Treason

Everything was at stake.

The voice on the phone spoke with a Russian accent. The man from the hotel listened.

“I can help you,” the voice said. “I can make all your problems go away. But I need you to do something for me.”

“What’s that? I’ll do anything.”

“I need you to carry out… a particular task. We will tell you what to do when the time comes.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

There was a pause.

“I am in touch with Vlad,” is all the Russian voice said.

There was another pause.

“Will you do this for us?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know.”

“There is a lot at stake. We can help you. We can make it all go away. But you need to do what we say.”

“All right. All right, I’ll do it.”

A smile.

“Good, good. Now, just so you know, what we ask, it is not so good for the United States. Good for you, yes, but not so good for America. Are you still going to do what we tell you?”

A pause.

“Well? Yes or no.”

“I’ll have to call you back.”

Some time later, there was a return call.

“Yes. Yes, I’ll do it.”

“We will be in touch.”

I smiled grimly. I didn’t know why the man in the hotel had me on the line- perhaps because he thought I could help him, as I have helped so many others. I closed my eyes.

Evelyn knocked on the door. At the time, I did not recognize her. She spoke to me and I could feel my memories slipping away, as they always did after she manipulated me.

I may not be able to recount exactly what passed between the man in the hotel and I. My memory is terrible and has been manipulated extensively.

However, there are tapes. There are tapes of all of it, tapes of this and all the other conversations. It is only a matter of time before they are released. There is also another witness, who will be revealed in due time.

Tick, tock.

The Smartest Woman in the World

“You think you’re smart? I’m smarter than you. I own you.”

I looked at the cell phone in my hand. Who was this? For years I had endured strange calls. The ones from this voice were abusive. I was told I was making a lot of money for someone, that I was stupid, that my ideas were worthless, that they owned me, that I was their slave.

At the time, this was almost true.

I also shared phone calls with persons unknown about projects they were working on. Books, films, TV shows, personal problems that the anonymous people I could never identify wanted help with. I never heard back from any of them and I was never paid for any of the advice I gave- rather, I was never paid. I am sure that the anonymous abuser of mine, the woman I later identified as Evelyn, and her co-conspirators profited handsomely. I continued working quietly as a scientist, making very little in my academic job, wondering who was calling.

I was stalked, I was harassed and asked for my opinion of celebrities I was not familiar with, I was threatened, and I noticed problems with my paper mail, my voicemails, my emails, my social media messages, even my ability to access certain websites on the internet. I literally could not see some billboards or posters, or news articles. I literally could not hear some voices. I was being manipulated and abused in so many ways, and stolen from, mind-raped with brutal and abusive stage hypnosis, completely. This, after years of half-remembered actual rapes which stopped once I showed enough physical strength to defend myself, and enough presence of mind to be able to report some attacks. To this day I am not 100% certain all of them occurred, though I do know that I have endured real rapes which have given me traumatic nightmares, and I have figured out that some or all of these were arranged by Evelyn. She sold me to the man in the hotel in Vancouver, she sold me to random strangers invading my home, she manipulated my mind and what information I received so I never could identify her, and she stole, or tried to steal, almost everything I owned which had any value to me.

It has taken me about three years to finally remember her, to put her name to the face from my memories, to figure out how she manipulated, not just me, but her famous TV husband and everyone around us. And that was only because I became curious about his career, looked up his body of work, looked up his image- and there she was, next to him. I remembered her Tasering me. I remember her holding a brick and walking down some stairs after a man who said he wanted to help me, and I remember seeing that man in a pool of blood, face down, and asking passersby to call police (I had no cell phone then). I remembered her confessing to crimes, knowing I would not be able to remember, because that’s how I had been programmed. I remembered her coming up to me in public and asking me to pose for photos with her, which later became “evidence” of a friendly relationship.

