It was a cold yet bright morning as the hunters assembled themselves on the banks of the Ori-Haq-Wi River.
“Take a survey,” Perry, the leader of their group command.
Four of the hunters moved to the river’s edge, measuring things like the opacity of the water and the amount of frost that had collected on the tall reeds. Only Dawson and Gonzalez remained standing at Perry’s side, each holding a thick, metal pole the height of a man.
“There’s still a thin film,” O’Reilly confirmed, jotting the results of her measurement into her notebook. “4 millimeters thick and 17 percent interspersed.”
“Only seventeen percent?” Thompson sighed. “Forecast for tomorrow is six degrees colder…so I’d expect this is the last chance of the season.”
Perry nodded but did not yet make a decision. “Do we have an activity level yet?” he asked Swanson.
Swanson was standing four feet into the river, holding a tablet with two wires coming out of it, one running into the water below, the other held out into the air. He was wearing a pair of headphones and held up his hand for quiet before answering.
“It’s not a clear reading,” he announced. “Still too much noise in the in-between…but I’d say at least two category four walkers…I don’t think anything bigger than that.”
“Two?!” Myers scrunched up his nose. “That’s a little more than we’re bargaining for, isn’t it?”
“That’s Gonzalez’s call,” Perry replied.
“Two’s not a problem,” Gonzalez answered immediately.
Perry stared hard at Gonazlez, and Gonzalez held the gaze without betraying any sign of uncertainty.
“Okay,” Perry decided. “We do it, then. Stakes in.”
Gonzalez and Dawson lifted their metal poles and thrust their ends into the frosted earth. Set into the top of each pole were two glass bulbs, which could be moved up and down along a groove on the inside of the pole. The men slid these up and down, creating the four points of a rectangle in the air.
“Little closer than that,” Perry instructed. “Seventeen inches to start with.”
“How tall?” Dawson rotated his pole’s bulbs to extend them forward.
“Keep it narrow for now. Half-inch. Let’s feel it out and stake a claim first.”
“Staking a claim is slow,” Gonzalez frowned.
“I told you I can handle it.”
“You let me do my job and I let you do yours.” He broke eye-contact to call out to the other four still taking their measurements. “You all about finished? Let’s make some space.”
O’Reilly, Thompson, Swanson, and Myers jotted down the last of their notes and moved behind Perry, Gonzalez, and Dawson. Then Gonzalez moved into position, wading a few feet into the river, stopping when the water came to his calves. Perry took his gloves off and rubbed his palms together vigorously.
“Turn it on,” he commanded, and Dawson flicked a switch on each of the poles. The four bulbs lit up, and four thin cords of light stretched between them. Then the rectangle they defined filled in with a soft, golden haze. Perry pressed the tips of his fingers through that film, and they disappeared into it. He gave an involuntary shudder, as if his fingers had been submerged into a bucket of ice.
“Alright, alright, alright,” Perry muttered, closing his eyes and starting to feel back and forth, getting a sense for what his fingers were encountering. “Nothing… nothing… extend it further….”
Dawson spun a dial and the rectangle of light extended outward in a volume, nearly a centimeter thick.
“Alright, alright,” Perry began moving his hands back and forth again, like a concert pianist, feeling and grabbing and rearranging unseen things on the other side of that window. He ranged his hands all the way to the left and all the way to the right, and from time-to-time he gave instructions to shift the window wider, or to extend it deeper.
“Got a tangle here,” he muttered, then gripped with his fingers and hand-over-hand pulled a white, slimy cord out of the light window. As his hands re-emerged into the regular world one could see that his fingers were bizarrely stretched, nearly a foot in length. But then the air touched his skin and his hands returned back to their proper length and the white cord entangled in his fingers evaporated into nothing.
“Okay…okay…” Perry ran his hands up and down the length of light one more time. “That should be good for now. Let’s start staking our claim. Pistons!”
Swanson and Myers set their backpacks on the ground, and each withdrew a half-dozen steel bars, about an inch in diameter and ten inches long. Each of them had two LED lights, one red and one green set into their end.
“Top-left, just a little in from the corner,” Perry instructed. Swanson pressed the first bar into the window of light at the designated spot, pushing it in until only the last two inches and the LED lights were protruding in the normal world. Perry reached inside the window and adjusted the end of the bar on that end.
