Extract and giveaway: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

18 Jun

Today is my stop on the Shattered Minds blog tour. Thanks to fab publisher Macmillan, I have an exclusive extract from the book and a copy of the beautiful hardback to give away! Please do check out the other stops on the tour too – there’s an extract each day so start at the beginning and read on from there!

Laura Lam’s Shattered Minds stars a female ‘Dexter’ with a drug problem and a conscience, in a terrifying near-future where technology rules our lives and haunts our dreams.

shattered mindsShe can uncover the truth, if she defeats her demons

Ex-neuroscientist Carina struggles with a drug problem, her conscience, and urges to kill. She satisfies her cravings in dreams, fuelled by the addictive drug ‘Zeal’. Now she’s heading for self-destruction – until she has a vision of a dead girl.

Sudice Inc. damaged Carina when she worked on their sinister brain-mapping project, causing her violent compulsions. And this girl was a similar experiment. When Carina realizes the vision was planted by her old colleague Mark, desperate for help to expose the company, she knows he’s probably dead. Her only hope is to unmask her nemesis – or she’s next.

To unlock the secrets Mark hid in her mind, she’ll need a group of specialist hackers. Dax is one of them, a doctor who can help Carina fight her addictions. If she holds on to her humanity, they might even have a future together. But first she must destroy her adversary – before it changes us and our society, forever.

Extract

THREE

CARINA

The Zealscape, Green Star Lounge, Los Angeles,

California, Pacifica

Carina’s drug dreams always begin the same way.

She’s back in Greenview House. Her father bought it even though it was far too big for three people, outside Woodside, California, less than an hour by hovercar out of San Francisco. Nothing but trees surrounded that house that would become a crypt. She couldn’t wait to leave, and now, eight years later, she still can’t escape it.

Carina walks through the empty hallways, her footsteps echoing. Nothing exists outside of the house in the Zealscape, not really, and the windows only look out into a grey fog. All her dreams and nightmares take place in its various rooms. Even if the rooms can expand into streets or forests, no matter how vast, she can turn a corner and step back into those familiar corridors. She tried to change the Zealscape program to another setting, but in the end, her subconscious is too tied to Greenview House and everything that happened here.

She opens the door to the room where she last saw the young girl and the doctor she knows from earlier nightmares. They are nowhere to be seen.

‘Anyone here?’ she calls. ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’

Silence.

Carina turns away. Needing her fix, she creates her first victim, bringing him to life on a table before her, prepped just as she wishes. Half the fun is the hunt, but when she first plugs in, there’s never the patience for it. It’s an appetizer of violence before the more leisurely meal.

Carina has a very specific type, here in the Zealscape. She kills criminals, perpetrators of terrible, fictional crimes. They are usually men, middle-aged, cocky in their assurance that they are getting away with their wrongdoings. She has killed women, for a bit of variety, often ‘angel of death’ types. Never children or teenagers – which is why the vision of the girl was so damn jarring.

Where had that come from?

The Zealscape is where Carina lets it all out so that those people out in the real world, those strangers who seem as insubstantial as her dream creations, are safe from her. She has killed hundreds of figments within these walls over the last six months. Used almost every weapon. Killed quickly. And slowly. The one constant is that she never tires of it.

The man pushes against his bonds, the whites of his eyes showing. Carina has created him a serial killer, like her, but he preys on the innocent. He buries young boys beneath his house, like John Wayne Gacy. He’s not real, but he deserves death.

Her fingers itch and she moves closer. His chains rattle as his struggles grow more frantic. A desperate, delicious gurgling bubbles from his throat. Her fingers tingle in anticipation, and her heartbeat quickens.

Carina doesn’t speak to her victims. She did in the beginning, trying to make these fabrications of her imagination understand what she was about to do to them. It grew dull, unlike the act of killing.Carina sometimes finds her situation amusing, when she’s coherent enough for amusement. The government doles out unlimited Zeal to keep criminals off the streets, yet offers them an unlimited playground to hone their criminal skills. With chronic Zealot mortality rates as high as eighty per cent, however, the government doesn’t have much to fear.

Closing her eyes to concentrate, she opens them to a long, thin knife resting in her hands. There are some weapons she prefers – the knife is particularly instinctual, personal, whereas the gun is too distant, even if the kickback and the crack are satisfying.

Carina hefts the knife.

The man below her is in his physical prime, muscled as a wrestler. He’s strong, the chains binding him straining with each pull. Her usual type is older, paunchier. Though she still buzzes with the need to kill, she forces herself to slow down, at least a little. She runs the knife tip along his skin next to the bonds. A tear slides down his cheek. She wipes it away with her thumb, then brings her fingertip to her mouth, tasting the salt. It feels real. Real enough.

His pain and fear feeds her, as if she grows larger from it. Only here, when the blood runs onto the white floor, does she feel alive any more. Carina is not that wreck of a woman strapped to a Chair in the Zealot room, suffering from mouth sores and malnutrition. That woman is the ghost.

The man whimpers again. Carina relishes the sound for a moment, then stands and thrusts the knife into his throat. Blood spurts from the punctured artery, painting her face red. She leans her head back, holding the hilt tighter, pressing down hard. All too soon the gurgles stop. She has not given this man a name, or imagined what life he might have lived outside his crimes. His eyes are wide, his mouth open in shock. She takes her hands away from the hilt. Her hands stop shaking. Carina sits next to the body, closing her eyes, breathing in the iron tang of blood.

She’s euphoric after the kill, and these brief moments before the craving returns are the only times she feels even remotely like her pre-Zeal self. Guilt bleeds in around the edges, even if she can’t regret that glee of the kill.

