The worm gave an ear-splitting screech as it blasted through the space that divided it from the truck. Its huge mandibles snapped shut faster than could be seen, cleaving the truck in two like it was made of butter. Then the rest of its body followed, scraping across the truck’s frame, breaking it into a hundred different pieces.
Finally, the worm came to rest on the flat field and scuttled about on those innumerable little legs, jerking across the surface in a strange, erratic manner. Antenna whipping through the air, feeling for more vibrations.
Two hundred feet away, Nathan lay face-down in the salt, silently sobbing, still bleeding from his shoulder, wishing his heart would stop beating so loudly! His hands twitched over the opening of his backpack. He didn’t dare make any movement, but he had to be ready to grab the weapon if the worm started to make its way over here.
He was almost able to see the worm out of the corner of his right eye, but not quite, and he didn’t dare to rotate his head to look at it properly. Instead he felt out with his other senses, feeling the rumbling of the ground and hearing the sliding of scales across the salt.
Every now and then the worm rotated in his general direction, but never seemed to advance on him purposefully. Right now his saving grace was that his beating heart was not the only thing making vibrations on the salt fields. The severed truck still had its engine humming, and one or two of the former occupants of the vehicle were wheezing amidst the debris.
The worm did not put those wounded souls out of their misery, though. One of the strange phenomena of Sand Striker Worms was that they always knew which broken and battered bodies were mortally wounded and which would recover, and they only ever bothered to silence the latter.
After another minute Nathan finally heard the sound of the worm slithering back into its hole, and then felt the vibrations under his chest as it moved through its underground tunnel. It had left.
Now he only had to decide what to do about that sniper on the city wall. He had been lying so motionless that any spectator might very well think the bullet had killed him. Unfortunately he couldn’t continue laying here motionless until nightfall, because his shoulder was bleeding badly, and he was sure he would faint from loss of blood within the next fifteen minutes if he didn’t do something to address it. He only had one option.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Nathan rolled over to his side, and drew a length of bandage from his pocket. He used his knife to cut arm the sleeve off of his shirt, then placed one end of the bandage under his head, pinning it down as he wrapped the rest of it around his bleeding wound. He didn’t give any thought to how good of a patch-up job this was. He only needed to staunch the blood flow enough to last a few more hours.
At this point there still hadn’t been any other gunshot. They must have seen him moving, but taking another shot would almost certainly mean summoning back the worm. Nathan glanced towards the wreckage of the truck. There was no more movement or sound beyond the still-clanking engine. Whoever had survived the worm’s collision had expired already.
Far beyond the truck lay the wall of New Denver. Nathan could just barely make out the silhouettes of the city guards standing there, watching him. Despising him. Probably debating whether it was worth that risk to take another shot at him or not. Well, he might as well play his last card, then.
Nathan raised himself back to a seated position and reached into his backpack, pulling out the last item that remained inside: the actual prototype weapon. It was a fat, rectangular prism, made of matte, black metal, with two buttons and a LED light at the center.
With trembling fingers Nathan pulled an old paperclip from his pocket. He twisted it between his fingers and inserted its end into a hole on the end of the device. One of the lights at the center turned red. Nathan wrapped his hand around the device and pressed in one of its buttons with his thumb, causing the red light to start blinking. Nathan did not release his thumb. If he did, the bomb would go off.
Nathan looked back to the New Denver wall and raised the device high into the air. Could they see it? Would they even be able appreciate how dangerous such a small package could be to them, even at this range?
“Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you,” Nathan said as he pushed himself to his feet, “but why would I show it to you unless it mattered? Unless it was more powerful than it appears?” He turned his back to the city and began stumping forward, leaving a trail of red blood droplets across the clean, white salt. “So, for your own sakes, don’t risk it. Don’t shoot. Just accept that I can’t be stopped anymore…and pray that my plan will work.”
“Why do you get to decide everyone else’s fate?” Manuel Carrillo had said to him a year ago.
“Because I have fought and bled and killed too much for anyone to take this choice from me!” Nathan responded in the present day. “I’ve earned the right to decide. I’ve paid the price. So now I get to do what I determine necessary and no one will stop me!”
That was what he should have said to Manny back then. Manny wouldn’t have liked that answer any better, but at least then he would have had the truth before he died.