From February 2022 I plan to publish sample draft chapters from upcoming books on my website. If you are interested in more information head over to the new section on Writing . And now … The Fragments – Prologue 2, The Fall.
Sharp gravel bit into Max’s knees. A uniformed figure had stepped out of the shadows and into his path as soon as his feet had made contact with the flat rooftop. A well-aimed pulse had slumped into him, tackling him to the ground. A second uniform had forced his arms behind his back, cuffed his wrists, and pulled him back onto his knees in a smooth, practised move.
Max sucked air through clenched teeth and looked up—one man, one woman, grey uniforms, no visible insignia. He was unsure with which Sector branch his capturers’ allegiance lay. Sector Security, if he was lucky, Sector Intelligence, if he was not. The man stood next to him, the woman a few feet away. She leaned over the edge of the roof, scanning the alleys below, her outline a dark silhouette against the city’s electric night sky.
They must have followed Easla, and he had blindly run into their trap.
But Max knew every inch of the abandoned quartiers, and there was still time to reach the tunnel. He went over the memorised maps in his head, looking for potential exits. The building he was on was six, maybe eight stories high. A footnote in this city, but an insurmountable distance between him and the relative safety of the tangle of service lanes cutting through the quartier—or better, the tunnels underneath. His gaze flicked to the woman. She studied a handheld terminal, scrolling through data.
How had they found him? He had been careful, destroyed all evidence, everything that could be traced to…the door to the roof burst open and slammed against a rusted metal frame. A man stepped onto the roof. He wore civilian clothes, a grey suit tailored to impress a board meeting, his bearing and movements dripping with authority. He strode past Max without acknowledging him with so much as a glance, a reminder that even though he had been caught in the net, he was not the sought prey.
The man reached the woman. She straightened, saluted, and held out the terminal. The man took the device and scanned the display. They exchanged a few words. The woman shook her head, pointed at the screen, and gestured towards Max. The man cast a glance over the edge of the roof before he turned and walked back to where Max knelt.
‘You don’t exist. And yet—here you are.’ His voice sounded bored as if Max and all that had happened was of no import.
‘Sir, he might—’ the uniform next to Max started, but the man dismissed him with a wave of his hand and crouched next to Max.
‘No Sector ID, no registered DNA, no records at all—impressive.’ The man scrolled through more data, the screen lighting his features. His immaculate outfit displayed no insignia, but the loose tie, long dark hair, and carefully crafted stubble was another form of identification. Only the Sector’s Eschaton elite could afford this kind of nonchalance. With this realisation came another—this was SES, the Sector Eschaton Security.
There would be no escape for Max this time.
‘On an ordinary night, these people’—the man gestured towards the guards—’would want to ask you some questions, but not tonight.’ The man gripped Max’s upper arm and pulled him up onto his feet, the movement so sudden and effortless that Max forgot to struggle. ‘Tonight, all I want is to send a message to your friend.’
The man dragged him toward the edge and onto the low wall circling the roof. Max staggered and almost fell, but the man’s iron grip held him back.
‘A message only you can give to her.’
Max understood what would happen, but he felt no fear. Fear is futile if the outcome is non-negotiable, and Max knew this city—it allowed no second chances, no miracles, no happy endings. He looked down at the cobblestones eight floors below. The SEG had been able to trace Easla, but they had not caught her and neither would they be able to now. Max had seen to that. What was going to happen next could not change that.
A sharp blade cut the plastic tie around his wrists, and the Eschaton yanked him around. Max swayed backwards, but the man grabbed the front of his jacket with one hand and held him back from the edge until he was sure Max’s eyes met his.
‘I will keep this as a token of your penance.’ The Eschaton’s blade had sliced Max’s leather bracelet, and the man now tore it from Max’s wrist with a sharp jerk that left a trail of blood on the braided band.
‘Remember—you don’t exist.’ He released Max’s collar, straightened the folds, and patted his shoulder as if brushing off dust. ‘So, this should not hurt.’ With that, the man shoved him hard.
Max stumbled backwards. There was nothing to catch him but empty air. His arms spread wide, and he fell. There was no stream of memories recounting his life. Maybe his nineteen years had been too short. He had known fear; he had seen death; he had loved and been loved in return. He regretted nothing.
The ground hit him with unreal force. His spine shattered. Broken bones pierced his skin. Blood spilt in a dark flood across cobblestones.
His sight flickered, darkness pressing in from all sides. And with the darkness came the cold. The alley seemed to stretch, lengthening and twisting into a tunnel. A vague contour detached itself from the background. Why was it so cold? The shadow came closer, gaining physicality, taking on a familiar shape. A pale face hovered in front of his eyes like the ghost image on a screen.
Recognition gathered the last flicker of life in his body and forced it into a word.
The last bit of warmth spattered red across his lips. Disconnected sounds. A faint touch.
The taste of iron filled his nose and mouth.
Not a word. A thought. Less than a thought.
The cold took hold and drowned him in darkness.