Midnight Pub

Excerpt from the draft of *When You Don't See Me*

~starbreaker

This is something I bashed out last night. There's some violence, some of it sexualized, so reader discretion is advised. ---

Naomi Bradleigh's Journal, 14 February 2111

I've never experienced the freefall infatuation that society and centuries of culture had led me to expect of falling in love. The development of my regard was perceptible only in hindsight. Rather than having my defenses shattered with a single kiss the slow accretion of fleeting moments, trivial courtesies, little kindnesses, and tentative, accidental touches gently eroded the studied indifference with which I approached my subject out of necessity, for how could I justify loving a man when duty might demand his death by my hand? It's hard not to feel cheated; it seems Morgan got to fall in love with me twice as a boy and then a man, but did I ever get to fall in love with him? I think not. In me love grew, but what if I only think he fell twice for me because I could not see how his love for me grew in him? I only know what he tells me, and we've dared tell each other so little. It figures that I might finally realize all of this while in bed with Christopher Renfield. He slept on his side, content to let me be the big spoon and mold myself to him. It had been something I had enjoyed often in the decade or so since we met in Clarion as amiable enemies. He had been a holdout from Nationfall with the rest of his special forces squad, reluctant guardians of Project Harker, a program of military scientific experiments that had made artificial vampires of them. He was still beautiful; a little shorter than me, but with a slim, muscular physique, oceanic eyes, and honey-gold hair that became an unruly mop once he abandoned his crew cut and fatigues for civilian fashion. We did not meet often, only a few times a year, but whenever our paths crossed he made a point of inviting me to dinner or out for drinks. It was pleasant to talk with a friend who wasn't part of the Phoenix Society, but still understood what I did when not performing. And if neither of us was involved with somebody else, we ended up in bed togeter more often than not. It was mostly just friendly, casual bedplay—not quite lovemaking, but not devoid of affection either. We had been good for each other tonight, but while he had eventually drifted off to sleep as I held him, I was not so fortunate. Though I had been content with our arrangement, I found myself wanting more than a friendship with benefits, and it was not with Christopher that I craved this more intimate arrangement. It was probably best to break the news to him now. "Chris?" He stirred a little as my lips brushed his ear, and it was impossible to resist taking a little nip of his earlobe before whispering the four words no man wanted to hear, especially at zero dark thirty. "We need to talk." He turned over and opened his eyes, slitting them against the light I had turned on. "What is it?" "We probably shouldn't do this again." "Is it the kid?" "He's still letting Christabel abuse him because he thinks keeping the band together will help me, but I don't need Crowley's Thoth any more than he does, I'm tired of waiting for him to figure that out, and what we've shared can't be all that fulfilling for you, either." Renfield finally sat up, allowing the covers to pool about his waist. He certainly was a gorgeous specimen; one could do far worse for a part-time lover. "It's about fuckin' time, Nims." Catching my chin, he caressed my jawline with a thumb before leaning in to steal a kiss. "Were you afraid I'd take it poorly?" "No. It was just that I was tired of bands breaking up because somebody thought they were in love with me. When I found myself wanting Morgan as more than a friend or a bandmate, I fought it. I thought I was being reasonable." "Sounds like you got tired of being reasonable." More like I had come to my senses and realized that life was too short to waste abstaining from one's desires for fear of the consequences. "I think I figured out that it's perfectly reasonable for me to go after what I want from life, instead of worrying that Morgan might not be ready to take a chance." "He's a grown-ass man. If he isn't ready for you, he can use his words and say so. But I've seen you too together, and I don't think he will. I think he's been waiting for you." "That was hardly necessary." Christopher shrugged. "Weren't you this guy's first kiss or something?" It had barely qualified; all I had done was brush my lips against his. Then I had pushed him away told him to go live a life of his own and meet somebody his own age. "I'm worried he made more of it than it really was." "It sounds like he took your advice," said Christopher. "He's lived his own life, and he met somebody his own age. Unfortunately, she's no good for him." "He's seven years my junior." I knew it was a lousy excuse, but it was the last one I had. I didn't want to take advantage of somebody that much younger than me. "That might have mattered at the time, but he was still mostly a boy then. Now he's almost thirty, right?" "You're saying the gap doesn't matter now?" "I'm old enough to be your grandfather," said Christopher, laying back without bothering to pull up the covers. He seemed happy to be on display. "You didn't let that stop you ten years ago. You were, what, eighteen?" "Twenty-one, if you insist on knowing." I don't think it was unreasonable of me to throw a pillow at him before I ducked into the shower. However, it was not until I was dressed that it occurred to me that since it was Lovers' Night Morgan might be with Christabel. Showing up at his door was out of the question when he might be in bed with her, all closed eyes and thoughts of England. Calling was no better, but a text? If he was indeed busy he'd probably have gone dark and would not see my message until later. Likewise if he were asleep. If he did not see it until the morning I could pass it off as a drunktext. «Are you still up?» «I'm at the hotel bar. Are you all right?» «I'm fine.» «Did things not go well with Renfield?» Oh, damn. How could I have forgotten that he knew I was with Renfield tonight? Looking over at him, I found that he too had gotten dressed. "Tell the kid something came up, I had to leave early, and you've been by yourself. You're freshly showered because you just got back from the gym." «Things went fine with Renfield. He's getting dressed and encouraging me to lie to you. Can we talk in person?» «Sure, if you don't mind coming down to rescue me. There's this woman trying to seduce me, but I don't think she wants me for herself. She keeps looking at some guy, and they wear matching wedding bands.» Oh, dear. That was just what Morgan needed tonight: a couple looking to spice up their marriage by involving a third party. Having been in his position myself it was easy to sympathize. «I'll be there as soon as I can get a lift to my floor.» Grabbing my coat and sword, I spared Renfield a glance. "Sorry. Morgan's fending off a wife