Her stage hypnosis tricks were effective on me and I had no way to tell who she was, so much of the time, which allowed her to gain access to my keys, my homes, my workplaces, my computers, my phones, my mail… my entire life. She destroyed so many relationships of mine by pretending to be other people.

I see it now, I see her greatest work, which has been the attempted ruin of my life. I see her attempt to humiliate me by forcing me to talk about subjects I was unfamiliar with (TV, film, acting) with experts in the field, and to market me as “The Smartest Woman In The World”. It was her initial hope that people would seek me out and she could prove how ignorant I was of the profession she marketed me as an “expert” in. When I proved to actually have useful advice, she claimed credit, stole money or influence that should have been mine, and abused me.

I stopped responding to the anonymous calls and threats. I tried to warn people who called me that I was being abused and that the woman who had set me up for it was not to be trusted. Too often, I would hear her talk to me and then lie, skewing what I said, and years later I would see projects come out and flop, and I knew that if my actual advice had been followed, they would have had a better chance. I do not know if anyone heard me, any of the times I attempted warning.

I don’t know what happened to this image, this puppet, “The Smartest Woman In The World”, but I want you to know that I am the woman who used to be asleep- answering the phone, speaking, but asleep- behind her.

I am awake now.

The man from the hotel phoned me up more recently and asked to speak to “The Woman”. I reminded him about Vancouver, the attack I endured there when Evelyn trafficked me. He said I was “a very passionate young lady.” I did not need to know who he was to know he was a terrible man.

I see him. And I see you now, too, Evelyn.

Tick, tock.

Sneak peek at Anagama

Dear readers, I’m 99% of the way finished with Anagama– just one last pass, and then I can feel secure in it, and start the process of finding an agent to represent it. I have thought about self-publishing and if finding an agent proves to be impossible, I’ll go that route. I already have a few short stories on Smashwords (here, at bottom of page), some of which I am very fond of, that are self-published, as well as a novel (here). The main reason I don’t want to go this route again is that I am not fond of marketing my work and no one will see it unless I do, or unless I hand that off to someone else (the publisher, for the most part, though I know if I do get a contract I will have to promote my book as best as I can).

Here is a sneak peek at the first chapter. If you like it, send me a note at cloaked.diamond@gmail.com.

Chapter One

She ducked out of her lab for a moment to take a sip of coffee from her travel mug, since food and drink were forbidden inside the lab. In order to do this she had to first take off her protective gloves, safety glasses, mask, and lab coat. Under all the protective gear she was just another middle-aged woman, long dark hair streaked with silver and twisted up into a bun, slightly overweight and soft from spending long hours sitting in front of a computer or laminar flow hood.

Two armed, helmeted figures in black security gear rounded a corner at the end of the hall, one on each end of a white stretcher. A slender figure lay trussed up on the stretcher, barely conscious, moaning. She noticed blood on his—his? It was difficult to tell, but the lines of his ashen face she thought the figure might be male—temple, under short dark hair, more blood coming from the neck. The towels put on his neck to stop the bleeding were soaked in blood.  The rest of him was hidden under cords and a pale blue sheet.  From his bare shoulders, she surmised he was naked—perhaps stolen from bed.

The stretcher moved past and Beatrice, standing in the hall with her coffee, pretended not to be interested in the figure on the stretcher.

She closed her eyes and pushed.

Are you there? She asked, silently, listening intently as the guards and the figure moved down the hall. Can you hear me? Think your name.

I’m cold, was all she heard, indistinctly; she took a sip of coffee, and then—

LET ME GO LET ME GO LET ME GO

Beatrice started and nearly dropped her coffee; she slammed her mental gates shut just as a loud, screeching wail emanated from down the hall, in the direction the guards had taken.

“LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET—”

There was a crash, sounds of a scuffle, wordless cries, and finally, a thud.

Beatrice set her coffee down on the small table by the lab door that was situated there just for that purpose. Her hands shook slightly.

“Beatrice!”

