Tuesday, October 17, 2017

AWAKENING is live!

Well, that didn't take long! Here it is: Awakening

That link's to the ebook; Amazon hasn't yet linked the paperback and ebook editions.

And for a taste, here's the first chapter:

The whistles and catcalls weren’t anything to be afraid of, Devra told herself. She was just uncomfortable because of the lowering clouds that continually threatened to start the downpour of the fall rains. And because as afternoon faded into evening the winding lanes of the market seemed so dark and crowded, and people brushed past her continually, and everybody seemed to be shouting. Well, that was their culture. Original Settlers tended to keep more distance from each other, and thought it rude to shout in somebody’s face – but that wasn’t necessarily better, it was just what she was used to. After all, Originals wouldn’t have hung every booth with brilliantly striped red and green or blue and orange fabrics, flashing with sequins embroidered along the stripes, and that was beautiful, wasn’t it? Every culture had its own strengths and weaknesses. And Originals aren’t nearly so good as New Citizens at getting off-ration goodies to sell. And having spent the afternoon here just for that reason, it would be totally hypocritical of her to be worried about the fact that there seemed to be an inordinate number of young and not-so-young men lounging at every corner, smacking their lips and commenting favorably on her appearance. Just. Another. Aspect. Of. Their. Culture.

She was calm, Devra told herself. She was a grown woman and she could take care of herself. In case any taking-care were needed, that was – Who grabbed me? She felt a hand on her shoulder, half-turning her so that the man behind her could reach for her shopping basket with his free hand. Irrationally, she hung onto the handle – mere things weren’t worth getting hurt for, everyone agreed, but she’d taken too many risks already to get these supplies and there might not be any more where they came from. Then, just before she kicked backwards at somebody’s shins, she recognized the callused hand beside hers, with its broad fingers and stained knuckles.

“Sis, what were you thinking? That basket’s way too heavy for you, you should have told me to come with you.” The voice was familiar, but shaky, as if he were reading out a class assignment that he’d scribbled two minutes before the opening buzzer. Devra relaxed slightly as she looked up at one of her students from Wilyam Serman Secondary. He looked even worse than he sounded; a greenish pallor overshadowed his light brown face, and there were drops of sweat at his hairline.

“Ferit! What do you think you’re doing, pre- “

Ferit interrupted her. His voice was steadier now, and he just talked over her attempt to ask why he was pretending to be her brother. “Sure is heavy! Were you trying to do the week’s shopping all by yourself?” One hand rummaged among the precious parcels. “Oh, I get it now! White flour, chocolate, preserved thornberries – Devra darling, you were going to surprise me with a birthday cake, weren’t you? That’s why you went out all by yourself. You really shouldn’t do that, you know, not in this neighborhood. Good thing Mom sent me to walk you home. Oh, she sent the recipe too, at least I bet that’s what this is – she wouldn’t tell me. Don’t lose it, now!” With surprising delicacy, the hand tucked a flat package under the bag of flour, her heaviest parcel.

Devra glanced around. If the merchants in this lane of the bazaar had tensed to help her defend herself from a petty thief – which, actually, she doubted – they had lost interest now: they were far too busy protecting themselves. The tray of fine gold filigree necklaces and earrings in the jeweler’s booth had been switched for one holding only flashy imitation gems, the old man who’d sold her the flour was now proclaiming the virtues of his handwoven blankets, and the women in the old-clothes stall were quickly and unobtrusively whisking their stock of smartcloth outfits behind some genuinely old and patched New Citizen-style baggy trousers.

Just another day in the black-market district of Harmony City, where unlicensed and rationed goods appeared in the absence of excisemen and disappeared when the vendors’ discreet warning systems alerted them to coming inspectors. So why was Ferit so nervous? He had the basket in one hand now; his free hand was on her arm, urging her forward. She matched his brisk pace and didn’t try to interrupt him again. She wanted an explanation, but clearly that would have to wait until he was out of whatever trouble he’d gotten into.

At the unofficial boundary where the winding, nameless paths of a New Citizen slum met the grid of wide, straight streets more typical of Harmony City, Ferit let go her arm and gave back her basket. “Thanks, ‘Sis.’” He started to turn away, then looked back and said, “You haven’t seen me.” The pause gave her a chance to snag his upper sleeve cuff. “Just a minute! You owe me an explanation. If I’ve just been conned into helping a shoplifter— “

Ferit grinned. “Oh, nothing so trivial. I’ll tell you before class, day after tomorrow. You might bring my parcel, okay?”

