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First pages

“Ring-a-ring o' rosies,

A pocket full of posies,

A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

We all fall down.”

(Unknown)

Chapter 1 Mercy

Mercy examined her fingernails; broken, bloodied, dirty.

She’d never have clean nails or teeth again, not like the smiling people in the faded advertisements decorating the streets from the time before the Fall. Her joints ached and her head hurt again. She felt old, but she was only seventeen— was that right? It was difficult to remember the unimportant things.

Mercy squirted oil onto the sloping glass below, she needed to find more oil, the rats were becoming persistent. The sun’s dying rays disappeared behind the buildings opposite. A familiar chill rose in her bones, she hated the night and what it brought. Sleep had evaded her for two years. She kicked out the fire and pulled the blanket around her.

Her mind drifted but her eyes remained alert.

Seventeen years on this planet and two years since the pandemic. The infection had taken her friends and had stolen her life leaving her stranded in this new world. She drifted back to the orphanage and the conversation that haunted her.

“Mercy’s different… you must understand… she has Urbach-Wiethe disease, an extremely rare recessive genetic disorder. Worldwide there’s only been four hundred cases reported since it was first recognised in 1929… she will never experience fear.”

There was no cure for Urbach-Wiethe disease. The rest of the doctor’s explanation was long gone. No fear— is that what had kept her alive these last two years? All the others at the orphanage had died, killed by the tropes, with their sagging red eyelids and their insane thirst for human blood. She reminded herself that tropes had once been people, with friends, family, loves and lives.

What was fear anyway? What purpose did it serve? She remembered the trope attacking Connor in the orphanage. Connor didn’t even react, he just stood there, staring as the trope ripped his throat out. And then there was the kid with the glasses, he did run when the tropes came, but he ran towards them— what was that about?

Fear.

It served no useful purpose. It got you killed. Mercy’s eyes took in the fast encroaching shadows across the street, she was on trope time now, playing by their rules. She missed the others, especially Marianne, with her funny smile and spiky blue hair. At least Marianne’s death had been quick, Mercy’s arrow had flown true, through Marianne’s heart, her first mercy kill, she had honoured their pact— the trope hadn’t taken Marianne’s life.

They had joked about their pact. If Mercy had to do the deed it would literally be a Mercy kill. Mercy blinked, she saw movement in the shadows down the street on her right, the tropes were stirring early, they must be hungry. She reached into her pack and took out the jar of lion scat. She unscrewed the lid and put her hand in, coating it liberally. She rubbed the scat onto her neck and behind her ears. Tropes kept away from the lions, she would be a lion tonight. She sent a silent “thank you” to the zoo keepers for freeing the animals near the end.

Guess I’ll never know why they released the animals, it was probably a mistake, like a lot of other shit—

Mercy looked down fourteen stories to the street below. She was in the sweet spot, neither too high nor too close to the ground. Too high and she could run into the Flyers with their wings and zip wires, too low and the tropes would pick up her scent. Fourteen stories was a safe middle ground.

Who am I kidding? There is no such thing as safety—

The Big Apple had gone bad, and she was at its rotten heart, still alive two years after the haemorrhagic fever had struck the city. She had learned a lot since then, how to survive, how to keep under the tropes’ radar. The other gangs tolerated her; La Roche’s crew and the Angels, she brought them news from other districts of the city.

Mercy remembered being underground in the Chelsea gallery district, in the hidden subway station, long abandoned, even in the years before the pandemic. What she saw there sickened her; the freaks were weaponised tropes— weaponised by the military. They wanted more than blood, they consumed human flesh and even ate trope flesh.

Hunger ruled the Big Apple, everything was feeding, she had learned to survive; hunt or be hunted. She frowned, the tropes had been staying out longer than usual. They were pushing their nocturnal forays further from the city centre, staying active into the early morning light. They were using plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and in a few cases old clothes to protect their skin from daylight. Their behaviour was changing, they were evolving, becoming bolder, stronger than before.

But they would not get her tonight, not on the fourteenth floor.

