Will return the favor!
Including my query here because agents will have read the query before reading the pages:
Marla’s life on Earth is a lie, a product of a mind prison. A year ago, a failed mission led to her capture. She was placed in a mind prison, her mind sent to Earth and trapped there, while her body suffered experimentation in home world Ilah. She’s complacent in her life on Earth, until one day the illusion shatters -- her friends on Ilah have finally freed her.
With the aid of her friends, Marla flees home to Somret, hidden city and safehouse against Arrental, the country responsible for her imprisonment. She doesn’t know where she belongs: Earth is fresh in her mind, whereas her memories of Ilah’s metal forests and lightning-fueled cities are gone. Fighting her way back into Somret’s military might help, but being reinstated doesn’t equal being accepted. Accusations trail her, for she is the lone survivor of that failed mission. Spy from the government. Traitor to Somret. Murderer of her teammate.
Worse, the mind prison gave her the power to cross to other worlds and enter people’s minds. This makes her a potential weapon -- someone to be feared and manipulated. She should conceal this power, even suppress it. But this is her way back to Earth. Resolving unfinished business there is the only way to leave Earth’s life behind.
A botched supply run and a messenger with a dagger in her chest lead Marla to the truth of that fateful ‘mission’ a year ago. She no longer knows who the enemy is: Arrental, Somret, or herself. If she leaves, the only person capable of freeing Arrental from the usurper on its throne dies. Staying means risking her freedom, her friends, and her life.
SAMPLE PAGES (5):
Dark water thrashed against Ren’s thighs, the current threatening to drag him underwater.
But Ren had been underwater for a year; perhaps the river could drain the despair, the memories, and the nightmares out of him. Out of his lungs, out of his heart, until —
“We’re closing the gates! Hurry up!”
Ren look up, snatched back from his morbid thoughts. The freezing chill of the Vorem’s waters numbed his limbs to match his heart as he splashed his way up the ramp. Once again skipping the celebration party, he trudged the long way back to Military Quarters.
Jastin frowned when Ren slouched in, tracking water into their room, but didn’t comment. He didn’t ask why Ren fumbled an easy jump and landed waist-deep in the river. He didn’t ask Ren how he was feeling. Ren was glad — despite how everyone thought him an incessant chatterbox, sometimes it was nice to stay quiet. Those sometimes had become far more frequent during the past year.
Disappointingly, rummaging in his closet only turned up clothes that were already dirty. But dirty was better than soaking wet, so Ren shucked off his wet clothes and kicked them into his corner. He took more care with his halfsword, drying the blade with a rag. The vambrace took more time, with all its grooves and crevices.
Jastin waited for Ren to wrap his weapons up in cloth. “How’d it go?”
Ren shrugged, and collapsed onto his bed. “Standard. Collect the runners, deliver ‘em, get out.”
Jastin quirked up an eyebrow. Really? He pointed at Ren’s left arm.
“Just a scratch,” Ren said, showing Jastin the inside of his forearm. “Nothing escapes you, huh? How did you figure it out?”
“You were favoring that hand,” Jastin replied vaguely, turning his gaze back to his novel, though knowing Jastin, it could also be a manual of military tactics.
“Probably could use stitches, but it’s too late for that,” Ren mused. “What were you and Karin up to while I was gone, hmmm?” he continued, doing his best to grin.
Jastin flicked his eyes up to meet Ren’s, the twitch in one of his eyelids a sure sign of guilt.
“You don’t have to lie; I’m single, not naive. You might as well admit she’s been sleeping here.” Once the words left his mouth, Ren flinched. He always let his mouth run away with him. Karin’s been sleeping here because she hasn’t got a roommate anymore. To cover up the flinch, Ren grinned even wider. “Did you have fun?”
Finally, Jastin cracked a pleased smile. Ren reached over to punch him in the arm. “I hope you didn’t use my bed. That’s crossing the line, man.” The smile didn’t fade, and Ren groaned. “Jastin —“
A knock on the door had Ren rolling into an upright position. Jastin crossed the room in two strides, opening the door to reveal Temmol, frozen mid-knock.
Temmol looked more agitated than usual, his fingers shaking as he tucked away an escaped strand of hair from the tie at the nape of his neck. Councillor though Temmol was, Ren always had the distinct impression Temmol was nervous around most people. Ren saluted him sarcastically. “Hey, Tem. O great Councillor.”
