THE WORLD AS IT IS IN THE YEAR 2555
It was dark and cold. The ride in the back of the steel truck wasn’t helping things. The desert air was painfully dry, and the night with no moon chilled the atmosphere to frigid temperatures. Molly, a single mother, aged 25, clutched her infant child tightly, hoping to protect her newborn daughter’s sensitive skin from the frost. Whatever she could do for the young one would keep her resolute. She sighed, looking at her surroundings within the dark, steel truck. All around her were people with similar stories, hoping to get away from the countryside of the planet and closer to the urban areas, where it was said to be safer. Molly didn’t want a Chitterbug hurting her poor child. She just wanted her to be happy. She thought planet Goo would serve as a good place to start her life again.
She was dead wrong, and she knew it.
The truck came to a slow stop, and the people around Molly muttered about the hold up. Her heart began to race. “We can’t be near Saint Urban yet,” she breathed, “they shouldn’t be stopping...” A gruff man beside her nudged her shoulder. She looked up to him with an exasperated expression. “Must be a checkpoint or something,” he grumbled tiredly, “they’ll let us know if there are any hiccups. This is the best goddamn army in the universe,” he continued, gloating, “I wouldn’t worry much about it.”
“Thanks...” Molly said quietly, barely audible over the commotion. “What’s your name?” The man shifted and sighed. “Peter.” Molly nodded at his answer. The man spoke up this time. “You’re a little young to be having kids. Specially in these times.” He shook his head, but smiled. Molly defended herself. “Well, it’s not my fault for getting stranded on Earth after I got... well...” She didn’t wish to say more. She’d probably said enough already to be sent off somewhere. The man didn’t seem to be surprised, though.
“Putting a lot of trust into a veteran, doll.” He crossed his arms. “Don’t worry. If I said much about myself, they’d probably be able to sniff out how guilty I am.” Molly laughed at that. Peter chuckled quietly. “I suppose I can keep a secret or two, then,” she quipped. “You’ll need more than that,” Peter responded, making the two laugh harder. The big, gruff man then sat back and sighed. They’ve been held up for a few minutes now. Protocol was to stay put in the trucks and wait for instructions, but even Peter was getting a little worried. They were usually more curt about these things.
The two waited together for up to 20 minutes, occasionally breaking mutual silence with a question or a comment, but eventually, relief would come with the back doors opening to reveal a soldier in full gear, his finger on the trigger. With a loud voice, he boomed, “All is going well. We stopped due to a simple malfunction with one of the trucks. A few more minutes and we’ll be off again.
Someone spoke up in the truck. An old woman. “We’re sitting targets out here! We don’t have no time to wait like this!” They were quickly shot down by the young soldier. “Ma’am, calm down. GISF have this under control. We’ll be on our way soon.” His words weren’t enough for everybody. They all knew the dangers of being so isolated at night. Anxiety filled the truckbed. They still weren’t moving, and didn’t until a few shouting matches later and the revving of engines. Finally, they could putter along at a safe speed.
Molly sighed in relief and stroked her child’s cheek. Her heart had been pounding the whole time. “What’d you name it?” Peter asked, trying to unravel the high tension that had been boiling over. “I haven’t decided yet,” she responded meekly. Peter shook his head. “Why not?” The mother sighed, and held the infant tighter in her arms. “I don’t really know if I want it...” She looked crestfallen. Peter sighed. “Listen. We’re both going to the same place. If you need help, just ask me. Molly looked up at him with surprise. “Wh... really? That’s... oh, I don’t know, that’s quite the offer to pull out so suddenly...” Internally, she was overjoyed. Peter wasn’t exactly a looker, and he was pretty old, but that didn’t matter to Molly. She had really needed someone to just help her. She’d been struggling ever since she got pregnant a year ago.
“Nevermind. Don’t worry about it.” Peter looked a little shaken. Molly perked up. “Well, I mean-- I’m not against it...! I just... it’s not exactly traditional of me to...” Peter patted her head, making her blush. “Of course it is. The love between a man and a woman is the centerpiece to tradition. Or whatever they say.”
That threw Molly off. She didn’t know what to say at the word ‘love’. Silently, she mulled over the idea of being stuck with this crusty older man for the rest of her life. She barely knew him! Love... how naive.
Sensing the awkwardness of that line, Peter looked away from her. He didn’t mean to pull punches as fast as he did. A beautiful woman practically begging to be taken care of. That was all he wanted after all he’d seen.
The two would grasp with their feelings silently. A long, uncomfortable trip like this sparked such internalized thought.
That was, at least until...
Everyone in the truck froze up. Not thinking clearly, Molly gripped Peter’s hand. Peter gripped hers in return. While not something that was uncommon, the yowling of the Chitterbugs were terrifying. Contrary to what the planetary administration told everyone, Molly and the rest knew the big things were smart. Not just smart like an ape, or a dolphin, but human smart. They spoke and they built societies. Savage, primitive ones, Molly added in her head, but societies nonetheless. The yowls grew in ferocity.