She turned, saw her supervisor. He wore suit pants, a pressed shirt, a black and white tie which, when examined closely, was a repeating tiled pattern of the Zurvan Corporation’s black octopus logo. Beatrice had looked closely at it hundreds of times.

“How’s the run doing? Specimen 5-15?”

Beatrice blinked.

“The run will be ready in one hour,” she lied. The run would be ready in fifteen minutes. However, her customized script which she had set to alter the run statistics would take forty-five minutes. “I can send you statistics after that.”

“Good, good,” Phil Knight said, stuffing his hands into his pockets and jingling some change. He looked toward a wall.

That one may be particularly valuable, she heard him think.

“I don’t need to tell you that the more mutants we uncover, the better it is for Zurvan, and for the stability of your job?”

Beatrice smiled back at him. “The run says what the run says. I don’t alter the data,” she lied, and thought back to the boy they called Specimen 5-15.

She remembered drawing blood specimens from him. His eyes had been bloodshot and he had been able to hear her.  Luckily, he had not given this away.

Where am I? he had asked. Where is my family? What do they want with me?

She had collected his blood into a vial and put a cotton ball on the wound, then a bandage.

They don’t think you’re human, she told him, and his eyes had widened.

Shhh, she said. Don’t react. I will make sure the data shows you are human. They will give you back to your family. But move, after—make sure you move, and make sure no one knows you can heal so quickly. Try to keep it a secret. 

He had simply looked at her. Why are there people locked up here? What did we do?

You didn’t do anything, she said, taking an inordinate amount of time to write the boy’s specimen number on her labels. It’s your DNA. They think you have DNA different enough to make you not-human.

The boy started to cry. Beatrice put down her blood sample vials, reached instinctively toward him to give comfort.

The black barrel of a tranquilizer gun appeared between them.

“What are you doing, Dr. Holloway?” The guard’s voice was female. She still wore her helmet here, inside this room they had caged the boy in, as was regulation.  “You know the rules.”

Beatrice smoothed over a scowl and an angry reply, and instead reached for a box of tissues from her medical kit, handed one to the boy. He took it, did not look at her.

I will make sure they let you go, she said. I promise.

My stomach hurts, the boy said. I’m hungry.

I will make sure they feed you, she said.

“How long has it been since he’s been fed?” she asked.

The guard shrugged.

“He’s young, make sure he gets enough food and rest,” she said. “After all, we don’t know that he isn’t human yet. We could have a lawsuit on our hands. Bad publicity.”

The guard shrugged again. Both of them knew no one who wound up in these cells came from financial wealth able to take on Zurvan Corporation.

The captive boy, sitting on his thinly padded cot, seemed to shrink in on himself, and Beatrice felt him withdraw. 

She bit her lip, then collected her things, and stood, blood sample vial in hand.

“Feed him,” she said, trying to not seem very interested in whether they did or not, and hoped for the best.

She would spend the next few hours preparing the blood sample for sequencing and running it through the sequencer, and the data through her custom scripts—scripts she had quietly set in advance to make the percentage similarity of the boy’s DNA to standard human DNA rise above the cherished 99.5% cutoff. She could do this for the normal-looking mutants they brought in without raising too much suspicion.

Coming back to herself in the hallway, she watched her supervisor’s smooth, handsome face, listened without moving a muscle.

“You’re always in the lab, Bea,” he said, jovially. “Maybe we should hire you an assistant.”

God, woman, you look like shit.

Beatrice smiled.  She hated being called Bea.

“It’s just that I love my job,” she replied. “The workload is not that much. I’d prefer to be the one doing this work, and I like to work alone.”

Suit yourself.

“That’s the spirit,” Knight said. He clapped her on the shoulder.

Does the work of three people, for one salary. Cost too much to replace her, she heard him say to himself. What a chump.

“Keep up the good work,” he said, tossing the words over his shoulder as he sauntered down the hall, no doubt to look at Zurvan’s latest acquisition.

