Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for violence and mature content.
A/n: This and the next two chapters require some editing with regard to the story. They were written first before I had a plan for the novel. Now that I do, there are some plot holes I need to fix and some things I need to polish up so that they make sense.
Ethan wiped the sweat from his brow as the sun’s heat beat down on him. Three months had passed and nothing had come his way. He had tried to get funding from different organizations but one look at the blemish on his record was enough for them to turn him down. He had one last laboratory he could possibly try his luck at. If that failed, he’d have to drop the project permanently. There would be nothing else he could do.
With not a single cloud in sight to give him shelter, he crossed the noisy street and found himself in the shade of a building that could only be described as pristine. Dressed in a black suit with a maroon tie, Ethan looked up at the tower. Alliance Laboratories and University. It shot up into the sky, Ethan needing to lift his head up to an uncomfortable angle to see its tip. He couldn’t imagine a laboratory better than this. Five stories of Labs, and the rest offices. It was one of the Big Three of science academia.
A partially working, yet inefficient design of his invention without Secronium sat sealed in a metal container with a lock. An inkling of Ethan’s soul told him that there was a chance for him to get in. An inkling he held onto with all his strength. It was the only thing he had left.
The scientist entered the building, the glass door closing gently behind him. He walked up to a board with a map of the facility telling him what was on each floor.
Consult room 125, the third floor, left-wing, he deduced from the map. He took a quick jog to catch the elevator in time and slipped through the closing doors. He adjusted his tie and tapped his feet, impatiently waiting for the lift to open.
You got this, Ethan, he told himself. He ran through his presentation in his mind, collating all the various interview questions he was asked in the past. His mind overloaded with information, he resorted to clearing his head for the remainder of the trip up the elevator.
Once open, he peaked his head down several hallways looking for the consulting room. Ethan eventually asked a janitor on that floor to direct him and soon found the consulting room. The scientist checked the time. He was ten minutes early. So Ethan took a seat outside the room, waiting for his interviewer to arrive. Sooner than expected, a lady dressed in a suit arrived and invited him in. She introduced herself and they both sat on opposite sides of the table. She put on her spectacles and flicked quickly through her notes.
“Well, Mr. Rider,” she began. “Let’s start with the recent research you’ve conducted.”
Ethan nearly chuckled. It was over before it even began.
The scientist relaxed his shoulders the second he exited the room. That was the worst fifteen minutes of his life. It felt more like a cross-examination than an interview. I didn’t think it was possible to sweat that much in an air-conditioned room, he thought walking out of the building.
A growing sense of anxiety filled his stomach the longer he thought about what had just happened. He had nothing to do. No aspirations, no ambitions, no dreams, no purpose. Ethan was nothing more than a piece of paper, at the mercy of the wind, drifting wherever it took him. What did he want to do before his mother died? He couldn’t remember.
Could he just stand every day cooking the same dishes for the same people over and over again for the next three years, trapped in a mundane cycle? He felt as if everyone around him was moving forward, yet he was trapped in the same position, unable to accomplish a single thing.
The anxiety grew, his doubt fanning its flames. He was afraid. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t control nor could he see where he was going. He could be heading towards heaven or hell and not know which was which until it was too late.
Ethan looked back at the elegant building sparkling against the sunlight. He pulled the schematics out of his bag. A white ream of paper rolled into a cylinder and bound by an elastic band. He unraveled it and looked at his own invention. A beautiful image of his failure.
Ethan rummaged through his pants pocket and pulled out his lighter. A spark and then a small flame ignited at the tip of it. The flame jumped to the paper turning its edges black and slowly fizzling away. The ash piled in his palm and a white sliver of smoke trailed into the midday sky, disappearing before his eyes.
Emptying the palm into the nearest trashcan, he set his sights on the teleporting station standing tall a few streets from him. Closing his eyes for a moment, he exhaled through his nostrils and continued walking.
