The missing ICEFALL excerpt

The Kindle Nation Daily ad today is our second, but they included the excerpt from the first ad.

Here’s the excerpt for ICEFALL you want to read:


“He’s opening his eyes.” He being the boy who rescued us. The boy who risked life and limb to save us. The boy who has never seen any of us before today, yet put himself on the line to make sure we didn’t die at the bottom of a ravine.

I don’t even know his name.

“Good.” Seville is kneeling on his opposite side. She has a cut at her temple, and blood drips down her cheek, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Or if she does, she doesn’t seem to care. “Check his pupils.”

“Hello, you. Welcome back.” Winnie, who has the best bedside manner of any of us, almost coos as she cradles the boy’s head in a fur wrap she must’ve found in the coach. “Please don’t move your head just yet.”

Following Seville’s orders, Winnie shines the small beam light out of her sleeve cuff into his eyes. His pupils react as they should, and he blinks.

I blow out a breath of relief, and my chest relaxes. The thought of him suffering serious injury when he had no reason at all to do what he did, no investment in our health or well-being…

Who is this boy, and why had I expected less compassion, less benevolence, less… humanity from Earthlanders? Is he different from the others? Have we been taught wrong all this time?

“Ask him to wiggle his feet,” Lisbon says as she checks his pulse in his ankles. “Now hands, please.”

Before I say anything, he lifts both and waves his fingers. I reach for his wrist, wanting to feel the strength of his pulse for myself, though Lisbon is perfectly capable.

“What’s your name?” It’s suddenly vital that I know everything about him that I can.

“What?” he asks and blinks again, giving a small shake of his head against Winnie’s orders. When he looks at me, directly this time, I see how green his irises are. The green, perhaps, of conifers, though I need better light.

“What is your name?” I repeat the question before I start writing mental poetry. I’m strangely rattled. Or maybe it’s not so strange.

I banged my shoulder on a cabinet edge when the coach rolled. The camp stove clipped my elbow as it, too, tumbled. And when we finally came to a stop, the scream of the metal being sheared by the road echoing in my ears, my palms found dozens of bits of window glass when I pushed to stand.

“Oh, Rey,” the boy says, snapping me back to the present.

“Orey? Or, Rey?” asks Seville.

“Reynal. Rey.” He winces, but his mouth pulls into a bit of a smile at Seville’s wit. Then he levers up onto his elbows. His dark brows draw into a deep vee. “What happened? Where’s—”

“I said don’t move your head.” Winnie brushes back some of his hair, but he ducks away from her hand and ignores her chiding, hanging his wrists over his updrawn knees as he sits.
It’s obvious he wants to be left alone. He’s been shaken, and has regained consciousness to find four girls from another land hovering. I’d be shooing us away like flies, too.

“The fall you took… You hit the road pretty hard,” I say. “She’s just making sure you have no spinal cord or brain injury. That’s all. Winnie, my earbuds were in my pack. If you have yours, we can get an EEG on him.”

“I’m fine. Just give me a sec to catch my breath. And, you know”—he motions for us to move—“maybe some room.”

Seville mutters something about ingrates and savages, and pushes to her feet. Lisbon stands, too, and backs away. Reluctantly, I do the same, but Winnie stays exactly where she is, kneeling beside him, her hands on her thighs.

“We’re MEDcadets,” she tells him. “We know what we’re doing. We’ve been training for years in Cerebus’ medical arts program.”

He turns his head to meet her gaze, and I sense an emotion I don’t understand. It’s a meanness, or a coldness, as if he can will Winnie away, or frighten her with an unspoken threat. Which doesn’t make sense.

If this is what he feels, why didn’t he just let us die?

“Either stand him up or put him on his sled.” It’s the boy with the darker skin yelling. The one I believe had an altercation with our driver as we started to roll. “We can’t stick around here all day. That guy back there must have friends.”

Turning, I glance to where he stands beside the third boy, who’s kneeling next to one of their dogs. The dog’s coat is white. Its eyes, even from this distance, are an obvious sparkling blue. A slash of dark red mars its hip.

“Lisbon,” I say, and she looks from Rey to me. “Can you check on that dog? He’s injured. But approach slowly. Those animals can be mean.”

