by Aimee Lauren (@AimeeLaurenA)

Editor: Natasha Hanova (@NatashaHanova)
YA Speculative Fiction
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Query

As a Collector, sassy villain Sable acquires items through questionable (read: fun) methods. Her current mission: Collect a corpse. Gross. Sable would rather buy a hovercar, but alas, her expensive taste requires her to actually work. Plus, this mission has the bonus of flirting with corrupting a hot hero and toying with a cute renegade.

Turns out the “corpse” is an immortal girl. Both of Sable’s love interests take up their guns against Sable to protect her mark and avert a world with immortal villains. Worse, her once-dormant conscience has horrible timing. Sable is forced to choose: flip the middle finger to the Collectors to safeguard the adorable girl from being experimented on, aka tortured, or burn her conscience and do what she does best – be the bad guy.

I’M THE BAD GUY, a young adult speculative with LGBTQ+ themes, is complete at 85,000 words. With a bored sense of humor inspired by Marvel’s Black Widow and Billie Eilish’s song Bad Guy, it has awesome tech grounded on a futuristic version of earth like Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Crownchasers, and the clash of morals – forcing enemies to work together from a villainous perspective – like Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief. I excitedly won Revise and Resub’s (#Revpit) 2021 contest so this manuscript has undergone a developmental edit by a professional editor. I’m also a finalist for RWA’s Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/ Suspense (Unpublished Division) for my WIP Damn The Moon pitched as six Halloween monsters, one victim, one murderer – and one werewolf with an unreliable memory. I am a teacher from New Zealand who somehow finds time to write.

First Five Pages

CHAPTER ONE

An abandoned hallway lurks ahead, the type where you just know an asshole is waiting with a knife.

I’m that asshole. Though, to be fair, I’m more like an arsenal: saber on my back, sniper rifle snug beside it, and my pistol holstered at my hip. Don’t forget a not-so-measly knife tucked into my boot. It’s all standard Collector fair, which is pretty boring to me now. Sometimes a girl just wants a rocket launcher.

I sigh, inhaling enough dust to choke on and toeing a loose floorboard. I better not die by broken floorboard. That’s not very dignified.

My boss must hate me to give me this mission, but I don’t get to ask questions. Consider me a well-trained mouse sent to collect cheese from a maze. With guns (no rocket launcher though). Unfortunately this time, that means a trip here, to the Forgotten Zone, and the cheese is one Matias “Matster” Rodriguez. Who cares who he is. I’m more concerned about the dude’s lack of nickname skills than what he’s done to earn a Collector’s attention.

Ugh, and I definitely care that chasing him has sent me to level 26 of the Forgotten Zone where no one goes unless duh, they want to be forgotten. I wrinkle my nose at the stench of rotting fish. The light buzzes worse than a fly, flickering on sticky walls. Broken windows let in a sting of seawater air. Top that off with a door at the end of the hallway that doesn’t even have a handprint lock or eye scanner. What is this, prehistoric times?

I nudge the door with my foot and it actually opens. This is just insulting. Sheesh, is Matster tied up with a red bow for me too? Here I am, equipped for a glamorous heist or epic take-down on level 303, sleek in my skin-tight chameleon suit, my hair an electric shot of blue, dealing with an open door.

Wooooow.

Hoping for Matster to redeem himself, I activate the scanner tech embedded in my eyes and assess the room beyond. Come on, Matster, give me a trap or two, anything fun. A yellowing fridge hums on hideous green tiles, a dingy sofa sinking into the floor. The lounge and kitchen are lit by tacky tasseled lanterns. Gross, gross and gross. At least he’s not feasting on rats in the corner. Wait, is that a–

I gasp.

Seconds later, I'm inside and unlatching a cage door and reaching for a twitchy-nosed hamster. Okay, this makes up for anything mean I've thought about Matster. He is now a genius. The fluff ball hops up too, his tiny paws steadying him as he sniffs my fingers. This hamster’s not afraid of a big bad Collector. This hamster is a badass. Ooh. A badass with a patch of black fur stamped around his left eye.

“Well ‘ello there, Black Patch, you scurvy pirate,” I dare to whisper and it's so worth it when the hamster squeaks. “Aw, stop. I’m melting in cuteness.”

