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First pages

– Earth –

The stars brought life to the planet, and the stars destroyed it.

– The Sands –

It was ash on fingertips, and vast. Stepping upon it gave the impression that it had come not from below, crafted and refined and buffed by millions of years of wind slicing against rock, but rather from above; that perhaps it had drifted down and settled here. The layers undulated from an inch to hundreds of feet thick. Red storms swept and swirled, colouring the atmosphere with grains so light it took days until the air became clear again: shifting from bloodshot and murky to a jaundiced yellow, the sepia sun somewhere above the thick cloud-layer.

When the veins of sand shifted and the hills crumbled into flakes; when tracks were swept clean by the hands at the end of the wind’s embrace; secrets long hidden, landmarks long lived, came and went. A planet torn and sutured. Old wounds healed only to have older scars. The people left behind survived, somehow, within these wounds, something like maggots but not exactly – though they fed from what they found. They could only learn and feed from the revelations offered by the shifting sands, hoping for enough sustenance to last through the long, red storms to come.

Retreating upwards as birds once did, the fractals of sand became clearer: they were a web of capillaries. There was a subtle camber to the veins: hidden pipes whose vague shape could only be seen from above – an eight-pronged star. And here, on a very rare occurrence, a visible section where the sand was at a low swell. And something inside, swooshing, almost gushing. Where was this pipe from, and where was it going? What was inside?

But unmentioned and most obvious from this ghosthead-trip through the sky was the star’s beating centre; the one uninterrupted lightshow; the one sand-free oasis in this miasma of nothing. It stood like a dagger in the flesh of the planet, buried to the hilt, the handle reaching high into the sky. Rumours of its existence were fairy tales to the wanderers; some claimed to have seen it, and some had, though few had lived to tell their story.

– Sanctum –

– Calix –

He slipped, exhausted. The sand drew nearer and nearer to his face, and as he fell, he had time to appreciate the sudden give of weight from his shoulders, the stress released from his quads as they sang in joyful union. Or maybe that was just his heavy sigh higher in pitch than it should have been. He had time to ponder this and smile as his goggles, already stained red, filled his vision with darkening sand. His dim shadow relinquished as though saying “Enough is enough. I’ve carried you as far as I can carry you, Calix. We need to rest.” The shadow was aware of its own slim limitations beneath the ever-dense sky, the sun nothing but a celestial mole forever above the surface; one could lie and study the light in the day, watch as it teased the thick unyielding curtain from east to west, never breaking through.

Calix collapsed and turned his head to the left at the last second. The red nothing swallowed him, shifting and sliding down over him, powdery as the refined corn back at Sanctum. He groaned and spread his limbs to create the greatest possible surface area – a basic survival tactic taught to all the orphans – and rolled over onto his back, digging the baton-heel of his sand shoes deep to prevent sliding down any further.

“Calix, old friend.”

He dry swallowed and though the sand wasn’t coarse, he could feel it where the tongue descended down, back there; feel it sucking the saliva from the roof of his mouth and the underside of his tongue. How he hated the sand: its prescience; its hunger for life; how it was always able to find its way in and fuck things up. Fuck up engines. Fuck up filters. Fuck up his throat.

He let out a groan and then managed a smile. “You’re not real,” he said, and then laughed. “You’re not real, but you’re all I have, old friend,” and his laughter turned maniacal. “You’re all I have.”

The shadow said nothing.

“Don’t go M. I. A. on me, now.” Calix lay on the forty-five degree slope and shook his head from side to side, sliding it down into an indentation of its own creation. “Who else...” he started to ask with a croak; deeply, sadly, the dryness scratching his tonsils. He coughed and couldn’t finish his thought, though he was glad, in a way, not to have to say it out loud. His eyes struggled to stay open. Night was still a few hours away though his goggles suggested dusk had arrived. He coughed again, wincing, this time biting into the bandana around his mouth to stop it coming looser than it already was. Damn sand, he thought, feeling it coat his tongue. He pushed his tongue into the roof of his mouth to lock off his throat and took deep breaths through his nostrils.

