Farewell from the Bookshelf!
Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.
All Gay Romance will remain online till the end of 2016 in order to give contributors every opportunity to recover materials uploaded here.
Many thanks to all who contributed over the years, and good luck to everyone in your future works!
Excerpted from NARC #3: Scorpio by Mel Keegan
Stone was still frowning at the space where the vids had run. What he was thinking, Jarrat could not know, but the emotion churning through him was powerful, dark, turbulent as a river in flood. Jarrat tightened his grip on Stone’s fingers till the blue eyes cleared. Stone seemed to return to the present with a small start, and forced a smile. “I always wanted to see Jesse Lawrence dance. Ever since that night on Skycity when we saw him in the courtyard with a bunch of other uptown Companions. Remember?”
“I remember.” Jarrat was sure Stone’s words had nothing to do with what he was thinking, but he was content to let Stone cover for the moment. “You ready to go, Vic?”
The colonel’s voice issued from the bedroom. “Ready to get laid? I was born ready, Jarrat. Tell him, Stoney.”
“He was?” Jarrat asked of Stone as they drifted toward the door, the private garage and the Rand Viper.
“Why ask me?” Stone demanded. “He was just my instructor at Tac school, and in those days he used to tell me, and I quote, I’d ‘never amount to shit.’ I didn’t see him again till the Equinox bust. And as for shagging the instructors at Tac school —”
“You’d be bounced out on your ass,” Cronin said glibly with a glance at Stone’s butt. “No matter how cute it was. Vic, we’re leaving!” And he disappeared into the garage before Duggan answered.
Stone managed a creditable chuckle, leaned over and landed a kiss off-center of Jarrat’s mouth. “He’s right. Gil’s known a lot of guys who transferred over, Tac to NARC. A few landed in his unit ... Vic we’re bloody leaving!” He had the keys in his hand.
“All right, Christ, where’s your rush?” Duggan demanded, pulling on his jacket as he left the bedroom. His hair was still damp, his cheeks ruddy with vodka and the quick shave. “So where’s this nookie shop?”
Sensations was an uptown club. In city bottom the same establishment would have been called a den, and Tactical would have sent a patrol through every couple of hours, but in the Alvarez sector, in the foothills of the Caerleon Range, it was an elite club with a select clientele, and Tac kept a profile so low, they were invisible.
The top two floors of the Chubb-Carleton Building belonged to Sensations. A casino opened right off the skypark; the restaurant flanked the gaming tables, with two stages, and as they strode into the club a band was already performing on one podium, a conjurer on the other. The accommodations were one level down, and Sensations had a reputation: leather and lace, recreational ‘treats’ and VR visors, iced champagne and satin sheets. Companions, performers, steelrock or Mozart ... or peace and quiet, a bottle of wine, a soft bed and a cab home in the morning.
Deep in the club, beyond the glamor of the casino, lasers danced across the high, fluted ceiling. Gold and purple strobes winked in dim, smoky corners where half-seen bodies writhed in rhythm to the grinding bass of the steelrock. The deeper into Sensations one delved, the more familiar it became. Jarrat had visited many a city bottom den that felt, smelt, no different.
He studied Stone, watched the pageant of expression on his partner’s face. Cronin had dropped behind, slid into a vacant place at a blackjack table, and Duggan already had a long drink in one hand, a house Companion of indeterminate gender in the other. In an hour he would be laid and spent, in two hours, comatose, and in the morning perhaps he could set aside the anger which consumed him.
The thud of the steelrock found its way into every bone in a man’s body, thrummed in his marrow, vibrated in his pelvis. It was the subetheric track, Jarrat knew. The ears could not even hear it, but it worked its magic. He felt his nerves enliven after the stultifying session before the tribunal, felt the blood begin to pulse into every extremity. He moved closer to Stone as they made their way around the vast, threshing dance floor. Companions, performers and clients were entangled, indistinguishable, and the air was already thick with dream smoke.
Gold strobes scurried at foot level and lasers dueled just overhead, visible in the pall of mild narcotic smoke. Jarrat’s ears had begun to buzz pleasantly when he heard a voice he knew. “Hey, Jarrat, is that you? Stoney!”
“Who in hell knows we’re here?” Stone groaned, but when they turned toward the voice they saw Tim Kwei, and a quick smile replaced the grimace. “Tim, you look good ... considering.”