As he entered the station, he pulled the card out of his pocket with a picture of his ID imprinted on it. Three months ago, three years would have been too short of life but now... Now it was far too long of a wait. He examined the card. The edge was sharp... Perhaps sharp enough to cut through his skin. Or perhaps his desire for it to be sharp made it seem so. But from inside his gut, a spark of vitality remained. Something inside him wanted to live but he couldn't decipher what that was.
With the crowd of people approaching him, he attempted to slip through the crowded station to reach the terminal he wanted to reach but inevitably bumped into a few people on his way. Rolling his shoulder that had been rammed into by men and women of all sizes, he finally approached the teleporter terminal still confused as to why he was still alive.
Mr. Singh believed in destiny and at the time Ethan thought it to be foolish, but now... Destiny was all he had. Perhaps he was still alive because he was destined to live. Perhaps there was still hope even though he could not see it. Hope? Ethan questioned. Hope for what?
Teleporting in 3…2…1… Please remain calm and keep your arms inside the terminal!
The machine began to beep rapidly, and the display screen flashed red. Before Ethan could check the message, he vanished from sight as the terminal activated. Not even a moment after his thought, he was deposited 6 feet off the ground and fell clumsily on what was the last thing he thought he’d fall on; snow.
I must’ve hit my head too hard. Snow? In South Africa?
Ethan pulled up his link and turned on his GPS. There was no signal. He held it up in the air hoping to at least load a map to see where he was, but luck was not on his side today. Ethan’s heart sunk into his chest. He could not believe that one swipe of his card had sealed his fate. He didn’t plan on dying today nor was he ready to.
The only places in the world that never had any GPS signal were also the most dangerous parts of the world. The Abandoned Regions. Sites of past wars and battles involving nuclear or biological bombs that left heavy traces of radiation. Spending too much time in any of these regions spelled certain death.
Ethan hugged his body to insulate himself from the icy breeze. He would have never thought he’d freeze to death. He thought he’d die a peaceful death or a swift, painless one. Just atop the base of the hill, he was standing, was a trail of smoke amongst the snow-coated forest. Ethan began to ascend the hill in hope that the smoke would lead him to people, however unlikely that was in this part of the world.
He sank his feet into the thick snow trying to walk up the small, white hill. The cold pierced his clothing, and Ethan could feel every part of his body grow numb. Despite the fierce pain, he couldn’t stop now. He was almost there. He just needed to peek over the hill and walk up to the impenetrable smoke. At the very least, it would be a pleasant place of warmth for him. If he was going to die from radiation poisoning, he’d like to die warm. His head peeped over the hill ever so slightly.
Bang! A blue laser bolt shot past him grazing the left side of his face. The bolt had grazed his vigilant eye, but a graze was enough to render it useless. His vision immediately halved and a fierce wave of pain sharp as a needle’s tip rushed from his eye to his head. The pains crept across the left side of his face as a crack creeps through the glass.
The blaster bolt was the first of a continuous barrage of laser bolts approaching at lightning speed in his direction. Ethan ducked behind the snowy hill. The bolts continued to zip past him. The hissing sound of hydraulic pistons and the crisp zipping of grappling guns rattled Ethan’s alert ears. The shooters ceased fire to reload their used rifles. The ruffling of glossy leaves coupled with the sound of an energy sword being unsheathed came stealthily from deep in the desolate forest.
The unknown shooters flung another relentless barrage of blaster bolts. This time, it was directed toward the depths of the wilted forest. A squad of armed soldiers in exo-suits darted from the treetops towards the shooters. A bulletproof, tinted glass shield covered their faces as they bounced from tree to tree at blistering speeds the eye could barely track.
One of them pierced a shooter’s skull with their grappling gun. He used a thruster on his back to boost himself toward the band of shooters. Another from the squad zig-zagged between the dying trees to avoid the bolts being shot at them. The Exo-suit fired their weapons. Slicing the frail barks of the trees to provide cover on the ground, the trees on either side of Ethan collapsed. Ethan heard the cracking of the bark as two towering stumps fell toward him.
