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Welcome Back David Gerrold and Chapters from a Method for Madness

You are receiving this because you requested updates on the progress of The War Against The Chtorr series by ** David Gerrold **.  If you are receiving this by mistake, or if you do not wish to receive further updates, e-mail us at ** DavGerrold@compuserve.com ** with the word unsubscribe as the subject or even piss off Gerrold! and we will remove your name from the list.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  We hate spam as much as you do.  

 

 

In this newsletter:

 

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Over 250,000 words finished on A Method For Madness!

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There will be a 6th Book!

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The Man Who Folded Himself is back in a brand new edition!

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The Martian Child is now out in trade paperback!

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The Quote Book of Solomon Short!

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Preview chapters of A Method For Madness attached to this letter!

 

 

Hello, J. Scott Johnson!

 

Yes, its been a over a year since Ive written and sent one of these newsletters reporting on progress with The War Against The Chtorr.  I apologize for that.  Mea culpa, my bad, and I will go have myself flogged as soon as I can find a red-haired dominatrix who owns a chocolate store.  (Im not even going to try to explain why its taken so long.  But if youre reading this, it means we finally figured out how to get mail-merge working in Office XP.  If youre not reading this, dont worry about it.)

 

Welcome to the New Folks!  We receive as many as a hundred requests a month from folks asking for information about the next book.  I dont have time to answer all the e-mails and I apologize for that.  Please forgive.  Thats why we started this occasional newsletter so I could respond to all the e-mails and keep folks informed.  I hope youll find it worthwhile;  if not, let me know and Ill remove your name from the list.  (If youre getting multiple copies, please let me know about that too.)  To those of you whove been around for a bit, thanks for your patience as well as your enthusiasm. 

 

As a way of saying thanks to everyone, Im including a special preview of book five at the bottom of this newsletter.  Some of these chapters were posted on my website, but I think this is more than anyone else has seen yet.  We will have more preview chapters in future newsletters. 

 

Progress on A METHOD FOR MADNESS:  Since last year Ive had three major writing spurts.  The total number of words finished is now more than 250,000 words, not counting all the stuff that will go between the chapters.  So this is already the biggest book in the series, and theres still as much as 50,000 words left to write. 

 

In this book, Jim gets to go deep down inside the Amazon mandala, not just whats on the surface, but whats underneath as well.  And then, later on, he gets to discover whats under

Manhattan as well.  The parallels and contrasts between the two sequences promise to be spooky.  But of course its also a lot of work.  Even though two-thirds of it is already written, Im exhausted just thinking about the parts left to write. 

 

So it looks like A Method For Madness could grow to 300,000 words or more.   Oh yes, and theres also this one sequence where Jim finally explains whats really going on with the worms.  Thats worth a couple of Yikes!  It brought me out of my chair a couple of times as I realized some additional implications of the invasion.  So Ive given up trying to predict when it will be done.  As long as Im this enthusiastic, Im just going to let it keep growing.  It will probably be the equivalent of three ordinary novels.  I hope you wont mind.

 

Publishing Plans:   A Method For Madness will be published in hardcover, but no date has been set yet.  If I can finish the book before the end of summer, it will be published next year.  Tor Books has also bought the rights to reprint the first four books, along with the fifth book.  Right now, theyre talking about publishing A Matter For Men and A Day For Damnation as one volume, and A Rage For Revenge and  Season For Slaughter as a second volume.  They havent said whether they will do paperback or hardcover.  If you want hardcover editions write to Tor books and let them know.  I figure that if they know that there are several thousand folks ready to buy hardcovers thats enough to justify the expense.  (Tor Books, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010-7703.)  Dont put my name on the envelope or theyll forward it to me as fan mail.  In fact, dont even tell them I told you to write. 

 

Book Six!   The big news, of course, is that Tor has also written a contract for book six in the series, A Time For Treason, so thats the book Im going to start on as soon as I finish A Method For Madness

 

The Man Who Folded Himself:   The first publisher of this book called it the last word in time travel stories and a lot of readers seemed to agree.  Its now considered a classic novel of science fiction and BenBella Books has just published a trade paperback edition with a very nice introduction by Robert Sawyer, and a very nice afterword by Goeffrey Klempner.  Its a handsome package and BenBella even has some autographed copies for sale on their website.  (http://www.benbellabooks.com.)  Well also be at Westercon in Seattle. 

 

The Martian Child:   This is the novel-length version of the story that won the Hugo and the Nebula awards in 1995 the nearly-true story of my sons adoption.  The book is now available in trade paperback and it is highly recommended by my publisher, my son, and the bank that holds my mortgage.  The Martian Child might be a little hard to find in bookstores, so I recommend ordering it online.  Some of the reviewers werent as warm to it as Id hoped (Its been called everything from charmingly neurotic to relentlessly honest to embarrassingly earnest.  Go figure.), but quite a few readers seem to have taken it to heart.  See if you can spot the references to the Chtorr in the book.  Meanwhle, Sean just turned nineteen and hes showing dangerous signs of turning into a human being, so somebody must have done something right.

 

The Dingilliad:   Leaping To The Stars, the third (and final, I think) book in the Dingilliad series was published last April to generally favorable reviews.  It was a tricky book to write because I was juggling about six different watermelons.  (I did drop one, at least I think I did, but I wont tell you which one, because nobody else seems to have noticed.)  The first two books, Jumping Off The Planet and Bouncing Off The Moon, are out in paperback.  You can order all of them at Amazon, of course.  All three are also available in one volume, from the Science Fiction Book Club as The Far Side Of The Sky.  Reviewers and readers continue to compare the books favorably to the classic Heinlein juveniles, which is a nice compliment, but a little inaccurate.  Yes, theres a Heinlein flavor, but its only a spice.  I like to think that theres a lot more Gerrold than Heinlein in these books.  Read them for yourself and let me know what you think.  (By the way, a favorite character from the Chtorr series has a very nice chapter in Leaping To The Stars.)

 

Worlds of Wonder:   Writers Digest Books asked me to do a book on how to write science fiction and fantasy, so I took all the best lessons Id learned from Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, Samuel R. Delaney, James Blish, D.C. Fontana, A. E. Van Vogt, and others, and compiled them into Worlds of Wonder.  Its gotten some good reader reaction;  if you want to know more about writing, or more about how I approach writing, pick up a copy.  (The Science Fiction Book Club published World of Wonder as a recent selection, but didnt send me any copies.  If anyone has a copy of the Book Club edition theyd like to donate or trade, let me know please.)  And yes, theres a Chtorran chapter in this book too.

 

Personal News:   In the past twelve months, Ive had a (minor) relapse of my pneumonia, a severe bout of food poisoning, a computer-hacker attack, a hard disk crash, and a motherboard failure.  Plus both my dog and my Dad died within three weeks of each other.  And if that wasnt enough, we ran into a bad batch of chocolate.  Sheesh!  That was when I went out into the back yard and shouted at the sky,  Enough already go pick on someone who deserves it!!  The following week, I got strip-searched three times on a weekend air trip.  I have hired a lawyer and we are filing a lawsuit against God for malfeasance.  More about this later. 

 

The Tip Jar:   It costs us more money than we expected to maintain the website and do these newsletters.  (Were working on bringing our costs down shortly.)  If you find the website useful, or would just like to make a donation to the Keep-David-Gerrold-Working-On-The-Damn-Book-Fund, you can log onto www.paypal.com and pledge/tithe/donate/subscribe/contribute whatever you feel like to davgerrold@compuserve.com.  (Part of this will go to cover some recent unexpected medical expenses.  Dont panic, Im fine now, but the dog needs orthodonture work.)  Itll help us continue the website and do some other useful stuff. 

 

Sales:   Almost as a joke, we printed up a little hand-made book compiling all the known quotes of Solomon Short.  Every time we put it up for sale at a convention, it sells out.  And one person at a recent convention was quite outraged that I hadnt made copies available to folks on this list.  My bad, Ill go and have myself flogged, as soon as I can find a red-haired dominatrix who flies a chopper and owns a chocolate store.  (If you fit three out of four of those qualifications, send me a resume.) 

 

Anyway, if youre interested, we have available for sale:

 

The Quote Book Of Solomon Short.  (All the quotes by Solomon Short from the first four books, plus a few pages of quotes from book five.)  This is a 32-page, self-printed book, nothing fancy, but a lot of fun, and every copy is autographed.  $12.  Shipping/handling is $6.  (They go for twice as much on eBay.)

 

Weve also put together a package of three Star Trek scripts for $50:  The Trouble With Tribbles, More Tribbles, More Troubles, Blood And Fire (unproduced TNG episode.)   You can drop a check in the mail to David Gerrold , 9420 Reseda Blvd. #804 , Northridge , CA 91324-2932 , or you can pay by credit card by logging onto www.paypal.com and making payment to davgerrold@compuserve.com.  Individual scripts are $20 each.  Shipping/handling is $6.

 

Auctions :  Occasionally, folks write to me asking where they can find copies of my books.  When we cleaned out the garage, we found a lot of extra copies.  So were putting them up for auction on ebay.  There are hardcovers, first editions, galley proofs, paperbacks, stuff you might have given up all hope of finding.  Were getting to the end on some of these items, so youd better move fast.  Our next round of auctions starts on Monday.  Go to eBay and search on Gerrold. 

 

THANK YOU!  Okay, thats all the important news this time out.  Thanks for putting yourself on the newsletter list.  Thanks again for your enthusiasm and interest.  And thanks most of all for your patience. 

 

 

David Gerrold DavGerrold@compuserve.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Method For Madness
(selected preview chapters)

 

2

Speed Bumps

Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment.

