Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#Giveaway Helia’s Shadow: Part One by K.C. Neal (The Starlight Age #1) ~ #Review #SciFi ~ Excerpt

Helia’s Shadow: Part One 

by K.C. Neal
(The Starlight Age #1)
Publication date: November 23rd 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult


Helia’s Shadow is for fans of The 5th Wave (Rick Yancey), The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Divergent (Veronica Roth), and Legend (Marie Lu).

When the aliens arrived, they were hailed as the saviors of a dying Earth and dwindling human race. But the aliens didn’t come to help. Now, one human girl’s ingenious invention and one alien boy’s awakened heart are humanity’s last hope…
Nineteen years ago, aliens arrived on a barely habitable Earth with advanced technology and the promise of ensuring human survival in exchange for a place to settle. They were hailed as the saviors of humans and Earth.
Today, 16-year-old Helia wants two things in life: to step out of her over-protective mother’s shadow and become an engineer, and to stop hiding her relationship with alien boy Kalo. But the world definitely isn’t ready for a human-alien romance. And worse, the human-alien partnership is crumbling. Humans are arrested without explanation. Some of them are never seen again.
When the alien leader imprisons her mother on a false charge, Helia discovers the aliens never intended to help humans at all. Now, she must join forces with alien rebels. If she succeeds, humans have a chance at survival and she has a chance at love. If she fails, the dwindling human race dies out in slavery.

Part 2 is also now available

In previous iterations of my professional life, I worked as a bench chemist, a lab equipment tester, a biotech researcher, and a medical writer. Strangely, this sequence has not led to my dream job: drummer in a rock band. But my current gig is pretty sweet.

I love colored pens and sticky notes, sunsets and sunrises, digging my fingers into the dirt and nurturing the things that grow in it, and learning anything and everything. I’m a scientist who studies astrology, a go-with-the-flow Type A, and an impatient practitioner of daily meditation. A big bag of contradictions, just like everyone else.

Author links:

My Review.

I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me alot of a show I watched last year that I loved, called Starcrossed, has Aliens trying to get along with the humans, and just alot of similarities in the book and the show. Nothing that upsets me or anything, since I liked the show so much, it made the book that much better (it's not a show based on this book, it just has similarities is all)

I loved the main character and her relationship with the alien guy, Kalo . He seems really sweet and think its a sweet couple.

The cliffhanger at the end made me mad, lol, a I have no clue to when part 2 is going to be out. I can't wait.

I was on the edge of my seat with the intense action and the surprise twist and turns. I  was really left hanging at the end.

Just found out part 2 is now out, so hope to be able to get it soon so I can see what happens next.

5 out of 5 stars

I received this book from the author for my honest review.

