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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Robert Elmer is the author of more than forty novels for young readers. He is a full-time writer, living in Idaho with his wife, Ronda. They are the parents of three young adults.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
~ Codex 101:3
“They’re right on our tail!” announced Margus.
His announcement roused Oriannon Hightower of Nyssa from her fitful nap. Who could sleep in a tinny little transport shuttle, anyway? Especially not when it was taking her farther and farther away from the only world she had ever known.
“Who?” As she slipped up behind her friend in the co-pilot’s seat she did her best to keep her voice down, tried to let her Owling friend Wist sleep the hours away. Perhaps dreams—and a little time—would help smooth the jagged raw edges of the nightmare they’d just been through.
“There, see?” Margus pointed at his long-range scanner. But at first Oriannon couldn’t make out anything unusual. Just a swirling green globe of energy with them in the middle, turned this way and that to give a three-dimensional view of this parcel of space, now distant from the planet Corista, and yet still far distant from the Asylum waystation to which they were bound. Nothing unusual? Oriannon shook her head.
“I still don’t see anything,” she told him, and for a moment he paused. A red warning light blinked, then went out.
“Hmm. I thought for sure I saw something.” He bent closer, fiddled with the scale, and brought it in closer. In and out. Still nothing.
“Well, let me know,” she told him. “But don’t wake everybody else up.”
It would not help to disturb her father, not if he was going to recover from the beating he’d suffered back at the death camp. He had to rest, as well, and not be wakened by every random announcement from Margus Leek who, from the front of the shuttle, pretended he knew how to pilot this craft through space.
An hour ago: “Look, Oriannon, there’s Corista, disappearing behind us.” And had she ever seen their planet from that far away?
No, of course she hadn’t. Margus knew that without asking.
Thirty minutes ago: “Hey, Ori, remember that field of solar reflectors that almost fried us when we flew through it by accident? There it is!”
Yes, she remembered, though she wished she didn’t.
And then fifteen minutes ago: “Well, looks like we’re home-free, now, Ori. It’s been three hours and no Security ships have come after us so far.”
So far? First of all, she’d told him, ‘so far’ wasn’t exactly a huge encouragement, in their situation. And second of all, “home-free” was not the kind of expression she would have used, unless by that he meant that they were free of their home, and that didn’t sound very good at all. In fact it sounded as if he was saying they were homeless, which they technically were, since escaping from Corista.
But who wanted to be reminded of that fact? Sometimes she wished she could act as cool as Margus did, even when everything looked completely and absolutely terminal.
Besides that, Oriannon could think of no one she wanted less with them on this crazy voyage than Sola Minnik, former security advisor to the Ruling Elders of Corista, former dictator. The fiery woman who had deceived and then nearly killed her father and all the other six Elders. Well, in fact, had any of the others survived?
But the same woman now sat on the cold stainless floor in the corner of the shuttle’s main crew chambers, her face tucked between her knees, her shoulders stooped and defeated, alternately sleeping, shivering and (Oriannon thought) crying.
Oh, she was probably sorry, all right. Sorry they had caught up with her and destroyed the death camp, where hundreds and thousands of the Owling people had been imprisoned. After all the work she and her Security forces had put into setting it up, Sola would naturally be very sorry about that. At this point maybe she’d also be sorry they’d saved her life by pulling her up off the shuttle landing ramp at the last minute, while they were taking off from the chaos of the camp, with probes blowing up all around them. Certainly she would be very sorry the flash bomb had exploded in her face, blinding her.
Blind or not, though. Sola could apparently still cry. And now over the background hum of the shuttle Oriannon heard a soft sobbing from the once-powerful leader.
Strange how things had worked out. But now an insistent buzzer drew Oriannon’s attention back to the shuttle’s controls.
“There it is again! See it, this time?” Margus rested his finger at a tiny yellow blip on the screen, and she might not have noticed had he not pointed it out. But yes, there it was—something, or a couple of somethings. Margus tapped another button to increase magnification, and again. This time there was no mistaking.
“Three of them?” she whispered, looking over her shoulder to be sure no one else heard—especially not Sola.
“At least four.” Margus shook his head gravely as he focused in on the blips, still thousands of kilometers away but growing larger ever second. He tapped his finger on a navigation touch screen and spoke into a small microphone mounted in front of him, below the view window.
The screen blinked twice before the unwelcome answer came back at them in the familiar metallic female voice.
“Corista Security cruisers, four, class CS-x, third revision, configured to—”
“That’s enough,” said Margus. They could skip the technical description, already. It was enough to know who was chasing them, and that it wasn’t just some phantom of Margus’s imagination. “Specify time until interception.”
The voice command would understand exactly what he meant, just as clearly as Oriannon understood. In an instant, everything had changed. So how long did they have before this escape was all over, before they were recaptured and dragged back to Corista, to be executed as rebels?
How long before her father would be taken away and killed for what he had tried to do, as well?
Of course the metallic voice couldn’t say “I’m sorry, kids” or “I wish I could help,” nor did she want it to. She just wished someone could have said it. Margus repeated his question, tapped impatiently on the command touch screen.
