My newest project is a science fiction novel aimed at teenagers. It’s sort of a mix between Star Wars and Pokemon and currently has the working title of All the Little Creatures (I’m not great at names). Here’s the blurb:
Jen Cronberg is on a mission. With a gauntlet full of creatures he’s genetically designed and a sword on his hip he’s ready to head deep into the city planet of Medlia and capture a dangerous fugitive. All for a promotion he desperately wants. But life that deep in the city isn’t so simple and soon he finds himself on the run, pursued by a foe more dangerous than he could imagine. And where shadows are a fact of life he learns that everything isn’t as black and white as he might have thought.
You can find the first chapter below. If you’re an agent that’d like to represent me, send me an email. If not I hope you enjoy it anyway.
One thing about humanity that’s as true today as it was when they first came down from the trees: they’re very messy.
As a species they enjoy fiddling and building, always leaving something behind to prove that they’d been there. Whether a forest cut down to provide fields or the city by the river, proof of their industriousness is everywhere they go, never satisfied with leaving things as they are. Everything has to be bigger and better. What once was a monument to greatness and valour eventually gets dwarfed by the giant fast food restaurant built next door.
And what if the mess of humanity surged up, building up from their home planet, layering buildings on plazas on ruins on mountains, sending out spores of explorers into the blackness of space who brought back metals and rock to keep building, culling the forests and the meadows, covering the oceans and deserts, merging cities until metropolises become districts in a vast organism, one solid thing with veins of sewage, bones of apartments, transportation networks for nerve endings? If humanity did all that…
Well then you’d have a place like Medlia.
A planet, completely covered by the vast city that rose over millennia. A beautiful thing, a sparkling jewel that hangs in the void, beckoning any humanity home to see what they’ve created. Impressive in sight, unparalleled in scope and completely misleading.
Every visit to it starts the same. First you have to pass by the moon, Skyguard, hanging in the sky like a threat and promise both in one. Maybe you stare at it, hoping to see the legendary city in its clouds or maybe you’re staring out of the windows on the other side, at the gilded palaces of the Trade Princes. They’re the glitter to the city, the golden foil that wrap the planet. Fountains send rainbows into the air, vast lawns and gardens add emerald hues to the jewel and the buildings are stately, considered and gorgeous.
But you aren’t going there. If you were, you’d be in a private craft, feigning disinterest. Stuffed in a commercial flight this is the closest you’ll ever get to them, a quick look at what might as well be a beautiful artwork, passed so quickly and never seen again. Instead you go to the shuttle port, stretched over countries on the planet’s south pole. You submit to the invasive inspections, are handed your luggage and shoved out the door.
The next stop is one of the trains that snake across and through the city. Anywhere in the city is possible to get to if you have enough time and, compared to interstellar travel, you don’t need much time at all. Where you go is up to you. Residents head home, wherever that is. Tourists go wherever their relevant body parts take them. Thrill seekers follow their hearts to theme parks, adventure courses or arenas. Academics follow their brains to museums, universities, and monuments. Gourmets follow their stomachs to restaurants and food carts of a thousand different cultures and cuisines.
Others follow different parts of their anatomy to different pleasures. But if you came here then you’ve been thinking about it, maybe on your home planet, certainly on the journey to get here, and by the time you’re picking that train you know where you’re going.
Wherever it is it’s easier to get across the surface then head down. Down is bad, down is dangerous. But if it’s down that you are truly set on then grit your teeth and move.
Like pushing your fist into a thick wall of jelly it starts off easy but the deeper you go the more it pushes back. The first few Levels are easy, each floor welcoming of those coming in from above with only the stairs, elevators and passageways to the lower Levels guarded. But the reasons to pass through grow less and less and the people on duty at the borders grow more suspicious. And as you travel down into the bowels of the city the glitter begins to fade along with the natural light. The further down you go the better the chance of seeing one of Medlia’s mutants, just living their lives however they can but obvious by their differences, offspring of experiments long banned and forgotten. By this point the homes are older, the streets in lesser repair, and people are surprised and scared to see strangers.
