Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention Part 20

 Part 20

The gift was perfect.

George had put a lot of doubts into Thorn’s mind. He wasn’t betraying his people. He wasn’t selling himself out. Becoming an Enforcer didn’t mean those things, not logically. But when faced with George’s anger, it was hard to remember that.

But the little automata—sure, it wasn’t perfectly made. It was a toy meant for children, an experiment into a steam engine that had clearly not panned out. But it was perfect. Kenneth had meant it as a gift to remember their first meeting, and it was that. But it was more, too.

The talentless had dreams. There were many ways to achieve them, many roads to take. The gift just made Thorn feel more sure about the one he had chosen.

Kenneth may not understand everything about talentless life. But his heart was in the right place, and that was good enough. He was far from the noble mage who had recoiled in fear from the sigh of an artificial hand.

If only others could see it too.

Thorn clenched his jaw. Others would see it. He had been hiding Kenneth, in a way, afraid of what others would think. He had acted like being with Kenneth was something to be ashamed of. That was a mistake.

Kenneth was here to fix his magic, sure, but he was also here to learn about Thorn and his life. It was time to help with that by introducing him to others. George could go to the fires. Thorn wasn’t ashamed.

“Thorn?” Kenneth asked. “You alright?”

“I’m fine,” Thorn said, placing the automata carefully back in the bag. “I’m just fine. Making plans for tonight.” He met his lover’s sky blue eyes. “How would you feel about seeing the mess halls where students typically eat?”

Thorn hadn’t been here in a while. Between Kenneth paying for meals and the money he made selling things, he had been able to afford better fare. But plenty of people still ate at the mess, and it had saved him often enough his first few years when he hadn’t a penny to his name and had gotten by washing dishes and forging utensils.

And it was a great way for people to meet Kenneth.

“Does the collegium have a place like this?” Thorn asked as they entered, after having safely stowed his gift in his dorm room. His lover was surveying the mess, which looked smaller than Thorn remembered. Long tables and benches stretched across the room, and the ceiling was low, with beams criss-crossing the corners that would probably force Kenneth to duck if he walked near them. It wasn’t as crowded as Thorn remembered either, with only about a dozen people eating at various locations along the long tables.

“No,” Kenneth said. “Not quite like this.” Someone looked up at his voice, her eyes widening. She turned back to her book.

Thorn sighed. “C’mon, lets grab some food.”

Compared to the near-rotten fare at the orphanage where he had grown up, the meals here had been heaven. Now they were simply bland in comparison to the restaurant fare Thorn usually procured for himself, but still as filling as he remembered. Kenneth, for all his culture, ate heartily.

“I’m surprised,” he said. “This is good.”

Thorn raised an eyebrow. “What, expecting weevils in the grain and mold on the bread?”

Kenneth paused, glancing at his food.

Thorn chuckled. “That was what food was like when I was a child. Not here. We trade with local merchants, fixing their gear and such. We get good ingredients.”

“It’s not so different than quick meals grabbed nearby, you know,” Kenneth said. “I suppose…some people think talentless eat rotten food or dogs or somesuch, but really, its similar. I happen to like plainer things now and then.”

“I do hope you’re not calling me plain,” Thorn said, his voice dry, and he laughed again when Kenneth shook his head. “Food is a fact of life. It unites everyone, rich and poor, talentless and mage.” He leaned back, looking over the few people in the mess. The woman reading a book had left, but others remained. No one made eye contact with him, or looked at Kenneth.

It was fine. He didn’t need them to react. He just wanted to feel safe among his own people with his lover. He wanted to be accepted.

A door banged, and Kenneth looked up from a bite of his bread. The woman who had been reading a book stood in the doorway, along with George.

Thorn’s meal squirmed in his mouth as though there really were weevils in it. He swallowed hard.

He wasn’t going to let George push him around.

“What is it?” Kenneth asked. Thorn tensed, expecting George to come over to them, to begin his abuses again.

Instead, the other man merely met his eyes, then turned away.

Thorn let out a breath, his appetite gone. Somehow, he doubted very much that his leaving meant George had given up.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 19

Part 19

Kenneth watched as a small glass bead wound its way around a series of tubes constructed from wood, iron and rubber. It finally rolled to a stop, and once it did a tiny door on the top of the contraption opened, a wooden bird emerging from inside and making a peeping noise.

“A clock, m’lord,” the woman at the stall said.

Kenneth smiled and shook his head. It was cute, but not what he had in mind for Thorn.

He knew it was foolish. Thorn could make his own devices that were a thousand times more useful, and probably better made, than what would be sold here. But it was Kenneth’s chance to find something that would let Thorn know how Kenneth felt about him, even if it may not actually impress him.

The stall he wanted was not nearly as crowded as the others. Kenneth paused before he approached, taking in the sight. Most of the small wheeled contraptions didn’t move, but one rolled back and forth, puffs of steam emerging from the top like a small chimney. It was slightly different than the one that had scared Jade the first day he had met Thorn—the wheels were smaller, the metal lighter. But it was close.

