See the future. Set things on fire. Fall in love? A superpowered sci-fi romance.
When dying alien ships materialized across the Earth, their nanite cloud knocked Deneve Wilder out cold. She woke up with the ability to see the future. Determined to keep anyone from using her visions for evil, she took to the road. Giving up everything was a small price to pay for freedom.
The ship that hit Jolie Betancourt’s town gave her the power to set things on fire. It was safer to start over in a new city. Then one terrible mistake demonstrated far too clearly that for her, solitude is safer. For everyone.
So when Deneve shows up after a vision of Jolie being kidnapped, Jolie wants little to do with the frustratingly attractive drifter. Deneve’s surprised by how much she wants to thaw the pretty shopkeeper’s chilly attitude, but the idea of staying in one place sets off her alarm bells.
If they can’t evade whoever’s abducting people with powers, however, the growing connection they both feel in spite of themselves might be the least of their problems.
The first novella in a sapphic near-future science fiction romance series, which is slow burn to high heat with a guaranteed HEA at series end.
Preview: Chapter 1
Deneve woke up with dirt in her mouth. That happened sometimes when you could see the future but couldn’t control when it kicked in. Getting lost in a vision was reasonably safe if you were lying on a stranger’s couch late at night after a day of working for cash under the table. Not so convenient while walking down the side of the road with everything you owned in a backpack and a guitar case, on your way to the next town. That’s when you ended up in a drainage ditch after collapsing and tumbling down an embankment as visions of a car crash or a tornado took over your mind, and your eyes glowed blue.
At least this time she hadn’t broken her fall with her face.
She pulled herself up, spit, and started brushing the dirt off her clothes. This vision hadn’t been a car crash or a tornado. Just some flashes: a woman’s leg, the edge of a skirt, a dark blue van, a struggle.
It had been a while since she’d lost consciousness entirely, or since a vision had been so piecemeal. Before this incident, Deneve would have said the alien nanites in her body and brain had been getting better at their job. Whatever that job was. It’d been six months since the ships full of dying aliens appeared on Earth, and as far as Deneve knew, nobody had yet figured out what the damn things were for. If anyone had, they’d likely have discovered it by experimenting on people like her.
Hence her current location on the side of a Texas highway between Houston and Austin, instead of back in Colorado where home had been. No way was Deneve going to become part of someone’s laboratory collection. Or worse, a tool. A lot of people would probably pay good money for someone who could see the future, even if Deneve couldn’t perform on command.
At least she hadn’t broken anything, torn her dress, or snapped her sunglasses in the fall. Deneve finished brushing herself off, retrieved the guitar case, and climbed back up to the frontage road. She watched the cars pass, waiting to see if the nanites would give her anything more to work with.
The cars heading towards Austin looked better.
She didn’t know how the nanites had figured out her human nervous system, but their signals had gotten more clear over time. Contentment, anticipation, or delight meant she was doing what they wanted. When she wasn’t, she felt increasingly sick and jumpy, a yellow alert escalating to a red alert. Not like an anxiety disorder. She wouldn’t ever compare the two, because she could control it. All she had to do was let the nanites run the show whenever they chose to.
At first she hadn’t been able to tell their directions from her own emotions, and having no clue if she was herself anymore had been gross and horrible. Now she mostly had it down. Deneve waited, watching the cars, and that magnetic, alluring feeling strengthened.
Towards Austin, then. She’d been dropped off by her last ride at a combination Czech bakery and truck stop halfway between Austin and Houston. The nanites hadn’t complained when she’d started down Highway 71 instead of continuing on I-10. Deneve certainly didn’t want to visit San Antonio, so close to the only ship that had hit Texas. Getting anywhere near the government-industrial research installations that now surrounded every dead ship didn’t seem smart.
