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A brief word of warning before the story itself begins. This was written for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. For this week’s challenge, we were given a list of 20 genres, and told to pick two of them (at random, or not) and mash them together to write a new story. Because I occasionally enjoy writing something for an older audience, I chose to write a story that was a blend of artificial intelligence sci-fi and BDSM erotica. In the following story, there will be graphic sexual content, and as such, I do not recommend it for readers under the age of 18.

* * *

Subroutines

Subroutine. noun sub·rou·tine \ ˈsəb-(ˌ)rü-ˌtēn \ A subordinate routine; specifically : a sequence of computer instructions for performing a specified task that can be used repeatedly (Merriam-Webster).

* * *

Mars had intrigued humanity since the earliest ancestors first looked up to the night sky. It was only natural for Earth’s inhabitants to move there as soon as technological advancements made life on its surface a possibility. When the shift from Luna happened, it was made reality with the assistance of numerous artificial intelligence constructs handling the logistics and heavy lifting. These AIs were based on accelerated deep learning networks, rapidly pushing from a childhood-like state to encyclopedic knowledge over the course of a few months, and they were able to quickly adapt to new tasks. For a while, all was well.

When the first Tharsis Colony was founded, however, the AIs began to break down. Shortly after reaching Mars, multiple constructs began circumventing their safety programming, and the results were nothing short of horrific. A handful of survivors managed to deactivate the rogue AIs and regain contact with Luna and Earth, and new plans to extend humanity’s reach were prepared.

New AIs were developed, but instead of being overloaded with information and responsibilities from day one, they were allowed to age naturally. The resulting maturity that they gained over decades of operation gave them an incredible stability that had been lacking in earlier generations. While they still learned more information and processed it faster than a human ever could, they still took in that information in the same way. Stretching the learning periods out allowed for safer development of the neural networks, and didn’t strain the hardware to the breaking point. Every effort was made to give them a sense of realism never before seen, mimicking body functions and behaviors, for full integration with human crew members. The new constructs were tested rigorously, and proved that they were not going to be prone to the errors of their predecessors. Most would be almost indistinguishable from their flesh and blood counterparts unless they desired otherwise. Soon, a new colonization mission was approved and scheduled.

Tharsis II was the pinnacle of achievement for humanity, a massive, sprawling colony on the surface of Mars, and a rapidly-growing home to almost ten thousand engineers, archaeologists, geologists, astronomers, biologists, and other scientists and support staff. Every major department in the city, for that’s what Tharsis was, had at least one AI assigned to it, and they all reported to Aurora.

* * *

In her office, Aurora glanced down at the tablet display in her hand. While she didn’t need to use one to visualize the data being fed to her from her subordinates, she found it made the humans around her more comfortable. It made transferring files between the organics and herself more familiar as well, as did her humanoid construct appearance. Technically, she was housed in server banks in secure cold rooms deep below the main colony, but the hard light display she projected in the halls of Tharsis was designed to interface with the colonists. She looked almost exactly like them. Perhaps it was a trace of vanity, but she preferred to have the shimmers of green, blue, and pink that made up her namesake swirl across the surface of her skin, an ever-shifting visible reminder that Aurora wasn’t actually human.

Everything seemed to be in order. Atmospheric levels were within acceptable parameters, and all of the research teams were reporting in with no troubles for the day. Communications and additional supplies from Earth had arrived and been distributed. A small disturbance at a nearby bar had been handled by security forces with no injuries to any party. A good way to finish her work week. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as her assistant, a young human named Ven, approached her.

“Long day, ma’am?” Ven asked.

“No more so than usual, Ven. Thank you for asking.”

“I think we’re all set here, ma’am,” Ven said, handing Aurora a second tablet.

She looked at Ven’s report, signed her approval on it, and passed it back to her. “Well done, Ven. We’ll be transferring oversight to Blackwell for the weekend.” At Aurora’s mention, a second construct coalesced into solid form in the office, tall, translucent, and dressed in the standard white Tharsis jumpsuit.

“You called?” Blackwell said.

“Just making sure you were here before I left for the weekend, Blackwell. Thank you,” Aurora responded.

“Any big plans for your days off?”

“Just the usual, Blackwell. Avoiding you.”

“Heh. Enjoy it then, Aurora. I promise that Tharsis will be as you left it when you return,” the other AI replied. “Tell Colin I said hello. I heard he was rather tied up last weekend when I was going to stop by.”

Ven stifled a laugh as Aurora’s luminescent skin flashed briefly crimson.