A few years ago, Carina had this under control. An occasional impulse she could push back and ignore. Nothing bubbled to the surface; it hadn’t since she was a teenager. She’d seemed like a perfectly functioning member of society. A great career, a promising future. And then, slowly but surely, it had all unravelled. A Zeal trip here or there. Once a month. Then twice a month. Weekly. By the time she’d left Sudice, it’d been every other day.

Now, she rarely leaves. She doesn’t trust herself out there. A wolf among sheep who’d never see her coming.

When she opens her eyes, the body is gone. A benefit of dream worlds: no clean up. No fear of being discovered dumping the body. No fear of discovery at all.

Dealing with the orderly’s accusing eyes is the only judgement she faces, and one she never fears.

She holds onto her sense of self, staying calm and collected. Replete. The mind of the scientist is back. She wanders the imaginary halls of her childhood home, peeking through the doors: the old home gym, her mother’s bedroom, preserved just as it was the last time she left it and never returned. Her teenage room, with its holographic band posters and unmade bed, reeking of a desperate attempt at normalcy.

All too soon, that buzz returns. Her fingers twitch. That delicious expectation of following her victim and their moves: where they’ll be, how she’ll take them and make them hers. Her thoughts turn only to blood and flayed muscles. Of taking out organs and hefting them in her hands, arranging them just so.

Here in the Zealscape, she can lose herself in the hunt as much as she wants. Here, she hurts only herself, as more and more of her body wastes away, strapped in the Chair in the Zeal lounge. Her body warms, thrums with excitement. She whispers Zeal’s newest catchphrase to herself: ‘More real than reality.’

Carina enters another room. In the real Greenview House, it was a guest bedroom and study, but now it is her planning room. One wall is blank, and she can visualize and design her next victim. She decides to go back to her roots: a distorted echo of her first target. Carina builds the man from scratch. Early fifties, a beer gut, hair and beard of greying brown. Hard eyes, an unhappy slash of a mouth. Large hands that make blocky fists. He is different enough that the sight of his face doesn’t make her shudder. She feels awareness sharpening. She’s growing closer. Her fingers twitch.

After creating him, she sends him away. She spends a few minutes programming his background – his job, his friends, sketches of his wife and family. This criminal has a penchant for child porn. She can again pretend it’s vengeance, not pure, selfish pleasure. Most Zealots don’t have such control over their drug-fuelled dreams. Then again, most people don’t have PhDs in neuroprogramming.

She can’t wait any more. Her skin is hot with need.

Carina walks through a door on the far side of the room and steps into a hallway that transitions seamlessly into a street. She follows her prey at a distance, watching the greying head bob as he walks. Her jaw is clenched tight. She barely blinks. The other people on the street are only vaguely human- shaped, with blurred ovals for faces. Nightmares for anyone else, but for her, just stand-ins.

Carina grasps a Stunner she conjured in her pocket. Sometimes she’ll stretch out the hunt – stalk them for longer, make their lives more detailed, lose herself in the fantasy – but she can’t today. Her breath catches in her throat. Her eyes in the Chair, back in reality, dilate behind closed eyelids. Almost time. Almost time to feel alive again, for a little while.

She’s just taken out the Stunner in a quivering hand when it happens.

The street disappears, along with her quarry. Just gone, as if someone has hit a switch. The whole room turns black. No, darker – that blackness of the space between stars. There have been glitches in the system before, but Carina knows, with a deep certainty, that this is something more.

She’s lost the sense that she has a body. Her mind seems to float in the darker-than-darkness. Then light explodes back into her world.

Numbers, sounds, flashes of brightness, the feel of fingernails against her skin, of bubbles on her tongue. All her senses fragment and blur. Between the overloads is a snapshot of cohesive thought.

I’m dying. This is what dying must feel like.

The noise and the chaos begins to crystallize. Five images, over and over: A bee, buzzing, its wings flapping frantically, its antennae twitching. A rose, in full bloom; brilliantly, impossibly red, a drop of dew on one petal. A thorn, from the rose, its point curved and wicked. A drop of blood, welling on a fingertip. And eyes, staring right at her, wide and fathomless. Heterochromic – one green, one blue. They play, over and over and over again, telling a narrative she cannot hope to understand.

And then they stop, though she can still sense them, as though the images are flashing just out of sight.

The last image, the mismatched eyes, takes over her entire vision. It zooms out, until Carina sees the rest of the face, and then a body on a Chair in that lab she recognizes all too well. The last vision had been through the girl’s viewpoint, but Carina is sure this is her. She’s young – fifteen, sixteen at a push. She’s all doe-eyed innocence, spindly, coltish legs, her hair half an inch long. She reminds Carina a little too much of herself as a teenager. The girl is dead.

Part of her short hair has been shaved away. Dr Roz Elliot has opened up her skull, poked about in the contents, and sewn it back up, yet dead flesh does not knit. Her tanned skin is pale and chalky, legs akimbo.

‘What did you do, Roz?’ Carina asks the darkness.

The dead girl does not answer. Her eyes are open and staring. One blue, one green.

As if Carina blinks, the image is gone, and all is darker than black once again.

Giveaway!

I have one hardback copy of Shattered Minds to give away.

To enter this giveaway,  just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.

I’ll pick a winner using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Friday 23rd June.

Good Luck!

 

One Response to “Extract and giveaway: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam”

  1. Nikki 19th June 2017 at 6:55 pm #

    Thanks much! hope all’s well this sweltering summer for you!

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