Extract / Preview: Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

CB - AR - Nov - Mythmaker

ONE

I savoured the sunrise from the eastern butte. Today’s was extraordinary: splashes of molten gold as if the sun had dripped burning liquid on the plains. The sand and the silhouette of the distant western ranges gained colour with each moment, turning pale pink like the chest feathers of the cheeky galahs that swept the plains. The mulla-mulla was in flower too after a recent rain –a carpet of deep purple.
Birrimun Park: the last natural habitat in the world.
My father gave his life to this place, and, if it came down to it, so would I. Birrimun was the only place in the world that I felt whole, and sane, which was why I was about to accept a deal with my previously estranged mother and give up my work as park ranger to become her spy.

 

*
I sighed loud enough that my horse, Benny’s, ears flicked back at me. Perhaps that was an overly dramatic summation of my current situation, but then life had taken some dramatic turns of late. Not so long ago, Nate Sixkiller of the US Marshal Service had joined Parks Southern as my colleague. I hadn’t welcomed the coupling, but I was beginning to tolerate it a little better than at first. I worked better alone, and so, I decided, did he.

Together, he and I were supposed to be assisting the Global Joint Intelligence Commission (GJIC) in their preparation to halt some kind of Other Worldly coup.

You heard me right. Other World! I felt ridiculous even thinking the words, but proof of its existence was visible in the fresh scars I had on my shoulder, neck, and back. Nate Sixkiller called the creatures that had attacked me Mythos. According to him, the park was the breakthrough point for them to our world. He also said they came in different forms, but I was yet to witness that.

So what did they want here?

Maybe after my induction into GJIC, I’d know more. At the moment, I could only speculate based on my experiences and some old essays written by my dad. As well as being the ranger in the south east sector before me (and the key figure in the original Preserve the Land campaign), he’d loved to keep journals. Some of his essays had even found their way online and, according to my mother, into the hands of the wrong people. GJIC believed that the Mythos had a human faction, called Korax, working to help them.

And Korax were using Dad’s ideas.

Dad’s theory was simple. Dictate the world’s mythologies and you control the people. That’s what the Mythos was trying to do and that’s what we had to stop. But dictate the world’s mythologies was some kind of concept to get your head around. What did it even mean? And these Mythos…I mean, where did they come from? How did they get here? Were they from another realm? An alternate reality? Or some other equally implausible domain?

I still had some of Dad’s journals to read. Maybe they would offer me more insight –if I could keep them out of the hands of my mother, Commander OceaneOrlean and GJIC.

My phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket and answered it.

“Look back down the trail,”said a familiar voice.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw Marshal Nate Sixkiller at the foot of the butte, astride the rangy, skittish Sombre Vol. He beckoned me.

“What?”I said into the phone.

“Came to escort you in,”he replied, in exactly the gallant kind of manner that pissed me off.

“You mean you’re watching me?”

“I mean, there’s someone waitin’to talk to you on video link.”

I sighed again. It’d be dark soon, and putting off this conversation wouldn’t change the outcome. It was time to go back to the rest of the world.

Benny nickered as I climbed on her back, and she set off down the trail without even a nudge from me. Part average nag, part racehorse, part endurance and speed-augmented bio-mech, my horse also seemed to be able to read my mind. We’d been in a few tight spots lately and she’d never let me down, but taking on this new job meant less time together in the wide open spaces of Birrimun. And frankly, that sucked.
By the time Benny’s hooves hit level ground, Sixkiller had already turned his horse south in the direction of the stables. On impulse, I urged Benny on to catch him. As I drew level, he tipped his ten gallon hat and gave Vol his head. The not-so gelded gelding exploded forwards, legs pumping.

Benny stayed with him for most of the way, but in the final stretch past the public entry in the park wall to the windmill and semi-circle of palms that marked our way back to the stables, Sombre Vol drew right away. Though eating Vol’s dust, it was thrilling to see the horse at full stretch. Sixkiller crouched low in the saddle against the sunset, hat somehow magically glued to his head. His body moved in unison with his horse, and, for the first time since we’d met, I felt outright admiration. The man could truly ride. And the horse could truly run.

Vol had been due to go back to the suppliers on account of no one being able to ride him –until now. Sixkiller had requested a stay on that decision, and I was glad. My boss was pretty enamoured with Marshal Sixkiller and had approved the request. That is, my old boss…my new boss was waiting to talk to me on the other side of the Interchange.

Sixkiller dismounted and stood by Sombre Vol’s shoulder, waiting for me. The horse heaved, sucking in air, but his ears were forwards and his eyes bright.

“No need to show off now, Marshal,”I said, sliding off Benny to join him.

Nate Sixkiller was as tall as me with a ton more muscle, stronger, wider shoulders, and a leaner waist. His hair fell dead straight to his shoulders, and his expression was stamped stern. A man who’d seen things that had sucked the spontaneity from his life: a serious man.

I didn’t mind that. Guess I was kinda serious too, and in some ways a lot less well socialised than him. Nate Sixkiller knew how to produce manners and a certain charm when required. That charm could be cowboy-folksy or urbane and refined, depending on his mood and the company.

