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She thrashed, still in the grip of the dream.
They are coming out of the snow.
Long gelid shapes like eyeless snakes, the colorless gray of dirty and half-frozen water, they plow through the broken ground of the trench, deceptively fast, blending with the earth and impervious to both cold and the unevenness of the footing. I gouge at one with a hoeóthe closest weapon to handóand backpedal fast, flanked by Didier and Carrerra. The gabaja splits into two bloodless and unequal pieces that writhe briefly, then come on undeterred, more like an earthworm than a serpent. The first shorter segment rises and elongates to wrap around Carrerra's thigh like a whip, too fast for even augmented senses to follow.
It flexes and he goes down like a lead brick; never mind that the piece can't be more than two
feet long. His hand shoots out, grabs my wrist, even as I reach for him. Our fingers lock hard, the sinews of my shoulders cracking, as I drag against that inhuman pull.
Don't let them touch you, we said; if they touch you, you're dead.
As simple as that.
Carrerra's chocolate-hazel eyes look into mine, terrified beyond speech. I feel the snap coming, the breaking point of my arm, or his, or both, and I know that I can't save him, but I can't let
And now more of them come from beneath the piled drifts; slurch and slurm and more of the gabaja, slither/wobble/crawling determinedly towards us.
It's an ambush.
One of the flamethrower corps is overwhelmedóI can't see whoóhis shrieks like a needle to
the brain. His unit hose sprays flame and liquid napalm indiscriminately in twenty foot arcs. It hits Jensen, who goes up like a paper firework. From the other end of the field, Perdis, the squad mage, sends up fireballs in bands of green, white and purple, signaling retreat.
The second, thicker part of the gabaja I cut wraps around Carrerra's ankle and rips him out of
my grip. Later, I find two of my nails gone, torn out at the quick, but at the time, I don't notice. No more than I notice my shoulder is dislocated anyway.
I dive after Carrerra. Hicks and Fulson grab my arms, drag me bodily over Lane's corpse, ignoring my screaming protests, my struggles.
Yanked backwards, stumbling, I see when the gabaja drag Carrerra under the drift. His
groping fingers carve furrows deeply in the parti-colored earth. And then he is gone.
She was up and moving before she was even entirely awake. Her hair had come down in sleep,
now tangled, matted. Struggling with the long and irritating mass, she knew even without tonguing her chronometer she'd overslept. Dammit. Breakfast. Duncan.
ZoŽde was stood in the doorway, hands on hips and already dressed, an irritated pixie. "Are you going to spend all day in bed?"
"No, m'up," Min murmured, face hidden behind her hands. She was shaking from the violence
of her dream, though hopefully ZoŽ wouldn't notice. Probably not; ZoŽ seldom troubled herself to notice anything about Min these days.
It was her own fault, truth be told. She'd been up 'til nearly dawn on the promenade with
Duncan watching the movement of the stars and drinking cup after cup of tea; the kind of easy, gliding conversation she'd once had with ZoŽ, and then she'd slept badly, dreaming of Homeland.
Not, she thought, that I don't miss it horribly every day, gods help me.
Min let out a long exhalation, grounding herself to the here-and-now. The stench of acid and
burning skin lingering in her nostrils was only imagination, she reminded herself, only a dream.
"Did you have breakfast?" she asked, more because she should than anything. It was harder than she thought, keeping her voice conversational, even. Briskly, she finger-combed through her hair and twisted it up out of the way. It felt like the remnants of her dreams had wrapped around her like a layer of cobweb, sticky and clinging, fouling movement, sucking thought. "What time is it, anyway?"
"Nearly noon. And I had breakfast with Ben," ZoŽde replied, deliberately bland. She crossed
her arms, one shoulder against the jamb. No need to point out that Min should have been there; she
was ZoŽ's chaperon after all, the only reason she'd been brought at all. "I've been waiting for you to wake up."
"IÖ" The taller girl tried to focus, disturbed at how long it took. She shook her head, fingertips grinding against her lids. "I'll be up in five minutes," she said, giving up and casting around
on the coverlet for her robe. It had been a present from ZoŽ, years ago; expensive black Auriental silk-cotton, abstract butterflies appliqued and embroidered in peach and bronze and blue. "I just need to get dressed."
"Whatever." ZoŽ shrugged and pushed off the jamb, turning and walking out of the suite
altogether, leaving the stateroom door open. Min stumbled from the bed and closed it, forehead
pressed to the rough grained wood as she waited for her legs to feel like they belonged to her again.
Down, she thought doggedly, as she had every day. Away.
After a time, more herself again, she sighed. She'd have to skip showering; it was unlikely she'd find someone to pair up with at this late hour and the conservation laws made no
provision for oversleep. Anyway, ZoŽ's waiting. Let's not piss her off anymore than she is already.
She washed briefly in the nightstand basin instead. The water was stale and cold, which felt great on her eyes, but jarring on overheated skin. Avoiding sight of herself in the stateroom's one mirror, Min broke open one of the glass tubes of pills cached in her dresser drawer, quickly dry-swallowed them and got dressed.
That which could hunger, could starve. - Octavia Butler