Long shadows skittered before us, cast by a newly risen sun. Kayta and I loped across burnt desert; tracked the wind-eroded dusty treads of uncounted pilgrims, Covenant youth, warriors. Evaded what few sentries patrolled the perimeter. Empty sky, empty land, no one, nothing to see. A banned land. Minimally guarded—uncovenanted entry is death.
An hour in, signal fires lit the horizon, announced our incursion, conveyed word of our trespass to the city. Three hours now; balancing speed versus stamina. No getting lost here—pilgrim tracks, warrior tracks, cart tracks all coalesced into fixed trails, ruts, pounded-down centuries-old paths of packed sand and gravel. Despite my bulk and broad tarsi I left no hardpan treads. Not that it mattered; in this tracked desert all paths converged.
It is not there, and then it is. The parodos. A circular pit, flat to the desert; pooled gray metal frozen in mid-swirl. A hole in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the world; a middle between worlds.
I halted a half-dozen strides away. Kayta stepped past me, out onto the gray matte surface, stopped and turned. She did not pause but raised her arms, mimed breaking a stick. There’s no time to lose.
I hesitated. Maybe a cloud of dust on the horizon, maybe not. I joined Kayta on the parodos, clasped her hands. One flesh, the other a three-hooked wood and metal and gum-rubber contraption. I remembered the original hand. Just the two of us, this time. I scanned her face, nodded. “The Dominiers are certainly on their way,” I said.
“They’re too late. They never saw this coming. Who could do such a thing?”
“It will end us all, they say.”
“There is nothing to end. The future is dead, so what does it matter?”
I released her hands. We crossed to the far side, stepped back on to grit and sand. Kayta untied and dropped her left arm’s wax-hardened leather gauntlet. From a side satchel—packed over several days—I retrieved a stiff leather bowl, four leather straps, and a flask. I set the bowl on the ground, handed Kayta the flask. She guzzled the contents, wiped her mouth, tossed it behind her. She coughed twice, then nodded, held out her left, still whole, arm. I looped and snugged one strap at her wrist, another a claw-length away. I snipped off the dangling ends of each strap.
“Did you do that before?” Kayta said.
I nodded. “I did. I remember. All of it.”
Kayta frowned. “Yes, of course you would.” She looked away. “Go on.”
I clamped down on Kayta’s wrist and forearm, up against the straps, unblemished skin between left and right front forelimb tarsi.
Three years ago, at this place, Kayta closed her eyes and counted down the price of a hand.
She mouthed three, two, one. At zero she screwed shut already closed eyes and nodded. I leaned in and snapped. Her eyes shot open as the forearm bones audibly cracked. She drew in two... searing... breaths, then long, drawn-out ones.
“Are you okay?”
“Okay enough,” she wheezed.
I picked up the second pair of straps, doubled the ones already in place. Sweat beaded just below her hairline. She hooked the dangling hand while I gripped her forearm. I flipped out a tarsal claw and in a moment sawed through skin and muscle, working around the snapped bones, until the hand came free.
“How are you doing now?”
“It hurts. A lot. Like last time. I’ll be fine. Stop asking.”
She laid her detached hand in the leather bowl. I clipped off my left rear forelimb tarsus, laid it alongside; then, twisted the rest of that amputated limb until it snapped. Just a sting (the nerves long devitalized by boiling lye and cold acid). I cracked the detached limb mid-femur, drained its ichor into the bowl, submerged both my tarsus and Kayta’s hand.
“This may all be for nothing,” I said.
Kayta settled in the dust next to the bowl, lowered the leather-strapped amputated end of her arm into the brimming liquid. “We are sanctified, we are the next Hand and Tarsus of the Covenant, it will work.” She raised her right arm and clacked the hooks at me. “And if it doesn’t, at least your limbs grow back.”
Billowing dust clouds marked The Dominiers’ sniper troop, scant minutes away. The thunder of hooves, feet, and tarsi swelled.
“It’s almost joined,” Kayta said. Shifting her arm around a bit in the bowl spawned thick ripples. She glanced around me. “They’re coming.”
“I hear them.”
She smiled, ran the prosthetic through control exercises.
Something smacked my carapace. I spun as white powder splattered against a hindlimb femur. Salt charges. Harmless to my annealed chitin shell. Won’t kill Kayta if she’s hit but could injure her, disrupt the rejoining on which everything hinged. A Sen corps emerged out of the dust, front forelimbs firing salt charges while the rears reloaded. “Almost done,” Kayta said. “Go ahead and unclip.” I yanked stirrups out of my waist harness, let them dangle.
