Avril was born and raised in the beautiful and historic region of Cumbria, northwest England, but now resides in Ontario, Canada. A lover of history, legend, and romance, her books embrace those elements. Her Celtic roots also weave their way through much of her writing, and she does have a wee bit of a dark side too, which sneaks out now and then.
She also has a pretty amazing family, some fantastic friends, and a very cute pooch.
Feedback on her books is welcome, and replies to emails (providing they make it safely into her inbox) are guaranteed.
Facebook page: facebook.com/Borthiry
My first love is historical romance, but I have often ventured into other genres when writing short stories. I wrote this sci-fi short several years ago! Enjoy!
Copyright © 2014 Avril Borthiry
ASCENSION is a work of fiction that was invented in the mind of the author. Any similarities of characters or names used within to any person past, present, or future is either coincidental or used in a fictional manner. All rights reserved.
NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE USED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.
Evening sun slanted through the grimy window, spotlighting dust motes that swarmed in the air like tiny midges. My arrival in the doorway stirred them into a frenzy and sent them spiralling through the sun's rays as if alarmed by my intrusion.
The room had not been domestically inhabited for some time. Dirty yellow paint flaked off the walls like sunburned skin, while the floorboards bore the stains of habitation going back decades. Judging by the smell, some of the dark patches on the floor were more recent, and animal in origin.
Human? Maybe. Prey for the hunters.
That's what Humans had become.
I paused on the threshold and held my breath. I had no doubt that whoever was hiding nearby held theirs too. My well-trained eyes sought anomalies. Uneven floorboards that might indicate a trapdoor, or loose wallpaper masking hideouts behind the walls. My selective hearing could pick up the patter of a mouse's feet, but it chose to hear only the sounds of human movement. A breath. A heartbeat.
She was here.
I could sense her.
I could smell her fear.
“Anything?” Carrick's voice bellowed down from the floor above. I glanced up to see him leaning over the stair rail.
The redundant command irritated me. Much about Carrick irritated me. His heavy footfalls tramped across the floors above as he continued to search the house with all the subtlety of an ogre. Carrick and stealth had never been compatible. He'd insisted on joining me in this hunt at the last moment, catching me off guard. I usually worked alone, and with good reason.
I did not hunt to kill.
I hoped my instinct was correct - that the prey was hiding down here, and not upstairs.
I stepped into the room and turned to my left, treading slowly along the boards, feeling for looseness, a wobble, anything to indicate a less-than-solid seal.
It caressed my ears like the timid whisper of a child - a small intake of breath, snatched by a pair of Human lungs hungry for oxygen in the thin atmosphere.
To my right.
I narrowed my eyes and peered down at the cracks between the boards.
Three boards, the gaps between them slightly uneven. From above, I heard Carrick's footfalls thundering from room to room. He'd be busy for a while yet.
I crouched and lifted one of the boards, placing a finger to my lips as I threw a warning glance at the ceiling. “Sshh.”
Wearing only a thin grey tunic, the girl lay on her back with her arms crossed over her chest. Even with her matted red hair and filthy skin, she was beautiful to look upon. Young, no more than fifteen orbits, and perfectly formed. My body stirred at the sight of her. Her pale eyes blinked away the shock of daylight as they widened in fear.
I smiled and made the sign. Relief replaced the fear in her eyes as she returned the gesture. I could tell by the look of wonder on her face that she recognized who I was, what I stood for. I had become a legend among her kind, although the Human penchant for exaggeration had created a myth about me that in no way resembled who I really was.
“What is your name?” I whispered, pulling the injector from my pocket.
“A beautiful name. Hold still. This won't hurt.” I pushed the tiny needle into her neck and pressed the trigger, inserting the tiny microchip. All the chosen were thus marked. The girl did not flinch. “Someone will come to fetch you tonight. Stay here. Stay quiet.”
Before I replaced the board, I reached out to her. She wrapped her fingers around mine, her eyes softening.
“Have faith, Alia. Believe in me.”
She nodded once and released my hand.
She would be the last.
“Nothing here!” My shout echoed through the house as I replaced the floorboard. Carrick's curses tumbled down the stairs like a bag of dirty laundry.
By the time we returned to Central, his mood resembled a summer storm - dark, fierce, and blowing hot air. He had grumbled all the way back. I knew better than to make pretty talk, so I let him simmer. His anger reached a climax as we pulled to a halt. He slammed the truck door so hard, it rocked the vehicle on its wheels.