with a bi husband who's trying to set up a threesome." He followed me out into the hall, slipping into his own coat. "Need a hand?" Generous of him to offer, considering that I meant to claim another bloke as my own. "I have a plan." "I'll take the next lift, then. That should let me get there in time to enjoy the fireworks." Or lend a hand if things went pear-shaped, I suppose. Hopefully I would turn out to be right about not needing his help. "Thanks." When I reached the hotel bar I found Morgan at the far end, with a redhead whose gown was only barely adequate to the engineering challenge presented by her surgically enhanced figure. Most of the people seated at tables were interested in each other, or in the willowy brunette singing torch songs slightly out of time with the pianist accompanying her. I felt sorry for the poor bastard and left a tip in his glass before finding the one patron looking to the bar. The reason for his interest was obvious; he was a tattooed millionaire in a bad suit hoping wifey would being back a toyboy for them to share. Either that, or wifey was the one who ran the marriage and wanted hubby to give her a show. Not that I begrudged them either way, but they could have their fun with somebody else. Looking down at hubby, I pulled out the chair opposite him. "Excuse me. Do you mind if I join you?" "Sorry, but we weren't looking for a woman tonight." "Fair enough; I wasn't interested in joining a couple. I had hoped you might call off your wife. My boyfriend asked me to rescue him, and he's more reluctant than I am to make a scene." As I finished this little speech I laid my sword on the table. I wanted hubby to understand just what sort of scene I was willing to make. He stared at the sword, then stared at me. "I'd love to help, but Janice doesn't listen to me once she gets an idea into her head. I had told her to leave that guy alone, that he didn't look like he was looking for company, but she has her heart set on having him join us." Well, hubby certainly wasn't the driving force in that relationship. I would have to deal with Janice myself. Morgan's big green kitty eyes got even bigger as I approached and tapped her shoulder. I stepped back as she turned to get a look at me with a hand resting on the hilt of my sword. "Excuse me." "Who the hell are you?" "That's my man you're pestering, and I must insist upon you leaving him alone." «Just kill this asshole.» I knew that voice, and glanced down at my sword. The damned thing had disguised itself as the Nakajima blade I ordinarily wore in public, the little shit. «Cut her down, and then lick her blood off his lips before you kiss him.» «No, Edgelord. Bad.» First Renfield, and now the dark sword? Why do all the men (or masculine personalities) around me insist on giving me advice on how to seduce Morgan? «I don't think he's into that.» «You're into it. I can tell by your heartbeat.» Christ, he was worse than Claire. «Look, I know you mean well, but I've got this.» Before the sword could reply, Janice did. "I don't see him wearing your ring." "He wears my collar." Ignoring Morgan's embarrassment—and how did he blush so prettily when he's the sort of man who thinks nothing of bring a sword to a gunfight—I pressed on. "Discreetly, of course. He is a gentleman, after all." She backed out from between us and gave him a contemptuous once-over. "He's probably too gentle for what I had in mind anyway. You're welcome to keep him." With that, she walked away and Morgan let go of the breath I had not realized he was holding. Before I could check on him, the bartender finally showed up. "Sorry to keep you waiting," she said. "We know that woman and refuse to serve her, but we can't just toss her out because her husband is a part-owner. But if she had gone too far I would have called security." I leaned over the bar, invading her space. "He asked me to come down here and rescue him. I think that woman had already gone too far, but you didn't realize it because my friend was reluctant to make a scene." "I'm sorry. I'll tell the rest of the staff and we'll try to do better so something like this doesn't happen again." "Fair enough," It would have to be; she's a bartender, not an Adversary, and stepping in when a patron took their flirtation entirely too far was just a bit above her pay grade. "A glass of the house red for me, please, and a ${FRUITY_COCKTAIL} for him." Though the bartender raised an eyebrow at my choice, she made no remark. Sensible of her. "Thanks," said Morgan as I settled onto the stool beside him. "You didn't mind me ordering something sweet for you, right?" "No. It's not like I get the buzz so I might as well drink for taste." He gave a grim smile, "And if some macho fool wants to pick a fight because he thinks my drink is girly, we can step outside and dance." "Where was that spirit when Janice wouldn't take no for an answer?" Morgan looked down at the bar. "What she did wasn't enough to justify violence." "If a man treated me like that, he'd have my steel at his throat." "That's your choice to make. But it would look different if I drew my sword on her." Damn it, he was right. If somebody mistreated me, I could kick their arse and nobody would convict me in court or damn me in the press. Morgan still had to sit there and take it like a man. "I'm sorry you had to go through that." "Thanks," said Morgan. "Could you keep an eye on my drink? I'd like to duck into the men's room for a moment." "Of course." To my dismay, Janice's husband went in soon afterward. Fortunately, he came out less than a minute later hunched over and clutching his belly. When Morgan returned, all I asked was, "Feel better?" "Considerably. Bastard tried to start a beef because I apparently thought his wife wasn't good enough. He couldn't accept that I had a girlfriend." "I'd hardly call Christabel that." Morgan shrugged. "She's what I've got, and I've got nobody to blame for that but myself. I could have let her go. I could have left the band go, but when where would you be?" Oh, God, I have had enough of this bullshit. "I'd be with you, in our own band. You think I actually give a shit about Crowley's Thoth?" "I thought you were happy." "I was making do, just like you." How I wished I could tell him why I was really there. The reasons that brought me here weren't the ones that kept me here, but would he understand? "Where *is* Christabel?" Another shrug. "With Isaac Magnin. When I got back to our room after the meet & greet I found a note saying she'd be meet us in time for the next show and that I was welcome to amuse myself in any way I pleased." Oh, that opened so many possibilities. "Would it please you to amuse yourself with me?" Our drinks arrived before he could say anything. Rather than taste my wine, I took a sip from Morgan's drink and marked the rim of the glass with my lipstick before passing it to him. Claire would have called it an 'indirect kiss', and surely Morgan had spent enough time around my honorary niece to know it. "Think about it for now. We'll talk more after we've had our drinks."


