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THE MASK OF DECEIT
by Hettie Ashwin
The conviction of the deceit gives the wearer a coat of honesty, masking the bitterness of the lie.
Imagine a world after carbon trading, after conglomerate GM food production, after the global warming crisis. This is Anton's world.
When his partner Buloké disappears, Anton sets out in search of her. Leaving the city and the only life he has ever known, Anton embarks on a journey to a place that to him is only legend.
Fighting for his life against a controlling government, hoards of rapacious arthropods, and the freezing cold, Anton discovers a whole new world. A world he didn't believe existed. What he learns in this wondrous place will change his life forever and set him on a quest to fight for truth against a government rife with corruption and deceit.
This novel was highly commended for a Varuna Writer’s scholarship in 2007.
Paperback also available from The Nile Bookshop: www.thenile.com.au
James Bennett library suppliers: www.bennett.com.au
eBook available on Amazon, Smashwords and many online
Visit the author's page to learn more about her.
Read an excerpt from Chapter One and a review below.
Excerpt from CHAPTER 1
“Strike force Epsilon, we have a situation.”
“Are they coming?”
“Ground time, twenty. Don’t worry, they will be here, they always come.”
She nodded, looking, searching above the roofline.
Anton paced, then holding his hand up to shade his eyes, he too looked at the sky. “I didn’t think it
would ... I only opened the door to check the seal. It's my job you know.” He wasn’t sure of his culpability. Sweat began to bead on his lip as he hovered in
“I will get your details later citizen. Now we have more
pressing things to worry about. Kuso,” she swore, “where are Epsilon?”
As if to allay her fears, the officer's sat/com initiated.
“Fakku, they are held up at Flavel Parade. Some sort of …” But she didn’t finish, as they appeared overhead. A black cloud, menacing, and on the hunt. Goff Lazer Arms and the new GL 20 was no match for this.
“Situation Black, we need support now,”she yelled into her sat/com, adding, Strike force Omega on standby.
Run,” she shouted at Anton.
Anton sprinted to the nearest airlock, but its positive seal had been automatically locked at the first siren.
He scrabbled with the code sequence in panic.
“It won’t activate, I can’t do it.”
The officer looked up, then swallowed a hard
lump of panic in her throat, and pushed her GL 20 in his back. “You better do it, and do it now, citizen.”
He hyperventilated in fright, then took a deep breath, punched in an override code, and the door slid open, releasing a rush of air.
He looked back as the officer fired on the descending
hoards of rapacious arthropods. The enemy dropped from the sky and Anton screamed in terror, fleeing into the safety of the apartment block.
Crouched under a stairwell, he heard the hum of Epsilon. Their vehicles entered the battlefield and took
control, raking the sky with flames, burning the enemy in an orgy of destruction. Soon, their counterpart,
Omega, arrived and sprayed a deadly cocktail of chemicals. Their arsenal of poisons had an immediate effect. The threat beat a retreat.
Anton heard his heart beat thumping in his ears as he huddled in the corner, afraid to look up, afraid to move. A siren sounded the all clear and he ventured into the hallway. The Guardian was lying on the threshold; her face contorted in horror, a halo of dead insects around her body. Anton gingerly stepped over the corpse and looked around at the devastation. The clean-up crew was already sanitizing the area as people took up with their daily lives. He knew he should stay. He knew he should report the incident, but he didn’t. He ran.
As Anton sat in Gulag 12 on this grey morning, he tried to forget.
“Move,” a voice commanded and automatically he
stood, and slowly shuffled his way to the door. The cold crept into his bones and pain was the reward of any effort. A steel door clicked open, and Anton
reached for the handle and pushed. Its hard cold
feel reminded him of where he was and he blinked. Hunger had dulled his senses. The fire in his belly now
wasn’t from a desire to succeed; it came from a deep gnawing emptiness. He stepped through the door into an ante-chamber. Artificial light made the white
walls shine, and the one feature he could see was drain in the centre of the floor.
“Strip,” the voice said and Anton obeyed. He had heard of the Gulags back in the city, but he didn’t believe the stories, until now. His clothes consisted of a padded nylon coat over several old, micro-fibre t-shirts, and his regulation work trousers, tight fitting and black. He removed his clothes, reverting to the regime he had learnt as a child - one piece of clothing at a time, laying them flat on the floor. He mumbled the mantra
every child was taught.
Lay them flat,
Spray them right
Keep them out
Day and night.
Standing naked in the white room, his body beginning to spasm with the cold, Anton began to remember.
“Over here,” Buloké yelled, and Anton threw the ball. She jumped and caught it with ease, her body
silhouetted against the late afternoon sun. A siren sounded as Buloké landed effortlessly on the concrete, and Anton ran to her side.
