Today I have an excerpt for you from the latest book in the Star Sojourner series, The Stars Like Ice, soon to be released by my good friend Jean Kilczer. If you would like to start this series, which I recommend, then begin with The Loranth, first in the series.
The Stars Like Ice
Huff, dammit! I sent, where are you? I felt his thoughts at a heightened distress level. “Huff,” I whispered. “Something’s wrong, Joe. They might have him.” I slung on my backpack. “I’m going down to the beach. I think he needs help. We’ll meet you–”
Joe grabbed the front of my jacket. “You’re not going anywhere near that beach.” He thrust out his jaw and pointed inland. “That way!”
I pulled Joe’s hand off my jacket.
“Jules, please.” Sophia took my arm. “Come with us.” She searched my eyes. “For me?”
“Soph, Huff would lay down his life for me. I can’t abandon him. You understand?”
Chancey stood up and strolled over, deceptively relaxed. “You heard the boss.”
“I know how you feel, Bubba,” Bat said, “but Huff wouldn’t want you walking into no trap.”
“We don’t know that it’s a trap,” I said. “I’ll just watch the beach from behind those dunes. We’ll catch up to you.”
“Jules!” Joe said. “If Huff could’ve come back, he’d be here by now. C’mon!”
“I can’t, Joe.”
Sophia dropped her hand from my arm. Chancey unholstered his stingler and spun the ring to the stun setting.
Joe put out a hand. I knew by his expression that he was holding back a deep concern as he stared at me. “No, Chancey, we sure as hell can’t carry him.”
Tears shimmered in Sophia’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Soph.” I bit my lip.
“Don’t be.” She wiped tears on her sleeve and kissed my cheek. “Remember what I told you? I never meant to change who you are.” She turned abruptly. “We’d better go, Joe.”
“Then I’ll go with him!” Bat got up and grabbed his medkit. “Damn the torpedoes.” He strode toward me.
“Bat,” Joe said softly, “we need you.”
Bat stopped and looked from Joe to me with his mild blue eyes, and scratched under his cap. “Guess so. Take care of yourself, Bubba.” He winked. “Come back alive.”
I nodded, glanced at Sophia and Joe, nodded to Chancey, and started toward the dunes. My heart pounded with more than the physical effort of trotting through snow and ice. Let the chips fall, I thought.
I saw no footprints or tire tracks in the snow as I moved toward the beach. A good sign.
When I reached the line of dunes, I took off my backpack and drew my stingler. Bird-like creatures cawed and circled in the air above the beach.
Oh Great mind, I thought, please don’t let it be Huff. I climbed a dune on hands and knees, and ventured a look over the top, afraid of what I’d see, but knowing I had to see whatever was there.
The sight struck me like a physical blow. “Huff!” He lay on his back, motionless, his fur wet from a recent swim, his head to one side, his tongue in the sand. A bird landed on his chest, then lifted back to the flock. “Oh, Huff!” I lowered my forehead to the cold sand and held back tears that would blur my vision.
The beach was empty. A lone wind ruffled his wet fur, so soft it rose around him, a fitting shroud for my great friend.
I holstered my weapon, walked around the dune, and approached, hoping his eyes were shut. I think I would’ve broken down if they were open and staring blankly. No, I saw as I approached him, his eyes were closed and I was grateful.
“Oh, Huff.” I dropped to my knees beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “He was my friend,” I recited to the sky and circling birds, “faithful and just…” I was afraid to roll him over, afraid to see the killing blow that had released his kwaii from his body. “He died on his homeworld,” I whispered.
Then I almost fell backward as he gasped in a breath and blinked open his eyes.
He rubbed an eye. “I am Huff.”
Oh my God! You’re alive.”
Then I knew that my response to his trumped-up death was the bait that I had taken, sucking me into a trap.
“Uh oh.” I stood up and unholstered my stingler. The deep whine of a large ground vehicle grew louder from behind a dune. Sand spewed into the air. I yanked on Huff’s forearm. “C’mon!”
He rolled and staggered to his feet, then sat down and swayed.
“C’mon, buddy!” I tried to drag him to his feet, then froze as a large vehicle on tracks, the color of sand, rose to the top of the dune. Its mounted laser cannon swiveled in our direction.
“Drop your weapon, Terran heathen,” a speaker demanded, “or we will drop you and the traitorous Rebel, and not with a stun setting this time.”
“The crotefuckers still wanted me alive, for Aburra’s bloody altar, one more example for those who would oppose him. On the other hand, I wanted them dead. I fired at the right track and saw it snap apart and slide off the wheels.
“Run, Huff!” I started for a dune.
He got to his feet, staggered sideways, and fell.
“Attempt to get away,” the speaker said, its voice hollow, “and this time I will burn him to a crisp slab of meat, suited only for the birds.
I stood in front of Huff and aimed at the left track, but the vehicle spun around, protecting that side.
“I will walk!” Huff grunted, “though the ground moves beneath me like a current in Mother Sea.” He staggered toward a dune, and I kept pace, blocking him from the crippled vehicle. It spun its right wheels, digging itself a hole in the sand. The mounted gun was mirrored and impervious to my hand beam weapon. As the vehicle ground into the sand, it exposed its left track, I fired and heard the satisfying clang of metal as the track broke loose and flew into the door.
“Follow me, Huff,” I urged, “we can still make it.”
We topped a dune and I caught my breath as though I’d been hit with ice water. Three Cultists on foot, their weapons drawn and aimed at us, waited at the bottom of the dune. Two more left the crippled vehicle and trotted toward us. I let my stingler hang at my side.
Huff sat down and sobbed. “Sorry am I, my Terran cub, that I could do no better.”
I stroked his shoulder and felt suddenly weary as they surrounded us. “We put up a good fight, buddy.”
A Cultist from the crippled vehicle slapped the stingler from my hand and hit me across the face with a blow like a hammer. I slid to my knees, my hands pressed against my head as pain riveted my skull like driven nails.
The Cultist dropped to all fours close beside me. “What do you know of a good fight, spawn of the Pit? We fight for right, while you conspire with the Dark Lord.”
I wanted to tell him that might doesn’t necessarily make right, but I didn’t want to get hit again. I scooped up a handful of snow and held it to my bleeding lip.
“Oh, do it to me instead!” Huff cried. “He is innocent.”
“Your time and your pain will come,” the Cultist told him, “and no one is innocent.”
My hand trembled with melting snow against my face, but fear was a colder cup at my lips.