A sneak peak at Baneborn

November 13, 2016

Hey, folks. It’s certainly been awhile and even then, I admit I wasn’t that consistent on keeping this blog active. I thought I would start up again by offering a peak at one of the things that’s been keeping me busy the past while.

So without further ado, here is the first scene from Baneborn, my post-apocalyptic SF action adventure that I can best describe as the Old West meets the X-Men, somewhere in the vicinity the U.S. Northeast. I hope you enjoy.

Cheers

Leo

Chapter One

Malcolm squatted behind the birches above the tuskers’ camp and waited for the killing to start.

Juniper bushes crowded close, strung with spider weavings and dewdrops that sparkled. Kristine had always kept fresh-cut boughs on the mantle and added the oil to her bath and her beeswax candles. The bushes brought her to mind with a fierceness that tore his heart open all over again.

He plucked a juniper berry and crushed it under his nose. The piney scent was a damned sight better than the stench of burnt methane and saltpeter from the flamer crew behind him. He couldn’t abide that smell, not anymore. Not after losing Kristine and their daughter the way he had.

It roused a speck of sympathy for the tuskers, but a Baneborn couldn’t afford sympathy. He had a duty, an obligation, to every soul in the Territory. People looked up to him, depended on him. Hell, they even revered him like some prophet of old. And these tuskers had killed Pure folk—that couldn’t go unanswered without the Territory being considered weak and ripe for predation.

A robin warbled off to the left and four others talked back—Sanjay and his rangers had reached their positions. They could slip about like ghosts in a fog, but a Baneborn’s ears could hear them. Malcolm knew where each was at every step.

The rangers fired in a tight volley.

He pulled his carbine from its back holster, sidled up to a birch, and poked his head around. Sanjay and his rangers had it well in hand. Five tuskers had fallen—shot clean through the brainpans.

The six survivors howled and flung their spears, random, into the underbrush.

Another volley tore into them.

The last tusker staggered back in shock and took stock of his kin. Blood and brains glistened on the soft carpet of fiddleheads and moss. He fell to his knees and threw up his arms in desperate surrender. “No more, no more.” The words came clear enough, despite his grown-out tusks.

Sanjay stepped out and finished him with a single shot. No mercy. No malice. Just done, without complication, for the good of the Territory. Men and women who found pleasure and sport in killing had no place in Malcolm and Sanjay’s command.

They didn’t always see eye to eye, but Malcolm didn’t trust another man more. Besides, they’d married sisters. That made Sanjay the closest thing to a brother he had.

He holstered his carbine and stepped down into the clearing. His hands came to rest out of habit on the cutlasses that rode at his hips. Brutal weapons designed for close-quarters butchery, with thick spikes for pommels and bone-cracking brass studs on their basket hilts.

Anna and the flamer crew followed. They would have cornered the tuskers faster if Anna had waited back at the skiffs, but the master maker hadn’t cared to be left. Malcolm knew better than to waste time arguing with her. She came on with jaw set and smoky-blue eyes hard, all business. The act didn’t fool him. The slaughter had left her rattled—her hand trembled as it tucked a stray lock of flaxen hair behind her ear. He didn’t want her to get used to seeing things like this.

The tuskers’ camp was typical of any mutan roost, with tents and lean-tos made from a motley of stitched hides and moldy canvas. Some Abomination with six legs roasted on the spit over the morning fire. Tuskers got their name from their piggish features. If they had a different one for themselves, Malcolm didn’t know it and had never cared to ask. Pure folk were seldom inclined to converse much with any breed of mutan before the killing started.

Sanjay nudged a glint with the toe of his boot and picked it up. It was a flask. “Has ‘J.L.’ stamped on it.”

“Jeff Lewis was one of the trappers killed,” Anna said.

“The fools should have known better than to spend the night in the Wild,” Malcolm said. “A trap line ain’t worth your life.”

They’d come across the trappers’ camp on a routine sweep for Black Rot north of the Poisoned River. Three men carved up like their innards hid something of value, picked clean of tools, weapons, and any metal that could be used for either.

Shrill squawking shattered the quiet. It came from one of the tents. Two rangers grabbed the poles and ripped the whole thing aside.

Anna saw them first. The color fled her face. “Oh, shit.”

The tuskers had young.

Two of them—newborns swaddled and bedded down, like any Pure-born child of the Territory. They appeared almost Pure, far more than their parents, at least. Soft pink skin, still free of bristle. Little piggish noses that might have been cute. No tusks yet to stretch their faces into something horrid.

But still, they were tuskers, mutans. Abomination. Unclean.

Malcolm’s gut tied itself in knots. One wailed for its mother. The other baby stared at them, curious and intent.

Don’t call it a baby. Don’t even think it.

They’d die anyway if just left, likely gnawed and pecked to death by scavengers before exposure could claim them. He couldn’t abide that kind of pointless cruelty any more than the alternative.

Anna swallowed hard. “Malcolm?”

The flamers’ smell came so strong he clenched his jaw against the urge to gag. An eyeful passed between Sanjay and Anna, stuffed with worry, pity even. The pity he couldn’t stomach, not even from his friends, least of all from them. Sanjay’s rangers did their best to preoccupy themselves with the tuskers’ meager possessions.

The hungry babe wailed louder.

Sanjay put his hand on Malcolm’s arm. “Hey, boss. There’s still that patch of Black Rot back aways to check out. I can finish this.”

Anna nodded in agreement, but looked ready to puke. Only a coward would leave her snagged in this. She shouldn’t even be here, but the field test of new flamers had given her a ready excuse to get away from her work bench for a spell. He should be the one making the hard choice, doing the bloody work that needed doing. He always had been.

But that was before.

His legs itched to leave. “Fair enough.”

He turned away only to be confronted by the flamer crew. Three techs with little experience in the Wild, tanks strapped to their backs, igniters ready in their hands. They didn’t look any more enthusiastic about the situation than Anna. He rubbed his fingers beneath his nose, desperate for the scent of juniper. “Make it quick and clean.”

He strode off into the forest as fast as he could without breaking into a run.

They waited, of course. But he had nowhere he could go fast enough. The wail of the tusker babe stopped short. Its silence ripped through him like a lead slug.

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