[SNEAK PEEK] Hero: The Hero Rebellion 1 – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The city house always reminded her of her mother, pale and tidy and perfect, with its straight lines and giant windows framed in the shiny honey-brown of carbon-wood. Even the fur-roses that lined the garden beds outside were perfect, their trumpet-shaped heads opening in unison as dusk fell and casting a pale golden glow over the hallway.

The perfection made Hero’s fingers itch, made her feel small and grubby, and filled her with the urge to race through the house with mud on her feet and Fink at her back. Except Fink wasn’t allowed in the mansion and Hero doubted there was any mud to be found in her mum’s garden.

Her fingers itched all the more when she sat down to dinner, Tybalt at her back and two small green pills next to her water glass. He stood behind her chair, his hand firm on her shoulder, until she raised the dreaded things to her mouth. The glass came next, and she swallowed.

Tybalt’s grip left her shoulder and he walked around the table to sit, with his customary coat flick, facing her.

She did her best to scowl and look sullen as she slipped the pills, nestled in the palm of her hand, into the depths of her pocket. She’d learned that trick when she was ten.

Across the table, the Lamb attempted to pierce her with a suspicious gaze. 

Hero just lifted her brows and smiled.

The Lamb’s gaze softened, but the suspicion didn’t fade. ‘Are you ready for school?’ she said.

‘I don’t know, did you remember to pack my bag?’

Tybalt scowled. ‘Hero…’

‘That’s her job isn’t it? Bag packer.’

‘Enough,’ he growled.

She took a breath to argue, but the Lamb’s face gave her pause. There was a hint of speculation in her eyes and a smile around her mouth. Her heart just about stopped in her chest when the Lamb’s gaze dropped to the table, as if she could see through it and to the pills tucked into her pocket, and then rose back to hers. The smile around the Lamb’s mouth widened, and Hero didn’t have to guess what she was thinking to know she was in trouble.

A server, as tidy and perfect as the house, walked into the room, three plates stacked on his arms. Hero stared at the one set before her. Her nose curled of its own accord and she poked the steak, slightly grey with spinach-like veins of green, making it ooze on its bed of orange brussel-toes and relish. She almost gagged as she looked up at Tybalt. ‘Seriously?’ 

‘It won’t kill you,’ he said, the faint curl of his nose belying his distaste for the steak he was slathering in beet-mous, the purple sauce dripping over the side and pooling on his plate.

‘But womba-cow?’ 

‘I think I’d rather eat the plate,’ the Lamb muttered.

‘It’s your mother’s favourite,’ Tybalt said, ignoring the Lamb as he passed Hero the sauce.

Her mother… ‘She’s home?’

‘Yes.’ The first bite went into Tybalt’s mouth, and she thought she saw him shudder as he chewed then swallowed. 

‘Is she having dinner with us?’

‘I believe Chef took a plate to her office.’

Hero slumped. ‘She’s working.’ 

‘She’s a busy woman.’

‘Yeah, super busy.’ She pushed back from the table. ‘I’m not hungry.’


‘Give it to Fink, he’s always hungry.’

Outside the dining room, the stairs curling upwards to the second floor beckoned. She took them two at a time and silently padded down the hallway, the carpet soft under her bare feet. The door was open, just a crack, and through the gap she could see her mother, standing before her desk, the womba-cow steak untouched amid a forest of holoscreens.

She had her hand on the door, ready to push it open when a voice, one that wasn’t her mother’s, gave her pause.

‘…significant time and resources invested in this project Mrs Regan. He was hoping for a little more… progress.’ The man had a voice as rough as Fink’s tongue.

She crouched and tried to peer around the gap, but the door obscured all but the desk and her mum, her suit creased and wisps of blonde hair escaping her bun. Hero caught the tell-tale glow of the comm-system, staining the carpet a faint electric-blue.

‘Unfortunately, Mr Meren, the site is proving to be more difficult to access than we had anticipated.’ Her mum’s smile was polite but meaningless, the kind Hero remembered well. ‘My groundside chief assures me his recovery team is working as quickly as they can, given the constraints of the location and weather, not to mention the wildlife. I’m sure your employer appreciates the risks involved; one torn envirosuit or an overly curious avian and not only is the expedition set back, but someone could lose their life.’

‘Indeed.’ There was a pause before Mr Meren spoke again. ‘While I applaud your regard for your employees, I hope you have had better luck with the data already recovered.’

‘My technical department is working on it. The data slides the team found were badly damaged, and it’s taking longer than expected to access the information. They have confirmed that the lab in which they were found belonged to Woolsey’s assistant, which would explain why it wasn’t packed up in the evacuation. Records suggest Dr Tymon was even more paranoid than his boss.’

