Warchild (Book Excerpt)
by Karin Lowachee
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Page 1 of 3
You didn't see their faces from where you hid behind the maintenance
grate. Smoke worked its fingers through the tiny holes and stroked under your
nose and over your eyes, forcing you to stifle breaths, to blink, and to cry.
Foot-steps followed everywhere that smoke went on the deck— heavy, violent
footsteps—and everywhere they went, shouts went with them. Screams. Pulse
You hardly knew what to listen for, where that one voice you wanted to hear
so badly could be among all the other voices that rose and fell on the other
side of your screen. Your shelter. Your cowardice.
But your parents had told you to hide if something like this happened.
There'd been drills, even in the middle of your sleepshift, so you knew when
the klaxon wailed and Daddy and Mama went for their guns and ushered you into
the secret compartment in the floor that you were doing what was right, what
you were told to do. Pirates or aliens or the Warboy could attack
Mukudori and you had to stay hidden, just in case, just like you
practiced. Daddy and Mama would come back and get you when the klaxon stopped
and they'd say you did good, Jos. Daddy would call you his brave soldier boy,
and you would believe it. When they lifted you out of that hiding place and
smiled at you so proud, you didn't feel like an eight-year-old at all.
But they hadn't come back to the secret compartment. The little yellow light
in there winked as if something was wrong with it, on-off, on-off, until you
shut your eyes and just listened. But you were under the skin of the ship, like
Daddy said, and it was quiet. You didn't hear outside, and outside couldn't
hear you. It kept you safe. It was too dark so you opened your eyes and looked
up, touched the light, touched the rough walls, but time went away with every
yellow blink and nobody came. It got too warm, as if somebody had shut the air
You waited until your legs were numb from sitting in that small space and
Mama and Daddy didn't come back. Everywhere was silence and you were too scared
to move your fingers and unhook the latch that would open a way into the
bedroom. But eventually you had to. Eventually you had to find out why Daddy
and Mama hadn't come back like they always did at the end of drills. They never
forgot. Daddy would brush off your bottom and ruffle your hair while Mama
locked the guns back in the cabinet. They thought you didn't know how to open
it. But you did. You thought of that cabinet as you finally crept out of the
compartment and made a run for the other side of your bed. You peeked above the
rumpled covers but there wasn't anybody in the room and you couldn't hear
anybody in the outer room either. So you climbed over your bed and then over
your parents' and ran to the outer room so you could take the comp chair and
use it to get to the cabinet. Quick before somebody came in.
You stood on the chair and poked the right numbers that you'd seen Daddy and
Mama use, then the green button, and waited. The cabinet comp beeped, then the
lights behind the buttons glowed green and you grabbed the handle and tugged. A
rack of guns. You couldn't remember exactly how to use them but you probably
could figure it out. You'd seen Daddy and Mama use them on the firing range.
Daddy and Mama were good with guns, even though they were engineers. Everybody
old enough had to be good with guns, Daddy said, because of the war. Nobody
could predict aliens or the symps like the Warboy, and merchants like Mukudori
could get caught between some Hub battleship and a strit one, you just never
knew. And pirates were worse. Pirates liked to take hostages.
Copyright© 2002, Time Warner Bookmark, Science Fiction and Fantasy books from Aspect, Warner Books, Inc. and Little Brown and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt has been provided by Time Warner Bookmark and printed with their permission.