§ 2020-09-12 22:56:55


[23:08] The climb had been gruelling – while the humans were fit, the near-constant need to balance themselves on two legs as they did so was a definite drain to their energy. The kavkema faired better, but 'up' was still not the best direction, even for them.

It wasn't even local midnight when they had to stop to rest for an extended time – a time of night that the humans knew by now was usually peak kavkem migratory activity.

The place they chose to settle was a kind of crevice blessed with a roof, just wide enough to move somewhat comfortably within. Baishar and Edaaj settled near the deepest, tapering end of it. There would be no setting up tents here, so Greg and Samanta simply sat down and leant against the rock walls.

Athechelt settled a little closer to the mouth of the narrow cavern, ostensibly in some gesture of protection that was completed negated by that he nodded off before the humans did. But as Evenatra had announced that she would patrol the area, they were, perhaps, as safe as they were likely to get on this world.

Greg fell asleep hugging his backpack. Samanta had set hers beside her and hugged her knees, a posture that did not lend itself to rest but eventually yielded to it, anyway.

Eventually, the foreign impressions at her fading peripheral senses gave way to a dream.

It was a nearly smooth continuation. She woke up with Greg missing, the daytime sun outside, and the three kavkema that had settled down to rest with her still asleep, and indeed resistent to any attempt of hers to rouse them. Perhaps that was to be expected – they always tried to sleep during the day, after all. But where was Greg?

The dream endowed her with a sense of the whole world around her, the way they had seen it in their approach – a dangerously fragile marble like the one they'd come from. There was no sense of permanence to her surroundings, none of the soothing familiarity the similar ecology and climate should have yielded.

There was no sign of Evenatra, although her patrol route might be a way's out.


[23:41] That was... curious. How did Greg manage to get out of the crevice without waking her? And why would he? Why would Evenatra leave, and leave all her followers behind, save one of the two aliens?

[23:42] She climbed out of the crevice. The air was crisp, thin, strangely tasteless and scentless. The whole sky looked a bit too thin, a bit too empty, as if barely painted on the emptiness, glowing through as if the sun was hiding just behind it.

An unnatural stillness reigned all around. The grass, clumsily scattered on the dirt, crumpled without sound or resistence beneath her feet. Samanta stood up on the rim of the crevice and craned her neck, trying to see or hear any trace of Greg and Evenatra in the green smudge that hid the horizon in all directions.

None came. She considered calling out, but the quivering vegetation and even the trembling boulders looked as if any sound louder than a whisper would mar them and cast them out of place, into a much uglier and less welcoming arrangement. So she kept her quiet, as did, apparently, the whole world.


[00:08] A little way down the slope they'd climbed up the night before, she started to see the hints of distant movement amongst the assortment of boulders and rocks, silent but unmistakable.

Gradually, the motion coalesced as Greg between the boulders – they must have fallen somehow, perhaps tipped at an inopportune moment, as he was caged in by them, trying to wiggle out between them with only little success. Judging by his motions, he had not been hurt in the landscape's oddly silent disruption, only caught.


[00:27] Greg, yes, and no trace of Evenatra yet. Samanta climbed down the slope — or rather walked down, balancing without effort, her own body feeling as light as foam — until Greg's features resolved and set on his face.

Then she was crouching on the crown of boulders around him, offering him a hand to climb out. "What happened?" she said in a whisper, though she wasn't sure whether her tongue and lips were actually moving. "Why are you out here? Where's Evenatra?"


[00:38] Greg smiled up at her in a wordless assurance that he was fine, but quickly brought a hand up to his visor, extended a finger, and gestured for silence. Then he accepted her proffered hand and began to wiggle upwards, feet awkwardly posed to find their purchase against the rocks. Despite the suit, Samanta could distinctly hear him breathing.

Sudden arms wrapped around Samanta's torso, trying to tug her back in an unbalanced tumble, the motion accompanied by the softest, playful chuckle – distinctly human, like the arms around her. Yet unlike Greg's, these were bare.


