Vidan was again reaching out to the stars: sadder and wiser…and cautious, unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the ancestors. The Commonwealth was born, reaching out to lost colonies and establishing new ones, rediscovering lost technology and how to navigate the star-ways. Many of the lost colonies not only survived but thrived–and they remembered their abandonment and the harsh centuries of the Downfall….
When Miranda dies of the same degenerative disease that killed her father, Ian and their daughter, Kay’li, flee Chorillan to keep Miranda’s powerful family from taking the child away from him. Ian returns to the Scout Corps, and Kay’li grows up on board the Leaper ship, Estal’es’cai, seeing first-hand the requirements and the price of true heroism.
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-925574-20-3 ASIN: B07DLTRWR8 Word Count: 66, 378
Kay’li Fieran yelped and ducked, pivoting left. Sam Aidan lost his grip on her long mahogany braid. She caught his ribs with her elbow. The taller, heavier boy went down with a gasp, his mouth open like a fish three meters from the river. Kay’li leaped over him. Two steps took her to the gold ball that started the argument. Before Sam could move, she snatched up the toy and fled the forest clearing.
Sam’s bullying was just another difference between him and his older brother, Lucas. The brothers had square cheeks and chins, broad shoulders and long-fingered hands from their father, Seth. Lucas had their mother Jenni’s dark eyes and hair. Sam was white-blond and gray-eyed, like their father. Sam picked on her every chance he could because he was older than her, but she was smarter, and Lucas always defended her.
“Find it?” Lucas called when she reached the field beyond the outpost cemetery. He grinned when she held up the ball. “You were gone so long, I thought something nasty got you.”
“I’m gonna pound him,” he said with a groan.
“Already did.” Kay’li giggled.
“Serves him right.” Lucas held out his hands. She cocked her arm and flung the ball. It hit his hands with a loud smack. He grinned and pretended pain. “We’ll bomb him this winter. He won’t know what hit him.”
“Snowman Sam.” She caught the return throw. A cold breeze snapped down out of the treetops, yanking on her hair.
“Winter’s almost here.” He caught her throw. “Let’s head back.” He led the way down the packed dirt trail.
Untamed forest lay beyond the eastern edge of Emers Outpost. Kay’li trailed her fingers along the slatted fence that kept hoppers, slithers and other creatures out of the cemetery. The children walked in silence down the fifty meters of trail to the outpost proper. Five long gravel streets of houses ran parallel to the trail. The two streets with administration buildings, warehouses, dining hall and boarding houses lay perpendicular to the residential section. Beyond that, the landing field for shuttles. Beyond that, more forest, pierced by a wide dirt trail for wheeled land vehicles.
Kay’li’s house sat on the northeast corner, closest to the forest. She liked it that way. Her father Ian, a Scout on unlimited leave from the Corps, regularly took her into the forest to explore. Since he included others in the excursions, it made him popular with the few children at Emers.
“They’re back!” Lucas said, as the children came around the side of the house.
A two-man, open flyer sat in front of the house, with half-unpacked camping gear spread around it. The house door hung open, despite the cold wind.
“Race!” he yelled, and leaped forward.
Kay’li darted around the flyer and leaped over the backpacks. Lucas reached with both hands and vaulted over the middle of the vehicle. He stumbled as he landed, giving her a half-second lead. She jumped the steps two at a time. A tall, tanned, white-haired man stepped into the doorway, making her shriek in surprise. He caught her and lifted her high.
“There’s my girl!” He laughed.
“Uncle Nobi!” Kay’li flung her arms tight around him.
Nobi Cole put her down and winked at Lucas, who managed to stop before he ran into the man. “Racing?”
Lucas grinned. “What are you doing back so soon, Major?”
“These old bones don’t like the cold weather much.” He set Kay’li down and swatted her behind as she flew through the door.
Ian and Miranda were in the front room. Kay’li had left her mother sleeping when she went outside to play with Lucas. Jenni Aidan was gone, but her sewing lay on the hearth. Kay’li heard running water in the kitchen and knew the woman was making another herbal infusion for her mother’s headaches.
“Da?” Kay’li paused in the doorway. The weary droop of her father’s head, the pallor of her mother’s face frightened her.
Ian sat on the edge of the long couch, holding her mother’s hands. His old, dark green Scout uniform looked cleaner than usual when he came back from moon-long exploring trips. No mud on his boots, no tears, no bulges in his pockets from unusual stones or plants he brought back for his wife and daughter to study. His hazel eyes had dark smears under them and his mouth was pressed flat instead of his usual smile. Kay’li wondered what was wrong.
Miranda Riallon-Fieran looked like a grand lady to her daughter, even wearing a faded robe of green pod fiber. Her hair gleamed red-gold like a crown in the afternoon sun spilling through the window, and hung almost to her waist.
“There you are.” Miranda sounded stronger than she had at lunchtime, when she sent the children home from school. She smiled and held out a hand to her daughter. “Did you have fun?”
Kay’li nodded and hurried into the room. Her father scooped her up and deposited her on his knee. “Missed you lots, Da.” She squealed when he kissed her and his beard scratched her cheek. She felt better when her mother laughed.
“I missed you, too,” Ian murmured. “Have you been taking care of your mother like I told you?”
“She should study medicine with Jenni.” Miranda took Kay’li’s hand and squeezed. “Whenever I’d like some tea or a nap, she’s ahead of me, heating the water or fluffing my pillows or getting my blanket. She has all the right instincts.”
“Mama would feel lots better if you didn’t go hunting without us.” Kay’li knew immediately she’d said something wrong when Ian went still. “Mama?”
“It’s all right.” Miranda smiled and settled back against her pillows. “Your father won’t take any more trips until spring. By then, I’ll be strong enough for camping again.”
“Can we?” Kay’li turned to her father.
“I don’t see why not.” Ian set her down. “Why don’t you see if Mistress Aidan has any hot spyce ready?”
Kay’li nodded and hurried out of the room. At the door, she turned back with a question. She saw Ian lift Miranda from the couch and cradle her on his lap, and the hurting, downward curve of her mother’s mouth. Something was wrong and her parents didn’t want her to know.
She found Lucas and Nobi in the kitchen with Jenni. Nobi sprawled on the long bench along the wall, untangling ropes. Lucas knelt on the floor in front of him, watching his fingers fly through a series of knots. Jenni poured boiling water into the spyce pot. Kay’li smelled fresh bread, sweet dibbleroot cake and hopper stew. Everything felt right, in sharp contrast to the sense of something very wrong in the front room.
“Is Mama going to die?” she blurted.
“Kay’li!” Jenni nearly dropped the pot of hot water.
Lucas sat back on his heels and ducked his head the way he did when something hurt him. Nobi stood, letting the ropes fall from his hands.
“Where’d you get a silly idea like that?” Jenni forced a smile on her face.
Kay’li had her answer. If the answer was good, adults said so immediately. If it was bad, they asked her another question instead of answering.