Excerpt: DARK MADE DAWN by J.P. Smythe (Hodder)

smythejp-a3-darkmadedawnTo celebrate the release of J.P. Smythe‘s Dark Made Dawn, the third novel in the Australia trilogy, Hodder has provided an excerpt for CR to share. First, the synopsis:

There was one truth on Australia, the derelict ship on which Chan was born and raised: you fight or you die. Usually both.

But everything on Australia was a lie. Abandoned and alone, Chan was forced to live a terrible existence on the fringes of society, Australia’s only survivor after a terrible crash-landing on Earth.

But Chan discovered she was not alone. Together with the unlikeliest of allies, Chan carved out a place for herself on Earth. And now the time has come: she’s finally found a reason to keep going. But friends have become enemies, and enemies have become something worse. It’s time for Chan to create her own truths, and discover a life beyond fighting and death. 

A life beyond Australia.

Dark Made Dawn is published tomorrow in the UK by Hodder. Now, on with the excerpt…

*

PROLOGUE

Outside the city walls, there are animals. They survived whatever happened before, and they’re surviving now. Nobody in the cities really knows about them, or cares. They stay out of the way of people. The animals are terrified. They hide, cower in the scrub. The nomads who live out here don’t hunt them, though. The people who live here want to preserve them. They want to leave them alone; nature is getting on fi ne without them. But some things can’t do that. Nature seems to be able to replenish itself. But some things? When they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

I’ve seen pictures of what these animals used to look like; I’ve seen a stuffed one in the museum, with its brown speckled fur and soft down. Deer, they’re called. They weren’t for farming. Everything used to be either farmed or wild, and the wild things were the ones that humans left alone. The farmed ones, humans ate or put to work. Horses could be used as transport, or to pull machinery that tilled the soil. People rode them, for pleasure. Cows and sheep and goats would be used for milk, or for their meat. But deer sort of existed outside that. In the wild. Humanity never really tried to tame them. People watched them from afar, and marvelled. How beautiful they were, and how still, how tranquil.

But the deer outside the city walls are something different. They are white. Their fur is completely and utterly white, no spot of colour visible. The insides of their ears are pink, their eyes are red. Everything else is a white so pure it could almost be no colour at all. Clustered in their herds, on the horizon, they are easy to miss when the sun crowns the day and it’s hard to see because of the glare and the ground is scorched to near-white as well. When they stand on the rocks or near the sand of the beach, the place where they cluster to eat seaweed that has washed up on the beach during the night and cooked in the sun, that’s when they’re nearly invisible.

I see some, now. A small cluster of them, heads bowed, jaws working in this pleasingly gentle, rolling motion. I creep towards them and I hold my hand out. They look at me as if I’m the strange one. To them, I’m something to be stared at, quizzical heads tilted to one side.

Who is she?

‘I’m Chan,’ I say. ‘Don’t be scared.’ I have food in my hand – kale, which we grow easily here, because it thrives in the shade of the well, growing thick and coarse and bitter – and the deer come to me, their heads tilted. I tilt mine, to echo them. Maybe that will make them feel more comfortable. Do as they do, and they might accept me. ‘Don’t be scared,’ I repeat, as if the words mean anything to them. And they come, slowly, one by one. They don’t know if they can trust me. There’s one at the front, smaller than the rest, but more eager. She – I don’t know for sure, but I suspect she’s a female – has her mouth open, her tongue loose. She licks the air fi rst, missing my hand. Tentative, she wants to know if I’ll meet her halfway. I do, arm outstretched, palm open. And then her tongue is on my skin, hot and wet, and I can smell her breath, and the kale is gone from my hand. She scampers backwards, chewing as she goes.

I wonder if the vegetable tastes the same to them as it does to me. If they can taste how bitter it is, and how it needs boiling down to actually make it palatable. Maybe they simply don’t care. Maybe, to them, kale is like chocolate, a delicious treat. That’s how different we are as species. The others wait while she comes forward again, closer to me, asking for more. I have spinach in my satchel, some cabbage. I took whatever we had that nobody wanted because it was close to rotting. I give it to her. She takes everything. Some of it she tosses over her shoulder, and at first I think she’s discarding the food, but then the others run to it. Too scared to come close to me, but too hungry to pass up what I have to offer.

Then they all trust me. They all stand in place, around me, and they wait as I empty the bag, as I feed them or set the food on the ground in front of them. I step back to stop them nipping at my fi ngers. That’s how hungry they are, how eager.

‘Can I stroke you?’ I ask the fi rst who came to see me, but of course she can’t answer, so I assume she won’t mind. I run my hand over her head. Her white fur runs softly through my fingers. Like one of Alala’s furs.

It feels the same, in some ways, as Mae’s hair. Young.

I have this feeling inside me: that I still haven’t done as I promised. She’s still not safe. She’s lost, and here I am, feeding deer, finding myself. It’s been a year since we came here, and I can’t stop wondering when she’ll ever –

‘Chan.’ Rex half shouts, half whispers at me, from behind. I turn and see her: crossbow resting on her arm, her finger on the trigger. She raises the weapon. She’s been hunting for birds, training herself, and that’s been fine. But I won’t let her hunt the deer.

‘Stand away,’ she says.

‘Don’t be an idiot,’ I tell her. ‘They haven’t done anything.’

‘Their meat is delicious,’ she says. We found one a few weeks ago. It was already dead, had just died, but not by our hands. It was skin and bones, mostly, but Fiona showed us how to cure the meat, to strip it from the carcass, hang it, dry it, smoke it, to get these thin slices of amazing flavour, stronger than anything we’d ever eaten. We made it last as long as we could, but we ran out. I can almost see Rex salivating at the thought of eating more.

I am, too.

‘Not these,’ I say. ‘We don’t kill these.’ The deer who first approached me comes close again, even with Rex’s weapon pointed at her. She moves her head under my hand, not for food but for the touch, to feel my fi ngers on her. I rub her ears. She shuts her eyes.

‘They trust us,’ I say. ‘And they’ve not done anything to deserve being killed.’

‘We are hungry.’ Rex says it as if that’s it, the only truth that matters.

‘Not hungry enough,’ I tell her.

In the end she lets the deer go and hunts for vultures instead. When she’s done we walk back to the nomad camp. The fires are being lit for the evening feast. There are so many more of us than when Rex and I first arrived here. We’ve spent the past few months doing runs to the poorer parts of Washington, fi nding the people who were forced to run when Alala’s reign over the docks came to an end. We’ve brought them here, made the numbers in the camp swell. That means more food, more fires, more tents and shelters.

Rex drags three vultures behind her, their feet tied with rope to her belt, their heads dragging in the sand. Vulture meat is delicious if you cook it for long enough.

She asks me why it’s okay to kill the birds but not the deer. What possible difference is there, aside from the fact that the deer let us pat them?

‘The birds would eat us if we died,’ I say. That’s what Fiona told me. That’s her rule. If it would eat you, were it able to, then it’s fair. ‘The deer, they don’t eat people. They don’t eat other animals.’

‘That just makes them weak,’ Rex says.

I watch our shadows on the ground seeming to join up as one, before they’re swallowed by the dark shade of the city wall.

*

Hodder publishes the entire series in the UK: Way Down Dark, Long Dark Dusk and Dark Made Dawn.

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