Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Imagine a blue spider. One of the big hairy ones that move really fast. Make it the size of a tomcat. Replace the back pair of legs with bat wings. Add venomous spurs to those wings. That’s what is watching me as I sway head-down in the breeze that wafts through the Ghabeni forest.

It’s called a Darth. The wheezing noise they make when angered is the reason for the name and only dead biologists know why. They’re pack hunters occupying the ecological niches usually taken by small carnivores, large rodents, small raptors, vultures and scary ginormous insects.

I inherited my father’s arachnophobia in full measure. All I can focus on is what those legs will feel like against me when it climbs down the harness that suspends me from this tree like some macabre bird feeder.

When the orbiter malfunctioned, we abandoned it in the shuttle. When the shuttle malfunctioned, we abandoned it using parawings. They worked perfectly apart from the lack of open ground to land on. So we had a shouted discussion, slowed to stall speed while getting as low as possible, then dropped into the trees.

I can see Angus’ red suit from here. He stopped screaming a while back but his suit is still moving. A type of movement that makes me think Angus is lunch for the rest of the Darth pack.

I don’t even have a bright light to repel them. That’s their only real aversion, apart from the nocturnal predator we have no name for as it’s never been recorded. We’ve found entire Darth packs reduced to scattered chitin, every piece showing signs of powerful pointy teeth. The owners of said teeth remain a mystery.

A vibration on my harness makes me look up. In the creeping twilight, I see movement on the branches above. Looking across at Angus, I see his suit hanging like it’s empty. Oh crap.

There’s a Darth on my boot chewing on the laces, another going through the panels on my leggings. More are coming down the harness toward my boots. This is going to be a bad way to go, eaten from the feet up. I don’t scream until I feel mandibles pierce my calf. Then I spend a few minutes making up for lost time until I feel legs moving down my inner thigh, under my suit. I piss myself, hit a new high note and pass out.

I come to tasting blood. There are no mandibles in me, no legs on me. A crunching draws my eyes to the nearby branch. There is light from a crude lantern. In it I see that I am being observed by silvery oval eyes set slantwise in a head that strikes me as a cross between chimpanzee and leopard. The body is covered in dark blue fur, the hands and feet have two opposable digits as well as wicked claws. The mouth is filled with sharp incisors. It licks the last morsels from the Darth carcass and throws it over its shoulder.

Far to my left, I hear the click of scanners. It looks that way and picks up the lantern.

“Thank you.”

I don’t know what prompts me to say it, but I do. The creature leans close, touching my cheek with a single digit. I swear it smiles as it pats it’s obviously stuffed belly. I realise the meaning; it didn’t save me, it just can’t eat anymore. With that, it extinguishes the lantern and is gone silently in an eyeblink.

As the rescue team approaches, its not fear of Darths that makes me scream.


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