Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Sneak Peek: City of Shame (Fields of Elysium, #3)
GOOGLE RESTORED MY BLOG WITH AN APOLOGY!!!
Quote: Hello, We have received your appeal regarding your blog http://abwhelan.blogspot.com/. Upon further review we have determined that your blog was mistakenly marked as a TOS violator by our automated system and, as such, we have reinstated your blog. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused in the meantime and thank you for your patience as we completed our review process. Thank you for understanding. Sincerely, The Blogger Team
WELCOME BACK EVERYBODY!!!
So today I got my blog back. *smile*. I should have complained long time ago. Anyway, I'm back on Blogspot and my first post is going to be an extended teaser of City of Shame (Fields of Elysium, #3).
Enjoy and See You Soon!!!!
CITY OF SHAME
“It’s me. Anna.”
“Look who’s crawled out of the foxhole. I was beginning to wonder if you were dead.”
“It’s getting harder to get hold of a secure line. I don’t have much time but I had to call you…. David, remember my stories about the Special One? The Redeemer? Well, the time has come. My people will be saved soon.”
The line went silent. The phone almost slipped from Anna’s hand. For a moment she thought the Terrakan rebel hung up on her.
“You know I don’t have time for old wives’ tales. I have a camp full of people to take care of,” David said at last, drawing in a deep breath. Anna could visualize his face twisting with irritation. “Did you get the medicine I asked for?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said, David? The Redeemer has finally returned to us. It’s time.”
“Oh, come on, Anna. Spare me. I don’t understand how you can even believe this nonsense after so many years—After what we’ve been through?”
“I’ve never stopped believing. We must meet, David.”
His irritated mumble told Anna that David had no patience today with her beliefs; he never had.
“How do you know it’s him?” the young man asked, his tone screaming his disbelief.
“The signs. Twisted vines and thorns. As the prophecy foretold. I saw them, David. I’m so excited I can hardly breathe.”
A sigh of annoyance came through the receiver. “Fine. If it means so much to you, bring him to me. I’ll have Ben take a look at the guy. And don’t forget to bring the medicine.”
Anna closed her eyes for a moment, imagining the day when men and women were allowed to follow their hearts, mothers to raise their own children, children to play together, men to die from natural causes instead of beatings.
“Give me three days, and I’ll meet you at our spot at the usual time. And, David?”
“What?” David grunted.
“We were wrong. The Redeemer is not a he. It’s a she.”
The water splashed and ring waves rippled over the silvery surface of the lake as I pulled out the Revocator.
“Dammit, Pete,” I grumbled, shaking the water off the device. I was kneeling on the shore by the lake that ringed Terraka City, the same place I saw Molly last. The sun had already ducked behind the giant force field and lit up the city of shame. The sparkling reflections of the emperor’s palaces were more visible now than at any other time of the day, yet the material of the force field was thick and opaque, and I couldn’t make out any specific shapes. The glistening wall stood between Molly and me like a supernatural, evil construction. I hated the Terrakas now more than ever.
I could picture her running through the woods, the bow I crafted and a set of arrows bouncing against her back; the small, oval-shaped bruise on her lower back where the bow smashed against her spine; the faint discoloration that always appeared on her skin after a day of hunting or training. I used to rub Ulka de Tino’s thick, herbal cream into the bruise to ease her discomfort. It reeked of compost but took the pain away like a miracle. Did she have that bruise now?
It was getting dark. Perhaps she had a camp set up already. Maybe she was sitting by the fire she built, skinning a squirrel or rabbit for dinner. Three days were a long time inside the force field. She might have even made it into the inner city and found allies. Was she safe? Hungry? Scared?
I tore my eyes away from the enemy’s land, opened my bag, and dropped in the Revocator. I pulled up Little Pete’s number on my AB.
Little Pete was one of those ironic names people give to emphasize a physical deficiency, like calling a one-eyed man Eagle Eye Joe. Little Pete was anything but small. Jenkins Industries rescued some Terrakan children from Terraka City before the Prophet’s Sentinels initiated the force field—the impenetrable bubble ensnared everybody inside, invaders and slaves alike. Little Pete was one of those Terrakan children. He was a tech genius, a huge asset to the inventing company that specialized in new technology. After he moved into a small house near the beach on the Jenkins family estate, he never left. He spent most of his free time in a virtual world he designed for himself. In spite of his antisocial behavior, he was funny and generous. Without his gadgets we’d never have had a chance to sneak into Terraka City via an underwater tunnel. I was grateful for Pete’s help at the time, but now that days had gone by since I heard from Molly, I wished he hadn’t been able to help us. Without proper equipment, Molly would never have embarked on this suicide mission.
