Menagerie Mysteries

Before asking other authors to trust me with their work, I need to learn all the tricky ins and outs of e-publishing firsthand. And what better way to do that, than to put my own work on the line?

Over the next few months, I’ll be publishing a series of novellas (and secondary materials!) on Gumroad, kindle, Kobo, and NOOK. I hope you’ll find them to be a playful twist on classic genres. The Menagerie Mysteries are only in English (for now), but with any luck folks will enjoy the adventures of Pax Murillo long enough that I can get these pieces translated, too.

Who’s Pax Murillo? Well, let’s take a sneak peek at Book One! I’m delighted to share with you a three-chapter teaser, which you can read below. If you like what you’re reading, you can pre-order the full novella for $2.99CAD on Gumroad (100% profit to author, PDF, EPUB, MOBI), $2.99CAD/US on kindle (70% to author in CAD, 35% in US: tax law!).

Alack, I’m still waiting on vendor approval at NOOK (i.e. more chewy tax issues, as a Canadian citizen with a Colombian address, when only my Canadian bank can be used for payment processing).

Likewise, if you’re on Kobo ($2.99CAD, 70% to author), you might have to wait until the official release date of December 14, 2020, because I’m double-checking all formatting at present, and Kobo will not let me proceed without uploading a version in-progress (not a risk I’m willing to take with quality!). Growing pains, right? But Book Two will be pre-order-ready with the rest, once I’ve worked out the kinks in this process!

For now, enjoy the teaserand if you do buy the book, please consider leaving an honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, and the like. (I know many feel pressured to fake-boost the silly star systemand it is a silly system!but it’s an honour for me to have folks engage with the work, full-stop, so let your conscience be your guide. Only rec what you feel is worth it!)

Ready to dive into the first of the Menagerie Mysteries?

Well, here it is! Here’s…

THIRD PLANET FALL DOWN

The Ir have conquered Earth. Wiped out humanity. Installed some fancy theme parks in its stead. But when they render Pax Murillo, the greatest movie detective of the 2040s, to run one of the exhibits, the Ir get more than they bargained for. Murillo’s road to self-awareness is a bit dodgy—but then, so are the goings-on in The Corral, the Ir’s second-most lucrative planet-side tourist trap. The question isn’t whether Murillo’s up to the case—only, what’s in it for him when he succeeds?


1

The sky isn’t what it used to be, thought Pax Murillo. Too much space junk crowding out the sun. But since when? When had the sky grown so full of detritus, and why didn’t anyone seem to care? He tried to recall reading anything about it on the feeds, but his thoughts met with void, and… a tug. Like something was trying to pull him back from the brink. Not one for being led, Murillo squinted for an extra count of three into the uneven brightness of the day, and the erratic shadows passing over the surfside club where he’d been idling awhile. Then he turned back to his drink. No tug ever tried to keep him from that.

The Corral was a wide-open horseshoe of a bar and lounge set upon wooden struts, a precarious assembly overlooking a dance floor of coloured sand that spilled into a beachline going on… oh, forever. But so, too, did those streaking shadows, heavier than any cloud-form he’d ever known: each moving quickly; and each, upon vanishing over the horizon, quickly replaced by another, as if a whole, dense circuit of them were orbiting the Earth. Had the trash situation really gotten that bad so fast?

Also, how long had he been sitting at this bar now, waiting for his contact?

Murillo tried to concentrate on the time without looking at a feed. It had to have been a couple hours, but it felt much longer. Days? Weeks? Was there a word for that? Not déjà vu but a crossing of the body’s clock, two timelines running concurrently. In one, it had only been a couple hours. He was sure of it. He’d entered, purpose-driven, and settled by the bar for four rounds, okay six, and that was that. But in the other… in the other…

There was that tug again. Murillo kissed his teeth, sighed, and gave in.

Listen, old man, there’s being old, and then there’s going senile.