‘Any information regarding Ayumon?’

‘None, beyond what we already know.’ Her mum’s voice was confident, but Hero recognised the little quirk at the end of her brow, the one she got when she was lying.

‘That’s… disappointing.’ Silence stretched on the other side of the comm, broken only by the murmur of more whispers. ‘Perhaps we should consider hiring another firm to handle the matter.’

Her mum’s spine straightened until it was as rigid as plasteel. ‘If you wish, but in such a case, I will be obliged to inform the relevant government authorities of our find.’

‘I must wonder at your insistence on such outmoded obligations. Your company has never bothered with such before.’

‘Times change, Mr Meren, as do obligations.’

‘So we see, a side-effect of motherhood no doubt. Tell me, how is your daughter? I hear she’s set to start at Morague Academy.’

Her mother’s knuckles whitened where they gripped her arms. ‘Forgive me, Mr Meren, but I prefer to keep my family life out of my business dealings.’

‘Really? But isn’t Bayard Explorations a family business, Mrs Regan? Or did you not take over as CEO when your aunt passed away?’

Hero’s mother didn’t answer, but now her smile wasn’t just tight, it was brittle.

The man sighed. ‘Continue your investigations, Mrs Regan. We will remain with Bayard for now.’

The holocall ended with the soft fuzz of the comm-system powering down, and Hero watched her mum’s shoulders slump as she uncrossed her arms and rubbed at her mouth. Hero frowned. She’d never seen her mum look worried before. Angry, frustrated, even sad, but never worried.

Something tart, sweet and the bright shiny green of a strapple tickled at the back of Hero’s mind. Something that reminded her of the Lamb. She scanned the room, her eyes catching on a shadow and the tip of a shiny black shoe, hidden behind the crack of another door. Her gaze travelled up until she caught a glimpse of tight white curls. But if the Lamb had followed her up the stairs, why hadn’t Hero heard her? And why was she spying on her mum instead of hauling Hero back to the dinner table?

Hero leaned forward to catch a better glimpse, but her foot had gone to sleep while she crouched there. She fell against the door, nudging it just enough for the hinges to groan.

For a second, maybe two, there was silence on the other side of the door, and she let herself hope her mother had missed the tell-tale sound. But her mother had ears like a lethyt, and the soft hush of footsteps crossing the carpet was all the warning Hero had before the door was yanked open.

‘Hero.’ For a moment, her mum looked worried and then her mouth turned down into a familiar look of disapproval. ‘Eavesdropping is not an acceptable pastime.’

‘Then maybe you should encourage me to take up a hobby,’ she said as she picked herself up, hopping a little at the pins and needles shooting up her leg and doing her best not to wince. ‘Like barrier racing.’

Her mum’s mouth flattened like it’d been crushed by an airship and the tiny lines between her brows deepened into caverns. ‘We’ve had this discussion. Be glad you’re even in the city.’ She turned on her heel, leaving the door open, and walked to her desk.

Hero followed. Her mum’s study was a square room, with a wall of steelglas overlooking the huge lawn, lit for the night by the endless lines of fur-roses. Another wall held her mum’s collection of Old Terra books – with actual Terra-made paper between their covers – as smelly as they were crumbly.

She plonked herself into one of the soft, cherry-red chairs, as old as the shaggy rug was new, in front of the desk. ‘You were happy enough for me to be here two months ago, but now you’re too “busy” for me? It’s not like you actually do any parenting, you know.’

‘I do more for you than you realise or, apparently, are capable of appreciating,’ her mum said as she shuffled the screens above her desk.

‘Like what? Hiring tutors who force me to take meds?’

‘Everything I do, and everyone I hire, is to keep you safe.’

‘Sure, if safe means shut up and bored so your friends can’t see your embarrassing little secret.’

Her mum sighed and her hands stilled. ‘That’s not what this is.’

‘No? Then let me race.’


‘But Mum—’

Her mother swung around and the look in her eyes made Hero shrink back into her seat. ‘I said no.’

Stubbornly, Hero crossed her arms and prepared to argue.

‘No,’ her mother said again, pinning her with that stare. ‘I know you, Hero, so don’t think I don’t know what this is about. You’ve never so much as given a toss about barrier racing as a sport; you want to go groundside and you think that being a racer will get you there, but it won’t, not while I have anything to say about it. 

‘Working groundside is hard, dangerous work – nothing like those documentaries or that Zebra Fry show you’re always watching. People get killed. I lose eight to ten riders a year to predators and accidents, not to mention the injuries and people who live the rest of their lives disfigured. I am not letting you subject yourself to that.’

Hero held her mum’s gaze, eyes as brown as her own, but darker somehow – meaner perhaps, more determined – trying to ignore the muscles in her back that wanted to squirm. She finally looked away. ‘You used to do it.’