“Excuse me,” Kenneth said, and the young man working the stand jumped, his eyes widening when he saw Kenneth.

“Yes, my lord,” he said, his voice wobbling. Kenneth wished he hadn’t worn his silk robes. Then again, he didn’t own anything that wouldn’t make him stand out. “Are you interested in a heater or perhaps a fan? Or a humidifier?”

Kenneth blinked. “I’m curious about these,” he said, pointing to the contraption. “How much are they?”

He immediately regretted the question, remembering the man in the shop who had fleeced him for a simple steel bar. But it was too late now.

“O-only a sixpence, my lord,” the man answered. Kenneth had to grin. At least the inventor’s college students were honest.

He paid twice that, telling the boy to keep the rest. He packed up the contraption, what the boy explained was a “wheeled automata,” in a cloth bag. Kenneth hoped Thorn would like it.

He walked Jade back to the edge of the crowd, finally noticing his lover, still on horseback, where he had left him. Thorn peered into the crowd, his eyes narrowed and his forehead creased.

“Thorn?” Kenneth asked. Thorn’s face smoothed when Kenneth approached, but the careful glint didn’t leave his eyes. “Is something wrong? You seem on edge.”

“Kenneth.” Thorn smiled. “No, I’m just fine.” Kenneth raised an eyebrow, but didn’t pry. Thorn glanced around him one more time, Kenneth turning his head to follow his gaze. He saw only other talentless milling about, and a boy chasing a large bug with a stick. Filthy, but harmless.

“I got something for you, just as I said I would,” Kenneth said. “Would you like it here?”

Thorn grinned. “What say I take you out to lunch first? You can give it to me there.”

Apparently in talentless towns, it wasn’t unusual to eat outside after being served food that could be easily carried. Chunks of meat on a stick wasn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but the taste made up for it. Kenneth and Thorn sat outside a restaurant on a bench provided for diners like them, watching the road as heavily laden carts trundled by.

“So,” Thorn said. “What is this gift of yours?” There was something in his voice, some sort of wariness or nervousness, but it wasn’t directed at Kenneth. Something must have happened, but Kenneth had no idea what. If Thorn wanted to be distracted, though, he could do that.

“I do hope you enjoy it,” Kenneth said, a blush stealing over his face. “I know its probably not impressive compared to what you could make, but it reminded me of the first time we met, and—“

“Kenneth,” Thorn said with a laugh. “Just show me.”

Kenneth presented the bag, untying the knot with his hands rather than using magic, mindful of the people around them as they walked by. Thorn broke into a wide smile when he saw the small machine.

“Of course,” he said, his eyes glinting. “Just like my old automata.” He took it from Kenneth’s hands, peering at the underside and tapping the strange chimney-stack like apparatus.

“The wheels are turning slowly,” he said. “I suppose it needs more water.”

“I didn’t expect it to be very good considering what you said of the Journeyman’s fair,” Kenneth said. “But it reminded me of our first meeting.”

“Its wonderful,” Thorn said. “A fitting gift—and a good way to remember where I met you. And the inventor’s college, of course.” He turned, Kenneth following, seeing the large, ugly edifice of the college in the skyline.

Ugly to Kenneth, anyway. To Thorn, it had been home for years, if the talentless attended schooling for as long as magi did.

“Will you miss it?” Kenneth asked.

Thorn looked back at him, his eyes focusing on Kenneth as if losing sight of something else. “A bit,” he said. “I learned a lot there, and so many dreams happen there.” He cradled the automata. “Most first years make these. You know why?”

Kenneth shook his head.

“They’re called wheeled automata, and they’re treated as toys, but long before the war, they made these full size. The dream was for people to ride in them, to replace horses and carriages. It was one of the inventions forbidden by magi even before the war, and never perfected. We make little ones now, in an ongoing attempt to perfect it. One day, I’m sure, someone will find a way to make them efficient, and then the world could change.” He smiled at the small automata. “They represent a lot.” His eyes shone as he looked up at Kenneth. “Thank you.”

Warmth bloomed in Kenneth’s chest. “I just want you to be happy.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 18

Part 18

Thorn grinned, pulling his horse closer to Kenneth’s and leaning over to kiss him, a quick peck on the lips. Kenneth grinned as he headed toward the stalls, his cheeks a russet pink the way they always were when Thorn kissed him.

 Thorn watched his lover navigate through the crowds, a small smile on his face. Today had gone well so far. Kenneth’s words made him think about his years here at the college, and about all the projects he had worked on.

His first year had been nervewracking, the lone man with no family and little other than a knack for fixing broken heaters. He had scrimped and saved money from repair projects throughout his years at the orphanage, taking lessons in mathematics from the merchants that came through. Knowledge of economics hadn’t helped has much as he hoped when it came to designing, but it had kept him afloat throughout the years in terms of selling his wares.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had had no one. So many had lost parents to the war.

