The youngling looked up, high in the sky. It's large eyes saw the fire monster in the distance, click-click, it was coming closer, click-click, slowly. Today was the day of rest. It was the day when families got together, when celebrations happened, when the weary rested. Today was the day after the younglings fifth shedding. He was still a nymph but yearned to be an adult. He went for a sojourn over the hill and into the berry fields with his father, to help him recover from the ardour of the shedding. His shiny new carapace was heavier, but he enjoyed the challenge of growing into an adult. The youngling turned around, he didn't see his father, click-click, click-click, he didn't see him anywhere. The grass and bushes were too tall for him to see his father, unless he was standing on his hind legs.
The youngling turned back towards the fire monster in the sky, click-click, it seemed to be heading right for him. With the fire monster approaching, however, he was timid about standing up. The youngling stamped his back legs and his arms excitedly, click-click, watching it approach, click-click, it would not be long now. He was both excited and scared. The fire monster got bigger, the youngling thought he could hear it roaring.
The youngling's father was a builder, therefore, the youngling was a builder. That meant his family was in the larger proportion of their kind. There were those who hunted and gathered, there were the builders, there were the caregivers, there were the breeders. Such was the make-up of their race, a race of four casts, in that pecking order. As the hunters and gatherers were at the top of the cast structure, they were the most revered ... and feared. The builders, however, were respected. The builders gave their kind everything they had. From structures to live in, to the simple furnishings of their homes, to the tools that everyone used, the builders were responsible for those things. The youngling was too young to have the responsibility of building large things, but he did build small things. The youngling was already being called upon to help with small projects in the different homes of their tribe.
He turned around and called quietly to his father. One never made much noise when one was alone, it was too dangerous. There was no response from his father. Not even a tingle on either of his cerci. The youngling turned back again, looking up, click-click-click-click, the fire monster was almost there! The youngling realized that he might be the one to first meet the fire monster. He thought about the fire-bellies, the ones that flitted around the wetlands. They appeared briefly when the big sky's own fireball was going to rest, after a long day. The fire-bellies would flit around the edges of the water. Sometimes, when cajoled and jeered by his friends, the youngling would quickly rise up and snatch one of the fire-bellies to eat. He was always surprised that they didn't burn his mouth; the world, he had learned, was full of wonders. As he watched the fire monster approach closer, he thought that perhaps he should turn and leave the area, leave the fire monster.
The hunters and gatherers always went out in large groups, they always came home laden with food, supplies, or building materials, depending on what the reason was for their group to go out in the first place. Lately though, these groups were occasionally coming back smaller than when they had departed. Such things happened from time to time, one of the hunters or one of the gatherers would be killed during their work. When that rarely happened, they would be born back to the tribe on their own carapace sections, then shared with the village. Lately, however, the hunters and gatherers were coming back without their fallen. This was disconcerting for many societal reasons. When this happened, the youngling and his friends watched the adults gather around those returning, listening to important words, but not sharing them. The youngling had tried to get close enough to hear them, the last time this happened. He wound up being chased all the way home by this father, threatened to repeat nothing of what he had heard, if he had heard anything. That was the first time the youngling had cried. This moved his father, his father the builder, the first-builder of their tribe. The younglings father took him, that night, to his workshop. He showed him how to use many of the tools that the youngling had seen, but never touched. The youngling had never loved his father as much as he did that night, the night he spent time alone with his father, in his father's workshop. Click-click.
The youngling and his friends talked about many things, including the loss of the tribes hunters and gatherers when those losses occurred. Of course, being children, they were fascinated with tales of monsters and spectre's. They surmised a great many things about what happened to those who never returned, sometimes scaring themselves silly! Click-click, the fire monster was now very close to the youngling!
There had been rumours about monsters. Not the childhood rumours, but things that had been overheard from the adults. They had pieced together that there were monsters who came in the bellies of fire monsters from the sky. Now, standing there looking up at it, click-click, he knew that the rumours weren't rumours. It had to be, just had to be, true. The youngling and his friends figured that if monsters could tame a fire monster from the sky, and ride in it, then they must truly be amazing and marvellous beings. Now it seems that he was going to have the opportunity to meet them, up close!
