Join Prism Book Alliance® as Lisa Henry goes Outside the Margins today.
When Heidi and I decided we wanted to write another story set in the Bliss universe, it didn’t take us long to realise that we didn’t want to write a sequel. As much as we loved writing about Tate and Rory, what we really wanted to do was explore another side of that universe: Tophet. Tophet, or course, is named after one of the places in Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s also found in the Bible, as a place outside of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Beulah is heaven and Tophet is hell. In the Bliss universe, Beulah isn’t what it seems, but Tophet certainly is.
Tophet is a place that’s not exactly that unimaginable: it’s a decaying city destroyed by crime and war and terrorism. Its citizens are kept in place by draconian anti-free speech laws, and the law enforcement agency the Anti-Terrorist Unit, or the ATU, executes suspects summarily in the street. Tophet is the place that Tate and Rory both escaped from in Bliss, hoping to find paradise in Beulah, and it’s where Heidi and I knew we wanted to set our novella, Tin Man.
Here’s the blurb:
Petty thief Ashoka “Ace” King knows better than to get in the way of Tophet’s Anti-Terrorist Unit. Rightfully feared in Tophet’s crime-ridden underbelly, a face-to-face encounter with an ATU is almost certainly a death sentence. But Ace has never been one to follow the rules.
Soren Lau might be an ATU rookie, but he’s not naive enough to believe everything his superiors tell him. Then again, he’s not stupid enough to disobey them, either. If he doesn’t shoot and kill as ordered, he might be next on their list.
But when Soren meets Ace, a moment’s hesitation is all it takes to put both their lives on the line. They don’t know each other, they don’t trust each other, and there’s no way in hell they can both walk away from this alive. But with suspicion and mortal danger mounting against both of them—and the forbidden attraction blazing between them—there’s nothing they can do but try.
And here’s an excerpt:
Ace had been running on empty for days by the time he squeezed through the gap in the fence at the Diamond Mine. Despite its name, the large building was actually an old paint factory, but it had been called the Diamond Mine for as long as Ace had been around this part of Tophet. Two of the four walls sagged inward, the roof—if it could be called that—was mostly holes, and on bright nights the moonlight illuminated the millions of shards of broken glass on the packed-dirt floor. Some of them were still sharp and jagged. Others had been worn to smoothness over the years, like pebbles under water.
Ace shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and hunched over as he entered. He glanced from side to side. The late-afternoon shadows were long, obscuring the activity around the makeshift stalls set up over the rubble of glass.
The Diamond Mine wasn’t the best place to fence stolen goods in the district, but it suited Ace. He knew most of the people who frequented the place, and unlike some of the other places that all too often attracted the authorities, it was small enough for the police to overlook.
Ace headed for Chen’s corner. Chen was a big guy, dark-skinned with a shaved head and tattoos, but he had a wobbly smile that ruined any hope of looking imposing. Ace liked the guy. And not just because Chen had kept him alive during his first hard winter on the streets. What really mattered was that he always gave Ace decent prices. He’d been Ace’s fence for more years than he cared to think about, almost as long as he’d been making his living off crime.
Ten years since he’d had a home.
Back then, his father had been a factory worker. At least up until he got involved in protests for better working conditions and a living wage. But instead of gaining either of those things, he’d lost his job, and because of his subsequent conviction for affray, the interim government’s “No handouts for crims” bill left Ace’s family trying to survive on just his mother’s paltry wage. No welfare, no food stamps. Nothing.
Nothing but hopelessness and hunger and guilt.
After weeks of fruitless job searching—having a known agitator for a father couldn’t have helped—Ace had done what he’d thought was the right thing and left one night out the fire escape window. His most noble decision was probably also his stupidest, but his parents had other kids to feed and Ace had been old enough to look after himself.
He still thought of them sometimes. That first winter on the streets, he’d even gone back to the apartment. Someone else had been living there already. He liked to think his family had moved on to somewhere better, but how was that even possible? There was no way up from the bottom in Tophet.
Ace closed his fist around the rings in his pocket. Only silver, but they should be worth a few dollars. He’d taken them from the top drawer of a bureau in an apartment in East Central. The place hadn’t been any richer looking than some of the abandoned buildings Ace slept in, but fuck it. He was hungry.
“Ace.” Chen nodded in greeting. He tugged his sleeve over his hand and rubbed the end of his nose. A nervous habit. “Haven’t seen you around in a while, kid.”
“I’ve been around.” He jangled the rings together in his pocket, grinning for effect, but Chen’s wobbly smile failed to appear.
