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The ledge provided a perfect vantage point

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The ledge provided a perfect vantage point. She spied the tufted deer below, its thin legs picking through the uneven stones at the bottom of the gorge. Drawn to the murkle berries, the low growth bushes were spiny and hard to reach, but made excellent preserves and bait for the tastier animals in the area. Daphne found this patch the winter her mother died, it was one of her many secret hunting spots.

The tufted deer came in range. The breeze ruffled its shaggy fur. She wouldn't have a better window before the wind shifted, giving away her presence. She went still, holding her breath, arm steady. She fired. It was dead before it could react to the shot. Holstering her pistol, she went to the tie off, a harness she'd constructed for easy access down the steep rock face. Another little secret, only her brother knew about the harness, the other villagers discouraged by the difficult climb. They weren't the only family struggling this winter.

The latest sickness hit hard and fast, rippling through the boroughs of Jamestown, bringing down the young, the old, even men and women in their prime. A fighting chance against such a strong strain required real nourishment, live protein, over the malformed garbage pumped out by their outdated replicator. It wasn't fit for prison slop. When her father took ill last night, she came here at first light, determined to bring down a young buck before the day was out. To her fortune, one of the season's males wandered into the area before midday.

She hadn't counted on the speed of the virus.

Prudy Mallory caught her coming into town, rushing up to her breathless and sweaty. "Where have you been, I've been looking everywhere for you?"

"Out hunting." Daphne had a dead buck slung around her shoulders like a grisly scarf. Did the girl think she was out picking flowers? She pushed her ire aside. The youngest Mallory sister consistently ground down her patience with her painful stupidity. At least Constance had common sense. "You found me?"

"Miles sent me, it's your father."

Her stomach dropped away, vision wavering. No, he was fine this morning, sitting up, yelling at her brother to bring him something to read. She ran, the carcass slipping off her shoulders. It couldn't be, not so soon after mother. She threw open the front door, Miles at the disposal, dumping a bowl of bloody water. He caught sight of her face.

"Daphne, wait!" She didn't, racing for her father's room. What awaited her brought her to her knees. She crawled to the bedside, gingerly wrapping her fingers around her father's hand.

His skin was swollen, bruised, covered in lumps that burst open like overripe fruit oozing white pus and blood. He cracked open his eyelids, the whole area around them a deep purplish red, his face filled with pain.

"Lovey?" He rasped, causing his lip to split open. A sob escaped Daphne's throat. Lovey was what he called their mother. "Don't cry, lovey."

"Da, it's me." Daphne seized one of the stained damp rags, carefully wiping the stream of blood from his chin. He was so far gone. How could it turn downhill so fast? But then only a handful had contracted it in their borough, her father one of the first.

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