Mercy lay her head back on the glass platform. The building had been unfinished when the pandemic struck. The platform looked down through the heart of the building and sloped away as part of a glass pyramid giving her a 360 degree view of her surroundings. If anything tried to sneak up on her she would see it coming.

Mercy remembered the batteries she had found. Batteries— who would’ve thought? She reached into her pocket and pulled out the old mp3 player and earphones. She popped the casing and inserted the batteries, anticipation running through her.

It was one of the things she missed most since the Fall— music, its wonderful warm sound, full of life, hope and humanity. There was no music in this world, her world was dead, silent, threatening. She looked long and hard at the player. Would it work? Were the batteries dead? She almost didn’t press play, but then she did, nothing happened, her earphones remained silent. Emptiness surrounded her.

What did you expect? Everything’s dead, even music— she pulled the earphones out. Bitterness welled up inside her, the pandemic had even killed music.

Mercy turned pressing her cheek to the cool glass and looked into the darkness below. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. She woke hours later, cold and stiff, her breath misting the air. Her eyes were unfocused, bleary, she blinked, wind moaned through the building.

The wind carried the smell of death— the smell of tropes.

Mercy froze, she was high enough. Unless—

She reached for her pack and searched inside finding the night vision goggles. She put them on and flicked the switch. She froze, eight tropes, closing in, they had her position surrounded. What were they doing up here, so high off the ground?

Mercy was unprepared for this— the rats yes, they would annoy her at night but not the tropes, not this high up. Hunger or something else had driven them up. No time to think. Mercy looked up then down. They were almost on her, she could not fight them all.

Run—

She stood and put on her pack. Tropes could sense movement and track human scent. The lion scat had not worked this time. Tropes hunted in packs— her escape window was closing. Mercy crept along the glass platform towards a cross beam surrounded by scaffolding. As she reached the beam she noticed the lead trope moving away from her, out towards the edge of the building. Were they reading her movements? Was she being flanked?

Then she saw the boy.

Chapter 2 Evasion

Mercy hesitated. The tropes were not after her, they were hunting the boy.

If she stayed put, they might pass by, she could escape.

Her internal voice screamed, Move, move, move—

Those that kept moving lived, those that stayed put died. She had seen it again and again. The boy moved fast, he was thirty feet in front of the lead trope, heading out to the exposed front of the building but it was a feint. He ducked inwards and jumped onto the internal scaffolding. The other tropes hung back behind their leader.

Mercy blinked, this behaviour was new, usually trope hunting was a chaotic affair with no clear leader. Here was an obvious pack and alpha. If she could create a diversion it might give the boy a chance to put some distance between him and his pursuers.

The tropes still had not seen her, the leader turned to the others and screamed. They replied with their own screams and the pack dispersed around Mercy’s platform. She’d have one shot, she would do her best but the boy would be on his own. She reached into the pack and pulled out her last flare. She twisted the base of the flare breaking the seal, it erupted with intense red light.

The whole atrium lit up, dazzling light reflecting off the glass pyramid. The tropes froze, raising their arms to protect their eyes. The lead trope screamed in defiance staring directly at Mercy. The trope’s hand went for something around his neck. He placed the object over his eyes.

Goggles.

Mercy was stunned, this was not good, tropes didn’t do this, they did not use things, they were not intelligent. She had no time to think, the leader leapt towards her onto the sloping glass. His bare feet connected with the pyramid and he slipped, sprawling awkwardly on the glass. Mercy snapped out of her fugue, glad she had oiled the glass earlier. She turned and ran towards the scaffolding, all thoughts of the boy gone.

She made it to the beam and jumped on, the flare still in her hand. Grunts and shrieks came from behind as the lead trope gained traction on the glass. Mercy needed both hands for the scaffolding, the flare would last another minute or two. She reached the scaffolding and rammed the flare into a loose bracket and began climbing. The scaffolding had been exposed to the weather since the Fall, Mercy’s hands gripped the lichen covered metal.

Her muscles were toned and strong, she made good progress up the scaffolding. She had climbed this piece before and knew where its weaknesses were. The flare spluttered behind her, the atrium was plunged into darkness. The tropes screamed as they resumed the chase.

