Read White Christmas (novella) Online
Authors: Ros Baxter
Bestselling Titles by Escape Publishing…
What if your only chance at survival was to seduce the man who broke your heart?
Seventeen years after the Apocalypse, Admiral-class Explorer Tabysha is caught up in a firefight and shot down over Tyver, where ice vampires hunt human warmth. Seeking shelter in an ice cave, she is instructed to stay put and await rescue. But after another ship crash-lands, and the Hunter Gatherers stalk its wounded pilot, Tabi breaks protocol.
When it turns out the survivor is the man who stole her heart then skipped out on her ten years before, it seems to Tabi that no good deed goes unpunished, and things can’t get any worse. But she’s so wrong.
As the Hunters pick up the escalating heat signature of the former lovers, Tabi has to tell Asha that there is only one way to repel the creatures stalking them.
And it involves picking up where they left off ten years before.
Ros writes fresh, funny, genre-busting fiction. She digs feisty heroines, quirky families, heroes to make you sigh and tingle, and a dash of fantasy from time to time.
Ros has published
(a romantic comedy co-written with her sister Ali) with Harper Collins, and
Fish Out of Water
(Escape Publishing), and been a contributing author to the e-anthology URL Love. She has sequels to
Fish Out of Water
coming out in 2014, as well as a new single title romantic comedy:
Lingerie for Felons
Ros also runs a successful business consulting to government and the private sector. She teaches professional writing skills and has authored a writing guide, Clarity.
Ros lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband Blair, four small but very opinionated children, a neurotic dog and nine billion germs.
You can email Ros at
or find her at
, on twitter @RosBaxter, or
Thanks for this story go to Kate Cuthbert, Editor at Escape Publishing for her unfailing innovation, creativity and generosity, and for suggesting similes when words failed me.
Also, as always, to my husband and my sister for support with proof-reading and answering stupid questions.
This one goes out to the one I love.
(With snaps to R.E.M.)
Tabi watched as the dome with Avenger 19 emblazoned on its side fell from the crimson sky and broke its spine on the icy rocks. It looked like a magic egg of Earth legend, silhouetted on the ice as the sky flashed and screamed from the firefight raging overhead.
She had been luckier than Avenger 19. Her dome had fallen into Tyverian powdersnow.
Silver tassels of cold brushed ice along her arms as she watched the distant white horizon start to seethe, far beyond the rocks where the crippled craft rested.
They were coming.
She slid the transmitter out of her suit. “Mother Earth Five, come in. It’s Explorer 12.”
The tiny silver relay in her hand sat still and silent. A lone green button blinked, but the tiny circle indicating connection only flickered half-heartedly.
“Mother Earth, it’s Explorer 12. Another one’s down. Do you read me?”
A tinny voice barked at her as the control panel burst into yellow life. “Please confirm,” the voice commanded.
Tabi sighed. “You know it’s me, Symon.”
The voice showed no sign of recognition. “The key, Explorer 12,” it insisted.
Tabi wanted to kick something, but reminded herself that any large movement would increase her heat signature. “Twenty Four December, in the year Seventeen PA.”
The voice prompted her again. “And that year is?” The metallic voice lightened a little. “In the old way?”
“Twenty ninety-eight, Anno Domini.”
But it wasn’t over yet. “Today’s code, Explorer 12.”
Tabi bit her lip. It was ridiculous. Atheism was the official religion Post Apocalypse. And she hadn’t felt festive for ten years. Damn security-obsessed Symon and his codes. “Merry Christmas,” she snapped.
Symon sighed. “Glad you’re still with us, Tabi. Maintain position. We’ll have a rescue pod to you in just under two hours. Are you still camouflaged?”
Tabi considered the crude ice cave she’d discovered after her own crash landing an hour prior. It sat high on a cliff, and she’d kissed her rappel hook as she’d hauled herself in. Then she’d watched from her perch. Within twenty minutes they’d set upon her craft, all undulating bodies and lethal suckers.
The cave was small – only a little above standing height and perhaps a few metres wide. “In a manner of speaking,” she replied. “What about the other dome? Says Avenger 19.”
There was a pause, and Tabi fretted momentarily that she’d lost the signal again. Then the little transmitter glowed again. “Explorer 12, did the pilot survive?”
Tabi wriggled closer to the edge of the ice cave, pulling her bioscope from her backpack. She trained it on the broken dome. The scope ate up the distance and peered through the crash haze. Tabi saw movement through a jagged slice of gold casing. She swore, and stabbed the transmit button. “He’s alive down there,” she confirmed. “But they’re coming. I saw the snow shift.”
Tabi touched the screen on her scope lightly, and frowned at the answer it gave her. The Tyverian Hunter Gatherers were still three miles away, but they could cover the distance to the crashed dome in just under twenty minutes, even moving in defensive swarm.
“Maintain position, Explorer 12,” Symon warned. “He’s Avenger Class. He’ll have to take his chances.”
“He doesn’t have any,” Tabi whispered, watching the little, broken ship on the rocks, and the tremors in the snow beyond.
“Repeat,” Symon said, his voice cool again. “Official order from Mother Earth Five is maintain position.” Then he paused. “Tabi, don’t do anything stupid. It’s a miracle you survived at all.”
