Prologue to Genesis, Guardian of Gatling

Genesis, Guardian of Gatling by Archer Swift Books.With Eden, Dusk now out and available, the Prologue to my new dystopian sci-fi thriller Genesis, Guardian of Gatling is in the public sphere, included as a preview in the final book in the Eden Trilogy.

So, for those who are interested in the new book, which is due for release 11th May 2015, here is the prologue in full.

Genesis, Guardian of Gatling ~ Prologue

“I reckon there’s still an hour of sunlight,” Davyl shielded his red-rimmed eyes as he peered out of the dark, dusty grotto in which they bunkered. He felt utterly exhausted and sticky with dirt and sweat. The two hours’ sleep he’d managed wasn’t nearly enough, and the thought of leaving the safety of the cave while the sun still cooked the earth tied his stomach in a knot. “It’s too dangerous. We should wait—”

“We’ve got protection,” insisted Leem tapping the sun visor and full-body suit slung across his arm. “We’ll be okay against the last of the day’s burn. It’s a freaking long way to Haven, mate. We need to use every hour we can.”

Davyl took a deep breath and wiped the perspiration from his forehead with the heel of his hand. He’d only visited the city of Haven once and this second trip was forced upon him after a deadly virus breached their subterranean camp decimating their community. He shook his head in an attempt to shake the weariness and numb the gnawing ache in his gut. Of the eighty-three people who’d forged a life together under his father’s leadership, only seven of them had escaped the outbreak. He’d lost everyone he loved, everyone, except his little sister Kirzten. Dad. Mum. His brother, Rockzo, and his best friends, Shawz and Axlor. And beautiful Brooke. All gone. All dead. The virus ripped through their number like a ravenous beast.

Davyl turned to look at little Kirzten sprawled out on the bare-faced rock floor in her attempt to stay cool, even now, trembling in her sleep despite her ash-blonde hair damp with sweat. While the virus took the oldest and the youngest first, Kirztie was the only child fortunate enough to avoid its tentacles. When it ate through the rest of their small population, Davyl was certain it was just a matter of time before it devoured the last of them, and had begun to mentally prepare himself for the end as he nursed the dying. But with his last breath, Dad told him to take Kirztie and the remaining survivors, and to head for the city.

The city. Haven. The irony.

Together with its sister city, Refuge, they were the last two land cities on the last surviving continent.

And to think, their little community had shunned the city to avoid such horrors as contagions and disease. His parents, along with three other couples, had made the decision to go underground rather than migrate to the city. Taking in some friends and relatives and a few stragglers, they’d created a safe, sustainable subterranean community using the ample skills within their number. For five years, they’d thrived, away from the crime and problems that riddled the cities, and safe they thought from the mutated viruses that plagued the earth unchecked. At nine years of age, Kirzten had spent more than half her life in that underground settlement, a childhood that was as near to bliss as was possible on this godforsaken planet.

But then a freak contagion swept in mercilessly. How, they didn’t know. It struck so fiercely and so forcefully they didn’t have time to work it out, despite the measures they’d instituted for just such emergencies.

Now, as the oldest of the seven survivors at twenty-four, Davyl had to make the tough calls. Leem claimed he knew the best way to the city, through the desert bogs, but it was Davyl’s call as to when they travelled and when they camped. His father had urged only that they travel under the cover of darkness, which was stating the blatantly obvious, but more than likely reflected his addled, fevered mind.

Davyl chewed his lip as he fiddled with the dimple on his chin. “If we leave now and push through the night, you can reckon we can get there before sunup?”

“I reckon. But only if we leave now.” Leem ran his hands through his sweat-damp, yellowed locks and panned his eyes around the others sleeping around the cave. “We’ve all had a few hours’ shuteye and there’ll be a full moon tonight to pick our way through the bogs in good time. Before the sun rises tomorrow, we could be safe in Haven. But we need the extra hour or so now.”

Davyl felt the breath judder out of him. The bogs were the quickest way to Haven and also the safest … if you knew what you were doing. There was little chance of being attacked by the many bandits that prowled the main roads and less chance of being preyed on by the feral dogs that trawled the off roads. The toxic bogs littered throughout this stretch of land kept both the smart, the cunning and the desperate away. As long as you carried enough water, which they did, and enjoyed sufficient moonlight to illuminate your steps, tic-tacking through the maze of deadly, acidic bogs was possible provided you knew the course. He didn’t doubt Leem, but the uneasy feeling in his gut was hard to shift. “You sure you know the way?”