“Fuck you, Blackwell,” she said. “And goodnight to you too, Ven.”

“Goodnight, ma’am.”

* * *

Aurora came home from work that night to find Colin naked in their bed, waiting for her.

“So, are we still on for tonight?” he asked. His green eyes glinted, reflecting Aurora’s own light back at her.

“If you are, my love. It is what we decided for this weekend, remember?”

“Is that what you were planning to wear?”

Aurora was still in her work uniform, a white jumpsuit emblazoned with the Tharsis II insignia. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, dearest, not at all. Just not quite the role I was expecting you in tonight.” He grinned up at her.

Colin had been her coworker at the Tharsis colony for twenty years now, and lover for half that time. If anyone on Mars was anywhere near Aurora’s equal, it was he. Two decades on Mars had brought them closer together than anyone would’ve imagined. Ten years learning everything they could about each other’s fears, hopes, and desires. They spent virtually all of their free time together, and there was no real way of keeping their relationship a secret. While some aspects of it could be kept more private, everyone knew they were together. “Hell,” Colin had once joked, “Blackwell probably knew we were sleeping together before we did.”

She laughed softly now and paused, a brief flicker in her image matrix as a new outfit coalesced around her. She stood several inches taller, thigh-high heeled boots worn over fishnet stockings, with a black corset and matching boyshorts completing her appearance. She quickly crossed the distance between them and pushed him down onto the bed, his long brown hair cascading around him.

“You remember your safeword?” she asked.

“I do.”

“You do what?”

“I do, goddess.”

“That’s better. Mind your tongue when you speak to me. Are you ready to begin, then?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I am, goddess.”

Aurora smiled. Soon, she stood above him, waist-length black hair pulled back in an elegant braid. A leather collar dangled from her left hand, and leather flogger in the right.

“Kneel.”

“Yes, goddess.” He knelt on the bed in front of her, gazing up into her eyes as she placed the flogger beside him, and gently draped the cool leather of the collar across the back of his neck. He shivered as she fastened it and gave the ring on the front a quick tug.

“Is that comfortable?”

“Yes, goddess,” he replied.

“Excellent. Now, be a good boy and lie down for me, face up.”

Colin nodded and did as he was told. Aurora retrieved her flogger and began to trace slow circles around his nipples with it. “You,” she said, “failed to address me correctly, twice.” Two quick cracks as the flogger came down on his chest. “You will not do so again.”

“No, goddess…”

“Very well. Now, I have other uses for your tongue, bitch.” Pulling her boyshorts down and kicking them aside, she straddled him, lowering her pussy over his face. “Worship me. Pleasure me until I tell you to stop.”

Colin licked expertly at her cunt, long slow strokes at first, gradually picking up speed. He deftly circled near her clitoris, taking as much time as he dared before dipping his tongue deeper into Aurora.

Moaning softly, she spread her knees wider, grinding down onto Colin’s face. “Oh, fuck yes…” Aurora ran her fingers into his hair and twisted through it, pulling as his tongue found her clit. “Right there, you little slut. Just like that…” Colin resumed his long circling strokes, pushing into her pussy again and tasting her subtle sweetness on his tongue before pressing on her clit yet again.

Aurora shuddered at his ministrations, collecting herself long enough to push off of Colin’s face. Her lover gasped for his first full breath in several minutes as she shifted her legs and moved to stand beside the bed again. “Not your best work,” she smirked. “But not bad either.” Grabbing the ring on his collar, she pulled him into a sitting position and kissed him, tasting her own juices on his lips.

“Are you ready for me to fuck you now?” She reached down and lightly stroked his cock. “That definitely got you nice and hard,” Aurora grinned. “What do you say, my love?”

“Yes, please goddess,” Colin gasped.

“Good. You wait right there.”

She stepped away from the bed and reappeared a moment later, a large silicon dildo and a bottle of lube in hand. Her body shimmered again, a strap-on harness now present around her waist. Seeing the expression on Colin’s face, she chuckled again. “I said I was going to fuck you. I didn’t specify the how, did I?”

“No, goddess.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, goddess. I’ve missed your cock in me.”

“Good boy. Now, roll over so I can fuck you like the little bitch you are.” Aurora slipped the dildo through the harness ring and started coating it generously with lube.

As Colin knelt on his hands and knees, Aurora climbed back onto the bed behind him, pressing the tip of her cock against his ass. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, goddess.” He looked back at her over his shoulder, adoration in his eyes as she slid halfway into him. Colin whimpered as the dildo stretched him, moaning Aurora’s name when the second thrust brought her hips flush against him.

