Here is the first chapter of The Compassion Gift, the second book in the Compassion Series. It is due to be released 12 December 2016. I hope you enjoy this little taster.
What if you didn’t make the good choice, but made the right choice instead?
The cloud of black smoke billowed from the yacht and rose high above them until it became a dark streak against the red morning sky. They watched from the smaller craft.
Suddenly, the boom of the second detonation reverberated through the air, producing a huge ball of flames and blasting the starboard side to splinters. Luca gasped at the sound. The first explosion may have been an imminent accident that they had escaped from, but the finality of this blast that followed unnerved him.
He heard Kelsee gasp so he reached out and sheltered her in his arms. When he looked out to sea again, there was little left of Harland Barret’s majestic toy, save a few shattered and smoking pieces of debris floating on the waves.
Luca hoped that the authorities in Tropolis would be fooled into believing they were killed in the explosion, but he did not rest in those hopes expressed by the man at the rudder of their smaller craft.
Eban turned his back to the wreckage. His normally cheerful manner had turned to sarcasm. ‘Well, I guess we are going with you now,’ he said to the woman at the radio. ‘But, where exactly is that?’
Luca shifted uneasily in his seat and ran his hand through his russet hair.
The slight woman, dressed in a faded blue jacket, turned, only now distracted from her task by Eban’s voice. She looked intently into Eban’s dark face. She had not been shaken by the explosions which Luca now understood to be of her doing. ‘I cannot divulge such information, Eban. I am sure that you understand.’
Kelsee’s sobbing had quietened, but Luca could feel her trembling. ‘We understand,’ he began, ‘but since we have just left one prison we would like to know we are not heading for another.’
‘Campion Headquarters,’ she announced without hesitation, keeping strong eye contact with Luca. If they were to be taken to such an official sounding destination, perhaps the blue, that both this woman and the man at the rudder were wearing, could have been some sort of uniform. ‘But as for not heading to another prison,’ she continued glancing at Kelsee, ‘that would depend on your little friend.’
Luca drew Kelsee closer to himself. Kelsee had led them out of the danger of Tropolis but now that she was outside her home, she had become the one that was vulnerable. None of his friends had planned for this before they agreed to let her join them.
The woman stepped towards them and reached for Mercy’s wrist who twisted in her seat and tried to pull her arm from the woman’s firm grip. Eban leaned forward to protect Mercy who was still a little weak from the transfusion. Her porcelain like complexion was dull and only looked paler framed by her thick dark hair and Eban’s skin. His resistance was physically blocked by the woman as she shoved him aside. Mercy’s strength was not enough. A thin curved cuff had been clipped over her arm and ran from her wrist, nearly to her elbow.
‘Hold still!’ the woman commanded.
A sequence of small coloured lights flashed within the surface of the cuff, blinked three times then faded.
‘What was that?’ Mercy asked.
The woman slipped the device from Mercy’s wrist and beckoned for Eban to move closer. He smiled crookedly, shook his head and didn’t move.
‘You’re disabling the chip, aren’t you,’ Luca understood. He twisted his own wrist to see the slight bump under the skin. Only now did he realise that the chip he’d had implanted in childhood was not just the entry code to the rubbish pile gates on Outside. When it had enabled him to hear the sound from the tablets in Tropolis and he had suspected it had more sinister abilities.
‘Smart lad,’ the woman said looking at Luca intently. ‘We don’t want Tropolis to be receiving any signals from your chips anymore.’
Luca glanced at Kelsee before he offered his wrist. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to be invisible to Tropolis. He checked to see if he could sense any sign that perhaps Kelsee would think him a traitor in accepting help, after all, this Campion woman had plenty of animosity. But Kelsee’s response surprised him. She almost appeared relieved when her hazel eyes peered heavenward and she sighed. Even her posture relaxed a little.
Eban, now understanding the necessity, gently gave permission. The lights flashed and then went out.
