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The Kind: The Recoverist Quartet, #1

The Kind: The Recoverist Quartet, #1

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The Kind: The Recoverist Quartet, #1

Length:
317 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 19, 2017
ISBN:
9780995656420
Format:
Book

Description

The Kind. Book 1, The Recoverist Quartet

Who is the Lamplighter?

Friendless exile.

Champion of the Non Grata.

A mystery to herself.

It is 2472. The British Isles have been transformed by climate change into a desert archipelago. The wealthy and privileged have retreated to high-tech walled cities. Those beyond the walls are known as the Non-Grata. They live a precarious, hand-to-mouth existence, surviving on the “charity” of the cities. In return, these non-people must pay a Quota, a tax paid in human life. Specifically, they give the rich something their money cannot buy: children.

Isobel Twelvetrees has been put outside the walls of her city and left to die in the lethal heat for a crime she cannot remember committing. She was saved by someone or something, but when she wakes, the only companion she has is a dog with odd coloured eyes. When she learns the terrible truth about the plight of the Non Grata, she turns into a new kind of warrior. As she crosses continents with the threadbare armies of the Non Grata, in a deadly race against time to destroy the Quota and right historic wrongs, she starts to uncover the truth about herself and what she left behind.

281 pages

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 19, 2017
ISBN:
9780995656420
Format:
Book

About the author

Jule Owen was born in the North of England and now lives in London. By day she helps build software, by night she writes, and reads everything she can find about science, technology, the future, and climate change.  ​


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The Kind - Jule Owen

For anyone ever put outside.

1

the dead girl and the talking dog

S

HE HAD BEEN DEAD for over an hour. It is one hour and twenty minutes since her breath shuddered to a halt in her chest, her heart stopped beating and her brain, starved of blood, shut down.

I am a little late, then, he thinks.

She is just a young woman, seventeen, almost eighteen years old. Olive, dusky skin, a jumble of black hair. Not beautiful by the standards of these people, although she is beautiful to him. The young, he supposes, are always beautiful. The skin on her hands, arms and face is marked with the distinctive tattoos of the city dwellers. Death does her no favours. It does no human any favours; he understands that well enough. He knows all about death.

Her tongue is swollen in her open mouth. It does not look good.

He sighs. Tries it out in his dog body. His barrel of a chest is good for a deep breath, a good heave.

Cause of death: Heat exhaustion, isotonic dehydration, reduction of blood flow to the kidney and the brain, cell damage, organ failure and intestinal breakdown. And no wonder, in this godforsaken wilderness, the desert wrought by human made climate change in the place formerly known as Wales. He raises his gaze up from her face and body, checking out the landscape. Nothing but rocks, dust, sand, and a heat haze on the horizon. They are one hundred miles from Silverwood, thirty miles from the secret city of Elidir.

Water is what is needed. Shelter and then water. He scans around. There is not a twig or piece of broken glass in sight. He realises what this means. They are miles from a settlement. They are in a rare moment of peace; a gap between the great winds that sweep through the Deadlands and endlessly make random abstract art with the dust and rubble and sand, burying and obscuring all else.

She had done well, walked a long way from the city before the scorching sun and lack of water felled her. She must have been strong and determined to walk away like that. Most people put out cower near the walls in case they cast a shadow, or the people inside change their minds. Of course, the people never do change their minds. They are as impervious as their walls. There is a circle of bones surrounding the cities, bleached, cracked and turning to dust. These days people are rarely put outside. There aren’t that many left. The girl is unlucky. She did something unforgivable.

But she must have been brave, proud and angry to strike out like that. Still, if you are going to die, you may as well take control, be in charge of it as long as you can, walk out and face your death. Perhaps she even had hope that if she kept walking, she might find someone, something. It is better to be hopeful, even in the direst of circumstances. He hopes she died defiantly and not broken.

But she is dead, and so he must get to work. Lots to do.

When she wakes it is dark, but for the flame on a wick, in the funnel of a small clay lamp. It sits in a pool of light and casts shadows on the walls. She is conscious first of the cold; of the chill press of the earth on her face. That is not right. It was hot, unbearably hot. Then she remembers: I am dead. And in spite of all she has ever believed, I am dead, and this is the afterlife.

‘I am dead,’ she says out loud, still barely conscious. She doesn't expect her lips to break apart and move. Last time she tried, they were stuck together. She opens and then closes her eyes.

The dog is sitting beside her. You are not dead, he says gently.

