Chorillan is the fourth book in the Chorillan Cycle, a science fiction series for adults.
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“Pretend there are Scouts waiting to help,” she said, almost whispering. “Would you let my Da come with you? I’m just as much a Scout as he is,” she added, hoping that flicker of indecision, of hope in Lucas’s eyes wasn’t just her imagination.
“We have to hurry,” was all he said. He slid his arm free and grabbed hold of her hand before she could react.
The pressure of his hand didn’t hurt, but his grip was unbreakable. His strides were long and brisk and though he didn’t hurry, Kay’li nearly had to run to keep up.
Lucas led her around the back way, behind the house and the dining hall and warehouses, up a ragged path that led to the river. The path was so faint, Kay’li suspected only Wildlings used it. They came out on the riverbank nearly fifty meters from the river shallows where they had played as children. Lucas led her across a line of stones set so far apart in the water, they had to run to span the gaps.
They emerged from the forest into a meadow maybe two kilometers from the outpost, in a section of forest no one went into. Kay’li suspected nobody but Lucas and Brad and the people in the shuttle knew it was here. The razor grass was patchy, showing signs of irregular burns from landings. She guessed the shuttle made landings three or four weeks apart.
The shuttle hummed, its engines in idle, the hatch open and everything deathly quiet. Seconds after she and Lucas stopped in the shadows of the tree line, two men in rough outdoor gear emerged from the shuttle, carrying a limp, blanket-wrapped form. Lucas inhaled sharply and his hand on her arm tightened to the point of pain. She looked at him and saw fury darken his face.
“Wildling hunters?” she guessed. He only nodded. Lines deepened around his mouth, showing how tightly he clenched his jaw. “Wildling? Dead?”
“Most kids who never come back from Phase don’t die out there, or stay out there.” His voice was little more than a harsh whisper. “They’re killed by the people who are supposed to bring them home.”
“They’re going to bury the body, aren’t they? And they won’t report it.”
“You have to fill out piles of paperwork and stay out of the field a whole moon if you kill a kid. And you don’t get a capture bonus. But if you have video showing you almost caught a kid, that keeps you on salary.” He stepped back further into the shadows, never blinking, never taking his gaze off the men.
They carried the body to the edge of the meadow, less than halfway around the rough oval from where Kay’li and Lucas stood. She turned her hand in his grasp, to hold his hand in turn. His grip tightened, almost painful, and she suspected he didn’t even know he did it. Kay’li held still, just as intent as Lucas on watching the men dig a shallow grave. They untied the blanket and tumbled the limp form out, into the hole before loosely shoveling the dirt and moss back over the form.
“That won’t keep the carrion feeders out for long,” she muttered, as the hunters returned to their shuttle.
“No body, no proof,” Lucas growled.
“How many do they bury here every year?”
“Is this the only place they do it?” she asked, guessing that Lucas would have other Wildlings watching at all the other outposts for such cruel actions.
“We keep track of the ones who vanish, the ones who get sucked into Rehab when Phase hits. We’ll dig up the body tonight and try to identify who it is…and let the parents know, if they wanted their child back.”
“It’s safer to pretend Wildlings don’t run in the family.” Something in his voice, a new depth of anger and hurt, brought answering heat to Kay’li’s eyes.
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Chorillan may be purchased at Amazon and other fine book outlets.
Chapter 1 is available as a free download at Michelle Levigne’s website.