Authors: Bonnie S. Calhoun
Tags: #JUV059000, #JUV053000, #JUV001010, #Science fiction
Â© 2014 by Bonnie S. Calhoun
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
I dedicate this book to my sister Robin.
She has always loved me, even though I tried to pull her through the bars of my former crib when she was a newborn and I cut her hair when she was three.
elah crouched amid the towering pampas grass. Feathery seed plumes swayed in the breeze, pushing wisps of dark brown hair across her face, tangling her locks in the sticky seed pods. She blinked through watering eyes, stripped a rawhide lace from the bottom of her leather vest, and tied a haphazard ponytail. There'd be no falling asleep today . . . no chaotic dreams, no visions of the past to blur her resolve.
Her focus wandered to the beach as she fingered her favorite kapo. The throwing knife acted as a sort of touchstone . . . a feeling of security amid the present chaos.
Sometimes she felt such anger . . . No matter. Tomorrow on her Birth Remembrance, she would attain the eighteenth year of life and her rights as an adult, which included hunting. Determination swelled in her. Maybe if she could prove her worth. She'd just hang around awhile, and if the opportunity arose . . .
A smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. A rust-red rabbit lingered near the edge of the tender grass on the high side of the sandy beach. Twice she thought about impaling it, and twice it meandered behind one of the many ancient metal debris fields littering this section of beach. Why take out her anger on a helpless animal? Although it would make a delightful Remembrance meal.
Still, she wasn't here to catch rabbits. She hoped to catch a Lander. The odds of an arrival today, after what happened yesterday, were slim to none. Regardless of her father's refusal to allow her in the hunt, she'd show them all. In her mind it was one last act of defiance before she was shipped off to her death sentence.
A rustling sounded behind her. She turned to see her younger brother Dane wading through the waving sea of grass. Selah pressed her fingers against her lips and motioned to the nine-year-old. She pointed in the rabbit's direction. Dane loved following her because she tolerated him, whereas her older brothers badgered and chased him. Selah felt she owed him a huge dose of gratitude. Until he came along, she'd been the youngest and suffered the same indignities.
Dane grinned as he crept up beside her. “Mother said for you to come home right now!”
Selah ignored the message and concentrated on distracting Dane from gleaning her original purpose.
Crouching low, Dane used his stubby little fingers to part the curtain of grass and peeked through.
“Rabbit!” He squealed and darted forward.
Selah snatched the back of his leather tunic as his feet
launched into empty air. Jerking him back from the abyss, she thudded him to the ground beside her. Fear pounded her chest as she tightened her embrace on him.
“What were you thinking? You'd better thank Mother for stitching your vest so well it held when I grabbed you.” Selah's arms shook as she thought about what could have happened. It would have killed her father to lose a son. “Do you realize you could have gotten killed pulling a stunt like that?”
Dane looked at her wide-eyed, sucked in a huge breath, and scrunched up his eyebrows. “What did I do? I wanted to see the rabbit.”
Selah reached out and parted the thick wall of grass. “Do you see this? How many times have I told you to tread lightly on this part of the beach?”
Dane craned his head to look beyond her. His eyes widened as he stared into the deep pit obscured by the grass shield, one of the leftover vestiges of the destroyed city. “I didn't know that was down there.”
“That's okay. You'll learn.” Selah's anger faded as she retrieved her dropped kapo and slid it into its pouch. Dane was still too young to be responsible. She was thankful for her fast reflexes.
“You shouldn't be catching rabbits,” Dane said. “I'm telling.”
Selah sighed and attempted to hide a grin. His command of the language always included telling on one of them to their parents.
Unlike most others in the Borough who ate from their farm stock of cows or wild deer, her father and brothers ate food mostly from the sea. But it was better to let Dane think she
was trying to bag rabbits than to have him run home and tell Mother she was stalking Landers.
“You're supposed to be my soldier. You promised to keep my secrets.” She tousled his yellow curls. His fair coloring took after their father's blond hair and brown eyes, as did her other two brothers, while she favored her mother's dark hair, olive skin, and green eyes. The boys turned fire-coal red in the sun while she acquired a delicious bronze.
“Father says rabbits have disease from the Sorrows, and we can't eat them.” Dane shook his head as though it would emphasize his point. He had no idea what he was talking about, but it amused Selah that he imitated Father so well.
The Time of Sorrows had begun with a single spectacular flash in time, 150 years ago and two hundred miles to the north. Three devices called suitcase nukes had destroyed Washington, DC, leaving nothing but a big hole in the ground and radiation that spread for hundreds of miles, affecting all life. Animals surviving the radiation suffered genetic mutations, souring their meat, as her father called it.
But Selah had discovered a species of rabbit with sweet, clean meat. She refused to share the tidbit, or her abundance of game would rapidly grow scarce. When she caught a rabbit, she always skinned it and buried the evidence before taking the meat home. Father refused to acknowledge her prowess. He called her foolish. Yet she often wondered why he never stopped her or Mother from eating it.
“Do you think Mother or I would feed you something bad?” she asked Dane now.
He put his index finger to his chin, mimicking what Father did while thinking through a particularly daunting situa
tion, waited a few seconds, then shook his head.
What a little man.
