A forthcoming Military Science Fiction novel
Below are a placeholder cover and two excerpts from Lonely Hunter. My editor has not gotten her hands on it yet. We seem to be a good team — she will certainly make it shine before she is done with it, but the excerpts below are clean. Hopefully, you will enjoy them.
Feel free to drop me a note and let me know what you think. I will soon send it to my editor and go to work to secure the cover art.
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Chapter 1: Kira
“South Gate. We need a team to guard it.”
In the afternoon light, about twenty of the clan’s strongest fighters waited on their horses for their assignments. No one complained as their leader handed out the tasks, but no one wanted South Gate, the crack in the mountainous wall that separated them from the alien homeland.
All the riders were looking at the clan’s leader. Hellong was a small, lean man with short, white hair. He was in the midst of organizing the next shift of scouting parties and teams of riders who would guard the flanks of the slow-moving caravan against attack as they migrated to a new home. There were not enough riders to do any of it properly.
The riders were at the edge of a cluster of three hundred people spread across the muddy ground. Mixed in among them were a few wagons, goats and dogs. After having been on the move for the last six hours, the clan needed to rest and eat. Smoke from cooking fires drifted over them.
Evenly split between men and women, many of the riders slouched in their saddles, their hair dirty and matted, their leather clothing blackened with sweat and ringed with white bands of salt. Crossbows and axes hung from saddles or were strung across their backs.
Kira and two of her friends sat on their horses in the outer ring, behind the adults. They had been given only menial assignments for the first six days of the migration. If all went to plan, the clan should reach their new home in three or four more days. Kira did not want to be known as having never left the safety of the main body by the time the migration ended.
“I’ll do it,” Kira impulsively said when no one responded. She was surprised at how quiet her voice sounded.
Barber, the oldest man in the clan and Hellong’s confidant, sat beside the clan’s leader. He fixed his eyes on her. “What did the girl say?”
“Shhhh!” Sany hissed at Kira from her left. From her right side, she heard Crandon suck in his breath.
Kira licked her lips as heads turned toward her. She kept her eyes on her father as she swallowed hard and lifted her chin before raising her voice. “I said, I’ll do it. I’ll guard South Gate.”
Just days away from turning seventeen, Kira was sure she looked small to the adults there. She sat straight, with her shoulders back, trying to appear taller than she really was.
Her father studied her, bringing his brows together. She could not tell if he feared for her safety or was pleased by her courage. Probably both. Horses snorted and a few pawed the ground as the riders glanced back and forth between the clan’s leader and his daughter. Behind Kira, dogs barked and pots banged, but she could not hear any of it.
“I’ll go with her,” Crandon announced from her right.
Kira’s eyes shifted to another man near the front. He was young, tall, with massive shoulders and long blond hair, and was looking at her and Crandon. His mouth was slightly open as if he were taking a breath before he would speak. But he glanced at Hellong, and hesitated.
Sany leaned toward Kira, whispering, “Now we’re in the shit, thank you very much.” Then, turning to Hellong and the other riders, Sany announced, “I’ll go, too.”
There seemed a long moment of silence, during which she feared her father would tell her ‘no’ in front of the other riders. Kira felt her cheeks begin to glow red as she stared at her father. Given the cold air, she hoped no one would notice.
Hellong nodded and said, “If you are ready.”
What he said echoed in her mind for a moment. She realized he had been waiting for her to volunteer. Kira exhaled in relief as he continued.
“You must hold the gate until the sun rises tomorrow. Do not let the aliens through. After that, rejoin us. Go eat, but leave within the hour.”
She nodded at her father before she pulled her horse around. Sany and Crandon paralleled her. Rouge, her dog, followed, keeping clear of the horses’ long legs.
“What was that?” Sany edged his horse closer while they guided them to one of the fires, where steam rolled off a big, communal pot of soup. “We could’ve gone with the lead scouts or one of the flank guards.”
Kira did not answer.
“Or were you just trying to impress your father? Or your boyfriend?”
Kira turned toward Sany, feeling a slight smile pulling the edges of her mouth. “Yes. And my mother, too.”
Sany rolled his eyes while from her other side she heard Crandon slap his horse with his reins before galloping away. She watched his curly red hair bouncing. No longer smiling, but keeping her eyes on Crandon’s back, Kira said, “I’m not afraid.”
Beside her, Sany said, “Well, I am afraid, Kira. I’m afraid.”
* * *
Gently swaying in her saddle, in the frozen wasteland north of South Gate, Kira stared at the more distant of their two suns. It hung low above the horizon. Pragma, as they called it, made the night sky a dark blue, and it shone with enough light to hide most of the stars. The closer sun that defined their days and nights would not come up again for another hour or so. It had been this way for all of Kira’s life, but every year was warmer, and the ocean continued to rise, swallowing more land, constantly pushing the clan to higher ground.
