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Karin Lowachee
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- Warchild

Warchild (Book Excerpt)
         by Karin Lowachee
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Page 2 of 3

Never can be too safe, Mama said, when she locked away the guns after a drill.

You took the smallest one in the cabinet and looked at it all over, where the activation was, where the safety was, where the kill release was. Your friend Evan was older and he'd explained all the parts before, even though he never let you touch one. But now you could protect Mukudori like Daddy and Mama did, if you had a gun. You hopped down and ran to the hatch to put your ear against it like when you played hide-and-seek with Evan and Derek.

Now you heard the noise, muffled, and smelled smoke very faintly. You didn't want to go out, it was better to hide in the room and wait. But what if something was wrong with the ship and you had to evac? What if something was wrong with the intercom so you couldn't hear the captain telling you to go? What if Daddy and Mama got hung up somewhere and couldn't come back for you? Strits or pirates attacked merchants, Mama said, because the Hub warred with the strits and the pirates were greedy. What if they were out there now? You knew you were breaking regs by opening that hatch but you couldn't sit and wait when it had been so long without anybody coming to tell you anything. You had a gun. You could help.

So you opened the hatch. It took a lot of tugging, and the noise got worse. You crept down the corridor, twitching at every sound. Voices around the corner screamed words Daddy had told you never to repeat. The sound of pulse shots bounced toward you. Someone fell into view. Derek. Just this past goldshift you'd played with Derek in the gym and there he was on the deck, looking at you, but he wasn't looking at you. He was bleeding from his head. He didn't move. The screaming kept on but it wasn't the klaxon, it was Derek's mother. Even distorted you recognized her Martian accent.

Then she went quiet and a suited form walked around the corner. You didn't see the face. It wore a helmet with no markings on it, not like Mukudori helmets, and thin armor. You stared.

You stared. It came toward you like a creature from the vids, black and sleek, scarred on its reflective face, carrying a big gun. Rifle. It took its time. It said, "Kid," in a hollow voice that didn't seem to come from anywhere near where the mouth should have been. It walked toward you like you were no threat, walked over Derek where he lay still and staring. It tracked blood across the deck and that would've made Cap very, very mad.

You went deaf.

You raised your gun and shot the creature directly in the chest. Somehow your fingers had found the release and the trigger and the small gun went pop pop in your hand, spitting out two bright red pulses that burned the creature through its armor and cast it to the deck.

Two more came around the corner, faster.

Your hand spasmed again, raining red on the creatures so they scattered. Then you turned and ran because suddenly space became noisy again. Now you weren't deaf. Footsteps chased you. The creatures chased you. You knew all the towersteps and you took them, holding the rails, hooking your ankles and sliding down the way you'd done a hundred times, playing.

But somewhere along the line you'd dropped the gun. Going down the stairs.

Stupid, stupid Jos. They shouted above you on crew deck, below you from engineering deck. Now you were on the command deck where Cap should have been. You pounded away from corridor mains and into corners you knew from years of exploring. You remembered the best hiding place in the galaxy. You squeezed into that maintenance shaft and shrank back in the shadows, hoping the ship would not lose gravity, violently, and send the loosened grate across the deckplates. You smelled smoke and tried not to breathe.


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.

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