It’s been three years since Esa left her backwater planet to join the ranks of the Justified. Together, she and fellow agent Jane Kamali have been traveling across the known universe, searching for children who share Esa’s supernatural gifts.
On a visit to a particularly remote planet, they learn that they’re not the only ones searching for gifted children. They find themselves on the tail of a mysterious being with impossible powers who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the very children that Esa and Jane are trying to save.
With their latest recruit in tow—a young Wulf boy named Sho—Esa and Jane must track their strange foe across the galaxy in search of answers. But the more they learn, the clearer it becomes—their enemy may be harder to defeat than they ever could have imagined.
In relatively short order, we got a response to our banging. That response was, of course, half a dozen rifles pointed at us from murder holes carved out of the sides of the high wall, but it was a response nonetheless. “Travelers,” Jane said, spreading her hands wide to show that she was unarmed—well, to show that she wasn’t holding a weapon, at least. On a world like Kandriad, nobody went anywhere unarmed, and the rifle butt sticking up from behind Jane’s shoulder would have just seemed like an everyday necessity to the locals, no different than a farmer carrying a hoe would have been on my homeworld. “Seeking shelter.”
“This city is at war, traveler,” a voice said from one of the murder holes— sounded like a Wulf, which made sense, since the vaguely canid species had made up about a third of this world’s population, before the pulse. “There’s very little shelter to be had here.”
“Very little to be had out there, either.” Jane jerked her thumb behind us, indicating the smoking craters the poorly aimed bombs had blown in the urban “countryside” of what had once been a factory planet.
“How do we know you’re not enemy spies?” the Wulf growled. I mean, Wulf almost always growl, the sound was just what their muzzles were built for, but I detected a distinct note of aggression in the low-pitched rumble of this one’s voice.
“Esa,” Jane prompted me, and I reached into my jacket—slowly, as the rifles were still following my every move—to produce a tightly rolled-up scroll. The parchment was as close to what local conditions would have allowed the natives to create as Schaz had been able to make it; hopefully they wouldn’t ask too many questions about its provenance beyond that, questions we wouldn’t be able to answer given that we’d actually printed it on board a spaceship in orbit, a concept that had receded mostly into myth for the people on Kandriad.
I held the scroll up, where they could see. “Reconnaissance,” Jane told them simply. “Aerial photography of the enemy assaulting your walls from the north. Troop positions, fortifications, artillery emplacements—enough intelligence to turn the tide of the fight.” Neither Jane nor I really gave a damn who won this particular battle, or even this particular war—whatever conflict it had spun off from, the fighting on Kandriad had long since ceased to matter to the galaxy at large, let alone to the doings of the Justified. What we did care about was getting access to the city, and to the gifted child hidden somewhere inside.
“You have planes? Like they do?” The guns were still holding . . . pretty tightly on us.
“Kites,” Jane said simply. “And mirrors.” That was a flat-out lie, but “we took images from our spaceship in low orbit, then smudged them up to look like low-tech aerial reconnaissance” wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well.
A low sound from the Wulf, not that dissimilar to his growl from before; thankfully, our boss back on Sanctum was also a Wulf, and I recognized the sound of a Wulven chuckle when I heard one. “Kites,” the unseen sentry said to himself, almost in wonder. Then: “Open the gate!”
The big metal gates rumbled open; Jane and I stepped along the train tracks, into the interior of the city, where the sentries—Wulf to a one, their rifles still held tightly, though at least not aimed directly at us anymore— watched us closely. Jane handed over the map to their leader, the one who’d spoken. He unrolled it, studied its contents for a moment, then without a word handed it off to one of his subordinates, who promptly took off, presumably for the factory city’s command. “It’s valid, and it’s recent,” the lieutenant acknowledged to us, his ice-blue predator’s eyes still watching us closely, not as friendly as his words. “I recognize shelling from just a few days ago. Intelligence like that will buy you more than just entry here, strangers. Name your price.”
“We’re looking for some intelligence of our own,” Jane replied. “Looking for one of your citizens, actually. A child, younger than my associate here.” She nodded her head toward me; I didn’t know how well the local Wulf population would be at gauging a human’s age, but at seventeen, I guess I did still have a slightly “unfinished” look, as compared to Jane, at least.
“And why do you seek this child?” the lieutenant asked—not a no. Progress.
“He or she will have . . . gifts. Abilities. We seek children with such gifts, and we train them.” All true, for its part. It was simply a question of scale that Jane left out.
“Train them to do what?”
“Whatever is necessary.” That part wasn’t exactly an official piece of the Sanctum syllabus.
The Wulf nodded his head, once. “I know the child you’re looking for,” he said.
Finally, something going our way for once.
Copyright © 2019 by Drew Williams
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