deleted scenes from book 2
This was originally the opening chapter. I like it but my editor felt differently. Oh well.
Chapter 1 Raven
I could have killed him a thousand times. I could have stepped up behind him and curled my arm around his waist. He might have welcomed the contact, maybe thought at last I was warming to him, showing him some of the gratitude he certainly deserved. Then as he relaxed his stance, and his hands fell to rest on the arm I embraced him with, I could have lifted my other hand and slipped my knife into the weak spot between the armor plates on his neck, pressing until I met the soft receptiveness of his living flesh.
At that moment, having found at last the confirmation that he was alive inside all that terrifying armor, would I have completed this murderous act? Would I have killed him seconds after learning that he was as much of a living person, and as deserving of mercy as I am?
I guess now we’ll never know.
When I was first drafting book two I was going to start with August's POV. After he separated from Xander he was going to have his own adventures and subplot. This proved to be too unwieldy and I had to delete it. My plan was to explore August's side of this time period in book 3. Maybe that will happen one day
Chapter 2 August
The transport is careening over our heads before I have even had a chance to set Dandelion’s body down. The black haired boy yelps and dives down into an embankment. I have no choice but to leap after him. I curl up and roll, clutching Dandelion to my chest until I crash to a stop among a thatch of weeds.
The boy, Xander, is nowhere to be seen. I set Dandelion in the weeds, tucking up her arms and legs to make her less visible and slither slowly along the embankment, keeping low. I hiss lightly. Then again.
“I’m here,” Xander whispers.
He pokes his head out from behind a gnarled tree stump. “Did they see us?”
Before I have time to answer, the transport hurtles overhead again. I lash out with my arm and grab Xander, pulling him up by the back of his coat.
Run, I sign with one hand.
He seems to understand, bolting off in the other direction through shallows of the creek. I run behind him, slowing down only to collect Dandelion’s body and sling her over my shoulder. I should have a dart rifle. If I had a one I might look like I was chasing Xander, not helping him escape. Maybe the human rifle will look close enough to one from far away.
I strain my head back to try to spot the transport just as it deactivates its sound dampener. The high-pitched screech of its engine cuts through the cool morning air, making the budding trees tremble around us.
“Where to?!” Xander yells. “Which way?”
We have reached a split in the creek where the sparkling water tumbles and flows around a rocky island dotted with trees.
Up, I sign.
Xander hops over logs and stones across the creek and clambers over the rocks onto the little island. I lunge after him as he reaches the copse of thin trees, tugging him down to the ground roughly.
Letting Dandelion’s lifeless shape slip to the ground too, I pull the human rifle from behind my back and aim it at Xander’s chest. He freezes.
“August…fuck,” he says.
Pretend you are dead, I say. I glance at the shore of the little creek where the transport is hovering down to land.
“What are you doing?” Xander says. I can tell how scared he is. Scared of me. Scared of the others in the transport. I shove the rifle into his chest, pushing him backwards onto the ground.
DEAD! Be dead!
Maybe he understands. He closes his eyes as I hear the hiss of the transport door opening.
Popping two darts from my armor I snap the sharp tips off and wedge one quickly into Dandelion’s abdomen. The hole from the arrow is closing but the harmless arrow sinks into her grey flesh. As I hesitate over Xander he opens his eyes, looking at me with terror.
“What are you doing?” His voice is tiny, like a child.
I won’t hurt you. Promise. Close your eyes and stay still.
I’m not sure how much he understands but he obeys, turning his face into the muddy ground.
Seeing the others emerge from the transport I do the first thing I think of and shove the dead dart into Xander’s ear.
He neither moves nor makes a sound. This might work.
I sling the human rifle behind my back and remove the pistol and crossbow from Xander’s hands. He still doesn’t move.
I think he might be smarter than me. That will be helpful.
The others, a female and her Offside slosh across the creek, rifles raised. I stand , tucking the pistol away, the crossbow hanging loosely in one hand.
What do you want? I sign. It’s incredibly rude among my kind speak like that, especially to a high rank.
What is your rank? the female signs. Where is your Offside?
You can’t have these ones, I say as they reach the shores of the little island and stare up at me. Their armor makes steam rise up from the water swirling around their feet.
The male makes a little snorting noise, flicking his head back a couple of times. He’s laughing at me. Have you found some toys? he signs.
