First World - A Walker Saga Book 1, p.1Jaymin Eve
To Lola Eve, who taught me the true meaning of unconditional love
Copyright © Jaymin Eve 2014
All rights reserved
First published in 2014
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All characters in this publication other than those clearly in the public domain are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I glanced over my shoulder at the approaching darkness. Move your butt, Abby, you’re almost safe.
Safe. I was fooling myself but I needed the pep talk. It should surprise me that this was happening again, but unfortunately it didn’t. Lately it’d become a regular part of my daily routine. Get up, go to class, escape the compound and get chased by gangers all afternoon ... sure, just standard stuff. I really needed to find someone with a normal life, kill them and take their identity. I’m kidding, of course. In my seventeen years, I’ve yet to meet anyone with a normal life.
I ran across the road, tense as I waited to hear the footsteps that had been echoing my own hurried pace for the past twenty minutes. But there was nothing. Where had my pursuers disappeared to?
I hesitated, scanned the area. The street was empty. Shadowy and unnaturally silent. I looked again, more thoroughly, in the last rays of the setting sun. Shattered shop windows – junk piles. Courtesy of the current world crisis. But the gang of tattoo-faced thugs that had struck such fear in me when they’d attacked in Central Park was missing. Four on one hadn’t been the best odds, but I’d managed to shake them off and almost ... almost was back at the compound.
I crept along the street; the slower movements broadcasted my discomforts. My side was particularly painful. Lifting my raggedy sweater, I breathed in, it was immediately obvious I hadn’t escaped the attack undamaged. In the fading light I could just make out the dark bruises shadowing my ribs. Purple already? That was going to be a pretty sight by morning. But being no stranger to pain, I dropped the top back down and focused on the street. One could never forget the dangers.
My eyes were the only part of me still moving.
A rodent scuttled by – but that wasn’t causing the tension filtering into each of my muscles. I couldn’t see the source – or hear it – but I could feel it – I wasn’t alone. Without taking more than a few shallow breaths I expanded my senses, trying to determine where the ambush was coming from.
The world was eerily quiet, but I was missing something.
Unable to stay still any longer, I started to move again. It’s an understatement to say I’m not patient. I acknowledge that. I’m ready for lunch the moment I finish breakfast – though that might have more to do with a love of food rather than impatience. So action of any kind was my preference. I’ve always worked on the theory that in dangerous situations there’s little point sitting around waiting for the axe to fall – a theory expertly formed through my formative years spent watching pirated old-school horror movies. Ah, yes, the loss of television was one of the things I’ve mourned since the fall of New York. Stupid really, considering how many other things lost, but escapism was hard to come by.
So back to my current predicament. My instincts were urging me to get off the street; something dangerous was coming my way. Better to avoid the gangers until they moved on to some other nefarious business – which preferably wouldn’t involve me. I was banking on their notoriously short attention spans. So, making a split-second decision, I ducked into a nearby alley.
Almost no light penetrated this far off the main road. Even with excellent night vision I crept cautiously. The dusky light barely highlighted the short, dirty alley. It contained just a few rusted-out dumpsters scattered close to a brick wall dead-end.
Bad idea, Abby. Retreat. Retreat.
My instincts don’t usually let me down, but it seemed the danger on the street was preferable to being caught in a dead-end alley.
I turned to leave, but only took two steps before the faint sounds of feet scuffing the footpath halted my escape. My heart skipped a beat.
I was about to become that idiot movie-star-heroine, you know the one: stupid, stacked, blond, and dead. The film industry doesn’t exist anymore, but I had watched enough old movies to know the general plotline. Considering I was neither stacked nor blond, I decided I’d pass on that career choice.
I moved further into the shadows. There were exactly two suitable dumpsters. The rusty faded red, which was emitting suspicious rat noises; or the other, a delightful brown color, which, judging by the smell, was home to at least two dead bodies.
I flipped a mental coin before sliding in behind the red one. There was just enough space to hide. Leaning back against the wall, I ignored the rustling and forced my muscles to relax.
