by Alex Steullet (AlexSTWrites)

Adult Science Fiction
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Query

THE SANDS OF EDEN (130,000 words) is a triple-POV adult science fiction novel and the first book in a duology. Picture the socio-political intrigue of Arkady Martine’s A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE and the ethical concerns of Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO, tied together with the blunt sarcasm of Martha Wells’s MURDERBOT series.

Year 575, Galactic Era. Arthur is a disillusioned postgraduate student desperate to escape the reputation of his father’s successful but amoral law firm. When he’s kidnapped in a botched shipjacking and taken to a planet gutted by corporate greed, he senses an opportunity to forge his own legacy. He rallies with the revolutionaries, but soon discovers their true enemy is a planet of elites chasing immortality through underground human experimentation. Turns out the cost of legacy is his entire future.

Two star systems away, Ren is a passionate neuroscientist, seeking to cure children with rare neurological diseases for an interplanetary pharmaceutical company. Her stable life implodes when she fails to stop a patient escaping from her laboratory and her company sends in murder drones. While on the run, she finds out her patient never needed treatment in the first place. Her career was a lie. To protect the girl and reclaim her life, her only choice is to embrace the chaos of a galaxy-spanning revolution.

Chasing the promise of eternal life and absolute power, Anastasia has ascended to Justice Minister on Anu, a covert planet for the galaxy’s elite. Yet she is still ostracized from Anu’s highest circle of leadership—at least until a research subject escapes from a high-security lab, threatening the planet’s secrecy. Anastasia is tasked with investigating, bringing her closer than ever to true power, but also revealing the terrible price of Anuvian immortality. She is left with a decision: propitiate Anu’s most powerful leaders in exchange for their patronage, or betray her planet and risk a revolutionary’s fate.

This manuscript won the 2024 #RevPit competition. Its themes were inspired by my degree in Human Rights Law and my personal experience as a life-long migrant between the US, Europe, and Japan—where I currently work as a PR professional and ghostwriter.

Thank you for your time and kind consideration.

First Five Pages

Prologue

She had no choice but to keep on running.

The broad, bushy lemon trees sheltered her from Eden’s blistering summer sun. She had to stay cool. To reach the barn before the other kids, she needed all the strength her short legs could muster.

She wished they were longer. Long adult legs.

In the distance, Dan was shouting instructions. He was the oldest and the tallest, so the others always did what he said. But he wasn’t the smartest. She was the smartest. The others just didn’t know it yet. They would soon. As soon as she won.

Under her breath she recited the rules, like a magic spell to help her stay focused. Get from the town square to the Hartford family barn. You have a three-minute head start. You’re up against six chasers and five guards. Get tagged and you lose. Touch the barn and you win. Any part. Even for a second.

The path through the lemon grove wasn’t the shortest, but she had a plan. All the fruit grew atop steep hills protected by stone walls, like those castles in the holomovies where the lazy princesses lived. Her whole village was surrounded by castles. They were supposed to keep the sand out. The barn was at the back of the village. Part of the lemon grove jutted out on a ledge over the barn’s roof. Her dad told her not to jump because a kid broke some bones once. One of the small kids—she couldn’t remember which one. It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t get hurt. She was the best jumper, and an even better faller.

High noon rays streamed through the canopy, bouncing off of low-hanging branches and slender trunks. Thick leaves and plump lemons flashed like sparks as she dashed. The smell of fresh soil and ripe fruit made her hungry. She ran faster.

Behind her came more voices. They were louder now. Frantic. Some of the chasers must have figured out her plan and followed her into the grove. They were probably panicking, as they should. Her path to the ledge was clear. They wouldn’t catch her.

Only when she saw the tip of the barn’s clay-tiled roof did she slow down. Something about the colors felt off. The baby blue of Eden’s cloudless sky, the neon yellows and greens of the grove—all of the reassuring hues of her childhood were fading. Tall pillars of black smoke rose from the houses. Fires rampaged. Scarlet waltzed with crimson through a ballroom of ash. The voices rang louder. Screams of anguish. Cries of loss. She stumbled, heaving, crushed under the force of dread. The wall was close, but on her hands and knees she couldn’t see past it. She crawled, dragged herself forward. Always forward. There was nowhere else to go.

Even the unseeable, she had to see. She shoved her bony fingers between smooth stone slats, but immediately let go. The wall was searing. She took off her shoes, put her hands inside and tried again. With all her might, she pulled her body upward. Beyond the wall was her home. The only home she had ever known.

Before she could see clear of the forbidding gray, a giant gloved hand seized her by the collar and pulled her backward. A second covered her eyes and nose. Only her mouth was free. Her lungs begged her to breathe. Instead, she let out a strident, agonizing scream.

The hands let go. She fell, and the darkness caught her.


The recollection imaging interface broke up and faded, revealing the drab white ceiling of her budget hotel room. Stooped over her, a friendly but frightened figure spoke with urgency.

“Nat! Hurry up and pack. Our biometrics were flagged. We have to get off planet now.”

