Mutation (Twenty-Five Percent Book 1)

 

 

 

 

TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT

Book 1

MUTATION

 

by

Nerys Wheatley

TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT BOOK 1: MUTATION

 

Copyright: Nerys Wheatley
Published: 2015
 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted, other than brief excerpts for promotional purposes, without written permission from the author. You must not circulate this book in any format.

 

 

 

 

 

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1

 

 

 

 

The scream jarred Alex awake. 

He swiped his dark hair from his eyes and stared up at the swirling artex pattern on the ceiling of his gloomy bedroom, uncertain if he’d dreamed the blood curdling shriek.  The second scream convinced him he hadn’t.

A glance at the glowing figures on the clock next to his bed prompted a grimace. 

2:38am

“Damn it.”

Reluctantly pushing back his warm duvet, he climbed out of bed, grimacing again as his bare feet touched the cold, vinyl floor tiles.  He grabbed the pair of jeans hanging over the back of the wooden chair by the window, pulling them on over his boxers as he peered between the edges of the curtains. 

The road outside was pitch dark in the moonless night, as usual.  Streetlights were never switched on in East Town, even though the residents paid their taxes the same as everyone else.  It was fine for most of the people who lived there, but for normal people the darkness could be a problem.  Not for Alex though.  He could see every detail of the street two floors below.

Lines of cars edged the wide street.  Every fifty feet or so a majestic plane tree reached for the sky from within its raised concrete plinth. The pavements were devoid of movement.  In his half asleep state, Alex began to wonder if he could have imagined the screams. 

Along the street a figure rounded the corner and sprinted in his direction.  He or she was fast, dodging obstacles that normal eyes wouldn’t have seen in the thick darkness.  After passing beneath Alex’s window without slowing, they finally disappeared into a building further down the road. 

Ten seconds later, the runner was followed into the street by the leading edge of the mob.

The people in the crowd weren’t moving fast, but they didn’t have to.  There were enough of them to look threatening, whatever they were doing.  What they were doing was carrying flaming torches.   Alex half expected to see a few pitchforks as well.

He judged there must have been more than a hundred people in the rowdy horde, mostly male from what he could see.  The double glazing of the window wasn’t enough to block out the sounds of chants, raucous laughter and shouted insults.  He heard “white-eye” more than once.  One man broke away from the pack and threw his torch into the canopy of one of the trees at the side of the street.  It immediately caught fire, lighting up the surrounding squat blocks of flats.  Alex frowned and puffed out a breath, squinting as his eyes adjusted.

No doubt the people in the mob thought this would be fun. 

They thought there were enough of them. 

They thought they were invincible.

They always did.


Damn
it,” he said again, louder this time.  All he wanted to do was sleep.

He pulled on the black t-shirt he’d left keeping his jeans company, pushed his bare feet into his trainers and jogged into the living room.  Grabbing a battered aluminium baseball bat from where it was leaning against the wall next to the TV, he opened the front door and ran out into the hallway.

In his haste, he almost collided with the six foot four black man exiting the door next to his.

“Sorry, man,” Leon said, pulling the door to his flat shut and hefting a cricket bat over his shoulder.  “I’m like the walking dead here.”

Alex heard bolts being thrown on the other side.  “Tell me about it.”

“Second time this month,” Leon said as they made their way to the stairs.  “You’d think it would be getting better, not worse.”

“Yeah, and why does it always have to be in the middle of the night?” Alex replied.  “Why can’t they come at a more civilised hour?  I have work in the morning.”

Leon’s booming laugh echoed up and down the stairwell.  “A violent mob without manners, who would’ve thunk?” 

More of their neighbours joined them, both men and women, as they walked out onto the street.  Others filtered from the doors of nearby buildings.  All of them had some sort of blunt weapon.  No-one had knives.  Of course, a big stick could just as easily be fatal with enough force behind it, but they would be careful.  The death of a normal in the East Town area of Sarcester, how the campaigners would love that.

