatia much thought, although my grandfather was born about 200 km from Zagreb, in Trieste. Well, I landed, and within a day I was thinking, I could live here. I don’t know why, but Zagreb just fit me.

I spent a week there during that visit. Not long after returning home, I applied for a Fulbright myself–and got it. I lived there for a semester, and it was amazing. Later I did another, shorter Fulbright. I’ve visited several other times as well. I have done research with Croatian colleagues and made friends there. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

All because my dean had to spend money fast.


Once upon a time, I used to do a lot of crafts. I was especially fond of knitting, and because I’m a wee bit obsessive, I accumulated an impressive yarn stash.

And then things happened. I had one kid and then another. Work got busier. I traveled more. I started writing–first fanfic, then original fiction. And something had to go. Sadly, that something was crafting, including knitting. My yarn and other supplies languished, gathering dust in the guest room.

Well, now my kids are grown. And I recently had a hankering (see what I did there?) to pick up my needles again. Also, the guest room was a minor disaster, especially the Closet of Doom. So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks gradually tackling that disaster, which means getting rid of a LOT of stuff I finally admitted I’ll never use. It also means organizing the yarn I want to keep. Here are the results.

Nice, huh? Sorted by weight and type (second from the top left is sock yarn. I have a lot of sock yarn). I also have four hanks of yarn spun from the shed fur of my now long-since departed Saint Bernards. It knits up like angora.

Unfortunately, I’ve now been through the entire room and can’t find my yarn ball winder or–far worse–the handsewn case that contains all of my double-point needles as well as my nicest single-points. I can’t find those things anywhere. I’ve asked my kids, who claim ignorance. I’m starting to fear those items may somehow have exited the house when my younger kid did a Great Purge of her bedroom last summer before leaving for college. The very thought makes me want to cry.

There is a small silver lining. Today I spent a good bit of time hand-winding yarn (I did find my swift, which helps a lot). And it turns out that my Apple Watch counts that as steps, so I gained an extra mile and half today. Woohoo!

I think this week I’ll attempt to begin a scarf–if Niki the cat allows me.


I was supposed to be on a cruise ship in Central America right now. I’m not. I’m in my kitchen, catching up on work for the day job and feeling cranky about it even though I know millions of other people have suffered much, much worse during the pandemic.

Travel used to be a huge part of my life. In 2019, I went somewhere literally at least once a month. Then there was the trauma of multiple cancellations in 2020, beginning with a trip to France scuttled in mid-March, a couple of days before I was supposed to leave. And although I was lucky enough to do some road trips in 2020, the cancellations still aren’t, well, canceled.

I’m still hoping, however. My dreams this year include Paris, Lisbon, Zagreb, and Port Townsend. And a replacement cruise. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Being around the house more has had me noticing how cluttered it is. We’ve lived here for almost 20 years and there’s lots of… stuff. Today I was working on the closet in our guest room/craft room, and I came across this historical artifact. Makes me wonder what else I’m going to find!

Did you miss me?

It’s been just over a year since I last blogged.

I made the decision to give it up for a year mainly as a way of trying to reserve limited time and energy. Like everyone else on the planet, I’ve been going through an emotionally exhausting time, and the day job in particular has been a time and energy vampire. So some conservation made sense.

I used the time well. In 2021, I wrote 4 novels, 3 novellas, and 2 short stories, making it my most productive year ever. One of those novels, Farview, won the BookLife Prize for Fiction, which is still astounding me a month after the announcement was made. Another novel, Potential Energy, was from a plot bunny that had been haunting me for almost a decade. That one releases in April.

I did other stuff too. There were several audiobooks, a fair bit of action on social media, and my monthly blog at Love Bytes.

And there were personal changes. My husband retired. My younger daughter graduated high school and moved to Oregon for college, while my older daughter graduated college and moved back home from Oregon (a different school than her sister) to attend grad school and work at a grad assistantship. I worked entirely from home (which is, in theory, about to change).

I was able to take several great road trips, including one with my younger daughter where we visited 10 states in the SW and MW and drove 3500 miles. Other trips were cancelled (again), including the Caribbean cruise I was supposed to be on right now.

