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By Karen Traviss
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Karen Traviss
All right reserved.
You detonated cobalt bombs on Ouzhari in your greed to keep c'naatat to yourself. The bezeri who died were collateral damage--that is your phrase, is it not? Now Earth will learn what collateral damage really means.
senior Matriarch of the Eqbas Vorhi,
in a response to the Foreign Secretary of
the Federal European Union
Bezer'ej, Cavanagh's Star system: continental shelf off Ouzhari island, December 2376
Mohan Rayat gave up the reflex struggle to stop his lungs filling with water, drowned--which was nowhere near as painless as they claimed--and plummeted into the crushing black depths where the light of Cavanagh's Star never penetrated.
You bitch, Frankland.
And he wasn't dead.
You sanctimonious bitch.
He was shaking uncontrollably and convulsing, but he wasn't dead.
Rayat was aware of the kaleidoscopes of colored light rippling above him in the mantles of the last surviving bezeri. He was a living corpse, a man imprisoned with his victims, a man who couldn't die.
Hold on to that. Whatever the parasite does to you, you're still a man.
He had no air supply and no suit. He could taste blood in his mouth: or maybe it was just something in the silt billowing aroundhim. He sank down on the seabed, facing upwards, crushed by pressure and a searing agony in his head beyond any pain he'd ever experienced. For a moment he wondered if his survival was the result of a primal diving reflex, and not the intervention of an alien parasite.
He'd never told anyone how scared he was of water. Now he never had to fear it again.
Somehow he could still see: green, violet, blue. Coils and fractal patterns of ludicrous fairy-lights danced overhead, the chatter of the bezeri--the few who had survived the irradiation from bombs he had detonated.
I never meant to kill you. You just happened to be in the way.
But the bezeri couldn't hear him. He couldn't even hear himself. The silence was overwhelming, but although he could still reason, and he knew his eardrums were ruptured, he still expected to sense the sounds of his own body. It was surprising how much you noticed the absence of your own heartbeat.
His heart had stopped. He had no idea how he could still be conscious.
So Frankland must have gone through this when she stepped out the airlock: dead and not dead, aware that her whole body had ceased to function and existed solely by the grace of a microscopic parasite called c'naatat that was worth destroying worlds to capture.
You bitch, I beat you. I got your precious parasite in the end. Suck on that, bitch.
No sunlight: he could have been at least a thousand meters down, then, below the depth where light penetrated. When silent screaming panic overtook him--screams he couldn't force out of his airless lungs--he concentrated on numbers to stay sane.
I should be dead. A thousand meters . . . maybe one hundred atmospheres . . . ten thousand kilospascals . . .
But his mouth opened in a panting reflex anyway, because he couldn't take in what c'naatat was doing to keep him alive at this depth. The cold burned him. He should have looked around for Lindsay Neville but all he could think of right then was Frankland, drifting in the vacuum of space without a suit. She'd spaced herself to stop him getting hold of the c'naatat she carried. And--bitch, bitch, bitch--it had all been for nothing, because no matter how bad things were now, he'd got what he'd come for, and a small sane part of him rejoiced.
I beat you, you bitch. And your precious bloody Ade and your pet wess'har helped me do it. I hope you find out, oh shit yes I pray you do, you bitch.
It was amazing what you could hang on to when you needed to pass beyond death. God, numbers, vengeance: whatever it took. He seized them all.
Shan Frankland had survived. And so would he--somehow.
And he could wait.
Excerpted from Matriarch by Karen Traviss Copyright © 2006 by Karen Traviss. Excerpted by permission.
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