An excerpt from If We Had Known
The Steady Drone of Silence
“Excuse me? Lieutenant Kolby…excuse me!” Christopher James spoke softly into the headset attached to the helmet the lieutenant had jammed onto his head before they’d left the transport. “I need to know what’s gone wrong…”
Just ahead, Kolby snapped around to look over his shoulder, his features hard-set and his gaze unyielding. His posture projected urgency.
Christopher fell silent as he felt his eyes widen and the rest of him go cold. This must be how a rabbit feels caught in a hawk’s sights, he thought as he swallowed hard and fought the urge to duck his head. Kolby looked away and continued his hurried, but methodical progress through the brush, his eyes continually scanning in all directions, even straight up into the sky.
A shiver ran over Christopher. Why would the lieutenant look up?
Clutching the straps of the rucksack holding his tablet computer, he did his best to move as quickly and quietly as the soldiers escorting him. Fat chance of that, though. He was a civilian contractor. An engineer. A tech head specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Two weeks ago he’d been pulled from his current research project with no explanation. Now he found himself on the butt end of Demeter traipsing through the wilds, destination unknown. He didn’t have to ask to know the soldiers escorting him weren’t any happier about it than he was.
Maybe he should have been paying more attention to where he was walking, instead of worrying over where he was going. Abruptly, his forward motion switched to downward as a root or something snagged his foot, tripping him. Christopher started to cry out only to find himself gripped by what felt like two steel bands, one across his mouth, the other around his upper arm. He had the vague impression the rest of the soldiers around him had dropped low to the ground and gone still. Christopher himself couldn’t help but tremble as he came eye to up-close eye with Lieutenant Kolby.
“Do you want to die?” The words were so low and emphatic Christopher questioned if he’d actually heard them, either way the message was clear in Kolby’s gaze.
Christopher shook his head.
Kolby looked over at the soldier to their left. Samson, if Christopher remembered correctly. Hanging from the man’s neck was an electronic device. Some kind of tracker-slash-monitor. All Christopher knew was the little green light on the top of the housing meant they were good. If the red one went on, they were screwed. The man nodded and Kolby nodded back. Only then did he release his grip on Christopher. One hand dropped to the rifle hanging from the strap slung across Kolby’s chest, the other rose slowly into the air in an obscure gesture Christopher had to guess meant ‘proceed’, because—as if they were guided by one brain—the six soldiers rose from where they crouched and continued through the brush with barely a sound.
Christopher couldn’t move.
The soldier behind him gave him a controlled shove. Not enough to make him fall, but enough to break the grip of the fear anchoring Christopher in place. He was terrified of messing up again. He was terrified of whatever was out there that had Kolby treading so lightly. He was terrified of never making it home.
Christopher had no place being on this mission.
Apparently the military felt otherwise. Or at least someone up the chain of command did.
Christopher just wished he knew what they were thinking because the only thing worse than being out here was having no clue why.
Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.
Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, and Transcendence, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Dragon’s Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.
She is a member of Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.
Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) and Twitter (DMcPhail).