“Ow!” Kayta barked.
“What?” I shifted, set myself between her and the advancing salters.
“Nicked me, I’ll be fine,” she said. A white streak salted a gouge on her shoulder armor. “Almost done, almost.”
The troop spread, tried to flank my protection. Putting my carapace to them, I stretched out my three remaining forelimbs to shield Kayta. Just in time, as more salt spattered off carapace and limb.
“Okay,” she said. “It’s done.” Kayta withdrew her arm from the thick liquid, the leather straps that bound the amputation now jet black. I drained the bowl into the dust. Salt peppered my carapace; near-misses kicked up sand sprays. Kayta, shielded for the moment, crouched, drew deep breaths. I moved my detached tarsus from the bowl to a linen-lined oak box. I picked up Kayta’s detached hand, held it against my thorax.
Low-pitched threshing started behind me, became a rumble of barrel-jumbled glass shards. The parodos’s surface thawed, churned; charcoal gray ripples of glinting glass turned into a cauldron of thick boiling obsidian mud. Waves of sparkling blackness spiraled within the parodos. Obsidian beads skittered across its surface, like hot chips of burnt oil on an iron skillet. Ichor and blood, it opened.
Crouched on her knees before me, Kayta focused on her severed hand. Her breath caught—as she wriggled its fingers. The detached hand cycled thumb to index, middle, ring, pinky, then snapped from fist to outspread hand to fist. “It worked,” she said, wide-eyed.
Three years ago I sacrificed a tarsus and Kayta’s right hand, the price to open the parados. Moments later—witnessed by us alone—Kayta inexplicably regained control of—somehow rejoined with—that hand. Possessing that control, and knowing the task of those sanctified and Covenant-bound, kindled in our minds a means to end the maker of the Covenant. I worked my mandibles into a smile, to answer Kayta’s grin. We would shatter the Covenant, or it would shatter us.
I laid Kayta’s hand in the box alongside my tarsus. As I closed the cover it clasped mine. I felt nothing. She closed her eyes. “I’m ready.”
I extended my eye shells, stood, turned, and bellowed “Enough!”
The hail of salt tapered off. Kayta slipped the box into my satchel and stepped up into the stirrups. Her right hand hooks clipped onto the iron grapple bolted into my acid-cured carapace, followed by the newly truncated left arm slipping into a sling.
“Syl Kayta!” I instantly recognized Dominier Sen Gunion’s bellow, sounding from just behind the front rank of Sen shooters.
“Are you locked in?” I hissed.
She tested her hold. “Yes. Okay, yes.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Syl Kayta! Sen Tsimmit! What have you done? You are uncovenant, you will bring death to us all!” Sen Gunion burst through the line of troops, followed closely by Dominier Syl Marin. Gunion’s gold-embossed head shell dazzled in the morning sun, above the silver and aquamarine intaglios incised on the ebony carapace. Blue enameled forelimbs and jeweled blazonry glowed. Syl Marin edged up alongside, his head and neck tattoos of interwoven helices of scarlet, gold, and sky-blue disappearing beneath a rainbow-gemmed cloak, wielding a cleaver gun.
Over my shoulder Kayta shouted, “This world is already dead, Dominiers. Herded to slaughter. All die but you.”
“We steward the world,” Syl Marin answered, the cleaver gun unwavering. “Ser Charx’s tribute—hand and tarsus, youth of Sen and Syl—must be paid to preserve those that remain.”
Sen Gunion spread front forelimbs and added, “Accommodation has its price. Syl Marin and I are forever Covenant-bound to exact it.”
I knew that price, exacted. My fiercest memory thundered—a barely molted adolescent, immersed in boiling lye, the heat and mind-shearing pain annealing still-soft chitin. Then quenched in a bath of cold acid, eviscerating nerve, cilia, and the few soft tissues of a Sen. Again, and again, and again.
Kayta knew that price, exacted. Through the carapace bolt, the prosthetic hooks vibrated Kayta’s trembling fury.
Innocent youth, Sen and Syl, were the price, exacted.
“Go,” she whispered.
I stepped towards the parodos.
“I condemn this as uncovenant,” Sen Gunion thundered. “You would annihilate us!”
