Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“Don’t try to talk to them.” The consultant clicks another cylinder into place. It makes a satisfied hiss as it seats properly into its compartment. “They don’t react well to the noise. Imagine one of them emptying an entire scent gland in your face. That’s how they feel if you start spewing sound at them.” She inserts the last cylinder, powers up the regulator, and then hands the belt to the specialist sitting across from her. Dutifully, he straps it around his waist
“The belt has seven cylinders,” she explains. “Five are passive pheromones, good for about three hundred and sixty minutes of steady dispersal. Should make us fairly uninteresting, provided our encounters stay casual. Fifteen minutes before the last one runs dry, the regulator pack will start to vibrate in short intervals to let you know you need to refill.”
“You think we’ll be down there that long?”
“The drop is less than a kilometer from the financial sector. Ideally, I’d like to be back in orbit before the first two passives are spent.” She begins working on her own belt. “If the regulator detects any hostility in the chemical spectrum it will automatically vent one of the other cylinders, which are panic pheromone concentrates. They should clear everything around us, for at least thirty meters.” She slings her belt onto her hips and snaps the buckle closed. “Right before it goes off, you’ll get one, long buzz. You feel that, things are about to get heavy.”
The specialist nods, slowly. He eases his weapon around in its tactical harness, checks the action, and initiates the charge pack.
“One more thing,” says the consultant. “We need to stay as far away from the red ones as possible.”
The specialist looks up at her.
“If you spot one, run. If it spots us, hit that button on the regulator, and then run.”
He lifts his weapon to inspect the angular device connected to his belt. In a shallow recess on one side is an unmarked red square.
“That fires both panics instantly. I should warn you, it’ll soak through your clothes, and it smells like cat urine. Old cat urine. And it doesn’t wash off.”
“So, last resort.”
“It’s better than what the reds will do to you, but only by a slight margin.”
“What are they? Soldiers?”
The consultant shakes her head. “They’re more like a militaristic religious sect. Not literally, of course, but the term is arguably analogous. They’re xenophobic, ritualistic, and extremely violent. They’re red because a lot of their ceremonies involve ingesting inorganic materials, mostly metals. Causes an excessive amount of iron to be absorbed into their chitin. It makes their carapaces almost impenetrable. Unless you’re firing depleted uranium rounds, you probably won’t even dent one.”
The coms chirp once to notify them that the skiff is landing. The specialist heaves himself up and moves to stand by the door. He grips his weapon firmly, pulling the stock in tight against his shoulder. One hand drops to the regulator, his thumb just above the red button. The skiff shudders, and lands hard. With a wistful sigh of escaping air, the door splits, the bottom half lowering into a ramp.
In unison, their regulators erupt into a frenzied chatter.
“Uh…” says the specialist.
Through the widening gap, they glimpse a flash of writhing exoskeleton, serrated, angry and red. Instinctively, the specialist clenches down on the regulator and right away the sharp odor of cat urine claws into his eyes and sinuses.
With a sigh, the consultant reaches over and presses the control panel to close the door.