“Turn it on.”
Swanson tapped his finger to the back and the LED lights flickered back-and-forth until the green LED finally stayed on.
“Good, good. Next one, bottom middle.”
Myers inserted his first bar, but he only got halfway through before it started to get tangled on something inside.
“Give me a little more room to work with.”
Dawson raised the window a couple inches and Perry reached his entire arm into it, grabbing and moving things until the way was clear and the second bar could be fully inserted and activated.
“Yeah, yeah. Now I want this third one about two inches further to the right…but before we do that, I’ve got some rock in the way. Torch it.”
For the first time there was a slight delay before his order was followed.
“You sure about that?” O’Reilly asked. “With a couple stage-four walkers hanging around that doesn’t seem very…discreet.”
“We’re already breached and claimed, O’Reilly! Would you have us extract and move? That would be more disruptive. It’s got to be done.”
O’Reilly bit her lip, but she obediently unstrapped a can of compressed air from the side of her backpack, then attached a long, plastic nozzle to its end. “Alright, I’m ready.”
“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!
“Gonzalez we are NOT ready for co-option!” Perry said through gritted teeth, eyes rapidly flicking between the man and the pulsing ripples being blasting through each of the pistons.
“You think I don’t know that?” The man was frantically running his fingers from his head to his toes, trying to touch every square inch of his body as he went. Everywhere his fingers reached the advance of the translucent film was slowed, though not completely halted.
“Give him a booster!” Perry shouted, but O’Reilly was already down in the water, preparing the syringe. She had to hold the needle in Gonzalez’s arm for a few seconds, just to be sure that it had fully permeated his dimension-fluctuating body, and then she injected him with an extra dose of his own DNA, keeping him tethered to the real world for a little longer.
“Where are we at on stake dominance?” Perry demanded.
“Seventy-two percent of native life eradicated…” Thompson read off of her control panel. “About three grams per cubic inch remaining.”
“Not good enough!” Perry’s bit his lip as he tried to figure out a solution.
“Hey guys–” Gonzalez’s eyes twitched nervously as he tried to interpret something that was starting to manifest itself to his senses. “Something big is here!”
The air around them was still shimmering, giving glimpses of the strange other world in that area. And while the shimmers around Gonzalez were not clear enough to tell exactly what was happening, there was definitely something massive moving around him. It was nearly twenty feet tall and covered in shimmering, blue and crimson scales. It was moving, seemingly stalking Gonzalez, no doubt sensing his growing presence just as he was increasingly sensing it.
“Category four walker,” Swanson breathed, “and we’re way past being able to do early extraction.”
“We need stake dominance now!” Perry concluded. “Fire up the piston network!”
“But your hands are still breached!” O’Reilly exclaimed.
“And we don’t have time to fully disentangle, even if you did draw them out.”
“I know! I’m not drawing them out. We need an operator!”
“But I haven’t given you your reversion booster from this side!” Gonzalez added.
“Everyone, I know! But we need dominance now! This is not a discussion. Just do it!”
Myers and Swanson looked sick to their stomachs, but Perry was right and they knew it. They were past the point of no return. Either they had to keep following through or else abandon Gonzalez to an early demise. So the two men rapidly touched the metal ball triggers to the back of the pistons, firing them off in one, unified chorus. All the pistons fired as before, but this time they did not stop after the initial surge. Since they had been fired in tandem they were able to draw continued energy from each other, firing over and over in a constant, circling round.
“Unnnnngh!” Perry moaned as the parts of his hands reaching through the window of light were burned by the surge of power. He could not withdraw them, though. Now they were pinned there as if an invisible vise.
“Stake dominance achieved!” Swanson tapped through the screens on her tablet. “Sphere of control is…eight feet in diameter.”
“Get it bigger,” Perry said through gritted teeth, and Dawson immediately rotated the knobs on the stakes, widening the window of light. As he did so, Myers and Swanson added new pistons to the extended region, each of which immediately caught the surge of energy from the already-existing network and joined in with it.
“Stake range?” Perry demanded after a half dozen more stakes had been added.
“Eleven feet in diameter…operating range of thirty feet,” Swanson returned.
