Dead and BurydChele Cooke / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction
Dead and Buryd
Book I of the Out of Orbit series
Copyright © Chele Cooke 2013.
All rights reserved.
Cover Design © Design for Writers
Book Layout © BookDesignTemplates.com 2013
For helping bring “Out of Orbit” to life.
Without you, this would still be “buryd”
in the depths of my laptop.
Days that came Before
The Quarter Run
1. Buryd in the East
2. Ships and Supplies
3. Absent from the Guard
4. Down the Way
5. Freed-Up Time
6. The Kahle in the West
7. Love and Loss
8. The Friend in the South
9. Deal on Delivery
10. Taking Them Down
11. A Twisting of Wills
12. A Promise Sold
13. Guilt in Hiding
14. The Side You're On
15. Blood and Choice
16. Games of Escape
17. Question of Delicacy
18. Into the Northern Quarters
19. Still Not Grown
20. Behind the Bar
21. Wrench in the Works
22. Who She Was
23. Pillars of a Plan
24. The Supply Scout
25. The Other One
26. One of Their Own
27. One Dead, One Drysta
28. Colourful Truths and Excuses
29. Keep Him Dead
30. Avoiding the Arrangement
31. Back Before Sunset
32. Running into Oppression
33. Lies in the Dust
34. The Preceding Void
35. The Lightning Commander
36. Hopeless Apparition
37. The Inmate and the Influential
38. From the Outside In
PDays that Came Before
“Grandda’,” the young boy asked, pushing his blanket back impatiently and gathering his stuffed toy horse up in his arms. “You tell me a story?”
Lyle lifted his head, looking away from the knife and half-carved wooden block in his hands. A small, tired smile slipped over his lips, and he gave a gentle nod. It was already a long way past the boy’s bedtime, but he could hardly blame him for being restless. The heat had set in, and the thick air remained uncomfortable long after the sun had set.
Pushing himself up from his chair, Lyle moved over to his grandson’s bed, fixing the blanket neatly across the end before he sat down. The bed was low and it made his joints ache to sit on the soft mattress, but the boy would only complain if he remained on the other side of the room for the story.
“Which story would you like?”
The boy thought for a moment, nuzzling the horse’s soft flank as he blinked sleepily.
“Ships!” the boy answered finally, sitting up.
Reaching out and leaning across the bed, he gently pushed his grandson back down onto the mattress and brushed his dark brown hair away from his eyes. If he was going to tell him a story, the boy could at least pretend to try to sleep.
“You had that one last time, Brae,” he reminded him.
“It’s my favourite.”
Lyle rolled his eyes. He was sure that he’d told Braedon the story of the ships the last half-dozen times. Just like his son, Braedon’s father, his grandson never tired of hearing the tale of their past.
“Alright,” he answered with a slow nod.
He leaned away from Braedon, placing his knife and the block of half-whittled wood down on the floor before looking back at his grandson. With his son, Halden, working long hours so often, it was a regular arrangement that he put Braedon to bed. Lyle didn’t mind. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. The young boy was almost as enthralled with his stories as his own children used to be. Though they were both grown now, no longer needing stories at bedtime, when they even came home at all.
“Long, long ago, Os-Veruh was a beautiful and rich planet,” Lyle began, smiling back at the grin spreading across Braedon’s face. “The Veniche people lived in one place, they had everything they could ever want, even if they sometimes complained that they didn’t.”
Braedon rolled onto his side, knees drawn up towards his chest as he hugged the horse tightly and turned it in his arms so that the toy could hear the story better.
“Men fought for more, to see more of the skies. So they spent years building big ships that could float on air instead of water.”
“Grandda’, you forgot the men who look up!” Braedon whined.
Frowning, Lyle shook his head.
“I was getting to it,” he answered. “Os-Veruh had everything, from men who examined the deepest oceans, to those who looked at the furthest stars in the night sky. One day, one of the sky watchers saw something. He saw a shooting star heading towards Os-Veruh. The Veniche people panicked. No one knew whether the meteor would hit the planet or sail past, but the sky watcher said it would collide with them, and they had to believe him.
