Unlike the late Diego Corazón, Alastair Stone didn’t have the mercy of being dead, or even unconscious. His mind stubbornly refused to let go its hold on awareness despite the fact that the white-hot pain coursing through his right arm and shoulder was the worst he had ever experienced in his life. It felt like somebody was trying to slowly pull it off, one nerve ending at a time—or like it was flying apart from the inside out. He lay on the soft carpet of vines with his legs drawn up to his chest and his eyes clamped shut, moaning softly and trying hard not to scream again. He was also trying not to think about what had happened to him, which wasn’t as hard because his mind wasn’t processing information properly. Except the pain. That it was processing just fine.

Above him, he heard sounds but couldn’t make sense of them. There were the calls of men—one close, two farther away. There were the sounds of gunfire, and he thought he heard something thud into the trees near him. He heard someone curse nearby, and then breath being let out slowly as if in relief. Then nothing. For one brief merciful moment it didn’t hurt anymore.

“Dr. Stone?”

The pain came back with the voice. Someone touched him gently on his uninjured shoulder and he cried out as the knives redoubled their assault.

“I’m sorry...” said the voice. Soft. Worried. A little panicky around the edges. “Dr. Stone—are you still with me? Please—you have to still be with me!”

“Still—here—” Stone managed through gritted teeth. He forced his eyes open and saw Frasier standing over him, white-faced and breathing hard.

The student scrubbed at his face with his hands for a moment, his expression mixed relief and fear. He dropped down on his knees next to Stone. “I got ‘em,” he said.


“The bastards who shot you. I took ‘em out with manabolts. But we have to get out of here, Dr. Stone, before somebody else shows up. Can you walk?” He spoke quickly, urgently.

Stone noticed idly that Frasier wasn’t invisible anymore, forgetting that he himself had cast the spell. He also noticed the assault rifle strapped over the student’s shoulder. “Frasier—” His voice was weak and ragged. Even talking hurt. He could feel beads of sweat on his forehead but his body felt cold. Shock, his clinical side said in his mind.

“I didn’t take the other gun,” Frasier was saying. He was almost babbling, trying hard to keep his fear under control and barely succeeding. “I remembered what you said about the tracking devices. But we have to get out of here.” He darted a glance back over his shoulder.

Stone shifted position and screamed again, a weak little cry as the movement jostled his injured side. He drew his legs up again, harsh sobs wracking his body. “Go on—” he rasped.

He didn’t see Frasier shake his head, but he heard the resolve in the student’s voice. “No way. I’m not leaving you here. You’re coming with me or we’re both staying.”

Stone didn’t reply, and he didn’t move. After a moment he felt a strong hand under his good arm. A bright flash of pain so intense he almost didn’t feel it washed over him, and once again the welcome relief of darkness.

When he awoke again he was moving. His body was in an odd position, his head lolling back and forth. For the first time he got a look at his arm and it almost caused him to pass out again: it was horribly swollen and would probably have been more so if his sleeve hadn’t been constricting it. His bare forearm was blotched with red; his sleeve was stained with blood and more trickled down from beneath his rolled-up cuff. What did they do to me? The thought was oddly detached—he realized that he was deeper in shock now. He tried to speak to get Frasier’s attention, for he determined that his unusual position was the result of being borne along in a fireman’s carry, but all he succeeded in producing was an inarticulate moan.

Still, Frasier noticed it. “You’re all right, Dr. Stone.” His voice sounded marginally less fearful now, though he also sounded a bit winded. “We should be back at the camp any minute now. Just hold on—”

“Frasier...” Stone fought to get his thoughts in enough order to manage a coherent sentence.

“What is it?”

“Arm—sleeve—” To his own ears, his words sounded garbled and blurry.

Frasier must have heard something, though, because he stopped. Gently he swung Stone over his shoulder and leaned him against a tree.

It was all Stone could do to remain conscious as a new wave of pain spiked at him. It was duller now than before, but it worried him that his arm swung uselessly at his side, its heavy, inert weight pulling down on his shoulder.

Frasier got a look at him and his eyes widened in fear. “Oh, God—I’m sorry, Dr. Stone. Your sleeve—” He pulled out a pocket knife and knelt down, gently slicing at Stone’s shirt to cut away the sleeve that was constricting his arm.

Instantly the pain exploded, like the feeling of sensation rushing back into a limb that had fallen asleep. Instead of the familiar ‘pins and needles’ sensation, though, it felt like real pins and needles were being plunged into his flesh from every direction. He groaned and sagged to the side again.