“Send a pulse down Gonzalez’s way and see if we can’t push that walker off…. Though it’s just as likely to make it go berserk…”
“Do it!” Gonzalez said through warbling lips. The shimmery film had made its way up to his thighs, and his whole body was shaking violently as he desperately tried to keep from giving over entirely to the other world.
Perry grabbed the inner ends of the pistons and swiveled them to point towards Gonzalez as Thompson punched a button on her tablet, sending a command to the beacon. All at once the energy surge around the pistons focused towards the center and then shot outward, blasting over the area where Gonzalez stood.
Gonzalez’s head and arms thrust backward, and all the hunters heard an otherworldly shriek, like the echo of a massive bellow bouncing off Gonzalez’s body.
Then came the reverse pressure as the outward surge collapsed in on itself. Through the flickering windows to the other world the hunters could see a stream of alien flora and fauna sucking rapidly towards the pistons. None of it broke through the window of light, though, everything burned into nothingness as soon as it collided with the barrier of their staked claim.
Well, almost everything was burned to nothingness.
All the windows flashed crimson and blue as the great creature next to Gonzalez was also pulled into the sphere of control. But unlike the smaller things, this larger beast did not immediately burn away.
Instead, it was wrenched into that Nexus, and suddenly a long, scaly snout pierced through the window into their real world, jaws snapping less than an inch from Perry’s sweat-covered face!
“Cut Perry loose!” Dawson exclaimed, pulling a machete out of his backpack.
“You will NOT chop my hands off!” Perry snarled. Though he appeared terrified by the smoldering fangs lunging at his face his eyes still burned with steely focus.
Dawson finished getting his massive blade out, but he didn’t follow through with his original instinct.
“Dawson,” Perry said with intense earnestness, “through the roof and out the jaw. Swanson, shrink the window to an inch.”
The two men caught on almost instantly. Swanson grabbed the window controls and spun the top and bottom together until there was only enough space for Perry’s fingers and the creature’s mouth. At the exact same moment Dawson stabbed the cutlass down through the air. It had enough of a point to pierce through the top of the creature’s mouth and came ripping out the bottom jaw. With an agonized cry the creature tried to snap its face back, but the tall cutlass slammed into the too-narrow window and refused to move any further. For better or worse, the creature was pinned in place!
Perry flexed his hands nervously as the beast’s snout writhed back and forth through the narrow slit of the window. Its face slammed sideways against his pinned fingers, but with the cutlass clamping its teeth together it could not do them any serious damage. At least not until–
The window crackled as the beast slammed its claws against the interdimensional barrier, crushing the parts of Perry’s fingers that were on the other side of the portal.
“AAAAAAARRRGH!” the man screamed, falling to his knees, but still suspended by his hands trapped in the barrier.
“Thompson, fire the beacon again!” Myers snapped.
Thompson snapped out of a state of shock and tapped on the tablet. There was a moment’s pause, and then another powerful surge of energy emanated from the beacon and pistons. Through the window the great beast gave an anguished cry, then its mouth turned upward and went limp, suggesting that the body on the other side had finally collapsed dead to the ground. Dawson pulled his cutlass out of the creature’s snout, which slipped backward through the portal and out sight.
“Alright, start shutting everything down!” Myers shouted to everyone else. “We get Gonzalez and Perry’s hands out of there and we leave.”
Even with his face deathly pale and his body convulsing in shock Perry stumbled back to his feet and spat out “No! We’re not going anywhere!”
“Perry, you can’t be serious!” “Look, I’m sorry. I know the red salve yield from a walker is far less than we were hoping for, but we have an opportunity to get out with something, and we need to take it.”
“Never mind that! You can’t just power down while there’s another category four walker around. Gonzalez needs defenses!”
Everyone looked to the shimmery windows. After all the chaos of the past few moments everything seemed perfectly calm and still now. They collectively turned to Swanson.
“You’re sure there were two?” Myers demanded.
Swanson was already fitting his headphones back on and sticking his two wire-sensors into the air and water.
“I–I thought so–” he stammered. “You would think it would have showed up already with all this commotion. It really did seem like there was two…”
He held up his hand for quiet, eyes flitting left and right as he listened intently to the sounds coming from the other side.
“I don’t–I don’t hear anything anymore,” he shrugged.
“I guess it ran off?” Dawson suggested.
“Oh, like you’ve ever heard of a walker retreating?” O’Reilly scoffed.
