A space-giraffe? Really? On top of everything else, a flying space-giraffe had decided her satchel was a likely looking fuzz-frog?
Terriana sighed and looked up the canopy, trying to judge the time from the play of light on the leaves. Her all-device had, of course, been in her bag.
Last time she ever did that. She was going to tie it to a chain and wear it around her neck. So what if it weighed half a pound and was just a bit smaller then her hand? She’d get used to it.
Terriana smiled, despite herself, and shuffled her shoes to get them to feel the same again after the impromptu de-socking.
Okay, Terriana thought. Agenda time:
1. Find the fricking space-giraffe nest.
2. Retrieve satchel.
3. Run like hell.
Good plan. Problem:
Terriana looked around. The canopy cast its dense shadows across the crawling floor. The wind moved like a gentle hand across the treetops, making it difficult to tell what was movement on the floor and what was just shadow. The space-giraffe, of course, made no trail. And without her bag, she was sans vital climbing and safety equipment. Terriana heard, muffled by distance, the honking of the school shuttle. She was going to miss it, which meant she needed at least thirty minutes after retrieving the satchel to run from here to school.
And she hadn’t yet determined in which direction the space-giraffe might be nesting.
Terriana pulled her belt off. Her skirt began to sag. She strode to a tree, five paces away from the infested one, and checked it. No stringing blood, no movement, no holes, bores, pores or sores. The lowest branch was about thirty five feet up, but the tree was thin. The bark was almost mirror smooth.
Terriana tapped it, to make sure it was only damp, looped the belt around the back and grabbed both ends. She stepped onto the trunk, holding tight to the belt. It pulled against the tree, and against her arms, holding her upright, provided she kept her feet close enough to the belt. Terriana walked up the trunk.
Each slow step was followed by shimming the belt further up the tree. Not hard with the smooth bark, but still slow. Her hands were burning with tension in the first minute, and the feeling crawled upward like a horde of slugs. Her wrists began to ache under the pressure, then her forearms, elbows, biceps, and finally her shoulders. Terriana concentrated on breathing, and on keeping her feet from sliding on the slippery bark.
These were totally the wrong shoes for this kind of work. Steel toed shoes, each individual toe coated around the edges and top with a metal-polymer and the bottom coated in thick, gripping rubber, were the right kind. But they were banned from campus because of the damage they could do in a fight.
About halfway up the tree her skirt finished sagging, coming to rest around her ankles. Terriana ignored it. The smell of the understory, molding leaves and thick, rich earth, began to fall away. It was replaced by the sour mouth-sting of tree saps and the stink of arboreal dung.
Terriana, still braced against the tree with her belt, was eye level with the lowest branch. She moved up higher, until the belt caught on the branch. Then she shuffled until, arms twisted to her right and down, she could sit on the smooth bark. She kept one foot up, to keep hold of the skirt. She dropped the belt from one hand and balanced on her butt.
The belt was stretched, scrapped, and grimy with tree-sap and dirty water. Terriana sighed and looked at the skirt. It was in about the same state. She put the belt down next to her, kicked the skirt up into the air and caught it, and then stood up. The branch was just large enough for her feet, which made dressing challenging. Sticky, dirty finger prints made of tree sap, mud, and probably lots of insect blood got everywhere. Using her wrists would have been cleaner, but her shoulder swung wide on the first attempt and she had to drop the skirt back around her feet to catch herself. Terriana leaned against the tree while she put the belt back on. The sap made it stick to the belt loops.
Dressed, Terriana paused. She checked herself over for nestling insects. She checked the tree trunk for signs of infestation. Then she grabbed the branch above her and hauled herself over it. The bark was growing more tacky. The mirror-smooth glow of water was changing to the sickly, sharp, and glittering reflection of sap. There were sticky sucking noises every time she lifted her hands to pull herself further up the tree.
Her gloves were, of course, in her bag. She regretted leaving them there.