While listening for an ambush I also tried to contain the flood of unpleasant memories. But as always, if I sit still for too long, all the negative crap piles in on me. It still amazes me that people of the early 21st century thought Earth of the future was going to be awesome. By the year 2020 we’d have flying cars, talking dogs, and somehow live in houses suspended in the sky. The reality – 2035 and we live in a dead zone.
Technology and communication systems – gone.
Malls – gone.
Schools and sports – gone.
Fossil fuels and transport systems they powered. Sigh. Gone, too.
Yep, pretty depressing.
The Brutal Gangers – currently chasing me – were one of the many gangs fighting for survival and power. All striving to dominate control of food sources, drugs, human trafficking, and, of course, the ever-prevalent battle for more territory.
It was during my lifetime that the rebels tried to regroup, to take society back. But the militias and gangs had a strong hold. They controlled the majority of weapons, food and the only communications system left – archaic two-wave radio. We were the rebels. We had less numbers and no choice but to barricade ourselves into compounds, only leaving when necessary.
Kicking back against the dumpster, I thought briefly of raiding it for food. There wasn’t much point. I hadn’t found anything remotely edible for months, but we were dangerously low on supplies. We barely survived, but we were good at biding our time and being smarter. Smarter – sitting in various types of gunk on the freezing ground, waiting to be beat down by some thug – Yep, smarter.
It was about time I initiated a safer escape from the monotony of the compound. Next time I felt a need to jog I’d just stay home. Strike that, I’d just stay in bed. This wasn’t my first experience with the Brutal Gangers and probably wouldn’t be my last. I hoped my luck wasn’t due to run out anytime soon.
It was pitch black in the alley now and my legs were almost asleep. I’d exhausted enough patience and spent way too long brooding. Time to make a break for it.
Easing myself free, I brushed down my jeans, dispelling the dust and the other disgusting items I’d been sitting in. It was a small comfort that the darkness hid the ground. Shuffling along the alley, I headed toward the street front, discernible in the faint spectra of light cast by one of the few working street lamps.
I paused at the end of the alley
Yeah, it wasn’t much of a secret, more like common sense – whew, hard to come by. Lucy always told me she’d come running with me when I was at the survivalist level of Bear Grylls. On a scale of one to Bear Grylls, I wasn’t even close. Sigh. I missed television. No new shows had been made past 2015, but I’d always enjoyed the oldies. No more, though. Our television unit now housed mice and quite a few cockroaches.
I waited patiently in the darkness, absorbing the silence. It was a good sign, time to make a run for home. Easing around the side of the alley, I breathed deeply. No time to hesitate. I took the first step, pushing off hard from the ground. But, before I even landed, my right arm was jerked roughly, flinging me to the side. The pressure didn’t ease. Shit ... I’d been caught. Twice in one day was a record, even for me.
A large masculine hand was wrapped tightly around my arm, long fingers overlapping on my right biceps.
Experience taught me that I had seconds to escape.
He was alone now, but that wouldn’t last long.
Going limp, I slumped against him.
He grunted at the unexpected force of a hundred and thirty pounds of dead weight, and his grip eased slightly. Using my leg muscles for leverage, I wrenched myself backwards, landing in the alley. Pain exploded through my body as I hit the ground hard, but at least I had some space. Brushing my long hair from my eyes, I scuttled back down the alley. Distance was the key to my fighting style. I’m too light and weak to have much chance if they get their hands on me, but I am fast.
The shadowed figure had not moved from the alley entrance.
Upon reaching the end of the path, I stood carefully with the brick wall anchoring my back. My escape had been too easy; there was definitely an ambush coming. I needed to take him on while he remained unaided. That was my only chance. My much-abused muscles ached in protest and I was grateful for the amazing power of adrenalin.
I took a few steps closer, leaving the safety of my wall. My arms hung loosely at my side, my stance relaxed and ready for battle. I stopped halfway, ten feet from the man, his features shadowed but discernible in the backlight.
An average man, albeit a little weathered. His dark hair was peppered through with silver highlights and cropped close to his scalp in a haphazard manner. Either his hairdresser really sucked or he cut it himself with a blunt knife and no mirror. It was a small relief that he displayed no facial tattoos or clothing insignia from the local gangs. Although, truthfully I was more comfortable with the monster I knew. The motives of gang members I understood.
