The Ark was built to save the lives of the many, but rapidly became a refuge for the elite, the entrance closed without warning…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Courttia Newland’s A River Called Time, a story of love, loyalty, politics, and conscience, set in parallel Londons—publishing April 6th with Akashic Books.
The Ark was built to save the lives of the many, but rapidly became a refuge for the elite, the entrance closed without warning.
Years after the Ark was cut off from the world—a world much like our own, but in which slavery has never existed—a chance of survival within the Ark’s confines is granted to a select few who can prove their worth. Among their number is Markriss Denny, whose path to future excellence is marred only by a closely guarded secret: without warning, his spirit leaves his body, allowing him to see and experience a world far beyond his physical limitations.
Once inside the Ark, Denny learns of another with the same power, whose existence could spell catastrophe for humanity. He is forced into a desperate race to understand his abilities, and in doing so uncovers the truth about the Ark, himself, and the people he thought he once knew.
They rose at eight, had breakfast by nine, and by nine thirty the parents and children waited in the lobby, visibly nervous. Shared anxieties broke silence. They spoke, not to make polite conversation, only to reassure themselves everything would be fine. The bland official appeared before them, all smiles and congratulations, annoying catchphrases. They ignored his phony jubilation, letting themselves be led to a small dark car with blackened windows like a hearse. Willow balked. The official was at her shoulder in an instant with more smiles, some gentle nudging, and they were in. Doors slammed, twin crunches. The car moved.
Everything had been so low-key up until that point, his first sight of the crowds and cameras and protesters had the effect of being punched. Although they were not the thousands that had besieged the station in the early days, the crowd still numbered over five hundred and would be rounded up to eight on that night’s evening news. The car slowed; people were on the roads, sidewalks, signs, rooftops, bus shelters, window ledges, parked cars… Anything that could hold their weight. Grateful for tinted windows, Markriss watched people beat fists against the glass in delirium, scream they were sellouts cursed by Ra, or simply stand as motionless as they could manage in the jostling crowd, attempting to take pictures—of what, nobody knew; glass rendered their cameras useless. All through the onslaught Markriss watched, barely taking a breath, barely feeling Willow’s hand on his back rubbing in gentle circles. Beside him, Senior was equally stunned by what he saw. Junior went silent for a time, then suddenly screamed loud, turned beetroot, and apologized immediately.
Eventually, all of them dreading the moment, the car came to a gradual halt. Doors opened and there were hands, a forest of them searching as the driver yelled that they should “leave the vehicle right now!” Senior went first, then Junior, then Markriss himself was pulled into the noise; the colors, the screaming, jeering, shouting, cheering, going off in their ears. Snatches of sentences from hundreds of open mouths. Everything too bright, too noisy. The tinny sound of a band could be heard from somewhere near. The air was a jungle of odors, ranging from cigarette and piahro smoke to hot dogs, sulfur, sweet nuts, perfume, frying onions, alcohol, and vomit.
Markriss stumbled, turning to see his mother flailing between two rows of E-Lul-masked, black-suited men who formed parallel lines from the car doors and beyond. Long-barreled guns drawn, they held the crowd back, saying nothing other than “Keep moving, sir, madam. Please keep moving…” He shouted to see if Willow was all right but there was so much noise his voice was lost, and before he could try again his eye was caught by one of the larger protest banners, luminous yellow, screaming: Inner City Is a Lie—Let Them Stay!
Nothing. No sound, only a silent movie playing in front of him, people jumping, screaming, punching fists into polluted air, driven by passion Markriss had never seen. That was when he noticed one particular protester bearing a smaller sign: Today as Yesterday, Tomorrow as Today, Is Truth!
He looked into the eyes of the young woman with the tiny placard. She wasn’t shouting or punching her fist. She was motionless, mouth closed, tears rolling down her cheeks. Raymeda. It was her. Dressed in jeans and bruised sneakers, an open men’s overcoat. Markriss’s hearing returned just as his neck craned around as far as muscles allowed, when more hands pulled him in another direction, up metal steps and onto a bridge that took them over the heads of the crowd, onto the station platform.
The noise from their new position seemed unbearably louder. Below them, the old, powerful bullet-shaped train stood in wait, a huffing and creaking tired beast, armed guards standing beside each passenger door. On the opposite platform he spotted the tinny brass band he’d heard playing badly from outside the station. Instruments glinting in frail sunlight. Rows of well-to-do spectators sat above the band on specially made grandstands custom-built every year. The E-Lul logo—interlocked Es painted red—was everywhere.
Markriss reached for his mother. Why had Raymeda come when it was too late? Speeches were made by the mayor, their college tutors, even one via videophone from CEO Hanaigh E’lul himself, who wished them both Raspeed and welcomed them into the Ark. Nothing made any impact. He held his mother, searching the crowd, desperate for another glimpse of Raymeda. She was too far outside the main festivities. He had lost her again, this time forever.
He only remembered what was happening when he heard his name called from massive loudspeakers, echoing and rolling thunder. He looked up. Senior was smiling now even as he wept, motioning toward the train, which his son was already approaching. Markriss turned to face his mother. What he saw was devastating. Tears flooded her face, turning her strong features into a reddened, wrinkled mass. Desperate finality shrouded both their auras. The Authority, foremost governing body of the Ark, forbade contact with the outside world by any means possible. Markriss and Willow, like everyone else separated by Inner City walls, would never communicate again, though she would receive a regular portion of his wages as she had when he was a child. Still, Willow found courage enough to clasp him tight, tell him not to worry when he asked about his suitcases, push him away with a kiss and a promise that she would never forget. He promised the same, wondering why she would even think such a thing, and walked, dazzled by the glare of the crowd and flash of cameras, along the platform where an armed guard stood with his gun barrel pointed at his feet, eyes blank behind his mask. Markriss knew what this meant. He gulped and nodded at the guard, who saluted with his free hand. Empowered, Markriss saluted right back, then turned and waved in what he thought was his mother’s direction, though it was impossible to tell. The crowd roared. The band played with even more fervor.
Markriss stepped onto the train.
The carriage was much the same as their shared dormitory. Junior lounged with his legs spread across two seats, drinking an ice-cold bottle of beer. They never bothered with proper names, as the young man revealed he was destined for L2, after which they’d never see each other again. The fridge, he told Markriss, was at the far end of the compartment, where the fire extinguishers were usually kept. There were no other passengers.
Markriss capped his beer, grabbed a packet of crisps from a makeshift larder above the fridge, and settled down adjacent to his traveling companion. When the train began to move, they paid the crowd no further attention, both forming false displays of nonchalance. An announcement was made, welcoming the lucky prizewinners. Junior barked more laughter, putting on headphones, closing his eyes, head nodding. Crowds, bands, protesters rolled away as though the outside world had been placed on a town-sized treadmill. Struck by guilt, he tried to see his mother even though Junior told him it wasn’t worth it. He was right. The station disappeared from view. Markriss settled in his seat, the leather book Willow had given him resting in his hands.
For all the fuss made about this infamous train ride, the journey didn’t last very long. Town after town went by, each filled with further crowds of people lining the dusty trackside, waving or booing depending on the lie of their politics. The farther they progressed, the fewer people. Fewer houses, fewer corporate buildings, until finally mud and soil. A man-made land of desolation. The Blin.
Excerpted from A River Called Time by Courttia Newland, copyright © 2021 Courttia Newland, used with permission of the author and Akashic Books.