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thrillerMeyerHostPublishers Weeklythis tantalizing SF thriller, planet-hopping parasites are inserting their silvery centipede selves into human brains, curing cancer, eliminating war and turning 20 страница

“Knock, knock,” a familiar voice called from the dark entry.

“Good morning, Ian,” I said. “I’m just done. Did you sleep well?”

“Ian’s still sleeping,” Ian’s voice answered. “I’m sure that won’t last forever, though, so we’d best get on with this.”of ice pinned my joints in place. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.’d noticed it before, and then forgotten it in the long weeks of Kyle’s absence: not only did Ian and his brother look very much alike, but-when Kyle spoke at a normal volume, which so rarely happened-they also had exactly the same voice.was no air. I was trapped in this black hole with Kyle at the door. There was no way out.quiet! Melanie shrieked in my head.could do that. There was no air to scream with.!did as I was told, trying to focus in spite of the fear that stabbed through my head like a million slender spears of ice.couldn’t hear anything. Was Kyle waiting for a response? Was he sneaking around the room in silence? I listened harder, but the rush of the river covered any sounds., grab a rock! Melanie ordered.?saw myself crashing a rough stone against Kyle’s head.can’t do it!we’re going to die! she screamed back at me. I can do it! Let me!has to be another way, I moaned, but I forced my ice-locked knees to bend. My hands searched the darkness and came up with a large, jagged rock and a handful of pebbles.or flight.desperation, I tried to unlock Melanie, to let her out. I couldn’t find the door-my hands were still my own, clutched uselessly around the objects I could never make into weapons.noise. A tiny splash as something entered the stream that drained the pool into the latrine room. Only a few yards away.me my hands!don’t know how! Take them!started to creep away, close to the wall, toward the exit. Melanie struggled to find her way out of my head, but she couldn’t find the door from her side, either.sound. Not by the far stream. A breath, by the exit. I froze where I was.is he?don’t know!, I could hear nothing but the river. Was Kyle alone? Was someone waiting by the door to catch me when he herded me around the pool? How close was Kyle now?felt the hairs on my arms and legs standing on end. There was some kind of pressure in the air, as though I could feel his silent movements. The door. I half turned, easing back in the direction I’d come, away from where I’d heard the breath.couldn’t wait forever. The little he’d said told me he was in a hurry. Someone could come at any time. Odds were on his side, though. There were fewer who would be inclined to stop him than there were who might think this was for the best. And of those inclined to stop him, even fewer who’d have much of a chance of doing that. Only Jeb and his gun would make a difference. Jared was at least as strong as Kyle, but Kyle was more motivated. Jared would probably not fight him now.noise. Was that a footstep by the door? Or just my imagination? How long had this silent standoff lasted? I couldn’t guess how many seconds or minutes had passed.ready. Melanie knew that the stalling would soon be at an end. She wanted me to clench the rock tighter.I would give flight a chance first. I would not be an effective fighter, even if I could bring myself to try. Kyle was probably twice my weight, and he had a much longer reach.raised the hand with the pebbles and aimed them toward the back passage to the latrine. Maybe I could make him think that I was going to hide and hope for rescue. I threw the handful of small stones and shied away from the noise when they clattered against the rock wall.breath at the door again, the sound of a light footfall headed toward my decoy. I edged as quietly along the wall as I could.if there are two?don’t know.was almost to the exit. If I could just make the tunnel, I thought I could outrun him. I was lighter and fast…heard a footstep, very clearly this time, disrupting the stream in the back of the room. I crept faster.gigantic splash shattered the tense standoff. Water pelted my skin, making me gasp. It spattered against the wall in a wave of wet sound.’s coming through the pool! Run!hesitated just a second too long. Big fingers clutched at my calf, my ankle. I yanked against the pull, lurching forward. I stumbled, and the momentum that threw me down to the floor made his fingers slip. He caught my sneaker. I kicked it off, leaving it in his hand.was down, but he was down, too. It gave me enough time to scramble forward, ripping my knees against the rough stone.grunted, and his hand clutched at my naked heel. There was nothing to catch hold of; I slid free again. I wrenched myself forward, pulling to my feet with my head still down, every second in danger of falling again because my body was moving almost parallel to the floor. I kept my balance through sheer force of will.was no one else. No one to catch me at the exit to the outer room. I sprinted forward, hope and adrenaline surging in my veins. I burst into the river room at full speed, my only thought to reach the tunnel. I could hear Kyle’s heavy breath close behind but not close enough. With each step, I pushed harder against the ground, throwing myself ahead of him.lanced through my leg, crumpling it.the babble of the river, I heard two heavy stones hit the ground and roll-the one I’d been clutching and the one he’d thrown to cripple me. My leg twisted under me, spinning me backward to the ground, and in the same second he was on top of me.weight knocked my head against the rock in a ringing blow and pinned me flat against the floor. No leverage.!air blew out of me in a siren of sound that surprised us all. My wordless shriek was more than I’d hoped for-surely someone would hear it. Please let that someone be Jeb. Please let him have the gun.