Little Pete picked up after the second ring. “Victor, my man. What’s up?”
“This Revocator you gave me doesn’t work, Pete. The fish don’t come to me.”
“It has to work. I tested it a dozen times. Maybe there aren’t any messages from Molly yet.”
My jaws clenched hard and the air stuck in my lungs from the pain. “There have to be messages. She’d never leave me hanging like this.”
“Are you sure you’re using it right?” Pete’s voice was even, not a hint of panic.
“Can you just come out to the lake and check it out?” It was a long shot, but I had to ask.
A munching noise with rhythmical huffing and puffing filled the next few seconds. I could imagine Pete sitting in his rotating chair in the dirty T-shirt he had been wearing for at least five days; jelly and chocolate stains on the once white but now light tan fabric; crumbs falling from his pastry and landing on his bulging chest and fat belly; mice scattering around to vacuum up the leftovers off the dirty floor.
“Sorry, Victor. No can do. I’m allergic to fresh air. Just bring it back to me. I’ll take a look at it. But as I said, I’m sure it’s fine.” A weak burp punctuated the last sentence.
“Maybe there’s a glitch,” I fished, because any other option was better than thinking the unthinkable. I could never forgive myself if something bad happened to Molly.
“I got one more prototype I have to run some tests on for Jenkins, but drop by after sunset, and I’ll open up that little baby.” The munching resumed. The sound made me hungry. The last thing I ate was a piece of meat and a baked sweet potato in Ulka de Tino’s hut last night.
“Will do. Thanks, Pete.”
I almost hung up when Pete’s calling stopped me.
“I said, What if there’s nothing wrong with my device?”
I didn’t need time to think the answer through. “Then I’ll go after Molly.”
I disconnected the call. With a disappointed heart, I looped my leg over the seat of the Ducati and pushed the crystal into the ignition. A gush of wind swept over me. The hair on my arms stood up in alarm. The feeling was familiar. Molly’s fingers used to cause the same sensation when they ran over my arm in a slow motion, barely touching my skin. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I missed her so bad my mouth went dry and a scraping feeling developed in my throat as if dark arms of my heartache were crawling out of my chest.
My mother died after giving birth to me. For almost eighteen years I believed that my father was dead, too. The unconditional love of the Sesmars who raised me wasn’t enough for me to quench the hatred in my heart. Then Molly came along and everything changed. She became my other half. My moral compass. My best friend. I loved everything about her—that crazy curly hair, the freckles, the dimples on her cheeks…
For so long she had been part of my every day life. I always knew where she was and what she was doing. This…not-knowing was killing me. Had she been captured? Killed? Tortured? The possibility of vicious Terrakan men touching her kept lingering in my mind, and I couldn’t block the image. Every day, every minute, I wasted eating, talking, and sleeping seemed excruciating. Nothing mattered except hearing from her and knowing she was ok.
At the push of a button a protective field enclosed around me and the Ducati. I took one last look at Terraka City. With every passing minute the entire island grew more ominous and gray in the fading sunlight. My AB beeped, startling me. Roger’s name on the display made my stomach twitch. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” I grunted, knowing exactly what I forgot.
“You’re an asshole. You know that, right?” Roger blurted out as soon as I answered his call.
“Oh, shit! I’m so sorry, brother. I completely forgot. I’ve been so wrapped up in this … this stuff.”
“What stuff? You’ve been saying the same thing for days now.”
“You know, with the academy and stuff. I can’t really tell you. But…uh, happy birthday, man.”
“Don’t even try. Get your ass over here. Everybody else is here.”
“I can’t now, Roger. I’m sorry. But I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
“What can be more important than your best friend’s birthday party?” Weston was my best friend.
“Okay, how about this. Next week I’ll take you to the Cheho. I’ll get you some girls. Just you and me. What do you say?”
“Not good enough. You’d never miss Weston’s party. It’s not cool, man,” Roger complained.