Chapter One

Helia scurried between buildings, weaving through a maze of crumbling pre-Collapse structures until she reached rows of newer, metal-sided warehouses near the edge of Haven. The long, early-morning shadows offered little relief from the heat that never truly relented, even at night.
Finally, she stood in front of a large pile of twisted scrap metal and listened to the brush wrens chirp and chatter as she let her heartbeat slow for a few seconds.
To the right, the pile of scrap butted up against the back corner of a warehouse, and the left side sagged against an old cargo container. At its peak, the pile was at least three times her height. Many of the individual pieces of metal had fused together after decades of corrosion, creating a single massive snarl. The dry desert wind and sand had blasted the metal smooth, leaving behind a dull non-color that hardly resembled anything metallic. The hard-packed desert floor at the pile’s base bore a faint red-orange stain that traced a border around the pile—evidence that the air had once held enough moisture to rust metal left out in the elements.
Helia went to the shortest part of the tangled metal, where it reached just a meter higher than her head, and reached out to grasp an angled bar that jutted out at shoulder height. With practiced movements, she placed her feet on the footholds she’d memorized long ago and followed an invisible path over the top.
Hidden on the other side stood a cinderblock structure that was tiny compared to the warehouses she’d just passed but had plenty of space for tools, machine parts, wire scraps, and other odds and ends—her workshop. Her favorite spot in Haven, even if it did get hot enough by midday to make her lightheaded.
She pushed open the door, and the hinges greeted her with a whispered creak.
Two identical workbenches, made of cinderblocks stacked end to end for legs and half an old wooden door cut lengthwise for work surfaces, stood opposite each other against the longer walls of the workshop. A pair of crates that she sometimes used as seats were tucked under each bench. Helia liked symmetry. She popped the lid on a half-full bottle of water sitting on a workbench and drank, then reluctantly pulled out her folio to check the time.
Not enough time to do any work here. Barely enough time to beat her mother home. Her mother frequently worked through the night, but she never missed breakfast.
Helia had known there wasn’t time for more than a glance inside her workshop. But the new curfew had kept her away for days, and the need to be here, to at least check that everything was undisturbed, had gnawed at her until she couldn’t stand it any longer. She’d been setting her alarm to go off at sunrise, then creeping out of her room to see if her mother was home. Last night, finally, her mother had stayed at the office all night. So this morning, Helia had taken the opportunity for a few minutes of freedom.
Fanning her neck with one hand, she went to the table at the workshop’s back wall. She trailed her index finger over the gray metal housing of the pre-Collapse instrument that sat there, the only thing on the table, like an artifact on display. It was an artifact, an object her cousin Gordon had paid an Outlander scavenger nearly a week’s worth of rations for.
Her fingers twitched with the desire to pick up nearby tools. She glanced at her folio again. No time.
“Grit,” she muttered.
With a last look over her shoulder at the instrument, she latched the door behind her, then picked her way back over the heap of metal.
On her way home, she kept to the lesser-used walkways as much as she could. When her route took her to Sage Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through Haven, she had a clear view to the east. The Talan cityship, a pale monolith at the edge of the city, pierced the morning sky. The Arrival was three years before she was born, so she’d never known the eastern horizon without the cityship, or the suffering Haven’s citizens had endured before the Talans came. Two half-moon sentry ships disappeared silently into the top of the alabaster alien structure.
She hoped her workshop looked inconspicuous from the sky.
Back in Haven’s residential district, solar-powered haulers rolled past at creeping speeds. In a city where citizens moved about on foot, pedestrians always had the right of way. It was still early, so morning commuters on the walkways were sparse.
When she reached Domicile Complex B, she palmed the scanner and pushed open the sand-scarred door. A fine dusting of desert grit followed her into the lobby.
The elevator dinged. “Hold it, please,” she called to a few night workers getting on.
She hurried across the faded, scuffed floor to the elevator and stepped on. “Morning.” She nodded at them, and they nodded back.
The doors creaked closed, and the elevator seemed to protest their weight with a mechanical groan during the slow ascent. By the time the elevator creaked to a stop at her floor—eleven—she was drumming her fingers against her leg. She should have just taken the stairs.
