Birthright: After Earth

Birthright: After Earth by Peter David

Book: Birthright: After Earth by Peter David Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter David
Tags: Speculative Fiction
i
    Mallory McGuiness lay on her back, staring uncomprehendingly at the twin suns of Nova Prime that were beating down upon her, and she wondered why it was that Private Lynch had suddenly turned into a mime.
    She thought that perhaps she was dreaming. That would have explained a lot … hell, it would have explained everything. The sense of unreality; the fact that to her senses, Lynch was moving in what appeared to be slow motion. Lynch’s face was smeared with dirt and what appeared to be burn marks, and there were bits of dirt in his short-cropped red hair. His lips were moving, slowly and deliberately, but no actual sound was emerging. His eyes were wide with urgency and Mallory, for the life of her, couldn’t understand why.
    Why is Lynch in my quarters? For that matter, it’s broad daylight … why was I sleeping during broad daylight? Where’s Janus?
    In her bewildered, stream-of-consciousness flood of thought, Janus—her husband of four years—became the touchstone. Her thoughts locked onto him, as if she were being swept helplessly down a river and he was a jutting boulder in the middle that she was able to grab onto and find purchase.
    No … we got up this morning. Janus shook my shoulder, woke me up. Kissed me lightly on the cheek. His beard scratched me. His beard grows so quickly that by morning it’s already non-regulation
.
    I thought today was our day off. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep. But no, he reminded me we had a patrol. No Ursa within the attack perimeter of the city, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Damned things turn invisible; you never know when they’re going to just show up out of nowhere. “Have to be vigilant,” he told me
.
    “Can’t I be vigilant later?” I said. I rolled over, tried to go back to sleep. I’d
slept poorly that night. Kept waking up. Bad dreams
.
    He slapped me hard on my bare ass. “We have things to do.”
    “I know what I want to do.” I pulled him down onto me. We kissed deeply. His beard still scratched but I didn’t care
.
    We made love for the last time …
    What? What the hell does that mean?
    Janus?
    Jan?
    “Jan!” Her voice croaked. There was a coppery taste in her mouth. She spit out whatever was causing it and saw a small wad of dark liquid—blood—land on the ground next to her.
    I’m outside? When did I go outside?
    “Mallory!”
    She heard Lynch’s voice. It sounded as if it were coming from very far away, but Lynch was right there.
    It’s not Lynch. It’s me. I can’t hear him. There’s a ringing in my ears. Why is there a ringing in my ears?
    She tried to sit up and Lynch immediately shook his head firmly. He told her to lie back down and was saying something about help being on the way. It was hard for her to be certain. His voice kept popping in and out, as if they had a bad communications link.
    “Jan,” she said again, with greater urgency this time. She tried to push Lynch out of the way, started to move her right leg, and let out a shriek of pain.
    “I told you! I told you to stay down!” he said firmly.
    Mallory managed to move her head, and she looked down in shock. There was a piece of rock buried in her right thigh. It was a jagged fragment with blood trickling around it. She tried to reach down for it so she could yank it clear.
    “No.”
Lynch grabbed her hand and immobilized it. “We don”t know how deep it is. It may wind up being nothing, and you’re up and around in a week. On the other hand, if it hit an artery, then the fact that it’s in there may be the only thing keeping you alive. You could bleed out by removing it. So we’re not taking a chance; we’re waiting until we can evac you out of here.”
    “I don’t understand … where’s—?”
    The Ridges. The Golem Ridges, beyond the outer rim. There was once a colony city there whose population the Skrel eradicated during one of their earliest assaults. It was never repopulated; instead it was left alone as a

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