‘I used to do a lot of things, and I lost people dear to me because I did.’

She looked back. ‘Like who?’

‘That’s not your concern.’ There was that little quirk at the end of her brow, and Hero wondered what her mum was lying about this time. ‘The point is, I am not losing you too, so forget about racing.’

‘You can’t stop me.’

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘but I can.’ The look in her eyes caused a neutron bomb to go off in Hero’s stomach, exploding nerves all over the place. 

The last time her mum had looked at her like that, she’d sent Fink to the Farm for two of the longest weeks of Hero’s life and this time… The look in her mum’s eyes promised something much worse; she wasn’t sure what would be worse than having Fink sent to the Farm, but she was sure her mum would find a way to do it.

Desperate to get away from that gaze, she shoved herself to her feet and wandered over to the holographic bust on the other side of the study. The holoemitter showed an older woman, her hair gone to silver and a gleam of amusement in her eyes. Ursula Bayard, her great-great-grand aunt. A former rider herself, Ursula had founded Bayard Explorations when the cities decided that the men, women and companions who had kept them safe during those first perilous generations were no longer needed. Now the company provided security and resources to all manner of people headed for Jørn’s surface. It also produced some of the best tech this side of the equator. Tech she could use.

Hero cleared her throat. ‘Who were you talking to?’

Her mum crossed her arms. ‘How much did you hear?’


She sighed. ‘He’s a client, an important client, and that’s all you need to know.’

‘What are you doing for him?’

She shoved away from the desk. ‘Don’t you have to get ready for school tomorrow?’

‘No.’ Her eyebrow didn’t twitch like her mum’s; she’d spent a long time in front of the mirror making sure. ‘What’s Ayumon?’

‘It’s none of your business.’

‘What if I want to make it my business?’

‘Hero…’ her mother warned.

Time to try another tack. ‘What if I want to know about Bayard?’


She shrugged. ‘It’s the family business, and it has the best technical department in the city. If you won’t let me race, you could at least let me build stuff.’ Stuff she could use to ditch the tracker in her bracelet, among other things.

Her mum’s eyes narrowed, suspicion in their depths. ‘Why do I feel like this is a ploy?’

‘You’re paranoid?’

‘Or,’ she said as she walked back around her desk and sat, ‘maybe I just know my daughter too well.’

Maybe she did, but that wasn’t going to stop Hero from trying. She followed her mum across the room and sat in the armchair before the desk. ‘So?’

Her mum looked at her for several more moments, and Hero barely resisted the urge to squirm. ‘I’ll think about it.’ 

The workstation, a shiny black semicircle, illuminated the room. Hero sat surrounded by screens, elbow-deep in holos of her mum: at expensive restaurants, getting out of hovers, smiling and laughing with people in expensive clothes with perfectly poised expressions. Her dad was there, in a few of the holos, without his moustache, a lock of hair sticking up and his tie pulled loose.

She’d pushed those holos aside. They were too perfect, too easily found. She’d wanted the things her mum didn’t want her to know, the things her mum’s personal AI hadn’t managed to scrub from the nets.

With a few adjustments, and the addition of a little program she’d grown just for the occasion, she’d set the house’s AI to scouring not just the scattered sub-nets, but the prime-net as well. She didn’t expect it to find anything on the prime, not with all of the personal and social AIs sanitising the data.

It may not have been very bright but after six hours of searching, the house AI struck platinum, or at least a tiny bit of it.

The report was old and brief, and in its single paragraph it didn’t mention her mother’s name, but there, in a holo helpfully enlarged by the AI, was her mum. She was young, with a flurry-thyt on her shoulder, the flyer’s delicate front paws buried in her hair, its paper-thin wings spread behind her head, the light shimmering green, purple and blue over its pale skin. Her mum was dressed in a slim-fitting jacket with the Morague Academy logo on the breast, and trousers the same blue and gold as the boy by her side wore. Looming behind them, its short, spiky coat and frills the same colour as their uniforms, stood a pea-dragon, one giant golden eye twinkling at the holocam. Over the holo ran the caption, ‘Racers gather for annual Cumulous City Race finals’.

Her mum hadn’t just spent time on the surface, she’d been a racer too – a scout, or so she guessed from the ‘thyt perched on her mum’s shoulder. Had something happened to her? But what, and who was the boy standing next to her?

She enlarged the holo again, focusing on the boy’s face. There was something about him, something familiar about his perfectly parted blonde hair and brown eyes, about the way he smiled that reminded her of… She zoomed the holo out again, until she could see her mum standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the boy who could have been her twin. Except… 

‘I don’t have an uncle.’

What is Hero’s mum hiding? Get the book to find out!