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The Rule of Luck
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 26, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Year 2950. Humanity has survived devastating climate shifts and four world wars, coming out stronger and smarter than ever. Advanced technology is available to all, and enhancements to appearance, intelligence, and physical ability are commonplace.
In this future, Felicia Sevigny has built her fame reading the futures of others.
Alexei Petriv, the most dangerous man in the TriSystem, will trust only Felicia to read his cards. But the future she sees is darker than either of them could ever have imagined. A future that pits them against an all-knowing government, almost superhuman criminals, and something from Felicia’s past that she could never have predicted, but that could be the key to saving — or destroying — them all.
I’ve always been a big fan of eyeliner. The darker, the better. Growing up, I’d heard the expression “Pretty is as pretty does” almost every day of my life—but I believe that sometimes pretty needs help. Since I’ve decided against tattooing my way to beauty or using gene modification; I do things the old-fashioned way. And as one of the only Tarot card readers in Nairobi, I’ve cultivated a certain look that is as much personal choice as mysterious mask. So the fact that I stood in the tiny bathroom of my card reading shop and scrubbed my face clean, opting for tasteful over flashy, made me feel like I’d sold out.
“All for the greater good,” I mumbled, examining my nearly naked face. “I can look straitlaced and respectable for an hour. Two, tops.”
A quick time check showed it was nearly seven in the morning. It made me glad I’d decided to close up shop early at two and catch some sleep on the reception room couch. At least I didn’t look like complete garbage, even if my sleep was more tossing and turning than actual shut-eye.
I hightailed it to the front door. I needed to be on the other side of the city by nine sharp. To do that in an hour using the unreliable Y-Line would take all the prayers and karmic brownie points I had to spare. Maybe if I lit some incense sticks and offered a prayer for guidance…but no, no time for that.
Then I had to stop, my hand frozen in mid-reach on the way to the doorknob. Standing in the entranceway of my shop was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. I know it’s shallow to focus on looks since they are so easily bought and modified, and yet…
“I’d like a Tarot card reading, please,” he said, his voice so deep, I was certain the windows rattled.
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed. I can take your information and schedule an appointment for later this week.” I infused my voice with as much formality as I could muster. Anything to prevent stammering like a drooling idiot in front of such a good-looking man. Even though “good-looking” barely covered it.
“This won’t take long and I’m prepared to pay generously,” he said, as if he’d already dropped gold notes into my account. Wonderful—arrogant enough to assume money buys everything and he thinks his time is more valuable than mine. Well, that was exactly the shot of ice water I needed to break the spell.
“I appreciate your offer, but I’m afraid you’ll have to book an appointment.” Like everybody else.
“Unfortunately, I’m leaving Nairobi today. This is my last stop before my flight. I’ve heard of your reputation as a card reader. My research says you’re quite accurate.”
And just like that, he pierced the proverbial chink in my armor. When people said they’d heard of me, I felt honor-bound to accept. If word got back to the source that I was ungracious or unobliging, I could lose business. Damn it, why had I let my receptionist Natty leave early? She could have dealt with this situation. Oh right, it was so I could sleep and get ready in private with no one the wiser. But why had I forgotten to lock up? I did not have time for this.
I studied him. He wore reflective sunshades that prevented me from getting the full picture, but there were still plenty of other clues to give me a sense of what I was dealing with. A well-cut carbon gray suit and scuff-free shoes screamed gold notes and good taste. He was tall, very tall. His fashionably scruffy thick black hair brushed his suit collar and nearly met his very nicely broad shoulders. He was clean-shaven, with chiseled cheekbones and a slight tan that had to be Tru-Tan since no one exposed themselves to the sun anymore. Good tans cost a fortune. But his accent was the real giveaway. His deep voice carried a lilt that made it clear he was from the Russian Federation of Islands. In a word—money. Lots and lots of money.
But I wouldn’t reschedule my appointment for all the money, contacts, or goodwill in the tri-system. I gestured toward the door, intending to walk him out. “I’m sorry, but perhaps next time you’re in town.”
He looked as if he hadn’t the slightest intention of leaving. “If you’re concerned about the time, my people can ensure you arrive at the fertility clinic before nine this morning.”
I froze. “Excuse me, but that information is classified.”
“And so it will remain. It would be a shame for One Gov to learn the true nature of your appointment, after all.”
My eyes narrowed. “It’s just a routine fertility consultation.”
“Of course,” he agreed. “I ask only for a brief reading. Surely you can spare a moment?”