Why did they come here? she wondered, not for the first time, as she stuck her thumb out and waited for a car to stop. Possibly more relevant, why release the glittering clouds of nanites? Had it been planned, or a side effect of the aliens’ and ships’ deaths? The ships themselves had been alive, that much scientists had somehow figured out. Those twenty-six lumpy white shapes and their inhabitants had arrived on Earth in the space of a heartbeat, and whatever and whoever had been in those locations a moment before was just… gone. People. Their homes. Whole neighborhoods. Just gone, no one knew where, and a few minutes later all the beings who could have explained it all were dead.
Deneve walked more than three miles before a car pulled over. She smoothed her hair back and her knee-length dress down. Her hitchhiking look, including the guitar case that held only more clothes, was engineered as more free spirit traveling than down-and-out homeless. Of course there was no shortage of the latter these days, along with shuttered businesses. She’d slept in a few of those.
The car was electric, a blue Honda hatchback. The nanites liked it so much that in the early days of Deneve’s nanite coexistence she would have started petting it before she realized what she was doing. She was lucky the few people who’d been around her had assumed she was drunk or high.
The passenger side window rolled down.
“Where you headed?” the person in the driver’s seat called.
Deneve bent down so she could see into the car. The driver had bright pink hair, a nose ring, and full sleeve tattoos. That seemed about right for a person who’d pick up a woman with a guitar and drop her off safely.
“Austin,” Deneve called back over the noise of cars passing. Well, it was Austin unless the nanites gave her another signal along the way.
“Live music capital of the world, am I right?” the driver called back. “Throw your stuff in the back seat, there’s plenty of room.”
Deneve did, smiling politely as she got settled in the passenger seat and buckled up. “Thanks for stopping.”
Her pink-haired savior grinned back and then turned their attention to merging back onto the highway. “Figured you’d get eaten by mosquitoes if I left you out there. I’m headed towards South Austin. Can I drop you someplace south of the river?”
There was a river? “This is gonna be my first time in Austin, so I don’t really know yet. Anywhere near a bus route is fine.” She’d get her bearings from there using her cousin’s phone. Swapping out the billing info with a new pre-paid card so often was a hassle, especially since she had to find stores that would activate the cards without photo ID, but it beat having something in her own name following her around the country. She was lucky her cousin hadn’t turned on any biometrics before Deneve stole it on her way out of town.
Someday she might turn it on and find out the account had been canceled. Death certificates might eventually be issued for everyone in Colorado Springs who disappeared when the ship did whatever it did to physics. Her cousin was probably among them, which Deneve avoided thinking about as much as possible, though it would explain why she hadn’t transferred her number to a new phone. But hopefully as long as the bill got paid, it would stay active.
She’d wondered, early on, if someone from her family might call it. Her aunt or uncle, looking for their daughter. It had never happened, and the few calls from people she didn’t recognize had finally stopped.
Yep, better not to linger on any of that.
“I’m Kami, by the way,” the driver said. “She/her.”
“Audrey,” Deneve said. “Same pronouns. Pleased to meet you.”
* * *
Austin was the right choice. The nanites sent a small wave of relaxation as Deneve exited the car in the parking lot of a chain drugstore. She thanked Kami, retrieved her stuff, and surveyed her surroundings as the car pulled away.
All four corners of the intersection had commercial buildings, with larger apartment buildings looming behind them. Bus stops sat on each corner, too, so Deneve headed to the least crowded one to sit and take out her phone.
She tried to, anyway. The nanites pulled her south.
“I will,” she muttered under her breath. “Just give me a minute.”
The nanites felt unconvinced.
“You’re not perfect, you know,” she reminded them. “Should we discuss the time you walked me right up to someone who punched me in the face?”
As if talking to them did anything. She’d tried deliberately having her own very strong feelings at them, too, but to no avail. As far as the nanites were concerned, this was a one-way conversation, so it wasn’t worth raising the dog bite incident either. Deneve started walking. At the very least she could scope out wherever they wanted her, hopefully get more signals, and try to make a plan.
