“We’ve got to help it!” Neanna shouted, joining the others on the pathway.
Zach raised his crossbows and took aim, but Faraday was quicker than him to react. Faraday pulled the skin from his right hand like a glove, revealing his mechanical arm once again. With a flick of his wrist, the arm hummed and whizzed into life. A series of cutters and tools sprung from Faraday’s forearm and fingers. He raced across the front garden and leapt over the front gate. Before his feet had even landed in the ash, Faraday had lashed out at the alligator and sliced the creature in two.
The alligator’s tail snapped about in the air in jerky movements, its spindly legs twitching until it fell still. Zach glanced over at Neanna who was sitting in the ash and cradling the dying Butter-Flyer in her arms. William approached Neanna and knelt beside her. She gently stroked the machine until it fell still. The others were surprised by the affection she had shown it.
Neanna caught them staring at her and said, “It might have looked like a machine, but it was a living thing. Couldn’t you hear its screams? It was in pain.”
There was a moment’s silence as Faraday pulled the waxy-looking flesh back over his hand and arm. Then without a hint of emotion in his synthesized voice, he said, “We’d better get going then.”
With the Seek-Wasp buzzing excitedly above their heads, Zach turned to Faraday and said, “And that’s why I can’t say you are like a human. Humans have feelings.”
Without saying another word, Zach took the reins of one of the Butter-Flyers and climbed on. Neanna stood, and brushing the ash from her cloak, she climbed on board behind him. Faraday said nothing, but stood staring at Zach. Then, slowly he turned and went to the last of the Butter-Flyer machines. Yelping like a scared pup, William leapt onto the butterfly – sandwiched between Bom and Faraday. With her arms wrapped around Zach’s waist, she peered over his shoulder and watched as he gently pulled back on the ropes that were attached to the Butter-Flyer’s head. They slowly rose into the air, the creature’s wings beating delicately on either side of them as they gained momentum and soared towards the clouds.
As Zach and his friends raced into the evening sky behind the Seek-Wasp, Zach noticed that the sky had become overcast with a bank of drab-looking cloud. Zach looked at them. He couldn’t be sure of it and he doubted that it could be possible, but the clouds were changing colour. They weren’t reflecting the colour of the dying sun, but they were turning grey, dark grey, charcoal, and then black. Then to his amazement, the clouds suddenly began to separate, as if falling apart into smaller chunks. These chunks then broke up into smaller pieces, then into just wispy black fragments.
Neanna tapped Zach on the shoulder and shouted into his ear, “Look! Look at the clouds!”
“What’s happening?” Zach yelled as he drew his Butter-Flyer alongside Faraday’s.
“Arthropods,” Faraday said, banking his Butter-Flyer quickly to the right. William howled in fear, throwing his long arms around Faraday.
“Arthur who?” Bom shouted.
“Arthropods,” Faraday said again. Then as if to clarify what it was he meant, he added, “Giant flying spiders.”
“Ah you’ve got to be kidding me!” Zach shouted. But as he looked ahead, he knew Faraday was telling the truth. The clouds he thought he had seen were in fact finely woven webs. Spread out across the sky, each of them was filled with thousands of silky-looking eggs which were waiting to hatch. As they drew nearer, Zach noticed each piece, which had broken away, was in fact a giant spider.
These spidery-looking creatures with webbed-shaped wings swarmed around in the air as if forming some aerial formation, then to everyone’s horror, they came racing towards them. And as they raced across the evening sky, they made hideous squawking sounds that pierced the air. There were hundreds of them and as they swarmed nearer and nearer, Zach could see that their bodies were black, hairy, and bloated. Although they closely resembled giant tarantulas, they only had six black bony legs and a set of wings that were transparent and covered in bristly-looking hair. But this wasn’t what made Zach and his friends’
skin crawl; it was the sight of the dead peacekeepers, who sat astride each of the flying spiders. Just like the dead peacekeepers who had ridden the tiger-bikes, their faces were covered with those creepy-looking respirators.
The flying spiders were nearly upon Zach and his friends as they released a volley of darts from black coloured fangs.
“Don’t get shot by one of those darts!” Faraday shouted, as he screamed past on his Butter-Flyer.
“Why?” Bom roared back.
“Because it would be very bad.”
“How bad?” William howled.
“Those darts are covered in a deadly venom,” Faraday shouted over his shoulder.
