The Pit of Despair…

EXCERPT from Inner Diverse, Book 2 of The Splintered Universe: When Rhea is sent to Sekmet to live out her remaining life run by the scum of the criminal community—all addicted to the drugged food—she finds herself reviled as a puny human and an ex-enforcer—she’d put some of them there, after all. Knowing her days are numbered and finding herself without a safe place to bed-down, Rhea makes a desperate bid to survive. Taking a Rill’s advice, she agrees to be sponsored by the ruffian Bondar as a contestant in The Game—a game of survival involving strength, courage and wits to an audience, who bet on a winner. It is a simple contest with one winner and one loser: the simple task is to immobilize or kill the opponent and capture the “magical” wakesh root—a highly sought after elixir that can break her from the soporific addiction of the prison’s drugged food:

rhea-contemplative01

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

I stood in the centre of the five hectare blood-stained arena, facing the semi-circular bleachers where Bondar and Barbariccia and an audience of several dozen aliens sat, packed like blood hounds smelling death.

I inhaled the rank smell of unwashed bodies, sweat and old blood and privately wondered what I was doing here. Bondar seemed to think I was capable enough; he’d gleefully accepted me as his candidate and now looked smug, seated not far from Barbariccia, who ignored him and studied me with a look of amusement on his calm face… Suddenly aware of my soiled clothes, I grew self-conscious and nervously fidgeted as I waited for Barbariccia’s candidate to enter the arena.

Bondar abruptly stood up and held up my original jacket in one hand and my slacks in the other.

“I’m still looking for a buyer for these!” he announced happily in a multi-timbral chorus. “Great clothes of impeccable quality. Original Enforcer clothes.”

Which they weren’t, I thought scathingly. They were just ordinary flight clothes. Damn that Bondar! The bastard was selling my clothes right in front of me, his own candidate. It showed me what kind of team we were…and what he thought of my chances.

“Are they intelligent?” someone in the audience asked.

Bondar brought both my jacket and pants up to his reptilian face and buried his snout in them with a deep inhale. All he smelled was me, I thought, wincing inside. I felt my face tighten to a grimace as I watched him smear my clothes over his face: it seemed that essence of Rhea was a perfume for him because his doleful eyes flickered dreamily shut and his many mouths smiled lecherously. Several inmates cackled.

“You can’t tell by smelling it, creon!” someone scoffed.

“They’re far too small!” said another. “She’s just a puny little pip.”

My gaze involuntarily flickered down my own torso. I wasn’t that small, I thought petulantly. I was almost six feet tall.

Bondar bent down and lifted up my boots. “What about these? Real gravity boots. They instantly adjust according to the weight of the wearer to the gravitational pull of any planet you travelled to—”

“No one’s going anywhere, you buffoon!”

They started booing him and shouted for him to sit down.

I dropped my gaze to the dirty blood-stained floor as the jeers and slanders spread to me. I heard several pointed insults aimed at the human race. What was I doing here besides inviting abuse?

Mayling had sagely waited until just before I entered the arena, when it was too late to back out, to fully explain the game to me: “It’s a simple contest: just find and take possession of the wakesh root, hidden in the obstacle course of the arena, before the opponent does—and keep it by immobilizing the other contestant. This is usually done by killing the opponent but you don’t have to…” I had repeated the part about usually killing the opponent and Mayling ignored me to continue: “Whatever you do, don’t let yourself fall into the pit.”

“Pit?” I had repeated with a hard swallow.

“No one ever gets out. Usually youz just hears a lot of splashing then a lots of silence. Sometimes a sobeks wanders in and manages to eludes the peat saws and turbines, then youz also hear thrashing and lots of awful cries of terrors and pains as the sobek bites off a limb and—”

“I get it,” I cut in.

“There are two ways to plays the games,” Mayling went on. “Defeats your opponent first then looks for the root ats your leisure, or finds the root first and use its to defeats your opponent. Which way youz goes depends on your personal strengths. Considering your present status and your humans abilities, I suggests youz first finds the root, then takes a bite of the root immediately to gives yourselfs a decided advantage over your opponent.”