Solomon Short The chopper jerked in the air. The pilot pulled the machine around in a tight turn, nearly sliding us sideways out the open door. Lizard grabbed for mea reflex. She clutched at my arm only for a moment, then pulled herself up, swearing like a longshoreman. Angrily, she began untying the restraints that still held her firmly in her stretcher. We tilted hard then and I stared straight down at another chopper just dropping down out of the air, landing in the red-stained jungle below usin a clearing carved by a daisy-cutter bomb, dotted with scattered tents and crates of supplies and the wreckage of the Hieronymus Bosch. The aircraft became the instant center of a scrambling cluster of soldiers and civilians. We tilted again, righting ourselves this time, and I saw another chopper, orbiting the camp opposite us. Its guns were firing away at something in the distance. I became aware of the soundsred and purple screeches, punctuated with the thudding blasts of explosions, both near and far. What are you doing? Lizard demanded of the pilot. Orders. We have to orbit and provide covering fire until the chopper behind us gets off the ground. Then hell provide cover for the next one. And so on. He grinned back at us. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Youll get the best view of the war yet. I guarantee you. The pilot was a stocky kid with a ruddy complexion. He looked like he was having a terrific time. Probably, he was. Copilot was pointing at something and shouting. Behind us, the two gunners were launching cold-rockets, one after the other, with alarming enthusiasm. Lizard and I exchanged a glance. It was amateur night. She looked annoyed as hell. Frustrated beyond words. I was sure she would have preferred to fly us out herself. The other passengers in this lifeboat looked equally unhappy. Wed lifted off with four GIs, two torch-bearers, and a corpsman. I wondered what theyd been through. The torch-bearers looked exhausted. The others just seemed terrifiedas if theyd had a glimpse down the mouth of hell. Probably they had. The corpsman had his eyes closed and was reciting his prayers. We circled around the evacuation camp and I caught a glimpse of the pink skin of the Bosch sprawled across the jungle canopy. It stretched out for acres. Parts of it still ballooned upward like gigantic bulging breasts and stomachs and arms. Other parts sagged like the shrunken skin of a corpse. Here and there, metallic bones shone through, poking brokenly upward. I saw red maggots crawling across the body All right, were clear, the pilot called. I looked down as we banked and saw the other chopper lifting off. The next one came dropping down behind it. Lizard had climbed forward, to stare past the pilots shoulder. Now, she reached forward and grabbed his shoulder. What are you doing? she demanded. Youre heading south! Wanna get a better look, the pilot said. Never seen worms up close before. He pointed ahead. Look! By now, I had loosened the bonds on my stretcher, and dragged myself halfway forward too. Despite the splints, my knee still twinged with fire every time I moved. Behind me, the corpsman made cautionary noises about my leg. I told him to stuff it.  After what Id just been through, this was luxury. Peering ahead through the clear dome of the vehicle, I could see what had excited the pilot. A fantastic river of huge scarlet bodies poured through the jungle. Thousands of Chtorran gastropedes from the Japuran mandala were pursuing the great sky-god that had passed across the roof of their world. Their song was audible even over the steady thwup-thwup of the choppers blades and the droning roar of its engines. The two young men in the cockpit seemed fascinated, almost to the point of being stupefied. Lizard was shouting at them. Dont be stupid! Dont you know the Chtorran ecology is hostile to aircraft engines! Relax, honey, the pilot said. Youre in good hands. Let the men handle this. Gently, he disengaged her hand from his shoulder. Ill drive. Copilot pointed downward. Lets get close-ups Right. Theyll be worth a fortune. What do you think Newsleak will pay? Lizard was unfastening something from her collar. One of her stars. She reached around and held it up in front of the pilots eyes. She waited until she was sure that he had focused and recognized it. My name is not honey, she said. It is General Tirelli, sir! And you will turn this fucking ship around and head north for Yuana Moloco, right now, or I will drag you out of that seat and fly it myself. That is a direct order. Acknowledge it now! I had to give the kid credit. He didnt flinch. Sorry, maam. I have standing orders to do a photo reconnaissance. You may be a general, but my commanding officer is an even bigger son-of-a-bitch. He brushed her hand away. You can threaten me all you want, but Im still flying this rig, and if you interfere with my piloting again, Ill file formal charges against you the minute we touch down. Lizard was tired and weak. Otherwise the expression on her face would have put him into the hospital. Or perhaps she knew she couldnt win this argument. I crawled laboriously forward. Who gave you those orders, Captain? It was the use of the word Captain that got him. He said, Standard operating procedure for all Chtorran operations requires In

North America, yes, I agreed. But not here. The general was right. Theres lumps in the air. Some of them big enough to hurt. What do you think brought down the dirigible?

He didnt answer. Not right away. He busied himself with buttons and knobs for a minute, pretending to be checking something. Suddenly he spoke in a whole other tone of voice, Listenevery other goddamn son-of-a-bitch in the world is getting a chance to burn these mothers. And every other goddamn son-of-a-bitch in the world except me is getting rich off them. This is my chance to make some money, and not you, not anybody, is going to stop me. Understand? I lowered my voice. I got it. Loud and clear. Just one more question. Is it worth dying for? He shook it away. I know what Im doing, he said. Ive logged nearly a hundred hours in the simulator. I looked at Lizard. Oh, god, I said. He sounds like me. She was too frustrated to appreciate the joke. Wearily, she repinned her star onto her collar. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around metaking care not to bump my knee. She was tired and her hug was feeble, but it meant the world to me. We pulled ourselves closer together and she rested her head on my shoulder. Luna, she whispered. Were going to Luna. Why not one of the L5s? I whispered back. Wed have Earth-normal gravity. We can get a better salad on the moon. And there are no steaks on the L5s yet. Good point. Wed better go before you start showing. Can you arrange it in the next three months? How fast can you pack? Im already packed. I have everything I want right here. As soon as I can get to a phone The chopper lurched then. Both Lizard and I glanced forward, but the pilot seemed unconcerned. Speed bump, he explained. Lizards expression said it all. She didnt believe him. She saw me looking at her and smiled reassuringly. Problem? I asked. She shook her head. Just my overworked imagination. But she held up a hand for silence while she listened intently to the sound of the engines. I couldnt hear anything; they sounded fine to me, but Lizard narrowed her eyes at something. She leaned forward again. Whats that gleebling noise? The pilot replied in a laconic drawl. Gleebling is normal for these frammis-whackers. If it were a greebling noise, however, then wed have something to worry about. Copilot added, Gleebling means good evening in the Drunk-to-English dictionary. Lizard ignored them both. What does the FADPAC[1] say? Both pilot and copilot looked up. Lizard looked too. The voice monitor was off. You assholes. Whered you learn to fly?

Disneyland?! She reached up to switch the unit on

The pilot slapped her hand away. Im flying this bird, lady! Not very well! she snapped right back. I dont need a voice yammering in my ear Well, you got one now! Me! Get in the back where you belong, goddammit! He turned half-around in his seat, like an angry parent preparing to swing at an errant child. Lizard had already unholstered her pistol. Now, she clicked the safety off and pointed it directly at his head. Turn. The. Monitor. On. He froze. Copilot reached up slowly and switched on the systems analysis unit. Immediately, the familiar synthetic-female voice of Fay began reporting, Number 2 engine reserve deterioration 6 percent. Instantly, the pilot reached up and tapped the yellow panel of the device. This would give him a more detailed report. Gas particulate limits exceeded. Non-recoverable performance loss. What the hell? Youve flown through something. That was the bump we felt, I said. Possibly a hovering cloud of stingflies. Theyre invisible. They follow the worms. I never heard of that Gee, thats too bad, I said sympathetically. In that case, maybe we wont crash.  God grants dispensation if you have a good excuse. He didnt answer. He was suddenly busy with his controls. So was the copilot. I looked to Lizard. She was watching them both intently. Absent-mindedly, she reholstered her pistol. She began offering suggestions. Suddenly, the argument was over and the three of them were working as a team, discussing their options. I couldnt understand a word of their techno-jargon, but it was clear that all thoughts of the photo-mission had been forgotten. North? asked the copilot. North, confirmed the pilot. Already, he was swinging the bird around. He looked scared. I actually felt sorry for him. His delusions of immortality had just been shattered. As if in confirmation, the chopper lurched again. It was a barely noticeable bump, but the blood drained out of their faces. Immediately, the voice of Fay was reporting, Combined engine performance is now 86 percent. And dropping. A moment later, she added, Pressure failure in the primary set. Shit! said Lizard. Whats the run-dry time on this bird? Weve got active-magnetic bearings. The pilot was studying a performance projection. We should be able to make it backif we dont hit anything else. Lizard looked to me. Her expression said it all. What else do we have to worry about? I shook my head and shrugged. Something above us chuffled. The rotors? Almost immediately, smoke began pouring out behind us. One of the gunners started screaming. Fay began yammering. Pilot and copilot were both suddenly very busy. Lizard shouted instructions. We lurched and bumped. I looked out my side of the chopper. I could see the smoke streaming away into the distance. There were burning flecks of something churning in the greasy black trail. Aww, God, no the pilot cried. He was fighting his controls. Lizard shouted at him, she grabbed his shoulder, and pointed forward.  There!  A wide black streak of water cut through the dark shimmer of the jungle;  on both sides, the forest canopy sparkled with orange.  Head for the river!  Keep away from the trees. I glanced back. Both the gunners looked pale. The passengers were wailing. The wind grabbed the bird and pushed us sideways. Either it was the windor we were whirling out of control The jets were suddenly louder. Roaring! We lurched and bounced across the sky. I bumped my head against the roof of the cabin. Then we caught the air again and came swooping down and up in a wild roller-coaster ride through a dizzying starboard turn.  We banked over and around and finally down toward a dark canyon of trees. Too far! -- Abruptly, we pulled hard left and up!  Things went skittering sideways out of the bird, tumbling downward into the jungle. The pilot was fighting for control and trying to follow the course of the water, swearing and yelling all at the same time. Copilot was hollering maydays into his mike as fast as he could, yammering like a monkey. The river straightened suddenly and just as improbably so did we, racing lower and lower toward the inky surface. Slow down! Lizard shouted. Watch for a sand bar Im trying! I cant control her! The goddamn intelligence engine is fighting me Youre fighting it, she corrected. Ease up! Its trying to compensate for your panic! By now, we were perilously close to the black water below. We skated over shallow stretches of mud and sand and dark eddies with broken trees and branches sticking dangerously up out of them. Our reflection shimmered across the depths, flickering in and out of existence as we crossed the occasional sand flat. The spars in the water stretched up toward us like fingers. Suddenly, we were stalling, sliding. We bounced! Sheets of water sprayed away from the chopper. We bounced a second timea third! Something spanged against the bottom of the ship and we spun around, slipping sideways and turning, then abruptly came crashing to a sudden, jarring stop as something crunched in through the front window, shattering the Plexiglas in all directions, thudding up against the framework, catching the chopper in a tangled grip, holding us sideways and pulling us downward toward the wet stinking river. The water splashed and flooded upward into the cabin. The rotors shrieked and slammed to a sudden halt in the tangle of branches; they exploded in a fury off the top of the ship. The aircraft hissed and crackled. Foam began flooding up and over everything, cascading down the outside of the ship in thick white sheets. Wed collided with a tree that had toppled into the river. The chopper was caught. And sinking fast.

 

 

3

The River

That which does not kill us, often hurts us badly.

