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BLURB: On a colony planet, in a hot, dusty village where no one wants to live, is someone who was exiled there a long time ago. Someone who stole something so precious, others are prepared to lie, kidnap and murder to get it back.
Drawn into this web of deceit is Kyrillia, a teenager who dreams of running the village’s branch of the Node, the planetwide organic information system, but instead drudges for her mother…
Seth, member of the disgraced Priest family who can read and write, but instead toils as a day labourer on the smelliest, most thankless jobs in the village, in exchange for scraps of food and temporary shelter…
And Vrox, an ancient, sentient alien who lives only in Kyrillia’s imagination, or so she thinks…
When Kyrillia sneaks into the Node and opens up a forbidden site, she triggers a chain of events that not only rips through her own life, but affects those living thousands of miles away in the capital. For when something so precious goes missing, others will stop at nothing to get it back.
What inspired me to write this series were a couple of ideas that I wanted to explore. I have always been interested in the concept of power – who wants it; who thinks they have it; and who actually has it. Most stories are about power, I think. This time, I wanted to put it right at the forefront of the narrative, because it is often disguised as something else.
Another notion that fascinates me is what defines an alien – and the answer ultimately has to be their difference. But what if they aren’t quite as different as we all thought they were? Particularly if that alien species is telepathic and can lock onto human thoughts under special circumstances, especially those of young children. And what if a vulnerable child comes to rely on the comfort and love provided by an elderly alien who lives half a world away? What if she grows up as a Cinderella figure? And her Prince Charming isn’t someone who can whisk her away from the drudgery and shield her from the danger, because he, too, has fallen through the cracks that are supposed to keep youngsters safe.
So that is the dynamic I started with, which is why this story is something of a mash-up. It’s not a classic alien story, but neither does the romance power the narrative – it’s about someone powerful hunting for something they want. However the answer is far more complicated and tricky than they know. Than anyone knows…
Below is a sneak peek at the beginning of CHAPTER ONE…
I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…”
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.