I struggled with time-squandering etiquette. To me it just seemed pointless. In his journal, my dad had put my matter-of-fact and direct nature down to not having a mum around when I was growing up. Having recently met my mother, I didn’t think it would’ve made a whole lot of difference.

It was her that I had to speak to now.

“You just got beat, Ranger.”He was using his laconic cowboy drawl on me, and I curled my upper lip at it.
Sixkiller had grown up on the plains somewhere in Oklahoma, been educated in the North East of the United States at a Little Ivy college, and latterly employed by the Marshal Service to work the East Coast. He was a chameleon, switching between personas at will: plainsman, gentleman, lawman.

“I don’t call it getting beat when the game is rigged,”I retorted. “Out here you only win when the playing field’s level. You had a head start.”

He tucked his hair behind his ears. “Mebbe you’d best come out West, one day. Find out how real people live.”

“You putting me on notice, Marshal?”

He gave a rare grin.

I just began thinking about how it enlivened his face, when the smile dissolved.

“What’s wrong?”I asked.

A high-pitched and piercing cry above us sent my skin pimpling as hard as if I was standing naked in a winter gale. Only it was still summer. And there was no wind.

We both turned back to face the park. Most of the colour had bled from the sky. The night had crept up on us like an ink spill, and stars were beginning to pop through.

“Is it Mythos?”I barely breathed.

An image rose unbidden in my mind of the enormous crow that had attacked me out by the Paloma station house. I’d nearly bled to death from its scratches, saved only by an infusion of Marshal Sixkiller’s blood.

“Sounds like it,”said Sixkiller. He cocked his head to the side, and I felt him looking at me.

We listened, side by side, for a while, but the cry bled away into the dark and wasn’t repeated.

“We should go out there and see,”I said.

He grabbed my wrist with strong fingers. “No. We should take this meeting. Whatever’s coming, it won’t be tonight.”

“How do you know that?”I said.

“Likely it’s an echo,”he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Sometimes they leave behind an echo of themselves. Sometimes it’s a precursor to them coming.”He’d suddenly lost his cowboy drawl and his educated Eastern voice took over.

“How do you tell which it is?”

“You can’t. But only a few of us can hear echoes.”

I grimaced. “So we’re the lucky ones?”

“Well, let’s just say that your mom was right about you.”Sixkiller spoke quietly, with no malice intended, but I was already primed with fear and ready to displace it, so I bit at him.

“You’ve been discussing me with her?”

“Yer always so full of it, Ranger?”The drawl returned, and I suddenly realized it was his defence against hard questions and antagonism. “Anyways, I’d be bettin’yer did the same ’bout me,”he added.

His reply took some of the steam out of my anger. And I knew I should let it. Sixkiller wasn’t my enemy. Neither was he my friend. But he was a colleague. We were in a partnership for the moment, and I had to make it work. He shared my love of the land and that counted for a whole lot.

“Only in the most glowing terms,”I said, forcing a smile.

“Yer nose is growin’,”he joked in reply. “Truth is, I’ve seen a full profile on you, and now yer working with GJIC you’ll see one on me. In this job, you gotta know yer partner enough to trust ’em.”His tone was insistent.

“You got skeletons, Marshal?”I asked softly.

“More ‘n’worse than most,”he said. “Come on. The boss doesn’t like to wait.”

 

***

You can read more on MYTHMAKER on our Jul-Dec 15 Angry Robot Books page or our October New Book Recommends.

And there’s more extracts from our pick of titles – you can see in order of most recent in our EXTRACTS ARTICLES CATEGORY,  and below in order that we put them out!

DAVE VS THE MONSTERS: EMERGENCE – John Birmingham
SKY PIRATES – Liesel Schwarz
BLOOD RED CITY – Justin Richards
RADIANT STATE – Peter Higgins
THE SUMMONER – Taran Matharu
MARKED – Sue Tingey
BETE – Adam Roberts
FOUL TIDES TURNING – Stephen Hunt
STEEPLE – John Wallace
CRASHING HEAVEN – Al Robertson
BENEATH LONDON – James Blaylock
OUR LADY OF THE STREETS – Tom Pollock
CAUSAL ANGEL – Hannu Rajaniemi
YOUR SERVANTS AND YOUR PEOPLE – David Towsey
THE SEVENTH MISS HADFIELD – Anna Caltabiano
DETECTIVE STRONGOAK AND THE CASE OF THE DEAD ELF – Terry Newman
THE RELIC GUILD – Edward Cox
FOXGLOVE SUMMER – Ben Aaronovitch
THE MOON AND THE SUN – Vonda McIntyre
PATH OF GODS – Snorri Kristjansson
TIME SALVAGER – Wesley Chu
REGENERATION – Stephanie Saulter
THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS – Edgar Cantero
THE RETURN OF THE DISCONTINUED MAN – Mark Hodder
THE MARTIAN – Andy Weir
KOKO THE MIGHTY – Kieran Shea
THE UNNOTICEABLES – Robert Brockway
IF/THEN – Matthew de Abaitua
THE SAND MEN – Christopher Fowler
THE DRAGON ENGINE – Andy Remic
YOUR RESTING PLACE – David Towsey
THE NIGHT CLOCK – Paul Meloy
MYTHMAKER – Marianne de Pierres