“The big sky ships were almost ready, and all the people argued and fought over who would be allowed onto them. Men argued using their power and their money, claiming that those things made them more worthy of saving. Others asserted their intelligence and skill, saying that those things should be what mattered.”
“Like Gianna?” Braedon asked.
“What?” Lyle asked, thrown from the rhythm of his story by Braedon’s sudden question. In the times he’d told his grandson the story, he’d never asked that before.
“With the med’cine.”
Lyle reached up and scratched his cheek. He had to admit, he didn’t know. He’d never stopped to think about which skills would have been prized above others back then. He could only imagine that the people on the ships would have needed medicines and medics to administer them.
“I guess,” he agreed finally. “Yes, probably.”
“Good, I want to save her.”
A quiet chuckle came out in a breath as Braedon nodded resolutely and settled himself back against the pillow. Lyle blinked, the interruption having dragged his thoughts from the flow of the story.
“Where was I?”
“Oh, yes, I was,” Lyle agreed. “The arguments and battles over who had places on the ships continued until the final days, and then one year before the meteor was set to hit the planet, the ships took off with as many people as they could carry.”
“Into the sky to search for new places,” Braedon said with an enthusiastic nod against his pillow.
“That’s right. The ships went in all directions. Each ship carried a machine that could talk to the others even over millions of miles. If one ship found another planet, they could tell everyone else.”
“But the meteor didn’t hit us!”
Lyle frowned, pursing his lips as he looked down at his grandson. Halden and Georgianna, his own children, had not jumped ahead in the story every chance they could. Then again, it could have been that he just didn’t remember. It had been a long time ago. Halden with his bright green eyes and dark hair like his own, Georgianna with her honey-gold curls that were always in a mess. He missed them as children, hanging on his every word like Braedon did now.
“No, it didn’t,” he said. “The meteor went straight past Os-Veruh, colliding with the planet that circled between Os-Veruh and the sun. That planet was destroyed, broken into thousands of pieces which would become meteors of their own.
“The Veniche who remained on Os-Veruh were relieved, and celebrated that they had been saved. However, as the days and months passed, they realised that things were not the same. They were travelling closer to the sun than they had before. They realised that the other planet had been keeping them away from the sun. The people began to suffer: some were killed and others driven mad by the heat. Some people fled north where the heat was less, hiding inside their buildings and creating tunnels under the ground to escape the sun.
“Next came the freeze as the planet moved further from the sun again. The snow froze everything it touched, and people ran south to escape as much of the blizzards as they could.”
“I don’t like the freeze,” Braedon complained in a small voice.
“No, many didn’t,” he answered. “But families banded together, set on helping each other through the worst of it.”
“Tribes! Tribes!” Braedon chanted, his dislike of the freeze forgotten as he pushed himself up.
Lyle reached out and settled the boy back down before he continued.
“Yes, Brae. All across the land, families joined together to share their skills, forming tribes who travelled together.
“The Kahle, one of the biggest tribes, had two settling grounds, Adlai in the north for the heat, and Nyvalau down south for the freeze. The Kahle built up these grounds, creating sturdy homes and even tunnels in Adlai to escape the sun.”
Braedon was getting sleepy, Lyle could tell. After looking after the boy for most of the heat while his father went off to find work, he was getting pretty good at telling when the youngster was ready to doze off. The tight ball he’d curled his body into loosened a little, and lifting his weight from the bed for a moment, Lyle tugged the blanket out from underneath him and draped it over Braedon.
“It was decided by the elders of each tribe that a ledger would be kept,” he continued, setting back into his spot at the end of the bed. “When people joined in love, when children were born and people died it was written down, so that, like the Veniche before them, they could remember the past.”
“Grandda’,” Braedon mumbled. “Who has our ledger?”
“I do, Brae,” he explained. “I’ll show it to you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” the child yawned. “Finish the story.”
Lyle wasn’t entirely used to being ordered around in the telling of his bedtime stories, especially not by four-year-olds. However, being his only grandchild, he let Braedon off with a lot of things he knew he shouldn’t.
