What Distant Deeps — Snippet 43

Hogg bellowed in agony. The dragon’s cry ended in a hiss and a gout of blood that spattered the roof: Hogg hadn’t been able to release the looped line, but it had decapitated the seadragon before the creature’s weight pulled both men down with it.

The seadragon smashed to the floor. The body flopped and flailed for nearly a minute, and for longer yet occasional twitches dimpled the ton of flesh.

Adele knelt, waving her pistol gently to cool the barrel before she put it away. The seadragon’s jaws clopped shut and opened in titanic convulsions.

Adele didn’t let herself blink. If her eyes closed even for an instant, she would see that great head stretching forward to crush the fine, organized brain of Adele Mundy.

* * *

Daniel didn’t think the seadragon had reached Adele, but the motionless silence in which she knelt on the ramp made him worry as he trotted up to her. Had the tail slapped her as the creature went over the side? He wouldn’t have noticed with all the other things that were going on at the time.

“Perfect marksmanship, Adele,” he said cheerfully. “As expected, of course. I regret the danger to you, but you were right that there was no better way.”

Adele put her pistol away and rose. “I wasn’t in danger so long as it was you and Hogg with the line,” she said. She sounded like her usual imperturbable self, but Daniel still had the feeling — it was no more than that — that something had disturbed her. She glanced past him and said, “Hogg? Are you all right?”

“I won’t be shaking hands any time soon,” Hogg muttered. “Nothing that won’t heal, but it hurts like bloody blue blazes right now.”

Daniel looked over his shoulder. He’d felt as though the creature’s weight was going to pinch off his right arm against the doorjamb he’d hooked it around. Hogg had shouted at the same time, but that had seemed a natural reaction to his effort in holding on to the line. In his concern for Adele, Daniel hadn’t realized that Hogg was injured.

He was holding his right hand up — keeping it above his heart. He’d taken the mesh mitten off his left hand and put it back with the coiled monofilament into one of his pockets, but the mitten was still on his right. It looked as stiff as an inflated bladder.

“It’s my own fault,” Hogg growled. “I didn’t trust to be able to just hold the sinker, so I gave the line a wrap around my hand. I figured the glove’d save me.”

He smiled ruefully at his raised hand. “And I guess it did,” he said, “but it was a near thing. If the line hadn’t of sawed through the lizard’s neck when it did, I don’t bloody know what was going to happen.”

Adele nodded crisply. “Thank you, Hogg,” she said. “The Medicomp should be able to take care of the problem as soon as we get you to the Princess Cecile.”

“I’d do it the same way again, ma’am,” Hogg said with a real grin. “I still don’t trust I wouldn’t let go if I just had the sinker to hold. And Tovera’d shoot me sure as sunrise if I let something happen to you.”

“It wouldn’t be anything so quick,” said Tovera from the outside door. She still held the flag; Daniel supposed she must have had Hogg tie it to her arms. “But I don’t expect that to happen.”

“Right,” said Daniel, speaking more sharply than he normally would have. He really wanted to end the discussion. It hadn’t told him anything about Tovera — or Hogg, really — that he hadn’t known before, but it made him uncomfortable to dwell on it. “Let me take a look at your hand, Hogg.”

“Naw,” said Hogg. “Let’s find the case, bring the Sissie in, and slap me under the Medicomp like Mistress Mundy says. Till then, I keep the glove on, right?”

Daniel thought about it. “Yes,” he said, “all right.”

He grinned as he stepped briskly up the remaining short length of the ramp. He’d been afraid he was going to lose his grip so that the seadragon would pull Hogg off the ramp. He had determined that he’d let his arms be torn from their sockets before he let his friend and servant down.

It shouldn’t have surprised him that Hogg had felt the same way about failing Adele. The four of them functioned less as a team than as a close-knit family whose members would rather die than fail the others.

It was a good group to be a part of. The best, by heaven!

The tower roof was very slightly domed, and there was no coping around its edge. Rain would run off it down the smooth crystal sides, splashing on the ground fifty feet below.

Daniel glanced back. Hogg was still inside, left-handedly cutting Tovera’s arms free, but Adele had followed.

“I wonder if this place was built by spacers?” he said, grinning.

She shrugged. “Or by birds,” she said. “At any rate, it doesn’t appear to be designed for human use.”

Daniel felt his lips purse. “There are eccentric humans,” he said, “but I take your point. Still, that’s a question for the future. What we need now is to find Tovera’s case.”

Adele unexpectedly sat on the rooftop and took out her personal data unit. She gave his puzzlement a tiny smile. “I was afraid that I might lose the control wands in the crash,” she said. “I didn’t, so I guess this was my lucky day.”

She isn’t joking, Daniel realized. His smile spread slowly. Of course Adele hadn’t been concerned about being killed. Her troubles were over if that happened.

He turned quickly to survey the boggy landscape. He didn’t want Adele to see the sudden grim cast of his face. Her problems might be over with her death, but Daniel Leary’s would become much worse. Perhaps insupportably worse.

A wedge of faint violet lines, a hologram projected by Adele’s data unit, suddenly overlay the terrain before him. Its apex was the wreck of the car. He glanced toward her.

“The axis of the triangle extends from the line between where the car hit before the last bounce,” Adele said, “to where it lies now. The edges are fifteen degrees to either side.”

She shrugged. “That was a guess,” she said, “but I thought it might help to refine the search area.”

Hogg and Tovera came up through the oval opening. Hogg looked pale, but his face was set in lines of glum determination.

“Yes,” said Daniel with satisfaction. “That will help a great deal, I think.”

He lowered the visor of his commo helmet. Its optics would give him not only magnification but other viewing options. A sweep in the infrared would make the case stand out if it were even slightly warmer or cooler than —

“There it is,” Hogg said, pointing with his whole left arm. “Eighty yards out and behind that tussock of sedges. It looks like it’s . . . yeah, it’s floating. There’s a pond or something there, maybe a slough.”

Daniel blinked. For a moment he felt as though he’d been insulted; then he burst out laughing.

“What’s the matter, young master?” Hogg said, frowning in surprise. “You see it there, don’t you?”

Daniel lifted his visor again. “Yes, Hogg,” he said, “I see it now that you’ve pointed it out. Though I’d have found it eventually on my own, I’m sure.”

“Of course you would’ve,” Hogg said in amazement. “It’s about as bloody obvious as a deacon in a whorehouse, isn’t it?”

He grimaced. “Want me to go fetch it, then?”

“One moment,” said Daniel, lowering his visor. A poacher’s experienced eye was a remarkable shortcut if you happened to have one available, but technology still had its place.

The case was floating with only one corner above the surface of the pond; it looked like a miniature dark-gray iceberg. It was 238 feet from where Daniel stood — Hogg was slightly behind him, of course — and seven feet out from the shore.