Night Wave is asleep when Stephen gets back, or at least unconscious. The puppy is curled up nearby, but she looks up as Stephen enters, and swims over for comfort.

“How is she?” Stephen says quietly, hugging her. Sealin have a thick blubber layer, like dolphins, and are cold to the touch for the same reason. This, combined with the incredibly humid air that they like, should make them feel clammy. They don’t. The puppy is full of life. Stephen is glad of the comfort himself.

“I’m hope she’ll be all right.”

The puppy whines. She’s not a dog, and it’s not the same noise a dog makes; it comes from her resonating chamber, and is a high pitched sawtooth noise with lots of disturbing subsonics in it. She’s been doing it more often recently, and Stephen really doesn’t blame her.

“Come on, let’s get something to eat,” he says.

The food does Stephen a lot of good. He’s no longer seeing the robot’s ship explode every time he closes his eyes. He has no idea whether this works on sealin as well, but the puppy is certainly hungry, and he knows Night Wave hasn’t eaten; so he wishes for the biggest salmon-oid he can muster and takes it through to where she is sleeping and leaves it next to her.

“I wish I knew what to do,” he says quietly to the puppy, peering in through the doorway, and then leaves Night Wave alone.

Stephen eventually lies down in his own room, floating peacefully in the middle of it. His suit has obligingly reconfigured itself for him so he seems to be on a bed. He’s warm and quite comfortable, with the puppy nestled up against him.

He lies staring at the ceiling for a long time. Sleep takes him unawares.

“…Stephen,” says a voice.

He fights his way out of sleep. Something nudges him. “Stephen.”

It’s Night Wave. She looks ghastly; grey and shaking and her eyes are bloodshot. “Stephen,” she repeats again, bumping him with her nose.

“I’m awake,” he says blurrily. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

“Help me.”

He’s suddenly completely alert. “What’s the matter?” he says.

“Hold me. Please.”

“All right?” he says uncertainly, and tries to put his arms around her. She’s very big. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“I can’t,” she says. She’s squirming, pushing herself against him.

“Can’t what?”

“Can’t go on.”

The puppy has backed away into a corner and is watching with wide eyes. Stephen is being pushed into a corner of the room. He has no idea where she’s getting the leverage from.

“Hey, watch out, you’re hurting me,” he says, and pushes her away. “What’s the matter?”

“Don’t,” she says. “Please. I need. Please hold me.”

Her voice is flat, uninflected, and sounds more alien than he’s ever heard her. She noses up to him again and shoves him into the corner, hard. Their suit fields are overlapping, and Stephen’s breath is filled with the chemical/sea smell of her.

The world takes on a glittering air of nightmarish unreality to Stephen. He tries to fend her off, but she’s a lot stronger than he is. “Hey, gently! What are you doing?”

“I’m lonely,” she says. “I need. Family. Help me.”

Stephen is suddenly terrified. He’s never been physically intimidated by Night Wave before, but now he realises just how much bigger and stronger she is. Her head is pushed up against his; her breath is fishy, she’s got lots of very sharp, big teeth and her eyes are completely blank. She’s not actually trying to crush him, he realises. But she could if she wanted to, easily.

She pushes in underneath him. Stephen’s almost astride her now, one leg being trapped against the wall. He wriggles desperately and manages to pull himself free. Falling sideways on top of her, her dorsal fin jabs him painfully in the stomach. “Stop it!” he cries.

“Help me,” she repeats.

He rolls off the top of her. They’re half way up the wall, but his suit doesn’t let him fall, and instead he finds himself sliding sideways across the room. He clutches the opposite wall desperately.

Night Wave turns and tries to focus on him. “No, don’t go,” she says. “I need you. Stay with me.”

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” Stephen says, “but you’re scaring the hell out of me…”

She hesitates. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I just… I need…” She starts moving towards him again, with a quick twitch of her flukes. “Stay with me. Please.”