“Ghost isn’t mean,” says the boy on the ground with the dog. “But, yeah. He got caught up under the coach and cut somehow.” This one wears his whiskers trimmed close. He’s secured the other animals—there are seven dogs total—away from the one who is hurt.

He turns to the dark-skinned boy. “You got any cleaning rags not covered in oil? I’m going to need a couple. And maybe Rey’s sewing kit. It’s got that curved needle.”

I look at Seville. “Our packs. I think they’re in—”

“—the front of the coach.” Seville nods. “I’m on it.”

“And your cheek. It’s bleeding.”

Frowning, she touches her fingertips to the injury. Then she wipes the blood on her sleeve, shrugs, and jogs back to the coach.

I mentally start itemizing what in my pack I can use, now that we’re on our own. Because the boy is right. The driver has friends, and we can’t be here when they come looking for him.

The injured boy is on his feet now. Reynal. Rey. The name, if I’m remembering correctly, means king in the ancient language of the Iberian peninsula. I can’t imagine that he’s a ruler, but it’s obvious that even injured, he’s the leader of this band of boys. Both of the others stand close while Lisbon attends to the injured dog, but they are looking to him for their orders.

He is surveying the road and ignoring all of us, even brushing aside Winnie when she says, “You can lean on me.”

“How long was I out?” He directs the question to the boys who are now walking to meet him.

I quickly answer. I refuse to be dismissed. There is too much I want to know. “Long enough for your friends to pry back the window bars so we could climb out. And I wanted to thank you. All of you. How did you—”

“Later,” he interrupts, waving his hand at me while nodding toward the murderous driver lying trussed on the road. “Nice job with the rock, Navid. Exactly the save Darj and I needed.”

“Would’ve been better if I hadn’t judged the arc wrong.” Navid is the boy with the close-cropped beard. “But what you did with that whip, jackknifing the coach… Kudos to you, brother.”

“I think I have an adrenaline high,” Rey says, reaching up to rub at his shoulder. “I don’t remember a thing after I caught a hold of the rigging in the front. What happened?”

“Coach took a hard right and flung you across the road before it tipped over and slid.” Navid gestures toward the toppled conveyance with one hand. It’s on its side ten meters away. “You bounced off some rocks. That shoulder of yours is going to be black-and-blue by tomorrow. Lucky you weren’t crushed by the thing.”

I step to the group—Navid, Darj, Reynal; such interesting names—intending to examine Rey’s shoulder, but one of the dogs makes a little yip which sets the boys into action. They set off toward the ravine as if I don’t even exist.

I follow, stopping at a discreet distance, then glance back to see Winnie assisting Lisbon with the dog. Seville has yet to return with the rest of our packs, but I am more interested in what the boys are doing than helping her.

If I’m in the way, no one complains, and I watch while first one boy peers over the edge, then a second, until all three are staring down. The dark-skinned boy, Darj, yells back at us. “Hey, Phantom was right, we have company! And he’s coming up the slope to say hello!”

He picks up a large rock and calls to whoever is climbing toward us, “Stay right where you are, and nobody gets hurt.” There’s a pause, and he turns and has a private laugh with the other two. I don’t get it.

I haven’t heard the sip-bang of a blaster gun in five years. But the sound, when it hits something, is unmistakable. Two small explosions go off when the projectiles slam into the rocks below the boys’ feet. All three jump back like they’ve been shot with an electric shock gun.

“That is one big gun he’s got there,” says Navid.

“Little gun,” Darj replies. “Big bullets.”

“We did warn him.” Rey turns to Navid. “Here’s your second chance to do some damage.” He points to the larger rocks between the edge of the road and the cliff. “Take your pick.”

“He’s shooting at us,” Navid answers. “In case you haven’t noticed.”

“He’s got a steep climb, and we probably have more ammo than he does.” Rey swings his sling around and throws a small stone off the ledge. “But I can’t cast down with this shoulder. My throw’s off. I don’t think I can hit him without really making myself a target.”

