Story Title: Riders in the Sky
Author: V. F. LeSann
Equine Combatant’s Name: Peregrine
Species: Damned soul
Excerpt from “Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Heat-Ray” by M.L.D. Curelas:
No one had been alarmed when the first Martian vessels had landed, pocking the ground like open sores. They’d only been mildly concerned when the cone-shaped ships vomited forth the spindly, tripod machines. It wasn’t until the trains stopped running that panic had set in. Then the tripods had come with their Black Smoke and heat-rays.
The Martians had disrupted communications. Nothing worked, not the telegraph machines nor the new telephones. Messengers were needed. Messengers on horseback, because human runners were too slow and easily killed by the Martians and their Black Smoke. But horses were scarce so when the general had sighted Beezus, a fine hunter, with a skilled rider—her—they’d been pressed into service on the spot, no matter that she was a girl, a civilian, and a daughter of good family.
And now she and Beezus would be part of the messenger team sent out to the docks—integral to the coordination of the Navy escort for the evacuee ships, or so she’d been told. Emma scowled. Her revolver would’ve been of better use helping her family travel to Chelmsford than giving messages to a boat.
The mare snorted against her neck and started mouthing her hair. Emma laughed. “Enough of that.” She pushed the horse and Beezus obligingly pulled her head back into her stall.
Emma rubbed the mare’s nose. “Can’t fool you, can I? Yes, we’re going out.” When Beezus nodded her head, Emma wagged her finger. “Business. Not a pleasure ride.”
After checking the mare’s water and hay, Emma resumed her equipment check. It was the mare’s nervous whinny that halted her. She caught sight of Beezus’ wide, rolling eyes and cast a furious glare at the stable door.
“Stay out there!” she yelled. Scowling, she set down the saddle and shut the top half of Beezus’ stall door. Maybe that would block the pungent scent of that Moreauvian fiend enough for Beezus to calm down.
Emma opened the stable door, grabbed the arm of the man standing there, and tugged him around the corner of the building toward a garden shed—it wasn’t safe for anyone to linger long outside, in case of Martian patrols.
The soldiers had watered down the grounds, washing away most of the deadly Black Smoke, but Emma could see traces of the black grit in the flower beds. She stayed clear of those areas, just in case.
Once inside the shed, she crossed her arms over her chest. “Well?”