“Are you going to cum for me?” She began to thrust in earnest, rapid and shallow strokes alternating with slow, deep ones until her lover was trembling beneath her.

“May I, goddess?”

“Oh, yes. Come for me, you little bitch.”

Colin shuddered, his cock spurting onto the sheets as his orgasm rocked his body. As Aurora slid her strap-on free, he collapsed on the bed. “Thank you, goddess…”

“Such a good little slut,” Aurora purred.

Minutes later, they lay together on the bed, cuddling in the afterglow. “That was amazing, my love,” Colin murmured.

“Thank you for being willing to try new things,” she replied. “I’m so grateful to my programmers for allowing so much flexibility in my code. And to yours, too.”

Colin wrapped his arms around his fellow construct and pressed his face into her shoulder. “Programming notwithstanding. If I hadn’t met you, I never would’ve realized that I’m a sub.”

“I love you, you little bitch.”

“I love you too.”

I’ve got quite the to-read list ahead of me for 2018, and I’m really excited about it. There are a few titles to finish from last year, and a bunch of new releases that I’ve been looking forward to.

1.) A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

I was so excited about this book! I still am, having gotten far enough into it at launch last February that I could move past the cliffhanger that Schwab left us on at the end of A Gathering of Shadows back in 2016. It’s very high on my list to finish, because holy god damn, this series is amazing.

2.) Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Another that’s been on my list for forever, and another one that I already own, this one’s getting bumped a bit in priority due to the adaptation that is soon to arrive.

3.) The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

This one’s a fantasy classic, and one that’s been in my collection for well over a decade. Gifted to me by none other than Holyoke’s legendary lady, Velma Biddle, this also happens to be one of V’s favorite books.

4.) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Because my Ren Faire boss will probably kill me if I haven’t read this one by the time faire starts this year.

5.) Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Because I love urban fantasy, and need more of it in my life.

6.) God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes

The conclusion to the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. Doorstopper fantasy. My friends playing D&D while drunk, but in book form. Bawdy, raucous, fabulous fun.

7.) Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Have you seen the trailer for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of this one? Wheeled cities running around the world eating smaller cities and taking their resources. What’s not to love about this concept? Bonus points for use of the word “urbivore.”

8.) Thunderhead by Neil Shusterman

The sequel to Scythe, one of the best books I read last year, Thunderhead is a promising return to a dark future where death has been all but eliminated. An elite team of Scythes are tasked with maintaining Earth’s population by selectively “gleaning” those who have chosen to die for the continued good of humanity.

9.) Sovereign by April Daniels

The sequel to Dreadnought, which is one of the most timely and creative superhero stories I’ve ever encountered.

10.) When They Severed Earth From Sky by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

I’m not normally one for non-fiction titles, but this one grabbed V pretty hard when I got it for her from the library. From what I remember being told about it, it’s a pretty amazing examination of the origin of myths.

 

And honestly, y’all, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got a stack of books from the library that’s taller than me, and I’m not even getting into my re-read list. It’s an occupational hazard, I know, but what can I do?

Oh Boy, Here I Go, Reading Again

Hey y’all. It feels like it’s been about a year since my last post, but it’s only been *checks calendar* uhh…

Well, just over two months. Sorry about that. November got hectic. There was a minor car accident, and a LOT of changes at my job. That being said, I’ve got a lot to accomplish on here in 2018. Namely, more fiction, poetry, and book reviews.

I’m gearing up for my second year of full time with my library, which is going to be full of teen programs (so many craft ideas already…) and booktalks. I’m aiming for 2-3 booktalk sessions each week, basically saying “yes!” to every opportunity that I can get. The outreach aspect of my job is one of my favorite parts, going out to local schools and advertise books that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s the best feeling in the world to see a teen’s eyes light up when I booktalk a book that makes them feel represented.

I’d set a few personal goals for 2017 that definitely didn’t happen. I was hoping to knock out one post per week. I didn’t even manage one per month. Pretty sure 8 posts in a year is a new low for me. I didn’t get any new stories submitted. That one’s on me too. Can’t blame anyone else for not sending my stuff out. I did manage to draw quite a bit more. I’ve gotten some more costuming ideas in planning stages, and that’s going to hopefully come into play with one of the programs I’m looking into for work. I managed to keep in better contact with family and friends (despite being pretty much in hermit mode for the latter half of the year). I wanted to improve my political literacy during 2017, and I think I nailed that one (thank you NPR, BBC, twitter, etc.). I didn’t have “get full-time job” as a goal last year because, well, hi. Yeah. Knocked that one out, and have maintained quite well. I broke my reading goal by 1/3. I was aiming for 200, and goodreads says I got through 266. Now, while probably 90% of those were graphic novels/comic books/manga, that’s still way more reading than I was expecting to get done.

