Yesterday you got my short story, "The Unicorn Bell", and the day before that you were treated to the uncovering of the cover of Wilful Impropriety, in which my short story "Mrs Beeton's Book of Magickal Management" will be appearing.
Today, in preparation for the revelation of the cover for my next novel, the sci-fi adventure When We Wake, I reveal to you a snippet from it. Indeed, I shall be doing so on the last Thursday of every month doing over the next year, until the book's release in January 2013 (Australia and New Zealand) and March 2013 (North America).
So, if you want spoilers for the first chapter, read on!
My name is Tegan Oglietti. One of my ancestors was a highwayman, and another was a prince. Two were Olympic medalists, three were journalists, half a dozen were chefs, a whole bunch were soldiers, and a lot were housewives who didn’t get a quarter of the credit they deserved.
I’ve been thinking about inheritance a lot lately, about what we make, about what makes us, about the legacies we give those who come after us. Well, I would, wouldn’t I?
We all begin with our past.
That last day, I was running late for the train, and I almost didn’t stop to say good-bye. But Mum called me into the kitchen, where she was working on an experiment for her little restaurant.
“Ricotta and beef ravioli,” she said, waving a laden fork at me. “Open your mouth.”
I did. The pasta was light and silky, and although I prefer cheeses with more flavor, I had to admit the ricotta added something to the texture.
“Good?” said Mum, quick dark eyes moving over my face.
“Good,” I said through my mouthful. “Contributing to global destruction with the production of heat-trapping methane gases, but really very tasty. Tasty destruction! Now can I go?”
“Mm,” she said, eyeing the liqueur bottles lined up beside the microwave. With any luck, I’d be coming home to a spectacular dessert. “Oh, wait.” She hooked an arm around my neck and hauled me back, kissing my cheek. She smelled like herbs and flour, the warm smell that meant home. “There. Now you can go and save the world.”
I laughed, kissed my fingers to the photo of Dad hanging on the kitchen wall, and ran out the door, rubbing the pink lip gloss off my face. Alex would be waiting, and she would want the complete goss report before we met Dalmar at the station.
Smart, intense Dalmar, who cared about the environment and domestic violence and famine. Handsome, talented Dalmar, whose skin was smooth and dark, whose eyes were round and a rich, deep brown, like newly-turned soil. Perfect, perfect Dalmar, who’d been my brother’s best friend for eighteen years, and my boyfriend for one day. The climate-change protest was going to be our official first date, and I was already planning our wedding.
My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy.
I’ll tell you the whole story.
You might wonder why I bother; you already know the facts. But one thing I’ve learned over the past months—maybe even before—is that facts aren’t enough. It’s not enough to know; you have to believe. It has to be personal. So here I am, giving you my memories and my feelings and my words.
My soul, if you like. It’s the only thing that still belongs to me, and there were some times that I doubted even that.
But I know the Father was wrong. No one can take your soul from you. You have to give it away.
Here’s my soul. I’m giving it to you.
I hope you’re listening.
Alex opened the door before I could knock, her grin wide on her narrow face. She was wearing what she called her protest uniform—long red peasant skirt, leggings, heavy boots, and a bright shirt under a sleeveless vest covered with buttons. STRAIGHT NOT NARROW. WOMEN AGAINST WAR. RIGHT IS MIGHT. UP THE UNIONS. I could see placards with more meticulously lettered slogans leaning against the wall and tried not to grimace. Those things were heavy, and I’d been hoping not to lug one around all day. But for once, Alex had concerns other than saving humanity from itself.
“I got your text,” she said. “Tell me everything, from the beginning.”
“Fourteen billion years ago, the universe expanded,” I said, jumping out of Alex’s reach. She’d stopped boxing, but she still had a mean right hook, even when it was just for fun. “Okay. Okay. He came around to my place yesterday, and I said, ‘Owen already left for Tasmania,’ and he said, ‘I know. I want to talk to you.’”
“Oh my god, Teeg,” Alex breathed. “We’re running late, but tell me as we go.”
Alex swung her battered satchel over her head. I knew from experience that the bag might contain anything from a couple of muesli bars and a bottle of water to fireworks, a complete set of lock picks, and a collapsible crowbar. She picked up two of the signs and thrust them at me, shouldering the rest herself.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, lazy,” she said, and called a cheerful good-bye to her foster mother.
“It’s just that it’s so freaking hot.”