He twisted about on his stool, elbows braced behind him on the wooden bar, one blue and one white lei around his popped collar from the greeters out front, and pretended that even one of the men and women coming past on their way to the dance pit was smiling at him. Not for the allure of the thing. Just for the affirmation that he existed. That he wasn’t another shade slipping over and around real lives without leaving so much as a footprint. But today no such affirmation was forthcoming, and in time he turned back and gestured for a refill. There were other ways to feel one’s weight in the world, after all.

While he waited for Vi, the squirrelly smooth-talker who could be tight-lipped when he wanted to be (when there was money to be made, that is, in keeping one’s gob shut), Murillo surveyed the young adults at the heart of The Corral. Strange how the throng kicked up purple sand that seemed altogether too fresh for all their exertions: not enough spilled bevvy in it, or vomit, or small discarded items, though surely the dance-pit had been open now for hours. And there were other details, too, that bothered him. Hell, the more he lingered by the bar, the more he thought that the whole establishment could’ve been plucked from a TV set, for all that it seemed unfinished at the edges. Was it even up to code?

There were no washrooms, for one. What kind of joint this size had no washrooms? Then again, Murillo had been drinking for hours, and when had he last seen someone even look like they needed to go? When had he, for that matter? His bladder was the size of a chickpea these days, but still, the inclination never came upon him, or them. All these happy-go-lucky randoms just kept dancing in the sand, under the variable light of the midday sun—and dancing badly, no less, as if each couldn’t hear the music playing. As if each was winging it based on music in their own heads.

But now, there was a metaphor for the world, wasn’t it? Everyone so caught up in their business nowadays that the sky could fall right down upon them, and who’d even notice?

Who ever truly noticed when the world had all gone wrong?

A refill slid into one of Murillo’s outstretched hands, and when he turned to take it, he noticed new arrivals on the far side of the bar. That was the other thing: Even people around these parts didn’t always look like they used to. Murillo wasn’t sure when humans had started coming in so many different shapes and sizes, but these ones were real wild-cards—like jagged shadows, the sort of thing you could mistake for a chiaroscuro pattern out the corner of one eye, if not for the fact that chiaroscuro patterns didn’t reek of rotten oyster. Whenever their kind first began to speak, Murillo could swear that their voices were all staccato buzzing, but in a split second they always smoothed to an easily recognizable dialect English. Floridian, maybe? He made a point of studying his glass, keeping his nose as close to the liquor as possible, while they received their own concoctions from the bartender: smoky numbers, more gas than liquid, in transparent balloons they sipped from as they talked.

“Almost ready for a full launch. This one’s a real winner with the test groups—second on the planet in our latest rankings—and I think you can see why.”

“First being that underwater number, right?”

“Near the icecap, or what’s left of it, yes. Beautiful, pristine backdrop. No drama. Lots of pampering. Suits the basics and the executives quite well. Still, this one’s got a nice balance. Luxury here, too, but also the messy, impassioned hustle of human activity, with a bit of sea air to offset the worst of the mammalian flavours. It’s been a big hit especially with the aspirationals and the wardens, and marketing says we can also target this one for major events: awakenings, respawns, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, I can see that. The ones who want a little adventure but within somewhat familiar contexts. But what do they do with the dancers?”

“Ah, yes. Well. We’re still refining that part. With the first group we gave too much explanation at the door, so half the Irians tuned it out and mistook the gathering for a buffet. Lots of clean-up and fresh print jobs needed. We were tempted to sim the dancers after that frenzy, but there’s something to be said for the body heat, and odours, and genuine contact.”

“So, what are these, then—halflings?”

“Exactly. That way, if they get guzzled in another mass feed, we only have to drop new skins over the hardware. Thankfully, though, even that much hasn’t proven necessary, save for basic wear and tear, since we simplified the pitch. Now almost everyone understands that this is a 24-location mystery-thriller—not lunch.”

“But there islunch here somewhere, right?”

“Oh, certainly. Full-service theme. Even primed all the saltwater stocks, so everyone can eat as the go on the beach. Plus, there’s rest sacs, rejuvenation pools, charging pods: all the essentials. No one has to leave until the intrigue’s over. And why would they? Like I said, they love it here. Sure, some of the secondaries haven’t tested well with every demographic, but everyone seems to adore the lead. The right balance of pitiable and versatile. You can admire him without hating him for being better than you, because he’s also miserable to the core.”