abacushex

Intriguing, including the hints about the societal structures at play here.

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starbreaker

Thanks. I'm trying to hint at a freer, more inclusive society without making the story explicitly about that. It's really about soul-searching androids, swashbuckling sopranos, actresses turned spies, and the secrets they keep from each other—and they just happen to live in a society where the tyrannies of church, state, capital, and society lack much of the power they wield in the real world. It's not a utopia, though; there's a soft black underbelly and there's still plenty of tyranny and corruption if one knows where to look.

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abacushex

I think the approach of having stories that flesh out the world and hint at its character, rather than a continuous linear novel, is compelling. Even if a novel is the end goal, the process is enjoyable to observe.

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starbreaker

I agree, and I've liked the epistolary format since the first time I read Stoker's /Dracula/ and actually understood how the story worked. If you haven't read it (and I recommend fixing that since it's in the public domain and still holds up well for its age), /Dracula/ is basically a trove of documents—journals, letters, transcripts of audio recordings, occasional newspaper clippings—that act as primary sources for a piece of occult history. Even if you stripped out the supernatural trappings, /Dracula/ still works as a first-hand account of how a small group of friends in the late Victorian period discovered a serial killer, tracked it down, and dealt out vigilante "justice" because they were sure the authorities of the time would not have accepted the evidence they had compiled. Since I started writing WYDSM, I've wanted to go full epistolary but have been resisting the urge. Annelise Copeland's arc (the beginning of which I shared in "The Revenge of Borgia Pizza") is mostly straight narrative, but after a few introductory chapters I've been telling Naomi Bradleigh's story through a private diary she writes on the computer implanted in her head and uploads to a directory on the VPS that also hosts her blog. She uploads the diary along with blog updates, and a cron job moves the file to its destination, a directory to which only her handlers also have access. I'm tempted to do something similar with Morgan Cooper's arc, but perhaps as transcripts extracted from video recordings of sessions with his therapist. Of course, I'm not the only one doing epistolary sf.

5 fantasy and sci-fi epistolary novels
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abacushex

My reading list has been expanded :)

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starbreaker

Enjoy. :)

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