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by P.M. Griffin
Genre Sci-Fi space opera
Tags On-world adventure,Character development & relationships,Threatening wildlife,Snakes,Insects,FireSchool fire
Release September 30, 2014
Content Editor Christine I Speakman
Line Editor Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
Gavin Driscoll comes to the planet Leonora to regain health and strength after surviving a terrible and usually deadly disease. The people there welcome him, but he finds trouble on all fronts. Venomous sea snakes approach the shore in such numbers that they appear to be a swimming wall. Storms threaten seafarers and would-be rescuers alike. Insects swarm in furious, stinging clouds. Can Driscoll survive these challenges long enough to face and thwart the worst of all, a peril concealed beneath the efficiently run planeting field that threatens the entire community with disaster and unspeakable tragedy?
Gavin stared in horror at the rapidly disappearing container, recognizing it too late for what it was. A baby’s safe vest. That explained why Tess’ strobe had seemed so strong. They had been seeing, not one but two lights.
Driscoll struck the water even as he shouted his intention. It had to be him. The others had already battled this ocean twice. They were spent.
The Terran struck out after his quarry. He believed he had appreciated the tremendous efforts his companions had made. He realized now that he had grossly underestimated them. He thought that he must be defeated before he had swum a dozen strokes.
Like the others before him, he willed himself to keep going. At times, he despaired, when he sank into the trough of a wave and lost sight of the light marking the otherwise-invisible object he sought, but always he crested another swell, another wave, and sighted it once more. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of striving nearly without hope, he realized that he had come not only perceptibly but significantly closer to the baby.
That knowledge braced him as nothing else could have done, and the off-worlder redoubled his efforts until at long last, he caught hold of the safe vest.
Driscoll grasped its drawing strap. He frowned. Something was adhering to it…
His eyes closed. Skin. Small bits of flesh ripped from the mother’s hands in her final, desperate battle to hold onto her child. The blood had long since washed away.
The safe vest was, in essence, a closed container completely encasing the baby save for his face. The Terran looked into it. Willie was too frightened and too cold to cry any longer, but as far as Driscoll could tell, he was still alive.
Something else was as well. He could just see two black eyes centered inside white circles of soaked fur and a black muzzle beneath them resting on the side of the vest, held there by the claws of two tiny paws. A bunny. Two bunnies. A minute black head was firmly grasped in the adult’s jaws. The female looked to be almost finished, but she retained her grip on her infant with fierce determination.
Gavin transferred the strap to his teeth and pulled the hood of his dry suit back, then caught hold of the animals and transferred them to it. They could cling to that more easily and rest a bit, using his body for a raft.
The Ranger cringed at the bite of the water on his head. It was well above freezing but still far too cold for his liking.
He ignored the discomfort and made himself take stock of his situation before starting the long swim back to the lifeboat.
Gavin stared grimly at the strap of the baby’s vest. He fastened it to that of his own. No matter what befell him, he was not going to lose this child. If his strength failed en route or he was injured and could not complete the rescue himself, swimmers from the ship would find them both together. Willie would not again become a pitiful little speck drifting toward oblivion on the vast ocean.
Driscoll struck out for the boat, but he knew there was a strong possibility that he would not be able to travel so far. His arms and neck ached. The pain and tightness in his chest made breathing an effort. He wanted only to stop, to rest. One of the others would come for them if he did, or the lifeboat would come. She was heading for them in any event.
Remaining here was a potentially deadly option. If he failed to shorten the distance between them and their rescuer, their time in the water would increase. He could endure that, but what would it mean for little Willie? The baby had been adrift a long while now, perhaps since the Fairy Court had first broken up. So small a body did not have a deep or large heat core. How much longer could he last, if, indeed, it was not too late already?
Salt that did not come from the ocean stung the man’s eyes. How old had Malachi reported Willie was? Eight months? Spirit of Space, he had not even had a single year in which to experience the wonders of this great universe. He could not yet comprehend his mother’s love and devotion.
The Ranger-Captain continued swimming. He kept his eyes on the rescue ship so as not to somehow lose track of her, but he tried to disassociate his awareness from the seemingly endless distance between them. It was all he could do to concentrate on making one stroke after another and maintaining the rhythm that carried him and his small cargo toward her.
A wave, a surge, rolled over him. He had been too spent to attempt to climb it…