Murillo felt the jagged shadows’ attention turn to him at this last, but he paid their gazes no heed, still puzzling out what their language was code for. None of it felt good. A murder ring? Trafficking? Some sort of real-estate scam involving the resort? But, ah, what was any of their business to him? Keep your eye on your own circus, he’d always told himself. No point getting your ear bit off by someone else’s monkeys. And all he was here to do was wait by the bar for Vi to arrive, so they could haggle and make pointed jibes for a minute or two. Then he’d receive the location and low-down on a mess of a dealer he’d promised a friend to shake down. As a favour. Alfonso was always telling him he took on too many of these “favours,” of course, and that one day one of them would be his undoing, but—

You’re one to talk, he’d always countered, if only to make the retired hitman smile.

You’re right, Alfonso would reply. Don’t be like me, and go soft for some twerp of a target’s kid. If you don’t kill him on sight, think how many years you’ll spend worrying about him.

Exactly. Murillo raised his glass in salute to his far-off mentor. All on you.

“What’s this one based on?” said one of the reeking shadows.

“The last great private detective, from two of his best-reviewed movies spliced together. Height of the character’s fame, and the last real zenith of the industry. Not long before everyone got distracted by early signs that we were coming, and gave up on lighthearted mash-ups of classic and contemporary themes.”

“Late-stage media gets a bit reductive on all our worlds, doesn’t it? The moment they know something’s on its way, it’s the same tedious range of response. Really decreases the value of the whole investment, but PR’s working on that, I think, for next time.”

“True, but you have to admit that some of the first-wave reactions are a riot. Especially the bits of self-aggrandizing optimism.” The second jagged shadow released a buzzy chuckle before adopting a simpering tone: “‘Maybe they’ll love us!’ ‘Maybe they’ll bring peace!’ ‘Maybe they’ll cure my nephew’s genetic disease!’”

The first echoed the second’s amusement. “And if not the obnoxious idealism, the exact opposite, which is my favourite, to be honest. All that tough-guy talk, complete with—oh, what do you call them? When their tendrils, or in this case their, their—”

“Hands.”

“Hands. When their hands go like… this?”

“Making fists. Yes, when they try to show how strong they are through incongruent visual displays.”

“Right! Exactly! And so, they go on their feeds and their broadcasts waving their fists and saying things like, ‘No peace! Total war! They’ll destroy us if we’re not ready! We’d do the same in their position, and if you won’t admit it, you’re all cowards and liars! No room for doubt now: either you’re with us or against us—and if you’re against us, we’ll take you out before you can bring us all to ruin! For the survival of the species!’”

The pair’s laughter rose like the deafening crackle of a stage amp before adjustment.

“Yes, well—to the survival of their species.” They swapped balloon-drinks in what seemed a traditional salute, before rising to move on to the beach. “If only in our themes.”

The bar grew quiet again, and Murillo ran his thumb along the side of his glass, thinking about that favour. His world kept changing—the sky, the people, the code-languages used in the underworld around these parts—but Gracie… Gracie remained a constant: no matter how the years progressed, and although the timing had never been right between them, not even to pass a single proper sunset together before he had to be moving on.

Maybe this time, he thought. Just this one last job, and then we can grow old together.

At least, if that contact of his would hurry up already, and arrive.

2

In the kingpin’s sprawling beach-house, Gracie lay dying by Murillo’s unwitting hand. Her last words had already been spoken: that much was clear from how her shuddering breaths had grown shallow in Daveed’s arms. What remained, then, but to marvel at how everything could at once seem so inconsequential and yet, every detail, every smell and sight and sound of this place, now felt like permanent fixtures in Murillo’s cosmos?

The look of her bare ankles in unassuming black flats.

The unnatural slack and contortion of her body across the polished-stone floor.

The little tangle of long black hair caught in the blood-blossom over her chest.