Solomon Short We lurched, we slippedand then for a moment, we held where we were, with the water half into the aircraft. Both my legs were submerged and caught. Goddammit! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! I started screaming. This isnt fucking fair! Why cant I ever land in one of these things the way the designers intended? I couldnt believe myself. Wed just fallen out of the skyagainand I was making jokes. I must be in worse shape than I thought. Lizard! Im right here. Im okay We were teetering at a precarious angle. She had to pull herself around so she could get herself into my field of view. Can you move? Im caught, I think. I craned around. Are we all right? We will be. She began tugging at something under the water. I couldnt see what she was doing. Behind us, one of the gunners was missing; a bloody smear and broken branches marked where he had been. The other one was moaning uncontrollably and clutching his gut. He was bleeding profusely; apparently, his weapon had crunched backward into him at the moment of impact. Two of the GIs were trying to free the third from where she was pinned by a broken limb. The fourth was nowhere to be seen. The corpsman looked dazed. He was still holding his kit on his lap. I didnt see either of the torchmen. I wondered if Id been unconscious. What about the pilot? I asked. Lizard glanced forward. I followed her look. The chopper had skipped across the surface of the river, bouncing and splashing until it was brought to a sudden halt by a tangle of sharp branches. A broken spar had punched not only through the Plexiglas windshield, but also through the pilots chest as well, impaling him in his seat. The branch was thicker than my leg and blood was flowing down its length. The pilot was still making sucking gurgling sounds. Even as we looked, they rattled into silence. I felt sorry for himand angry at the same time. If it hadnt been for his arrogant stupidity The copilot was still mumbling into his headset. Mayday, mayday, were going downwere going down. Everything smelled peppermint. Drifts of foam blew past us, they whirled away in the river current. More of it dropped thickly into the cabin. It was supposed to be non-toxic, but Id heard stories of people drowning in it. The chopper bumped and settled a little bit lower in the water. It rose up to my groin and I thought of something else to worry about. Are there piranhas in this river? I asked. I hope to God not, Lizard said. I think your stretcher is pinned. Can you feel anything? My toes are cold, I said. Can you wiggle them? I wiggled. I think so. All right She climbed over me to the corpsman. She pulled his kit from his hands and started rummaging through it. She came up with a nasty-looking knife and climbed back to me. Im cutting loose the straps. Hurry, I said, as the aircraft settled again, pushing the water up to my waist. She didnt answer. She was feeling around in the darkness. She took a breath and disappeared into the water beneath me. I glanced backward. The two GIs were grunting and groaning, pushing at the branch that pinned their companion. She was moaning in pain. Every time they moved the branch, even a little, the chopper lurched and sank deeper into the murk. Stop that! I said. Fuck you, they explained. They kept pushing. The chopper creaked ominously. Youre sinking the ship Weve gotta get her out! Lizard came up, took another breath, and disappeared beneath my legs again. I could feel her hands as she felt her way down the stretcher. I wondered what happened to her gun. One of the torch-bearers stuck his head in the door above me. I cant find him, he said. I cant find him! He leaned his weight on the edge of the door frame, pulling that side of the chopper lower. The water crept up my belly. Ive looked all over. I cant find him! Who? I asked. I looked around. The injured gunner had disappeared. The torchman didnt answer. A gobbet of foam dripped heavily onto his head, tufting like a whipped cream topping. He looked up in annoyance, then dropped away from the door. The foam kept dripping into the cabin like industrial-strength icing. It covered everything with a slippery-greasy film. Islands of it floated everywhere. Where was Lizard? The branches in the front of the aircraft cracked and the aircraft teetered abruptly. Oh godwhat if she got pinned underwater? The river was up to my chest Lizard surfaced next to me, gasped for breath. Almost she said. Just a little bit more And vanished again. I glanced behind me. The trapped woman was screaming; her eyes were white with terror. The water was up to her chin. Her two friends were screaming in rage as they pushed futilely up at the tree. As hard as they pushed up, the tree pushed harder down. The woman yelped for air. The chopper rocked alarmingly and the water swept coldly over her face; it receded for a moment, then swept in again. She gasped and choked and coughed. We lurched and sank another six inchesthe water climbed toward my neck. It felt like we were going all the way down this time. The woman clawed vainly for air.  The water frothed around her. I felt her rage. It wasnt fair. And I was terrified that I was seeing a preview of my own death. One of the men was screaming in frustration, pounding against the tree, kicking it as hard as he could. He pushed at it with renewed vigor. It didnt do any good. The tree was levered into the chopper like a crowbar. If we went anywhere, it would be down. The other man gulped for air and ducked down into the black water to press his mouth against the womans, trying to ferry oxygen to her, one desperate gasp at a time. She was too panicked too cooperate. She must have struck at him. He came up, his nose bleeding profusely, his face scratched by her claws. Just as I began to wonder again where Lizard was, she surfaced, took three quick gasps of air, and disappeared again. The water edged up toward my chin. A fat glob of foam drifted past; part of it caught on my cheek. I brushed it away. Something tugged at my legs. It rasped and scraped and thenjust as the aircraft tilted deeper into the waterwhatever was holding me broke free. I leapt backward and up, scrambling toward the open hatch, my leg screaming on fire, me screaming for Lizard. She came up gasping, reaching for me, climbing in the same direction. We pulled each other toward the hatch. The others were coming too. The chopper kept on tilting and suddenly the five of us were swimming in a metal hole. We pulled ourselves up onto the frame of the door, scraping roughly over the edge, even as the machine sank away beneath us. The two GIs were dragging the stunned corpsman with them. One of them was retching. I didnt see the copilot. I didnt know if hed gotten out. The water was rushing into the open hatch of the chopper now, trying to push us back down into it. I almost lost my grip, but Lizard grabbed me by the ass and pushed hard! Thanks I glubbed around a mouthful of stinking brackish water. And then we were in the river itself, with dark water swirling all around us. We half-swam, half-staggered across a sandbar, then into a deeper rushing channel. I sank for a moment, touched bottom, pushed hard and came back up, coughing, choking, and spitting. My boots weighed me down. The aluminum splint on my leg reduced my mobility. I kept sinkingand thinking isnt this a stupid way to die!  Rescued and then drowned. Lizard grabbed me by the arm and pulled. We struggled in the water, bouncing painfully off a sunken tree, scraping across the pebbled bottom of the river, and then suddenly ending up on our knees, puking our guts out on a sodden stretch of mud and sand and decaying vegetation. Lizard pounded me on the back until I begged her incoherently to stop. I collapsed face down on the ground, rolled over and looked at the sky and listened to my heart pound. The sky was still bluedeep and dark and brilliant, it blazed with pink tufts of clouds. A reminder of our precarious position. But we were still alive. I turned my head to the left and saw only water. To the right, I saw the corpsman and one GI. I didnt see the other one. Hadnt he made it? Gasping, Lizard collapsed next to me. Stay with me, JimI need you. I was racked with spasmodic coughs and she was nearly paralyzed with the exhaustion of her struggles.  Both of us gulped for air. We lay in the mud and concentrated on our breathing. Periodically, she would reach over and touch me, my hand, my leg, my shoulder. Periodically, I reached over and touched her too, reassuring myself that she was still alive, still with me. I couldnt believe it. Finally, we helped each other sit up. I looked at herit was like looking at a mirror.  We were both so scared for each other.  Lizards hair hung in wet strings, and there were tears running down her muddy cheeks, but we laughed with unembarrassed relief. What is this? I asked. Our third or our fourth air crash? Third, she said. And weve got to stop meeting like this. The FAA is getting suspicious. Maybe we should have been more worried about the others. But first we were being selfish. We were taking care of ourselves. After all wed been througheverything of the past few months as well as the past few dayswed earned it. Wed both been hurt in the dirigible crash, both been trapped.  Id broken my knee, Lizard had been pinned in the wreckage, and Id had to pull a gun on one officer and brutalize a retarded woman to get Lizard rescued by a remote-controlled prowler, just moments before a gastropede the size of a bus reached her.  And then Id had the hubris to think that we were finally safe, that we were finally getting out of the goddamned Amazon basin Theres no such thing as winter in the Amazon.  It sprawls across the equator like a rumpled green bedspread with insects. There are only two seasons in the Amazon: hot and wet. During hot, much of the basin is under water.  During wet, more of the basin is under water.  Before the

Andes were born, the river drained to the west;  after plate-tectonics had done its work, there was a ten-thousand kilometer barrier all the way down the western side, in some places six kilometers high, so the river puddled up across the entire continent until it finally drained east.  In some places, the river is so wide, you cant see the opposite shore.  In most places, everything squelches when you walk.  Some people think the Amazon is beautiful. 

Upriver, a bump in the black water outlined where the chopper had sunk. The current flowed over it like a drape. Nearby, part of a rotor blade stabbed up out of the water like an errant flagpole.  Everywhere, the haze of gnats and buzzing insects. The other torch-bearernot the one whod poked his head into the chopper, but the other onewas dragging something out of the water, a bright red box. Two other boxes were floating in the same shallow eddies. Survival and rescue kits. The copilot was sitting alone on the sand with a fourth box. He was holding his gut, rocking himself, and crying. Can you walk? Lizard asked me. I dont know, they wouldnt let me try. Dr. Shreiber had me tied down and doped up and probably under guard as well. I dont even know how bad my knee is. I never even saw an X-ray. I can tell you it hurts like hell, despite the local anesthetic. We need to get to higher ground. She stood up to wave.  She shouted weakly at the others. Here! Over here! He needs help walking.

 

5

Survivors

Everyone is innocent until proven stupid.