“Uhng!” Kyle protested. His hand was big enough to cover most of my face. His palm mashed against my mouth, cutting off my scream.rolled then, and the motion so took me by surprise that I had no time to try to find an advantage in it. He pulled me swiftly over and under and over his body. I was dizzy and confused, my head still spinning, but I understood as soon as my face hit the water.hand locked on the back of my neck, forcing my face into the shallow stream of cooler water that wound its way into the bathing pool. It was too late to hold my breath. I’d already inhaled a mouthful of water.body panicked when the water hit my lungs. Its flailing was stronger than he’d expected. My limbs all jerked and thrashed in different directions, and his grip on my neck slipped. He tried to get a better hold, and some instinct made me pull myself into him rather than away, as he was expecting. I only pulled half a foot closer to him, but that got my chin out of the stream, and enough of my mouth to choke some of the water back out and drag in a breath.fought to push me back into the stream, but I wriggled and wedged myself under him so that his own weight was working against his goal. I was still reacting to the water in my lungs, coughing and spasming out of control.

“Enough!” Kyle growled.pulled himself off me, and I tried to drag myself away.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” he spit through his teeth.was over, and I knew it.was something wrong with my injured leg. It felt numb, and I couldn’t make it do what I wanted. I could only push myself along the floor with my arms and my good leg. I was coughing too hard to do even that well. Too hard to scream again.grabbed my wrist and yanked me up from the floor. The weight of my body made my leg buckle, and I slumped into him.got both my wrists in one hand and wrapped the other arm around my waist. He pulled me off the floor and into his side, like an awkward bag of flour. I twisted, and my good leg kicked against the empty air.

“Let’s get this over with.”jumped over the smaller stream with a bound and carried me toward the closest sinkhole. The steam from the hot spring washed my face.was going to throw me into the dark, hot hole and let the boiling water pull me into the ground as it burned me.

“No, no!” I shouted, my voice too hoarse and low to carry.writhed frantically. My knee knocked against one of the ropy rock columns, and I hooked my foot around it, trying to yank myself out of his grip. He jerked me free with an impatient grunt.least that loosened his hold enough that I could make one more move. It had worked before, so I tried it again. Instead of trying to free myself, I twisted in and wrapped my legs around his waist, locking the good ankle around the bad, trying to ignore the pain so that I could get a good hold there.

“Get off me, you -” He fought to knock me loose, and I jerked one of my wrists free. I wrapped that arm around his neck and grabbed his thick hair. If I was going into the black river, so was he.hissed and stopped prying at my leg long enough to punch my side.gasped in pain but got my other hand into his hair.wrapped both arms around me, as if we were embracing rather than locked in a killing struggle. Then he grabbed my waist from both sides and heaved with all his strength against my hold.hair started to come out in my hands, but he just grunted and pulled harder.could hear the steaming water rushing close by, right below me, it seemed. The steam billowed up in a thick cloud, and for a minute I couldn’t see anything but Kyle’s face, twisted with rage into something beastlike and merciless.felt my bad leg giving. I tried to pull myself closer to him, but his brute strength was winning against my desperation. He would have me free in a moment, and I would fall into the hissing steam and disappear.! Jamie! The thought, the agony, belonged to both Melanie and me. They would never know what had happened to me. Ian. Jeb. Doc. Walter. No goodbyes.abruptly jumped into the air and came down with a thud. The jarring impact had the effect he wanted: my legs came loose.before he could take advantage, there was another result.cracking sound was deafening. I thought the whole cave was coming down. The floor shuddered beneath us.gasped and jumped back, taking me-hands still locked in his hair-with him. The rock under his feet, with more cracking and groaning, began to crumble away.combined weight had broken the brittle lip of the hole. As Kyle stumbled away, the crumbling followed his heavy steps. It was faster than he was.piece of the floor disappeared from under his heel, and he went down with a thud. My weight pushed him back hard, and his head smacked sharply against a stone pillar. His arms fell away from me, limp.cracking of the floor settled into a sustained groan. I could feel it shiver beneath Kyle’s body.was on his chest. Our legs dangled above empty space, the steam condensing into a million drops on our skin.