Her offside shoves him back a little roughly. That’s forbidden, she says to me. What is your rank? Where is your offside?
I wonder whether I could get an arrow in her neck. I’ve never used the crossbow I took off Xander but I’ve seen it used, and there is an arrow loaded into the channel. But once I used that one, how would I deal with her
I have a knife, but so does he. And he’s a good match for my size.
Leave me alone, I say instead. I’m bored.
That’s not a word, the female says, repeating my sign.
I must have made that sign up. I don’t remember.
Making new words is forbidden, she adds.
The male laughs again, nudging his companion. Leave him, he says. He’s a low rank mud head.
Rank! The female snaps at me. I take a step back without meaning to.
Tenth, I lie.
Her scornful sigh might once have hurt my feelings. The disdain of the high ranks used to bother me. Now I treasure it. Hopefully her disdain will be enough for her to not want to take responsibility for me.
Defective, she says. Disable the darts. Otherwise the collectors will come for them. They don’t want damaged bodies.
She turns abruptly and heads back across the creek to the transport.
Have fun with your toys, her offside says, with a flick of his head, before following her.
“Fun” is a made up word, I think, as I watch them re-board the transport. So is “toys”. I remember learning the shape of them from a Ninth early in the mission. And what they mean. My stomach clenches at the thought.
The transport rises into the sky with a roar and sails off. I let it disappear into the distant mountaintops before crouching down and delicately extracting the dart from Xander’s ear.
Did that hurt? I ask as he opens his eyes. Sorry.
“I’m fine,” he says. He puts a finger into his ear as he sits up. I remove the dart from Dandelion’s wound and toss it away, tidying her torn and bloody clothes as well as I can. I disabled the trackers on all these darts days ago so there’s no chance they will attract the collectors whenever they come.
Collector. The word the high rank used nudged something loose in my mind. I had forgotten that detail. Or maybe I never really knew it. All these grey empty shells of humans will have a use one day. I wish I could remember what exactly. I’m not sure any of us know that.
Follow, I say to Xander as he stands.
Dandelion’s body weighs nothing as I lift her. Maybe life is what gives a person weight and substance. Right now she is like carrying a cloud, but I cling to the thought that what makes her Dandelion is still inside this drained body. Maybe I can draw it out somehow. She might be as muddled and confused as I am if she awakes, but at least she’ll have me to help her. That’s more than I had.
As for Xander, he doesn’t need to be carried, and yet his presence weighs on me, or tugs on me. Tugs me west, towards the human territory, like I promised. If not for him I might curl up somewhere until my power cells ran out and I was left with the half human body inside my armor, and the broken defective mind that goes with it. And Dandelion. I would be left with Dandelion, such as she is.
I’m comforted by our encounter with the transport. I know they are unlikely to scout this area again for several days. That gives us time to resupply and prepare for the long journey across the mountains. Xander is hungry, dangerously hungry although he hasn’t said anything about it. But I can tell. Yesterday we came upon some berry bushes and he slowed to eat as many as he could pick as we passed.
As we walk and the day warms, Dandelion’s bloody clothes begin to smell. The smell of death didn’t use to bother me, but her blood made putrid is somehow different. I know she can’t smell it, and perhaps Xander is just ignoring it, but I think she deserves better than to be carried around in bloody torn and stinking rags. To distract myself I let the sound of her names echo in my head.
Dandelion. Raven. So different and yet so both so fitting, especially the way they are said in my signs.
Pretty Wind Flower. Flying Black.
And Hope. That is one of her names too. Like a dream that I can save her. That I can save Xander. I use the shape of a Z for his name, though he’s told me it’s X. Maybe there is a better way to name him. I reach forward to where he walks in front of me, and touch his shoulder. He turns.
What does Z mean?
“Sorry, what?” he says, stopping.
“Explain Xander?” He scratches his waterfall of hair, his deep black eyes crinkling. “Oh! Like what does my name mean? It’s short for Alexander. Like Alexander the Great.”
There is something vaguely familiar about that, but not enough to build on. I shrug.
“He was a…conqueror, I guess you could say. But the name apparently means ‘defender of men’. I have a Chinese name too. Jiàn. It means ‘man of strength’ so we thought Xander was a good match.” He shrugs lightly. Sometimes I think humans don’t understand how important name are. I suppose that’s because all of them have one.