You hit the Border next, separating the Upper City from the Lower. A clear line between the old of the ground and the new of the air. The point where humanity accepted the eventual end point for their planet and started organising it. Where they designed the blocks that supported each other so even if the roots of one crumbles it would be held safely by its followers.
The place where sunshine dies.
If you get past the guards, and it’s a big if, they’re not friendly and passports are very rarely issued, who knows where you go next? Everything down here is a mixture of clashing architecture and ideas, of paths that don’t go anywhere, of unplanned open spaces and planned enclosures. Of darkness and danger.
There are many hidden places in a place like that, places that might once have been important but now serve only the memory of ghosts.
Snuggled in the forgotten womb of the city, Eynbeth was feeling out of her depth.
She was trying to hide it but it was obvious to anyone who knew her. She was hunched against a concrete pillar, subconsciously making herself small. Her clothes blended in with the surroundings and she knew that at any moment she could make herself disappear.
“Calm down,” a deep voice told her. “It’ll all be ok.”
She turned and glared up at her protector. The Alanchi had originally been engineered and bred as soldiers in ages past and Engra was emblematic of that. He was tall and broad, with biceps bigger than her waist. His skin was a dark fern green and his eyes were large, able to see and exploit the smallest flaw in his enemies. But his smile, though filled with sharp teeth and tusks, was kindly. There was a hint of humour in his voice as he continued, “How can you feel bad with such a lovely view?”
They were hidden in the shell of an old multi-storey car park, a remembrance to the times when cars only crawled along the ground. It might once have been beautiful, in a solid concrete kind of way. The road curved and wove through the supporting columns, leaving patches of what might have been light, when light last shone down here. Now they showed only darkness, as thick and complete as you’d expect at this level. It was sort of creepy but Eynbeth had been living down near the ground for years and the darkness had long since ceased to bother her.
“I’ll go sightseeing once this job is over with. Now is everyone in position?”
Engra nodded. “Ergoth is on overwatch with his sniper rifle and Verthag is lurking with the van until we get the money. Khargol and Frukag are keeping an eye on the perimeter.”
“Good.” Eynbeth slumped back against her pillar. “I just want this to be done.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder and she leaned into it, the heaviness and reality of it reassuring. “Don’t worry. We’re got your back.”
“And I really appreciate it.”
He was about to say something else but then stiffened, one hand going to his earbud. “Contact. Someone’s coming.”
“Is it the client?”
“Who else would it be?”
The deep silence of the car park was broken by the growl of a motor as a hover truck pulled up, sweeping up the ramps before lowering itself to the ground. There was a pause then their client got out, his habit flowing around him.
The Pure were an organisation that she tried to stay away from. They didn’t come into the depths that often, preferring to preach against mutants above where people would listen to them, but missionaries would sometimes make the trip. Every time she saw them it sent a visceral thread of fear running through her. A feeling that she tried to mask as she stepped towards the monk.
He was tall. That was about all she could say about him. He wore the usual shapeless, cardinal red robes of his order, with the hood drawn up and hiding his face in shadows. He didn’t say anything either, just seemed to stare at her, waiting for her to make the first move.
So she did.
“Do you have the money?”
The monk nodded and tossed a chip at her. She missed the catch and had to scrabble among the dust on the ground to pick it up, while she felt Engra glare above her. But then she found it and ran it through her reader. And all her worries went away.
The money was there. All one million credits of it. The biggest score of her life.
She pulled the chip out of the reader and fondled it for a moment, tempted to just take it and run. But businesses like hers were built on trust. If she didn’t keep her side of the deal word would spread and she’d never do business again. With regret she motioned to Engra, who spoke into his com-bead for a second, summoning Verthag.
There was an uneasy quiet. Eynbeth thought about saying something but what could she talk about? Had any nice food recently? Did you see the game last night? When was the last time you tried to have mutants purged? Silence was definitely better than any of those.
Silence that was broken by the growl of a motor as Verthag drove the truck into sight. It was a study in contrasts to the monk’s. It didn’t hover, the paint was chipped instead of fresh and one of the wing mirrors was missing. But it worked and carried the cargo and that was all that mattered.