Her eyes open a slit again so that she can see the light from the lamp sputtering in the limited oxygen of an enclosed space. She watches it until it steadies and then something beyond it grabs her attention, and she focuses on the dog. It is not a particularly big dog, not beautiful either. A mutt of no pedigree, with wild-dog, sand-coloured fur, a small shock of white hair on his chest, curling to a bud in a wonky spiral. He has learned not to be ostentatious but allowed himself one element of whimsy, a deviation from the blueprint: A blue eye, a brown eye. The original had mournful hazel eyes.

‘I am dead,’ she says. ‘And this must be the afterlife because you are a dog and you spoke to me.’

You need more rest, the dog says.

‘I am about to rest for all eternity.’

If he could smile, he would, but dog smiles are never convincing. She is an adolescent after all. He can sigh, so he does and says, No, you are not.

Then she realises that he is not speaking. His voice is in her head. It now makes sense to her. She is not quite dead. She is dying and delirious. Dehydration does that to you. Bugger, she thinks. Can't we get it done with if I am going to die? Why all this nonsense?

But she is tired and does not have the strength to fight it. She recalls briefly the sun, the terrible thirst, her head pounding like it was about to explode, nausea, the burning hot sand on her skin when she fell and not being able to move away from it. Now she feels nothing but an overwhelming tiredness.

He leaves her alone and lets her sleep.

When she wakes again, she really wakes up; eyes open, refreshed and alert. The lamp is still flickering on its shelf. She can see walls made of hewn earth like the pit dug for a coffin. The thought makes her sit up.

The room is tiny with a roof barely high enough to stand beneath. There is nothing but the lamp and a cup, a jug of water and a bowl of food. She reaches for the cup; she is thirsty. The foodstuff is to her taste, things she would have chosen to eat. This is unlikely.

She is hungry. It is a long time since she has eaten. She's no idea how long; it might have been hours or days. She stuffs the food into her mouth with her hands. There is no other way. There's no knife or fork. She remembers about her short time in the desert and how she has already turned half-animal. That thought makes her recall the dog.

She can't see it. She must have dreamt it up, but if this place and this food are real, how did she get here? Was she picked up by the Non Grata? Is this pit a prison? Is it a trap? Has she fallen into a mantrap? Do the Non Grata even have such things? Or did they save her? She searches her memory for the threads of gossip and myth she has heard people speak and has previously dismissed. Tall tales of the non-people who live outside the walls. Her friends had said the Non Grata were just ordinary people who had nothing and lived as best they could in the desert. The others believed they were no better than animals. She never imagined in a million years she might need such information.

There's a noise behind her, and she turns her head. In the shadows, where the lamp light doesn't quite reach, she can make out a shape. The creature's eyes glint, reflecting the flame.

So there is a dog. She didn't imagine it. She eyes it suspiciously. It is a small, confined space. If the dog is dangerous, she is in trouble. But it only sits and watches her. It doesn't bare its teeth; it doesn't wag its tail. It is motionless. 

‘Hello,’ she says in the way she has always spoken to animals, not expecting a reply, but expecting, or hoping, for the dog to come forward wagging its tail, wanting its ear pulled and its head patted, demonstrating it is not a dangerous dog. That is what she wants.

But the dog doesn't move.

Hello, it says. And she laughs, but the sound makes her afraid.

She thinks, I am mad.

He stands up and walks out of the shadows. Are you any better?

It's not actually speaking, of course. Its mouth doesn't move, but she hears the words clearly, in her language, a man's voice. A standard pronunciation accent, found in Silverwood; rich of timbre and rather pleasant.

She thinks, I am dead or dreaming or mad. The sun has driven me mad.

You are none of those things, the dog says. Or someone says. Or no one.

‘How did you...?’ She is amazed, affronted and laughs, borderline hysterical. I hear a dog talking to me, and all I'm worried about is whether it can read my mind...

The dog says, Let's go for a walk.

The girl follows the dog along a tunnel, high enough to be beyond fingertip reach, wide enough to lie down. It is hewn from rock, but has extraordinarily smooth sides, slick and shiny, like fast rushing water has formed it. She lights their way with the lamp taken from the pit she woke in. It is an unnatural flame. She is not familiar with oil lamps. She has never had much cause to use them in the past, but her small experience and instinct tells her that flames burn down on their wick and blow out in draughts. This one does neither, and it provides good light.

They have been walking all day, with three stops so far for her refreshment. The dog needs nothing. Each time they pause there is a small antechamber, like the one she woke in, large enough to stand and lie down in, but made of the same rock in the tunnel, finished in the same way. And at each of these stops, she finds clean water and tasty, nourishing food.

She is building a story in her head to explain this, one that goes: there are people secretly helping her, people who want to hide. They are walking ahead, always out of sight. They are friends of her friends or her family, or both, and this is why they can guess her preferences for food. But it is dangerous to help Non Grata, so they keep away, so if she is caught, she cannot describe them. They are the people who saved her in the desert. Unfortunately, she was made ill, her brain was affected by the sun, and she thinks the dog can talk to her and hear her thoughts. But she is sane enough to understand that this can't be true. In any case, the dog is silent on this line of reasoning.

