From A Midwinter Miracle by E.M. Swift-Hook
The frost had frozen the blood onto the surface of the snow almost as soon as it landed, stark red against the white. In the cold illumination of the flashlight, it seemed crystalline and jewelled.
“She’ll have lost too much,” the bearded man muttered grimly. Gernie nodded. He was no expert but even he could see what this trail meant. They followed it out past the courtyard wall and on towards the edge of the settlement.
“If we had been a bit faster or you’d just hit that – “
“We had no bloody choice,” the other man cut across him. “It’s how things are here, lad, you can’t bloody change it.”
“The bastard shot her,” Gernie protested.
“And in his full legal right to do so. She is his property – or was, most likely. She ran away and that means she knew she was in for death if she got caught.”
“So you and Micha have to make nice to him? Man, that’s -” Gernie realised for the first time just how alien this world really was.
“We had to play it that way. That’s the way it bloody is around here, Tavi. Maybe if you work on it you can make a difference one day, but you can’t go shooting down local notables – nor even beating them up. Not if you are planning to stay here and I take it you are?”
For a moment, Gernie wanted to say no. Wanted to say he was not going to stay anywhere a teenage girl could be murdered, legally, in front of an entire tavern full of people. But even as he opened his mouth to say as much, he found his mind filled with the memory of an oval face with golden skin, framed by dark-copper ringlets and wearing an expression of appalled compassion. Something inside him moved.
“I’m taking the job,” he said, “if that’s what you are asking. It’s why I came here after all. The pay is crap, this place is like a nightmare. But someone has to run the spaceport so crazy people like you can come and trade here. I’ll stick it a year or two then head back to civilisation.”
The bearded man grinned briefly.
“I think Micha will be pleased.”
Gernie said nothing to that, it was still too new, too startling. He shone the flashlight back on the snow and followed the trail.
The blood seemed to vanish near the small block building that backed onto the first of the spaceport domes. As if the ground had opened and swallowed the girl.
A Midwinter Miracle is available as an ebook, audiobook and paperback special edition with typographic art and cover design by Zora Marie.