- Published: 31 August 2021
- ISBN: 9780143775409
- Imprint: Penguin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 304
- RRP: $19.99
I am running through the desert, the red earth firm and unyielding beneath my trainers. It’s twenty degrees Celsius, even at midnight. My chest is bare, my singlet knotted around my forehead to stop the sweat running into my eyes. I could have chosen to leave my earthly body behind, to jointhe others in their nightly ritual soaring high above the desert, but I haven’t done that since we returned from Berlin two months ago. I’m scared that if I leave my body behind, I won’t want to return. So I’m running, relishing the pain in my muscles, the burning in my lungs. For an hour I will forget who I am, what I have done. For an hour, I will be Phoenix again.But in the morning, I know, I will wake with the heavy knowledge that I am the Black Wolf, never to be trusted, never to be loved — because the only people I’ve ever loved are either dead or hate my guts.Violet won’t even look at me. At breakfast, she sits at the opposite end of the table. During our physical training sessions, she takes
care to avoid me, except in martial arts, where we swap partners every few minutes and she has no choice.
That’s almost worse, having to touch someone who has the power to burn me with her thoughts alone. At least, she would if I were allowed access to her thought stream, but there’s a permanent blockade coming from that direction.
That’s fine, because I’m blocking her too.
This morning, Dash is taking me and the rest of the VORTEX members (aka Virally Optimised Telepaths, aka captives) through drills where we practise turning in for throws but don’t actually throw each other. He’s got us counting in different languages as we do it. First, Audrey counts in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi. Next, Callum counts in Māori: tahi, rua, toru, whā. Harper counts in Mandarin, and Violet in Russian.
It’s my turn, and all I can think is: eins, zwei, drei, vier. But Ican’t count in German, not in front of Violet.
Harper says Violet must have post-traumatic stress disorder, following what happened in Berlin. Who wouldn’t, after being stabbed twice in the back and nearly bleeding to death, aftercollapsing a lung and finding out her boyfriend had died while she was unconscious?
I say, ‘Yeah, I guess she must.’ And when I have occasional selfish thoughts like No one asks about whether I get flashbacks too, because shooting a woman in the head and watching her die wasn’t a bloody walk in the park, even if she was a terrorist, I keep them to myself.
‘Fletcher,’ Dash barks, ‘where’s your brain?
'I want to tell him I left it in Berlin, but instead, I start counting in French; un, deux, trois, quatre, as Violet twists and pulls me upon her shoulder again and again. When I get to dix, ten, she bends her knees and sends me flying over her shoulder and — wham —I’m blinking up at the ceiling, all the breath knocked out of my lungs.
‘Nice,’ Dash says.
Violet doesn’t say anything, just leaves me there and moves onto her next partner, Callum.
No one says, ‘Man, burnt.’ No one even thinks it. If they did,I’d be sure to hear them.
No one dares, because it’s no laughing matter that Violet hates me because I killed her boyfriend, Ethan.If I were her, I’d hate me too.
Today is the first of September, the first day of spring, and it's been sixty four days since I last saw Sophie Abercrombie.
A prime number is divisible only by itself and by one. If I were a prime number, I’d want to be a five.
Chapter 1: Rebecca *Please note* that this extract contains adult themes and is suitable for readers aged 16+.
Jake lay on top of his board, feeling the swells move beneath him, like the air moving in and out of his lungs, like the blood surging through the four chambers of his stubbornly beating heart.
They see the fish on their first day, laid bare on the tideline. The seagulls have nearly picked the bones clean already.
There was no peace, even in the loo. Rory’s pager and phone were going simultaneously.
Fliss sat next to Minnie and the little one, letting the soft yet clear notes of song fall into her ears.
They were still 400 yards from the strip of white beach and the crammed jungle behind it when the fighter planes came.