This man I did not.
His clothing looked tattered, an array of brown and tan fading into each other. The shabbiness didn’t disguise their unusual quality and style. He could have stepped off the pages of my history books, elaborate military-style dress with large medals on each shoulder.
What was this mystery man doing on the streets? Out here there were gangers, the occasional lost human – dead men walking – and the crazy homeless beggars. But this man didn’t fit any of the profiles. A lone wolf. He emanated a unique strength and power, but more than that, he was strangely familiar. In an almost involuntary movement, I took a step closer. The cooling air sent chills down my spine. Either that, or the energy pulsing in the space between us.
I was now close enough to distinguish the dark blue of his eyes, shrewd and perceptive. On top of that his commanding and charismatic presence dominated the little alley. What a plethora of contradictions. This familiarity was crazy; I’d never known anyone but the rebels from my compound.
And then it hit me.
I’d been probably nine years old, I guess. It was only the second time I’d escaped the compound. The situation in New York was not as bad then, but being a child I’d had more restrictions. The first ten minutes had been fun and uneventful. But then I’d noticed a group of men standing near Central Park. Unsure of the situation and worried for my safety, I decided to make my way home. It had been near this very street that I locked eyes with a man. This man. I was sure of it now.
The same warmth ... the same strength ... the same sense of safety had reached across the space between us. As a child, I hadn’t even hesitated stepping onto the road toward him. I’d taken three steps before he’d smiled sadly, lifted his hand in a wave, and taken off into the park.
The memory had stayed with me for years, gradually fading until now. I guess any psychiatrist would assure me he was the reason I ran the streets: searching for him or some such psychology bull.
Standing here, eight years later, he still evoked feelings of warmth and safety. And my curiosity would not be denied. My sensible side was demanding over and over that I move my butt out of there, but, if I hadn’t listened for seventeen years, I wasn’t about to start now.
He didn’t seem dangerous. Just standing there...
So, conveniently ignoring the fact that he’d grabbed me only minutes before, I decided to take the chance. What did I have to lose?
Don’t answer that question.
Since my escape from his clutches, he’d made no attempt to approach me again. Usually this would be the old lull-me-into-a-false-sense-of-security ploy. But the vibe I was getting was the opposite. I tapped my foot reflexively. For the world’s most impatient person, it had reached the point where I couldn’t stand the silent staring any longer.
Time to speak up. What’s the worst that could happen?
Yeah, I threw that out into the universe ... I liked living on the edge.
“Strange man with horrible haircut…” I said. “Who are you and what do you want?”
There was a subtle change as my words broke our stare-off. His muscles tensed, as if expecting a confrontation. I tilted my head to the side. It seemed important to hear him speak; I felt like I had been waiting my entire life for this moment. His lips turned up at the corners.
“Fiery redhead, with an attitude.”
I smiled. He had a sense of humor. How refreshing.
“I am your watcher, miqueriona. Tell me, what is the name you are called here?”
His words were thick, his voice rusty and unused. With the combination of unfamiliar accent and gravelly voice, I barely registered the question. I stood there, mouth hanging open. A sudden and unexpected burst of emotion was wreaking havoc with my central nervous system. I had never heard anything as beautiful as that accent. It was lilting, somewhere between speaking and singing, and was old fashioned, like his clothing. It soothed as it flowed down the alley like a river of warm honey.
Any normal day I would think I’d just experienced some type of mild psychotic episode. And, yes, I did say normal day. But it was all to do with that accent. Which was almost more disturbing.
I considered his strangely phrased question.
“My name is Abby, so that’s what I’m called here, and everywhere else.” I paused for a moment. “What’s a micwa rena?” The wording, so beautiful in his accent, sounded odd and disjointed from me.
I waited patiently. Well, pretty patiently. My hands were not on my hips yet, and my foot had only tapped twice.
Then he dived at me.
It was so fast I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been looking directly at him. My obsession with his voice had relaxed my innate self-preservation. I’d let my guard down and now it was too late. Standing next to me, he was huge, towering over my five-foot ten-inch frame. He held my right arm again, gently this time. Don’t ask me how that happened. My movements were in slow motion compared to his. He flipped over my wrist and we stared at the diamond-shaped mark just visible in the dim lighting. Curved around the small of my wrist, the smooth purple mark looked larger than usual.