Sluggish from disappointment, Nat groaned and nodded. The dive into her past had brought up nothing new. With each software update she hoped to shore up some forgotten memory, a sharper picture, a clue. Yet every time, she came out holding the same broken fragments.

Her partner left to wait in the lobby. Through her crown command menu, she printed a change of clothes, emptying the last of her discount fabric cartridges. Two minutes later, the straps of her suspensor bag in hand, she was running again.

Chapter 1

On the dwarf planet of Verne, in the Desmond Tutu Memorial Event Hall of the Elysion University for Advanced Management Studies, Arthur William Corvus Hackerey was drifting. Not lost or out of control, but directionless, like a raft on placid waters. After eleven interminable years navigating the pompous self-aggrandizement of elite college life, it was all he could do to stay afloat.

Across the Hall’s ten thousand square feet, a sea of people floundered about the university’s annual job fair. Embedded holoprojectors divided the marbled flooring into neat islands, with the more lucrative industries closer to the grand central stage. Recruiters from the galaxy’s most prestigious corporations had flooded in to poach the new generation’s brightest; or so they advertised. For EUAMS graduates, academic performance and individual aptitude were small fry compared to lineage and family connections.

Still, attendance was worth a few university credits, and listening to corporate pitches proved marginally more interesting than the alternative: a seminar on the export regulations for Vernian root vegetables. For another half hour, Arthur would play-act as a model student. Then, he could get ready for the day’s main event.

Wandering between booths in the non-profit section, he pictured the crisp, custom blazer he had printed that morning. The instant the clock hit five thirty, he would go home, change, and ride to The Platonic Ordeal, a grubby no-tech dive bar in the Trader District. At 8 p.m. sharp, gavel in hand, he would call to session the inaugural meeting of the Student Association for Environmental Security and Radical Justice. Which left him three whole hours to come up with a better acronym than SAESRJ.

After touring the nonprofits, he shuffled over to legal. Among the galaxy’s most prestigious firms were a litany of names he recognized all too well from his father’s dinner parties. Pearson, Spearman & Hatchett, staunch defenders of arms manufacturers and defense contractors everywhere. Bacon & Cash, the legal counsel behind every insurance denial claim on Mars. Buffett, Grubber & Swallow, the most trustworthy friends of white-collar criminals in the outer systems. Two dozen more would offer Arthur a career in exchange for a few polite calls and a handshake. He would rather dive into a black hole than work for any of them.

The most loathsome of all occupied the section’s centermost booth. Every major manufacturer in the galaxy had at least once solicited their services to cover up some environmental crime, labor law violation or industrial accident. Now, snaking around the ten-foot bespectacled eagle logo that had loomed over his upbringing, students lined up by the dozen for their chance to speak with a recruiter from Hackerey & Associates.

Would they be less enthusiastic if they, like him, had witnessed the scores of angry demonstrators who gathered daily to chant and yell two hundred feet below his father’s pristine corner office? Heard their stories of acid rain and chromium-laced tap water? Seen their holos of malformed children and tumor-ridden elders? Or would they look past, at the shimmering dome preserving the ornate architecture of London’s revamped Square Mile?

Seething with disdain, Arthur began to walk away when a notification caught his eye. A security alert from his ship. Not so much alarmed as confused about why anyone would bother with his old trash heap, he selected the pop-up for details. For a second, he could have sworn his interface froze. Of course, that was impossible. Crown interfaces don’t freeze. But when the description window opened, it was blank. He figured there had to be a bug in his security software, and made a mental note to check the system as soon as he got home.

With only minutes left before liberation, Arthur decided to end his captivity by snooping around the Academia section. Regret came swiftly. The moment he stepped past the first line of booths, he was assaulted by an onslaught of snark.

“Mr. Hackerey, what a surprise! I would have thought you allergic to our humble profession.”

He swiveled around and greeted his unwelcome solicitor with a decorous smile. Beneath a gaudy banner bearing the university’s coat of arms stood Rupert V. Dipple, arms crossed and sporting a malicious grin. His red-and-gold professorial robes clashed with the gray of his gaunt, beady eyes. Bushy down-sloping eyebrows and a prominent vulturine nose affected his expression with a permanent belligerence. Whether his personality had been molded by his features or the other way around was anyone’s guess.

Arthur shrugged. “I’m simply browsing. Your display is impressive.”

Where corporations liked to lure in potential hires with elaborate simulations and exclusive merchandise, academic booths adopted a more austere approach. Dipple’s display was little more than a ten-foot table draped with thick cotton cloth, on which was embroidered the seal of the Faculty for Interplanetary Legal Studies. Atop stood neat stacks of leather-bound volumes, showcasing the published works of all tenured members of faculty. Dipple’s stack towered above the rest.

“We decided it was important to convey the work ethic of our faculty,” said Dipple with a proud nod at his books. “Of course, given your greater enthusiasm for associative side-projects than rigorous study, perhaps you would be better suited for voluntarism. The universe is full of exoplanetary bacteria in need of saving. Unless, of course, you wish to embark on a more lucrative career in the private sector by leaning on your pedigree.”




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Photo by Sebastian Kanczok on Unsplash

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