Beatrice ducked her head so the cameras couldn’t see her expression, then ducked back into her laboratory, pulled on her protective gear. It was as much there to protect her equipment and reagents from her own DNA as it was to protect her from harm.

Beatrice thought of her own DNA. Her DNA that was only 99.2% similar to human normal—DNA which, if she hadn’t altered her own sequence data files, would peg her as nonhuman, with the same lack of rights as the poor souls kidnapped and locked up by Zurvan, just down the hall.

She checked that the sequencer was running, checked that her software was encrypting the raw data files as each was written. She checked that the files being uploaded to company cloud storage were the faked ones which would give Specimen 5-15 freedom again. Beatrice hated that she hadn’t asked him his name.  She checked that her own private cache of files on Zurvan was there, and that her scripts were adding to this pile as they were supposed to, without interference.  Every other day she synced this cache with the one on a data cube she kept on her person. Someday, she hoped, the files would be useful in bringing Zurvan to its knees.

Beyond the heavy door to her laboratory, she thought she heard someone screaming again.

Beatrice walked over to the lab computer, set it to play soothing jazz music. She started tidying up her lab bench, moving boxes of pipet tips to one side, closing boxes of microcentrifuge tubes, wiping down the bench surface with 70% ethanol to clean it. She knew it was only a matter of time before blood from this new acquisition wound up on her lab bench—and she would be ready for it, she would be waiting. It meant another evening spent in the laboratory instead of at home, but she didn’t mind.

What was waiting for her at home, anyway? An empty apartment, seeming to echo with the ticking of the grandfather clock she had inherited from her parents; the small comforts of a glass of wine and a book with dinner. But no other living soul, no pets, not even a potted plant. She needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She lived with a packed bag ready to go in her closet, her account information carried with her on data cubes she kept concealed in a keyring, she had her personal cloud storage encrypted.

Her lab computer pinged. She walked over to it.

The new one’s retroviral, the screen read. Give me the run reports on 5-15 tomorrow morning. If the new one makes it through the night, you might have to get ready to sequence once the infection clears. It’s already showing signs of great strength and altered musculature—I think we have a winner here!

Beatrice pursed her lips. There was no way she could save him if he were undergoing genetic change after a retroviral infection. Even if he had been human prior to the infection, afterward he was almost guaranteed, with the bad viruses, to have experienced enough mutation to make him either nonhuman-looking or dead. Or both.

She thought of walking down to Specimen 5-15’s cell and trying to speak to him one more time, but expressing too much interest in the acquisitions would bring too much attention to herself, and might lead to the uncovering of her work. Best to leave him be, and hope someone had fed him, at least.

As for the new specimen, Beatrice felt with a sinking heart that he was doomed—most retroviral infections led to abnormalities that were fatal. It would be fine for Zurvan—they could learn things from the genes that could lead to medical breakthroughs and new therapies—but not so fine for the poor man they had picked up somewhere.

As she stripped off her protective gear on her way out of the lab, she silently pushed toward Specimen 5-15 and the new man they had just brought in, so new he did not yet have a specimen label.

Please be at peace, she thought, pushing out as hard as she could.

Nothing in response.

Beatrice made her way to her locker, collected her coat and purse, made her way out the staff entrance side door. Every doorway she passed through required her to swipe her keycard, white with the black Zurvan logo on it. Every doorway she passed through, getting closer to the outside world, felt like the lifting of a noose from around her neck. She finally drove her small electric car away from the Zurvan parking lot, finally was out of reach of the cameras for good. Her keyring, nestled in her jeans pocket, pressed into her thigh. It was innocuous, featuring cartoon characters popular in the 2000s (a white dog carrying a martini glass, a baby with a football-shaped head).

