Published by: Skyscape
Publication date: November 10th 2015
Genres: Dystopia, New Adult, Science Fiction
Welcome to Cyrene, a city where energy is currency and music is the lifeblood of its young citizens. Everyone lives on the grid, and the residents of the world’s largest playground are encouraged to pursue every physical and emotional pleasure imaginable.
Vee is the lead singer of the Sugar Skulls, an all-girl band that is Corporate’s newest pet project. Micah haunts the city like a ghost after an overdose of a deadly illegal street drug knocks him off the grid. When Micah and Vee forge an immediate, undeniable connection, their troubled worlds collide.
Trading concert stages for Cyrene’s rooftops and back alleys, they have to evade vicious thugs and Vee’s possessive manager as they unravel the mysteries connected to their dark pasts. And before the curtain falls, Micah and Vee will bring the city to its knees in their desperate bid for love, home, and a future together.
Little Dead Thing perches on the side of the bathtub, carefully arranged into the perfect rectangle I think of as a kitty-loaf. He stares down his crooked nose at the water. Innate distrust radiates from every ugly patch of fur.
I sympathize, but bip him anyway with one wet toe before letting my leg drop back into the water. The skin on my chest is flushed pink. The water is hot, but not hot enough anymore, so I drain a few inches and then top off the tub. Have to balance out the fact that I opened a window just so I could listen to the rain.
Fat drops bounce off the roof. I can hear them pinging off metal, off concrete. That’s the weird thing about living in a penthouse, I quickly realized after moving in. Thirty floors up, I can see everything, but I can’t touch anything. The world is out of reach. I’m shut up, shut in.
But then there’s the sky. Blue, black, or gray. Moon and stars. It’s up there, nothing between me and it except open space. I think that small knowledge is the only reason I can still breathe without screaming.
I settle back into the tub, my limbs loose with the painkillers still snaking through my system. With the worst of the migraine gone, this is a welcome high instead of an obligatory one. I can relax, naked spine pressed against warm white marble. Sink down until my lips are covered. Blow tiny lemon-scented bubbles, every one of them a word to a song I haven’t written yet. I don’t even have to think about shaving, thanks to Damon’s preference for smooth skin and four seshes of all- over electrolysis. The scratches that Little Dead Thing’s claws left on my chest last night are also gone, courtesy of my nanotech.
There’s something more, though. Something else that’s missing. I trace the skin on my hand, the inside of my right wrist. There should be scars . . . there. Vertical lines from an ivory-handled switchblade. My fingertips slide up to my forearm, where the memory of a dark tattoo wavers under the water. A skull, but not a sugar skull. A rose. A dagger. Gothic lettering that turns to livid bruises . . .
The memory bleeds around the edges, disappearing as the locks disengage and one of Jax’s big-ass buckled boots kicks in the bathroom door.
“Get out of the tub, wench.”
I glare at her through my bangs. She’s dressed head to toe in black mesh. Always on display, always another step closer to after-show debauchery. “Is Damon back?”
“Nope.” Jax leans over and fishes out the plug, then flicks me in the face with her dripping hand. “We’re going out.”
“We’re . . . what?” I blink, trying to follow her reasoning and wishing I could pull the water back over me like a blanket.
She straightens up and huffs her rat’s nest of hair out of her eyes. “The grid’s patched back together. Corporate’s trying to make up for lost thrum, so they opened a new hookah den at the Palace. I’m jonesing for strawberry cough, and I’m sick of looking at the same four fucking walls every night. Get dressed. We’re going.”
“You can go. No one’s stopping you.” We go through this routine every time, varying the amount I make Jax work for it. But tonight, I mean it. Every bit of me aches, and I’m tired of voices in my ears and commands being issued like I’m a goddamn greyface lackey.
“Not by myself!” She chucks a towel at me.
Bubbles slide off me when I stand up. “The last thing I want right now is to get manhandled by a hundred toked-up potheads when I don’t even smoke.”
“No one said you had to smoke, Princess. We all know how you feel about those precious pipes of yours.” Jax grabs me by the wrists and shakes me in a way that says I’m pretty much forgiven. “Come on. I deserve a night out. We all deserve a night out.”
I lose my grip on the towel. “Meaning you want to get laid.”
“Ding-ding-ding!” She tugs on me again. “Damon’s had us on lockdown for a month, and it’s use-it-or-lose-it time. You can sit at the bar and sip some liquid neon and make rude jokes at my expense. Just don’t make me go alone. I need company. And I need someone to pour me into the car after I score.”
I see the dimple tucked into the right corner of her mouth: a sure sign of trouble to come. “I don’t know . . .”
“What is there to know?” Sasha flutters in the doorway, an agitated bumblebee. Seriously. She’s wearing a canary-yellow shirt over black leggings, striped knee socks, and a headband that reminds me of disco ball antennae. Not a damn thing about it says Palace-wear, which means she’s sitting firmly in Camp Stay-at-Home. “You’re not in any shape to go clubbing.”
“It’s not that—” I start to argue, but she nods like I agreed with her. “Anyway, Damon wouldn’t like it. He said you needed rest.”
I glance at Jax.
She raises an eyebrow at me. “That’s right, Princess. He did say that.”
“Of course he did.” Shifting my gaze, I stare at my reflection, the picture filtered by the steam hanging in the air and the mist clinging to the mirror. Damp strands of unnaturally black hair tangle over my bare shoulders. My cheeks are flushed as pink as my chest.
And I realize again that I look nothing like Vee-the-rock-star. Minus the makeup, you’d never know it’s me.
Normally, if I’m going to thumb my nose at Damon, I make damn sure he knows it. But I’m not in the mood for shallow victories tonight. “I’m sure nothing would make him happier than knowing we stayed in tonight, braiding each other’s hair and eating cookie dough out of a tube.”
“I’ll get the cookie dough!” Sasha says, blissfully oblivious to the fact that we’re doing no such thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Lisa Mantchev is the acclaimed author of Ticker and the Théâtre Illuminata series, which includes Eyes Like Stars, nominated for a Mythopoeic Award and the Andre Norton Award. She has also published numerous short stories in magazines, including Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Weird Tales, and Fantasy. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State with her husband, children, and horde of furry animals. Visit her online at www.lisamantchev.com.
- 5 paperback copies of SUGAR SKULLS