I hear Seville behind me. She’s only slightly taller than I am but can carry twice what I can. She sets my pack on the road along with hers and holds out a third that looks familiar— No! I mouth the word, and she nods. The MEDpack belongs—or belonged—to Shiraz.

“Irbid was right. It was meant to seem as if we all died together.” She looks toward the boys, and her throat works as she swallows. “If not for you signaling to them…”

My heart is racing and my head fills with images of our broken bodies, limbs scattered with the wreckage of the coach, the man below waiting, finding us, checking to see if we survived, breaking our necks if we did. More blaster shots bring me back to the present, and I take a deep breath.

“What the cold hell is going on over there?” Seville asks, frowning now and walking toward the boys.

Though I’m almost too stunned to follow, I do, looking up just as Navid hurls a large rock over the ravine’s edge.

“That’s not going to work,” Darj calls to him. “You’re overshooting like you did up the hill. There. Let’s get that one. Rey, you too. It’s going to take all of us.”

The rock he’s talking about is big, a flat thing, like a small table, lying on the rocky side of the road not far from the coach. I vaguely remember flipping, the four of us being thrown and tangling together before coming to a sudden stop.

Was it this rock that prevented the coach from sliding farther?

From sliding over the cliff?

From sliding into Reynal, the boy who saved us?

The boys heft up the rock and shuffle to the edge of the road. Rey peeks over and asks, “Ready?” then jerks back straight as he’s answered by another shot from the blaster.

Navid says something I can’t hear. Darj shouts, “One, two, three!” and they heave the thing into the ravine. I listen as it crashes its way down, then wait along with the others when it goes silent. The boys peer over the edge. Seville joins them, and I see her flinch.

“Okay, now we have to go,” Navid says, turning away.

“You definitely got the arc right that time,” Rey says, his tone nonchalant as he pats first Navid then Darj on the back.

“What happened?” I ask Seville as she walks toward me, shaking her head.

“Nothing good,” she says, resigned.

“Depends on your point of view, I guess,” Rey says to her as he walks past.

Seville’s expression tightens as she looks at me and points behind her. “The guy down there? The one they just killed? He’s wearing a security jacket. He’s one of ours. Our driver came up from the port. This was all planned out in advance by you-know-who.”

Carmen.

If I ever see that woman again, I am going to hurt her.

###

“Darj! Wait up!” Rey yells. The other boy is jogging ahead of him. “We need to move the driver.”

“Where?”

“Load him up on Navid’s sled,” Rey says, and Navid nods. “Navid can run him up to the lookout spot where we left the other sleds. You walk the horses up there with him.”

“Will do.” Darj darts across the road to where the sled sits near the downed dog, Navid a few steps behind him.

Rey is still rubbing at his shoulder as he sets off for Lisbon and Winnie. Moments later, Darj and Navid are on their way, the sled pulled now by two dogs.

Seville and I pick up our packs, both of us staring down at the MEDpack that had belonged to Shiraz, before Seville grabs that as well.

Winnie looks up as we arrive, but only briefly before turning back to her sedated patient. Curved needle in hand, she makes another stitch, sewing up the long, gaping wound in the dog’s leg.

I can see the muscle where a large flap of skin has yet to be reattached. There’s very little blood. No major arteries were cut. The dog should recover easily.

“He’s gorgeous.” Winnie croons the words to Rey. “How old is he?”

“Three years,” Rey replies. “The others, too. You have a way with him.”

Lisbon holds the dog’s head on her lap with one hand and strokes his thick white fur with the other. “He’s amazing. And seems like such a sweetheart. He’s also huge. Winnie and I were talking. We’ve never seen anything like him.”

“You sure? He comes from Cerebus,” Rey says, sounding skeptical and a little bit harsh. “All of our dogs do. Kinda surprised you wouldn’t be familiar with your own breeding program.”

Lisbon’s hand stills, as does Winnie’s. They share a look, a sort of confused humor, then look at me before we all turn to Rey.

“Actually,” I say, “Winnie, Lisbon, and I are very familiar with the canine breeding program. This one’s a crossbreed. A mix like Ghost wouldn’t be allowed on Cerebus. I believe he’s malamute with—”

“Samoyed,” Lisbon says, leaning close to Ghost’s ear. “You’re a special one, aren’t you? You helped save us. You’ll get a big whale steak tonight, right?” Lisbon’s gaze locks briefly with Rey’s, her eyes glistening. She softly speaks into the dog’s ear, saying, “Thank you. You saved us.”

Rey ignores her completely and gives me a dismissive look. “Of course they came from Rhone. Where else would they have come from?”

Winnie has reached a particularly difficult section around the dog’s knee, but without missing a beat says, “Not from Rhone.” And then to Lisbon, “Okay, hold him very still.”

“How do you know?” asks Rey.

“He’s too big,” answers Lisbon.

Rey’s brow furrows, and he rolls his shoulder. My fingers itch to push his coat away and examine him, but it’s obvious from his bearing as well as his attitude that he’s used to taking care of himself.

“My two are bigger than Ghost,” he says, moving around behind Winnie and bracing his hands on his knees. “Are you telling me they’re not from Cerebus, either?” He leans forward as she repairs the damage near the dog’s knee.

All MEDcadets have surgical training, but novices often get queasy the first time they’re presented with such large wounds. Rey doesn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, the only thing I sense from him is curiosity as he looks over Winnie’s shoulder.

“Yours are bigger?” I ask.

He glances up at me. “You’ll see when they get here.” We seem to share a moment. I smile. He ignores it and turns back to Winnie. “Wait,” he says, and gestures with one hand. “Why did you change your stitching pattern?”

“I’m using a more flexible stitch around his knee. It’s called a pulley.” She slows down and demonstrates the suture method taught in second year. Her fingers are small and nimble and go through the motions smoothly.

Professor Shiraz would be proud, I realize, finding the thought painful.

“Does everybody on Cerebus know how to sew wounds?” Rey asks.

“No,” I tell him. “We’re MEDcadets, remember? We came to administer vaccinations and distribute supplements and—well, you know. Take care of people who need taking care of.”

He straightens then. He’s really very tall. Very broad. And very muscular. “So why were these guys trying to kill you?”

“It’s complicated,” I say. “But what I don’t understand, I mean, how did you… Why would you… What you did…” What is wrong with me? “It was impossible.”

“Crashing your coach? All I did was free up the steering and pull it to the right,” he says with a shrug. “No big deal—”

“It was a big deal,” Seville says from behind me. “We see you on one side of the mountain, where Odessa mouths three words through a barred window fifty meters away. Then you and your friend appear out of nowhere on the other side just in time to subdue our driver. Not only that, but then you jump on our runaway coach and stop it. Even I’m a little impressed.”

He looks at her, but doesn’t say anything else, so I ask, “What were you doing at the tunnel?”

At that, he sighs, as if he’s going to have to talk whether he wants to or not. “We work for a delivery service. We had some time off, so we decided to watch your people go by. Darj thought it would be fun.” He picks up a small rock from the road and turns it over in his hand, then pockets it. “Why were you locked up?”

I can’t tell him everything when I’m not sure of what’s going on. “We didn’t do anything wrong, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Doesn’t matter. Even criminals don’t deserve what that driver had planned for you.” He looks up at the sky. “It’s getting dark. We gotta get home.” He glances from one of us to the next, then asks me, “What are you going to do now?”

I shake my head and shrug, and since Winnie and Lisbon are still busy with Ghost, I turn to Seville for an answer. But she’s walked to the edge of the road and is staring down into the ravine. Lisbon gets up and goes to her. They share a quiet moment, looking at the fate from which we barely escaped, then come back.

“We have three options,” Seville says. She holds up one finger. “Find our way back to the port and beg, borrow, or steal a boat that can get us home, though I don’t want to think about what we’ll face there.” She shudders as she raises finger number two. “We hide out in the wastelands and starve. Or worse.” Then she lifts a third finger. “Three—”

“Your parents,” Lisbon says.

“Three,” Seville repeats, shooting Lisbon a look that broadcasts her annoyance with the interruption. “We get in touch with my parents, which means finding someone trustworthy with the permission level necessary to contact Cerebus. A corruptible City official, most likely.”

“Wait a minute,” Rey says in a scoffing tone. “Trustworthy and corruptible?”