“The information was worthless.” He spat on the steps and fixed me with an angry glare. “I thought you said the informant was reliable.”
“Usually he is.” I punched in the code and waited as the door swung back. “Maybe they were warned of our arrival. They have informants of their own, y'know.”
“That's the problem. Someone is warning them, hiding them. We need to find the bastard and kill him.”
I played along. “I know. I've put the word out.”
“I have people on it too.” Carrick pressed his index finger on the armoury's ID pad. “I've been told he's someone close to home.”
My blood chilled, but I checked my reaction and simply raised an eyebrow. “One of us? I don't believe it.”
Carrick mumbled some obscenity and stored his weapons. “You going straight home?”
No point lying. “No. I have a date.”
“Anyone I know?”
“I sincerely hope not.” He had no idea how sincere I really was.
Carrick laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. I had an urge to grab his arm and break it, but I smiled instead.
“I wish you a satisfactory mating. Goodnight, Hunter.”
I watched him leave, trying to imagine the level of his anger when he finally discovered the truth.
When he realized who I was.
~ * ~
Humans did not originate on this world.
They had arrived seventy orbits ago, in a starship named Ascension. One thousand of them, the chosen ones, refugees from a dying planet, seeking redemption in the vastness of space. It was, and probably always would be, an event unsurpassed in our history - frightening, incredible, astounding.
They were much like us - not as tall or as strong - but far more advanced. They had travelled light years. We were still hunting with arrows and spears.
Humans, they called themselves.
Primals, they called us.
At first, we bowed down and worshipped these beings from the stars. They shared their trough of knowledge with us and we drank from it with a thirst that refused to be slaked. We learned their language, leapt over a thousand orbits of evolution and scientific discovery, and advanced at remarkable speed. Inside of one orbit, we had machines that travelled across our land. Two more orbits saw us taking to the skies. Now, we were already looking to venture out into the stars.
They had done it, so why couldn't we? We had always been hunters, seekers, explorers.
But we no longer hunted with arrows and spears. We didn't need to. Humans had given us the knowledge to build other weapons. Stronger weapons.
That was their biggest mistake.
Their second mistake was telling us how to use those weapons. Or rather, how not to use them.
“Beware,” the Humans said, cloaked in experience. “Or you will destroy yourselves.”
“No,” the Primals replied, cloaked in arrogance. “We will destroy you.”
Humans became the persecuted, the prey. We had no further use for their derelict fountain of knowledge. We had learned all they could teach us. They had served their purpose.
They fought of course, but it was futile. They were drastically outnumbered.
The hunt began, and Humans went underground.
When the killing started, no one knew for sure how many Humans there actually were. Some figured ten thousand, others put the numbers nearer fifteen. They did not breed as prolifically as Primals. In the beginning, a few Humans took Primals as mates, but the relationships proved fruitless. The reproductive systems were not compatible. Since that time, each had kept to their own kind.
At least, until my father met my mother.
She was his prey. He was supposed to kill her. Instead, he fell in love with her.
He was Primal. She was Human.
I am their son, their miracle, conceived from the inconceivable.
Rumours of my impossible birth spread, and so did the fear. I was an anomaly, a threat. They searched for me, killing in my name. Within half an orbit of my birth, they had singled out and spilled the blood of a thousand innocent Human sons, hoping that one of them was me.
I am outwardly Primal. I have my father's features, which allow me to move about without suspicion. I inherited his strength and speed. I also have instincts and abilities far superior to any other, be they Human or Primal.
My allegiance is with my mother's people. The persecuted.
Fifteen hundred of them remain alive.
One thousand have been chosen.
The chosen will be saved.
I am Hunter.
I am their leader.
I am their saviour.
I left Central and drove out to the eastern outpost. They were waiting for me, the twelve Humans who acted as my ambassadors, my informants.
“Your information was correct,” I told them. “There is a girl, Alia. A perfect specimen. She can take the place of Joanne.”
Jack's eyes narrowed. “And where is Joanne? Five of the chosen have disappeared in the past two weeks. We have a traitor among us, I tell you.”
“It is not one of us.” Tristan glared at Jack. “We are sworn to you, Hunter. We would not betray our own.”
“Whoever it is, we must endure.” I eyed each of them, wondering, knowing, denying. “The ship leaves in three days. I am going to fetch the girl, and will meet you all at Haven.”
“No, Hunter.” Tristan laid his hand on my arm. “I will fetch her. You should be with the people at this time.”