That only worked if I got it first. And that was unlikely, given the wave-sensitive eyesight of the Xhix, who’d just entered the arena through an adjacent door. Wonderful, I thought with growing despair. Xhix could see through objects.

Holding a mining shovel in one hand, the Xhix waved to the cheering crowd with his other. I dismally recalled the crowd’s jeers and catcalls when I’d entered the arena. It was obvious who they thought would win.

I was contemplating the misnomer of Mayling’s use of the term obstacle course, when Barbariccia stood and shouted, “Let the contest begin!”

I kept a sharp eye on the Xhix, who stood poised several meters from me. Maybe I could outsmart him. I might be more swift, if I let him lead me to the root. The Xhix seemed to realize what I was thinking. He faced me with a smirk and turned black, tapping his shovel with his paw. He wasn’t about to give away the whereabouts of the root.

The floor rumbled and, just a meter from where I stood, it abruptly separated, giving off a strong waft of sulfur. The gap in the floor groaned into a long chasm that continued to widen. Both the Xhix and I stepped back. This must be the infamous pit Mayling had referred to. I carefully leaned over to catch a glimpse of what lay below. I made out murky bog and peat, moving slowly across the gaping opening as the penal facility rolled along, churning up peat and mire some ten meters below—

Something hard and painful struck my head, throwing me off balance into the gap with a startled grunt. I briefly registered the Xhix’s victorious laugh as I pitched forward and blacked out.

I jerked awake, inhaling water. I’d plunged into black cold churning water and broke the surface with gasping breaths.

saltwater marsh-NS copy

Marsh on Sekmet

 

 

Inner-diverse-front-cover-WEBInner Diverse is the second book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy:

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaversethrough Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

 

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

Sekmet, Mistress of Dread

 

Bog Planet wholeSekmet is the penal planet from which no one ever escapes. The planet is a giant bog-marsh and the prison itself is a massive 2-kilometre barge that travels the wetland planet and mines the peat. The very word evokes fear. Sekmet is the bogeyman. Early on, in Outer Diverse, Rhea’s colleague Bas warns her to be careful or she might end up on Sekmet for her transgressions; Rhea scoffs that only senseless killers go to that bog planet to die and rot. But soon Rhea will alter her cavalier defence. Things will change for her…

Sekhmet

Sekhmet

Sekmet is named after the lioness-headed Egyptian warrior goddess (Sekhmet). Variously known as “the one who is powerful or mighty”, “One before whom evil trembles”, “mistress of dread”, and “Lady of Slaughter”, Sekhmet is often depicted in red, the colour of blood.

In Inner Diverse, Bas’s warning is realized; Rhea is hunted and captured then after a hasty “trial” she is sent to Sekmet. There, she, too, will meet the goddess’s wrath—and tremble.

As the AI ship takes Rhea down to the planet surface, she has a good view of the wetland planet:

I gazed out my porthole at the barren patchwork of the small wetland-dominated planet, whose surface resembled an early impressionist’s painting. Dominated by sombre russet and indigo tones, the raised bog was dotted by a hasty spray of cobalt lakes and pools.

Although it was mid-morning on the planet, the mostly grey sky was saturated in low cloud and it was drizzling outside. Spates of wind drove sheets of rain hailing sporadically against my porthole. It was a wet desolate place. But then again, “A drowning man is not troubled by rain—Persian Proverb, Rhea,” I said quietly to myself. The weather was the least of my concerns.

Wetland-Trent6

Swamp on Sekmet

As the ship descended, I could make out the individual pool system of the blanket bog with its inhospitable tapestry of dark and wet shapes. I dispassionately reviewed what I knew of the planet. Its cool wet climate and rich iron deposits promoted the development of muskeg, string bogs, darkly forested swamps and wildflower-filled fens. This was Sekmet, a less than Earth sized planet that orbited the KO star, HD177830 in the constellation Vulpecula. My new home. Where I was going to die.