He asks the very question I want to hear Seville answer.

“Someone we can bribe,” she tells him. “With the City government being such a joke, we shouldn’t have any trouble, but we’ll have to meet face to face since I’ll be giving up my public and private access codes. If my folks can send enough untraceable þerms, and if our new City friend doesn’t walk away with that money as well as what we’re paying him, we might be able to buy our way off this rock”—she gestures to include the whole of the landscape—“and get home in one piece. Or into the Jackal Republic, where we’d be political pawns at best.” She looks at me and shrugs. “Slaves at worst. It’s either that or face a long stint in a prison on Rhone.”

“I like the port idea the best,” Winnie says, having joined us after finishing with Ghost. “We’ll climb aboard the first ship we see.”

“The first ship that’s not the Huo Long,” I say, turning to Rey to ask, “Are there any other boats down there? Ones that could travel to Rhone?”

“Not at the official port. Not this time of year. Nothing to trade. Might be a boat at the smuggler’s port, but even I don’t go there without permission. And boats headed to Rhone?” He makes a sad grunt. “I wouldn’t trust anyone who said they’d take you there.” He looks at Seville. “You said you can get þerms?”

She eyes him. “You want a cut, I guess? For saving us?”

He eyes her right back. “No, but if you can get untraceables, you can find a lot of folks willing to hide you.” He glances up the road as Darj and Navid come into view. Each guides a sled pulled by two dogs, and they appear to be racing.

Rey was right. One team is much much bigger than the other.

He looks at Seville again, then at Lisbon, Winnie, and finally me. “This will be the first place your people look once they realize your coach has disappeared. The road on the other side of the tunnel will be the second. We can give you a ride into the outskirts of the City. But we have to get moving. I’m late, and I really don’t want to deal with more Cerebus trous du cul.”

“We’re from Cerebus,” I remind him.

“And see how they treated you?” His voice is suddenly bitter. “Cerebus is an evil place. Filled with evil people.” He spits out his words, unapologetic.

“Three days ago, your attitude would have surprised me,” I tell him.

“And now?” he asks, the sudden interest in his look empowering me.

I give off a sigh. “Things have changed.”

###

I want to laugh. It’s the only thing I can think to do, yet it’s completely inappropriate for these most bizarre and unexpected circumstances my podmates and I find ourselves in.

We should be but hours from entering the City and a day away from the parade, getting ready to set up the medic stations. To distribute vitamins and salves, inoculate the citizens against communicable disease. To practice the medical arts in which we’ve been trained.

Instead, we’re on the run in the wilds of Earthland. On the run with three boys of our age who typify the wildness of the land around them: They wear blades at their hips and no doubt other weapons beneath their costumes of fur and coarse leather and rank-smelling cloth.

Their hair, now covered by hoods, appears roughly chopped. Their hands are gloved, but their cheeks are ruddy and chapped. Their muscles and endurance have been honed by this life, this land.

Savages.

Seville used that word to describe the people here.

I’m not exactly sure what emotion is making it so hard to breathe. The fear over the accusations Cerebus security has made and the punishment awaiting us for that crime as well as our desertion? Or the thrill of this dangerous adventure?

Because it is just that. An adventure.

Fraught with so very much that is unknown.

Though I sit on my pack, I feel every bump in the road. Seville sits on her pack on the other side of the sled. Rey stands behind us, calling instructions to his dogs from beneath his mask. The three sleds bunch together while slowing to navigate the switchbacks.

Soon we’re bouncing along the road again. I look behind me. Navid is sitting in his sled’s pedaling seat. His big wheel’s turning a tread like the one separating Seville and myself.

Navid has his injured dog under a blanket on one side and Lisbon on the other. I can’t see the last sled, but I know Winnie and our packs are under cover as she travels with Darj.

Rey taps me on the head, then does the same to Seville, and she swats at his hand. Time to cover up. We’re approaching the rear of the procession.

###

I’ve counted off twenty minutes since we left the procession behind, so I stick my head out from the blanket. Rey reaches down and jerks the smelly covering back over my head. I roll my eyes, though the retort is a wasted effort since no one can see. Several minutes later, we make a turn off the main road. This I can tell because the rocks give way to a packed surface.