Of course, she was also regretting leaving her all-device, her tablet, her extra socks, her climbing crampons, her ten inch blade, and her sixty feet of rope in her bag.
Oh, and her hat.
At least she was wearing her contacts.
She crested the canopy and they darkened, shading her eyes from the glaring light. Up here, the world smelled like sky.
The morning rain had broken, and the clouds were scattering before the might of the sun. The sky was a glorious purple, bleeding red and orange at the edges. Six-winged beasts circled and chattered high overhead, the sunlight catching on glimmering wings.
The wind pulled at her blouse, pulled at her skirt, pulled at her hair. Terriana stood on the last thick branch and stretched in the sunlight.
The sun was out. That meant it was gone nine.
She’d better hurry.
Terriana sat back down and scanned the treeline.
Space-giraffes liked to nest in the tallest tree. They liked that tree to be mostly around short trees. They liked the ground around to drop away, so said space-giraffe could really see.
Terriana turned, looking toward the mountains that rose like jagged teeth above her. High up, they were almost bare. That was a blessing. There was no way she could get up into the mountains and back before ten.
She spotted a cluster of likely looking trees on the first foothill, not too far away. She narrowed her eyes and her contact lenses zoomed. Yes, there was a messy half-ball of leaves and twigs and bones high up at the top of the sturdiest tree.
A moment’s more watching revealed a long snout. It poked out of the top of the nest and opened its mouth, presumably to howl.
Distantly, she heard it. Low and mournful and far traveling.
That was a baby space-giraffe, alright. Now, where was mommy?
Terriana scanned the sky line, even checking above her, but she couldn’t find it. Probably in the trees hunting then.
She breathed out, puffing her cheeks.
That nest was what, three, four miles away? The terrain was thick with trees, and it’d be thick with undergrowth too. And mud.
There was an obvious solution here. There had to be. But she was having trouble thinking of it.
A storm of rustling cracks broke to her left. The mommy space-giraffe burst out of the undergrowth holding a six legged crawler, still struggling. It flew overhead, the great shadows like doom foretold, and out toward the mountains. The jungle went dead quiet, only the pathetic squealing of the crawler falling on to her ears.
The space-giraffe landed a few moments later, and Terriana could hear the distant appreciative cries of its young.
Terriana narrowed her eyes.
Jungle noises oozed back into the silence, drifting from below.
The baby space-giraffes were tearing into the crawler. They’d pulled aside the armor, one slab at a time, and they were digging face first into its exposed belly.
Their mother was crunching the shell.
She’d come out again. That wasn’t enough food for all of them.
Terriana closed her eyes as a brilliant, unexpected image formed in her mind.
Good thing she’d turned her ‘stupid idea’ filter off.
She checked her skirt, tightened the laces on her shoes, pulled her sleeves down, and crawled back under the heavy foliage of the top branches of her tree.
Time passed. Her view of the nest was framed by heavy blue flowers and deep green leaves. The sun moved in imperceptible inches.
“Come on you stupid thing.” Terriana whispered. “I’m on a schedule here!”
The space-giraffe took off. Terriana began to shake her branches and make the high-pitched clucking noise that the crawlers made when they were calling out their territory. She lost sight of the space-giraffe, and shifted her feet so she was ready to leap. Then she intensified the shaking and cawing. Shadows danced around her face and eyes and the foliage bounced, making it difficult to see anything.
She heard the wind whistling and jumped to the branch above. A huge form smashed into her hiding spot. Claws raked just a breath below where she had been sitting. The whole tree shook as the huge yellow and red wings slammed into the foliage. Terriana dropped onto the space-giraffe’s feet and grabbed. The space-giraffe was screaming in frustration as it pulled away.
Terriana, clinging as tight as sticky red silk to its great, scaly legs, was forced through several feet of branches. Then the space-giraffe got free and they were in the sky. She was in a tight space, between the top of a talon and the great fluffy chest.
The space-giraffe squawked. The ground moved further and further away.
Terriana looked up.
One huge black eye was glaring at her.