[00:51] She turned her head back, or at least she felt her neck turn, probably more than it should have, yet she couldn't quite see who or what was pulling at her. She did see a figure, an unfocused thing at the very edge of her vision, but Greg's face and visor remained the only things in front of her, the only she could see clearly.

Greg did not react to this turn of events, he gave no acknowledgment that anything was happening at all. He just looked at her, his eyes slightly magnified by the glass, not quite the right color. (Had she ever paid attention to his eye color? How did she know it wasn't this?)

"Who's this?" she hissed. "Saira? Jason? Evenatra?"


[01:09] As she fell back and lost her grip on Greg, Jason became apparent to her, climbing up the rocks to where she was standing. He too was only wearing his uniform. It seemed likely that it was Saira that had her tugged her away from Greg, although this did not answer either why she had chosen to do so, nor why neither her nor Jason were in their suits.

Samanta landed softly, given Saira was breaking her fall; Saira in turn fell against the boulders to the sound of paper crumpling beneath her, the landscape evidently buckling from the stress of its inhabitants moving this much.

In the shallow, small valley their fall had created amongst the rocks, probably-Saira reached forward, trying to wrap her arms around Samanta's upper arms to pin them to her torso.


[01:26] "You shouldn't... you shouln't take the suit off..." said Samanta feebly, overtaken by a tremendous fatigue. Bound as she was, every breath and eyeblink was terribly tiring. "... What are you... doing? Why... are you here?"

Jason and Saira gave no hint they had even heard her. Saira seemed perfectly content to restrain her, as if it was the obvious and inevitable course of action, as natural as a stone falling to the ground. Samanta tried to free herself, but Saira's arms were absolutely immovable: she doubted that even Saira herself could have unlocked them, at that point.

[01:27] Jason was gone, most probably into the circle of rocks, to restrain Greg in the same way.

A horrific thought sparked through Samanta's mind for a fraction of a second, and died out. Then she tried to reconstruct it, to bring it back in a form she could actually understand. Jason and Saira had been with the Nayabaru... and Valcen had been with them, telling them fantastic lies...

... and remolding their brains with that spider-machine...


[01:45] "You're lost," Saira whispered to her, somehow carrying a tone of startled amusement, as though the question Samanta had asked were strange, its answer self-evident. It was clear she meant 'out here in the wilderness, amongst kavkema who cannot protect you'.

It was equally clear she meant 'and confused', as though it were Samanta who had been so dangerously misled.

At the edge of the scenery, transparent to Samanta's perception despite the rocks between her and the occurrence, metallic limbs stepped from the fringe of the forest, following an alien motion halfway between the cautious advance of a spider and the rolling gait of an octopus.

It was much larger than what they had encountered in the forest's depths. One of its many limbs reached forward prematurely and eagerly, pressing itself between the rocks beneath her, curving upward and wiggling through the nooks and cracks between papery boulders that gave slight way, aiming for one of her legs.


[02:15] We *are* lost... but... The thing was slow enough that Samanta could see distinctly every position it took as it walked, and fast enough that it had crept on her before she could draw one breath. We *are* confused... but... It was small enough to fit into her mouth or eyes, and large enough to crush her between its legs.

It was on her, with a plausible, coherent size and position, climbing onto her with shimmering metal fingers, reaching for her face. She tried to turn hear head away, as if that would change anything, but even that movement was opposed, she was plunged in tar, rubberbands were pulling her face toward the advancing thing.

She squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would change anything, but the thing reached through her eyelids, a black-glowing patch burned into her retinae. The thing was moving toward its final point, and she was in that point as well, and no force could dislodge her from there. She desperately wished she — rather than it — was elsewhere, in any place. Yet she was there, and she could be nowhere else.

§ 2020-09-26 00:53:09


[00:53] There was a pressure in her skull, as though her mind were a tactile organ and could feel when it was being manipulated. Saira's arms encircled her, holding her as though it were at all necessary, given the way the world drew her into the abyss entirely without her help.