“No,” Devra said in her best this-is-going-to-be-on-your-exam tones. “You’ll tell me tomorrow— “

“On Landing Day? Have a heart.”

Devra nodded sharply. “Or I’ll toss that parcel of yours in the recycler. I’m not going to hold stolen goods for you.”

“Ah. Black market goodies are ok, but you’ll only keep stolen goods for one night. What a burden it must be to have an Original’s conscience and keep all these ethical rules straight. Ok, Miss Devra. Tomorrow it is.” He was moving before he finished the sentence, turning into a different path than the way they’d come and disappearing behind one of the blind corners that made driving in New Citizen quarters such an adventure.

"Wait - stop!" came a shout from the path behind her. Devra looked back and blinked in surprise at the sight of two men in the silver-grey of Security where she’d expected to see nothing worse than blue-clad community peace officers... Habbers? Why would they care about shoplifting, or vandalism, or whatever mischief Ferit was up to this time? “Damn, we’ve lost him! Okay, everybody just stop right where you are. Nobody goes anywhere until we’ve talked to them.”

Devra was, technically, over the line of the New Citizen neighborhood, and the habbers were questioning the New Citizens who’d been unlucky enough to be out on the street just at that moment. She considered, briefly, pretending that she didn’t think their orders had anything to do with her and just walking away. The hiss of a tanglestick caused her to give up that notion. The New Citizen who’d tried to duck back into the entrance of his shop was writhing on the ground; the others were jostling each other in a competition to see who could be most loudly cooperative.

“A tall kid in a green tunic, walking with her – “

"No, he was wearing one of those flashy shirts with extra cuffs all up and down the sleeves, blue and white – “

“He wasn’t that tall, no more than I am, you just remember him as tall because he was with her.”

The one thing they all agreed on, it seemed, was that he’d been walking with Devra. Discord! She was going to be really ticked off if Ferit’s latest bit of mischief caused her extremely unlicensed baking supplies to be confiscated. But it seemed that casually wandering off was not an option. She set the basket down at her feet, dropped her scarf into the basket where it covered most of her purchases, then leaned against the wall on the Originals side of the street. At least the buildings on this side were clean. More or less. I’m just another citizen, being polite and slightly bored, waiting to do my civic duty.

Ferit’s shirt had only been modestly double-cuffed, and it was dark red. Should she tell the truth? She felt slightly shocked that she was even considering the question. Lies were Dissonant, and Gran had raised her to be dedicated to Harmony. Lying to habbers was doubly discordant, not to mention the certainty of a mark against your record if you were caught.

But Ferit had been terrified, and why were habbers going after a teenage boy, anyway? Granted, the kid had a proclivity amounting to genius for setting off chaos that could never quite be pinned on him. She was sure he was the one who’d released a mudlegger in her classroom, and she knew he was the one who’d prolonged the excitement for two weeks by claiming to have spotted the elusive little swamp beast in the supply cabinet, or skittering across the floor behind the lab tables, or hiding in Jesska Stren’s backpack. That last “sighting” had sent Jesska into hysterics and inspired all the girls in class to dump out the contents of their packs and investigate them with rulers or tongs or whatever came to hand. It had also inspired Devra to keep Ferit after class for a moment, just long enough to mention that any more “sightings” of the swamp lizard would have consequences that he wouldn’t like.

“What exactly are you going to do to me, Teacher?” Ferit had laughed down at her. “I’m only trying to be helpful. Don’t you want to catch the poor little thing?”

“It’s been two weeks,” Devra pointed out, “and there’s not a lot of water in my classroom. The poor little thing probably died in agonies of thirst and now is only a mummified bundle of scales and claws in the back of some cupboard we haven’t used lately.”

Ferit looked horrified. “Oh, no, Miss Devra! I wouldn’t leave an animal to suffer like that. The very next day, I caught it and took it back to the nest… I mean… That is…”

Devra had to laugh at the confusion on his face. “No more ‘sightings,’ then, and I won’t report you.”

But things like loosing a mudlegger into the classroom, or re-defining all the keys on someone’s tablet, or hacking into the assigned texts to insert a rude joke… Well, it was annoying, but it was kid stuff. Something one dealt with by giving extra homework, or detention, or even just giving the kid a hard look that said I know and I’m watching you – not by calling in the habbers.

Who were now headed her way.

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