Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is great. So is the ‘Download Sample’ on Smashwords, Apple and Nook. The trouble is, they always make you start at the beginning. This is logical, but it does mean the writer can’t showcase a favourite or crucial scene, the way a movie trailer does. Oh well, nothing for it: I’ll have to share my favourite 3000 words from Shadow’s Talent here. It’s taken me a while to pinpoint one scene and say ‘That one’s my favourite’ but here it finally is.
Why is this one my favourite? It was fun to write. I was laughing at my own black humour, which isn’t always a good sign, but when I tried this out on some early readers, they loved it. This scene showcases the kind of characters I adore creating, and watching create all kinds of havoc later. This is very much a pre-cursor – a sure sign of trouble to come.
A little background, just so this excerpt makes sense:
Kit Calloway is a doctor, who met 17 year old Shadow after saving his life two years previously. He’s now helping Shadow get science grades with extra tuition, so that Shadow can get into a space flight academy. Shadow’s just had a setback in that he’s facing a criminal charge for possession of an illegal drug known as Dream Morphine, which can be used to record other people’s memories and simulate their sensations for a user. The police are searching his home (a farm in England) for more of it, after a tip from a ‘friend’ who ratted Shadow out. Shadow shouldn’t worry though: his mentor has a plan for keeping him safe…
What Kit does in the middle of this excerpt is a link using the Talent mind power: Shadow witnesses the second part of the scene by looking through other people, with the ‘feed’ coming from Kit’s Talent.
The title ‘My Favourite Mistake’ doesn’t appear in the book, but I’ve nicknamed this excerpt after the song of the same title. I’ll let you decide why on your own.
If you like what you read, the entire book is now free!
Excerpt from Shadow’s Talent
I didn’t talk at all on the way down to the straw barn, I just nodded when Kit picked it because it already had steps for us to sit on thanks to the arrangement of the bales. We went round the back of it, facing away from the house, and I got a sense that Kit was trying to recreate a time when he was my age, hiding to drink a bottle.
Perhaps with Avery McCaffrey, I thought, and felt tempted to say so, but I stayed silent while he poured us two glasses.
‘You’ve coped with all this better than you think,’ Kit said. ‘I might have fun reading people with Talent sometimes but I missed how worried you got about it all. I was too busy thinking about what I might help you achieve. So time out, let’s have a drink.’
He raised his glass and I clinked mine against it and took a gulp of cider. Whatever batch of reserve this was, it had a bite to it that could almost have made it apple-flavoured vodka. I wanted to neck the whole glass, but held onto it out of fear that once I’d done so, things would come pouring out of me that I’d regret later. That’s if they didn’t anyway.
‘Why didn’t you tell me Avery McCaffrey was your cousin?’ I said. ‘You showed me his back garden in a dream but you won’t even say his name?’ I took another drink. ‘What is it you cope with? That you’re part McCaffrey and you’re ashamed of it?’
If Kit hadn’t laughed I would have instantly regretted how wrongly my thoughts had come out of my mouth, but he threw back his head and leaned back against the bales.
‘You think I’m ashamed of my family? You little oik. Why do you think I became a doctor?’
‘Because Bentley Calloway was one.’
‘So was Sammy McCaffrey,’ Kit said. ‘Of course I’m not ashamed of my family. I fell out with Avery, it’s really just as simple as that. We had a disagreement a few years ago and it got unpleasant. I don’t talk about him much because I don’t talk to him. Even if I do still laugh sometimes when I remember this one Halloween. He had a Death costume on. He was drunk, and he walked up to the window of an old people’s home and pointed his finger at them.’
I laughed before I could stop drinking, the glass still in my mouth, and was soon laughing at how I was covered in cider.
‘Typical,’ Kit said. ‘I can’t lift your spirits but my stupid cousin can. Christ knows how he ever started a multi-million-credit company; Avery couldn’t even start smoking on his own. I had to give him his first one and he choked on it and puked.’ Kit offered me his packet after he shook one out.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘They ever catch him?’
