Birthright: After Earth

Birthright: After Earth by Peter David Page A

Book: Birthright: After Earth by Peter David Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter David
Tags: Speculative Fiction
memorial for the fallen. Unfortunately, Ursa have been known to hide there on occasion, waiting for an ill-timed visit by someone making a pilgrimage to the site
    So we sometimes head out there to make sure …
    And it was routine …
    Strictly routine …
    Janus …
    He was just walking along through one of the many, seemingly endless passages through the ridges, his cutlass slung on his back. I was walking behind him. The rest of the squad was spread out. All eight of us were in constant contact. No sign of an Ursa
No sign of trouble. No sign of anything
    And then Jan’s foot—I think that’s what it was—I think he …
    He stepped on something
    I can’t remember
    What did he step on?
    He was there
    Then he wasn’t …
    “Jan!” and she screamed.
    “I need some help over here!” Lynch was looking desperate. He tried to pinMallory by the shoulders. She thrashed around like a lunatic as Lynch fought to keep her on her back. A second Ranger, Tomlinson, joined him, trying to make sure she didn’t keep kicking and possibly dislodge the stone wedged in her leg.
    The last thing I saw … this look of confusion on his face, and then this burst of light and flash of heat. And then I was flying through the air, my arms waving around as if I could somehow stay in the air by flapping. My back slammed into the upper edge of one of the ridges and then I toppled over. I went from being propelled to tumbling downward, ricocheting off another outcropping of a ridge, falling to the ground about twenty feet below. I went loose, protected my head, landed on my shoulders. The rest of my body struck the ground but I wasn’t feeling anything below my neck. I must have been in pain, but I didn’t feel …
    Jan was smiling at me …
    He was smiling down at me …
    Our bodies were merged in bed this morning …
    I would have liked to stay there, find an excuse to get out of the patrol …
    But we both knew that wouldn’t happen. We are Rangers. We have duties. We have responsibilities
    Jan? Jan, you can’t be—
    The truth came crashing down on her, but before she could get up a true head of steam and start thrashing around once more, she felt a pinch in her upper arm. She looked frantically to her right and saw a woman wearing the colors of a Ranger medtech. The woman had a sympathetic look to her as she extracted the hypo from Mallory’s arm.
    Mallory started to ream out the medtech with an outpouring of profanity. But instead all she could manage was a confused grunt, and then her head slumped back. “Hate you,” she managed to say. “Hate you …”
    “There’s no reason to,” Lynch said soothingly. “We’re your fellow Rangers …”
    “Not you …” Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Jan … for making methink … he’s dead … he’d never do that to me …”
    And then she was in darkness. Truly alone.

    She lay in her bed in the infirmary, staring blankly at Colonel Green. The rugged longtime Ranger was seated a few feet away, his face etched with a carefully neutral expression.
    “A mine?” Mallory echoed what he had just told her, her voice hollow.
    “Or some manner of unexploded incendiary device,” Green confirmed. “Left over from a previous Skrel attack.”
    “But the last direct assault was decades ago.” There was no shock, no protest in the observation. “Unless I missed one.”
    “No, you’re quite right. It landed, or perhaps was planted—hard to know for sure—and then through the years, the sandstorms that blow through Golem Ridge covered it over. And it just lay there, undetonated, all this time. It’s a miracle no one stepped on it before—” His voice trailed off, and he looked downward. “Sorry. That wasn’t exactly the best way to put it.”
    “Why not?” She said it so indifferently, she could have been discussing a matter of simple academics. “It’s what we do, isn’t it? We Rangers? We work to keep our fellow Novans safe

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