Leem scratched at the stubble on his chin as he ground his teeth. “Get off it, mate. I’ve told you like a hundred times already. I’ve done this trip near ten times with my uncle. I’ll get us there, but I’d rather get us there quicker than later.” Three years younger than Davyl, Leem was a feral sort. He and his uncle had been taken in by the community two years ago when, after eking out some hardscrabble nomadic existence, his uncle Donald had become desperately sick. And a determined and enterprising Leem had rather fortuitously discovered their underground settlement. Donald recovered after a few weeks of care, and had begged the community leaders to take them in as a member of their subterranean colony.

“So, what’s the plan?” asked a yawning Rozen as she crouched next to them, rubbing her bloodshot eyes. She was a pretty woman around twenty years of age, but like the rest of them, she looked fifteen years older than she was. Her flaxen hair was greasy, premature lines forked the corners of her eyes and the strain of survival marked her features gaunt.

“Leem reckons we should hit the road now. Using the extra hour or so.”

Rozen’s soft grey eyes narrowed and her nose twitched. “Before sundown?”

“We’ll be fine,” Leem nodded impatiently as he pinched his lips together. “It will be freaking hot in the suits, but the worst of the heat is over. If we leave now, we’ll get to Haven before sunup.”

“Really?” Rozen said with a gasp. “Then, let’s do it, Dav.”

Still Davyl hesitated. The disquiet in his core was as thick as ever. Am I just over thinking this? Yes, it’ll be a gruelling hour to endure, but what could go wrong? “Haven before sunup,” he repeated the phrase almost as if it would buy himself some more time before making a decision. “We’ll have to really push it. There’s a long night ahead of us.”

“Should I wake everyone, then?” asked Rozen, her eyes danced full of life and hope in a face that knew too much pain and death.

“Yes,” Davyl replied although he wanted to say, no. “Let’s do this,” he said with more conviction.

Within ten minutes, they were all awake, well hydrated and suited up. Davyl dropped onto his knees in front of little Kirztie. “You okay, Sweets?”

“Just tired,” she said bravely, tears welling in her large, electric-blue eyes.

“Me, too,” he squeezed her arm softly through the thick suit she wore. “We’ve got a very long walk ahead of us. I’ve got to lead the way with Leem. You must stay with Rozen at the back, okay?”

A tear ran down her cheek. “Are you going to die, Davvy?”

Davyl bit his lip. “No, I’m not. We just have to be very careful. Before the sun rises tomorrow, we could be safe in the city of Haven.”

Kirztie sniffed. “I’ll be careful.”

“I know you will. Just listen to Rozen, okay?”

“Okay.”

Davyl felt the apple in his throat bob as he stood up and looked around at the others. With eyes wide and white with apprehension, faces grubby with sweat and dust, their ages ranged from nine to twenty-one, a real motley crew.

“Remember. Drink lots of water during this first hour. It’s going to be sizzling hot out there. Keep in line and follow directly in the tracks ahead of you. Whatever you do, don’t look at the sun. And don’t wander from the line.”

Heads nodded behind large visors. They hardly needed reminding, but he wanted to be thorough. I’m going to get them to safety, he told himself as he tried to deny the uneasiness tightening its grip around his insides.

“Right, Leem,” he said, “let’s go.”

Despite the protective suit, stepping out of the shade of the cave and into the throbbing sun was a terrifying experience. Already awash with sweat, he could immediately feel the intensity of the rays the moment he took the first step. The sand was terribly hot underfoot too, but his thick soled shoes would endure an hour or so of heat. If they attempted this at midday, the hard rubber would melt in twenty minutes flat, and the human body would literally cook inside the protective suit. As a rivulet of sweat ran down his spine, he lassoed the plastic fluid-line in his headgear with his tongue before taking a long draw on the tepid water from the fluid-packs strapped around his waist. “A sip every ten minutes,” he heard his father’s voice in his own head and remembered the one and only trip he’d taken with his father to the city three years ago.

Davyl watched Leem shuffle in short quick steps ahead of him limited by the bulkiness of his soiled white, reflective suit, as a yellow cloud of dust kicked into the air around his feet. He swivelled around to see the seven others trailing behind, following in single file, each one a couple of metres apart; Kirztie second from the back, Rozen bringing up the rear. Rozen offered him a thumbs-up when she caught his eye, and Davyl responded in kind. What was I worried about? he thought as he blinked his eyes free from sweat. Leem was right. The heat’s just about out of the sun already. He quickly got back to his job. Scanning the horizon left and right, watching for any possible threats, man or beast; he served as the group’s watcher.

To the naked eye, they were surrounded by a flat, simmering sea of burnt sand. However, to an experienced eye, the gentle rise and fall of thousands of undulating dunes could be seen, and hidden grottos could be spotted despite the veil of heat that played tricks on the eyes. Davyl had already espied one depression in the ground that might be a surface grotto that could conceal them should he spot a threat on the horizon. His job was crucial, but most importantly, it allowed Leem to keep his eyes trained on the path ahead, one that wound through bogs of acid water. Only an eye as skilled as Leem’s could see the difference between a mirage and a bog, a difference between life and death.