The scaffolding shook as the lead trope grabbed it, climbing like a monkey. It gained on Mercy grabbing her leg, she felt no fear just a sense of urgency, of a job to be done. For every problem there was a solution, sometimes two or three solutions, she just had to find the key. The trope tried to bite her through her lace up boots. She held on to the scaffolding and kicked out missing. She cursed and tried again this time pulling herself up with both arms.

The trope released her leg and jumped grabbing her waist, it crawled up her body latching onto her backpack. Its stinking breath surrounded her, it stopped screaming and retracted its jaws to strike. Mercy let go of the scaffolding and fell backwards. They dropped through the air landing on the atrium roof with a loud thud. The trope’s ribcage crunched breaking Mercy’s fall, the glass cracked around them. Mercy lay still for a second processing what had happened. The cracking grew louder.

The trope was still alive and started clawing her, its teeth snapping at her neck. Mercy wriggled free of the backpack and rolled away from the apex of the atrium. Her body found an oily patch of glass and she slipped from the injured trope. He moved to follow her leaning into the glass, wrestling with the backpack.

The sound of shattering glass filled the air, the whole upper section of the atrium gave way falling down through the building. Mercy lost her grip on the glass and slid down the final section to the concrete floor. Breathless and with a racing heart she lay there listening. Sweat beaded her forehead, she felt a sharp pain in her right side. She reached down, her fingers found glass protruding from her flesh. She braced herself and tugged, the shard came out, a wave of agony lanced through her. Mercy stifled a cry and lay there trembling. She had to move, she had to get out. She had a stash in another building, it would keep her going, hell, she had stashes all over the city.

Keep moving, or die.

There would be more tropes on the ground, she could not go back down. She needed to keep to the plan and go up, find one of the Flyer zip wires and exit the tower. She still had the night vision goggles and her knife, she was alive. She would get through this.

Mercy lay a moment longer and listened. Nothing. Where were the remaining tropes? Where was the boy? Slowly she stood, the pain in her side had lessened to a dull ache, she ignored it and put on the goggles.

Nothing.

Knife in hand she turned towards the scaffolding and took a step. Broken glass crunched under her foot, she cursed. She needed to move fast. She reached the scaffolding, the same section the boy had taken earlier, and began to climb. The scaffolding was rusty and slick with lichen but it held firm. She looked through the goggles as she climbed. Where had the tropes gone? There should be seven of them left.

Mercy climbed keeping three points of contact. A few minutes later a cry came from her left, she turned. A writhing mass of bodies lay clustered forty feet away locked in combat; humans and tropes. The humans were wielding blades and clubs— Flyers.

Bad for the Flyers, but good for her. The Flyers were a tough crew but nobody would choose to battle tropes in the dark, tropes owned the dark. The Flyers would’ve sent scouts down from their camp on the thirtieth floor to investigate the noise on the fourteenth. This was her chance, she’d use the diversion to leave the tropes behind.

Mercy climbed until the scaffolding ran out. She lowered herself from the last section onto a wet concrete floor and stood panting, a fresh breeze reached her from outside, the ache in her side had returned. She didn’t have time to check the wound, she was running on adrenaline.

Mercy looked around with the night vision, the area was clear. She took out her knife and followed the breeze. Her goggles revealed large pools of water on the floor. She noticed the absence of glass; she was above the seventeenth floor. She made her way to the building’s outside edge and found her bearings.

Cold rain slammed into her, Mercy shivered realising she hadn’t eaten or had water since midday. Stupid, stupid, stupid— the worst thing she could do was to become dehydrated. Once dehydrated she wouldn’t think clearly, she’d lost her water bottle. She saw a pool of rainwater near the edge of the building. Glancing around and seeing nothing, she knelt to drink from the pool. She managed three mouthfuls, the water tasted metallic but it would do. She stood and turned to where the stairs should be scoping the area with her goggles.

Nothing.

Something didn’t feel right. She clenched her teeth ignoring the ache in her side. She waited. An inhuman scream came from somewhere within the building followed by silence. Then she saw it, across the floor where the stairwell should be.

