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Eden, Dawn
 


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Eden, Dawn


  EDEN, DAWN

  THE CHRONICLES OF PARADISE

  BOOK ONE

  Copyright 2014 Archer Swift

  SWIFT BOOKS

  This eBook is free, and you are welcome to share it with your friends. You may reproduce, copy and distribute this book for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its original form.

  Archer Swift is an Australian author and uses British English in this book.

  ~ Website ~

  www.archerswiftbooks.com

  To my girls. Be brave.

  Through our choices,

  we create our future.

  Prologue

  It still filled my nights with horror.

  The panic, the hysteria. The unadulterated fear.

  The rising temperatures, unbearable heat. Blistering heat.

  The hunger, the thirst. Desperation.

  The rising oceans. Floods, landslides, natural disasters.

  Riots, violence and war.

  Sickness, disease. The Plague.

  Then the usual bittersweet images followed, bombarding my troubled mind.

  The covert selection, the public meltdown.

  The relief, the despair.

  Our arrival, the horror.

  Love sparked, love lost.

  The memory of her face, fading fast.

  Monix.

  My first love. My only love.

  Every night, for nearly ten years, sleep has eluded me; peace beyond my grasp.

  Drenched with sweat despite the cool night air.

  Why me? Why us? Were we lucky?

  At first, we thought so.

  But the sheer terror that stalked our nights and the utter exhaustion that drained our days made me think otherwise.

  After enduring the dark hours, we spent the light hours foraging for food. Constantly on guard. Always alert. Terrified of the man-eating creatures that roamed this brutal planet ... and them.

  Perhaps we were paying for abandoning Earth to her fate.

  Sleep, please let me sleep. Just a few hours.

  Chapter 1

  The dawn light caught my eye, and the raucous sounds of the jungle snapped me out of a groggy half-sleep. I think I slept, I might have dozed.

  Bone-weary, my muscles ached. Always tired.

  We had enough water, and some nuts and berries were edible. Those that weren’t accounted for many of our dead. The delicious-looking but toxic blueberries, for instance, ushered in immediate Death to those tempted to taste them. We found this out on Day One. Our spacecraft’s Captain didn’t last thirty minutes on our new home. How ironic that his name was ‘Will Hazard.’ As if fated, we called them Hazardberries.

  A few survivors had scattered in search of safer realms. None returned. Nor did we expect them to.

  K-K-Kawwww!

  The dreaded sound cut through my sluggish thoughts. For a moment, I felt paralysed. Was it them or the raptor-like creatures they mimic?

  K-Kawwww!

  A second shrill, blood-curdling call. From the opposite direction. Were they surrounding us? Or was it a response from the creature’s mate? Lying flat on the branch on which I slept, I held my breath. The thump of my own heartbeat so loud in my chest.

  Shut up!

  The sound of powerful wings beating just ten strides overhead assured me it was not them. Deep down, I knew. The dark hours were already behind us. And I had one thing going for me.

  The putrid smell of rotten Hog—the disgusting rodent-like creature as large as a bush pig—would usually be enough to keep Eden’s king four-winged bird of prey at bay. Strange. As ugly as Earth’s vulture but nearly three times as large, this crow-like raptor fed on medium-sized creatures and easy kills like us. However, it could not bear the stench of decaying Hog flesh. A crucial survival tactic we learnt over time.

  Once sure the creature and its mate were long gone, I tuned into the usual riotous noises of the jungle’s frenetic dawn activity outside the perimeter of our camp. The myriad of bugs created the loudest din, a trill, incessant cacophony that seemed to envelope us, drowning out the tweets and coos of harmonious birdsong and the frantic, snuffling hurry-scurry of small rodents. However, I was more interested in the far-off sounds of Eden’s predators. Grateful that they hailed from afar, I untied the straps that kept me from falling from my branch, twenty strides high—a stride being just short of a metre, the length of a good leg stretch. I then quickly but quietly lowered my rope ladder. This broad branch on this oak-like tree close to the edge of our camp was my sleeping perch … for years. It was single berth, and the one place I could call mine.

  Even though I leapt from the ladder some two strides from the ground, I landed without making a sound. The ability to tread lightly—another survival skill you acquired or you didn’t eat, or could be eaten. A heavy foot scared off potential prey and hailed hungry predators. My moccasin-like footwear, my junglers—short for ‘jungle slippers’—certainly helped.

  First light was my favourite time of the day on this haunting, exotic planet. An end to the dark hours, a reprieve from my nightmares.

  You can’t dream when you’re fighting to stay alive.

  Even now, the bizarre and intense violet rays of dawn’s sun stabbed through every gap and space and breach in the dense overhead canopy, puncturing the jungle world with search-and-destroy spears of light that sent the darkness scurrying. In my mind’s eye, I imagined the dark, itself so ominous and terrifying an hour ago, now frightened of the day’s opening salvo of light. Scared. Fleeing in pockets for cover, in a race to escape. Accumulating in the last remaining shadows. Cowering behind the low-lying jungle scrub.

  If only. I smirked to myself.

  In a little over twelve hours, the shadows would regroup as the waning sun retreated below the horizon and once again strengthened and emboldened, the darkness would muster its menacing force—its potential for peril growing as the daylight dissipated—until it became an all-encompassing, overshadowing … malevolent presence once more.

