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In Arcadia [Touchstone: Extras]-Andrea Höst.

In Arcadia [Touchstone: Extras]-Andrea Höst. Электронная библиотека, книги всех жанров

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      Acknowledgements

      With thanks to all the fans of the Touchstone Trilogy. Your love of these books made it impossible for me to not want to revisit Muina.

      Author’s Note

      This book is in Australian English. It can be read as a backstory-heavy stand-alone, but with inevitable spoilers for the Touchstone Trilogy.

      When expanding a couple of paragraphs from a novel into a story of its own, errors come to light. In writing In Arcadia, I had to correct a season and a date in Gratuitous Epilogue, but any other variations are simply the filter of Cass vs Laura.

      Map of Arcadia

      

      Chapter One

      Laura Devlin’s first two months on her new world were full and hectic. There were a great many people to meet, particularly a son-in-law and five grandchildren. There were inoculations, medical examinations, and the injection of a nanotech computer interface that was followed by a dictionary download into her brain. After that came tours to view the grand wreck of the planet’s original civilisation: ruins that were quickly being overshadowed by technically advanced cities supporting the more than two million people who had migrated to the planet of Muina in a scarce few years.

      In between, Laura fit in some infant-level virtual schooling, a generous dose of gaming, and a good dollop of time prodding at the empty garden beds that came with her brand new house. Most of all, she reaffirmed, over and over, the fact of Cassandra. Cass. Never Cassie. Her daughter, alive, safe, and happy.

      None of this had eased Laura’s nightmares. Far too often she would wake from endless scenes of all the worst that could have happened to her funny, sweet, uncertain child after she had vanished on her way home from high school. It had been three months before Cass had been able to reach her family with a partial explanation of her disappearance, and that strange apparition had been in a large amount of danger, so Laura hadn’t truly deep down relaxed until a surprise package of detailed diaries allowed her to finally accept that Cass was alive, safe, but never coming home.

      Thankfully, after three and a half long years, Laura had had the chance to make Cass' new world her own home, and finally been reunited with her daughter. But messages and reunions and many hugs could not erase the indelible mark left by those first months of despair.

      Rising in the pre-dawn, Laura left the latest nightmare tangled in her sheets and pulled on a light dress and sandals before venturing outside.

      To a lifelong Sydney resident, the Muinan summer around the city of Pandora was mild and pleasant, but Laura had maintained her habit of walking in the cool of early morning, tracing the paths of the island that was now her home.

      An island! With all her daughter’s strange powers, large new family, and uncomfortable level of fame, for some reason Laura kept stumbling over the fact that Cass owned an island.

      This was something less of an enormity than it would be on Earth, since the planet of Muina was going through a resettlement rush, and large plots of land were being portioned out to all manner of people. Cass had gained hers because she’d been key to unlocking the planet to habitation—along with some incidental saving of the galaxy. She’d named the island Arcadia, and built a secluded house that allowed her some privacy from several planets'-worth of crowds fascinated with her every move.

      Then she had built a place for her mandatory guard detail to stay.

      When Cass had learned that she would finally, after more than three years gone, be able to bring her family to her new planet, she’d added houses for Laura and Laura’s sister, Sue. They were rather impractically large, and felt empty and strange to Laura, lacking the crammed bookshelves that she had left behind. But the island itself was magnificent.

      This morning was particularly still, and Laura paused on the north patio to drink in the hush, then started along the whitestone path that led past her sister’s matching mini-mansion, down the slope to the main path that circled the entire island. Left would take her to Cassandra’s house, with a stop on the way for the guard house where a pair of Setari—'psychic space ninjas'—would be stationed to watch over the island’s valuable inhabitants. To the right, the path traced the island’s eastern and southern shore: a part of Arcadia still completely free of buildings.

      Laura inhaled deeply, the stillness entering into her. The lake was rarely so glass-flat: a mirror to drink the sky. She followed the path to the north-eastern point of the island, where a stone bench was set on a small spit, commanding an unimpeded view east over the vast freshwater lake to the city of Pandora. The new capital of Muina, a barely visible whiteness on the horizon, picked out in the rosy tints of dawn.

      A bird sang sweet, fluting welcome, and Laura sat and listened, absently turning over the question that had been growing over the last few weeks.

      What was she going to do with the rest of her life?

      Part of the answer was obvious. Her son, Julian, was still only sixteen, and not quite ready to set up house on his own. And Cass, all of twenty-one years old, had become mother to five children: a little found family of four she had adopted, with an addition born seven months ago. There was a lot of grandmothering in Laura’s future.

      As rewarding as this had already been, Laura felt the need for something more. She had gone from school to a career in IT support. When her marriage had fallen apart ten years in, she’d supplemented her income by selling handmade dolls and jewellery, and she’d worked hard to make time for the people she loved and the things she enjoyed. Now, there was no mortgage, no debts. Instead there was a strings-free house that generated its own electricity, and a formidable chunk of money gifted to her by Cass to cover any other bills, leaving Laura free to enjoy Paradise.

      Was it taking too much for granted to do nothing but game, garden, and play with the grandkids? Or did she need to earn this futuristic happily ever after?

      A ship lifted above the distant city. A sleek wedge of a thing rising on blue impellers. Laura watched with awe and appreciation. Inter-dimensional spaceships. Teleportation platforms, psychics, and cities that grew themselves. A computer in her head. An expected lifespan of a hundred and thirty years. And Cass.

      No, she wasn’t taking any of that for granted. She was grateful every day.

      It was such a lovely morning that she decided to do a full circuit of the island: a trek that took just under an hour and a half at Laura’s standard walking pace, but stretched to more than two hours because she kept stopping to collect unusual leaves and the occasional flower. And to take photographs using the interface installation in her head, which did everything a smartphone could offer, and a great deal more.

      The most marvellous thing, though, was that her knees didn’t hurt going up and down the occasional steps. She felt like she could walk forever, with the easy energy of her early twenties. That was Muinan medical science.

      "Unna Laura!"

      Circuit almost complete, Laura was not surprised to be spotted as she paused on the bridge that crossed the natural pool below her daughter’s house. She waved up at Sen, who was hanging rather far over the railing of the main patio balcony. But only briefly, before the girl was hauled unceremoniously back. Then Cass was looking down.

      "Hey, Mum! Come up, we’re having breakfast."

      The sight of Cass, smiling and relaxed, still hit Laura like a blow to the chest. Not a bad sensation, but dizzying, and Laura took a deep breath as she circled the pool and climbed the broad, flat stairs to the partially covered patio Cass used as a breakfast area in summer. She was greeted with a warm clasp around the thighs from Sen.

      "Unna Laura!" the girl repeated. Unna was a word she used only for Laura, even

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