Autor: John Moore
When the red button on the console lit up, Asher knew they would never make it back to the ship alive. The red light meant the skimmer's engine was overheating. It was never meant to be run at sustained loads like this, and the Worgs were only a hundred yards behind. Asher could see them in the settling dusk, short brown fur, sinewy bodies and glowing eyes, all teeth and muscle, loping along the rocky ground with single minded determination. An image flashed into his brain, a memory from schoolboy days, an ancient painting of wolves chasing a sleigh across the Russian steppes. He carefully stored the thought.
Angela and Greg were huddled down behind the windscreen, not so much from the cold as to reduce the drag on the skimmer. Angela looked up at him, dark curls framing lovely dark eyes, and Asher felt a stab of anger. It wasn't right, when things were finally coming together for them, that it was going to end like this. It wasn't fair that he should lose Angela.
"How long?" she shouted, over the wind and the whine of the skimmer's motor.
"An hour to reach the ship," Asher shouted back. "Ten minutes before the engine quits."
Her jaw tightened. "What do they want? They can't eat us. Different body chemistry."
"True," said Greg. "But do they know that?" He was calm. Greg was always calm. It was one of the things about him that bugged Asher.
"They're supposed to be intelligent."
"Greg," said Asher. "Did you ever hear of a painting called, "Throwing the Baby to the Wolves?""
"With the sled?"
"That's the one." He reached into his parka and passed Greg a maxi-pistol. "Maybe we can buy some time."
"Forget it, Asher!" snapped Angela. "You can't shoot an intelligent species. The Department will put us in a hole!"
"So who's telling? It's us or them."
Greg checked the maxi-pistol. It held five charges. "Hold her steady, Asher."
"Right." He flew the skimmer straight and level while Greg emptied the gun in one quick fusillade. It was an impossible feat of marksmanship, to hit a moving target from another moving platform, in dim light, and yet Greg brought down three Worgs with five shots. Another small personal triumph, that Asher would have resented any other time.
The result was not encouraging. The Worgs fell upon their wounded comrades and tore them to shreds. There were only a few seconds of ripping flesh and spurting blood, of white fangs gleaming in the darkness, and then they took up the chase again.
"They're gaining," said Greg. Asher nodded.
"I was afraid of that," he said. "They must have been hanging back on purpose. They knew we might be armed. And now they know we're empty." The light on the console was blinking furiously.
Angela was staring in fixed horror as the Worgs closed thedistance between them. They were close enough now to see the fresh blood on their muzzles. "Oh no," she said quietly, and then louder each time. "Oh no, oh no, oh no."
He shook her shoulder. "Angela, baby, listen careful now. This is the moment of truth. Who do you love more, me or Greg?"
"What?" said Greg.
Angela whipped her head around. "What!"
"Who do you love better, me or Greg?"
"Asher, I hardly think this is the time to discuss this," Greg said calmly.
"Shut up!" Asher put his hand over the flashing red danger light and glanced back. The Worgs were only yards behind the skimmer. "Angela, we've only got a few minutes. You have to answer me right now!"
"I love both of you the same, you moron," screeched Angela. "Are you crazy?"
"That's good enough," said Asher, and he kicked Greg over the side. Greg had time for one brief scream before he disappeared beneath the savage, tearing mass of brown bodies. Angela's wail of sorrow lingered long on the cold air.
# # #
They came back the next day to look for Greg's remains. They took an armored crawler, and they both carried power rifles, but they didn't need them. The Worgs they saw simply glared at them balefully, or else ignored them.
There wasn't much left to Greg. A pile of dead Worgs surrounded his bones. A dozen more lay scattered some distance away, brown bodies contorted in agonized death.
"He poisoned them," said Angela.
Asher nodded. "Like you said, different body chemistry. They can't eat us. But Greg had to sacrifice himself to teach them that."
"Sacrifice himself! Greg didn't sacrifice himself! You murdered him, you jerk."
"Well, yeah. But I can hardly put that in the official report. It was one of us or all of us. At least this way he'll be a hero."
"Very noble of you. Let me ask you something, Asher. Suppose I had said that I liked Greg better. Would you have sacrificed yourself to save our love?"
Asher looked at her a long time, her windblown hair, and her deep, dark eyes. He remembered the long nights when the ship hung between the stars and her sleeping breath was on his chest. The quiet talks in the darkened cabin. The way her fingers traced small circles on his back when he held her to him.
He shrugged. "I never liked Greg anyway."
©1990 by John Moore