They call Dublin the City of Angels. Why, I don’t really know; the city is as black as any other in the 26th century European continent. Perhaps it appeals to the Party’s vanity: this is, after all, their crown jewel, their seat of power.
There are no angels here, of course—especially not in the Fallen Quarter. Here the light of the setting sun is pale and weak; the darkness moves swiftly, claiming shadows as its own. I am not welcome here. The night belongs to the mutants: to the creatures that roam the moonlit landscape, their venomous jaws salivating at the prospect of prey.
I curse myself for staying up so late—it’s past 10pm. Still, I cannot bring myself to regret it: Jason’s touch had been so smooth, and his body so seductive against mine. I shiver. Father had warned me that my love of beautiful men would be the death of me—but did I listen? Of course not.
My android guard glides beside me with a disturbing, mechanical gait. It turns its translucent polymer head, the cameras inside its eyes making minute, almost invisible adjustments. Nothing escapes its attention.
Well, almost nothing. I nearly stumble on top of him: he’s so still, I assume he’s asleep, or maybe drunk—just another Fallen or disaffected Worker. The usual Dublin detritus.
For some reason, I pause. Something doesn’t seem right: he doesn’t look like any other vagabond. There’s a grace to him—almost a hint of something divine. There’s blood on his shirt, though he doesn’t appear to be seriously injured. Even in the dim half-light, his hair is shockingly blond, and my hand itches to push it out of his eyes.
I know I should leave. He’s one of the Fallen, for sure; I shouldn’t be helping him. And yet, I can’t help myself. Maybe it’s because of the way he lies prostrate on the hard asphalt, vulnerable as a newborn. Maybe I’m a fool; an idealist in a world of harsh reality. Or maybe—if I were being honest with myself—it’s because he’s so impossibly beautiful.
“Hey? Hey, can you hear me?”
He groans again, louder.
“Yeah,” he mumbles.
“What the fuck are you doing here? And who are you? No, don’t answer that. Here.”
I offer him my hand. He grabs it, and I lift him to his feet. The effort is considerable: he’s big, I realise, the muscles of his shoulders visible through the thin shirt. I wonder who beat him up. Then again—why should I care?
“I guess I should say thanks. Not that you should have bothered.” He laughs bitterly. “I’m dead meat anyway.”
“Who did this to you?”
His smile is chilling. “You don’t want to know that.”
He starts to move away, but I stop him.
“Where are you going?”
“There’s nowhere I can go. I can’t go back there.”
“Go back where?”
“You don’t want to know that either.”
Again I wonder what I’m doing here. Why am I talking to him—even preventing him from running away—when I shouldn’t have looked at him twice?
I don’t have time to answer these questions, because just then, the android raises its head, listening. A moment later, we hear it too.
“Oh shit,” he says. “Scarabs.”
The android raises its laser, cocks its machine gun, and the green lights in its head instantly turn an ominous red. There’s no more time; I have to make my decision. I grab his hand, and we start to run. Behind us, the monsters follow.
Two dart in front of us, and for a moment, I freeze. They are creatures of nightmare: their legs are spindly, misshapen, and they seem to glide across the road. They hiss again. A split second later, they leap.
The first is incinerated in mid-air by a laser flash, and the android crushes the second. A slick, black-green substance drips from its dead body; the smell almost makes me retch.
I snap back to reality: we need to keep running. The boy is already in front of me.
“How many?” he cries.
“Does it matter? Let the android take care of them.” Despite my cavalier words, I’m close to panic. I squint, trying to make out the Upper Quarter. Not far, I think. We can make it.
The android opens fire, and at a glance I see what the boy meant: there are many, way too many. Several fall in the firestorm, but others clamour to take their place. This isn’t a lone attack; this is a swarm. And we’re right in the middle of it.
“Run faster!” I scream. “We’re almost there!”
But it’s too late.
A mutant slams into me with the power of a sledgehammer. I heave against it, fighting with its mandibles: I have to stop those fangs, so gleaming with venom, from sinking in and finishing me off.