Most of the buildings for the next few blocks were tall apartments, although the majority had some ground-level retail. About third of it was empty. In between those buildings were older shopping strips built before higher urban density prevailed, also patchworked with a few vacancies.
The nanites liked one of them, a two-story strip with space for five businesses, four of them still operating. As Deneve got closer, she hoped her destination was the Thai place on the end. She’d had a grilled cheese and fries at the Czech truck stop, but that was all today, and it was almost four o’clock. She’d been paid enough by her recent grunt work gigs in Louisiana and Houston to afford a couple of orders of spring rolls.
It wasn’t the Thai place, unfortunately. It was a… stationery store? That was all Deneve could think from the name Paper Dreams. Right in the middle of the strip, its awning faded but neat. When she got closer, she could see a window display of notebooks and pens.
Deneve stood at the edge of the small front parking lot for a couple of minutes, pretending to check her phone. No additional nanite signals. Nothing here clicked with the vision. She finally noticed the sign indicating more parking in back and walked around that way. The back side of the building wasn’t as well maintained as the front, and the dumpsters didn’t smell great, but more importantly neither the cramped parking lot nor the alley running behind it offered any clues.
How annoying. The nanites usually wanted her at a specific event happening soonish, and afterwards she could have her life mostly to herself for a while. She’d never figured out a pattern to what they got agitated about, but whatever was happening this time, Deneve wanted to face it on a full stomach. She walked around to the front again and headed towards the Thai place. As she passed the door to the stationery shop, she felt a hot spike of urgency.
Fine. Let’s get this over with.
The door to the shop swung open easily and silently. Deneve stepped in, careful with her guitar case, and let the door swing shut behind her before pushing her sunglasses up so she could see.
The display tables and against-the-wall shelving were all painted in various soft pastels, soothing without being cloying. Delicate baskets held cards and pens, journals had been stacked in intricate patterns, and gauzy scarves wound around bowls full of stamps and ink pads. Deneve pitied whoever had to put everything back to rights after a day of customers wrecking it all. She’d only worked retail for about three months in high school before getting her first restaurant job, but she remembered it too well.
The retail space stopped about halfway into the building, as best Deneve could estimate, at a high table with a tablet on a stand that served as a cash register. A lacy curtain partly obscured the open doorway behind it.
“Hello?” she called.
She heard the click of footsteps, high heels on the cement floor, before the curtain was drawn aside, and…
Deneve liked a lot of different looks on a lot of different kinds of people, but this gal would have made her stumble while walking down the street. Stunning, no other word for her. Wavy blonde hair cascaded gently over her shoulders, which were bare due to her spaghetti-strap black tank top, its lace-edged neckline echoing the multiple delicate silver necklaces that lay over her smooth, pale skin. Her curves were subtle, and she moved with an elegant economy.
She was rocking a pleasant customer service mask. When her eyes connected with Deneve’s, however, there was a flash of something deep and maybe even dark in her gaze. Something in Deneve’s nanites almost shivered. A sensation she’d never felt before, gone as quickly as it had appeared.
The blonde had put her retail face back on in the meantime. “May I help you?”
Her voice was as gorgeous as she was, lower than Deneve would have guessed and with a smoky edge. Her expression and tone weren’t the effusive welcome Deneve had always aimed for as a restaurant server and host in her pre-nanite days, but in this hushed, elegant place the cool, crisp politeness fit.
She wondered what the woman saw, looking at Deneve. A white woman like herself but with more roadside dirt and luggage than anyone usually carried into a store, and Deneve’s last haircut had been five days before the ships appeared. Hardly a combination that screamed potential customer. Oh well. She was here on a different errand. The cash register stand was a table instead of a solid counter, so Deneve could see the woman’s long, flowy, lavender skirt. She’d seen that skirt. She’d seen the hand wrapped around this woman’s arm, pulling, and a dirty dark blue van.