Click-click, click-click. With his father nowhere around, the youngling too excited to run away, he decided he would have to be the one to greet the monsters. If he did so, if he made friends with them, then maybe his father would see that he wasn't a nymph any more, that he was ready to be an adult. If the youngling met the monsters from the belly of the fire monster, then maybe his father would accept him into apprenticeship early.
The youngling thought about how the different casts greeted each other. The hunters and gatherers would hiss at anyone they encountered from another tribe. The response would be a bow of peaceful greeting or a hissing challenge to fight. The builders, he had watched his father do this several times, lifted up the largest piece of building material at hand, high above their heads. The one being greeted would respond in one of two ways: they would also lift a similar piece of building material, indicating that they wished to work together; or the other builder would hold out it's empty arms, accepting the leadership and primacy of the one doing the greeting. Caregivers always crossed their four arms across their bellies and bowed. The breeders were never seen outside of their own families residence, therefore, they would never have the chance to greet someone from another tribe. What happened when one cast encountered a different cast from another tribe? The youngling had pondered that many times, but had never seen it happen.
He decided that he was going to greet them as a builder, which is what he was, like his father and his father's father before him. The youngling looked around his hiding spot, click-click. There, he saw what he needed and quickly moved towards it on his eight legs and arms. It was a stout piece of deadfall. It looked strong enough to be a residence support, but not big enough that he couldn't lift it. The air was growing warm and moving around him, faster and faster. The youngling looked up, click-click. He saw that the fire monster was now settling down to the ground, very close. The fire monster stuck it's four skinny legs out and stopped moving. The fire went out. Click-click, click-click.
The youngling moved around, pulling the deadfall with him. He moved cautiously to the edge of the grass, getting a full view of the fire monster, without the fire. It was sitting motionless, only a few lengths away. The youngling grabbed the deadfall in its foremost arms. It was ready to initiate the greeting. He watched expectantly, excitedly... he smelled something. He smelled the poison smell, the odour of the white death that was secreted by males when they were scared. He knew it wasn't coming from his own chest. It was coming from nearby. It had to be his father. Click-click-click-click-click-click. He still couldn't pinpoint him. He had a rough idea that his much larger father was off to his left, but he couldn't see him, he couldn't echo-locate him. There was a sound and movement in the corner of his eye, the youngling turned back to the monster. It had a pouch! Like the tribes from the high meadow forest! Something was coming out of it ... monsters! The rumours had been true! The fire monster had little monsters riding in it! Now they were coming out and standing around! So exciting!
The youngling gripped the deadfall, the greeting stick, tightly. It raised itself up on its four hind legs, click-click, lifting the greeting stick high in the air, click-click-click-click, it's two free arms gesticulating wildly with excitement. He could see that the monsters had greeting sticks as well! They were funny looking greeting sticks but the youngling didn't care. He realized he had been right! It was indeed the builders that need to meet the monsters, not the scary hunters or the burly gatherers! As the youngling stepped towards the monsters, it's mandibles clicking the song of greeting to them, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. His father had burst out of the grass and brush, he was running towards the monsters, his forearms were not carrying a greeting stick. They were waving small fighting sticks! What? Why? He called to his father but his father ignored him. The youngling, still holding the greeting stick high in the air, ran towards his father who was running towards the monsters.
A sudden flash of light and his father wasn't running anymore. His father's carapace smashed to the ground, with nothing but smoking meat inside of it. The youngling stopped moving, it cried with the agony of realization, realization that his father was gone forever. The youngling looked at the monsters. They were now pointing their greeting sticks directly at him. The younglings world erupted in a blinding flash of agony.
Commander Mathews watched the second carapace crash to the ground. Thick oily smoke was billowing up from the burning fat and meat that had, moments before, been wearing the carapace. The Commander looked over at his co-pilot, standing a few feet away, and smiled, "Next time we bring a can of Raid."
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