Title: A Fall in Autumn
Author: Michael G. Williams
Series: Stories of Autumn #1
Publisher: Falstaff Books
Release date: January 2, 2019
Cover artist: Melissa McArthur
Genre: Sci Fi, Detective, Post-Post-Apocalypse (not Mad Max, but what arises after Mad Max)
Pairings: Not a romance, but there are M/M encounters.
Tropes: Detective and his homme fatale client.
Tags: gay, android, robot, detective, human-animal hybrids, flying cities, religion, conspiracies, religious conspiracy, far future, queer, cyborg
WELCOME TO THE LAST OF THE GREAT FLYING CITIES
It’s 9172, YE (Year of the Empire), and the future has forgotten its past.
Soaring miles over the Earth, Autumn, the sole surviving flying city, is filled to the brim with the manifold forms of humankind: from Human Plus “floor models” to the oppressed and disfranchised underclasses doing their dirty work and every imaginable variation between.
Valerius Bakhoum is a washed-up private eye and street hustler scraping by in Autumn. Late on his rent, fetishized and reviled for his imperfect genetics, stuck in the quicksand of his own heritage, Valerius is trying desperately to wrap up his too-short life when a mythical relic of humanity’s fog-shrouded past walks in and hires him to do one last job. What starts out as Valerius just taking a stranger’s money quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous mystery he’s ever tried to crack – and Valerius is running out of time to solve it.
Now Autumn’s abandoned history – and the monsters and heroes that adorn it – are emerging from the shadows to threaten the few remaining things Valerius holds dear. Can the burned-out detective navigate the labyrinth of lies and maze of blind faith around him to save the City of Autumn from its greatest myth and deadliest threat?
The sun was over the trees at the southeastern edge of the sloped opening in the forest when I awoke. The sun woke me, actually: its rays on my face, the flicker of shadow and light as it played across my closed eyes. I was half dressed: my shoes off, my feet bare, and my coat spread over me in lieu of a blanket. My shirt was somewhere, probably. I wasn’t wearing it, anyway, and my eyes hadn’t opened yet, but I could feel it nearby the way you can sense an old dog by your chair or a former lover on the opposite side of an otherwise perfectly nice party.
My back curled against something firm and supporting and I felt gentle fingers stroke the tufts of silvery black at my temples. Hematite, a man told me once. I would always love him a little for saying that. My hair there wasn’t yet gray but no longer black and when wet it looked like hematite, and he said it like that meant something deep and significant and mystical I didn’t understand. Having someone’s fingers run through it felt good, though. It felt like a happy memory, like something I didn’t expect would happen much anymore if it ever really happened in the first place.
That simple touch was a comfort to me. It’s the most minor thing and, for that reason, the most missed when it’s gone. I don’t go long stretches without being touched, but it had been a while between caresses. This was that: a caress, and more; not exactly sexual but not exactly platonic. It was that happy in-between we call intimate. I made myself vulnerable to other men, and they themselves to me, more times than I can count in my too-short life. It didn’t always work out, though, that my usual flavor of street trade would show basic human kindness in return for mine.
None of that mattered, though. Those guys were long gone. Right that second, someone ran his fingers through my half-asleep hair, intimate and kind and caressing. I felt vulnerable and that was okay. For a few moments I wasn’t dying and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t lonely and I wasn’t alone. The sun felt good, and the breeze through the branches sounded like Gaia herself telling me to go back to sleep. I thought for a moment I might be okay with dying fairly soon if I got to wake up like this every morning for the rest of my life.
“Okay,” I groaned. I didn’t move and I didn’t open my eyes because I wasn’t quite ready for the moment to go away even as I lifted the pin to pop its balloon. “You want something. So tell me what it is. Because if I say yes – if – I may not have much time to hold up my end of the bargain.” My voice dispelled all the magic of the moment, but his fingers were still at my temple, resting there, ready to go back to what we shared moments before. I rolled over and looked up at Alejandro, his purple hair down over half his face as he leaned on one elbow. I didn’t kiss him, but I did put one hand to his jaw and brush his cheek with my thumb. I wondered if he could feel that – really feel it, like skin feels it. “Let’s not pussyfoot around this. You want me to do something. The whole story about the angel and thinking someone was trying to kill you was bullshit, but there was something there, something worth chasing, so let’s have the truth now and get on with things.” I tried to smile at him. His expression was completely blank.
With the hand he used to brush my temples, he laid a fingertip behind my ear, cupping my face with barely a single point of contact. He still didn’t smile, but his eyes searched my face, my own eyes, for something. It occurred to me the correct phrasing might be to say he searched my eyes for someone. I assumed he’d been alive long enough to know a hell of a lot of people, and I would bet a nickel he looked for one of them in me. There are a hundred romantic stories about golems: meat sacks like me throwing ourselves at a golem out of infatuation with their embodiment of agelessness.
If he’d been there before, heard a hundred thousand of us wail about mortality and still willing to hear number one hundred thousand one, he must have a lot of love for humankind. No, I thought, more than that: he must have loved the hell out of one of us at some point. Maybe he was waiting for that guy to walk back into his life, reemerging from the vast but finite pool of genetic factors we possess as a species. I wondered if I simply seemed close enough to that long-lost lover to pass muster for a night.
I also wondered what made a golem want to get laid in the first place: ever the detective, after all.
“I really did see an angel in Splendor,” Alejandro said. He still wasn’t smiling. If anything, he had the muted seriousness, the understated gravitas, I’d long since come to recognize as the posture of someone telling the truth at long last. I wondered how long it had been. “I swear it to you. I swear it.” He surprised me, then, because he didn’t cry, golems don’t have tear ducts, but his eyelids quivered with the autonomic response to strong emotion. He still hadn’t moved at all, and we were shielded from the breeze so that his hair hung straight down like a perfectly still and settled curtain across half the stage of his face. “And I believe it would try to kill me if it knew I were here.”
About the author:
Michael G. Williams writes wry horror, urban fantasy, and science fiction: stories of monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He is the author of three series for Falstaff Books: The Withrow Chronicles, including Perishables (2012 Laine Cunningham Award), Tooth & Nail, Deal with the Devil, Attempted Immortality, and Nobody Gets Out Alive; a new series in The Shadow Council Archives featuring one of San Francisco’s most beloved figures, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN; and the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn. Michael also writes short stories and contributes to tabletop RPG development. Michael strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery with stories of outcasts and loners finding their people.
Michael is also an avid podcaster, activist, reader, runner, and gaymer, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, two cats, two dogs, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.
Michael is giving away an eBook copy of “Perishables,” book one of The Withrow Chronicles, with this post:
Everybody hates their Homeowner’s Association, and nobody likes a zombie apocalypse. Put the two together, and Withrow Surrett is having a truly craptastic night.
Enter via Rafflecopter: