Title: The Gemini Strand
Author: L.J. Hasbrouck
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 12/28/2021
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Science Fiction, sci fi, family-drama, futuristic, dystopia, gay, ace, professional assassin, cloning, Mars
Life on Mars is no fairy tale for Morgan, a scrappy adventurer who plunders Earth’s carcass in search of loot—and evidence of an elusive scientist. She hopes he can cure her father’s dementia, but instead he kidnaps her father and flees into the deceptive dreamlands of Mars. During her frantic search to locate them, Morgan begins experiencing strange hallucinations that make her think she’s losing her mind.
Meanwhile, Nil, a tormented killer struggling to repress his humanity, thinks his hallucinations are a flaw in his system. Soon his pesky emotions roar back to life, throwing a dagger into the whole “cold-blooded assassin” thing. While he pursues his next mark, a witty hacker trying to save Nil’s other victims, he battles with his disorienting visions and burgeoning emotions.
What he doesn’t realize is that he’s falling in love for the first time—and the hacker he’s falling for is also the scientist who kidnapped Morgan’s father.
Drawn together by their common target, Morgan and Nil harness their mysterious visions to find each other amidst holographic recreations of Oz, Wonderland, Neverland, Atlantis, and Camelot. Before she loses her father forever, Morgan must work with a killer and kidnapper to discover the sinister truth behind her father’s illness and her bond with Nil. And Nil is forced to decide between protecting the man he loves and helping the girl he’s inexplicably linked to.
Because they share more than disorienting hallucinations—and what they share will change everything they thought they knew about themselves.
The Gemini Strand
L.J. Hasbrouck © 2021
All Rights Reserved
I don’t know why I kill. I’m ordered to, true, and it’s all I’ve been trained to do. I’m good at it.
But that doesn’t mean I like it.
Lately, I’ve been losing my touch. Each time I suffer an emotional episode, my handler remedies it by sending me in for reconditioning. The guilt goes away, my efficiency improves, and the nightmares stop.
But the guilt always returns. And so do the nightmares.
Up to the point I awoke at the Guild’s headquarters, all I remembered was a dim, murky muddle of nonexistence. My eyes opened to a roomful of shadows. Vague shapes hovered over me, surrounding me in a nebulous circle. My vision remained hazy, my awareness cloudy—I mistook what would be my first memory for a chilling dream.
“Good morning, my son,” a cold but cajoling voice said. Lilith. My handler. “Your slate has been wiped clean. Let’s see if you do better this time.”
I was floating. But when I moved my arms, I displaced something thicker than air: water. My bare, pale limbs drifted in the translucent pool. Reflecting on it now, it was my birth. And the darkness delivered me.
Which makes Lilith the closest thing I have to a mother.
Tonight, she’s ordered me to slip into the Emerald City, Oz’s entertainment subdistrict. The buildings are green and glittery, disorienting like the rest of Mars’s vast and vacuous districts. Citizens stumble along a yellow brick road nestled between fields of red and pink poppies. A tiny dog frolics through the field alongside his mistress, an adolescent girl in a gingham dress and silver slippers. She darts in front of me, but I walk right through her. The image shimmers, light particles interrupted by my mass, until she reassembles and skips off without a sound.
None of it is real. It’s a projection, both literally and metaphorically, an idealized vision of our world according to the minds who invented it. A fantasy brought to life. All I’d have to do to destroy it is smash the lenses installed on the construction’s framework, strip the taciturn gray structures of all their glimmering emerald, and reveal the ordinary bricks beneath the yellow. Dorothy and Toto would disappear. The poppy fields would vanish, expose barren cayenne clay and ashen rock.
At least shadows are real. Honest. I slink into them, darting between hologram-cloaked buildings and grappling to the rooftops. Ads promising the improbable—the cure for any ailment, all at the low cost of submitting yourself to the Pantheon’s experiments—glint and glitch at the skyline’s zenith. I set up a zipline to the adjacent roof and grapple from rooftop to rooftop, leaving as many lines as I can in my wake. Haste isn’t necessary when entering the target zone, but a speedy exit is crucial.
As I traverse the rooftops, I scan for thermal signatures beneath and behind me. No one’s noticed me. Good. Though I pass several Bouncers patrolling below me on the street, they’re all underneath the Guild’s thumb and therefore instructed to ignore us. Even if a civilian sees me, they’d never see my face again—or see it at all. I use a different shroud on every job, but I sometimes leave them turned off in lieu of the full black bodysuit, which means I resemble some subverted superhero creeping and swinging through the night, mask and all. Not the most outlandish sight on Mars, believe it or not.
I send Isabeau off to survey the area around the soaring spires of the Emerald Castle, my target’s last known location. The synthetic falcon launches from my shoulder, wings shimmering as she slices through light beams shining in the air. I close an eye and perceive what she sees, one camera transmitting an image to another. This eye isn’t mine; it’s a replacement implanted with a chip. I don’t recall how I lost mine, but Lilith says it had something to do with the traumatic incident that sabotaged my memories.
I’m not sure I believe her, but I can’t question the woman who controls my life—unless I want to risk losing it.
Isabeau perches on a ledge outside the building. She monitors the area through a faux stained-glass window, her viewpoint displaying in my cybernetically enhanced eye. Inside the Emerald Castle, writhing clubgoers surround my mark.
I activate my shroud and shimmy down the side of the building with my grappling hook. The regulator installed in my chest controls the speed my heart beats at, keeping my pulse and temperature low at all times. Makes it tougher for thermal imaging and pulse readers to pick up on my signal. There shouldn’t be many people around with tech that can outdo mine, but a few paranoid denizens carry them as a precaution.
Not everyone trusts the Pantheon. With good reason.
I glance into a compact mirror to ensure my shroud works, then stow my gear and waltz into the street, blending with the crowd. The music inside the club vibrates beneath my feet as I approach the front doors, so I prepare my ears for the decibel assault. I nod at the Bouncer, make eye contact, press my palm into the scanner. It approves my print and accepts my false identity with a beep.
Meet the Author
Knowledge-seeking animal-lover, supporter of diversity, and OG Floridian. Lifelong gamer who grew up drawing Disney characters, whales, and dinosaurs. Proud INTJ (which I share with the likes of Hannibal Lecter, Batman, and Ellen Ripley).
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