Love Among the Ruins…

 

Log over water forest-DeasPark copy

Swamp on Sekmet

EXCERPT from Inner Diverse, Book 2 of The Splintered Universe Trilogy: after a daring escape from Hades on the bog planet of Sekmet, Rhea finds herself stumbling through thick wet scrub, past gnarly drowned trees then plunging with gasps into surprisingly deep crevices filled with bog water. The glacial wind whips her hair and wails through her shivering body as rain pelts her. Her breaths stutter and gut burns with black longing for the wakesh root. She sobs in her breaths, struggling over islands of soggy hummocks that cave under her weight, plunging her into deep frigid murky pools and thrashes her way across deep bog water. As a convulsive tremor of withdrawal runs through her, Rhea despairs and begins to wonder if she will survive her escape. No one got off Sekmet, after all, so the saying goes. Then she remembers glimpsing Serge at the penal colony. Her lover. Her nemesis. Had it been a dream? Had he come to rescue her only to disappear?

Rhea-marsh02

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu)

A twig snapped behind me and I jumped, heightened senses inhaling musk and strawberries.

Serge!

“Rhea.”

Relief and panic competed inside me. Serge was the last person I wanted to catch me this way: filthy, junked-up, vulnerable…and longing for him. Suddenly tearful, I scrambled to my feet with a grunt of effort. I fled into a staggering run, tripping and stumbling over a tangle of roots in the muck. I didn’t dare look back.

“What?” I heard him quip. “No warm welcome like: ‘It’s so good to see you Serge, I missed you so much.’” Then after a pause of huffing breaths, he added in exasperation, “Rhea! Wait up!”

“Why are you following me?” I threw a withering look over my shoulder at him. He’d gone back to being a human, those ugly lumi pants recklessly low-riding his hips and revealing taut abdomen muscles and the alluring curve of his pelvis. I noticed with some satisfaction that he was having a hard time negotiating the underwater root tangle as well.

“What do you think?” he answered in a sarcastic tone.

“I don’t need your help!”

“That’s a matter of opinion. You’re hurt and you’re crying—”

“You’re the one making me cry.” I glared at him. I hadn’t noticed I was crying. “This is all your fault. I never cried before I met you.”

He barked out an exasperated laugh then added, “That’s because I woke up your senses. I made you alive.”

“You made me miserable!”

“Alive and miserable, then,” he conceded. “Let me help you.” He broke into a sprint, splashing in awkward steps.

“I told you, I don’t need help from a lying scoundrel,” I huffed and threw myself into a frenzied lopsided gallop to keep ahead of him. “I don’t need help from a God-damned Vos, Nihilist, anti-Nihilist, spy, thief—whatever you are!” I tripped and fell. Serge was bending over me, pulling me up, even as I struggled to get free. My chest heaved. Black bog juice dripped off my face. I turned to face him and caught his intoxicating smell: a cottonwood forest in spring cut by musk and a hint of strawberry. It overwhelmed my senses and made me dizzy with desire. I stared up into his face and longed to fling my arms around him and kiss him. I bit out, “I’m perfectly fine on my own.”

“Oh, you are, are you?” he retorted. “In case you didn’t notice, I saved your scrawny flat butt.” His face was close to mine, eyes blazing and breathing hard.

“Where were you the rest of the time? Sun tanning in the penthouse suite? Get off me!” I twitched my face from his and pushed away. I didn’t like how he’d described my butt.

“It took me over a month just to get in,” he huffed out, clinging to me and fighting off my struggles. “By then you were already running the place. I was stunned. I’m amazed at your talents, particularly in escaping. Frankly, Rhea, I didn’t expect you to be in any shape to do anything—”

“Well, thanks for the encouraging thoughts and incredible faith in my abilities,” I said tartly. “I had a little help from several friends and none of them was you.” I thrashed out furiously to get free. “I didn’t ask for your help back there. I could have managed, damn you!”

“You ungrateful little witch!” he growled, pinning my arms in a forceful embrace. He glared at me. “You’re too jagging proud to admit that you need my help.”

Lips snarling, I jerked out of his grasp but slipped in the wet sod with a shriek and took him down with me. We fell with a splat, black oily mud oozing over both of us. He scrambled on top of me, straddling my hips, and pinned my flailing arms with his hands.

For a hesitant moment I inhaled his heady aroma and felt myself tumbling dangerously into his tempest eyes. He held my gaze and I drew in a shuddering breath. So much passed between us in that gaze and for a moment we were staring at each other like the time when we’d first made love. It was an exquisite moment of infinite devotion, wonder and tenderness. And mutual surrender. And I felt as though I’d loved him and trusted him all my life—

Desperate, I shifted with a shrill grunt into a massive Venik, realizing too late that my clothes tore to shreds off of me. I struck out. Within a heartbeat, Serge matched my form, lumi-pants ripping off, and countered. I tried an Azorian. He matched. A Khonsus—he was already one! I finally returned to my human form and Serge followed suit, barking out a laugh and breathing hard like me. His dark eyes grew large. We were both naked.

“Good try,” he panted with a rough laugh. He glanced down my body before locking eyes with mine. “Just look at you…You’ve chopped off your beautiful hair. The drugs have wasted your skin, done something to your eyes…But you’re still so…”

I dreaded what he saw and met his thunderstorm gaze with my own vulnerable gaze. I knew I was a spectacle: wet and bedraggled hair plastered over my face in tangles of mud—yet I returned him a plaintive thirsty look…How I’d missed those eyes.

They blazed into mine. “…so beautiful,” he finished in a hoarse voice. Then he slammed his mouth against mine in a crushing embrace. Like a spring released I yielded and we kissed. I flung my arms around him, clasping his neck and pulling him close, feeling the hard heat of his response. I savoured his body stirring over mine as I rocked my hips up against him. His lips flamed over my face, defining every feature, and I trembled at the tantalizing rasp of his whiskers. His hands mauled my body with uncontrollable ardour. I was all his…except—

“No!” I slithered out from beneath him and kicked out. He barked out a yelp. I scrambled to my wavering feet, slipping, and stuttered out in a shaky voice, “I won’t let you take advantage of me.”

“Advantage!” he exclaimed and rubbed his thigh. “You want it too, damn it. You were kissing back.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.