In fact, Tim Kwei looked a little thin, a little pinched. The Angel was still in his system, making him feel under par, as if he were trying to throw off a virus. Harry would have given him vitamins, immune boosters, antioxidants, but the Angel toxin would have to cycle out in its own good time. He was in loose, flimsy oyster silk, a lot of platinum jewelry and the peasant sandals that were chic this year. He was tanned, as he had never been in the perpetual shadow of Zeus.
“I’m okay,” Kwei told Stone as he gave his hand to Jarrat. “When did you guys get in? Will you be here long? Jack had to work, he couldn’t get here, but I know he’ll want to catch up with you.”
The young men came as a threesome: Jesse Lawrence, Tim Kwei and Jack Spiteri, three unlikely survivors of the Equinox bust.
“We got in late yesterday,” Jarrat told him. “Dupre wants us on a courier tomorrow evening, but we have a day.”
Kwei’s eyes narrowed as the lasers lanced toward him. “You’re back on assignment ... it’s Thule, isn’t it?”
“How did you guess?” Stone asked in arid tones.
“Didn’t have to.” Kwei nodded in the general direction of the NARC compound. “Jack’s working for NARC now, doing what he does best. Project design. Dupre’s had him modeling grav-resist structures in low temperatures and skinny air pressure. Doesn’t take too many brain cells to work out where NARC’s deploying next.” He paused and rubbed his nose, which would have become a habit since he inhaled the Angel. His sinuses would have been blocked for days, irritated for days longer. “I just had an offer from your R&D office,” he added. “Doctor McKinnen’s team, in fact. Biocyber development.”
“You?” Jarrat waved for a drink waiter and appropriated a glass of something pale blue and effervescent. “The last I heard, you were writing VR games.”
“I was. I still am.” Kwei’s face darkened. “I’m the best in Venice, so it didn’t take long for NARC to notice me, and they know as well as Randy Dorne did, game algorithms double as battlefield sim.” His teeth worried at his lip. “I’m already kind of connected with NARC, so I probably look like a safe bet. I agreed to do the thing with Doc Del.” He squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered animatedly. “If I go to work with McKinnen, they want me to develop battlefield models.” He looked owlishly at Jarrat and Stone. “Skinny air pressure, low temperatures, grav-resist structures. If that’s not Thule, Stoney, where is it?”
“It’s Thule,” Stone affirmed. “So where’s Jesse?”
“Getting into costume. If you can call it a costume.” Tim grinned widely. “He’s doing a whole new routine, s’why I’m here tonight.” He peered at his chrono in the weird half-light. “You want to watch? We have our own table. Have you eaten?”
The table was recessed into a deep alcove, away from the strobes and lasers but with a good view of the stage. A troupe was finishing as they looked over the menu. The five dancers were all part gymnast, part acrobat, with an odd routine, at once martial and seductive. Jarrat was impressed. Any of the performers and Companions here could have worked on Skycity. For Jesse Lawrence to be one of them was an accolade in a demanding business.
They had lost track of Cronin and Duggan, and were still waiting for dinner when the music changed gear. The subetherics deepened, the stage lighting dimmed and shifted to thick reds and golds. A heavy bass drumbeat set up a primitive rhythm, and Jarrat felt the sharp edge of Stone’s intrigue as they turned toward the stage.
The ‘costume’ was mostly paint, so cleverly applied, it might have been tattooed. Jesse wore an eagle with widespread wings across his chest, raven and wolf faces about his calves, serpents coiled about his thighs, eagle feathers draped artfully about his arms, all in paint which fluoresced in the odd lights, green, blue, mauve, the colors never the same for two consecutive seconds. The tiny posing pouch was chameleon skin, a rainbow of shifting, restless hues. It did more to accentuate than conceal. His hair was braided with strands of the same chameleon fiber, and eagle feathers. He might have been made of light and color, woven out of sheer imagination, inspired by dream smoke, animated by the hypnotic, barbarian cadence of the drums. There was no melody, no vocal, just a range of bass tomtoms which Jarrat suspected were synthetic. It would have taken at least three drummers to handle the instruments, and the precision was inhuman.
