Malila awoke, her ears ringing and too dazed to move. The air was
redolent of wood smoke. She lay in a small campsite on her side in a
lean-to crafted from still-green boughs woven onto saplings rooted into
the ground. An ax and sheathed knife threaded onto a broad leather belt
hung from a small branch near her head. Only when she moved to retrieve
them did she comprehend she had been bound, her wrists tied behind her
back and her legs tied at the ankles. A shiver coursed through her when
she found she was naked as well. On hearing a faint scuffling behind
her, Malila closed her eyes, calmed her breathing, and relaxed her body,
sagging into the bonds. She felt the slight breeze of someone’s
entrance and then heard nothing but the forest.
“You are awake, lass.” It wasn’t a question. “Open your eyes, or
I start to take off toes.”
She detected an alien soft-burred accent. After a few seconds, a hand
gripped her left foot by the instep. Her eyes shot open, startled, all
pretense lost at the immediate threat.
A Sisi was crouching back on his heels, holding her foot, an odd short
curved knife in his other hand, his face concealed in a grizzled beard,
his skin burned muddy brown. Over his left cheek he wore a series of
blue streaks, faded and indistinct. His hair grew out from under a
knitted cap of uncertain design: abundant, lank, white, and to his
shoulders. He filled the small space.
After a second to regard her, the old man dropped her foot and turned
back to working a small piece of leather. “There you go, lass. Much
better. Let’s have your name. I can’t be calling you ‘lass’ all
the time, can I?”
Malila calmed herself, waiting until she was confident of her voice.
Before she could answer, the old man looked up at her from under his
thick eyebrows with such menace that she squeaked, “Chiu, Malila E.,
E11, S08, lieutenant … acting second lieutenant … serial number
The old man tilted his head back, his face split to show brilliant and
sound teeth. He started a low vigorous laugh, stopping after he dabbed
at his eyes with a square of rough fabric taken from his leather
tunic.“You should see yourself, lass, trying to look official and all,
lying bare-ass naked and trussed up like a prize sow.”
He wiped his eyes again, and his face sobered. “Let me tell you what
you’ve told me, so far, Acting Second Lieutenant Chiu, Malila E.
“You are seventeen years old. You’ve been sent on this shit of an
assignment because you messed up and they broke you down a rank or
three. You have been given the chance to redeem yourself … if you
don’t screw up, as you just did. You have been in the service for
seven years, and you think you are hot stuff, which you ain’t, as we
wouldna be having this here conversation otherwise.
“You have a small scar under your chin, another over your left shin,
and one under your right tit, which I should remark is pretty enough,
although personally I prefer a little more. The scars under your chin
and on your leg are no doubt from training accidents. Your hair is too
short for my taste. Your facial features are regular and rather pretty
in an exotic way, lass, nice shade of blue in your eyes. Once upon a
time, you broke your left forearm as a child from a fall on an
outstretched hand, due to some fool game, I should think. You have never
birthed a baby. You are sound in heart and limb, but I don’t know
about your head yet. Your nutrition could be better, and you would do
well to add a few pounds for aesthetic reasons. Have I missed anything,
Lieutenant?” he said, again transfixing her with his pale eyes.
Excerpted from "Outland Exil, Vol. 1 (Old Men and Infidels)" by W. Clark Boutwell. Copyright © 2015 by W. Clark Boutwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.