Alex looked around him as the defenders spread out across the road to face the oncoming rabble.  There were maybe thirty of his friends and neighbours.  He shook his head in disgust.  He knew there were several times as many people living around them who could swell their numbers, but who chose to stay where they were in safety and let the same few fight for them every time.  It made him angry.  He knew they were scared, but so was he and every other person out here.  The people who lived in East Town had precious little as it was and they needed to fight to keep it, and to protect themselves from those who wanted to drive them out.

Maybe he should try to galvanise the residents.  He wondered if a neighbourhood watch might work, or if he’d be laughed off the street.

The mob came to a halt thirty feet away.  The smoky scent of the torches combined with the smell of burning foliage pricked at Alex’s over sensitive nose and he fought the urge to cough.  He also detected the faint unpleasant aroma of body odour. 

They could at least have showered first. 

Alex scanned the crowd, trying to get a feel for the individuals within it; who would run at the first sign of violence, who would stay and fight, who were the leaders.  He guessed most of them had never been this far into East Town before, and certainly not in these circumstances.  After trying it once, most people didn’t want to repeat the experience.  But there were a few too stupid and brutal and vindictive to give up, who would come over and over.  Those were the ones Alex was looking for.  They were the dangerous ones.

Despite their bravado, most of the men facing them now looked on edge, ranging from nervous to downright terrified, glancing around them as if they expected a wave of ravenous monsters to flood from the surrounding buildings at any second.  It was one thing to shout and goad an empty street, but quite another to come face to face with their nightmares. 

Alex glanced at the people standing around him.  The light from the flames danced on their faces and reflected in their almost colourless eyes, the black dots of their pupils virtually the only feature breaking up the whites of their eyeballs.  It was kind of disconcerting, if you weren’t used to seeing it.  It was the only time he was ever grateful for the disfigurement.

“We want you out, white-eyes,” a man standing front and centre in the mob shouted. No-one answered the challenge.

Alex focused on him.  Blond, around six feet, maybe mid-twenties, looked like he worked out.  He held a two foot long steel rod in his right hand.  Alex thought he recognised him, but he wasn’t sure.  Unlike most of the others, not a trace of fear marred his face.  Probably the leader, or at least one of them.  He was the one Alex would go after.  Bring him down and the others would scatter.  Whoever was left after the fighting began.

“What, no answer?” the man shouted again.  “I thought you white-eyes were meant to be tough.”

“Tougher than you,
dick
,” a woman’s derision laced voice shouted back.  “You don’t see us hiding amongst a load of pathetic men about to piss their pants.”

Alex smiled at the sound of Janie’s voice.  He knew she’d be there.  She seemed to enjoy these things, relishing the excuse to beat a few normals.  Deep down, he had to admit he knew how she felt.

The blond man looked like he was about to spontaneously combust.  “Look, bitch...”

Alex sighed.  “Can we just get this over with?” he shouted.  “Some of us don’t have daddy’s money buying us hookers and mummy wiping our arses and bringing us breakfast in bed.  We have to work for a living.”

It was intended to provoke a reaction and bring his target to him.  Alex wasn’t prepared for how well it would work.

The blond man launched himself at Alex so fast he was momentarily caught off guard, barely managing to dodge the steel rod aimed at his head.  He scuttled backwards out of reach and faced the man, rocking forward onto the balls of his feet and raising his baseball bat. 

A flurry of clashes erupted around them.  Following blondie’s lead, the rest of the mob had rushed forward, meeting the defenders head on.  Despite being outnumbered four to one, Alex’s neighbours were fighting them back.  Many of the mob were already running in the opposite direction.  Tuning out the sound of Janie’s shrieks and Leon’s roars, Alex kept his focus on the man in front of him.

He easily dodged a couple of feints, but wasn’t so good when the real blow came, connecting with his right thigh.  He ignored the pain and swung at his opponent’s mid-section.  Blondie was too fast, though, and the bat barely touched him as he spun away. 

