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April 1, 2011 / Bika

Fiction Friday: Into the Breaklands

Hey look, it’s an excerpt from the rough draft of Break. Hooray for Friday!

“I don’t see why Abel has to sit in the trailer.” Wedged between her baby brother and the Prof, Edith Billingsly lit a cigarette and sucked haberroot-laced tobacco smoke into her lungs. It was hot in the rig’s rusty cab and they were sticky with sweat, but it was better than being stuck in the trailer with Baker. While none of the crew were particularly fresh after three days on the road without a bath, the stress of field work and fighting off the breaks combined with late summer heat gave the man a stink potent enough to make Edith’s eyes water.

Josh stirred from his slumped position against the door. There were gray circles under his eyes and his complexion was paler than usual under the freckles. “Shut up, Edith,” he slurred.

She ignored him. “Should’ve had him sit up here. His arse isn’t as big as Josh’s,” she said, and exhaled through her nostrils.

The Prof plucked the cigarette from her fingers and stamped it out against the side panel. “No smoking in the cab,” he said, flicking the butt out the driver’s side window. Edith folded her arms over her chest.

“They’re medicinal.”

“You’ve got capsules like everyone else. Use them. No smoking in MFNW vehicles.”

“You’re making that up. There are no Fellowship vehicles.” Edith tossed a hank of sweat-dampened hair out of her face and gave him a look. “There can’t be policy on things that don’t exist yet.”

“You can smoke in the trailer. Sit back there after the next break if you’re worried about it.” Of the six passengers no one weathered the smothering gloom of the Breaklands like the Prof, but Edith held up surprisingly well. The expedition leader had taken to using her as a sort of mood barometer. Whenever Edith was quiet for longer than twenty minutes at a stretch, he put on the brakes and herded everyone out into the grass to walk off the stupor. It wasn’t very refreshing to anyone, but it helped wake them up a little.

She slouched on the hard metal bench, using her brother’s shoulder as a pillow. “You look like shit,” she said.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think your whining was just a symptom,” he replied. Edith pinched him hard on the upper arm and he flinched. “Hey!”

“Enough.” Edith and Joshua Billingsly, looking for the moment more like sick, petulant children than archaeologists, recognized the irritation in his voice and shut their traps. Professor Emmett Brickell was a soft-spoken man, but he was not a patient man, and the siblings knew they were treading a fine line between a nominally pleasant ride and a long walk to their next stop following in the RTV’s wide tracks.

“Yessir,” mumbled Josh, and assumed a rag-doll position against the doorframe once more.

Only the Prof had permission to drive. Short for Rough Terrain Vehicle, the RTV was a prototype on loan from one of the Prof’s engineering contacts at Llewellyn’s Center for Historical Reclamation, which was really just a fancy name for junkyard. What the CHR compound lacked in aesthetics it made up for in salvaged tech, re-engineered hardware, and unnecessary acronyms. The solar-powered lighting system at Llewellyn Academy, for example, was the work of CHR mech-heads, as were most of the water and sewage pumps in the Arc Northwest. In the relatively brief period since it was founded, CHR tech had improved the quality of life in the surrounding area by leaps and bounds.

The RTV was a power-hog and could only hold enough of a charge to move about a half-mile once the sun went down and the solar panels stopped fueling the capacitor. To store up enough juice to haul six people, the trailer, and all their supplies in addition to itself, it had to charge for hours in direct sunlight, cutting into their potential time on the road each day. In spite of its limitations it was still more than twice as fast as moving on foot and enabled them to take a lot more equipment.

In the driver’s seat, Emmett kept an eye on his mirrors to watch for movement from the long trailer out back. Unlike the treaded RTV, it had huge inflated wheels and highly effective shock absorbers to protect their cargo from jostling too hard and throwing the calibrations out of whack. There was nothing in there that couldn’t take a few bumps, but there would be on the return trip if the Prof had any say in the matter. Rauf’s dark head stuck up over the back of the trailer; the other two men were lying down.

Abel Pickert took the breaks worse than anyone and had been curled up like a shrimp on his bedroll every time the Prof checked on his crew. Baker was no sicker than Rauf or Edith but took advantage of being banished to the flatbed trailer by sprawling out to rest with his hat over his face. The Prof caught Rauf’s eye in the rearview and was about to signal when Edith grabbed at the steering levers and shrieked in his ear.

“STOP!”

 

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