The tacky, cloying scent of the blood itself, mixing now with gunpowder discharge and a mess of shattered liquors in the air.

Daveed, his voice cracked from openly weeping, calling out to Murillo, goading him in his grief—“You never deserved her. Not once! Not ever!”

The throng of a dozen onlookers by the white-leather sofa, whispering to one another as they recorded the scene for personal use: five with countenances like those of hammerhead sharks; three shaggy rotundities without clear faces; another three, all jagged shadows; and a synthetic being with plant-like appendages and the voice of a juvenile.

The wave of garbled sound as two of the rotundities conferred over their digital device:

So, where do you want to go next? The Ice Palace?

—No, no, too touristy.

—What, and this isn’t?

—Oh, this definitely is. But this was your choice, remember?

—Right, right… So, where to, then?

—How about the Reanimation Zoo?

—Your call, dear one. This is your respawn ceremony, after all.

And the smallest of the hammerheads tugging at the second-largest, whining,

Look! Finally, she’s dead. Took forever. Can we go now?

All these sensory flickers, and dozens more, were fixed in Murillo’s mind as he watched his beloved’s body fall still, then tested his nerves around the revolver, heavy in his hand, while allowing Daveed to vow his revenge should the two of them ever cross paths again.

“You’ll be sorry, Murillo. Mark my words.”

Murillo turned for the beach-house door and hesitated only at its threshold. Even with the dense, erratic shadows in the sky beyond, he found himself bathed in a bright light from the shoreline, which suffused his immaculate white suit, while around him the matching-white curtains billowed inward through shattered glass. A melancholy guitar had also started playing from… somewhere, somehow. But did he really have the heart to worry about its origins? No, all that had become meaningless. He closed his eyes and focussed. There was a warmth to the light that he knew he would never deserve again. Redemption, thy name was Gracie. Redemption, thou art dead … as aught of mortal birth.

He adjusted his collar with the gun still in hand, the metal of its barrel just grazing his chin, but rising no higher. Mercy? Cowardice? Or a desire to condemn himself by other means? Ah, but he knew the answer already.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said, without looking back. “I already am.”

And he stepped through the doorway.

And—

The Corral was hopping.

Yes.

Hopping.

That must have been why Murillo felt a sudden jolt as he crossed the threshold, freshly lei’d by two greeters, and headed straight into the brooding shadows of a horseshoe-shaped lounge with long wooden seating sections that extended along both sides of a dance-pit of purple sand, which in turn opened into a campfire on the beach. Even though it was just past ten in the morning, that was the word for it, wasn’t it? “Hopping.” A little early to be so popular, Murillo mused, loosening his collar. But then, that was the nature of resort-life, wasn’t it? Everyone playing by their own rules, their own schedules. Even though the sky didn’t look right—and it didn’t; it looked cluttered for reasons Murillo couldn’t put a finger on yet—some people would keep on partying. Even as the world fell to bits.

The bartender nodded with a special kind of good cheer as Murillo sat at one end of the bar. It was the cheerfulness of a professional who liked having a fixture around: a client to give his whole set-up the right tone; to make him feel useful even when business was slow.

“What’ll it be, friend?”

Friend. Now there was a word for you. Murillo didn’t usually have a taste for it, but he was feeling restless this morning, eager for his contact to show up so he could move on. And being restless made him liable to bait people; to test their limits; to watch them scramble for some semblance of control. It was one of the many things Gracie had never been able to stand about him, whenever they were around each other long enough to try to figure out what was always going wrong between them. Murillo had always been tempted to tell her he’d change—for her—but those words never felt like the right ones. In his line of work, after all, what good was one’s word, really? How could he ever believe that a promise, even his own, was sincere?

“Mezcal, mid-shelf… friend.”

He dragged out this last with evident amusement. ¡Santy M!, he thought: the realities humans tried to impose on one other—and on themselves. Did it ever work? Did they ever will themselves into one day being something different? And could the illusion ever last?

But the bartender, if he noticed the tone, didn’t seem bothered. “Sure thing, friend!”

