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emerging to join their brethren every minute.
The soil all around and beneath him was alive, rippling with the movements of hundreds of anxious,
hungry shapes.
Horror lent strength to his efforts. He gave a tremen-dous jerk with his legs and succeeded in wrenching
the left one free. Linked worms flew in all directions. As soon as they struck the ground they began
crawling back toward him, joining in lengths off twos and threes in expectation of re-forming the cocoon
around him.
Yet Evancouldn't pull his right leg free of the ground. Twisting around onto his belly, he scrabbled at the
earth, trying to reach the nearest stem of the plants shading him. His tranquil resting place had all the
hallmarks of becom-ing his coffin, and a particularly revolting one at that, unless he could pull or push
himself loose.
The stem was far out of reach. Sitting up again, he tried to grab one of the overhanging plates, just did
man-age to grasp the lowest. Hope turned to powder along with the plate, however, as it disintegrated in
his hand. Like so much of Prism's flora it was far more fragile than it appeared. Frantic now, he started
looking for a rock, wishing he'd kept one in his pack. Nothing was within reach but fine sand.
His silent attackers re-established their grip on his freed leg, and this time it didn't seem likely he'd be
able to pull it free. From the knees down both of his legs were stained with blood. It suddenly occurred
to him that the mineral salts in his blood were what the worms were after. He'd be willing enough to share
it with them if they'd just let him go. But why should they have to share, he thought wildly, when they
could have it all? They would pin him down until they'd drained him of the last drop and then abandon
him to the scavengers. First his skin would be dissolved and digested, then the calcium-rich bones.
He found a small rock, began battering away at the living chains encircling his thighs. But the worms
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were -made of stronger stuff than their terrestrial cousins. They were neither soft and pulpy nor brittle like
the growth beneath which he was being patiently devoured. They were flexi-ble, rubbery, and tough as
bundles of silicate fibers. When he finally did manage to kill one by smashing its head, two more
appeared to take the dead worm's place.
Evan was leaning on his left arm, flailing away with the rock in his right hand, when three worms popped
out of the ground, linked together, and encircled the thumb of his supporting hand. With a cry, he turned
and pounded them back into the soil. More appeared in the wake of the initial trio. It dawned on him that
he'd chosen to lie down in a hive or nest of the loathsome creatures. The commotion caused by his
resistance was awakening more and more of them, excited by the activity and the taste of fresh food. If
they managed to tie his hands down he'd be utterly helpless.
Though he was losing blood slowly, the worms had been at it long enough to have drained a pint or
more out of him. He was weakening just when he needed strength. Evan, however, was not the type to
concede any argu-ment, least of all that acknowledging his own demise. He kept bashing away with his
wholly inadequate weapon.
Somehow he had to free his legs before he passed out. But with his increasing weakness, his aim and the
force with which he delivered his blows were failing him and he was hitting himself as often as his targets.
He put his left hand down to balance himself again, raised the rock high over his head, and promptly fell
backward as his left arm was yanked out from under him. Thirty or more worms had formed a
double-thick cable to pull him down.
He twisted onto his left side and tried to knock them away. On the third blow the rock slipped out of his
hands. Exhausted, he lay there breathing hard and contemplating the tiny lifeform which had defeated the
finest mind humanity had to offer. Not for Evan Orgell false modesty even in the face of imminent death.
Strange how calm he suddenly was. Composed. His greatest disappointment was that he wouldn't live
long enough to study the exact nature of his passing.
What a stupid, ridiculous way to die, he thought tiredly. After surviving a broken MHW suit and a host
of dangerous alien lifeforms. Brought down by a colony of com-munal worms. Food for worms, true
enough. But that wasn't supposed to be the case untilafteryou'd been dead for a while. The worms
weren't supposed to hurry the inevitable. Of course, these weren't terran worms. They hadn't been
instructed in their proper place in the scheme of things.
They had him pinned to the ground the way the Lil-liputians had tried to pin Gulliver, and they'd done a
much better job of it. He passed out.
The sun was high in the sky but in the wrong place when he opened his eyes again. He was
excruciatingly tired, more than he'd ever imagined being. It went beyond exhaustion. There was about [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]