She drove silently. The news story on the radio was about the Humane Treatment Party, a fringe element with no resources and the best of intentions. They wanted to change the global legislation that made it legal for Zurvan to kidnap and incarcerate humanoids with a less than 99.5% genomic DNA match to human normal, basing this on legislation commonly found on some the outlying planetary colonies. Beatrice actually agreed with them, but did not do a thing to support them in her personal life because she knew if this were discovered, she would be investigated.

Halfway home, she stopped at a red light. She exhaled. The news was now about stock prices. Zurvan stock was up thanks to its invention of a genetic therapy for treating Parkinson’s.  Beatrice remembered hearing gossip about this in the cafeteria—the gene therapy idea had been sparked by a mutation found in a retroviral victim. Someone had died, incarcerated, and Zurvan had turned this into profit.

“Fuckers,” she spat. Then she grinned, toothily.

“One day you will slip up, and I will get you. Fuckers.”

The light turned green, and, smoothing her expression, Beatrice continued her drive home.

A little Tek Jansen fan fiction

I discovered Tek Jansen in 2018. I was sad that the entire novel Stephen Colbert had been working on was not posted on the Tek Jansen website, but maybe someday he will publish it. I did buy and read the graphic novel, and so most of the information I gleaned about this character came from either the novel segments I came across, or the graphic novel. I had an issue with how Tek treated his robotic chimp sidekick C.A.S.E.Y., so I addressed that in this story, and I basically made up the rest. Clarisse Diamond is the name of a protagonist of a novel-in-progress I have set aside for the moment, but plan to get back to.

I actually am fairly certain I met Stephen at some point in my past, but it’s really quite impossible for me to contact him to ask. I did send this little story to his work address, hoping someone would read it and show it to him. In my past, if I saw him I never recognized him, and have no selfies to prove this was the case, so it’s still a matter of debate for whether I saw him or merely someone that looked like him. In any case, I recall talking to someone that looked like him on my doorstep in California, a long time ago, and I recall us talking about Jabberwocky. I added that tidbit in, too.

I hope you enjoy this little foray into fan fiction.

Spy Vs. Spy: A Tek Jansen Adventure

It was a sunny morning on the planet Califzona, and Clarisse Diamond angled her telephoto lens toward the hotel that the galaxy’s greatest hero, Tek Jansen, was currently asleep in. She aimed the lens toward the window of the penthouse suite. Her contact was in the window, a willowy green creature with leafy hair, photosynthesizing. She was not holding a cup of fertilizer. This was the signal- if Tek Jansen was with her, she would appear alone in the window, nothing in her hands.

Clarisse packed her equipment back in her tactical backpack and made her way down the rough scree of the slope she had been perched on. Only one thing to do. She had to use Tek Jansen’s notorious libido against him, gain his trust, and ferret out the secrets she needed to save her doomed home world from destruction. Tek’s government had set up robotic fracking sites on 90% of the small moon Ontington’s surface, sucking up its mineral wealth but destroying Ontington’s ecosystems and fragile tectonic crusts in the process- the only way to stop the machines was to gain access to codes that only Tek knew.

Could she rely on Tek’s better nature? Clarisse considered this as she made her way down to the doors of the Hotel Elegante, where Tek Jansen was staying. She didn’t know. She couldn’t take the chance.

The Hotel Elegante was hosting a pet show. Clarisse would find him and seduce him there.

She was booked into a room one floor below Tek’s suite, and carried her tactical backpack with its quantum-dimensional interior pockets, one of which contained a selection of evening gowns. The backpack was pretty heavy as a result, even though it only appeared to be a cubic foot in size. She placed it on the bed and the bed sagged somewhat.

Clarisse was about to take a shower when there was a knock on the door. She eyeballed the door with suspicion. Her contact was supposed to find Tek and then let her know what room he was in- she was supposed to leave after that. Who could this be? A maid?

Clarisse belted her hotel robe around her more tightly and answered the door.

“It’s this one, just go right in,” grated a gravelly voice. Clarisse blinked. At her door was a tall, muscular figure, fully dressed in a tight Spandex uniform complete with cape and epaulets, his dark hair curling down slightly over his forehead. Tek Jansen held up a glass container in which an ugly dark substance swirled.

“It’s right here,” said the substance.

“Meangar, I don’t think that this is the spa,” replied Tek.

“It’s not,” said Clarisse, slightly breathlessly. Tek, in person, was almost overwhelming.

Get the codes, girl, she told herself, sternly. She had a mission, the entire population of her native moon was depending on her.

“Sorry to have bothered you,” said Tek, and was about to turn away when Clarisse touched his arm.

“No, it’s fine. Is this your pet?” She gestured toward the swirling blackness in the glass jar.

“You’re an ugly loser and you’ll die alone,” grated the blackness.

“Isn’t it cute? This is Meangar,” replied Tek, patting the jar fondly.

“It’s something,” replied Clarisse.

“Say, haven’t we met before?” Tek squinted at her.

Clarisse blinked. Had they met before?

Remember the mission, she thought, looking at Tek’s kind dark eyes.

“Can I buy you a drink?” she blurted, all her seduction lessons, which she had uploaded via neural hyperlink on the trip to Califzona, forgotten.

Meangar said an expletive. Tek chuckled and tucked it under one arm.

“Where are you from?” asked Tek.

“I’m from… all over,” Clarisse replied. She started to play with her shoulder-length black hair. He really was quite handsome.

“I’m Tek,” he said, and Clarisse smiled at him. He held out his hand and Clarisse took it to shake it, and he brushed a kiss across her knuckles.

“I’m Clarisse,” she replied. She was acutely aware of having just finished a hike outside in the hot sun with a heavy pack on her back.

“I’ll buy you that drink,” Tek said.

“I’ll kill you first,” Meangar snarled.

Clarisse looked at Tek.

“You get used to it,” Tek said, patting the jar.

“I’ll meet you down in the lobby at seven?” Clarisse replied. Her heart was pounding. Normally she was a lot more composed about her assignments, but this was… this was Tek Jansen.

She found herself grinning stupidly.

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,” she said.

Tek frowned.

“Jabberwocky?” he said.

“Jabberwocky,” she replied. “There are Jabberwocks on my home world.” A stray curl of hair escaped from his forehead and she smoothed it back.

He smiled.

“You both smell like Limburger!” yelled Meangar.

“I’ll enter it in the pet contest before we meet,” said Tek, patting the jar, and Clarisse smiled, suddenly shy.

“Seven, in the lobby,” she replied, and Tek smiled down at her. She blushed.

“I’ll see you then,” he said, and turned away, walking down the hotel hall corridor as Meangar started screaming about kidneys and piñatas.

That evening, Clarisse patted her carefully coiffed hair (in which a number of recording devices and weapons were placed), and wriggled her toes in her specialty pumps (which had a vial of sleeping potion located in the heel, and when activated, could eject four-inch steel spikes from the toe). She had let the charms of the dashing Tek Jansen get to her head before, but now she would be all business. It was time for her to get those codes.

She made her way, slinking as seductively as she could, to the bar in the hotel lobby, and looked around for Tek.

He hadn’t arrived yet. In the distance, she heard Meangar screaming something about its eternal revenge and how much it hoped to kill everyone in earshot someday. Ah, apparently it was being entered into the pet contest.

She walked up to the bar and seated herself at one end. Behind the bar, a glowing green metallic chimp shook a cocktail shaker.

“Hi,” it said. “What can I get for you?”

“Hi,” replied Clarisse. “I’m waiting for a friend.”

“It wouldn’t happen to be Tek Jansen, would it?”

Clarisse started. Was she that transparent?

Behind the bar, the robotic chimp took out a cloth and started polishing the counter.

“Well… well, yes. I was hoping to talk to Mr. Jansen.”

The chimp straightened his little black bow tie.