“Check,” Tabi said, training her scope on the dome again and watching as a red-suit clad figure tumbled from the wreck. “Maintain position. Over and out.”
She watched as the Avenger staggered clear of the dome and then collapsed in the snow.
He was so close.
Could she really leave him there?
She closed her eyes and the memory pressed in. Scouting on the Eastern ridges of Tyver a month earlier, looking for the rich vein of vientamite the Explorer Scope had told them was there.
She had been the one to find the body, the bones picked clean. More. She’d reached out and touched the skeleton and it was dry and brittle. Like it had been drained a hundred years ago instead of days before. Because that’s what the Hunter Gatherers did. It was not enough to kill. They sucked the body clean. The marrow, the blood, the cells. They fed on the warmth, used it to survive on this cold planet. They mined life itself.
She’d known how it worked. She’d seen it in the logs. But to see it up close had been another thing altogether.
She looked through the scope again and watched as the figure struggled to get up. Even if she could get to him, how could she get him up here with her before the Hunter Gatherers came? He was badly injured. Her mind scrabbled for solutions other than lying here in this icy cave and watching him die. Die like that skeleton had died, alone and wholly consumed. She stuffed the scope back in the bag and as she did her fingers grazed the medpack.
It might be enough. It would certainly get him moving for an hour or so.
But could she get to him in time?
As she fingered the cylinder inside the pack, the transmitter buzzed.
Don’t do it, Tab.
She hesitated, her finger hovering over the responder pad.
It buzzed again.
You’re a scientist. We need you.
Fuck that, I need you.
She pressed her fingers over the unit in rapid deception.
Don’t stress, little brother. I never liked Avengers that much. Arrogant flyboys.
Signing off now to conserve battery life. I need to guide the rescue pod in when they get here.
She was pressing her finger down on the exit button when the receiver buzzed again.
If I lose you too, I really will be an orphan.
Tabi rolled her eyes. Blatant appeal to her protective instincts. She grabbed the scope again and checked on the survivor. Now there was someone who needed her protection.
She responded to Symon quickly.
Get back to the controls, nerd. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.
Tabi stepped lightly across the ground. Already she could feel the tiny vibrations fibrillating the snow beneath her feet as the Hunters moved towards the craft. They were minutes away, and they would come quicker now. They could feel her footfalls on the snow, just like they had felt this most recent crash.
She dashed, low and fluid, to the patch of snow where the Avenger in his red suit lay. He was still wearing his helmet, so it was impossible to tell if she’d seen him before, but he was enormous against the blank canvas of the snow. Tabi crossed her fingers that the slim vial of Narcan would do the trick. She was strong, but there was no way she was going to be able to heft him up the cliff.
She knelt beside him and put her face to his mask. It was misted over, but she could make out breathing through his aspirator. It was coming in short, laboured bursts, with a tell-tale crackle at the end of each inhalation. Tyverian barbs. That’s what had brought his ship down.
And they were killing him.
She grasped the Narcan firmly, held the syringe high above her head and drove it hard and fast into the centre of his chest, to ensure she punctured suit, clothing and skin and got to his heart.
One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand.
The Avenger sat up like a cartoon robot and babbled incoherently as he tore at his mask. Tabi tried to hold his arms but, even messy with the after effects of barbs and Narcan, this Avenger was strong.
He settled a little and pulled at his helmet, ripping it from his head and throwing it into the snow. He took long, hungry gulps of sweet Tyver oxygen just as all of Tabi’s breath whooshed from her lungs.
“You.” The word was wrenched from the deepest, most secret place inside her. It burned her throat as it made its bitter way out and licked poison onto her lips as she spat it at him.
The warrior finally tuned in and turned back towards her. “Tabysha?”
Oh by the Apocalypse, it really was him. And he still sounded exactly the same. Like lazy Sundays, contraband music and wickedness whispered in her ear.
“If I’d known it was you, I’d have let the Tyverians suck your bones dry.” She threw the empty syringe at his chest and turned on her heel. “You’d better run,” she threw over her shoulder at him as she made for the cliff. “They’re going to be here real soon.”
It was true. She could feel the ground starting to pulse beneath her feet. Eight minutes, perhaps, before they would rise from the snow like icy vampires and make a meal of him.
Which was no less than the asshole deserved.
He caught up to her in seconds. “Why are you here? Are you with the rescue pod?”
“It’s still a couple of hours’ away,” she said, refusing to turn her head to look at him as mist prickled her eyes. She kept the cliff in focus. “You’d best find some cover and some camouflage.” She reached the base of the cliff and hurled her rappel hook at the cave mouth with vicious accuracy. “And stay cold. Frostbite’s better than being drained.”
It was a satisfying parting shot as she shimmied up the rope and back to her hole.
But somehow she knew it wouldn’t be that easy. With Asha, it never was.
He let her catch her breath before he called out. “Room up there for one more?”
“No,” she barked back, refusing to smile at his nonchalance. He could have been asking her to hold the elevator doors on Mother Earth 5, not begging for his life as the most efficient predators of Segment 7 licked at his heels.