Monday, 6 July 2015

Love's Bright Star C1 : Book 1 of' The Future Movers Series'




My publisher has closed down. Until I self-publish this series you can email me:
virginniadeparte[@]gmail.com (without brackets)
and I will send you this novella - FREE.
 





CHAPTER I
Tonight I’m going to lose more than one of my nine lives, Siobhan thought, as a man’s strong arms encircled and held her. She didn’t know if people with cat genes actually had nine lives.  She hoped so.  Any moment now she was going to release her claws, rake her captor’s face and spring free to escape the night club. She would leave behind the sickening screams of her assailant, his face in shreds. Her heart pounded and  the bile rose in her throat.   She would cause a lot of damage on her way out. She would probably get caught before she reached the door, and the life style she had worked so hard to create would be forfeited.
“Gotcha sweet pussy,” he slurred. Putrid alcohol fumes swept up to her nose. His pungent breath repulsed her, and she screwed her face up in disgust as he nuzzled the back of her neck.

“Let… me… go,” Her words were followed by a protracted hiss. She could feel her third eyelids sliding across. She closed her eyes, mentally cursing herself for not wearing her dark glasses.   Hoping to liven up a dull Friday night after a long hard week behind the camera, she realised she’d made a bad decision coming to this nightclub. The man’s arms locked in a vice-like hold. Drawing a deep breath she tried to duck out from under them.  He tightened his grip. With a wrench she swivelled round towards her attacker.  Fury contorted her face, her voice strident as she cried out “Let me go now!”  Her long dark hair swiped across his face as she swung her head side to side, twisting at the waist and trying to force his arms apart.  With the bio-sync dance lights pulsating and the heavy beat of the technofunk blotting out small sounds, her screams went unnoticed. Her assailant screwed up his face. The sight of spit bubbles in the corners of his mouth made her stomach lurch in protest as he leaned forward to kiss her.  Gulping down the scream in her throat, she lifted her left leg to rake the toe of her shoe down his shin. He leapt backwards, anticipating her move, pulling her with him. She struggled to keep her balance, regretting her expensive high heels and turned her face away from his fetid breath.
“No way, baby. I’ve been watching you all night. You g-altered ladies are such a rush.”  His gravelly voice slurred with a menacing undertone. He held her firmly and began to walk forward. Her heels snagged the carpet and she fell onto his chest.  “Aww, come on baby. I only want to dance with you,” he whispered in her ear.
Suddenly she could smell dogs on him. The dog scent had permeated his clothing. It was faint to her nostrils, but it was there all the same.  An instinctive dread flooded her system. Adrenaline released into her bloodstream caused her heart to race even faster. She remembered that just last week she’d read in the newspaper where two young g-altered boys had been found dead, shredded with dog bites. The police suspected they had been used as bait in illegal dog fights. Was this her fate tonight? Perhaps she could survive combat with one animal, but not a pack of dogs. Her mind raced while her assailant slobbered in her face.
“No one’s gonna miss a little g-altered lady.”
 Drawing on her cat-sight by narrowing her pupils she could see an indigo/black haze wrapping his head. This man had an aura of evil.  She knew agreeing to do anything with this idiot, even to dance, could be dangerous. His drunkenness could be a front. It was common knowledge that attacks on people like her didn’t feature high on police priority lists. Would pleading help? Could she wheedle her way out of his grip? Why wasn’t someone coming to her aid? Couldn’t other people see his evil intent? Heart pounding, stomach churning, fear riding her back, she stopped her struggling. Siobhan tried another tack by going slack in his arms. Pretending to give in to his desire to dance she swayed, moving her legs to the beat of the music.