Frasier caught him and sat him upright once more, looking worriedly into his half-closed eyes. “That’s it,” he said, decisive. “I’m going to have to try to heal you here. I don’t think it will be safe to wait until we get back.” He took a deep breath. “I wish I knew what that was they shot you with. It wasn’t a laser, that’s for sure.”

Stone slowly shook his head, which looked more like rolling it back and forth against the tree. “No...laser...” he agreed in a whisper.

Frasier took a look around to make sure they weren’t being followed and then settled down to attempt a healing spell. Stone closed his eyes and waited for the relief.

As the spell progressed, he could tell something wasn’t right. The intensity of the pain dropped down somewhat, which wasn’t of much use considering where it had started. He forced his eyes open again and looked at Frasier questioningly.

The student looked very tired. He swiped the back of his wrist against his forehead and let out a long sigh. “I’m sorry, Dr. Stone—that’s the best I can do here. It’s the strangest injury I’ve ever seen—it’s almost like there are a whole lot of smaller injuries rather than one big one.” He paused, and when he spoke again his tone was reluctant. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to fix it any more, sir.”

Stone closed his eyes again and let his head slump. No... For a moment all he could think of was the fact that he was going to lose his arm. He quickly realized, though, that he couldn’t worry about that now. He was going to lose his life if they didn’t get out of here soon. Frasier’s healing had dulled the edges of the shock a little, but he knew he needed medical attention fast. Now the pain was starting to spread out from his arm and shoulder and into his side and chest. It was slow, but it was happening. He doubted it was going to stop any time soon.

“And that’s not all,” Frasier said, even more reluctantly. “While I was in a hurry to put distance between us and that installation, I think I might have taken a wrong turn somewhere. We should have been back at the camp by now, but I’m not seeing any sign of it.”

Stone let that sink in, and then his fogged brain remembered something. “Pocket...” he whispered, gesturing weakly with his good arm.

For a moment Frasier looked puzzled, but then recognition dawned. “Right! The GPS! I’d almost forgotten about it in all the chaos.” He carefully removed it from Stone’s pocket, switched it on, and began studying its tiny screen. It was close to dawn now, and the world was getting ever so slightly brighter as the sun began to rise.

Stone took the time to rest, closing his eyes again. In the back of his mind he thought about trying to do a healing spell on himself, but the pain wouldn’t let him concentrate sufficiently to form the pattern. Every time he started he would move slightly and set off a new spasm of pain. Finally he gave up and let himself slump again, fighting to stay quiet. It wasn’t helping that he was shivering—why was it so cold out here? This was supposed to be the jungle.

Frasier had, for the moment, forgotten about him. So intent was he on the GPS screen that a squadron of Ares soldiers could have sneaked up on him without his awareness. Fortunately for him and Stone, this didn’t happen. At last he looked up. “I think I’ve got something,” he told Stone. His expression darkened as he saw the state of his companion. “Dr. Stone?”

Stone opened his eyes wearily. Clear and electric blue, they were at odds with the rest of his disheveled, grimy appearance. His expression was dulled, unfocused.

Frasier moved over next to him. “I think I’ve found it,” he said gently. He held out the device. “Look—we’re only about ten kilometers from a river, and about fifteen from a city. We were going almost the right direction, but we’d have missed it if we kept up the way we were heading. We can make that. It’ll be a long walk, but we can—”

“Camp...” Stone whispered. “Where—?”

Frasier took a deep breath. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “It should be around here somewhere, but since I didn’t have the coordinates when we left—”

Stone nodded. He was seized by another bout of shivering and rolled back into a ball at the foot of the tree, trying to get warm. He didn’t care anymore about the camp, the jungle, anything—his mind felt sluggish and unresponsive. The shock’s getting worse...

Above him, Frasier noticed this and made a decision. He kept talking even though he was pretty sure Stone couldn’t hear him anymore. “I think I know the right way,” he said. “I’m going to take a chance and try to find it. If we don’t get there in the next ten minutes or so, we’ll just have to head for the river and hope we can find a village or a boat. We can’t leave you out here like this—I’ll have to sleep sometime, and if I do we’re both dead.”

Stone vaguely heard rustling sounds and then he was lifted again, slung back over Frasier’s shoulder as gently as the student could muster. He didn’t scream this time—he didn’t have the energy left to scream. He just closed his eyes again and hoped his companion knew what he was doing. His life was in Frasier’s hands now.

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