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     Still on fours but rapidly recovering, Tevak wove his unsteady way across the courtyard. Skeins of drool dangled from the corner of his mouth and his heavy body swung ponderously from side to side, like a hungry waterborne predator, out of its element and moving cautiously but not quite ready to give up just yet.

     Blink stood a wary distance back from the windows as he approached, hoping that the reflections of the sky would keep him from seeing her, but it turned out she needn’t have worried. He blundered square into the windows and tumbled backwards onto his tail, proving that something was interfering with his vision. He sat and squinted up at the huge windows for a minute or two longer.

     “Hey. You in there.” Tevak used the window to help himself clamber back to his feet, bracing his palms against it to help him keep his balance while his wobbly legs recovered. “Open this door.”

     The thick glass muffled his words, but didn’t do anything to diminish the chill that fingered its way up Blink’s spine. She struggled to nurture the fading ember of optimism deep in her chest – maybe I’m safe in here. Maybe he won’t be able to get in – knowing it was too much to hope he’d give up and go away, assuming that if he couldn’t get in, neither would she have been able to.

     Tevak slapped a palm against the window, testingly; the low bonnngg echoed like a bell through the atrium. Blink cringed closer to the floor, gathering herself for as quick a getaway as she could manage.

     “I know you’re hiding in there!” He elevated his voice to a low bellow. “You can’t hide up forever, Blink. I’ll stay out here as long as it takes, if I have to.”Another slap at the glass – more testing, this time. Gauging the potential. “You either open this door, or I break it down!”

     Blink turned to the closest terminal. It was clear that the chase wasn’t over, and she had to go back to the principles that had kept her out of his grasp so far; stop looking, start moving. The longer she spent watching, the less time she had to find a way out. “Computer? Please get me a map of Institute interior. Highlight the secure areas I can lock behind me...”

     A three dimensional interactive map flashed up onto the screen; the writing was all incomprehensible kiravai script, but the images were clear enough. Blink zoomed in on her current location and began to map out her limited options, wondering if there was some way of not only getting herself to safety, but also to lead Tevak into an area she could lock down behind herself, keeping him confined until she could work out what to do with him.

     The continuing silence outside – and not knowing what her predator was up to – made her edgy, drawing her nerves out into an emotional bowstring. It felt almost as though at any second, massive clawed hands would land on her shoulders. Surprise!

     Just as the thought crossed her mind, a louder bang! echoed through the atrium, almost making her heart jump clean out of her chest. She dove for cover under the desk by the window, and hissed her pain through gritted teeth as the sudden movement fired up the blast furnace in her thighs. Peeking out through the sliver of window she had available to her, she watched breathlessly as Tevak swore and picked his rock back up.

     She tightened her fingers, trying to concentrate on the little spots of pain left as her nails dug into her palms, and hurried back to the map. The rock might have bounced off the window he’d thrown it at, but it had left a great spider’s nest of cracks in its wake, and it was only a matter of time before he got in.

     Where do I go from here. She traced an urgent finger over the darker blue corridors, passing through locked areas, trying to isolate an area that could be treated as a “prison cell”. No suitable space turned up – apart from the brig, which the interface had helpfully marked out in red to indicate that Blink’s staff clearance didn’t permit her access anyway. She did spot a plant room, and a cleaner’s cupboard – in which she hoped there might be enough supplies for a determined fessine to construct a makeshift weapon-

     An almighty explosion echoed through the hangar, startling a squeak of alarm from Blink’s lips. She clapped her hand over her mouth and ducked down behind the terminal. This is it, he’s in, any second now he’s going to be up here with his big fists and violence-

     Footsteps crunched into the atrium as though over gravel. Blink peeked up over the edge of the mezzanine, heart beating so hard it was making her tremble all over; Tevak’s rock lay in the middle of the floor, a flood of crystals of toughened glass spilling in its wake. Tevak himself stood just inside the atrium, in the middle of the destruction he’d wrought, nostrils flaring as he sought his prey’s scent.