Whistling cut the air, silenced as Marin’s cleaver gun severed my left front hindlimb; a clattering onto the hardpan, a momentary sting. I stumbled, toppled towards the parodos, scrambled to regain my footing. Salt hammered me.
Kayta wheezed, “Just...”
Sen Gunion roared, “Stop!”
Glittering sand rushed past, whispered against my chitin shell. The light faded as we fell; settled to dull gray. Through the parodos, to where a...
...cyclone sandblasted my thorax, limbs. My eye shells shut out the grit, passed what little light made it through the gray murk. Kayta huddled on my back, protected by my bulk from the scouring dust, bone-white slivers, broken black and gray fragments, the needling shards.
Facing the wind, sidling left, I plowed through loose gray sand, gravel, dunes and drifts. Only my broad hindlimb tarsi kept us from becoming sand-bound. The dead howled on the wind. I stumbled against the onslaught, the missing hindlimb throwing me off-balance, harder to compensate for than a lost tibia or tarsus. Each stumble I caught myself with my forelimbs, tried to remain upright, to keep Kayta in the lee of the gale.
An hour into the grueling trek the wind eased, the dust thinned, the air brightened. Two dozen strides more put us outside—or inside, in the eye of—the cyclone. An orchestron, circular, the size of a martial yard, stretched before us. Around its perimeter, swollen clouds of gray dust gyred and rumbled.
I crossed the remaining dusty distance to the scoured matte surface of all-run-together black, gray, red, white and yellow streaks, of bruised purples and browns. Not stone, not wood—like aged pitch, compacting just the smallest bit beneath my heavy step. Kayta unclenched, straightened, stepped down from the stirrups. She shook sand and grit from her hair and leathers. Her face red-flushed with windburn, cuts, scratches, trickles of blood on both cheeks. Clotted blood and grit crusted the amputated end of her arm.
In the orchestron center the jagged-edge black disk of Ser Charx waited.
“Are you ready?” I murmured to Kayta.
We proceeded; I settled into a three-point rhythm alongside Kayta towards the imposer of the Covenant bleeding our world of youth and hope. Ser Charx resolved into an immobile black and gray iron gear resting on edge, nearly twice my height, streaked in brown rust and flaking soot. An interlocked mismatched puzzle of geometric shapes, bolts, cut-outs, protrusions, cables, chains, gratings, and cylinders made up its core disk. Thirty raked teeth ringed the perimeter, with dull gray stupid-heavy blunt-edged blades obliquely mounted on each. Not to cleave but to batter.
A few strides away, I stopped as a bodyache-inducing buzz shivered my shell. A keening pierced the distant cyclone’s dull rumble as a pair of tentacles whipped out of Charx’ midsection. Each a motley of cables, chains, bits of metal, bone, and chitin. One snapped to me, halting a half-forelimb’s length before my eyes, the other before Kayta. I eyed the tips.
“These are old and broken,” Ser Charx recited, dead, toneless, as from deep within a lead-lined well. Each tentacle cracked loose its tip, flung it to the ground. I recognized the discards. Drawing the oak box from my satchel I bent down and laid it on the orchestron, opened the lid, unfolded the linen to reveal hand and tarsus. I stood and stepped back. The blackened straps still wrapped Kayta’s wrist.
One tentacle snaked into the box, emerged tipped with my tarsus. The other tentacle followed—Kayta sucked in a breath as it insinuated itself within her hand. Charx extended the tarsus claw, retracted it. Charx raised the other tentacle, wriggled Kayta’s fingers, cycled through thumb to index, middle, ring, pinky, then snapped it from fist to outspread hand to fist. Kayta winced. Charx retracted both tentacles into its core.
I knelt down, retrieved Charx’s discards. A gnarled syl hand, gristle and leather over brown bone shards, and a hollow shell of cracked chitin and yellowed tarsus claw. I gathered the remnants of our Covenant predecessors, folded the linen, closed the box, placed it in my satchel.
Charx spun to a blur, accompanied by a dim purring whine. We backed away. Charx tilted forward, lower and lower, until spinning flat, the tips of the blades just skating the orchestron surface. The purr grew discordant, became a swarm of angry wasps, a claw-on-chitin screeching. A soft breeze wafted Kayta’s loosened hair. Charx shot upward with a crack of thunder. Out of sight. The air itself shook. The orchestron rumbled. The swirling cyclone slowed. In a moment the wind died. Hazy curtains of gray and white slipped from the sky like the last folds of a falling tapestry. Sand and grit settled, the mass of it rustled as it hit the ground. An empty desert encircled the orchestron—no sign of the cyclone-battered tithe of sen and syl that Charx expected.
