BOOK 2 OF THE CLEAVEN GENE SERIES
The presence in Amber of the Cleaven gene means that torment is her constant companion. On completing her rehabilitation on a prison ship which houses those who have been identified with this violent gene, she is recruited by the police to scour through police files looking for tell-tale signs of others similarly inflicted. By night, under guidance of the secret Tracker Guild, she prowls the streets with her man, Jaden, to catch those with the gene using their associated gifts. Amber has the ability to pick up the emotions of those about her while Jaden reads others’ thoughts with stunning clarity.
In a police report of a kidnap victim’s escape, Amber identifies the perpetrator as a possible target. With Frank, a skeptical detective, by her side, she plunges into a nightmare with a gifted opponent who turns the chase into a game of kill or be killed. Meanwhile the Guild discovers an enclave of gifted homeless people who are being targeted by a criminal organisation. These two stories collide threatening all their lives and along the way Amber is forced to face the private hell of her own violent past.
Jaden and I paced the street along the river, listening and feeling.
I touched the hand gun in my pocket. I would use it to save myself or Jaden. My anger was well under control these days but I felt the sharp edge of it beneath my defences and feared its re-emergence more than I feared death.
The night shrank the city to a few hundred yards and our senses intensified. Odors became sweeter, sharper, more pungent. Sounds rang clear and distinct, the sights and textures more vibrant as the city sang her song of life and of death.
Along the river, the song was of movement, change and darkness. Here huddled the homeless, the forgotten, the marauders, the violent. Outwardly not much had changed in the twenty-five years since the turn of the millennium – the year I was born.
Since the beginning of time, violent crime had marred the serenity of society, but the recent discovery of the Cleaven gene had brought hope. Out of necessity, secrecy surrounded the knowledge. Hence the creation of the Trackers Guild – to isolate those who were a danger to society and send them to the massive prison ship afloat in the Pacific to spend years training to control their anger while graduating up through the levels to freedom. All but the most hopeless cases eventually returned to land.
Trackers like Jaden and me patrolled the streets to help clear society of the menace of violence.
Jaden sniffed. “Sewage going into the river again. With all the technology that invades every inch of our lives, you’d think they’d manage to sort that once and for all.”
A group of youths approached, jostling each other, bravado in their lazy stride. The leader, with long, lank hair whipping about his face, opened and closed a flick knife, his narrowed eyes fixed on me.
I glared back, zeroed in, to single him out from the swagger of his mates. Hormones clouded his emotions, but an undercurrent of anxiety seeped through. The others’ expectations of him created a prison in which he lived.
“What thoughts are you reading from their front man?” I murmured to Jaden.
“He’s thinking they could neutralize me. You’d be worth it. But he’s afraid of his old man. The next time he gets in trouble, they’re sending him to one of those tough camps for wayward youth.”
“Yeah, he’s afraid, not angry,” I said, letting the boy’s emotions wash over me. This ability of mine was more a curse than a gift but it helped me read a situation, assess the potential danger.
We could handle this.
I drew my pistol, polished it with my sleeve.
The youth stared at the movement, mesmerized, the hormones dropping away to leave the young man bare and vulnerable.
Jaden chuckled. “He’s about to piss himself.”
We drew level, the followers prancing, expecting action. The leader snarled at them, and they slumped.
I pulled up alongside the leader, Jaden a physical barrier between us and the others.
I whispered in the boy’s ear. “It’s not worth it, dude. Break away from them or you’ll end up in that camp your old man’s on about.”
He stared at me, confusion in his eyes. “You know me?”
I shook my head. “I know your sort. Not bad, not good, can go either way. Leave these losers and move on.”
I walked away, Jaden by my side, then glanced back.
The leader was arguing with his followers. No rage there. No gene.
“Nothing to occupy their time these days,” Jaden said. “School should be harder.”
“Should be more relevant to their needs, you mean. Less of a prison they want to break free from.”
“Whatever,” Jaden said. “Now concentrate. Let’s get us one tonight so we can sleep sound.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you think of us as bounty hunters?”
“We’re paid per head so we are kind of bounty hunters.”
I wasn’t sure I liked that title. My intentions were more or less altruistic. If I could prevent others going through what I had, then it was a job well done. Having the gene myself, I knew the relief when my affliction was identified and remedied.
People passed by in groups. Few were alone. Common emotions of belligerence, anguish and resignation floated alongside them. Every now and then Jaden shook his head to rid it of their thoughts but he didn’t comment. Some of the people who passed were up to no good, but it wasn’t our job to stop them. We had to stay focused.
As midnight drew near, the cooling air bit deep. I zipped up my jacket and shoved my hands in my pockets. The waters of the river sat moody and mystical, a rippling expanse of impenetrability. I adored the lights playing across the surface of the water. Following my years of training on the prison ship to regain control of my emotions, I had stayed on to counsel those who arrived confused, terrified and angry. When the going got too tough, I would go on deck, stare at the sea until sanity returned. After a while, I’d be ready to face the long list of patients which never seemed to diminish no matter how many I guided back on path. It had taken eight years in total before I had gained the courage to return to land.
“What are you getting from him?” Jaden asked.
I turned my gaze from the water to see a lone man walking in our direction. His head hung down, his chin tucked in against his grey winter coat.
As he neared, waves of fury wavered through the air, slammed into me. I clasped at my chest, stumbled backwards.
Jaden grabbed my arm to steady me. He stopped moving, his grip tightening around my flesh. “Jesus, he’s just stabbed his wife, pushed her in the river.”
“He’s so angry, I can hardly breathe,” I gasped.
Jaden let me go, lunged at the man. “Where is she?” he shouted, grabbing his jacket. “Where did you push her?”
The man shoved at Jaden. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Your wife. She’s in the water.”
The man stepped backwards, his hands raised. “You’re the Devil.” He bent down, extracted a knife from his boot.
I pushed my way through the man’s wall of fury and saw the cold glint of metal beneath the street light. Alarm raced through my body. I dug for my gun, pulled it free.
“Drop it or I’ll put a bullet in your head,” I yelled at the man.
He jerked towards me, distracted.
Jaden charged him, knocked him to the ground, the knife flying into the water.
“I’ve got him,” Jaden growled. “Find the woman.”
I pocketed the gun and sped along the river’s edge, ducking around concrete pillars, scouring the surface of the water for a disturbance. A hundred yards ahead, a small group of people had gathered. Excitement and concern surrounded them. I increased my pace and headed for them.
“What’s happening?” I asked a woman on the edge of the group.
“Someone’s in the river.”
I pushed through the crowd. “Where is she?” I shouted.
“There, clinging to the anchor line of that boat.” A man pointed to a fishing boat backed into the wharf. I squinted through the mist hovering above the water, saw a head bobbing near the bow.
“Why has no one helped her?” I asked, exasperation boiling in my chest.
“She could swim to shore,” someone said.
“She’s been stabbed,” I replied, ripping off my jacket. I bent down and pulled off my boots.
I climbed onto the low concrete wall, and a man grabbed my arm. “Don’t jump in there, ducky. The water’s polluted.”
I shuddered at the thought of what lay in its depths, sucked in a breath and dove off.