I already had heat rash, prickly red bumps on the backs of my knees, and it was only September. Mum said that when she was my age, Melbourne’s spring had been long and wet and cool, hitting the nineties only in November or even December. The superstorms and bushfires hadn’t been so bad, either.
But it was 2027, and things were getting worse—which is why Alex and Dalmar were so keen on this protest. I mean, they were always up for a march or promoting a petition from a stall on Swanston Street, but this time the prime minister was attending the rally. I didn’t think she’d actually do anything about the climate but it was an election year, the youth vote was up for grabs, and Dalmar had some cautious hopes.
He had a lot of hope, Dalmar. I think that’s why I fell in love with him. It was all those conversations in the garage where, between practices, he tried to get Owen involved. In anything, really.
“We’re going to inherit the world, and everything needs to change,” he’d said. “Adults don’t care, so we have to make them care, or replace them.”
Owen called him obsessed, which was pretty hilarious because Owen was the single most obsessed person I knew. His whole life revolved around music, usually to the exclusion of minor things like environmental collapse, or the horrific state of refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, or his little sister. I started playing the guitar to spend more time with Owen, but I ended up listening to Dalmar. I learned to care.
To be honest, I cared more about Dalmar than things like climate change. One was right there, in the extremely awesome flesh, and the other was slow and terrible and felt far away. I cared, but not like Dalmar and Alex did. Still, it’s not like I betrayed myself and my own ideas to get closer to a beautiful boy. I just couldn’t resist his hope.
“So he said ‘I want to talk to you,’ and you said…” Alex prompted.
“And I said, ‘Oh, really?’ like a total idiot.”
“But it doesn’t matter, because then he took my hand—”
“Oh my god.”
“—and said, ‘Tegan, I’ve been thinking about you a lot, and if you say no, I will understand, and it won’t ruin our friendship, but would you like to go out with me?’”
Alex stopped in the street. “Seriously?”
I grinned. “Just like that.” Every word he’d said was written on my brain in blazing letters of gold.
“And then what?” she demanded.
“Classified.” My whole body was buzzing with the memory.
“Teeg, I will kill you and sink the corpse in the river.”
I snorted. “What river?” The Yarra ran through the city, but you couldn’t hide a body in that shallow brown flow.
“I will dig a river and fill it with my tears, because I will be weeping from the betrayal of my best friend not giving me every damn detail!”
“We kissed,” I said. “Well, I kissed him, and he kissed me back. In the front hallway.”
“Oh wow. That is the best.”
“Then Mum walked in and said, ‘Oops,’ and walked back out, and Dalmar said sorry and I said sorry at the same time, and then we went up to my room, and seriously after that is classified.”
Alex pursed her lips and nodded. “Acceptable.”
“He said I was beautiful,” I said softly. I could feel a tingle in my lips, the ghost of Dalmar’s kisses. We hadn’t done much, just held each other and talked and laughed. The talking and laughing we’d done for years, but after so much waiting, the touch was all new, and it was like a drug, making me giddy and calm at the same time. I didn’t want to pick apart something so special with Alex, much as I loved her. Let it be just for us, Dalmar and me.
“You are beautiful,” Alex said. “I wish I had your boobs.”
“You want my backaches?”
“Well, maybe not,” she conceded. “Or your red nose.”
“I burn so fast,” I sighed, and scowled at the tip of said red peeling nose. Dalmar had kissed that spot last night, I remembered, and the frown smoothed out.
“Haaah, look at you. You’re so in love!” She spun around in the street, signs and all, wide skirt flaring up around her hips. “You and me and Dalmar and Jonno have to do something. A couples dinner. Couples bowling!”
“Um,” I said. I didn’t like Alex’s boyfriend that much. He was one of those pretentious guys who thought conversation was all about being smarter and more important than everyone else in the room. And he talked down to me all the time, just because I was the youngest. But Alex thought Jonno was hotter than summer at the beach, and I had to be supportive. “Can I keep Dalmar to myself for a bit?”
“Of course, yeah. Want me to get lost at the rally?”
I hesitated. I really did, but…“I don’t want to be that girl, you know?”
“Please, I know you’d never abandon me for a guy. I’m offering! We go together; I conveniently get lost in the crowd; oh no, where is Alex? Gosh, it’s just you and Dalmar, holding hands.…You can get make out all you want.”
“Gross,” I said. “In public?”