Solomon Short Somehow, we gathered ourselves into a group.  There were six of us; the GI, the torch-bearer, the corpsman, the copilot, Lizard, and me. The copilot had gone silent; he looked brittle and nasty, as if hed been betrayed.  As if he blamed Lizard for the crash.  The corpsman was still in shock; he mumbled and staggered and had to be guided by the arm. The torchmans expression was hard and uncomfortable; I recognized the look. He was expecting the jungle to erupt in purple horrors any minute. If hed been part of the drop-team defending the evacuation site, he had ample justification to wear that look. The GIs expression was unreadable, withdrawn; but he kept looking at me nastily. I knew he resented me for the death of the woman in the chopper. Lizard looked beautiful to me. She was dirty and she stank of the river and her uniform clung wetly. Her hair was a stringy tangle of mats, her face was pale, and she looked weak. She moved slowly, as if every step was an effort, and her voice was hoarse and cracking. She was gorgeous. Sitting up painfully, using only my arms, I tried to pull myself backward, higher up the shore, but my leg twinged with every movement. I wondered what further damage the crash might have done. Maybe the corpsman would be able to do something, but I doubted it. I was afraid to trust his judgment just now. The others stood around, waiting for someone to make a decision. As weak as she was from her own ordeal, trapped three days in the wreckage of the dirigible, Lizard somehow found the strength to take charge. First, she ordered the GI and the torchman to carry me up to higher ground. The GI scowled resentfully; he didnt like mehe barely touched me, he didnt even want my arm across his shoulders. He held himself away, guiding me mostly and not letting me put any weight on him; but the torchman was bigger and better able to shoulder most of my weight anyway. He practically carried me. My leg screamed the whole way. Everything stank. The air was humid and full of ripe unfamiliar smells. The heat of the sun turned the day into a steambath. The sweat rolled off us in dirty rivulets.  There wasnt much ground that was really higher, but we found a spit of land that was a little less muddy than the rest and slogged up onto it.  Lizard had to lean on the copilot for strength, but she walked most of the way herself. The corpsman trailed along behind us, mumbling like a madman. The torch-bearer lowered me carefully to a piece of ground that looked dryer than the rest, and Lizard sank wearily down next to me, breathing hard. I was worried about her; she looked like she was reaching the end of her strength. She noticed me worrying and reached over to pat my shoulder in reassurance, but the way her hand slipped away at the end betrayed her exhaustion. She didnt have the same reserves of energy the rest of us did. Shed already used hers up before being loaded onto the chopper. Listen, she said. I know were all hurting. But weve got to She stopped to cough. I didnt like the sound of that. weve got to get the emergency kits out of the river before they wash away. She was amazing. In spite of everything shed been through, she was still able to think and act like a commanding officer. She directed the GI and the torchman and the copilot to gather up all four of the red emergency kits and drag them over here to our temporary camp. The corpsman wandered around for a bit until she ordered him to sit down in one place and stay there. Surprisingly, he did. Despite the seriousness of her condition, she still had the presence of mind to watch out for the rest of us. After the kits were secured, she sent the GI and the torch-bearer out again, this time on a quick lookaround to see if anyone else aboard the chopper had survived, or if any other usable gear or weaponry had somehow escaped the sinking of the machine. We didnt really expect there to be any other survivors, we probably would have seen them by now if there were; but we didnt have a confirmed death on the other GIs or the other torch-bearer and we had to give them every chance possible. They headed downriver first. Lizard and copilothis name was Kruger and he acted resentfultook immediate stock of our survival gear. She wouldnt let me help, she was afraid Id cause further injury to my knee. Instead, she made me wrap myself up in a mylar heating blanket and wait. I grumbled, but I followed orders and switched the blanket on.  Despite the heat of the day, I was shivering.  That wasnt good. Working together, the two of them quickly inflated three raft-tents and the communications buoy. Three silvery balloons puffed themselves full and rose straight up into the sky, lifting a long Mylar tether after them.  I watched as they dropped away upward, until they disappeared in the high blueness. The tether was more than a kilometer in length with the balloons spaced equidistantly at the one-third, two-thirds, and topmost points.  The topmost balloon had a transponder-beacon visible to satellites and skybirds, and the skins of the balloons were corner-dimpled to give them brighter-than-normal signatures; theyd reflect radar and laser beams directly back to the sender, showing up on anyones display screen as an urgent hot spot.  The buoy hung high and invisible in the air above us, broadcasting its silent pleas for help.  Lizard grabbed a military-issue clipboard from one of the kits and switched on the GPS; within thirty seconds, its display showed our location 40 klicks northwest of the Japuran mandala.  Tiny flying insects filled the air;  we waved them away from our faces, the effort was useless.  They were in our eyes and mouths and nostrils.  We had no idea whether they were Terran or Chtorran. There wasnt anything we could do about them anyway.  The afternoon air dripped with humidity. Our clothes refused to dry out. They stayed wet and stuck to us like clammy parasites. Everyones boots squelched with every step. And all of us were sweating.  Wed need salt tablets.  And wed need to boil water, lots of it, to avoid dehydration. Lizard popped open cylinders of hot bullion for each of us; copilot had to help the corpsman drink, but at least he was conscious. The soup tasted more like medicine than soupprobably because it was more additives, vitamins, and antibiotics than anything elsebut it had a strong restorative effect anyway.  We were all of us beginning to feel a little better by the time the torchman and the GI returned. I was lying just inside one of the tents, with the flaps open so I could see out.  Lizard had ordered me into it over my protests, and then shed settled down to rest just outside the entrance, watching while Kruger fiddled with the comm-link. He seemed to be having problems with it, but he was uncommunicative. Hed gone sullen again. Lizard stood up shakily as the others approached, wiping her hands on her hips.  They were alone. Weve got food, she called, holding up a couple of bullion flasks. She was genuinely worried about them. The GI didnt answer. His expression told the whole story. He brushed past her to the opposite side of the camp. He crawled into the far raft-tentwhere the corpsman still sat in shockand pulled the flap shut behind him. Lizard looked to the torchman with a question on her face. He grunted. He was a big man; he looked like a football player. He took one of the flasks, popped the top open and began drinking, without even waiting for the soup to heat. He drank half the contents before he lowered it. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. We found one of his buddies, he reported. Floating face down. The river got him. Couldnt even get to him to pull him out. The kid took it bad. He nodded toward the tent. Hes real shaky. He lost his whole team, one right after the other. And hes never seen action before. So thats gotta be real rough. He sucked his teeth and spat. Hell get over it. We all do. And...at least, he has confirmation. He turned and stared out at the oppressive green wall of vegetation, searching it with his eyes one more time. My buddy just...disappeared.  His buddy.  The other torchman.  The one whod appeared for just an instant, shouting,  I cant find him.  I cant find him.  Ive looked all over, I cant find him.  The river stank of decay. Parts of it were shallow and sluggish, while only meters away, deeper water swept by with alarming speed. Anything or anyone caught up in the rushing current would have been swept away in an instant.  I wondered if I should say anything.  Would it help?  Would it make a difference? Wed lost the pilot, both gunners, three GIs, and one torch-bearer. Did it matter?  I didnt really feel like talking.  I was beginning to itch all over.  What about yourself? Lizard asked. Are you okay?  She sank down to the plastic mat in front of the tent again. He finished the can of soup in one gulp and crushed the empty container in his hand. He tossed the can at the river and then squatted down opposite us. Im doable, he said curtly, looking at us both. There was something about the way he spokeI studied him carefully, but I couldnt see anything wrong. Nevertheless, his tone gave me serious hesitation. I looked to Lizard, but either she was too weak to notice, or shed noticed and was giving no sign. Thank you, Sergeant...? she said/asked. Brickman, he said, looking from Lizard to me and back again. Everybody calls me Brick. Im a burner. One of the best. You dont have nothin to worry about. He glanced to copilot and the communications gear. How long till they pick us up? Without looking up from his screens, Kruger shook his head. I dont know. I cant get through. All the channels are busy. I cant read anything. Its all coded. Somethings going on. I cant even get a phone line. This was the most hed said to anyone since the crash. But the thing keeps transmittin till someone picks up the signaldont it? Brickman asked. Copilot grunted in confirmation. He turned his attention back to his displays. Lizard added, Well get out. Probably tonight. At worst, tomorrow. The corpsman came crawling out of the other tent then. We all looked at him with open curiosity. He was a thin man. He blinked in confusion, turning around slowly, running a hand through his hair and scratching, as if trying to remember where he was and how hed gotten here. After a while, he stopped. He saw us and waved half-heartedly. Abruptly, he remembered his job. He picked up his medkit from in front of the tent and staggered over to us with a vague expression on his face. He gave each of us a pressure injection of vitamin soup; then he looked at my leg, frowned, examined the splints, and injected more of the same local anesthetic that had let me come this far without screaming. Then he stumbled back to the other raft-tent and crawled back in. We had no idea if he had actually been conscious or just walking through the motions.  Lizard looked to Brickman. Do you know any first aid? A little, maybe. The corpsman could probably use some attention The torchman shook his head. Best thing to do is let him sleep it off. No, thats not  the best thing to do, Lizard corrected. He might have suffered a concussion. He doesnt look all that hurt to me. Are you a doctor? I been in combat. I seen guys go bugfuck before. Hes not hurt. Hes just stunned. Tomorrow hell have one helluva headache, but hell be doable. Hmf, said Lizard. Clearly, she didnt share his views. Howd you get out in one piece? Didnt. The torchman explained, I sorta jumped. Soons we got low enough. Figured Id have a better chance. I was lucky. I guessed right. I hit the river hard though. Can I ask you something?  I rolled up on one elbow so I could look out of the tent easier.  Do you have any trouble with kryptonite? Thats the crunchy stuff, right?  The brick shrugged. A little ketchup, some

Tabasco, its fine. I couldnt tell if he was joking or serious.  Abruptly, his expression grew harder. We got worms nearby. I can smell em.

If he could, he was a better man than Ibut I didnt want to voice any more opinions on the Chtorran ecology. They wouldnt be pretty and I didnt think theyd be popular. And I might be right. Lizard was looking directly at me; she saw it in my face. She didnt say anything either. Listen, the brick said. All Ive got is this one torch. And its only half-full. Its pretty banged-up, but it still works. I tested it. But I dont think its gonna be enough. The wormsll come for us tonight. They like to hunt in twilight, sometimes mornings. I think we should get outta here. Lets push these raft-tents into the river. Well have a better chance. Lizard shook her head slowly. Not yet. If we can get through,she nodded toward Krugerthey can have a chopper here in an hour. Maybe less. Eventually. Probably. Yes, Brickman agreed. But look at the time. What if we cant get through? If I read the map right, were right in the path of the whole Chtorran column. If we get on the river, we can float downstream for a hundred klicks and then call for help. Do you know these waters? I asked. No. Do you? Thats my point. This isnt Disney World. As good as our maps areand weve got some pretty good maps in that clipboardtheres a lot they dont show.  There could be rapids, whirlpools, waterfalls, hostile tribes, panthers, water snakes, insects, crocodiles, piranhaswho knows what else? And thats only the Terran stuff. We dont know what kind of Chtorran bugs and critters are waiting downstream. Ive seen tenant swarms. We couldnt survive an attack. Kruger glanced up from his screens. He looked hostile. Thats another question. What brought us down? Tempting fate, I said, without thinking. Hey! Mathewson is dead, Kruger shot back bitterly. What do you want from me? Before I could answer, Lizard put her hand on my arm. Just answer the question, Jim. Okay? I met her glance. She was asking me to be compassionate. We were all in this together. She was right. I shook my head sadly. I dont know what brought us down. But it was nasty. Take a guess...? Lizard suggested. I shrugged helplessly. Flutterbys probably. But I wouldnt bet on it. Flutterbys? Whats that? asked Kruger. Some kind of insect? No. Theyre not like anything on Earth. Theyre metallic, kind of. Theyre as tough as mylar. They could probably tangle your rotors or clog your jets. They fly? They float in the wind. They like to travel in swarms, but not always. They look like long silvery ribbons, but theyre parasites. They land on cattle and suck like leeches. Then they breed. They can be pretty ugly. If it was a swarm, youd have seen it on the radar. Maybethis is just a guessmaybe we hit a few stragglers following the worms. Or maybe.... Another thought, even less appealing, struck me. Or maybe what? Maybe the flutterbys are attracted to machinery somehow. How? I dont know. But you should see them moving through the air. They ripple in perfect sine waves. They weave through the air at incredible speeds...thirty or forty klicks. And we know that theyre attracted to certain kinds of rhythmic sounds. Anyway, thatd be my best guess. I rubbed my leg uncomfortably.  It didnt hurt, it itched In the distance, something chirruped with a bright red sound. Brickman stood up suddenly; hed been rummaging through the P-rations. Now they lay forgotten at his feet while he listened to the echoes. We all fell silent. A dripping blanket of air lay across the afternoon. The hot sunlight scorched all colors. And the dark voice of the river blanketed the distant noises. The jungle stank of decay, but the flavor was overlaid with something pungent, sweet, and cloying. We could all taste it now. We cant stay here, said Brickman. We cant go, said Lizard. Dont be stupid. Im the worm expert, the big man said. He spoke as if he expected no argument. I resisted the temptation to reply with the first thing that came to mind. Instead, I took a calming breath said quietly, I appreciate your expertise. But Im not without some knowledge myself. I gave him what I hoped was my friendliest smile. Yeah, what?  he looked skeptical.  You read the red book?  Um actually, I wrote the red book.  The ecological sections are mine.  Brickman dismissed it with a curt nod.  Yeah, well, I appreciate that, fellabut you science boys could benefit from some time in the field too. Things are a lot different than out here than they are in a lab or behind a keyboard. Ive spent time in the field, I said blandly. Ive burned my share of worms. I didnt elaborate. Brickman was young. He was probably still in middle school when I torched my first gastropede. He didnt look like he believed me; but he replied grudgingly, Well, then you should know how dangerous they are. We gotta get outta here now. Um, excuse me, said Lizard, politely indicating the stars in her collar. But Im still in charge here. Im the general. She nodded toward me. That mans in no condition to be moved any farther. Our best chance is still the comm-link. If we get out there on the river, well be putting ourselves farther and farther away from help. Weve got to stay in one place if were going to have any hope of being found. Kruger kicked at the comm-set in disgust; he pushed it away in frustration. Forget the comm-link. Its hopeless. Bricks right. Lets get out on the river. He stood up. No, said Lizard quietly. Thats an order. With all due respect, maam, the brick said. But the worms dont give a shit. Theyll eat anything. They wont care if youre a general. I almost laughed at that. Id given the same speech myself too many times. Maybe he was right. I reached over and touched Lizards arm. Maybe we should talk about this. Jim, she lowered her voice. She took my hand in hers and we turned away from the others. She stuck her head half into the tent to whisper to me. Theres nothing to talk about. Neither of us has the strength for the river. And the maps dont show what we most need to knowhow bad the infestation is downstream. Its too big a risk. You said that yourself. We dont have to go the whole length. Maybe we could just go far enough to get out of worm range Did you look at the map, Jim? Downriver is

Japura. Wed have to go through the worst of it before we got clear.