“I know him,” he said. “Before I got this job, I worked with him on his spacecraft. I was loyal. He was not.”

Clarisse hesitated. “Oh?” she replied.

“He left me in a space void, circling a black hole,” said the robotic chimp. “I’m C.A.S.E.Y.”

Clarisse switched on her recording devices. Maybe she could use this story to blackmail Tek into giving her the codes to stop the machinery on her home world.

For the next fifteen minutes, C.A.S.E.Y. told her a story of sadness- of a robotic chimp unappreciated and abandoned, and Clarisse felt her heart hardening against the charming and handsome Tek Jansen. How could he abandon his loyal robotic friend? How many scrapes had they been in together, how many times had C.A.S.E.Y helped Tek, only to be left in a cold void in space, awaiting rescue, which came quite a long time after Tek had left promising to be back soon?

“He doesn’t know I’m here,” said C.A.S.E.Y. “I plan on confronting him once and for all, here in this bar.”

Clarisse patted the robotic chimp’s arm.

“I had no idea he was so cruel,” she said. “This puts him in a whole new light for me.”

C.A.S.E.Y. looked over at her, dispassionately.

“Everyone loves him,” he said. “You will too, no doubt, once he’s here.”

“Clarisse?” said a familiar baritone. Clarisse turned and saw Tek.

He had changed into his dress uniform and looked even more handsome than she had remembered him. His brown eyes crinkled behind his glasses as he smiled at her. She swallowed.

“Hello,” she said, and remembered C.A.S.E.Y. Her expression hardened.

“Remember this robot?” she asked, gesturing at the chimp.

Tek looked and an expression of delighted surprise swept across his chiseled features.

“C.A.S.E.Y.! I thought I had lost you forever in that space void. Meangar told me you had gotten a ride with the rest of Alpha Squad Seven, and it wasn’t until I had gotten it drunk on chlorofugue gas fumes that it confessed to me that it had lied about you. Are you okay?”

Clarisse and C.A.S.E.Y. both froze for a second, then the chimp broke down, sobbing.

“I thought you had abandoned me!”

“Abandon you? You are one of my most loyal followers! What would I do without you? I have missed you since I lost you,” said Tek. He reached across the bar and patted C.A.S.E.Y.’s glowing green shoulders.

Clarisse bit her lip. She couldn’t really blackmail Tek for something that had been the fault of his obnoxious little pet.

She waited until the robot stopped crying and then cleared her throat. Her seduction lessons were coming back.

“So,” she said, putting a hand on Tek’s arm, “tell me about yourself, Tek.”

She led him over to a small secluded table. Over the next few hours, she practiced dumping space champagne in the mouth of a Califzonian pitcher plant instead of drinking it, while Tek drank most of two bottles, supplied by a grateful C.A.S.E.Y. on the house. She had to start taking sips once the pitcher plant had started to hiccup.

He was an entertaining speaker and even when somewhat inebriated, he was charming and graceful. One sip of the heady space champagne after another, and Clarisse found herself telling him about her childhood on Ontington, and the Jabberwocks, and finally, the widespread scourge of the fracking machines.

“If only there were some way to stop them,” she said, tearfully, touching his muscular arm.

Tek leaned in toward her.

“Stick with me, baby doll,” he said. “If it would stop you from crying I’d shut each one down myself.”

Clarisse looked over at him. Her large eyes were shining.

“Really? You’d help me? But- but your government-”

Tek flashed a huge and perfect grin.

“They don’t tell me what to do,” he said. “C’mon. Let’s grab C.A.S.E.Y and get into my NinjaBlaster 9000 scout ship, and save those Jabberwocks.”

Clarisse knew there would be complications. It couldn’t quite be this simple, could it?

“If you gave me the codes to shut down the equipment, I could relay them to the Ontingonian secret service and we could just stay here,” she said.

Tek reached up and smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Where’s the fun in that?” he said, and kissed her.