No title, no cover. Just know this. It’s ambitious, which can mean good and bad things.
Here are some excerpts (from what is not the final draft), so you can get a feel for where I’m heading:
It was mid-April, so la plage des Hattes hadn’t gotten busy just yet; it wouldn’t start filling with visitors until the rains started coming. There were a few hikers with tattered packs heading toward the western horizon, but other than that just a three mile strip of unlittered sand fringed by palms and low lush greenery. To the north was the Atlantic, over five hundred miles east of the Caribbean. To the west, across the muddy Maroni River, was the gentrified Eco-Republic of Suriname, where you could see some of the same sights as in French Guiana, but for three times the cash.
Riley Crouch was surprised that they even still had any ecological sights to see across the river, that the well-heeled tourists hadn’t scared the animals away and repurposed half the forest for ultraluxe treehouses.
It wouldn’t take much for the Dutch-speaking turtles to switch over to the next beach to the left, would it?
He waited as the sun started to set; nighttime was best.
Riley had promised himself that he’d never fail to savor the purple and orange of the sunsets. When he’d overwintered in Rothera as part of the sovereignty project — a bunch of uni students manning the evergreen dome — there were months where at most you’d get some dark purple around lunchtime, from a sun that was giving you a small speck of daylight from its place below the horizon. British Antarctica had been bad; French Guiana was paradise.
It wasn’t long before he saw the first one, a leatherback turtle that was almost two meters long. She slowly moved along the sand, up from the water’s edge.
Riley felt like he was watching something ageless; sea turtles like her had been coming to beaches like la plage des Hattes for over a hundred million years. There would have been soft-shelled ancestors of that mother turtle laying eggs in the age of the dinosaurs. That made the Westbury White Horse look like it had been scraped out last week.
He sat quietly and watched with his infrared glasses as the turtle crafted her nest in the sand, swiping and digging with her front flippers.
He’d set his glasses to record; he wanted not just to have the video, but to share it with everyone he knew. Sometimes it felt like his coworkers at the Guiana Space Centre never actually took any time away from work to see the beauty of the area. Maybe this would get them out. Maybe it would get Suzanne to join him sometime in July or August, when the eggs finally start to hatch.
He felt at peace, like everything he’d ever done was what should have been, since it had brought him there, to that beach, to that perfect moment.
He felt a hand grab him by the shoulder, pulling him back and down. His head hit the sand behind him.
His glasses were torn off his face.
More hands, at least four — maybe six –pulling at his clothing, removing his shirt, his shoes and socks. And finally his pants. Everything except his black boxer briefs.
They started dragging him along the sand, toward the water. He tried to fight back, but they held him by his elbows and two hands grasping his head.
He was in the water now, his legs wet up to his knees.
They pushed his head under the waves.
And held him under.
He held his breath, but eventually he couldn’t hold it any more, and he sucked in the salt water. He couldn’t get back up to the surface; he couldn’t stop what was coming.
Riley Crouch eventually stopped fighting.
Well, that was awkward… so here’s some more:
There’s a little section of quiet in Battery Park, where, like every few blocks in Manhattan south of Washington Heights, there’s a patch of ground at the bottom of a canyon of concrete and steel and oblivious New Yorkers looking down from great heights.
A metropol of thirty two million sets of eyes, but no one seems to notice you most of the time. Not that every piece of green in the city isn’t carpeted with your neighbors.
But somehow, that one section a few blocks off Ground Zero and the Hudson River ferries is still mostly a secret.
Anita Singhal sat in Teardrop Park as a sunny but not too hot Tuesday lunchtime turned into a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, sitting with a Hipster Mug of home-brewed Starbuck’s Dark Roast and the beat up fisherman’s creel she’d bought on goodwill at that market in Tribeca. She’d left her clutch and its tablet on the ferry again, and she figured based on past and well-worn experience that it could take until about eight or nine pm before she got it back.
She knew she should have brought along the goddamn wristwatch. Because she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing glasses.
No one would be able to get a hold of her now, at least not until she got back home.
Or to that other girl’s home.