And then the weight is off me. Through the corner of my eyes, I see it sail high into the air and into the reach of the android, but my sight never leaves the boy who saved me.
“I had to return the bleedin’ favour,” he says, hand outstretched. I don’t have time to thank him. He lifts me and we’re running again. The lights of the Upper Quarter are tantalisingly close. They shimmer behind an immense force-field, designed to keep out mutants and undesirables. Riffraff like the boy I just rescued.
Not that I have time to worry about that right now. “My ID will open the force field!” I cry, and I throw myself forward, fumbling for the ID.
With a flash of the reader, we cross the threshold. We’re in.
We breathe deeply, and I collapse against him. The mutants hiss, disappointed, and quickly slink back from the force field. A few are not so lucky, and are noticed by one of the guard towers. Machine gun fire turns the monsters into bloody smears on the ground.
Still, my interest isn’t on the monsters—it’s on him. It isn’t just the muscles, which are hard and powerful against my body. His scent is masculine, and sends a surreptitious thrill through me.
Before, I feared death; but now, I feel very much alive.
“That was fun,” I say.
We walk in silence. He sneaks glances at the clean streets, trying to not look uncomfortable; the Upper Quarter is rather different than the gutter I found him in. But it’s only when he sees my mansion that he really starts to understand.
“That’s where you live?”
“Did you think we in the Upper Quarter lived in hovels?”
“So you’re an Upperclassman, eh?”
“And here you are, saving my life like some hero.”
“Should I have left you to fight the Scarabs yourself?” He looks away. We both knew what would have happened if the mutants had found him alone.
“But why?” he asks.
I have no idea, but it’s not like I’m going to admit it. “Doesn’t matter why. Let me find you a room. We should have plenty.”
“Won’t someone notice me? Don’t you have guards?” he asks instead.
“The mansion is large, and father is far away. You can rest easy that neither the staff nor the guards will bother you.”
“So do you bring a lot of guys like me to your mansion?” I can’t tell if he’s being playful or cynical.
I smile, with a trace of irony. “You are a little more unusual. But they shall ask no questions—trust me on that.”
Despite my assurances, I sneak him in through a side-entrance. It would not do to tempt Fate, or my father; for both are fickle. I find him a spare bedroom. The room is enormous, and to him, lavish; his gaze is pulled to the thick carpet, the beautifully decorated ceiling, and the bed, which stands imposingly in the centre.
He steps back, shaking his head.
“I’m not born for luxury.”
“Well, you better tolerate some.”
He looks at me, then. Really looks at me. His eyes are a deep blue, the colour of the raging ocean. There’s something in them that I can’t read—a guarded emotion, maybe even a repressed desire.
Or maybe I’m just fooling myself.
“Don’t you want to know my name?” I ask instead.
He smirks. “Go on.”
“Nice to meet you, Conall. Now let me sleep.”
“Not going to tell me your name?” I ask, an eyebrow raised in surprise.
For a moment, I am caught totally off-guard. It makes sense—it’s dangerous for a Fallen to know a man like me. Even so, anger builds up inside me, and the feeling is a strange one; it’s not in my nature to let someone get the better of me. Especially not the likes of him.
He rips off his bloodied shirt, throwing it unceremoniously onto the carpet. (I make a mental note to come up with an excuse if someone notices the blood.) Then he takes off his jeans. I look away, heading for the door.
“Don’t mind the carpet or anything.”
“I don’t care about your bleedin’ carpet, Conall.”
I don’t intend to let that pass; I swing around and face him. He’s naked, of course. The luxury around him pales in comparison; his beauty is of a far greater sort than that. My eyes trace the contours of his muscles, travel up the jawline, and meets his gaze.
Time seems to slow; everything in the universe condenses to that one point. When I look away, it’s like a spell has been broken. No: not broken. I would be a fool if I believed that.
The spell is only spinning its web tighter.