Once inside the compact double-occupancy domicile she shared with her mother, she went straight back to the bathroom, a tiny room with a floor that sloped to a drain in the center. It was so small there was barely enough space to turn under the showerhead without bumping her hip against the sink. By the time she was done, water drops covered the toilet, sink, and mirror. They’d evaporate quickly in the dry desert air.
Her hair still damp from her shower, Helia dressed quickly, pulling on pale gray drawstring pants and a lavender three-quarter-sleeve shirt. All clothing in Haven was made of the same synthetic fabric—pale in color, lightweight, and nearly indestructible. She’d seen pictures of pre-Collapse fashions, with the dizzying variety of fabrics and patterns and styles. Out of necessity, clothing options for the sake of personal preference had become obsolete decades ago. That was fine with her. Unlike her best friend, Ellerine, she didn’t long for embellishments or ornaments.
Helia pulled a bowl, spoon, and a pouch of cooked breakfast gains from compartments in the kitchenette’s wall, then sat at the fold-down dining table in the main living area just inside the front door. She squeezed the contents of the pouch into the bowl and started eating.
The numbness was back. She fanned out the fingers of her left hand and then curled them into a fist, trying to work feeling into her hand and forearm.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.
Between bites, she flipped through the newsfeeds on her folio, searching for updates. The past few days, Helia had watched the feeds report a steady increase in the number of people arrested and detained by the Talan-provided city security. More takings should have made her feel safer. But the increase in arrests combined with the dusk-to-dawn curfew instated by Tal-Reku, the Talan leader and de facto head of Haven security, had her checking the feeds many times a day, like a nervous tick. And no one seemed to have a good answer for why there were more arrests and a curfew, which just added to her sense of unease.
She rescanned the previous day’s news, brushing past articles about the upcoming celebration of the 19th Anniversary of Arrival Day. Last year at this time, she was poring over the celebration schedule, on video comm with Ellerine, planning which events they would attend, who they’d go with, and how they’d scheme to “accidentally” run into the tall, green-eyed assistant who used to work in her mother’s lab.
But things were different now. This year, she wanted answers. The arrests were alarming, but the curfew was a personal affront. Before the curfew, it was already hard enough to get time in her workshop—even harder to steal a few minutes alone with Kalo, now that he’d joined Tal-Reku’s Council.
Her mother’s head would probably explode if she found out Helia’s thoughts were so preoccupied with a boy. And if her mother knew the boy was a Talan, the explosion would likely leave a crater the size of Haven. Helia had tried to convince her mother that it was normal for sixteen-year-old girls to have boyfriends, but she never budged on the subject. “After you’re through school and out on your own, you can think about those kinds of things,” she always said. Her mother didn’t seem to understand that “those kinds of things” weren’t things you thought about; they were things you felt.
Helia pictured Kalo’s smile, his sky blue eyes bright. His irises could transition between dozens of different colors—even combinations of colors that kaleidascoped together—but in her mind’s eye he was always blue-eyed. She sighed. Her mother’s rigid attitude about boyfriends was practically forcing Helia to sneak around.
The domicile folio mounted on the wall chimed. Helia looked up in anticipation as the security latch clicked and the front door swung inward.
“Mom.” Helia straightened and hid her still-tingling left hand in her lap. She glanced at the bulging drawstring bag slung over her mother’s shoulder. “Long night?”
Her mother nodded, her eyelids drooping a little over the dark circles that had become permanent features ever since Lead Scientist Diana Shay had become Head Administrator of Science and Research Diana Shay. “We’ve finished up the Arrival Day program. Finally.” She swung the bag to the floor, and it sagged against the wall. The drawstring had loosened, revealing the faded, wadded fabric of worn clothes. She must have run out of clean clothes at the office.
Helia watched her as she stood with her hands on her hips, staring down at the bag but obviously not really seeing it. Helia felt childish satisfaction at having her mother here and adolescent annoyance at the lack of freedom her mother’s presence caused. The two reactions clashed with each other in the center of her chest. When had life started to feel this complicated?
After a moment, her mother blinked, opened the domicile’s main laundry compartment in the wall, and stuffed the entire the bag into it without bothering to pull the clothes out. “Tal-Reku is going to announce a new co-governing measure, among other things,” she said, her voice raspy with fatigue.
Helia frowned. “Co-governing measure?”
Her mother walked to the kitchenette, absently patting the back of Helia’s shoulder with her fingertips as she passed. “The Talans are going to be part of Haven’s Administration now.”
