Hell's teeth, I so know how to get myself into trouble. A Thayne warrior fixes me with unblinking eyes, his jaw rigid with hate. A dazzling flash of light from the overhead beam bounces off the knife in his leather-gloved hand. Bile rises in my throat as I imagine how it'll feel when he pushes the knife into my body – to lose my life as blood pours out of the tear in my flesh. Where will that shiny, razor-sharp blade go?
In my heart?
Across my throat?
I’m staring death in the face and just seventeen. Shit! Why don’t I freakin’ listen, sometimes?
He's big – six and half feet at least, each flexing muscle accentuated by the sweat glistening on his deeply tanned skin. His armour is so highly polished the reflection is blinding. This guy means business. In this crystal clear moment, his business is me.
As I wait for him to attack, an overpowering, acrid smell descends from the sky. Sulphur! The Nicor have left the nests they built on the cliffs. Could this get any worse? Slashed to pieces by a Thayne warrior or torn to shreds by a flying sea- serpent. Oh, great...just great.
The Nicor swoops about overhead pissing acid over everything below. When the acid hits the ground, bubbling and fizzing, a sticky yellow gloop spreads across the dirt. It stinks like nothing else on earth. This is how they get us. If that stuff hits you you're in deep ca-ca. I've seen it with my own eyes; the damage it does to human flesh is horrific. Last month a guy from our prison shelter was hit by an acid-bomb and his body turned to soup. He didn't scream – he didn't have time.
When the Nicor invaded our atmosphere in the thousands, the government soldiers who arrested us ran into the mountains to save themselves from being eaten or blasted with sulphur bombs. Those soldiers are now Thayne warriors; a unit of highly trained killers who stop at nothing to get what they want. The gossip in the compound is that they have a large force and a new, powerful leader giving them confidence. I hope this is just rumour. If they get their way every person in the compounds will die of starvation...unless we've been fed to the Nicor. Whatever the outcome the Nicor will definitely get a good meal. Looks like I'll be the starter.
I see something move at the corner of my line of vision and draw in a sharp breath. Ethan!
A dweller from the shelter hides by a broken down truck the soldiers left when they fled. My heart skips a beat and the relief almost melts me when I see my slingshot and leather pouch of sling-bullets at his feet. He puts a finger to his lips, then holds up five fingers and mouths, 'on five’ as he points towards the Nicor. Jumbled thoughts shoot around my brain like cars on a chicane. Mum – I love you. Dad – I miss you. Zack – my pain in the neck brother – where the hell are you? And what about my dog, Ordinary? Who'll take care of him? Damn. I've really screwed up this time.
The Thayne warrior seems to have lost interest in me as he turns around in circles, craning his neck to follow the flying sea-serpent as it commands the sky. Maybe he’s as scared of the Nicor as we are in the compound. It gives me a few precious moments to save myself.
Looking back over to Ethan, I nod. Ethan counts. On five he tosses the slingshot and bullets across to me then runs towards the Thayne, launching himself at the warrior and felling him. I lift the slingshot, load in a bullet and wait for the Nicor to attack. The Nicor flies in an arc then swoops down with its mouth gaping, revealing two enormous fangs dripping with toxic green slime. It whistles past me, its huge feathered wings carrying a glistening, metallic armoured body with graceful ease. As it glides directly over-head I glimpse the formation of a bubbling acid-bomb ready to be excreted from an opening in its belly. I follow the Nicor's flight-path, holding the slingshot comfortably in my hand, ready to launch the bullet.
This is my strength. I must use everything I know about the slingshot now – focused steadying of the catapult and the intended trajectory of the bullet. Everything I've learnt could save my life.