‘For the Death prank? The police didn’t. Those old folks though, they tracked him down. He didn’t think his face was that well known, but he soon guessed again. He got a Christmas card that year signed by all of them. It started with “Dear Avery, you belong in prison and that’s where you should be spending Christmas.” You should have seen his face when he opened that under the tree in front of his parents. He tried all sorts of bullshit before my uncle Ozzie got the truth out of him.’ Kit was laughing so much now he looked like he could crease up and fold in two.
‘You know what I’ve got to ask now, don’t you?’
‘Yeah, you want to know what we fell out over. If I tell you, you’ll only end up thinking it’s a cover for something worse. But it’s simple really, and stupid.’
‘Bit like me then?’
‘Oh totally.’ Kit took a drag on his cigarette and sat back on the bales again. ‘Avery doesn’t like my wife.’
‘That’s it. I never thought he did, but some things you just don’t say to your family, and you don’t say them like Avery did. He was drunk, same as usual. Hell, it’s hard to remember times we’ve spent together sober. It was before Miriam and I were married. He was going to be best man, but after he told me the truth I took him off the invite list altogether. The little prick was actually surprised. I might still be talking to him if he’d said sorry, but hey, he’s Avery.’
‘Sibling rivalry,’ I said. ‘He was competing with Miriam for your attention.’
‘Actually that’s a pretty good way to put it, yeah. Except we’re cousins.’
‘But you’re both only children, right? Your families loved Coburn’s ideas as much as mine did?’
Kit whistled. ‘If my old man was still alive he’d knock you senseless for that. He’d probably even do it with Talent and never mind you couldn’t have had a chance at defending yourself. My dad only had me because I’m all my mother gave him before she vanished back to her crazy little life on Carnathia. Nobody else ever loved him. It took a woman as nuts as Sophie McCaffrey and he never found anyone else like her. Really, I think he was glad there was nobody else like that in his life. But he would have had loads more kids if he thought it was a way of saying fuck you to Coburnism.’
‘So what did your dad do in Coburn’s England?’
‘He was a cop,’ Kit said, all signs of laughter now gone from his face. ‘That’s as much as he ever told me. And as much as I ever asked.’
‘Because he was a Talent cop?’
‘I think that’s a pretty safe bet, yeah.’ Kit drained his glass and poured another. ‘You remember that night when we talked about Carnathia? You probably still think I know its location, don’t you?’
I tried to think of a good way to deny it, but ended up grinning and nodding.
‘I don’t,’ Kit said. ‘The same way I don’t know half the things about my family that people presume I do. I don’t get involved with big players in the Seeker world. I haven’t been to Carnathia in over ten years, and I don’t socialise with any family I’ve got left if I can help it. Apart from Ozzie sometimes because he’s the one who understands: that life was never what I wanted. That’s part of why I married Miriam. She isn’t from a Seeker family or connected to anyone who is. And she isn’t Talented.’
‘But you still are,’ I said. ‘No way of changing that.’
‘Yeah,’ Kit said, picking up the cider bottle to refill both of us. ‘That part I always did like.’
‘Try still do,’ I said, and downed the rest of my drink in readiness for more. ‘So instead of science, why don’t you teach me that?’
Kit stopped dead, the lid of the bottle still in his hand, half undone. ‘What?’
‘Why don’t you make me Talented and teach me that too?’
Kit put the bottle down. ‘Shadow, do you really understand what you just asked me to do?’
‘Yeah I know, I know,’ I said, suddenly almost fearful and willing Kit not to walk away without another word to me ever. ‘You’re not supposed to unlock it for anyone who hasn’t already got it, like ever, I know that. But it’s because people’s brains won’t take it if they’re Earth born. I’ve got Seeker genes. You were right. I went and got the test and Dr Creedon said it’s certain.’ I stopped as my brain caught up with my mouth. ‘Sorry, you know that already. You even signed the paperwork. So theoretically my brain could take it. If I didn’t inherit it that just means I was unlucky. So are there different rules?’
Kit sat down, studying me with a look I couldn’t meet eye to eye. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Fair question. But no, the rules aren’t any different. Why would you ask about this anyway? Half the reason unlocking never happens is that people born without Talent know that they’re in for far less trouble in life than the people who are. Nobody with any sense asks what you just did. Why did you?’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to offend you.’
‘You didn’t,’ Kit said. ‘But why did you ask?’