“Miqueriona, my little one. Have you ever wondered why you have this mark?”
Abigail, get the hell out of there.
I wasn’t sure if that was my inner voice or an outside force issuing direction. But
I stared up into his piercing blue eyes and continued the conversation. What? I’m a slow learner.
“I know why I have this mark. It’s a birthmark.” I used my I’m-speaking-to-a-two-year-old tone. “Again, who are you?”
The man smiled. His teeth were straight, white and perfect. Not typical of many street people. He was definitely keeping some secrets.
“Who am I? Not important.” He continued, and I admit it, I was in love with his accent. “What do I want? Much more important. But right now there is no time to explain.”
Between the randomness of the conversation and his accent, I was struggling to understand.
“But you are the most important of all, young Aribella. Now is not the time for questions. Danger lurks in the darkness. I will locate you again. And as difficult as you will find this, try to be patient. Your time is coming.”
No! He couldn’t leave yet. My hands tangled in the extra cloth along his sleeves. The material was unusual; it looked rough and coarse, but felt as smooth as silk. I opened my mouth to stall him, but he never let me speak.
“And stop roaming the streets. It’s too dangerous for you. Salutia, miqueriona.”
Then he tipped his head and, escaping my grip, was gone.
More than annoyed, I took off after him, following his path onto the street, but it was deserted.
I’d just met the older, grumpier Superman, because no one could disappear that quickly. Taking a few hurried breaths, I winced. Now that he was gone I noticed the increased pulse of hot sharp jabs under my ribs. If I didn’t stop falling down, my body was going to go on strike and refuse all movement. I glanced at my battered old watch. Crap! It was after eight; I was going to miss last class. The matron was sure to kill me this time. I had no idea why people worried about the danger on the streets. They should live in my house. It was time to get back there.
I took off along the path at a reasonably fast pace, the entire way my tumultuous thoughts beating at me. That was such a strange meeting. The man had called me Aribella and miquw awara something or other. The first one was a name, for sure, and the second definitely another language. My heart raced. I needed to find him again. I wanted to look now, but he was right: the dark was hunting-time; the predators emerged. Tomorrow, I decided, would be much safer.
I was passing familiar streets; I was almost home. Though, trust me, it was missing a few of the homely essentials. The cold stone building where I grew up was Compound 23, one of the dozens of hidden dwellings where children were stashed. I’d been dumped on this one’s doorstep. Figuratively speaking. These under-eighteen compounds are single sex and secluded. The training grounds for future rebels.
Lucy, my best friend, lived there with me. She helped me smack down a couple of bullies when we were three and we’d been inseparable ever since.
I side-stepped a large pile of rusted-out bike frames. It was second nature to run and dodge the random array of trash. Downtown New York was just rubble now. I hadn’t seen her in the prime of her life, but I imagined she was magnificent.
Pausing before the compound’s front gates, I glanced around to determine I was alone. Crazy vines covered the outside of what looked like an abandoned building. But there was a minute high-tech security panel hidden in the wall. I pressed my palm against the scanner before entering the password and finishing with voice authentication. All of this security plus barbed wire fences, video surveillance ... and still girls disappeared.
The human-trafficking movement had gained strength over the years. We lived in constant fear of ending up in that life.
The gates opened and I slunk inside. The landscape within the estate was barren. The barriers which were designed to protect cast an ominous prison feeling. Old photos that hung in the hallway depicted the manor surrounded by lush gardens, but all that was left now was scuffed dead grass and scattered leaves. Suffice to say, it offered protection but no warmth. Opening the large front door, I stepped inside.
“Where have you been, Abigail Swish? Class has started and I see you aren’t in it.”
I jumped at the sound of the cold high voice behind me. Spinning around, I hesitated to deliver a smartass reply. Standing, hands on her bony hips, was Patricia Olden, head of Compound 23. Her black hair was short and slicked back, framing her sharp features. She was forty-five years old, one of the youngest leaders among the rebels. Her joys in life included being a controlling bit– witch ... no, I was right the first time – bitch. On top of that, her loathing of teenagers was legendary. This was my mother figure. Hence why I ran in the ganglands.