     Blink crouched back out of sight. Now where was she supposed to go? If he came up the circular stairs, she had no way out.

     As always, the interface had no idea what was an appropriate time to start talking to the only ‘staff member’ on the premises. To her, a broken window was of vital importance. She perked her head, earrings jingling. “A new system alert has been generated-”

     Blink shushed her, urgently, flapping her hands. “Not now, notnow!” she hissed, frantically.

     “...I hear you flappin’ them loose lips, my little whore.” Tevak’s voice echoed in the big room, hoarse as plates of rough stone grinding together. “I know yer in here. You let one of yer weakling little chums from the Library come in, too, is that it?” He snorted, dismissively. “Got them all safe and tucked up in here earlier, right? So you got someone to, ah, look after yer once this is all over? Well lemme tell you, if I catch ’em, they’ll be first at the end of my fists – an’ you can watch. Although Iunno, maybe you’ll enjoy it. Seem to like makin’ things hard for yerself...”

     Peeking through a tiny gap in the mezzanine wall, Blink watched him pace around the atrium; looked like he couldn’t quite pin down where she was. The shiny walls made her whisper echo misleadingly, and the air conditioning and disinfectant must be interfering with his ability to pinpoint her scent. Getting zapped had left him wobbly on his tired feet, too, but he looked otherwise in pretty good health, making Blink’s heart sank. His skin must have been too tough for the stingers to have got their poison through it.

     When he turned, though, she noticed that the same couldn’t have been said about his eyes; rimmed with intense scarlet inflammation and the puffy lids swollen almost completely closed, they looked hideously painful. The stinging trees may not have got their poison through his skin, but they’d certainly messed up his vision. He must have ploughed into the undergrowth head-first, like some blundering steam locomotive.

     Blink bit her lip, unable to imagine what it must feel like, and her optimism recovered by the tiniest of flickery fractions. She doubted he could see anything more than a few abstract blurs, right now. Maybe she could get him chasing shadows, and trick him back out through the fence.

     What would he do once he was out, though. Go back to the Library and start hurting her friends? Use them to blackmail her into obedience? Her stomach cramped up, dismayed. No, this had to be resolved here. Somehow.

     “Nice place, very nice,” Tevak crooned his approval, making his way around the exhibits. “Air conditioning, secure walls, lights, probably nice food tucked away somewhere...” He licked his lips, and said, very carefully, very deliberately, for Blink’s benefit; “Oh yeah, I’m gonna like living here...”

     “A new individual has been detected by Institute security,” the interface observed, pleasantly. “Is he a worker or a visitor?”

     Blink shush!-ed her again. “Neither,” she whispered. “He’s a violent bully.”

     The fessine flattened herself up against the wall and peeked over the top, again; Tevak had found a sink in the main atrium, for now ignoring her while he tended to his face. It was as though he knew she wouldn’t dare leave the precious building, not with him inside it to rain down destruction, so all he had to do was be patient, and eventually they’d trip over each other.

     Interface perked her head to one side, obtusely, but at least lowered her volume. “I do not understand. I lack a frame of reference.”

     “I’ll explain later. Can-... can you remove him?”

     “I am sorry. It is beyond my capabilities to physically remove an individual once they have entered the Institute. Security personnel must be called to assist.” After a pause, she added, unhelpfully; “Security personnel are currently unavailable.”

     Blink bit her lip. She’d memorised her route, more or less. Now it was crunch time. “Lock as many doors to sensitive laboratory areas as possible, and don’t release them until my instruction.”


     “And, um, how about go-... go and talk to him. Let him make a visitor profile.” She hoped it would buy her some time. That Tevak would be more likely to try and attack the hologram didn’t matter, it would still keep him distracted for a few minutes. “A visitor profile only. He’s a pathological liar, he’ll give you false details and try and obtain a staff account by deception, but you mustn’t let him make one.”

     “Understood.” The interface inclined her head and faded out.