Movement, a green blur.

A door opened, the blur disappeared.

The boy? Something else?

She had to follow. The upper floors could be crawling with tropes in minutes, she had to expect anything. There was something very different about tonight. Be prepared for anything— Sam’s voice whispered in her mind. Sam the Shadow, another ghost from the orphanage.

Your shadow didn’t save you, did it Sam?

Mercy crouched and ran towards the door. It was the stairwell— she’d made it. She looked back, then listened at the door. She turned the handle and opened the door a crack, a thin section of wire was visible behind the door, she froze.

Christ—

That was all she needed; a booby trap. Whoever had gone through the door had left it as insurance. Mercy traced the wire with her fingers and found a grenade taped to the wall. She used her knife to cut the tape and free the grenade. At least now she had another weapon. She went through the door closing it behind her.

Her night vision flickered and died, the battery drained. She was totally blind.

Move or die—

She reached out and grabbed the stair rail with her left hand, the knife in her right. The stairwell was silent, the smell of decay came from somewhere far below. Mercy counted the steps as she climbed, her feet brushed against debris and fallen cables. She clambered around a collapsed section of concrete, feeling the way as she went. The darkness felt endless. She knew sensory deprivation fed the imagination and imagination was her enemy right now. She needed her senses, she needed facts to make the right decisions.

Mercy squeezed around another obstacle and felt a breeze on the far side. Relief flickered through her, she needed to leave the stairwell and find her bearings. One of the zip wires she had seen from the street was on the twenty seventh floor, if she could reach it—

The door on the next floor was open allowing a draft in. She felt the drop in temperature and took a deep breath. Cigarette smoke tainted the air. Flyers, of course— they would have a guard manning the zip wire, they’d be trigger happy after the trope attack. She had seen Flyers using walkie talkies before— they were connected.

A series of shrieks came from the stairwell.

Tropes, move, move, move—

Mercy ran in a crouch across the open space in front of her. Scratching and banging erupted behind. She took the grenade and pulled the pin. Torchlight reached out from ahead piercing the darkness, she glanced behind, tropes filled the doorway twenty feet away. She threw the grenade at the tropes and flung herself behind a concrete pillar. She opened her mouth, closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears. A loud explosion filled the space, dust and debris filling the air. The concussive force of the blast shook the whole floor.

With ringing ears, Mercy blinked once then twice. The world adjusted itself, her vision steadied. She coughed and spat to clear her throat. The sharp pain in her side had returned, she reached down to the wound and felt a slick warmth. She had to get out.

Move… move… move.

She stood up and heard shouts ahead where the torch had been.

“Ready? Go, go, go—” a male voice.

She made a decision.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. It’s Mercy Dawes, coming through. I need help—”

She didn’t wait, her body tensed expecting the worst, her life was of no concern to them but she could not stay where she was, more tropes would come. The trope incursion felt like an invasion not just a random attack.

Mercy coughed and stumbled towards the male voice, her hair and face covered with dust. Weak candle light illuminated the area. A makeshift barricade surrounded a zip wire anchor point. She’d been right; this was the twenty seventh floor— her way out.

A man stepped out of the shadows, M16 automatic rifle in hand. “Mercy Dawes? Long time— you look like a ghost, you did a good job mashing them tropes up there. Stevie tells me you bought him some time down there. Reckon I owe you. Wanna bug outta Dodge?”

Mercy didn’t recognise the man but she nodded. “Yeah, more tropes on the way. They’re all over the place. Something’s up.”

“You ever used a zip wire before?” he said.

She thought of the zip wires she had seen on television before the Fall. “Sure, let’s go.”

Something behind her caught his eye, he lifted the M16 and opened fire. “Bring it motherfuckers, Lincoln’s waiting for ya—”

Mercy threw herself on the floor and glanced behind. Tropes everywhere, on the ceiling, on the walls, moving like lightening. She turned around, saw the zip wire and harnesses. No time for a harness— she looked over the edge of the building— twenty seven floors up. Rain hit her face, the zip wire disappeared into the night, its pulley handles wet, its seat swinging in the wind.