“Come on Loké, we only have about twenty minutes to get indoors.” He took her hand and they trotted briskly to their apartment block.
“Lock down in ten,” the doorman reminded them as Anton grabbed Buloké’s hand and pulled her through the air lock. The whooping warning siren began as the lift
announced floor 23. Running down the corridor, they reached the apartment and swiped their wrists over the lock, just as the siren ended.
“Made it!” Buloké laughed and stood with her back to the door.
Anton moved to kiss her and she playfully slid under his outstretched arm and ran to the window. He
trapped her at the window, his arms encircling her
thin body, and kissed the back of her neck.
“You always live on the edge Loké, don’t you?”
“The only way,” she replied as she watched the
nightly ritual unfold below. “Look, An, a stray.”
They pressed their faces to the pane and watched as a lone figure darted from doorway to doorway across the street. The figure hunched under his coat and began to run.
“He won’t make the safe house, will he?”
“No,” Anton replied, as the human form stumbled and
fell. “I don’t want to watch anymore,” Buloké said and turned her head.
“Watch Buloké, and remember.” Anton turned her face to the window and they watched in silence as the figure thrashed about wildly on the road. A haze enveloped him and eventually he lay still.
“Yes,” Anton answered, as if it were a question.
Transfixed as spectators, the air from their lungs
fogging up the window, they saw something sinister, yet invisible, drag the body to the grate in the
gutter. From their 23rd floor apartment, the scene
below was too far away to be personal. The distance absolved them of all responsibility.
“It’ll be gone by morning.”
“I know. Anton, are you frightened of the future?”
“No, not of that, just, well, just frightened of them.” His memory of the officer’s face disturbed him, but his cowardice haunted him. Time and again, he had tried to deceive himself that his actions were perfectly
reasonable in the heat of the moment. His ignorance at the chain of events was his defence. After all, he reasoned, how did he to know what was behind the
He rested his chin on her shoulder, and she responded by leaning her head against his temple and sighed.
“I know it has to be this way Anton, but I just know there is something better.”She stared out at the
darkening evening. “Anton, I heard there are places in the cold lands. The Gulags. They say people actually live there and…” she trailed off as the moon rose on the streetscape below. They stared outside, their silence binding them, their thoughts unsaid.
Buloké sighed and slipped from Anton’s grasp.
“I’m cold, let’s layer up.”
She walked to the sealed wardrobe in the bedroom. Swiping her wrist over the id pad, the door opened. The familiar smell of mort wafted out as she selected
two microfibre tops.
“You want anything, An?” she inquired when the clock
on the id pad began its countdown.
“Just one top.”
Buloké grabbed a yellow micro-fibre top and the door slid shut. The lethal dose of Mort that followed inevitably meant lock-out for ten minutes.
“I saw a film once where they just had wardrobes as rooms. No doors, no mort, nothing.”
“Yeah, and I read they had special wooden balls to keep them out.”
“Wooden balls eh, that sounds kinky.”Buloké made a grab for Anton’s crutch as she laughed and threw his
top at his head.
“Move to the grate.”
The voice was softer now, Anton thought, as he obeyed. His memory had elicited a quick smile from his lips but the cold set his jaw even quicker. A click made him turn and he watched the door seal shut. Gas began to seep through the grate.
He felt a choking in his throat, then everything went black.
Review by Cecilia Jansink of the Confessions of a Booky Monster blog.
This only landed in my review pile less than 24 hours ago and from the very start the concept had me intrigued. I didn't so much read this as devour it.
Ashwin has taken our present reality and twisted it into a future that is both horrifying and transfixing. A superb mix of corruption, mind blowing science,
love and fear; The Mask of Deceit will leave you puzzling over the fact that this could very well become reality and leave you with questions long after the
last page is turned.
Anton is a strong lead who will soon have you feeling as though his footsteps and battles are indeed your own and will immerse you fully in his plight. The many layers of corruption and conditioning will
leave the reader wondering just what "truths" are indeed real. The scriptive scenes are visually stunning to the piont you can almost feel and smell the sanitiser on your own skin.
The writing style is fresh and fast paced and Ashwin has truly nailed all that is delightful about Spec-Fic with her own unique twist. In fact, the authors own comments in the press release sum this novel up beautifully. When asked her motivation for the novel, Ashwin replied "I set out to write a quest book with a modern theme. At the time, there was a lot
of political talk about GM food and superbugs so I used these in a speculative fiction context. I wrote about the science that is happening in the 21st century and what it would be like if it were to go awry."
Quite frankly in my opinion she has nailed it. This is a novel that should be on everyone's TBR list.