When his veladora glass arrived, Murillo stared through the drink to the cross scored at the bottom, as if it might help him to reconcile what he knew he was now in for: Hours of waiting. Hours of drinking mezcal, and maybe settling his stomach with the occasional watered-down beer, spiced popcorn bowl, or nuts. Granted, that was the job, but Murillo didn’t have to pretend that it wasn’t lonely sometimes, and also bad for the annual physical. It almost came as a relief to him, when he noticed new arrivals on the far side of the bar: three jagged shadows, one a little more reluctant than the rest.

“Come on, it’ll be fun, I promise. When seating hits capacity, it gets started on its own. You’ll see. That’s when this one’s contact arrives. Until then, we drink, we dance, we wander the beach crunching on crustaceans. You’ll love it. Hey—hey, barkeep! Three Irian Delights.”

“Sure thing, friend!” said the bartender, brightly.

“Look, you and En go, go wander, have fun. I’ll bring these out.”

The reluctant shadow gave in and followed the third member of their party out past the purple sands, toward the roaring surf. The first jagged shadow waited impatiently at the bar, but when the bartender set three balloons before it, all its restlessness disappeared.

“Hey, yeah, can you grab me a net, so I can carry these out?”

Then, when the bartender turned and knelt to retrieve one, the jagged shadow worked fast—withdrawing a vial and introducing it through the stem of one of the balloons, which it marked with a minor smudge to separate it from the rest. By the time the bartender was standing again, the jagged shadow had fully relaxed. It thanked him for the balloon-net, then strolled off to join its companions on the beach.

Murillo rubbed his thumb against the side of his glass, brows creasing as he did the basic human arithmetic on what he’d just seen. But this wasn’t his problem, was it? He was here to do one job. One favour—for a friend, ostensibly, but really for Gracie. For what they might still have a chance at being; or at least, in atonement for what they’d missed the boat on becoming to each other, long ago.

“Ready for another?”

Murillo exhaled heavily. A faint tug in his head told him to keep drinking, keep his nose out of it, but it was no match for a more principled heat inside his chest. “That last character you served,” he said. “You know him?”

The bartender paused, as if adjusting to an unfamiliar line in his script.

“Well, friend,” he said, brightly as ever. “Who knows anyone here, really?”

But Murillo shook his head and leaned forward. “Listen. Whoever he is, that guy just slipped something into one of those Whatchamacallit Delights you served him.”

The barkeep froze. “You saw this?”

“I did. And okay, maybe it was for himself, but if it was, why add it all secret-like at the bar? Could’ve added it once they were together, no? No, odds are, I think it’s for the one that didn’t want to be here. Which, well, you know how it goes sometimes in these joints…”

The bartender froze again, but differently: a pop-up projection emanating from his chest. A security protocol activating. It hovered for only a split-second, and then it was gone, and the barkeep was all smiles again.

“Well, we’ll get it all sorted out, I’m sure. Thanks for letting me know, friend.”

“No sweat—friend.” But this time, Murillo was too preoccupied to bait that last word. He was still trying to process what he’d just seen leap out from the bartender’s chest. A new kind of living tat? An implant? Hard to keep up, these days. And then there were those three strange humans… The look of them. The smell. Murillo knocked back his drink, then tapped the mezcal glass against his temple: peering at its cross now from the underside, and trying to figure out why that whole interaction hadn’t felt right, before asking for another round.

Sometimes, when the world sat heavy in his heart, the best he could do was to have it sit heavy in his gut as well.

3

The game of cat and mouse between Murillo and Ivan “the Sphinx”, kingpin for the whole local operation and a few international ports of intrigue as well, had broken out into a high-stakes chase across the open, choppy waters at the edge of the bay, with the devil-may-care private-eye wheeling hard at the helm of a speedboat—and gaining on the sputtering chopper, which was now at risk of crashing into two inconveniently proximate freight ships, one intoning a useless warning as the warring pair drew near.

Murillo swore, his silver St. Michael’s pendant glinting in the sun, as he saw Ivan hold out the witness while the chopper keeled to compensate. Federico was bound and gagged, his feet frantically pedalling over open water.