Behind me, stairs creak. “Hey, you here for the hamster or me?”

Huh. Hamsters: a new distraction technique. Though, if this stranger had shot me, my shields would have absorbed it.

Unless she has a rocket launcher.

I turn around nice and slow, my body language conveying that I’m relaxed even though I’m scanning her for heavy weapons.

Oh, this girl is young. Thirteen or fourteen, maybe. I bet she claims she’s older by how awkwardly tall she is – she has a slouch that declares she ducks under doorframes. Lowlifes might have put a gun in her hand. The flinty look in her eyes says she can handle it. Or she thinks she can.

Aw, I kind of wanted her to have a rocket launcher.

She’s spent what little money she does have on blue-green dye in her boyish-short hair, though that must have been a while ago. Brown grows through at her roots, her clothes baggy on her long limbs and threadbare.

No surprise her eyes bug out at the sight of me. “Wow. You one of those fancy people, bro?”

Bro? “Totally, bro.” I curtsey.

Turns out a tough Forgotten Zone kid can still giggle. “You are! Look at that tech. Whoa, is that one of those chameleon suits?”

She steps closer. My chameleon suit sucks in the humming yellow and sickly green colors around me and reflects a warped version. Normally, it’s an oil slick of luminous color on the glitzy upper levels.

Just to dazzle her, I change my chameleon suit to a sleek tux worthy of a catwalk on level 400.

She chokes on a laugh. “Epic. Matias said he was getting fancy back-up. I didn’t believe him, but damn, bro. You’re the real deal.”

I lean against the metal crate by the kitchen bench, my expression a careful mask. She’s the first person to be happy to see me other than my mothers in years. Who knew the Forgotten Zone was hiding my biggest fan.

Though all of this is suspicious as hell. She thinks I’m here to help her? I knew something was up when my boss sent me to the Forgotten Zone to collect someone named Matster because of course, my boss doesn’t hate me. She adores me. I’m so angelic. There was nothing about expecting my target to have company, or encountering potential “back-up.” Though, my boss knows I love interesting cases. And more importantly, being rewarded by mind-boggling tech.

I’ll just have to capture this girl too. I shuffle to obscure the pistol smug at my hip and wear my most charming smile.

She’s comfortable enough to take the last steps, but instead of introducing herself, she opens the top cupboard. “Ah, score.” She yanks out a bag of cookies.

My eyebrows lift. I don’t blame her for not introducing herself with those on the line. This girl has her priorities straight. She sits on the countertop, her long legs swinging back and forth, snacking away on buttery goodness.

“So am I going to have to call you cookie monster, or do you have a name?”

She scoffs. “Oh no, bro, we’re not at nickname level yet.”

She thinks there’s a yet. Cute. “You do keep calling me 'bro.'”

“Nah. Put nothing in that. I call everyone bro.”

“And I thought I was special.”

I startle a boisterous laugh out of her, so much so she covers her mouth to keep the cookie in. But she doesn’t give her name as a reward.

Luckily, I’m an expert thief. A quick scan steals the answer, text scrolling over my vision and fortunately obscuring their hideous kitchen tiles. Meanwhile, she’s unaware I’m doing anything other than standing there looking amazing. Name: Tui Tumanako (pronounced Too-ee Too-man-ah-kor). Occupation: Unknown. Address: Unknown. Offenses: 2 charges of minor theft. Status: DECEASED.

Well, Tui looks fairly good for a dead girl. I’m impressed she’s got people thinking she’s dead, leaving her free to do whatever she likes, but she’s not exactly living it up in this poor excuse for an apartment, cookies and hamster excluded. Anyway, most who disappear into the Forgotten Zone are presumed to be corpses. It helps explain the smell.

And the sketchy behavior. As much as she tries to look adorably casual, tension lines her, and her eyes dart to the door. “So, how did you and Mat meet?”

If this was a story about heroes, now would be the perfect time for Tui's real backup to swoop in and save the day. Instead, the stairs squeak again. I sidle closer to the door – their only exit.

“Funny story. It involves a hamster, a cookie monster and–”

Bang.

My shields ripple into sight, absorbing the gunshot.

Bang.

I exhale.

Tui screams.


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