In Irina’s Cards - By Christine Hart
(The Variant Conspiracy Trilogy, #1)
Release Date: May 4th 2016
Genres: New Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Irina Proffer leaves mundane small-town life behind when she experiences visions inspired by a strange deck of tarot cards. To get answers, she travels from her northern British Columbia home to the province’s coastal capital. She quickly discovers a world of fringe genetic science and supernatural mystery.
Working for Innoviro Industries, Irina is drawn in by a powerful first love and compelling, yet dangerous questions about the nature of the company’s business. Meeting other ‘variants’ brings Irina closer and closer to the dark truth about her origins. She finds herself at the heart of two overlapping love triangles as she scrambles to escape her employer’s grip.
Before she leaves the city, Irina realizes she has merely scratched the surface of a frightening conspiracy on a global scale.
This section is taken from Chapter 4. Title character Irina is still coming to terms with the fact that ‘variant’ really means mutant with a noticeable gift or ability. We get a chance to see Irina having a vision. And we get a first glimpse at the aquakinetic, pyrokinetic, and impossibly strong variations in three other core characters.—
We reached the end of the Harbour and the coastline opened up around the corner. I saw a sign for ferries to the US in front of a giant concrete breakwater and a pub decorated with a helm wheel and a mural with starfish and orcas. The hazy soft blues of the ocean and sky were broken by the jagged edges of American snow-capped mountains on the horizon. The seaside sidewalk had a mix of young families, dog-walkers, and spry seniors in trendy windbreakers.
“You know what they say about the people here in Victoria, right?” said Jonah, as he watched me watch everyone else.
“No, I can’t say that I do. More money than they know what to do with?”
“True, but not as bad as Vancouver. Ever heard of the saying ‘newlyweds and nearly deads’ or as my mom says, ‘God’s waiting room.’”
“Kind of a dark way to look at things, isn’t it?”
“My mom’s a dark lady, but hilarious. I hope you don’t mind, but I also invited Cole and his sister. You’ll love this little restaurant. It’s got awesome food and live music, but not too hipster-ish,” said Jonah.
Something dropped in my chest. If Cole brought his sister, we were just a group of friends going for dinner. I felt silly for having thought that we were going on a date. We turned another corner and Jonah pulled the car over next to a brick building with a 50’s style neon sign that read ‘Cymbals’ next to a caricature of a drum set. I followed Jonah through the wrought iron gate and looked up at the oak tree on the lawn next to the patio. Tiny fresh leaves and new buds covered the gnarled old tree. It was also home to dozens and dozens of sneakers, canvas shoes, skate shoes, oxfords – basically any kind of shoe with laces to tie together.
The air felt warm enough to linger, so I walked over to the tree and looked upward. I smiled. I reached up to one of the lower branches and touched one of the shoes. The yard and the tree melted away. I saw the face of a girl with faintly bluish skin and platinum hair. She turned and I saw two leather-like wings flex and relax. Her shirt had been cut to make room for her wings which stretched out past the frayed edges of the fabric. She was standing in a sewer or catacomb.
Faces milled around the winged girl. It wasn’t quite like a party, maybe more like a camp. An older lady standing next to the winged girl reached down to the ground. She pinched the concrete and plucked something, maybe a stone, off the surface. The stone wriggled. It was a camouflaged beetle, exactly like the one I’d seen on my first day in the city. She lifted the beetle to her mouth and I reeled back.
The yard outside Cymbals surrounded me again in a blink. Jonah stared at me. I noticed my arm had stayed raised beneath the shoes and withdrew it.
“Are you all right?”
I heard fear in his voice.
“Rubin mentioned that you were psychic, but I never knew what it actually looked like. I mean, I’ve never witnessed anyone ‘see’ something if that makes sense.”
“Oh, I … what does it look like? It’s still pretty new for me. I’ve always been alone when that happens, but I hadn’t even wondered what somebody watching me gets to see.”
“You looked sort of, gone. And then your eyes rolled back for a moment. I thought you were having a seizure.”
I looked around the yard and fortunately we were alone. Still, I didn’t want to keep talking about this stuff where we could be overheard. More importantly, what was Rubin doing sharing my personal information while giving me his best poker face?
“Let’s go inside. I’m hungry.” I didn’t much feel like sitting down to a social night anymore.
Cole waved from a table on the other side of the building. Sitting next to him, a girl with purple dreadlocks looked up from her purse and smiled.
The restaurant was full and the combined conversations created a loud chatter. Dim candlelight, a few glass chandeliers, and an antique-looking piano in the corner set a romantic atmosphere that sparked another twinge of embarrassment. On the other hand, the abstract and industrial mixed media wall décor had me looking around for art and film students. Aside from a few biker bars, the edgiest hangout I knew of in Prince George was an indie coffee shop – and it had only been open for a few years when I left.
We made our way around and between tables. Everyone in the restaurant looked like an artist or an intellectual. I felt like an ugly duckling in my plain, boring clothes, but I was glad for the first time since starting my new job that not all of the blue dye had gone from my hair. Jonah reached the table and pulled out a chair for me. We sat down and Cole scowled.
“Dude, what’s up with the timeline fail? We’ve been here for like, half an hour,” said Cole.
“Ignore his attitude. I’m Faith,” the girl said as she extended her hand to me and grinned happily. The flickering light glinted off a stud in her nose and a ring in her eyebrow. She wore dark makeup on her eyes and mouth. She had the same coffee brown eyes as Cole. I couldn’t tell if it was her features or the eyeliner and lipstick, but she looked striking in a bold, exotic way. As we shook hands, her gaze shifted over to Jonah.