“For generations, they lived this way. Travelling between the two grounds, the Veniche people lived in peace.”
Braedon rolled himself further onto his stomach, burying his face into his pillow.
“Then the Adveni came,” he mumbled through the material.
“Yes, Braedon,” Lyle said as he got up from the bed. Leaning over Braedon, he smoothed the blanket across his grandson’s small body and kissed him gently on his temple. “And then the Adveni came.”
The Quarter Run
He made each turning the same as he had the last time. He’d been warned against it and told to take a different route through the buildings on each journey, but he liked the routine of a well-trodden path. He liked knowing exactly where the blind spots were on a journey and where he had to be extra careful. The sprawling training grounds were best avoided entirely. There were too many eager young Adveni who wanted their first capture. He knew the routes that caused the least problems, so while it made it easier for others to follow, he took those every time.
High above, the sun made a slow progression towards the horizon. In the Adveni quarter, the polished stones of the buildings shone like the sun themselves in the suffocating heat. The buildings’ occupants were as deadly as the close, mid-heat sun. Perhaps more so, as it didn’t take days for an Adveni to kill. It took moments, minutes, or hours… depending on their wishes.
Sweat clung to his skin, his shirt plastered against his back. At his wrists and neck, the skin was already turning pink, and he could only count himself lucky that he knew a good medic to ease the burning flesh when he returned home.
The building stood halfway along the perfectly laid Adveni road. It was easy to spot amongst the other buildings. The design was similar, its colours uniform with the rest of the street, but this building was larger, more impressive, and slightly more terrifying for what waited inside.
He lengthened his stride, making brisk progress down the road towards the building. He wouldn’t be going inside, he never did, but it wouldn’t change the fact that he didn’t have long. Pass offs had to be made quickly and without fuss. With their situation, they couldn’t risk being caught.
He was almost opposite the building before he could look up into one of the front windows, able to spot the sky-blue shirt hanging behind the glass. He smiled, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he turned towards the house, making his way through the gap between the buildings.
The contact he’d been coming to see was a drysta, a slave to an Adveni, so he wasn’t able to venture far from his owner’s house. The drysta was already outside by the time he rounded the back corner of the house. He stood against the wall, a cigarette hanging from his fingers, and a fresh bruise blackening his cheek. A collar shone around his neck and numerous small scars snaked out from underneath it. He glanced up. At the sight of his visitor, he grinned.
“I wasn’t sure you’d make it.”
“When have I ever let you down?”
The drysta tilted his head to the side as he rubbed his hand against his shoulder, ash dropping from the end of the cigarette and sprinkling down into the grass.
“You got anything for me?”
A brief shake of his contact’s head as he leaned forward, glancing through the back door which stood open just enough to warn them of an approach.
“No, he’s been in a particularly bad mood,” he said, pointing towards his eye. “I’ve been keeping a…”
The low thud of a footstep cut him off, and the drysta quickly stood up straight, turning to peer in through the gap. They both listened, expecting the steps to fade into the other sounds of the house, but they came closer, and seemed to multiply.
He didn’t need to be told twice. Turning on his heel, he made his way back around the corner to the gap between the buildings. The door was wrenched open so hard that it smacked into the wall. Though he knew that only one Adveni lived in the house, he heard at least four men pour out through the door.
“Who was here?”
The drysta’s howl of pain seared through the air as the only answer.
Breaking into a run, he didn’t need to look behind him to know he was being followed. The drum of footsteps evened out into a constant beat against the pavement. If it had been any other situation, he might have laughed that the Adveni were so well trained that they couldn’t even run out of unison.
Another scream of pain echoed between the high walls. Even through the percussion of footfalls, he could hear the drysta claiming he didn’t know anything, that it had been no one. He rounded the corner, guilt following at every turn.
The wide street was the worst place to run from an Adveni. He knew that if even one of them chose to stop running and aim a weapon, he would be dead or captured in an instant. He had to get into some of the narrower streets, or somewhere he could try to lose them, instead of listening to them slowly close the gap.
