“Safe?” said Merchant, “Were you not listening to me? Have you even looked at my reports? Every week since we’ve been here, the native life has grown steadily more aggressive. Attacks on humans and human artifacts have multiplied exponentially. Give us a week and there will be mechanoids chewing on your executive swivel-chair.”
How stupid was it for Victor to feel hurt? At least he restrained himself from yelling, I don’t have a swivel chair! I’m one of you! Because Victor wasn’t an intrepid field-biologist, he was a programmer. More importantly for his bosses, Victor was rated to drive the harvester, and he did what he was told. In this case, that meant, “drive the harvester into the jungle and pick up the protesters before they run out of air or get eaten.” He was the good guy, damn it!
The vibration wasn’t subtle any more. A wave of displaced air washed over the harvester, setting the whole machine swaying like the branches of the Windmill trees in the shadow of a great, descending bulk.
“Leviathan,” said Al-Waheed. “It’s–” he swore in Arabic. “It’s right on top of us, boss.”
“¡Mierda!” Victor almost beat his extremely expensive and important hand-shake gauntlet against the arm-rest of his seat before he forced himself to calm down. “I mean, miércoles.” Not that any of these people cared if he swore in Spanish. God, he wished he was back in Lima.
“Okay,” said Victor. “All right. Reverse the engine.” He reversed the engine. “I’m getting us out of here. Strikers, I, um, order you to climb aboard.”
None of the space-suited figures moved.
“I won’t let you die out here.” Victor stood in his pilot’s seat and waved his arms. “Get those strikers on this harvester before something eats them.”
“Come down off that harvester before the Leviathan eats you,” said Dr. Merchant.
Victor wished he could strangle the woman. But there was absolutely nothing he could do to force the strikers to cooperate, at least nothing he could think of in the time he had before the Leviathan arrived. Victor imagined landing gear extending in the murk above the Windmill Trees like the legs of a monstrous crab.
“Dr. Merchant,” he said on her private channel, “Feroza. It isn’t too late to surrender. Save face. Leave under protest. But leave. Get on the harvester, please.”
An intake of breath over the teeth-rattling groan of approaching treads. “Oh, you bloody idiot. You don’t really think we can ride home on that machine, do you? Not now that you’ve attracted something that’s big enough to eat it.”
The rain stopped.
Or, no, Victor realized. The rain was still falling. He could see it at the edges of his headlights’ beams, hear it through his suit’s pickups. It just wasn’t falling on his head.
He looked up.