Author : Kevin Crisp

The four rotary blades of the harvester chopped violently at the dank, cold air as it rested with spidery legs on the jagged rock. The sickly sweet smoke of its four combustion engines wafted faintly up the heights. Every thought was punctuated by the thunderous crash of hungry waves slowly devouring the island below. The harsh bright flood lamps mounted on the harvester seemed like candles in the gloom, where perpetual sea fog choked the feeble light of two cold suns, painting “night” and “day” with similar drear.

Out in the distance, a magnificently fortified fishing vessel glowed dimly like a faint star as it dredged the shallows for the last exportable resource of an otherwise dying world.

“Nests up there?” Rob asked as Alec stumbled down the wet, crumbling rock.

“Think so, up there in the crags,” he gagged. “Must be; I’ve never seen such a cache of chips before.”

The smell of the droppings was fetid, stifling; it burned the back of Alec’s throat. Dried out chips never smelled this rank; fresh droppings must be near. Alec flashed his torch toward the harvester, summoning the crew using a pre-arranged signal that meant “proceed with caution.”

Rob leaned over and heaved onto a pile of fish-like bones.

“Where’s your nose plug?” Alec asked.

“Forgot it,” Rob said. “Must have left it at Karla’s last night.”

Inwardly, Alec seethed.

Below them, men with shovels and pails began pouring out of the belly of the insect-like harvester, ducking low to keep out of range of the propeller blades. Cones of light seemed to pierce the harvester from every direction. Out in the water, unseen denizens of the depths surfaced, wailing hideously.

Then, there was a new sound, one that the two scouts knew too well. It was the heavy flap of leathery wings.

Rob spun around. “Where is it?” he asked, panicked, searching the stygian blackness that engulfed the island.

Alec ducked behind a rock and pulled his rifle from its scabbard on his backpack. Blasters were no good here, the saturated air caused dangerous refraction and scatter. He clipped in a fresh magazine with oily calm, the red rage strangely stilling his mind.

“Where is it?” Rob hollered. He fumbled a few cartridges out of his coat pocket, dropping half into the cracked rock in the process.

With surprising calm, Alec waited for the huge, bat-like shadow to emerge through the fog in his rifle-mounted scope. Rob spun again as the hideous beast roared, with a deafening sound like a steam valve discharging. Below them, the crew scattered and scrambled in every direction for cover. One or two of the closer of the party took cover near Alec.

Long taloned feet pierced Rob’s thickly padded coat and planted themselves in his back, piercing almost as deep as vital organs, but still Alec waited. The thing lifted the flailing, screaming Rob from the ground, carrying him up and out of sight, leaving only a new, steaming pile of wet droppings and dropped cartridges.

“Shoot it!” screamed a desperate female voice now crouching beside him. “Alec, shoot!” Alec looked over and saw Karla’s anguished face peeking from under her hood, her nose pinched by a flesh-colored plug, its tight, elastic bands dimpling the pink flesh beneath her cheekbones.

Alec fired a single, pointless round into the now vacant gloom.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” Karla asked. She buried her face in her hands. Alec fired a second useless round into oblivion.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows