[SNEAK PEEK] Gamer: Chapter 2

Gamer: A futuristic techno-thriller. Tagline: Don' class=

Chapter 2

The cold hit her first. The snow-touched wind smacked her in the face, drying cheeks and eyes even as it froze her lips. Vlad shivered and zipped her jacket to her chin, pulling the sleeves as far down her hands as she could, before stuffing them in the pockets over her stomach. The rave still pounded behind but the music no longer drowned the crunch of boots on the snow-churned dirt as she strode across what was meant to be an avenue between the mall’s three wings but was now a parking lot filled with bikes and hotted up cars.

This close to the rave, they lined up in two long rows. Floodlights as much as headlights lit the area, girls in micro-skirts and hot pants, legs bare to the butt in defiance of the weather, draped themselves over cars lit up like discos, or sat behind the wheels of street racers. Others cozied up to men in worn denim and leather jackets, while a few strode between the line of cars, strutting over the uneven mud and stone, the middle carved with deep tire tracks like it was a runway and the spindly heels on their feet were sneakers.

Vlad stalked between the cars like she didn’t feel the eyes tracking every movement, didn’t hear the stray cat-calls, like she owned every inch of ground between her and the giant, swallowing dark at the other end. 

Ximisthus sat beyond the kaleidoscope of lights at the far end of the glittering parade of cars and babes. The black Kawasaki Ninja with its neon-green nose and splash guard was a lethal beast lurking in the half-light, its sleek lines and aggressive lean promising speed and freedom.

She swung a leg over the bike—the pull of knotted flesh and reconstructed tendon behind her right knee a familiar ache—pressing her thumb to the ignition in the same motion. The gel pad flashed blue as it acknowledged her thumbprint, and the electric engine thrummed as over a thousand ccs of power came to life.

She leaned back, flicked the lights— And stopped.

A man stood in the beam of Ximisthus’s headlights, not three-metres away. He half-leaned against the low grill of a sports car, the sleek silver Porsche as out of place amongst the boldly decal’d street racers and pimped-out four-wheel-drives as the man himself. The intense blue-white of the bike’s headlights highlighted the strong planes of his face even as it cast the crisp lines of his dark suit in shadow. It would be an expensive suit, tailored to fit every lean, muscled curve; laundered and pressed, just like the crisp pale shirt underneath, the expertly knotted tie and the matching fabric square peeking out of the breast-pocket.

He stared at her, almost without expression save for the gentle furrow between his dark brows. Most wouldn’t have seen it, wouldn’t have noticed the extra hollow in his cheeks from a clenched jaw. Most would have only seen the hard beauty in the face, with its straight nose, square jaw and full lower lip – a face used to wealth and privilege. But most didn’t know Yu Zixin like she did.

Most didn’t hate him the same.

She gathered the long, curly mass of her hair into a tail at the back of her head.

Most didn’t have their guts twist or their hearts pound an extra beat at the sight of him.

Vlad grabbed the sleek black and green helmet off the handlebars.

Most didn’t—

He was standing next to the bike, a slice of shadow stepping out of the darkness, a hand on her helmet, the square palm and long fingers swallowing the top. How he crossed the three-some metres of dirt and gravel in the space between pain-filled heartbeats, she didn’t know. That was just his way.

Stray lights from the rave gleamed on the heavy silver watch wrapped around the wrist holding her helmet down.

She kept her gaze on the watch. ‘Let go.’

‘You need to go home.’ His voice, warm and confident, sent a shiver up her spine. 

Vlad jerked the helmet from under his grip. ‘It’s not my home.’

His hand was back on the helmet, a quick motion, before she could raise it more than halfway to her head. And this time, there was weight behind it. Not much, but enough she strained to keep the carbon and nano-enhanced dome off Ximisthus’s green-striped battery cover.

‘Go home, Ana.’ He leaned closer, putting more force into the words.

Another jerk, sideways this time. The helmet popped out from under his hand, and Yu Zixin came with it, stumbling just a fraction until he was leaning over the bike, sharing her space, her breath. 

Vlad leaned back, suddenly wishing she was off the bike. Her gut twisted harder at the warm, soap scent invading her nostrils, the hint of sandalwood twisting through it. 

Anger rose, hot and heavy. First Elwood with his dirty, disrespectful mouth, and now Yu Zixin, in her space, sharing her air. Using that name.

She hissed—a long, drawn out expulsion of the ire turning her gut to acid—planted her hand over Yu Zixin’s perfectly sculpted face, and shoved.

He half-stumbled, entire body lurching backward, one hand cutting upward to throw off hers, the other flung out for balance.

It was Yu Zixin’s turn for anger then, for indignation to twist his lips and furrow his golden brow. It was just a few seconds, but she was shoving the helmet over her head before he regained his balance.

He glared at her, and fury made sparks light up his eyes, the dark bronze a fathomless black in the half-light.

Yu Zixin snarled. ‘Ana—’

She twisted the throttle and Ximisthus roared, drowning that name and whatever else was on his lips. Whatever admonishment, whatever curses or threats or promises; whatever words Grandmother had commanded him to parrot.

His shoulders twisted, his legs tensed, but before he could lurch forward in one of those curiously quick movements, Vlad was gone; gravel spraying, Ximisthus’s rear tyre fishtailing as she poured on the juice and left Yu Zixin spitting in the dark.

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