Book of the Month - SHORTCUTS: Track 1
Our January Book of the Month is an anthology of sci-fi and fantasy novellas by local authors, from Wellington publisher Paper Road Press.
In this collection, seven local authors weave tales of people and creatures displaced in time and space, risky odysseys, and even more dangerous discoveries. With stories ranging from spine-tingling suspense to meditations on loss and loneliness, this collection celebrates the diversity of speculative fiction writing in Aotearoa New Zealand and will introduce you to, as author Phillip Mann states in his introduction to the text, “six of the best”.
The six stories in this collection were originally published as standalone ebooks, and have now been published together in paperback and as an anthology ebook. To read more about Paper Road Press and the SHORTCUTS project, read our Five Quick Questions with Publisher Marie Hodgkinson.
Visit the Paper Road Press blog here to find out how you could win a $50 Amazon voucher (or equivalent gift card to a NZ bookstore of your choice) when you buy SHORTCUTS: Track 1
Below is an excerpt from one of the stories in the collection.Landfall,by Tim Jones, is a glimpse at a future New Zealand in a world struggling in the wake of climate disaster.
Tim is a Wellington-based poet, author, editor and anthologist. His latest book is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry (IP, 2014), co-edited with PS Cottier. You can find him online at http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com.
Desperation and betrayal on the border of a new life.
When the New Zealand Navy torpedoes a Bangladeshi river ferry full of refugees fleeing their drowning country, Nasimul Rahman is one of the few survivors. But even if he can reach the shore alive, he has to make it past the trigger-happy Shore Patrol, set up to keep the world’s poor and desperate at bay.
Donna is a new recruit to the Shore Patrol. She’s signed on mainly because of her friend Mere, but also because it’s good to feel she’s doing something for her country. When word comes through that the Navy has sunk a ship full of infiltrators, and survivors may be trying to make their way ashore, it sounds like she might finally see some action.
Kimmy Potiki was a lazy bitch, thought Donna, chewing her gum and looking at the mess the lazy bitch had made of the stockroom. Kimmy was supposed to clean up before she knocked off at four, but when Donna went back there just before six, there were boxes and shit scattered around all over the place. Some of them had been pulled open and the clothes taken out. It wasn’t good stuff, but it was warm stuff, and Donna thought maybe Kimmy and that dipshit boyfriend of hers were stealing stuff and selling it cheap at the market on Saturdays. Or maybe she had just pulled it out to make a nest: at the far end of the room, under a rack of coats, was what would pass pretty well for a bed if you’d been cold and wet and running from the cops and sleeping rough. Kimmy hadn’t, but her boyfriend had. There were tinnies and knives and empty bottles, too.
Well, fuck Kimmy Potiki. There was no way Donna was going to make herself late by cleaning up after Kimmy, who’d have to take her chances that Mrs Alberts didn’t come into the stockroom before Monday. Though it was Kimmy who had got her this job in the first place…
Fuck Kimmy Potiki. Donna worked as fast as she could, shoving clothes back into boxes without paying attention to what went where, kicking tinnies and bottles back under cover, straightening the place up to the point that anyone who just popped into the room for a moment might think nothing was wrong.
‘You took your time,’ said Mrs Alberts when Donna returned to the shop. Donna just shrugged. It looked like Mrs Alberts was going to go off on her, but then she said, ‘You’d better get going. You don’t want to be late for your first patrol.’
‘OK,’ said Donna, and added, ‘thanks’. Mrs Alberts could be an old cow sometimes, but she was OK mostly. The shop would do for Donna till she found something better.
Mere was supposed to be waiting for her outside so they could go for smokes before Shore Patrol started, but Mere wasn’t there. Maybe she had got bored of waiting. Maybe she forgot. Donna wished she still had her phone. She thought all that cancer stuff was bullshit.
Still, that was one of the cool things about Shore Patrol: they got radios, these little walkie-talkie things that were pretty much like phones except you couldn’t text. The KFC on the corner was still open. She went there and ate and sat by herself until it was time to catch the bus. The bus driver was that one who had kicked them all off that time Kane chundered on the back seat. Donna kept her head down.
It was a dark walk down deserted streets from the last bus stop to the Shore Patrol building and its reassuring blaze of lights. Where the hell was Mere? Safety in numbers, that’s what they were always told, safety in numbers. Why couldn’t they at least light this part of the bloody street? Why couldn’t the moon be shining?
But she got there OK. To be honest, she was early: she should have stayed later at KFC. She hung around until Mere arrived, then gave her a hard time about not waiting. Mere said she forgot. Donna said yeah right, it was a girl, wasn’t it, Mere? It was always some girl with Mere. Donna had quite liked a couple of them, but most of them were stuck up bitches from the North Shore.