“I thought the law might have put you down.”
Unease bit at Ace’s gut. “C’mon, that’s bullshit.”
Chen frowned. “You haven’t heard, then.”
“What?” Ariana was another fence who had a reputation for treating people fairly. Ace had met her once or twice.
Chen pulled his sleeve back and jabbed a finger to the bridge of his nose. “Right between the eyes when she was walking down the street. Colin saw the guys. Said they were ATU.”
The Anti-Terrorism Unit. Tophet’s toy paramilitary army, more like. Since when the hell could a small-time fence like Ariana be classed as a terrorist? She was no Jovan Day. The fucking government was always rewriting the rules, though. Maybe Ace had just been stupid not to believe the rumors when he’d first heard them: that the government was sending death squads into Tophet’s worst districts to clean out the human vermin.
“Fuck.” Ace shook his head.
Chen nodded grimly.
They probably could’ve mustered up at least a little bit more grief or fear, considering, but what was the use? Even if the death squads were real—and with Ariana dead for no damn reason, he had to admit the rumor was suddenly sounding a lot less like one of the scary stories Chen’s kids told one another—it wasn’t like the wretched of Tophet could fight back, escape, change their fates in any way. If Ace had to choose between expending his energy on death squads or the persistent, gnawing ache of hunger, he’d choose hunger every time.
And in Tophet, they were all hungry. All the time. Ace had no idea how anyone managed to think or worry about anything but food.
Which was probably why the ATU and the government were able to get away with all the shit they did. As long as the low-class folk were eating just enough to survive, as long as the violence was happening to somebody else, they’d never think to upset the status quo or demand better.
The government media tried to pretend every crim in the city was a potential sympathizer, a bloodthirsty terrorist in waiting, but Jovan Day and his ilk were outliers. The rest of Tophet had more pressing shit to deal with than trying to change their miserable lives, by terrorist violence or otherwise.
Or so Ace had thought.
Some, it seemed, still held out hope for better. In the apartment where he’d stolen the rings, Ace had seen a pamphlet on the dresser. It was dirty and ripped, like maybe the resident had picked it up in the street, and on the front, under an old shoe print, Ace had made out the words, Emigrate to Beulah. He’d opened the pamphlet. It was cleaner on the inside, and he could make out pictures of smiling people in front of a house, then in a park, then on a train so shiny and clean that Ace had known instantly it couldn’t fucking exist. He’d heard people talk about Beulah before. Everyone there had jobs, and free health care, and education, and enough to eat, and nobody was a criminal.
A fucking fantasy, if you asked Ace. He’d thought about stealing the pamphlet to read and roll his eyes at later, but he wasn’t that much of an asshole. Not quite. Bad enough to steal people’s valuables, without helping himself to their dreams, as well. Even if their dreams were stupid. There was no way to make Tophet better, no way out, and the entire world was just as fucked up as it was here anyway.
No way out except the one Ariana had gone.
“Time to go,” Chen said, shoving his stuff into his old knapsack as he packed up.
No time for mourning. To an outsider it may have seemed cold, but Chen, like everyone else here, had more pressing shit to deal with.
So did Ace. “Wait!” He showed Chen the rings.
Chen sighed. “Five dollars.”
“Five?” They were worth at least ten. Each.
“Five, because you’re not the only one doing it tough, and you can come by and have dinner with the mob.” He looked Ace up and down. “And a shower, and a place to crash for the night.”
“Thanks, Chen.” He handed the rings over, stomach growling in anticipation.
Chen’s mob, last time Ace had seen it, was made up of about a dozen kids. They begged and stole to make ends meet, but that was the worst of it. Chen kept them clean and drug-free, and gave them a roof over their heads. In all the time Ace had known him, he had never quite figured out Chen’s motivation.
He didn’t quite trust that it was pure charity, because he didn’t believe anyone was that good, but it didn’t matter. The kids got a better deal off Chen than they would anywhere else. Ace was proof of that. Thanks to Chen, he’d reached his eighteenth birthday without starving, freezing to death, or having to sell his ass to strangers to keep the wolf from the door. And even after he’d aged out of the mob, gone his own way again to make room for more little mouths, it had been Chen’s guidance, cash, and the occasional meal that had gotten him here, to the ripe old age of twenty-five.
They left the Diamond Mine shoulder to shoulder. Dusk was falling now, and the temperature was dropping. Winter was coming. It was close enough to feel the angry bite in the air. Ace needed a better jacket before winter. Maybe some decent boots too, if he was lucky enough to find any.