“Molly,” Peter whispered into her ear.
“Yes, P-Peter,” she stuttered, fearing for her and her child’s life.
“Whatever you do, don’t let go of my hand. It’s going to be okay.”
Her grip on his hand tightened.
The yowls grew louder. Molly cried out in fear.
A distinct chittering came from the side of the truck-in-motion. Molly moved away from the noise. Peter followed. The sound of several creatures galloping and howling was ear-piercing. Her baby cried. They could hear the paint on the truck being scratched into. The howling was rythmic. They liked to sing songs.
Everyone in the truck was panicking. The vehicles in the convoy sped up, but the noises persisted. Gunshots rang out, which prompted screams from all over.
That signaled some sort of rally for the chitterbugs. They howled in English, “Death comes! Death comes!” Their raspy voices were unused to the language. The truck was struggling to maintain balance when a claw ripped through one of the tires. The gunshots were constant, but it wasn’t effective enough. It was the end of the road for this convoy.
A loud explosion boomed from somewhere ahead. It could only be assumed that one of the armored vehicles was bombed. The terror increased once the truck slammed into one that was ahead of them, causing all passengers to fly forward. Peter and Molly protected the small, wailing child from harm as they were nearly crushed by other passengers. The screams were overbearing, and the gunshots continued. A soldier briefly appeared when the door opened and yelled to evacuate. The group followed, some unconscious and not able to get up. Shots rang out so close that Molly’s ears were ringing badly. Peter held her tight and followed a group of soldiers that were attempting to escort them to a working truck.
Outside, the chitterbugs surrounded them in the darkness. Assessing their prey. They were silent now, only the sound of fire crackling and soldiers desperately screaming at them to back away. A few bodies lay on the ground, and were dragged away into the darkness by brave bugs. Molly was sobbing, holding Peter tightly. “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die...” she wailed, her baby following her example. Peter has tears in his eyes as well. As far as he knew, the chitterbugs were ruthless killers. They weren’t going to simply escape.
The bugs numbered around 60, while the surviving convoy had about 40 to their numbers, about a dozen being soldiers. This was certain death, depending on their intent. Just one chitterbug could probably take on a dozen soldiers. At least with the equipment these men currently have.
The remaining transport truck badly needed maintenance, that which they did not have time for. it would struggle along at a speed a chitterbug could easily outrun. There was no escape.
The bugs drew closer. Each was around 12 feet tall, though some were as short of 7 feet. Their faces were pale white and eerily human-like, while the rest of their bodies were obsidian black, with sharp claws and 6 fat legs, like that of a spider. They sang softly to each other, likely discussing the fate of the convoy members. The debate would end when a tall one screeched, signalling a few to simply tear the humans apart.
Peter knew this was it. But he had to protect Molly and her little girl. If that was what it was coming to, he would die gun-in-hand. He pushed Molly away and joined a formation of soldiers that quickly began to fire upon the bugs. Most of the chitterbugs merely watched, seemingly having cold feet, backing off as their brethren were fired at. When one of the bugs was incapacitated by a buckshot, more began to join in.
Peter had no weapons. He was an idiot for thinking he could do anything. Molly and the kid were dead meat at this point. So was he. But to Peter, a man is merely the sum of his values. And so, he roared, ready to fight.
As soon as more than 2 Chitterbugs entered the firing line, it was over. Soldiers were cut down immediately. Gore spattered the cold desert sand, and Peter was disemboweled by a stray claw. He would sit there in the dirt and slowly die without having the opportunity to do any sort of damage to the attackers. He didn’t even have the time for curses before his head was squashed between the dirt by a stray leg.
With no means of protection, the convoy passengers were quickly killed off. Some slow, some fast. Gore painted the sand red. Guts spilled out like torrential rains. Some of the humans were eaten alive, having to experience all of that pain.
Three humans remained alive-- Molly, her baby, and some other woman who happened to huddle in the same spot as Molly, under the truck. They were quickly found from Molly’s baby’s screaming, and dragged out from their cowering space. Certain she would die, Molly hugged her child and quietly sobbed.
A youthful-looking chitterbug stepped forward to greet the traumatized adults, a circle of the bugs surrounding them, some stoic and some waiting nervously. It eyes Molly and the other woman carefully, before it looks down at the source of the loud noise. Inquisitively, it takes a look at the baby, before pulling back respectfully. It sings to its brethren, and they all seem to come to an agreement.
Molly has nothing to say. She’s cried all the tears she could. She and the other one are offered water, which she gives to her baby. She’s endlessly terrified, but exasperated.
The night ends with uncertainty as the captives are forced to ride on the backs of the chitterbugs.
Molly forgets about Peter in the wake of the panic.