After Elle's adoptive father is killed smuggling secrets for the Reclamation movement, she takes refuge in Court's rural village. When the once tranquil life of the village is torn apart, Court and Elle find themselves embroiled in a desperate mission for which they are ill-equipped.
If they can locate people they don't know how to find and deliver intelligence they don't understand, maybe they can buy some time for the human race.
With Qyntarak hunting them, they'll be lucky just to survive. And if they succeed, it might be too late to matter.
Walker began to move but Court kept his grip on him and shook his head no. They waited until the hum was gone and the chirping of birds resumed.
The old man was lying on his back with a hole in his chest almost as large as his head. What was left of his torso was covered in gray powder. Blood oozed and mixed with it, creating a sludge in the cavity.
Walker steadied himself against a tree and vomited.
"Where's the other one?"
They found the body, stiff and unmoving, among the trees at the edge of the road.
"It's a girl," Walker said. "Or a woman, I guess."
She wore a dull black bodysuit with no visible seams or fasteners. Her helmet was solid with no visor or eyeholes. Court pressed his fingers against her neck and then her wrist.
"The suit's cold. I can't feel a pulse through it, and I don't see how to remove it."
"We can cut it open with my hunting knife."
"No, not out here. We need to get them closer to the village and find Marsh. He'll know what to do."
Court was weeks away from his twentieth birthday, almost a year since he became a full adult in the village, and even though the fourteen-year-old Walker thought the older teen knew everything, Court was well aware of how much he didn't know. Like what to do with two dead bodies.
"We'll push them on the motorcycle," he said.
They followed the road for nearly a kilometer to where a dry creek bed reached the road. It was slow moving with the bodies draped over the bike. Blood trickled from the dead man and Court worried that it might attract coywolves or a bear. He didn't say anything to Walker. If the kid was worried, he wasn't showing it.
With considerable effort, they pushed the bike far enough up the creek to be out of sight of the road.
It would take the better part of an hour for Walker to return. Court sat on the ground and rested against a tree with his mag gun in his lap. It was a beautiful day. Late summer or early fall, depending on one's point of view. A day too beautiful for death and dying.
Eventually, Court heard the crunch-crunch-tap of Marsh with his walking stick and stood to meet the village council leader.
"Where are they?"
Marsh stopped several feet away and brought his free hand to his chest. "Clint." He knelt and put his hand on the man's face. "I don't understand."
"You know him?"
"Knew him, yes. A long time ago. Clint Donovan. He was a researcher. Became a collaborator to avoid exile."
Walker asked, "What about the woman?"
"Impossible to say with that helmet."
"We couldn't find any obvious way to take it off," Court said. "I didn't dare take a knife to the suit."
Marsh felt around the woman's wrist and elbow. "Wise choice. It might be booby trapped." He studied the suit and helmet for another minute. "Try pressing Clint's hand against the front of the helmet."
Walker looked like he might be sick again as they rolled the body and lined up the dead man's hand over the helmet and pressed it down. The helmet clicked and air hissed as a seam appeared. The woman's hand twitched and Walker yelped. Her arm knocked him off balance as her hands flew to the helmet. She pushed it open, two curved panels sliding to the sides as if on invisible tracks.