Selah squeezed him again and watched the rabbit's tail bounce out of sight down the beach. Her gaze diverted from down the beach to across the water. On the horizon something bobbed in the sea. Her heart rate ticked up a beat. The only vessels ever to come by sea carried Landers.
Without looking back, she patted Dane on the arm. “Run home. Tell Mother I'll be along shortly.” She knew at that very moment it was a promise she wasn't going to keep. But delivering the message would send him home. It looked like today might be her chance to join the family's second business.
“Mother said to come home right now!” Dane said again.
Selah turned and shooed him with a flip of her hand and a pretend fist. Dane grinned and scurried off in the other direction. Her promise quickly forgotten, she worked her way around the pits of concrete and steel rubble down to the shoreline. Gray-green waves slapped at the sand, then pulled back into the surf, leaving fingers of white foam that seemed to beckon her. Within the hour, another vessel would turn into kindling, smashing itself against the sunken remnants of the city once known as Norfolk, Virginia.
Selah climbed onto her favorite rock at the edge of the waves where the algae surface had begun to dry in the morning sun and low tide. She stood on the flattop and surveyed her world. In Dominion Borough, her clan controlled the prime sea fishing area out to the horizon in the east, south to the oil-drilling platform belonging to Waterside Borough, and north to the sea-bound wind farm belonging to Rolke Borough.
She turned from the sea and took a reassuring glance at the ruins of the Dominion building, the namesake of her Borough. Probably majestic in ancient days, the decaying concrete and rusted steel shell presented a sad commentary of the past. Nature had worked hard to obliterate man's ancient invasion. Kudzu vines twisted throughout the broken and missing windows, clinging to the porous surfaces, obliterating the building's shape, and turning it into a skyward mound of vegetation with the word
as a capstone. Despite annoying brothers or the uncertainty of her future, this place made her feel safe.
She peered intently at the forested area around the building's base. Any of her family coming down to the sea for fishing would come from that direction. If her brothers didn't show up, she could catch this Lander on her own.
She jumped from the rock and walked to the edge of the receding surf. Seaweed-laden water slapped at the stone outcroppings along this section of the ragged shoreline, leaving behind soggy vestiges of the plant and sending up a misty spray that clung to her skin and wet her lips. She tasted brine and smelled fish tainted with a dose of rotting plants, while a gritty mixture of water and sand caressed her bare toes, enveloping them in warmth.
Seeing the boat bob in the sea made her chest tighten in anticipation.
It wouldn't take long for the swells to push the fragile vessel into the tangle of building carcasses. This protected cove had faced north until the tsunami washed away the land on its east side. And effects of the volcanic eruption had caused the sea to rise, encroaching on the cityscape and putting many buildings in permanent watery graves.
She judged the conditionsâmaybe a half hour or so. No sense standing here. She retreated to a rubble outcropping farther back on the beach, stabbed one of her kapos vertically into the soft sand to use for timekeeping, and went about the work of collecting clams. There would be seafood for dinner tonight. The thought gagged her, but it would please Father. She glanced up every few minutes to measure the boat's progress. If she could capture a Lander herself, Father would have to recognize her worth to the family business.
This would make the eleventh vessel coming ashore this moon cycle. The survivors were unconscious when they arrived, and waking them brought disorientation and later ranting of a final Kingdom. They each possessed a curious tattoo. It resembled a wing that started at their left temple and stretched up and over their eye almost to the center of their foreheads. On many Landers, after they'd spent a day on solid ground, the tattoo faded into oblivion. As the mark faded, so did the memories and their worth. Landers retaining the mark were the prized possession sought after by the Company.
The Company was a business entity squirreled away in an underground colony called the Mountain, forty-eight miles west of Washington, DC. They were rumored to be ancestors of the original government before the Sorrows, but no one remembered for sure anymore. People only cared about buying coal, oil, and gas and selling Landers. Selah didn't understand their value.
It took almost three quarters of an hour according to the movement of the sun shadow created by her kapo. The
small boat finally slammed into a heavy metal beam that in ancient times had been part of a building. The wooden vessel cracked like an egg, spilling its contents. The male lay facedown in the sand with arms and legs outstretched. A soft breeze rippled his loose clothing, giving him the appearance of floating above the sand.
Selah dropped her bags and sat back on her haunches. Now what? She'd never been close to a captive. She watched for several minutes. Maybe this one was dead? Sometimes they were. Others acted vicious and combative, but most were docile. Father warned her to keep her distance and leave the hunting to the men.
She shook off the thought and stared. She was just as fierce as her brothers. It was her rightful place. But what was she going to do if he awoke combative? Better still, what would she do with him if he weren't? She had no weapons except her bag of kapos. She hadn't thought this through, hadn't even come prepared to ward off, let alone capture, a Lander. She finally understood what her mother meant when she said, “Fools rush in.” Maybe she'd better get Father.
Something inexplicable stopped her from leaving. Curiosity won over caution, so Selah crept toward the figure. Her heart thudded as she looked him over. A white shirt and pants covered his sturdy frame. The material appeared similar to linen but of a much finer quality. It seemed to shimmer in the morning sun.
“Hey, wake up!” She stood four feet away and angled herself, trying to see his face.
Half of his face was pressed into the sand. Blond curls fell
across the other half, covering his features. A mental stab caused her to jerk back. Pain. He felt
. Better still . . . how did she know he felt pain?