By Jennifer Williams
The first thing it changes is your sense of scale. Not that I think we’ve ever considered ourselves the biggest animals on the planet by any means; I’ve been to the Natural History Museum and stood under the Blue Whale like everyone else, after all.
And of course those old movies don’t seem so funny any more. I don’t know when we last had contact with the Japanese, but I bet they aren’t laughing.
I stood by the entrance to the hangar, just daring to poke my head out, watching the creature as it moved over the distant remains of the city. It was night time, and cold, and I could see my breath in the air.
It roared, and I winced, moving back again so I was slightly hidden by the hangar doors. You’d think I would be used to it by now, but the edges never get any blunter. They brought a terrible instinct with them, these things, one that I suspect Man hasn’t felt for hundreds, maybe thousands of years; we know ourselves to be prey, so we cower.
Halloran laid a hand on my shoulder and tipped his head back towards the shadowy recesses of the hanger.
“You sound apprehensive, Bill. This thing is your baby, aren’t you ready to see it do its job?”
I shrugged, and looked back at the dark shape moving on the horizon, impossibly big. The moon was bright and full, and the light picked out its huge fleshy flanks and dorsal spikes. If there’s one thing you can say for them, they definitely hold your attention.
“I just… There’s an awful lot riding on this, you know? And it’s not my baby, Hal, we’ve all had a hand in this.”
I was a little angry with his inference that this was all down to me. Perhaps I was annoyed on behalf of my team, who had labored nearly non-stop for the last few months, or perhaps I just didn’t want the responsibility if it went wrong.
“I know, Bill,” he said. “Come on, you want to be there when she wakes up.”
Tearing my eyes from the immense creature roaring in the distance, I walked back into the hangar towards the thick plastic sheet that took up half the floor. Something twitched sleepily beneath the folds.
In the confused months after the first wave of behemoths appeared we launched ourselves into research of all kinds, despite the restricted circumstances. We moved what we could underground and hurriedly threw everything we had at the problem; conventional weapons did nothing, nuclear warheads only made them bigger and more powerful, extremes of heat and cold had no effect.
As an expert in the field of entomology I believe I was brought in as a last resort. We went through all the rare toxins we could think of, one after the other, all the time aware of how difficult it was to get hold of the blood samples we were using, and how many men and women had died to bring them to us. When the breakthrough came it was so unlikely that I refused to believe it for some days, and had the team run the tests over and over.
On the surface of it, the moth isn’t an obvious choice. They are a nuisance, certainly, and people have been known to have severe allergic reactions to the bristly hairs of some caterpillars, but toxic?
To the behemoths, they certainly were.
But it wasn’t enough. Getting close to the creatures to deliver a dosage of the toxin proved near disastrous, with whole military units wiped out in gouts of radioactive fire, or crushed under the enormous claws. And when we finally succeeded, the toxin failed; for whatever reason, the refined material had no effect on the monsters.
So we were given access to the project that started this whole mess.
Outside under the starlight, she twitches faintly as we move down her thick body with the adrenalin shots. We are all working as fast as we can, all too aware of the dangers of being above ground and exposed. Halloran stands by her huge, swollen head, making sure the tech department’s equipment is properly attached. He stands away and gives me the thumbs up. When the last injection is completed, I motion at them all to stand away, and our creation flickers into life, crouched on her coarsely furred legs.
She is beautiful.
Her huge dusty wings, each a hundred feet long, blur into sudden flight, knocking us all back on her feet. She lets out a high pitched squeal and as one we cover our ears, and then she is off, up into the night air like a dream, a soft cloud of silky dust drifting down after her. Not toxic to us, luckily.
“Look at her go!” calls Halloran.
I nod, and risk a smile. The banks of computers whirr into sudden life and the tech team busy themselves at the controls. Far above, our moth spins and twirls as the lights on her helmet blink on, blue and green.
“It’s all good,” says a man by the controls, Jim, I think his name is. He tweaks a dial and the squeal comes back into range for us all. It is steady, attentive, everything it is supposed to be. “She should be moving into range now.”
We watch, barely daring to breath. Above us the giant moth flutters and jumps and twirls through the air. And by the crushed buildings, eyes that are a baleful green turn in our direction.
“It’s coming our way,” said Halloran. He doesn’t sound panicked, not yet.
“Give her a moment,” I say. “The impulses will need a few seconds to kick in.”
There are two sounds then, equally dreadful. The thunder of the approaching behemoth, and a screaming over the speakers.
“What’s that? What’s happening?”
Our moth, our last chance, spins away from the roaring lizard and up and up and up… Up towards the moon. She travels so far that even at her great size she begins to look tiny, and then she hovers there, back and forth, in front of that great white light, dipping and swerving crazily. She shows no interest in us, or the monster. Only the moon.
“Oh, shit,” says Halloran.
End of an era
3 months ago