Pete was expecting me in an hour. Maybe it gave me enough time to stop by the Jenkins family’s restaurant, The Tirus’s Kitchen, and join the boys for the celebration. I needed to grab a bite anyway. Besides, I could use a distraction. Until Pete checked the Revocator and confirmed that it worked, I wasn’t going to go after Molly anyway. As a matter of fact, entering Terraka City should be my last option. I was half Arkanian and half Terraka. My blood would set off the alarms in the city, and if Molly weren’t in trouble yet, then I would definitely bring heat on her. I needed a smart plan where I stay alive long enough to find her. All this pondering on an empty stomach lowered my blood sugar, and my head started spinning.
“You’re right,” I breathed into the AB. “I am an asshole. I’ll be there in ten.”
“Now that’s the Victor I like,” Roger chuckled, the nervous vibe gone from his voice. “But Victor, leave your Earthling words where you’re at now. My mother keeps nagging me for the slang I’ve been using thanks to you.”
“See, you don’t even notice it anymore. Maybe you should stop visiting the archives for a while. You’re starting to sound like an Earthling.”
“You think so? I didn’t notice.”
“As I said, stop watching that stupid Earthling footage. Don’t forget which side you’re on.”
A sudden surge of anger rose in my chest. “I don’t need you to remind me, Roger. I know where my loyalties lie.”
I pressed the off button so hard that the AB hit the bone on my wrist. Just because I was interested in Earth history didn’t mean I’d forgotten who I was. I loved a girl from Earth, a trespassing alien on our planet, but our relationship hadn’t changed my allegiances. Those merciless Terrakas killed my mother and drove my father insane. I’d never forget that. I’ve dedicated my entire life to the Sentinels, the only military force we Arkanians had. We’ve been preparing to fight the invaders from Earth. For the love of the Almighty, I even allowed my girlfriend to help our cause with this extremely dangerous mission. How dare Roger doubt me! He cared about nothing else but girls and working out. He never gave a thought to what our race had to endure for centuries.
Irritated, I began ascending. The bright turquoise light on my aircraft turned on, shining off the pearl black body. There was a time when I loved flying through the woods on my Ducati, testing my senses and feeling invincible. Now I only looked at this beauty as a mere tool to satisfy my needs, nothing more than a transportation device. I turned toward the woods to get to Tirus and join Roger’s party when I spotted the Prophet’s black Araneavi hovering over the forest line. The hatch dropped down with a hissing sound and a uniformed Sentinel Apprentice appeared in the doorway and beckoned me to move closer.
“Take her down,” he yelled, pointing at a small clearing. “The Prophet needs to talk to you.”
I woke to the relaxing strains of instrumental music. The air was pleasantly warm, scented with a hint of nature, not really flowery; more like tree bark and fresh leaves. I lay unmoving, with my eyes closed. Not a single thought bounced around inside my skull. I felt weird, out of character, so I tried to concentrate on my feelings. Why did my eyes refuse to open? Could I have been that exhausted, or was it depression keeping me in bed? Was I even in a bed? The scent of the air suggested that I was outdoors somewhere, but then shouldn’t I hear birds chirping and insects buzzing? Shouldn’t I feel the wind tickling my skin? Despite the calmness that kept me still, I longed to regain control over my body. My fingers tapped on the mattress, and I wriggled my toes. My limbs seemed to be working just fine. I turned onto my side, and a sharp pain blasted the back of my head. My sticky lips opened, and my mouth let out a dull moan. I cramped up as the pain passed.
The music continued and the piano playing started to pluck at my nerves. A second wave of pain rippled through me, the kind that knocks the air out of you. I snapped forward, gasping for air, my eyelids still paralyzed. I used my fingers to peel away my heavy lids. Bright light assaulted my eyes. As my vision cleared, I made out a small boxlike room with white windowless walls. I was lying on a bed. A small, metal-framed nightstand was beside me with a silver tray of medical instruments on top of it. My blood curdled. On the other side of my bed the needle of an IV dangled on the end of a plastic tube. A bloody bandage covered my vein. A few drops of red on the crisp white sheet gave me the impression that someone had removed the needle by force. A glass container half-full of clear liquid hung from a metal cage. The throbbing in the back of my head intensified. My fingers found a thick bandage between the splits of my hair. I pressed on it gently and almost fainted from the pain.