     Blink didn’t hang around to watch the hologram face off against the giant. She crawled painfully across the floor, past the auto-mops carefully washing away her bloodied footprints, and slipped through the upper-level door. She needed to find a way to arm herself. And quickly.

* * * * *

     Nasty little breeder. How dare she hurt him.

     Next to the small sink at the rear wall of the main atrium, Tevak stood growling vengeful promises to himself while he tended to his injuries. Mocking him in front of his peers was bad enough, but to actually damage him? He bared his teeth and gingerly examined his blurry features in the mirror. His eyes felt full of hot little needles, and closing the lids actually seemed to make the symptoms worse. Serve him right for letting himself be guided by his instincts and not his brains. She’d pay for leading him on like that, dawdling and dithering, staying so close that her fear filled his nostrils, hot and musky and reminding him of sex.

     Behind him, the interface appeared as silently as ever, but her blurry outline showed up quite clearly in the mirror. “Good afternoon, visitor,” she greeted, politely. “I am afraid I do not have you on file. Would you like to create a profile?”

     “Freaking... [budgie]! Shoulda known there’d be one of you around.Tevak took a swing at her head, but his fist passed cleanly through her. “What in-”

     “I am a hologram, and you cannot injure me.” An undeniable flicker of something clearly snooty flashed across her long face – computer she may be, it was hard to deny the idea that she’d turned her nose up at him. “But your hostility is not appreciated.”

     “Oh... Oh! I’m sorry. You made me jump.” Tevak forced the politeness through a smile of gritted-teeth. “Assumed you were a blight or somethin’. You know how it is.” He spread his hands.

     “No, I do not.” The interface stared him out, frostily.


     The interface leaned closer. “You appear to be injured. In order to use facilities in the infirmary, you will need to make a visitor profile. Would you like to make one now?”

     “I only get to make a visitor profile, huh?” He folded his arms, briefly. “What if I told you I was a cop?”

     “Please define ‘cop’.”

     “Uhh-... an officer in Kust police.”

     “System requires some form of authenticated identification to create a security profile.”

     “Well, dang.” Tevak made a show of patting his clothing, as though checking his pockets. “I guess I left it in Kust. I’ll have to get one of my colleagues to go get it. I’ll make a visitor profile for now. It’ll let me get back in, right?”

     “Continued access will need to be authorised by a member of staff.”

     “A’right, so who can I speak to?”

     “Engineer Blink is the only staff member currently on the premises.”

     “Oh well ain’t that a shock.” He snorted. “She’s no member of staff, you gullible machine. Psycho, more like. Escapee from the local madhouse.”

     The interface stared intently at him for a moment or two. “Please define ‘psycho’.”

     “A crazy person. Sick in the head. Mentally ill.” He twiddled a finger close to his temple. “Escaped from a secure hospital in the city. You don’t want that kinda liability hanging around in a position of responsibility, surely.”

     The interface tilted her head to one side, earrings jangling. “Proof of this incapacity will need to be provided. Health and safety scans have not demonstrated any overt psychological problems thus far.”

     “Well, I got a doctor on staff, down in Kust. I’ll get him to dig out all her medical records, provide all the details you need. Would you believe me then?”

     “It would be taken into account.”

     “Right. Great.” Tevak sighed his frustration and turned to face the big glass windows; even his ruined eyesight could make out the thick roil of bruise-coloured cloud intruding into the pale sky in the seaward corner. He needed to find her before the rain started; the sneaky little brat was getting good at slipping through his fingers, and the fewer chances she got on the way back to the station, the better. “Where is Blink, anyway. I figure I should speak to her about authorising my visitor access.”

     Unexpectedly, the interface gestured to a screen in the wall. “She is currently in an area to which you do not have access, however you may observe her location on this interactive floorplan while you await her return.”

     Tevak peered closely at the screen. A tiny glowing red dot moved steadily around the white maze of corridors. “We-ell, how’s that for convenient?” he murmured to himself. I can just wait for her to come to ME. “Does she know I’m watch-... waiting for her?”