“Kyle?”was no answer.was afraid to move.’ve got to get off him. You’re too heavy together. Carefully-use the pillar. Pull away from the hole.in fear, too terrified to think for myself, I did as Melanie ordered. I freed my fingers from Kyle’s hair and climbed gingerly over his unconscious form, using the pillar as an anchor to pull myself forward. It felt steady enough, but the floor still moaned under us.pulled myself past the pillar and onto the ground beyond it. This ground stayed firm under my hands and knees, but I scrambled farther away, toward the safety of the exit tunnel.was another crack, and I glanced back. One of Kyle’s legs drooped farther down as a rock fell from beneath it. I heard the splash this time as the chunk of stone met the river below. The ground shuddered under his weight.’s going to fall, I realized., Melanie snarled.…!he falls, he can’t kill us, Wanda. If he doesn’t fall, he will.can’t just…, you can. Walk away. Don’t you want to live?did. I wanted to live.could disappear. And if he did, there was a chance that no one would ever hurt me again. At least not among the people here. There was still the Seeker to consider, but maybe she would give up someday, and then I could stay here indefinitely with the humans I loved…leg throbbed, pain replacing some of the numbness. Warm fluid trickled down my lips. I tasted the moisture without thinking and realized it was my blood.away, Wanderer. I want to live. I want a choice, too.could feel the tremors from where I stood. Another piece of floor splashed into the river. Kyle’s weight shifted, and he slid an inch toward the hole.him go.knew better than I what she was talking about. This was her world. Her rules.stared at the face of the man who was about to die-the man who wanted me dead. With him unconscious, Kyle’s face was no longer that of an angry animal. It was relaxed, almost peaceful.resemblance to his brother was very apparent.! Melanie protested.crawled back to him on my hands and knees-slowly, feeling the ground with care before each inch I moved. I was too afraid to go beyond the pillar, so I hooked my good leg around it, an anchor again, and leaned around to wedge my hands under Kyle’s arms and over his chest.heaved so hard I nearly pulled my arms from their sockets, but he didn’t move. I heard a sound like the trickle of sand through an hourglass as the floor continued to dissolve into tiny pieces.yanked again, but the only result was that the trickle sped up. Shifting his weight was breaking the floor faster.as I thought that, a large chunk of rock plummeted into the river, and Kyle’s precarious balance was overthrown. He began to fall.

“No!” I screamed, the siren bursting from my throat again. I flattened myself against the column and managed to pin him to the other side, locking my hands around his wide chest. My arms ached.

“Help me!” I shrieked. “Somebody! Help!”33.Doubtedsplash. Kyle’s weight tortured my arms.

“Wanda? Wanda!”

“Help me! Kyle! The floor! Help!”had my face pressed against the stone, my eyes toward the cave entrance. The light was bright overhead as the day dawned. I held my breath. My arms screamed.

“Wanda! Where are you?”leaped through the door, the rifle in his hands, held low and ready. His face was the angry mask his brother had worn.

“Watch out!” I screamed at him. “The floor is breaking up! I can’t hold him much longer!”took him two long seconds to process the scene that was so different from the one he’d been expecting-Kyle, trying to kill me. The scene that had been, just seconds ago.he threw the gun to the cave floor and started toward me with a long stride.

“Get down-disperse your weight!”dropped to all fours and scuttled to me, his eyes burning in the light of dawn.

“Don’t let go,” he cautioned.groaned in pain.assessed for another second, and then slid his body behind mine, pushing me closer to the rock. His arms were longer than mine. Even with me in the way, he was able to get his hands around his brother.

“One, two, three,” he grunted.pulled Kyle up against the rock, much more securely than I’d had him. The movement smashed my face into the pillar. The bad side, though-it couldn’t get much more scarred at this point.

“I’m going to pull him to this side. Can you squeeze out?”

“I’ll try.”loosened my hold on Kyle, feeling my shoulders ache in relief, making sure Ian had him. Then I wriggled out from between Ian and the rock, careful not to put myself on a dangerous section of the floor. I crawled backward a few feet toward the door, ready to make a grab for Ian if he started slipping.hauled his inert brother around one side of the pillar, dragging him in jerks, a foot at a time. More of the floor crumbled, but the foundation of the pillar remained intact. A new shelf formed about two feet out from the column of rock.crawled backward the way I had, dragging his brother along in short surges of muscle and will. Within a minute, we were all three in the mouth of the corridor, Ian and I breathing in gasps.