Kenneth couldn’t understand. The beautiful blond mage, astride a horse bedecked with a jade halter, dug through a fat coinpurse as he spoke to a vendor. Thorn wondered what he was buying. Buying objects purely for the purposes of remembering a place, a time in one’s life—that was a luxury too.

A luxury he would have, if he stayed with Kenneth. No more scrimping and saving, the worry of having to save for a store gone…all of that was possible with Kenneth.

If he became an Enforcer. Thorn wished he knew more about them.

“You,” a voice said, and he turned, reining in his horse when the animal stepped nervously. George stared up at him, a scowl on his face. “You just kissed him, that mage of yours? And where’s he gone now, left after the servicing?”

Thorn’s face heated, but no one else in the crowd had taken notice of them. He had a mind to ignore George, to stare straight ahead like a noble mage and pretend George was beneath him. But he couldn’t do that. He was no mage, and challenges had to be answered when they were from equals.

“I’m no prostitute, and Kenneth isn’t like that,” he said. George crossed his arms, and Thorn wished he could sound more confident. “Why are you here, anyway? Following me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” George said. Thorn wondered how he had ever found the other man attractive. “I just couldn’t help but notice you. Don’t bring that mage of yours around again. Just because you’ve sold yourself to them doesn’t mean any of us want anything to do with them.”

Thorn twisted the reins in his hand. He had lost sight of Kenneth in the crowds. “I’ll do what I please,” he said. “You’re no mage either, to order me around.”

“You truly want to cause trouble?” George raised his voice. “You’re in your last year, about to graduate, and all you’re showing the first year students is how to succeed by offering yourself to the first mage who asks. It’s pathetic.” Thorn ground his teeth. “We’re students at the inventor’s college, independent from mages. We fought a war to get away from them, and talentless like you go scuttling back. It makes me sick.” Thorn’s own anger faded in the face of George’s obvious deep-seated hatred. “The last thing I want is to people waste their abilities on magi.” He spat the last word.

Thorn’s skin crawled as memories of his own childhood, his own anger and fear, came back to him. “What did they do to you?” Thorn asked.

George’s nostrils flared. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He took a step forward, sending Thorn’s horse’s ears back.

“I…” Thorn stammered on the words. “I just meant…why are you so angry?”

“Why aren’t you?” Someone turned at George’s words and then hurried away. Another woman ushered her child further from where the two men stood. “I suppose you’ve had a perfect life.” Thorn’s eyes narrowed. “No losses to magi, no mistreatment. Not all of us are so luck—”

“Does this look perfect to you?” Thorn shouted, holding his fist down for George to see. “I lost it as a child, when I lost my parents! Don’t tell me what I have and haven’t experienced at the whims of magi.”

George glared back at him, Thorn’s heart pounding and his throat tight. He hated this. He hated feeling angry, especially at one of his own people.

“Sure, I’m angry at magi,” Thorn continued. “Everyone is sometimes. But I don’t let it control me. The war is over, George.”

“Its only over when they leave us alone,” George said. “You bringing a mage around here is not what anyone wants. You disrespect all of us by being with one.”

Thorn set his jaw. “I don’t care what other people think.” That wasn’t true, but he hoped George believed him. His stomach and chest quavered with uncertainty. He was a talentless. He had lost his parents and his hand to magi in the war. He knew Kenneth could never understand, through no fault of his own.

“You’re an idiot, then,” George said, turning away. “The worst sort of whore.” The last word dripped venom. “Keep your mage away from us, or else.”

He disappeared into the crowd before Thorn could ask who “us” meant. Thorn sat on his horse, watching the crowd, suddenly wishing he hadn’t kissed Kenneth in public and also ashamed that he would ever regret it.

He wanted to have a perfect day of showing Kenneth that their small part of the city was better than a slum. But if people were like George, it would be difficult.

And he didn’t like the threat in George’s words. He couldn’t hurt Kenneth. But he could hurt Thorn.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A look back and a look ahead: 2015!

Hello all,

No Wednesday Briefs this week--that will resume next week. Instead, this is my annual review of the past year and a look ahead to the next!

This year was marked by a few things. One was a continuation of the Enforcer's series, notably book 4, Capture, which was the longest in the series yet. Kenneth and Thorn's story will continue into the next year.

Second was the beginning of a series of Erotica shorts featuring cyborgs! I intend to keep releasing these also, and the next should be an anthology of what's been released so far with a bonus story to go along with them.

And finally, I'm sure everyone has noticed my involvement with Wednesday Briefs and an ongoing, light-hearted look at Thorn and Kenneth's college days. That will also continue into the new year. 

It's no secret that releases were a bit scarce this year, but there's a reason for that--I got my Ph.D! Now that the worst of that is over, expect more in the new year.

And on that note, let's start with two announcements!

Enforcer's Book 5 is in contract with Extasy and should be released this year, and Freshmen Blues is done, contracted with Dreamspinner press, and should be released sometime in July or August! Freshmen Blues should be getting a print version also!

I hope people look forward to those, and I'm sure to have more announcements soon!