“No you don’t,” Stephen says desperately. “You’re not thinking straight. I don’t want you to hurt me.” He starts backing away through the door into the main room. “Why don’t you just… think about this…”

“No!” she says. “Stephen? Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

Stephen grabs the puppy, who’s cowering in a corner. “We’ll talk when, when you’re feeling better, okay?” Without waiting for an answer he dives out the front door, tearing the curtain aside.

“Come back!” Night Wave cries from behind him. He climbs to his feet and starts running down the street.

“Stephen! Don’t leave me here! Please!”

About ten minutes later, Stephen is walking through the dark streets of the undercity, the puppy circling unhappily above his head. His mind is churning with half-completed thoughts.

He feels like he wants to shower. There’s a feeling of wrongness deep inside his soul which he wants to be scrubbed off. No, that’s not true: he wants it to have never have happened.

Stephen’s old enough to recognise that feeling: the sensation of passing over the cusp of events, and seeing the what-might-have-beens drifting away. Fifteen minutes! At most! Just let me get those fifteen minutes back, he prays, and then things will work out differently…

It’s magic. He knows that. It’ll never happen. Wishing for a should-have will never achieve anything. Stephen crashed a car, once; not seriously, but enough to turn it over. He was left him sitting shaken but unharmed in the wrecked car’s driver’s seat, knowing that the previous minute had just changed his life, and that another life was a mere hair-breadth’s away, one in which he had braked just a fraction sooner, and in which he hadn’t had to swerve and hit the curb. One in which he wasn’t going to have to deal with the consequences.

Stephen can feel that other life now, the one where Night Wave is ill but still fundamentally… normal. He can almost touch it. He wants it so badly he can almost persuade himself it was there, that if he just closes his eyes and believes it’ll happen.

It won’t.

After a while Stephen lowers his hands. He’s standing in the middle of an undercity street, a quarter of the way round the ring from the house. The puppy is drifting a little way off, watching him.

He smiles wanly at her. “It’s okay,” he says, a little wobbly. “I’m fine.”

She blinks.

“What do I do now?”

She has no opinion to offer.

Stephen sighs. He really wants someone to talk to; preferably someone who will talk back. Someone who can give him advice. The puppy doesn’t understand language; the plant doesn’t talk at all. That leaves… Reeearh.

The huge carnivore is hard to find when it doesn’t want to be found. Luckily, when it does want to be found it spends a lot of time in the big square on the overcity where they first met it.

“You seek your death, vermin?” it rumbles. It’s sitting in its favourite place, up near the edge of the ring looking out over the edge. This is the side furthest from the light and the Snarl opens up beyond him, wave after wave of purple-lit surreal architecture filling the sky.

“No,” says Stephen, sighing. “But Night Wave might be seeking hers.”

He sits down cross-legged next to Reeearh, who towers over him. The puppy takes up her usual position in its fur.

Haltingly, Stephen tries to explain. Reeearh listens surprisingly patiently. When he has finished, there’s a long silence as Reeearh studies the sky.

“She must recover,” it says eventually. “Or else I will not be able to kill her.”

“Yes, very helpful,” snaps Stephen.

Reeearh glances at him. “You are foolish prey. Do not be distracted by the shadows. See the hunter. Without that, you are meat.”

If Reeearh starts calling me ’grasshopper’… Stephen thinks. “All right, all right. Yes, she must recover. Any ideas how?”

“All prey tries to survive,” says Reeearh. “How was she surviving?”

“I don’t know!” cries Stephen. “I don’t understand her any more! I don’t even know if she wants to survive any more!”

The puppy pushes free of Reeearh’s fur and swims down to Stephen, pushing her head under his arm. He absent-mindedly caresses her. Reeearh, as always, pays no attention.

“Prey must be intelligent,” says Reeearh. “If you do not know something, find out. What you do not know will kill you.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” says Stephen. “Do you know anyone here who knows about sealin psychology?”

“Yes,” says Reeearh.

Stephen’s so surprised at the lack of anything threatening in Reeearh’s answer that he almost forgets that it has answered. A few seconds later he double-takes.

“No way,” he says. “Seriously? You want me to talk to her?”

“Who knows the way of prey better than the prey itself?” Reeearh says.

