Melting Iron Page 22

She blew out a breath when the kid reached the end, to a flatter smooth-surfaced rock, and threw out his line. He looked as if he knew what he was doing but her gaze scanned the area around him, trying to locate an adult who should be watching him. There was no one, unless they were out of her sight in the tree line. It was possible with those thick, dangling branches that worked the way curtains would. She turned her head and watched as Iron walked around the shuttle to the back and up the ramp to disappear inside. Dawn turned her head and automatically her attention went to the cyborg boy.

Memories of when she was a child with her family instantly came to mind. Every summer her family had gone camping until she and her siblings had hit their teens. Her father had taught her how to fish and she found it endearing that cyborg children were a hell of a lot similar to human ones. A smile curved her lips as the little boy tossed his line again, telling her that he was a fly fisherman.

He was sending out his line again minutes later when disaster struck. He stepped back, probably not realizing that he was too close to the edge of the rock he stood on, and she saw him lose his balance, tilt backward, his arms waving wildly, almost as if he were trying to use them for wings to take flight. He hit the water without even making a splash. Dawn’s mouth opened up in horror but she held still waiting for him to swim up to the surface. In seconds, when he didn’t, she realized he was in trouble.

She turned her head but Iron and the cyborgs working with him were inside the shuttle. She looked down the steep embankment in front of her and then was moving. Iron wouldn’t hear her yell over the engines and she didn’t have time to run his way to get help. The boy wasn’t coming up and she knew seconds counted and she inwardly winced as she went over the edge.

Her boots struck dirt and her butt hit hard on the harsh hillside as she started to slide on her ass. The steep decline made her pray she didn’t lose control as she tried to use her boots to steer as gravity made her pick up speed. Dirt and dried leaves slowed her a little but then she hit the bottom hard. Pain shot through one ankle as she forced herself to her feet, not even bothering to brush off her ass or back as she started to run.

She couldn’t see the water but she could see the dock as she sprinted around bushes on her rush to the river. Pure panic hit her as she reached the dock, out of breath. She didn’t see a little dark head on the surface. The water was almost still, no obvious current to drag his body away but it wouldn’t take much. She hit the rocks leading out on the dock, panting hard, but she kept moving until she reached the end.

Her gaze frantically scanned the surface but she didn’t see him. His pole was crushed under her boot where he’d dropped it. She turned her head but saw no help, no one by the trees, and as she looked up where she’d been sitting, no Iron standing there to see where the hell she’d gone. She was alone. As Dawn jerked her focus back on the water, she saw something there that just bobbed to the surface for a second about eight feet to her right. It had looked like little fingers.

Dawn dove in headfirst, not bothering to remove her boots. The kid had been in the water for probably close to two minutes. The water was shockingly cold as her body hit and she lost all sense of up or down. It was just cold and wet. She had aimed at her target so she blindly reached for him, her hands seeking as she widened her arms up and down and to the sides. Her wrist brushed something and she reached back thinking it was hair. It had to be from the soft brush her fingers ran through. She carefully followed it down and hit something rounded—the size of the boy’s head. She used both hands to grab as she found a shoulder and his ribs, clutching him while she tried to find the bottom of the river with her feet. She couldn’t find solid ground but she couldn’t be sure that was the right direction of where the bottom should be.

She clung to him but then relaxed the rest of her body, feeling herself float in one direction. She knew that had to be up so she dragged his body against hers, noticing that he was still, not fighting, and not clutching her. One arm wrapped around his body while she used her legs and free hand to swim. In seconds she broke the surface and she gasped in much needed air.

She shook her head hard to clear wet hair from her eyes, desperately seeking the direction of land. She saw it behind her so she maneuvered in that direction, swimming hard and frantically for it. When her boot kicked ground she almost sobbed with relief, fighting the boy’s limp weight and trying to negotiate between water and finding balance to lurch toward the embankment. The kid was little but he was damn heavy. She got them both to the edge and then she carefully laid him down so he was face up and mostly out of the water.

He was gray, even for a cyborg. He wasn’t breathing and his eyes were closed. Panic and horror hit Dawn knowing he’d drowned. She was gasping for breath, freezing cold, soaking wet, and desperately trying to remember first aid. She grabbed the boy, tipping his head back, and crawled to his side. Bending low she covered his parted mouth and blew air into him while she gently pinched his nose closed. She turned her eyes, watching his chest lift. It was working but would she be able to revive him? She wasn’t sure.

She started chest compressions, terrified she’d break his fragile ribs, being careful to not apply too much pressure to his chest. She gave him another breath and as she lifted up to start compressions, he started to choke. Relief nearly floored Dawn as she turned him on his side, hot tears filling her eyes as he gasped in air, coughing, sputtering, and struggling to breathe, but he was alive.

Rolling him more onto his stomach than not, Dawn supported his small body with one arm around his chest and rubbed him with her other hand on his back. “It’s all right,” she tried to soothe him. “Just stay with me. You’re out of the water.”