My pocket beeped. My heart jumped.
“Dalmaaaaaaaar,” Alex cooed.
“If you do that when he’s here,” I warned, and fished out my phone. She was right, of course; the message was from him.
TRAIN DELAYED, TEN MINS LATE XXX
It was a perfectly ordinary message that he could have sent the day before yesterday, or any time in the three years we’d been friends instead of my big brother’s preachy best mate/best mate’s annoying little sister.
Except for that postscript of kisses.
For once, the flush in my cheeks owed nothing to the sun. I ducked my head under my hat and silently thanked Alex for her mercy as she pretended not to notice a thing.
Not that it mattered. When Dalmar stepped off the train and met us on the platform, I think the whole world could have seen how I felt. But for me, the rest of the world wasn’t there. Just Dalmar, with his easy stride and wide smile.
I know Alex was talking, but I can’t remember a word. I’ve tried, I really have, but it’s all just buzzing.
He leaned into me, and we touched fingertips. It was a game we’d come up with the night before, finding how little we could touch and still be in contact. We were seeing who could hold out longer, but eventually he gave in and held my hand. He had bass-player calluses. He’d built them up fingering those thick strings, and now they were rough, stroking down the side of my little finger. Nothing in the world had ever felt that good.
“I missed you,” he said, relieving me of the placards.
“I missed you, too,” I replied, and leaned my head against his free shoulder.
A narrow hand landed in the small of my back and shoved. It was Alex, her other hand on Dalmar’s back. “We’ve got to catch a train, lovebirds,” she grunted. “Next platform, move move move.”
Dalmar laughed. “You should be a general, Alex.”
“No way, man. Make love, not war.” She darted up the escalators before us, multicolored curls bouncing on her shoulders.
We made it to the platform in time to catch the train to Parliament Station. I let the train’s motion sway me against Dalmar where he stood braced against the yellow pole. “I wrote you a song,” I whispered in his ear, resisting the urge to kiss his earlobe.
“Really?” He slipped his hand from mine and draped it over my shoulder, pulling me close.
“I’ll play it for you tonight,” I promised. “Just so you know, nothing good rhymes with Dalmar.”
“Far. Car. Tar. Star. Bizarre?”
“Help!” I sang, making up the lyrics as I went along. “I need Dalmar. Help! He’s so bizarre. Help, you know I need Dalmaaaar. Help!”
“You and your Beatles,” Alex said.
“Best musicians of their century,” I said, as I had many times before. “And ours. And all the centuries to come.”
“Let’s make sure the species has centuries to come,” Dalmar said.
As the train jerked to a stop, we stepped out together, into the future.
I don’t remember if it hurt.
There are questions I get asked a lot, in therapy, at school, and even at the compound, when the girls loosened up enough to talk to me. What do you remember? What did you see? How did it feel?
I’ll tell you the whole story. Even the embarrassing parts, even the bits where I behave like an enormous loser.
But I can’t tell you if there was any pain.
The truth is, it all ends with us pouring out of Parliament Station and up the steep steps, with Dalmar’s arm around my shoulders and Alex grinning at how cozy we were together. I was thinking of finding a quiet place to kiss Dalmar, and wondering whether Alex could be talked into letting me do some free-running practice before we broke into whatever abandoned hulk she wanted to explore. I was thinking about whether Owen might bring me something back from Tasmania, and if Mum might be whipping up my favorite raspberry macarons, and if Dad would be proud of what I was doing today.
And then it all stops. The final memory of my first life is a freeze-frame of me leaning against Dalmar on the way up the steps.
But when Marie thought I was ready, I saw the same footage everyone else did.
It’s awful phone video, not even a real camera. Nothing like the superclear footage you guys have of everything now. But you can still make it out easily enough if you know what to look for.
There’s the prime minister standing under a shady canopy, speaking to the protesters, saying pretty things that aren’t quite promises. There’s the dark-haired girl high on the steps, just visible in the corner of the screen. There she is, falling down. There are screams as the crowd starts to realize what’s happened, and someone shouts, “It’s a sniper!” and then the camera turns to the sidewalk as the unknown videographer runs away.
Memory loss is a perfectly normal trauma reaction, Marie says, but it still feels weird. Watching that footage doesn’t spark a thing. It could be a perfect stranger dying on the steps of Parliament House.
But it was me.
I woke up one hundred years later.
And then things really went to hell.