I should have been both angry and terrified that he knew my plans. Hell, I hadn’t even told my boyfriend, Roy! His words stopped just short of blackmail. And yet…I found myself intrigued, damn it. What would this Tarot reading show me? I had that odd feeling again—the one that hit deep in my gut and paid no attention to what I had lined up for the rest of the day, let alone my life. It demanded I follow through on whatever happened next. Over the years I’d learned never, and I mean never, to ignore that feeling no matter how pesky it might be.
He removed his sunshades and I was snared by blue eyes so intense I wondered if he had to hide them or risk turning people to stone—or women to mush. I peered closer, considering the whole package. The looks. The play of his muscles beneath his clothes when he moved. The symmetry. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t caught it earlier: His MH Factor—Modified Human—was turned up high enough to scorch.
Out of my mouth came: “I can fit you in now with a short reading.”
“Wonderful.” He offered a smile that had no doubt removed numerous panties. Nice to know one of us was having a good time.
“I don’t see many advanced stage Modified Humans in my shop. Are you fifth generation?” My question was beyond rude. Asking about genetic modifications was worse than asking how much money someone made. But if he knew my business, I didn’t see why I couldn’t know his. “I heard it’s less invasive to upgrade technological modifications later in life rather than opting for full pre-birth gene manipulation. The t-mods are supposed to be less expensive too.”
“Perhaps it depends on how many gold notes exchange hands and how natural you want it to look,” he said, noncommittally.
So there was some genetic manipulation involved. I knew it! But how much? Some people went overboard with their upgrades and the results weren’t always as advertised.
I waited for more follow-up from him. Instead, the silence stretched. Okay, then. “Is there a particular aspect of your life you want to know about? Or an issue that’s troubling you?”
“I’m concerned about a meeting and its success. Should I continue on my current path, or cut my losses and run? You no doubt receive many similar requests.”
He was right; I’d built my business on less. I had a steady clientele including a few minor celebrities, but nothing had really launched my career. Not that I wanted to be a card reader to the stars, but I definitely wanted to ensure I never had to worry about money.
“Follow me,” I said, and with those words went my last lick of common sense.
I removed the c-tex bracelet I’d put on—so that no one could accuse me of skimming the Cerebral Neural Net and faking a reading—then led him through the shop. Gentle lighting flicked on as we entered the back room. Soft music began, the automatic soundtrack set to a Mars chill funk vibe. The room was decorated with thick Venusian carpets, decadent pillows on velvet chaise lounges, and paintings of exotic Old Earth terrain and new-world Martian landscapes. Rich colors that begged to be touched—a tactile experience for the senses. Customers had certain expectations as to how a Tarot card shop on Night Alley, the most exclusive and decadent street in Nairobi, should appear. If my Russian stranger had been there the night before when business was in full swing, he would have seen my designer silk print dress and makeup just this side of too much, instead of the prim beige knee-length skirt and sky-blue blouse I now wore. I looked overdressed, conservative, and slightly out of style.
Oddly, the idea that he’d caught me this way made me feel vulnerable, like I’d allowed him to see the real me instead of the persona I wore when I cast a reading. That woman didn’t care what her clients thought because she knew they were all in awe of her. In those silk dresses she was untouchable. She held their future in her hands. This stripped-down me was too exposed, too likely to get caught up in things that didn’t concern her. Well, too bad. I wasn’t letting a hot guy and an off-the-chart gut feeling get the best of me. What I wore now was just another disguise. After all, how could I convince the Shared Hope program’s fertility Arbiter I should be allowed to have a baby if I didn’t look like a respectable member of society?
“Have a seat.” I directed him to one of the chaise lounges with an ornate gold-leaf table beside it. A chandelier that appeared to drip with gemstones, but were really artfully colored glass, hung overhead.
“Interesting décor,” he said.
“Would you be as impressed with a rickety table and some collapsible benches?” I asked as I took the chaise across from him.
He laughed. “I suppose not. I understand the need for showmanship. At times, it can be as important as the act itself.”
“Hence the décor.” I gestured around us.
I smiled, so did he, and suddenly the table between us seemed ridiculously small. The feeling in my gut grew, paired now with a growing sense that this man, whoever the hell he was, held some significance for me. It hung in the air.
I took a breath to center myself and refocused on the box in the middle of the table. Whatever designs were once painted on its black lacquered wood surface had long since faded. What it contained was easily the most valuable thing I owned.
I opened the box and removed the Tarot cards. They’d been in my family for generations, dating back to a time before the Earth’s axis shifted thanks to a series of massive global quakes, polar melts, and then the two wars of succession that followed. Family lore claimed they came from the Old World—an all but forgotten place that existed only in history books and on the bottom of the ocean floor.
