[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.It couldn't happen, of course.No feeble shell fired from a cannon could do more than knock a few chips off the outer surface of the sky.Behind that thin tegument was something utterly unscratchable.After a minute passed, she said: "They'll send in the foot soldiers to mop up, now.Stay cool, Rousseau." Then the brief touching of helmets was over, and she was gone.I sat up, and looked around.It was difficult to see much, with the local sky out of action.There was a lot of debris in the air—the mists were supplemented now with heavy smoke.Contrary to proverbial wisdom, though, there was no fire at all.For fires you need free oxygen.I staggered to my feet, and continued to clear my faceplate as best I could.Six or seven metres away a figure emerged from the roiling murk.It could have been anyone—except that it was carrying some kind of rifle.He must have seen me about the same time I saw him, and his immediate reaction was to bring the rifle to his shoulder.I never knew whether he just intended to cover me, or to blow my head off—another body hurtled at him from the left, wielding a great jagged- edged shard that must have fallen from the ceiling.The shard's battle-axe trajectory nearly took the armed man's head from his shoulders.The rifle spun away, unfired, and Susarma Lear fell upon it hungrily.She tossed the club to me, and pointed in the direction in which we'd been travelling.Her forefinger stabbed the air urgently, and I realized that she was telling me to get the hell out of it.Behind me, as I lurched once again into a ragged run, I heard her firing.With every minute that passed I expected to hear the tank open up again, and the images which my mind produced of the sky erupting again spurred me on.I was no longer coherent in my thinking, but in a state of profound trauma.I had forgotten my stomach and the danger of vomiting, forgotten the agony in my unready limbs.The headache was still there, the blood booming in my temples, but there was no thought in my mind that it might all calm down if only I could stop running.I got away from the smoke and the darkness, back to territory where the sky still glowed, and where the ground was firmer and flatter.In retrospect, that was a lucky break, because if I'd had to run around and between the black- patterned deathcaps for any length of time I'd have completely lost the direction that was indicated by the colonel's stabbing finger.As it was, I was soon back among dendritic forms again—but not, this time, the faintly-lit tangled things that grew around the prison.These were much bigger and more angular, growing floor-to-ceiling like heaps of scrap metal, intricately bedecked with spiky thickets of branches.Fortunately they did not grow close together, and their most extensive branches grew above head height.It was like running through a vast vault filled with gigantic, decorated pillars—the fact that these trees were rooted at both top and bottom made the ceiling seem so much nearer.I looked back once or twice, and to either side, but as far as I could tell I was completely alone.I could still hear the occasional crackle of gunfire, but it sounded surprisingly faint and far away.I wasn't in much of state to think about that.I just kept running and running.I fell three or four times, but each time I just jarred my bones on the hard ground, picked myself up, and kept going.I kept going, in fact, until I reached the wall.The levels of Asgard are full of walls.They have to be— after all, something has to hold the levels apart.In the topmost levels, with which I was most familiar, the walls were usually the walls of cities, with many doorways, because the supporting pillars were honeycombed with passages.Up there, though, even the more open spaces tended to be small in scale, continually cut up and blocked off by sections of structural material.This level seemed to have bigger spaces, and it also seemed to have thicker supports, because the wall I came to was smooth and black, and there was not the least sign of a door or a window or anything else in the thirty metres or so that I could see to either side.I staggered right up to the wall, and put my spread-eagled arms upon it, as if appealing to it to be sucked in and dissolved.It was as hard as adamant, and surprisingly cold.Unlike the ground, which I judged to be close to blood heat, it felt as unfriendly as ice.I flinched away from it, and stood still, having not the faintest idea what to do next.I was breathing in great ragged gasps, and my heart was pounding.I could feel no immediate sense of recovery as I turned around and looked back the way I had come.Seized by exhaustion at last, I sank to my knees, and then slipped sideways into a half-sitting sprawl, my upper torso propped up by my left hand.In my right hand, I was surprised to find, was the makeshift club that Susarma Lear had thrown to me before commanding me to run.I had carried it, without being aware of the fact, all the way from the scene of carnage.I had no idea how much time had passed, and I became fearful that I might run out of oxygen at any moment.The recycler was still working perfectly despite the battering I had taken, but I had no way of knowing how much longer it would do the job before coming to the end of its resources.My capacity for intelligent thought was restricted to the consciousness that there were only three things I could do.I could go left along the wall; I could go right along the wall; or I could stay put.I stayed put [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]