In the midst of a country sliding into chaos, one mother struggles to stop her two surviving children from killing each other. One son is in government; the other is in hiding.
Ray Franklin, outlaw, rebel, and deserter, is on the run, chased by government forces and haunted by his past. The vice-president, a man determined to gain complete power at any cost, is directing that hunt. From a nail-biting chase through the depths of the Weeping Wood, to a maze of half-forgotten tunnels under the capital city, Ray is slowly drawn into the VP’s trap and forced to face up to a painful truth. Rose needs to save her children before a long-hidden secret pushes the country of Aijlan into anarchy.
Set in an alternate world based on our 21st century, Rose – A Mother’s Unreason is Book Three of The Lords of Misrule series. Part political thriller, part dystopian fiction, part quest for revenge, Rose is a dark, action-packed, morally ambiguous novel from British author Andy Graham.
Can Rose Franklin right the wrongs in her own past to save her family’s future? Download now to find out.
Chapter 1 – Bait
Ray Franklin collapsed against a tree trunk, narrowly missing the two small bodies huddled under the makeshift blanket. His breath came in steaming gasps. He closed his eyes, forced his aching muscles to relax. One of the shapes whimpered. Ray stroked the boy’s hair. The other child was still snoring. They would rest here, just aminute. Just one.
Part of the darkness detached itself from a rock. Nose twitching ever higher, it lumbered towards an ancient wolf bark tree. The tree had bullied its way towards the sky long ago, and was sucking the light out of the clearing.
Jagged, yellow fingernails twisted through the creeping ivy on the branches. The shadow snapped a leaf off, sniffed it, and headed deeper into the forest. The leaf fluttered to the ground behind it.
The bark was biting into the back of Ray’s head.
“Wake up, don’t sleep! Not now, please, not now.”
He dragged himself out of the warm embrace of the sleep he craved, ignored the childlike whispers in his ears that it would all be OK, and forced his eyes open.
“Life is never OK unless you make it OK.” He pushed himself upright, gritting his teeth.
The muscles around the back injury that had never fully healed refused to relax. The ring and little finger on his left hand were numb. Something burned in the back of his shoulder. That was new. Whatever that ache was, it hadn’t been there before he’d dozed off. “Stop whinging. Get a move on. Focus.”
There was still a chance to outrun this thing.
The two small shapes lay curled up together at his feet, sleeping peacefully in the decaying leaves. The kids had burrowed into each other, a bundle of arms and legs. One had tousled blonde hair, the other messy brown that would have had the military barbers’ fingers twitching. They had the look of absolute peace children have when sleeping. It was a total contrast to the relentless energy that poured out of them in torrents when they were awake.
Was this how my brother and I looked before we were separated? The thought slipped into his brain from nowhere.
“Stop it.” The words felt odd, alone in this forest with no one else to hear them. “Get the kids to the drop-off point. Clear up the mess you’ve made. Then you can deal with your own past.”
Shaking the fatigue out of his head, and the feeling into his hand, he gathered the children into his arms.
It stooped to pick up a broken stick, touched it to its tongue, and loped into the darkness. As it moved away, the forest animals crept out into the open, chattering to each other in high-pitched noises.
Branches slapped at Ray’s face. Roots, greasy with dew, threatened to trip him. One child was slung over his shoulder; the older one, the boy, clung to his back. He didn’t know how long he’d been stumbling through the trees. His arms were numb. His legs seemed like they belonged to someone else: someone old and drunk.
He shifted the children around, carrying both on his shoulders, one on each hip. The boy even woke long enough to walk a little, but they were getting slower.
The figure collapsed to its knees, branches cracking. It tore at hair that was no longer on its scalp. Fingernails left fresh gouges amongst the old scars. Swollen red flesh peeled off its scalp, dropping onto the mossy floor. A voice was begging for forgiveness. A human voice it no longer recognised. A raised disc embedded into the flesh of its wrist beeped. The figure traced a fingertip over the flashing green light that gleamed pinkly under the skin.
“I’m not an animal. I’m not an it. I’m a he. A man. I’m a man. I don’t want to end up like the monster that lives under the Rukan Mountains: an abomination used to scare the children into behaving. Let me go. Let me free.”
The light stayed green. He sat back on his haunches and scrubbed the tears off his grimy face.
“I won’t do it.” He pulled at the metal implant bolted to his skull behind his ear. “Damn you all to the seven hells, I won’t do it.”
The light changed to amber.
“No, no, no! Please no.”
The light started flashing.
“It. Not he. It.” The words broke off into moans.
It stood and crashed through a line of bushes.
