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“It… won’t… budge…”

Sam strained as he pushed on the rock. Lachlan put a hand on his arm, signaling him to stop.

“That might be for the best. We’d prefer not to crush Jen if we can help it.”

Jen gave a faint whimper from beneath the rock.

“Hey, hey, don’t worry.” Lachlan turned his head downward to address her. “There won’t be any Jen-crushing taking place today if we can help it.”

“Not as comforting… as you think…” mumbled Jen.

“Well, excuse me for trying,” he said.

He was no good at comforting people in ordinary situations, let alone in a situation like this.

“If we’re not gonna push the rock, what are we gonna do?” said Sam.

“Well, she said herself that she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she can climb out the same way she climbed in.”

“How?” said Sam. “She can barely move.”

“With our help,” said Lachlan. “She can climb, and we can pull her out.”

He crouched down by the opening and extended his hands.

“Here. Grab my arms.”

Her arms inched toward his, and he clasped her forearms. Her hands closed weakly around his elbows and he pulled.

She wasn’t doing much to climb out on her own, so he had to lean back with all his body weight to pull her from beneath the rock. He felt Sam grasp him under his arms from behind and pull too.

They hit some gravitational turning point and fell backward all at once, the three of them collapsing into a heap on the ground. Jen’s spines snagged the front of Lachlan’s shirt, prickling his shoulder.

“Excuse me, watch the spines,” he said.


Jen didn’t seem capable of getting off of him on her own, so he grasped her shoulders, rolling her onto her side as gently as he could. She let out a feeble whimper, tucking her knees and head into her chest and rolling into a ball.

Lachlan looked down at his shoulder where the spines had pricked him. It didn’t hurt, but little beads of blood were soaking into his shirt. He rubbed at it, and found that the reason it didn’t hurt was because it was numb.

So Jen didn’t just have spines, but venomous ones?

He took a deep breath and tried to relax. He didn’t know what kind of weird alien venom was in his system now, but he’d always been taught that if he was bitten by a poisonous snake, staying calm would slow the venom’s spread. Jen wasn’t a snake, but the same principle probably still applied.

Though he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to keep calm in a place like this.

He remained where he was, which unfortunately meant he stayed awkwardly lying on his back on top of Sam.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” he said, “but I think Jen is venomous.”

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