13th April 2019 at 10:11 am #116435
Finding the perfect balance between enough background detail for people who like to jump in at book 2, without annoying loyal fans with tedious repeats… is probably impossible –– but I’m trying to get as near as I can! All feedback like gold, please tell me which bits are confusing, thin on detail, and so on. Thanks!
Book 2 of The Phoenix Enigma – Truthseer. (Blurb will outline it’s a near-future dystopian YA series)
Some sources suggested the Avarit faction formed and took control because survivors of the chaos were desperate for strong leadership to stop the infighting between local warlords, desperate for someone to save them from the severity and dreariness of martial law. The documents were later proved to be digital fakes.
Anonymously released documents stated Avarit was the covert arm of a foreign power, forcing its way into the country when the population was scattered, struggling to stay alive in the wake of crop failures and famines.
Some of the old timers asserted that Avarit had been there in the background in every country even before the chaos started, gradually infiltrating each power base with a contract here, a treaty there, waiting for the right time to make the final move.
When everyone was too beaten, too numb to realise what the takeover really meant, they were easily trapped in a cycle of debt and obligation to the usurping sefet system.
All, that is, except for a few. There were some who saw what was coming before they were snared in it like those who didn’t see and wouldn’t listen. They were the ones who fled to the abandoned and deserted wilds of forests and mountains to grow their own society in their own way.
They were the ones who developed the mind-body lieth training to become a skilled and disciplined fighting force protecting outland farmers from the predations of paramilitary gangs and Avarit patrols alike.
Later these forest rangers worked with others within the city itself who finally saw what life in the Avarit imperium really meant and had the courage to start their own movement for new hope within its confines.
Providing free food, shelter and medical care undermined Avarit’s claim to monopoly of profits, thus it was an illegal and dangerous occupation. But some people are motivated by aims other than greed and lust for power.
For them, overthrowing tyranny means ensuring they don’t cause more of the same to rise from the proverbial ashes. That is the phoenix enigma.
It presents difficult choices.
Raine stared out of the storm-lashed window. The bleak windswept valley of rough pasture and stunted trees was visible again now the rain had thinned to grey sheets of fine spray snaking across the open hills. At least the wind was dying. Probably why the interference had dropped enough for Jac’s brief message to get through at all.
He paced back to his desk, his body yearning for action, frustrated by the constricting space that allowed no more than two steps in any direction before running into the equipment they’d evacuated from the Warren, now stacked against the walls and wedged between desks. They still hadn’t found anywhere in the cramped Tarn outbuildings to store it and he was impatient with constantly having to navigate round it.
Jac’s image haunted him. He could see her running across the clearing outside her farm, chestnut curls blowing across her face, green eyes full of laughter, body lithe and graceful even in her grey-brown outlander work clothes…
He wondered why he remembered her as she’d been when he’d met her, before the rangers’ strict camouflage discipline made her cut and darken her hair, before she exchanged her grey hemp coveralls for a shadow-coloured flak jacket and weapons for which she’d had no training and couldn’t use.
I shouldn’t have let her talk me into taking her away from her home. She wasn’t ready to deal with the evac before she’d learned to defend herself and it’s no better now she’s in the city, closer to Avarit HQ…
Hells, even years of training didn’t always keep rangers safe. They’d lost people to phos-grenades and automatic fire in the attack on the Warren in spite of all their experience and camouflage skills. He forced himself to focus on his responsibility to the hundred and forty souls still under his command. Outland farmers were still at risk from paramilitary gangs and refugees were still starving to death in the forest before his patrols could find them. And the Tarn was still in chaos––
His handset buzzed. The interference was back, giving sound but no image. Parry’s voice, crackling with the bad connection from the city.
‘It’s Michael. I’ve just seen an autopsy report on twenty-three bodies in the morgue. Pulled out of the sewer tunnels with sarin gas poisoning. Which of us screwed up? Did I misunderstand what you meant in your previous message, or did you really not know there were people down there?’
Raine shook his head, even though he knew the colonel couldn’t see him.
‘Something’s wrong. I don’t know the answer but I can show you where to look. Find a forensic whose secrecy you can trust to check those autopsies. I’m sure there were no people in those tunnels. That message we sent was a hoax to trick your boss into clearing out the rats because the city authorities refused to do it. It was the only way to cut off the source of the epidemic.’
‘There’s been a cover-up. Get down to the east side free-clinics, see for yourself the extent of it. Everyone there knows it’s transmitted by rats. No one would go into those infested tunnels. We’re hoping the rate of new infections will go down now the source has been eliminated.’