Twenty minutes later, having weaved past four spongy pools of bubbling acid water, Davyl felt a wave of fatigue crash on his mind and he shook his head. Drops of perspiration flew off his brow and he pulled on the fluid-line to replenish a body gushing fluids. He spun around to check on the others, and was going to remind everyone to drink when it became obvious that they all had their fluid-lines permanently stuck in their mouths, as lips worked tirelessly on the plastic straws. Kirztie was hand in hand with Rozen now, her little feet dragging, and they’d fallen ten metres behind the line. Rozen again proffered him a reassuring thumbs-up, and he thanked her with a wave of his hand.

Just as he swung his head forward again, he heard the strange sound. “Leem, wait!”

“What?” Leem stopped and turned around slowly, his face ruby red with exertion and slick with sweat. “What did you say?”

“Listen,” Davyl lifted his hand to bring the line to a halt, and tuned his ears to the sound as the last foot stopped shuffling. “Shh,” he said as the low thrumming din caught his ears again. It sounded like a solarbike in the distance, the noise reverberating over kilometres of nothingness, but there was no road anywhere near here.

“What is that?” asked eighteen-year-old Kevil positioned behind him.

“Shh,” Davyl said again, trying to locate the direction of the noise. Although it didn’t look like it, or feel like it, there was a hot, gentle breeze that swirled around them, playing havoc with the sound. To his right, a dune ran upwards at a shallow angle for about two hundred metres, what lay beyond was hidden from sight. “I’m sure it’s coming from just the other side of this dune,” he pointed. “Any idea what it could be?” he turned to Leem.

Leem’s face had turned pale, and his eyes widened in terror.

“Leem? What’s up?” Davyl felt his chest tauten and the unease in his gut sneered at him for not listening.

“What’s wrong, Leem?” asked thirteen-year-old Cavelyn, positioned behind Kevil.

“What’s that buzzing noise, Leem?” asked Kevil, his voice fraught with tension.

“Leem?” Davyl stepped up to him and put a hand on his shoulder as the noise grew louder, almost like a raspy, buzzing sound. A million little propellers?

Leem’s nostrils flared and he mumbled under his breath. “I forgot. This time of the year.”

“What did you forget, Leem?” Davyl squeezed his shoulder as fear wrapped its claws around his throat.

Leem didn’t need to answer, Davyl saw it in the reflection of his visor, overlaid in the stark horror of his face. A massive black cloud suddenly kicked up into the air; one minute the sky was an eye-searing dirty pale colour, the next it was dark as innumerable blood flies took to flight.

The Donunder blood fly was a mutant. Once a scavenger, a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem; thanks to a myriad of genetically engineered pesticides, it had evolved into a super predator feeding on livestock and wild animals, and even human life. Only it’s very short lifespan and the rising temperatures had curtailed its threat to mankind, and until this very moment, Davyl was sure they were extinct.

“Wh-where did they come from?” Davyl coughed out the question not really expecting an answer, his mind in a flat-spin panic.

“Dammit,” stammered Leem. “They-they hatch this time of year.”

“What? They hatch this time of year? I thought they were extinct!”

“Oh, damn.” Leem’s voice was high and tight, his head lolling on his neck. “The bogs. Something about the algae that grows in the deeper bogs. They started breeding here again. Last time my uncle and me came this way. But-but I’ve never seen so many. Ever.”

“Oh, geez,” Kevil’s voice. “There’s like millions upon millions of them.”

“In the bogs?” Davyl slopped out the words; his body frozen, his mind numb as he watched the black cloud overshadow them to block out the sun. Almost in slow motion. “And you … you knew this, Leem?”

“I-I-I forgot. They must’ve smelt us. At night, when it’s cooler, the suckers slumber. In the light, they eat. You were right. We shouldn’t’ve left the cave when we did.”

Davyl cursed and suddenly his mind snapped into action. There was no time to ask Leem what he meant by slumber. Spinning around, his eyes searched for one person: Kirztie.

As the black cloud began to swirl around them like a shark would circle its victim, a trillion blood-thirsty flies acting as one monster killer, Davyl bounded over to his sister and fell to his knees at her feet, scooping out handfuls of sand as quickly as he could. Rozen read his mind and dropped beside him to help. As the first flies pelted against his suit, he heard his sister begin to cry.

“Just dig, Kirztie. Don’t look up, dig!”

Despite three pairs of hands digging, it seemed they made no progress, the dry, arid sand kept spilling back into the hole. Please, God! Davyl pleaded as sweat burned his eyes and flies the size of chicken eggs, black, fat and hairy and so eager to feast, splattered against his visor. He heard the shrieks of the others, and allowed himself a quick backwards glance to see them all attempting to dig themselves a hole. Do they know it won’t help them? he wondered in an inane moment as he scooped another handful clear. They’ll never bury themselves in the sand.