I slipped my feet off the bed. My toes touched the solid floor. It was unexpectedly warm, a pleasant feeling. My head dropped forward, and I started massaging the back of my neck. The skin on my bare legs was pale, almost transparent, as if it belonged to a corpse. I leaned back to see that I was completely naked. With a hammering heart, I scooted closer to the inactive monitor, looking for a panic button to call for a nurse, but found none. After a few calming breaths, I decided to walk to the door that was so dull and bare that without the bolts and handle, it would have easily blended into the wall.
Using the metal bed frame for support, I first made my way to a dresser. I pulled out the top drawer allowing my eyes to linger on a silver-framed picture of a man. He looked weird with a long black ponytail high on the back of his otherwise shaved head. Golden lines enhanced his eyes. His chest bore a heavy load of gold necklaces. The image didn’t appeal to me.
Pulling my eyes away from the image, I took out a pair of light canvas trousers, a white cotton tank top, and a knitted long-sleeve top. The bottom drawer was empty. I wriggled into the clothes with painfully slow movements. When the fabric slipped over my nose, I could smell stale wood. A sharp pain accompanied my every movement, and I kept reaching for my wound, wondering what had happened to me.
I had just sat down on the bed to catch my breath when I heard footsteps outside my room. People were talking and laughing. I shuffled my way to the door. A framed advertisement was pinned at eyelevel to the panel.
THE PERFECT FAMILY IS FOUR. The statement in large bold letters was spread out on the top part of the poster. A young, smiling couple in luxurious clothing and adorned with jewels stood under the headline, clinking golden goblets. A cute, clean-faced toddler sat at the woman’s feet, and a bundled newborn lay in the man’s arms. The family was sitting in a room decorated with frescos, lavish drapes, and carved wooden furniture. Beside them were two skinny and scantily dressed men in canine poses. Their backs held up a set of silver platters and goblets on a tabletop. Property of Taronno’s Medical Center was inscribed in small letters on the bottom right of the poster.
Ignoring the disturbing advertisement, I opened the door only a crack and peeked out at the long, illuminated corridor. I waited and listened for a minute before I mustered the strength to take my first step. My hand brushed against the white wall as I dragged myself forward toward the French doors. I looked up, searching for security cameras, but the walls were just as plain as they were in the room I woke up in. My neck cramped and my head wanted to split open. I needed painkillers, and I needed them now.
I reached the first door on my right, one of the many that lined the corridor. It had the same rectangular window as on the door to my room. I leaned against the cold metal and peeked in. Inside, a woman was hanging upside down from the ceiling, her ankles tied, her legs spread wide. The surge of blood turned her face and shaved head red. She, too, was naked. When our eyes met, she started wiggling, like prey in a trap. Her lips moved, calling for me. “Help me. Please, help me.”
I pushed down the handle but the door didn’t budge. My fingers rolled into a tight fist, ready to break the glass, when a bloodcurdling scream rippled through the corridor. I jumped. I could feel warm urine trailing down my inner thighs.
I waited. The hallway remained vacant.
I put my hand on the window. The woman was crying. The desperate look in her eyes drew tears from mine, too.
“I’ll be back. I’ll go and find someone,” I promised and shuffled toward the French doors as fast as I could. All the other rooms enclosed naked, hanging women. I stopped glancing at them after a while.
By the time I pushed the wings of the French door open I was ready to collapse. My legs were weak, as if I had been in bed for a year. My muscles didn’t want to obey, and every breath I took seemed to lack the oxygen I needed.
On the other side of the entrance, the hallway continued for fifty feet or so and then split into two long corridors. I took the one on the right. More rooms, more tiny windows. A whole section of bald, pregnant women in bedrooms. I tried to open doors randomly, but they, also, were locked.
The last door on the right opened onto a staircase, and I took the flight leading down. Holding onto the banister, I descended three levels, until I reached the ground floor. Between two doors, one marked EXIT, the other SURGERY ROOMS, a tall window allowed in the fading light of the sunset. I walked closer, mesmerized by the white limestone buildings nearby, the tall statues and ancient palaces in the far distance and the snow-covered mountains towering on the horizon. I rubbed my eyes, thinking that I had dropped onto a movie set. Then I looked down, rolling the words ‘movie set’ in my mind. What did they even mean? I had no idea.