Mere wasn’t telling. So they presented their passes, got their pistols from the Serjeant at Arms (and why the fuck was it spelled like that?) and headed down to the firing range for fifteen minutes’ practice. Donna was better at the static targets, and Mere was better at the moving ones. Two along from Mere there was this boy, David. He was really cute. Donna had given him the eye a couple of times, but whenever he looked at anyone straight on, it was Mere. And Mere was cute too, with her button nose and her big dark eyes, but she had never given a boy the come-on in her life. David was an idiot.
Donna took a critical look at David’s shot pattern. It wasn’t bad, but not as good as hers. Provided her targets stayed stock still, she was deadly. When they moved, she had trouble figuring out which way they were going.
Big Bob called them all together. His name was Robert Wilson, or Sergeant Wilson to his face. He had a fancy uniform he was always threatening to burst out of. In real life he was a clerk at the ration house. It wasn’t hard to see how he disposed of the rations that went uncollected.
‘We’re a military auxiliary, but we’re also a team. We help to defend our country, but we also take in young people and give them a sense of purpose. We train them in weapons and tactics, but we also train them in life. And when training is done, it’s time to take the step up into active service, knowing that everything you give will be returned to you by a grateful nation.’
I bloody well hope so, thought Donna.
The Sergeant made his face adopt its most serious expression. ‘We must never forget that the threat we face is very real: millions upon millions of poor and desperate people, displaced from their teeming homelands by the rising seas, who look south hungrily at our green and fertile lands. They’d overrun us in months if we let them, and the Shore Patrol is a vital second line of defence that frees our nation’s Navy and Army to do what they each do best.
‘So tonight I’d like to call forward six of our new recruits who have shown they have the right stuff to answer their nation’s call. Step forward, David McDonald…’
Donna waited for her name to be called with a mixture of excitement and dread. It was pretty crisp to be presented with the cap, the jacket and the badge, though she was glad the ceremony was happening in public: she’d felt Robert Wilson’s fingers curl around her left buttock when he though no one was looking. Still, she stepped forward, and shook the wanker’s hand, and took the cap (too small), the jacket (too big) and the badge (just right). Robert Wilson she could handle, or at least avoid. It was the patrolling she was scared about. It was all becoming real now.
But at least she’d have Mere with her, and for that matter David. Somebody had obviously noticed that they hung together at training, because the three of them had been put in the same patrol. The woman who ran this one was new to her – Staff Sergeant Anderson, a thin-faced, serious woman who looked them and the rest of the patrol up and down for a bit before giving them their orders for the night. After the induction ceremony, Robert Wilson had droned on for another five minutes about family and country and duty, but there was no bullshit from this lady.
‘Tonight you will patrol the foreshore between Gloucester Park Island and the intersection of Beachcroft Ave and Arthur St. We’re advised that the Navy sank a ship full of infiltrators yesterday, and that some of them may have escaped on small boats, so you are advised to be especially vigilant. We’ve also heard that the so-called Shepherds may be attempting to aid the survivors from the sunken ship. As I’m sure you know, this is illegal and punishable by a lengthy spell of mandatory detention. Anyone found aiding an infiltrator is to be apprehended and arrested.
‘Apart from that, you’re to perform your usual role of stopping and questioning anyone who isn’t where they should be. Don’t shoot unless you have to, and don’t shoot any citizens. Questions?’
‘What about a citizen who is helping or hiding an infiltrator?’ asked David.
‘Good question. The first rule is, don’t shoot a citizen. The second rule is, don’t allow an infiltrator to escape. Sometimes those two rules conflict, and you have to use your judgement. Do your best, and follow Corporal Reweti’s lead.’
The Corporal inclined his narrow head.
‘That’s not very helpful,’ whispered Mere.
What the fuck have I got myself into, Donna wanted to whisper back, but now the thin-faced woman was speaking again, asking ‘Does anyone here have experience with dogs?’
‘I do,’ said Donna, thinking of the Staffie cross that protected her fearful mother from the world outside.
‘Good,’ said the woman. She left the room and returned a few moments later with a shaggy, red-brown dog that whined and panted on its lead.
‘Meet Rufus,’ said the woman. ‘He’s coming on patrol with you. He’s not the brightest, but he’ll hear and smell people you’d walk right past.’ And she handed the lead to Donna.
Donna soon wished she hadn’t. Rufus was a big red bundle of enthusiasm who appeared utterly incapable of doing anything on command. ‘Nose like a bloodhound,’ said Corporal Reweti encouragingly, as Donna wrestled Rufus into the electric runabout assigned to the patrol. By then, Donna was wishing her mother had never gone beyond having a budgie.