“But she’s…” Stephen doesn’t want to say it: he doesn’t want to talk to her. He’s scared. He’s scared of what she’ll do, and say. He’s scared that she’ll hurt him again. It’s so much easier to not talk to her.

“Listen, vermin,” says Reeearh. There’s an unprecedented level of intensity in its voice. “I was not always a hunter. I was once prey. I was small. I ran through the forest and hid under tree roots. Everything moving thing sought my death. I evaded them because I was swift, and fearful, and cunning, and I prospered, and grew. And I kept growing until I became the mightiest hunter you will ever see.”

Reeearh is staring Stephen directly in the eyes now. Stephen can hardly breathe.

“And I became this because, yes, I was swift and fearful and cunning. But also because I was brave. Bravery when you are a coward is a terrible thing, prey, but cowardice will kill you. If you do not do this thing, your cowardice will kill her.”

Reeearh leans back, and looks out at the Snarl again.

“Are you prey worthy of one such as me?” it says.

Stephen rests his head in his hands. “Fine. Fine,” he says. “I’ll talk to her. How did you become so wise?”

Reeearh blinks. “Hunting,” it says.


“I will kill you,” says Reeearh conversationally.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it,” says Stephen.

They sit there in silence for a while, while Stephen gets his nerves back in order.

Reeearh says nothing, but its presence is somehow comforting.

Nothing moves, out on the Snarl: the buildings are dead and empty. For once, Stephen finds the Snarl’s stasis calming. Crises come and go: but the Snarl will last almost for ever. Some of those buildings predate Homo Sapiens.

Eventually Stephen sighs, and climbs to his feet. “Better get on with it,” he says, and turns.

One of the zombies is standing a few metres away, watching him.

It’s a three-legged zombie. It’s just standing, motionless, but there’s something almost attentive in its attitude. It’s not the blank, mindless stare that Stephen’s seen in the other zombies.

“…I know you,” Stephen says slowly. “You’ve been watching me for a while, haven’t you?”

Next to him, Reeearh silently surges to its feet and turns.

The zombie doesn’t seem threatening, and Stephen takes a couple of steps towards it.

This is the closest he’s been to one of these. It’s not a handsome creature. The elongated torso, covered with orifices, looks grotesque to Stephen’s eyes. The little cluster of eyes on stalks at the top can’t be called a face, and so Stephen finds that he has no idea where to look. The legs are thin and insect-like, with bulbous joints and a high knee, so it seems to stalk when it moves. It appears to have no arms and is not wearing anything like clothing.

Of all the aliens Stephen’s met so far, this has to be one of the least relatable.

“What do you want?” he says quietly to it. “Why have you been following me?”

The creature flicks its eye stalks around, looking about itself, and then refocuses on Stephen.

“You know something, don’t you.”

It seems to come to a decision. One orifice irises open, and something pushes its way out. It’s a tentacle, bifurcated at the end. It snakes out, curves round, and the end dips into another orifice. Stephen takes a pace backwards.

The end of the tentacle slowly emerges out of the creature’s body, with something small grasped in the end. In slow motion, the zombie holds it up in front of Stephen. Then it lets go.

The tentacle snaps back into its body, and without any formalities it just turns and shambles off.

Stephen, Reeearh and the puppy all lean forward to look at the thing it left behind.

It’s a little cube, iridescent silver, about two centimetres across. It just hangs there. This is, of course, because there’s no gravity, but to Stephen in his suit this still looks strange.

“What is it?” he asks.

“It is a technical thing,” Reeearh says. “It is beneath me.” It reluctantly turns away.

Stephen reaches forward and tries to take it. At first it seems stuck, immobile in space, but as Stephen pulls it moves sluggishly. After a few moments he realises that it’s simply really, really heavy.

“This is amazing,” he says. Close up, there’s very little to it. It’s just a cube. It looks oily, but it isn’t.

“Why did it give it to me?” he asks Reeearh. “Have you ever seen a zombie behave like that?”

“The zombies have no minds,” it says. “They cannot decide anything for themselves.”