“You two, shut up,” Swanson hissed. “I said I don’t hear anything. Anything. It’s never been this quiet before.”
“We just killed everything,” Myers offered.
“I don’t even hear the foundation humming anymore. All I’m getting is our own world. Oh!–wait–there’s something–it’s Gonzalez.”
Swanson snapped his eyes to the right, and everyone followed his gaze. In all the confusion they hadn’t noticed Gonzalez leave his position along the banks of the river, but evidently something had drawn him out from their base of operations. Now he was sprinting back to them, evidenced by the occasional spray of water kicked up from the river’s surface. He was entirely covered in the shimmery film, more in the other world than in this one. That was why he was able to sprint over the liquid surface, as his physical form was too briefly connected to the water to sink.
“Gonzalez?” Dawson’s voice was full of concern.
Suddenly the splashing came to a halt, right in front of the crew of hunters. Gonzalez’s form started rapidly flickering between both realities as he fought to return to the real world. Rapid glimpses of his face and hands flashed before them, sweaty and shaking, and his voice rang out in a warbled and broken shout.
“O-O-O-H N-O-O-O-O!!! TH–GOT–A WAY–. –ANOTH–PORTAL. I DON’T–HOW–BUT–DID!”
Then came a horrible sound of impact, and Gonzalez’s body disappeared before it could even scream.
“GONZALEZ!” several of the hunters shouted, but there came no reply.
“Everyone, get out!” Swanson’s face was pale and white. He still had his headphones on, so he was the only that had heard both sides of what Gonzalez had said. “NOW!”
Myers, O’Reilly, and Thompson didn’t need telling twice. They immediately shoved their equipment back into their packs and turned on the spot.
“We can’t go!” Dawson shouted. “We have to help Gonzalez!”
“Gonzalez is dead!” Swanson snapped. “And this is a trap!”
“Wait…” Perry said weakly. His hands had gone white from the loss of blood and the rest of his body was sinking lower and lower to the ground. “Shut down the beacon…close the window…we can’t let anything get through.”
“But your hands!” Myers fidgeted nervously.
Perry just rolled his eyes sideways to Dawson. “Do it.”
Dawson didn’t ask for confirmation. In a moment he had the cutlass out again, raised it high overhead, then brought it down in one, swift motion.
“Urrrrrrrrgh!” Perry cried through his teeth as Dawson tightly wrapped a roll of gauze around the finger stubs. He didn’t bother with any sort of treatment, for now he was just cutting off the blood flow. Then he scooped his powerful arms under Perry’s body and lifted him into the air.
Even in the midst of great pain Perry once again mumbled “Shut it down,” but Thompson was already punching the command in on her console.
There came a winding-down hum from their staked claim and the window of golden light started to flicker. Through the fading glimpses into the other word they could see that the sphere of control on the other side starting to shrink.
But then, even as the portal to the other world was winding down, they also noticed the sound of another hum growing in power. Everyone turned their backs to the river and saw a new, silver portal beginning to expand thirty feet further inland.
All of them stared in silent disbelief, trying to make sense of where this had come from. But any doubts there were soon dispelled as the claws of the other category four walker began emerging from it!
It seemed impossible, but somehow they had been counter-invaded!
“Get back!” Myers shouted. All the hunters stared in horror as the claws kept stretching further and further out of the silver window, becoming impossibly warped and long, just as Perry’s fingers had done when prying through the golden portal. And even as the claws grew longer they also increased in number. First it was six, then ten, then twenty. It was an unclean breach, and the appendages were being diffracted into duplicate forms.
Thompson’s eyes flicked back and forth rapidly, turning from their own golden portal growing smaller and smaller to this new silver portal growing larger and larger. Suddenly she realized that they were perfectly inverted to one another.
“It’s our portal!” she exclaimed. “We have to power ours back up!”
So saying she pulled the tablet out of her bag and began mashing away at the screen.
“What are you talking about?” O’Reilly demanded.
“I don’t know how, but they’ve inverted our portal. If ours shuts down, that one opens. So if we get our own portal all the way up again that one should go back down.”
“Are you sure about that?” Swanson demanded.
“No…” she tapped her screen and the beacon planted on the other side of the golden window started warming back up. “But I think so.”
