Lilian Zenzi has a new queer sci-fi romance out (nonbinary/pan/queer/gender-fluid): Spark & Tether.
Working odd jobs across the Outer Ring gets a little lonely sometimes—not everyone loves having a synchronist with supraliminal perception around. But all Sacheri wants, he tells himself, is to wander the stars.
Then he takes a salvage run to an abandoned moon where he meets the wry, reserved, strictly-by-the-rules archivist Jin. Mesmerized by their confidence and charm, Sacheri can’t resist showing off his abilities–and instead of the damaged ai he was tracking, he stumbles onto a signal left by a synchronist who went missing decades earlier.
Sacheri knows from previous experience that pursuing the truth—never mind justice—could destroy everything he loves. He would defy his employers, the institution responsible for the myconeural networks that make him a synchronist, and the leadership of several worlds.
And it would complicate his new, passionate, and impossibly sweet relationship with Jin. They might be the best thing that’s ever happened to him, but they work for the very entities that ended Sacheri’s last investigation.
He knows better than to risk it.
But he’s never been able to turn away from someone in need, and there’s a voice in the void calling for aid…
Sacheri woke with a shiver in his nerves tracing his limbs like a lit fuse.
His synplants drew his awareness out into the station, into the whisper of leaves and the low hum of the machines, endlessly seeking. He had no solace to offer them, so he tried to sleep through it. Maybe inebriant would douse the burn; he’d have to find one, which meant leaving bed… but then, a walk might also help. The drink could keep him company on the return.
There was a certain maudlin poetry to wandering with the ghosts of memory, anyway.
He regretted his choices before he could finish the first bottle.
The empty corridors echoed, even the ones with lush vine-planted walls, fully surrounded by sound-absorbent tiling. The unsteady sound of his steps reminded him of less lonely times; the chatter of more populated halls made him sad. His synplants cleansed the inebriant from his system faster than he could drink, so he diminished them, set a timer on his standard implant, and ducked into a maintenance corridor, heading for the lifts that would return him to his temp residence.
He’d forgotten how many ghosts were in his head.
He drank more.
He passed through too many familiar places, muttering curses to himself about the council for bringing him to Orinus Station in the first place. He should have departed with Paradis, gone away to her fancy little moon, where he could wallow in heartbreak on a lakeside beach while she teased him about his lack of ambition. She’d have been careful not to remind him of anything—anyone—else.
Three more nights until he left for Elysia, into the far reaches of the Outer Rings, away from the myriad reminders, the constant calling of what should have been, all of his aching regrets.
He avoided the halls that would have taken him past Paradis’s private suites and the memories lying in wait for him there, and then he wandered past the next set of lifts, because it was what he and Jin had always done: long walks and quiet talks, so close their shoulders touched, their bell-clear, mesmerizing voice low and loving. He tried not to think about how much he missed them, and, failing that, tried not to think at all.
He trudged along, hugging the shadows at the edges of the walkways, arms heavy at his sides, until it was late enough that he could reasonably hope to get a lift to himself, and he had some hope of sleeping. The only humans he’d passed in maintenance took no notice of him, which was the whole point of using the back ways. But they might make small talk if they found him alone in a lift car, or, stars forbid, they might ask if he was okay.
And then what was he supposed to do? Cry on them? Tell them to mind their own business? Explain how he helped bring something like justice to a few long-forgotten synchronists and how much it took from him? Or should he ask if they’d seen a certain lithe, black-haired investigator for the Council of the Outer Rings anywhere nearby? His eyes burned from both the inebriant and the exhaustion and the constant threat of tears. He wanted to sleep until the transport to Elysia was ready.
The bottle was empty, but he wasn’t ready to let it go; he thought he might sleep better with it nearby, just for company, even if the synplants wiped all traces of the inebriant from his system. He leaned against the rounded corner of the lift alcove, one heel against the wall to hold him steady, arms crossed over his chest, bottle dangling loosely from the fingers of his right hand.
His luck almost held.
Lilian Zenzi writes science fiction and fantasy, sometimes with romance and usually in queer normative worlds. Genre agnostic as a writer and a reader, she likes to keep space for comfort, hope, and joy along with the kissing, conflict, and big ideas. She resents having to write a bio and would rather be in the garden or making art.
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