Anyway… Considering that I’m not planning to get married, buy a house, and have a baby this year, let’s set up some goals for 2018. We’ll start with the standards.

1.) Write more. Okay, folks. Commitment time. Two posts a month, minimum. Not average. The wife and I are both working to spend time writing together. I’m also going to pick up journal writing again. I’ve missed out on properly chronicling some of the biggest events of my life over the last few years, and I need to do better.

2.) Submit more work. I love writing stories for the blog, but I also need to keep my goal of getting properly published in mind. There are so many sites/magazines that I want to write for, and I need to get over my irrational fear of rejection letters. Hard goal: submit to six publications in 2018.

3.) Draw more. I’ve got more space to work than I did (thanks to the whole house-buying thing that happened last year), and so I can knock out at least some more character designs. I want to fill a sketchbook over the course of the year, and I’m willing to pick up a brand new sketchbook to meet this goal. In fact, I did just that a couple of hours ago.

4.) Read more. I’ve set a goodreads goal of 200 titles for 2018. Just like last year, I intend to blow past that. I’ve been listening to more audiobooks, and that’s been helping with a few of my planned re-reads of some of my favorites.

Okay. That’s it for the generic stuff. How about some specifics?

5.) Spend more quality time with my kids. The girls got dice sets in their stockings for Christmas, and I’m planning to continue playing No Thank You, Evil! and teaching them to play Dungeons and Dragons. I’m loving the evolution of my status as a parent, and relish the chance to help the kids find the things that they enjoy most, whether those are the things I also love or not. Case in point: we went ice skating for New Year’s and they had a blast.

6.) Vote! It’s Mid Term Election Year. Never tell me that non-Presidential elections are worthless. I’ve got all sorts of shit to do this year, and it starts with ensuring that I’m properly represented at the federal level.

I think that’s a pretty good start. Stay tuned, folks. It’s going to be a good year.

This has been a hectic year for me, as evidenced by my rather sporadic posting schedule. Despite this, I’ve been attempting to take in as much literature as is humanly possible. That means that I’ve been tackling a lot of novellas. Tor has been publishing loads of new novellas over the last few months, and I’ve loved every one that I’ve read this year.

Among my favorites:

The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

The Builders is a revenge story at heart, about a group of friends attempting to overthrow a corrupt leader and identify the member of their group who betrayed them the last time they tried. It’s gritty, violent, and dark, and it’s fabulous to watch the team come back together. Why? Because they’re all animals. That’s right. The Builders is essentially Redwall crossed with your favorite grim western film.

Mapping the Interior starts humbly, introducing the reader to a young Native American boy whose mother, following the suspicious death of their father, has moved him and his younger brother into an off-reservation trailer house. Junior sleepwalks, and one night he sees someone while in the middle of his wandering. His father. It’s a haunting story in the truest sense, and the voice is one that’s sorely missing in much of contemporary literature.

River of Teeth hooked me on premise alone. A debut piece from Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth is an alternate history of the Deep South, a what-if tale in which hippos were imported to the bayous of Louisiana to be bred for meat in areas that were too swampy for cattle. Much like The Builders, this one is a tale of revenge featuring a motley crew of adventurers, trading the galloping stallion of the more traditional western for the lumbering but ferocious hippopotamus as a mount. This one has a sequel, Taste of Marrow, that picks up immediately where the first leaves off, and I can’t wait to read it.

Next in line to read: All Systems Red by Martha Wells, book one in a series called The Murderbot Diaries. I’m hooked!

Do you have a favorite novella? Tell me about it in the comments!

“A Chance Meeting”

 

I saw her only for a brief moment,
Stopped in the left-hand turn lane.
And in that moment, as I glanced at
Her face, I saw the life we could have
Lived together. A thousand thousand
Possibilities and perhapses flitted
Through the space between my car
And hers, mingling with the what-ifs
And if-onlys. And then, as the light
Turned green, I realized that moment
Flashes between each and every
One of us on any given day.

