Looks like my hopes of having this out in July were wishful thinking (like: “I wish I had enough time to get this out in July”). But I’d rather have it right than fast, so I’m hoping more late August/early September time frame. In the meantime, I thought that maybe offering the first chapter as a teaser might make up for the wait. Thanks for bearing with me!
It should have been perfect.
The event had been planned for months, each minor detail taken into account, leaving nothing to chance. The invited guests had all arrived and were gathering near the sparkling champagne fountains, and admiring the flower-shaped canapés. Expensive artwork, vintage pieces depicting grapevines, hunting dogs—whatever sort of crap impressed the unimpressable—hung between tall columns and statues of stylized Greek gods. Everyone was ready for the party of a lifetime, and for most of the guests, that lifetime would end here, tonight.
Mercury Fie clutched his champagne flute with one gloved hand, fingering the stem with the other. His heart was fluttering against his ribs, beating with a similar anticipation to that of first love. He gazed out over the grand ballroom from his darkened glass suite, hanging high above the center floor, as each guest arrived. Every man appeared identical in black tuxedos, every woman tried to outdo the others with a ball gown that set her apart. Meeting his own gaze through the smoky composite, he reached up to smooth a stray lock of silver hair from his glitter-dusted face. He’d purchased a new outfit for tonight: a shimmering white satin bodysuit. The garment fit like a second skin over his fashionably svelte figure; embellished with crystals in the shape of his namesake’s symbol. It was really quite clever, though most of his minions were not smart enough to appreciate it; they thought it was some kind of crudely-drawn bull. He hadn’t hired them for their looks or their brains, so it was unfair of him to expect much of either. His tall boots were made of same satiny material as his bodysuit; his six-inch heels with toes tapering to a spike made him nearly seven-feet tall. But his favorite part of the ensemble was the jewel-encrusted codpiece. Glistening silver chains held it in place and dangled down, creating a short skirting that ended in crystal teardrops. Normally he’d be a bit more subdued, but his birthday was in a few days and he’d decided to splurge on an early present.
Behind him, a man cleared his throat.
Mercury’s violet gaze shifted to the reflection of his current general standing just inside the door from the catwalk. His tuxedo blended into the darkness, obscuring most of his muscled bulk and leaving his head floating in mid-air.
“Princess,” Mercury answered, without turning. His breathy voice sounded mechanical when echoed back from the glass. “Have you seen? It’s so lovely. It’s all going to be wonderful tonight. I can feel it.”
Princess wasn’t a handsome man, but with his face normally buried between Mercury’s thighs, he rarely noticed. He was the man who had the honor of sharing his bed now; his most trusted adviser, the general of his army in his little empire. “Close the door, would you?”
Princess did as he was told, then returned to his previous spot, standing a few feet away. “Sir, Sec Ops has reported a possible breach near the north tower.”
“Are they handling it?” Mercury glanced over his shoulder, looking down his nose at the beefier man, as he took a sip of his champagne. It slid down his throat with a little bite, like a kiss from a golden razor. Expensive stuff, not the toilet water he had splashing in the fountains below. Security had been accounted for. He’d paid overtime to the mercenary crew he had scouting the grounds. They would not disappoint him because they had families, and he knew where they lived.
It wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with “law enforcement”, or the media, or jealous cartel bosses trying to ruin his plans. He used to be bothered by what was said about him: that he was a criminal, a murderer, and any number of things that seemed true, but only when taken out of context. Sometimes one had to carve away the rot in order to enjoy the sweetness of the fruit.
In the ballroom below, one of his most important guests, Doctor Tamak Lin, came down the staircase with his wife du jour on his arm.
Princess cleared his throat again, finally getting around to answering his question. “Yes, sir, but—”
Mercury didn’t hear the rest because his ears were squealing with blood. Dr. Lin’s trophy-wife appeared at the top of the stairs, wearing a crimson ballgown, as though tonight were her special event.
“That bitch!” Mercury threw his glass down. It shattered like a small explosion, sending champagne and crystal shards skittering across the shiny black floor. “I told them! I told them all! No one was to wear red!” The deliberate insult turned the champagne to gasoline in his stomach and fire roared up his spine.
Princess flinched as Mercury pulled a jeweled pistol from his garter belt and pointed it at his face, his muscles so tense that he nearly pulled the trigger. Force of habit. Mercury fought the screaming static in his head, reminded himself that it was not Princess who’d precipitated this anger. He turned back to the dark window, pushing it open, and yelled down at the true culprit. “You stupid cow!”
The murmurs of music and conversation stopped as though someone had flipped off a switch, and all eyes moved skyward. Now he was the most important person in the room.
As it should be.
Mercury brandished the gun, found a target below, and shot. Blood blossomed like a rose across the crisp fabric of a waiter’s white tux as the projectile hit his ribcage. The waiter fell, his tray of drinks and hors d’oeuvres crashing down.
“If you wear red, how am I supposed to see the blood?”