Launching himself around a corner, his shoulder collided with the wall. His shirt caught on a rough patch of brick, tearing through the material and scraping the flesh beneath as he pushed off the wall and sprinted along the thin alley.
A shot smacked into the pavement by his foot, bouncing away in the glare of the evening sunlight. It was a warning shot, an order to stop. The next one would not miss.
He couldn’t be taken in alive. He knew too much. He’d never fully considered his ability to withstand Adveni torture, but he wasn’t about to risk finding out. At least he’d learned something from the shot: they were firing metal, not copaq bullets. They were aiming to kill.
The road was taking him further through the Adveni dwelling quarter. There were so many roads to take. He didn’t usually come this far into the quarter. He hadn’t memorised the routes. Tall buildings obscured his view and disorientated him. The footsteps were getting closer as he hurled himself into an alleyway. High walls threw him into the shadows.
Blinded by the harsh sun as he came out into the next street, he squeezed his eyes closed. He didn’t care where he put his feet as long as it was away from the Adveni behind him. He blinked and shook his head. The glare of the sun on his left blazed across his eyes. He was heading north, further from the city, he knew that now.
A shot nicked his shoulder with a sizzling burn. He gritted his teeth and pushed harder. For a moment, the briefest soaring moment, he gained some ground. He ducked into the next alley he came across. His eyes widened at the sight of a metal fence at the opposite end. A bark of gruff laughter followed him along the tunnel. Through the blood pounding in his ears, he could hear that the footsteps had slowed. There was no use in running. They’d caught their prey.
Through the bars of the fence, he could see the open plains of the northern land. He’d reached the outer ridge of the quarter. There would be no protection, and given time, the heat would be as ruthless as the Adveni behind him. There was nothing for it. Time was not to be argued with, and he had run out of it.
He didn’t break stride as he hurtled down the alley. It was no different from jumping onto a horse, right? Hands up, swing your leg over, and hope you went high enough. There was no stirrup. It would be a big leap. The Adveni realised what he was doing. Two of them pelted after him as the other took aim. He didn’t slow as he ran straight at the fence. Grasping the top, he launched himself up, the top bar of the metal digging into his stomach as he swung his leg over. The shot blew off the heel of his boot as he swung his other leg over the fence. Pushing himself up from a stumbled landing, he set off running from the Adveni, into the merciless sun.
1 Buryd in the East
The eastern Mykahnol pillar loomed over Lyndbury Compound, onyx bricks towering into the sky, sending a long shadow sprawling over the large, oppressive building. The sun had barely hoisted itself above the mountains, but the sky was already such a clear, bright blue that it could only mean another blistering day.
Georgianna Lennox brushed her long, blonde hair away from her neck, sweeping it high onto her head: a mess of waves and curls that she tied haphazardly into a knot with a ribbon. The dirt track from the end of the tunnel to the gates was already giving off waves of heat under her leather boots. The dense, heavy air stuck her clothes to her skin. Grasping her leather bag to her side, her brown-eyed gaze settled on the building up ahead. She let out a deep sigh, and trudged towards the gates.
She had promised to spend the day below ground helping the Belsa rebels with any medical emergencies that came in. However, she’d not even reached the hidden tunnels before her tsentyl device had beeped, informing her of an emergency within the compound walls. Changing her route, she’d made her way through the eastern tunnel instead, heading out of the city. There were multiple entrances along the line, but most Veniche people didn’t use this particular tunnel, driven off by the knowledge of what waited at the other end.
The Adveni had built it when they first claimed dominion: a large compound they had named Lyndbury. While criminals of the Veniche tribes used to be marked for what they were and sent on their way to live alone, far from those they would rob or hurt, the Adveni had a different method. Instead of sending the criminals away, they would lock them up, keeping them all together in the compound.
The creation of Lyndbury had sent outrage spiralling through the people. Who were the Adveni to lock a man in a single place, especially through the volatile seasons of Os-Veruh? At times, Georgianna could almost understand it. A man who committed murder should be kept away from others and not given any opportunity to commit his crime elsewhere. However, the Adveni did not offer that. Instead of keeping criminals away from other people, they locked them all in a building together, and let them do as they pleased so long as they never left the compound walls.