“At present speed,” reported the nav system’s voice, “zero hours, thirty-one minutes, thirty-seven seconds.”
Margus looked at her with a question in his eyes—a question she knew she could not answer.
“What do we do, Ori?”
Oriannon’s heart fell to the faintly humming floor, where the constant thrum of ion boosters told her they were likely pushing along as fast as the little vessel would go. She looked over to where Margus had set the faintly glowing Pilot Stone, black and polished and guiding them—or so she had thought—toward a safe haven.
She reached over to touch it, felt its warmth flowing up her hand and arm, flooding her entire body with the far-off songs of another place and another time. Jesmet’s songs, from ancient times.
But not just the songs. When she touched it she felt its overwhelming sense of direction, almost a physical thing, as if she could know without a doubt the right direction to travel, like a spiritual GPS. She might have a hard time explaining the stone’s power, but there was no mistaking its pull. And despite the raw fear that had popped up on the nav screens, despite what she saw with her eyes and understood with her mind of the approaching mortal danger, she smiled.
At a time like this, she smiled.
“We keep going,” she finally answered, reluctant to let go of the Stone. But she had to go check on her father and Wist, especially her father. Because while Tavlin Hightower rested in the back room, she could not actually be sure he would wake. With one last sigh she turned away—only to come face-to-face with Sola Minnik.
“Oh!” Oriannon caught her breath in fright, still not used to seeing what Sola had become. The young woman’s eyebrows and eyelashes had been singed completely away, while her once full head of red hair had been reduced to ugly, twisted wisps here and there. In an instant she had gone from someone who had always prided herself on her well-kept good looks to a snarling, helpless apparition.
Worse yet, her face looked as if someone had blackened it with a blowtorch, while angry red blisters rose across her nose and cheekbones, framing sightless eyes still wet with rheumy, coagulated tears.
Of course, considering the flash bomb that had blown up in her face, perhaps she had escaped with comparatively minor injuries. It could have been worse. Before Oriannon could duck to the side, though, Sola blindly reached out and grabbed Oriannon by the collar of her blouse.
“I heard what’s going on over here!” hissed Sola. “They’re coming for me, aren’t they?”
“Zero hours, thirty minutes,” came the voice of the nav screen. “And—“
“Cancel!” Margus jabbed at the screen, but too late to change what it had already told them. Sola straightened out with a smile before she found Oriannon’s cheek with one hand and patted her roughly.
“That’s all I needed to know.” Her jaw tightened and her voice hardened. “So do you know what’s going to happen to you in two hours and thirty minutes? Do you know what’s going to happen to all of you?”
Oriannon tried to wriggle away but the injured woman’s grip tightened now on her shoulder, sharp claws digging through the fabric of Oriannon’s blouse and into the thin skin of her neck. The strength of Sola’s hands made her cringe, and she would have cried out in pain, but could not. Even so, Oriannon would not be drawn into the pit of Sola’s vengeance—not any more, and not the way she had once been.
“You should let us help you,” Oriannon finally managed. “At least let us put something on those sores.”
But that only set the woman off even more, and she shook her head violently.
“No, no, no! Just a few minutes, and it won’t matter for you, any more. And if you try to resist, or even think of holding me captive, I’ll have them destroy the entire ship.” She paused, then released her grip with a savage flip of her wrist. In the process her fingernail scratched Oriannon’s cheek, drawing blood. Sola Minnik, though, only laughed.
“You think I wouldn’t do that? Hmm, well maybe I don’t care, any more. Maybe everything’s changed, now. Maybe you’d like to find out how much it’s changed?”
Oriannon looked over to see Margus standing beside her, his fists clenched. He might have done something stupid, too, if she hadn’t held him back with a wordless shake of her head.
No, Margus. She mouthed the words. Sola stood off a step or two, a wicked smile playing at her lips.
“Go ahead, Mr. Leek.” She taunted him as if she could see his face turning red and his eyes widening with fury. Perhaps she could smell his anger. “Let’s see how much damage you can do to a poor old blind lady. You only have what, twenty-eight minutes, now? Let’s see how brave you are!”
She waited a moment for effect, then laughed again as she would have done when she was still in control of their home world. They watched as she turned slowly and held her hands out in front of her as she returned to her spot in the corner. With an almost uncanny instinct she found her way to the exact spot where she had been sitting just minutes before, crying. As she lowered herself back to the floor she smiled and muttered that this was “much better, now.”
Perhaps it was, with four Security vessels on a course to overtake them in…
“Zero hours, twenty-seven minutes.”
Margus couldn’t seem to shut off that horribly annoying voice, though he punched button after button on the touch screen. And now with Sola listening Oriannon no longer felt free to speak, so she glanced at the Pilot Stone and hoped Margus would understand.
“We stay on this course,” she whispered. “Right?”
Now Margus didn’t look so sure, as he frowned and shook his head.
