Read Under the Empyrean Sky Online

Authors: Chuck Wendig

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Lifestyles, #Farm & Ranch Life, #Nature & the Natural World, #Environment, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian

Under the Empyrean Sky

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 by Chuck Wendig

All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
Request for permission should be addressed to:

Amazon Publishing
Attn: Amazon Children’s Publishing
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
www.amazon.com/amazonchildrenspublishing

The lyrics on
page 1
and
page 67
are from “Harvest-Home Song” by John Davidson. Stedman, Edmund Clarence, ed.
A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1895. The lyrics on
page 149
are from “John Barleycorn” collected by Robert Burns in 1782. The lyrics on
page 287
are from “The Big Rock Candy Mountains” by Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock, written in 1895 and first recorded as a song in 1928.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

ISBN-13: 9781477817209 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1477817204 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781477867204 (eBook)
ISBN-10: 1477867201 (eBook)

Book design by Sammy Yuen
Editor: Marilyn Brigham

First edition
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

 

 

For Ben and Michelle, who are my Heartland

CONTENTS
 

PART ONE THE DISCOVERY

1 THE RACE

2 ABOVE AND BELOW

3 GODSDAMN YOU, BOYLAND BARNES, JR.

4 THE SHUCK RAT’S LITTLE SECRET

5 THE BOXELDER BLUES

6 PISS AND WISHES, BROKEN DISHES

PART TWO THE HARVEST

7 LANDMINE

8 TAKE THE STAGE

9 ALL WET

10 THE HOWLING POLLEN

11 THE BLACK ORCHARD

12 THE GARDEN TRAIL

13 OF BLIGHT AND BOUNTY

PART THREE THE GARDEN

14 THIS LITTLE SQUEALER WENT TO MARKET

15 A PROPOSITION, THICK AND FOUL

16 LANCING THE BLISTER

17 THE BURROW

18 THE LORD AND LADY’S GARDEN

19 UNEXPECTED GUESTS

20 GAMES OF CHANCE

PART FOUR THE NOOSE

21 THE LORD AND LADY BLESS US AND FREE US FROM OUR BONDS

22 THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE CORN

23 OLD OBLIGATIONS

24 THE TRAILHEAD

PART ONE

 

THE DISCOVERY

 

The pleasure of a king

 

Is tasteless to the mirth

 

Of peasants when they bring

 

The harvest of the earth.

 

With pipe and tabor hither roam

 

All ye who love our Harvest-home.

 

—“Harvest-Home Song,” John Davidson

 
 

THE RACE

 

THE CORN REACHES
for the land-boat above it, but the corn is slow and the cat-maran is fast. The stretching, yearning stalks hiss against the boat’s bottom, making a white noise that sounds like pollen coming out of a piss-blizzard.

Betty
, which is what Cael and his crew have nicknamed the long and lean cat-maran, sails buoyed by a pair of crackling hover-panels. Cael stands at the boat’s fore, leaning on one knee, staring out at the line where blue sky and green corn merge.

Fifty yards to their left is Cael’s opponent—a front-heavy, fat-chested yacht with a quartet of billowing red sails pregnant with wind. At the fore of the boat stands Boyland
Barnes Jr., the captain of the Boxelder Butchers. They’re the number one scavenger crew in Boxelder.

Cael’s crew, the Big Sky Scavengers, is number two.

But not anymore.

Boyland looks over, offers a dismissive shrug before making a jerk-off motion with his hand. His land-yacht eases forward yard by yard, outpacing
Betty
slowly but surely. Boyland’s got a pair of small propellers in chrome cages posed at the back of his yacht—not cheap, but they give him a boost. Boyland’s money
always
gives him the boost.

Cocky prick,
Cael thinks.

Boyland laughs, a pissy squeal that doesn’t match Boyland’s broad chest or bucket-shaped head. Cael just waves. Then he takes the pair of blue-lensed goggles from atop his head and snaps them tight over his eyes to protect against the coming wind.

The Butchers have propellers. Wind power. Fine.

The Big Sky Scavengers have something else. Something
better
.

Cael gives Lane the signal.

Lane Moreau. Tall, lean, like a reedy tree shaken of leaves. Lane is
Betty
’s helmsman. Knows every inch of her. He plucks the pinched ditchweed cigarette from between his lips, pitches it over the side of the boat in a pinwheel of embers, and then reaches down and yanks hard on a
newly installed lever sticking up next to the control panel. Cael feels
Betty
’s belly vibrate. The sound of the hissing corn is lost beneath the grinding of gears as his brand-new hover-panels tilt down and back—

A coruscating ripple of light bursts from beneath
Betty
, and she suddenly leaps forth like a horse with a nettle screwed hard in its ass.

Lane holds the ship’s wheel with white knuckles. He howls like a hound.
Awoooooo
.

Rigo, the third mate in their crew of four—though today they’re one light, what with Gwennie off getting ready for tomorrow’s Harvest Home festival and the Obligation Day ceremony—hunkers down in the middle of the boat with a tube of maps under one arm, looking ashen and queasy.

Cael can already see, in the distance, the prize glinting in the sun: a defunct motorvator. Now just a flinty, metallic mote far off—but getting closer.

They heard the rumor this morning: someone spotted a rogue thresher out there, dead in the corn. Off its program. Off the grid. Didn’t belong to anybody in Boxelder, either—must have come a long way from another town before its battery finally took a shit. That means it’s ripe for the picking.

That’s what Cael and his crew do. They pick. They
scavenge
.

That motorvator, they’ll butcher it for spare parts, sell what they find. Provided they get there first—and Cael’s pretty sure they’re going to beat the corn off Boyland’s cob on this one. Getting there first means getting first pick—same way the strongest, biggest vulture gets to have first bite of whatever dead thing it might find.

You get to the junk, you get the prize. You get the prize, you earn the ace notes from the Mercado maven. Easy peasy, cool and breezy.

It won’t be long now. They’ll be there in no time. Ten minutes. Maybe less.

Betty
pulls ahead. Faster, faster.

And Boyland’s land-yacht drifts farther behind.

Cael’s heart leaps in his chest. They’re going to beat the Boxelder Butchers. Beat them like disobedient urchins. He throws a glance back at Boyland, who stands at the fore of his boat, big, meaty fists on his hips. But something ain’t right.

Boyland is smiling.

He gives a signal of his own: a fat thumb thrust up.

Felicity, his first mate, whips out a box with a long silver antenna. She pulls her conductor’s cap tight over her tangled mane and then stabs a button on the box.

Atop the land-yacht’s crow’s nest, the third in their crew—a little towheaded ragamuffin way too young to be
doing this gig—claps and laughs so hard his pale cheeks go red.

A flush of cold saline ices Cael’s blood.
Something’s up
.

He realizes too late: he shouldn’t be looking at them. He
should
be looking ahead.

Rigo sees before any of them. He cries out, “Bounce it!”

Cael turns heel-to-toe and sees a rusty thresher bar from a defunct motorvator suddenly spring up out of the corn, rising over the stalk-tops. Lane hears Rigo’s command and slaps a button on the side of the console, and the hover-panels shudder and emit a hard pulse, giving
Betty
a boost meant to carry them up and over.

But they’re too late.

Betty
runs fast over the threshing blades.

Then comes the sound of shearing metal and shattering glass as Cael’s world goes ass over chin.

Other books

His Sugar Baby by Roberts, Sarah
Los problemas de la filosofía by Bertrand Russell
Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll
Alabama Moon by Watt Key
One Wish by Michelle Harrison
Superior Women by Alice Adams
Saving the Queen by William F. Buckley