Fortunately, the space-giraffe couldn’t peck at her without disrupting its flight. Terriana focused on pretending to be dead, mostly by being still but not stiff, and also by thinking dead-crawler thoughts.
The air roared around her.
Below, the ground drifted.
Terriana could smell nothing but wind. Her fingers were tacky, almost stuck to the blue scales she clung too. The space-giraffe’s wings puffed out like sails. Terriana could hear the screeching of its children.
Mommy gave a squawking call which quite ruined the majesty of the moment and then dropped toward the nest with a series of heavy flaps. Terriana zoomed her contacts so she could see details. Three space-giraffe babies were crowded, pushing and squeaking, right up to the edge. Her things were scattered around the nest. Her bag was on the other side, the top scratched up considerably and the toggle ripped off, probably because someone was trying to open it without undoing it. Her all-device was glittering in the sun on the right. The rope was spilling out of the bag. The knife was a glimmer near the babies’ feet. Other nicknacks and necessaries were tossed about.
Her hat was already full of feathers.
But where was the school tablet? Where was her project!?
Then she caught sight of it. On the left, hiding beneath one of the scattered and bloody plates of crawler armor.
As mommy hovered for a last moment, falling in for a landing, Terriana jumped. She made it over the babies, hit the surprisingly hard woven surface of the nest and rolled on her shoulder. She recovered to her feet, but the ground was uneven, and she stumbled to her knees, still moving forward.
A beak slammed down behind her. The babies were screeching, almost too high pitched to hear, but loud enough to feel on her skin. Terriana’s hand closed around the metal and plastic of her school tablet.
Her mind was blank.
Terriana rolled left, avoiding another snap of the big beak. But that put her right in the path of the three screaming chicks. Terriana took one jab in the left arm, ducked, and did a forward handspring over the cluster of space-giraffe babies. Landing hurt, and the fingers of her left hand, still clutching the school tablet, were buzzing with shock.
The handspring had put her next to her all-device. Terriana grabbed it and ran toward her bag. Mommy space-giraffe, sitting on the edge of the nest, screamed and beat her wings.
Terriana winced, grabbed the bag, stuffing rope and all-device in as she swooped it up. She ran up the wall of the nest and swerved. She took three rapid, sharp pecks to her ankle as she turned. Terriana slipped, or collapsed, or stumbled-
fumbled her school tablet and grabbed it again-
fell over the high woven wall-
Grabbed the side of the nest, one handed.
Beady black eyes loomed above her.
She could feel the earth below, sucking at her.
Her bag was light on her shoulder, bouncing on her hip.
Terriana took a deep breath and jammed her shoes into the side of the nest. They stuck, giving her just a tad extra balance. She nudged her bag open with her full and still numb left hand, slipped her school tablet into one of the pockets and zipped the pocket shut. Then she tucked her fingers tight into the weave of the nest.
The space-giraffe babies were leaning over the edge now. The biggest one looked like it was eying her up, trying to judge how far it could peck without toppling out.
It looked far too bold for Terriana’s comfort.
She was a good three hundred feet up. There were trees below, but they wouldn’t exactly be cushioning.
At least if she died they’d find her school tablet near her body and know she’d completed the assignment. Maybe they’d let her coffin walk. The image made her grin. All those neat students in their neat hats, her coffin, also in a neat hat.
Ares’d be furious.
Despite that, Terriana started to climb down the curve of the nest to the tree. While she was clinging straight it was simple. Her feet found, or made, gaps and the roots and branches that made up the main structure of the nest provided lots of nooks for her fingers. But in a few moments her back was almost to the jungle, and her feet started slipping out of their holes.
Terriana nearly kicked off her shoes for better grip, but then she remembered that she’d have to walk through a good couple of miles of jungle barefoot, at speed, and that was just asking for coffin-hood. Plus, they’d kicked her off campus for showing up without shoes before.
The hacking howls of the baby space-giraffe’s had returned to the high pitched whine of hungry monsters. Mommy space-giraffe was grousing, but she wasn’t looking over the edges of the nest for her escaped prey.
Terriana moved back to a spot where she could keep her feet and dug her left hand deep into the bottom of the nest. With her free hand she picked a likely looking hunk of wood and pulled.
It didn’t shift.
She reached into her bag, inching to avoid losing her perch, and dug around until she found the end of her rope. She pulled it out and tied it to the branch she’d tested.
Terriana tied the other end of the rope into a five point harness, mostly using her teeth.
The next branch that looked like it could hold her weight was about fifty feet down. Terriana reached into the bag and zipped open the bottom pocket. She pulled out her catching clip and fastened it onto the free rope and the harness. Another little device, this one for untying knots and shaped like a underweight spider, got tucked into the knot on the nest. She detached the back of it, a little button, and clipped it to her collar.
Terriana zipped up her bag, checked her ropes, and let go. It was a relief. Her left hand had been aching and starting to burn.
The sky grabbed her and she started to fall. A moment later the clip caught, and Terriana hung, spinning, below the nest. She checked the knots on her harness and then started to lower herself to the limit of her rope.
The baby space-giraffes were getting more insistent. Maybe her ear plugs were still in her bag? Below, smaller trees danced in the low wind.
Terriana landed, braced herself on the tree, and held down the button on her collar. A moment later her rope dropped. The catching clip reeled it in as it fell, and the little unknotting bug was still clinging tightly to the far end.
This was easy.
But it was going to take way too long.