“…you mean someone made it do it?” Stephen says. “Who? The robot? The plant? You? Night Wave? There isn’t anyone else.”

“In any hunting ground there are always hunters,” says Reeearh. It turns and looks again at the cube. “This place has visitors. Watch yourself, prey, because they are watching you.”

Stephen walks warily up the undercity street towards the house.

The cube is tucked into his shirt, against his chest. It needs a lot of force to get it moving, and then a lot of force to stop it again, which makes going round corners an interesting experience. But it won’t fall down in his suit’s synthetic gravity. Up against his chest it’s close to his centre of mass and is a lot easier to handle.

There’s no sign of Night Wave. The curtains over the windows are still there, but that doesn’t suggest anything one way or another.

He hesitates by the front door, heart pounding. He really doesn’t want to do this. He glances at the puppy, trailing along behind him. He wanted to leave her with Reeearh but she insisted on coming; by now he’s quite certain that she understands a lot more of what’s going on that he originally gave her credit for. He asked Night Wave when young sealin learned to talk; he didn’t ask her when they learned to think.

Well, now’s his chance.

He licks his lips. “Night Wave? Are you in there?”

There’s no reply.

Relucantly, he pulls himself through into the house. The main room is empty, as is the kitchen; the curtain over the door to his room is drifting, half-attached, where he left it. He pauses briefly to check Night Wave’s room—empty, as expected—before pulling the curtain back.

Of course she’s there.

She’s floating listlessly in the middle of Stephen’s room, eyes closed. She looks like she’s asleep but Stephen somehow knows she’s not.

“Night Wave? Are you all right?”

The room’s not big, and Night Wave is large, but he drops the cube in the living room and manages to pull himself in around her. His suit’s decided he’s most comfortable standing, so his local down is towards his feet, which puts the door underfoot and Night Wave lying vertically in front of him.

Stephen reaches out to stroke on flipper, but changes his mind before touching her. “Night Wave?”

“You left me,” she says.

“I’m back now,” Stephen replies.

“Everyone leaves me.”

Stephen hesitates. “I came back,” he repeats.

“White Bird left me,” she says. Her voice is flat, expressionless. “Blue Horizon didn’t want me. Dark Cloud threw me out. Now even you leave me.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “You scared me.”

“I’m alone. I’ve always been alone…”

“I…” Stephen doesn’t know what to say. “That’s not true. You’ve got… people…” Friend is a loaded word to sealin.

“We’re not supposed to be alone,” she says.

“Neither are we,” Stephen replies.

“I have no clan. I have no clan.”

Stephen finds himself looking around the little room, as if searching for some sort of inspiration. Also, he can’t face looking Night Wave in the eyes.

“…I’d be better off dead,” she says.

“Hey, don’t say that,” Stephen says weakly.

“You know I would,” she says, her voice suddenly filling with inflection again. “Better I were dead than to have my mind ossify and crumble after an eternity in this hell!”

“That won’t happen!” he says.

“It won’t happen to you!” she says. “You’ll die! I’ll… live…”

“Look, Night Wave…” Stephen says, and swallows. “What were you doing?”


“Back when you were… doing…” Stephen’s discomfort is making it physically hard to talk. “Doing… whatever…”

She closes her eyes. “It was a mistake.”

“Sure, but…” Stephen stumbles. “It was one which… mattered to you.”

“What do you care? You left me.”

He’s close enough to Night Wave that their suit fields overlap, and he can breath her air. Her usual ocean/chemical smell is ranker than usual. She’s not well.

“I do care,” Stephen says. “I’m your… friend.”

Her eyes snap open again. “Do you know what you’re saying?”

“Frankly, no,” he sighs. “I’m speaking human. You’re listening in sealin. I don’t know what you’re hearing.”

She studies him. Her eyes are bloodshot. “…sure.”

“So you’re going to have to explain to me,” Stephen says. “Pretend I’m an alien from another planet.”

She closes her eyes again.

“…just wanted to be touched,” she mumbles.

“I…” Stephen stumbles. “Seriously?”

“…never mind.”