“Please let me go…. Please. I can’t dance with you if you hold me like this,” she said, masking the fear in her voice. Her cat talents were taking over. Her third eyelids slid across her eyes again.  Her claws fully extended from under her fingernails - razor sharp with deadly tips. Any second now her instinctive Survival Mode would trigger. The memory of her fight for life in the forest years ago, flashed through her mind. The charging stag had triggered her survival instinct and caused her to leap onto its back and rake its neck. Her claws had cut an artery in its neck – a wound that had been sufficient to kill. There would be no turning back if her Survival Mode was activated tonight. She would have little conscious control once it started. She struggled with all the force she could muster. Desperation gave her the extra strength to drag her arms upward from her sides. As Siobhan’s freed hands rose her claws cut into his arms.  He opened his mouth, to scream. This is it. The moment of no return.  The conscious commitment of an act against a ‘normal’ human being: the ultimate crime in the eyes of the law. Her terror at fever pitch, her arms drawn high ready to strike, and suddenly,…. silence descended. 
In that instant, everything stopped moving. People stood frozen; mid stride, mouths fixed in mid sentence. She could only hear the ticking of the cooling hot metal on the air conditioners, and the tinkling of the revolving lights as they slowed. Her fear turned to confusion. Her assailant, rigid, mouth gaping, a silent scream on his lips.  Her lungs ached with held air and she breathed out in a soft puff.  What the hell is happening? She ducked down between his stiff arms and saw a movement to her left. Coming towards her, slipping around the suddenly static dancers, was a tall, lean man. Friend or foe?  Her fear, momentarily subsiding, rose again. Her claws, beginning to retract, shot forward once more.  Before she could decide whether to fight or flee, he stopped.
“Quickly! This way!”  He stood just out of her reach.  He extended one hand towards her, pointing towards the exit with his other. His blue eyes pleaded with hers.
“We have to hurry. This won’t last long.” God, what gorgeous eyes. What fabulous curls. The thoughts flashed through her head. With her cat sight she could see his blue aura; the colour of safety and trust.   It looked like she might escape, unscathed, after all and she reached out towards him. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut in first.
 “I’ll explain later. We have to leave here now.” His voice, firm and reassuring, with a tone that inferred arguing would be fruitless. Grasping his outstretched hand, she hung on tightly and followed him.
In the phosphorescent lights of the club she could see that they were the only things moving, weaving their way through the colourful figures. The smell of sweaty bodies caught her nose, all her senses heightened by the tension. As they passed a mirror she glanced in and saw her eyes were wide with shock, her pupils, small black dots in green pools. They moved through silence, tangible like thick syrup.   A heaving, pulsating room, packed full of people, now a tableau of statues. She saw Anna and her friends at their table, mid sentence; mid hair flick; mid hand gesture; brilliant cocktails in hand – like a frame from a digital still.
She hesitated. No time for goodbyes. The man tugged her hand hard, all the time his head sweeping from side to side. She guessed he was checking for movement anywhere on the floor. She let go to remove her shoes and grasped his outstretched hand again once she had them off. With her shoes dangling from the fingers of her free hand she kept pace with him as they headed towards the exit.
At the entrance they paused, for a heart beat, before gliding past the doorman, careful not to touch him. The man’s bulk almost filled the doorway, his unseeing eyes locked on the stairs to his left.
They ducked out the front door of the nightclub into the warm summer night and began running down the pavement towards parked cars. She looked around, all her senses heightened. Even the traffic had stopped. She gaped in amazement, slack-jawed,  Nothing in the world was moving, except the evening breeze and the man holding her hand.
“Hurry.   We’re nearly there. “
Where’s there?  
“Don’t stop to look.  No time.  I’ll explain later.”
Her bare feet caught the stones on the pavement as she raced after him. She wished she’d worn sensible shoes and wished she’d brought her camera. How can I think of work at a time like this? She collided with him as he stopped by a dark vehicle and placed his thumb on the door catch.  The sidelights flashed, the locks sprang up and he pulled the door open, giving her a gentle nudge to get in.  As she sipped her shoes back on she heard him run around to the driver’s side and slide in behind the wheel. He turned towards her and as she looked at him she saw, through the car’s windscreen, the world click effortlessly into motion again. Cars drove off, denying they had ever been immobile. The bright coloured advertising signs, previously still, now flashed their unending stream of chaotic visuals. The night’s noises resumed their discordant beats. People, who had been halted in acrobatic mid-stride, resumed their way onwards.  People began talking to each other, oblivious to the fact they had for some time been arrested in mid sentence.