“What… the hell… happened?”

“Our weight… was too… much. Floor caved in.”

“What were you doing… by the edge? With Kyle?”put my head down and concentrated on breathing., tell him.will happen then?know what will happen. Kyle broke the rules. Jeb will shoot him, or they’ll kick him out. Maybe Ian will beat the snot out of him first. That would be fun to watch.didn’t really mean it-I didn’t think so, anyway. She was just still mad at me for risking our lives to save our would-be murderer., I told her. And if they kick Kyle out for me… or kill him… I shuddered. Well, can’t you see how little sense that would make? He’s one of you.’ve got a life here, Wanda. You’re jeopardizing that.’s my life, too. And I’m… well, I’m me.groaned in disgust.

“Wanda?” Ian demanded.

“Nothing,” I muttered.

“You’re a rotten liar. You know that, right?”kept my head down and breathed.

“What did he do?”

“Nothing,” I lied. Poorly.put his hand under my chin, pulled my face up. “Your nose is bleeding.” He twisted my head to the side. “And there’s more blood in your hair.”

“I-hit my head when the floor fell.”

“On both sides?”shrugged.glared at me for a long moment. The darkness of the tunnel muted the brilliance of his eyes.

“We should get Kyle to Doc-he really cracked his head when he went down.”

“Why are you protecting him? He tried to kill you.” It was a statement of fact, not a question. His expression slowly melted from anger to horror. He was imagining what we had been doing on that unstable shelf-I could see that in his eyes. When I did not answer, he spoke again in a whisper. “He was going to throw you in the river…” A strange tremor shook his body.had one arm around Kyle-he’d collapsed that way and seemed too tired to move. Now he shoved his unconscious brother away roughly, sliding farther from him in disgust. He slid into me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. He pulled me close against his chest-I could feel his breath go in and out, still more ragged than normal.felt very strange.

“I should roll him right back in there and kick him over the edge myself.”shook my head frantically, making it throb in pain. “No.”

“Saves time. Jeb made the rules clear. You try to hurt someone here, there are penalties. There’ll be a tribunal.”tried to pull away from him, but he tightened his grip. It wasn’t frightening, not like the way Kyle had grabbed me. But it was upsetting-it threw me off balance. “No. You can’t do that, because no one broke the rules. The floor collapsed, that’s all.”

“Wanda -”

“He’s your brother.”

“He knew what he was doing. He’s my brother, yes, but he did what he did, and you are… you are… my friend.”

“He did nothing. He is human,” I whispered. “This is his place, not mine.”

“We’re not having this discussion again. Your definition of human is not the same as mine. To you, it means something… negative. To me, it’s a compliment-and by my definition, you are and he isn’t. Not after this.”

“Human isn’t a negative to me. I know you now. But Ian, he’s your brother.”

“A fact that shames me.”pushed away from him again. This time, he let me go. It might have had something to do with the moan of pain that escaped my lips when I moved my leg.

“Are you okay?”

“I think so. We need to find Doc, but I don’t know if I can walk. I-I hit my leg, when I fell.”growl strangled in his throat. “Which leg? Let me see.”tried to straighten out my hurt leg-it was the right one-and groaned again. His hands started at my ankle, testing the bones, the joints. He rotated my ankle carefully.

“Higher. Here.” I pulled his hand to the back of my thigh, just above the knee. I moaned again when he pressed the sore place. “It’s not broken or anything, I don’t think. Just really sore.”

“Deep muscle bruise, at least,” he muttered. “And how did this happen?”

“Must have… landed on a rock when I fell.”sighed. “Okay, let’s get you to Doc.”

“Kyle needs him more than I do.”

“I have to go find Doc anyway-or some help. I can’t carry Kyle that far, but I can certainly carry you. Oops-hold on.”turned abruptly and ducked back into the river room. I decided I wouldn’t argue with him. I wanted to see Walter before… Doc had promised to wait for me. Would that first dose of painkiller wear off soon? My head swam. There was so much to worry about, and I was so tired. The adrenaline had drained, leaving me empty.came back with the gun. I frowned because this reminded me that I’d wished for it before. I didn’t like that.

