To say the girl wasn’t fond of bugs would be a profound understatement. “Next time, Alastair, you are going to be the man on the ground.” She swatted aside a dense branch of leaves and tramped on. “And I’m going to be safe and secure in the compound.”
On the other end of her headset a boy laughed. “Sydney, you knew what you were getting into when we flipped that coin.”
“Damn my gambling addiction.” she muttered, stomping on something that she couldn’t, and most assuredly didn’t want, to identify. “I thought we agreed on not pursuing our vices. Do you remember that conversation, Alastair?” Sydney spit at the ground, a spider better not have just landed in her mouth. “Virtues… virtues!”
“HA! See?” There was a crackling from the other end of the line. “I knew you would throw this back in my face. What did I say before we flipped… ‘you better not preach to high hell about building our better selves if you lose.’ “
Sydney tossed her hair back and cut a nice even slice of giant dead centipede out of her way. “You know me better than that! I’m weak! When thrown temptation I take it! You should have been a better comrade and stopped me in my tracks.”
The line went dead.
“Are you kidding me Alastair?” she shouted to no one. “You can’t be the baby, I’m the youngest. You’re my mentor, ass hat!” The forest crowded in around her. Sun setting, shadows growing, and noises squelching from all over. Some musical, some definitely not. Sydney knew that joining the army was not something her mother wanted for her, or that her father accepted. Hell, even her brother thought she was going to die. “This better not be how I go.” To her credit though, she joined believing she could make a difference. Was she scared? Sure. Did she do it anyway? Well, clearly.
Sydney, although, didn’t think her biggest problem would be the very thing she despised most. Not humans, which she had originally thought (“Selfish ones like Alastair, especially”), but worse. Insects. The giant insect invasion had hit the Earth in the year 2020, just a month after Sydney had enlisted. Of all the things that could have happened: world war, global pandemic, even a natural disaster… of all those it had to be an alien invasion of fucking bugs.
The line came back on. “Did we learn our lesson?”
“If the lesson being that Alastair is a selfish prick more concerned with getting even then getting his brother in arms safely to the compound than yes. I did learn my lesson.”
There was a sigh on the other end. “I’m sure our superiors would understand considering who I was trying to get through the forest.”
A different sound now pervaded past her headset and filled the forest clearing. Brushing past more trees the sound grew to less of a ringing, but more like the sound of something artificial. Like a machine. “What is that supposed to mean?” If machines could buzz.
“Exactly how it sounds.” Up ahead, behind a copse of trees, one of the shadows moved.
“Vice, vice.” she muttered. In her next breath Sydney ducked behind the nearest trunk. The gun slung across her back fell easily into her hands. A bright side to this whole invasion was she learned how to survive. Surviving meant paying attention to your surroundings, it meant moving past your fear and it meant one of the first things you learned was how to use your damn weapon.
The shadow moved closer and stepped into her line of sight. Her eyes widened. Long and lean as a needle its body stalked into the copse of trees. The twilight hour had not killed the sun yet and the gleam against its metallic skin was as shiny as the gun in her hands. This bug was different than any she had seen before. Each time it stepped with one of its thin legs that buzzing intensified, as if it had gears instead of organs propelling it forward. This was unlike anything the United States had seen before. Sydney said, “I hate you.”
This was the moment. The moment she had to face again, and again. The reason she joined in the first place. She was stronger than fear. She would rise above the thrum in her chest, the sweat on her palms, the numbness in her limbs.
The girl stepped forward into the clearing just as Alistair’s voice came from the other end, “Here’s a virtue.” The gun clicked into place, sights steady right between that monster’s eyes. “Sydney, I love you too.”
And the shot rang true.