The woman glared at Kelsee and grabbed her wrist when she didn’t offer it. She roughly fitted the cuff but there were no lit indicators. Kelsee, tense once again, tried to pull away.
‘It didn’t happen then,’ the woman said narrowing her eyes.
Luca turned to Kelsee and frowned.
‘Tropolites aren’t chipped,’ Kelsee quietly admitted. ‘My grandfather wanted everyone to have them eventually. He tried to enforce it a couple of years ago but the people felt it was an invasion of privacy. He almost lost his job over it.’
‘What about the Outsiders’ privacy? Eh?’ the woman spat before ripping the cuff away.
‘Kelsee has risked everything for us, for that I am grateful,’ Mercy declared to the woman and the man at the rudder. ‘We,’ Mercy said circling her fingers to indicate the group of friends, ‘would not be here had it not been for her.’
The woman shook her head and frowned, but did not say another word. She returned to the radio, nodded to the man at the rudder, who turned the small craft away from the shoreline and out to sea.
The small boat, with its undulating roof that imitated the water, accelerated over the waves, away from the vast wall that bordered the place where the Outsiders lived. Luca looked back at the greying wall that had held him for almost the entirety of his life. A few weeks before, he had detested living in poverty, gleaning an existence from the waste and rubbish heaps of Tropolis, but now he longed to walk between the crudely made houses and not know what was really beyond the wall. He could never undo what he had seen.
His relationship with Tropolis had always been one of love and hate. He loved the idea of living free and wealthy, the extravagant lifestyle of wasting whatever you pleased just because you could, but hating it for all the same reasons. He had suffered at the hands of Tropolis for fourteen years. The disappearance of his mother, later recounted as just a number in the death toll at the docks, had meant he had to glean to ensure that he and his father survived. She had been just another moment of waste for Tropolis; unimportant and insignificant.
The opportunity of the Compassion Prize had invited him into Tropolis. He was grateful that Eban and Mercy had also been selected; without them he would never have understood what friendship was. They had completely changed him. Mercy was steadfast in putting others first, so much so that she had taken Luca’s place in the Death Room. Eban was unmovable in his solidarity and he could be trusted with everything. Luca smiled a little at how fortunate he had been to be included and welcomed by them. They all had survived in Outside and wore its badge as a common factor. They each knew and had lived with hunger and loss.
Luca glanced at Kelsee. Her trembling had subsided but she still clung to him. The woman at the radio paid no further attention to them, but her words had stung. Luca smoothed Kelsee’s wild hair away from his face. She was different from them, and should, of course, not even be there. He understood the suspicion, but in the short time he had known Kelsee, he had found she could be trusted. Her family may have been the instigators of the hierarchy of Tropolis, but reflecting it back onto her was unfair and unfounded. She had been the reason the friends had managed to escape and still be together. Without her, Mercy would have been trapped inside Tropolis, treating the Tropolites and being experimented on to find a cure. But the woman’s comments had already scattered his thoughts with a seed of doubt. Luca tried to push it to one side, but could Kelsee really turn her back on all the wealth she had been accustomed to so easily? Could she run from her family and all that she had known? Luca stared at the woman and shook his head. She knew nothing of this girl, so she could not pass judgement.
Luca had thought that the Compassion Prize and Tropolis would be the solution to everything, but both had failed to provide. The memories of his behaviour; his desperation for votes; the danger and hatred he had received from Thickset and some of the other contestants; all of which left him feeling chilled. Tropolis had created a competition for entertainment, and for the most popular, a prize consisting of a twisted version of compassion. Luca was still unsure if the prize existed at all.
Crisp, a crude nickname given to the Tropolite worker who had overseen their training as contestants, had at one time been a contestant himself. Crisp had never seen the fulfilment of the prize as his family were never summoned to the apparent luxury of Tropolis. If they had been, Luca would never have known Outside. Crisp was his mother’s brother, a man Luca was unaware of until he had helped them escape. This clean shaven and smartly suited man was his uncle Alec. He had been the secret mediator with Campion.