It was said you could go crazy breathing this in. “Only shallow breaths,” was Kirillion’s advice. “You’ll go insane with bloodlust otherwise.” Calix coughed out a lungful of air, simultaneously running his tongue along the saliva gland at its base, and eventually his mouth moistened. He hacked and coughed again, offering his chapped lips rare freedom by removing his bandana to spit out as much red phlegm and spittle as possible. The sand drank it hungrily.

And now, sinking back into his hollow, he had the blood-iron flavour of the air burning the back of his tonsils like the sand never had. He supposed he’d never get used to it; the taste of a thousand – a million – who knew how many – scorched and vaporised bodies, and chemistry; from dust to dust, my father, O father; from dust to dust, an organic offering to the sun, to night, to all the other suns and their planets and their moons; this cocktail of dust that tasted and smelled like death. How could anyone ever get used to it?

I’m lying in it, he thought, and not for the first time. But what was a first came at him not like a red storm – rushing as though suddenly summoned at his side – but like hands in the night. I’m lying in them. All of them. And most penetratingly, and scarily, of all. I’m not alone. “It’s okay,” he whispered, and allowed their arms to take him down into the pit of his waiting dreams.

***

“From ash to blood to ash, we thank you. We remember you. We honour you as you honour us. From death you give us life, and from life we give you life again. Your face in our minds. Your soul resting and nourishing our hearts. Your being a part of us. Rest now in peace, become the earth at our feet once more, become the source from which all things grow. From ash to blood to ash, we thank you and bleed with you.” Kirillion lifted his head and revealed a streak of silent tears that disappeared into a dense beard. He placed a hand on the shoulders of two boys flanking him. For such a large man he had a soft touch. The boys looked up at him, waiting for his signal.

Calix waited.

The rest of the children waited.

The silent crowd waited.

Kirillion tilted his head to the neon strips of white light lining the top of the dome, dense dual-tracks separated by two metres of solarised glass from north to south, and nodded. The lights dimmed. Calix noticed Rafe’s subtle smile. Rafe had been the one to install what he called a low-powered inverter, using a flyback transformer that enabled them to control the light levels. A small success and one they had celebrated – as they did any small success – and Rafe was never shy of reminding them. During the long months of extended daylight, and what felt even longer months of extended night, they were better able to preserve power and keep the rhythm of their internal clocks true. Rafe caught Calix’s glance and straightened his smile, nodding to Calix, an accentuated grimness in his eyes.

Deven and Jayan, the two flanking boys, were released by Kirillion and stepped forward, towards Ziyad. As one went to the head and the other to the feet, Efa sobbed loudly from the back of the crowd. A few heads turned, and Calix thought he saw anger in some of them. Eyes returned to Ziyad, arms pulling the rag of their grey shawls tight across shoulders and chests. It was cold out here.

Ziyad lay wrapped from head to toe in a white shroud. His boyish outline was skeletal and naked underneath the accelerant fabric. Elbows jutted sharply from arms crossed over chest. The points of uncut toenails, or else retracted skin, were visible where the shroud fit tight over his feet. The whole of him, Calix thought, was wrapped too tight, like a straight-jacket. The thought fleeted past – the memory of a magic show he’d selected from the archives showing a wriggling, middle-aged escape artist coming back to him. He’d wriggled his way free. But Ziyad was dead.

Dead.

The word got stuck in his mind as he watched Deven and Jayan lift their friend to the platform. The deadness of him. Calix felt his heart begin to quicken. Suddenly he wanted the dead body to wriggle, to wrench free of the shroud. “Zi,” he uttered, not realising the extent of the tears falling from his eyes and the mucus building up in his nose, suddenly crying. “Zi...” he said. “Zi... get out, get free.”

“Ssshhh,” calmed Easton, who turned to pick him up and hold him in her arms. “It’s okay, ssshhh, it’s okay.”

