Time to make some noise about my latest book. Lo, an excerpt appears!
After trudging through the more touristy parts of SoHo, we finally reach the Aquarian, a pub that allows plus ones but is still moderately tasteful. When I get my card out and press it to the bouncer display, I feel Timon tense beside me, but the laser reads the card and makes a happy chirp: confirmation that I have the requisite aspects to frequent this particular pub.
I usually don’t reflect on it – I’m eligible to enter almost anywhere – but this time, with Timon at my side, I wonder: what is it about my chart that makes me such an attractive customer? And more importantly, what aspects would result in a beep and a red light?
Azods can’t get in anywhere on their own, of course, since they don’t even have a card. But there are also less obvious fences. Some places don’t want people with badly aspected Mars, since it’ll always result in a fight. Shops are wary of Neptune square Mercury and their potentially thieving ways. Even the university has taken to turning away students with Mercury retrograde in the first house. There are challenges, and then there are challenges. No need to put people through the wringer if they don’t have it in them.
“What are you having? Heineken?”
“Kilkenny,” Timon says, and I go to order for both of us. Sure, places like this might pride themselves on their open-mindedness, but there are limits, and the handling of money is one such limit. As the charted one, I’m responsible for my starless tag-along, and my right to bring him can be revoked at the slightest hint of trouble.
While I wait at the bar, I look around the room. It’s filled with the usual rabble of show-offs and hang-arounds. I don’t like the Aquarian. Half the people here are the type to tattoo their chart onto their necks or advertise their most attractive trait with a pendant. But I’ve promised Timon a drink, so the Aquarian it is.
The bartender gives me two overfull glasses and I walk over to the booth Timon has found, foam sliding down my hands. When he takes his glass, our fingers touch and I stiffen. I want to wipe it – because of the beer foam, nothing else – but now we’ve had skin contact, Timon will probably think I do it out of disgust.
My phone beeps and I automatically wipe my hand before reaching for it. Shit. The screen shows a notification from StraightDate. Putting the date into dating, the slogan announces. Cheesy, yes, but I work sixty hour weeks and don’t have the time to look for love the traditional way. I open the latest message to see a flirty smile.
“News?” Timon asks sweetly.
“It’s just this dating site I’m a member of.” I flash the screen at him to make sure he understands. A slow nod is his only comment, and I narrow my eyes. Is there an element of disbelief in there? Fumbling to put away my phone, I clear my throat. “Just so you know.”
Timon snorts. “Know what?”
I shoot him a glare. “What kind of people I date,” I bite out, regretting having notifications on that stupid app in the first place.
Timon gives a wan smile. “I have no problem with who you date.”
“That’s not what I…” I break off with a sigh that sounds too exasperated. “I’m just saying.”
“Well, this isn’t a date, so.”
“I know that.”
“Just… if you were worried.” Timon gives me a mischievous look, but before I can retort something clever, he changes gears. “So anyway, this study you’re conducting…” He takes a sip from his drink. “Were you on the cusp of a breakthrough or something?”
Jarred by the shift, I try to stall. “Why do you ask?”
Timon cocks his head. “It’s my job to know everything. What kind of scopiler would I be if I didn’t draw exaggerated conclusions from flimsy evidence?”
I give my beer a pointed look. “You’d make a great researcher.”
“Hah. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?”
I make a repentant face. Someone like Timon can never get into research, so perhaps joking about it is perceived as a taunt? I give him a searching look, but he doesn’t meet my gaze. Instead he studies the pearls of condensation running down his glass.
“Whoever killed the professor doesn’t want the study to go forward, right?” he muses.
I hesitate. “Uh… maybe.”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Why else kill an old man who wouldn’t hurt a fly?”
“Which tells me the study was on the verge of a breakthrough, and someone knew. It also means you’re in danger.”
I take a deep swallow from my glass and put it back down too hard. The bang makes me sound angry, but I’m really not. I’m just… sick of it. Of everything. The world feels like an itchy sweater I can’t take off. I have a sudden urge to talk to Feona, even though I know I can’t confide in her. Emotional support isn’t her strong suit. Sure, she can pat a hand and offer advice she’s memorized from a book of quotations, but to actually listen and be there… that just isn’t her. Blame her Aries ascendant or Mars in the eighth house, but Feona Hollander is a doer, not a feeler.
Unlike Timon, who seems able to channel every emotion under the stars.
He’s drumming his fingers on the table now, deep in thought. “Maybe you should take a few sick days. Lie low for a while.”
Sudden anger surges in me. “I can’t let this psycho scare me into silence. I’m a searcher for truth. If I abandon my post, what’ll the world come to?”
Timon stares at me. Then he laughs. “Wow, Doctor Hammond. You do take yourself seriously.”
“And you don’t? What if you started guessing at crime scenes? Plucked theories out of thin air?”
“That’s kind of what I do, actually.”
“I don’t believe that.”
Timon shoots me a cheeky look. “Believe? I thought you were a ‘searcher for truth’. Aren’t you supposed to know?”
I roll my eyes. “Okay, one-nil to the starless.”
Timon falls quiet, mouth open for words that don’t come. Oh, wait… ‘starless’ isn’t a PC word anymore, is it? I seem to remember a columnist cautioning against it in some Sunday supplement or other. As I scrabble to take it back, Timon waves a dismissive hand.
“It’s, um… a bit difficult to keep up, you know?” I attempt to defend myself. “These terms change all the time, and…”
“It’s your job, though, isn’t it?” Timon’s dark eyes issue a blood-freezing challenge, and I swallow drily.
“That doesn’t mean…” I half-whisper, gesturing vaguely. “I mean… I fuck up. I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, but…” But you’re obviously not forgiving me. I take a sip from my beer to avoid looking at him. Tension hangs heavy over the table, dissuading further conversation. Yeah, I’ve fucked up, but come on. Three months ago, that word was fine. Sure, I’m an ‘expert’, but not in the way Timon thinks. I don’t socialize with Azods, I only work with their blood. I’m in a lab, for stars’ sake. I don’t frequent websites devoted to Azod rights, I only read research papers and tables full of blood metal levels. Where would I even get the memo that ‘starless’ is no longer an okay word?
Not knowing what else to do, I take another gulp, but the beer tastes sour now. Timon looks sullen and unreachable. I want to explain, but it’ll only make things worse. Sighing, I prepare to empty my glass in silence. This was a crap idea to begin with. A doctor and an Azod, pretending at friends? It’s laughable. Bound to go wrong.
Intrigued? Find out what happens in Chains of Being at your favourite online store.
In a world of stars, #WhatsYourSign?
Doctor Hammond is the darling of the constellations. With a genius birth chart and a doctorate in Astrology, everything points to imminent academic stardom. But a danger lurks at the heart of Hammond’s research, and when Timon the Azod enters the stage, a collision is inescapable – because Timon is Hammond’s polar opposite. Navigating the world on intuition alone, he represents the chaos Hammond tries so hard to control. And in a society built on the zodiac, he’s the unthinkable: a man without a chart.
In another part of town, actor Sean Matthews prepares for the role of his life. Together with posh boy co-star Alastair Chesterton, he’s about to make television history. But when the show starts bleeding into reality, Sean has to face some difficult truths – about himself, about Alastair, about reality itself. In the clutches of a narrative that’s stronger than him, he’s faced with the ultimate choice: to play the part he’s been given, or to risk it all and go off script.
Set in a London close to our own, this story shows a world about to crumble – or be born again.