The others couldn’t think of anything else to try, so they rushed to help her. Swanson and Myers cranked the size of the golden window up and began placing their pistons inside once more. O’Reilly opened her own tablet and started to monitor the levels coming in from their beacon. Dawson kept holding Perry in his arms and the two of them stared transfixed at the claws feeling left and right, up and down, reaching for them.
“Whoa!” Myers shouted and leaped back from the golden window. “He’s right there!”
As the beacon had warmed back up the fragmented view of the other world had returned as well. And through those openings they could see glimpses of crimson and blue, the body of the other category four walker. It was standing right beside their portal, claws reaching into it.
“He’s reaching in here…” Thompson pointed to the golden window, “but it’s coming out there…” she vaguely gestured to the silver portal behind them.
“Don’t worry about it,” Swanson was jamming the pistons through the window as quickly as he could. “He can’t bite at us through the window like the last one did. His mouth would just show up behind us. Let’s set off these pistons and blast him away.”
“Okay, okay…” Myers shook his initial fright off and joined Swanson in placing the pistons.
“Hey, you guys?” Dawson said nervously. “Something weird is happening at the other portal back here.”
Strange, column-shaped distortions had begun intermingling with the creature’s claws. The columns did not have any physical appearance of their own, they were only detectable by how they seemed to bend and warp the light around them, sucking it all inwards.
Thompson turned to see the phenomenon, but all she could do was shake her head in confusion. It was just another inexplicable oddity on top of another, but at least this one didn’t seem to be an immediate threat.
“That should be enough,” Swanson slid yet another of the pistons into the window. “Let’s blast this thing!”
And then Thompson understood. Because the silver portal was an inversion of the golden one, when they had pressed physical rods into the golden end they had come out the silver end as column-shaped vacuums. They hadn’t been placing anything in the world of the category four walker, they had been lining up a row of cannons right behind their own backs!
“No wait–!” Thompson cried, but Swanson and Myers each ran the small, metal ignition balls across the backs of the pistons in one fluid motion.
Unlike before, there was no sound of explosive surges. Instead, all of the column-shaped aberrations coming out of the silver portal imploded violently! Like a dozen mini black holes they sucked violently on the hunter’s world with tremendous force.
Dawson and Perry were standing too near and they were violently lifted off of their feet and sent hurtling into the silver portal. For a horrible moment they were transfixed there, trapped between the silver and golden gates, alternately pulled in and blasted outward by the normal and inverted states of the pistons. The oscillating forces crashed back and forth over their bodies more than a thousand times a second, and their bodies broke apart and evaporated into heat and energy!
And that wasn’t all. Swanson and Myers had fired off the pistons so quickly and so close to one another that once again they took energy from one another in a continuous cycle, firing and pulling and repeating in a constant round. All the surviving hunters threw themselves to the ground and clawed at the ice-hard earth as the suck of the inverted pistons yanked at their ankles over and over and over again.
“Hold on everyone!” Thompson shouted. With one hand she held fast to a large rock protruding from the earth and with the other she slammed her tablet on the ground and tried to click the controls to shut down the beacon. “I’ll close the portal! Just hold on!”
But while she was struggling the many-repeated claws had begun moving again. Further and further the creature reached them into the hunters’ world. The claws extended foot after foot, continuing to diffract and stretch out as they went. Some of them even reached so far to pierce into the golden window of the hunters’ portal.
No sooner did those claws pierce through then they suddenly emerged a second time out of the silver portal, this time as long, featureless voids. And their stretching was compounded from having gone through the portal twice, so they almost instantly breached the gap back to the golden portal, passed through again, and came out as even more hyper-extended physical claws.
And of course those ran the gap back to the golden portal even more quickly. Over and over the claws bridged through and through again. Silver portal to golden, out the silver side again, through the golden again. Physical, then a void, then physical, then a void. And each time diffracting and dividing into hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands.
In an instant the multitude of claws, hyper-extended beyond recognition, ran over the banks of the river and pierced through the hunters a thousand times over. All the equipment was shattered, everything was broken except for the portals. Together they sustained each other, and through them the claws still continued to multiply.
Faster and faster, exponentially, the claws continued to divide and grow. They now appeared like a writhing gray mass, widening and deepening, expanding past the banks of the river, then covering the river itself, then filling the entire valley. And still it continued unabated. Still it grew and reached and destroyed.