[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
The sky is golden. The sea has this red glow now. Sid’s face is in the shadow of the tower and the wind is blowing.
Max can feel it in his teeth.
He can taste his own blood and, possibly, either Rahu’s or Sid’s.
The tower shifts and shakes as he staggers back.
Off to the distant west there’s a sound: Whump!
And strictly speaking Max should feel concerned that the tower is moving but right now there is only one thing in the world, which is Sid. Sid, standing there with the feather in his hair and the blood on his shirt and the wind tugging at his hair and clothing and the knives spinning to his left.
Max braces himself against the wall and he lunges forward to rip out Sid’s heart.
For a stupid, stupid plan, it’s remarkably effective. His fingers actually sink into Sid’s chest, bowing in the siggort’s ribs by half an inch before they stop. Sid takes half a step backwards, raises his arm, and tries to club Max across the face.
Max grabs Sid’s sleeve from beneath with his right hand. He shifts his left arm over Sid’s. He twists, putting pressure on Sid’s elbow, and as Sid stiffens, and because Max can see Sid’s face, he pushes forwards with his palm to strike at Sid’s already damaged jaw.
He hears the humming whine of the wheel of knives against his ear.
He falls sideways, trying to protect his face. The knives cut deep along his arm.
The world shifts under his feet.
Sid is frozen, looking at him, trying to figure out whether to press the attack while Max is on the ground, cut.
So Max pulls himself back up to his feet.
He watches the wheel spin until the knives seem to slow and he can almost see the handles whirling past.
“C’mon,” he says.
And Sid’s face twists, and he hops forward, and his hand stretches at Max’s face like a claw.
Max reaches inside the wheel with his left hand. A knifehandle strikes his wrist and his arm jerks and there is agony; but the wheel stops its spinning. His plan is this: to punch Sid through its open center.
But protruding from Sid’s palm, stretching forth in tentative motion like an insect feeler, there is a spike of siggort. It is glistening and deadly, metallic in color, a tool of vivisection and terror.
So Max doesn’t punch.
He draws his gun and he shoots and he shoots and he shoots because he does not want to die.
They stagger apart.
They sit down.
Sid coughs up old, dry blood. It comes out of his mouth as powder.
Max’s world dims and shakes and his ears ring.
Then Sukaynah heaves and tears herself loose from the foundation of the tower and a good quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower caves in.
Sid is like a liquid. He flows to his feet. Then he coughs. He can’t stop the coughing.
And, weirdly, he can’t stop thinking of how he doesn’t have to be alone.
He’d figured that out once.
That he didn’t have to be.
He was in darkness and solitude and it hit him that he didn’t have to be alone, that he could be with somebody called Max—
It doesn’t matter, Sid thinks.
He starts heading towards where people might be hurt; where people might be in danger; where Martin is working and the tower is crumbling.
He slips on Max’s blood.
His world wobbles. For just a second, he lets go
Sid wakes up.
He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.
It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.
He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”
It is June 2, 2004.
It is one of those days—those gorgeous days.
Sid’s sprawled on the grass next to the tower and slowly the desperation comes back to fill him.
There are some horrors that cannot be run from. There are some things that cannot be fought.
Where Sid is, there is Ii Ma.