Excerpt: Dissension by Stacey Berg
Author: Stacey Berg
About the book:
For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.
When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.
Purchsing link: http://amzn.to/1ZNtcYo
The girl Hunter murdered in the desert was only thirteen.
Hunter eased the aircar closer to the cliff’s edge, hovering just above the bleached white stone stained bloody by the setting sol. Emptiness spread in every direction, silent and watchful. Hunter felt it pressing down as she studied the cautious tracks she had followed for the last few miles. The girl had tried to obscure them, as she had been taught, but Hunter knew the desert far too well to be deceived. The tracks ended in a patch of scuffed sand. A broken thornbush trailed over the edge where a desperate hand had ripped through it in a last failed grab at salvation. It was obvious now what had happened.
She settled the aircar in the dry creek bed a hundred feet below. Already the cliff cast a long shadow across the canyon. The day’s heat still radiated from the stone, but Hunter could feel the chill in the breeze probing for gaps in her clothing, a mild warning of the harsh night to come. She had to hurry; the scavengers would gather quickly once true night fell. Even she did not want to be caught in the open then.
Her boots squeaked a little in the fine layer of dust, though she could have moved silently had it mattered. Glancing up to the torn spot at the edge of the cliff, she estimated the fall line and began to search the bottom in a systematic grid. It was only a few minutes before she spotted the still form crumpled facedown among the rocks.
The ground warmed her as she knelt. She could see why the girl hadn’t called out for help: her shoulders rose and fell with desperate effort, no breath to spare. Hunter rolled her gently on her back.
The girl’s eyes were open, pupils dilated wide with shock. Her chalk-white face was bathed in sweat despite the chill. Even so, when the girl spoke, her voice, weak as it was, came out calm, controlled. “You came for me. I knew you would.”
“We don’t waste anyone.”
The eyes, dark as Hunter’s own, closed briefly, dragged open again with an enormous effort. “The others?”
“Everyone else returned as scheduled.” Eight out of nine, a good outcome for this exercise. Ten sols alone in the desert culled the weak quickly, but none of the rest had called for rescue, and the girl had not had time. The 378s were a strong batch; there had only been fourteen to begin with, thirteen annuals ago. When Hunter had been this age only eight were left. The priests always made more, but it was never quite the same as your own batch.
“That’s good,” the girl whispered breathlessly. Her eyes wandered up the cliff.
“Tell me how it happened,” Hunter said, though she already knew. It didn’t matter; there was still a little time, and the girl deserved a chance to make her report.
“I was following some canids.” She had to stop and gather air. “I thought they’d lead me to water.”
“That was a reasonable plan.”
“It almost worked. I smelled the spring, but I let myself get too close to the edge, even though you taught us that the rocks there often crumble.” Hunter had never taught this batch. The girl’s mind was wandering, or maybe it was only the failing light. Snatching what breath she could, the girl continued, “I was so thirsty, and I thought . . . And then I fell. I broke my leg,” she added, glancing at the pink and white splinters thrusting out of the torn flesh. Her eyes came back to Hunter’s. “It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel anything.”
“I know.” Hunter edged around a little. “Here, let me help you sit up.” The girl was a boneless weight against her, arms dangling, a handful of sand trickling between limp fingers as Hunter knelt behind her, holding her close. “It’s all right, Ela. You did well.” The lie wouldn’t hurt anything now.
The girl’s head lolled back against Hunter’s shoulder, eyes searching her face as if trying to focus across a great distance. Her whisper was barely audible. “Which one are you?”
“Number five, like me.”
“Yes, Ela.” She eased one palm around to cup the back of the girl’s head, the other gently cradling her chin. “Ready?”
The girl’s nod was only the barest motion between her hands. Hunter let her lips rest against the girl’s dusty hair for a short moment. She felt the girl’s mouth move in a smile against her fingers.
Then, with a swift and practiced motion, Hunter snapped her neck
Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons. Dissension is her first novel.