I have a lot of hopes for 2022. More books–Dracula in 1950s LA, anyone? Or how about Bureau book 9?–and more audiobooks. More travel, maybe even to Europe. Maybe. A peaceful, smooth, healthy transition back to doing the day job in person. And yes, I do hope to blog on a reasonably frequent basis.

So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my hopes and yours, and wishing all of you the very best for this year!

Interview with Daniel Henning

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to hear my books read by some wonderfully talented narrators. Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love released TODAY–and the audio narrator, Daniel Henning, has very kindly let me ask him some questions.

Keep on reading to learn more about this really interesting and talented man!

Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I was born in Oakland CA, went to New York University and Circle in the Square Theatre School for college,. I managed the off-Broadway theater Circle in the Square before moving to Los Angeles for pilot season. In 1990 I founded The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles where I remain as the founding artistic director. I am an actor, director, producer, writer. I also have been recognized for my work supporting the LGBTQ community by the California state legislature. I recommend you to check this page, if you need the best acting classes to become an actor.

You founded and are artistic director of The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles. What do you love most about doing that? What’s the most challenging aspect?

Honestly, what I love most about the work that we do at The Blank Theatre is that we are supporting future generations of theater artists. All of the work that we do at The Blank is about developing artists and their work. The amount of successful artists who had their work first presented at The Blank as writers or their first chance as an actor on stage is staggering. 

The most challenging part of that is that developing artists isn’t a cause celebre for funders and grantmakers. And certainly not for ticket buyers. We can’t make our funds at the box office for developing world premiere plays. We need to constantly raise money in order to keep our doors open. 

When did you know you wanted a career in theatre? 

When I was four years old I was cast in a silly little play of the story Stone Soup. I got to play the soldier that came up with a great idea to make soup out of a stone. I was hooked. 

My 17-year-old has been active in high school drama classes and productions. Now that she’ll be heading off to college soon—with a computer science major—what advice would you give her?

Study as much as you can. But I don’t mean that academically. Study the world. Look around. Notice what other people aren’t noticing. That will make you stand out in any field. 

How did you begin narrating audiobooks?

Four years ago, it occurred to me that I might enjoy narrating audiobooks. I had directed a play called Something Truly Monstrous by a playwright I adore named Jeff Tabnick. I knew Jeff had something to do with audiobooks. I asked him if he thought I might be good at narrating audiobooks and how I would go about getting a job. As it turns out he’s the casting director for one of the largest audiobook companies in the country Recorded Books Inc. He was brave enough to give me a shot. Since then, I have recorded 90 audiobooks. 

What’s your process for narrating a book? And what’s your studio like? 

I find that each book sort of creates its own process. Fiction and nonfiction are of course entirely different from each other. The nonfiction process is more about research of pronunciations and names, while fiction is more about creating the characters and conveying the story to the audience. Although I like to think of both fiction and nonfiction as storytelling. 

I have a recording studio with a Whisper Room isolation booth so the Los Angeles helicopters aren’t destroying my recordings. It is in my home. It makes me very comfortable and allows me the opportunity to be relaxed in my creation of audiobooks. And the booth itself is like my cocoon. I can go in there and snuggle up with a good book. 

What are some of your favorite books to read for fun?

I’ve done 56 audiobooks this year. I don’t really get to read for fun anymore. But I love reading. 

When you’re not working—and when there’s not a pandemic!—how do you like to spend your time?

I spend a lot of my time supporting The Blank Theater and its work. I enjoy spending time with my husband and our beautiful chow chow Betty. I adore Los Angeles so I love to explore what’s available for us here. And the sunshine. 

In 2018, you were honored by the California legislature. Can you tell us about that?

In 2017 I produced and conceived the 50th anniversary celebration for the Black Cat protest. New Year’s Eve 1966 to 1967 there was a gay bar on Sunset Blvd in the Silverlake part of Los Angeles called the Black Cat. At midnight that night undercover police started to beat and arrest the gays and drag Queens that kissed each other at midnight. Two males kissing in public was illegal. The Black Cat denizens fought back and a riot ensued on Sunset Blvd (2 ½ years before Stonewall). Six weeks later the first major LGBTQ demonstration in the United States occurred outside of the Black Cat. 500 people showed up to protest that night in 1967. 