Calix pressed his face into her neck, the rough hemp of her shawl scratching his chin. She smelled like salt and blood mixed together. She smelled like home. She smelled good. Wet-faced, he turned his head, noticing the sheen he’d created beneath her ears and whispering an apology.

He held tight as the ceremony continued. Ziyad was on the platform now, being raised to the top of the cylindrical decomposition unit. Streaks of light from above reflected in dashes and dented points down the side of its shaft. Tomorrow, Calix thought, it’ll be the leftovers. Today, it’s the dead.

The platform reached the peak. Today it was a tombstone it hovered over; a grave and living memorial to the dead that rose high in the agricultural sector. The body would tip – there it goes now watched Calix, tears returning – and land with a soft thud. Sometimes it squelched, but not today. If near empty, the body had a way to fall and had, on occasion, rang hollowly off the inside wall before landing hard on whatever organic material was currently rotting away, the bed a shallow one.

The accelerant worked quickly, activated by the surrounding heat that naturally irradiated, and worked quickly to break down the organic material so that it could be recycled in the Agridome. Given long enough, everything broke down. Only occasionally was a stray bone, a humorous say, stripped of meat and hollow of marrow, drawn out at the base of the unit. Dry and brittle, it minced easily with the rest of the compost material. Life went on.

***

Life had a way. Archival film showed things that were unbelievable. People outside in fields of green with blue skies above. Oceans in which the strangest alien things not only swam, but breathed. That anything could live under water; that water itself had covered so much of Earth: it was nothing but another one of the fairy tales told to them at bedtime. Even on film they had a dreamlike quality; vast, concrete cities, grids of grey with motorcars and people, so many millions, shoulder to shoulder as they marched leg to leg and thigh to thigh, hand in hand, fingers laced in a billion embraces. Why did the films lie? What was the point of it? All Calix had to do was press his face against the inside of the dome, look out, and know the films had no more truth to them than Bluebeard or Rumpelstiltskin. The way Kirillion talked about these films as though they were the most important things to remember; our history, our heritage. What heritage? Look out there, thought Calix. There’s no heritage here. “Your truth is a lie,” he said. “There’s no sand in any of those films.”

Kirillion laughed. He had a way of cutting you.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Calix growled and hammered the glass with a balled hand. He felt Kirillion’s hand on his shoulder.

“I’m not laughing at you, Calix.”

Calix turned. There was no mockery behind Kirillion’s eyes, bedded deep into his wrinkles. Kirillion’s beard had flecks of grey to match his trousers and jacket, and his shirt was black.

“You’re just unintentionally funny sometimes my little man. It’s a good thing,” he smiled. “Come on, it’s time to get inside.”

“How can you say those films are real?” He saw his boyhood reflection like a mirage against the wasteland of sand beyond; grim-faced even then with too-long black hair and rags with holes for limbs. “Those people don’t live in domes. There’s no sand, uncle.”

“You’re right, of course.” Kirillion stepped forward and bent down on his knees to meet Calix’s eyes. “But what’s more likely? That someone created those fake films? How? And for what purpose? Is it not good to believe in a better time and place, and that a better future is possible? Should we live like pigs in a desert forever?”

“I guess not.”

“There was a time when all those things we’ve seen in those films were real.” He put an arm around the boy and pulled him in close, saying with enthusiasm, “We have to believe, Cal. Believe in more. Believe in something or else we may as well just open the vents now and let the sand in and bury us like one of those snow domes in the films. This is real.” He took Calix’s hand and pressed its palm against the glass, putting his own hand above. “It’s real, as real as those films. As real as the hope that one day the sand will all blow away and we’ll find those cities, even if the concrete towers have all turned to dust themselves, like Ziyad in the D. C. Unit – we’ll see their footprints in the stone and we’ll know where to step again. Whatever annihilated us, it didn’t finish us off. Do you get it, Calix? We are still here. If this glass is still here, then there could be more out there.”

“It must’ve been a bad thing.”

“Terrible. But it didn’t win. And what do you think we do when we go out there?”