“Xander. Jiàn. They sound the same sort of. And mean the same things.”
Strong defense, I say, words that are definitely part of the authorized language. That makes him smile.
“I like that better than Z, I have to admit.”
Pleasure to meet you, Strong Defense, I say, reaching out with my free hand. The sound ‘Xander’ attaches to the new signs, just like that.
Xander shakes my hand with a grin.
As we summit a small rise the town I’ve been looking for comes into view. I’ve been to this town before, with Sixth. Maybe it’s foolhardy to revisit these places, but I don’t have to time to search elsewhere for the things I need. For the things Xander needs especially. Food. Warmer clothes. The only way he is able to sleep in the cold nights is curled up against me. He was reluctant at first, but human reluctance is easily overpowered by their fragility. Raven was the same way. I feel bad about it sometimes, how she was forced into closeness with me. It would nice if things could be another way.
“Is that Jasper?” Xander says as we begin the descent. “I didn’t realize we’d come so far south.”
We’ll get you food and clothes, I say. Xander doesn’t give much of a reaction. I wonder whether our inability to communicate will matter in the end, since our time together is limited. Five or six days and we should reach the other side of the mountains, and the free humans. I dread that moment, and don’t. Part of me thinks I’m better off alone, though, of course I won’t be alone; I’ll have Dandelion with me. That’s what I wanted all along wasn’t it? To have her with me forever?
We pick our way down to a gravel road that leads down the mountain into the town. Xander chatters at low volume as we walk, talking about skiing and snowshoeing and things he did as a boy. Some of it seems a little familiar to me but most of it means nothing. I like the sound of his voice though. It’s deeper than Dandelion’s of course, since he’s a boy, but in a way he sounds more like a child. I’m not sure how I know what a human child should sound like. Mostly I’ve only ever heard them scream.
“What’s the matter?” Xander asks, turning back to me.
“You just let a really dreary sigh, like this.” He sighs emphatically, making a tortured face.
Could I explain why I sigh? He doesn’t understand most of my words. But maybe it will feel better to get it out anyway.
I’ve done terrible things. I’ve hurt people. I’m made many mistakes.
He just shakes his head with a little smile.
A few minutes later he speaks again.
“I’ve been thinking.” A moment passes before he continues. “In this town, Jasper, there might be a graveyard. Or a churchyard. And it’s pretty warm now. The ground won’t be so hard. We could dig a grave. You know, so we can bury her. Raven.”
I don’t look at him as I walk on.
“It’s just that…she’s starting to smell. That’s what happens when people die. And that’s why we bury them. Or burn them.”
That thought fills me with such a sudden rage that I shove him hard off the path, making him stumble into the scrub. But immediately I regret it as he untangles himself from the branches, brushing leaves and dirt from his clothes.
“You’re really an asshole, you know that?”
Sorry. Repeat Sorry.
“Wow. And they said I had impulse control problems.” He stops on the path in front of me. “I know the way. I don’t need you to follow me, or escort me. If I die in a hole no one will ever know.”
I promised I would.
“Promise, right. Okay.” He shakes his head, looking down at the little town. And as I study his face I see something I’ve been trying not to notice. He’s still scared of me, even though he must know I mean him no harm.
I won’t hurt you.
“Not hurt. Yeah I get that.” To my horror, his eyes fill with tears. “You know I have two friends left in the world. And one of them is a rotting corpse being carried around by an alien freak.”
I gently set Dandelion’s body down and step towards him, reaching out.
“Don’t…touch me. Please. I’m all right.” He wipes his eyes with hands so dirty they leave a smear of mud on his face. “Maybe you guys have different ideas about death or something? Like for us, that’s it. It’s over. Raven is dead. She looks dead. She smells dead. Can’t you smell that?”
She’s not dead. She’s stopped.
“Whatever. I don’t know what that means.”
I’m not sure what it means either. Dandelion is both the same as all the other darted humans and different. If there is a way to wake her, I think I can spare her from whatever awaits the others. But what for? What kind of life would that be?
Xander turns back to the town. His posture shows his exhaustion. We should have rested a long time ago. I have to remember that he is not like me. He needs to eat and sleep.
I lift Dandelion again and sling her gently over my shoulder.
“Well, okay then. Forget it. I’ll just get used to the smell.” He shakes his head again and trudges away down the hill.