He wouldn’t— thought Murillo. But of course the Sphinx would. With one mighty arm hooked into the witness’s bulletproof vest, Ivan braced his cybernetic legs against either side of the chopper door and drew a gleaming M19—’38 issue, a classic from the Southern U.S. Wars—to press it to the base of the witness’s skull.

“No no no no no!” Murillo shouted.

But Ivan winked—something Murillo could see even from this distance, somehow—and the bullet did its swift work, and the witness’s body hardly had time to slacken before Ivan dropped it into the water, and the helicopter heaved and lurched from the shift in weight, veering hard 9-o’clock in time to escape the oncoming vessels. Meanwhile, Murillo was almost upon the same absurdly narrow gap with no chance of similar escape—and so he had no choice but to hasten stern-side and dive from it, clearing the speedboat just before it made contact with one of the freight ships, broke apart, and exploded for good measure.

Murillo was deep in the water, the glow of the explosion vaguely behind him, when his body froze up as it never had before: every muscle, every fibre in his being locked in place. And sinking. He couldn’t even thrash about to panic—couldn’t pry his eyelids open further, or cry out in surprise. How long until his oxygen ran out? How long until he passed out and died?

But neither was there any sensation of pain in his chest. No agony, no pressure. In time, his rigid body thumped against the underwater shelf separating bay from ocean, and although for a split-second it seemed as though his weight would tilt toward the bay’s lesser depth, a sudden current tipped the balance the other way, and he went sliding down the incline, bumping into the occasional outcropping until coming at last to a much deeper rest.

Still not breathing. Still not moving. Still not in pain, but… sensing everything.

And his abiding preoccupation?

Gracie… he thought, as curious scuttling creatures shambled by and started tearing at his flesh. More terrible than the thought of his own death (for there was peace in death, or so he’d been told) was the thought that she’d never know what had happened to him. That she’d be left for decades yet to wonder why he’d never tried again, or harder. Could this really be the end of the line for Pax Murillo?

The bottom-feeders nibbled.

Murillo pined but didn’t die.

And… time passed. Didn’t it always?

At last, a light swept the depths of the ocean floor, a weightlessness came upon him, and he rose—watching, as he did, while the water lightened, and the particulate all about him became easier to discern. Fixed, always, upon that image of regret and longing as he climbed.

It was only when he was topside again, in an air-shuttle hovering over the surface of the water, that his body relaxed, and he gasped, and he breathed again.

Ivan! The hostage! How would he ever see justice done now?

And yet, most of his body still couldn’t move. Two jagged shadows, both as rank as shoreline debris after the receding tide, loomed over him while he tried to figure out his next play. It would be at the casino, probably. The special game, the one that happened behind the sim-dancers on the mega-screens. That’s where he’d find the weasel who’d gotten him into this scrape. That’s where he’d raise the stakes for his final confrontation with the Sphinx, where he would at last see Ivan hosed like he should’ve been years ago—like he would’ve been, too, if Murillo hadn’t been so lenient in the first place. Just how many innocents had Murillo’s mercy in Santa Fe cost the world? How much blood was on his hands for not being more hard-hearted from the start? Already Murillo could imagine, with all the clarity of a voice-over montage in a heist film, Alfonso outlining their plan on speaker, from the surveillance room the old mentor had set up in that remote “retirement” cabin of his, for the benefit of the crew they’d round up to get the casino job done right.

Both jagged shadows buzzed appreciatively as one held up Murillo’s left arm by a chewed-up pinkie, bits of flesh dangling from twitching titanium up to the shoulder.

“Look at the chunks they took out of him. More metal than skin now, huh?”

“The base is intact, at least. The skin we can replace. Would’ve had to in a few cycles anyway. Lots of wear and tear goes into the storyline.”

“What’s this now, the fifteenth time something’s frozen?”

“Sixteenth. First time with the lead, though.”

“Right, but some of the others were pretty bad, too. Like the one on the cruise ship? That was not a cheap fix, Zin.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, Edj. This is an intricate exhibit. It’s not like the spa facilities, or any of the zoos or activity zones. Lots of intricate moving parts in this one, and they all have to be kept consistent over multiple replays. Things will go wrong.”

