written by M. Sydnor Jr.
If not for Phea, he’d wipe his hands of Witter and the rest of them. Whatever took them, could come back for the rest for all he cared. But Phea. She was family. She was all he had now. He loved her. The Schlorans were her people. Therefore, by default, they were his people, too.
A Uridian risking his life for Schlorans. They’d sing songs about this.
Etos held a large weapon in both of his hands as he marched deep into the jungle. Another two handguns on either side of him. Before he ventured out, he grabbed the first two able-bodied Schlorans to go with him. They walked slightly ahead as he led from the back. They worked together, yeah, but he’d never let an armed Schloran get behind him. Never in a million, trillion years.
Years! Kee said we traveled back in time. What does that mean?
Did it matter? The mission was to find a new home; present, past or future.
As they ventured, he had a dangerous thought to shoot these two Schloran Scum in the back and leave them as bait. They wouldn’t see it coming. They trusted him, but he couldn’t share that same sentiment. According to Phea, those were innocent men, women and children that joined him on Blue. Not all radicals willing to sacrifice Phea. However, Uridians were taught that no Schloran was innocent. Born villains. Forever enemies of the planet. He’d shoot them dead right here, right now, and that’d be justification enough. Honor to his Uridian culture. But what would Phea think of him? The only one left he had in the world. His only family now. She was a Schloran. Is a Schloran, yet, he loved her. Would die for her without question. Could that change for these people? Could he love them, too? He felt like a monster for even thinking of murdering these two men in cold blood. They were innocent. Old. Couldn’t protect themselves even if Etos gave them a chance. Every thought of Phea brought him back on track. Got him focused on the task at hand.
No sign of Witter and his men, but there was movement ahead. Etos smacked his teeth in a way to signal the two Schlorans to stop. They didn’t. They weren’t military, they didn’t understand his jargon. So, he picked up his pace and pushed between the two. He whispered to them, “Hold it right here,” and took the lead, stopping a few yards ahead of them.
Etos bent down on a knee and scanned the trees. They were waving a second ago. Now, they were as still as his breath. But those Schlorans behind him were panting like they’d been running all afternoon.
“Witter!” one of them screamed.
Etos snapped his head back and shushed him. Thoughts of murdering them returned, or hurting them, leaving them as bait. His aim slowly followed his view to the two men and then he saw their eyes stretch open. They dropped the guns they’d been given and took off running, back toward the beach.
As the Schloran Scum escaped, growling and snarling vibrated the air behind Etos. His skin crawled and a chill as cold as the water spread throughout the upper half of his body. He turned and saw the source of those eerie snarls, and the intense growls. Five large bugs crept from the trees ahead of him. Five of them he could see, then another group behind that five. He stopped counting and narrowed in on the ones closest to him. He stood, with all his height and might, and still, the bugs were as tall as he was.
He fired his weapon, and destroyed one of them. The thing blew up like a bomb exploded from within it. Etos fired another shot, same thing with the next bug. But they kept on coming, faster than he could aim. As he took out a third bug, another from the side swiped his feet out from underneath him and he fell on the back of his head. His ears rang and his vision blurred while his limbs were being pulled in every direction. When his vision cleared, he saw the creatures up close. The tentacles, the color of their skin, the many eyes, and razor teeth; it reminded him of the household bugs back home. But twenty times bigger. They could’ve killed him easily as he lay in this compromising position with no way of defending himself. Those sidearms were even snatched off his hip. How?
They pulled him deeper into the woods. The further he went, the less he saw of the sky. The tall trees gathered more, blocking the outside world, darkening his surroundings. Must’ve been a minute or two of them dragging him. His head smacking rocks and tree branches on the way. His conscious was slipping until a bright light shined on the leaves, branches, and the creatures. Three of them disintegrated. And weapon fire took out the other four. He rolled over to his stomach and saw Phea, in all her grace and glory. Her third eye exposed, glowing, while holding on to that large weapon he’d lost. He scrambled to her side and grabbed the handgun out of her waistband. Together, they fired on the creatures until nothing but trees remained.
He didn’t think she’d show. But dammit, he was happy to see her. “Took you long enough,” he said.
“What? You can’t handle a few bugs by yourself?”