Then something splintered the pressure like a shard of glass. The looming shadow that was devouring her from afar and simultaneously confined within the expanse of her skull rippled as though in a shudder, then withdrew in a cephalopod's spasm, fleeing across the landscape both like a wounded animal and smoke carried by the wind.

Evenatra stood on the rocks, feathers iridescent, staring sternly at Samanta as though to assess how far she was gone. Saira's embrace had slackened – by the way her body felt against Samanta's, she had fallen unconscious.


[01:15] Evenatra was a magnificent sight, with her feathercoat glowing in the sunlight. She was a miserable kavkem, wrapped in tattered rags, with feathers half torn and a scarred muzzle. She was a human, perfectly formed and dressed. She was a biblical angel, wreathed in flaming eyes. She was a starfish-octopus-spider-alien, with the wrong number of every bodypart, stretching into the clouds. Every layer was nitidly visible in its own right, overlapping with the others.

But mostly she was Evenatra, the same as she had ever appeared, and Samanta had never been so glad to see her.

Her gladness, however, lasted little more than an eyeblink, as terror for herself was quickly replaced by fear for Saira, who had pooled on the ground. "Evenatra, th— thank you so much— where is— why— check on Greg, please—" she babbled at her savior, as she tried to turn Saira face up. Something, of course, she shouldn't have done with an unconscious person, but didn't matter, as Saira's head seemed to have too many sides to be turned.


[01:35] "You and Saira are the only ones here," Evenatra said, without so much as investigating, but it was clearly true – Jason and Greg had disappeared somehow, perhaps folded into the malevolent creature's withdrawal, cocooned in its shadows. There was no mystery why she knew to identify Saira – it was obviously common knowledge which crew member had which name.

Saira, meanwhile, seemed very much alive and her state unlikely to change, despite the odd geometries describing her. Evenatra gestured at the suitless linguist and commented matter-of-factly: "She's been poisoned," referring clearly and obviously to her mind above all.


[02:03] "Then... what do we do?" Samanta still tried to raise Saira, if not to her feet at least to a position in which she could be carried around; and Saira somehow came to rest at a certain height above the ground.

"How can we help her? And where's Greg? And Jason?" she asked, or she believed she did. She stood up, apparently dragging Saira's body upward with her, and looked carefully at the environment around. It was somewhat darker, somewhat colder. Still nobody around except for the three of them. And yet, looking very carefully at the dark green mass at the horizon, where the grey dome rested on the ground, she thought she could see warm-colored lights appear here and there.

§ 2020-10-01 22:55:15


[22:55] As Samanta cast her gaze out toward the horizon, the cardboard landscape ruptured, sagging as if under a weight, forming a shallow canyon in the distance, a scar cutting through the trees, as though something had perhaps begun to crumple the planet like a wad of paper, but was taking its time, crushing it one corner at a time, in disregard for its topology.

The creature that had fled the scene was not the source, but it was considerably closer to the anomalous landscape than Evenatra, Samanta and Saira's limp body. If they wanted to go there, perhaps to find Greg and Jason, they would have to go toward the source of danger.

"The poison is occupying the parts she has lost," Evenatra explained, matter-of-factly. "If we find it, we can reassemble and heal her."


[23:14] "The parts... she's lost?" Samanta repeated. At any mention of her, however indirect, Saira's form stirred briefly, and then went back to resting in undefined space, her body briefly passing through Samanta's every few heartbeats.

[23:15] "Do we have to take back parts of her from the Thing?" It was still there, near the warped horizon, still crawling away at great speed, yet perfectly visible, as if magnified through a spyglass. Outrunning it looked impossible, and in any case Samanta wasn't too anxious to get close to that again. Again and again she looked at it, as if to make sure it wasn't coming back, and every time it appeared a cold and sharp terror gripped her at the base of her skull.

"Or..." Why was it so draining to speak? Why did she have to shovel every sentence out of her mouth so? Was this how Evenatra felt when human words failed her? "... or do you mean — find the poison — in her?"