Temmol grimaced, twisting his hands together.
“Is it…” Jastin shuffled his feet.
Ren narrowed his eyes. “What happened?”
“Classified,” Jastin murmured, clearly unwilling to say more. Ren was sick of the word classified. After a year of hearing the word, it’d crossed annoying and entered enraging.
“You’re being summoned,” Temmol said, and Ren’s heart gave a great leap. “The Council will… tell you more later.”
“Just me?” Ren asked, already searching for a clean pair of socks. He failed. To make matters worse, he only had the one pair of boots. Muddied, wet, and dripping on the floor.
“Just you. Though Karin’s also been sent for.”
Jastin frowned at that, but he didn’t start hammering Temmol with questions as Ren would’ve done. Resignedly, Ren forced his feet into his wet boots, and, squelching, followed Temmol down the corridor.
“What’s this all about, Temmol? Councillor,” he amended. It was too easy to think of Temmol as a peer — he was only a year older than Ren, after all. But the stirring hope in Ren’s chest whispered it might pay off to be more polite.
Ren’s insides clenched in anxiety as he waited for Temmol’s answer. When it finally came, something came loose in Ren’s chest, rattling the composure he’d finally learned to fake.
“It’s about Marla.”
Asides from three months of winter, Taipei is perpetually, brutally hot. Pavement shimmering with heat waves, perspiration soaking your shirt after one minute in the sun type of hot. Even after four years here, stepping into the heat of a mid-June tropical sun after two hours in a movie theater is still a special kind of torture.
Jay squints in the bright light. “God, it’ll take us twenty minutes just to get to the station.”
Ximending. One of the most crowded areas in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. On a weekday, you can barely walk without rubbing against a stranger’s shoulders. On a Saturday…
“Come on. You’ll be late.” I step into the crowd, beginning the dance of dodging and ducking and sidestepping I still have yet to perfect.
“I really hate those salespeople,” Jay mutters, following me.
Asides from the shoppers and movie-goers milling around, salespeople choke the narrow streets of Ximending, always ready to pounce. “Uniquely-designed’ pens are pressed into your hands, fliers trailing you even after you tell the salesperson you’re not interested in hiring a foreign caregiver. Beauty products, shampoo gel packets, lesson discounts, and the odd squirrel seller.
I grab Jay’s arm to keep from being separated. “No — I don’t want to try your leg razors now,” I scowl at a salesperson, too aggravated to fake politeness.
Before we can escape into the safety of the metro station, a hand grabs my elbow. It’s a man, stuffed into a crisp suit he must be sweating hellishly under. My frown turns into a grin at his perfectly gelled hair — salesperson though he must be, that alone might make him a soul mate for Jay.
“Ni hao. Hi!” He pulls out a business card. “You have potential we’re looking for; I was wondering if you would consider working with us, Miss…?”
His question hangs in the air until Jay snatches up the card. “Holistic Photography?” Jay says incredulously. “You want her to be a…model?” He lets out a sound between a cough and a donkey bray.
“Your friend has a very unique style —“ I suppress an eye roll. I’d wager he’s used that line fifty times today. “Sorry, but I’m not interested.”
I place the card back in the man’s hand, leaving before he can say more than, “Would you consider —“
Jay sniggers once we’re inside the metro station. “Ooh, someone’s got a very unique style —“
“Even if he weren’t randomly asking every girl on the street, it’s just the hair.” It really is. Though my hair is white-blonde, almost silver in the sun, that’s not too rare. Well, it’s rare here, but it’s just…hair. Most of the time, it’s bedhead hair.
Jay snorts and runs a hand through his own hair. “Nonsense. If we're talking about hair, mine’s definitely better.” Just to annoy him, I reach out a hand to crush his precious hair. “Hey! That’s fifteen minutes of work you’re ruining,” he pouts, ducking.
That’s Jay. Vain in a way I can’t tell is truth or pretend, but still annoyingly good-looking — his features a mix of Asian and Caucasian, his skin a light tan, his hair raven-black. And gelled from root to tip.
In retaliation, Jay jabs a thumb at one of my eyebrows. “Stop it! I don’t have a brow liner — stop it.” I swat his hand away.
“It’s unrealistic — they’re much too dark to go with your hair.”
“The hell you know about eyebrows, Jacob.” I scowl, flipping him the finger when he tries again. Thankfully, the metro arrives and the press of the crowd stops our bickering. Suddenly Jay starts patting his pockets. “Damn, I forgot to bring my passport,” he murmurs, earning pointed glares from the people he’s jostling with his elbows.