She sat speechless.  The last few minutes had been a mind blowing experience.
 “Did you do that?” Siobhan pointed through the windscreen and back up the road towards the nightclub.  “God, it’s amazing.  You actually stopped time! How do you do it? Do you do this often?”  As soon as the words left her lips she realised she’d forgotten the most important thing. She leaned forward and gripped his arm, her voice choked with emotion.  “Thank you.  Thank you so much.  I can’t begin to say how grateful I am. You saved my life.”
His eyes travelled down her face and body. She sensed his admiration and her pulse quickened.  He nodded his acceptance of her thanks, but remained silent.  Rebuffed by his lack of response she sat gazing down at her hands resting on her black and white geometric dress.  How does one dress to be saved, she wondered?   She wanted to put her arms around him, kiss his beautiful full mouth, and run her fingers through his gorgeous blonde curls. Be sensible, she scolded herself, and smiled at him instead.  Surely her strong attraction to him wasn’t normal? She’d never experienced magnetism like this before either, but then she hadn’t been assaulted and rescued before. Was this love…. or extreme gratitude? She’d have to wait and see.
“Yes. I did stop time” the stranger said.   With a smile that stroked her heart like a soft hand he reached across and grasped her shoulder.  “I know you’re g-altered.  I’ve been watching you most of the evening.” He paused. “Do you know you’re very beautiful?” He looked bashful. “You move with such grace you fascinate me. When I saw your third eyelid come across,” his voice softened, “I knew I had to rescue you. I’m James, James Corban.”
Siobhan shook his outstretched hand. “I’m Siobhan Coster. Thank you for saving me. I was so frightened.”  Her brain chattered ‘he thinks I’m beautiful!’ and her heart skipped with delight. She realised James was still talking and forced herself to pay attention.
“I think the man was an agent for the Defence Department - fortunately, a very drunk one. Tonight wouldn’t have ended prettily for you.”  
She wrinkled her eyebrows as she thought back to those fear-filled moments.” I thought he was just another testosterone charged drunk, wanting a good time, until I smelled dog on him.  I remembered those two teenagers killed by dogs.” She paused.  “I thought he might have been planning to kidnap me, despite saying he wanted to dance.” She stared at the people walking past their parked car. Everyone looked so normal. Her hands trembled, remembering her fear. Looking at him, she said, “You could be right. I haven’t come across any Defence Agents before. Well, none I know of.”
“I have.” His voiced carried a tinge of hatred, at odds with his calm efficient manner.
“What a creep.” Siobhan said, “I would’ve blown my cover getting away from him. My Survival Mode was about to take over.”  The silence grew until she couldn’t bear it any longer.  Obviously he wasn’t a great talker.    “Are you genetically altered as well?”  She knew she was being nosey but couldn’t stop asking him questions. “You must be something pretty wonderful.  I’ve never seen anyone stop time before.” She waited for his answer.
“I’m g-altered in a different way; more genetically enhanced really.  I call myself a Time Manager.”  He stared at his hands and Siobhan wondered if he was going to continue. As she opened her mouth to ask another question, he said, “I can stop time when I need to, but only for a short while.  The time-stop length can vary a bit and I always have to hurry.”
“Do you do this regularly?”
“Only when I have to.” His face etched with regret and his sadness washed over her and made her want to cry. She smiled instead. He shrugged “We’d better get moving in case that Agent comes looking for you.” He leaned forward and pressed his thumb on the starter. The car responded and he pulled out into the traffic
            “What do you do in real life?”
“In my real life,” he smiled at the thought, “I lecture here at the Wellington University, in physics and fourth dimensional maths.”
“With time management thrown in?”  She was finding it hard to believe a mere ten minutes previously she’d been heading for a taxi and home.
“No,” he laughed “Hell, no! I wouldn’t dare give a demonstration. I’ve spent my whole life avoiding detection. Just like you, and thousands of others.”  Siobhan nodded in agreement. He continued. “I just concentrate on blending in, trying to live normally. It’s common knowledge anybody with a useful talent ends up being enlisted in the Defence Department.” His tone implied that anyone who didn’t know this, was stupid.  He asked “Coffee?  Share a nightcap?”  A thrill of delight ran up her spine. “Yes, please.”
