Stephen has forgotten how empty and dark the rim of the Snarl is. The twisted, circular ribbon of tattered fabric is completely bare, except for the mould bushes. There’s nothing between him and the stars: and if he stands with his back to the Snarl and looks out, then all there is is night.

“I wonder why nobody ever built up here?” he says quietly to Reeearh, who rumbles back but does not reply.

The three of them, human, sealin and giant predator, are waiting quietly while Night Wave sets up. This machine is moderately complex, and the cube is floating in centre of a rough torus of cubes and glowing lines; she’s checking it over carefully. After the earlier failures, she’s not taking any chances.

Stephen and the puppy’s attention are both on Night Wave fussing over the machine. Stephen is irresistably reminded of the robot with its rockets; although that’s possibly not the best omen. He tells himself that he’s not superstitious. Reeearh watches intently, not bothering to pretend disinterest any more, although occasionally taking a glance around at the empty landscape.

“It’s ready,” Night Wave says. “Oh, relax. I’ll make it work eventually. What’s the worst that could happen?”

She doesn’t do anything which Stephen can see, but the cubes all start gently glowing in different colours.

Night Wave’s head is surrounded by a cloud of symbols and diagrams. Sealin writing is a black art. They tried to explain it to the experts back on Earth, but got nowhere; apparently it’s based on a completely different principle to anything humans have used. Stephen doesn’t bother to try and eavesdrop, as they’d just be backwards anyway, and instead listens to Night Wave translate.

“It’s working,” she says. “The manifold is set up. Well, a potential manifold. The resonance of the virtual core looks good… that means the time-shifting’s working… I’m going to amplify it a bit.”

A few of the cubes slowly change colour. Stephen finds himself leaning forwards.

“We’re still getting interference,” she says, “but it’s nothing like earlier. I can compensate. Let’s just reconfigure a bit.” A pause. “There. Much better. A bit more… yes, it’s working. We’ve actually got a warp field!”

Stephen sighs. “That’s a relief,” he says. “I was worried there for a moment.”

“So was I,” says Night Wave. “Of course, it’s still zero-dimensional and useless. Let’s build it up and actually make a communicator with this. We could be off this place in an hour.”

Reeearh shifts beside Stephen. He looks round, to see the big creature staring at the violet light in the distance. “What’s the matter?” he says.

“Silence, prey,” it says. “It is nothing I care about telling you.”

Translation: it thought it saw something but was mistaken.

Night Wave fiddles the machine some more; at least, Stephen assumes she is—all he’s seeing is Night Wave drifting gently next to it, staring into space while shapes flicker around her head.

“Expanding it… it’s a bit reluctant,” she says. “But I need it big enough to resonate. Come on.”

The cubes slowly brighten.

“I’m not giving up now.” She’s sounding a little stressed.

“What’s wrong?” Stephen says.

“I’m having to be a bit rougher with it than I like,” she says. “It’s almost there. Shut up and let me work…”

“The sun,” says Reeearh.


“Done,” says Night Wave, ignoring them. “It’s big enough to bend space! Now all I need to do—”

Silently, but with an intensity which is nearly intolerable, an aura of glowing darkness condenses around the cube at the heart of the machine, and then a moment later, before Stephen can do anything more than flinch, the world ripples around them as the machine soundlessly explodes.

…Stephen finds himself lying on his back some distance away with no memory of how he got there.

He stares up at the sky for a few moments. The other side of the rim cuts across his field of view, glowing gently by reflected violet light. He has to think about it for a while before he realises that he’s completely unhurt.

He sits up.

“What just happened?” he says in a wobbling voice.

The others are scattered nearby, all of them picking themselves up off the ground. The puppy darts in for comfort and Stephen finds his hands are shaking.

“Speak, vermin!” says Reeearh.

“This place hates me,” Night Wave says. “It hates me. It really does.”

“Are you all right?” says Stephen.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine…” she says. She isn’t; she sounds dazed and shocked. “It was, it was…”

“The sun,” says Reeearh.

“Yes! The interference! The field suddenly destabilised, reformed around the centre of the large-scale field distortion, and sank the entire geometry load…”

“The sun is changing,” says Reeearh.