One group of Adveni had been tasked with guarding the compound. Specially trained and working with ruthless efficiency, the Guards of Lyndbury were infamous within the city. The Veniche of the city described the inmates as being “buryd alive”, after the compound’s name, Lyndbury: though your life was over and there was no escape, your body remained alive.
The Veniche people might not have considered it so bad if the Adveni were fairer about it, punishing those who committed crimes the Veniche agreed with, but the common opinion was that the Adveni punished crimes without understanding them. They didn’t look at the starving family of a thief, nor did they care for the claims of five other victims when they said the man a woman stabbed to fend off an attack had also attacked them. There was no justice, only punishment. Even those who refused to bow to Adveni rule and register themselves were labelled as criminals and sent to the compound. Those sorts, however, never stayed inside the walls for long. Instead they were sold off in the drysta yard as slaves to whichever Adveni would pay the highest price.
Georgianna hated going there. She detested the sight of the inmates burned by the sun when the Adveni forced them outside into a fenced yard while the sun was high. She abhorred looking at the women, locked in the cell block with morally lacking men who had not seen a woman in so long that their urges overcame them. She heard her brother’s pleas that she stay away, that the Adveni would, at some point decide she was no longer useful and lock her in there as well. Whenever the tsentyl communication device she had been given lit up, however, she answered it, because she knew that no one else would. The Adveni didn’t care if a Veniche man died in the block in a fight over food. The body would lie in the block until count if the Adveni wanted. It was only her continued service that meant that someone saw fit to call for a medic at all.
Turning towards the compound, Georgianna brushed an errant lock of hair out of her face, and walked the last couple of hundred yards towards the high metal gates looming in front of her.
Inside the gate, two Adveni men stood watching for her approach. She was not even ten feet from the metal fencing before one of them pushed the gate forward to allow her entrance.
“In the block,” one of the men explained bluntly. “Edtroka will take you.”
Georgianna glanced at the other guard and nodded politely. Without so much as a word, the guard, Edtroka, turned and began walking away with long, purposeful strides, leaving Georgianna to hurry to keep up in his wake.
Georgianna had met Edtroka many times before. He was the first guard to take her through the routine of being let into the block. He showed her the items she would not be permitted to take inside and showed her how to work the Adveni tsentyl device that would let her inform them that she was ready to leave. His Veuric at that time had been broken and difficult to understand. Over the two years since her first visit, however, his use of the language had improved dramatically. Unfortunately, Georgianna could not say the same for her Adtvenis.
“Do you know what happened?” she asked, struggling to keep pace with him.
“Fight,” he answered, his thick Adveni accent clear through the Veuric words. “We found him this morning.”
“And what are his injuries?”
Edtroka turned his head, glancing down at her with what she could only imagine was derision, though it could have been amusement, the way his brow quirked like that. Edtroka was always slightly odd. He wasn’t cruel or insulting to her like the other guards would be, but he had never shown her any obvious kindness either, only unreadable expressions that he never explained, even when she asked.
“I thought you were the medic.”
“Well, I am!” she answered. “But surely you’ve seen his injuries if you called me?”
The guard shrugged, and she wondered if he had not seen the injuries on the prisoner, not paid enough attention, or not cared enough to remember what he’d seen. He didn’t pause as he led her through the drysta yard towards the doors, and though the sun was now high enough to make being outside uncomfortable in mid-heat, the Veniche people set to be sold as dreta were lined up along one side, a group of Adveni looking at them with interest.
The Adveni were easy enough to spot even though in face and shape they resembled the Veniche in almost every way. Yet most Adveni stood almost a head taller than the average Veniche, and were also built better, with broader shoulders and longer legs, making them faster and stronger. It hadn’t taken long for the rumours to begin circulating through the tribes that the Adveni bred differently to them. Unlike the Veniche, who paired most commonly for love, the Adveni were put to numerous tests. If their tletonise—the Adveni way of referring to what the Veniche people knew to be the aspects of a person passed on to their children—did not pass these tests, they were forbidden from creating offspring. Georgianna had often heard the term they used for people with undesirable genetic qualities: Zsraykil.
