May. 20th, 2011

Joel trudged down the track, dodging the biggest and sharpest rocks in the road. Some combination of gravity and mineral anomalies made the rocks on Eschaton cleave especially sharp, and even though he wore heavy moonboots, it wouldn't do to cut up your footgear. It was minus twenty F in the sunlight, and it was only going to get colder.

The track sloped gently down toward the start of the big water. Joel struggled to keep his balance. The frost that encrusted the track made things slippery, and his balance wasn't great to begin with because of his awkward load. In his heavily-gloved right hand he carried the last of the settlement's triage packs, an aluminum case the size of a valise; his left gripped the cord of the snare that held the dagnabbit around the neck. The dagnabbit was still alive and its jumping legs kicked from time to time.

Joel picked his way gingerly down to the edge of the big water. The pack ice was solid, and the wave action of the sea was something you had to really look for under the white expanse that spread to the horizon. Only at the fishing hole was the ice thin enough to see the black water below. Joel set the triage pack down and picked up the ice auger that had been left by the last fisherman; he used it to bash through the ice until he had a clear patch of water. The big water smelled like a pickle jar, thanks to Eschaton's bizarre planetary chemistry.

Joel tossed the dagnabbit into the water. The steel weight dragged it down immediately; Joel saw that its legs were still kicking feebly as it vanished from view. Joel payed out the snare cord until he had only about twenty feet left; then he held the knot and waited. He didn't have to wait long.

There was no jerk on the line; the devil simply surfaced in the fishing hole with the cord draping out of its enormous feeding mouth. It kicked its way out of the water and dragged itself onto the ice with its many arms, then turned to face Joel with the hole between them. Its eyespots sized Joel up.

"You're new," the devil observed shrewdly.

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