Avalanche Soldierby Susan R. Matthews
Salli is an avalanche soldier. As a member of the elite paramilitary force she is responsible for prtecting the religious shrines scattered throughout the mountainous silderness regions of the troubled state of Shadene. As a devout member of the Orhodox Dreaming she freely accepts the faith that life is a dream, and that true believers will one day be awakened by the… See more details below
Salli is an avalanche soldier. As a member of the elite paramilitary force she is responsible for prtecting the religious shrines scattered throughout the mountainous silderness regions of the troubled state of Shadene. As a devout member of the Orhodox Dreaming she freely accepts the faith that life is a dream, and that true believers will one day be awakened by the coming Messiah. But there is another faith on Shadene that preaches heresy-and its existence has sparked horrific acts of terrorism and civil unrest.
And suddenly Salli's life has been ripped in two. Her brother-vanished under a cloud of suspicion-is believed to have embraced the false religion. As a soldier sworn to safeguard Orthodox interests, Sali must track him down and return him to the fold. But as a disciple of the one true Messiah, she must confront the crisis that now assaults her conscience and her creed. For there is a woman in the enemy enclave who inspires fervent devotion-a personage of great power who impossibly, yet undeniably, shows signs of being the prophesied One.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 4.24(w) x 6.89(h) x 0.84(d)
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From where she stood poised and tense at the end of the line of the avalanche soldiers in her squad, Salli Rangarold-tall and sleekly muscled, her long brown hair tied up in a heavy braid at the nape of her neck-could see across the narrow valley to the shrine that was to be consecrated today.
It was the Day of Deliverance, the annual remembrance of the arrival of the first of the Prodigal ships from the dying colonies in space. The shrine that stood waiting for consecration housed what was left of the last of the Prodigal ships to return to Creation before the great silence had fallen across the interstellar lanes, and the colonies were given up as lost.
That had been more than three hundred years ago; and no one had risked the loving rebuke of an offended God by taking to the air since the ship christened Forlorn Hope had crashed here. It had been snowing on that fateful day, and the ship had escaped more severe damage partially because the snow was winter-deep and had compacted beneath the transport as it staggered to get to ground.
Its power plant unstable, its air contaminated, no potable water left on board, and no proper clothing either on bodies long grown used to the easeful warmth of the tropical alien environment of the colonies-the refugees had walked out into the snow, across the valley, through Needle's-Eye Pass and down the mountainside to the cities of the great prairie beyond, carrying with them such tales of horror ...
It was a beautiful day for a consecration; Salli scanned the snowy mountainous horizon, smiling in pure pleasure at the glories of Creation despite the tense state of her nerves. Latewinter; the sun shone on a brilliant pristine field of new-fallen snow. There was just enough of a breeze to be pleasant against one's face without reminding one of the actual ambient temperature.
She took a deep breath, drinking the air like cold water on a warm summer's day. The air smelled crisp and clean, newly washed after several days of light but constant powder-snow precipitation scrubbing the inevitable atmospheric pollutants that the great and invisible currents of the wind carried over the prairies and toward the holy state of Shadene east of the mountains.
"Who-all is coming a' this event?" Sharka asked suddenly, from the middle of the line. Halfway up the slope of the sides of the Needle's-Eye Pass, there was no danger of his being overheard; and the event was not yet formally under way.
Squad Leader Morrissey-one of the shorter run of Pilgrim people, with a good deal of red in his moustache for which no one would dream of faulting him-shifted his weight fractionally on his skis before he answered. At least Salli expected that he did. Morrissey was at the other end of the line, two teams-one squad-bracketed between the two of them, squad leader and second team leader.
"Reps from most of Creation, things being quiet. Speaker Tarish from the Prairie States. Peraille of the Islands. Mother Aire from the Long Coast, Nesfiter from the Ice. Even the Parliamentarian from the Grand Convention."
The Orthodox states of Creation had come together to regulate church affairs and manage political concerns alike, and the Parliamentarian was that Grand Convention's single most influential officer. There was only one non-Orthodox state in Creation: and that was an irony of sorts, because the single non-Orthodox state in Creation was the secular authority that governed the holy land of Shadene itself.
From whose mountains, these mountains, the Revelation had come, over two thousand years ago.
In whose mountains, these mountains, the holiest of all Orthodox shrines still remained-shrines holy to Orthodox and Shadene heterodox alike.
"No representative from our own government? Come on."
Shadene was ruled by a secular government, elected by a franchise extended equally to Orthodox citizens in residence there and the heterodox Wayfarers that formed a scant majority of aboriginal people. In Shadene alone Orthodox were required to suffer living and working with people of a debased and degraded theology, political penance for an act of petty discrimination that dated back eight hundred years.
When the Prodigals had first set out to establish colonies in space, they left the Wayfarers behind-and during the five hundred years between the establishment of the first colonies and the catastrophic collapse of the same, the Wayfarers, left to themselves on Creation, had swallowed Shadene whole; and convinced themselves that they had been there all along.
"There'll be Teacher Sheylune from the Church," Salli corrected. If she was remembering her briefing correctly, at least. . ."Sadrilla from the Secular Authority. No heterodox."
Good taste on their part to stay away, too. Heterodox and Orthodox were still learning to live with each other. Even after so long a time.
"Your people were on this ship, weren't they, Salli?" Allyx asked, with respect. "How does it feel to be here?"
Yes, her lineage had returned to Creation on the Forlorn Hope; convention assigned her that status on the basis of four ancestors, four ancestors only, out of how many after three hundred years? But before she could answer, Morrissey kicked one of his ski sticks out to the sidea gesture small enough to be glossed over as meaningless if anyone noticed it, but one that his squad knew meant that they were to pay attention.
"Mark on your fields for observation, and report. Salli."
Time to work. Salli felt a little thrill of excitement; suppressed it. She was an avalanche soldier. This was what she did. It was just that she wasn't quite senior enough not to get keyed up when the action started
"From between Vennor and Hopkins, second squad, to between Ellan and Phibs. Third squad. To the cordon."
Second and third squads were downslope, and their assigned fields extended all the way to the pilgrim path itself. Solt stood next to Salli, and his field overlapped
"Between Ellan and Phibs, to between Eagen and Mollony. To the cordon, Squad Leader."
No confusion. No blind areas. Salli stamped her foot as far as the ski's bindings would give. She didn't know if she was scared: she never did. It didn't matter. It only mattered if fear interfered.
"We're on, squad. Let's do it. Remember your briefing, now."
The access to their shrine of assignment was to be controlled from the other side of the pass, the Eye of the Needle, a cleft so deep between two towering scarps of...
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