     “Would you like me to take a message-”

     “No, no. Don’t you worry.” Tevak smiled at the jittery little red dot. “I’m patient. I can wait.”

* * * * *

     From a cluttered maintenance cupboard next to the Infirmary, Blink had selected a solid metal pipe-wrench longer than her forearm, and was beginning to regret her decision. It had looked like a good weapon, at the time! She now wished she’d taken something lighter, instead. Lifting the wrench would have been difficult on an average day, and right now her wrists were keen to remind her of their recent trauma, sagging lower and lower and more painful with each hobbling step. How was she ever going to wield the thing?

     “Computer?” Out of breath, she paused where two corridors intersected, lowering the wrench to the floor for a moment to give her aching arms a little reprieve. She flattened herself against the wall to peek around the corner, just in case her hunter had somehow got past the locks, shifting her weight from foot to foot in a futile attempt to relieve a little of the pain in her shredded pads. “Where is Tevak?”

     The interface spoke impassively from the speakers in the walls. “I do not have anyone by that name on file.”

     “What?” Surprised, Blink glanced up at the ceiling, automatically looking for the impassive glass lens of the computer as though she could somehow make eye contact with the hologram. “The-the male who followed me in. Didn’t you tell him he could make a profile?”

     “He is waiting for your return, so you may authorise his visitor access.”

     Blink groaned and covered her face with one hand. So Tevak was sneaking, and taking advantage of the computer... well, being a computer, leading neatly into another stalemate. Stuck either sides of a door, she didn’t feel inclined to go chasing him, and he couldn’t get in to chase her.

     Unexpectedly, the interface spoke up again. “The unidentified new individual is attempting to destroy the displays in the exhibition area.”

     Blink bit her lip; exactly what she’d feared would happen. She knew Tevak would not feel the slightest compunction about the destruction; he’d merrily continue to smash things up for the sake of drawing her out. He knew just as well as she did that she wouldn’t – couldn’t – just sit tight and let him smash up what could be some of the most important advances in medical science.

     Against her better judgement – you’re far more important than some old bits of equipment that’ll never benefit anyone, stuck on a derelict planet, and which maybe don’t even work any more anyway; let him just smash things up until he gets bored and goes away – Blink crept back to the atrium. Her aching, trembling thighs reminded her that if she didn’t do something soon, she’d be too stiff and sore to save herself anyway.

She flattened her back against the wall just inside the door, clutching her wrench to her chest in both hands, and peeked through the small window. Tevak had disappeared, but his destruction hadn’t; detritus spilled outside of the shimmering holographic barriers that requested people not to touch the displays. At least he’d only broken a few token pieces from one exhibit, so far, proving wanton destruction wasn’t uppermost in his mind – yet, anyway.

     Maybe they should have improved their security a little before they left, Blink thought to herself, unhappily. Not that they should have ever expected to have the Tevaks of the world on their client list.

     She thumbed the control panel, and the door opened, sliding silently back into the wall; Blink gathered herself to make a sprint, flexing her hands on the tool’s handle and checking her grasp.

     The doorway remained stubbornly empty. No Tevak.

     Blink licked her lips, uneasily, edging a tiny bit closer, heart pounding like a trip-hammer in her ribs. She knew the giant was trying to draw her far enough out to grab her, and would stand in wait as long as it took – he wouldn’t brave the door in case she closed it on him. Much as the idea left her feeling like her blood was full of little electric balls of fright, all bouncing around and making her tremble, she knew she was going to have to make the first move.

     She edged a tiny bit closer, straining to look around the corner without emerging all the way into the room, wishing she had a mirror. There weren’t many places to hide, and he may well be flattened against the wall in the same way she was. Couldn’t see anything yet-

     A massive hand latched around her upper arm and yanked her through the doorway, hurling her out into the atrium. Blink gave an involuntary noise of alarm and tripped headlong, throwing out her arms to save herself. Her wrench went skating off across the floor, leaving a trail of untidy black marks before bouncing to a stop against the ruined display.