They all turn to look.

“I don’t see anything,” says Stephen uncertainly.

“You have prey’s eyes,” says Reeearh. “It is changing.”

They stare.

“It is changing,” Night Wave says slowly.

Stephen’s heart freezes inside him.

Just before the machine exploded. The dark aura had gone. It had… arced away… in a single bolt of glowing darkness, stabbing out into the heart of the purple glow at the centre of the Snarl.

And that purple glow is slowly but surely shrinking, brightening as it goes.

“Did you do this, prey?” Reeearh says dangerously. “Are you seeking to avoid your inevitable death at my teeth and claws?”

“No!” protests Night Wave. “I don’t want to die, I want to escape! I… don’t want to die…”

She trails off. The four of them stay motionless, staring at the shrinking light. It’s a tiny glaring pinprick of violet now, and the shadows are hardening around them.

Eventually, Stephen says, “Do you know what’s happening?” And then adds: “Can you fix it?”

Night Wave is drooping. “Something in the sun’s feedback system’s been disturbed,” she says. “I, I might be able to do something if I were there. But it would take hours…”

She’s slowly edging back, towards Stephen. He puts a hand on her back. “Hey. Not your fault.”

A halo of light is starting to appear around the sun. A turbulent smear of blue and red, roiling uneasily. A bruise against the sky.

Reeearh’s hair is bristling in a great ruff along its spine. It’s crouching, posed to pounce, but even Stephen can see this as fear.

“Energy spillage,” Night Wave says distantly. “The feedback system’s breaking down, unable to channel the energy properly. It’s leaking. We’ll see spatial distortions soon… there.”

Stephen watches numbly as the Snarl’s core begins to waver and distort, as if seen through a pool of water into which a pebble has been dropped. He’s afraid, but his terror is unreal, divorced from reality. He can’t bring himself to think of what’s happening as real.

“Spatial distortions,” repeats Night Wave. “Spatial distortions?”

She suddenly stiffens. Symbols fllicker around her head and another glass cube materialises in front of her.

“What is it?” says Stephen, as the distortion spreads. The stars are beginning to ripple about them.

“Spatial distortions!” she says, and the cube lights up. “Yes! It’s generating a warp field!”


“How I should I know,” she says. “Probably bootstrapped off the core. Where did it go, anyway? Forget it. We’re in the middle of a huge oscillating warp field. Thant High will be lighting up like a, like a…”

“Christmas Tree?” Stephen says.

“Yes! No. Whatever,” Night Wave gabbles. “We’ve got our distress signal!”

Abruptly the light dims to an indigo pinprick.

In the dark, Reeearh says, “We must survive it first.”

There’s a pregnant pause before the light explodes out again, brighter than before. The uncanny silence is broken by a sudden cataclysmic roar which fills Stephen’s ears: the suit alarm. They all flinch, but not before seeing a shock wave blossom out from around the roiling purple fireball at the centre of the Snarl. It moves unnaturally slowly, a tidal wave of glittering particles sweeping towards them.

It takes a couple of seconds before Stephen recognises the glitter as the pulverised fragments of buildings.

Paralysed with horror, they see the shock wave strike the ring city, smashing against it like a tsunami. The city is ripped free of the fabric of the Snarl and starts to tumble slowly, crumpled and torn, carried for a moment before being swallowed. Bright fragments and the tiny, perfect shapes of broken buildings pour outwards.

The shock waves races up out of the heart of the Snarl towards them.

“Grab hold!” Stephen suddenly shouts. With the puppy under one arm, he leaps forward and clamps his other arm around one of Reeearh’s forelegs. Their paralysis is broken, and Reeearh jumps.

“What do I do?” wails Night Wave.

Reeearh snarls, says, “Choose your doom now, prey,” and raises its other foreleg, claws gleaming. In the distance, the glass chandelier explodes into splinters.

“Come on!” cries Stephen. Night Wave dithers for a moment and then surges forward, burying herself in Reeearh’s fur. Its leg comes down like a hydraulic press, holding her against its side.

Then the shockwave hits and bounces them out into space.

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