The wall of Outside was distant and the shoreline was fading. Luca watched the woman at the radio. She had headphones on and was intently listening. ‘Message received,’ she answered. ‘We have collected the consignment of goods and have gained some contraband. Maintain radio silence from this point on. Explosion cover has dissipated. Over and out.’ She switched everything off and peered over at Luca and scowled. He turned away, angry that Kelsee would be referred to as an illegal import. ‘Radio silence from now on, and that goes for you lot too.’ She shuffled over to the rudder man. ‘Headquarters want us at Tower 2, approach on the eastern side.’
The man at the rudder raised his eyebrows. ‘Understood.’
They sat in silence. Eban smiled reassuringly at Luca, obviously sensing the nervous atmosphere. Luca had so many questions and not one of them would be answered in this little craft. He fidgeted uneasily on the hard bench. All sense of rejoicing at being free was ebbing away. He clenched his teeth, holding back all his new uncertainties.
From underneath the shimmering, camouflage canopy that would make them so difficult to spot, the silence was full of tension. The woman sat stiffly, occasionally peering at her watch, but no longer looking at any of the friends. Kelsee had pulled away and fiddled with the hem of her top, her head bowed. Luca could feel his face heating, but Mercy leaned over and gently patted both his and Kelsee’s hands. He looked up and saw the familiar and confident smile. He could not understand her calm, but chose to trust her once again, since she had a way of not letting worry crowd out all sense of hope.
The waves no longer crested like they did closer to the shore, rather the water rose and fell in smooth undulations lifting the small craft as it continued to speed out to sea leaving the land far behind. Luca had coped with the motion in the larger yacht, but now that the excitement of escape had dissolved away and with it all the distractions, he was suffering.
Eban patted Luca’s back as he leaned over the side. ‘Not much longer mate,’ he whispered. The Campion boat was so susceptible to the vast sea. ‘I think I see where we are heading.’
Luca spat into the water, pushed himself away from the side and looked up. On the horizon where several dark shapes that, at first appeared to be vessels. They weren’t streamlined and elegant in any sense, but as the boat drew closer, Luca saw that they perched above the water’s surface. The quiet hum of the engine propelled the tiny boat ever closer to the foreign forms that towered over them. The bulky and angular structures were raised high over the waves on tripods of concrete.
Seaweed and barnacles clung tightly to their manufactured homes, miles from their relatives at the seashore. The underwater grass swayed in the tidal flow and ebb as the boat passed closely by the two outer structures and approached the third. Not a single bird called. The waves broke against the concrete legs, splashing Luca and his friends as they floated past. Rust stains ran down the dull concrete from the metal structure above, although Luca could not see any rough rust holes. The metal structure was well coated in layer upon layer of thick, dark paint; the huge bolts and folded metal no longer had definition.
The man guided the boat from the right hand side to the centre of the tripod, pulled back the camouflaged hood and turned off the engine. The sound of the waves bounced off the structures creating eerie bangs and echoes.
Suddenly the water below them began to ripple. Chains rattled in the grooves of the concrete pillars and a thick net cradled the hull, lifting the boat steadily into the air.
Kelsee let out a small yelp and Eban laughed as he peered over the side. Both of the Campion crew began to pack away their things.
The boat rocked in the wind, Luca leaned over the side and retched.
The underside of the structure was almost within reach when the crane stopped. The boat hung enveloped in the dripping coils of rope, and was itself encased in the lower metal rim of the structure. They were sheltered from the wind and hidden from the horizon and the sea below. It was dark and cold.
All of a sudden, a square of stark white light appeared on the deck. Luca looked up as the hatch doors slid apart silently, the aperture widening. The bright flood light made him squint and step back just as a slender rope ladder was lowered from above.
Thanks for taking the time to read.
The Compassion Gift is currently available from Amazon and will hopefully be available at Waterstones (online) soon. If you want to support your local bookshop, please ask them to order a copy for you.
You can pick up my books here!