“We’ve been here four years; how could you forget?”
“How could you forget?” he mimics. “My father’s asked that at least a hundred times. And so have you. Let’s just agree I have a terrible memory and move on.”
After we graduated from high school, Jay’s family moved back to Taiwan for his father’s business. Well, his mother moved back to Taiwan. Their return was the first time Jay set foot on the island. Despite Jay’s frequent requests to move out, he’s still living with his parents, much to his chagrin. (“What can I say? My mother’s traditional and doesn’t want me to move out until I’m married.”)
Pretty pathetic, but I followed him here. Across the freaking Pacific. Despite his overly-gelled hair, how he’s late all the time, and his abysmal memory, he’s my best friend. My only friend.
Though if he tries to wipe off my eyebrows again, I’ll have to reconsider that statement.
Back in high school, I lived five hundred miles from my parents, and barely spoke to my roommate. Somehow people don’t take much notice of me. I fade into the background, my name forgotten and asked for again and again. Only Jay has been around for me since high school. That’s why I’m here.
Jay continues, attracting glances simply because he’s speaking English, “How much are you willing to bet this interview’s going to be a flop?”
“The more meaningful question would be how badly you’ll fail.”
He shoots me a scowl. “Like you’re having better luck.”
Unfortunately, I can’t refute this point. I have a diploma in biology, a resume on my lap, and no real idea what I want in life. Sometimes, I feel ungrounded, as if I’m observing everything from underwater. A passerby to this world.
Occasionally in my dreams, I’m someone else. Someone who can run without clutching at a stitch, who has more of a purpose than to just…exist. Some dreams are ridiculous, ones you know aren’t true while you’re still in them. Some dreams make you believe. And when you wake up, it rips you apart to realize it wasn’t real.
The metro comes to a lurching halt, and Jay staggers into the wall of passengers. “Oops — sorry — it’s my stop —“ He fumbles in his pockets for his metro card while apologizing. None of the other passengers are too aggravated. They’re used to being stuffed into buses and metros like sardines in cans.
“Remember! Dinner at six!” I call to his back. “If you’re late again, I’ll shave you bald!”
The smell of barbecued meat and spicy kimchi wafts out of the restaurant, and just hearing people eating makes my stomach growl in desperation. I check my phone again. Five minutes past six.
I call Jay. Usually I wait ten minutes, since his arriving anytime before that is a small miracle, but today I’m too hungry to wait. I’m not sure why, but as his phone rings, I find the scent of Korean food is making me feel slightly nauseated. Which is ridiculous, because Korean food is the best thing in the world.
“Come on, Jay,” I growl at his annoying ringtone for the thousandth time.
When he doesn’t pick up, I start mentally designing the pattern I’m going to shave the stubble of his hair into. My stomach curls and clenches, so empty I’m beginning to lose my appetite — I’m also slightly dizzy, my vision blurring slightly.
Finally my phone rings and I reach for it with a numb hand — my fingers fumble — my phone clatters to the ground. The entire world tilts and the ground falls away from my feet.
My mind swirls with dizziness, my vision a whirl of blue and yellow. Everything around me feels…vast. Not empty, but full of endless possibility. For an instant, I feel ground beneath my feet, but I fall once again. Instead of darkness, white mist engulfs me, swallowing me completely.
Just before the mist covers my eyes, the world steadies and I see a tiny island, with pale yellow sand and a cloudless sky. There’s a strange sense of familiarity, but at the same time, my mind is completely blank.
Something happened, something terrible, but I can’t remember anything.
I’m being squeezed from all sides, my head trapped in a vice, my arms bound and prickling tingles of fear running up and down them. I feel slow, lethargic. I feel drugged.
Sound rushes into my ears as if someone suddenly turned up the volume. I hear my breathing, incongruously slow and steady. I hear a gentle scritch-scratching around me, the sound of wires rubbing against each other. I also hear murmuring — there are people out there.
Suddenly, I’m desperate to be free of this suffocating darkness and relieve the pressure gripping my head. I forget this is a dream or a hallucination or the work of my fevered mind. I writhe, jerking at the straps tying me down.
The murmurs die down. Please let me out, I think, not knowing who I’m begging to. They start talking again, but I only understand one sentence. “More sedation. Knock her out.”