[23:20] "Find what she has lost," Evenatra said, glancing toward the horizon to where the creature had undulated by way of unpleasant affirmation. Perhaps she was underestimating the distance – or perhaps it wasn't running anywhere at all. It was impossible to tell.

"Come," she said. "We don't have much time. It will kill her eventually."


[23:32] "Yes, let's..." Samanta started a step, and then stopped in her tracks. What would they do with Saira? Carry her around? Even in that bizarre floating state, it didn't seem like they could move her by much. Leave her there, for the time being? The whole place was unnaturally lifeless, and unnaturally circumscribed, with that dull, woven sky fraying at the edges all around. Perhaps there wouldn't be much danger in that.

"Wait, let's carry Saira in the circle of rocks, or back in the crevice!" And so they did, or rather, once the intention was formulated, there Saira was, out of sight, and presumably hidden by the rocks.

And then they left.


[23:55] The feathers of Samanta's alien friend shimmered and with no more than a trick of perspective, those saurian arms became bird wings, spreading outwards, at least as large as a marabou stork's. Samanta was sat between them moments later and they took off, rising above the fragile landscape, bypassing the dangers and obstacles below. While in flight, Evenatra's features gradually became more avian, the transition itself invisible, as though it were simply natural for her to look like this, turning from one kind of raptor into another.

The wind running through Samanta's hair and Evenatra's feathers felt a bit flimsy, as though the atmosphere didn't quite have any strength left. It felt thin, without that it was giving them any difficulty breathing and there was clearly enough of it to carry their flight.

They were faster now than the creature that had attacked Samanta, gradually gaining on it. From up above, the furrows of the crinkling world could be seen more clearly, as well, in much greater expanse and detail than perspective would truly allow, the dark shadows of the pitted landscape running down the landscape starting from the horizon like running ink.


[00:47] The whole world below looked like an artifact, and a crumbling artifact, at that. The thing was almost vertically under the two of them, crawling and running toward an indefinite point. The sky appeared much closer, the barrier of trees visibly misshapen, as if it had never been meant to be seen so close. Evenatra, it seemed, was once again breaking the rules of the world.

"When we reach it", said Samanta, suddenly discovering the whistle of the wind forced her to shout, "What will we do?" Samanta's hope was clear: Evenatra would leave her in some safe place, then swoop on the monster like a falcon, tear it apart with her alien talons, and leave it a rightful wreck.

It wasn't going to happen, was it? Samanta would need to see that thing again from up close. Possibly to touch it — and hopefully at least, it the rest had to happen, to cut it open like an earthworm. It wasn't going to be pleasant for her, and hopefully it wasn't going to be pleasant for it.


[00:56] "I will distract it for you," Evenatra told her, her own voice not raised against the wind but still perfectly audible, regardless. "So that you may go inside and find what she has lost. Only you can recognise the shards of her soul; they are so different from ours, I cannot tell them apart from the device's own."


[01:12] The shards of her soul. So matter-of-fact it wa stated, that Samanta would have gone with it even if her rational faculties had all been fully operative. She focused hard on what the shards of Saira's soul, or human soul at least, must look like. The soul of the monster too, which she figured must look and feel (and smell, and taste?) like rotting innards, folded into some obscene topology.

[01:13] Saira, the mission linguist. A melange of words, most probably, sounds knotted together like quipu, woven thoughts and shades of meaning. Was that how souls worked? And would Samanta's own look like nucleotide sequences and pinned specimens? Was it right, to expect one's soul to look like one's occupation? Did she really know Saira well enough to guess the appearance of her soul?


[01:28] Their destination had stopped pulsing across the landscape in its rhythmic escape, as though it had since noticed that they were closing in and it couldn't run. Instead, its dark limbs grew further, smoky at the edges. The landscape around it became increasingly furrowed and crumpled, carving out an island-like plateau.

