“Good,” Perry approved. “Bring it right here between my hands.”
O’Reilly pressed the nozzle through the rectangle of light.
“Little to the left. Little more. There.”
She started pulling back on the trigger, but only slightly.
She pulled the trigger further and further back.
“Hold it there for a second…” Perry touched his fingers on something on the other side and partially withdrew them, as if they had been burned. “This is thicker than I thought. Give it one full burst.”
O’Reilly pulled the trigger all the way back and then immediately released.
“There it is!” Perry exclaimed, roving his fingers back and forth again. “Let’s get that third piston in quick before–oh-oh,” Perry furrowed his brow and everyone took a step back, waiting with bated breath.
“One of the walkers?” Dawson whispered. Perry didn’t even dare shake his head, he just darted his eyes left-and-right in a “no.”
“Then what…a stabber?”
The eyes flicked up and down rapidly.
O’Reilly huddled closer, once again holding the can of compressed air at the ready.
“Is it on your hands?”
Eyes flicked a “yes.”
“This finger? This one? Okay, this one. Should I blast it?”
Perry didn’t give assent or dissent. He cocked his head back-and-forth, trying to make up his mind. Then he looked meaningfully to Dawson and then the controls to extend or retract the volume of light.
“Ah, okay,” Dawson understood. He began rotating the dial back, retracting the window, and by extension Perry’s fingers. Hopefully the stabber would just fall off and Perry wouldn’t have to risk O’Reilly blasting his fingers off.
“Easy…easy…” Perry silently mouthed. “More…more…” Then, all at once he shouted, “ALL THE WAY!” Dawson spun the dial until it jammed to a stop and the window retracted so completely that it entirely disappeared. The ends of Perry’s hands could be seen again in the real world, and upon them the bloody marks where the sharp, clawed foot of a massive insect had been crawling across!
Everyone gave a loud exhale of relief.
“Alright, let’s pack this up,” O’Reilly took a step back, fingers shaking as she began disassembling the can of compressed air. Myers came forward with a bottle and sprayed a soothing salve on Perry’s fingers.
“No,” Perry said stubbornly. “At least not on my account.” He looked to Gonzalez, still shivering in the icy water.
“Not on my account either.”
“Are you two insane?” O’Reilly exclaimed. “Each hunt has been worse than the last. They’re figuring it out, they’re recognizing our presence and they’re adapting to it. Sooner or later, someone is going to die!”
“All of us knew the risks when we signed up for this,” Perry returned. “Yes, it’s getting tougher and soon we’re going to have to find another way. But they’re still just dumb animals and we still need today’s delivery. The people back home aren’t getting any better while we waste time arguing, are they? Are they, O’Reily?”
O’Reilly looked downward.
“I sure know my boy isn’t, and you can be sure I’m not coming home to him without red salve. Certainly not when I’m three pistons into a staked claim already!”
With that last comment he gestured to the three poles which, like Perry’s hands, were now totally visible in the ordinary world, yet inexplicably suspended in the air like an invisible string was holding them in place.
“If you or anyone else can’t be a party to this,” Perry concluded, “then go ahead and leave.”
O’Reilly didn’t say a word, but she stepped back into her place.
“Open the window again Dawson,” Perry ordered, and the man slowly rotated the dial, bringing the volume of light back into reality. The ends of Perry’s fingers and the metal bars instantly disappeared into the other reality once more.
“Alright,” Perry muttered as he began feeling around with his fingers again. “No sign of the stabber anymore…possibly we could fit a beacon here where we blasted away the rock. Let me check it…”
Dawson lowered the bottom of the window and Perry reached his arms into it, all the way up to his shoulders, only stopping short of sticking his entire head inside!
“Okay…yeah…bring the beacon over. I’ve got a good notch here for it.”
It was Thompson’s turn to empty the contents of her bag, bringing a metal ball with several prongs and a mesh of wires over to Perry. He took the device and reached it through the window, fumbling inside for a little bit until he was satisfied with its placement.
“Alright,” he said. “Fire it up!”
Thompson flicked a switch on a portable control panel, and everyone whipped out a tablet, furiously clicking through screens of information that were populated instantaneously.
“Pistons primed!” Perry announced, tapping the back of each of the metal bars once more so that the green LEDs on them began flashing rapidly.
No sooner did they make these changes than the area around them began to shimmer and distort. One moment it looked like the same frosted banks of the Ori-Haq-Wi River that it always had, and then the next certain patches gave way to glimpses of another world. That world was vibrant, and colorful. It was covered everywhere by metallic cables that snaked around everything, seemingly fused into the very bedrock of that land. Several of those cables ended in flat, upward-facing flowers, their petals appearing like broken glass, refracting the light ten times over. Buzzing around those flowers were dragonflies the size of a person’s head, with shiny backs that reflected but distorted whatever was opposite them so that they appeared like an almost-invisible anomaly buzzing through the world.
“Life readings are incredibly high!” Swanson announced to the group.
“I’m already seeing a convergence at our stake,” Myers jabbed his thumb at the area up and to the right of their window.
“Piston in the corner,” Perry snapped. The new metal bar was inserted and he immediately angled it in the direction Myers had described. “Fire.”
Swanson touched a metal ball in his hand to the back of the piston and something blasted out its front, sending a powerful ripple through all the glimpses they had into the other world.
“Fire all of them in turn!” Perry commanded. “Two second delay between. And more pistons here and here and here and here. Not you Dawson, you crank this window open another eight inches each way. I want a solid foothold in the next thirty seconds!”
“Oh…” Gonzalez’s eyes went wide. He was still down in the water with Perry’s window pointed directly at his chest, and at this moment the man appeared to be shimmering intermittently between both realities. “I do not think we have thirty seconds!”
And as he spoke all the others saw flashes of a translucent, shimmery film crawling up from the water and along his body!