HOMINES ARDENT, she read. The men burn. Unintelligible lines. More lines she could read, few and far between, but as she sank deeper into the reading the Latin language fell away and the words burned themselves directly into Metic Fallows’s consciousness.
The four-arms knew this.
The summit temple records the final defeat.
Gupta is a madman. He didn’t go first, but he went furthest.
Women. It wants women.
It reads our minds. It speaks to our minds. It controls our minds.
Beware the wind.
I cannot let myself be taken.
And finally, after two pages of completely unreadable blots, a single word scratched out in gigantic letters across half a page: FUGITE.
She heard a footfall outside the galley and dropped the book, fumbling it to the floor.
Silence. Metic looked over to Doctor Plectrum to find that the older woman had dozed off, slumped improbably against the galley wall without having fallen from the stool. Her snoring and Lillian’s rasped gently out of sync, dissonant pitches and competing rhythms, a slow tenor and a quick bass.
“Thulliver?” Metic called hesitantly. There was no answer. “Durmont?”
Metic shivered violently, a spasm crossing her back and prickling the skin between her shoulder blades. A terrible hunch gripped her and she reached up to her exosuit helmet to switch the comms unit from broadcasting to other exosuits on the network to external-audible mode. She picked up her blaster.
Her voice felt tiny in the silence, but she cleared her throat and called out. “Who’s there? This is Sapient Metic Fallows of Femship Atalanta. Are you a crewman of Actaeon?”
A voice rattled into the galley from the corridor beyond. It was a man’s voice, dry, sad, and remote. A voice she knew. A voice she had heard before, speaking from a Lillian Chatterjee-faced, worm-bodied creature of her own dreams.
“We’re afraid,” the voice said.
She hesitated. “Of what?” she asked.
“We’re afraid you won’t like us.”
“We very much want you to like us.”