     No! Can’t be unarmed- Using the dregs of momentum to her advantage, Blink chased after it, arms outstretched, almost going sprawling on her belly as she reached frantically for the weapon.

     ...and disaster struck. The tool rebelled against her, betraying her at the worst possible moment. The massive lump of cast metal was just too heavy for her exhausted arms to heft properly. The swing that she aimed at Tevak’s head fell short and impacted his arm instead – giving him the space to move through her swing and grab her wrist.

     “Now now.” He hustled her backwards into the wall hard enough that the impact drove the air from her lungs, then pinned her there with his thigh. “Let’s not get all violent just yet. Don’t want you getting damaged before I’m good an’ ready, eh?”

     Blink could only manage a squeak of pain as the meaty fist squeezed on her arm, pinching her wrist so she was forced to drop her makeshift weapon. The wrench clattered to the floor perilously close to her toes.

     Satisfied, Tevak leaned in closer, bracing both hands against the wall on either side of her head. “Remember how I said I was gonna break your legs if you ever did a runner again?” he murmured, snout so close that the foetid stench of his filthy teeth wreathed the small woman’s head and made her splutter.

     “Yes,” Blink agreed, her voice an unsteady whisper, trying not to breathe through her mouth. “I also remember telling you that I would resist you with every last bit of strength in my body, no matter what baseless threats you might make.”

     Tevak chuckled – a low, breathy snuffle of humour into her hair. “How much of yer reputation d’you wanna stake on those threats being baseless, girly?”

     Blink cringed away, tucking her head down defensively and putting her hands up to ward him off – having his face so close to hers made her skin crawl. “You won’t damage me-... after all the effort you put in to catch-”

     “Aw, you don’t need legs to still be pretty.”

     Blink felt her breath catch in her throat.

     “I mean, I bet this place has all kinds of fancy tools that are way better than lettin’ yer bleed to death from a busted leg, right?” Tevak nuzzled at the side of her neck, and chuckled at her shudder. “It’s all stuff to do with medicine, here, ain’t it? I saw they got plenty of bits of kit for surgery, all displayed out there. I bet that pretty holo-chick would be real helpful at getting ’em to do what I want, too.”

     Blink braced her hands against his chest, trying to push him away with trembling arms, craning her head away to the side. “She knows you’re not staff. I told her you’re a pathological liar. She won’t do anything you tell her-!”

     Tevak’s smile widened. “Pssh. You enjoy that while it lasts, sweetlips. Soon as Metu gets here, I’m gonna have him forge me a nice little medical certificate. Soon as he comes up here and certifies you as a psycho? You lose staff privileges, baby.” He licked the side of her neck, and chuckled as she shuddered and squirmed under his big hands, trying uselessly to push him off. “An’ when I work out how to properly fake a police ID, I become senior member of staff. Then that big shiny fowl starts takin’ orders from me.”

     “She’s not stupid. She’ll never believe-”

     “She’s a computer. She’ll believe whatever evidence is presented to her.”

     Blink fell silent, unable to find a counter-argument.

     Her silence gave Tevak confidence to continue. “An if I make up a bit of evidence you’re some psycho nutbar? An’ let’s face it, you ain’t helping yourself with the skred you come out with... There ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”

     “What is it about me you want so badly?” Even though she knew the answer, Blink hoped that keeping him talking would buy her some time. Time to do what, she wasn’t yet sure, but the longer he lorded his advantage over her, the longer she had to think. “There’s prettier women, ones who don’t fight you every step of the way. Ones who’ll do what you want, without questioning you-”

     “They didn’t make me look like an idiot,” he murmured. “I can’t let you off with just a li’l slap on the wrist after that.”

     “You know I’ll never be happy, you know I’ll never settle with the life you want to give me-!”