Evenatra circled the new landmark, finding a spot at its frayed edges to land, taking care not to damage the fragile ground herself. There were still trees here – their precise point of landing had not been witnessed by the monster they were confronting. Nonetheless, it had clearly changed its tune and was willing to hunt them again, now that it was left with no other option.


[01:41] It reminded Samanta of a scorpion as it turned once again against them. (I wonder if there are scorpions on this planet?) Although, admittedly, clinging to an alien being of unfathomable power made it much less terrifying.

Evenatra reached the ground and erased her momentum with one last stately flap of wings. A circle of dust rose all around, and blew away bushes and other such objects that should have stayed. The thing still looked artificially magnified, and so implicitely small and distant. Yet it was close, far too close; and Samanta's resolve quivered again.

§ 2020-10-06 22:29:11


[22:29] Now on the ground, Evenatra reverted to her more saurian form, although the tail was all wrong – thin and winding, ending in a serpent's rattle. She gestured toward a point near the centre of the plateau and off to the right relative to their current position, then ran left until the bushes swallowed her.

The rattle did its job, a distinct source of noise in the bushes. Although the medley of device and living creature that had attacked them earlier was not directly visible from Samanta's current position, she could distinctly tell that its focus shifted to follow the sound...


[22:51] A rustle in the grass, perfectly silent. A watery reflection of light on the painted tree trunks. A sound, a breathing, hissing, gurgling, screeching grinding bubbling whispering sound.

And the thing sprang out. A scorpion-demon-alien-grasping hand, frozen in every instant of its flight like Zeno's arrow, inching closer and closer to Evenatra's temporary tail; and in a fraction of a second reached it.


[23:14] There was a whole expanse of the thing, as though night had solidified into a collection of limbs, smoky at the edges. It looked as though one could perhaps simply pass through if one wished and did so from the right angle.

One limb now snatched at Evenatra's rattle-adorning tail, clutching at it, the rest of the creature's mass undulating toward her as though to envelop her. A quick motion later, she'd discarded the tail like a gecko and ran through the trees, but they were more of an obstacle for her than they were for the creature following her, which now simply flowed like syrup between the trunks.


[23:51] Was Evenatra in danger?, Samanta thought. Am I? Should she, perhaps, intervene? Her and Greg's intervention during that damned nightmare of a fight in the forest hadn't been all that useful (at least compared to Evenatra showing up and disintegrating the enemy with a gesture) yet, they got praised by their alien goddess friend. Surely Evenatra deserved at least an attempt of help.

Samanta made a step forward. It took a while for her foot to touch the ground. The air was like honey, swallowing all her movements, standard dream fare — or was it just fear of the monster?

Come on. You know she's got a plan. But she needs you. Saira and Jason and probably Greg need you too. Samanta did not move from her location. But if her feet wouldn't obey, at least her upper body would; so she bent and picked up a stone, the heaviest, most jagged, deadliest-looking stone the warped ground offered her.


[23:55] The creature's limbs were jabbing for Evenatra like serpents, flitting through the trees. The whole thing was more cloud than solid object to strike, its attention distinctly pointed away from Samanta. Perhaps she could simply... step inside? What had Evenatra asked her to do? 'Go inside and find what Saira has lost'?


[00:16] Inside... it, that mess filling the forest floor? It was worth a try. Samanta dropped on her knees and crawled forward (if her feet weren't going to carry her, then by Goddard she was going to carry them). The mist of colors, like a three-dimensional motion blur spread onto the world, grew thicker around her, an electric prickle on her skin, that jabber of noises resounding once again in the base of her skull.

She raised her head above the mist, as if to take air, and breathed deeply in and out, steadying her trembling. She was sure the thing couldn't hurt her like that, as focused as it was on pursuing Evenatra, but it flowed over her like a cold, reeking stream of rotting slime. And yet... she had to plunge into it, didn't she? That was hardly "going inside" as it was.

So she closed her eyes, dived into the prickling, hissing cloud and once again, as deeply as she could, breathed in.