The M16 behind her went quiet, a strangled gurgle followed. Blood sprayed the floor in front of her. Mercy grabbed the zip wire handles and threw herself over the edge into the night. A rabid trope threw itself after her falling away on her right. A trope landed on the zip wire behind and raked her back, she could feel its nails through her jacket.

Gravity pulled her down at frightening speed, the pulley made a high pitched whine as she shot through the air. Wind and rain tore at her face, her muscles ached and her arms started cramping. The far building loomed closer, the zip wire disappearing through a broken window. Her eyes locked onto a light flickering in the darkness beyond the window.

Keep holding on. Make it to the light, make it, go, go, go—

The pulley snagged and slowed, then stopped with a jerk, her body swung wildly.

Mercy’s right hand cramped and she screamed in pain. She was twenty feet from the window. A two hundred foot drop lay below. Her scream disappeared into the night, frustration not fear coursed through her. To be so close to safety, only to fail at the last hurdle. Her left hand started to slip.

“Hold on,” a voice said from below.

A vibration through the zip wire freed the pulley, she started moving. She couldn’t hold on any longer, she lost her grip just short of the window and fell.

Chapter 3 Boy

Shock gripped Mercy, she had failed.

She felt an impact, the breath was knocked from her, her head snapped back hitting a soft surface. She lay stunned, the falling had stopped, a gentle rocking remained. She was alive, something had caught her.

“Don’t move, I’ve got you—” the same voice as before. A lifebuoy ring attached to a rope flew through the air and landed on the net beside her. She reached out and grabbed it.

“Get into it, I’ll pull you up,” the voice shouted.

Mercy struggled into the ring and held onto the rope as best she could, her hands were almost useless, their strength gone. The safety net caught her eye as she was hoisted up.

Clever bastards these Flyers—

Mercy shivered and closed her eyes willing her hands to hold on. A loud boom from the tower behind ripped through the night. Glass and debris rained down, a chunk of concrete tore away the safety net.

Voices above, “Shit, bastards got Lincoln—”

Hands reached from the dark and hauled her in.

Mercy’s legs buckled, strong arms grabbed her on either side. Her head spun and her side ached. They carried her across the room to a bench and laid her down.

“Come on Flynn, let’s go, this place will be next. We’ll regroup with the others back on West 8th.”

“What about her? She saved Stevie, you heard what Lincoln said.”

“We’ve saved her, we’ve done our bit, look at her, she’ll hold us up. Come on Flynn, let’s go.”

Silence, then, “You go Rites. I’ll stay with her. I’ll catch up, meet you back at West 8th.”

A pause. “Flynn. Don’t be stupid, you’re talking shit. Come on man, let’s go—”

“No, I’m staying… now leave.”

“Flynn— OK, it’s your funeral. Here take this, and use the sewers to get away.”

The sound of footsteps echoed off the concrete walls.

Mercy groaned. The pain in her side burned like a hot knife, she was shivering.

“How on earth did you make that jump girl? That was something else— you’re coming with me.”

Mercy felt herself being lifted. Pain overwhelmed her and darkness descended.

~

Flickering. Light. Headache.

Mercy opened her eyes, blurred images flooded in, she was thirsty and felt sick, the pain in her side was different, dull. She blinked and licked her lips.

“Here, drink this.” A young man’s face came into view, he held a bottle to her mouth, she took a sip. Water. She took a long pull and swallowed, then another. When she’d had her fill she lowered her head again.

“Where am I? Who are you?” Mercy asked.

“I’m Flynn. You saved my brother Stevie, from the tropes, he’s safe now. You’re in a vault, one of our safe rooms, near Central Park. I brought you here, you had glass fragments in your side, I took them out and stitched you up. Given you a shot of antibiotics too, couldn’t ask you if you were allergic to anything, you were unconscious. You’re still alive so— all good.”

“How long have I been out?” Mercy asked.

“Day and a half.”

“Jesus,” Mercy said. “What happened back there? The tower was swarming with tropes.”

“Don’t know. Something stirred them up real bad. It was as if they were—”

Organised,” Mercy said.