He advanced with his weapon drawn, and she followed. “The locals,” he said as he passed the body of one of the bugs, their blood spilling on the fallen leaves, emanating smoke. “Filthy things. Don’t touch them.”
“Kee said there’re two million of these things, on this continent alone.”
“We can’t stay here. We have to get back—”
Etos lifted his fist. He stopped walking. She stopped talking.
There was something ahead of them, on the side of them. They didn’t retreat, but they took a few steps back and got in position. Two bugs from the side emerged. Etos took out one, Phea the other. Then four from the front. Same thing.
Etos scoffed. “They’re easy to kill.”
A second later, a screech blew through the air. The leaves on the trees waved, the wind blew into their faces. More of the bugs emerged, and they destroyed them, but deeper into the woods, something larger lurked.
They backed away as they took out the insects. Then, they looked up and saw the source of the screech. Taller than the trees, similar to the bugs. The mom!
Phea was already running, and Etos followed.
Sprinting for the beach, Etos couldn’t stop looking back at the giant monster coming for them. It was slower than its kids. But each step it took shook the ground so much, Etos had to better focus on his balance. Phea struggled, slipped, and he helped her up.
Chaos consumed the beach with most of the Schlorans running wild; some were in the water heading for the ship, others were holding the line at the beach, firing weapons at the giant monster approaching. Weapons that Etos hadn’t authorized them to have. No time for that, though.
“Everyone, get to the ship!” Etos turned and fired high at the trees that stood in the way of the giant’s attack. Phea helped those closest get to the ship.
While they worried about the gargantuan, the smaller bugs tackled and dragged a dozen Schlorans into the woods. Etos saw it and retreated while aiming lower at the smaller bugs coming forth in his eye line. Once he ran out of ammo, he and a few others rushed into the water and swam for the back of the ship.
As the bugs swarmed out of the trees, chaotic and fast, falling over each other, some fell into the ocean, others stopped at the shore. The bugs in the water screeched and flailed, eventually falling still and floating. Etos stopped, his curiosity peaking, as the giant came into full view.
The smaller bugs tussled to keep from falling into the water, or even touching it as the bigger one sneered and growled at Etos and the ship.
The giant spat in his direction and the liquid darted at him so fast, he barely got out of the way. When it hit the water, it sizzled and a black smoke emanated from it, similar to the dead bug back in the jungle. He returned to his escape and climbed aboard Blue.
Excited, anxious, out of breath, and still curious, Etos scrambled for answers. Not sure where to go on his own ship as the Schlorans crowded the bay. It was noisy with all the chatter and crying and worrying. He marched to the corridor to get some air, to think. Phea joined him, some little girl with her.
“We gotta get out of here,” Phea complained.
“Yes, yes. But I—I think we’re safe in here. They’re afraid of the water.”
“Kee? Kee, come online.”
Behind him, she stood. He turned with a yelp and flinched. “Never gonna get used to that.”
The scared little girl hid behind Phea. Etos didn’t bother asking questions about her and why she was here with them.
Kee looked at Phea, then the little girl.
Before Etos could speak, the outer hull made a noise. Like raindrops falling over them.
“Is that—is that rain?” Phea asked.
Kee shook her head.
Etos knew. “Acid. From the creatures. They’re spitting acid.” He turned to Kee to confirm what he knew was true. “Can Blue take it?”
“We will be fine for now. It depends on how long the creatures keep at it.”
Etos walked up to Phea. “Can you sense anything from them?”
Phea blinked her pair of eyes, while the third stayed still. “They won’t kill us like this. They want to eat us. They’ve been hungry a long time. So, they will damage the ship in order to flush us out.”
Fascinating. They looked and moved like the stupid bugs back home. But they were much more than that. They were smart, organized. Beasts, yeah, but intelligent beings.
“What do we have here?” Kee asked, looking at the little girl behind Phea.
“This is Azima.”
Kee stuck her hand out, bending down to the girl’s eye level, a hint of Ada sparking out of her. Etos smiled, it was the same way she’d greeted little girls.
Azima grabbed Kee’s hand. Phea smiled, Etos started to, imagining Ada returning to life. But then Kee snatched her hand back and back pedaled toward Etos. “It’s You!” Kee glared at Azima.
written & created by
M. Sydnor Jr.
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.