Chen stopped and pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Offered one to Ace.
Ace took it and leaned toward Chen’s cupped hands as he fumbled with the lighter. He rarely smoked. He didn’t really like the taste of it, but it was warm.
“Gonna be a cold one,” Chen said in a low voice.
Ace nodded as they approached the fence. Chen pushed the squealing chain wire back and squeezed through out onto the street, Ace right behind him.
“This new kid,” Chen said when they’d walked a few blocks, “Mara. Real smart kid. She makes the best corn bread. Shit, I don’t know where she learned that, but she pats it right out on the bricks and cooks it up fresh. You try Mara’s corn bread and you won’t want to leave.”
“Shut up.” Ace took a drag on his cigarette. “I’m already fucking starving. Stop teasing me.”
Chen snorted and grinned.
They turned down a narrow alley that ran between two warehouses. They were almost to Chen’s hideout now. A stray dog picked across the empty street in front of them and stopped suddenly, lifting its thin snout. It froze, trembling.
Ace’s blood ran cold as he heard the sound behind him. An empty can rattling across the cracked asphalt.
The dog bolted as Ace and Chen both turned.
The guy behind them was big, or at least he seemed that way. He was wearing so much fucking body armor and hardware that he seemed monstrous. Ace couldn’t see the guy’s face, only his own terrified reflection in his dark goggles.
“Proof of employment and proof of address.” The guy’s voice was muffled by his gear, distorted until it was strangely inhuman. Ace had heard that the ATU put computer chips in the brains of their officers to make them harder, faster, stronger. To make them better soldiers. For once he didn’t think it was all bullshit government propaganda. There was no inflection in this guy’s voice. It was cold. Robotic.
Chen dropped his knapsack.
“Proof of employment and proof of address,” he said again. The guy’s gloved thumb flicked at something on the side of his gun. The safety? Fuck. He was really going to shoot them in the street for being unemployed and homeless?
Beulah’s wide, sunny streets shaded with trees flashed in Ace’s brain. The fantasy didn’t seem so fucking stupid now that he was a second away from death. Maybe heaven would look like that.
Hell would probably just be this moment, forever.
“It’s in the bag,” Ace said, struggling to keep his voice steady, hoping against hope that the ATU asshole didn’t guess his ulterior motives. He had no doubt he was going to die here, none at all, but maybe he’d get a chance to earn that sunlit afterlife if he actually managed to do something decent with his last few moments on the planet. He thought of Chen’s kids and how much they needed him. “Can I get it? It’s in the bag.”
Their executioner nodded once, shortly and sharply.
Ace stooped down to pick up Chen’s knapsack, never taking his eyes off the masked man in front of him. He curled his fingers around the strap, wondering how the fuck to make use of the bag—the only weapon he had—without making any sudden moves that would get him killed.
“Yes.” Chen’s voice was reed thin with panic. He patted his threadbare jacket up and down. “I have my papers, too. Yes, I have them.”
The ATU guy turned his attention to Chen.
There! His opening. Ace swung the bag at the guy’s helmeted head as hard as he could. Whatever Chen was carrying didn’t even make a dent in that helmet, but it was enough to send the guy stumbling back a few steps. Enough to make him drop his weapon.
Ace lunged for the guy, pushing him back farther.
“Run!” he shouted to Chen. “Fucking run!”
Ace didn’t blame him. He had mouths to feed, people depending on him. It wasn’t cowardice. They were both doing their parts to keep Chen’s mob alive. Too bad Ace’s part was going to cost him his life.
He had the upper hand for a few seconds, but then he was stumbling back, losing ground. The guy’s gloved fist punched him hard on the side of the head, and he fought to stay upright.
“Fuck you,” he snarled at his own reflection in the guy’s goggles. “You piece of government shit! Pig! Fascist!” All the words he could think of to keep the guy’s attention on him.
He punched Ace again, and sent him sprawling onto the ground. Then the guy turned and reached for his gun.
Ace stared down at the end of the alley. Chen had run straight home, the idiot. If the guy followed him in that direction . . . What if one of the smaller kids couldn’t stay quiet? None of them had jobs, either, or addresses. That would be enough to charge them with vagrancy. Although, with the ATU involved, no way would this end in charges.
He thought of Ariana, shot dead in the street.
Stuffing down the bone-deep urge to live, he staggered to his feet. “Hey!”
The guy picked up his gun and turned back to face Ace.
