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.The Savant was hard at work at that moment, planting bio-seeds into the Kizzy-creature, who sprawled upon the cafeteria with almost every bloated birthing-sac full to bursting.The Savant continued her delicate work, probing for a spot to plant more bio-seeds in the Kizzy-creature.She wasn’t overly concerned by the shrade’s discovery.Her shrades had long since swept the base and declared it clear of enemy resistance.An intrusion from outside was unlikely as well as they now had the base’s primitive detection gear analyzed and operating.Any approaching ship would be noticed, and there had been none.The shrades were always discovering something they thought was very interesting.It was in their nature.The big empty base had been full of reported hazards, most of which turned out to be one automated system or another.In this case, the Savant suspected the cleansing equipment had gone on by itself for an automated self-cleaning process.Perhaps it did that if not activated for a long period.But then the shrade switched on its vid feed and the Savant stiffened in alarm.The Kizzy-creature likewise lurched in discomfort.The Savant had its tentacles deep within sensitive regions as it tried to plant the bio-seeds manually.The vid feed showed a crazed, skinny human with some kind of weaponry in its hand.A fight ensued.The human, incredibly, managed to defeat the shrade.The Savant, fearful of its own safety, withdrew its tentacles with great speed.The Kizzy-creature shuddered and gargled in protest.The Savant ignored the complaints and transmitted an emergency datablip to the Boldo-creature.Seek.Kill.Protect!The Boldo-creature reacted as if stung.It sprang erect and shambled rapidly out of the cafeteria.#Nicu ran lightly through the base.He paused, hugging each corner.Trying not to pant, he slipped his mirror around one corner, then two, then three.It was the fourth peek around a corner that nearly killed him.At first, he saw nothing.He withdrew the mirror just in time to hear something.Some kind of thumping sound.The sound was very familiar.He knew it and had run from it a dozen times.It was the heavy tread of space boots.The sound was unmistakable to someone like Nicu, who lived listening for approaching footsteps.These footsteps were heavy.Not even Boldo made such a racket.Whoever it was, they weighed a lot.Nicu’s hopes rose wildly.The Vlax from the central stronghold had come! Someone had gotten off a distress signal, and they’d sent out a ship.Nicu felt plans bubbling up inside his mind.Excuses.How had he survived? How had everyone else died? What part had he played in this mystery? Suddenly, he was glad he’d fought to the death with that worm-thing.Nicu had just become a hero.When this was all over, he’d be decorated and promoted.His clan would be proud and very, very surprised.He lifted one foot.All he had to do was step forward and greet the approaching, heavy-footed trooper.But as a man who lived by wits and intense depths of caution, he hesitated.What if things were not as he imagined—not as he hoped? What if this invader shot first? Should he shout out a greeting?Then, once set upon a path of doubts, more sprang up unbidden.What if this approaching person wasn’t a Vlax rescuer? What if those bastards from Neu Schweitz had released these horrors upon them, testing some new secret weaponry? What if this trooper wasn’t Vlax at all, and instead blasted him down on sight?He hadn’t heard any sounds, he realized now, of a ship landing.One could not usually hear the jets, of course.But there was a lot of docking equipment.Klaxons should have sounded, heralding the arrival.Yellow, spinning lights always signaled when such an event occurred.That foot, which had been raised and ready to move forward, now placed itself behind Nicu.He took a step back, then four more, in rapid succession.It could be this was a rescue.But if not, caution was warranted.Nicu retreated at a run to his darkened passages.There, in the dark, he waited, peeping out.What he saw come around the corner surprised him greatly.It was none other than Boldo himself.Just in case he wasn’t sure, the man’s name was still stenciled on the front of his grossly-inflated, half-shredded vacc suit.This wasn’t the Boldo Nicu had saw die, however.The mustache was still there, but little else was recognizable.There were—stalks coming out of him, sprouting from the neck and shoulders.Things that looked like fleshy clamshells floated at the end of these moving stalks.Inside the clamshells rolled what looked like smooth balls of pink flesh.Could those be—eyes?Somehow, this was worse than the wormy shrade.It was a person he knew, someone who had died in front of him, who had obviously been hideously altered.And what was that dark, bulging material underneath the spacesuit? It looked hard, like a shell.Finally, who had blown all those holes in the suit to reveal the shell?Nicu panicked.He turned and ran off down his dark corridor.He managed not to scream, but that’s all the self-control he was able to exert.In his mind, he was screaming.In his mind, he yearned for the sweet oblivion of madness to take him.He didn’t even know exactly where he was going.He made random twists and turns.He did not even think about his mirror and peeking around corners.He wanted to escape this new Boldo, this nightmare from his past who had returned from the dead.The new Boldo was more terrifying by far than the old Boldo had ever been.He found himself in a wider corridor.He slowed down, panting hard.He knew where he was now.The public section.He was in the very heart of the base.He smelled something then, something strange and vaguely organic.Was someone boiling soup? He tried to step lightly, to control his panicked run.He didn’t think Boldo had managed to follow him.With luck, he’d lost him.He stepped up to an open set of doors and saw he’d reached the cafeteria.He stood there at the entrance, mouth agape.What he saw inside.his mind could not process it for several moments.The tables and benches had been pushed to the sides.The kitchen doors had been flung wide and pinned open [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]