UnderSea (Sample Pages)


Administrator Ilin Sibir balanced against the rocking of the ship as she carefully folded the maps, her fingers shaking. The rest of the team climbed the ladder to the deck. The older Administrator seemed to sense Ilin's mood, not a surprise considering how many times in the last quarter-moon they'd had the same argument.

"I've worked with him before," Administrator Quel snapped. Her chair being bolted to the floor she couldn't push it back as she normally would have. "His information is always accurate--he just doesn't have the resources to solve the problem."

That problem being pirates.

Ilin continued folding the maps into their water-proof case, snapped the lid down with more force than strictly necessary. "I hope you're right." She'd made all her arguments previously, with no result.

She sealed the breathing mask around the edges of her face as she climbed the wooden ladder and stepped onto the deck. She didn't need the mask, but those in the water didn't know her and as trained Administrators would probably notice if she didn't need to breathe all the way to the island. Better not to betray her secrets to those who might not understand. She spoke into the wind, certain the older Administrator would not hear. "But I don't think you are."

Other boats bobbed restlessly across the waves, positioned to intercept anyone trying to escape by sea.

Ilin dove off the deck and the water flowed across her skin, comforting and familiar at once. The minute feathery protrusions on her skin puffed and expanded, the reaction nearly invisible in the subdued light. The water across the gills gave her all the oxygen she needed.

Her lungs closed off, as they should, although she kept a mouthful of air in case she had to speak.

Even such a short distance under the water the light seemed directionless, reflecting off the surface and in twisted ripples across the faces of those with her.

Each of the strike team wore a similar mask. They carried a variety of weapons, from one man who favored the two swords to a thin woman whose hands had been strapped into gloves with narrow blades along each finger. At a distance, beyond the rest of the team and separate from them, the team of bowmen waited who would surround the pirate village with crossbows to catch any runners, their bows carefully sealed from the water.

Ilin lifted her hands, taking a chance with the signed command. Capture if possible. She had a good idea what Quel's response would be when she found out Ilin had countermanded her orders--that southern Administrator had demanded the pirates all be killed, citing danger to the blod.

Ilin moved through the team before anyone could argue and they followed her toward the island.

The area where they swam, so close to the surface, seemed uninhabited. If they moved deeper they would see the amazing conglomeration of life on the ocean floor. A distance ahead, bathed in the indistinct light from the surface, bulked the island which was their destination.

The undersea life was more populous there, visible as they moved closer. Bottom feeders snuffled along the sand, stirred up the fine particles in their search for the organics that floated to the sea floor. One got too close to the lair of an adolescent telt buried in the sand and vanished in a cloud of grit. A school of blue and yellow darters slipped from cover to cover and vanished again.

Sea grass moved to the rhythm of the waves, and Ilin saw it move to something else as they passed over, a large shape that paralleled their path for a short distance and then seemed to disappear.

One of her companions pointed to a spear-like shape as it pierced another fish and faded into the wavering half-shadows of the undersea world with its meal.

The team gathered at the base of the island, where the sloping beach dropped off into deeper water. They all knew the plan, knew their own responsibilities.

At Ilin's gesture the team split; a third moved to the left, a third to the right, and the last third followed her up the sand to the narrow beach below the cliffs.

She touched the short, double-bladed spear at her side, glanced around to check the readiness and armaments of her team, then started up the cliff.

Her skin flattened as the sea water dried, leaving her with an uncomfortable sense of suffocation before her lungs started to work again.

Her team reached their destination first, and huddled down in the trees and brush just short of the village. No one moved among those houses; no one hanging laundry, no children playing in the streets. A chill shivered along her back.

Ilin easily identified the locations of her team members, saw the moment when the other teams moved into position. The crossbowmen would be stationed farther out and higher up, where they could see the action in the village.

The moment when the forest bird called was a distinct relief. Ilin led her people into the village in a rush.

No one tried to stop them, no alarm went up from watchers or alert children.

The gray stone houses stood aloof, unconcerned about the strangers in their midst.

The teams moved into the village from three sides, and Ilin's team had reached the main street when the babble started--high, excited voices, the words indistinguishable, but coming from the direction of the town square.

Ilin hesitated, but the wind shifted and she smelled stale blood. She turned her head, caught the eye of the man who had been designated as her second for this. "Search the houses for survivors."

He blinked, startled, but did not question. Teams of five moved out along the street to follow Ilin's instructions.

The remaining three stayed at Ilin's back as she ran forward, rounding the corner to come to a stop as the village square came into sight.

Her breath stopped and for a long moment her mind refused to acknowledge what she saw. She took a few slow steps onto the warm paving stones, then bent and touched the reddish-brown stain. Slowly she turned her head, identifying the bodies closest to her.

A man to her left, the body placed precisely on its knees, arms outstretched for balance so his forehead would have been resting on the stones--his head gone, the thick red blood pooled around his arms.

To her right but farther away a woman in the same posture, her head also missing.

The blood ran on the dark stones, soaked between them into the soil below. The edges of the red had hardened and crusted. All around the square, patches of blood indicated where others rested. She counted nine in her first survey. The darkness of the shadows would have hidden most of the carnage from human eyes.

"It's been less than a day," Ilin murmured. She ignored the sound of someone retching behind her. She met the eyes of her third-team leader as he approached. His mouth worked as if he suppressed nausea.

"Eleven adults," he said. He swallowed something that appeared to be choking him. "Three children." His eyes drifted away from hers. "One of the women appears to be pregnant." He jerked his head back, his chin toward one shoulder to show her the location. Ilin's stronger eyes saw two of her people in the shadows a distance away.
The shape they crouched beside wasn't positioned like the others, but rolled over on its side.

Ilin closed her eyes briefly in order to control her emotions. "I sent the rest of my team to look for survivors. Send someone out to the ship--we need an admin team to record this before we do anything else."

She swallowed, turned her head away so she didn't have to look into the shadows closest at hand. Her eyes drifted to the house at the head of the square, three stories of dark stone with whole-paned glass windows, far too ornate for its surroundings. "Verify if any of the victims were blod."

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