Genesis Preview: Chapter 1, Zane

Genesis, Guardian of Gatling by Archer Swift Books.As promised, here is a second preview chapter from Genesis, Guardian of Gatling, an upcoming dystopian sci-fi thriller.

If you missed it, you can read the book’s Prologue here.

The book’s release date approaches. 11th May 2015 is around the corner!

Genesis, Guardian of Gatling ~ Chapter 1, Zane

Tearing through the doors of the hospital ward, he slipped around the first corner and clattered into a food cart, spraying leftovers everywhere. The hard metal frame of the cart gashed his right forearm, but he hardly felt it. His heart thumped loudly in his chest, and sticky perspiration streaked down his back. A painful throb pounded in his left temple. Zane Hunter had covered the three kilometres from his work to the emergency clinic on foot at breakneck speed, not bothering to ask his boss for leave even though that left newbie Bruze O’Hagan to handle the finicky early-evening clientele.

He had knocked over a number of fellow pedestrians in his adrenalin-fuelled rush and had nearly ended up as road kill on at least two occasions, dashing blind across several busy streets on Haven City’s ground-level. Zane didn’t hear their angry hollers; in fact, he didn’t even pause for a moment to enjoy the onset of his favourite setting: dusk. Already, as the retiring sun sought to bed down for the night after mercilessly baking Donunder all day, the fading sunlight cast a cascade of rainbow colours around the city. Soon, the light of a bloated moon would throw a soft silver-purple hue across the dancing fluorescent city lights as it refracted through the massive dome shield that covered the city. So very different from the dimly-lit Level 2 of his underground childhood.

Nor did Zane notice the charming cacophony of metropolis sounds that marked Top-Side at this time of evening, noises that would continue on until late, so unlike the strict curfews enforced on the levels below the surface. And he didn’t even think to break stride to catch a whiff of the rich aroma of smells that wafted from the many eateries along the way. While those fortunate enough to live on ground-level ate their share of synthetic foodstuffs like the rest of Haven’s populace of a little more than ten million, at least it looked and smelt like real food. Only the Up-siders feasted on the genuine stuff.

The moment he got the call, his brain slammed into shutdown, and sheer instinct kicked in. Megalin had been assaulted, and he needed to get to her side as fast as humanly possible. He refused to accept the brief details of her attack, and hoped beyond hope that Sydney had exaggerated the horror in her frantic thousand-words-a-minute Digi-Call. All he heard was: “…Megs … assaulted … badly beaten…” and then that word his brain still refused to accept.

Zane scooped himself off the hospital floor, amid broken crockery and bent cutlery, not hearing the irate groans of the nurse who he’d showered with tepid soup and cold coffee in his haste. He pumped his arms and stretched his legs heading for Room 116, and managed to master his panic before crashing through the double doors. With fists clenched and his body heaving, he gulped down a chest full of air and tumbled into the hospital room.

Gasping, he lost his breath, slapped sideways by the sight that assailed him. Though unconscious from the trauma of the incident, Megalin’s face was smashed: both eyes swollen shut, her nose broken and blue, her lip badly split and three distinct lacerations marked the left side of her neck. A thick tube ran into her heavily bruised throat, and the heart monitor’s slow bleep-bleep cast a chill down his spine. Blood-curdling fear laced his veins and robbed him of breath. Words failed him.

On the far side of Megalin Taylor’s bed stood a shoulder-slumped Ricardo Ox Denoon with a snarl plastered on his broad face that would scare off a swarm of blood flies, and on the near side, stood a thunderstruck Sydney Stark, pale and sallow. With dread framing her bloodshot eyes, and her face slack with shock, her breathtaking beauty was markedly overshadowed by the dark terror of this moment.

“No … no … no,” wheezed Zane as he sidled up to Sydney, who instinctively threw her arms around him and exploded into a fresh wash of tears. “Not Megs,” she wailed, “not our Megsie.”

“I’m going to kill him,” spat Ox as he clenched an oversized fist. At eighteen, his was an enormous frame of big bones and rippling muscle, a bit of a freak of nature given he ate like a bird. Everything about Ox was big; large ears, a big nose, a wide mouth, and a huge black-bristled jaw. The only thing short about him was his fuse. A man mountain, who could explode in volcanic rage in a heartbeat. “I’m going to hunt him down and kill him. As God is my witness … I’m … I’m going to cut it off. I’m…” Ox spluttered and then, overcome with soul-raking anguish, broke down sobbing. Gummed with snot and tears, he continued guttering out vengeful threats against the sicko who’d preyed on Megalin.

A year older than Ox, Zane had known the big lug for years but had never seen him cry. Even as a ten-year-old, Ox didn’t so much as whimper at his brother’s funeral eight years ago. Now the sight of the big guy with tears streaming down his coffee-coloured cheeks spiked the atmosphere already charged with grief. Hot from exertion and overwhelmed by the galling tragedy, Zane felt his own resolve cave and his body tremble as a stream of burning tears gushed out. It had been many, many years since he had wept, too.

