Chad Grayson

An excerpt from All the Promised Stars

The stairs that led to the top deck were unguarded, which was a good sign. He was tired of being stuck indoors. The door opened on a wide expanse of deck, with low benches built into the railing around the edge. There was a bar at the forward end, but no one was manning it. Three rangers patrolled the deck, watching for any signs of trouble. This made him feel better about being up here. One nodded to him as he came through the door.

“Is it safe?”

“It should be safe for the next hour or so,” the ranger said. “But we’re keeping an eye out anyway.”

“Ok,” Will said. He slipped his datapad into one of the oversized pockets of his pants and moved to sit on the bench that faced west, where the sun was just starting to dip into the water.

There was someone else sitting at the edge of the bench, her back turned. He identified her by her white shirt and the honey colored braid trailing down her back. For a moment he panicked, staring at her, wondering where he could go so he wouldn’t disturb her. Before he could sneak off unnoticed, she turned and looked at him, her face breaking into an uneasy smile.

“Hi,” he said. “Sorry, I just wanted to get a look at the sunset. I don’t mean to bother you.”

“It’s fine,” Sister Amelia said. “There is plenty of room for two of us.”

“Yeah,” he said, sitting down on the opposite end of the one she occupied. “You’re Sister Amelia, the healer, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “You’re the journalist?”

“Will Corwin,” he said, and extended his hand for her to take. She shook it, her grip strong, her fingers cool. “I work for INA.”

“I like them,” she said. “They seem to report on stories that matter, not gossip.”

“Usually,” Will said. “We do have our own entertainment and personalities division, though. It helps pay the bills.”

“I suppose it would,” Amelia said. She returned her attention to the sunset. The clouds around the sun were breaking orange and purple in the diminishing light. “What division do you work in?”

“The news division. I specialize in Imperial relations and conflicts, which sometimes are the same thing.”

“Yes, they would be the same sometimes,” she said.

The lake spread out on either side of them, and in the distance was a thin line of trees, making a border along the horizon.

“How long have you lived on Amara?” he asked her, trying to turn the conversation more personal. Despite the fact that she was a Sister of Mercy, he wanted to know everything about her. He knew it was hopeless for many reasons, but something in her gaze fascinated him.

“Three years,” she said. “I was assigned here when I graduated from medical school.”

“Where did you go to school?” he asked.


“I’ve been there,” Will said, noncommittally.

“I’m from Carimna, originally. It’s not exactly the most beautiful of worlds, mostly crumbling cities,” she said. “So, I was glad to be sent here.”

“Do you still have family there?” She looked at him for a moment, as if deciding what to tell him. “No. I grew up in a group home.”

“Oh,” Will said. “I’m sorry for prying.”

“No, it’s fine,” she said.

He decided it would be too rude to ask her what happened to her parents, though he was dying to know.

“So, you like Amara? I’ve only been here a day, really, and I can see the appeal of the place.”

“It’s beautiful here, and the people have a spirit I haven’t seen in many other places.”

“I can see that,” he said. “Do the Sisters have a preferred side in the conflict here?”

“No,” she said, shooting him a look. “We don’t get involved with politics. We help anyone who comes to us.”

For a moment, Will was afraid he’d offended her, but her face broke into a nervous smile again as she pushed back a loose lock of hair from her forehead. She seemed on the verge of saying something, but before she could, Will spied flashes of light over her shoulder. They were coming from the tree line. These were followed several microseconds later by a series of popping sounds.

Will’s instincts took over. He grabbed Sister Amelia and pulled her toward him, sheltering her body with his own. He heard four more pops as he tried to carry her down to the floor. Suddenly, he felt an explosion of pain in his back. He fell, taking Amelia down with him. She protested, but soon seemed to understand what was going on.

He felt nothing but pain radiating from his back. There was a lightheadedness that signaled an imminent loss of consciousness. “Shooter,” he gasped, flipping onto his back. Amelia attempted to crouch beside him, but he used all his strength to pull her down. The rangers were rushing to their side—one kneeling down to check on Will and Amelia, the other two returning fire into the tree line.

“Flip him over onto his stomach,” Amelia commanded of the Ranger checking Will. “He’s been shot in the back.”

Will’s strength was leaving him rapidly. He felt rough hands grab him and flip his limp body over. It was not a gentle motion; his entire back felt like it was engulfed in flames. He could feel the blood pooling on the deck around him. The rangers had stopped firing and were now just standing at attention.

“Go to my room and get my medical pack. It’s in the bag on my bed. Room 10C,” Amelia instructed the ranger who was helping them.

The ranger looked at Will, then back at Amelia. “Do what she says. We’ll stand guard here!” her counterpart barked. At that, the woman leapt to her feet and ran through the door that led below.

Amelia was kneeling next to Will now. She patted his face to get his attention. She stared deeply into his eyes. Will was transfixed, aware of nothing else but their starling blue shade, the color of sapphires. It was only a moment before shadows began creeping into the edges of his vision. He’d been injured enough in the past to know what that meant. He was fading, fast.

“Hang in there,” Amelia told him. “I can help you as soon as we get the bullet out. For now, try not to bleed to death, ok?”

Will could only nod, unable to make his voice work.

“You!” Amelia said to the nearest ranger. “Do you have a knife?”

“Yes, Sister,” the ranger said and handed her the knife sheathed in his belt. Amelia used the knife to tear off the bottom half of Will’s shirt. She wadded up the bloody blue cloth and pressed it against his wound. “This might hurt a bit, but I need to apply pressure to get the bleeding to stop, ok?”

Will nodded again. At this point, he had no choice. Weakness spread through his body like an oil spill. He couldn’t stop her if he wanted to. And it did hurt. She pressed the cloth against his wound, causing a fiery sensation to emanate out from the center and spread throughout his back.

“Does that hurt?” she asked him.

“No,” he lied.

“Don’t lie to me,” she said. “Don’t try to be a tough guy.”

“Sorry,” Will said, trying to stay conscious.

“Sister, the two of you need to get below,” the ranger said, interrupting them. “There may be more shooters.”

“It’s not a good idea to move him until he’s stable,” Amelia said. “We’ll stay down.”

The ranger wanted to argue, but one look from Amelia silenced him. She was definitely the one in charge right now.

“Will,” Amelia said into his ear, “When my medi-pack is here, I’ll be able to give you something for the pain. For now, hang on, ok? If you need to pass out, go ahead.”

“OK,” he said, feeling suddenly like he was going to vomit. He pushed himself up on his elbows to clear the space for it. The muscles in his back seemed to tear and he collapsed, his strength gone.

“Don’t do that,” Amelia said. “You’ll make your injury worse.”

“Might throw up,” he said.

Amelia looked worried at that. “If you have to, turn your face to the side, and I’ll hold you up,” she said. “Try not to use the muscles in your back.”

Will felt his stomach spasm, but nothing came out, for which he was grateful. After a few moments, the feeling passed, though there was still a wave of nausea passing through his body. He heard the door slam open, and the ranger who’d been sent below returned, with two more rangers with her.

“Here, Sister,” she said, handing Amelia a medium-size black case.

“Ok, Will,” Amelia said, opening the pack. “I’m going to give you something for the pain now. It will probably knock you out, which will let me get the bullet out without hurting you more. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Will said. He felt a needle prick in the meat of his shoulder, and a warm sensation passed through him, chasing away the nausea. After a few moments, he felt nothing at all.

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