Us versus Them – or is it? with Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Mikhaeyla Kopievsky is an Australian speculative fiction author. She is the author of the Divided Elements series and an upcoming gothic novel set in Tasmania. Mikhaeyla was longlisted for the 2019 EJ Brady Short Story Competition for her piece, Grasshopper.
Mikhaeyla is an administrator of the Australian Speculative Fiction facebook page (if you write sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror, I really recommend that you join this wonderful group!) and a developmental editor with their Deadset Press imprint.
Born in Sydney, Mikhaeyla now lives in the Hunter Valley with her husband, son, two rescue dogs, four Australorp chooks, a hive of cantankerous bees, and the occasional herd of beautiful Black Angus steers.
When she is not writing or reading, Mikhaeyla enjoys cooking with the produce harvested from her kitchen garden, going to the beach, stargazing, and training to be a ninja.
I’d better watch out, because ninjas are a bit scary. Time to turn over the post to Mikhaeyla!
Mikhaeyla talks about inspiration
Mikhaeyla: I’ve always been interested by stories that explore the (artificial) divide between us and them. Romeo and Juliet, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, Red Rising – they all show what it is to sort people into pre-defined boxes so that you can align yourself with one side and demonise the other. It’s part of our evolutionary psychology to seek out our ‘tribe’. Our biochemistry is designed to give us hits of happy chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin when we’re accepted into (and by) a group. It’s why we get so much pleasure from social validation or feeling like we’re part of a team, and why it’s so hard to break away from social norms or reject peer pressure.
I enjoy writing stories about characters who have to confront the neat boxes they’ve constructed for their identity (and the perceived identities of others) and engage in more complex, uncomfortable, and nuanced relationships because of it. Ellie Safak, a brilliant writer, gave a great TED talk a few years ago on the politics of fiction and she used this wonderful metaphor of circles – explaining how everything dies when it is surrounded (almost entombed) in a circle. I like putting my characters in situations where they are forced to break out of that circle.
Fascinating! And you have an extract to share?
This is an excerpt from the first book in my Divided Elements series, Resistance. The series is set in a future, dystopian Paris where everything is engineered, including identities, and a resistance movement has emerged to upset the carefully-constructed order. The first book follows Anaiya, a Peacekeeper who has her mind realigned to a different identity so that she can infiltrate the resistance movement and bring it down. In this scene, Anaiya has just got her first real lead and is about to embark on a night out in the hedonistic and carnival-like nightlife of the Northern Area:
The late afternoon light filters through oppressive brown clouds as Anaiya makes her way back towards the Ravignan Strip. She shivers past the long jagged shadows cast by Stricken Core on the ancient bricks of Ruzais Street, her boots slapping the uneven surface as the descent falls steeper and steeper.
Arriving at the start of the Ravignan Strip she stops to survey her target. The Lavoir izakaya rises seven storeys, its pale-brick walls following the sharp angle of the intersection and forming a wedge. Anaiya tilts her head back and stares up at its heights, intrigued by the way its triangular shape is softened by rounded corners that defy the geometric rigidity of rectangular bricks.
The strange perspective pushes her off-balance and she finds herself swaying like the treatment boats in the nearby River Syn. Closing her eyes tightly, she steps back to regain her balance, stopping abruptly when she collides with something behind her.
Spinning around, she is confronted by a smiling Elemental. It takes a moment for the surprise to fade, for her neocortex to kick in and allow her to assess him.
Male. Sixth lustrum. Six feet four inches, maybe five. Traces of skin ink on left arm from mid-ulna upwards. Non-hostile stance. Intelligent eyes.
“Hey,” he offers casually, reaching for the entry panel next to the izakaya door.
The door clicks and he pulls it towards him. Anaiya watches as his sleeve recedes further up his arm, revealing more of the skin pattern – thick, dark lines stretch into twisting ribbons, reaching up to cradle a skull.
“Hey,” she replies.
He stands there, the door still grasped in his hand.
“Going in, butterfly?” he asks, inclining his head towards the activity just beyond the door.
Anaiya blinks in recognition of the familiar nom de douceur. This Elemental with the interesting ink is the same one who barred her exit from izakaya last night.
She stares at him, trying to gauge his approach, interpret his intent. His body language is neutral, the smile still dancing at his lips. He is teasing her. Anaiya returns the smile involuntarily, enjoying the moment of levity even if it is at her expense, and ducks through into the Lavoir.
Inside, the lighting is dim. A score of ancient incandescent bulbs dangle from plastic cables, throwing soft light around the low-ceilinged, narrow space. Music beats and pulsates, bouncing off the wall and blending with the low hum of conversation. The air is rich with smells and noises.
Anaiya pauses, allowing her limbic brain to revel in the feast of sensations presented before her. The breeze at her back dies as the door to the izakaya clicks shut. She drifts between Air Elementals, slow-dancing a wandering path towards the bar. Her gaze tracks along its architecture; a long piece of graphene, suspended on transparent glass to seemingly float above the polished concrete floor.
The Earth Elemental behind the bar is two generations older than Anaiya, the lines of hard working and hard living marking her handsome face. Beside her, a now-familiar inked arm reaches out to plug its silver cable into the terminal.
“Five lyseracids,” he requests.
He looks over to her, eyes glinting in the yellow light.
“Six,” he says, amending his order.
The bartender turns her back to fill the order, leaving them alone in the small space buffeted by the throng of Elementals around them.
All Air Elementals possess a certain charisma: A freedom, a spontaneity, that sweats through their pores. As a Peacekeeper, Anaiya had detested it – passed it off as an arrogance and independence bordering on Heterodoxy. Tonight, she envies it.
“Where are you from?” he asks, tapping his fingers against the matte grey surface of the bar.
She runs her fingers along the graphene in a subconscious response, shadows lengthening and retracting under her fingers – her neocortex feeding her an appropriate response even while her limbic mind surrenders to the tactile and audio sensations assaulting it.
“Eastern Area,” she says.
“Yeah, you looked green,” he says, turning back to the bartender.
For Peacekeepers, the adjective is used for pups – inexperienced Trainees who don’t yet understand the way of the world.
“Why the transfer?” he asks, stacking the shot glasses in a narrow rectangular tray.
“Hypoxic demotion,” she says, feeding him the standard response.
He nods, handing her a shot glass brimming with the liquid lys.
“Bienvenue,” he says, his voice lilting in the pidgin convention of Air Elementals.
And with that, he retreats from the bar, never looking back, gripping the tray of lys and walking to the far end of the izakaya.
Anaiya shoots the dark liquid, a cloying sweetness coating her tongue. To her left, Air Elementals download their wristplate playlists via one of two terminals attached to the bar. A screen embedded in the bartop flashes with the music’s identifier – sometimes a name, other times a visual – before adding it to an updated queue. Bodies sway and dip and writhe in a contorted imitation of Anaiya’s free-running; their movements chaotic where hers were precise.
Thank you so much, Mikhaeyla. What an intriguing set up.
I’m so glad to meet you and your writing. Till next time!
Liked this excerpt?
The good things keep coming. Get your copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to keep reading!
You can read more about Mikhaeyla and her novels at www.mikhaeylakopievsky.com
There’s also a free Divided Elements novella for you when you sign up to her mailing list.
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