  I shook my head clear and closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. The crisp, clean air filled my lungs. Oh, so very fresh. I still remember that sickly, suffocating feeling of an oxygen mask strapped to my face during my Earth-childhood.

  First one awake, or at least down from the trees, it seemed that of the eleven in my clan, only I had heard the pair of Raptors. Did I imagine it? With my disturbed sleep, for all I know, I dreamt it.

  I thought of my clan members. Our mid-twenty-first century Earth-names seemed so out of place on this balefully beautiful, terrifyingly primitive planet. Bland almost in comparison. Yet we clung to them, our only sense of identity; connection to a world that was literally another galaxy away.

  The oldest in our clan was now twenty-three, the youngest fifteen. The age of the youngest children to arrive on the Ark was five. No babies were born over the last ten years. Probably, just as well. And all eleven of us were parent-less, even though we were only breathing this planet’s air because our parents were chosen. I was fond of most of my clan—with one exception. Actually, make that two of late.

  A thousand strides both up and downriver lived other clans of survivors. Never more than twenty-five in a clan; preferably less than twenty. Otherwise, they’d deem us a threat.

  We hardly ever saw the other survivors, but in the morrow we would.

  At the Gathering of the Clans.

  Our anniversary celebration.

  It was now a decade since we arrived.

  Nearly ten years of survival.

  I wasn’t so sure it was worth celebrating though.

  Down from my tree, I arrived at the large bathing pool we’d dug out of the ground alongside the river. On the opposite edge of our camp from my tree, it was less than forty strides away. I took off my father
s jacket. At seventeen, I was just starting to fit into it. Filthy, only the dirt had preserved it for this long in these harsh conditions.

  Every night we smeared a new layer of decayed Hog on our night coats. If I gave the jacket a thorough scrub every day, it would have unravelled by now. And the thick, insulated parka saved me during the cold moons. It was worth fighting for, something I had been forced to do on a few occasions. The grody, grisly scar across my left cheek was testimony to that.

  The smell? At first, the repugnant reek of fermenting Hog flesh made me gag. I shuddered at the memory of my first night covered in Hog paste; a helpful term understating the rotten, revolting slime we daubed our nightwear with. I retched all night, and much of the second, even though it helped me start to tame my fear of the Raptor. The repulsive smell got stuck in my nose and seemed to scratch the inside of my eyes, gore at my throat and crawl out of my ears. Still alive then, Dad urged me to see that first, long night through. And the next. Now, I hardly notice it. Barely.

  The predominant, prevailing smell in our ramshackle of a life was, of course, that of slightly scented woodsmoke. Day and night, we had a fire burning—usually several. I loved the pervading, aromatic odour that seemed to cling to our clothes, perfume our hair, and flavour our food, helping me endure the many unpleasant stinks typical of primitive living.

  I unstrapped my knife, the second of three things that made up my entire family inheritance, and placed it next to me on the ground. Never out of my reach for eight years, ever since Dad died. My mother died from The Plague while still on Earth; I was just five. And no one survived The Plague. To my deep dismay, I couldn’t remember what Mum looked like. Not properly anyway. Not before the sickness ate her away.

  Ironically, my father had been among the leading specialists in the field of microbiology. While he didn’t find a cure, despite almost killing himself trying, it was the reason he was chosen. They looked for experts, specialists whose children were five years of age or older. The idea was simple enough: with planet Earth haemorrhaging, we had to start over again. They named this planet Eden in anticipation of the Paradise they predicted. The new hope they expected.

  I’m certain they didn’t have this in mind.

  I splashed my face and washed in the tepid water of the river that we presumed was kept warm-ish by an underground volcano of sorts. At least once every ten days, we felt the ground rumble. The extreme weather in the summer and winter moons were hard to endure and the lukewarm water proved both a blessing and a curse. I grabbed my nose between thumb and forefinger, squishing a sneeze before it struck. It was definitely fast becoming spring. Winter was behind us at last.

  Spring, my favourite season.

  Eden’s grungy grey jungle, throttled of vitality and vigour by the icy moons, was already beginning to blossom with the bold and bizarrely-rich chroma of a new equinox. The overly saturated predominant colours of this planet—displayed so vividly and animatedly in the fauna and flora—were heavy on the senses at first. Taxing even.

  Purple, red, blue and green. Striking. Almost forcible. By midsummer, jarring on the eyes. Making this world feel so tangibly distinct and drastically hostile … so otherworldly; reminding us, we were alien to the planet. So unlike the spectral range of Earth’s colours, the lack of orange and yellow, and many of the softer shades, made the apex of summer feel as though we were living smack bang in the middle of a digitally-enhanced comic-book fantasia. However, after autumn, when the colour drained from the landscape—the hues seemed to leak from the page—and winter plunged us into a drab, depressing grey that left the planet void of every tint and tone, I longed for those dynamic, lusty colours again. Even though the first few weeks of spring resembled a greyscale picture in the grubby hands of an overzealous child. Armed with a paint brush, and way too much paint.

  With the cool breeze sweeping through the tall, stout trees, the warm river water was soothing; most importantly, it was clean, and that was all that really mattered. Also, there were very few dangerous beasts in the river. In fact, next to no creatures period. A few insect-like crawlies, but no fish. At least, this was true for the river that ran past our camp; we guessed its waters were too warm.

  My hand instinctively reached for my blade at the sound of approaching footsteps, even though I was pretty sure that it was one of my clan.

  You can never be too careful.

 
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