‘I thought…’ What had I been thinking? I needed something, anything, and quickly. ‘Okay look, if I do get into Christensen’s and they actually do take me for wings training…well just about all the top pilots are Talented, right? It’s a way to communicate with your team on a level way beyond what you get on coms. You link minds and you really do become one unit. Look at your family, look at the great leaders of people. They were all Talented. I know I can already lead, but I thought it might make me a better leader.’
Kit nodded. ‘You’re not as nuts as I thought. Yeah, Talent helps, but it won’t make you something you’re not. I don’t know if you’re a leader; you say you do but I don’t know how you can know that yet. Before you get defensive, I think you could be. Christensen’s looks for potential, not just what you’re born with. But if you turn out not to have it then Talent won’t create it. Besides, I couldn’t unlock you. You know what would happen to me if I did. I’m giving you as much help as I can, but that’s where it stops. Understand?’
‘I did think of something else though,’ Kit said. ‘How fast did you say your five mile time was?’
‘Half an hour dead.’
‘Yeah, you got a pretty good engine in there.’ He bunched his fist loosely and gave me a punch on the chest that was more like a flick of the wrist but still sent a shockwave though me, my ribcage vibrating like a tuning fork. ‘Tree climbing and farm work, I’d say you’d got the muscle to go with it even if you don’t look like much. I thought maybe you might want to learn what use you can put all that to. Did I tell you I’m a black belt in Ju-jitsu?’
I gawped. ‘You want to teach me to fight? I don’t think so. I’ve seen the sorts of injuries people who do martial arts get. I like my body intact. But thanks.’
‘I wonder,’ Kit said, looking at me with his head tipped a little.
‘Huh? You wonder what?’
‘About how much you really want to protect yourself. You say you thought about Talent because it might help you be a leader. Fair play. Or is that a mask for how you thought it might protect you in case Drake Cardale ever turned up on your doorstep?’
‘Oh come on!’
‘So you’re honestly telling me you never thought of it that way.’
‘Yes,’ I said, shaking my head, and then thinking about Talent and how he probably knew better just from reading me with it while I was totally unaware of him. ‘No. Alright, you win. I thought about that too.’
‘That’s more like it.’ Kit smiled. ‘You’d never win a Talent fight with a Cardale. If Drake really wanted to hit you, he’d do it before you could win with Ju-jitsu either. But why do you think it hasn’t happened? You probably did him a favour. He wanted Matt Carson and company out of the way. Anyone in his shoes might actually be a smart man if he recruited you instead of whacking you.’
‘Oh don’t, Kit, please. I thought you were trying to help me not think about all this.’
‘It’s just an example,’ Kit said.
‘How your biggest fear is that if it came to the crunch you’d have no way of defending yourself. You can be all the witness you want, or go to the sentencing and look Matt Carson in the eye, but if it were you and him on the street with you in a corner, what then?’
What then indeed. I said nothing. Never mind that it could never happen now.
‘My dad might have been a bit nuts,’ Kit said, sipping his drink, ‘but at least he did his best to teach me something. My favourite lesson? Even if you never end up using a weapon, when you go out into the big world you’ve still got to arm yourself. When I was a kid I thought he meant literally, but now I doubt that. I’ve never carried a gun in my life, or a blade. But I could take down some bears even if I do look like a fox, as you’re so fond of thinking. You don’t look like much at all, but I could at least help you feel like something that wasn’t scared shitless.’
‘By teaching me how to beat the shit out of people? Nice plan, Kit. Full of human kindness.’
‘You know what cemeteries are full of? People who think you can be kind to someone when you’re backed in with nowhere to go. And if you think it’s about beating people up like the Carson brothers do then that just proves you don’t know about it. Learning to fight’s good. You’d be surprised how it helps you sleep. Why don’t you just come to my house and try one session in my dojo? You don’t like it then at least you tried it.’
‘You’ve actually got your own gym in your house?’ I said, and then the opportunity punched me right in the face. ‘You just invited me to your house.’
‘Well yeah, unless you’d rather train in one of your fields while your family watches from a window.’
‘Alright, I’ll try it out,’ I said. ‘But I can already promise you, it’s not my thing.’
