The machine crawling across the Machine Platform towards the waiting figure of Joh, tiny by comparison, was some kind of construction beamer. These behemoths were used to create massive beams and wall segments from the raw particles provided by harvesters that trawled the interstellar medium. The machine could not have much in the way of materials right now, as there were no harvesters in operation. It might contain a limited supply in an internal store, left over from the days when the Annex was constructed. From the distance at which Vanu was viewing it, the beamer appeared to lumber along slowly, but zhe guessed it was moving fast enough to outmaneuver a solitary human. It sidled laterally across the Machine Platform, its movement resembling that of a large crab—indeed, it had pincer-like appendages like those of the ancient crustacean.
The beamer was a large cube, more than two hundred meters in each dimension, upon which were attached half a dozen large, articulated arms. Two of these, near the base of the machine, were hauling it along by grabbing hold of bars that jutted out from the Platform. The machine must be floating several meters from the Platform surface. The role of the articulated arms was to keep that massive mass on its course. Who was operating the machine? Vanu wondered. It was an act of near insanity
<Joh! What’s going on? Are you all right? We’re almost there!>
The jonah swooped towards the tiny figure as the monstrous beamer drew near.
With a start, Vanu realized what they had to do. <Joh, temp up! Temp up! Set your tempo to five!>
Vanu coordinated with Tee’hal and Jetsu to reset their tempo. At a tempo of five, instead of the usual 800, they might have a chance at forestalling whatever that operator had planned. They also stood a better chance of dealing with the physics of the various moving bodies out there. Five was uncomfortably close to realtime for hir vacuum-adapted bren, however. Vanu could feel the sudden, deep chill as hir bren tried to supply heat at a rate faster than it leaked away.
Vanu wasn’t sure Joh had heard hir instruction, but it might not matter. <Tee’hal, I need you to swing in as close to Joh as you can get. Jetsu, do you think you could catch Joh and the supplies as we move by them? Before that beamer… before that machine gets there?>
Both creatures assented. Vanu didn’t have time to test their resolve further. At the change in tempo, the forward motion of the beamer had slowed dramatically, but so, of course, had their own. Nonetheless, Tee’hal put on a burst of speed, twisting his body so that the Machine Platform became their ceiling. As they swept past, the oggie grabbed Joh. A few moments later, Joh clambered through the access portal, holding hir slight body away from the soft walls to counter the sharp movements of the jonah’s maneuvering efforts, still wrapped in the yellow splattered flag of DeoFax, now both dirty and rumpled. Zhe held a crumpled bag between hir hands.
<Need t’ go ‘gain f’r s’plies,> Jetsu confessed. Obediently, Tee’hal jetted around for another pass.
<I’ve got a few!> Joh asserted, holding out the bag, but Vanu could see these weren’t enough.
They would have made it, but at that moment the operator of the beamer showed hir hand.
<Watch out!> Vanu called to Tee’hal as a huge, horizontal shape shot forward from the beamer towards them. Tee’hal twisted and lurched, causing both Vanu and Joh to crash into the sides of the chamber. Suddenly their binups were filled with a keen wailing, a cry of pain, that almost caused Vanu to lose consciousness. <Tee’hal? Are you all right?> zhe finally managed to call out.
In answer, the jonah sent Vanu an image of mangled flesh still clinging to the sailfin. Jetsu was gone, leaving only a few flickering pieces of tentacle behind. And the Annex was dropping away behind them as the keening wail of the jonah accompanied them into the void.