Screams filled the ballroom, that shearing, splitting sound that only served to make the pain in his head worse. Well-dressed doctors and dignitaries surged against one another in a sea of cashmere and tulle, every one of them trying to save their own worthless lives. They’d been foolish enough to believe the invitations they’d received were legitimately from the corporation in which they were all stakeholders, even though he’d deliberately tipped his hand: Mercury Division. Did they not make the connection? People were like that. They would ignore the obvious if it appeared to benefit them. They were the true criminals, the real murderers, but because they did not soak their hands in blood they feigned innocence. But Mercury knew. He was judgment, and ignorance was not a defense. They would know the error of their ways. It would slowly sink in what selfish fools they’d been as they struggled to take their last, worthless breaths.
Mercury emptied his pistol randomly into the crowd below, oblivious of whether or not he’d hit a target. When he ran out of ammo he threw the useless weapon down and watched it shatter into sparkling bits when it hit the floor.
“Princess, give me your gun,” he reached back, keeping his eyes trained on that bitch in the red designer gown. So much easier to see, like a bloated tick struggling through the shifting currents of black and white. Princess didn’t immediately comply, and Mercury felt cold foreboding tingling at the base of his spine. Ah. This again. When he turned, Princess was leveling his gun at him, speaking into a small, black microphone that was not standard issue. Mercury gave his employees ear-buds shaped like little purple hearts.
“Affirmative. East elevator. I’ve got him covered until you get here.”
“Crashing my party?” Mercury raised an eyebrow, maintaining a haughty smirk while his stomach devoured his heart. Betrayed, once again, by someone claiming to love him.
“Don’t move, Mercury. You can’t outrun us this time.” The way Princess said it almost sounded like an apology, but there were some cases where sorry wasn’t enough.
“Princess. I’m so disappointed.” Disappointed, but not entirely surprised. He’d thought that Princess might be different. He’d been lulled by the man’s kindness, seduced by love letters and precious little gifts, even after Princess had won his way into his bed. For three months he’d taken control of the things Mercury didn’t like doing while never seeking to control him. He should have realized; any man trying so hard to please him had to be a fucking cop. Mercury felt dizzy and the darkness began to seep through his brain. He glanced over his shoulder as movement in the ballroom indicated a large evacuation was underway. The special ops units of the Civilian Security Department moved into the white hall like black insects; ants stealing the sugar at his picnic. A few of his guards stationed there tried to do their jobs, pulling their guns on the intruders, but they were outnumbered, picked off by snipers hiding, like shadows, behind pillars and statues.
Mercury sighed, fighting to keep control, to keep his intelligence working over his boiling emotional core. “Looks like you’ve got me surrounded.”
Princess pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his suit coat. So that’s what that unsightly bulge had been.
His voice remained soft, like it did when he whispered to him from his pillow, except now it sounded condescending rather than coddling. “Let’s just do this nice and easy.”
Mercury saw him shaking. Princess was not a fool; he’d seen the bloody rages, and knew what could happen if he let his guard slip, even the slightest. Maybe he felt guilty, because he wouldn’t look Mercury in the eye, or maybe he was just afraid. The gun he pointed at Mercury was not steady. If it’d had a laser sight, the beam would be zinging across his chest like a gnat. Mercury ran his pink tongue slowly across his gelée-glossed upper lip, tasting the sweet, greasy flavor of artificial strawberry. He watched Princess’s eyes follow the movement, saw the expansion of his throat, the muscles rigid, as he swallowed. Slowly, Mercury raised his hands near his head in mock-surrender.
Princess began to approach him, each step measured as he came closer so he could cuff him; stalking a wild animal. It was amusing and tragic to watch, like bringing a butterfly net to a tiger hunt. Mercury waited until Princess was nearly upon him before making a move. Once Princess got close enough, Mercury kicked him, catching Princess on the chin with the pointed steel toe of his boot.
Princess’s head snapped back with a crack and an explosion of blood. He hit the floor with a heavy thud that made the sky-suite shudder.
This vermin had infiltrated the sanctity of his empire, crawling all over his special things. Mercury longed to grind him into the floor like a cockroach, feel the wet flesh and crunch of bone beneath his boots. He grabbed the gun, aiming it at the ugly face of his former lover as Princess sputtered blood through a broken jaw.
He would have shot him, but for some reason tears were blurring his vision. The clamoring of heavily armored men racing across the catwalk meant it was time to go. He threw the gun, bouncing it off Princess’s barrel chest and climbed out the window. Teetering on the railing in his high heeled boots, he surveyed the scene below. Tears and glitter blurred into shifting rainbows, making the room a spinning kaleidoscope. The floor was empty except for the uniformed men and women raising their guns in his direction. Mercury considered his limited options, narrowed in on the metal rafters across from him, then leapt.
Weapons followed his path from below as he soared like an acrobat over their heads. His teeth clacked together when metal met the hard soles of his boots as he landed in a crouch on a crossbeam. A few crystals fell from his codpiece, drifting towards the ballroom like fairy tears.
There was a moment of such complete stillness, that he thought all of this might just be a dream.
And then they started shooting.