“Let’s go.”thinking, he handed the gun to me. I let it fall into my open palms, but I couldn’t curl my hands around it. I decided it was a suitable punishment, to have to carry the thing.chuckled. “How anyone could be afraid of you…” he mumbled to himself.picked me up easily and was moving before I was settled. I tried to keep the tenderest parts-the back of my head, the back of my leg-from resting on him too hard.

“How’d your clothes get so wet?” he asked. We were passing under one of the fist-sized skylights, and I could see the hint of a grim smile on his pale lips.

“I don’t know,” I muttered. “Steam?”passed into darkness again.

“You’re missing a shoe.”

“Oh.”passed through another beam of light, and his eyes flashed sapphire. They were serious now, locked on my face.

“I’m… very glad that you weren’t hurt, Wanda. Hurt worse, I should say.”didn’t answer. I was afraid of giving him something to use against Kyle.found us just before we hit the big cave. There was enough light for me to see the sharp glint of curiosity in his eyes when he saw me in Ian’s arms, face bleeding, the gun resting gingerly on my open hands.

“You were right, then,” Jeb guessed. The curiosity was strong, but the steel in his tone was stronger. His jaw was tight beneath the fan of his beard. “I didn’t hear a shot. Kyle?”

“He’s unconscious,” I said in a rush. “You need to warn everyone-part of the floor collapsed in the river room. I don’t know how stable it is now. Kyle hit his head really hard trying to get out of the way. He needs Doc.”raised one eyebrow so high it almost touched the faded bandanna at his hairline.

“That’s the story,” Ian said, making no effort to conceal his doubt. “And she’s apparently sticking to it.”laughed. “Let me take that off your hands,” he said to me.let him have the gun willingly. He laughed again at my expression.

“I’ll get Andy and Brandt to help me with Kyle. We’ll follow behind you.”

“Keep a close eye on him when he wakes up,” Ian said in a hard tone.

“Can do.”slouched off, looking for more hands. Ian hurried me toward the hospital cave.

“Kyle could be really hurt… Jeb should hurry.”

“Kyle’s head is harder than any rock in this place.”long tunnel felt longer than usual. Was Kyle dying, despite my efforts? Was he conscious again and looking for me? What about Walter? Was he sleeping… or gone? Had the Seeker given up her hunt, or would she be back now that it was light again?Jared still be with Doc? Mel added her questions to mine. Will he be angry when he sees you? Will he know me?we reached the sunlit southern cave, Jared and Doc didn’t look like they’d moved much. They leaned, side by side, against Doc’s makeshift desk. It was quiet as we approached. They weren’t talking, just watching Walter sleep.started up with wide eyes as Ian carried me into the light and laid me on the cot next to Walter’s. He straightened my right leg carefully.was snoring. That sound eased some of my tension.

“What now?” Doc demanded angrily. He was bending over me as soon as the words were out, wiping at the blood on my cheek.’s face was frozen in surprise. He was being careful, not letting the expression give way to anything else.

“Kyle,” Ian answered at the same time that I said, “The floor -”looked back and forth between us, confused.sighed and rolled his eyes. Absently, he laid one hand lightly on my forehead. “The floor crumbled by the first river hole. Kyle fell back and cracked his head on a rock. Wanda saved his worthless life. She says she fell, too, when the floor gave.” Ian gave Doc a meaningful look. “Something,” he said the word sarcastically, “bashed the back of her head pretty good.” He started listing. “Her nose is bleeding but not broken, I don’t think. She’s got some damage to the muscle here.” He touched my sore thigh. “Knees sliced up pretty good, got her face again, but I think maybe I did that, trying to pull Kyle out of the hole. Shouldn’t have bothered.” Ian muttered the last part.

“Anything else?” Doc asked. At that moment, his fingers, probing along my side, reached the place where Kyle had punched me. I gasped.tugged my shirt up, and I heard both Ian and Jared hiss at what they saw.

“Let me guess,” Ian said in a voice like ice. “You fell on a rock.”

“Good guess,” I agreed, breathless. Doc was still touching my side, and I was trying to hold back whimpers.

“Might have broken a rib, not sure,” Doc murmured. “I wish I could give you something for the pain -”

“Don’t worry about that, Doc,” I panted. “I’m okay. How’s Walter? Did he wake up at all?”

“No, it will take some time to sleep that dose off,” Doc said. He took my hand and started bending my wrist, my elbow.