Helia wished she could read her mother’s face, but she could only see it in profile as her mother opened hinged wall compartments in the kitchenette in search of food. She bent down to check a lower one, and thick, straight hair the same dark coffee shade as Helia’s swung forward, shielding her face. “Don’t say anything to anyone yet. Tal-Reku and the Haven City Administration will announce it together during the Arrival Day speeches. Among other things.” Her mother pulled out a soy grain square and held it up, grimacing at it for a second. “I don’t even remember the last time I sat down to a real meal. Want one?”
“No thanks, I already ate.” Helia held up her empty bowl, rattling the spoon a little. “Does the new measure mean Tal-Reku just wants a better view into workings of the Administration? Or . . . Mom, are the Talans actually joining the Administration?”
Her mother shook her head. “I can’t say any more about it. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it at all.” By the way her voice hardened and her face tightened, Helia guessed her second question was closer to the truth. Her mother sat down, and Helia shifted her feet to give her mother some leg room under the tiny drop-down table.
“What about the curfew? Do you have any idea why Tal-Reku is forcing us to be in by dark?” Helia said.
“It’s part of keeping Haven secure. He’s going to address that too, but I don’t know any of the details.”
Helia sighed and flicked at the end of her spoon, sending it spinning partway around the bowl. Before the curfew, she spent at least a couple of hours in her workshop most nights, sometimes more when her mother stayed at the office and forgot to check in with her until late.
“Have you applied for a position in the Research Center yet?” Her mother bit into her soy-grain square, cupping one hand under it to catch the small chunks that crumbled off.
Helia’s jaw clenched, trapping a groan. “No, I haven’t.” She met her mother’s gaze with the smallest upward shift of her brows, challenging her to press the topic.
Her mother’s eyes tightened. She swallowed and leaned forward a little, her soy-grain square momentarily forgotten. “You need to get your application in. The deadline is two weeks away. They’re not going to give you special treatment for being my daughter, you know.”
Irritation flared through Helia like a match tossed on a pile of desert brush. “I don’t expect any special treatment. And I don’t want a position in the Center. You know that.”
She’d given in to her mother this year, taking a science internship during the academic break between Tenth Year and Eleventh Year. But five months from now, at the Eleventh Year midterm break, she was not going to be interning in the Research Center again.
Her mother sighed and pressed her lips into a line of disapproval. “The engineering track will take you too far away. It’s just not safe, and I don’t want—“
“I’ll still be in Haven,” Helia cut her off, digging her fingertips into her thighs under the table, resisting the urge to fling her arms wide and wail in frustration. It was the same argument—discussion, her mother insisted—they’d been having for over year. “It’s not like I’m going to the moon or someplace that actually would be far away or unsafe. You act like I’m asking to run away to the desert to join the Light Followers.”
“The research track is a good one, Helia. It gave me great opportunities.”
Helia clenched her jaw and stood. It was pointless to go ‘round and ‘round about this. Just like with the boyfriend thing, her mother never wavered. Helia grabbed her empty bowl, opened a wash drawer in the kitchenette’s wall, and dumped it in. She closed the drawer harder than necessary and turned to face her mother, her hands on her hips. “Why can’t you understand that I don’t want what you want? I’m your daughter, not your . . . protégé.”
“What’s so terrible about following in my footsteps?”
There were at least a dozen things wrong with trying to emulate her mother’s career. For one thing, it was glaring, sun-in-the-eyes obvious that if Helia tried to take her mother’s path, she would be forever compared to the brilliant Dr. Diana Shay. And she would forever fall short. Helia had a mind for machines and instruments, not pure science. Was it really too much to expect her mother to appreciate that Helia had different talents?
“After all the illnesses, the uncertainty, not knowing if you were going to survive—”
“Mom,” Helia interrupted, but a sudden stab of guilt turned her voice gentle. “That was a really long time ago. I’m fine now. I have been for years.” Aside from the recent bouts of numbness, anyway. But it was getting better. Or at least it wasn’t getting worse.
Her mother looked at her with wide, concerned eyes, and Helia knew she wasn’t seeing her as she was now, but as she’d been when she was a child: Sick. Weak. It was the only time her mother had ever missed work, sometimes hovering at her side for days, hardly sleeping or eating while Helia was in the delirium of the fever.
“Changes are coming. I just want what’s best for you.”
“I know you do,” Helia said, still softly. “But I can’t live in fear of getting sick. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen whether I’m right here at home or across the city.”
