Sneak Peek: Emma Makes a Friend by M. Lush

This one got caught in editing, but it will be live soon. So let’s start with a free sample.

 

Prism Falls was another mixed-capital community, one of three Emma Veneta managed for a ludicrously wealthy collection of people who had likely never set foot inside any of the communities’ doors. The first two floors were what most people called “a mall” and which the tourist adverts Emma just approved called “a unique shopping experience”. Business offices occupied floors three and four, five through nine held rentable rooms and conference spaces licensed out to the “Express” line of a swanky name in the hotel industry. After that came fifteen stories of mixed housing (flats, traditional apartments, indoor garden spaces, and townhouse-style condos), and five levels of penthouse suites.

Each of the three communities had a shtick. The Zenith had a petting zoo featuring exotic animals, feline-lover flats with built-in ceiling-level walkways and aeries, and a pod of Mustela purgamenta furo, a genetically created beastie which looked like a domestic ferret, but ate nearly all the refuse human-kind could create, who lived in cute little see-through tunnels all in the walls of the building. Lush Gardens cultivated lush gardens or some form of domesticated jungle in every room on every floor. Prism Falls boasted water features, most impressively the ginormous namesake artificial waterfalls that ran over a base of flammidermite, a man-made stone that was part diamond and part fire opal.

The skylights shining down on the main falls’ tons of flammidermite had to be carefully shade-controlled because if direct noonday sun hit the stone, the rainbow prisms it threw out could light paper and many fabrics aflame and burn human skin. But the bosses insisted on the real stuff, so the architect designed special in-floor lighting to mimic the beauty without the danger.

For Em, however, Prism Falls stood out for another reason; Stanis Montgomery. Lead of the community security force, Stanis was a delicious piece of man-flesh who managed to be charming in and out of bed. He’d never been to her place, she’d never seen his, though a number of rooms in Prism Falls now had entertaining memories attached for the two of them. Over the past few weeks, besides enjoying each other, they’d begun flirting with…well, not monogamy, but definitely some kind of steady, loyal, pseudo-relationship thing.

Em wasn’t sure what would become of them, but her excitement still outstripped her trepidation, so she was following it. Wasn’t that old saying “Follow your Bliss”?

The devil himself took that moment to step around a glimmering six foot carving that hid the main security office in the first floor bend Em had been eyeing. Six four, short, feathered dark hair, broad shoulders, and a tight, muscled butt…He looked at the carving, a long-haired human woman with her head tilted back in pleasure, her carved hair the thin trickles that pooled beneath her into a koi pond. He raised an eyebrow and smirked.

Bliss, indeed.

“What brings a girl like you to a kitschy place like this?” he asked. He’d confessed he wasn’t much of a people person, but he’d been raised in the city and had no appetite for a rural life. Still, he jokingly referred to his position as the Head Human Herder. If he was the herder, she was running the farm. The whole place was designed to milk the time and money from beings who were more targets than faces.

“Evaluation and photographing empty space. The bosses need occupants, you know. Though they can’t even decide what kind of spaces these should be.”

“Decisions are hard,” Stanis said, nodding sagely.

“Too hard, apparently.”

“Well, does a pretty girl like you ever take time to play?”

“Roh Corp doesn’t pay people to play, not even girls,” Em said, mimicking his early tone.

“Indeed, this is the least fun, exciting place on Earth I’ve ever been to.” He moved closer, brushing her hip with his hand. He smelled divine, like a heavy carb meal and a night cuddled in silk sheets. His head bent down toward her neck.

With a regretful sound, she pulled away, feeling only the kiss of his warm breath on her throat. “I do plan to be a naughty girl today. I might be working through the night.”

“Luckily, you’re an executive and get liberal use of the company suites.”

Hmm, yes she did. They’d made use of the company suites quite often. Maybe too often. Now that she counted it, she hadn’t spent a night or day at home in almost two weeks.

“Liberal use later,” she answered. She turned away, but made sure her fingers brushed casually across the front of his pants. “For now, the time clock calls.”

He made a noise as she walked away. She was pretty sure he watched her ass sway in her heels as she went. The flare of her libido worked almost as well as a caffeine patch to spur her into the day.

The first bare space sat on the other side of the first floor food court. A second tier of more formal dining spaces were arranged around an opening in the floor that looked down at the first floor food court. On the second tier light sparkled through the prism stones. On the first the stones melded seamlessly into a myriad of aqua-tanks, some the size of a porthole, others towering into the second floor. This bare space curved around behind the second largest tank, the one that housed eighteen feet straight up of coral caves and exotic undersea plants.

Em paused as she approached the tank. It made it more difficult to photograph the space, since it split the potential storefront, making it look significantly smaller. There was something else, as well.

The tank looked a lot less sparkly than the others tucked around the tables. It had always had a partial cover of seaweed, the movement of shadow and light designed to catch the eye. But the tank looked outright smothered by thick, dark gray-green tendrils of plant.

As she looked closer, eyeing the light pods to make sure none had burned out, she pursed her lips. The normal activity of the fish was off, as well. Typically, pods of colorful creatures darted around, doing whatever tasks occupied their fishy minds. But try as she might, she couldn’t spot a single fin.

Em huffed. One more thing she was going to have to address. Immediately, actually, because the light was throwing off the sparkle that should have carried over to the storefront. Sure she could add sparkle digitally, but someone would complain. Especially if they saw that reality did not meet the advert’s promises.

When Em spun around to head for the aquatics manager’s office she just missed seeing a tendril of seaweed curl off from the rest and brush the walls of the aquarium where she’d stood.

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