“I’m okay.”kind eyes were soft as he met my gaze. “You will be. You’ll just have to rest for a while. I’ll keep an eye on you. Here, turn your head.”did as he asked, and then winced while he examined my wound.

“Not here,” Ian muttered.couldn’t see Doc, but Jared threw Ian a sharp look.

“They’re bringing Kyle. I’m not having them in the same room.”nodded. “Probably wise.”

“I’ll get a place ready for her. I’ll need you to keep Kyle here until… until we decide what to do with him.”started to speak, but Ian put his fingers on my lips.

“All right,” Doc agreed. “I’ll tie him down, if you want.”

“If we have to. Is it okay to move her?” Ian glanced toward the tunnel, his face anxious.hesitated.

“No,” I whispered, Ian’s fingers still touching my mouth. “Walter. I want to be here for Walter.”

“You’ve saved all the lives you can save today, Wanda,” Ian said, his voice gentle and sad.

“I want to say… to say good-goodbye.”nodded. Then he looked at Jared. “Can I trust you?”’s face flushed with anger. Ian held up his hand.

“I don’t want to leave her here unprotected while I find her a safe place,” Ian said. “I don’t know if Kyle will be conscious when he arrives. If Jeb shoots him, it will upset her. But you and Doc should be able to handle him. I don’t want Doc to be on his own, and force Jeb’s hand.”spoke through clenched teeth. “Doc won’t be on his own.”hesitated. “She’s been through hell in the past couple of days. Remember that.”nodded once, teeth still clamped together.

“I’ll be here,” Doc reminded Ian.met his gaze. “Okay.” He leaned over me, and his luminous eyes held mine. “I’ll be back soon. Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not.”ducked in and touched his lips to my forehead.one was more surprised than I, though I heard Jared gasp quietly. My mouth hung open as Ian wheeled and nearly sprinted from the room.heard Doc pull a breath in through his teeth, like a backward whistle. “Well,” he said.both stared at me for a long moment. I was so tired and sore, I barely cared what they were thinking.

“Doc -” Jared started to say something in an urgent tone, but a clamor from the tunnel interrupted him.men struggled through the opening. Jeb, in front, had Kyle’s left leg in his arms. Wes had the right leg, and behind them, Andy and Aaron worked to support his torso. Kyle’s head lolled back over Andy’s shoulder.

“Stars, but he’s heavy,” Jeb grunted.and Doc sprang forward to help. After a few minutes of cursing and groaning, Kyle was lying on a cot a few feet away from mine.

“How long has he been out, Wanda?” Doc asked me. He pulled Kyle’s eyelids back, letting the sunlight shine into his pupils.

“Um…” I thought quickly. “As long as I’ve been here, the ten minutes or so it took Ian to carry me here, and then maybe five more minutes before that?”

“At least twenty minutes, would you say?”

“Yes. Close to that.”we were consulting, Jeb had made his own diagnosis. No one paid any attention as he came to stand at the head of Kyle’s cot. No one paid any attention-until he turned an open bottle of water over Kyle’s face.

“Jeb,” Doc complained, knocking his hand away.Kyle sputtered and blinked, and then moaned. “What happened? Where did it go?” He started to shift his weight, trying to look around. “The floor… is moving…”’s voice had my fingers clenching the sides of my cot and panic washing through me. My leg ached. Could I limp away? Slowly, perhaps…

“’S okay,” someone murmured. Not someone. I would always know that voice.moved to stand between my cot and Kyle’s, his back to me, his eyes on the big man. Kyle rolled his head back and forth, groaning.

“You’re safe,” Jared said in a low voice. He didn’t look at me. “Don’t be afraid.”took a deep breath.wanted to touch him. His hand was close to mine, resting on the edge of my cot., no, I told her. My face hurts quite enough as it is!won’t hit you.think. I’m not willing to risk it.sighed; she yearned to move toward him. It wouldn’t have been so hard to bear if I weren’t yearning also.him time, I pleaded. Let him get used to us. Wait till he really believes.sighed again.

“Aw, hell!” Kyle grumbled. My gaze flickered toward him at the sound of his voice. I could just see his bright eyes around Jared’s elbow, focused on me. “It didn’t fall!” he complained.34.Buriedlunged forward, away from me. With a loud smacking sound, his fist hit Kyle’s face.’s eyes rolled back in his head, and his mouth fell slack.room was very quiet for a few seconds.

“Um,” Doc said in a mild voice, “medically speaking, I’m not sure that was the most helpful thing for his condition.”

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