by Linda Nagata
I sighed deeply and shoved the savant away, watching its silvery wing-shape bobble on the air, wondering what Yaphet would choose to do. It was Moki’s soft growl that brought me back to the present.
He stood on the rock beside me, staring down the escarpment, at the track we had come up that afternoon. I leaned forward, striving to see past the darkness beneath the trees, fully expecting Kaphiri to appear on the trail we had made, a shadow walking out of the shadows, but I could see nothing. I heard nothing, but Moki growled again and when I laid a comforting hand on his back I felt his red fur raised high.
It might be a lion stalking us. And my rifle was still on my bike. “Liam!” I shouted, and my voice echoed across the escarpment.
I listened for the sound of some great creature charging through the forest below, but I heard only Liam and Udondi calling me. “Jubilee! Where are you?”
“By the escarpment. Pull the rifles. Moki thinks something’s down there.”
Then several things happened at once. Behind me I heard Liam bounding across the bog. Beside me Moki danced back, barking furiously – his high-pitched warning bark. My heart turned over. I rose to my feet.
I saw it then: a silver-colored worm sliding uphill along the track we had followed in the
afternoon. It did not gleam like a savant, but its surface caught the starlight so it looked like a faintly glittering cord of light. I guessed it to be six feet long, but very thin, probably no more than an inch in diameter. It moved with stunning speed, not slowing for rocks or the rough terrain as any organic creature would, but gliding over them as if it truly was made of light. By this unnatural locomotion I knew at once it was a mechanic, and with equal certainty I guessed it had been sent to hunt us.
Moki’s barking grew more frantic and he scampered back, showing more sense than me. I should have retreated. But I’d seen the worm move and I knew I couldn’t outrun it. So I scrambled higher onto the rock outcropping where I had been sitting.
I didn’t see the worm reach the edge of the escarpment. It was just there, sliding out of the grass and onto the moss-slick rocks where I stood. A bullet whined, smacking the stone just ahead of the worm, throwing mud and moss and sharp rock flecks into my face.
I slipped. I went down on my side and the worm was on me. It slid over my legs, then across my chest. I grabbed at it, just as its tiny mouth flared open, exposing the glittering point of a single tiny fang. In my hands I felt cold metal scales; on my neck, a piercing, pinpoint of pain. I flung the worm away over the precipice. Two rifle shots followed as I regained my feet and jumped down to the bog. I was halfway back to the forest when my legs gave out beneath me.
Linda Nagata is an award-winning science fiction and fantasy author. MEMORY is a far-future science fiction novel originally published by Tor and nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.