Beam, the radiation levels and concentrations of DEP3 in the soil fell rapidly. Here the
mono's track swooped down to less than ten feet off the ground, and here a doe that looked
almost normal walked prettily from piney woods to drink from a stream in which the water
had three-quarters cleansed itself.
The doe was not normal—a stumpish fifth leg dangled down from thecenter of her lower
belly like a teat, waggling bonelessly to and fro when she walked, and a blind third eye
peered milkily from the left side of her muzzle. Yet she was fertile, and her DNA was in
reasonably good order for a twelfth-generation mutie. In her six years of life she had given
birthto three live young. Two of these fawns had been not just viable but
nor- mal—threaded stock, Aunt Talitha of River Crossing would have called them. The
third, a skinless, bawling horror, had been killed quickly by its sire.
The world—this part of it, at any rate—had begun to heal itself.
The deer slipped her mouth into the water, began to drink, then looked up, eyes wide,
muzzle dripping. Off in the distance she could hear a low humming sound. A moment later
it was joined by an eyelash of light. Alarm flared in the doe's nerves, but although her
reflexes were fast and the light when first glimpsed was still many wheels away across
the desolate countryside, there was never a chance for her to escape. Before she could even
begin to fire her muscles, the distant spark had swelled to a searing wolf's eye of light that
flooded the stream and the clearing with its glare. With the light came the maddening hum
of Blaine's slo-trans engines, running at full capacity. There was a blur of pink above the
concrete ridge which bore the rail; a rooster-tail of dust, stones, small dismembered
animals, and whirling foliage followed along after. The doe was killed instantly by the
concussion of Blaine's passage. Too large to be sucked in the mono's wake, she was still
yanked forward almost seventy yards, with water dripping from her muzzle and hoofs.
Much of her hide (and the boneless fifth leg) was torn from her body and pulled after Blaine
like a discarded garment.
There was brief silence, thin as new skin or early ice on a Year's End pond, and then the
sonic boom came rushing after like some noisy creature late for a wedding-feast, tearing
the silence apart, knocking a single mutated bird—it might have been a raven—dead out of
the air. The bird fell like a stone and splashed into the stream.
In the distance, a dwindling red eye: Blaine's taillight.