To a Flame

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Everybody ready?”
“Hell, no. I want to go home.”
“I didn’t ask where you’d rather be, Andrei. I want to know if your suit is sealed so you don’t give us away.”
Muted assent follows Don’s outburst. There’s no more banter. I wriggle forwards and bring my night-eyes online. Peering at the green and grey world about me, the side screen shows the infra-red view. We’re all part of the ambient heatscape. No hotspots.
Sylvia whispers: “Down there. Ten o’clock.”
A hotspot: walking quickly, shoulders hunched. Just a sensible citizen on their way home after a late night.
Don’s words focus us: “We’re on. Watch the low sky.”
‘Low sky’ is the space between buildings. What we seek doesn’t traverse open sky, or so we think. That’s one of the things this project was set up to prove.
When you’re looking to do interesting things with biotailoring, everyone looks about and sees what niche needs a fancy bioform to fill it. From swarms of personal defence wasps to anti-drone bats, the innovation comes from looking forward for our benefit.
Fortunes are made or lost, speculating on the AB – artificial biodiversity – market. Of course, where money making is involved, risks are taken. Surprisingly, nothing disastrous had occurred. This science-cum-art works within rigid boundaries that are still being fully defined. Until then, the layman’s understanding is as good as any: you can’t diversify beyond what nature could create, or has created.
Someone took that rule to heart, then went looking in places no-one else had gone: far backwards.
Madeleine sounds excited: “There! Left of the Marksin Tower Hotel.”
It takes a moment for it to get close enough to make out, then the comm fills with wordless exclamations of awe.
Swooping round the building at the edge of our zone is a grey shape that flashes white highlights to our enhanced vision. The audio sensors prove this thing’s traveling at over forty MPH, yet quieter than an owl.
Don quietly opines: “Flying cudgel.”
As if on cue, the winged form brings its wings in and drives down in a shallow stoop. It’s doing nearly sixty when it hits the hotspot. The crunch on impact makes me shudder.
Andrei replays the strike: “Base of the skull, slightly left of the spine.”
My area of expertise: “Unconscious and/or paralyzed. Not sure body armour would have helped, either.”
The hotspot falls and is shrouded by the wings of its slayer. Audio picks up a tearing sound, followed by little noises that raise my hackles.
Sylvia’s tone betrays no emotion: “That explains the skull trauma and post-mortem throat damage. It mugs its prey for their blood.”
“Size?” Don’s always interested the threat, not the aftermath.
Madeleine’s had a chance to check Andrei’s footage.
“About a metre and a half of body, with a three-metre wingspan.”
That gets to Sylvia: “I never want to be out at night again.”
About sums it up, too. We have proof. Now we have to find the mad scientist who made this nightmare. Moths used to have mouthparts instead of a proboscis, we know that for a fact. That their fascination for light could be the vestigial remains of hunting by heat-seeking is either crazed intuition or vicious addition. Flying at the light being the remnant of their killing strike, likewise. Speculation on origins aside, the world now has what we’re calling ‘Norian Moths’. Judging from reported deaths with the same tell-tale kill marks, and the diversity of victim species, they’re already widespread and well-established.
“Bioterrorism using giant vampire stealth moths? Oh, hell no. Now can I go home?”
Don chuckles: “Put the kettle on. We’re all coming with you.”


  1. xdhz8

    Acherontia atroposor or Micropterigidae family. Either way I’m going to keep my head down at night! Good one.

  2. SimonJM

    Oh, please tell me it’s based on what became acherontia atropos 😉 It’s gonna be a bit much when a gentleman’s breast pocket kerchief has to be replaced by a flare dispenser … Nasty, invidious little critter, described in droll almost exacting details of purpose – nice!

    • Jae

      Probably not, as the proboscis makes them glossatan lepidopterans.

      If you pushed me, I’d go with the base of the Norian Moth being more likely to be something from Micropterigidae family – but as this rather pretty horror is more bioengineered than evolved, it’s somewhat of a moot point.

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