Friday, 7 November 2014

Author spotlight / excerpt - Helia's Shadow (The Starlight Age #1) by K.C Neal

K.C. Neal

I am really excited to be able to share an excerpt from Part one of K.C Neal’s new Starlight Age Series Helia’s Shadow.

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Helia's Shadow Part One (The Starlight Age, #1)Synopsis: When the aliens arrived, they were hailed as the saviors of a dying Earth and dwindling human race. But the aliens didn't come to help. Now, one human girl's ingenious invention and one alien boy's awakened heart are humanity's last hope...

Nineteen years ago, aliens arrived on a barely habitable Earth with advanced technology and the promise of ensuring human survival in exchange for a place to settle. They were hailed as the saviors of humans and Earth.

Today, 16-year-old Helia wants two things in life: to step out of her over-protective mother's shadow and become an engineer, and to stop hiding her relationship with alien boy Kalo. But the world definitely isn't ready for a human-alien romance. And worse, the human-alien partnership is crumbling. Humans are arrested without explanation. Some of them are never seen again.

When the alien leader imprisons her mother on a false charge, Helia discovers the aliens never intended to help humans at all. Now, she must join forces with alien rebels. If she succeeds, humans have a chance at survival and she has a chance at love. If she fails, the dwindling human race dies out in slavery.

"[A]n amazing story filled with adventure and intrigue.... so full of action and emotions that you cannot help but be captivated. I highly recommend Helia's Shadow Part One to anyone who liked Divergent or The Hunger Games. Helia reminds me of strong heroines like Tris (Divergent) and Katniss (The Hunger Games), but she is her own amazing character." –Ivey Byrd (The Hopeless Reader review blog)

Excerpt from Helia’s Shadow Part One by K.C. Neal

Even without the newsfeed to report the forecast, today was obviously going to be a Good Air Day. There were no signs of storms or pollution clouds looming over the Outlands. During the worst storms, she’d have to follow the emergency protocol, sealing all doors and windows with the flexible strips that were provided to all citizens, and stay in until the Head Administrator of Environmental Quality broadcast a message that it was safe to come out. She could remember only three times that storms had come close enough to warrant a lockdown. Two of the storms had lasted a few hours. The third had raged for eight days. But today, only a faint ozone tang wafted past every so often, and for once the breeze was blowing the earthy scent of the decaying compost heaps away from this side of the city. Most of Haven’s air scrubber towers must be online for the air to smell this pristine. Maybe it was a good omen.

Ellerine glanced down at Helia. “How’s your arm? Any more numbness?”

Helia flexed her fingers. “A little bit earlier, but it’s gone.”

“You really should tell your mom it’s come back.” Ellerine was watching her, but Helia skirted her friend’s gaze.

“I will, but not now. She has enough on her mind with her new position. And Arrival Day. Besides, it’s not bad, just irritating. Nothing like the episodes I had as a kid.”

“Then you’ll tell her after Arrival Day?” Ellerine said pointedly, not at all apologetic.



“Swear I will. She’ll probably confine me to my room for a month.” Helia gave Ellerine a mock scowl and bumped her arm with her elbow. “Do you know where you’re going to watch the Arrival Day speeches?”

“Yeah, Kimiko’s. Raeka, Monty, and Tylen are going—probably some others too.”

“Ah, Monty.” Helia lowered her lids cloyingly at Ellerine, whose cheeks pinked. “I’m sorry I’ll miss out.”

She envied Ellerine’s freedom. Unlike Helia’s mother, Ellerine’s parents rarely objected when their daughter wanted to be with friends or go to a different part of the city.

“Why?” Ellerine said. “I wouldn’t be sorry if I were you. You’re so lucky—I’d love to have entry to the live event. Plus, you have to go. Kalo will be there.”

Helia let her gaze roam to the Talan cityship. It was both the vessel that brought the Talans to Earth and their home now that they’d settled here. It sat apart from nearby Haven structures, a lone monolith. Kalo was in there somewhere. She shook her head. “He’s not going to be thinking of me on Arrival Day. He’ll be busy with official business. We’ve only seen each other a few times since the academic term ended and he joined Tal-Reku’s Council.”

“Oh, I bet he’ll be thinking of you,” Ellerine said in a knowing tone. “Arrival Day was the first time you met.”

“Ha. Not exactly.”

“Okay, your eyes met. And your hands.” Ellerine was grinning now.

Helia laughed. “You’re making way too much of it. I was, what, six years old? Kalo was already the equivalent of a teenager.”