In 2017, I recreated the original demonstration with actors in costumes and reproductions of the protest signs, and we recreated that night in 1967. Then as now the demonstration was followed by a political rally with speeches. In my celebration one of the original organizers of the demonstration in 1967 was there. And he, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the assistant chief of police all held hands and declared a new day for the relationship between homosexuals and LAPD. We had over 1500 people in attendance that night. The next year, the legislature chose me along with 15 others to be recognized for LGBTQ pride month at ceremonies in both the state assembly and the state Senate. 

Since you’re a Paul Smith fan, maybe Teddy Spenser’s love for fashion resonated a little with you. How would you describe your own personal style?

Oh yes, teddy’s love for fashion did resonate with me. As did so many other aspects of the story. I loved telling this story and I had a super great time. My personal style is a bit flamboyant, with classical elements. Paul Smith describes what he does as “classic with a twist”. That’s about right. I pretty much exclusively wear Paul Smith. He’s become a friend and our relationship certainly helped me tell Teddy Spenser’s story. One of my greatest personal moments was when Paul Smith asked if he could borrow some pieces from my collection (of his work) for his 25 year retrospective a few years ago. That was cool.

What’s one of the most unexpected things that’s happened during a performance?

I don’t think this is what you mean when you ask this, but this is my answer: I cry. When I am deep in a book and it gets to “those parts” (sad, happy, sweet, nostalgic) I often will cry. Sometimes heavily. When that happens, I have to stop, because no one wants to hear a reader crying, but I also want that emotion to show up in my voice without the crying. So I have to time it just right to get all the feels without the sniffling. 

I used to write (a lot of!) Buffy fanfic and I’m still a big fan of the series, so I was very excited to learn about your ties to the show. Can you tell us about them?

At the end of my college career, I assistant directed the world premiere of The Widow Claire by Horton Foote. There was an 8-year-old girl in that cast, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Sarah, her mother and I became friends and actually became more like family. When Sarah got her audition for Buffy, she asked me to coach her. So I did. And coached her on her callbacks etc. Through Sarah, I met most of the cast over the years, and in fact, many of them ended up performing at The Blank Theatre on numerous occasions. As a side note, my husband Rick Baumgartner ended up becoming the VFX Producer for Buffy and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the finale “Chosen.”

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A warm tropical island, with good food, good friends, and peace all around. Can I stay there for longer than a week? I could probably record audiobooks from there!

What’s your dream theatre project? Your dream book to narrate?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a lot of my Dream Theater projects. So I’ll be grateful and not piggy and leave it at that. But my dream book to narrate? Anything by John Irving.

What are you working on now?

Vacation. But I have several books lined up for just after the new year. So you can find me in my whisper room recording booth most of the time. 

What’s one random fact about yourself that you’d like to share?

When I was 12 years old Sir Alec Guinness (Star Wars’ Obi Wan Kenobi) made me promise never to see Star Wars again. No, really. And then he wrote about our encounter in his final memoir, A Positively Final Appearance. So, I became a world famous Star Wars fan. After becoming an audiobook narrator, I wrote my version of the story and made an audiobook of it too! It’s a nutty story. Alec Guinness Hated Star Wars or How I Became a Famous Star Wars Fan: A True Star Wars Story (Audible Audio Edition): Daniel Henning, Daniel Henning, Buddy Pictures Press: Audible Audiobooks

For more about Daniel’s work and the Blank Theatre, check out his website.

And be sure to pick up Teddy in ebook, print, or audio format!


I have so much going on in the next few months that I made a schedule to keep track. And then I decided it might be a good idea to share it with you. So here you go! One new audiobook (narrated by Joel Leslie), three novellas, and a novel. Caroled is a Bureau holiday story with Tenrael and Charles (and some Abe and Thomas too).


It’s been a long time since I blogged. But time seems to have lost all meaning this year anyway. Sigh. The day job has intruded greatly into my writing time, mostly because I’ve had to put all my classes online. Just getting a class set up takes about 150 hours of work.

