Cincinnatus located himself in front of the inner airlock door. He half expected a couple of dozen rabs to be positioned all around the door, waiting to pounce the moment it opened. That's what he would have done, if he'd been in charge of defending the ark.

The door slid open.

Nothing moved.

Cincinnatus slipped into the corridor, orienting himself to stand upright in the narrow space. To Formics, he would seem to be sideways, standing on the wall. Not that it made any difference. He tested the feel of his magnetics and murmured, "Mags five."

The others gave the same command, tuning their boots to stick even less tightly to the "floor."

When Cincinnatus came here before, he had seen rabs almost immediately. Did it mean anything that they weren't showing up yet?

The Giant's voice murmured in his ear. "I assumed that the ecotat would have days the same length as the Formic home world. If your previous entry was at Formic noon, you're now coming in at midnight."

"If they're nocturnal then this is day, same benefit," said Ender softly.

"If they're dusk feeders then this is dawn," said Cincinnatus. "And we're iced."

"I don't see any yet," said Carlotta.

They passed under two upward passages but Carlotta didn't tell them to go up. It wasn't until they came to a large opening to the left that she said, "This is one of the standpipes."

"Aren't those rocket tubes inside?" asked Cincinnatus.

"But all the controls run up between the standpipe and the hull," said Carlotta. "Let's at least take a look."

The passage was sealed off from the perimeter corridor -- an airtight seal, so that a breach in the hull would not suck air from the passages that ran the length of the ship. It opened with a lever like the one at the airlock.

Inside, there was a crescent-shaped space. The desiccated corpses of four Formic workers were discarded like broken dolls, some of their limbs broken off and randomly strewn. Cincinnatus couldn't help a momentary recoil.

"I don't think they died here," said Ender almost at once. "They were probably thrust down here by the force of deceleration as the ark approached the planet. They were already completely dried up by then -- all this breakage came recently, and they've been dead for a century."

"So they died when the Hive Queen died," said Cincinnatus.

"Presumably," said Ender. "That's what Formics do."

"The rabs didn't eat them," said Carlotta.

"Guess they can't work the levers," said Cincinnatus.

"Not smart enough to understand them," said Ender. "They're strong and dextrous enough."

The whole length of this standpipe had apparently been sealed off from the rabs. They ran into no more corpses, and no hostiles, either. But when they came out of the standpipe passage into another perimeter corridor, it was a different story.

The air was filled with debris, floating like dustmotes in a beam of light. It took a moment to determine that they were body parts. The helmet's heat sensor showed Cincinnatus that there might be living creatures beyond the curve of the corridor in both directions, but none within line of sight.

Ender came through and began picking pieces out of the air to examine them.

"Bits of rab bodies, but also bits of other life-forms. Wings like insects. Really big ones. Lots of little skeletal bits, skin I don't recognize."

"En, stay close; Lot, can you tether him so you can tug him? Don't want any gaps opening."

He knew that Carlotta would obey, hooking a three-meter cable from herbelt to Ender's. He had no time to check, anyway, because rabs now came hurtling through the debris, rebounding from wall to floor to ceiling, scattering a hailstorm of bones and shells and wings and skin bits as they came. It was like intertwining tornadoes coming up the corridor.

Up the corridor. All at once Cincinnatus understood how useful Ender Wiggin's "enemy's gate is down" doctrine could be. Cincinnatus dropped onto his back and then braced his feet against the walls, the narrow way, and shot the spray down between his legs.

The spray -- if it worked on rabs at all -- was supposed to be very quick. It shot out from the nozzle in a fine aerosol fog, but at such speed that it filled the corridor for at least ten met

ers ahead. The smell was very faint.

Tags: Orson Scott Card The Shadow Science Fiction