Kira thought it inevitable that she would die here and that the clan would die here, without reestablishing contact with their ancestors that had brought them to this flooding world 165 years ago. Kira had not thought about it in precise terms with a specific year in mind. Nor had she guessed who would be the last member of the clan to die. But the end was coming. There was nothing else to do except continue to live as they had been living. To keep fighting. Maybe they could survive for another generation. Maybe they could still be rescued.
Chapter 16: Hunter
Kira struggled to her feet, barely able to see, slipping on the blood-soaked moss. She pushed her hair out of her face, and stretched up to see over the boulders, watching for any movement or any new dangers. She stood there, catching her breath. After a minute she said, “Get the meat…get the meat on your horse, Jalin…and take everything else except the saddle. Leave the saddle here. Cheryl, ride with me.” Kira was sucking in deep breaths as she spoke.
“I can’t move,” Cheryl cried.
“Get up!” Kira ordered, holding out her hand to help pull Cheryl to her feet. Kira’s hand was too slippery, from the blood, and Cheryl would not fully stretch out her arm. Kira stepped closer to her as Jalin got to Cheryl’s other side. Between them they got her off the ground and then pushed her into Kira’s saddle as she groaned through her clamped teeth.
It took several minutes, but they moved all the meat from Cheryl’s horse over to Jalin’s horse, and Cheryl’s crossbow hung from Kira’s saddle pommel. She then watched Jalin as he jerked hard on his horse’s reins to get it to walk over Cheryl’s dead steed.
Kira got in front of her horse and pulled it through the rest of the boulder field. Exhausted, she still shook from the fight with the horse. Even though she slipped and slid repeatedly, she finally cleared the boulders.
When they got out of the boulder field, Kira was still breathing hard. She said, “Let’s mount up and go. Follow me in. We made good time, so maybe another hour.”
Jalin swung up onto his horse.
To Cheryl, Kira said, “I’m going to sit behind you.” She put her foot in the stirrup and tried to mount the horse, but it was too awkward and she was too tired to get up. Kira tried three times, each time Cheryl quietly crying as her broken ribs ground together.
Kira would not ask for help and rested her forehead against her saddle, hoping to find the strength she needed to get on her horse. She straightened and tried a fourth time. She felt Jalin grab her collar.
“I can do it,” Kira panted.
“Hush,” Jalin said, and pulled up as she tried one more time.
Kira got about half-way up and paused. Jalin gave one more hard pull and she was able to get her leg over the back of the saddle. She landed hard against Cheryl, who cried out again. She needed a moment to catch her breath. Pragma shown to the north. Its dim light helping them see though the sky was a patchwork of clouds. One of them drifted in front of Pragma, pitching them into darkness.
Breathing deeply, Kira said, “Follow me,” and started into the darkness. She glanced at the sky to get her bearings, then pointed her horse west.
“You’re welcome,” Jalin whispered at her.
After ten minutes, Kira approached the top of the ridge and angled north toward a path she knew they could intersect and follow into the village. The fresh air was helping her recover and catch her breath, but she still feared what was in the darkness around them. She kept the horse moving at a fast trot, though she knew each jarring step badly hurt Cheryl.
Cheryl begged, “Please go slower.”
“Shhhh,” Kira said, watching for movement. She whispered, “I don’t want to be silhouetted on top of the ridge.”
Kira crossed over the ridge in a stand of trees and paused on the west side. She was struggling to hear over Cheryl’s gasping. There was a steady wind from southeast to the northwest blowing from behind them. It was carrying the scent of their meat and the dead horse toward the dark valley in front of them.
Jalin came up beside her. They sat in silence, side-by-side on their horses, staring into the valley.
Kira asked, “Do you see them?”
Cheryl let out a whimper.
They were ghosts in the night, striding through the tall grass. Kira extended her legs, pushing against the stirrups, with one hand on Cheryl’s back, to be as tall as possible. She rotated her head, looking in every direction.
“How many do you see?”
Jalin said, “Four, down there,” he pointed at the small pack, “Moving up toward us.”
“Yes, they smell the meat.” Kira added, “I’m going to draw them south so we have a clear run to the village.”
“You take Cheryl and give me one quarter.”
Cheryl tried hard not to cry out as they shifted her from one horse to another, and then Kira cut one of the quarters of goat meat off of Jalin’s saddle and tied it onto her own.
“Kira,” Jalin started, “I can’t go too fast…I’m too loaded down with the two of us and all this meat, and she is hurting.”
“You may not have a choice,” Kira said, not looking at him. Kira led him to the edge of the stand of trees in which they had been hiding. “Wait here for me.” She looked at him in the pale light. “Go without me if you have to.”
“Don’t get yourself killed.”
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