I just want to get us away from that column of horrors So do I, sweetheart. But weve got to trust our own contingency plans. Please, back me up on this...? I knew that if I pressed the point, shed give in. She trusted my judgment about the worms unconditionallyand I wanted to insist, but at that moment my knee hurt so bad that the thought of trying to move even an inch was intolerable. Maybe she was right this time. I was tired and frustrated. I wanted to trust her judgment. I wanted to let someone else be responsible. I nodded my acceptance.

 

6

No Direction Home

An argument is about convincing someone that he is wrong and you are right.  No one in the history of humanity has ever won an argument.

Solomon Short When we turned back to the others, Kruger and Brickman had been joined by the sour-looking GI.  His nametag identified him as Salcido. I got the feeling he already knew Brickman, possibly Kruger. He was saying, They cant travel. If we try to get em out, well all die.  Lets leave em here. What about Meyer, the corpsman? Kruger asked. He could be useful. You wanna baby-sit him? I dont.

_Nobodys leaving anybody, _Lizard said. Because nobodys leaving. Not until were sure. She pointed toward the comm-set. Its displays were still blinking an annoying red.

Im sure, said Kruger.

Listen, lady Brickman began.

General

Out here, rank dont matter none, interrupted Salcido. Youre just another fuckin mouth to feed Kruger hushed the GI before Lizard could respond;  Brickman continued quickly, Listen, copilot says the box is broken. We aint gettin through. They dont know were here. We gotta get out any way we can. You were trapped in the wreckage of the Bosch for three days. You didnt see what the rest of us saw Sergeant, please dont patronize me. I know the plans that were made. Our best chance of getting out is to stay right here. Brickman shook his head. Lady, the whole damn thing came apart like a paper diaper. Everything. All the planning. All the organization. Everybody panicked. Nothin worked. Somebody fucked up big time and a lot of good guys died. I dont think we can trust the man or the plan anymore. Lizard was good.  She didnt let her frustration show.  Listen, Brickman. I was flying missions before you were old enough to masturbate. I know that comm-system. It cant fail. It has multiple redundancies. Before we signed off on this mission, we ran over a hundred rescue simulations. On four of themonly fourthe channels temporarily overloaded; the longest was for fifteen minutes. Theyve been out for over an hour...at least, Kruger said, checking his watch. I dont even know if they got our mayday. An hour? Lizard looked annoyed. Thats not right. The system cant stay down that long. Copilot didnt answer; he just turned the box so that she could see the blinking red displays. No channels were open. But they have to know weve gone downwhen we fell out of the grid, we should have set off alarms from here to

Houston. She glanced at her watch. And we should have been in Yuana Moloco by now anyway, so were officially overdue. Theyre probably already out hunting for us. All they need is a signal. Any chopper within a hundred klicks will pick up our distress beacon.

Uh-huh…. Kruger said it with deliberate emphasis.

Lizard looked annoyed. Whats that supposed to mean? If thats true, where are they all? Brickman asked. Lizard got it the same time I did. Her eyes went wide. There was a string of choppers ahead of us, and another string behind us, Kruger said. One of them should have seen us go down. They all should have heard our maydays. Where are they? Lizard couldnt answer that. She went from confusion to fear to anger so fast that I was the only one who recognized the process. Seeheres the thing, Brickman said to us, squatting down opposite us, as if he was about to explain it to a couple of recalcitrant children. I mean, dont take it personal, but your plans and your decisionsthey just dont work anymore. I mean, weve seen it ourselves what happened and were not gonna die for you. We gotta start takin care of ourselves. Now... He indicated the others. ...Me an Jake an Lennywere goin down the river. An Im not so sure we want to take you with us. We havent made up our minds what to do with you two. No offense intended, maam, but youre a couple of cripples, an if we tried to take you with, wed be endangering our own lives. He wiped his forehead and added, Course, leavin you here aint none too fair either. Lizard listened calmly to the whole speech without giving away any of her thoughts. Her face remained dispassionately unreadable. Are you done? she asked. Brickman nodded. You havent thought this through all the way, she pointed out. Kruger and Salcido studied her skeptically. I was acutely aware how precarious our position had abruptly become. We were on a very slippery slope. I suddenly doubted that Lizard could say anything to save us. Suppose you do get out. How are you going to explain abandoning us? We dont explain anything at all, retorted Salcido. We never saw you. Uh-uhgame it out. She explained. First of all, theres a hundred klicks of the thickest Chtorran infestation in the world downriver. I dont know if you saw any of Dr. McCarthys briefings She nodded in my direction. I glanced at her in surprise. Dr? but the President of the

United States considers him the worlds foremost authority on the infestation. Hes gone down into more worm nests than any other living human being, and hes collected more bounties than anyone else either. Hes burned, blown-up, and frozen more worms than your whole unit, Sergeant Brickman. And his briefings on Chtorran behavior have been made publicly available. So I suggest you listen to what he has to say about your chances downstream.

Brickman and the others looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. I know who he is, the torchman grunted. He aint too well-liked, I hear. Lizard ignored it. Downstream is the Japuran mandala, the largest infestation of worms on the planet. That river goes straight through the heart of it. Now, you figure how fast this river flowsassuming there are no shallows to catch youand then you figure how many hours youll be floating through worm country. She turned to me. How long, Jim? Brickman was frowning, trying to do the same calculations in his head as I was. I had the advantage of having studied the both the maps and the aerial photographs for months. Well... I began slowly. Theres a few places where it looks like the worms have dammed the river. Maybe for feeding, maybe for breeding, we dont know; but theyve made some pretty big lakes. The water doesnt flow directly through. You could get hung up there. And then theres at least two long patches of white water you need to be aware of. And I think theres a long stretch of marshland where the river slows down to a crawl; again, thats the result of the worms doing something, were not sure what. I thought you said we didnt know what was downriver.  Well,  I smiled.  Thats the part we do know.  Im sure theres a lot more that didnt show up in the recon photos. My guess is that even with the motors, youll still spend two, maybe three, days getting past the Japuran mandala. Thats assuming the worms dont swim out to investigate. Youll look like a big sushi boat to them. I dont think theyll let you pass uninvestigated.  Theyre very curious.  And Im not even going to speculate what might be in the water.  Salcido and Kruger had started to lose some of their conviction, but Brickman looked unconvinced. I got my torch. He hefted the flame-thrower meaningfully. Okay. You can be a tempura boat. Whatever you want. Worms arent fussy. Theyll even eat sergeants. But lets be generous, said Lizard. Lets assume you make it past the Japuran mandala. I wouldnt bet on it, but lets assume you do. You come out of the jungle a week from now, or a month, or whatever it takes, and youre still looking at a firing squad. Excuse me, first a court martialthen a firing squad. That wont do you no good, said Salcido. Youre assuming that if you leave us behind, well die. Lizard grinned. I didnt tell you the last part. Dr. McCarthy here knows how to speak to the worms. Its still a military secret; hes still working on the dictionary, but he does know the Chtorran word for friend. Were getting out. I cant say the same for you if you head downriver alone. You need us. Salcido snorted in disgust. I got an idea, he said. Lets just do em. He was already reaching for his pistol. Brickman stood up abruptly and knocked Salcido backward. He towered over the smaller man. Dont be an asshole, he said. What if shes right? We gotta talk about this? Whats to talk about? Theres worms in the jungle. Were gettin outta here. Brickman shook his head. I want to look at the map again. And lets give Kruger some more time with the comm-set. He pointed. Go ahead, Jake. Try it again. Brickman grabbed Salcido by the arm and dragged him away. I dont like this, man An I dont like all your talk about doin. I dont do people. Not women, anyway My mind was racing. There had to be something I could do, something to say. Time slowed down.... These men were hurting. I didnt know what they had been through before they had climbed aboard the chopperit must have been horrificand we werent really certain what had set them off now. What they needed was a reason to hold themselves in check. Maybe, if they had some time to cool down...maybe they would realize No. Looking at it from their point of view, the only thing they could realize was that Lizard and I were very much a liability to them. We couldnt appeal to their honor anymore. The war had boiled away a lot of old-fashioned luxuries. Like honor and integrity.  No, I had to find another way You dont want to do it in front of witnesses, do you? I said a little too quickly.  I pulled myself up to a sitting position, half-in, half-out of the tent.  My leg twitched warningly. Eh? The three of them stopped and turned to stare at me. What are you talking about. Theres at least a half million telepaths wired into us. Right now. I tapped my head meaningfully. For the first time, I saw real uncertainty on Salcidos face. Youre shittin me, man.  If you were a teep, youd be crazy. You already know how crazy I am.  Besides, its possible to be a teep and not know it. Bullshit! Kruger turned and spat on the ground. The Teep corps routinely implants members of the militarymost of the time without their even knowing it. It gives them ancillary data they couldnt get any other way. Have you ever been on the table? Then you probably have an implant? If you dont believe me, ask her. I nodded toward Lizard. Shell tell you. Lizards eyes were full of pain and tears. She glanced downward as if looking at some private shame, then met my eyes again.  I was going to have to ask her about this later.  Yes, she said. Its true. There are over a hundred thousand involuntaries in the service.  The corps uses them for intelligence and for monitoring gastropede behavior.  The services have gained a lot of useful information that way, especially from people who didnt make it back to report.  Most of them never find out Is he a teep? Brickman jerked a thumb at me. Wordlessly, she nodded and swallowed hard. Since day one. Yeah, well, if its such a secret, Salcido interrupted. How come he knows? Its not too hard to figure out, I said.  You hear voices, you get hallucinations, weird dreams, all kinds of shit that makes you think youre crazier than everybody else. Brickman scratched his head, considering.  He glanced from me to Salcido, to Kruger, and back to Lizard. I grinned at him and added, And...think about this. Theres just as good a chance that one of you might be a teep too. Can you take that chance? I aint convinced, said Salcido, reaching for his gun again. He pushed up close to Brickman. Listen to me. The rescue beam aint gettin through, right?  Then neither is he The teep corps uses a different satellite system, I said. I didnt know if that was true or not, but if I didnt know, then I was betting that neither did he. Well then, youre lyin about bein a teep, Salcido said to me. He turned back to Brickman. Don t you see? Hes tryin to psych us. If he were a teep, then theyd know we were down and theyd know where we were down and theyd have had a chopper here already Wrong. Twice over. First, the teep corps never interferes with involuntariesthey hardly even rescue their own people. Second, whatever knocked us down is probably knocking other choppers down as well, and the service is probably busy picking up people all over the whole damn river. And if the teep corps is monitoring us, then they know were not in any immediate danger; they can see were okay for the moment, so our pickup probably isnt the highest priority right now. But Ill tell you this I stared directly into his hollow dead eyes. If you do us, youll be court-martialed. Count on it. Who says were goin back? Youll still be on the run for the rest of your life. Youll never know whos a teep and who isnt. And youll never be able to sleep securely again. Do you know what kind of assassinations the Teep corps does? They find out who or what you like to fuck. And then one night, while youre just lying there all fat and happy and satisfied, just drifting in the land of afterward, your sweet little girl friend or boy friend or whatever rolls over and slides a sharp steel knife across your throat. Do you really think youll ever be able to relax again with the Teep corps after you? Youll certainly never feel safe in bed. Actually, Jim, Lizard said, The Teep corps doesnt even have to bother with an assassin. If theyve implanted you, and if you commit an act of felony murder, theyll just pull the plug on the main switchboard. The implant will self-destructand so will the person wearing it. Ive never seen it myself, but Im told its a particularly nasty and painful way to die. A brain seizure. Salcido didnt answer. He couldnt. Whatever he was thinking about, it remained a mystery behind his sallow brooding features. Kruger resolved it. Aaah, shit, he said, dismissing us all with a sharp arm gesture. He turned and trudged away across the sand. He squatted down with the comm-set again, ignoring us both. Salcido looked from him to Brickman, shook his head and reslung his rifle over his shoulder. This aint over, he said. He turned away too, walking away down the river. Brickman stood for a moment longer, staring at me, studying; trying to figure out if Id been telling the truth or if it had all been a colossal lie. I kept my face impassive, met his gaze, just allowed myself to be...without anything else going on. Its a thing we learned in the Mode training. Being without adding anything to it. It sort of makes you look like a zombie or a zone-head. It can be very disconcerting to those who dont understand. I was betting that Brickman didnt. He grunted and nodded almost imperceptibly, the barest possible indication of his grudging respect. Then he moved off after Salcido. I had no idea what they were going to talk about. We were alive...for the moment. Lizard and I looked at each other like two haggard old warriors. For a moment, I almost didnt recognize her. She looked like shed been hammered. How far had we come in just the past three days? Light years, it seemed. Her face was gray and lined. Her eyes were shining with held-back tears. We were both of us physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I started to reach for her, but she waved me away. Her emotions were unreadable. Somehow, she managed to point toward the inside of the tent. I rolled out of her way and she climbed clumsily in to join me. She pulled the tent flaps shut and collapsed sobbing into my arms.

