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Yago was coming.
Tate watched him approach slowly, her eyes narrowed down to slits. A tiny dot on the horizon, but definitely Yago. She could make out the white shirt, green hair. She recognized his stride.
He was alone. That was interesting.
Tate dozed. When she woke, Yago was closer. She could see he didn't look too good. His head was too small -- no, his neck was too big. Also interesting. A puzzle. She'd always like doing puzzles.
Another long stretch of time passed, Yago continued striding toward her, and now Tate could see the bruises stretching from his collarbone up over his chin. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," Tate said out loud. She was surprised to hear how raspy her own voice sounded. How long had she gone without water? She had no way of counting time. A day. Two?
Tate amused herself watching Yago. She didn't move. Not even when one his his cruddy-looking sneakers touched her knee.
"Come with me," Yago said. He spoke in a half dead monotone. He was missing a patch of hair over his right ear. As Tate watched, his hand went up automatically. He yanked a few brownish hairs out by their roots and let them drift to the floor. This was not a sign of mental health.
"What happened to your throat?"
"Come on," Yago repeated dully.
"Amelia do that?" Tate could see the flechette gun sticking out of the pocket of Yago's jeans. She wondered why he hadn't drawn it. Maybe he'd forgotten he had it. He looked as if he hadn't slept in a week.
"I said, come on."
"I'm not going anywhere with you," Tate said calmly. "I like it --"
Yago leaned over and grabbed her face. Stared at her.
Yago grabbed her arm and started pulling her up. He grunted, yanking Tate up onto her knees. Now he was starting to tick her off. If he wanted to kill her, fine. But she wasn't into a forced march.
She tried to give him a shove. The effort sent her stumbling. Her knees buckled. She hadn't stood up in who knew how long. Her legs wouldn't support her. She fell awkwardly onto one knee.
Yago snarled like a rabid dog. He pulled the flechette gun out and swung it at her face.
Tate put up her hands. She halfheartedly tried to reach whatever it was inside her that turned her into the Mouth. From somewhere in her memory came the sound of a link ringing, ringing, ringing...
Something connected with her skull. She saw a burst of red light and then nothing.
A secretive shush-shushing. Tate's brain played pictures for her, trying to make sense of the sound...
She was in study hall with her heavy chemistry textbook on her knees. Yvonne Flattery and Susan Nichols were whispering in the row behind her --
She was moving cautiously through a Rider swamp, the wind whistling through the weird bending trees --
She was on a camping trip with the Camp Fire Girls. She could see herself sleeping peacefully, a fire dancing around the brave circle of tents. The fire spreading slowly through the dry grasses until her nylon tent went up with a soft woof! Her sleeping back was aflame, and her hair -- Her hair was on fire! Tate's eyes popped open and she found herself lying on her back, watching the glassy ceiling of the basement pass overhead. Yago was dragging her across the basement by her hair. The shushing sounds were her clothes dragging over the floor.
"Stop," she muttered feebly. Then, louder, more urgently -- "Stop!"
Yago stopped. He let go of her hair. Tate rolled into a fetal position and lay there feeling miserable.
Why was she still alive? Why didn't Yago just get rid of her? Tate turned her face to the ground and groaned.
Yago nudged her with his shoe. "Come on. Let's go."
"Go where?" Tate mumbled.
"Amelia wants to -- see you."
"Oh -- so you're Amelia's errand boy?"
Yago's voice. There was something wrong about it. His usual arrogant tone was gone. His lofty messianic tones were gone. He sounded -- scared.
Tate opened her eyes and looked up at Yago.
"Come on," Yago repeated.
Tate got to her knees and pulled herself shakily to her feet. She actually wanted to see Amelia now. Yago was pathetic. But maybe Amelia -- well maybe Amelia would help her draw this little drama to an end somehow. Tate didn't have the energy to hope for a happy ending. She was ready to settle for any ending at all.
"Which way?" Tate asked.
Upstairs," Yago said. His expression was hard to read. Tate thought she saw something like relief mingling with wariness.