From the corner of his eye Alex saw movement.  Just in time, he ducked under a swipe from a wooden pole.  Alex aimed a rapid back kick at the gut of his new attacker, then spun round with a hook to the side of his head, imbuing it with more power than he would have had four years previously, but less than he could have mustered.  He didn’t want to kill him, just put him out of action.  The man dropped to lie still on the road.

Blondie took advantage of the distraction and lunged, swinging his rod at Alex’s shoulder.  Alex blocked it with the bat, hissing in pain when the hit jarred his arm.  The man was stronger than he looked. A barrage of blows, kicks and blocks followed.  As Alex received more hits than he gave, he came to realise he might have underestimated his opponent.  Blondie obviously had training.  He was faster than Alex. 

It was intensely annoying. 

Around a quarter of the mob had run when the fighting began and more made a quick exit when they realised that, with an advantage of only four to one, they didn’t have nearly enough people on their side.  After less than ten minutes, the battle began to die down around them, most of the attackers either having run or limped away.  Alex, however, was still struggling to overcome the man in front of him.  It was embarrassing.  Leon would never let him live it down if he didn’t finish it soon. 

Faking a jab that had blondie ducking to his left, Alex grabbed his right arm and twisted hard.  Blondie cried out in pain and dropped the steel rod.  Continuing his forward momentum, Alex twisted the arm around to his opponent’s back, using one leg to sweep his feet from under him and sending him onto his knees.  He dropped beside him and pushed him down onto his face on the tarmac.

“Get off me, white-eye,” the man said, spitting out the derogatory term and struggling against him.

“Watch your language,” Alex snapped, “and if you don’t stop struggling, I’ll put this bat across your head so hard your arse will be seeing stars.”

“Need any help?”

Alex looked up to see Leon towering over him.  “No thanks, I’ve got it.”

“Because it looked like you were having a bit of trouble...”

“No trouble.”

“Because, while I was putting down, let’s see,” Leon gazed into space and counted on his fingers, “one, two, three... I’m pretty sure it was
seven
big dudes, you were over here fighting one skinny-arsed white guy.”

“Hey!” Blondie said, pushing up against Alex.  He yelped as Alex smacked the back of his head.

“I did him too.”  Alex pointed at the man he’d knocked out, and immediately wished he hadn’t. The kid didn’t even look old enough to legally drink. He was groaning as he came to. 

Leon studied him with exaggerated interest then turned back to Alex.  “My mistake.  I didn’t realise you were dealing with the stunt cast for the next Hulk film.”

Alex looked down to hide his smile.

Other residents of East Town were wandering towards them, checking the normals still lying on the ground, while those remaining ex-members of the mob still mobile were hobbling away, throwing wary glances back at the men and women who had thoroughly overpowered them.  Someone had fetched a fire extinguisher and was dousing the flaming tree.  A few of Alex’s neighbours had cuts and bruises, but he couldn’t see anything serious.  Not many normal people appreciated how much it took to bring a Survivor down.  Apart from the man pinned to the ground beneath him.   He had known, and been thoroughly prepared.

The kid Alex had knocked unconscious was sitting up and looking around him, wide-eyed with terror, his gaze darting from person to person as they surrounded him.

“A-are you g-going to eat m-me?”

Alex stifled a smile.

“Well, I don’t know,” Leon said, looking at his friends and neighbours, “what do you think?  Anyone peckish?”

There were some snickers around him.

“Nah,” Jerry, a portly man in his fifties still wearing his pyjamas who lived in a block a street away, said, “he looks too gristly for me.  I like my meals with more meat on ‘em.”

Leon chuckled.

“We don’t eat people, kid,” Alex said.  “Just go home.  On second thoughts, go to the hospital and get yourself checked out first.”  He really hoped he hadn’t given the teenager a concussion.

A path opened as some of those around them moved aside.  The boy watched them closely as if he was expecting it to be a trick.  When no-one made any attempt to take a bite out of him, he scrambled to his feet and launched himself between them, running off into the night.

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