     “Aw, sure you will.” He stroked her hair, even as she shrank away under his palm. “You just need some good sex, from a real male, and you’ll forget all about those... unnatural urges. We’ll getcha cured easy, you’ll see.”

     “I’ll run-”

     “Not if I make it so you can’t.” Tevak’s thin lips spread in a self-satisfied smirk. “I asked the fowl what medical tools she’s got stashed away, an’ there’s a whole great big surgical machine in the hospital here, somewhere.”

     Blink swallowed over the lump in her throat. She’d seen the appliance herself, down in the Infirmary, enclosed in a field to repel dust – big enough to work on the gigantic xniki staff, so it’d have no problems operating on her. Surely he didn’t mean-

     “An’ I’m thinking it’ll be easiest for all of us if I jus’ cut them skinny legs clean off.” His big hand meandered down over her hip, stroking the outer curve of her thigh. “It’s not like yer gonna need ’em, where you’re gonna end up, an’ you can’t exactly run around on stumps.”

     Blink gave a strangled a little cry of frightened outrage and thrashed under his hands, but she may as well have been kicking at a brick wall for all the damage her small feet did. “I-... you-!”

     “It’d stop you kickin’, too. Keep those annoying limbs from always getting’ in the way. We’d leave just enough to strap you down with, maybe.” His smile widened into one of those horrible predatory leers that made the bile rise in Blink’s throat. “You’d be so pretty. So... perfect.” He stroked her hair, purring as she cringed away under his heavy hand. “So easy to handle.”

     The fessine’s gaze subtly flickered away, looking off above his shoulder, out into the atrium.

     “I saw that. You can’t trick me so easily, girl.” His voice descended into a playful growl; he cupped her chin and forced her to look him in the eye. “I know we’re the only people here. Your buddies from the Library can’t get through the fence, remember? You locked it after we came through. How convenient.”

     But it was not anyone from the library that had attracted Blink’s attention. Wings spread wide like a filmy parachute, Duskwing dropped silently from her perch in the atrium rafters, like a spider on a silken thread, and landed on Tevak’s shoulder so delicately, he barely felt it.

     ...until she flexed her slender abdomen and stung him, twice, in the softer skin under his arm.

     Tevak roared in pain and automatically took a swipe at her, reflexively closing his fingers on the first thing they contacted. The enormous fist that could have gone clean around her thorax clenched down on one delicate arm, then yanked her violently from her perch, hurling her across the room.

     Duskwing landed on the floor in an untidy muddle of limbs, a fine spray of greenish-blue blood splattering from her ruined arm. She scrabbled at the floor, claws skating over the polished surface, unable to regain her feet.

     “What the-...? Freakin’... bug!” He raised a massive, clawed foot to stomp on her-

     Blink seized her chance and her wrench. The instant Tevak’s attention was diverted elsewhere, she hefted the enormous metal tool and delivered a crippling blow to the back of his knee, sending him sprawling on the floor, almost on top of the injured danata. Before he could gather his wits, she dove around him, scooped up the fallen naiad and fled, trying to ignore the warm fluid she could feel leaking through the filthy uniform and onto her chest.

     Tevak’s roar of anger echoed into the hallways behind her, and the chase was back on. It always surprised her that his lumbering footsteps didn’t make the ground shake.

     Why didn’t I hit him in the head, not the leg? she despaired, luching along at an ungainly trot. Felt like she was running on hot gravel again, undoubtedly highlighting her route with a smeary trail of purple. He’ll be furious. He’ll completely smash the place up.

     Oh well. If Tevak wanted to smash things up, she was going to have to leave him to it. So long as she made herself scarce when he ran out of things and came looking for her instead. He might just kill her, this time.

     “...i hurt,” Duskwing commented, so feebly the translation earpiece barely picked it up.

     “I know.” Blink kept hold of her, cradling her against her chest, following the map she’d ingrained into her head. “I’m taking you to the doctor. It’ll be all right, she’ll stop it hurting...”

