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ridge of the carapace. The creature shivered slightly at the
vibration. He fetched a clip from the bag, slipped it through
the new hole, and attached it to the cable behind him.
 Okay, he said.  Got the first one.
Still no answer. She probably had turned the radio off in a
fit of peeve. He crawled upwall to the next one, drilled and
clipped it.
 Got number two.
He bypassed a bunch of lobsters and a small pup. He was
out about sixty meters now already, but getting into the thick
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of them. The third one he drilled, he started the hole too low
on the ridge and punctured the shell he could tell when it
pushed through without showing on the other side. He knew
what was coming and flinched as he jerked the drill back.
The pup shrank by about a third of its size, and then, with
its legs still kicking, folded inside out, vaporing its guts into
the void.
What a waste. But no time to think about it.
On to the next one. He was sweating now; some had
pooled in the nape of his neck, where it floated in the
weightlessness, making him want to look over his shoulder
constantly, as though someone were watching him. He drilled
more carefully this time.
 Three.
He settled into a rhythm. Crawl, drill, clip. Crawl, drill, clip.
His own body blocked the ship's light now so that anything in
front of him was in darkness. The lightweight suit didn't have
a clamp to fix the handlight to, and he soon discovered that
he couldn't hold onto the handlight, the drill, and the surface
at the same time. He slipped the handlight in his hip bag
while he worked, casting a net of shadows over everything it
illuminated.
Crawl, drill, clip, search with the light, crawl, drill, clip. He
finished that beachhead, saw he had fifty meters of cable left,
and searched several minutes before selecting another
direction.
There was still no answer from Sue-sheila, so he didn't ask
her for help, just replayed the vid from the flyover on his
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faceplate and tried to guess where he was. When he finally
picked a direction, he continued counting out loud for her.
 Sixteen.
 Twenty-seven.
He was running low on clips and had used half his oxygen.
Everything was dark now. He looked back to locate the ship
and saw only the long cable with its string of pups looping
over the curved horizon. It didn't worry him all he had to do
was push off from the surface and rise into the night until he
saw the ship, then pull himself in. But it made him notice the
vast sea of space around him, and he thought about those
transports from Mars that might or might not come again,
and his daughter Maya, and Kayla's tomato plant. And he saw
the cable again, all pups and not a single seal.
He turned back to his work, picking the pups more
carefully, going a little further for the ones that appeared
larger, until he had taken the cable out near its end. He was
down to his last clip when he saw the seal. Seals. Two of
them, in a little divot of rock. The second one was as big as
an air mattress.
 Wow, he whispered to himself.
 Last two, he said aloud over the radio. He was panting.
 Can't see much here, too dark. It'll take a bit.
Here's where having a partner up above running the light
would've made things easier. That's how they'd done it when
they scoured Troilus. It was only two seals though, two he
hadn't seen on the flyover. He could toss off one of the pups
and get them both.
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Or he could unclip himself, attach the end of the line to the
last one, and pull himself back to the ship hand over hand.
Every little bit helped.
The smaller one was closer, so he crawled over and drilled
it first. It took a long time to punch the bit through the shell.
The carapace sloped down to an edge in front which they
seemed to use to turn over the dust; this one had never done
anything but scrape rock, and it looked sharp. The creature
shuddered and clicked its legs rhythmically against the rock.
When Broadnax clipped it to the cable, and twisted the light
around, he saw that the bigger one had moved a meter away.
He climbed up to it.
 Last one, he said to the radio.
No mistaking the scale of this one it was almost as long
as he was, as big as an air mattress. Moving seemed to have
exhausted it. It twitched docilely while he carefully drilled the
hole through its ridge. He waited a moment, taking a few
deep breaths, fighting his own exhaustion, then reached back
with the drill still in his right hand and unclipped himself from
the tether.
The seal lunged, butting against him.
He might have shouted something, but he didn't notice,
too preoccupied by the way his world flipped again from wall
to ceiling. He now dangled by one hand and all the universe
gaped between his feet. The tether had slipped from his palm,
but he still clutched the drill somehow. His legs twisted
around in a slow spiral, disorienting him, tearing at his grip.
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The seal hit him again. Fire tore through his arm and the
air exploded out of his suit the sharp edge of its shell had
sliced it open.
He pounded his right fist into his stomach, just the way
every rocker was trained as a toddler, forcing himself to
exhale all his air. It gave him maybe forty or fifty extra
seconds before he died. He saw the end of the cable and
grabbed for it, even though there was no way he could pull
himself back to the shuttle in time. He missed. His good arm
already felt numb.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the seal move on the
ceiling above him. His right hand still held tight to the drill.
With his thumb pressing the on button, he jammed it into the
gap behind the carapace ridge. It held and he pulled himself
onto the creature's back.
It didn't like that at all, and jerked one way, then the
other, more than he'd ever seen all the seals move in his life.
Darkness flickered around the edges of his vision. He had
maybe thirty seconds left.
The drill broke through, puncturing the shell.
The seal turned inside out, spraying a wombfull of shrimp
into Broadnax's chest. The tiny black creatures filled the night [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]