From the next Cassidyverse novel...

I'm back with another chapter from The Ghosts of Tantor - the Cassidyverse novel which should be coming out in the spring of 2022!

Now, last week was pretty dark. Lieutenant Shi Hendrickson has some pretty heavy issues to deal with.

So I thought I'd go much lighter for this chapter.

Plus I'll give you a look at the placeholder cover art I'm using. This is NOT the final artwork or the final cover! Those will be done by my usual designer, Emily. But this gives you an idea of the direction.


Okay, onto the chapter!

TFS Pike

Stardate 12408.15


“Here’s your share.” Jessa reached into a pocket and pulled out a pair of fifty-credit notes.

Nicole took it and said, “How much did you bet?”

“It wasn’t the bet. It was the odds.” Jessa laughed. “Something my dad taught me when I was little, and he’d bring me to the racetrack: play the odds, not the favorites. One long-shot paying off makes up for a whole bunch of losers. Come on, let’s find Greyson.”

They’d met outside one of the restaurants in The Mall. Since Nicole had officially asked Jessa out, she insisted on picking the location.

“You’ll love it,” Jessa had said after extracting a promise not to investigate. “I want you to be surprised.”

Surprised she was.

She’d known it was there. Nobody who’d spent any time on The Mall could have missed it, with the neon lights and loud music hearkening back to a distant time. But it was a time, and culture, so far removed from anything Nicole knew she’d never felt any desire to indulge her mild curiosity.

“Ricky’s Diner?” she’d said when Jessa had arrived.

“It’s so amazing inside!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No; there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the Fleet. The only place I’ve been which compared was down Earthside when I was maybe ten.” She looped her arm in Nicole’s and pulled her to the chrome-and-glass doors before stopping and giving her the credit notes.

Now she hauled a door open, tugged Nicole inside, and peered about.

“The toughest thing about Greyson,” Jessa said, scanning, “Is she’s so little she can almost disappear. There they are.”

Nicole was still gazing around and was jerked forward.

“Hi, lovebug,” Jessa said, leaning across the table to kiss Greyson. Before settling in herself, she guided Nicole into the circular booth, Greyson edging over to make room.

“What do you think?” Jessa asked, eagerness in her eyes.

“It’s overwhelming,” Nicole said. “There’s nothing like it on Luna.”

“No, there wouldn’t be. The place I mentioned that my daddy took me to? It was in Houston, near the HLC campus, though I didn’t know anything about HLC at the time. Anyway, it’s not as flashy as Ricky’s. There’s not as much chrome and about a third the neon, but the stools and booths and counters, they’re pretty much the same. And the jukebox. Gotta have the jukebox.”

“Jukebox?”

Greyson took Nicole’s hand and squeezed it. “You get used to it,” they said. “She’s got an unhealthy obsession with diners.”

“I don’t even know what a diner is!”

Jessa explained.

#

“Well?”

Arm-in-arm-in-arm, the trio strolled through one of the wide pathways.

“I’ve never had anything like the milkshake before. One question. Is it actually made with milk? Like, from a cow?” Nicole’s discomfort was apparent and Jessa chuckled.

“They used to be but not any longer. You liked it?”

“Until I got the, what did you call it? Ice cream headache?”

Greyson giggled. “Those aren’t any fun. I once tried to drink a whole milkshake in one pull, and I thought my head was going to explode!”

“You moaned for an hour,” Jessa confirmed. “Hey, Nicole, do you have anything left from your winnings?”

“Plenty.”

“Let’s go dancing.”

“After that dinner? I’m not up for anything so energetic!”

“Slow dancing? There’s a nice place which just does the waltz and foxtrots.”

“I know what a waltz is, but I think I’m underdressed.” Nicole gestured helplessly to her comfortable clothes.

“No problem, you’re wearing clothes, you can get in. They’re picky about wearing clothes,” Jessa finished, blushing slightly.

“There’s a story here,” Greyson said. “I’ll whisper it to you.”

Nicole leaned her head down, and Greyson told the tale, punctuated by giggles from Nicole as Jessa turned redder and redder.

“Finished yet?”

In response, Greyson pulled Nicole’s ear back down, whispered, released her, and said, “Now I am.”

#

“It’s been a fun night,” Nicole said, a little unsteadily. The dance hall also served alcohol, and their table had been continually supplied. After the third round, Nicole found she didn’t care that her feet couldn’t quite manage the foxtrot. She was alert enough to adjust her nanobots to scavenge the alcohol from her system to keep her at a pleasant buzz after that, no more.

Jessa and Greyson danced far more than Nicole did, which didn’t surprise her. They’d evidently discovered the place early in the mission and were familiar faces to the staff. Three hours had passed quickly, and it was with great reluctance that Nicole had finally begged a stop.

“It has,” Jessa agreed with her. “What took you so long to ask me out? Ow! Us. I meant us.” She rubbed her ribs where Greyson’s well-aimed elbow had landed.

“Getting to know you? Adjusting to the ship and my new duties? Being scared out of my wits you’d turn me down? Which one makes you feel better?” Nicole ended lightly.

“Well, you finally did, and that’s what counts.” Jessa wrapped Nicole in a hug, Greyson on the other side. “And the night doesn’t have to end yet,” she continued, her lips brushing Nicole’s ear.

“Definitely not,” agreed Greyson from the other side.

Nicole shivered, nerves tingling. “I don’t know,” she hedged, even though she did. Moreover, she knew they both knew her hesitation was faked, and she briefly wondered why she was resisting. It’s not as if I haven’t been attracted to Jessa, she thought. And Greyson’s fun to be around, even if they’re maddening on a mission.

“I don’t have anywhere to be in the morning,” she said. “Do you have an extra toothbrush? Pajamas?”

Jessa’s grin was wicked. “You think you’re going to sleep?”

#

“Mmmm,” murmured Nicole. She was between Jessa and Greyson, her head pillowed on both their arms, bodies touching all the way down to her toes.

“You were definitely worth the wait,” said Jessa, nuzzling her neck.

“I told you she’s cuddly,” Greyson said, snuggling in further.

“You were right,” Jessa admitted. “I wasn’t surprised, mind you.”

“I was,” said Nicole, her hand stroking down Jessa’s chest, past her hips, down between her legs. “Pleasantly so.”

Jessa shrugged against her, which sent all sorts of unexpected sensations racing through Nicole’s nerves.

“I transitioned several years ago, at least as fully as I wanted, so I was at home in my body. I don’t honestly think about which parts I “ought to have” any longer. I am who I am, and I’m happy with it. But I’m most pleased you’re happy with it, too,” she finished with a wriggle.

“Why, Lieutenant. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you weren’t all that sleepy.”

“Who said I’m sleepy? Not I!” Jessa mock-growled.

Greyson encircled Nicole with their free arm. “You’d better relax. When she’s like this, neither of us are liable to get any sleep.”

“Oh, I’m relaxed,” Nicole said with a smile and a sigh. “I’m relaxed.”

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