2.7 Primacy of a Species

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Wild zoved raced towards Thomas from behind. He didn't need to assess the danger. They splashed and slobbered, naked, like insane mind readers dressed in filth, intent on devouring a boy who could not run.

He adjusted his seated position so that the sharp edge of debris would puncture his throat, once he fell. It had to be a perfectly exact alignment. No second chances, since he was too weak to pick himself up and try it again. He double-checked and ran extra analytics in the back of his mind.

"Thomas!"

He raised his head, disbelieving. That could not be Cherise.

Yet there she was, clinging to the remains of the scaffold. Her glasses picked up some reflective light from the clouds.

Now Thomas was certain the dead city had driven him insane. She must be a figment of his imagination. His own subconsciousness was foiling his suicide.

"Come on," Cherise said, holding out an arm. "Can you slide towards that beam? If you can do that, I can meet you halfway."

Her voice was as liquid as Thomas remembered, but the note of independence was new. He was beginning to think that maybe she wasn't a hallucination.

He opened his mouth to speak. I'm sorry, he desperately wanted to say. I should never have hurt you. I wish I could take it back.

But wind roared through the chasm below, and wild zoved crooned behind him. All that emerged from his throat was a croak of terror as apes bounded towards the cliff—towards their meal.

Thomas sensed their starvation as they entered his range. As each ape passed its perceptions to its comrades, Thomas caught images of Cherise as a tasty morsel.

She was really here.

And she was really clinging to the scaffold, with no way to flee the horde of carnivorous apes; no way to die gently or on her own terms. Because she'd tried to rescue him.

That seemed unfair.

Thomas squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't think he could simplify his thoughts to ape-level and fool them that way again, since they they were getting wise to his methods. Never before had the wild zoved dealt with an outsider who pretended to be one of them, with their peculiar hungers and lusts and primordial fears. But they were beginning to accept that something new had entered their brutal world. Soon they would figure out that this new thing could be destroyed and devoured, no matter how alien he was, no matter how invulnerable his mind made him appear. He was an enemy. He was prey.

However, if there was one thing a super-genius could do well, it was think fast.

Thomas constructed groundwork for an elaborate scene in his visual cortex. This wasn't vague imagination. He boosted everything he saw. He added twenty-five Torth transports to the clouded sky, with searchlights slicing through rain. He layered in details, such as the hum of engines, near and far. The raindrops would refract just so. Searchlights and running lights would sweep the rain with conical penumbras. Transport speeds would vary, and Thomas built that variation into his scenario, along with other variables to add to the realism.

Then he played the scenario.

DANGER DANGER DANGER! Thomas trumpeted wordless alarm in his mind, and lashed out with a pain seizure at the nearest wild zoved.

It screamed and fell off the cliff.

Panic rippled through the entire horde. Most of them had no clue why the forerunners were panicking, since they did not perceive any danger. Thomas's imagined scenario only impacted the apes within his limited range. Even so, one of their number had fallen off a cliff due to an attack by an unseen enemy, and that news spread through the rest, passed from mind to mind.

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