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learn the answer to. He and Azure and all the others were going to suffer the
bliss of inte-gration, whether they wanted to or not.
He could still broadcast to his friends by means of the device they had
implanted in his head, but they did not reply to his repeated queries. Perhaps
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they were being blocked, or perhaps their own communications facilities had
been taken over already. They might be able to hear him but not to respond. He
was sure they were still alive. So long as sunlight reached their receptors
and their bod-ies remained intact they would continue to live. Not like him,
when his head was finally submerged. Heart pound-ing, lungs exploding. He
wondered if his teeth would have any effect on the yellow silicate that was
slowly entomb-ing him and resolved come morning to find out.
And if he could hold it off, then what? Slow death from thirst or starvation?
The alternatives were not promising.
The fear and tension, the worry and anxiety, combined to exhaust him. He
welcomed the exhaustion, as he welcomed inevitable sleep. If he was extremely
fortunate he might suffocate before he awoke.
Chapter Thirteen
Even that small favor was to be denied him. The rising sun woke him in bane to
discover that the enveloping yellow syrup had almost reached his chin. He was
completely imprisoned now except for his head. Soon he was going to be able to
try his teeth on the stuff. He thought of swallowing some. It might kill him a
little quicker.
There was no response to his queries from Azure or any of his companions.
Possibly the Integrator had begun to take control of their minds as well as
their bodies. At least he could still see, thanks to the superb surgery of the
physicians. He was facing toward the rising sun but was not blinded.
Unique discoveries which he had barely had time to enjoy. The Integrator
heaved beneath him, a violent lurch that was as impressive as it was
unexpected.
Taking over another patch of ground, Evan told himself. He licked his lips,
wondering what the yellow death would taste like.
An intense blast of rich red light that was brighter than the sun caused the
Integrator to convulse a second time. The light struck the curving bulk
several meters below Evan's location. The yellow silicate began to melt and
flow like hot butter.
"STOP‑NOW!"
The deafening warning had no effect on the persistence of the red beam, which
continued to slice across the surface of the Integrator. Huge tentacles and
massive groping hands thrust out of the earth lining the valley, straining to
rend the source of the annihilating light. They had no more effect on it than
had the mental shout.
Unable to move, Evan could only pray the light would miss him. If it touched
him he'd go up like a wick in a candle.
Library managed a frighteningly weak response to his query. "I can't imagine
what the source is, but it can do no more harm to us than we have done to
ourselves already. What damages the Integrator helps us‑unless we are
unlucky enough to be torched by the light as well."
"It is like a barrean." Evan had to strain to identify the source, finally
recognized it as belonging to one of the surviving trio of warriors. "Very
much like a barrean, though more powerful still."
"What the hell is a barrean?"
"A solitary and infrequently encountered creature which defends itself against
its enemies by striking them with intense beams of colored light." Evan could
sense library's frustration. "I Wish I could see. As warrior observes, this is
much like a barrean's work, except for its sense of purpose. There is a
pattern to its destruction."
Evan had a much better view than any of them but could see little more. The
source of the beam lay in the direction of the rising sun and despite his
specially altered eyes, he could not see through the glare.
"Wait! I believe I can see something." Second physi-cian, sounding tired and
far away. "It is no larger than a barrean, but differently shaped. When the
sun rises higher I may be able to make an identifica-
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The Integrator spasmed. A large section of the creature broke away from the
main body and slid to the ground. It did not tumble, which was fortunate or
Evan would have been crushed between the excised material and the unyielding
gravel below.
The involuntary biopsy sent the Integrator into a frenzy. Tentacles and cilia
lashed the ground in all directions. The earth shook as the entire enormous
mass lifted and fell back against the valley floor.
Evan saw the red beam swing toward him. He closed his eyes. At least the end
would be far quicker than if he'd been left to suffocate. But the deadly light
did not touch him. Instead, it seemed to focus precisely on the hardened
silica in which he was encased. The stuff lique-fied and ran. The beam was
hellishly hot and some of the heat was conducted to his body through the
churning silica, but sooner than he dared hope he was free of his prison.
Cramped from disuse, his leg muscles refused to function and he fell over on
his side.
His companions suffered no such lingering dysfunction and hurried over to make
certain he was all right. Two warriors gripped his arms and began to haul him
away from the flailing Integrator. It ignored their flight, wholly absorbed in
trying to destroy its unreachable tormentor.
He was halfway up the hill and trying to stand when he heard the voice. It
came out of the rising sun, full of impatience and self‑assurance. It
was startlingly clear.
"Hurry up! This way. The Integrator's truly dangerous only when it has time to
stop and think."
There were none of the shades of uncertainty which marked the voices of his
friends. It was almost as though he was being addressed by‑another
human.
"Yes, I'm Ophemert. Now get a move on."
Somehow she'd escaped with a station weapon, a sur-vey laser or better. It
might even be a component of an undamaged survival suit. He struggled to his
feet, forcing his agonized leg muscles to work, and staggered into the glare.
Azure and the rest followed, their receptors strain-ing thirstily toward the
unscreened sunlight.
He half ran, half crawled, up the steep slope, shoving blindly through
needlelike flora and ignoring the scratches they made on his face. His limbs
were still protected by the remains of his froporia armor, and the transparent
skin covering his torso did not bleed.
Finally they reached the top of the hill and were able to turn and gaze back
down into the valley. The organosilicate ocean that was the Integrator was
still thrashing about. No doubt it was roaring its defiance. Unlike Evan's
companions, though, it could only communicate through tendrils. It had never
learned how to communicate with-out intimate contact, just as it had not
learned how to come to terms with its own insanity.
"Thanks." He squinted, trying to separate a mobile shape from the surrounding
growths and the sunlight. "I thought my friends and I were dead. You saved our
lives."
"The rest of you are welcome to your lives." What Evan hadn't had a moment to
consider earlier struck him forcefully now: he was not hearing Martine
Ophemert's speech. He was hearing her as he heard Azure and library and
physician, through the device they had implanted in his brain. Somehow Martine
Ophemert had also been given this gift. Another mystery to add to the top of a
pile that Prism raised a little higher every day. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]