Here’s a sneak peek at my next novel, Gliese 667, coming in August 2021.
All rights reserved, Darlene Reilley, copyright 2021.
Emma hung from a one-hand hold halfway up the side of a sheer red rock wall in the desert of Utah. Her long blonde ponytail fluttered in the breeze under the red and white helmet.
As Emma looked out over the desert below, her grey eyes turned toward the horizon. August was beautiful in the desert.
She stopped to take a break because her arms ached. That, combined with the view, made the moment even more worthwhile. She reached for the camera that perpetually hung around her neck and snapped off a few pictures. The view was breathtaking.
The rock wall at the gym has nothing on the real thing.
She focused on one section of the desolate desert landscape and fired off a few more shots.
“Come on, Emma,” Aiden, her biggest brother, called from above. “We don’t have all day, Emma.”
She let the camera fall to her neck against the white t-shirt. It, plus her khaki climbing shorts and sneakers were scuffed and worn from hours of hiking, climbing, and having fun. She loved every minute of it.
Emma turned her attention back to the rock face. She pulled herself up the few feet. The ledge was almost within reach.
Aiden held his hand out and Emma reached for it. She grabbed it and he pulled her up onto the ledge.
He was tall and well-built like the rest of the men in their family. He wore climbing shorts and his white shirt hung from a clip at his waist. Where she needed bottles of sunscreen, he tanned easily. He had their father’s chocolate eyes.
“What were you doing down there, taking a lunch break?” He asked. Aiden pulled his green water bottle out of its holder and took a sip. He was a ten-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He loved his country, his job, and his family.
One day I’ll find someone just like him; just not as nosy.
“Now, Aiden, you know I’m saving lunch for the plateau,” She said. She swigged water from her red water bottle and splashed some water on the back of her neck. “I just wanted to check out the view.”
“Take care, Emma,” He said. “I don’t want to have to tell Dad you’ve been climbing without a harness again.” He waived his water bottle at her.
“Hey, leave Dad out of it,” Emma said. She tossed her chalk bag at him. He caught it. “If you tell him that I’m going to have to tell him about your date with Leslie Peterson.”
“You wouldn’t.” He took a sip of water and met her gaze. His eyes widened.
“I sure would, big brother,” she said. She tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “A girl’s got to protect herself.”
Emma smiled and took a sip of her water. She looked out toward the horizon; they could easily make the plateau today.
“Okay break’s over; we’ve only got a few more feet to go.” Aiden secured his water bottle and chalked his hands. He tossed the chalk bag back to Emma. She followed suit, and once he was a few feet up she started her ascent.
Twenty-five feet and a half-hour later they reached the top of the plateau. Emma lifted herself onto the dusty, flat ledge of the red rock. After a few moments of rest, they pulled the bags up and secured them a few feet from the edge.
“Check out that view,” Aiden said. He looked past her. Emma turned to see what had his attention. The blue sky stretched for miles in either direction. Below them the tan and red rock desert splayed out, dotted by green clumps of cactus.
It sang to her soul.
“It’s beautiful,” she sighed. The desert always called her. It was a remnant of her childhood she loved. “I love red rock. Thanks again for letting me tag along.”
Aiden looked over at his sister. She looked just like their Mom, God rest her soul. Emma had their mother’s long blonde hair, five-foot-five frame, and curves. He and their brothers had punched more than one guy out for hitting on her over the years.
“Glad you could make it, Emma.” Aiden dug two granola bars out of his bag and handed one to her. He unwrapped the other and sat cross-legged on the ground. He didn’t cook as a rule, but the granola bars were worth a half-hour in the kitchen. Emma opened hers and bit into the honey-granola mix. She hummed as she sank next to him.
“Let’s get lunch set up,” he suggested. “It’s only a few miles to the campsite.” He finished the granola bar in three big bites.
“Sure. It’s your turn to cook,” she said with a half-smile. Aiden fell back onto the ground.
“Emma,” he groaned.
“You lost the bet this afternoon fair and square,” she said holding up a hand. “You are so not going to weasel out of this one. It’s your turn to cook, big brother.”