“Look for things.”

“Why?”

“To use them. Reuse them. Like Zi.” Calix swallowed.

“Yes. But also to reclaim what was taken from us.” Kirillion stood and Calix removed his hand from the glass. His sweated palm print remained. “Even on a day like today you’re learning, eh, Cal? Let’s get back inside.”

***

The day Ziyad lost his life he’d been looking for a new pair of glasses. They had a rack in the store room dedicated to lenses and frames – they were mix and match, and without an ophthalmologist in Sanctum it was a case of finding the lens that worked for you. Only Ziyad and Tansy, one of the chefs, actually needed glasses, a consequence perhaps of too much exposure to windswept sand, or just plain bad genetics.

It was here, down on level five, where Ziyad died. As he departed the lift he bumped into Calix who had been taking a stock count in the refrigerated section – six full pigs, one half-pig, two shoulders and a few off-cuts he didn’t know the name of.

“You on chore duty too?” asked Calix.

“Nah, broke my glasses. Had ‘em in my pocket while outside and forgot. Took off my mask and sat on ‘em at the same time.” Ziyad was five years older than Calix and short, even for a twelve-year-old.

“Shoot. Okay, well I gotta go see Linwood now.”

“Okay, Cal.”

The last Calix saw of Ziyad was his back retreating to the end of the storeroom where the lights had not yet activated. The lift doors clunked shut and the storeroom light became an extinguishing exclamation mark as it rose. As always, cool air from the ventilation system that ran adjacent to the lift shaft pumped inside the cage.

Rising, level five became four and the ventilation system could do nothing to dampen the mildly damp, dank scent of the fungi plantation. There in the darkness grew a variety of mushrooms, most of which still looked like they did inside the torn and tattered guidebook Calix had once flicked through – oysters and wine caps mostly, those were the best, but also ones near-translucent that had no official name in the book, Essa just called them ghost shrooms. These dried bitter, she said, but ground up (and she winked at him as she said this), “Well, a little of that in your flask and you won’t know which way the wind is blowing from.” He’d left pretty quickly. He didn’t much like the musty darkness, but he wasn’t sure he liked Essa with her greased skin and earth-smelling clothes much either.

He’d see her in the traders market sometimes with little cloth packets of the stuff. Whenever a wanderer came to trade she always seemed to be the first person they went to. They probably smelled worse – no, not worse, just stranger – than she did, and so didn’t notice, or care.

Kirillion had once complained that her trade would be the end of their business with the outside, as there’d “be no-one left to trade with.” But there always was, the same old faces recycling around with tales of the sands, some too tall to be true. “Who can tell truth from fiction with those ghostheads?” claimed Kirillion. “But,” he finished chewing his stew, most of us at the meal table not listening, imagining the food was something different to the previous few days. He pointed his fork at Essa. “So long as we remain a unit and whatever comes through those doors goes towards this place, if that’s all they want then we’ll make as much of it as they can take.”

He plucked half a potato from the stew and continued. “So long as we don’t all partake, of course.” He carried on eating but they all knew he was talking about Rafe, who kept his head down as a few pairs of eyes glanced his way.

Calix took an unconscious deep breath as the lift ascended to level three – he wasn’t sure what the ghost was, exactly, but if it was made from the mushrooms growing in level four he didn’t know if it was something that could be breathed in. Essa was always a little crazy, staring him out or whispering things like “Calix panics, that rhymes, you know,” in his ear. When he breathed out, he realised what he had been doing and thought best be safe.