“Things can’t keep going wrong for much longer. We figured out the glitch yet?”

“Consensus is that it wasn’t the program so much as interference.”

“What, like, natural interference? From the planet?”

“Maybe. We’re still working on its source.”

Murillo could breathe, and he could move his eyes from side to side within the air-shuttle guiding them back to land. Gracie, he thought again, as his eyes tracked movement from beyond a transparent panel. No no no no no, he processed next, reliving the death of the witness while he watched the long stretch of beach by The Corral come into view; then The Corral itself: and then something… just beyond The Corral’s front doors. Something massive, like a warehouse or hangar of unusual design, with panelling that didn’t catch clearly in the light. When had that shown up? Why had he never seen or thought about it before?

The re-cycling continued:

Ivan, you monster. I will find you. I will make you atone for what you’ve done.

And—

Gracie, I’m so sorry. Gracie, hold tight. Gracie, I’m coming for you.

And—

“So, when’ll the theme be operational again?”

“Oh, we can start again as soon as the skin’s ready. Even if we don’t know the source of the freeze, we’re installing new fail-safes to protect against future interventions.”

“You’re sure? There’s a lot riding on this exhibit, remember.”

“How could I forget?”

“Yes, well, listen, Zin: This is all on you if it doesn’t go well. I’ve already signed off on forfeiture of life if we don’t see better results in the second third.”

The other jagged shadow, kneeling beside Murillo’s chewed-up skin-suit, focussed on clearing some of the waste matter still clinging to it from the ocean’s depths.

“My, but you work fast, don’t you?” it said at last.

“Nothing personal. Investors just need a spectacle sometimes, to boost confidence. You know that. But who knows? Maybe you’ll be luckier in the next respawn. Or, you know… Maybe you’ll just do better in the here and now, and save us all the bother.”

Zin made a noncommittal sound, like the rumble inside an active hive.

“Anyway, I gotta go see about the traffic controller. Plenty of new business coming our way soon, which is why we need this place in pristine shape when it does.”

Edj faded away—Murillo could see that much out the corner of an eye—while Zin went quiet in front of him, peeling the rest of the skin from his skull. People looked so different these days, thought Murillo, while staring up into what seemed a wall of static for a face. But even that wall of static could express volumes, and Murillo had a feeling—he didn’t know from where, or why—that this jagged shadow was at a low point in its story, too.

He was trying to make his mouth work well enough to say as much, when the jagged shadow popped loose a peeper, reached through the socket, and—


End of teaser!

But if you liked what you read, and you want to read the rest of Third Planet Fall Down, check out its Gumroad or kindle page. Alternately, check back here on December 10th (final-version lock-in date for kindle) for my next attempt at setting up a proper pre-order page for Kobo. (And here’s hoping NOOK will finally have accepted my vendor registration form by then, too!)

Also, keep an eye out for more details on Book Two: The Moon Is Not My Name (January 5th!), Book Three: The Stars, at Last Count (February 9th), and Book Four: Wildly Runs the Dying Sun (April 6th!). Did you notice the gap between books three and four? I’ve got some fun secondary materials lined up for March as well!

All of this, I should note, was made possible by an incredible team of supporters: my Patrons, my general readers, and my wonderful found family, including nephews who always keep me dreaming up better worlds. When I had to leave Colombia for a week, to reset legal status to a tourist-permit after months of exploitation by a local company that cost me my first two years here toward residency (as well as all chance of attaining another visa until April), I entered “sabbatical”: a joyous opportunity to develop my writing career, but only possible thanks to a little bit of financial stability along the way. You folks have brought my dreams one step closer to a reality.

Lastly, are you a creator also looking to make the leap into e-publishing? Are you based outside the U.S.? I’m going to try to amalgamate what I learn from this process for a free guide, with an emphasis on what international creators need to know, so look for that resource in 2021, too.

Happy reading, happy creating, and happy sharing in the joy of both!

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