“Yeah, organised,” Flynn agreed.

Mercy’s head was clearing with the water, she took in the room and her companion. He was young, eighteen or nineteen. Dirty face, short hair, hazel eyes. A scar ran along his neck.

“What happened there?” she asked, pointing at the scar.

Flynn touched his neck. “Hit by an arrow meant for a trope.”

Mercy nodded, “Friendly fire’s a bitch.”

“Ain’t it just,” he replied. He held her gaze then looked away.

“Thanks for patching me up,” Mercy said.

“No problem, thanks for helping Stevie. He got away with the others, probably back at West 8th Street, living the dream.”

Mercy sat up holding her side. “Yeah, we’re all living the dream. So what’s your plan Flynn?”

“Here, take these, painkillers and more antibiotics.” He handed her some pills. “I’m aiming to get back to West 8th Street and meet up with the others. I don’t know how many made it out of the tower—”

“Your crew were hunting in Central Park?” Mercy asked.

“Yeah, hunting’s good at the moment,” Flynn replied.

“You think the tropes smelt the blood from your kills?”

“I don’t know, maybe? But they’ve never come after us in the tower before. Jesus, we were on the thirty fourth floor,” Flynn said.

“Well, you had other zip wires up there maybe some of the others got out too?”

“Yeah, well. We’ll see.”

Mercy swallowed the pills with a swig of water. A day and a half in this vault?

She had to leave and make sure her stash was safe. She needed to replace the kit she had lost in the tower. Hell, if the tropes were restless maybe she needed to move out of Midtown. She had often looked out over the Hudson River and wondered if things were the same in Jersey, Newark and beyond. Maybe if she could make it to the country— maybe, one day.

One step at a time, one day at a time, one breath at a time.

Mercy looked at her watch, 5:15 pm, too late to start out now. She would leave tomorrow, she looked around the vault.

“Impressive,” she said. “So, you’ve got safe rooms all over the city?” Mercy knew the Flyers were one of the most organised gangs in the city, they had safe houses and stashes everywhere, she knew the locations of a few, having followed gang members on occasion. Knowledge was strength, knowledge was survival.

Flynn opened his mouth then hesitated. “Yes,” he said, “we do, but you know that.”

She looked at him again. Something about him was familiar, she could not place it. She blinked, the spell was broken, it would come.

“What about you? You have a crew? Were you separated from them? Why were you alone?” Flynn asked.

Mercy cringed. This was where the questions started, she wasn’t good with people.

Trust no one. Be prepared for anything. Lie. Cover your tracks, double back, lie again.

Her inner voice recited the mantra, she looked away. She’d give him her standard story; half-truths and lies.

“I’m from Watsons, the orphanage. When the phage virus struck I was in hospital, having tests. The pandemic struck the city, the hospital was overwhelmed. They needed beds, I got sent home, but by then the haemorrhagic fever had come to the orphanage and people had… turned. I hid in the gardens with a few others until the screaming stopped.” Mercy paused as the memories came back, she hated doing this, she had it all locked down, but the damage was just beneath the surface.

To hell with it— everyone had scar tissue. “Me, Tiny and Joe, hunger drove us out. We left the gardens and went back into the orphanage, there were bodies everywhere, you know, chewed up and everything. We took what food we could find and left. Tiny had the idea of going to a hotel, said we could get up on the roof and see what was going on, there’d be food and bedrooms— think he saw it as an adventure.

Mercy sighed. “Tiny never made it, Joe neither. Been on my own ever since. Had a brush with the Angels once, they wanted me to join, they were having trouble with the Preacher after the Fall. I managed to help their leader Laurient, but a lot of her girls didn’t make it. People don’t seem to live long when I’m around— I operate better alone.”

Flynn was silent then said, “Stevie made it… thanks to you.”

Mercy looked up, the ghost of a smile on her face. “One of Stevie’s booby traps nearly wasted me back in the tower. Tell me about him.”

