To follow my article about Armageddon, here is an excerpt from book 2 of The Samsara Chronicles

Aislinn Soule hurried out of the decrepit sky train station. Though the rail network sustained a degree of earthquake damage, retrofitting had at least kept the system functional and provided the only viable means of travel for most able to do so. A few flickering lights barely illuminated the graffiti marred walls, the frigid air not quite banishing the rank odor permeating the building.

Hunched protectively inside her heavy down jacket, only Aislinn’s face was visible beneath the fur-trimmed hood. Her breath emerged in a stream of white puffs as she dodged the human chattel in makeshift camps infesting every available space.

As always, the homeless inhabited the station. The handful of security guards had long ago turned a blind eye to their activities since there was no place for them to go. They understood the need for shelter as many of their own families and friends were in the same predicament. She tried to ignore the begging hands, the heartrending pleas for food and the echoes of bawling children. Often, she gave one or two of the more wretched a food stamp, but the need was too great, and she didn’t have enough stamps to go around. It broke her heart to witness such misery each time she traveled to and from work and despite her efforts she could never harden herself to the sight.

Despite herself, she glanced toward two figures rutting away in a dimly lit corner. The woman’s cries rose mechanically above the man’s grunts, his thrusting body consumed by a voluminous black coat. Though the wide brim of his hat concealed his face, the hands that gripped the streetwalker’s hips were large and rough. Pressed against the filthy wall, her legs, clad in laddered black stockings, trembled on worn stiletto boots. The familiar scars of poorly healed needle tracks rose like blue pockmarks against her chalky flesh. The leather jacket she wore provided scant protection against the bitter cold, though if she were high on any combination of drugs, the temperature was irrelevant.

Scraggly blonde hair, showing black roots, concealed her face, but Aislinn knew it was the kind of face she had seen so many times before. Etched with the misery and hopelessness that had become their lives, streetwalkers lived by the hour, snatching what sustenance they could, but more often, violence, disease and death was their fate.

The man uttered a guttural cry, gave a final thrust, and withdrew from the woman. Aislinn’s stomach turned as he reached into a baggy pocket without wiping his hands and paid the woman a few paltry food stamps. Barely bothering to pull down her skirt, she stuffed her booty in her jacket pocket and quickly scuttled away. Only then did some of the nearby homeless pay attention.

Aislinn backed away when a couple of women emerged from the throng and approached the man. His face, still concealed by the shadows, seemed to turn toward her before turning his attention to the women. The brief contact sent an unpleasant shiver through Aislinn’s body. If the other women sensed anything, they did not show it. Young, old, it was impossible to guess their ages, but the gestures they made were universal. The taller of the pair hiked her coat and skirt to reveal a shock of black pubic hair while the other dropped to her knees before the man. If he was willing and could afford it, an orgy would quickly ensue of homeless offering their bodies in any way the man wanted, either with him, or whoever he chose. Aislinn had witnessed this scenario once before in a street market, and that was enough. Porgies, or orgies involving the poor and homeless, had become a perverse trend among those who openly bought sex and created a chain reaction of those willing to do anything for a pittance. It was a vile practice, one she had no desire to be caught in. Sensing a growing disturbance in the crowd, she kept her head down and moved toward the exit.

A bitterly cold wind raked her face as she pushed through the boarded-up doors, the glass long ago smashed. She gulped in the frigid air to cleanse herself of the station’s stench and dug her gloved hands deep into her pockets. Briskly, she walked up the hill to Carnarvon Street and turned the corner to her apartment building. Her breath puffed like a locomotive, the frosty evening air biting into her cheeks. Though there was little traffic in the street, her eyes were alert and watchful as she scanned bonfires and oil drum fires flickering from surrounding damaged or abandoned buildings. Warmth indicated people in the vicinity, people who would not balk at an opportunity to victimize a solitary pedestrian.

A child wailed in the distance and silenced abruptly, the sound swallowed by an oppressive bank of cloud cloaking the city. Immersed in an unnatural twilight, the late afternoon felt more like the depths of a winter night. The eternal rumble of bulldozers greeted her when she approached her apartment building. Impatiently she waited for them to move from her path. Ensuing dust clouds mixed with drifting smoke to taint the air with an acrid aroma. The machines and crews labored steadily to clear the rubble from the streets and repair cracks and holes to the best of their abilities. Most of the work was temporary, as the scope of damage throughout the city and Lower Mainland belied any hope of complete restoration. Nevertheless, Carnarvon Street was not as badly damaged as other areas of the city where many of the older buildings had virtually disintegrated.

Automatically, she glanced behind her, but saw no one, though in the uncertain glow of randomly functioning streetlights, shadows seemed to stretch menacingly toward her. For the last several days, she’d had the feeling that someone was following her. Though she stopped to try and catch her suspected stalker, and had even hidden inside a surviving Government Issue store and peeked through the window, she never spotted anyone.

A raucous whisper of heavy metal music drifted to her ears. She shuddered and paused to glance at the decrepit bar across the street. Hunkered amidst two derelict buildings, the squat building bore the scars of its violent history in the guise of boarded up windows, bullet-raked flanks and rusted metal outer doors. Street people infested the adjoining alleys, their gauntness highlighted by the flickering flames of oil drum fires. The music momentarily blared as shadowy figures entered and emerged from the entrance and melted into the shadows. As if sensing her scrutiny, one heavily clad figure stopped to gaze at her. Once again, an unpleasant coldness coursed through her body even as he moved on.

Aislinn shuddered and stepped up her pace, the sensation that she was being watched growing with each step. She focused her attention on an armada of bulldozers lumbering toward the partially collapsed apartment block next door to her building. Though her own workday was over, the crews of workmen put in twelve to fifteen hour days, six days a week.

A group of homeless sheltering within the ruins scattered, their meager belongings clutched in their hands. The bulldozers’ formidable treads extinguished a scattering of bonfires, some still bearing the meals of the hapless itinerants. She felt a pang of compassion as she watched them scurry like displaced rats. Dismally, she wondered where they would go. So many people had been left homeless that the resources of rescue agencies were hopelessly stretched. Men, women, and children, sheltered wherever they could, survival dependent on what they scavenged from the ruins.

Bursting from a makeshift hovel, a little boy clad in filthy rags screamed when his harried young mother struggled to drag him and a bundle of belongings from the path of an advancing bulldozer. She swore when the machine flattened their shelter. The child stubbornly resisted her efforts to yank him out of the bulldozer’s path, a battered stuffed animal his target. Aislinn watched grimly. The child’s sunken eyes and mottled flesh betrayed symptoms of the scourge. A testament to the horrors wrought by a tainted environment—the lethal, chameleon-like virus attacked the body and triggered any genetic flaws or hereditary predisposition to disease.

She unconsciously stepped back. Technically, everyone was prey to the virus, though it was known that those with weakened immune systems were most prone. No cure had been found yet, the virus mutating so quickly that antidotes quickly became obsolete. Coupled with almost nonexistent funding and lack of researchers, the hope of a cure was indeed as distant as the hope for a peaceful world.

The haunted look in the little boy’s eyes reflected a pain that had no place in an innocent child. Aislinn stared with pity at the exhausted mother, her face aged beyond her years by hardship. As the mother coughed up blood and stumbled across the ruins, Aislinn could only wonder whether the little boy would survive long enough to join the growing ranks of orphans. Though Vancouver no longer maintained orphanages, over the last few years the city had requisitioned some abandoned buildings and converted them into temporary shelters until homes could be found for the growing numbers of destitute children.