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The blood disappeared in the black sand, but not even the salt in the air could cover the odor of decaying bodies. I leaned back, bark catching on my shirt, and tried to breathe through my mouth. An unbroken mix of blue and green spread out before me. It was worse than the stench.The tree shook all around me. My legs tightened around the branch. I raised the gun in my lap. Loud bangs pierced my ears and metal grew hot in my hands. The four closest wastopaneers blanketed the ground, the holes in their heads shining red in the sunlight.One tried to stand back up, digging her nails into the tree. I reached inside my bag. I was going to have to tacise her. My fingers brushed the smooth cylinder. I jerked out my taser and fired. The wastopaneer dropped, brain fried.I settled against the trunk once more, air blowing between my lips. I yanked an apple from my knapsack and took a bite, too sweet. The juice, cold and sticky, dribbled down my chin.“Is anyone alive down there?” I jumped. The apple fell, hitting a wasopaneer in the head. My neck snapped back. I squinted to see the synbatec against the sun.I jumped to my feet, bracing myself with one hand and waving the other over my head. My voice clawed up my throat. “Me. I’m alive. Oh please, see me.”A rope ladder tumbled onto my head. I grasped it desperately, clambering above the foliage of the tree. Hands pulled me in.I kissed the thin carpet before rolling over. A man stood above me. “Are we headed to the ship?”He shook his head. “The ship’s been overrun.”He held out his arm, the circular bite-mark deep and fresh.