Parry hesitated. ‘This is getting complicated.’
‘Did you expect it to be easy?’
The connection went dead, leaving Raine wondering what had gone wrong and where those apparent casualties had come from. And if this would bring Parry’s cautious collaboration to an end almost as soon as it had begun. Maybe it was too much to hope that a senior officer in the security forces would be prepared to negotiate with an outlaw for very long. At first it had seemed as if Parry might be starting to see through the manipulated evidence blaming rangers for the recent terror attacks––but Raine knew Parry’s motivation was to avoid civilian casualties and that didn’t seem to have worked out. If his report was true.
He checked his handset for hazard updates from their resistance base in the city, then picked his way across the office detritus to the rough gravel driveway outside the greystone farmhouse. Fin was packing a heavily loaded jeep with medical supplies to help with the virus outbreak. From the number of boxes stuffed into the back, Raine guessed she’d taken the opportunity for a general re-stock of herbal tinctures that were difficult to find within the heavily-guarded city fence.
The elderly medic heard the crunch of his footsteps and looked up. ‘Nearly done. Might as well bring in some general supplies even though we don’t have much to help with the actual virus beyond three neuropulse sets. How the tech team managed to find time to build even that number in all the upheaval of the evac…’ She pushed the small black devices into the glove box. ‘Raine, how do we get through the city perimeter?’
‘Use the western checkpoint, guides will meet you, take you to the safe house.’
‘You said I’d be pilot. So who’s the guide?’
‘Should be Razz, but be prepared for last minute changes. It’ll take you a full day to get there on these roads and a lot can change in that time. Apparently it’s still volatile down there with security forces trying to intercept people they assume are coming into the city after the Warren attack.’
Fin hesitated. ‘Raine, I want to take Bel with me. She needs to keep her mind on… other things for a while, after what happened.’
‘Sure. You’re the expert. But you’re in command till you get there and hand over to the volunteers at the free-clinic. Bel needs a break for a while.’
‘I would expressly forbid you to ask her again so soon. Medic’s orders.’
Raine made another decision he hoped wouldn’t turn out badly. ‘I haven’t told the city team that Greg was killed. Thought it better if you did it in person. Kit has a lot of heavy responsibility right now and Greg was his closest friend. If anyone can sense how and when to break it to him… I’ll trust your judgement on that.’
Bel came out of the house carrying a bulging hemp bag. ‘That’s the last of the dried herbs.’ She pushed the bundle into the remaining space at the back of the driver’s seat and slid behind the wheel, studiously avoiding eye contact as if she sensed Raine’s concern yet was still determined not to talk about the reason for it.
Raine noticed the two tiny strands of blue-silk still braided into her cropped brown hair. He’d not understood her little rebellion against the rangers’ dark-camouflage discipline when she’d first started training but now he found it reassuring, as if that mischievous fun-loving spark was still alive, hidden deep inside her under the weight of guilt and loss. He watched as she turned the jeep onto the rough track to the road. Fin was right. Bel needed work and action to find some distance from the memories haunting her, but the city was becoming more dangerous and unpredictable than it had ever been.
Deep below the streets of the capital, the long low cellar buzzed with quiet voices. Jac could see why the crew working here called it the hive. It was the nerve-centre of the city resistance, where two dozen earnest technicians were hunched over their desks, connecting and monitoring illicit encrypted messages on the abandoned analogue system while also building and maintaining the adapted handsets and connectors to extend their range even further.
She stared at her own blank handset screen for a few moments, trying to hold on to the image of Raine’s face, the sound of his voice. That vid-call had been all too short but another day, maybe two, and they’d be together again. Only after that would she start to explore exactly why she’d been recalled so suddenly to the Tarn.
Something in her hearing suddenly jarred and she looked up, staring at the wall screen. ‘Razz! Turn up the TV sound a bit more. There’s something about this broadcast…’
Razz raised a puzzled eyebrow and hastily swallowed the last bite of his sandwich as he reached over and flipped the volume control. ‘You interrupted my sandwich just to listen to another tedious waffle-speech by the president?’