Her mother sighed and raised her gaze as if looking into the distance, a signal to Helia that the discussion was going no further. At least not this morning. She sat down at the table and flipped through the newsfeeds again, but they still hadn’t updated.
Her mother finished her soy-grain square and got up to rummage around in a produce compartment. She turned to Helia, her fingers curled around a pale green miniapple. “Come straight home after your internship tonight, okay?”
Helia frowned. “I’ll be done by five. It won’t be dark yet.”
“You can go up to Ellerine’s if you’d like, but I want you in this building by five-thirty.” Her mother’s tone left no room for argument.
Gritting her teeth, Helia swept up her folio and crossed the common area, reaching her bedroom door in a few strides. She managed to close it without slamming it, but her annoyance boiled again as she stood in her room. To the Research Center, and then another night here, trapped. Tal-Reku’s curfew was making it way too easy for her mother to keep tabs on her.
She let out a strangled noise of frustration and threw her folio up at her raised bed. The folio’s anti-damage mechanisms activated, and it curled into a tube in midair and landed with a gentle, unsatisfying bounce. She climbed the four-step ladder at the head of the bed and flopped onto her side. The folio rolled down the incline created by the weight of her body and came to a stop against her arm.
She stared at the ceiling, fuming. If her mother had her way, Helia would never leave the home. Except to go to the Research Center, of course.
The coiled folio resting next to her hip shivered and then began to unfurl, emitting a series of sharp dings. Helia flattened it the rest of the way and tapped accept communication request. A tanned face framed by blond hair and punctuated with bright blue eyes filled the video frame.
“Hey, Gord,” she said.
He didn’t respond, and for a second she wondered if he’d heard her. Then he raised his brows pointedly.
“Oh, yeah,” she muttered.
She flipped to a secret screen on her folio and activated a piece of custom code that Ellerine had written. It was an obfuscation program that would disrupt the signal to anyone eavesdropping on their conversation. It used natural patterns of interference, so it just looked like a bad connection. Gordon had asked Ellerine to write it, and he insisted on having it activated whenever Helia commed with him.
She rolled her eyes. Gordon was so paranoid. “Okay, it’s on.” Then she grinned. “You know, with that tan you could just about pass for a Talan. Little more bleach to the hair, and you’re as good as alien.” She tilted the folio to center her own face in the small frame in the upper right corner.
“Ha. Ha,” Gordon said with slow sarcasm, giving her a wry, narrow-eyed look. “Then I’d be just your type.”
Helia wrinkled her nose. “Gross. We’re related.” Gordon was her third cousin via their great-great grandparents, the last generation that had allowed couples to have more than one child. Back before Elysium and Oasis fell, when there was still hope that humanity could figure out how to support a recovering population on a planet poisoned by industry and crowding, then decimated by nuclear war.
Gordon scoffed. “I’m not talking about me.” He stared unblinking at her through the folio. “What’s going on between you and the new Talan ambassador? If you’re getting involved with an—”
“Gordon!” she cut in, struggling to mask her surprise. “Don’t be insane, Kalo’s . . . he’s . . . nothing’s going on.” She was sure no one but Ellerine knew about Kalo. “Where have you been the last couple of days? I was starting to get worried after all the new arrests.”
“Oh yeah, the takings,” Gordon said with a scornful huff. “Don’t get me started on the ‘legitimacy’ of those.”
Helia’s brow furrowed. Legitimacy? Usually she brushed off his suspicions. To say Gordon was a bit of a conspiracy theorist was like saying that water was slightly moist. Once, he’d tried to convince her that the vitamin supplement powder distributed to citizens caused amnesia. Helia had asked him how he could possibly know that, and he’d said, “Exactly,” and nodded at her with a ridiculous conspiratorial lowering of his eyelids. But now, a tiny cold point jagged through her like a shard of ice rattling around in a glass.
“Your Professor Hale was arrested,” he continued. “I only had her one term in school, but even I could tell she was the type who wouldn’t even think of bending a rule, let alone—”
“Professor Hale?” Helia felt the blood drain from her face. “Are . . . are you sure?”
Gordon’s expression softened. “I’m sorry. I know she was one of your mentors.”
Professor Hale wasn’t just a mentor. She’d taught Helia for the past five terms and had agreed to be her sponsor when Helia applied for the engineering track next year.
“The feeds haven’t updated yet. You could be wrong.”
Gordon shook his head. “I’m not wrong.”
He glanced down, doing something on his folio. A second later, a bubble of text popped up on Helia’s folio below the vid window.
Are you alone?
She blinked, still trying to digest the news about Professor Hale, and flicked a glance at his face on the screen. The muscle along his jaw was working.
“Yeah, I’m in my room. Mom has probably already crashed; she had an all-nighter at the office.”