The bullet hits the Nicor squarely in the throat knocking its head backwards, its bloodshot eyes registering astonishment as the bullet punctures its scaly skin. I scream out “Jog on, you freak,” and load up another bullet, firing again as I run a few feet to my right to strengthen my firing position. The second bullet hits it in the chest. I sling another, hitting the soft spot under the wing. The flying beast hits the ground with a loud thud, carving out a crater in the dirt, clouds of dust and grit flying high up into the air as it lands. There’s rise and fall in its chest, so I wait before I risk approaching. I hope death comes quickly. One less Nicor is no loss to the world.
Gradually the movement diminishes, and with a final breath the Nicor dies. I can barely see over the top of its body, but this is a small Nicor compared to the beasts that fly over the compound at night, scaring the dwellers half-to-death. Although I hate the Nicor more than I could have ever imagined hating anything, there's a kind of fascination about them – the way the oily scales swirl with colour as they reflect the silent flashes of lightening streaking across the sky – the sweeping, feathered contours of its huge wings. Horrific and beautiful, the Nicor is a deviation of life intent on killing everything in its path.
I watch in awe as Ethan punches seven bells out of the Thayne. He's fit in every sense of the word. His life before The Warming playing American soccer for the New York Red Bulls has given him a body rippling with tight muscles. I can't help but admire the way he handles himself in a fight. It's very ... sexy.
When the Thayne realises the upper-hand belongs to Ethan, he runs off leaving a trail of blood behind him. He found a way into our prison compound – a mystery – the perimeter fences are electrified from a central government source, but now is not the time for a discussion. It's dark and we need to get back to the shelter, otherwise we'll be in the compound courtyard after blackout. I should've listened to Ethan. He told me not to leave the shelter at dusk but I'm such a know all. I knew – I thought I knew I could make it.
Ethan walks towards me. The dust on his face mingles with beads of perspiration on his forehead leaving muddy tracks down his cheeks. The front of his khaki jacket is covered in the Thayne's blood, and as he stands next to the dead Nicor – self-assured, hands on hips, he shakes his head. “It's just a baby.” He raises his eyebrows and looks at me with exasperation. “We're so gonna pay for this.”
“Hey, look, Ethan, I'm really sorry. You should've stayed in the shelter with the others. I didn't mean for you to follow me.”
He runs a hand through soft blond hair that reaches past his collar. Deep blue eyes flicker with amusement as he grins. “Oh, OK. I'll leave you to the Thayne next time, shall I? Or maybe you would've preferred the acid treatment. You're a pain in the ass. Why can't you do what everyone else does? You know what it's like out here after dark. What's so important, anyway?”
I push my slingshot and bullet-pouch into his hands, run over to the perimeter fence, lie on my stomach and reach under a bush to retrieve a deer bone. I drag it towards me and hold it up, grinning with delight. “It's for Ordinary.”
I know Ethan thinks I'm crazy, but Ordinary looks more like a bone than the bone. A lurcher needs a lot of food. I can't lose Ordinary. He's all I've got. Ethan shakes his head in disbelief. “You risked your life – for a freakin' bone? You gotta be kidding me.”
“He's worth it.”
The light from the overhead disappears as it automatically shuts down, and we're left standing in the pitch black.
“We'd better be getting back. When the Nicor realise one of their babies is missing they're gonna be out in force,” Ethan says, walking towards the shelter.
We walk side-by-side, my stride matching his. Even though I'm still hyped-up and trembling, it feels awesome to be near him. “Do you think they'll dive bomb us? Their baby is lying dead near the shelter and the last time a Nicor died here we were holed up for weeks. Christ, Ethan. What have I done? If I'd known what would happen...” Ethan looks down at me, smiling. “You'd have done it anyway. I know how much you care about Ordinary, Random, but you take too many risks. You could’ve been wasted out here. I knew you wouldn’t listen to me so I followed you. Come on, I'm hungry. Gunther and Grace are handing out supplies they got from the feeding station. If we don't get back in time we'll lose our share and I'll be the one gnawing that bone. Ordinary won't get a look in.”
Come back tomorrow for another FREE excerpt from