“He's right,” Jack said. “You should be with the chosen.”
“Very well.” I turned to Tristan. “She is hiding beneath the floor of the empty room at the front of the house.”
“I will need the injector.” Tristan held out his hand.
“No. It is already done.”
I hoped I was wrong. I hoped the brief flicker in Tristan's eyes was not disappointment.
We split up, each of us - except for Tristan - taking a different route to Haven. My vehicle sped through the night, smooth and swift, responsive to my touch. I drove without lights. I didn't need them. I could see the road quite clearly by the light of the twin moons.
Two of our five moons were in close orbit - an occurrence almost as rare as my birth. No one had ever seen it before. The gravitational pull on the planet's surface was immense - just what we needed. But we only had three days until the moons began to drift away from our planet.
I pulled off the road at the usual spot, sliding the vehicle into the undergrowth, away from prying eyes.
I would walk from here.
Night birds sang and alarmed creatures shouted warnings to each other as I travelled through the dense forest. The twin moons lit my way as I scrambled over the obsidian ridge, their light reflecting off the treacherous glass rocks that had formed during some ancient volcanic eruption. I paused in admiration at the banks of the Celestial stream, the waters lit from beneath by luminescent weeds, their fronds rippling in the current like the strands of a woman's hair.
By the time I reached Haven, our sun had placed a golden arch in the sky in readiness for the arrival of dawn. It always inspired me, the birth of a new day. It renewed my spirit.
Haven - where the darkness of the forest met the light of the ocean. Over a thousand people were spread out along the edge of the trees, not daring to venture into the open. The necessity to remain hidden had become a Human instinct over the orbits, a part of who they were. The air was thick with their thoughts and emotions, a cacophony only I could hear.
Most stood when they saw me arrive and a soft hum of excitement rippled over the crowd. My eyes swept over them, seeking my ambassadors.
Jack came running over, his eyes bright. “Hunter, we must speak.” I heard fear in his voice.
“What is it?”
“Tristan sent a message via communion. He wants you to meet him at the eastern outpost. Says it is urgent.”
I groaned. “Damn him. I hope the Primals are not tracking signals.” The bitter taste of fear dried my tongue.
Jack frowned and studied my face. “Do you know what it's about? The girl perhaps?”
“Maybe. Where are the others?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “They are here somewhere.”
I looked over at the huge ship, tethered at the edge of the ocean. “Is everything ready?”
“Yes. We'll start boarding in a few hours. What's going on, Hunter? Is something wrong?”
“I cannot say for sure. Stay here and make sure everything goes to plan. Keep your communicator on as well. I may have need to contact you.” I reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Jack, listen, this is very important. If I do not return, you mustn't wait for me. Do not delay the departure. Understand? I will have your word on this.”
“Your word, my friend.”
He nodded, the frown still on his face. “But you will return. You must. These people need a leader.”
“I've already given these people what they need. Remember your promise, Jack. Don't fail me.”
It took me till noon to get back to the outpost. Tristan was waiting, and I got the impression of a trapper eager to hear the snap of his iron-jawed trap. He made the sign as I approached. How could he do that at a time like this? He might as well have shoved a knife into my gut.
Truth - I suspected he'd already done that anyway.
“Hunter.” He reached out to shake my hand. I ignored it, grimacing as my stomach rolled with the nausea of his deceit.
“Where's the girl, Tristan?”
“She's safe, don't worry. On her way to Haven as we speak.”
I heard movement in the trees to my right.
“Then why am I here, my friend? What did they offer you? Your freedom? Your life for mine?”
His face paled. “I don't know what you mean.”
“Don't lie to me. I am not a fool. I know you've betrayed me. I just don't know why.”
His pale skin suddenly flushed with colour, and his eyes turned to steel. “I'll tell you why, Primal, for that is what you are. Primal. You act like one of us, but you are one of them. You belong with them. There is no room for your kind among our race.”
My head swam with dread. “Tell me you have not betrayed the mission.”
He sneered. “Of course not. But I'll not stay here while you go off with my people. I am Human. I should be one of the chosen, not you. I have negotiated my freedom with the Primals, my life in exchange for yours. I intend to take your place on the ship and lead the Humans to their new world.”
He spat on the ground at my feet. The malevolence in his tone shocked me. Damn fool. I regarded him with pity, for I knew he had only moments to live.
I heard a splat, like mud being thrown against a wall, and watched as a large red stain spread out over Tristan's chest. The hate in his eyes changed to surprise just before he collapsed at my feet. He reached out a hand to me and I took it as I crouched at his side.
