I figure we could all use a distraction right about now. So, I’m going to share the whole first chapter of Echoes of Another with you, right here, right now.
Chapter One: RAY
Ray stepped out of the shadows of his apartment block and shivered in the cold.
The sky was beryl blue and clear. The sun was just high enough over the horizon to send brilliant beams of light skittering across the snow, making it sparkle like diamonds. Drifts and rooftop snows had begun to evaporate, wraith mists gently rising into the air.
He tugged his coat collar a little higher. If he had to guess, he figured it was about twenty degrees below freezing. Not so bad, especially for the first week of January, but he knew the buildings lining the downtown could sometimes funnel the cold wind until it howled.
“Summon,” he said, enjoying the way his words formed plumes and floated away. The snow squeaked under his feet as he shifted the weight of his short, stocky frame from one to the other nervously. Several anxious moments passed before a single-seater pod emblazoned with the Toronto Transit Commission logo glided around the corner and stopped in front of him. He calmed down a bit, grateful the transponder he’d pickpocketed actually worked. The door opened, and he climbed into the small patch of warmth. There were no controls or amenities, just a thinly cushioned seat showing its age, a restraint that automatically clamped across his lap as soon as he sat down, and a hard, bioplastic dashboard with nothing on it other than an embedded screen. A small heater under the chair blasted hot air at his shoes. There was room enough for him and not much else. His sun visor fogged over from the abrupt change in temperature when the door closed, but he ignored the sudden blurriness, knowing it would clear on its own shortly.
“Destination?” the pod asked, startling him. He’d been expecting to have to tap in a station.
“Uh, Edward. Go by way of Sheppard and Queen’s Park Flows please.”
The pod nav did a quick calculation. “Estimated arrival time, 7.3 minutes. Entertainment options?”
“Nothing, thanks,” he replied. He wouldn’t have known what to ask for, anyway. Besides, he wanted to look at the beautiful old university buildings as they zoomed past. Perhaps he’d catch a glimpse of that determined-looking woman with the light-brown hair he had seen there. It would be a good omen, and he needed one. He had a lot riding on getting everything right this morning. This job would change everything.
The pod accelerated, smooth and silent. There was hardly any traffic in his seedy neighbourhood, but as they approached the city core where the buildings were bigger and newer, the trickle of pods became a stream, and then a torrent. He tensed as his pod hurtled towards the major flow that would take him the rest of the way downtown. But the rushing vehicles adjusted, parting to reveal a pod-sized space into which they merged effortlessly. He looked at the dashboard and discovered that the screen showed him his position in real time. He marvelled at the thousands of pods pulsing like white blood cells through the arteries of the city.
Ray tried to relax into his seat, but he was too jittery, and the chair was rather hard and uncomfortable. The pod slowed a little as it neared his destination. Already, he could see people hurrying along the footpaths, their shoulders hunched against the cold. He wondered how many of them were tourists; most city natives knew to use the downtown’s underground paths in weather like this.
A familiar face flashed by the window. Startled, he spun around in his seat to look out the back.
“Emergency stop,” the pod replied.
Unfazed by the sudden change of plan, the pod decelerated and pulled carefully onto a footpath, its warning lights flashing brightly. Pedestrians walked around it but otherwise ignored both it and him. Ray wondered how often pods must have to make unplanned stops for it to be so unremarkable. He tumbled out of the pod and jogged back up along Bay Flow, rounding the corner in time to see the man he was looking for duck into an alley off Elm.
“Hey, Mick!” Ray shouted, running faster.
Mick was a tall man now; much different from the gangly, skinny teenager Ray remembered. Mick’s long legs and lithe frame meant he took rangy strides and had a fast pace. He was already halfway down the alley when Ray reached the entrance.
“Mick!” Ray shouted again.
Mick stopped and turned, frowning a little. His face broke into a wide, easy grin when he recognised Ray. He waited for him to catch up.
“Hey man,” Mick said, pushing a wayward lock of brown hair out of his eyes. He wore a couple of day’s growth of beard. “Look at you, all grown up. You’re a long way out of J-District, aren’t you?”
“I could say the same about you,” Ray replied, panting a little after his unexpected sprint. “What happened? You kinda disappeared on me.”
A drone dropped out of nowhere, stopping between them, hovering almost silently. It was big and black and unmarked, and it steamed like a dragon in the frigid air.
It flicked a scanner beam, long and red, a tongue, up the length of Mick, tasting him. Mick’s eyes widened in fear.
And then the drone exploded.
Kirkus Reviews is calling Echoes “A highly immersive and imaginative cyberpunk tale.” The future it depicts is one of hope and rationality. If you’re interested in reading more, I’ve got it as an ebook at a discounted price to help people stock up with cheaper distractions: Echoes of Another: A Novel of the Near Future. Paperback is now available and audiobook is coming soon.