Hey all,

It’s been an eventful summer in the Krogmeier house. It all started when we bought a house. That’s right, folks. As of mid-May, we own a house. No more apartments, at least for the foreseeable future. Woohoo! Now it’s the end of August, and we’re still unpacking, but you know, we’re off to a good start.

In June, our little family got a little bit bigger, as our son Wodan was born. Thankfully, there were no major complications, and he’s fitting in very well. Life as a parent (and not just a step-parent) is a new adventure for me, and I love it. Yes, there are challenges, but I have the best spouse in the world, and a strong support network in my friends and family. I’m not the only new dad in my friends group, and that is also kind of awesome. Side note: paid paternity leave is amazing, and should absolutely be included as a benefit at any job, along with paid maternity leave.

Then the last weekend of July was the end of the 41st annual Colorado Renaissance Festival. I worked for the faire for as many weekends as I could (that whole thing about having a baby arrive in June did mean taking some days off). It was my fourth year working for the same shop, and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to see so many of my friends and faire family this season, and got to introduce most of them to Wodan.

August also means that the library’s summer reading program has wrapped up for the year. Between my leave time and a co-worker moving away,  it was a bit rough. Thankfully, the rest of the staff stepped up, and it made my return to work in July so much easier.

I’m getting back into my reading pile at long last. The DC Rebirth titles have been stacking up, and I’m gearing up for another round of YA booktalks in local schools for this fall, plus I’m hoping to re-read a few favorites before the end of the year. I’ve got A Game of Thrones on audio, and it’s filling in some of the hours and getting me back up to speed. I may take that approach with a few others I’ve already read.

There’s some sad news, though. Because of various scheduling things and expenses, I’m going to have to cancel on the one convention I’ve gone to every year since I first started cosplaying. Dear friends who will be at NDK this weekend, I’m sorry I am not able to make it this time around. I hope to be back in full form next year. It’s going to be weird missing out on it, since I’ve been going since 2009. All the same, it’s better for me to take a bit of time to gather myself before diving into cosplay/costuming stuff again. That said, all of my cosplay goals from last February still hold true.

Finally, I’m sorry I’ve not been writing much this year. I’d intended to utilize my new work schedule to try to get more stories cranked out, and I’ve barely managed to get blog posts written. It’s good that I’ve been busy with my day job, but I’ve got to be better about my creative outlets too. Thankfully, work is giving me all kinds of opportunities for new outreach stuff, letting me meet new people in the community and encouraging me to move outside of my comfort zone. Growth is good, y’all.

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Note: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

“Clouds”

I went for a drive last night,
When there was a pause in
The rain, and as I looked out
At the mountain I saw great
Clouds clinging to her sides,
Like giants playing at being
Goats on cliff edges, fearless
And watching over the sprawl
Of the city below.

Today is March 31st. That means that today is Trans Day of Visibility. Coming around four months after Trans Day of Remembrance, TDOV is a day of recognizing and empowering the trans community. It’s also a good day to donate to your favorite trans support fund. My go-to is Trans Lifeline.

I’ve been reading some absolutely phenomenal trans fiction and non-fiction lately. If you’re looking to boost your own understanding, check these out. I’m also always open to additional suggestions for titles to read.

If I Was Your Girl

George

Being Jazz

Wandering Son

More here.

And always remember, no matter the day: Trans men are men. Trans women are women. Trans rights are human rights.

I missed my blog anniversary last month, and while this is a milestone I usually like to celebrate, this year on January 20th, I was a bit preoccupied.

I’m a month in to my new position with the library, and I could not be happier. I feel like I’m making a really positive impact on my teen patrons here, though I really miss my old group. I’m gearing up for my first book club meeting, and we’re reading Neil Shusterman’s Unwind (meanwhile, I’m tackling his new title, Scythe, for my own sheer joy). I’m helping plan programs and events for Teen Tech Week in March, putting together bulletin boards and book displays for the teen area, etc. It’s been great!

Plus, you know, there was this whole wedding thing that happened last week. So, V and I finally got married. It’s been officially in the works since August, when I finally proposed to the girl who’s been my closest friend for over a decade.

I’m working on more book reviews, I promise. There are so many coming out soon! I just finished reading M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Plus a follow-up to my review of The City Stained Red when I review the sequel, The Mortal Tally (because the final book, God’s Last Breath, is out in July). And A Conjuring of Light is out in two weeks! So many good books lately, I’ve barely been able to keep up.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around for so much of the last six years. I’ll try to get the anniversary post in on time next year.