“That’s bad!” Bom grunted, as he now gripped hold of William.Without any warning, Neanna placed one of her hands over Zach’s and yanked violently on the reins of the Butter-Flyer. The creature rolled to the left and sharply lost altitude. Zach felt his stomach leap into his throat and he fought desperately not to be sick. Neanna banked the Butter-Flyer round then threw her arms tightly about Zach’s waist again.
“What are you playing at?” Zach roared back at her, once again in control of the machine.
“You had two of those spiders coming up fast!” Neanna shouted in his ear, her cloak flapping about her shoulders.
Zach glanced to his right and saw more of the flying spiders racing towards them. But before he had a chance to react, Neanna had gripped his hands again and was sending the Butter-Flyer racing downwards.
“I have everything under control!” Zach shouted back at her. “You don’t have to keep taking hold of my hands. I don’t like it!”
“That’s not what I heard you tell Faraday,” she whispered in Zach’s ear.
“Oh, my god, you were listening!” Zach cried, his cheeks flushing scarlet. “That was a private conversation!”
“Not that private,” she smiled to herself, and yanked on his hands again, pulling the reins upwards. “I was lying on the sofa.”
“You weren’t meant to have heard how I feel about you,” Zach shouted over the sound of the volley of darts that whizzed just past them.
“Get a life, Zachary Black!” she said, her cheek pressed against his, as she reached over him and pulled at the reins. “You were hoping I would overhear you.”
“And why would I have wanted that?” he snapped, snatching hold of one of his crossbows and firing it at an approaching dead peacekeeper.
“Because you didn’t have the guts to tell me to my face,” she whispered in his ear. Then, kissing him softly on the cheek, she said, “Swap places with me. You can’t steer and shoot at the same time.”
Zach glanced sideways at her, the touch of her lips still making his cheek tingle. He looked into her brilliant blue eyes and Neanna stared back. He wanted to say something – anything – but he didn’t know what.
“Stop staring at me and shoot!” Neanna shouted, pulling him from his trance.
“Oh, yeah – sure,” Zach mumbled as Neanna brushed past him, taking the reins. With lightning speed, he pulled his other crossbow free and unleashed wave after wave of stakes at the approaching flying spiders.
To their right, Zach and Neanna heard Faraday shout, “Get down! Get down!”
William and Bom both crouched low on the Butter-Flyer as a volley of poisonous darts were spat from the spider-ship’s fangs and tore through the sky just inches above their heads. Neanna reared up on the reins and the butterfly machine climbed sharply upwards as several of the spiders zoomed beneath them and smashed into each other head-on. Zach glanced back to see them spin out of control as they dropped through the sky towards the ground.
Faraday spun his Butter-Flyer around and shouted, “There are too many of them!”
“Can’t you conjure up your doorway or something?” Neanna squealed over her shoulder at Zach.
“I don’t know how to,” he shouted.
“Some peacekeeper!” Bom roared.
“Even if I could, God only knows what you would change into on the other side!” Zach scowled at him.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth, then Neanna was corkscrewing their butterfly through the air in a desperate attempt to avoid another onslaught of darts that raced towards them. Zach screwed up his eyes and took aim as more spider-ships approached. Faraday raced his butterfly machine towards the ground with such speed, that Bom’s feet lifted into the air. William howled in terror as Bom held onto him.
“We’re gonna die!” Bom roared.
Hearing this, Faraday reached round and snatched the catapult from William’s pocket. In an instant he had whirled William around, forced the catapult into his claws, and said, “Stop your howling and fight, or you will most certainly die.”
Numbly, William took hold of the catapult and nodded, his long, brown dreadlocks flowing back from his face. Looking over the side of the Butter-Flyer, his eyes burning bright, he spotted several of the spider-ships and took aim. He released the inferno berry and it whizzed through the air, imbedding itself into the bloated belly of one of the spiders. The sound of its body exploding filled the sky like a rumble of thunder. Its white, milky-looking innards erupted into the night, throwing the dead peacekeeper clear. Hungry green flames tore through the darkness like lighting, as the aftershock of the explosion sliced several of the spider-ships and the dead peacekeepers into pieces.
Zach spun around on the Butter-Flyer, and leaning over Neanna’s shoulder, he released a torrent of stakes into an approaching spider-ship. The spider shrieked as if in agony and then dropped through the air. The dead peacekeeper riding the ship hurriedly jumped up. Taking aim again, Zach fired into the respirator covering its face. The mask came free, revealing the pale face of the dead peacekeeper. It clawed at the air as if unable to breathe, its wide, open mouth flapping widely. Another of the flying spiders zoomed in close to Zach and Neanna, its web-like wings beating furiously.