The tunnel is ventilated. The air is not still or close; it is fresh and sweet. There are vents placed periodically along the tunnel, and when she walks under them, there is a breeze. Here the lamplight stutters in the, but never blows out. She holds it up towards the vent to test out the theory. She looks at the dog, who stares back at her.

Even if she is imagining the voice, it is not an ordinary dog. Aside from the fact that it does not need to eat or drink and she hasn't seen it lift its leg, it exhibits a most un-dog-like composure. There's no trying hard to please. In fact, its self-possession would be unusual in a human. It does not bark or run away, wag its tail or bound to her in a silly manner. Admittedly, she’s had limited exposure to dogs. In the city, they are the preserve of the privileged, and she has only met one or two. They were pampered animals. It is probable, that Non Grata dogs are more serious. But this dog walks ahead of her, pauses when she pauses and sits patiently when she eats. It is what she can only describe as ‘still’ - a word she would normally associate with priests. In fact, it is far more composed than any priest she has ever met.

She has no clock and, as they are underground, no natural clues as to the time, but her body clock tells her it is evening when they come to a slightly larger ante-room. The walls are whitewashed. There is a simple brass lamp hanging from the ceiling, its light a three-wicked candle. On one side of the room, there is a bed. The base is a raised piece of earth, but it has a comfortable mattress and warm bedding. She is exhausted. She lies down and is asleep in a moment. Simultaneously, the light dims, and she is wakened by this, but falls asleep again instantly, forgetting.

She dreams. Vivid dreams, fragmented images that have no context for her but are so real. She dreams about a city full of strange buildings that are alive. They breathe and grow slowly like plants, with giant stems gradually unfurling, reaching out and up towards the two suns that burn brightly in the sky. But they also change shape, colour, even material; they are like translucent skin, and then they blush from white to pink to purple, then grey and slowly harden until they are metallic. All of this movement constantly going on, so nothing is still in the city, and she is even aware of the in-and-out breathing of the buildings, of all the creatures in it. She is even acutely aware of the air, which brushes against her skin as if finding her out, and the ground beneath her feet.

She dreams she is flying above this city and then beyond, above landscapes, mountains and exploding volcanoes and forests of all kinds, deep and lush and full of noisy, bustling life. She dives into a great blue ocean and swims beneath the waves, surrounded by abundant multi-coloured fish. Everything in this world is alive; each thing that is alive is an idea or thought, and she experiences a rush of connection to it as if she is joined to each living molecule by an invisible force, a molecular umbilical cord. Each coupling rewards her with pleasure, the way the birth of an idea is pleasurable. With each connection, there is a flood of information. She is immersed and in absolute bliss. Then, suddenly, she is overwhelmed by the world rushing at her. She has a desperate, suffocating need to breathe. She panics and fights to the surface of the waves, gasping for breath, and the dream ends.

Then she is dreaming again. It is something that makes no sense to her: ivory white feathers, are they? Or decorations on the back of some elaborate dress. Strings of oily beads, azure and purple and pearly white, threaded together to form wings. She opens her eyes and suffers a tremendous sense of loss. She wants to go back into the magical dream. She closes her eyes again and wills herself back to sleep, back to the place where she saw the lovely things and felt blissfully happy. But she cannot go. There is a wall of consciousness, a wall of reality blocking her. At once she is angry, and she searches for a place to put her anger. She sits up and looks at the dog who is watching her from the other side of the chamber.

‘I was dead,’ she says. The dog says nothing. ‘I definitely died.’ The dog is still. It doesn't even blink. She is angry. Absolutely exasperated. ‘Talk,’ she says. ‘Bloody say something. Speak!’ The dog comes to her after a moment, ears slightly back, submissive, and puts its chin on the bed by her hands. ‘You are not a dog,’ she says. The dog lets out an imperceptible whine and tries to nuzzle her hand.

Then she does wake up.

The three-wicked candle burns dimly in the room, although it may have brightened as she opened her eyes. She can't see the dog. She gets up to go and find him, but she realises before she sees him where he is.

2

learning to light lamps

‘M

Y NAME IS ISOBEL. I just remembered that,’ she says.

A name is important.

‘There are lots of gaps.’

It will come back to you.

They are walking again. She is no longer holding the lamp. It is hovering before them, lighting the way as they walk.

‘Is this real?’ she asks.

Some of it.

‘You are protecting me.’

Yes.

‘Why?’

I am trying to gauge what you can handle.

