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.Pointing the barrel upward, he attempted to understand what he was supposed to do.He had to learn if he meant to fight.With a sudden surge of power, a white-hot beam lanced out toward the upper boughs of the pine trees.They burst into flames, crackling and snapping.Smoldering clumps of evergreen needles fell around him like red-hot snow.Yelping, he dropped the gun to the ground and scrambled backward.But he snatched it up again before he could forget which combination of buttons he had pushed.He had to remember and know how to use them.The flames overhead flared like a bonfire beacon, exuding curls of sharp smoke.With nothing to lose now, Duncan fired again, aiming this time, just to make sure he could use the lasgun to defend himself.The cumbersome weapon was not built for a small boy, especially not with his throbbing shoulder and sore ribs, but he could use it.He had to.Knowing the Harkonnens would run toward the blaze, Duncan scampered out of the trees, searching for another place to hide.Once again he made for higher ground, keeping to the ridgeline so he could continue observing the hunting party’s scattered glowglobes.He knew exactly where the men were, exactly how close.But how can they be so stupid, he wondered, making themselves so obvious? Overconfidence.was that their flaw? If so, it might help him.The Harkonnens expected him to play their game, then cower and die when he was supposed to.Duncan would just have to disappoint them.Maybe this time we’ll play my game instead.As he dashed along, he avoided patches of snow and kept away from noisy underbrush.However, Duncan’s focus on the clustered pursuers distracted him from seeing his real danger.He heard a snap of dried twigs behind and above him, the rustle of bushes, then a clicking of claws on bare rock accompanied by heavy, hoarse panting.This was no Harkonnen hunter at all— but another forest predator that smelled his blood.Skidding to a halt, Duncan looked up, searching for gleaming eyes in the shadows.But he didn’t turn to the stark outcropping over his head until he heard a wet-sounding growl.In the starlight, he discerned the muscular, crouching form of a wild gaze hound, its back fur bristling like quills, its lips curled to expose flesh-tearing fangs.Its huge, huge eyes focused on its prey: a young boy with tender skin.Duncan scrambled backward and fired off a shot with the lasgun.Poorly aimed, the beam came nowhere close to the stalking creature, but powdered rock spewed from the outcropping below the gaze hound.The predator yelped and snarled, backing off.Duncan fired again, this time sizzling a blackened hole through its right haunch.With a brassy roar, the creature bounded off into the darkness, howling and baying.The gaze hound’s racket, as well as flashes from the lasgun fire, would draw the Harkonnen trackers.Duncan set off into the starlight, running once more.• • •Hands on his hips, Rabban stared down at the body of his ambushed hunter by the cave hollow.Rage burned through him— as well as cruel satisfaction.The devious child had lured the man into a trap.Very resourceful.All of the tracker’s armor hadn’t saved him from a dropped boulder and then the thrust of a dull dagger into his throat.The coup de grâce.Rabban simmered for a few moments, trying to assess the challenge.He smelled the sour scent of death even in the cold night.This was what he wanted, wasn’t it— a challenge?One of the other trackers crawled into the low hollow and played the beam of his handlight around the cave.It lighted the smears of blood and the smashed Richesian tracer.“Here is the reason, m’Lord.The cub cut out his own tracking device.” The hunter swallowed, as if uncertain whether he should continue.“A smart one, this boy.Good prey.”Rabban glowered at the carnage for a few moments; his sunburn still stung on his cheeks.Then he grinned, slowly, and finally burst out into loud guffaws.“An eight-year-old child with only his imagination and a couple of clumsy weapons bested one of my troops!” He laughed again.Outside, the others in the party stood uncertainly, bathed in the light of their bobbing glowglobes.“Such a boy was made for the hunt,” Rabban declared; then he nudged the dead tracker’s body with the toe of his boot.“And this clod did not deserve to be part of my crew.Leave his body here to rot.Let the scavengers get him.”Then two of the spotters saw flames in the trees, and Rabban pointed.“There! The cub’s probably trying to warm his hands.” He laughed again, and finally the rest of the hunting crew snickered along with him.“This is turning into an exciting night.”• • •From his high vantage Duncan gazed into the distance, away from the guarded lodge.A bright light blinked on and off, paused, then fifteen seconds later flashed on and off again.Some kind of signal, separate from the Harkonnen hunters, far from the lodge or the station or any nearby settlements.Duncan turned, curious.The light flashed, then fell dark.Who else is out here?Forest Guard Station was a restricted preserve for the sole use of Harkonnen family members.Anyone discovered trespassing would be killed outright, or used as prey in a future hunt.Duncan watched the tantalizing light flickering on and off.It was clearly a message.Who’s sending it?He took a deep breath, felt small but defiant in a very large and hostile world.He had no place else to go, no other chance.So far, he had eluded the hunters.but that couldn’t last forever.Soon the Harkonnens would bring in additional forces, ornithopters, life-tracers, perhaps even hunting animals to follow the smell of blood on his shirt, as the wild gaze hound had done.Duncan decided to make his way to the mysterious signaler and hope for the best.He couldn’t imagine finding anyone to help him, but he had not given up hope.Maybe he could find a means of escape, perhaps as a stowaway.First, though, he would lay another trap for the hunters.He had an idea, something that would surprise them, and it seemed simple enough.If he could kill a few more of the enemy, he’d have a better chance of getting away.After studying the rocks, the patches of snow, the trees, Duncan selected the best point for his second ambush.He switched on his handlight and directed the beam at the ground so that no sensitive eyes would spot a telltale gleam in the distance.The pursuers weren’t far behind him.Occasionally, he heard a muffled shout in the deep silence, saw the hunting party’s firefly glowglobes illuminating their way through the forest, as the trackers tried to anticipate the path their quarry would take.Right then Duncan wanted them to anticipate where he would go.but they would never guess what he meant to do.Kneeling beside a particularly light and fluffy snowdrift, he inserted the handlight into the snow and pushed it down through the cold iciness as far as he could.Then he withdrew his hand.The glow reflected from the white snow like water diffusing into a sponge.Tiny crystals of ice refracted the light, magnifying it; the drift itself shone like a phosphorescent island in the dark clearing [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]