Verthag jumped out of the cab and Khargol and Frukag crept to the edges of the light, guns held in their hands. Eynbeth gestured to the monk.
“We’ve got the goods. It’s all here.”
And, finally, the monk spoke.
“Good. Now we can begin.”
The monk reached into his habit and pulled something out. Enybeth stared at it blankly for a moment, unable to recognise it. It was like static bunched around it. She should know it but that wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The monk threw his burden to the ground. It bounced and rolled, just a shape until it came to rest at her feet, staring up at her. Ergoth eyes, above Ergoth’s nose. Ergoth’s face on Ergoth’s head. But that was all. Where there was supposed to be Ergoth’s body there was just the bloody termination of his neck.
She was still staring at it, at this person who she knew, who should be alive and breathing and watching them through a sniper rifle, keeping them safe, when Engra gave a roar and charged towards the monk. Towards where the monk had been because he hadn’t needed a moment to come to terms with a friend’s abrupt death and was dashing towards where Khargol was slowly, so slowly, raising his gun. The first shot missed and there wasn’t a second because the monk ripped a sword from the sheath at his hip and cut up through the thick chest, leaving a gaping red canyon in its wake. And then another friend fell.
Frukag gave a roar at the death of his brother and fired but the monk was gone, vanishing into the shadows. They looked around desperately, Eynbeth with her back to the truck and Engra and Verthag on either side. The two had drawn their axes. Then there was a scream and a sword sprouted out of Frukag’s chest, how had the monk gotten there so fast, and there were only three left.
There was stillness, the monk having faded back into the shadows almost immediately
“You need to get out of here,” Engra told her. “We’ll hold him off as long as we can but you’ve got to tell Perente what happened here today.”
“I can’t just leave you here…”
So she did. Her skin changed, taking on the colours of her surroundings and her adaptive clothing followed suit. In a moment she was invisible and creeping away from her protectors.
There was a reason that she’d been trusted enough to perform independent operations, even though she was younger than most of her colleagues. The fact was that she had the talents to make sure it went all right.
She cursed her luck. Talents? What she was good at was spying and keeping secrets. If she had real talents then she would have worked out that a religious order that called her kind scum wouldn’t be likely to just hand over a million credits.
Though she doubted that anyone would have expected this.
She had to get out of there. Perente would understand. This city was all about survival and information. And the information that the monks had this kind of power would be worth a lot.
But not her life.
Verthag was dying as she got to the entrance of the area. The monk had sped over to him and opened his throat before he could block. Engra had snatched his brother’s axe from his hands as he fell and, now wielding two, was swinging at the monk, forcing him back.
One jump was all she needed, into the empty space beyond, then the parachute strapped to her back would glide her to safety. She turned, flattening herself against the wall, hugging the shadows. She couldn’t move too fast, she’d be spotted. This meant that she got to see the final moments of the last squad member.
Engra was tough. Engra was strong. But strength means nothing if you can’t hit your opponent.
The monk moved like greased thought, deflecting one attack, and dodging the next. The sword licked out, once, twice, thrice, sketching lazy lines into the biceps and thighs of the Alanchi. Not enough to kill him. Just enough to slow him until the blade nipped in a fourth time and, before he could block, took him in the throat.
Eynbeth tried not to notice. She was almost at the exit now, almost to freedom. Once she was out of this cave she’d be able to escape. She’d be able to live. The monk would waste time searching for her. She’d survive.
Then the monk looked right at her and lifted back his hood.
She saw an old face there, mid-forties if she had to guess. He looked unscarred and unworried, as if fights like that happened every day.
And he was wearing a pair of infra-red goggles.
She swore and ran, knowing that he could see her and that she didn’t stand a chance. But she had to try.
She heard her death whistling towards her and she turned, trying to see where it was coming from and avoid it. The knife struck her in the stomach, throwing her back.
Eynbeth got a last look at the monk as she stumbled. He was already turning away, not seeming to care that he had just killed six people.
Then the back of her legs hit the barrier and she fell over and down, down into the darkness.