 

As the ship turned, I made out the actual penal colony with its dozens of grey tapered stacks billowing out white smoke. The facility resembled a huge factory, floating on a glistening wet mosaic of multi-textured and coloured vegetation. The facility, appropriately named Hades by its inmates, was in fact a huge peat mine that migrated across the huge blanket bog, extracting peat for sale to maintain the colony.

The life span of inmates on Sekmet was usually less than a year and I wasn’t sure I was going to be all that tenacious. The Eosian Guardian who’d shoved me into this AI ship had offered his own prognosis with a sinister laugh: “You won’t last a jagging week, human. They despise Enforcers. They’ll eat you alive then excrete you as bog fertilizer!”

The ship had informed me earlier that Hades contained an inordinately high number of Rills as inmates. If any one alien race had the right to despise me, the Rill did. I’d single-handedly subverted their one and only attempt at obtaining freedom from a long life of oppression by the Legess. I decided that Sekmet was going to be my personalized purgatory.

They will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes,” I recited the lines from Proverbs in a quiet breath.

 

When the AI ship lands on the huge barge platform, Rhea is instructed to get off.

Log over water forest-DeasPark copy

Wetland on Sekmet

The exit hatch door opened and the AI droned, “This is your destination, Rhea Hawke. Please disembark.”

My chest clenched. I swallowed down my fear and stepped out onto the platform of Sekmet’s landing bay, catching the faint sulphurous smell of the bog. The doors of the ship abruptly closed behind me, making me involuntarily flinch. Annoyed at my reaction, I gathered my composure and swiftly assessed the empty platform, hearing only the hum of the ship’s engine. My gaze rested on the endless hummocks and large meandering ponds of tea-stained water outside.

As the ship made ready to leave, I felt my heart pounding with the sudden urge to bolt. I had a panicked notion to leap off the platform into the murky bog. Swim, wade, scrabble to eventual safety in the wilderness of Sekmet in those distant hills. The ship lifted off the ground in a turmoil of dust and thunder. My face twisted with indecision as I tensed, poised to flee—

A male Azorian burst in from the adjoining chamber and I braced for an attack. He pelted right past me then leapt into the murky water. I watched him thrash through the undulating bog, stumbling, submerging and trying to swim—his left arm was amputated at the elbow. I was about to follow when laser shots peppered the water around him for several heartbeats. I flinched. As suddenly as the shots began, they ended and the Azorian slowly sank until only his head remained above the water. I stood stiff, trembling hands over my mouth, and breathing hard. I stared at the head bobbing slowly in the water.

 

With the ship departed, chaotic sounds drifted in from inside the colony. Faint echoes of shrill outcries, mad laughter and raucous groans filtered in with the light breeze. It sent a chill through me—

“The stupids ones stills thinks theys cans escapes thats ways,” a nasal voice said behind me.

Startled, I spun around. When I saw the female Rill waddle toward me, huge arm—weapon—stretched out, I instinctively went for my MEC and caught air. My MEC was, of course, no longer holstered on my hip. That damned gesture and ominous paw got me every time, I thought and let the tension drain from my posture. I grimaced and murmured to myself, “Speak of the devil.”

 

At the entrance from the platform inside the penal barge, Rhea passes the looming statues of Anubis—ancient Egyptian jackal god (who took part in judging a person’s guilt) and the lion-headed Sekhmet. High between the massive statues, a makeshift sign has been erected that hangs above the open doorway. Words inscribed in a messy but clear scrawl read: I am the way into eternal grief; abandon every hope, all you who enter.

*****

Inner-diverse-front-cover-WEBInner Diverse is the second book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy:

When Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke investigates the genocide of an entire spiritual sect, she collides not only with dark intrigue but with her own tarnished past. Her quest for justice catapults Rhea into the heart of a universal struggle across alien landscapes of cruel beauty and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.