[00:33] It felt like breathing syrup, but did not suffocate her. Still, breathing took effort. From inside the creature, the sky looked dotted with stars and a moon was out – perfectly meeting Samanta's instinctive expectation of night time, despite not being applicable to Nekenalos.

The creature's edges had disappeared; presumably, she could find her way out of it if she ran persistently into any one direction, but it was impossible to tell what the nearest edge of it was – and once she tried to poke her head back out, she found that she could now stand without leaving her new surroundings.

Somewhere ahead of her, out of sight and yet clearly visible, was Evenatra, a silhouette, an outline from another world. She looked slower than she had in the world Samanta had come from, like an easy target.

The trees here looked different to the fragile greenery that was being damaged back where she came from – sturdy, ancient, dangerous, branching unnaturally, more like a delicate mathematical fractal than an organic tree which occasionally decided to skip a beat in self-similarity. The tips of the branches came down low, like a weeping willow.

There were things caught in the branches, twinkling lightlessly. The trees were full of them. It resonated with her mission instantly: 'Only you can recognise the shards of her soul.' But which of these were Saira's? ...and where were Greg and Jason in this creature's endless expanse?

Somewhere in the background, the planet's papery equator imploded as though caught in a tight corset, or as though a stretchy balloon was being pinched and twisted into two halves.

§ 2020-10-07 18:31:16


[01:11] It was a strangely beautiful sight, considering its location. Samanta approached one of the alien willows, whose branches kept forking and thinning endlessly, and contemplated one of the glowing things. It thrashed and squirmed in its tangle of hair-thin branches, like a moth caught in a spider web.

[01:12] It was truly formless, a little blur of light that was of all colors at once, with a faint scent of chamomile and hot iron. She carefully took a finger near it, and felt as a slight magnetic repulsion from the core of the little light. The resistance grew stronger as she drew nearer, and as soon as her fingertip touched the entity a shiver struck her spine and the little light faded away.

She could have sworn that that shiver had come with some other sensation, some strange perception that should have been unfamiliar yet wasn't... a courtyard of an old house? A tree in a garden, old and draped in dark ivy? Was it a human house, or the dwelling of a creature of this world?

§ 2020-10-31 23:12:47


[23:22] What else had Evenatra said? I cannot tell them apart from the device's own? That would imply the strange apparition's soul fragments were here somewhere. What would happen if she tore those out of the tangled branches? Could she stop it from hunting Evenatra? Maybe if it was stopped, they could more easily look for Greg, Jason and the lost fragments of Saira?

...the lost fragments of Jason, too, come to think of it. While he had disappeared with Greg, he had been bewitched in a similar way as Saira had. The similarities suggested his soul was in scattered tatters as well.

So maybe the solution was simple – just take all of them and sort them later.


[23:44] Samanta touched another spark. Another jolt to her chest, another stolen perception. Some... pattern of tiles, square terracotta tiles in some old country house. The same of the tree, most probably. She touched yet another — this time the shiver struck her somewhere below her lungs — and a flash of smell, a smell of dark damp dirt and standing water, and something like old straw.

Alright. Whoever these things were from, it was probably always the same individual. Samanta walked to another tree, its branches also splitting fractally into nothingness. She caught a little blur of light, and this time it was not a memory that struck her but an emotion, a flash of anger over someone's impudence. Another: a vision of blue water and white cliffs. Another: a fragment of music, deep bellowing inhuman music.

So she went, collecting crumbs of soul from the drooping canopy of the alien trees, rippling in the still air. In a few, she felt her feathers flutter in the wind and bristle in the cold, she felt flashes of unease at a twilight sky not quite dark enough to keep her safe, and of terror at hearing booming calls at the horizon, and recognized the memories of a kavkem.


[00:06] And then, as Samanta came to the next tree and touched its wiggling, luminous fruit, the impression was of the fragile paper that made up the world, yearning to be converted into something sturdier, yearning to be replaced.