A loud thud announced Ser Charx’s return. We spun, backpedaled, Charx’s ring of blades lay half-plunged into the orchestron.
“There are no Covenant youth. There is no tithe. This is uncovenant.”
I glanced at Kayta, saw a fire light her eyes. My ichor warmed.
Charx spun to a blur, a cloud of black debris and smoke erupted. It stank of burnt flesh. The orchestron surface undulated, dark growling resonated. We retreated from the smoking gyre.
Kayta stopped, shouted over the din, “There will be no more tithes, no more Covenant.” Ser Charx rose—still spinning, then tilted, precessed upon the blade tips, slowed, became vertical, halted. Smoke from the gouged orchestron diminished and drifted away in the silence.
“Your world is weak.”
“This ends now,” Kayta said. “You have your hand and tarsus.” She waved her tied-off amputation. “Go elsewhere, claim the children of another world. We are done with you.”
Ser Charx rolled a half-dozen blade lengths, tilted forward. “A Covenant kept so faithfully. Sen and syl, so well cowed. No other world so willingly tithed its youth for a pittance of immortality, to defer its Covenanted end, for so very, very long.” Charx rolled closer. “Yet the hubris of immortality inevitably gives rise to illusions of invincibility.” Delivered with a cold sigh.
“We are not the immortals,” I said.
Charx ignored me. “Generations pass, resistance grows, the abrogation of the Covenant is proclaimed. All fight, some send assassins, some send machines or an army. They fail—their world is reaved. This desert is their ossuary, this orchestron is their charnel, I am their Covenant youth.”
My eyes strayed down. The dark red, black, brown, yellow, and gray shapes of the orchestron resolved into muscles, vesicles, tendons, skin, tracheae, veins, organs, soft tissues, gray matter, white matter, black matter. Wind whistled in my spiracles, lit the ichor washing my tracheae.
Kayta sidled behind me, slipped one foot into a stirrup, hoisted herself into the other. She locked her prosthetic onto the bolt. “No. No more Covenants, no more parodos, no more hand or tarsus. No more slaughter of our future,” she said as I backed away, stepped off the orchestron, kept retreating.
Charx followed. “The abrogation of the Covenant is the end of your world. I procure a fresh one, ripe for a new Covenant. Carve open a new parodos, bargain anew. Annihilation or accommodation, it is a simple choice.”
“No,” Kayta shouted. “You cannot do this. You will not do this.”
“You will stop me?” Charx rolled to the edge of the orchestron, the dead voice a half-tone higher. “You have nothing, Syl Kayta, no weapon, no... means, no hope. Sen Tsimmit is annealed and quenched. To be shredded, an oak in a rockslide. Will you, Syl Kayta, die first? Or you, Sen Tsimmit? Would you be the last sen, the last syl? All alone in all the universe? Unique?” Charx spun a single revolution. “Extinct.”
Kayta raised her amputated left arm, black bands strapping the severed end.
I hunkered, every limb black and hot.
“This ends now.” Kayta slammed her arm down.
Charx spun to a blur, raced towards us, off the orchestron, into the grit. I dodged. Charx shot past, raising a rattling cloud of shattered chitin and bone. Kayta threw her arm up, jerked down. Charx slammed to a halt; from its core, the screech of metal grinding on metal. It raced to full spin again, turned, a torrent of sand and gravel pummeled us, grit and stone and bone full in my eye shells and thorax. Kayta shrieked as fragments of bone and chitin lacerated her exposed arm, tore her armor. She twisted on my back. I fought to keep our balance, keep my thick shell between her and the barrage of shattered bone and crushed chitin. She blindly grappled her displaced hand against Charx’s entrails of flesh and machinery. I dodged left, avoided a direct hit, but the hammering blades shredded chitin off an acid-tempered forelimb. A cloud of dust erupted as Charx skidded to a halt. Clangs, bangs, the slam of broken chains on broken-toothed gears.
Charx thundered down upon us.
Shifted too late. Dumb metal blades slammed my thorax, a rockslide of pummeling. Above the clangor Kayta roared. Enraged unbridled ferocity funneled the agony of generations slaughtered; of the lost perpetually murdered future of our shared world. I twisted away from the battering. Deep gouges furrowed my thorax. No pain. Nothing. Lye and acid devitalizes the nerves.