     Provided she has danata painkillers. I hope she has danata painkillers... Blink staggered into the infirmary and slapped a palm against the lock; the sound of the security bolts firing into place sounded almost as loud as her heartbeat. “Computer?” She ran to the corner, reached through the dust field, and settled Duskwing onto the bed of the robotic surgeon.

     The interface drifted over, dressed for effect in a long straight white coat and hairnet. “Working.”

     “Do you have any medical data on file for the danata? Can you repair-... heal her?”

     The spectre drifted up alongside the machine; Duskwing watched her approach, tucking her antennae back against her head, fearfully. She looked very, very small, on the enormous bed, Blink noticed, and she was trembling. The fessine crouched and took one tiny hand into her own; the velvety fingers flexed onto hers, surprisingly tightly. Easy to forget that the delicate little creature was really still just a child, her unemotional countenance belying the fear and confusion that must have been swirling inside.

     The interface turned to look at Blink, and gave her evaluation. “She has a strong chance of survival if I operate now. However, the arm is too damaged to be saved.”

     “I have three others,” Duskwing acknowledged, bravely. “If you must remove my injured arm to save my life, please do so.”

     The interface kept her attention on Blink. “Do you concur with this instruction?”

     “It-it’s not my arm,” the fessine protested. “Please, just do as Dusk requests.”

     “Then you will need to step back,” the interface prompted, surprisingly gently. “A sterile field must be projected and appropriate sedation administered before surgery can commence.”

     Blink stroked her friend’s brow, and carefully extricated her fingers from the naiad’s grip. “Please don’t be afraid. I’ll stay here until you’re asleep, and then she’ll look after you,” she promised, staying crouched alongside. Working out precisely when Duskwing fell asleep was as difficult as ever, with those big glossy eyes that didn’t ever close, but eventually the interface confirmed she was unconscious.

     The hologram tilted her head and gave Blink a brief scrutiny, watching her move away to the infirmary door. “You have not yet attended your own injuries. Analgesia has already been provided for you.” She sounded peeved that Blink had basically ignored her advice. “I strongly advise that you take the medication, cease your physical exertion, and rest.”

     “I know. Just a moment longer, then I will. I promise.” Blink dithered just inside the doorway. “I appreciate your help, I just... I need to finish this, or it’ll never end...”

     She crept out of hiding, retracing her footsteps. Tevak would have easily followed her down the unsecured corridors, following the same heavy fear-scent he’d chased from the Library. She had to lead him off, away from the Institute. If she never got in ever again, it was a small price to pay to keep him out. He’d destroy the place as sure as he’d destroyed the station and the beautiful buildings around it.

     She rounded the next corner to find that Tevak had indeed got into the staff area that she had left unsecured, moving along on all fours, head close to the ground. Blink sucked back a gasp and leaped back behind the corner, covering her mouth with her hand. Did he see me? Please, don’t let him have seen me-!

     For several agonising seconds, she didn’t even let herself breathe, straining her ears to pick up the unmistakable scratching thump of clawed feet over polished floors.

     Nothing. Silence.

     Gathering up the last of her nerves, she peered warily around the corner, aching muscles as tight as bowstrings, ready for one last agonising dash for freedom.

     Tevak hadn’t moved from where she’d last glimpsed him; not on all fours, but laying in the middle of the corridor, unmoving. Another trick, to lure her closer?

     Blink threw her little radio at him; it bounced harmlessly off his broad shoulders and rolled to a halt just past his feet. The giant still didn’t respond. Didn’t even twitch.

     She inched closer, toe-length by toe-length. He couldn’t possibly be dead, could he? She hit him in the knee! How could he be dead from that?

     As soon as she got close enough, she noticed something very strange had happened to his head. The smirking, scaly countenance had all puffed up, as though someone had forced water into his flesh – his thin lips grown scarlet and bloated, his sore eyes now swollen all the way closed, and his throat engorged like a balloon.

