BOOK 1 // TWENTY: Aftershock

Start from the beginning

And yet, suddenly, we were standing on the battleground on the side that had killed eleven people.

I still couldn't process it. My brain seemed to erect a mental block every time I got close, and I was beginning to wonder if the feeling of numbness would ever subside. It seemed to have retreated into a single frame of mind: that if I couldn't think, I couldn't feel.

Then, the image onscreen changed. I was staring at the steps of City Hall, my gaze captured by the green podium that had been dragged out once again. Behind it stood Max Snowdon, and his slick black suit formed a stark contrast against the splash of BioNeutral colour.

"I cannot begin to put into words the atrocity of what happened here yesterday," he declared, his words punctuated by the clicking of cameras from the bottom steps. "The violence and utter disregard for human life shown by the organisation calling themselves 'BioPlus' is beyond the realm of moral argument. These are the people we are dealing with. These are the people that believe ingrained human nature is something to be ashamed of, and that we are below their artificial ideal. These are the people willing to kill us to pave way for the world they want to live in."

He paused, and the flash of press cameras splashed across his face with each click. "Lives were lost here yesterday," he said, and even from behind a screen, miles across the city, I could tell the audience was hooked on his every word. "Innocent lives that were exercising their right to stand up for what they believe in. And this nation – our progressive, accepting nation – does not stand for this."

I couldn't help wondering where he'd got the authority to make such a speech – since when was the Officer of Public Health called upon to voice the moral stance of the country? For so long, it had been a position that faded into the background, to re-emerge only alongside a flu epidemic or new virus.

And yet I knew I could answer my own question. Like everything else, this had started the moment Eva Kelly's feet left that rooftop.

His face faded out, and new footage appeared onscreen. The newsreaders' professional, emotionless voice was back – but my heart jolted at the image that came with it.

There was Jace, being ushered from a back door of City Hall into a waiting car. The cameras threatened to close in on him from all sides, and a whole collection of security personnel forced them back, trying to clear enough of a space so he could at least place his feet. A nasty gash, in the early stages of healing, was slashed across his cheek – had that been there before? I was sure I would've noticed, and yet memories of Jace's company were fuzzier than if they'd been wrapped in cotton wool. The bandages pressing into my skin were the only physical proof that yesterday had even happened – a confirmation that it had been something more than a terrible nightmare.

"Yesterday's horrific events went even further for Max Snowdon's son," the voiceover said. "Sources from inside City Hall reported he was unable to get to the underground panic room in time, with some suggesting he was taken hostage by a modified member of BioPlus."

"The details remain to be fully established." The camera cut to another man, one I didn't recognise, captioned as part of governmental security. "Obviously, Mr Snowdon is still very much in shock, and it would be fair to question him extensively during this time. However, the evidence currently in our possession does point toward a capture situation... and we suspect that this modified individual may have been experiencing dangerously unpredictable side effects at the time of the event."

"The motivation behind the capture remains unclear," the voiceover said, as the studio backdrop appeared once more. "Unfortunately, the individual was able to escape out of an unlocked window, but nothing has yet been reported missing from the building. It is thought they may have been trying to access confidential government files, but the attempt appears to have been unsuccessful."

Human ErrorRead this story for FREE!