“You’re so much better at it than I am,” he tried. She shook her head.
“Nice try,” she said. Emma popped the last of the granola bar into her mouth.
“Did it work?” he asked with a sheepish look.
It almost made her want to give in. Almost, but not quite.
“No,” Emma answered. She leaned back on her elbows and sighed.
It was a perfect spot for a break. Aiden reached for her bag and pulled out a magenta insulated bag. He secured her bag and opened the small lunch bag, and then handed her a granola bar, an apple, and a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich on whole-wheat bread. He pulled out the same for himself and then added a second sandwich to his pile.
“How are we doing on time?” she asked and took a bite out of a Gala apple. Juice dribbled down her cheek and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.
“We’re good,” he said. He swallowed his food. “Last time I didn’t get up here until after three; I ended up spending the night on the plateau.” He shivered and stretched his legs out.
“That must have been cold,” Emma said. It was a delightful ninety-three degrees now, but at night it dipped down.
“Yeah.” He took a bite out of his sandwich.
“I’m going to get a few shots before we leave.” She was an avid photographer and took the chance to indulge in her hobby whenever she had the opportunity.
“Take your time,” he said. “I padded our timetable with an hour.” Aiden settled back on the red rock with his hands linked over his stomach. Emma threw what was left of her apple at him. Aiden caught it and popped it, core and all, into his mouth. He pulled his water bottle close to his head and looked out in the distance.
Emma wondered what he thought so intently about.
“What have you been up to?” She asked as she unwrapped her sandwich and took a bite.
Aiden shrugged. As a Commander, he couldn’t talk about most of his work because it was classified. Emma understood that; their Father was required to abide by the same wall of silence. But still, he had to share something.
“Normal. You?” He asked. Aiden took a bite of his sandwich.
She returned the shrug. “It’s normal.”
“See any good movies lately?” he asked.
Emma looked out and saw a vulture circling something in the distance.
“No,” she snorted. Her life rarely gave her time for such luxuries. “I’ve had my nose in the computer for months coming up with solutions to the latest plot drama; this is the first time off I’ve had since you last saw me.”
“You work too hard,” he said with a straight face. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Coming from a man who regularly pulls eighty-hour workweeks, that’s funny.” She took a breath and let it out. Her eyes trailed on the vulture in the distance who was circling closer to its prey. “You’re worse than I am, besides it’s worth it.”
“True,” he said. They settled into a companionable silence as they finished their lunch. Once she was finished Emma pulled her camera out of the bag and set it down. She stood to stretch and then picked up the camera. As she fired off the first shots Aiden settled in for a nap.
When he woke the sun was further along in the sky, and Emma was still shooting. She focused on a lizard and snapped away.
“Hey,” he called out. The lizard was spooked by the noise and moved away.
“Good job,” Emma said. “He got away.”
“Sorry,” Aiden said.
“It’s okay; I got some good shots.” Emma stood and stretched.
“I’m glad we could get together before I had to go back out,” Aiden said and yawned.
“Me too.” Emma walked back to him. “It was good timing. One more week on the computer and I probably would have fried the mainframe.”
Aiden laughed. Something squawked from his bag.
“You brought along a radio?” she asked with a frown. “You didn’t let me bring a cell phone or my laptop and you brought a radio?”
“Of course,” he said and reached for his bag. Aiden unzipped a compartment. Emma rolled her eyes while he pulled the offending radio out of the bag. It squawked again.
“Ranger Station 64 to Commander Aiden Smith; come in, Commander Smith.”
Emma frowned. What could they want?
Aiden held down the button on the side and spoke into the radio. “Smith here, Ranger Station 64, go ahead.”
“We have a relay message from Commander Flynn for you, Commander Smith. Over.”
“Copy that. Go ahead,” Aiden said. He avoided eye contact with Emma.
“Message reads, ‘Authentication code O-162. Commander Smith, return to base immediately. Commander Flynn.’ Over.”
“Copy that, Ranger Station 64, is there anything else?” Aiden avoided his sister’s gaze; it wasn’t the first time he had to cut one of their trips short. He hoped it wouldn’t happen this time, but like their father, duty came first.