Gordon leaned closer to his folio, his face growing larger on the screen. His eyes were bright, more so than usual, and he seemed keyed up. He pursed his lips for a second, revealing his dimples.
“You know the thing we’ve been working on,” he said finally.
The instrument on the table at the back of her workshop popped into her mind’s eye. She saw her own mouth twitch in the small vid frame. “You mean the thing that I ingeniously restored, enhanced, and coaxed into working order despite your inadequate information?”
Gordon always took that kind of bait. But now, he didn’t even crack a grin. “Yes, that.”
She tilted her head, trying to read his face. “I’m listening.” She chewed her lower lip.
“We should use it. On Arrival Day.” His jaw muscles twitched again, and he gazed at her.
“You gotta give me a little more here, Gord. Use it for what?”
“To express our feelings about the new measures.” He spoke slowly, enunciating every word.
For a moment, she thought he was talking about the co-governing changes her mother had mentioned. Gordon couldn’t know about that yet. Could he?
“The curfew,” he said.
Of course.
“Haven is not a police state.” His voice rose slightly in pitch, and his words came more rapidly. “The Talans can’t tell us when we can and can’t leave our homes. Tal-Reku is not our leader. And we deserve answers for the takings. Real answers. For all of them.”
Helia nodded. Some of her annoyance from earlier mixed with her unease, fluttering through her torso like a moth trapped in a lampshade. Gordon had been wary of Tal-Reku and the Talan Council for as long as she could remember, but she’d ascribed his attitude to his general distrust of authority. He’d always been in the minority when it came to his opinion of the Talan leader. Most in Haven considered Tal-Reku to be the great savior of Earth and Earthborns. Reku and Talan had even become popular new first or middle names for babies born in the decade or so following the Arrival.
Lately, though . . . something in the air of Haven had shifted. And Professor Hale’s taking . . . It was more than how it crushed Helia to lose her mentor. It felt wrong—mistaken—in a larger sense.
An alarm dinged softly, and a reminder popped up in the upper left corner of Helia’s folio. She ignored it. She sat up cross-legged on the bed and clutched the folio in both hands. “I agree, the curfew seems like overkill. I haven’t seen any damage caused by Outlanders or heard about any thefts, and that was the only reason Tal-Reku gave for instituting the curfew. It was vague at best. And getting home before dark every night . . . it’s irritating as grit.” She frowned and bit her lip again. She wanted to start asking about specifics, but she hesitated. “Maybe we should talk about this in person.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Gordon’s spoke with clipped impatience. “But you want to do it, right?”
“I still don’t know what it is.” She knew better than to commit to one of his schemes without getting details first.
“A message. We need to be heard, Helia.” His blue eyes sparked again.
“Don’t you think they’re going to explain it all during the Arrival Day speeches?” She suddenly felt the need to play devil’s advocate to Gordon’s suggestions. And deep down, she wanted to believe it was true—that reassurance would come, that there would be a good explanation for all the takings, the curfew, the insertion of Talans into Haven’s government. Surely Tal-Reku would give them answers.
Best case, it would all blow over and the path ahead would be clear. The tension in the air would dissolve like a pinch of salt in warm water.
“Oh, come on,” Gordon said, as if reading her mind. He lowered his chin, gazing at her from under drawn brows. “Don’t be naïve. Things aren’t getting better. This is just the beginning.”
Gordon was right about one thing: the curfew was only days old, but it was already almost unbearable.
She was just about to ask what he meant by “just the beginning” when there was a muffled noise off screen and Gordon glanced up. Another face appeared beside his, heart-shaped with dark, wide-set eyes and framed by long, nearly-black hair.
“Hi, Helia.” Minnow gave a tight stretch of the corners of her mouth that wasn’t quite a smile, then disappeared from view. That was about the most emotion Helia ever got from Minnow. She seemed okay, though, and Gordon really cared about her. Minnow’s parents had been killed in the last major Outlander raid of Haven, after the Arrival but before the Talans had finished fortifying the perimeter fence and established their city security program.
Gordon was looking away, already distracted. “Gotta go. I’ll be in touch soon. But Helia, we need to do this. And do not breathe a word to your Talan.”
She opened her mouth to protest his allusion to Kalo, but the comm screen blanked to black.
The alarm dinged again just as a text comm from Ellerine appeared.
Where are you?
“Grit!” She was late.
Helia sent a quick response: Be down in 9.5 minutes. Sorry! The specificity of her response wasn’t to be witty; she’d actually timed how long it took her to go down eleven floors of stairs on foot.
She scooped up her folio and scrambled down the ladder.

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  1. Cliffhangers are so bittersweet, eh? I love to hate them, most of the time! :) Glad you liked it, Michelle!