‘But why are you helping me at all?’

It is a long story.

‘How long is this tunnel?’

About a month long.

‘We have time then. For the story.’

It is a very long story.

‘You can tell me it in dreams. You are manipulating my dreams, aren't you?’

Yes.

‘You are changing me.’

Yes.

‘You want me to find my way to you. I didn't even think that myself.’

It's not that simple. You and I are connected. That is normal where I come from. I was trying to explain.

‘The city in my dream...’

Yes.

‘How do I know if I want this? If the me before you recreated me would want this?’

You were dead. Does it matter?

‘I think it does matter.’

I will take you on a journey to find the person you loved and lost. Is that not what you want?

‘I've no idea.’

Yes, you do. You dream about it.

‘I do? I don't remember those dreams.’

You only remember what you can bear.

I am happiest when I am asleep, she thinks. My dreams are more real than reality. I am more alive in my dreams.

Her dreams are full of colour and people. In her dreams, which she mostly forgets when she wakes, she laughs; she does normal things. There's daylight and there are buildings and ordinary domestic objects; furniture, windows, doors, plates, clothes, and technology. In the tunnel, there are only the smooth stone walls. There's the darkness ahead, the lamp and the dog. She becomes anxious, as time passes.

When she is awake she walks along for hours saying to herself over and over, ‘I am dead, I am dead, I must be dead.’ Periodically there is the calm response from the dog: You are very much alive, he says. But she does not trust that voice. She shuts it out. ‘This is my madness speaking,’ she says. She retreats into sleep with a sense of relief. She begins to think that her dreams are reality and the tunnel is her one recurring dream, even though the dog has told her otherwise. Actually, because the dog has told her otherwise.

Then, after days of her thinking like this, the dog disappears. He has never been far away before. On this particular day, she walks and searches a few hundred yards up and down the tunnel, but she cannot find him. She's unsure what to do. She goes all the way back along the corridor to her previous sleeping place. She has travelled miles, and realises suddenly that she is hungry. She has left her food uneaten in the place where she slept. She sits down. She stands up. Where is the dog?

‘Where are you?’ she says aloud.

She repeats these words louder and louder until she is shouting. The sound is swallowed by the thick stone walls. She is buried and suffocated. She walks quickly back the way she has come. She starts to run; all the time the lamp flickers brightly in her hand. She notices it and stops and tries to blow it out. It is resistant to her breath. Finally, it goes out, and she is standing in intense darkness.

For a long moment, she stands still in the dark, breathing heavily from the effort of running, her heart beating through her chest, blood pulsing in her head. The lamp reignites and the tunnel is lit again. She throws the lamp away from her. It ought to shatter on the floor. It is made of clay, after all. Somehow it rolls and rights itself, still burning.

‘No,’ she says. ‘No, no, no, no.’

She folds to the ground, sobbing like a wounded animal. She curls up on the tunnel floor. She senses the cold smooth stone against her skin.

‘If I am dead, then I cannot be dreaming. Let these dreams stop. Let there be darkness and nothing.’

She lies on the floor and cries like a child, foetally curled, grieving for some terrible thing that has happened which she cannot bear to remember. Her bare arm is numb and cold. Her stomach rumbles loudly. I am hungry, she thinks, surprised because surely the dead can't be hungry?

Unsteadily she gets to her feet, retrieves the lamp and starts to walk back to the place where she left the food. It is still there, the bowl and the cup. The many-wicked candle that lights the room is still burning, but the dog is nowhere to be seen.

‘I don't want to be alone. Don't leave me alone,’ she says out loud to no one.

The dog's voice is not in her head. There are only her own thoughts. They are too loud. She sits down to eat the food, which is good and, incomprehensibly, still warm. After this, she is exhausted and she goes to the little bed, lies down, and falls immediately into a deep sleep.

I am here. She hears the voice clearly like it is in the room. It wakes her and when she wakes she expects to see the dog sitting beside her, but the room is empty. She is stung by disappointment when she realises she must have heard the voice in her dream. She sits up, wrapped in bedclothes.

‘I don't want to be alone,’ she repeats.

You are not alone. I am here, the voice says.

She gets up quickly and goes out into the tunnel. There is nothing in either direction.

‘Where? Where are you? I can't see you.’

Come to me. You must come and find me.

The lamp blows out. Once again she is in total darkness. She waits long seconds for the lamp to light itself. She realises with a shock that, for it to be as dark as it is, all the candles in the room behind her must have gone out too. Her eyes are open, but the darkness is absolute, sucking. She is disorientated, and feels a kind of vertigo. She reaches out her hand in front of her, but there is nothing there. She takes a step forward; still nothing. She swings around wildly

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