Level three was the Rec, though that function had long since gone; triple vaulted and spacious – large enough to accommodate a small court that was used for sports such as football, tennis, basketball, badminton, and table tennis – once upon a time. Now all it was good for was meetings. What footballs, tennis balls, basketballs, shuttlecocks and ping-pong balls there had been had served their purpose; kicked or smashed into submission by Ziyad, Jayan and Deven, or any of the others, or any that had been before them. Behind the stacked up chairs in the storehouse lay deflated balls of one kind or other, broken rackets and what nets had not been recommissioned into garden netting. Calix and Annora, on one occasion, had escaped the boring meeting and squeezed and wriggled cat-like through forgotten furniture to the darkness at the back of the storehouse. There they had felt more than looked for salvageable playthings. As the background drone of voices continued – Kirillion’s sombre tone dominating – being there itself had become play. A new den, one that despite the darkness and lack of use, smelled and felt cleaner than many of the spaces they played in together up top. Annora sat one end, Calix the other, legs apart and rolling flattened, threadbare tennis balls to each other’s crotches – when on target. Until Annora had to reach for a stray ball and fell a little too heavily into one pile of stacked chairs, causing the tower to tumble down on her. She cried, Calix cried, both frozen by tears until Efa pulled her out, leaving Calix to calm his own tears and find his own way out.

They hadn’t been allowed in there again since.

It took stitches and a few days until Annora was mended.

His guilt hadn’t mended even now.

The lift rose and through the bars the darkness of the meeting hall was thick – a dead space until it was needed, and even then the full capacity of lights was rarely on. Only once had Calix seen the white walls all aglow. And that had been an accidental switching on of all the light switches. He had noticed a roughly worn path like an oval going around the edge of the space: “We used to run,” explained Linwood once.

Darkness vanished with level two’s only slightly lighter living space. Levels one and two were given over to bedrooms, bathrooms and dormitories. Communal space centred around the lift, with the staircase that linked the two levels at the far end. To the south end of Sanctum’s depths was a vertical shaft with five ladders in total. Some of the other kids would play on them sometimes, racing each other to the bottom and back up again – but Calix was forbidden. It could be all too easy to lose his strength and fall.

After Ziyad’s accident the access doors had all been locked – the key to the padlocks patted into the breast pocket of Linwood’s jacket.

Calix waved to Annora as he rose towards the ceiling. She waved back from her reclined position on an armchair, watching a wildlife programme on the screen. In addition to Annora, there was also Herm and Delia, two other kids he could say he was almost friends with, but they were four and five years old and he didn’t think of them as real friends. Maybe when they had grown up a bit – for now they still cried too much and wanted too much attention. But Annora was his age – they had both arrived at the orphanage at about the same time when they were still just a year old. Linwood had taken them in, brought here by a wanderer who had taken them from a struggling settlement where they could not cope with another child. When asked if they were brother and sister, Linwood had told them “No. Look in the mirror and see for yourself. One of you’s uglier than a pig’s backside, the other could charm bracelets with your smile. I ain’t saying which is which. No – either an accident befell one or both your parents, or as the wanderer said straight, whatever settlement you came from just couldn’t take on no more kids.”

“So we could have family out there?” asked Annora.

“Hard to tell, sweetheart. Word is nowhere else is equipped to take on more people than they already have, but we don’t get many orphans, not anymore. Used to get loads – parents dying, other family dying, no one left to take care of them. So they brought them here. But you never know, maybe one day the next visitor will bring a kid in that’ll look just like you and we’ll go hot sake you got yourself a little brother or sister right there. Or maybe your true parents, if one or both be still alive, will wake up from their little slumber of guilt and come find you. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“No,” said Calix.

“Why not, my man?”

“I don’t want no-one coming to take me away – either one of us,” he said, looking to Annora. “This is home. I don’t wanna go out there just to die.”

Linwood smiled. He had a cutthroat razor he kept hanging in the breast pocket of his shirt and he used it every morning to dry shave his cheeks down to his neck, leaving a thick black goatee. His skin was red with blood vessels for minutes afterwards, and it was a complexion that never quite faded away from the pockmarked skin. Grey eyes examined Calix as he spoke. “You’re gonna have to learn to get over that fear of yours, little man, if you’re gonna be useful ‘round here. Out there does not equate instant death. Just rough is all. Be thankful there ain’t nothin’ round to bite you.”