Ray stopped to get his bearings and lay the children down. He rolled onto his back, rested his legs up against a tree trunk, and shook them. He was hoping it would flush the life back into them. It had never worked in the past, but right now, he’d try anything. Hope meant survival.
The dense canopy of leaves above him blocked out most of the sky. The leaves rustled, exposing tantalising glimpses of inky blue. A single star flashed out of a skull-shaped hole in the clouds.
“Maybe this is the constellation I need,” he whispered. “Maybe—”
Chapter Two – Remembering Lieutenant Cole
“—this is the constellation you need,” said Lieutenant Cole, their Natural Navigation instructor from Sci-Corps. She tapped the screen with a finger that was more joint than bone.
“She’s got the physique of a stand lamp,” Nascimento whispered. “Do you think her uniform is holding her together?”
The instructor, seemingly mistaking Nascimento’s bass rumble of a voice for Ray’s, shot him a look. “This is the constellation you need,” she repeated. “The Jester always points north.” She circled it with her laser pointer. “It must be important because it’s underlined in red.”
The class of legionnaires laughed politely, all except Nascimento; he carried on carving someone else’s name (Skovsky’s) into the plastic desk.
“Line the Jester up with the Little Cleaver, and you’re good to go,” said the lieutenant.
“Better that than lining myself up with her little cleavage. She’s so uptight, it’s a wonder she doesn’t crack a rib every time she farts,” Nascimento mumbled to Ray, who let out an involuntary snigger.
The chitter of an animal off to one side broke through the memories. Ray was in the Weeping Wood with two young children, not giggling like school kids with Jamerson Nascimento in the training room. He rolled onto his haunches and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
Lieutenant Cole had finally lost her temper that day. She’d hauled Ray to the front of the class for disobedience and inattentive behaviour unbecoming a government peace diplomat (the term that had been briefly trialled as an alternative for legionnaires). With a sly curve to her lips, and the threat of a group punishment hanging over them all, she’d ordered him to demonstrate how he would find his way when lost in the wilderness with no compass or sat nav.
Three minutes later, the red-faced woman had sent him back to his seat, with a warning that he was treading a fine line between cocky and clever.
Ray realised now that, like many students, the legionnaires had always listened to their teacher but not paid much attention. Never having had to use the knowledge for real, and bored by endless assessments that led nowhere and taught not much more than how to pass exams, they’d become numb to exhortations that this was important and that could save your life. The men and women of the legions had viewed the Natural Navigation exams in the same way as most exams: an end to a means. In a world that was drowning in technology, when even toilet soap dispensers in the Gates were hooked up to the Internet so you never ran out, no one saw the point of stellar navigation, compasses, or sextants.
Connectability was a given.
Search engines ubiquitous.
Wi-Fi and battery life ranked almost as high as food and water.
A damp root was digging into his thigh. Ray stretched out his leg. Wherever he moved, the root seemed to be following him.
His mother, Rose, had taught him how to find north using the stars. He’d been young, hadn’t even hit double figures. She’d just come back from one of her long absences (six months that time) and pronounced it was essential he learnt stellar navigation: “Just in case inevitability catches up with us before we’re ready.”
After Lieutenant Cole had dismissed the class, the navigation skills his mother had taught him had earned him the predictable taunts and odd looks from his colleagues. The puzzled glances from the few Gate-born legionnaires hadn’t bothered him. He had been a little put out to discover that even his colleagues from the Bucket Towns had never learnt how to navigate by the stars.
As the clouds fought in the sky, and the children slept at his feet, Ray finally admitted he shouldn’t have been surprised. His childhood had been more unconventional than he could ever have imagined. His neighbour, Lenka, had provided for him better than most. But his mother’s infrequent visits had become not much more than tutorials in rebellion and post-apocalyptic survival. He hadn’t understood Rose’s reasoning. He’d just been happy to have his mother at home, never realising that those skills may actually save his life and someone else’s kids’ lives too.
“That’s assuming I can catch a break and see the sky.”
His feet sank into the soft moss as he stood. Being slightly closer to the clouds wouldn’t hurry them away from the stars, but as Captain Aalok had said, “Fear had ever made the irrational rational.”
Had Rose thought that ‘inevitability catching up with them’ would include her son finding out the truth about who he was? If he met her again, he needed to ask.
There’s something else I wanted to ask, too. Something Professor Lind said in that secret camp, just before I broke the guy’s ribs. Something about a brother, or maybe it was a sibling, or a half-sibling. But precisely what that question was got lost in the adrenaline fuelled rush of that night. Something he knew he should remember. After the turmoil of the last few months, he wasn’t sure he was ready to remember.
The nervous peace of the night was broken by a violent crack in the distance.
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