Nevertheless, my writing hasn’t halted completely. I wanted to give you a quick preview of what to expect in the next several months.

The Solstice Kings, a holiday novella, releases October 6 and is available for preorder now. It’s a fairly quirky tale, but then maybe that doesn’t surprise you coming from me.

In November we’ll have book 7 in the Bureau series, Caroled. A holiday story! We get to revisit Charles Grimes and Tenrael for this one, which is set in San Francisco in 1942.

On December 29, Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love will release from Carina Press. This one is a light rom-com packed with some of my favorite tropes (Oh no! There’s only one bed!). It was a lot of fun to write. I don’t have the cover art yet, but you can preorder! It’ll be available in ebook, print, and audio editions.

Then in February I’ll be releasing a novella as part of the Magic Emporium series–a shared universe in which a bunch of authors each contribute a story in which the same magic shop makes an appearance. Mine is called The Muffin Man and is the result of a particularly bizarre plot bunny.

I also have some audiobooks on the way. ACX is really, really dragging its heels, which means I can’t give you even approximate release dates. However, The Bureau: Volume 2 should be out any day now, and Conned will be out in late autumn or early winter. Both are narrated by the amazing Joel Leslie.

See? I told you I’ve been busy! I hope you’ve been staying well despite these uncertain times.

The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth

The Stark Divide - J. Scott Coatsworth

J. Scott Coatsworth has a new queer sci fi book out book one in the Ariadne Cycle: “The Stark Divide.” This is a re-release.

Some stories are epic.

The Earth is in a state of collapse, with wars breaking out over resources and an environment pushed to the edge by human greed.

Three living generation ships have been built with a combination of genetic mastery, artificial intelligence, technology, and raw materials harvested from the asteroid belt. This is the story of one of them—43 Ariadne, or Forever, as her inhabitants call her—a living world that carries the remaining hopes of humanity, and the three generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers working to colonize her.

From her humble beginnings as a seedling saved from disaster to the start of her journey across the void of space toward a new home for the human race, The Stark Divide tells the tales of the world, the people who made her, and the few who will become something altogether beyond human.

Humankind has just taken its first step toward the stars.

Get It On Amazon


Scott is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card with this tour, and a signed paperback trilogy of the Oberon Cycle (Skythane, Lander and Ithani) – two winners! Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win.

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“Dressler, schematic,” Colin McAvery, ship’s captain and a third of the crew, called out to the ship-mind.

A three-dimensional image of the ship appeared above the smooth console. Her five living arms, reaching out from her central core, were lit with a golden glow, and the mechanical bits of instrumentation shone in red. In real life, she was almost two hundred meters from tip to tip.

Between those arms stretched her solar wings, a ghostly green film like the sails of the Flying Dutchman.

“You’re a pretty thing,” he said softly. He loved these ships, their delicate beauty as they floated through the starry void.

“Thank you, Captain.” The ship-mind sounded happy with the compliment—his imagination running wild. Minds didn’t have real emotions, though they sometimes approximated them.

He cross-checked the heading to be sure they remained on course to deliver their payload, the man-sized seed that was being dragged on a tether behind the ship. Humanity’s ticket to the stars at a time when life on Earth was getting rapidly worse.

All of space was spread out before him, seen through the clear expanse of plasform set into the ship’s living walls. His own face, trimmed blond hair, and deep brown eyes, stared back at him, superimposed over the vivid starscape.

At thirty, Colin was in the prime of his career. He was a starship captain, and yet sometimes he felt like little more than a bus driver. After this run… well, he’d have to see what other opportunities might be awaiting him. Maybe the doc was right, and this was the start of a whole new chapter for mankind. They might need a guy like him.

The walls of the bridge emitted a faint but healthy golden glow, providing light for his work at the curved mechanical console that filled half the room. He traced out the T-Line to their destination. “Dressler, we’re looking a little wobbly.” Colin frowned. Some irregularity in the course was common—the ship was constantly adjusting its trajectory—but she usually corrected it before he noticed.