Jac flashed an apologetic smile at her temporary guide and bodyguard. ‘Sorry Razz. It’s just… there’s something weird about it.’ She peered at the screen. ‘But I admit I’ve no clue why I feel that.’ She focused on the image, hardly hearing Razz’s comments about relative levels of weirdness being somewhat irrelevant in the middle of making plans to get her under the wire and out of the city. She wasn’t even hearing the words in the broadcast. It was the intonation of the president’s speech, the way he used his hands, shifts in facial expression…
Instinctively, she moved her concentration into heightened focus. The subtle messages from the screen grew clear and sharp, weaving images of deceit and manipulation so powerful it brought a tightening to her chest. There was something hidden beneath the president’s words, maybe woven into body language or eye movements, maybe the oily tone of voice. It felt threatening, uncertain… a growing sense of dread for which she had no logical explanation.
‘Razz, something is wrong. I can’t read exactly what’s going on, although I feel I should somehow.’
He frowned, staring at the screen. ‘Can’t see more than the usual bland hypocrisies.’
Jac focused again. ‘It’s more than that. I wish I could be more specific, but something’s about to happen and the president is hiding what he knows.’ She willed herself to see deeper, to understand. ‘And our people are about to be caught in the middle of it.’
‘Hmph. Jac, if you’re sure? Raine said you had some kind of extra-perceptive whatever. But it’s why you’re supposed to be going back to the Tarn for training. If I call Raine about this and he decides to act on it, you won’t be leaving till it’s all played out one way or another.’
Jac could feel the tears stinging her eyes. She’d been aching to be back with Raine for so long and to have the journey all set up, only to have it snatched away again…
But if I leave and then something terrible happens to my friends here?
‘Razz, I don’t have any training or experience in this yet. It’s all instinct and intuition, but I feel I need to see it through. The Tarn will still be there after I’ve managed to make sense of it one way or another.’
His tone softened, surprisingly gentle for someone sporting so much size and muscle. ‘I know how much you want to see him again. If you’ve convinced yourself you have to give it up for a few days, you’ve surely convinced me.’ He plugged his own handset into the analogue hotspot on the wall and keyed in. He got lucky and the unreliable connection made it first time of trying.
Jac listened in to the conversation but she’d already guessed Raine would act on the information, however tenuous. However much it conflicted with his own desire to have her back at his side. She turned at the sound of the door opening. Kit strode into the room, his powerful frame and assertive movements a stark contrast to the studious tech experts still busy at their desks.
‘Jac, we have to leave now. The west side perimeter is heaving with patrols trying to track down anyone coming in from the Warren. If we’re ready to go under the wire directly after curfew––’
‘Erm, Kit, looks like there’s going to be a delay. I noticed something suspicious in the president’s latest broadcast. Check with Razz when he finishes his call to the Tarn.’
Razz cut the connection and looked round. ‘Raine says I’m to take Jac over to the east side clinic. She can keep an eye on broadcasts as they come on air, help the crew with the epidemic in between if she can. I’ll take her over there, then I have to be at the west side perimeter, get Fin’s jeep through the checkpoint. You––’
‘I’m going with her.’ Kit’s tone said he wasn’t going to be swayed on this. ‘I just got back from checking routes out to the city perimeter and there’s a lot of patrol activity in the streets. If something goes wrong and we have no choice but to get out, I’m the only one here who can get her through the forest and back to the Tarn.’
Razz shoved the handset back in his pocket. ‘Fair enough. Raine wanted you to join the team setting up surveillance on the security building, but we’ve enough city-tigers for that. Main problem is that we don’t know what we’re looking for apart from anything out of the ordinary. Raine got some inside information that staz killed twenty three people when they gassed the sewer tunnels––even though we were sure there was no one down there. Anyhow, let’s go.’
Jac shouldered the small flat pack with her few belongings and cinched it tight to her waist, assuming there would be a deal of running and hiding involved in this journey and hoping she could keep up with two athletes with longer legs than her own. Wishing her dependence on a bodyguard didn’t make her feel quite such a liability.
Back in his cramped office in the security building, Parry was hurriedly searching for a way to get an unauthorized second autopsy without questions being asked. Although the thought didn’t occur to him, he could have been an older version of Raine––in the unlikely event the outlaw actually survived another thirty years. The colonel was in his early fifties, still lean and fit, a bit of grey at the temples, a few lines around the eyes… And there was something else, a kind of ever-present tension. Driven, but by conflicting imperatives.
He ran fingers through the greying stubble of his hair, then stopped himself, remembering his daughter’s admonitions that the habit gave away his agitation. It hadn’t mattered much these last few years since his career had stalled. No one had cared too much about what he was doing or how he felt, but if he went on playing this dangerous game with one of the nation’s most wanted… There would be questions asked eventually and he’d need to be ready to face them down.