“Look, that’s all very good and everything.” He focused on the 3-d display showing specks of Coristan Security vessels growing larger and larger. “But if I don’t figure out a away to take it to manual, we’re never going to escape. It may already be too late.”
“That’s right, Mr. Leek.” Sola called out from her spot on the floor. “It’s already too late. Why don’t you just leave it on your nice autopilot, there, and enjoy what little time you have left?”
“Shut up!” Margus yelled her direction, though Oriannon tried to hold him by the arm to quiet him down. “Why don’t you just shut up and mind your own business?”
“Oh, but that’s just it.” She returned a crooked smile in the direction of his heated voice. “This is my business. That’s exactly why we’re being pursued, and that’s why this little game is going to end in my favor. Because it’s my business, and it always was.”
By this time Wist had no doubt been awakened by all the noise. Now the short-statured Owling girl came stumbling forward, wiping the sleep from her eyes and looking from them to their unwelcome passenger with a puzzled expression.
“Is this your little Owling friend, Oriannon?” asked Sola. Naturally Oriannon had no intention of answering, but Sola probably expected that, as well. “I should say thank you for saving my life, back there on the planet. I did get a good look at both of you, before the explosion. But then, you’re probably already regretting what you did for me, aren’t you?”
“Oriannon?” Wist looked to her for help, but Oriannon didn’t know what to say as Sola went on with her tirade.
“In fact, by this time you’re probably thinking, I should have let just that monster drop off the plane, back when we had a chance. Isn’t that what you’re thinking, sweetheart? Well, perhaps you should have, but it appears to be a little late for that change of heart. Even if you dumped me now, you still can’t get away, and I imagine that must be a lovely feeling. Tell her how much time you have, Mr. Leek.”
This time Margus pressed his lips together and said nothing, though by now it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the four Coristan Security vessels were catching up, and fast. Probably even Wist, who was unfamiliar with such things, could see and understand. She took one look at the screen and her face fell, but she stood by the others for the next several minutes. If this escape was coming to an end, they would face it together. But then the ship lurched as a flash of light hit them like a bolt of lightning.
“Whoa!” Oriannon waved her hands for balance, nearly hitting Wist in the face. She caught a handhold and looked to Margus. “What was that?”
“I… I don’t know.” Margus shook his head, but everything looked the same as before. “That was weird. I thought I saw…”
His voice dropped off as he rechecked his instruments, but then shrugged and shook his head. Whatever he’d seen wasn’t there now, or never was.
So Oriannon looked again out the viewport just to be sure, but could make out nothing new except the distant stars—brilliant and piercing but all of them so many light years afar. Whatever had hit them—or whatever they had hit—was nowhere to be seen. Sola brushed herself off in the corner and faced them with that annoying look on her face.
“For a moment,” she said, “I thought my ships had caught up with us ahead of schedule.” The tone of her voice matched her expression. “Are you still learning how to pilot this ship, Mr. Leek?”
He glanced over at the Pilot Stone, which still glowed as it should. His nav screen still glowed steady, apparently as they should. He shook his head and didn’t answer her. Perhaps that was the only way to deal with Sola Minnik for now.
“You can ignore me all you want.” Once again she settled back down. “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. Maybe I’ll just rattle on and listen to my own voice, while you try to pretend I’m not here.”
They would probably do that, Oriannon thought. Unfortunately, now they could not ignore the nav screen, where four large blips had nearly descended on their position.
“We’re going as fast as we can,” Margus told her in a soft voice, still working his controls. “But we just can’t keep ahead of them.”
Sola smiled to herself as they continued on, their engines humming steadily. But Sola didn’t need to remind them that this race, as their instruments told them, was already lost.
* * *
“We should be almost to Asylum 2 by now,” Margus broke the silence nearly a half-hour later. He pointed to a new dot on the nav screen, a green-colored oasis in the middle of empty space. “We’ll try and dock there as soon as we can.”
“Wonderful idea!” shouted Sola. “Hide on an Asylum station, as if they can’t find you there, too. That is, if we make it there before my people catch up. Which isn’t likely, is it, now?”
How did Sola know so much even being blind? Oriannon supposed she could count the minutes as well as anyone.
“Will we make it in time?” whispered Oriannon. She couldn’t tell from the nav screen. Margus shrugged and shook his head, not looking terribly hopeful. That meant, probably not. Finally Wist motioned with her eyes for Oriannon to follow her to the back room again, probably to get away from the acid tongue of Sola Minnik.
“What’s going to happen when they catch us?” Wist asked, as soon as they had stepped far enough away so that Sola could no longer hear them. That was when, not if. Oriannon swallowed hard, searching for the right words.
“We’re going to be okay,” she answered. “Jesmet’s not going to abandon us, now. No matter where we are. No matter what happens, good or bad.”
She thought she believed her own words. But even as she spoke, their small craft jolted as if they had glanced off a solid wall, throwing both girls off their feet and setting off multiple alarms. This was much more than the gentle bump they’d experienced earlier. Wist screamed as sparks showered down on them from a short circuit in an overhead control panel.
Oriannon could only hold on as the shuttle spun out of control.