“Affirmative, Captain.” The ship-mind’s miniature chosen likeness appeared above the touch board. She was all professional today, dressed in a standard AmSplor uniform, dark hair pulled back in a bun, and about a third life-sized.

The image was nothing more than a projection of the ship-mind, a fairy tale, but Colin appreciated the effort she took to humanize her appearance. Artificial mind or not, he always treated minds with respect.

“There’s a blockage in arm four. I’ve sent out a scout to correct it.”

The Dressler was well into slowdown now, her pre-arrival phase as she bled off her speed, and they expected to reach 43 Ariadne in another fifteen hours.

Pity no one had yet cracked the whole hyperspace thing. Colin chuckled. Asimov would be disappointed. “Dressler, show me Earth, please.”

A small blue dot appeared in the middle of his screen.

“Dressler, three dimensions, a bit larger, please.” The beautiful blue-green world spun before him in all its glory.

Appearances could be deceiving. Even with scrubbers working tirelessly night and day to clean the excess carbon dioxide from the air, the home world was still running dangerously warm.

He watched the image in front of him as the East Coast of the North American Union spun slowly into view. Florida was a sliver of its former self, and where New York City’s lights had once shone, there was now only blue. If it had been night, Fargo, the capital of the Northern States, would have outshone most of the other cities below. The floods that had wiped out many of the world’s coastal cities had also knocked down Earth’s population, which was only now reaching the levels it had seen in the early twenty-first century.

All those new souls had been born into a warm, arid world.

We did it to ourselves. Colin, who had known nothing besides the hot planet he called home, wondered what it had been like those many years before the Heat.


Anastasia Anatov leafed through her father, Dimitri’s, old paper journal. She liked to look through it once a day, to see his spidery handwriting and remember what he had been like. It was a bit old and dusty now, but it was one of her most cherished possessions.

She sighed and put it away in a storage nook in her lab.

She left the room and pulled herself gracefully along the runway, the central corridor of the ship, using the metal rungs embedded in the walls. She was much more comfortable in low or zero g than she was in Earth normal, where her tall, lanky form made her feel awkward around others. She was a loner at heart, and the emptiness of space appealed to her.

Her father had designed the Mission-class ships. It was something she rarely spoke of, but she was intensely proud of him. These ships were still imperfect, the combination of a hellishly complicated genetic code and after-the-fact fittings of mechanical parts, like the rungs she used now to move through the weightless environment.

Ana wondered if it hurt when someone drilled into the living tissue to install the mechanics, living quarters, and observation blisters that made the ship habitable. Her father had always maintained that the ship-minds felt no pain.

She wasn’t so sure. Men were often dismissive of the things they didn’t understand.

Either way, she was stuck on the small ship for the duration with two men, neither of whom were interested in her. The captain was gay, and Jackson was married.

Too bad the ship roster hadn’t included another woman or two.

She placed her hand on a hardened sensor callus next to the door valve and the ship obliged, recognizing her. The door spiraled open to show the viewport beyond.

She pulled herself into the room and floated before the wide expanse of transparent plasform, staring out at the seed being hauled behind them.

Nothing else mattered. Whatever she had to do to get this project launched, she would do it. She’d already made some morally questionable choices along the way—including looking the other way when a bundle of cash had changed hands at the Institute.

She was so close now, and she couldn’t let anything get in the way.

Earth was a lost cause. It was only a matter of time before the world imploded. Only the seeds could give mankind a fighting chance to go on.

From the viewport, there was little to see. The seed was a two-meter-long brown ovoid, made of a hard, dark organic material, scarred and pitted by the continual abrasion of the dust that escaped the great sails. So cold out there, but the seed was dormant, unfeeling.

The cold would keep it that way until the time came for its seedling stage.

She’d created three of the seeds with her funding. This one, bound for the asteroid 43 Ariadne, was the first. It was the next step in evolution beyond the Dressler and carried with it the hopes of all humankind.

It also represented ten years of her life and work.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re ready for the next step.