Shredded chitin, fibers, filaments, fractures lined my harrowed wounds. Charx spun erratically; an iron buzzing rose and fell. Charx tilted, regained the vertical, came to a dead stop. A beat. Kayta pounded, clawed. I counterbalanced as she flung herself from side to side, wreaked destruction by touch alone.
Charx spun up, came at me. I dodged. Charx rotated, slammed into me, cracked chitin, splintered and snapped Kayta’s locked-on prosthetic grip. A tentacle whipped out, wrapped my neck; its tarsus tip smashed my face, shattered the mandibles. Charx twisted, yanked, flung us across the desert. Kayta flew out of the stirrups. I spun, tripped, tumbled, skidded. I saw Kayta wracked on a dune of bone and chitin a half-dozen strides away, covered in blood. Her armor holed, bloody shredded leather flopped as she savaged Charx’s innards.
I hobbled toward her. Charx wobbled like a slowing, rolling coin. Rolled over its own limp tentacle, severed it. Banging, gnashing gears, shrill jets of black smoke. I lurched towards Kayta, tripped and fell. She fought, wrestled, jerked her amputated arm, battled blindly, clawed at anything within her severed hand’s reach.
Charx paused, aligned, spun up, came at her, a boulder down a mountain. I braced, leapt into the path, slammed my right forelimbs into the maw of blades. Metal and chitin detonated. A churning cloud of shell, black ichor, shrapnel, me—smashed to bits before Kayta.
Kayta savaged with blooded fury.
Kayta contorted; tendons tore.
Kayta raised up a fist that was not there.
Kayta spat blood; convulsions cracked ribs.
Kayta howled the bloody end of the world.
The hand of Syl Kayta shattered.
Chunky black mud and bile vomited from the heart of Ser Charx. The remaining tentacle exploded from the core and flopped to the ground. On it, Kayta’s fingers twitched. Charx tipped back, balanced on a knife edge, crashed over with a thundering dull clang.
I stumbled backwards, spiracles wheezing. Kayta heaved huge searing breaths. I was riven; mere filaments held my insides inside. Ichor leaked from thorax, head, and cracked limbs fore and hind. The one remaining forelimb worked, in a manner. I sunk to Kayta’s side, levered her upright.
Kayta shuddered a deep breath; shock drove her eyes wide open. “Tsimmit,” she said, blinking as she tried to focus.
Pitted and fractured eye shells hampered my vision; I couldn’t retract them.
“We did it,” she croaked.
“Yes.” I steadied Kayta so she wouldn’t fall over. “Yes. And we need to go home.” I spat out broken bits of chitin.
A dozen or more of Charx’s blades lay scattered around the hulk; whole ones snapped off at the hilt, others fractured shards. I remembered Charx’s words, carve a parodos. I braced Kayta, then lumbered over to the nearest whole blade. It took three tries to stuff it in my harness with one jangly forelimb.
“I want my hand back,” Kayta said.
“I’ll get it.” But she’d already crawled on knees and elbows towards the dead tentacle. I stumbled—still not used to one less hindlimb—towards her. Kayta reached the limp tentacle, knelt on it, tried to grasp her hand between the ends of her truncated shredded arms, unable to get a grip; the mangled prosthetic only getting in the way.
A clear trail carved a path from the corner of her eye through grimy blood to pool on her jaw. I reached her, again said, “I’ll get it.” I knelt, gently took the hand in my remaining tarsus, crushed the tentacular sleeve, then carefully worked it loose. Bloody, blackened palm, slack thumb and fingers, half the fingernails torn or missing. I laid it in Kayta’s cradling arms. She tried to animate the fingers, to twitch back some sign of life.
“We have to get to the parodos,” I said. Without my mandibles my voice sounded... lighter. Chitin cracked as I stood. I tightened the satchel belt and stirrup harness, to hold me together perhaps a little longer. “Kayta,” I said. “We need to go.”
She bounced the shattered hand on her arms, tried to jog some movement into it. It slipped loose, flopped to the ground.
“Kayta,” I whispered.
She stared at the dead hand, crammed down a sob, then looked up, at Ser Charx, at me, at the sky. Her eyes glistened. Mine can’t. “We need to go,” she said.