He pushed a few numbers into the GPS and relaxed, taking his hands off the wheel.  
“What about you? You’ve five minutes till we get to my favourite late night stop. Tell me your life story.”  James stole a sideways glance. The windscreen reflected her long dark hair that shone in the amber of the passing streetlights. She wondered if he’d seen her hazel eyes flash. They always did when she sensed danger. How much should she tell him?
Siobhan looked at the city street gliding by with people out having a good time while she tried to think of the highlights of her life.
“Five minutes will be plenty.” She turned slightly towards his admiring glances.  For the first time, in her twenty-seven years of life she felt relaxed in a man’s company. Trying not to be distracted by her desire for him, she began her story. “My job as a professional photographer keeps me in a nice lifestyle.  I try not to get upset, or frightened because then my cat genes show, as you just witnessed.  However, I don’t think the Defence Department would be interested in my cat talents.”
“Don’t be so sure. They want everything and anything they can get their hands on,” he said, as the car snaked its way through the traffic.  “Your name’s lovely. It’s Irish.”
“It’s the only nice thing my Mother did for me.  She took an instant dislike to me once I started displaying cat tendencies.” James made sympathetic noises
“That’s not good.” He raised his eyebrows as he asked And your Father?”
“’Semen Donor Unknown’. He must have been g-altered. I didn’t have a happy childhood. My mother desperately wanted a child and being single she had only the one chance. She didn’t get a second draw in the Semen Bank ballot.” A note of bitterness crept into Siobhan’s voice. She stifled it, and tried to put a more positive tone in her voice.  “There she was, stuck with a g-altered kid and muttering about faulty goods.  I was lucky no one took much notice.  She drank a lot.”  Siobhan left the implications the drinking implied unspoken.
“Any dreams and ambitions?” James asked.
“Yes, I’ve dreams like everyone else.” she said in a soft voice. “I want to be a famous photographer. I want to mount exhibitions in the world’s major cities; to be one of the best in my professional field. And I’d like to be proud of my genes, not ashamed as I am now.” She turned her right hand over, palm up, to indicate he had the stage as she asked, “Now it’s your turn. Have you family?”
“Later. – Look we’re here”
She wondered if he was being deliberately evasive. Tearing her eyes from his beautiful face she looked ahead as the car pulled into the curb, shuffling back and forth, until it was legally parked in the space.  She heard the door locks click as the locking device deactivated and put her hand out to open the door when James spoke firmly. “Wait, while I check”. He opened his door and walked round the front to stand on the pavement, looking around for a few seconds.  “All clear.” he said, leaning down and talking to her through the window, “Out you come.”  He opened her door, holding her hand as she stood. The warmth of the evening caressed her skin.
Walking down the lamp-lit street beside him, feeling a little dazed at the night’s turn of events, Siobhan weighed up her options. Here was someone like herself, the result of genetic engineering gone awry. A man who obviously cared about other g-alters; a man who had taken a huge risk on her behalf. Did she need this complication in her nicely secure existence? How often did she come across one of her own kind?  Hardly ever, and she felt safe in his company. Every g-alter kept their altered state a secret; lucky if they had a small circle of friends. Here was a chance get to know someone who understood her life and its hurdles.  One coffee couldn’t hurt.
The warm summer night had a hint of winter in its breath, and the smell of impending rain tickled her nostrils. She listened to her fashion heels beating a tattoo on the footpath, as she hurried to keep up with James’ long strides. 
“Down here.”  He took her hand, leading her into a side alley, hidden in the shadow between two circles of lamplights.  In this part of the city replicas of old fashioned lights had been installed, giving the appearance of stepping back in time. The entrance to the café appeared hidden at night. No doubt in the daytime there would be signboards on the pavement, advertising their menu, and bright buntings hanging from the veranda. Tonight it was an ideal place for lovers’ trysts, with only a faint glow seeping from around its window blinds.