Kit didn’t seem to have heard me; he was staring towards the house. ‘Not your thing? I think I’ve got something right here that is then. Sit back and shut your eyes.’
‘What are you going to share?’
‘What’s happening at your house right now,’ Kit said. ‘The police just found their box.’
‘Only just? They had Brian’s memory for God’s sake, I thought they’d have found it hours ago.’
‘Shut up and close your eyes,’ Kit said. ‘You’re about to miss the best part.’
‘We’ll take it from here.’
Even though he was at least twenty years older than in the museum pictures, Ozzie McCaffrey could have stood out from presence alone. Talent billowed from him like smoke from a scrub fire in the middle of winter. Still sharp in a suit even though he must have been in his eighties by now, the lines of his face were conspicuous by their absence. He got out of the driver’s seat of the black BMW, holding a silver walking stick that he probably didn’t need. Cody White followed him from the passenger’s seat, and two younger men, equally suited up in black, from the back.
‘I’ll be taking that,’ Ozzie said to Scott Kryché, who was holding a padlocked box covered in dirt.
‘On what jurisdiction?’ Kryché said. ‘This has nothing to do with the Talent Council or any of their offices.’
‘I respectfully disagree,’ Ozzie said, shifting his grip on the silver pole. ‘I really wouldn’t want to be disrespectful in the home of these good people.’ He looked at my parents, who were now on the doorstep. ‘Mr Hatcher, I presume? Ozzie McCaffrey.’ He offered his hand, and my father stood for a moment before shaking, then my mother shook hands with him as well. ‘I’m sorry about your trouble here lately, but you can rest assured the police won’t be requiring the run of your home any longer.’ He looked at Kryché. ‘My associates will take charge of that box. The crimes it pertains to are out of your clearance level, Detective Kryché. Of that I’m assured. You would do well to put it out of your mind and consider yourself fortunate that you no longer have the trouble of it.’
‘What you’re doing is grossly illegal,’ Kryché said, holding his chin up as he handed the box over.
‘Even if that were the case, Detective, then I’m surprised you weren’t expecting it of me. Now, I understand there’s a young man here who recently testified against Matt Carson.’ Ozzie looked out towards the path Kit had walked down and sniffed, a slight involuntary twitch in his jaw. He looked at Kryché. ‘The charges you’re about to make against him are dropped.’
Ozzie took two steps towards Kryché. ‘I don’t like having to repeat myself, Detective. I certainly never have to do it for my own team. I think they heard what I said.’ He looked behind him for the nods of approval from the two men I was still trying to recognise. ‘May I ask a personal question, Detective? You were offered a Colony posting recently. Why did you not take it? I couldn’t help but notice you hadn’t made your decision until just after you caught Matt Carson. Now that the case against him is no longer yours, I daresay you’ll be reconsidering your choice, won’t you? Oh, and do remember to put these good people’s paddock back the way you found it, won’t you?’ He got back in the car with his suits before I heard his Talent voice.
Now no more playing with Seeker toys, Mr Hatcher. This is a once only favour. I gather you’re applying to Christensen’s Flight Academy. Better hurry, the deadline for this year’s applications is next week, isn’t it?
Kit pulled me out and I sat up on the straw bale, staring at the empty glass in my hand. Kit topped it up for me.
‘Quite some family I have, isn’t it? Still wondering if I’m secretly ashamed of it?’
‘Can Ozzie really make the police drop charges just like that?’ I took a long drink.
‘Don’t be afraid of it. Be goddamn thankful Ozzie owed me a favour. Now I might as well owe him one. You can’t begin to imagine how rare what you just saw is. Even in his office he’s going to get questions. The High Chancellor probably won’t be entirely happy about this, but Ozzie’s Ozzie.’ Kit held up a hand. ‘Before you speak, shut the fuck up. You’ve got an application to start filling out. Not to mention when I set you homework I want it done next time.’
I ignored him. A message had just landed in my UniPocket, reminding me I was half an hour late for dinner with Walter. If I was going to celebrate getting off clean despite all Brian’s efforts, here was a pretty good way of doing it. I was already getting on for drunk as it was. ‘Think you could give me a lift to Brighton?’