Annora gave a last wave as the lift passed through level two’s ceiling and level one’s floor: once-blue carpet as threadless as the tennis balls now just a pale, dirty empty weave spaced between bedrooms and restrooms. The empty halls were lit by low-powered, white neon lighting that never seemed to fail, only minor sections here and there that weren’t yet worth repairing.

Before G, or ground, was M, the municipal level that predominantly held offices. Faded white tiles of some sort of plastic lead to closed doors with signs like General, Lieutenant General, Reception, Major, and other ranks, plus the Administrative wing and their offices that were mostly used these days only when there was trouble, or a new wanderer wanted to sign up for rations. Scouting crews were also accrued and instructed from here. And if anyone happened to cross what passed for the law, the brig was waiting.

Calix had only seen the brig used a few times, mostly for domestic arguments put to bed by putting them both to bed in adjacent cells until they had settled the issue. Occasionally a wanderer stepped out of line and was either thrown out, or, if they insisted, they could spend a few nights in the brig with rations, building up their energy for the return to the sands.

One quarter of the municipal floor was also taken up by the medical section, with Jacinta the physician on constant call. She kept the place spotless; days would pass with nothing for her and her assistant Efa to do, so they spent that time ensuring it could be a germ-free, clean-air zone whenever called upon. Oxygen from the Agridome could be pumped into the air compressed chamber that was kept in ward one for anyone feeling especially deprived. Calix and Annora, playing hide and seek, had caught Efa inside it on more than one occasion. “Gets you buzzed,” she said. “It ain’t like in the Agridome where the air smells of shit. It like, gets into your skin and turns your blood red. Everyone should get a hit every now and then.” Calix nuzzled his head into her bony waist as she stood in the doorway. “Everyone but you, Cal. And you, Annora. Weren’t you playing hide and seek? Damn sake, closest I get to a spa – when I’m left alone,” she hinted.

Aboveground, the light of day hit Calix; what little light remained after passing through the outer and inner solarised domes, and the thick wad of cloud and faintly red particles that just never seemed to settle, or were else so light only a brief whisper of current threw them circling back up into the atmosphere. A couple blinks and the faintest squint and Calix was ascending with eyes wide, taking everything in.

Sanctum was paved – cracked and ripped up in places, mostly in front of the salvage yard – but it was all solid. Calix and Annora enjoyed playing skittles near the entrance and watching as visitors stepped through from the sand and into the dome, legs wobbling and unsure. Some even tripped as though stepping on an invisible stair. Months of wading or surfing the sand dunes wearing boots like the broken tennis rackets in Rec and you got used to walking a certain way, Calix figured. The sand shivers Kirillion was fond of calling it. It was just kinda funny, and it made Annora giggle, which was good. “Skit you bastards,” the newcomers would say if they took offence.

They hadn’t had any visitors for a few weeks, though.

Linwood said the going was tough this time of year. From the stories he’d heard, Calix wondered when the going was ever good.

The lift ascended around an empty courtyard, rising like a rocket from the dead centre of the round dome. The roof of a small square foyer disappeared beneath. Calix could turn three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, rocking the lift as he did so, the cage enough for three or four men, or eight or nine kids. To the south stood the school, all angular grey cement and metallic cladding, the cladding as grey as the cement, only told apart by its reflective surface. The sign on the building said ‘Sanctum School for Achievers.’ There was a space before ‘Sanctum’ where years ago the word ‘New’ had been fixed. ‘New Sanctum’ weren’t so new now, thought Calix.

Next to the school was the aboveground headquarters. Same style and same spit and polish, as Kirillion would say. It’s where a lot of decisions were made around here. It was also check-in for any visitors. With the entrance at the north visitors had to walk the four-hundred metres through Sanctum to get there. It was like a parade, a purposeful charade to put them on edge as the people of Sanctum checked them out to see exactly what kind of visitor they were dealing with. There weren’t a great deal of new faces, but when there was, it was always good to see if the newcomer would hold your stare, or look away and down at their boots.

