- Published: 29 May 2017
- ISBN: 9780143782070
- Imprint: Bantam Australia
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 288
- RRP: $32.99
Year of the Orphan
There were a heat. Air hotter’n blud. Baked her skin as she moved. Dint carry much. Evrythin she had weighed against how far itd have to go. Count it. No ship, that were gone down a hole. No swag bar sum rounds that might help her get it back, the rest of it cast off an down the same hole. A bottle, drymeat, tea and a billy, four heavy rounds, scope, watercatcher, skully and wrap. Coat, boots, shirt an strides, more dust than cloth, woulda stood up on their own if she let em. Flint. Long knife. The shimmer come off the top of the cracked clay in the gully, always ahead, never gettin any closer. No seasons in the desert no more. Blud weight, blud money. It were a dead mans jacket she wore but that werent sayin much. Once and soon enough her boots was gunna be on sumwun elses feet. If they ever found her that was. She dint need no talent for seein the signs nor the scope to tell her that soon enough she was gunna be with the dust and dead and gone and on the wind. The System were near, she could feel the colour of it comin closer, but she figgered she werent gunna make it this time.
On her heels were the Reckoner, she were near enough certain. Day after day walkin bad ground that she shoulda been sailin, waitin for a dust storm to hit that never come. Small mercies. Now this. The heat risin up outta the ground and cookin her boots. Nights of the clearest starstruck cold she’d ever seen. All the time, he’d been trackin her across the sand. All the way from the Glows an the Spirals an up out the earth. Past the bones of them Ghostet whatd come before her. Scavs an scouts an who knew. Along the flat snow roads where cotton bloom caught against the twisted bushes. Heard tell they was once tended careful, gone wild now. A score of days walkin back an that mara, that scaretale pickin up her tracks sumthin like the day after that. She’d hit the staked castouts on the sand late yesterday. They never put em out nearer than three days walk which meant she were gettin close. She eyed their dried up bodies but the rope an wood werent worth the takin. Dint have time for no scavvin now anyways. The fella followin her kept his distance in the heat of the day and closed the gap at night. Trailin her an wouldnt get shook. Makin up ground over the cracked an parched earth, never close enough to see clear through the scope but it was him sure enough. Whatever kinda thing he were. Loped steady, leaned left, carried weight on his right hip though sling, spear or blade was all rumour. Who knew? Years of hearin his name an she’d never believed he were a real thing. All them scaretales they talked at the System said he et them he kilt. She’d seen plenny of bones down the Glows that mighta borne the truth of that out. Scavs strung from roof an bough an still more disappeared an never come back.
He were taller than her. A coat that mighta been near enough the colour of the soil or just covered in enough of it not to matter anyway. A soft slouch on his head, she could tell by the shape but maybe it were the heat haze and maybe it were dust but drawin a bead on him dint come easy an it never lasted. He were smoke, mixin with the sheoaks an bluebush, faded in an out of wadis until she felt the fear in her belly, sweat on her palms an kept movin. By her own reckonin it wouldnt be long now that she woke in the night with him standin over her or never woke again. All she could do was keep gunnin to the System and pray the fellas who watched the sand saw her comin and cared enough to get the gate open. Pray for once she ran into another scav or hunters bringin in a load of roos an coneys.
He might not take her if she made the walls. Sum protection, for what it was worth, spillin from the trash and noise an firelight of other souls. Then again, there was rumours he were wun of them, that he walked among em in the circles of the System without care before fadin through the iron an disappearin into the red dust that clogged yer lungs an made ya spit up blud an weep forever, ya breathed it long enough. He were sumthin outta dust, outta whirlies an willie willies, and sumtimes she thought she were makin him all up. He were the boogeyman, takin kids an old alike, eatin up scavs that crossed him out Painter way, or Olympic way, or anywhichway the tale got spun. They was stupid stories to keep the brainless shook and yungens scared. She’d never believed em but when she tried to focus the scope on him an couldnt she knew what it was. Never seen nuthin like it in all her years on the sand.
The aird been cold an clear the last few nights and she’d no need of her wrap, shipless as she were. Still, she’d slept with it stuffed in her mouth in case she cried out, though she reckoned she’d beat that habit a long time. All them stories but it dint change there were a fella trackin her an she dint like bein hunted. Dint sit right at all. There werent nuthin certain but wun thing, the Reckoner were coming.