“Since we’re pressed for time, I’ll do a five-card spread using only the Major Arcana,” I explained. “They are the heart of the Tarot. Each card represents a different state of being. I’m forgoing a Significator since you’re asking about yourself, but I want you to select five cards from the deck which represent what may or may not happen, what will prevent it from happening, why you’re in this situation, what you can do to either encourage or change it, and finally, depending on the steps you take, what will happen.”
As I shuffled, I fell into my usual banter where I reassured the client they were in capable hands. Its familiarity made me feel more secure. I could do this. No need to panic because I was looking into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Once done shuffling, I fanned out the cards, let him pick his five, then arranged and flipped them over.
I’d been doing this too long to gasp, but that was what I wanted to do. I had a bizarre affinity with this set of cards—more so than anyone in the family according to my dearly departed Granny G. In fact, the cards had bypassed two disgruntled and pissed off generations of Romani to come directly to me, per her wishes. So when I examined the cards, I never lost my smile, even though I’d cast this identical reading for myself only an hour earlier.
I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, and when the universe taps you on the shoulder, you pay attention. This was the equivalent of the universe punching me in the face.
He leaned forward. “What does it mean?”
“This is the Emperor, reversed.” I pointed to the first card. “You have goals, but waste energy on pointless things that get in the way. You have the will and strength to fight, but aren’t using those gifts properly. Next, the Moon. You want to shape events, not be shaped by them. You need to learn to read what’s happening around you and act accordingly. However, you also need caution. You have hidden enemies who’ve yet to reveal themselves. The third card is the Falling Tower. It’s the destruction of everything you’ve built because of your own misunderstanding and lack of judgment. Your bad choices may have put you in a situation where you could lose everything.”
The man laughed. It didn’t sound forced nor did he look worried, but at the same time, I could tell something was going on in his head. “So far it appears I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning.”
“It’s not all bad,” I said consolingly. “Fourth is the Lovers. It could mean attraction or love, but given the other cards, it appears to be a partnership and mutual commitment. This connection will help you overcome your difficulties and further your control of the events. Lastly, the Judgment. It represents the end of an old life, and the beginning of a new one. It’s a radical change, but one you will need if you are to overcome your situation.”
When I looked up, he was gazing at me with such an intent expression that I worried I’d offended him. Well, I didn’t have time to couch the reading in the prettiest of terms; he got what he got. He had to smarten up or he’d lose everything. Sadly, the same applied to me as well. Quickly, I swept the cards back into their box.
“I hope you found it useful.”
“Very. I appreciate you making the time to see me.”
He was still looking at me. I mean, really looking. Looking at me the way a man did when he wondered how a woman looked naked or was considering ways to get her naked. I wondered if he was thinking about the Lovers. Or maybe I was the one thinking that? My throat went dry. I hadn’t been studied like that in a long time and it felt better than it should. Even if I didn’t have an active MH Factor, I was no slouch. My almost-black hair reached mid-back, my olive skin held tones of Old World ancestry, and I could make my green eyes pop by dressing in shades of blue-green. My figure and height also fit One Gov’s genetic specification guidelines, hence putting me in the Goldilocks zone: just right.
No, enough of this. What was I thinking? I had a boyfriend. I had plans for the future. In an hour, my whole world could change. And yet…
I stood. He stood with me. Even in my metal-clad high-heeled boots, my eyes were barely level with his shoulder. I felt feminine in ways I hadn’t in years. The air felt charged with potential. My gut jerked again, reminding me to act before the moment disappeared. What the hell did it want me to do? Jump him? Rip his clothes off?
He held out his hand. I shook it. It swallowed mine. “Thank you, Felicia. I know how I need to conduct my future affairs now.”
I froze when he said my name. Not that him knowing it was a surprise; it was how he’d said it. If I tried to describe it I’d sound crazy. He said it like he knew me. Or, had made it his business to know me. Or, planned on knowing me so well, I would someday learn what his body pressed against mine would actually feel like.
I flushed and released his hand as if it burned. “Feel free to leave your payment on the way out.”
He laughed and a bolt of heat shot through me. “As I said earlier, my people can ensure you make your appointment at the clinic if you’re concerned about time.”
Again, I should have been terrified. If he contacted One Gov, getting arrested would be the least of my problems. Yet I had the oddest feeling that whatever this stranger knew, he’d keep it to himself. Still, I had to make some sort of a token protest, didn’t I? “My private schedule is just that—private. I understand your investigating my flat-file avatar on the CN-net. Many clients do and access is always open. However, any personal information I’ve logged is off-limits. I would appreciate it if you left my shop now.”
