Project Phoenix 1: Fire

cover, FireCam has a secret. He can create fire.

He’s also terrified that he accidentally started the fire which burned down his house and killed his parents.

So when he is contacted by Project Phoenix, a small semi-secret government group set up to study and train children with unexplained powers, Cam agrees, reluctantly, to let them train him so he doesn’t harm anyone else ever again.

He doesn’t expect to find friends in the irrepressible telekinetic Mike, or Perri, a young clairvoyant.

And he certainly doesn’t expect to be racing to prevent a terrible accident foreseen by Perri, an accident which will test his control and his fear.

But Cam, Mike and Perri aren’t the only children with powers. Someone within Project Phoenix is keeping secrets – secrets which could cost Cam and his friends their freedom and have a devastating effect on the whole country…

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ISBN: 978-0-9925742-7-7

Chapter One

Cam ran.

The streetlights threw his shadow behind him, then below and ahead as he fled along the footpath searching desperately for somewhere to hide. But high fences and blank walls loomed on both sides of the narrow street and his footsteps echoed back at him, a clear and easy guide to the people chasing him.

He had to lose them, get to the train station –

He flung himself around the corner just as headlights raked his back, sending his shadow skittering ahead of him. The sudden rev of an engine sounded loud in the street behind as he looked desperately left and right. More high fences – didn’t anyone trust anyone around here? Even Uncle Ron and Aunt Kath’s place had high fences – There! He sprinted across the road and leapt over a waist-high picket fence, his backpack thumping against his shoulders as he landed heavily on long grass and rolled behind a bush. The car’s lights slashed around the corner behind him as he dropped flat, his breath rasping in his chest, his heart hammering against the ground.

Slowly the car passed by. Cam didn’t dare look, fearing any movement would alert the people inside to his hiding place. His body rigid, he listened to the low growl of the engine, the crunch of tyres on the rough asphalt of the road.

Please go past, he begged them silently. Please…

Agonisingly slowly the car moved on, its lights brushing the edges of Cam’s bush. He slumped against the ground, his backpack light against his spine. He hadn’t had a lot of time to pack and he’d had to do it in the dark – no sense letting his uncle and aunt and those two from the Project know he’d overheard them. Not that he owned a lot of stuff now anyway. Not since the fire…

He shoved that thought away, along with the sadness that reared up behind it like a wave, and peered between the leaves of the bush. Through the white pickets of the fence he saw twin stoplights blink on beneath the pinpricks of the car’s tail-lights before it swung left around the corner and out of sight. He allowed himself a relieved sigh, but he knew he wasn’t out of danger yet. He had to get as far away from Brisbane as he could. Best thing would be to get all the way back home to Darwin. Johnno’ll let me stay with them, no worries – they were going to look after me anyway till the Welfare found the rellies down here. I’ll get a job too, fruit picking maybe. Better than staying here, with that Project mob looking for me.

Cam lay and waited until the car’s engine faded into the backdrop of late-night, outer-suburban noise. Then he rose to his feet, vaulted over the fence and turned left and away from where the car had disappeared. If he remembered this rabbit-warren of a suburb correctly from his roaming of the last eight days, the railway station was three blocks up and four across. If he could get to the Transit Centre in the city, he could get a bus or train out…

Again the streetlights painted his shadow behind, beneath, ahead as he walked quickly along the footpath, ears and eyes alert for unusual movements or noises. He crossed one street, then another, and turned right at the third corner.

On the next block up, the bright blue-white security lights of a small strip of shops turned night into day. Cam crossed to the other side of the road, trying to keep out of the direct light, and it wasn’t until he was halfway past the string of shops that he noticed the single car parked close beside the far end of the building.

Throttling down the urge to run, he kept to a walking pace. Just because the car was a white late-model Holden sedan didn’t mean it was the same car those two from the Project drove. There must be thousands of them in Brisbane. Maybe a shop owner doing some late-night accounting…?

But when the car suddenly roared to life and sprang forward, Cam knew.

He put his head down and bolted, adrenalin spiking through his system. How had they guessed? Was the train too obvious? He’d figured it would be easier to ride the train ticketless than the bus – maybe everyone in Brisbane knew that.

This is stupid! thought Cam a little hysterically as he shot across the next intersection. It’s like I’m in the middle of one of those TV chase scenes – only none of them showed the hero scared out of his socks! Think, mate! Gotta lose them somehow! His eyes shuttled left and right as he ran. Houses and yards, dark and sleeping. Cut through yards, maybe – they’d have to chase me on foot…

An engine roared and light painted the houses as the car sped around the corner, skewering him in its headlights.

‘Damn!’ Cam flung himself through the nearest gate, flew across a neatly-manicured lawn and spun around the corner of the small brick house.

Behind him a car door slammed and the engine roared. One chasing on foot, the other one in the car trying to cut me off, he thought as he leapt over a child’s tiny bike and shot across the back yard. Clawing his way up and over the five-foot Colorbond fence at its rear, he risked a glance left and right.

Yes! Garden shed!

Cam dodged sideways, skidding into the half-metre gap that separated the shed from the side fence. He pressed his back against the cool metal of the shed wall, breathing as shallowly as he could, listening as his pursuer clambered over the fence and ran across the yard. As soon as he was out of sight past the house, Cam clambered back over the Colorbond fence and raced back the way he’d come, emerging on to the street he’d just left.

It was now empty.

Faintly in the distance he heard the whine of an electric engine. The train! Cam sprinted, his backpack thumping against his shoulders. Gotta catch it, get away while they’re still looking for me here! Breath burned in his chest as he pelted around the last corner. The lighted platform was just ahead –

Lights slashed across him, skidding into the deserted car park just as he leapt up the steps to the platform. Gunna get me, train’s still too far away. He gritted his teeth. Don’t want to do this… He spun toward them, held his hands palm-up in front of him. Fire.

Instantly he felt the telltale prickle in his head, felt it intensify as he focused his mind on the power. Keep it steady… focus… easy… Nervous sweat beaded his face as light flickered in his palms, blossomed, blazed into two tiny fireballs. The car stopped just outside the door onto the platform and its doors opened. He flung one of his fire pellets at the passenger door, then aimed the other over the driver’s head just as the train pulled into the station. Both people ducked, but Cam didn’t wait to see what happened. The recorded announcement was blaring ‘Doors closing…’ as Cam turned and bolted for the train. He banged the door open and hurled himself through it. ‘…please stand clear,’ the recorded voice continued, and Cam backed hurriedly away from the open doors just as they slid shut. Almost sobbing with relief, he collapsed into a seat as the train moved sedately off, leaving two figures standing on the platform staring after him.