Enjoy this preview excerpt from Family and Foes, by Susan Quilty.
Chapter One: A New World, A New Friend
The grass was green in Arcadia. The sky was blue, the clouds were white, and the river was a clear bluish gray. Across the water, needle-thin evergreens intermixed through an autumnal display of crimson, ginger, and amber foliage. Amanda Jones squinted in the direction of the single, yellow sun and smiled at its gentle warmth. If she kept her gaze away from the city skyline, she could almost imagine she was back on Earth.
There were differences, of course.
Despite being at the edge of Arcadia’s largest city, the air was filled with floral, earthy scents instead of the faint blend of exhaust fumes and construction dust that lingered throughout Amanda’s neighborhood. From every direction, birdsong filtered lightly through the air. It was a thin, silvery backdrop of sound that had gradually become as familiar and unremarkable to Amanda as the perpetual sound of passing traffic back home.
Another difference in Arcadia was the boy who sat beside her. If Amanda were sitting in the small park outside her apartment building, Drew would be by her side. Drew was Amanda’s oldest friend. He was the person she turned to with her problems and fears, her thoughts and dreams. But Drew wasn’t a psychic traveler. He couldn’t follow Amanda to other worlds. He couldn’t know how it felt to visit an imaginary house, as if in a daydream, and then be physically transported through one of its many doors.
Mitra wasn’t a psychic traveler either, but he knew what it was like to be a child prodigy in a society of adults. He knew how it felt to be watched and evaluated.
They sat quietly on the back edge of an open hover cart and looked out across the flowing river. Their legs dangled above the ground, their shoes barely brushing the longest blades of grass. When the silence had lasted long enough to see two silvery-pink fish break through the surface of the water and splash back into their passing schools, Mitra let out a slow breath.
“This is not an official visit.”
It wasn’t a question, and Amanda didn’t have to respond. If this had been an official visit, she wouldn’t have come through the door alone. They both knew that.
“It’s a… social visit?”
He sounded less sure, and Amanda’s stomach flipped.
“I guess so,” she answered vaguely without turning to face him.
“Okay.” Mitra nodded, and there was a smile in his voice.
“Did you finish the last book I brought you?”
Amanda changed the subject as a third fish arced through the air. The fish were agitated today, which meant a storm was on its way.
“I did.” Mitra frowned. “I left it in my room since I did not know I would be seeing you.”
Amanda nodded but was sad to see his face cloud at the mention of the book. She hadn’t meant to upset him.
“Your world is…” Mitra hesitated, allowing enough time for his silence to say a lot.
“It’s okay,” Amanda agreed with a shrug. “I know. And it’s not like I made it that way.”
Mitra turned to fully face her, and his icy blue eyes pierced deep. Amanda wanted to look away, but her gaze felt trapped by the thrill of feelings that came up when he looked at her like that.
“You couldn’t.” Mitra’s voice was steady, yet soft around the edges. “You are too good, too kind to create the kind of… discord I see in your world.”
“Discord?” Amanda repeated the word, stuck on an earlier part of the sentence.
“There is so much conflict,” Mitra continued hoarsely, as if in physical pain at the thought. “There is so much oppression for the benefit of so few, and for such incomprehensible reasons.”
His eyes darkened and Amanda looked away.
“It’s no Arcadia,” she responded weakly, glancing back toward the city of glass towers.
She could see dark clouds gathering in the distance.
“Arcadia started with an advantage.” Mitra’s expression softened as he added, “Thanks to you.”
“Well, not me.” Amanda looked down at her hands.
“Your people then.” Mitra amended. Though she thought he sounded less reverent, less sure of her people’s greatness than he’d been when they first met.
My fault, Amanda thought to herself. I did that to him. I changed him.
She wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing, but he’d wanted to know. And she’d wanted to give him the truth.
The High Council had sent Amanda to Arcadia to deepen their relationship with the Arcadians, who used a form of psychic energy to interact with some of their technology. The Arcadians were fascinated by Amanda’s potential to become a psychic architect—the first psychic architect in nearly 100 years—and seemed to think her mind would show unique abilities. They paired her with Mitra, a teenaged genius who had become the youngest Arcadian scientist in the upper ranks of his field. Yet, after weeks of visits, Amanda hadn’t shown progress with even the simplest of their light-based energy games.
Sensing her frustration, their schedule had shifted to include time outside of the lab. Mitra was tasked with showing Amanda the city and answering her questions about their world. Since he was also curious about her people—whom the Arcadians respectfully called the Maiorum—Amanda was given permission to bring Mitra novels from a list approved by Director Alvarsson. Over time, she became daring, sneaking in historical fiction that offered a grittier view of her world. It had seemed like a small rebellion, a chance to show Mitra a more realistic picture of the world he’d longed to visit.
“Before we became friends, I saw the Maiorum as a venerable culture, richer for its links to an ancient past,” Mitra sighed. “And now…”
“I’m sorry I ruined that for you,” Amanda kicked at the soft grass, causing the hover cart to rock gently. She hadn’t liked the idea of lying to keep up the sanitized image of Earth the Arcadians had been given. But she also felt bad about changing the way Mitra saw her world.
Mitra reached over to rest his hand on top of hers.
“I am not sorry.”
She could feel the weight of his gaze without looking up. It felt good to share something secret—something true—between them alone.
Mitra gently squeezed Amanda’s hand, drawing her attention back to his clear blue eyes.
“The more I understand your world, the easier it is for me to be your friend.” He spoke with an open smile, before letting his lips soften and his eyes sparkle in that deep, promising way. “And I want to be your friend.”
“I—” Amanda stuttered, feeling a blush spread over her cheeks.
“Stop! Stop where you are!”
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