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Rikki

Rikki shucks out of the jumpsuit, which won’t help if things go badly. She pops an ampule and spills yellow silt into one hand. If Canard’s wrong, she’s dead. If he’s right, it’ll dice her pheromones into something resembling a spineback’s: a label saying Don’t Eat, Not Worth The Trouble. She starts smearing.

Up a tree, over a wall–easy, but Rakshasa’s got better defenses. One long limb bows and suddenly Rikki sees them. Orange. Black. Shimmer like heat haze.

The first one notices her, scents the air: here’s the test. Rikki holds her breath, a strange Daniel, naked among tigers.

Rikki

Rikki nearly skis to keep her balance on the heaving carpets, but somehow the Hioliphant stays gyroscopically still: this strange moving tent orbits around him.

“I got this far,” she says, trying and failing to keep the yelps out of her voice. “You know that means I’m worth hearing.”

A brazier crashes down, then rights itself, ridiculously. The Hioliphant keeps writing.

Rikki gambles: “A name,” she says, “Rakshasa’s mistress.”

The floor’s suddenly still, and the Hioliphant’s brown eyes are on her, big and impenetrable. Rikki can see the sharp triceratops shadows outside. She licks her lips: the ride’s not over yet.

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