Most Veniche didn’t spend a lot of quality time speaking to Adveni, not when they didn’t have to, but they all knew that the Adveni considered most, if not all of them Zsraykil.
The strength and skill of the Adveni was also due to their extensive training. Georgianna had heard, from a friend who, in the ways these things happened, had heard it from another friend who knew someone, that the Adveni were trained in combat from childhood upwards, until they were ready to take their nsiloq and become an adult.
Georgianna had been trained to fight too. Life on the trail could be hard and attacks from outcasts and animals were not uncommon. However, Georgianna was certain that the Adveni’s combat training had probably gone further than a lesson from their father, a lesson which included instructing them to aim for the face if the attacker was female, to go for the groin if male, and if an animal, to run as fast as your legs could carry you, preferably screaming to get the attention of people nearby.
One drysta at the end of the line, a man in his early twenties, caught her eye and opened his mouth to call out. Georgianna quickly shook her head as she strode behind Edtroka, though she longed to run and gather him in her arms. Letting the guards know that they recognised each other would not be a good idea: not when she knew that he had been a Belsa, and not when she knew that the Adveni had already killed his brother Alec for the same reason. She couldn’t bring herself to remember that name, not now. If they discovered Landon’s affiliation, he would not be heading for a life as one of the dreta, he would be heading for execution. The idea of being sold as an Adveni slave like that, like cattle, disgusted her, but she simply turned her head and looked in the other direction. The good she could do was not in stopping the system; it was in making sure that those within the system had basic care. She was a medic, not a revolutionary.
Once they were through the heavy metal doors that led into the compound, the guard Edtroka patted her down and had her empty out her bag onto a sturdy table. He looked through each item. Deeming that none of the objects were dangerous, or intended to be passed on to prisoners, he allowed Georgianna to pack everything haphazardly back into her bag.
The corridors through the compound were wide with clear visibility. Where corridors intersected, they opened into wide, curving mouths, offering little cover. For all the things she could fault about the Adveni, their knowledge of attack theory was not among them: within the compound there was nowhere to hide.
Inside were three blocks: one for those who would become dreta, personal slaves to whichever Adveni had enough money to purchase them, and two for the compound inmates. Georgianna was rarely asked to the compound to visit the dreta block. The Veniche inside were given far better care than the other inmates, in order to be in peak health for their new owners.
Georgianna had learned very early on that the compound inmates were sent into the block and left to fend for themselves. The only time guards went into the block was each morning and evening to carry out a mandatory count. During her time in the compound, she had heard many horror stories about men killed in fights after count and left in the middle of the block until the count the next morning or evening. Most of the time, when fights broke out in the block, there was no point in calling a medic because by the time she’d been contacted, the man was past saving.
The only time prisoners were allowed out of the block was once every other day when they were allowed into a yard kept solely for the permanent inmates. Personally, Georgianna was sure most of the inmates would have preferred to be kept indoors instead of being sent out into the burning heat, but they did not get much choice in the matter. It wasn’t called being buryd for nothing.
As they approached the thick, red, metal door, Georgianna hitched her bag a little higher onto her shoulder and glanced at the guard. He seemed completely uninterested in her, and for a moment, Georgianna felt the familiar fear that once she was inside, she would not be getting out.
The guard, Edtroka, pulled out a device and placed it against the lock on the door. She had seen it on every trip into the compound, and yet still had no understanding of its mechanics. He turned it, and a buzzing sounded from the lock. Next, he brought up a polished black card and placed it against a reader. Lines of a brighter blue than Georgianna had ever seen in the natural world slid across the panel from the spot where the card connected, and slowly, the door creaked and slid open.
“You know how to get out?” Edtroka asked.
She nodded. He asked her the same question every time he walked her to the block. Georgianna couldn’t help wondering whether it was something he had to ask, whether he had once found himself locked inside, or if he just thought her stupid.
“I have my tsentyl.”
Edtroka nodded for her to go in, and as soon as she had stepped through the opening, the door began sliding closed. It shut with a rusty groan.