 

 

8

The Syndrome

Nature bats last.

Solomon Short You okay? No. You? Scared shitless. You were great. So were you. Yeah, that reminds me. When did I become a doctor? As soon as we get back, Ill arrange it with UCLA. Youre overdue for validation. Ph.D. good enough? Theres no one there whos qualified to judge me. Thats my point, sweetheart. Youre long overdue for some heavyweight credentials. Lizard looked haggard. Her auburn hair hung down in uneven wet strings. Her shirt was soaked under both arms. She smelled almost as bad as me. I didnt care. I just wanted her close. Were in deep shit, she said. Yep, I agreed. Were about as far up the Amazon as you can get Without a paddle, I agreed. But you did good, she whispered. That was a very scary picture you painted. I knew I could count on you to make up something horrifying. I wasnt making it up, I said. That was all the truth. If anything, I understated it. We fell silent then. For a few moments, we rested together, simply appreciating the physical closeness of each others body. She felt so good to menot because she was a beautiful woman, but because she was someone familiar and safe. I put my hand on her shoulder and cradled my head against her breast. She stroked my hair and cooed softly, reassuringly. You know, I lost my pistol in the crash, she said. If they decide to come for us I know, I said. But I cant think of anything else. That teep story was my best shot. It was good, she admitted after a nervous moment. I had trouble keeping a straight face. You did great, I said. You looked as if you almost believed me when I said it. For a moment, I did. You were very convincing. I was wondering myself how you found out I made it up, I said. It was a gimtree. Im not really a teep. And then suddenly, the horrifying thought came ricocheting home, and the corresponding chill came rocketing up my spine.  I saw the panic on her face. Oh, Godtell me the truth, Lizard. Im not a telepath...am I? No, she said flatly. Something about the look in her eyes and the way she said it. I dont believe you. I couldnt believe Id just said that to her. Jim, she said. Youre not a telepath. Then why do I keep thinking that youre lying to me? Umouch, that hurtsprobably because Ive lied to you so many times before. Jim, if you love me, youll believe me on this one. I want to believe you, Lizard... She met my eyes impassively; I shook my head in confusion. This is crazy. I admitted. My paranoia is showing again, isnt it? I stared into her sad eyes. Maybe it was done without your knowledge? It wasnt, she said flatly. How can you be so sure? Jim. Im your commanding officer. If you were a telepath, Id know. Who else would know? Well...Uncle Ira would know for sure. Maybe Danny Anderson. That would probably be it. At least, in our chain of command. General Wainwrong? No, he wouldnt have access to that part of your file. I sank back onto the mat. Stared at the dark material of the tent for a while. Im really crazy then, arent I? Everybodys crazy, she said automatically. Everybody said it. It was the mantra. The international excuse. No, I corrected. I really mean it. For a while there, I was hoping youd tell me that I am a telepath. If I really were, then maybe it would explain all the crazy stuff thats going on in my head. The voices, the strange dreams, the weird memories. Like...I remember parts of

Disneyland that they never built. How can I do that? I remember places Ive never seen. I remember dying in a feeding frenzy of shambler tenants. How can I remember dying? If I were a telepath, at least Id have an explanation for everything. Id know Im not losing it.

She reached over and patted my hand. Its all right, sweetheart. I know what it is. Youre not alone. A lot of people have it. Its aa syndrome. It isnt even named yet. We just call it the syndrome. A syndrome? Thats a convenient word. You can use it to explain away just about anything you want. Well, we dont want to scare anyone. People already have enough to be afraid of. Go ahead, I said. Scare me. It couldnt be worse than not knowing. She took a breath. She met my gaze directly. Okay. It hasnt been officially announced yet, but were going to call it Chtorran Hallucinogenic Acquired Observation Syndrome, she explained. It happens to people whove spent too much time exposed to the Chtorran ecology. Like yourself. Youve been in Chtorran nests, youve eaten Chtorran foods, youve been exposed to a lot of Chtorran hallucinogens. Some of that stuff stays with younot simply as chemicals in the body, which we know will break down after a while, but also as experiences. Youve got new channels in your thinking, Jim. Non-terrestrial channels. Your mind cant assimilate all the non-human experiences. It has no referents, so they manifest themselves as hallucinations and weird dreams and strange emotions and feelings. Id be surprised if you didnt have CHAOS. Chaos? C. H. A. O. S.  Chtorran Hallucinogenic Acquired Observation Syndrome. Oh.  Cute, I admitted. She rolled closer to me, carefully so as not to brush my battered knee. She put her hands gently on my chest. If anyones got it, then youve probably got the worst case of it in the world, she said. We were going to talk to you about it when we got backonly now, I dont know when well ever get back. But...anyway, see heres the thing. Im beginning to think that the syndrome might be part of the reason you.... She trailed off into silence. Part of the reason I what? She sighed. Her voice ached. ...I think maybe thats part of the reason youve been losing your temper so much. I mean, yes, part of it is your personality...but I remember you as a very serious little boy. I thought you were cute. Remember? You used to simmer a lot, but you never exploded. At least, not like recently.  Now...well, I dont know.  She hesitated.  Maybe Im just sensitized to your moods more now because I love you so much. But maybe its also something we should check when we get back...? I couldnt answer her. My head felt blurry. I was feeling six different emotions at once. Gratitude, horror, panic, relief, hope, and a very real need to just hold onto her and cry as hard as I could. Instead, I did nothing. Just waited for some of the feelings to pass. Couldnt even look at them to see what they were. Or why. Jim? she asked worriedly. She brushed my hair back. Are you all right? I dont know, I said. Its all too much. It was hard to say even that much. Im sorry, she said. I didnt want to hurt you. Dont be. I asked you to tell me. Besides...nothing would make me happier than to know that some of this craziness isnt really mine, its only borrowed. She lowered her head gently to my chest. I almost wish I could tell you that you were a telepath, she whispered softly. If it would ease your mind. I dunno, I said. I'm not sure anything could ease my mind anymore. I managed to get one aching arm around her shoulders. Her jacket was stiff and matted with mud. I didnt care. For a long while, neither one of us said anything. We both stank of dirt and blood and the river. I hurt all over, I was sure that she did too. I was exhausted and terrified and my heart was pounding in my chest. My throat hurt. I could barely swallow. I wondered if either of us would survive the night.

 

 

9

A New Promise

There is no time like the pleasant.

Solomon Short Hey? Lizard asked abruptly. Whats a gimtree? Dont you know? Its your word. Not mine. It was named after the famous American flim-flam man, I said. Elmer Gimtree. She phrased her next words carefully, Before you go on, I feel I should remind you that the perfect pun always results in the death of the perpetrator. Youre on dangerous ground here. Im not scared.  A good pun is its own reword.  Uh-huh.  And the beauty of a pun is in the oy of the beholder.  And the shortest distance between two puns is a straight line!  we both finished together.  That one deserves a bullet surprise,  I annotated.  I think I liked the limericks better,  she said.  Puns are like farts.  I dont mind you enjoying your own, but you really dont have to share the experience.  Now whos Elmer Gimtree?  You honestly dont know? I asked in mock-surprise, facing her directly. Elmer Gimtree was world-famous for making up the most outrageous stories on the spur of the moment. Never heard of him, she said. She raised herself up on one elbow, she raised one eyebrow expectantly. This had better be good, McCarthy. Elmer Gimtree was my dads alter-ego, I explained. Whenever we asked him a question, he always made up a weird story. Like once when I was 8 or 9, I asked him what all the weird buttons were on the dashboard of the car. Without missing a beat, he started explaining them. This one is the passenger ejector seat button. This one fires the machine guns. This one activates the anti-vehicular missile defense. And this one leaves an oil-slick for pursuing cars to skid out on. And my sister and I would always try to trip him up. Id ask, How come you dont have a button for the grinder that comes out of the axle and slices up the tires of the car next to you? And hed always have an answer. Hed say something like, Oh, that cost too much extra or something like that. So a gimtree is any really great, really silly story. And this is the man I want for the father of my baby? she asked dryly. But why do you call it a gimtree? Because once I asked him why the drink he was drinking was called a vodka gimlet...and he said it was made with vodka and gimberries.  And the gimberries ...come from the gimtree.  I got it. So from that time on, all his stories were gimtrees. And he was Elmer Gimtree, the storyteller. I love it, she said. Your family must have been crazy. We werent certifiable, I said. But we did have our moments. Not having a sense of shame has a lot to do with it.  Once...on Thanksgiving, we had at least a dozen guestsand my mom dropped the turkey.  She started to cry.  Dad got up from the table, helped her put it back on the platter, and told her to take it back into the kitchen and get the other turkey.  He was fast that way.  He was amazing sometimes. She smiled silently. And I didnt add anything else. I was remembering some of the other stuff, some of the stuff that hadnt been as much fun. I couldnt blame my parents for their mistakes. Everybody figures out how to be a parent in their own turn; everybody tries not to repeat the mistakes their own parents made, and in the process they make new ones. Id probably do the same when our baby was born. If we got out of here. If... Lizard reached over and touched me.  Are you okay, Jim? Yeah.  And then, I added.  Youre not going to believe thisIm thinking of chili.  Chili?  She looked at me incredulously.  Were in the middle of the Amazon jungle, surrounded by carnivorous caterpillars from outer spaceand youre thinking about food? Not food.  Chili.  Really awful chili.  Remember that place in

California…The World’s Worst Chili!