Not only was Megalin the lighthouse that guided their small clan from the choppy seas of self-destruction into a safe harbour; to Zane, she was an angel from heaven. Belying their negligible age difference, she had served as guardian, counsellor, job-referee, shepherd, and even landlord to various ones in the group—in addition to being their dearest friend and framing reference point. The kindest, most generous person Zane had ever met, her natural, graceful beauty accentuated by her modest attitude, Megalin was also the only person he knew who’d unashamedly chosen to keep herself for her marriage bed, and for the man she hoped to one day wed. In most ages, that was an admirable ideal. In this age, so fraught with paranoia and madness, and wild, fear-driven decadence, it was altogether inspiring. Otherworldly. He chunked as searing sobs racked his body in the knowledge that an angel had been ravaged … and he could have prevented it.

***

Two gruelling hours dragged by after they were ushered out of Megalin’s room. When her heart monitor flatlined, Zane thought his head was going to explode and his heart rupture. That fifteen-minute wait, watching the clock labour tick-tock, tick-tock, before the doctor assured them that they had resuscitated Megs was the most agonising quarter of an hour of his life. In a bizarre way, those 900 beats of his heart felt even longer than the blackness he had endured at the orphanage. If it wasn’t for you, Megs; I wouldn’t be alive today; he thought to himself. If it wasn’t for you, I would’ve probably ended my sorry excuse for a life. Please, you can’t die! He pressed his hands against his brow in a vain attempt to assuage the pain in his head. That annoying throb had turned into a cracking migraine. Freak! I haven’t had a migraine since … since I met Megs.

“H-how is she?” bellowed Billy as he burst into the waiting room like a raging flood. “Syd, please tell me she’s okay…” his voice croaked as he buried his head into Sydney’s embrace, “…I came as soon as I could clock out from work.” Billy’s raw, unbridled emotion was the catalyst for another torrent of tears as both Ox and Zane clustered around him.

“To be honest, Billy; she’s … she’s not good,” Sydney said pulling apart from the huddle, biting her bottom lip. “The doctor revived her after … after…” her voice broke, “…he says, it’s touch and go.”

“But … but what the hell happened?” asked Billy, the grief etched into the lines of his brow. “How? Why?”

“I’m going to kill him, that’s all,” spat Ox livid, his dark, deep-set eyes shaded under a furrowed brow. “I’m going to hunt down the mother-fff…” he caught himself, not wanting to disrespect her now, especially not now, “…I’m going to castrate the punk.”

“No!” gasped Billy, his pupils dilating from sheer shock as they flicked between Ox and Sydney. “But … but I thought it was just a mugging … or something…” He shook his head violently, frantically, desperately hoping for an alternative to the brutal reality that confronted him. Collapsing to the floor, he scratched his mullet of brown hair as fiercely as if he had lice. “No, no! Not Megs…” Sydney crouched down to console him, rubbing his back; her own face twisted in pain and sorrow.

Zane winced. Sydney had been more explicit in her Digi-Call to him; Ox had obviously been less frank in informing Billy. He felt his fists clench again and stared into Ox’s wild dark eyes. “I’m with you, Ox. We’re going to find the prick who did this, and … and…”
“Cut his fff… nuts off,” Ox finished Zane’s sentence as his nostrils flared. “Slowly. With a freaking kitchen knife. And feed it to him. And then—”

“But,” Zane broke in carefully, “Ox, we owe it to Megs to get her permission first.”

“What?” growled Ox as his head tilted to one side, his pitch-black eyebrows narrowed and his eyes glazed over. “Permission?”

“If it wasn’t for Megs…” Zane said, running his hand through his short blond hair to catch his breath, “…you, me, Williyum and Sydney … we wouldn’t … we wouldn’t…”

“Exactly!” Ox puffed out his chest perceptibly agitated by Zane’s common sense, and his face darkened. “That’s exactly why we owe it to her to—”

“To bounce it off her first,” interjected Zane swallowing hard, knowing if Ox lost it, he could be on the end of a brain-fogged beating. “As much as I want to hang this guy up by the crotch, I’m pretty sure Megs won’t want vigilante justice. In her name.”

Ox’s large head flopped uncontrollably on his broad shoulders, and with gritted teeth and fists clenched into weapons the size of bowling balls, he turned his head to the ceiling and roared. Emptying his oversized lungs, he roared again; his face furious red, his fists white-knuckled tight. And then a mixture of agonised sobs and gurgling growls emanated from the belly of the big man—bizarrely unusual for one so emotionally crippled.

Zane’s mouth felt papery dry seeing his friend so fragile, but he breathed out in relief, knowing the ear-splitting roar was Ox’s coping mechanism—his way of venting his rage, of escaping his violent tendency to tear people apart and rip property into pieces. Megalin called it, Going Hulk and had taught Ox to channel his raging anger in various ways, and as a last resort, to imitate the green monster. Ox had never hit Zane, and although there were a few close shaves, especially in those first few months when Billy reunited them together; Zane knew that he had escaped by a whisker.

***

Stay tuned for at least one more preview chapter in the coming weeks.

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