Ethan wasn’t sure where to run, but he knew he desperately needed to use every ounce of energy he had left to run. He picked himself up and tried to escape the plummeting tree. His wounded leg was caught between two branches making him fall to the ground. The prickly thorns from the tree dug deep into his skin. Ethan screeched in pain as he forcibly dragged his foot out. His legs were bleeding and barely functional as the thorns ripped out of his bleeding flesh. The exo-suits that were near him turned sharply to look at him.
Great! Now both of them know I’m here… One of the soldiers closest to Ethan’s position ran over to him searching for his body. Ethan, in desperation, lay flat on the ground vainly attempting to play dead.
Before the soldier could extend a gentle hand to Ethan, his head was blown off by a bolt and was pinned to a tree. The exo-suit, along with the body inside it collapsed to the ground, blood spraying out of his neck like an overflowing fountain. The blood sprayed over Ethan’s body as if it came from a hosepipe.
He tried to move away from the body, but Ethan was barely conscious at this point. He felt as if his entire body was being ripped apart. His helpless legs burned like hell, his fingers were frozen, his ears nearly deaf, his sight blurred, and his head pounded. Ethan was somewhat surprised he nevertheless had a heartbeat.
Shit! I’m going to die.
“Kane is down, John! Kane is down!” shouted a feminine voice from the exo-suit across from Ethan. There was a momentary silence as the lady received orders while taking cover.
A humongous exo-suit that could have passed for a mech, leaped off the parched ground and over the smoke. With the help of a booster and grappling hooks, it skid across the shallow snow throwing two flashbangs into a small cavern where the shooters were hiding. As two of the shooters emerged from the cavern disoriented, he cleaved them in half with his massive energy sword.
The first soldier that had shattered a shooter’s skull with his grappling gun emerged from the raging flames flicking the blood off his gun blade. His exo-suit was dripping with it as he paced towards the rest of his squad. A trail of dismembered bodies trailed him like dominos as the squad regrouped at the cavern.
“Where’s Kane?” asked one of them frantically.
“He’s…dead…” she muttered. “His head was blown off over there.”
The squad ran over with their suits towards Ethan who didn’t possess enough energy to panic. He could indistinctly hear sounds, barely making out what they were saying. He was fading in and out of dull consciousness as he lay helpless on the ground.
“Amber, get this man to base! Now!” screamed the bleeding man.
“John, he’s an outsider. You really want to bring him in?” questioned Breach.
“He’s got radiation poisoning and an open wound in a biohazardous environment. No hospital is going to save this man,” replied John.
“Now, Amber!” yelled John.
Ethan felt himself being picked off the ground as he was thrown over Amber’s mighty shoulders.
“Get him home, Amber. We’ll retrieve the data and meet up with you,” John said.
Amber nodded and instantly switched on her backpack. In one swift motion, Amber leaped nimbly off the ground and into the treetops. Using the thrusters on her backpack, she maneuvered herself through the forest and landed at a deserted teleporting terminal just outside the Abandoned Region.
Her exo-suit released steam as the pistons clicked into place and her air thruster powered down. Just before Ethan blacked out Ethan caught a glimpse of a distinctive insignia on the back of Amber’s exo-suit. A roman shield covered in golden feathers that were encased in the medic sign, a red cross. Even in his distressed state, Ethan knew that insignia. He’d seen it every day on his way to and from work. It was on his bedroom window. He saw it every day he entered his office. But what on Earth did they have to do with a high-tech skirmish in the Abandoned Regions? Didn’t the war end? Weren’t they the ones who ended it?
1. With the extended prologue connecting with the first chapter here, what was your overall impression of the extended prologue? Anything you think should have been there that wasn't or vice versa?
2. Is the change of pace mid-chapter too abrupt?