Tamaruq is the final volume in E.J. Swift‘s well-received Osiris Project science fiction trilogy. As part of the blog tour to celebrate it’s release, Del Rey UK have given me this excerpt to share with you. But first, the novel’s synopsis:
Fleeing from her family and the elitist oppression of the Osiris government, Adelaide Rechnov has become the thing she once feared, a revolutionary.
But with the discovery of a radio signal comes the stark realization that there is life outside their small island existence. Adelaide’s worries are about to become much bigger.
Meanwhile, as rumour spreads on the mainland, many head to the lost city of Osiris with their own devious objectives. But in a world where war is king and only the most powerful survive, there can only be one victor…
After seven days of tornados it’s safe to go outside. Smoked a cigarette in the yard, watched the sunset – red and cloudless, almost peaceful. I saw a sandstorm swirling on the horizon but it was moving south, away from here.
I was glad of a few moments alone. The latest reports have frightened me, more than I like to admit, enough to break my hiatus from here. There’s been a spate of outbreaks across the Boreal States, and worse, it’s infiltrating south. Thousands in the Patagonian capital, one of the Indian enclaves entirely wiped out. We’re told to keep our spirits up, the work is valued, but when I ask for more funding, there is none. Are the banks losing confidence in the project? Are we hearing the full truth, or do they pacify us, like children? Has it reached an epidemic, a pandemic? Only Antarctica and the Solar Corporation remain unaffected since inception; up in the Arctic Circle our borders are too porous, the virus slips through like a devil in the night.
Remote as we are it’s easy to feel that we’re indestructible, that nothing can touch us here. The deliveries keep coming. We continue the work. We occupy our minds. Some of us pray, some of us drink. But on days like this it’s all too easy to imagine an alternate scenario: one in which we send our weekly report, and nothing comes back. We wait. We tell ourselves some other crisis has delayed the response – an airship crash, an assassination, the Africans squeezing the energy line, it could be anything – we tell ourselves we’ll hear back soon. Days slip by. Weeks. We wait. Eventually we can’t ignore it any longer, the absence of contact, the diminishing supplies, and we have to admit to ourselves what none of us wish to admit. No one’s coming.
There’s one explanation. The redfleur took them, every one; there’s no one left to come.
Just us, and the desert sky.
There would be a certain irony to that.
NOT DEAD YET
They pulled her out of the water and took her away from the place where he died. She was half drowned, saltwater swilling in her lungs, howling and delirious. One of them gripped her beneath the ribcage and pushed upwards until she vomited all the liquid and could only retch, twitching in the stern of the boat like some strange sea creature they had dredged up from the deeps. All around them the derelict west was on fire. The ocean gleamed red with the reflection of flames and the pitted towers were outlined in stark relief against the night. Skadi boats weaved ribbons across the surface. One of the two could hear sirens and human screams, tormented sounds issuing from the water and from behind the fire, and the other watched the flames and sensed the burn of heat on skin.
They took her home, a run-down apartment where the electricity was touch-and-go and several but not all of the appliances worked. It was not the worst they had lived in but not the best either. Broken objects stood where they had last been used with a vaguely helpless air, as though there might one day be the means to fix them, and they hoped, while not entirely believing, that this might be the case. The rescued woman from the sea became a fixture like these other things.
They put blankets and pillows together and tried to get her to sleep, but she lay catatonic, her body racked with tremors, and no matter how many covers they pressed on top of her she remained cold. She stared upwards, appearing to see nothing. Nothing physical, anyway. When she did sleep it was never for long. She woke screaming and so she became afraid of sleep; they could see the fear spark beneath her lids even as they drooped, the terror of what sleep might bring. Ole Larsson, who was deaf, saw only the open mouth of the girl, muted, a hole stretching in her face. Mikaela Larsson heard the cries, and made soft, pacifying noises. They tried to quiet her, although there were others who screamed too in this tower. She was not out of place. She was not the only one with demons.
When she screamed too loudly they put a hand over her mouth and tried to calm her until she shook with dry sobs. They patted her shoulders, which were thin and bruised. They put salve on her skin. Both of her wrists were hurt; they chose not to think about why that might be. What might have caused those marks to be there.
They were not sure what to do with her. Through the first night they murmured. There, there. There, there. They stroked her forehead, her hair. It was long and russet and rough with saltwater. They remembered a bird they had once nursed back to health. They had found it tangled in a cluster of junk on the surface, plastic wires twined around its feet, flapping helplessly, without the tools or knowledge to free itself. It was like that. They guessed the girl was a resident of the unremembered quarters. If so, she had no family. They were not sure what had brought them out on the night when their city burned and the old haunted tower collapsed, releasing all of its ghosts into the open air like spores, where they must be drifting now, without sense or direction. A bad thing, to set those ghosts free – they felt it with a sense of unease. If asked, Mikaela Larsson, a kind-faced woman who believed in providence, would struggle to explain their motives. They were part of no movements. They had no political agenda. But they had found they could not stay inside. Something was happening. A need to aid propelled them. With their habitual, unspoken symbiosis, they fetched their boat and rowed the short distance from the tower where they lived to the unremembered quarters and there in the water they found the woman, half-drowned.
And now they had her and did not know what to do.
The woman was someone, but they did not recognize her. Even if she had told them her name, it would have meant little to them. Nothing the City had done had ever made much difference to their lives. On the other side of the border, laws were passed and acts declared. Ole and Mikaela took shifts at the plant and sat together in the evenings, one listening to scratchy music on the o’dio channels, and the other reading, salvaged books and papers, or they played cards or bones, or went to watch the gliders practise, stood arm in arm, with a flask of warm spiced raqua if money was better. They kept to themselves. The City was another country.
The morning after the tower collapsed they coaxed her into clean clothes, noting the abrasions on her body, and tried to make her eat. They gave her coral tea. When her hands shook and she spilled the steaming liquid, they wiped it up and pressed cold cloths to the scalds. There, there. They had a son, but he visited rarely. She was like the daughter that had never been. There, there. When she managed to eat a few mouthfuls they watched with pleasure. Good, Mikaela encouraged her. And another. Ole smiled and nodded. They spoke little. The woman did not speak at all, except in dreams. What she said in her dreams was incomprehensible. They did not try to understand; they only wanted her to be well again.
The woman did not know it yet, but being found by these two was her first piece of luck for some time. For now, she was in the fog. There were senses here, premonitions and paranoias, sudden horrors that sneaked up with moist hands at her back, but there was nothing that could be grasped. Here, everything slipped. Mostly it felt as though she had never come up for air. She was still underwater, suspended somewhere between life and death, turning over and over in a watery limbo without name.