Kayta staggered to her feet, limped around behind me, got one foot into a stirrup. I reached back to steady her. Her other foot kicked and hooked the other stirrup on the second try.
“Kayta, grab the sling, I’m unsteady.” I felt weight on the sling rivets. The pressure flexed my gouged thorax. Pain, actual pain, welled from deep within. I went dizzy for a moment, staggered back a few steps. Planted a hindlimb, got balanced. Black and brown sludge puddled and thickened alongside the sickly hued orchestron. Ser Charx already an empty hulk, a wreck, a ruin.
Kayta clung to my back as I staggered and stumbled across the silent gray, white, and black desert.
“Tsimmit?” Kayta said, somewhere in the midst of dead chitin and bone.
“It’s not the end.”
I staggered on. Returning to the parodos took almost as long as the cyclone-obstructed journey from it.
“We’re here.” The stone gray parodos surface sat frozen, no churning, no roiling, no sparkling bits of obsidian glass. Just a plain gray circle of leaden impenetrability. My hindlimbs gave out; I collapsed. Snapping and ripping punctuated my fall. Ichor spurted—I saw a spray, I didn’t see its source.
“Kayta,” I said, “can you get down?” She didn’t move. I clawed at Charx’s blade with my one limb, tried to pull it from the harness. So tired. Something... tore.
Pressure. Upper carapace. Being shoved upright. With my eye shells pushed aside, I can see. Kayta. She got me up. “I can’t pick it up,” she said.
Something pressed into my remaining tarsus; I reflexively gripped. The blade. Charx’s blade. We were on the parodos. Solid, frozen ripples. Kayta, beside me, slipped her blood- and ichor-blackened arms under my forelimb, tried to raise it. Bits of prosthetic still clung to one arm. I tightened my grip on the blade, pulled together whatever of me still held. I raised the blade, held for a moment. Then I drove it into the parodos’ heart.
My thorax breached. I fell through glittering shards of fading stars.
“Kayta! What have you done!” The bellowing roused me to dull awareness. Sen Gunion bulled through a line of armed sen and syl. “All to defense! Fetch the healer! A senmason! And Syl Marin!”
Broken chitin ground on broken chitin; my breach blazed with each wheeze. Tongues of black ichor meandered across the hard gray rippled parodos. A truncated syl arm draped over me. Below its blackened leather strap, a red drop fell into the spreading pool.
Gunion rushed onto the parodos, gold embossed head shell and silver tarsal armor flashing in the high sun. Bending down, it clacked on my head, then reached behind my carapace, made little movements. A twist of hair fell across my vision. Another commotion rose at the edge of the parodos as Syl Marin, trailed by a leather-armored healer, charged onto it.
“Where is the senmason?” Gunion yelled. “We get no answers if they’re dead!”
“Bringing chitinstone,” Marin replied as he rushed past my head. The accompanying healer skirted my collapsed hindlimbs. A moment later a weight lifted off my carapace, harrowing my breach with vision-sparkling pain. As it abated I heard Marin, “What is that?”
He must have pointed. Gunion swiveled, stepped to the left, and picked something up off the parodos. Gunion turned the object over, examined it up close. “A blade. Reeking of the orchestron.”
“How is it here?” Marin said. I heard cutting and ripping behind me, a splash, the squeak of linen being wrung out.
Gunion tapped the blade on my side, crowded in, stared down into my one upturned eye. “Tsimmit, how did you get this?”
I tried to speak, each wheezing breath a dagger of fire. I crushed down the pain, finally rasped, “The hand... of Syl Kayta...” I snapped out my last tarsal claw. “Shattered.”
Gunion reached down, pressed a forelimb tarsus atop the claw. I felt nothing. “Shattered? Shattered what?”
A sen, half-again the size of Gunion, carrying an iron cauldron twice the size of my head, appeared at the parodos edge, stepped warily onto its surface. Trowels, files, shapers, chisels dangled and clattered on a heavy belt. Gunion shouted at it, “Wait there!”
From behind me came a thick, tired voice, “Tsimmit...”
Gunion turned back to me, demanded, “Tsimmit, this blade, is Charx dead? Who could do such a thing?” I closed my eyes, heard Gunion’s harsh whisper, “Marin, be ready to fly!”
I felt a thump against my carapace. “Tsimmit,” Kayta said, “are you okay?”
I tried to smile, but I’d lost the parts. “Okay enough.”