Subject recognized. Subject was also currently in a location where the bad thing was not going to happen, so Deneve could retreat to make a plan. Except apparently the nanites had zero interest in Deneve taking a step backwards. Sideways either.
“I was passing by,” she said, stalling. “I wanted to know what was in here.”
The woman nodded once. “Please set your belongings down to avoid any accidents with the displays.” She stepped forward to the checkout table and busied herself with the tablet so completely that Deneve felt profoundly dismissed.
She shouldn’t have cared. She’d seen plenty of random pretty girls in random cities. Deneve was here for one reason, and it had nothing to do with anyone’s opinion of her.
But what had the weird reaction from her nanites been about?
Deneve set her guitar case down in a space between two display tables and eased her backpack off. She wiped her hands on her dress, which didn’t help much given its state, and decided not to touch anything. She folded her hands behind her back and threaded her way through the various tables, looking at products without seeing them, working her way closer to the sales counter while hoping she could come up with a plan.
By the time she got there, she still didn’t have one, but she was feeling the slow escalating urge to do something.
“Excuse me,” Deneve said quietly.
The shopkeeper glanced up and one of her immaculate eyebrows rose slightly. Not a bad look on her, not one bit. Yet Deneve hoped it wouldn’t take much to change the woman’s course, so Deneve could be out of here sooner rather than later.
“Do you feel safe in this neighborhood?” she asked. “I’m new to Austin, and I…” She wished she had a single idea how to end that sentence.
The woman’s eyebrow rose a fraction more. “I’ve never had a problem. Is there anything I can ring up for you, or do you have any questions about a product?”
Just get her to be vigilant for a few days. “I might worry if I worked here and left late? That alley out back isn’t well lit. You should probably be careful.”
Deneve had thought the woman was cool before, but she discovered there were levels. The shopkeeper’s mask didn’t slip, but her stare went hard.
“Thank you so very much for your concern. If there’s nothing I can help you with, I think you should leave.”
Deneve backed away a couple of steps until she felt her hip brush a table. Best not to compound the awkwardness by knocking something over. She would go. If she could. “Okay, I just—”
The nanites flared.
Deneve’s hand flew to cover her eyes’ blue glow. She could tell it was too late from how the woman behind the counter took a startled step back. Fucking nanites. They usually gave her enough warning that she could close her eyes, turn her head, or at least get the sunglasses down. Everyone knew what that flare meant. It had been all over the news within days of the Landing.
“Get out,” the blonde said sharply.
Might as well go for broke. “Look, I’m only here because someone is going to try to kidnap you or hurt you sometime soon. Watch yourself.”
The scorn on the shopkeeper’s face deepened to hostility. Deneve wrenched her body away from where the nanites wanted her to be and went for her things, hoisting the backpack onto her shoulder. She banged the guitar case into the door by accident as she struggled to direct her own movements, her heart racing, but the glass didn’t break and then she was stumbling out onto the sidewalk.
Hopefully the nanites would let her get far enough away that if the beautiful shopkeeper was now calling the cops, Deneve would be long gone before they arrived.
Fuck. Today was not going well.
These are as spoiler-free as possible, but to the author it’s more important that folks who need content details can get them.
On-page or significant discussion:
- Homelessness / transient living, hitchhiking, living without credit cards and I.D., avoiding police.
- Attempted & successful kidnappings, physical assault, and murder.
- Concerns about gun violence, gun on page, off-page gunshot. Knife brought out during fight, not used.
- On-page building fire. Consideration of using fire to injure humans, possible past incident.
- Nanite infection that affects emotions & behavior.
- Minor head injury, minor scrapes.
- Concern about being disappeared by the government or a corporation and experimented on.
In main characters’ backstories, significant discussion:
- Mass missing persons event worldwide causing chaos and both physical and economic dislocation.
- Police, military, and vigilante violence against people with superpowers.
Off-page or brief mention:
- Car accidents, tornadoes.