“Negative, Commander Smith. Message completed. Air Force requests your location and ETA to base, Sir. Over.”
“We’re on Dead Man’s Plateau, Ranger Station 64. It’s a two-day minimum from this location. Over.” Emma noticed the vulture in the distance had caught up with whatever it circled and landed.
“Copy that, two days. Standby. Over.” They waited, looking at the radio. “Relayed, ‘Chopper will be there in one hour to airlift you out. Commander Flynn.’ Over.”
“There must be something wrong,” she said. Emma zoomed in on the vulture and taking a few shots; the vulture caught the rabbit and tore into it, pulling flesh from bone.
“Yeah. Do you mind?” Aiden asked.
She shook her head. Aiden had been flitting off on her since he was ten; why should it change now?
“Copy that. Ranger Station 64 out.”
“Copy that, one hour. Smith over and out,” he said. He secured the button and slipped the radio into his bag.
“Do you want to come with me?” Aiden asked. He looked at Emma and she shook her head.
“No. I’m going to hike out; I’d like to get some shots and then head over to the car.”
Aiden dug into his pocket.
“You’ll be okay by yourself?” he asked. He tossed Emma his keys.
“Relax, Aiden. You taught me survival yourself,” Emma said. She framed her next shot and fired. “I’ll be fine.”
“I worry,” he said.
“Eat your granola bar,” she answered, and focused on her project. Emma was strong because she had to be.
She was a rock of their family and would stand the test of time as her mother had. Even so, her eyes watered as she framed her next shot. The camera zoomed in on the vulture and its kill. She fired, and rolled her eyes. She wouldn’t shed a tear for this; it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last time that one of her family put work ahead of family. It was as her Father constantly said, for the greater good.
They transferred supplies from his bag to hers. Aiden handed her the radio, and under protest, she shoved it into her bag. Their bags were balanced before, and now hers was laden down with everything one could need in the next two days. She had to rearrange the contents twice just to fit it all in.
Forty-five minutes later a great thumping sound came from the distance and grew louder as a shape appeared on the horizon. It grew larger and its shape became distinct as it approaches the plateau. The radio squawked. Aiden answered, and they determined it would be best to throw down a ladder. It dropped and the helicopter hovered nearby, so as not to kick up too much sand.
The man in the helicopter was dressed in dark fatigues. Aiden slung his backpack over his back and secured it. He pulled her into a hug. Aiden reached for the ladder and jumped to climb onto it. It took seconds for him to climb the ladder and enter the helicopter. It rose and came around the plateau to where she could see Aiden. He leaned out the door and waived as the man next to him pulled in the ladder.
Emma waived and watched as the chopper withdrew to the West.
Oddly, they’re heading West towards Las Vegas and not East to Denver. Emma noted the location of the sun in the sky; if she was going to get off the plateau by sunset, she had better get moving.
She pulled her pack on and secured it. She hiked down the backside of the plateau. After a few hours the ground leveled off and the last decline was in view.
By late afternoon, she reached the campsite. It was a solid rock surface protected by a sheer rock wall. Emma set up her tent and pulled out the small camp stove. She put water onto a boil and dumped the contents of a brown pouch into the rolling water.
As she ate her dinner of shrimp and linguini with butter sauce, she mused about the night. Emma was pleased with her decision to stay. It gave her time to think.
She surveyed the quiet land around her. She was alone—completely alone for the first time in many months. The characters in her head weren’t even there. She had left them in Aiden’s house in Flagstaff. She imagined them waiting impatiently for her return.
If I screamed right now, no one would hear me.
The thought echoed in her mind as she climbed into the tent and blew the light out. She fell asleep in her warm sleeping bag at ease with the day. She viewed a billion stars over her head. As she did she noticed a bright light that came close to the Earth; a shooting star. She wished on the star and closed her eyes; it had been a good day.
Liked it? This book will be released on August 1, 2021.
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Meanwhile, have you checked out my other books?
Come and join me on my adventure!