“You had it wrong, Tristan,” I whispered. “I'm not one of the chosen. I am never leaving this world. I'm staying here with the others.”
Only then did I give him the sign. A tear slipped from his eye as he took his last breath.
It was the third day.
Seventy orbits ago, a ship had landed on this shore. A mighty thing it was, an ark, a vessel of hope. One thousand humans had disembarked, hoping for a fresh start on a new world.
As they settled into their new home and shared their technology with the planet's inhabitants, the mighty ship languished, eventually forgotten, captured and smothered by nature's relentless advance.
When the killings started, a pregnant Human female and her Primal mate sought refuge in the forest, knowing that their unborn child was in terrible danger. It was there, at the edge of the forgotten shore, that they discovered the ship, buried beneath years of forest growth.
The perfect hiding place.
Hunter's birth place.
Now it would serve as an ark once more, its cargo of humans ready to leave, seeking another haven on a different world.
Ready for launch, it hovered in silence offshore, a massive silver starship, mirroring the light from the moons and casting a black shadow across the waves. Once the gravitational pull reached its peak, the on-board computers would take over and the ship would rise.
Almost five hundred Humans remained behind - most of them old and frail. They had bid tearful farewells to friends and loved ones, yet not one had questioned the mission. They had all recognized the most important thing of all to their race.
Survival of the species.
As the moons rose ever higher, the glow from the ship brightened until it became almost impossible to gaze upon. The ship began to pulsate, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it became as one light again. Then it rose into the sky, a splendid and silent wonder, its light so bright, it subdued that of the moons. A soft purr vibrated through the air, fanning the ocean's waves and brushing the treetops.
“You did good, Hunter.”
I turned and smiled at Jack. “I couldn't have done it alone.”
“How's the shoulder?”
I wiggled it, wondering at my ability to heal so quickly. “Fine. Carrick always was a lousy shot. He got lucky with poor Tristan.”
“Poor Tristan nearly did for all of us. I have no sympathy for the bastard. And Carrick won't rest until he finds you.”
“Then he's gonna be one tired hunter. I can hear the idiot coming a mile away. It was his big feet that alerted me the other night.”
“I'm glad they did, or the Humans might have lost their saviour. What did you give them?”
I tilted my head at him. “Give them? I don't understand.”
“The other day as you were leaving, you said you'd already given the Humans what they needed. What was it?”
I lifted my gaze to the mighty ship hovering above us, just able to make out the name written in brilliant blue light along the side.
“Oh, that.” I smiled. “Hope, Jack. I gave them hope.”
Alia set her pencil aside, pleased with her sketch. She lifted her fingers to her mouth, the fingers Hunter had touched. The warmth of him remained on her skin, even after three days. She looked around her tiny cabin, seeking the perfect place for her artwork.
The symbol she had drawn was one of hope, of a promise kept, of a saviour who would have given his life to save hers.
It was the sign he'd given her as she had lain in her dark hiding place. The sign she had returned.
Simple, easy to remember. Easy to recognize. Just two straight lines drawn in the air. One vertical, one horizontal.
The sign of a cross.
I’ve been writing poems and stories since I was a kid. I used to write poems for my mum (oh, how I miss my mum!). After she died, I actually found some of them tucked away in an envelope. I had no idea she’d kept them. Needless to say, I was a complete mess by the time I’d finished reading them. Some of them I don’t even remember writing!
I read a lot as a kid, too. Got my hands on many of the classics – Heidi, Black Beauty, Jane Eyre (still my fave). Loved fairy tales and fables. I devoured the ‘Adventure’ series, by Enid Blyton. I also had the full set of ‘The Chalet School’ books – a series about an Englishwoman who opened up a school for girls in the Austrian Tyrol. One of the main characters was a girl name Jo (short for Josephine) who aspired to become a novelist. She was my favourite character in the books. And in the end, she became a novelist. A successful one, as well!
But for me to become a novelist – well, that was something surely out of reach. Or so I thought at one time. I started late, but hey, better late than never. Here I am, several books later, with others due out this year.
Mum would be proud. Actually, I’d like to think she is proud, watching me from the other side. Maybe she’s the one who pushed me to finally write a book! Who knows? Such fanciful thoughts! But then, I’m a writer, so it's allowed. Fanciful thoughts are part of my regime.
More to come on that! Hope you’ll stick around, and I hope you enjoy my stories!