Joe Taggart started his walk through the forest to the northeast of the compound, muttering begrudgingly to himself. He double-checked his utility belt. Wire coils, insulated gloves, cutters, pliers. All check. The charge indicator on his Stinger read maximum capacity.
Taggart had never needed his Stinger before on duty. A long black stick resembling an officer’s baton, it could discharge a hundred times or so at capacity. In training, he’d seen a single good discharge throw a carcass almost fifty yards. The perimeter fence could dispatch a charge nearly twice that, enough to kill a man instantly, but it didn’t stop the Crawlers from trying to chew their way through it.
A quick glance at the duty tag. “Volunteers,” he muttered again, reaching for his radio.
“Central, this is D.T. Taggart, copy?”
“Go ahead, patrol,” a familiar female voice scratched back.
“Confirm fence breach location Edward eight niner.”
“Affirmative. You can’t miss it, Joe. Meter shows interrupt in the first section, right next to The Dryad. She must have been too busy…”
Taggart pictured the accompanying smile and smiled himself. “Thanks, Annie. A little trouble making out the scribbles is all. You know how it is with ‘the help’ these days. Taggart out.”
Annie opened the channel again long enough for him to hear her giggle of allegiance.
“Damned brainless Crawlers,” he grumbled to the silent box, returning it to its holster. It was hard to think of them as ever having been human. Short legs and elongated feet made them more like grasshoppers with opposable thumbs… opposable thumbs and a voracious appetite for electroshock therapy.
Studies on the gredophytes, showed the species was driven by their instinct for what they perceived they did not have. They were born to hunger, hence their name. Fortunately, their perception was limited by insect intelligence, but in their innate avarice, the compound’s perimeter fence was like a candle flame to a moth. E-section was the worst.
Whoever had decided the perimeter fence needed to run through the northeast forest had clearly not taken biological studies into account. It was probably the safety of the trees that gave the Crawlers the courage for their attacks. Taggart was quite sure it was insanity that gave them the tenacity. He trudged on, muttering.
At last he arrived at the scene. Golden shafts of sunlight pierced through the leaves of the trees. Taggart stopped, and for a very brief moment, he was caught up in admiration. The Dryad was nothing more than a moss-covered tree with two large surface roots that spread out before disappearing into the ground. She was as wooden and inanimate as anything else in the forest, but to the imagination, her legs were more human than the Crawlers, the legs of a maiden straddling her lover, and cursed there for her love of the Earth, to straddle forever.
It was a remarkably beautiful scene. On any other day, Taggart would have smiled at the sun illuminating The Dryad’s mons pubis that way… but today, ice ran in his veins as he pulled his radio from its holster a second time.
“Patrol to Central, copy.”
“Copy, patrol,” the radio crackled. “Did you find that perimeter breach, Joe?”
“Negative Annie. I can’t find the perimeter.”
“Say again, Joe?”
The bushes in the distance began to rustle. Taggart backed slowly away and flipped the charge switch on his Stinger.
“You better get your weapons ready and get the compound on lockdown, Annie. I’m standing at E-89 now. The Dryad’s right in front of me, but there’s nothing here but trees. The perimeter fence is gone… it’s just gone!”
© 2012 Anne Schilde