Empire of Light by Alex Harrow
Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.
Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.
To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.
With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.
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An Excerpt from Empire of Light
One: Shootings with a Chance of Explosions
Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.
“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.
The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.
Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.
If we were lucky.
The guy above me seemed happy to put a bullet into my brainpan and chalk both Aris and me up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.
I couldn’t just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist. Blurting out I was on their boss’s payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.
That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.
And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.
“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it a little when she said there might be slight complications.”
Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—
My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.
“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.
Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me, they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.
The Red jerked me around and slammed my head into the murky stained-glass window to my right. Point taken. A distant rushing filled my ears. Spots started to slow-dance in front of my vision. I went down hard, twisting away from the Red’s reach and blindly fumbling for my Colt. I’d barely moved before his boot came down on my fingers with a dry crunch. I bit back a grunt that came out more like a breathless scream.
“Next time it’ll be your head,” the Red—I mentally tagged him as Captain Crunch—said, towering above me, gun aimed at my forehead. If he shot me from that angle, there wouldn’t be enough of my head left for Aris to scrape out of the wall cracks behind me.
Here was hoping he had more fun beating the shit out of me than making shooting me look like it’d been his only option.
The Red didn’t shoot me. Instead, his knee dug into the small of my back, his free hand going for a pair of handcuffs. “In the name of the Empire of Light, I hereby place you under arrest for—”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Aris said.
He’d been standing perfectly still, his head slightly bowed, a model of the “hands above your head and don’t make a move” arrestee. The unthreatening kind. The kind who came quietly and wouldn’t even think to make any trouble for our dear upstanding officers of the Watch who only did their job.
When he straightened, brushing away a few errant blond curls that’d slipped out of his loose ponytail, a slow smile curved his lips. A dangerous smile, turning positively radiant until it teetered on the edge of manic as he glanced from the guy above me to the one holding him.
“In fact, I’d suggest you two start running. This is going to get messy.”
His eyes flicked to me. “Damian, stay down. And get out.”
And like that, all color drained out of his eyes until they were a stark, milky white.
The Red pinning me tensed. He slapped his hand on his right ear to call out for reinforcements. His headset shorted out with a buzz and the burned-copper smell of fried electronics. The guy holding Aris cursed and flinched away, as if he’d been zapped by a high-voltage fence.
Aris didn’t move. His expression wiped completely blank, like someone’d snuffed out the lights behind his eyes, now fixed on some point far above me.
Then he blinked.
I felt the zing of the Voyance crack through the air like a power surge. The window wall at my back blew up in a shower of broken glass and toppling bricks.
Sacred, bleeding fuck!
I managed to duck and roll away before half the wall collapsed on top of me. I flattened myself onto the ground and then scrambled to my feet, cursing and coughing through a cloud of red-brick dust settling on the crumbling remains scattered all over the cement floor and the cracked pavement outside.
The explosion hit the Red above me completely by surprise. I only spared him a quick glance to make sure his hunched form wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t faking being unconscious. Or dead. A slow trickle of blood ran down his temple where one of the flying bricks must’ve hit him. People died from less. I didn’t push my luck.
I grabbed my Colt, its weight solid and familiar against my stiff, throbbing fingers.
“Over here.” His voice was a thin thread, fraying at the edges. “Told you to get out.”
I ignored that last bit. Aris stood only a few feet away from me, his back pressed against the remnants of the wall. His face was gray, and he was trembling badly; he probably would’ve fallen over if not for the second Red who kept him pinned.
“Fucking Voyant,” the Red snarled, gun shoved against Aris’s temple, ready to put him down. As if Aris was nothing but a rabid animal.
Aris stood perfectly still, blood running out his nose—a steady drip down the collar of his shirt. Looking at him, knowing how easily I could lose him, hurt worse than all the bruises and broken bones any Red could ever give me.
The Red’s finger tightened around the trigger. I shot him in the head. His body sagged sideways and hit the ground with a meaty thud, his gun slipping uselessly from his fingers.
“Just to be clear,” I said to the body at my feet. “He’s my fucking Voyant, so back the fuck off.”
About Alex Harrow
Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them.
When not writing diversity with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.
A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.
Alex currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.
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