Stupid, was Calix’s feelings on the matter. They were too dumbfucked by the hard ground to even look up half the time. In his mind, Annora hit him for the naughty word, but they would laugh together. “Fuckity fuck,” he said with his face pressed up against the bars, so quiet that even someone next to him would barely have heard him.

To the west was Tansy’s, Sanctum’s main canteen. It was the best prepped kitchen in the dome, the rest were all mock-ups to cook and entertain visitors at guest houses. Calix wondered what it had been called before Tansy ran the shop, and if it would be called something different by the time she cooked it herself. Everyone who lived here ate at Tansy’s – cooking was her role, as well as Orlon’s and Win’s who helped out with prep and serving. It was a lot of work to feed eighty-six people, not counting the visitors who came and went. The front side of Tansy’s was a giant marquee clad with metal and neon lighting. CANTEEN was in bright blue neon, and TANSY’S had been fashioned separately back before Calix was born by Mr Harcrow. The sign sat skewed on a metal plate before the word CANTEEN.

Mr Harcrow was one of the oldest here, beard thick and white and head bald with little brown spots that got lost in the shadows. He still helped Rafe out from time to time but liked to spend these days staring across the courtyard from the salvage yard in the north-east. Everyone called him Mr Harcrow, even though no-one else really had, or used, a last name here but him. Some say he don’t even remember his first name.

What stood him really apart was his avoidance of Kirillion and Linwood. He had a problem with authority, they said, to which he would just nod.

Above, the underside of the watchtower was growing larger.

The farm was east; distant pink mounds lay in their pens awaiting the slops, with chickens pecking at the ground. The ground had been broken up slightly here and, for all Calix knew, it was the only place on the planet there was proper mud. The entrance to the Agridome was just beyond.

There were only two important things here, Kirillion had mentioned on more than one occasion. Water... and food. If you weren’t an engineer or a mechanic, or a nurse or cook, or teaching the kids, you worked for the Agridome (part of which meant tending to the animals and creating items from the raw materials in the workshop). This was Calix’s destiny if he had any choice in it. But Linwood seemed to have other plans for him.

His face blackened in the shadow from above, and the lift rattled as it slotted into the square casing at the apex of the inner dome. Immediately, the whirring of the generators and ventilation system shook the bars that Calix was holding, resonating the whole cage as though the perfect frequency had been met. The suddenness of it always frightened Calix; it was like a roar in his ears from some age-ago cat that so often appeared at the beginning of some films they were allowed to watch. What made it worse was the darkness. Almost involuntarily Calix fell back to the centre of the platform, pushed on all sides by the blackness punctuated but that undulating roar as air was sucked and exhaled, sucked and exhaled, through the lungs of whatever machinery kept the Agridome alive. He was simultaneously in awe, and afraid. It almost seemed to bellow its might at him. God-like, he always thought. It gave life. For a while it was just a machine. Damn sake it still was a machine (Efa would be happy)! But he’d listened to a visitor’s story one night about how, whenever she was returning to Sanctum, she would stand outside and watch a while, comforted, she said, by the dome.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Adam J Smith lives in the UK, publishing art books and writing novels, short stories and poetry. He’s an avid reader and his favourite storytellers include Jeffrey Eugenides, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, plus many others - an eclectic mix! He loves old sci-fi and pulp novels, but equally horror and literary novels that are particularly well written.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Neon Sands is book one in the Neon Sands trilogy, which itself is the first trilogy of three all set in the same world. In book one we meet a community trying to survive in the harsh landscape; making ends meet in a biodome while exploring the sands for resources, revealing secrets in the process.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
For story, I look towards Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. King understands that the story begins with the characters, and at his best his characters are great to be with. Asimov goes big; Rama to date is my favorite sci-fi series. They can both write beautiful prose, but boy, so can Jeffrey Eugenides
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
In part - the cover. This book is #1 in the trilogy, which itself is the first trilogy of three. I was about to write the third trilogy and in the process kept working backwards, trying to find the motivation for the society I had created. Then the cover appeared and I knew I had to begin earlier.