Two men crouch in the ruins of Artemis base.
"You think it's gone?"
John rubs his leg through his pressure suit and shifts the pack. He's freezing, but he doesn't say anything.
"No. Do you?"
Chris stares at the sky.
"No. Not really. Hey-"
"We were pretty close to the last blast. Are you okay?"
John glances out at the plume of gray, phosphorescent vapor hanging on the horizon, lit by starlight.
"I'm sure. You?"
"I've had this headache, and I've been feeling sick. You're sure you're okay?"
"You haven't slept in three days. You haven't had anything solid to eat. Of course you're sick. Don't worry about it.
"Right. Okay, yeah, you're right."
Chris exhales, slowly. He's getting colder.
"I haven't see the moon for a while."
"I wasn't going to say anything. Since yesterday, right?""Yeah."
"There was a brief silence as they stared at the sky. Then John says,
"You think we hurt it?"
"I'm not sure. I thought I saw it limping."
"How can it limp? It has no legs."
"It does now. Lots."
Chris shifts under the weight of his pack. Just two bombs left, one for him and one for John.
"Where are we, do you think?"
"Not sure. I think about twenty klicks south of Areba. Might make it by morning if our air holds out. If..."
Chris gives him a look.
"If it's still there."
Chris stares at him.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Look, Chris, we were there at Traniquility. You saw over the edge. Whatever's chasing us right now? It's just a fleck. A
microbe. It's toying with us."
"Areba's there, John. Twenty klicks North."
"John, it's there. Come on. Of course it's there. Areba. Shitty subway system, the park with the broken sprinklers, the
shop on First that makes real doughnuts. Couldn't destroy the place if you bulldozed it."
"Chris, this thing is-"
"John! It's... it's there, okay?"
"Okay. Areba's there. We should get moving. Shh-!"
"Shut up. I felt something move. Underground."
"Why should I be quiet? It's not like it can hear the suit radio."
"I don't know. It's under us. Feel it moving?"
Chris is staring at his pack.
"John, we can't get to minimum safe distance from here."
John is silent for a moment.
"Look, you go that way, I'll go this way. Run. It can only follow one of us, right? If it catches you, set off your bomb."
"Okay, yes, that makes sense."
Charlie jumps, shakes himself, and runs. The two men run across the surface, pounding dry, frozen dust and clumps of tardigrass under their boots, pounding through the dust as fast as they can. After a minute, Chris pants into the microphone,
"Good luck, John."
"You too. I'm turning my radio off now. Goodbye, Chris."
There was a click, and then there was silence.
LAST INDEX NEXT
Short entry this week, occupied with other projects. Plus, this is the major turning point in the book. The ship arrives at Ilium with the next update, so taking a quick break seemed like a good idea.