“Hey, fuck you!” And then, before the guy could react—maybe he’d hit him harder than he’d thought—Ace led him away from Chen’s squat. “Hey, you want me? You gotta catch me first, fucker!”
The guy smacked his free hand to his helmet, then raised his weapon.
Ace ran, his heart pounding. God. He was going to die. Any second now and he’d feel a bullet ripping through him. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe it’d just be lights-out. He hoped it would be, hoped it wouldn’t hurt, that he wouldn’t even feel it.
But the guy didn’t shoot. Instead, Ace heard his boots thumping down the alley behind him. He didn’t question his luck at that moment—maybe the gun had jammed after it fell or something—he just tried to put some distance between himself and the guy.
If he had any advantage at all, it was that he knew this neighborhood. He knew it well enough to dive into the thin gap between buildings and pull himself up the rusting fire escape ladder that he knew hung off the side. He’d slept in the old cannery before. Nobody else did because the place was open to the weather, thanks to a collapsed roof, and crawling with rats as big as cats. But at the time he’d had a sprained ankle, and sharing accommodation with rats was better than risking a confrontation over territory with no way to run if things went bad.
The ladder shook as the ATU guy jumped onto the bottom rung.
Hopefully all that heavy body armor would slow him down.
Ace squeezed through the small window at the top of the fire escape. He didn’t wait for his eyes to adjust before moving on. He knew his way around. He was about thirty feet off the ground now, on a narrow catwalk that passed over the remains of the production line machinery below, long stripped of anything useful. It was just jagged metal shapes, the rats’ playground. He crossed over it quickly, avoiding the holes in the walkway. He only needed to get to the other side, and then he could get down to ground level again and hopefully back to the streets. Behind the cannery was a maze of twisting little alleyways to lose the ATU guy in.
The ATU guy who, for some reason, still hadn’t shot him.
The guy scrabbled loudly through the cannery window, and then the catwalk shook, rusted metal squealing, as the guy began to cross.
Ace reached the ladder on the other side. He pulled his sleeves down over his hands and gripped the edges. This was going to hurt. He pressed the soles of his feet on the sides of the ladder, held on as tightly as he could, and began to slide down.
Metal twisted and screamed as it collapsed, and Ace squeezed his eyes shut and waited to die. At least it wasn’t with an ATU bullet to the head.
His boots hit the ground, sending a shock wave through his body. He was still standing upright somehow, still holding the sides of the ladder. And the ladder was intact. So that noise . . .
He stared up at the catwalk.
It was a broken, twisted wreck, and the ATU guy was hanging from it by one arm.
As Ace watched, he dropped his weapon to free his other hand. It landed thirty feet below with a dull clatter and was swallowed up somewhere in the sharp, rusted remains of the machinery. The guy swung his now-free arm, looking for another handhold on the catwalk and not finding one. He hung there, suspended in open space, the black shape of a man silhouetted against the night sky.
Ace glanced at the exit. Wasn’t this what he’d wanted? A chance to survive this?
But the guy hadn’t shot him. He’d had a clear shot, and he hadn’t taken it. Malfunction? Or choice? Fuck fuck fuck. Why the hell was Ace even asking himself that when he should have been running?
He put his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
And couldn’t fucking believe it when he started to climb.
He didn’t rush, didn’t call out to the guy. That way, if he fell in the meantime, fate would’ve decided how this should end. It wouldn’t be Ace’s failure, just the luck of the draw. But somehow, when Ace made it to the top of the ladder, the guy was still there, still holding on.
In the moonlight, he could see that the guy’s left hand, the one wrapped around the railing, was shaking with the effort of holding his weight. All that gear. The guy lifted his head as Ace approached. Ace saw his reflection in his goggles again.
The guy didn’t say anything. Didn’t beg, didn’t threaten, just waited.
That, more than anything, was what decided it.
Ace got down on his hands and knees and crawled as close to the edge as he dared. Wishing he could see the guy’s face, maybe get some sort of hint as to whether he was going to be grateful for the save or stab Ace in the back, he drew a deep breath, braced himself, and held out his hand.
Tin Man is out on July 20. You can read more of the excerpt, and preorder Tin Man, at Riptide.
Title: Tin Man
Author: Lisa Henry & Heidi Belleau
Publication Date: 07/20/2015
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Genre: M/M Romance
About Lisa Henry
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
- Blog: lisahenryonline.blogspot.com
- Twitter: @lisahenryonline
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/LisaHenry
- Website: lisahenryonline.com
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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