     Bravely, she waved her hand in front of his face, then pinched an eyebrow. Still nothing. She hastily retrieved her communicator and held it in front of his nose; the cool, glassy screen remained un-fogged. He wasn’t breathing.

     The fessine backed away, her breath quickening. He was dead. Actually really properly dead. Oh, god. Now she was actually facing it, she wasn’t sure if she felt more relieved he was gone, or horrified that she’d caused it.

     Still flat against the wall and trembling, unable to tear her gaze from the grisly swollen countenance, it was difficult to force anything words at all from her mouth. “C-computer?”


     “Please clarify. Is he still alive?”

     “Internal sensors read no definite lifesigns,” the interface said, blandly. “He would appear to have suffered a fatal allergic response.”

     “ allergy?” Thrown by the unexpected response, for several seconds Blink found she could only stare at the interface’s camera eye. “To-to what?”

     “Symptoms began after he was stung by the danata female. I suspect this to be the precipitating factor, but it would require histological and biochemical analysis to confirm.”

     The realisation refused to sink in. “I didn’t kill him,” she told herself, relieved that she was already slumped against the wall and couldn’t easily fall any further.

     Rhetorical question or not, the interface helpfully confirmed it. “Analysis of the available information suggests that hypothesis is correct.” After a pause, she added; “A small group is attempting to attract attention from outside the fence. Should I unlock the gate?”

     Blink froze, peering out between her fingers. “What?”

     “A small group-”

     By now, the words had sunk in. Please be someone friendly... “Let me check who it is first.” She crept around Tevak’s body, flat against the wall, just in case he’d somehow tricked the interface, and stumbled her way back down the corridor, following her own trail of brown footprints to the main entrance.

     Outside, the thunderous deluge had begun, sheets of water cascading down the windows and mostly obscuring Blink’s view of the courtyard. A forcefield – which looked more like a seething lilac curtain of sparks, right now – kept the rain from coming in through the hole left by the broken window.

     Peering through the waterfall, she could see that a ragtag little group had clustered together, close to the gate, anxious and dripping. She couldn’t quite make out who was out there, but doubted anyone from the Station would have stayed around, and certainly not on such companionable terms.

     “Computer, please unlock the exterior gate.”


     Not wanting to risk the potential ire of the forcefield, Blink nudged the main door controls, and stepped out into the rain. Each drop stung like a small needle as it impacted her skin.

     As she’d guessed, the little crowd at the gate was made up of her friends from the library – Rae and Halli, Sarmis, Aspazija and Sadie, all with varying degrees of injury from the chase. As she watched, a palpable little shudder of relief went through them at seeing her emerge, whole and undamaged.

     “The gate’s unlocked.” Her voice came out as a croak. “You can come through.”

     The little group all but fell over each other in their haste to get through, and crowded around her, content to stay in the downpour until they’d checked up on her.

     “Thank goodness you escaped-”

     “We tried to hold them off-”

     “-thought they’d have caught you for sure-”

     Seeing Blink shrinking away from the barrage of questions, Rae waved a hand to shush them, and took her hands gently into his own. “Are you all right, Honbee?”

     Blink managed a single shaky nod. Her hands and knees had started to tremble, and she couldn’t seem to get them to stop.

     “What about Tevak?” Sarmis was first to find the courage to ask. “We saw he’d got in-”

     “Tevak is dead in a corridor somewhere,” Blink replied, her voice uncomfortably flat. “He’s apparently really allergic to danata stings.”

     Too exhausted to participate in the murmuring of shock that rose from her friends, she felt her knees wobble, losing strength. Rae offered his arms, and she sagged gratefully against him, twisting her fingers into his clothing, pressing her face into his soggy shoulder. She felt his arms go around her in return, protectively, drawing her close enough that she could very nearly feel his heart beating. Given half the chance, she’d have gone to sleep right there.

     “C’mon, Rae,” she heard Sadie murmur, gently. “Let’s get her indoors. This part of her adventure is well and truly over.”

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