Oh, God, yes!  Sasha Miller's Dreadful Chili.  Lizard rolled over on her back, laughing.  That was the worst meal I ever had in my entire life. Id rather be here than there.  Thats why I was thinking about it.  I was asking myself what could be worse than this?  And thats what popped into my head.  Sasha Millers chili. Ick.  Lizard made a face.  I wish you hadnt reminded me.  Now Ive got that awful taste in my mouth again. Im sorry.  Boy, Ill be apologizing for that one for the rest of my life. You could have plastered a house with that crap  Lizard groaned.  No self-respecting cockroach would touch it.  Remember the TV commercials?  The dumpy woman with the frizzy orange hair tossing weird things into a bubbling cauldrona box of cigars, a bicycle tire, a modem, a paperback novel, a bucket of millipedes, a dead cat, you name it.  And then shed cackle into the camera and shed say  Lizards voice went into a gravelly imitation:  Are you man enough to eat my chili?'  And theyd show her pouring it into the fuel tank of a space shuttle.  We were both laughing now.  I thought it was all a gimmick that she advertised it as the worlds worst chilibut it really was.   Lizard rolled on her side to smile at me.  I know why you took me there, Jim.  So Id stop complaining about your cooking. It worked. I was sick for a week,  she said. You farted for a week.  I never had chili with maraschino cherries in it before.  Whatever happened to Sasha Miller anyway? You didn't hear?  No, what? I clutched my side painfully.  It hurt to laugh, but I couldnt help myself.  I'm sorry, I shouldn't be giggling like this, it really was tragic, but it was her own damn pigheaded fault.  She went to

Denver to make a commercial with one of the tame Chtorrans they had there.  Well, not really tame, but you know.  I dont know how she and her crew got in;  they must have bribed someone.  Anyway, she was there standing next to the worm, holding up a big bowl of her chili saying,  My chili makes Chtorrans purr.’  And then she offered it to the wormshe’d been warned not towell, that Chtorran purred all right, but it wasn’t about the chili.  Copies of that video were all over the net for days.  If they could have figured out how to use that as a commercial, Im sure they would have.  I levered up on an elbow, still smiling.  Okaywhats so funny?

Her expression was abruptly deadpan with wide-eyed curiosity.  Did the worm fart much? It died,  I said.

It died? 

Choked to death trying to get her all down.  That was too much.  Lizard burst out laughing.  Im sorryI cant help it.  Neither could I.  We were giddy with our own hysteria.  It was everything all at once.  You can only be frightened for so long and thenyou cant.  Its all right, I said around my own cackles.  There were so many jokes about Sashas chilithis was just the best one of all.  I cant believe you didnt hear about it.  That chili really was a fatal distraction.  Lizard held up a hand to stop me.  No more.  No more.  I really am starting to remember what that stuff tasted like.  Ick.  Im going to start farting any minute now. You win,  I said quickly. Let's talk about real food instead. Okay chocolate  Chocolate?Oh, you bastard!  You would!  Torment me, why dont you?   Ooh, I want some chocolate now.  Just the sound of the word is delicious.  She licked her lips luxuriously.  Mmmm.  Remember that feast on the Bosch...?  Oh, what a wedding night that was.  Marry me again, Jim.  Just for the chocolate.  My mouth was already watering.  I was suddenly uncomfortable.  This is not a good idea, Lizard.  Talking about food like this. Yes, it is.  Say chocolate again.  Please?  Please, Jim?  I swallowed hard.  Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.  God, I love it when you talk dirty.   Abruptly, she rolled into my arms and held me as tightly as she could.  Hold me close and talk about chocolate, Jim!  Please!  Dark chocolate,  I whispered into her beautiful left ear.  So dark it hurts.  So smooth and soft, you can swim in it forever.  Poured over sweet rich treasures.  Luscious sweet caramel. Everlasting buttercream.  And truffles so rich, even the smell is intoxicating.  Chocolate...all the chocolate in the world.  Chocolate raspberry truffle.  Double double chocolate fudge swirl. 

Black forest chocolate-cherry delight.  Chocolate….  She sobbed into my shirt, clutching it between her fingers.  I stopped talking then and just held her close, stroking her back like a baby.  After a bit, I felt her relax.  I knew the signal.  She was getting herself ready to be Lizard again.  General Tirelli. 

I cleared my throat gently.  It still hurt.  So how bad is the syndrome? I asked.  How bad does it get? You saw Guyer. Yeah, but...he was living in the camp.  That poor bastard had been hyper-assaulted by Chtorran organisms.  Do you think he could ever be normal again?  Could he recover if he were returned to an Earth-normal environment? Nobody knows, she whispered. God... I said. I hope I never get like that. I cant even begin to imagine itbeing so far off the deep end that you cant even tell. Sweetheart I shifted slightly so I could look into her troubled eyes. If I ever end up like that, if theres no hope of recovery...I want to be euthanized. I dont want to be a freak. Promise me? She didnt answer. I knew she was still awake. And I was sure I knew why she wasnt answering. Because it was a very real possibility that I might end up like Guyer. Dr. John Guyer. Harvard Research Tribe.... Jim, she said. What? You once told me to never give up hope. Youre right. Are you changing your commitment? To you? Never. She didnt answer that. She rolled away for a moment, onto her back. She stared up at the top of the tent. I realized I had no idea at all what she was thinking about, but whatever it was, I could see in her eyes how deeply it troubled her. Share it, I whispered. Trust me, Jim. I cant. Not yet. When we get to Luna, maybe Id seen her like this beforetwice. Each time, it had been a crisis of enormous self-doubt. Each time I worried that shed hold it in until she imploded. Are you scared about the baby? Im scared about everything. She angled her head around to glance out the tent flap. There was nothing to see. She rolled over on her stomach and edged forward, lifting one of the flaps to give herself a better view. I reached over and stroked her hair. It was matted and stringy. I didnt care. I dont think theyre going to do it, I said. If they were, theyd have done it already. I think we scared them pretty badly. Lizard took my hand, she squeezed it hard in hers. Our conversation was punctuated with little moments of affection, secret connections of hands and eyes. Maybe they just have to work up their courage... No, I dont think so. These arent bad men. Theyre just scared. Terrified. Theyre looking for someone or something to hurt back. Thats all. When they calm down, theyll have to realize.... She stopped me with a wry smile. Thats what you want to believe, isnt it? Desperately, I admitted, answering her smile with one of my own. She began nervously twisting a button on my shirt. When she spoke again, it was in that little girl voice she used when she was most frightened. I keep thinking of Nicholas and Alexandra. They didnt believe their captors would hurt them either. What if this is our last night together, Jim? I didnt have anything to say to that. This conversation was suddenly too painfulbecause there wasnt anything I could do to change the situation. I fell back in despair and studied the roof of the tent with her. If this really is our last night of life, I began slowly. Lets not waste it. Lets fill another cup of happiness. I dont know if I can she choked on her words. Try, I insisted, rolling over to face her again. What makes you happy?  More chocolate? She shook her head silently, with just the barest brushing of her crimson hair against my cheek. I waited. I stroked her neck. I put my hand on the hollow place below her throat, it was painfully smooth. I let my fingers trace their way up to her cheek. It was wet. I wiped the tears away with my thumb. Go on, I said. That onesay it. Mrs. McCarthy... she whispered, almost with embarrassment. I like the sound of that, I agreed. It gives me a heart-on. A hard-on? Here? Now? No. A heart-on. Thats when your heart is so happy, you can feel it all over. Oh, she said, getting it. Thats nice. I like that. Then she added, I like being a wife again. I like belonging to someone. I like being your wife. Mm. Ive never been a wife. I hope its as nice as being a husband. Its funny... She pulled back to look at me in the darkness. She ran her fingers gently through my hair. I never thought Id ever get married again. And I certainly didnt imagine when we started out Me neither... But Im glad. So am I. Here, she said. Lets get comfortable... I am comfortable Shh. My dear wife pushed me back down so she could pull the mylar heating-blanket over both of us. Then she curled up next to me again, as close as she could without hurting my leg. Right now, she said softly, All I want to do is lay here next to you, holding you tight with the covers pulled up over our heads. Lets pretend were only seven years old and were camping out in the back yard, whispering silly secrets, and the whole rest of the world just doesnt exist anymore.  Okay?  Please? I murmured assent. I knew what she was really asking. Maybe the worms would find us. Maybe Salcido or Kruger would kill us for our share of the suppliesor just to keep us quiet. In the face of such uncertainty, there was nothing else we could do but have our honeymoon. We needed each others strength. Painfully, I turned on my side to face her. I love you, sweetheart,  I said.  More than life itself. And I love you too. More than you know. She kissed me gently. Deliciously. It was a curious moment for both of us. We were so in love with each otherand sex had nothing to do with it at all. I was so worried about you, she said. The whole time I was trapped in the wreckage of the Bosch, all I could think of was you and what you must have been going through, not knowing and all. I felt so awful. And then... her voice cracked, ...and then, after all that time waiting, I heard noises. At first, I thought it was rescuers, I prayed that it was, but then I realized it was aa worm. She stopped abruptly. Her throat was too tight for her to continue. She started shaking. The memories were too real, too painful for her to revisit. I held her delicately in my arms and waited patiently while she sobbed into my chest. I stroked her hair. Its all right, I said. You dont have to.... No, I do, she insisted, weakly. You have to know. I want you to hear this. She found her voice again, a hoarse whisper now. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die. And then I remembered the promiseremember the promise that I asked you to make? I nodded uncomfortably, holding her close. In the darkness, my unshaven cheek brushed roughly against the smooth skin of her neck. It wasnt enough. She had to hear me say it aloud. Remember, Jim? Her voice was intense. Her fingers clutched my shirt, bunching up the fabric in a painful knot. I remember, I said, not remembering at allwe had made so many promises to each other. I wondered where this conversation was heading. I wished we could just lie still instead. But, no. This was too important to her. I asked you to promise me that youd never let me be eaten by a worm she reminded desperately. Oh. That promise. It had been an easy one to make. Id never believed Id ever have to keep it. Wed come so very far in such a short time. Now I wondered how Id be able to keep it without even a stick to throw at a worm. While I was trapped there in that wreckage, I knew that you werent going to save me. I could hear this big worm making those horrible churpling noises, chewing its way through the walls. It was pulling everything apart, looking for things to eat. I knew it was going to find me and kill meI knew it, Jimand I knew that youd never forgive yourself afterward for not being able to keep your promise. And thats when I knew I had to find a way to live, because I had to tell you I was wrong to ask you to promise such a thing. Because it wasnt fair. She clutched me hard. Her eyes bored deep into mine. You have to make me a new promise, Jim. A better one

Anything, my love. Anything you want.