He seemed amused instead of angry. “My apologies. I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. Hopefully, we will have other dealings in the future.”
Gut feeling be damned, I sincerely hoped not. However, I must not have managed to school my expression well enough since he added, “Despite what you may believe, the future isn’t decided yet. There are always gray areas left to explore.”
He turned on his heel to leave. Bemused, I followed. Outside, I found two personal bodyguards—all muscle and matching suits. They fell into step behind him as he continued down the sidewalk to the street. I saw four more musclemen at either end of the block, and a helicon hovering overhead in the dull gray sky. Street-side were two flight-limos ready for takeoff, one with its windows down. I could see the pilot in front while in back sat a gorgeous redhead. My mouth fell open. I know it did—just open and flapping in the breeze.
He paused before he climbed inside the first flight-limo. “Ms. Sevigny, you’ll find my payment inside, as well as my halo should you need to get in touch. Your reputation is well deserved. Feel free to use me as a reference.”
With that, he got into the flight-limo. I saw the redhead attempt to climb onto his lap and watched him push her away before the windows rolled up. The security detail ducked into the second flight-limo as the helicon zipped away. In a few seconds, the street was empty.
I ran back inside. On the reception desk was a blue chip wafer used to transfer funds between locked CN-net accounts. It was old tech, the kind used by people who didn’t have direct CN-net t-mods. People like me. I tapped its face and the readout displayed an obscene amount of money. I charged seventy gold notes a reading. The readout said ten thousand—very near to the amount that had been in the savings account I’d recently decimated. I almost fainted. Beside the chip was the promised halo. Like the blue chip, it was also old tech. I touched it and watched the name unfurl in bold script.
So I’d been right about the accent. I knew the name. Who didn’t? I’d just never seen his face. He rarely surfaced in public, and when he did, he came and went like smoke.
Alexei Petriv. Crown Prince of the Tsarist Consortium—though “crime lord” and “thug” would also be accurate descriptors. Robin Hood too, in some circles. Thorn in the side of One Gov. Pirate of the tri-system. In my office. Wanting a reading. The need to faint grew stronger. So did the feeling in my gut.
I had a terrible suspicion I was about to be made an offer I could not refuse.
I’m not sure how long I stood in the doorway to my shop feeling slightly unhinged while the c-tex bracelet shimmered and vibrated on the reception desk. No doubt it was Roy, checking in. I picked it up, tapped the screen, and the holo popped up.
Sure enough, Roy’s image appeared. His sandy-blond hair was in desperate need of trimming, as usual. Conventionally cute, his appearance fell within One Gov specs—tallish, broad-shouldered, decent build, nice brown eyes. He always seemed worried and concerned about me, a trait I’d once thought adorable. Lately it made me wonder why he never loosened up. Then again, working undercover for the MPLE (Mars Planetary Law Enforcement), or on the Earth-to-Mars drug trafficking cases he took on, would give anyone reason to worry. Today he looked annoyed, which was also, unfortunately, normal. He hated that a face-chat shim with me meant using an antiquated charm-tex bracelet rather than a direct synapse hookup to the Cerebral Neural net. He claimed I was the only person he knew who wasn’t chipped. He was probably right; my family had severe tech phobia. But even if I wanted One Gov sponsored free tech modifications, or t-mods as they were known, it was too late. The first implants had to be done before puberty. And if I was bitter about missing out on the advantages that came with the upgrades…well, there was no point crying over what I couldn’t change.
“Hey, babe. Still at the shop at this hour? You’re usually finishing up when the rest of the city is just starting. Thought you’d be home by now.” He made the last part a question.
“Just leaving. I had a last minute walk-in I couldn’t ignore.”
He snorted. “Figures. You work too hard.” In the background I saw various buildings, but not enough to pinpoint his location. Somewhere in the city center.
“I have to if I want this shop to succeed. You know my family will be the first to say ‘I told you so’ if there’s even a whiff of failure.”
He cracked a wide grin. “True. I’ve experienced the Sevigny clan’s displeasure firsthand. Not something I’d care to repeat.”
My family loathed Roy. Never mind their inherent suspicion of anything law-enforcement related; they also felt he wasn’t good enough for me. Sometimes, I agreed. Other times, being with him felt safer than throwing my heart out there for anyone to stomp on. Mine had already been stomped on once. I didn’t need a repeat performance. “I have a couple errands to run, so don’t worry if you can’t reach me. After that, I’m crashing for the rest of the day. I should be home by noon.”