The crew’s third and final member, Jackson Hammond, hung upside down in the ship’s hold, grunting as he refit one of the feed pipes that carried the ship’s electronics through the bowels of this weird animal-mechanical hybrid. Although “up” and “down” were slight on a ship where the centrifugal force created a “gravity” only a fraction of what it was on Earth.

As the ship’s engineer, Jackson was responsible for keeping the mechanics functioning—a challenge in a living organism like the Dressler.

With cold, hard metal, one dealt with the occasional metal fatigue, poor workmanship, and at times just ass-backward reality. But the parts didn’t regularly grow or shrink, and it wasn’t always necessary to rejigger the ones that had fit perfectly just the day before. Even after ten years in these things, he still found it a little creepy to be riding inside the belly of the beast. It was too Jonah and the Whale for his taste.

Jackson rubbed the sweat away from his eyes with the back of his arm. As he shaved down the end of a pipe to make it fit more snugly against the small orifice in the ship’s wall, he touched the little silver cross that hung around his neck. It had been a present from his priest, Father Vincenzo, at his son Aaron’s First Communion in the Reformed Catholic Evangelical Church.

The boy was seven years old now, with a shock of red hair and green eyes like his dad, and his mother’s beautiful skin. He’d spent months preparing for his Communion Day, and Jackson remembered fondly the moment when his son had taken the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time, surprise registering on his little face at the strange taste of the wine.

Aaron’s Communion Day had been a high point for Jackson, just a week before his current mission. He was so proud of his two boys. Miss you guys. I’ll be home soon.

Lately he hadn’t been sleeping well, his dreams filled with a dark-haired, blue-eyed vixen. He was happily married. He shouldn’t be having such dreams.

Jackson shook his head. Being locked up in a tin can in space did strange things to a person sometimes. I should be home with Glory and the boys.

One way or another, this mission would be his last.

He’d been recruited as a teen.


At thirteen, Jackson had learned the basics of engineering doing black-tech work for the gangs that ran what was left of the Big Apple after the Rise—a warren of interconnected skyrises, linked mostly by boats and ropes and makeshift bridges.

Everything north of Twenty-Third was controlled by the Hex, a black-tech co-op that specialized in bootlegged dreamcasts, including modified versions that catered to some of the more questionable tastes of the North American States. South of Twenty-Third belonged to the Red Badge, a lawless group of technophiles involved in domestic espionage and wetware arts.

Jackson had grown up in the drowned city, abandoned by his mother and forced to rely on his own intelligence and instincts to survive in a rapidly changing world.

He’d found his way to the Red Badge and discovered a talent for ecosystem work, taking over and soon expanding one of the rooftop farms that supplied the drowned city with a subsistence diet. An illegal wetware upgrade let him tap directly into the systems he worked on, seeing the circuits and pathways in his head.

He increased the Badge’s food production fivefold and branched out beyond the nearly tasteless molds and edible fungi that thrived in the warm, humid environment.

It was on one of his rooftop “gardens” that his life had changed one warm summer evening.

He was underneath one of the condenser units that pulled water from the air for irrigation. All of eighteen years old, he was responsible for the food production for the entire Red Badge.

He’d run through the unit’s diagnostics app to no avail. Damned piece of shit couldn’t find a thing wrong.

In the end, it had come down to something purely physical—tightening down a pipe bolt where the condenser interfaced with the irrigation system.

Satisfied with the work, he stood, wiping the sweat off his bare chest, and glared into the setting sun out over the East River. It was more an inland sea now, but the old names still stuck.

There was a faint whirring behind him, and he spun around. A bug drone hovered about a foot away, glistening in the sun. He stared at it for a moment, then reached out to swat it down. Probably from the Hex.

It evaded his grasp, and he felt a sharp pain in his neck.

He went limp, and everything turned black as he tumbled into one of his garden beds.

He awoke in Fargo, recruited by AmSplor to serve in the space agency’s Frontier Station, his life changed irrevocably.


A strange sensation brought him back to the present.

His right hand was wet. Startled, he looked down. It was covered with blood.

Dressler, we have a problem, he said through his private affinity-link with the ship-mind.”

Author Bio

J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.

He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

A Rainbow Award winning and runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, Liminal Fiction, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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