James opened the café door and stood back, ushering her in ahead of him. 
A true gentleman she thought, giving him a quick smile and soft ‘thank you’.
The enclosing warmth, the smell of coffee and rich food, combined with the drift of soft music enabled Siobhan to unwind.  She could feel a rumble beginning in the back of her throat. She coughed several times to break it, trying to stifle the rising happiness that was beginning to tingle through her skin, from her toes to her nose. There wasn’t enough background chatter here to cover a full volume purr. It didn’t matter if James heard her. It was the couple standing next to them at the counter she worried about.
This was the life of a g-alter – always alert, always cautious.
Turning to get a better look at James more fully in the lights reflected from the counter, she admired his tall frame, blond curls and handsome face. A lean aristocratic nose complemented his square jaw line. She tucked her arm into his as they waited for a table.  He didn’t object. He hugged her closer and she stood, eyes closed, her body absorbing the ambience. She listened to the background chatter of the customers, and sighed deeply. The muscles in her legs relaxed.  She resisted the urge to stretch, and gave silent thanks to Lady Luck for being so kind to her tonight.
”Something to eat with the coffee?”  James’ question interrupted her thoughts and she realised she was very hungry. She nodded. James carried the tray with their coffees and sweet friands while she walked ahead to a table in a corner.  They settled down, their backs to the wall, facing the entrance. “Can’t be too careful” James said, waving his hand in the direction of the door. She smiled in agreement, but wondered at his obvious paranoia. Would the Defence Department Agents be following them? She felt a pang of remorse.  Who was she to criticize? His vigilance had saved her life tonight. He must have reason to be this watchful. They didn’t talk as they sipped their coffee, hot and strong, and demolished the food. There was so much she wanted to know about him, but knew she should be patient. She may have asked too many questions already.
Their supper finished, they leaned back on the corner settee. Siobhan was happy to absorb the ambience and listen to the soft piano music being played in the far corner.  Her own eyesight was great for gloomy-lit rooms, but it would be difficult for most people to see in this low level of lighting. This may be why James called it his favourite late night spot. Her curiosity grew until she simply couldn’t help herself, and she repeated the question James had avoided answering earlier.
“What about you James? Tell me about yourself. What was your childhood like?”
Often this was the first question asked, upon meeting another g-alter. The sharing of emotional and physical scars - in this exclusive club they belonged to where members were damned by their genetics. When James began to talk she raised her eyebrows in surprise, then took care to lower them and compose herself to listen. He began slowly and as he relaxed his speech flowed with greater ease.
“I have wonderful parents.  I’ve a sister who is a chameleon g-alter. Hell, we used to have great fun playing hide and seek as kids. Jill’s a honey and we’re great mates.”
He smiled at the memory with a far away gaze in his eyes.  “My folks adore both of us and they know I’m keeping a low profile and trying to live a normal life.” He fiddled with his spoon, chasing something around in the bottom of his empty coffee cup. Siobhan waited patiently, not daring to interrupt him. “I don’t contact them very often – in case their phones are still bugged…. or their mail monitored.”
This level of surveillance wasn’t something she’d ever heard of.  She touched his arm in concern. “How awful, for you, and them. Is it really that bad?”
“Well it’s not the best of arrangements. Sometimes the old low-tech methods of contact are the best. Messages that manage to fly under the radar.  We exchange letters addressed to mutual friends, and sometimes they ring me when they’re out visiting with normal friends. Not g-altered friends, like you and me.” He licked his spoon obviously having caught whatever was in his cup. “Luckily, we’ve a few friends like them. Really tolerant and sympathetic people.”  He paused and she wondered if he felt he had told her enough.  She was curious as to what made this gorgeous man tick.  What interested him? Desperate to pad out her knowledge and without considering she might be offending him, she asked, “Why are they being monitored? Did the authorities find out about your time stopping talent?  Is it something your parents can do?”