She continued, arrogance and derision dripping from every syllable: “I don’t care if you tattoo yourself, get a face full of piercings and join the gangers, but if I have to see your face under my roof, I expect to receive my full cash payments. You will make it in time for every single class.”
“Since I’m tattoo and piercing free...” I glanced at my watch. “And classes have only just started, I’ll head that way now.”
The resistance planned to take back the city by breeding the strongest rebels. It was a long-term plan. Very long-term.
Education was deemed to be of utmost importance. Future rebels were trained in both academics and combat. They paid the compounds per class attendance, so it was priority one around here. It was also why junior compounds were single sex. Less distractions.
Marching over, Olden grabbed me, her bony fingers pinching my arm. She dragged me across the hall and we ended up in our main classroom. Using my free arm, I attempted to protect my injured ribs. Breathing was becoming somewhat painful.
The teacher paused. She was resistance-employed, around sixty years old, but it had been a hard sixty years. As Lucy would say, ‘The lady has city miles on her’. The pain dulled to an angry throb as Olden released me.
“Mrs Crabbe, note Abigail Swish is present for this class.”
The teacher glanced at her watch before nodding. “A little too close, Patricia. I’ll let it slide today, but have your girls here on time in future.”
As she shuffled off to open her attendance book, Olden rounded on me.
“You will make every class from now until you’re eighteen. You’ve irritated me since the day you arrived. It’s a bad habit that will not serve you well on the streets.”
“I can imagine,” I said drily. “Seeing as I was one when I arrived, must have been all the dirty diapers.”
Ignoring me, she continued, her voice dropping dramatically. “You’re eighteen soon, Abigail. No one will be around to protect you then. You’ll be on those damn streets you love so much.” Her thin lips curved slightly, a cruel smile. “You have no idea what awaits you.”
Da dum dum. Wasn’t she dramatic tonight. With one month till my eighteenth, Lucy and I had been trying to figure out what to do. Most made their way to an adult rebel group. Junior compound leaders were supposed to direct you. And that was my dilemma – Olden was not trustworthy.
Throughout the room, girls were studiously reading their books, hoping her attention wouldn’t turn toward them. Not Lucy, though. She was sitting near the back of the room in her usual spot, glaring daggers in my direction. Luckily, Olden appeared to be done for the day. Turning to leave, she was out the door in record time, like she was afraid if she spent too much time with us she’d catch something. In my opinion, her absence was her most enjoyable aspect.
Threading through the room, I made my way toward my desk. I dropped into the chair, ungracefully, of course, painfully jarring my side. Ignoring this, I faced the front. The teacher continued the lesson in her tedious tone. In ten years I’d never had an interesting teacher. I was beginning to think they were myths, like unicorns and comfortable high heels.
Movement to my right caught my attention. Lucy Laurell, best friend, still glaring. Her gorgeous, doll-like features all screwed up
When we were six she’d forced me to perform a blood bond. She’d decided this was the number one requirement of sisterhood. I hated the sight of blood, often throwing up or, in extreme cases, fainting. But somehow, despite her size, she held me down and hacked away. The painful memory will always be with me, along with a crooked scar along my left palm. Lucy was no surgeon.
“Where did you disappear to, Abigail?” Her low voice sounded calm but I wasn’t fooled.
“I was unexpectedly delayed, Luce, but I’ll tell you about it later.”
She’d been in a martial arts class when I’d left for my jog. I’d planned on it just being a quick one. Shaking her head in exasperation, she turned back to face the front.
I tried to pay attention, but the constant droning was sleep-inducing. Right now we were in urban landscape skills class. Module three included camouflage, identifying and containing traps, and some chemical warfare. Important stuff. If only they’d splash out on a teacher who had real life experience or at minimum an actual interest in the subject. I’d been outside the gates more than Mrs Crabbe. If Lucy wasn’t such a good student I wouldn’t have passed a class. I rested my head on my hand and stared aimlessly toward the front. It was going to be a long hour.
First World - A Walker Saga Book 1 by Jaymin Eve / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on38 votes