I’m so excited to share an excerpt from Life Within Parole, Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver, a story collection set in the Chameleon Moon universe, by one of my favorite queer authors, which comes out October 11!
Here is a note from the author about the excerpt:
The opening to “Happening Again” might strike some readers as familiar. I wrote it to be a mirror to “Runtime,” another night in Parole, another Jay/Regan run that starts off with their back and forth, and another event that will upend everything and plunge them into the next crisis – which leads up to the beginning of Chameleon Moon itself. We’re also going to meet one of the scariest guys I’ve ever written. (We’ve seen his effects, but not him in person yet. I hope his introduction is sufficiently chilling.) This is also the first of a 2-part story, and where “Happening Again” is more suspense, its ‘sequel’ is a lot more emotional… which is kind of the way this entire book is. Half action and drama, half feels. Enjoy!
An Excerpt from Happening Again
Just Under A Month Before Chameleon Moon
A Few Days After The Library Ghost
* * *
“I don’t really see the point,” Regan said, voice coming in loud and clear in Jay’s earpiece. “That decision’s kind of already made for me.”
“Yeah, but is it the power you want?” Jay pressed, laying back in his reclining desk chair and staring at the ceiling.
His wall of monitors cast his dark apartment in a ghostly blue-green, but Regan’s image wasn’t on any of the many screens. A while ago he’d crossed into one of Parole’s numerous dead zones, where even the almost-all-seeing CyborJ’s video feeds couldn’t reach, and when that happened, continuing to watch for an image that wouldn’t come was a surefire recipe for an anxiety spike. Fortunately, audio contact tended to be easier to maintain. They probably had Radio Angel to thank for that. Never let it be said that Parole’s undisputed technological champion didn’t give credit where it was due.
“Given the choice of any ability in the world, anything at all,” Jay continued. “You’d really pick being able to turn invisible? Again?”
“It’s come in handy a few times…” There was a short silence and then a scuffling noise, like Regan was climbing something. There were a lot of fallen buildings in the area tonight’s run had taken him, and probably even more hidden deathtraps. Jay wasn’t overly concerned. Regan hadn’t stayed alive this long by tripping and falling into pits. “Like every day.”
“Mrah,” said Seven, stretching up from the floor and headbutting Jay’s hand. Most of the fluffy android cat’s function during runtime was to be another monitor for Regan’s vitals and general safety, alerting Jay of any danger. She seemed pretty calm for now, though, trying to get his attention just for petting, which he happily gave. She seemed to especially like being scratched on the exposed patches where Danae hadn’t finished filling in her fur, which Jay appreciated. It felt like he’d made the right decision in bringing her home not-quite-finished. She was perfect the way she was.
“Okay, fine, invisibility is a good one for our, uh, current circumstances and living situation,” Jay admitted. “But stop thinking about bare survival for a second, have some fun. You get to pick any superpower in the world, go, go-go-go.”
“Do I still get to be a lizard?”
“Do you like being a lizard?” Jay asked as Seven jumped up onto his chair arm and started walking across it (and his chest) to the head rest.
There was a long pause, and Jay didn’t break it. Regan might have been jumping between buildings, or going silent to avoid detection, or just thinking about his answer. Finally, one came. “Yes.”
“Then you’re a lizard for life,” Jay declared, cracking his stiff knuckles. “But what else?”
“Um…” Regan hesitated, and the scuffling noise returned.
“This isn’t distracting you, is it?” Jay asked a little more seriously. His eyes flicked over to where one of his illuminated screens displayed a set of numbers, monitoring Regan’s heart, blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs. The numbers were holding steady for now, but the program would alert him if any of them jumped. Seven didn’t seem alarmed either, draping herself over Jay’s head like a robotic cat hat. “If you need to focus, I’ll put a sock in it.”
“No, don’t worry,” Regan assured him. “I’m just trying to figure out how to get down from here. Looks like there’s been a cave-in, landscapes changed. I think I’d want mind- reading.”
“Oh, really?” Jay asked after the second it took for Regan’s answer to sink in after the complete lack of segue. “Telepathy’s cool, no doubt.”
“Eh, maybe that’s the wrong word,” Regan said, sounding unconvinced of his own reasoning. “I don’t think I’d want to know what everyone’s literally thinking. Maybe just what they’re feeling, so I know what they’re planning before they do it. Like if they’re actually dangerous or just scared or something.”
“So more like being an empath. Betazoid, basically?”
Another pause. “Star Trek?”
“Aw, you do care. I’m touched, honestly.” Jay chuckled, feeling genuine warmth in his chest under his casual lightness. Sometimes the little things in life really were the big things.
Regan made a flustered noise that wasn’t quite words, and Jay stifled his laugh that threatened to grow. It was never a good idea for either of them to get distracted during runtime, but damn it, in Parole, you had to take your giggles where you could.
“So what would you pick?” Regan asked, sounding calm and collected again, but Jay could practically pinpoint the shade of vibrant green his frill would be now, the way it wiggled when he got flustered. Regan didn’t exactly blush anymore, not in the way most people did, but he was never hard to read, especially not for Jay.
“Oh, that’s easy. Five-second-rewind button.” Jay folded his arms behind his head. Even though he’d been nearly lying on his back for the past half hour, he was only now starting to relax. Constant vigilance got exhausting after a few years. But right now, Seven was purring, Regan was doing well on a run, and they were having an enjoyable conversation that had nothing to do with hellish imprisonments or impending doom. This was as close to a perfect night as he could get—at least alone.