A few more turns and we stop, the dogs panting, the sled squeaking as Rey dismounts. He finally sets me free then uncovers Seville, and I blink to focus. We’re between some buildings near a garbage dump. It’s a recycling center, I realize. My podmates and I stretch and rub aching muscles.

“Wheel finally give out?” Darj asks as he walks up beside Rey, who shakes his head in answer.

“Good spot.” Navid surveys the location. “They’ve shut down for the holiday.”

“This is as far as we go.” Rey looks at each of us in turn. “You’re safe where you stand. But we can’t take you any farther.”

“What are you saying?” Seville asks.

“You can’t leave us here,” Winnie says at the same time, her tone pleading.

“Yeah. I can.” Rey unloads my pack from Darj’s sled. “I promised only to get you to the outskirts. We need to get back. I have to get back. The main road has vid stations every so often, so watch for those. It’s almost night, so you’ll be okay.”

“Oh, no you don’t, Reynal Królik,” Darj says, swinging my pack back where it had been. “For a smart guy, you’re not using your brain. Think about it. Dressed like they are? Those fancy boots and all that tech on their uniforms?” He makes a sweeping gesture toward us. “They’re not going to last ten minutes on the streets. Even the backstreets. There are worse things than being murdered by your own people.” He turns to me. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” I say, though nothing is okay about what is happening. How can he—Reynal Królik—save us and then abandon us, knowing that if we’re caught, our fate will be the same as what he just prevented?

Darj continues, “There’s no way I’m going to be part of this. You saved their lives up on that ridge. You can’t turn around and toss them to the wolves. I’m not going to let you.”

“We can’t take them. There’s too much going on,” Rey says. It almost sounds as if he’s angry, or regrets that he agreed to bring us along.

“It won’t be your problem much longer. Listen, Navid and I can take whatever Adelmo dishes out. I won’t leave these girls here. Not like this. Not alone.” Darj is getting more animated.

Briefly, I imagine these boys as a pack, each asserting his dominance like their dogs might do. If Rey is indeed the alpha, Darj is energetic, possibly aggressive as a challenger, and Navid circles from a distance, as if biding his time. I’m struck then by a realization: We’re a pack of girls being fought over by a pack of boys. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

“They could stay here,” Rey says, pulling me out of my musings, and away from one of the dog’s from Navid’s team who has decided to push his nose between my legs. “Plenty of shelter. You could bring them whatever they need.” He is insistent. Calm. Determined. And my stomach tightens with the fear of the unknown.

“Now you’re just being ridiculous. I get it. They’re Cerebus. But there’s not even a place here for them to sleep.” Darj points at us. “This is just like someone falling while ice climbing in front of you. You don’t pick them up and send them on their way. You have them tie in, and you make sure they don’t fall again. Rey. Listen to me. You don’t rescue someone halfway.”

Seville is about to say something and takes a half step forward, but I reach out and grab her elbow. We can’t influence Rey’s decision. We can’t have him blaming us more than he already does.

He’s obviously torn. “Bringing them any closer to the City means bringing the people coming after them closer, too. Closer to us. I don’t want that floating ship blasting down and destroying our home, our family.”

A chill runs through me, as do the words: Cerebus will protect us. Cerebus will save us. We’ve always thought we were kept safe by the monitoring protection from above. I’ve never thought about the weapons onboard Sokol. We could be like walking bomb targets to these people.

“They need our help, Rey,” Navid says. “And we need help to help them. They won’t stay long.”

Rey’s internal struggle appears to continue, and I wonder if his opinion means more than those of the other two. Is he indeed their leader? How much sway do their arguments hold?

He looks from Navid to Darj, and something in that one’s expression seems to decide him, though he doesn’t appear particularly pleased at what I sense might be manipulation.

“All right. Load up,” he says at last.

Seville jerks free from my hold. “Where are we going?”

Darj’s face lights up with a big smile. “Home.”

ICEFALL is available at Amazon for the Kindle app, in the Kindle Unlimited store, and of course in Print

Published by

Walt

Geologist writing SciFi