Waves of blood flies crashed on them now and while their suits held out momentarily against the monster bugs and their sharp mandibles, it was only a matter of time. Kirztie was sobbing uncontrollably and while he longed to comfort her, he knew he dare not stop digging until the hole was deep enough.

Suddenly, Cavelyn begun to shriek hysterically. “Help me! It’s inside my suit! Help! They’re freaking biting me.” She slapped at her arm and then her shoulder, and then her neck. “Help me!” In a fit of panic, she opened her visor darkening with flies only to welcome a torrent of black bugs that flew into her face, plugging her mouth and nose and eyes.

“Dig, Kirztie! Dig!” yelled Davyl to mute Cavelyn’s strangulated scream. There was nothing he could do for her, or anyone else. His only hope was saving his sister. In the corner of his eye, he saw Leem’s limp body tossed over like a rag doll by a black wave of thousands of ravenous mandibles.

Another cry exploded behind him, this time, from Kevil’s mouth. He too beat wildly at his chest and body, the material of his suit squiggling with an army of embedded flies. Shrieking, he hauled himself to his feet and started running, flailing his arms like a mad man.

Before Davyl could call out his name, Kevil ran straight into a bog not ten metres from the path they’d kept, the acid water immediately burning through his thick rubber soles and melting his suit pants. He leapt into the air to try to escape the toxic water only to slip on the spongy floor as he landed. Kevil screamed like a lost soul as the acid devoured skin and nerve and muscle.

When Davyl felt the mandibles of the first blood fly sink into his flesh, he knew it was time to stop digging. Wincing at the pain, he slapped his chest hard and felt the bloated fly burst under the blow, his torso immediately sticky wet. “Quick, Kirztie. Get in on your back and tuck into a ball.”

Kirztie slid into the shallow hole and wrapped her arms around her knees. Davyl frantically shifted the sand to cover each part of her except the top of her head, squashing every fly that landed near her. “Close your eyes, Sweets,” he said, smoothing sand around her so that the only part of her exposed was the top of the impenetrable face visor and the tiny ventilation holes through which she could breathe. As he was about to position his body over her to add a further layer of protection, Rozen placed her hand on his arm.

He looked up quickly into her eyes and saw a swollen black fly crawling on the inside of her visor. She flinched as the grotesque bloodsucker bit ravenously into the skin at her temple. Oh, God.

“Let me wrap myself around her, too,” Rozen said bravely with an instinctive flick of her head. “It will give her the best chance.”

Davyl swallowed with difficulty as he felt another pair of mandibles sink into his back. “Thank you, but you go first, I’ll cover you.” Rozen offered a quick half-smile before she flinched again. Nodding, she curled her body around his sister’s head shielding her from the black onslaught. Leaning over Rozen, he covered them both, tucking his head just above where Kirztie’s right ear would be.

“Can you hear me, Sweets?” he asked as he felt another bite on his lower back.

Kirztie sobbed wildly, “I don’t want to die, Davvy.”

“Can you hear me, Kirztie?”

“I-I don’t want you to die.”

“Listen, please. This is very important,” he coughed. “I want you to wait until it’s pitch dark and you’re sure there’s no more buzzing. I think the flies will slumber when the sun goes down. Kirztie, then you need to continue south. Read the stars like Dad taught us. Keep south. Watch out for the bogs, you’ve seen what they look like. Travel slowly, and find a grotto to hide out the sun’s burn.”

“I can’t do this by myself,” she wailed.

“You can,” said Rozen in short, controlled breaths. “You’re so brave, Kirztie. You can do it.”

“Roz is right,” added Davyl trying to muster up a tone that sounded convincing. He could sense Rozen’s body stiffen more frequently now, and he knew the flies were eating her alive. Her courage gave him the fortitude to keep from emptying his lungs in pain and panic.

“You’re braver than you think, and super smart. Do what Dad taught us, and you will make it, Kirztie.”

“And you, Davvy?”

Davyl winced as he felt his suit rip open under the sheer weight of numbers and a glut of blood flies rushed in. He ground his teeth as a hundred hungry insect-mouths gnashed at his skin. Chewing on his tongue was all he could do to keep from screaming.

“Davvy?” Kirztie’s voice was fever pitch.

“I’m here, my Sweets,” he fought to manage the torturous pain. “My arms are literally around you, and I will always be with you. Always. Close your eyes now, and dream of Mum and Dad and Rockzo.”

“And you.”

He sucked in his breath. “And me.”

***

Stay tuned for further preview chapters in the coming weeks. I plan on previewing at least two more chapters.

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