Electrified projectiles ricocheted, exploding in sparks around him as they struck the metal supports. One shattered near his cheek, the burn of the charged metal shards disrupted his vision as another carved a burning trail along his right thigh, just above his boot. Mercury sprang through the girders, heading towards a narrow ventilation shaft on a nearby wall. He ripped open the grate, wincing as his manicured nails broke off, and flung it down to the ballroom floor before pulling himself inside. Although he was thin enough to fit into the narrow space, the low ceiling forced him to crawl along on his elbows, slowing him down. Had he known things would go so horribly wrong, he might not have worn these boots. While they’d done a lovely little dance across Princess’s face, the buckles that ran up the sides were making an awful racket against the metal walls of the ventilation shaft. He could hear the voices of police below as they tracked his location, shouting as they followed him from room to room.
Damn it. He’d worked so hard for this— to have everyone right where he wanted them. But that bitch had literally made him see red, and instead of consoling him, Princess had pulled a gun.
Something exploded though the vent, making his ears ring and head ache from the bang. Sharpness and sparks tore through his belly, and electricity shot up his spine, zapping his brain. A burst of white pain slammed through the back of his eyes.
A teddy bear, strapped to a table. Doctors in white masks. A spinning blade. White fluff billowing as they cut into its soft, brown head.
Nausea burned greasy in his stomach, bringing up the bitter taste of blood and strawberry lip-gloss. He shuddered and swallowed it down. Taking a few deep breaths, he struggled onto his back, his knees and elbows clanging against the sides of the rectangular conduit. Mascara had run down with the tears from his eyes, drying sticky over his cheeks.
Better. It would be okay.
Anyone else being hit by those charged projectiles would have been dead or comatose from the nerves being fried. But not him. No, no, lucky him. They’d done their homework, cheating off the information that Princess had been feeding them for months. Apparently, they wanted him alive.
“Goddamn it! I said hold fire!” an angry female voice bellowed, echoing through the vent like a voice from the grave. She sounded somehow closer, had they found a way up?
Mercury took one of the fingers of his white satin opera gloves between his teeth, pulling it off. He moved that hand down, hissing as his trembling fingers felt the slick blood and found the rips in his expensive outfit. Never mind the stains, holes that size in such delicate fabric could never be mended. Fresh tears created a film over his eyes and he squinted, trying to clear them enough to assess the damage from the light filtering up though the holes in the vent. His lower half glittered like black crude oil from the stomach wound.
He began to try and push himself along with his legs, but his heels slipped through the slimy coating of his blood. He had to resort to wriggling along now on his back, using his hands on the walls to push himself through.
It would be okay.
Tomorrow he’d wake up and watch the Flutterby Fairies on TV, just as he did every morning. This morning’s episode had been about friendship. Thinking about it made his throat tighten. Really, if all it took was sharing a flower cupcake to make a true friend then how come it was so difficult for him? He started to giggle, then cry as his mind became muddled. “I would have given you a cupcake, Princess…” he murmured. “I would have…but you made me hurt you…why does everyone make me hurt them?”
More shouts from below, getting farther away now as the vent split in two directions. He took a sharp turn to the right. Maybe they’d lost him. He could smell the silvery burn of the atmosphere outside and his breath turned to fog in the cooling air. A little further and he’d hear the wind, moaning through the grate. Almost. Almost. Reaching further down, he touched the ornamentation at his crotch. It was more than just a lovely bejeweled cup meant to protect his precious assets; there was a little clasp that opened a small compartment, which housed the trigger for his bombs. That had been the plan—get them all in one place and blow it to oblivion. Let them negotiate with their god for forgiveness, for Mercury had none.
Maybe if he timed it just right, he could be shot out of the ventilation system when the explosions went off inside the atrium. Maybe he’d burst through the dome and become a comet, burning up in outer space…a fiery phoenix, beautiful, but never again to rise. He flicked at the latch on his codpiece, but it was stuck tight. Such a fragile thing couldn’t handle being crushed or shot at. Just like with his pretty pistol, he’d succumbed to the lure of form over function.
“Flutterby, flutter by my window…f-flutter by and m-make me…smile…” He began to sing the song looping in his head, the song that always made him feel better. He would forgive them for that last episode. Even the Flutterby Fairies were allowed to have an off-day, weren’t they?
Kind of like the day he was having right now.
“…Fffflutterby, flut-and-butter b-by m-me…” His teeth were chattering now as the cold became more intense, though he was uncertain how much was the air outside and how much was his body protesting his loss of blood.
“…Stay and p-play j-just a little while…”
The blood that had seeped through his clothing felt like icy syrup, while the rest continued to pump hot from the wound in his gut. The voices were gone; all he heard now was his own heartbeat stuttering and hammering in his ears. He continued fingering the clasp, trying to open that secret compartment so he could go out in a blaze of glory, but the metal was slippery and wet, and he was having a difficult time controlling his hands. He hurt. He was afraid and alone. It wasn’t fair.
“Fire in the hole!”
Mercury heard the shout from somewhere up ahead then a loud thunk as something came bouncing into the shaft above his head. There was a flash, enough to blind him, then the hiss as the chemical bomb filled the ventilation shaft with gas.
With his last shred of consciousness, Mercury managed to flip the latch and the little door popped open. His numb finger slipped across the raised ruby button, then everything went black.