Stephen’s mind races. “I didn’t think you… wanted to be…”

“You touch her!” she suddenly shouts. “You’re always squeezing her, patting her, stroking her… no wonder she likes you!”

A window suddenly opens in Stephen’s head: the huge open space on the Dark Cloud; the tightly knit clan, the entire crew one family; the total absence of privacy… Night Wave, ejected from the clan, sent out unhappy and alone. Doesn’t really want to talk to him, but always seems to end up nearby. Stephen and the orphaned puppy, always inseperable, always seeking each other for comfort.

Night Wave, feeling isolated and excluded. And whenever she’s upset, Stephen tiptoes around her, being polite and considerate and leaving her alone.

“Oh,” he says.

He swallows, and before he has a chance to think about it too hard, wraps his arms around Night Wave. She twitches once and goes limp.

“There, there,” he murmurs, and strokes her as best he can on the back of the head. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry… it’s all been a horrible misunderstanding…”

Something noses up alongside; the puppy, joining in. Was she just waiting for permission? he thinks. Am I the patriarch of this mess?

Stephen keeps talking quietly to Night Wave, not saying anything in particular. After a while some subtle tension leaves her.

“You idiot,” she says eventually, her tone almost back to its usual amused contempt. “Get off me.”

She wriggles, shaking her flippers and settling herself. Physically, she looks unchanged, but something has returned to her attitude that’s been missing for a long time. The three of them look at each other.

“Fine group we are,” she says.

“You guys seriously need to give us a basic anthropology briefing,” Stephen says.

“…have you told us all your sordid human biological secrets?” she retorts.

“Probably, yeah.”

“True,” she concedes. “And I bet they’re disgusting.”

“I will also concede that.” Stephen’s almost giddy with relief.

“Of course, it’s not like we’re any closer to getting off this damned place…”

“…oh.” Stephen suddenly remembers the cube. “Wait! I’ve got something… one of the zombies gave me…”

He climbs back down around her. There’s another disorienting moment as the suit shifts gravity about him; now he’s crawling horizontally. It’s convenient, sure, but still startling.

Stephen reaches the cube and pushes it sluggishly towards Night Wave, following him curiously.

She stops dead and her eyes go wide.

Then she lunges at him.

Is this a game to you?” she roars at him, pinning him against he far wall. She snarls at him, her sharp teeth centimetres from his face. He can see right down her gullet, ridges falling away into darkness… “Are you playing with me? How long have you had this? Tell me!

Stephen’s battered, bewildered, shocked; she’s terribly strong, and he suddenly realises, deep down at a gut level, that’s she’s also terribly dangerous… “I just got it!” he squeaks, voice breaking. “Fifteen minutes! Twenty! I don’t even know what it is!”

She stares him straight in the eye for a few moments; it’s huge and black, with no observable pupil… then she suddenly falls backwards, and huddles in the opposite corner of the room.

“Sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” she starts repeating.

Stephen tries to catch his breath and wait for his heart to slow again. The puppy is circling between them, whining with distress.

He just says, “What.”

Night Wave is still just repeating, “I’m sorry,” over and over again.

After a while Stephen forces himself forwards and puts a shaking hand on the back of her head. She relaxes into his arms.

“Explain,” he says.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she mumbles. “It’s just I’ve been so… desperate… I’ve dreamt of finding one. Just lying on the ground. Or finding a wrecked ship… or something. And then when you actually had one, now…”

“But what is it?” he says.

“It’s a warp core,” she says. “Mass about three billion tonnes, gravitationally detuned and with the inertial mass denatured down to a hundred kilograms or so…”

“Warp core,” he repeats. “As in warp field?”


“As in space drive?” he says. “As in FTL radio?”


“Why now?”

She wriggles out of his grip again, to look him in the eyes. “Did you say a zombie gave it to you?”

“Yes,” he says. “I think it was that one that’s been watching me.”

“…I don’t even want to think about that right now,” says Night Wave, sagging. “I’m too tired.”

“Yeah,” says Stephen. He casts an eye at the cube, which has been pushed up against one of the walls.

“Tomorrow?” he says.


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