It was a deeply alien emotion, yet distantly relatable – she had seen how the world had been crumbling, she had seen how easy it was to break it, she had seen, even, through some omniscient point of view, how the planet as a whole was crumpling.

There was a scent of steel that came with the impression and the touch of a film of oil against the back of her throat, intertwined with an uncanny familiarity. This, then, were parts of the creature she had entered. The firmament around her shuddered as though it were in the process of inverting itself, extruding parts of the real world into itself to find her and dislodge her.

She might have to be quick about eviscerating its soul – and even if she was, it was likely she could only damage it before it got to her.


[00:44] Samanta tore at the soul of the thing as far as the tempest of shocks to her interior allowed her. Sensations came to her in fast sequence, twisted and distorted by being mapped to a body completely unlike the one that had generated them. She felt her digits and hair wrap around and dig into twitching preys, fluid globs of thought being sucked through her long bones, grinding mechanical jerks tug at ther innards.

She stopped for one second, nauseous, her sight blurring, her proprioception hopelessly confused, her heart thumping where it shouldn't have. She reached for her own hands and face, checking that they were still wrapped in mammal skin, that they were still warmed by red blood. Am I *transforming* into this god-damned thing? What's the point of stopping it, if I'm going to take its place hunting Evenatra?

But... perhaps she was succeeding. The tree was now much dimmer, much poorer. The branches now resembled nothing as much as an old cobweb caked in dust. She wondered whether she could simply pull its trunk out of... whatever it had grown from. One last spark, at least. Samanta grasped one, and extinguished it, and a new impression flared into her mind, and an insatiable thirst filled her for a second, as that of a man crawling across a salt pan, thirst for living thoughts.


[00:54] And then the struggle was somehow over, having skipped its intermediate parts. She was back in the real world, the essence of the device wrapped about her tightly, like a suit, invisible and intangible, but obvious to her all the same. She was seeing not only through her eyes, but through that of the creature she had simultaneously defeated, subsumed and become. She was hearing not only her own heartbeat, but that of the monster. The hunger clawed at her innards – the baubles she had collected, smaller now but more numerous, clearly having multiplied in the time the dream had simply condensed into an instant, lay scattered on the ground before her, dangerously compelling – and at the edge of her dual vision, she could see that Evenatra was approaching.


[01:18] She tried forcing itself to stop, but the searing emptiness pushed her on. She tried slowing down, taking a deep breath, but it had no mouth, nose, or lungs. It managed to slow herself down a bit, perhaps make itself an easier target should Evenatra try to attack her, or at least allow its friend to outrun her.

The trees, the familiar trees of an ordinary forest, stood around her impossibly tall, dark stringy grass wrapping around its toes and cluttering her sensors. Still she walked — at least it walked, no longer ran or flowed among the trunks as earlier — taking each step as automatically as its other body would blink.

Perhaps it would manage to break herself? Use some of her spindly limbs to tear out others, bash its own metal skull open against a tree trunk? Her fingers twitched, hungry for thoughts. It wasn't sure how much longer that body would obey her will.


[01:48] But Evenatra seemed not to see what had happened – she approached calmly, with curiosity, like one might a potentially wounded friend. It was unsure whether anything could be done to her, whether her thoughts were there for the taking, but the urge to try was there, to envelope and consume, to reach out to the feathered creature now within arm's reach and—

Abruptly, reality snapped back around her like a rubber band, a shock to her system, her faceplate fogged a little with the moisture of an exhale. It was still night, but her posture in the niche had deteriorated into an awkward sag that now started back into something straighter with the next inhale.

Greg was still here with her, clung to his equipment. The three kavkema Baishar, Edaaj and Athechelt were still here, arranged in sleeping positions reminiscent of cats than birds.

Nothing was assaulting them – and dreams were not prophetic. While her dream colliding with reality came with a pang of uncertainty as to how Saira and Jason were doing and how the kavkema might prevail against the strange machines deployed against them, no immediate threat loomed at the edge of their temporary sanctuary.

All was quiet.