She took a step toward the elevator before she realized what Yago was telling her. Her guilt and inadequacy welled up. "Amelia is upstairs? I think -- I was looking for her down here. Isn't she controlling the ship from one of the pits?"
Yago shook his chin no and gestured toward the elevator with his chin. They walked single file with Tate in the lead. Yago was silent -- no wisecracks, no self-aggrandizing remarks, no lewd comments. Geez, Tate thought, maybe whatever Amelia was doing to him wasn't so bad...
The elevator moved silently upward, and seconds later they were walking out under the towering arches into the alien hallway. Tate stepped forward cautiously -- half-expexting Amelia or Charlie to jump out and tackle her. Nothing. The place felt as deserted as the basement.
Tate relaxed for a moment -- and then the smell hit her. It was a humid, salty smell. The smell of growing things -- like the sea at low tide.
Tate felt a squirt of fear in her belly. Adrenaline pumped into her veins. She looked around wildly, trying to locate the origin of the smell.
Yago stood a few steps behind her, grinning, and then laughing at her. Laughing at the sudden fear. She felt like smacking Yago. Yelling at him to shut up.
Because she was afraid. Somehow, intuitively, she knew this smell was bad. That earty, organic smell didn't belong on this cold dead ship.
Then the sounds filtered into her consciousness. She didn't know how she had missed them at first. Moist sounds that went on and on. They sounded -- greedy. Like a baby sucking his soggy thumb or a derrick pulling oil from the ground.
"What is that?" Tate whispered.
"Go on to the bridge," Yago said. "See for yourself."
She didn't want to get closer to that smell, that sound. But -- she couldn't run away. She knew she would eventually come face-to-face with whatever was on the bridge. She preferred to face it on her own feet. Delay would make her weaker, more afraid.
Tate pushed down her fear. She took a step forward. And then another. She had to go fast or not at all. Yago stayed right behind her, making sure she went through the doorway onto the bridge and blocking her way out. Tate wasn't sure what she was expecting but it wasn't --
The machinery, the computers, the clean architecture of the bridge -- it had all been covered by webs.
Something like spider webs.
But, no, that wasn't quite right. These were webs but they weren't clean and precisely built like the webs of spiders. No -- these were more like dirty cotton candy. Ugly, dirty swatches if grayish fuzz that made Tate long for a big can of Raid. She remembered a sweet old lady from her neighborhood setting fire to gypsy moth nests that appeared in the trees around their apartment buildings.
You'd need an inferno to take out these webs. They were huge -- dirty wrappings stretching from the towering supporting struts all the way down to the chairs just a few feet from where Tate stood.
Tate's gaze darted to three lumpish masses inside the webs. They were writhing, squirming. Vaguely human forms. Amelia. Charlie. Duncan.
This was their evolution.
This was how the Troika had achieved their "advanced form." Tate could almost pity them. They were nothing but bugs. It was almost -- sad.
But then -- then her eye caught on a fouth lump, smaller than the others and covered in some sort of white goo -- and her sadness turned to disgust. She could just make out a familiar jointed shape. It was the leg of a rider. The leg was about all that was left.
Tate took a fast step back and whacked into Yago. He stood firmly in the doorway, blocking her escape.
"Why -- why did you bring me here?" Tate asked, now cold with fear.
"Cells," Yago said bitterly. "It turns out, living cells are the Troika's favorite snack food. I guess their big transformation is giving them the munchies, and since all of the Meanies and Riders are dead, you're going to be recycled. Sorry, but dem's the breaks."
Tate let a beat pass as she absorbed this bizarre explanation. Had Yago finally slipped into true madness?
No, no -- the evidence was right here! The Troika wanted to -- they wanted to eat her like they'd eaten that Rider. No. Please no --
While Tate's brain skipped, Yago moved swiftly behind her and grabbed her by the wrists. Tate sensed a movement above her -- inside the web.
She didn't want to die like a fly caught in a spider web.
How could Yago do this to her? Tate thought wildly. How could he do it to any living being?
He was Evil.
He was Betrayal.
Tate barely felt like herself.
Something was happening. She was seeing in red, everything in red. And brighter than everything else, the Enemy...