He considered this for a few seconds. Indecision shaded his eyes and face.  Should he? Shouldn’t he? …A decision made, his face relaxed and the furrows on his forehead disappeared.  “I think they have suspicions about me.  Once, years ago, I rescued a friend from a charging bull. I stopped time and managed to run back and get him over the fence before time started again. Both of us might’ve been about nine and I just instinctively stopped time to save him. He swore he’d never tell. Being a ‘normal’ he knew it would put my life at risk. He must have let it slip.” He sighed, looked down at his hands and then looked up at Siobhan “He’d never tell anyone intentionally,” he said, “I know he wouldn’t.” Stretching his arms high and stifling a yawn, he added, “Who knows? He may have made an innocent comment. The Defence Department is not above hypnotising people to get information. They could have drugged him, got the information, and decided it was worth following.”  Having stacked all their things, he straightened his back and shrugged as if to remove a weight.  “I’m hoping they’ve lost interest in me by now, deciding it was a child’s tall story.”  She could hear the desperate hope in his voice. “He’s the only other person in the world, besides my family, who knows. And now you know.”
He clamped his jaw shut and she knew he’d said all he was going to on the subject of his family.
Siobhan felt honoured by his confession, yet stunned that he should disclose so much. To ease his concern she said, “And you know about me, so we’re square. I’m not likely to tell anyone.”
She watched as James’ gaze circled the room, stopping again at the Café’s entrance.  “You’d think, all these years later,” she said, her voice breaking, “after so many genetic mutations, they’d stop doing it, wouldn’t you?”  She sighed at the sadness caused to so many children from genetic experiments.
James grimaced, and tore his gaze away from the door.  He spoke in the manner of a teacher, explaining something basic to a pupil. “People always want children Siobhan, and some will do anything to have them. After years of success… I guess they never imagined it would all go wrong.”  His gaze slid back to the door. “It took the Government twenty years to admit kids with animal genes lived among the population. Now, in 2079, they’re trying to create even more.” His voice filled with anger. “They feed the media rubbish. It’s always the g-alters fault if anything strange happens and we’re left with small groups protecting each other,” James said. “And no support on a national basis.” Siobhan interrupted him, horror etched on her face. “But if we had public support groups then the Defence Department could swoop in, at any time, and collect us for ‘assessment’.”  
“Now I’ve frightened you.  I’m sorry” James reached out and stroked her hair in reassurance.  “Don’t worry. I’m sure we’re safe tonight. I’ve become very adept at spotting Defence Agents. There’s none about just now.”  He began to be fidget, moving the cutlery and cups about on the tray and Siobhan guessed he wanted to leave. She picked up her shoulder bag.
“Mind you, I feel like the Chinese must feel,” he said. She raised her eyebrows querying his comment. 
He chuckled. “Because I rescued you tonight, does that make me responsible for you for life?”  He smiled wryly at her.
 As she stood up she said, “Certainly not, James.  Please don’t feel that way, at all.  I’m really grateful you acted, but I’ve been taking care of myself up to now, and I’m sure I can keep doing it. However,” and she smiled to soften her sharp retort, “I will avoid nightclubs from now on.”  Feeling strangely shy she added “I’ve enjoyed our evening.  It’s certainly ended up much better than it started out.” No expectations now Siobhan, she chided herself, following James as he walked to the cashier. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is, she thought. Just enjoy the night. A handsome date; a late night rendezvous; great relaxed company; how spoilt can a girl get?
Her friends back at the night club would still be dancing. Only Anna knew she was a genetically altered and she imagined big Anna’s eyes would look when she told her about tonight. It’s the most exciting night of my whole life she thought. Could it get any better than this? she wondered.
“I’ll take you home,” James said “I didn’t stop time just to have you slip away from me” She basked in another of his heart-melting megawatt smiles.  He left a tip on the table, placed his hand in the small of her back and guided her out into the night.
The warm wind caressed her hair. A fine rain kissed her face. Night noise roiled down the street and she loved it all.  James’ arm slipped around her waist, and with her head on his shoulder, they strolled to the car. She finally gave in to the urge…. and purred, not daring to think of tomorrow or even the next week. Would she even see him after tonight? Her commonsense warned her ‘be careful Siobhan, don’t put your career at risk.    Her heart hoped… but could she risk it?