Anita liked to pretend she lived in Manhattan, wordlessly, to the people she met or just walked by and ignored, but mostly to herself. That other girl, that puffy-eyed brown girl with the frizzy hair, she was the one who lived on Staten Island, and even that girl only lived there from the hours of as-late-in-the-evenings-as-possible to as-early-as-she-could-climb-out-of-bed.
That girl lives where they used to send all the garbage, where they now send those people — the Basics — the ones who are described as not much more than trash under most people’s breaths.
That girl isn’t Anita.
Anita Singhal is a Manhattan girl. She comes to life at Whitehall, stepping off the Staten Island Ferry in that crush of commuting beef cattle.
A Manhattan girl who refuses to accept that she’s turning fifty in less than a year. A forty-nine year old woman who’d left her tablet on the ferry for the millionth time.
Not really. She hadn’t done that.
It was that disheveled girl from Staten Island who’d lost it.
And some more:
There’s a remoteness to Cape Churchill that you come to appreciate. It’s a patch of land with short, crooked trees and more grass than you’d expect for the “barren” tundra. In a month or so there’d even be carpets of white and purple flowers poking up through the grass, leaving only the occasional outcrops of rugged gray rock to remind you that you aren’t in some field in central Illinois.
People talk about places like northern Nevada or the middle of Montana — or every square inch of Iowa — as being the middle of nowhere, but Cape Churchill, on the southwest corner of Hudson Bay, is actually set squat in the center of nothing.
That’s what Jared Koskela would call it. Not the middle of nowhere, since that’s too cliched and overdone.
It’s the center of nothing.
And the center of something very important, if you’re into the idea of cutting-edge tech and saving the planet.
That’s what Jared Koskela wants to do.
And he wants to look good doing it.
So he’d gone into the town of Churchill for a haircut. He had a few hours to kill before the next test. “Next test” sounded good, better than “The Test”, which would make it feel that much worse when it fails.
Churchill, Manitoba is a funny mix of tourist trap and subarctic favela, and Jared had the distinct feeling that if it wasn’t for the resurgence of polar bears — now that the temperatures were back to mean — the entire vicinity would be coated in stray dogs.
But May isn’t polar bear season, and it isn’t beluga season, either. May in Churchill is known locally as the “why the hell is it still winter” season, and Jared had still been wearing his winter parka wherever he went.
He knew that his thick blue jacket shouted American way more than his Chicago accent. If it had been any later in the year, people would have mistaken him for a tourist. And charged him accordingly.
But Jared managed to get the unwritten local rate at the salon in the boutique hotel, despite being in the gray area between local and walking money tree.
And the hairdresser was pretty cute, too, despite her goofy look with the half-shaved head on one side and the long blonde comb-over the flopped down on top of the stubble.
All in a perfectly good Tuesday, until he ran into Rachael on the way out, through the lobby.
She was looking done up, her dark hair styled down and straight, her eyelashes plumped with mascara. She looked for once like she wasn’t working, like she had somewhere fun to be.
Jared was tempted to ask her about it.
“No time for your bullshit,” she said as she walked by.
She stopped and turned back to look at him. “Was that too harsh?”
“You working tomorrow?” he asked her.
She rolled her eyes at him.
“So I’m just headed out to do the big test,” he said.
She glared at him. It was like she was telling him he should have led with something more interesting, while also letting him know he shouldn’t have wasted her time to begin with.
“The rocket.” She’d been into all of that before. Or at least she’d told him she was. The thing was one step below a state secret, and he’d wanted to impress her…
Before he’d known that she’d been keeping tabs on all of it already…
“Good to know,” she said. And started walking again.
He wasn’t about to chase after her. Assuming that’s what she wanted.
He didn’t understand her. Not in the least.
He had a feeling she knew that. That she’d cultivated that.
Jared’s older sister had always promised him that he’d understand girls well enough to drive them up the wall. That he’d know exactly what to do to get a rise out of them, good or bad.
And she’d been right. Right up until Rachael Duck.
So this is coming out later this year, just like that book about Persephone’s sister Iris. Book Five of After The Fires Went Out comes after that.
And then I will take a vacation from using my imagination.