by Sara Stamey
My uneasiness had blossomed into a case of screaming nerves, understandable considering the data I’d just seen. I rose and paced the control room, lights flashing across me from the rod, tremor roaring through me.
And it was getting late. I had to get back to the house. I paused to eye David’s paraphernalia one more time and crouched to touch my fingers lightly to the buttons, wishing I could program some charm of safekeeping for him. I shook my head and poked a restless finger through the scattered components, my hand closing absently around the handle of a metal probe. I stood, fingering its sharp point, feeling the wooden handle fit comfortably into my palm.
I toyed with the tool, feeling its satisfying heft, as I climbed the stairs. “Hey, David, maybe we’d better try again tomorrow. We don’t want to be caught out in—”
I emerged from the dim shaft into the blaze of sunshine. “David?” I blinked as nervousness swelled into a swamping wave of urgency, assaulting my senses with the heat, the bright, swimming dust, and a low growl coming from somewhere. A flush of timbra tingled through my nerves to answer it.
Something dropped with a sound of metal against metal. “Sheba? Hey, Ruth . . . ?” David stumbled against the tool chest, his voice trembling on the edge of fear.
I blinked again and focused on his thin body sketched against the bright gleam of wheat, his outstretched arm shaking.
“Hey, Sheba! What’s got into you? Easy, girl!” His voice cracked.
The escalation of the timbra state was rushing through me now, images etched in separate lightning flashes of clarity. The downrushing gleam of a sail arm. The knobbed metal foot of the tower leg. Hot blue sky behind wheat stalks subsiding from violent shaking. A cloud of dust swirling. An angrily switching, tufted tail.
The big cat crouched a few paces from David, tail twitching aggressively, legs rippling tensed muscle, a low growl swelling into unmistakable threat.
My hand tightened reflexively on the sharp tool. “David! Back up slowly, don’t make any sudden moves.”
David’s white face swung toward me, lenses flashing in the sun. “But, Ruth, what’s wrong with her?”
The pardil growled again and edged forward, belly low, eyes fixed on David, their amber hot with the sight of the kill. He looked back at her, took a hoarse, sobbing breath, and began to step backward. The cat’s tail twitched faster, the wind shifted in the stalks, and I could see a ferial crouched, ready to spring from its limb onto a gizu-doe.
“That’s it, David, back up. Come on.” I edged closer to him, gripping the inadequate tool.
“No! Ruth, no!”
A sudden tawny blur of motion. A glimpse of a dark ring encircling the furry neck. Light glinting on sharp fangs. The big cat leaped.
David went down and suddenly there were only huge claws and the tumbling limbs of the boy in clouds of dust. A terrified scream and a snarl. Blinding sun caught thin metal as I sprang instinctively forward.
Adrenaline and reflexes, molten fire filling my veins. A growl, a savage cry—from whose throat?—a splash of red, fur under my hands, tripping in twisted skirts, then a scream, my own, and tearing pain down my leg. Then anger, fury at those murderous amber eyes, devouring rage at the winking amber lights of the console. Power surged through my arms, and there was only stabbing, stabbing at those eyes, screams filling my ears, bright blood, red, by the thorns, so much red. The screaming, forever and insane, so much red, the weight, heavy, twitching on me. I’d forgotten there would be so much blood. Pain and red darkness.
Sara Stamey’s journeys include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean, backpacking worldwide, operating a nuclear reactor, and owning a farm in Southern Chile. She teaches creative writing at Western Washington University and shares her creekside land with wild creatures and her cats, dog, and very tall husband Thor.
Sara’s science fiction novels with Berkley/Ace made the Locus Best New Novelists list. Her Caribbean psychic suspense novel Islands—”a stomping, vivid ride”—won the Chanticleer Paranormal Suspense Award, and her near-future Greek islands thriller The Ariadne Connection won the Cygnus Award for speculative fiction. Check out her website.