“He winked at you. I was right there. I saw it. And later, when you let go of your mom’s hand and just about took a nosedive off the stage, he pulled you back.” Ellerine was starting to build up some steam. She lifted her palms to the sky and raised her eyes. “A Talan boy reaching out to a little Earthborn girl. It was historic, Helia. The symbolism, the innocence of it—it touched people, it changed the way Earthborns viewed Talans.” She dropped her hands and gave Helia an earnest look. “That picture of the two of you gets pulled out of the archives at least once a year, for grit’s sake. You have to admit it’s a big deal. Talans and Earthborns never touch each other. And now the two of you have . . . whatever it is that’s going on between you, and it’s almost like—” She flicked the back of her hand against Helia’s arm a couple of times, her eyes wide and bright. “You know what it’s like? A modern day Romeo and Juliet!”

Helia grabbed Ellerine’s wrist and pulled it down to her side. “Shh!” she hissed.

If only she could allow herself to get swept up in Ellerine’s exuberance. Instead, she peered at the citizens nearby, watching for any reaction or sign that someone had overheard. It wasn’t against the Treaty, but . . . Talans and Earthborns didn’t mix. Not like that, anyway.

“Don’t worry, no one heard—” Ellerine started but left off midsentence. Helia followed her gaze to the commotion that had drawn her attention.

They were still a few blocks away from the Research Center, but citizens were streaming toward it. Many more than usual for this time of morning. Several of them were running.

Helia squinted. “What’s going on?” She pulled out her folio just as Ellerine did the same.

Ellerine was faster. “Newsfeeds have updated.”

They both picked up their pace, jogging and watching their folios at the same time.

An upbeat story about the progress of the Starlight technology transfer, delivered by an Earthborn feedcaster, began to autoplay. Helia canceled it and switched to the daily reports reel, which had just finished. She restarted it.

Production at the lunar Helium-3 processing plant was up sixteen percent over last month. Helia grimaced. The rise was probably due to the recent increase of people sent to the lunar prison. The ration forecast had slipped 0.7 since yesterday, down to 72.4 days. The estimated global environmental toxicity index was steady at 8.5. The Haven air quality forecast was Good to Very Good. She waited impatiently as the rest of the daily report numbers scrolled by.

Finally, a male Talan feedcaster came on to deliver the crime and security report, including the arrests from the last twenty-four hours. There were forty-three in all.

Forty-three takings?

Helia switched over to another reel, which listed the arrests in alphabetical order by last name. First there was a mug shot of a teenage girl with a dirt-smudged face, wild hair, and coarse features that marked her as an Outlander. Text flashed under her picture showing her name, age, and the crime she was accused of. Unauthorized attempted entry into Haven. Probably a red-handed taking, where the criminal was caught in the act and sucked up into a sentry ship like a drop of water through a straw.

No doubt the girl would get sentenced to the moon to do labor at the Helium-3 refinery. A flash of pity tightened Helia’s chest. Outlanders shouldn’t trespass. They should know better by now.

A few more pictures of Outlanders flashed across the screen; then came a face that nearly caused Helia to drop her folio.

“Oh no,” she whispered.

It was Madel Flume, Head Administrator of Food Production and Distribution, and a close friend of her mother’s. Her crimes included three counts of conspiring to violate the Talan-Earthborn Treaty and one count of conspiring with known enemies of Haven.

Enemies of Haven . . . ? Helia had never heard the phrase before.

She and Ellerine slowed, mixing with the crowd gathered outside the Research Center’s main entrance and slowly funneling through the huge plexi doors. There would be a wait to get past security.

“What could a Head Admin do to get taken?” Ellerine stared at her folio as if it would answer her. “It’s hard to imagine. The Administration and the Talans have always worked so closely. It must have been something bad—really, really bad.”

“Not necessarily,” Helia said under her breath, remembering Gordon’s suspicions about the recent arrests.

Ellerine swiveled her stare to Helia, her eyes so wide the whites showed around her irises. “Why would you say that? Tal-Reku has never imprisoned someone without just cause.”

Helia gave a small shake of her head. “Later.”

She tuned into her folio again, just in time to see Professor Hale’s mugshot. It set off a queasy wave of confusion and sadness that curled through her stomach. Again, there was the unfamiliar charge: conspiring with enemies of Haven.

Ellerine gasped. “I can’t believe it. Gordon was right. But . . . Professor Hale?”

Helia tapped the shoulder of a woman ahead of her. “What’s going on? Why is everyone rushing over here?”

