Jean Preston: Sledgehammer

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Jean Preston Sledgehammer
  • Название:
    Sledgehammer
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Kindle
  • Жанр:
    sf_postapocalyptic / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2017
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • Рейтинг книги:
    3 / 5
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Sledgehammer: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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In a desolate, primitive future, strangers join forces to escape to a utopia.

Jean Preston: другие книги автора


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Jean Preston

SLEDGEHAMMER

1

At six o’clock in the morning Kirwyn rose up with the other munks, said silent prayer, stoked the fire, ate porridge in a little wooden bowl and drank water from a little wooden cup.

The room was smoky, smelled of incense and sweat. It was a shabby little thing, one single stained-glass window, bare red brick, a fireplace. The whole place was littered with hammocks and sleeping mats. When great red curtains were opened, galaxies of dust moved around the rousing, stretching fellows. Combing scraggly beards and long hair, applying strips of linen to the hands and feet. They put on their tunics – roughspun, burnt orange rags.

When the sun was high, they were outside and they saw the nuns and waved – the nuns waved back. The nuns were doing errands, unknown to Kirwyn. The munks would be preparing land for new barley, digging out stones and weeds. It was hard work, especially for the old men. Kirwyn was one of the youngest of them, he found farming more tedious than anything, but the others sighed and rubbed aching muscles, had sweaty hair cling to their foreheads.

When twelve o’clock came it was time for middle-meal, the munks and nuns would come together in the great hall or in the garden and eat hearty food and drink wine, and they’d say middle-prayers silently. Then the rest of the day was Kirwyn’s to do as he pleased. He was encouraged to read the sacred texts, and he often did, but today he felt like stretching his legs. Perhaps he would walk the grey woods with Sister Malone, see some wild hogs, find their nest, see the brown little spotted piglets… or go sword sparring with Brother Frederick? They had to be back before night prayers…

Kirwyn had drifted off, absentmindedly digging in one place. All at once he felt the atmosphere change, uncomfortable, like there were mosquitos in the air. He noticed that all the other munks had stopped and were staring into the mountains. He did the same.

There was a cloud of dust, a few kilometres away. Kirwyn looked to Brother Carmichael for reassurance but there was none to be found in his old bonce. His was utterly passive, eyes locked in position, staring into the distance. At length he patted Kirwyn on the shoulder and motioned for him and the others to follow. And they did, slowly, reluctantly, dropping their tools where they stood.

At the mouth of the temple the munks waited, the nuns returned in drips and drabs, the Mother Superior guiding them along with a gesture or a touch of the elbows. When Kirwyn looked up again at the mountains – the smoke had divided into 4 trailing clouds, and he could begin to hear the dull moan of machinery.

Whoever or whatever they were, they were heading straight for the temple. There would be no use running – they could not hope to match that speed. They could hide in the grey woods – but that would leave the relics and books unprotected. Besides, the visitors could be travellers in need of assistance. It was the Order’s duty to aid the sick and weary.

The rumble of machinery grew louder, the whole congregation had gathered to meet them. Looking up at the burgeoning clouds of dust, and then back to one another, the novices smiling nervously, the elders remaining passive, detached.

They were motorcycles. Kirwyn had never seen one before with his own eyes, but had read about them and seen pictures. The sound they made was deeply unnerving, too bass, too loud, too constant, it grew obnoxious as the bikes approached, then it juddered into silence. The four strangers dismounted.

They were very strange, but they were men. Three of them were armed. They had long guns slung over their shoulders, and when they dismounted they swung them around to their hips, aiming at the ground, fingers off the triggers. They wore faded green clothing, raggy and patchwork, with tan cloth wrapped around their waists and their necks and their mouths. Their faces were obscured by helmets – these too were cloth-like in appearance, with ram’s horns glued to the sides. Their eyes were covered behind thick black goggles. They wore thin leather gloves and absurd armoured boots – knee high, thick and made of some sort of shiny plastic or metal, Kirwyn couldn’t tell. They were segmented like a lobster’s shell, far too heavy it seemed, for their skinny frames.

The one who was unarmed – or seemed to be – hopped off his bike. He put his hands on his hips, taking in the view of the red temple and all the acolytes gathered before him. He took off his gloves, crammed them into his pocket and took off his helmet, leaving it to fall on the ground. He revealed a shaggy head of silver blond hair and a coarsely stubbled face. Not much older than Kirwyn. He was very handsome, with an almost feminine quality to him. His expression was enigmatic, half smiling, big blue eyes – twinkling in the sun.

“Hello,” he bellowed in a strange accent. He sauntered up to them. His companions followed, their riding gear still on, weapons still pointed downwards.

“What is this place? Who are you people?” he demanded. When no answer came immediately, he reached into his jacket, grabbing for something, he muttered “Not a chatty bunch are you?”

“Forgive me Sir,” Brother Carmichael stepped forwards. “We are not used to welcoming strangers, nor – speaking, in, truth. Most of us have taken vows of silence, you see?”

The stranger smiled strangely and lit a cigarette with a metallic stick. “That so?”

“Y-yes,” said Carmichael “We are a Tacitus sect. We are simple farmers, we want no quarrel sirs, you need no weapons here.”

The three bikers remained in position. The leader smoked his cigarette and looked at Carmichael madly, like he might hug him or throttle him as the mood struck him.

Carmichael swallowed, and, continued “What brings you to these parts, may I ask?”

“Well… me and my broders, we’re travellers see? And travelling’s thirsty work, especially in this weather. We was wondering whether – if I could be so bold – whether we could trouble you for something to drink?”

“Of-of course” said Carmichael, overjoyed. “Come this way—” The old munk scurried along, motioning the stranger to follow.

He didn’t. He glanced with half-closed eyes at the munks, and then the nuns. He walked over with the sun in his eyes, a couple feet away from the silent crowds. Looking at each one individually, some for a moment, some for a few seconds. Strolling along. One nun he stood by for a while, looking directly into her eyes, her expression was resigned and melancholic. His – was curious. He held her jawline.

“My – good man,” said Carmichael, trembling “The drinks are… this way”

The stranger moved his head, and then his eyes to look at Carmichael. “Of course” he croaked. And then sauntered off, following the old munk, his guards in clanking boots followed.

When they were out of sight the stoic nun fell to her knees, breathing heavily. The congregation was forlorn, Kirwyn looked down, cold knots in his stomach.

2

Alana and Robin rode their horses in single file. Up the side of a hill to an old railway tunnel that cut through it. Through the guts of the world they trotted, in darkness. It was a small tunnel, so they needed no light, but on the other side the landscape was completely changed, thickly forested, no paths, no long vision. This was the area they would be scouting. They stopped for a moment, reigning in their impatient horses, then soldiered on into the forest.

A light drizzle hit them, so they wrapped up their long rifles in cloth and pulled up their hoods. As Rangers, their uniforms were rather understated, hardly looked like uniforms at all. Brown undershirt, pants, belt, forest green poncho, black fingerless gloves that went up to their wrists. Their hair was very neat, tied back so nothing could cover their eyes.

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