I leaned closer to the window. My breath fogged up the glass. The outside seemed very depressing. Apart from the rows of young corn plants and the orange sky from the retiring sun, everything was in shades of white. I saw movements ahead between the straight-roofed stone buildings. I was about to bang on the window and yell for help, when something red landed on the glass with a dampened thud. My head snapped back as I watched a tomato slide down in front of me. Two bald preteen boys jumped out of the cornfield and, laughing, pointed at me. Another tomato smashed against the window. I stepped back, completely mortified. Leaving the building didn’t seem such a good idea anymore. My head dizzy with baffling thoughts, I staggered through the entrance marked ‘Surgery Rooms.’
My back against the wall, my hand on my chest, I inched down the exceptionally clean, bleached passageway. Painful screams rippled through the air. They were loud and incoherent, chilling my blood.
A door only a few feet ahead of me opened and someone stepped out and walked down the hall without noticing me. A facemask and a white cloak with red stains concealed the person’s identity, but the way she was walking told me it was a woman. I came for help and answers, yet I shrunk as small as I could to make myself invisible. I held my breath as I watched her rushing all the way to the end and entering a room. The fetid smell, the screams of women, the metal scraping on tile: everything about this place assaulted my senses. I needed to get the hell out of here. That was what anyone with a shred of common sense would do, yet I couldn’t leave until I saw what was going on behind those walls.
The room the woman had just stormed out of was empty, except a line of sinks and a cabinet full of medicine. The light from a large glass panel on the wall cast moving shadows on the tile floor. From the angle the door’s peek-through window allowed me, I couldn’t see who or what created those shadows. I slipped inside, bending low, my heart in my throat. In the middle of the room, I straightened out. Then I just stood in front of the glass, petrified, looking at seven or eight surgery rooms, all separated by glass-paneled walls. I saw three women giving birth, and a doctor and two assistants, removing organs from a body. My mind kept telling me to move, run, take cover, but I remained frozen. Until a nurse pointed at me, screaming, “Somebody grab her!” Suddenly all eyes were on me, and I launched into a run, bolting through the door. The bright and uncharacteristic corridors confused me. I couldn’t identify which direction I came from. I heard yelling and scraping sounds. I ripped the closest door open to find shelter. Inside, cold air enveloped me. I wrapped my arms around myself, staggering in the dark. My hips smashed against something hard. A squeaky, whirring sound reverberated through the darkness, like rolling rubber wheels of a child’s toy car. I put my hand down to find my way to the back of the room. My fingers sank into something soft and moist. Angry voices filtered in from the corridor. Those crazy butchers were looking for me.
On my way to the back wall, I pushed aside more wheeled furniture. In the corner I snuggled down, the pain in the back of my head stronger than ever. I felt tears rolling down on my cheeks. I wiped them off with my hands. They reeked of rotten meat. As a matter of fact, the entire room had a sickening stench. My breath entered in short and irregular doses as I watched strangers through the rectangular window rushing up and down in the corridor. None of them even glanced toward my door, until one woman in a short white cap stopped and looked inside the room where I was hiding.
“You checked the Disposal Room?” she yelled, her eyes fixed. A man answered, but I didn’t catch what he said.
“I’ll do it then,” the woman in the window shouted back, and pushed the door open. She flipped a switch and just then in the overwhelming light I saw how exposed I was at the end of a clear row between lines of gurneys and mutilated dead people. The woman remained standing in the doorframe, her hand on the doorknob, looking straight at me. Her face appeared worn, wrinkled, not from age but from excessive exposure to the sun and lack of sleep. My brows creased as I pondered why this irrelevant and stupid thought came to me now. Why I even cared what she looked like. She was going to call the others any second now. I pictured myself tied down on a bed, my heart in the doctor’s hands.
“Anna, did you find her?” a man’s voice echoed from the distance.
“She’s not here,” the woman lied, gave some sort of non-verbal sign to the man down the hall, turned the lights off, and shut the door.
In the darkness, I dropped to my side like a sack of potatoes. My head was full of vivid images of the bloody corpses with whom I shared the room. I started wiping my hands on my thighs real hard. The mere thought of having dead people’s blood and bodily fluids on my hands sickened me. I plugged my nose to block out the smell, perplexed as to why the woman lied for me.