Flynn nodded, grinning. “That’s Stevie, he’s twelve, been fighting tropes and freaks ever since the Fall. Sometimes thinks he’s better than any of us, he’s a bit like you; goes off on his own. He likes to roam out there, he takes risks. Don’t know what he gets up to half the time. He comes back with real treasures; diamonds, emeralds and weapons. In fact it was him that discovered this place, he even got the electronic door lock working using batteries. He’s got a thing about diamonds and jewellery stores.

“He’s been all over the city. Says he can cover more ground when he’s alone. I’ve tried to talk to him, but he won’t listen. He disappeared for a couple of weeks once, thought he was dead, we sent out scouts to find him. They came back empty handed, then he turns up, redeemed himself as usual. Found a whole stash of ammo and food on the Upper East Side— lasted us months. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d been across to Jersey somehow—”

Mercy looked up. “What makes you say that?”

Flynn caught her eye. “Just something he said about the Holland Tunnel—”

“The Holland Tunnel? But that’s flooded, everyone knows that.” Mercy said. “What did he say?”

Flynn shrugged, “Nothing really, he’s just spent a lot of time around the piers and tunnels—”

“The bridges were blown and the tunnels flooded by the military as part of the quarantine,” Mercy said. “Except for the Henry Hudson Bridge beyond the north wall,” she added.

Flynn nodded, “And the freaks still insist on using the parts of the tunnels above water and the subways—”

Mercy nodded. “Yeah, the freaks. Bastards. Had a run in with them once. Sometimes I think they’re worse than the tropes.”

“At least with the tropes it’s over quick, the freaks just want to keep you alive and eat your flesh piece by piece.” Flynn said, his lip curling. “If those bastards ever take me… I’ve got a bullet with my name on it.”

“Damn right,” Mercy said.

A pause.

Then Flynn spoke. “So, you recovered from your illness? You mentioned test results—”

There it was— she knew he’d ask about the hospital tests.

She’d overheard the doctor telling the Social Worker her diagnosis— Urbach-Wiethe disease. She Googled it as soon as she returned to the orphanage. The lack of fear, a rare genetic disorder, only four hundred reported cases since 1929, discovered by Eric Urbach and Camillo Wiethe. Variable symptoms; with her it was the complete lack of fear and her attention to detail that was remarkable.

“Yes, I recovered,” Mercy lied, closing the topic down.

Another pause. “So, what about you Flynn? Tell me about yourself.”

Flynn picked up a Colt Python revolver from the table. “Don’t worry, I’m just cleaning it,” he said. “Me? Well I’m from Jersey City, raised in Greenville, I know— enough said. The virus was the best thing that ever happened for me, a few more years and Greenville would’ve killed me. Those were bad days, I was trying to protect Stevie and bring money into the house. Mom worked two jobs and just about made the rent, we needed extra for food and clothes…”

“What about your father?” Mercy asked.

Flynn stopped cleaning the revolver and looked at the wall. “Bastard walked out on us, went on a long haul to San Diego and never came back.”

Mercy snorted. “Adults eh?” She sighed, her pain had diminished to a dull ache with the painkillers, her head felt dull, her thoughts slow. She realised how tired she was, she needed to sleep but knew it would be impossible. Just do what you usually do, lie still and close your eyes, rest is as good as sleep. Who needs sleep? She looked around the vault. Food for a few days, a stash of water, candles and blankets.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Fergal F. Nally is an outdoors lover often to be found out and about in amongst it all in the Scottish Highlands. His passions are hillwalking, music and reading great fantasy adventure novels. He lives in Edinburgh. Mercy Kill: The Survival Chronicles is his seventh novel.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
The characters drew me to this genre. The main character Mercy Dawes has been present, like a ghost, just over my shoulder, out of reach for the last 3-4 years. She stepped into the light fully formed and eager for the fight earlier this year. Once the door was open I could not close it!
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because I have to and because it is a joy! Taking the plunge, diving into the next story is always a thrill. Following an adventure through to its conclusion is extremely satisfying and one of the most rewarding experiences to be had as far as I'm concerned.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Readers can find me on Goodreads, Facebook & Twitter. My banner on Twitter is actually one of the characters from an earlier story "Runestane".

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