He finally stopped choking but his breaths were harsh and strained. Dawn turned her head, looking for help again but no one was in view near the trees or up on the hill she’d come from. Anger flashed through her, caused by her fear for the little boy and frustration that no one was there to help. Didn’t Iron notice she was gone? Where the hell were this kid’s parents? She pushed those questions screaming through her mind back and instead realized she would have to find help since it wasn’t coming to her.

The little boy turned his head, staring at her with pretty light green eyes set behind long, black eyelashes. His color was less dark gray and more of a dull nickel shade. She hoped that meant he was doing better, not familiar with his normal shade of gray. Terror filled his eyes as he stared up at Dawn.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she said softly. “You’re safe now. I got you out of the water and now I’m going to try to carry you back to camp to see if we can find a doctor.”

“You’re full human,” his little voice shook, terror still widening his eyes.

What had they taught this little boy about humans? It made her want to cringe. “Look,” Dawn said softly. “I’m not going to hurt you. Do you remember falling into the water?”

He gave a shaky nod.

“I was helping work on a shuttle with a few cyborgs like you and I saw you fall in. I pulled you out. I wanted to save you, okay? Not hurt you.”

He blinked at her and then bit his lower lip. “You won’t kill me?” He swallowed hard, his little throat tightening for a second. “Humans kill cyborgs.”

“I don’t.” Dawn forced a smile. “What is your name?”

“Davton.”

He had an odd name but Dawn didn’t say that aloud. “If I stand up and bend down, do you think you could wrap your arms around my neck? I am going to lift you up and carry you back to your camp.”

He nodded bravely as another coughing fit attacked him while Dawn got to her feet, urging her to hurry it along to get help for the boy. Her toes rubbed in a bad way in her wet boots that were super heavy as she shifted her stance. She bent forward to allow the kid to grip her and she slid her hands under his small body. She noticed then that one of his braces was broken.

She lifted him in her arms and wanted to groan. He weighed more than any of her nephews and nieces did at that age even though he was deceptively thin. She wondered if it were the braces that gave him at least an extra thirty pounds of weight but it didn’t matter. She had to carry him to get help. She sure wasn’t about to leave him alone while he was afraid or in danger of choking to death from his fits of coughing.

“I’m Dawn,” she told him softly, planting one wet, heavy boot in front of another. She was shaking from the cold and her clothes were sticking to her, rubbing her skin raw. “Do you always go fishing by yourself?”

“No. My mother usually takes me but she had to make some calls from one of those big ships that are here to rescue us. My brace got caught on something and I couldn’t swim.” His arms tightened around her neck. “Do you know where I live?”

“I know where the camp is. It’s just past those trees.” She gripped him a little higher, the muscles in her arms protesting at his heavy weight, but kept moving. “Do me a favor, Davton. Never go fishing or by the river by yourself again, all right? Even adults should always go with a buddy. Do you know what the buddy system is?”

“No.”

“It’s where you go do things with a friend so if one of you gets hurt or into trouble the other one can go for help.”

“I am a cyborg. We have to be self-sufficient to survive and we can never trust someone else to watch our back. My mother taught me that it is better to be solitary.”

Dawn stopped walking, her attention going from the ground in front of her to the sweet little boy face inches from her shoulder. Horrified shock tore through her at his matter-of-fact words. “We all need someone sometimes, kiddo. Human, cyborg, puppy dog, or birdie in the sky, we all have that in common.”

“Do you need anyone?”

Iron’s image came to mind instantly. “Yeah. I do, and I’m afraid sometimes to trust him, but you just have to learn to have faith in someone.”

Davton studied her until a shiver shook him. “I will try to find a buddy to share a system with.”

A smile played at her lips as she started to walk again. Her boots made a loud noise with each step, water squishing out of them, but she started to warm from the movement. She walked through the fifty feet of tree line and the thick drapes of branches into the open cyborg camp. She paused there with the boy in her arms, wondering how long it would take before someone saw her. She estimated she had maybe twenty seconds. It was closer to five.

The camp went dead silent as heads turned to stare openly at Dawn. “Do you have a doctor? He fell in the river and stopped breathing.”

One woman, a large dark-haired cyborg, dropped a pot of water by the fire and ran toward Dawn. She almost tore Davton out of Dawn’s arms, spinning to rush the boy away into one of the constructed homes. Dawn stood there and let her arms drop. Another woman marched toward Dawn, anger etched on her features. She lunged, grabbing Dawn by the front of her jumpsuit, fisting it in her hand.

“What did you do to Davton?”

“I didn’t do anything to him. I saw him fall in the river and dove in after him.”

Dawn resisted the urge to tear herself out of the other woman’s hold. She kept her voice loud and steady though, judging by some of the looks on the cyborg women’s faces, she wasn’t welcome in the least. A shiver of fear jolted down her spine as at least ten of them surrounded her, all the women looking furious as they glared. She knew she was in a world of shit.

“He fell into the water while fishing.” She stared directly into the woman’s furious gaze. “I saw it from the hill where I was taking a lunch break and rushed down to pull him out. I came with Iron to help work on the shuttle.”

The woman frowned and her hold on Dawn’s wet jumpsuit loosened. “He wasn’t breathing?”

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