“I hope your idiot business partner hasn’t gotten you into something sketchy.”
“If Charlie Zero needs me to do something that benefits the shop, I’ll do it.”
He made a dismissive grunt. “Hey, I’m not shimming to fight. I’m just reminding you about date night. It’s your turn to pick the place.”
I almost swore out loud. Roy and I had aligned our schedules so we’d have a night off together every two weeks. That was tonight, and I’d completely forgotten. “Already picked,” I lied. “Just sit back and be surprised.”
“Looking forward to it, babe. Sorry, gotta go. Just got a ping from headquarters. I’ll shim when I’m free. Love you.”
“Love you back.” I broke the link without waiting for a reply. Now I had to worry about date night on top of everything else! Fuck. It was almost funny—Alexei Petriv, a complete stranger, knew my plans better than Roy did. It didn’t say much for my current state of affairs.
I slapped the bracelet back on my arm. Immediately, it fluttered. Gods, now what? No face-chat shim this time—only a voice and a cloudy screen. Apparently my appointment had just decided to reach out to me. A tingle of fear raced up my spine.
“Have you hailed the Y-Line?” I was asked without preamble.
I swallowed. I couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female. “Yes, I’m leaving now.”
I scrambled to find the information for the pod I’d booked. “Launchpad 16. Pod 2176.”
I could hear a beep in the background. “Location confirmed. Courtyard Office Center. Mayfair Fertility Clinic. Meeting time, nine hundred hours. Payment transfer received.”
I said nothing. The payment had dissolved my savings. Then I recalled the gold notes from Alexei Petriv. If my gut had feet, it would have kicked me.
“Worried?” the voice asked.
“Of course not. I do stuff like this every day before breakfast.” Well, truthfully, with the shop hours I kept, my breakfast tended to be everyone else’s dinner time, but that was no one’s business but my own.
“I assure you nothing will go wrong.”
“So you’ve said, but none of this guarantees the blacklisted status will be wiped from my fertility record.”
“Now seems a little late for doubt, don’t you think?”
The voice was right, and I wasn’t naïve. I might be scared, but my future with Roy depended on the next few hours. “I know, but I’ve never broken the law before. Well, not like this anyway.”
“Trust me: all will go according to plan.” The voice cut out.
I sighed, letting the air out slowly so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. I had the basics of the plan, but none of its specifics. What I knew included making an appointment at the local One Gov–controlled fertility clinic to speak with an Arbiter—standard practice for anyone with a fertility dispute. However, how I’d alter the record to remove my blacklisted status was beyond me. It was risky, but if I wanted to participate in the Shared Hope program, this was my only choice.
When One Gov came to power during the Dark Times, they followed through on their promise of prosperity and equality for all. Unfortunately, some felt their legislation turned humanity into a flock of sheep. Maybe four hundred years ago we’d needed that direction. But now, One Gov took issue with those they felt weren’t well-behaved citizens, and it often meant losing out on things like career choice, housing selection, or calorie-consumption allocation. Or in my case—for reasons I didn’t know—access to the Shared Hope program.
- "Imaginative. Fans of romance in science fiction are going to love this!"—Kim Harrison, #1 New York Times bestselling author
- "Cerveny's debut blends steamy sci-fi-fi with breathless intrigue and action, all set on a far-future Earth that's equal parts fascinating and terrifying."—Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger and Breath of Earth
- "A compelling and intriguing read built on a fascinating premise. Cerveny's future world is richly drawn, and Felicia's and Alexei's adventure is definitely an edge-of-your-seat ride."—Linnea Sinclair, award-winning author of the Dock Five Universe series
- "Catherine Cerveny delivers the perfect blend of futuristic intrigue, engrossing action, and passionate romance in a riveting adventure that will leave you hungry for more. Intensely absorbing. Emotionally satisfying."—Amanda Bouchet, author of the Kingmaker Chronicles
- "A fresh heroine pairs with a dangerous hero to confront nuanced and compelling ethical dilemmas... fast-paced, tightly plotted."—RT Book Reviews
- "Cerveny's world is noteworthy for its realistic balance. Her future, where everyone has access to age-halting technology but political turmoil still abounds, feels both familiar and intriguing.... A well-crafted world with a promising heroine."—Kirkus
- "A novel with depth... a terrific story."—The Qwillery
- "Sexy science fiction romance.... that will entirely satisfy fans of pulpy SF."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jan 26, 2016
- Page Count
- 384 pages