The photo of the dark-haired teenager stared back at him from the ruthless tidiness of his desk. No matter the cost, he had to know if she was among those twenty-three corpses. The brief phone call kept playing over in his head, as if Raine’s denial of any knowledge might suddenly be revealed as a web of lies. Breaking a promise made, a reassurance given three weeks ago on a dark trail above the Warren, a last faint thread of hope that Jess might still be alive.
No. Parry’s sense of the man’s integrity persisted. If Raine had traced her, even if he knew she’d been killed along with those other insurgents in the tunnels, he would have said so.
And now my last hope rests on the word of an outlaw.
He requisitioned a record of registered forensics, checking names against the list of Jess’ college friends, still stuck in his memory. One of the few things he had left of her.
Two hours later he was walking back to the small park he’d used earlier that morning to call Raine, through quiet streets waiting for the twelve-hourly eruption of workers at the shift-changeover. The central core of five-storey city blocks was ringed by taller wedge-shaped apartments housing most of the city’s inhabitants, the solar cladding grey under the rain clouds.
The park was little more than a square of cracked paving and heavy concrete benches, one of which the resistance used as one of their hotspot access points. The hidden socket to the abandoned analogue system was concealed behind one of its bulky supports.
Parry knew that further damage to his career would be the least of his worries if his superiors discovered he’d contacted Raine on a clandestine coms network. Still, the place had no camera surveillance and he needed that if this meeting was going to remain unnoticed. A young chemical analyst named Joe Hilman was perched nervously on the other end of the stone slab, watching him curiously through his heavy glasses. Unruly strands of fair hair stirred in the damp breeze coming off the river and he pushed them aside impatiently.
‘Sir. I know you said it was urgent, but I had to fake that I was coming down with that virus to get time off to meet you. Why a second opinion? And why me? I can access the data but I’m a food chemist, not a pathologist.’
‘It’s just that I’ve felt uneasy about mysterious deaths since Jess… I can’t explain, but can you do it?’
Joe didn’t answer for a moment, looking warily at him. They hadn’t met since Jess’ funeral six years ago. Parry fought back the urge to tell him he’d faked her death. The truth would do nothing to alleviate the risk he was asking this guy to take and would only add to the risk for both himself and for Jess. If she was in fact still alive.
‘Colonel? I never thought you’d bend from the establishment line. This is an unauthorised re-examination of a military target. More like Jess than her dad.’
Parry was staring at the ground, not wanting to ask again, hating himself for playing the emotions of one of his daughter’s friends. Joe held out his hand.
‘I’ll do it. Just this once. For Jess.’
‘Thanks. Here’s the list of questions I’d like answered.’ Parry handed him a slip of paper.
Joe glanced at it and his eyes widened in alarm. He stuffed it in his pocket and walked back to the street.
15th April 2019 at 1:55 pm #117096
LOL – Hi Jay :)
I’m so tempted to stick an oar in here, but as I haven’t written even one book yet I feel like I can only approach this from a reader level. Personally I never read a novel that’s part of a series unless I read them strictly in order, the problem being I can never be bothered to go searching for book 1. It’s even worse when new books specify ‘has been written to fit into the xxxx universe’. Great if you’re a big fan, but… I wish they’d say something like “Series can be read in any order”.
How important is it that book 1 is read first? If it’s not important then maybe just treat it like any other backstory and gently refer to it as and when needed? use it as a hook for noobs to want to go back at some point to read, but not making them feel they’re missing out?
At the end of the day a story is a story, and should be self contained and complete unless it’s too big to fit in one book, like LOTR. I recently read an extract from a book2 which gave away the ending of book1. I liked the extract enough to buy book1 but I feel I lost so much from it by knowing already how it ended. Was that really necessary?
Hope this helps?
15th April 2019 at 2:10 pm #117097
hi Stejay, thanks for input – yes of course I’ve taken the general principal into consideration and it’s presented as a series rather than a serial – ie in terms of the narrative action, each book can be read as a separate story with previous events getting mentioned as bits of backstory are gradually revealed. That isn’t really the issue. Maybe because the series provokes people’s ideas of what a near-future drastically-changed world might look like, both my editor and beta readers brought up many questions about detail of what caused this or that background situation. If I repeat all those in book 2 it will be too repetitive for readers of book 1 but there will likely be the same questions coming up! Add to that nearly as many characters as LotR and an overall story arc of similar size and you’ll see what I mean. So yes, the happy heroes don’t have an all-out WIN at the end of each book, just a small win or even just a narrow escape or a reunion. I don’t think the excerpt above gives away the end of book 1 but maybe you are better at extrapolating than I am.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.