We looked at our menus in awkward silence, waiting for a server, sipping our water. I sighed and put down my menu. I could feel Cole’s eyes on me as I watched Faith stare at Jonah, the only person still looking at his menu. I gave in and glanced back at Cole briefly with a small smile. This was all heading in the wrong direction. The time for tact expired along with my patience.
“So I take it we’re all mutants here,” I said casually.
Jonah sprayed water onto his menu and coughed. Cole looked at me urgently. Faith’s mouth made a small ‘O’ under her confused frown.
“Seriously, I came here, to Victoria, because I started having visions of this place and I wanted answers. All I’ve gotten is cryptic nonsense. Other than meeting you people, I’ve learned next to nothing. Rubin is all vague double-talk. It’s getting old. I want to know what you all know.”
Jonah looked at me and took a breath as if to say something. He decided against it and looked around our corner of the restaurant. Nobody paid any attention to us. He placed his hand over the droplets of water on his laminated menu. The water coalesced into puddles under his palm. As he concentrated on the small pool, it lifted off the menu and spread into a donut shape. The circle broke and the stream became a spiral, getting thinner and thinner until it evaporated into steam, absorbed into Jonah’s hand.
Faith’s frown turned into a smile as she looked at Jonah. She picked up one of the unlit candles on our table and pinched the wick between her thumb and forefinger. As she released it a flame sprang to life.
“Well, I’m not breaking this table, that’s for damn sure,” said Cole.
“That’s okay. I saw your street-fight with that bouncer when I first got to town,” I said.
Cole rolled his eyes, but I couldn’t worry about his temper. I wanted to keep talking about Innoviro and Ivan. “So, now that we’re making progress, albeit moving into some surreal comic book world, tell me what’s the deal with Innoviro. What the hell does this company really do?” I felt my adrenaline rise.
“I’m not risking my job so you can get a head start on whatever Ivan has in mind for you. You’re acting like there’s something bad going on here. He helps people like us.” Cole looked over at Jonah. “For some of us, being different is actually a health risk.”
“Dude, leave it alone!” said Jonah.
Faith frowned again. “You’ve met Rubin. He’s like a recruiter. He told you that much at least, didn’t he? He works with Ivan to find people like us and help, if they need it.”
“And what if I don’t need help?” I said.
“You may help others. We’re not all different in the same way. Some of us were born this way and some of us were … made,” said Faith.
“Ivan will talk to you about all of this soon enough. We’re really not allowed to and I think the reasons for that will start to be obvious. It’s not the kind of research the government likes. You can’t put this kind of stuff in a job posting and you definitely can’t chat about it at parties.” Jonah looked around the room again.
“So they’re doing tests on people.” I felt the unease in my gut churning faster. “On us.”
“It’s not like that. We are doing research and development work, but it varies. Sometimes we’re looking at mutation in other animals or plants. We look at weather and geography to understand how a person’s gifts are advantageous or dangerous, depending on where and how they live. Imagine me living in a desert, for example. And we’re not catastrophically testing on people. Sometimes we’ll take a small tissue or fluid sample from a person, but nothing barbaric,” said Jonah. “We’ve also got to make money. Innoviro takes research contracts from public and private firms doing anything from environmental research to mining and industrial development. Ivan keeps a low profile under the guise of confidentiality for his legitimate clients.”
“Are you guys even qualified for this? Or are you all older and more educated than you look?”
“Hey, we’re not screwing around here! Jonah and I were recruited directly from our graduate programs. I was working on a master’s in geology and Jonah had nearly finished his thesis in microbiology. Don’t you think research like this is best conducted by someone who understands it first hand? Could you imagine trying to convince a serious scientist to take this on, in lieu of a real career? You’d have to divulge every secret Innoviro has just to get them to believe the work can be done, let alone get a commitment.” The table crunched under Cole’s grip.
“And how about you?” I nodded at Faith, “Are you some kind of brain surgeon?”
“I’m an IT technician. I specialize in network administration and hardware integration.”
“Wow. I feel like a complete dunce.” I had nothing unique or meaningful to contribute to Innoviro. Nothing but a tissue sample.
“Don’t be intimidated. Remember that you were recruited for a reason. You probably won’t get to know everything the company does. We don’t discuss the details of our work with anyone but our supervisors,” said Faith.
“Lots of projects are shared on a need-to-know basis. But it’s not bad,” said Jonah. “You’ll understand more when Ivan gives you a full tour. Let it happen on his schedule.”
“I can go along for the ride here, but you’ve got to see how this looks from my point of view, getting drawn to a strange city by visions – which are an entirely new phenomenon to me. Have I mentioned yet that I got jumped the other night?”
“What?” said Cole and Jonah in unison.
“And you know why I didn’t get a look at him?” I said.
The boys had quizzical looks on their faces, but Faith looked anxious.
“Because there was nothing to look at,” I said. “Some enormous thing picked me up off the ground and threatened me.”
“You need to tell Rubin. Or Ivan, but not everyone in this restaurant.” Faith scanned the room tensely.
“No kidding.” I lowered my voice. “But since I don’t have a way to get a hold of Rubin, I have to keep my fingers crossed that he’s keeping tabs on me.”
“I’m sure he is. It’s his job to keep us safe,” said Jonah.
About the Author
Located on BC’s beautiful West Coast, I write from my suburban Burnaby home staring at North Vancouver’s iconic Coast Mountains. I love writing about places and spaces with rich history and visually fascinating elements as a backdrop for the surreal and spectacular.In addition to my undergraduate degree in writing and literature, my background also includes corporate communications and design. I am a current member of the Federation of BC Writers and SF Canada.
When not writing, I have a habit of breaking stuff and making stuff – in that order – under the guise of my Etsy alter-ego Sleepless Storyteller. I share my eclectic home and lifestyle with my husband, baby daughter and preschool son.
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