Not so the dancer, nor the dance. Jesse Lawrence was the consummate professional. Where his partners, Tim and Jack, worked in virtual worlds, manipulating algorithms, massaging supercomputers, Jesse worked in a realm of the senses, a world of energy, perception of every kind, and unabashed eroticism. While he danced, the crowd near the stage silenced, swiveled to watch. Tim Kwei could have taken out a patent on his smug look. Tonight Jesse was sinuous, sensuous. Lithe as a panther, wanton, half-savage, yet sophisticated as a geisha. The combination of contradictions was stunning. Jarrat had expected steelrock, bump-and-grind, but as soon as it began, he knew he was wrong.
Eyes on the performer, he let down his empath’s shields to show Stone the naked heart of himself, and the wild freshet of Stone’s emotions sparkled through him. Stone was hot, already powerfully turned on before Jarrat touched him, caressed him deep down, where the empath’s neural channels reverberated. The touch was liquid fire and they both gasped. For a moment the stage and Jesse blurred. The dim corner of Sensations brightened, and Jarrat realized his eyes had dilated. His leg lay warmly against Stone’s, and Stone’s hand palmed the curve of his thigh.
The choreography was fluid, liquid, with an acrobatic finale. Jesse was rewarded with a patter of spontaneous applause. It was difficult to impress the clients who frequented clubs like Sensations, but Jesse Lawrence was among the elite of his kind.
A gold satin robe was tossed to him as he stepped out of the lights. He draped it about his shoulders and was still catching his breath as he retired to Kwei’s table. Tim handed him a tall glass of water without ice, and he drank deeply. The last, most difficult part of the routine was anaerobic: he was fish-breathing for some moments, but he recovered so fast, Jarrat was impressed.
“They liked it.” Jesse still had the accent of Avalon, Elysium, while Kwei was cultivating the sound of Darwin’s world. He gave Jarrat a smile which did not diminish as his eyes passed on to Stone. “I didn’t know you guys were in town.”
“They’re not,” Kwei said wryly. “Just passing through on their way to ... points colder, dryer and a lot more dangerous.” He chuckled and batted his eyelashes at Jarrat. “What? Did I come out and say it? It’s classified, I know.”
“The assignment’ll be classified till we can’t keep the carrier ‘dark’ any longer,” Stone told Jesse, who wore a perplexed look. “The first time our gunships deploy and the Ravens jump into the street, you got nothing left to hide.”
“Right.” Jesse sat back. The robe slithered off his shoulders, leaving him tantalizingly close to naked, adorned with body art which, on closer inspection, showed astonishing detail. Jarrat leaned over to see in the half-light. Jesse arched his back, extended one long leg. “It takes two hours to get into costume, but it’s worth it.”
“Costume?” Stone angled an appreciative glance at the flimsy scrap of chameleon skin stretched over Jesse’s groin.
Jesse plucked an ice cube out of the water pitcher and flicked it at him. “You know what I mean. The paint. You like?”
“I like.” Stone smiled sidelong at Jarrat. “I always had a ... a taste for a bit of the exotic.”
“Like him?” Jesse set back, cradled a glass of some ruby-red liquid and cocked his head at Jarrat. “Now, there’s exotic.”
“Me?” Jarrat laughed aloud. “Don’t con me. I’m about as exotic as a Shekley city bottom kid can get. Or ‘Army trash,’ as they call it in the base towns.”
“Army trash? I don’t see that. I see ... cougar,” Jesse argued. “Kind of golden and still half-wild, with fangs, claws. Dangerous even when he sleeps.” He nodded at Stone. “Ask him. He knows what I mean.”
The flashfire of Stone’s feelings hit Jarrat like a physical blow. Stone pushed back his chair and was on his feet. “Oh, he knows,” he said, rich and dark as old wine. He extended one hand to Jarrat. “It’s our last night groundside, together and on our own time.”
“Don’t waste it, Stoney,” Jesse advised, mock-solemly. “Tim?”
“Here.” From his shirt pocket Kwei produced a key. “I booked 822 as usual. We’re going to have dinner, dance, drop a few bucks at the tables. Jack might get in.”
Stone caught the key as it was tossed to him. “Thanks. You want the room later?”
“Much later,” Jesse purred. “We might join you, or you might play a little roulette and watch the cabaret. Around midnight it gets weird.”
“We’ll do that,” Stone decided. “Kevin?” He dropped the key into Jarrat’s hand.
Illustrated by Jade. See the new digital design for Jarrat and Stone, and other characters from the cult classic series.