“Two entire domicile complexes had their residents’ folios crash just as the feeds updated. There was some panic, probably over the number of takings,” the woman said. She wore a light brown maintenance uniform and cap. “They came here hoping to get more information, I’m guessing.”

Nearly everyone outside the Center had their folios out as they waited, but now Helia noticed that some were listening to the day’s news while others were swiping at their folios in frustration or peering over at someone else’s. She rose to her toes and jumped a couple of times, trying to see inside the Center. Past the security stations, a huge wallscreen showed the newsfeeds all day. A few dozen people were gathered under it, heads tilted back, watching.

On her own folio, the Talan feedcaster was only a third of the way through the list of new takings. Helia half-turned, trying to listen to the report and take in the low chatter around her. She caught snippets of hushed conversations.

“. . . she was taken. She didn’t seem like a criminal. But Tal-Reku would order someone arrested only if it were truly warranted . . .”

“The Talans say they’ll power up the Starlight system by year’s end. You know they’ve been saying that . . .”

“. . . just read the new long-term ration forecasts, they don’t line up with previous calculations, but maybe . . .”

“. . . Tal-Reku will come through for us. We’d be dead without the Talans.”

The crowd continued to grow behind them but narrowed to a single-file line ahead at the Center entrance. Ellerine and Helia moved with the group, lining up and taking slow steps forward.

Helia glanced up as they drew closer to the entrance. The sign high over the doors read:

Cooperative Research Center

Leading the way into the bright future of the Starlight Age, together

The Starlight Age was the period since the Talan Arrival, named for the technology the aliens had brought with them. The Talans had explained that it used the light of faraway stars to generate energy, but they had remained secretive about exactly how it worked. Supposedly, once it was established on the scale the Talans envisioned, it would be powerful enough to clean up Earth to better than its pre-War state.

Her mother had told her that long ago, before the Final War and the Collapse, the Research Center was called the National Center for Advanced Energy Studies. Generations later, when the surrounding area became the city of Haven, it was changed to the Haven Center for Science and Research. The sign had been changed again soon after the Arrival, in a ceremony Helia had been too young to remember but had watched in the city’s vid archives.

She looked up again. The word together was larger and etched with facets that made the letters sparkle when viewed from the right angles. She’d never realized it before, but the tagline seemed quaint somehow.

She turned away from the sign and toward the pristine white cityship and the curls of smoke from Outlander cooking fires in the distant foothills beyond. Was Kalo in the cityship with Tal-Reku right now? She tried to imagine him discussing official business with the imposing, crinkle-skinned alien leader.

Someone inside the Center cried out, and Helia turned back to the doors as a murmur spread from inside to those waiting outside.

She raised herself to her tiptoes again, craning her neck. “What’s going on? Why did that woman scream?”

A man in a white lab coat up ahead turned. “She just learned her daughter was taken this morning,” he called over the din of the crowd.

Helia looked down at her folio, and Ellerine’s arm pressed against her shoulder as they watched. There was a mug shot of a curly-haired young woman not much older than them. Her face was familiar. When Helia read her name—Naura Veng—she remembered. The girl had graduated in the class two years ahead of theirs and now worked under the Head Administrator of Air Quality and Renewal. She vaguely recalled Gordon mentioning her name a couple of times.

Helia and Ellerine exchanged a long glance.

“She’s barely out of school,” Ellerine whispered.

Helia blew out a slow breath through pursed lips. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

When it was their turn to go inside, Helia went first. She picked up her folio on the other side of security and moved forward to wait for Ellerine under the only decoration in the entry, a plexi plaque that was dedicated to Dr. Lander Schiff. He’d been her mother’s mentor and one of the most renowned scientists in Haven’s history. He’d disappeared not long after the Talan Arrival.

Her folio dinged.

It was a text comm from Gordon: Still think everything’s going to go back to normal?

She frowned at his message. He was so smug sometimes. But she couldn’t deny that his suspicions seemed more and more warranted. She wrapped one arm around her stomach. Her insides felt like they’d been laced up and pulled too tight.

About the authorMost of K.C. Neal's days are filled with some combination of writing, reading, gardening, working, and watching stuff on Netflix with her maltipoo, Oscar. She has an irrational fixation with L.A., and during occasional trips there she pretends her life is more glamorous than it really is ("Entourage" is her guilty pleasure). She likes to surf and hang out on sandy beaches, especially where drinks are served adorned with tiny umbrellas.

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