No, listen. She sounded frantic now. Promise me this. Whatever happenswhateverpromise me that youll forgive yourself afterwards. I dont understand...what youre asking. Promise me that youll forgive yourself. Thats all. Please? She sounded desperate. Her fingers dug into my arm. I tried to pull her closer, tried to comfort her. I tried to sound as sincere as I could, even though I still didnt get it. I promise, I said. You can count on me. No matter what happens, Ill apologize to me as best as I can, and then Ill forgive myself. Okay? I didnt know if I sounded sincere or silly. Jim, please! Too silly. I tried again. Cross my heart and hope to die. I felt exactly like a seven year old. What else could I say to her? Stick a noodle in your eye...? she asked. I think thats supposed to be needle. Yes, I know, she whispered softly, but I dont want you hurting yourself. Lover, I promise you. I wont hurt myself. And Ill keep my promise. She relaxed in my arms. Good, she said. At last, she sounded satisfied. Thank you. She sighed and snuggled up safely again, making little moaning sounds of comfort. She changed the subject incongruously. This isnt exactly the honeymoon wed planned, but Im happy. Me too. She added abruptly, I couldnt believe it when the prowler appeared. It was just like the cavalry coming over the hill. You dont know how close it was Shh, she said. Lets rest now. Mmm, I agreed. I was having trouble keeping up with her mercurial shifts of conversation. I began to wonder how much of the syndrome she was demonstrating.... For a while, neither of us said anything. We listened to the sounds of the smothering Amazon night. Outside the tent, the river whispered to itself; repeating its own fetid stories of malignancies and death. Alien creatures swam in its watersfrom the smallest microbes to the largest carnivores. Red and black plants crept unseen along the river bottoms, providing food and shelter to a million voracious little feeders and breeders. They were spreading up the tributaries and down toward the deltas. Other animals would follow themstrange new formsfeeding and breeding; the next links in the food chain would also follow the path of the river, one after the other, spreading crimson death like a pollutant. The colonization of Earth was going on all around us. Above us, the trees shook their branches uncomfortably, as if trying to rid themselves of all the wrong creatures that crept along their limbs, gnawing at their leaves, nesting in their blossoms, and burrowing under their deep dark skins. My imagination painted horrible pictures. Strange purple fungi crept up along thick trunks, bleeding the nourishment out of the wood, smothering the jungle one tree at a time. Heavy red and black vines draped themselves over the branches, leaching nourishment out of the soil, growing larger and thicker until eventually they toppled their hosts. Millipedes chewed tunnels into the roots. Nematodes drilled into the flesh of the trees, leaving narrow writhing holes through which other, more malicious, creatures could enter. Tenant swarms built cancerous-looking nests, bulging out like grotesque goiters in the joints. High above in the canopy, carnivorous red veils stretched themselves across the leaves like awnings; like hungry spider-webs, they captured and ate every living creature that unwittingly caught itself in their sticky threads. Other feeders opened huge blossoms to the night, releasing ferocious odors that spread for kilometers on the wind, attracting all manner of flying beasts and bugs, both native and Chtorran. Huddled in the nest of our fragile tent, the smells assaulted us. Ever-changing, alternately attractive and appalling, the odors of the night kept dragging us back to terrified wakefulness. We lay together and let the sounds whisper to us. The steady buzz of insects made a background hum that sounded like old-fashioned high-tension wires. No other noises were audibleno birds or frogs or other beasts. Not even any purple-red shrieks in the distance. That was ominous. Once or twice, we even stuck our heads out of the tent to peer around. But if there was anyone around, we didnt see them or hear them. Nothing.

 

11

A Familiar Face

It has taken thirteen and a half billion years for the universe to figure out that it is thirteen and a half billion years old.

Solomon Short I woke up suddenly. Something was wrong. Hot sunlight streamed in through the open flap of the tent. I was sure we had pinned it shut. I tried to move. I ached all over. I turned painfully to look at Lizard. She was still asleep. She shifted herself, turning slightly toward me; she had a faint smile on her face. Despite her dirt and injuries, she was still the most beautiful woman I had ever awakened with.  She looked surprisingly relaxed and untroubledand for a moment, I hesitated, wondering whether I should disturb her or not. Outside, the morning was unnervingly quiet. Even the river seemed hushed. That was what had startled me awake. The silence.

Lizard... I whispered. I nudged her gently. Sweetheart, wake up

I left it in the bedroom she mumbled.

Lizard, shhh. Its all right. Wake up

Hmm? Huh? What...? She blinked in confusion, rubbing her eyes. What happened? I placed a finger across her lips. Shhh Her eyes widened. Slowly, quietly, I pulled the rest of the blanket off. I rolled over and inched my way toward the open flap of the tent. I peeked carefully out. There was nothing there. Just daylight, the river, the stink, and the incessant haze of gnat-like bugs. The soft rustle of the water played against the louder drone of the insects in the foliage. I glanced back to Lizard. What? she said. False alarm, I admitted. I felt embarrassed and stupid. I guess Im not used to waking up in the jungle. You scared the hell out of me, she said, sitting up, brushing her hair back. Sorry, I said. Aack, she said. I feel like a camel has been sleeping in my mouth. Oh, ick. She made a face, as if she was tasting something awful; then stopped abruptly to look at me with concern. How do you feel? Ive been better, I admitted. I worked my arms and neck. I was sore all over. I tested my leg. It still hurt. I can get to the river, if thats what you mean. We can launch this raft. She didnt look like she believed me. First, lets try the comm-link. The comm-link Thats what I had missed. I looked back outside the tent. The comm-set was gone. Jim, what is it? Those cowards. Those stupid little bastards. They took the communications gear with them. What?! She was already climbing toward the opening of the tent, yanking back the flap and pushing her way out. I followed painfully after her, half-hobbling, half-crawling. Lizard stood up slowly, swearing profusely. She was showing a lot more strength than yesterday. She was using words from languages I didnt recognize.  And the balloons are gone!  They cut the tether!  Theyd left us with nothing but our tent and the few supplies wed tossed into it.  Lizard turned around in circles, staring at the ground, at the broken campfire and the scattering footprints all around. I grabbed a stick and levered myself to my feet. My leg twinged, but I managed. Its amazing what you can do when youre pissed off. I saw it before she did Across from the tent. Him. It. In the wall of jungle.  Foliage dense and dark.  Black and blue, streaked with red and orange.  Eyes.  Bright and scary. It sat deep in shadow, motionless in a dark cave of greenery, sheltered by the close canopy of vegetation.  It looked like a clutch of driftwood on the sand;  skinny, gnarled, brown and twisted; sitting cross-legged, arms folded across its belly, rocking like an autistic child, crooning softly. Its eyes were vacant, but I had the strangest feeling that it was watching us intently, that it could see us as vividly as the burning sun above. Beside me, Lizards voice trailed off in mid-sentence. She saw the creature too. For a moment, we just stared at it. In the blistering Amazon morning, it looked like a hallucination. Leathery-skin, etched with tiny tracksas if something determined and voracious had burrowed its way under the flesh and chewed itself a network of subcutaneous avenues, back and forth, up and down, over and around, leaving as evidence of its passage, an intricate pattern of furrows and ridges limning and outlining every muscle and bone and bend of body, marking the body like a terraced field. The arms and legs, the back and belly, the face and neckeven up to the ears and across the scalpall were covered with an elaborate design of scar-lines. A banner of almost-luminous, almost-transparent, almost-feathery quills rose brightly from the creatures naked skull. Starting small at the center of its forehead, rising steadily in height as they progressed toward the crownlike a peacocks headdressthey floated in the air, quivering like antennae. He raised his head then, the barest of motions, and looked across at us. His eyes lost their vacant look, they filled with recognition.

Shiny... he said, looking straight at me.

Oh, my God I recognized him. What? What is it? Lizard whispered. The apparition shifted its gaze to her. She flinched visibly. She put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from screaming. The thing had been human once. Its Guyer, I said, feeling a chill, even in the aching heat of the morning. Dr. John Guyer. Harvard Research

Mission. He must have escaped in the crash of the Bosch.

I thought he was evacuated. Me too I swallowed my fear and hobbled a few steps toward him. John? I asked. John Guyer? His eyes focused, and for a moment, I was staring into an alien intelligencefor just that moment, I felt as if I were finally face to face with someone or something capable of explaining to me who or what the Chtorr really was. Dr. Guyer? I remembered the last time I tried to talk to him. Hed called me shiny then too. Hed lived with the Chtorrans for ten months and this was what hed turned intoa gibbering madman. The last time Id tried to speak with him, hed been so mercurial of mood, sliding from one bizarre affect to anothersometimes even in mid-sentenceit was like a conversation with a one-man bedlam. Id come away with the feeling that Id been talking to three or four separate personalities all competing for control of the same body. And yet...at the same time, Id also gotten the sense that Dr. Guyer was still in there, screaming to get out, desperately wanting to tell meor anyonewhat was happening. Or maybe that was just my imagination, maybe that was just what I wanted to believe. Dr. Guyer? Its me. Jim McCarthy. Remember? We spoke before. On the dirigible? You called me shiny. I didnt know if he heard me. He simply squatted and studied me without reaction for the longest time. I felt Lizards hand on my arm. Her fingers clutched. Then...Guyer began unfolding himself slowly and her grip tightened even more. He was a stick man, all bone and lanky-gristle. He moved with a terrible slow gracelike a human mantis. He rose up to a standing position, not like one climbing into place as Lizard or I would have done it; rather, he seemed to float erect. He glided out of the darkness toward us In the sunlight, he blazed with color. He was etched with it. He glistened like a stained glass window. It was as if the light came through him. He glowed red and pink and orange and white. He moved in a nimbus of spidery fluorescence. He was bathed in furit wasnt as thick as the fur which grew on the worms, but it had the same micro-strand silkiness. The light bounced and shattered; it danced around him. He sparkled.  He looked like angel and demon, both at the same time. The red and pink quills on his head glistened;  the line of spidery growths led across the crown and down the back of his head, ultimately becoming a trace of bright feathery patches that followed the ridge of his spine all the way down his back. Now, we could see that he had more patches of quills elsewhere on his body; around his wrists and ankles, like fuzzy bracelets and anklets; more thick tufts of quills under his arms; and even more protruded from the crack of his buttocks. The effect was ludicrous. Had he not been so grotesque, he would have looked like a Chtorran rooster. I wondered how he sat or sleptor copulatedwith all those feathers in the way. As if he were reading my thoughts, Guyer threw his head back and emitted a heart-rending, ear-scraping, throat-ripping howl. He flapped his arms like wings and leapt up into the air, shouting and crowingCrrkl-drrkl-drr!  Only the way he sang it, it came out like something a Chtorran might say. Dr. Guyer? Can you hear me? Can you understand me? Its terribly important. General Tirelli and I have both been injured. We need help. We need to get out of the jungle. We need to get away from here. Please? Guyers eyes flickered. He held out his hands, first to Lizard, then to me, as if looking at us with his fingers. Baby... he said, laughing, ...food. I didnt like the sound of that. There were a lot of ways to interpret that sentence, most of them nasty. Did he mean that he could tell that Lizard was pregnant? Even we werent sure of that yet. Did he mean that the baby would be food? For who? Or did he mean that Lizard and I were baby food? And if so, how big was the baby? Or did he mean that Lizard was going to have a baby and she and I would need food? Or did he mean something else entirely? Dr. Guyer I took a painful step toward him. Can you help us? We need to contact our friends. We need to get out of here. Shiny friends. Yes. Friends. Abruptly, his expression melted . He blinked. His mouth worked. He gurgled. And then his face reformed with a new sense of purpose. It was as if he were remembering how to be human againsomething he obviously hadnt had to do for almost a year. II He fumbled with the concept of being an individual, struggled with it long enough for it to be painfully uncomfortable, finally abandoned the effort. You he pointed at me. You dont want to know And then, for the first time, he spoke to me as clearly as if he were speaking to a soul-brother. You cant stay here. Youve got to leave. Will you help us? Lizard asked. He blinked, startled. He looked at Lizard, as if surprised that she could speak. His presence flickered, faded, returnedI wondered who we were speaking to now. You need...friends, he said. We have friends. Theyre looking for us. Can you help them find us? Guyers expression crumbled inward. Had his moment of coherence passed? He giggled again. And then up he bounced, incredibly limber and away, vanishing into the darkness of the forest like a beam of sunlight suddenly shaded. I started to call after him, but the words choked in my throat. My god. If we were reduced to begging a madman for aid, then there really wasnt any hope for us at all. We were alone in the heat and stink of the hungry red jungle.

 

 

 


[1]Full Authority Digital Propulsor Analyzer Controller.

 

The FADPAC monitors compressor pressure ratios in the engine, increasing fuel to maintain torque while atmospheric conditions and rotor blades remain constant. A dropoff in engine efficiency combined with vibration analysis (present output compared with baseline data) allows the onboard intelligence engine to alert the pilot that a contaminated atmosphere is present.
 

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