“Like time travel?” Regan asked, sounding a little confused.
“Yeah!” Jay smiled up at the dark ceiling; he could easily imagine the puzzled look on Regan’s face, and enjoyed it almost as much as the thought of a rippling neck frill. “Do you know how many times I’ve said the exact wrong thing, then realized it like a millionth of a second later?”
“Um… a lot?” Regan teased, and now Jay laughed again.
“Babe, take whatever number you’re thinking of and double it. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth so many times I’m permanently tasting toe jam.”
“Delicious,” Regan said dryly. “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
“I’m serious, though! I could go back until I said the right thing, or at least the thing that doesn’t get everyone mad at me.” Jay’s smile turned sly. “Works for good things too though, not just mistakes. I mean, just picture it.” He held up his hands, forming a lens-rectangle with his fingers and thumbs, and peered through at the dark ceiling. “I’ve got some SkEye creeps in my sights, they’re just about to fall into one of my brilliant snares, and I just want to savor that moment, and watch them eat it,over and over again…”
“But why only five seconds?” Regan asked after another brief pause.
“Less chance of paradoxes,” Jay explained readily, letting his arms flop back down to his sides. “Can’t run the risk of accidentally becoming my own grandpa or something. Doesn’t remove the possibility, obviously, but I figure there’s less ways to shred the time-space continuum fabric in only five seconds—with infinite do-overs.”
“You’ve put a lot of thought into this, haven’t you?” Now Regan was suppressing a laugh, and Jay couldn’t find it in himself to feel guilty for the distraction anymore.
“Hey, gotta do something to keep busy while you’re out jumping off rooftops and stuff.” A couple seconds of comfortable silence went by, and then Jay spoke again, voice dropping into something softer and rougher at the same time. “You know, I can think of something else I’d do with that five second rewind.”
“What’s that?” Regan asked, tone suggesting that he knew the answer and liked the idea just as much as Jay did.
“You’re blushing right now, aren’t you? The next time we’re alone together, off the job, on the bed…” Jay let his eyes slip shut to better relish the image. “I’d wait until, uh, the opportune moment, and then totally see how many times I can make you—”
“Blush?” There it was, Regan actually giggled. Score, mission accomplished.
“Exactly.” Jay grinned, basking in the satisfaction of knowing they were, as always, on the same page. He generally enjoyed their runtimes, but now he couldn’t wait for this particular one to end. “Take whatever number you’re thinking of, and then double it.”
Seven stood up quickly, one paw stepping on Jay’s forehead. She wasn’t alarm-meowing yet, but her fur did stand up a bit on end.
“Regan?” Nothing. Jay sat up, propping himself up on his elbows. “Regan, you good? I go too far there? Sorry, I know we’re on a job and—oh, jeez, you’re still into me ribbing you like that, sexy-wise, right?” He sat up the rest of the way and covered his face with his hands, wishing fervently for that five-second rewind right now. Regan had sounded into it, but that didn’t mean he was, and going off the past eight years, he wasn’t likely to say so if he wasn’t. “I know it’s kind of a flux, so if you’re having a sex-neg day, you know you can tell me and I’ll —”
“No, no, Jay, you’re fine!” Regan answered at last, sounding breathless and so frightened it sent a cold stab of fear through Jay’s stomach. “I’m just starting to think someone might be onto me after all.”
“Mmrrrrrrrrr…” Seven started to let out an uneasy noise, then jumped from the chair to the desk, tail standing straight up and fluffed out. “Mrah!”
“Shit.” Jay’s feet hit the floor as he lurched upright and back to his work station just as the vitals screen started to flash a warning in reply to Seven’s. Regan’s heart rate and blood pressure had just spiked. So had Jay’s, seeing that. “Somebody tailing you?”
“Yeah.” Regan’s voice was low and strained.
“Where?” Jay asked.
“Behind me, lights, radio chatter.”
“Up or down?” Please say down, Jay begged silently. Please say down.
“Uh, up. I almost made it to the ground, but I’m starting to rethink that.”
“Shit!” Jay shot an alarmed glance over at Seven, who was sitting expectantly by the main monitor, green eyes wide and fixed on him as if also requesting his help. “Okay, okay, sounds like they’ve got the high ground. But you’ve got something they don’t.”
“What’s that?” Regan was breathing faster now and Jay could only hope it was from running and not panic. He’d see in a second.
Jay cracked his knuckles and shut his eyes. When he opened them, nothing existed beyond this room where he was in control, and Regan, who would be safe here soon. He would.
More About Life Within Parole, Volume 2
Parole is full of danger—and secrets.
The deepest of them make up intricately interconnected stories. Damaged survivors finding each other, stitching their lives together in the harshest of places, forging precious bonds amidst the flames. Gradually growing trust, love, and understanding between found families. But there’s no escaping this place, its deadly realities, or its predators. A brutal capture. A hellish withdrawal and fragile recovery. A harrowing escape. A breakneck sprint across a haunted, poisoned wasteland.
Life and death, trust and betrayal, choking smoke and breaths of fresh air—all of these are just part of life within Parole.
A Bit About RoAnna
RoAnna Sylver writes unusually hopeful dystopian stories about marginalized heroes actually surviving, triumphing, and rocking really hard. RoAnna is also a singer, blogger, voice actor and artist who lives with family and a small snorking dog, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. The next amazing adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies. You can support RoAnna directly on Patreon!
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