“There is no warning rattle at the door,” he said. “Their wings make no sound at all.”
The infuriating woman just smirked. “Of course. They’re predators after all.” Magdalene Curry turned and emptied stew into a bowl. Stephon’s mouth filled with saliva as she placed it before him. “Eat. You must be starving.”
As he gobbled down the rich broth, he looked around the cottage. His senses were still alive with adrenalin flowing during his escape from the destruction of New Kingston. Unlike the colony’s primary city, the cottage was built by hand with native woods. Living vines grew in the corners, producing flowers and assorted vegetables. Magdalene collected the second bowl he’d emptied and placed it in the sink beside the collection of native fruits, held in dried gourds.
She must be insane, thought Stephon. Plenty of people had built their homes in a day with prefab materials and nano-assemblers. The xeno-biologist had taken months at least to build this place from native materials. He watched her ample form as she washed the bowls. Her semi-sheer dress, patterned with lush Hindu imagery, revealed nothing beneath. She was open, direct, a nature woman in every aspect from her home to the loose curly hair falling to her waist. An enigma to Stephon while living 121 light-years from Earth.
He noted her windows weren’t boarded up, even though the last emergency broadcast from New Kingston warned of animal rampages, the very attacks that decimated the city. He watched a Titmouse perching on a sculpture outside. Carribea had proven so Earth-like that humans and Earth animals could live on the native flora and fauna. Trouble was, that meant the native predators could eat terrestrial animals too. The chromium-rich flesh of Earth creatures proved irresistible to Carribea’s predators. After killing off the giant Bostic’s Griffins in the area, New Kingston thought their native predator problems were gone.
And then the Spinecats appeared…in vast numbers, Griffins right behind them. New Kingston fell within a week.
Stephon watched her sit across from him, so at ease and assured. He flushed with anger at this strange woman. “How can you be so calm? Our colony is dying!”
She smirked again. “Why is that?”
“Why? WHY? Because we’re being eaten.”
She shook her head, smiling sympathetically. “So many lessons taught on Earth, yet humanity still cannot find The Center.”
“The Center? What does that mean?”
“When the colony first began, what did it do when it discovered Bostic’s Griffins.”
“Those things? They’re giants! 18-foot wingspan. Killing claws on forelegs and main legs. Apex predators. We’re 121 light years from ANY support. Three years before a supply-ship appears. We did what we had to.”
“You killed them.”
“We protected ourselves!
“Have you ever seen a Griffin kill a human?”
Stephon paused, suddenly uncertain. “I watched two dismantle a cow in minutes.”
“But no human. And then the Spinecats appeared…en masse.”
Stephon had seen groups of them, feeding on still-screaming humans. The 100-pound predators, with spines projecting from the neck and back, were shy in singles. Attacking in a pack, they were deadly. “Yes. We’ve never seen so many at once before.”
“Isn’t that interesting? Why do you suppose a predator has spines?”
“Who cares? They’re…”
“Why don’t Earth lions have spines, hmmm?
“I don’t know! I’m not a biologist.”
“…Because nothing preys upon lions. So what might prey upon Spinecats?” Magdalena stood up suddenly and walked out the front door.
Stephon moved to the window to see where she went. There, beside the nymph fountain, a fourteen-foot long Bostic’s Griffin lounged on the ground. It’s feathers were brilliant white with black wingtips on its 18-foot wings. Magdalena walked directly to the massive predator and lay against it, urging him to join her. He walked outside on wobbly knees in shock. “How?” he croaked.
“We’ve an agreement. I don’t kill my best defense.” Idly, Magdalena scratched behind the long ears of the griffin. The 8-inch jaws, filled with serrated teeth fell open and the beast’s eyes closed with pleasure. “I’m safe with my friend here,” said Magdalena. “Spinecats need the chromium in our flesh, but griffins don’t. Bostic’s Griffin’s natural prey is the Spinecat. The only thing keeping those prolific breeders in check is griffins.”
It all fell upon Stephon in a rush. Humanity had killed off their best protection from their real problem, and paid the price at New Kingston.
Magdalena patted the downy feathers beside her, full lips smiling. “Come,” she soothed. “Let’s find The Center again together.”
Xeno-biology is a real field of study, though there’s not a lot of them…yet. Xeno-biology = The study of alien biology.
The idea of Bostic’s Griffin comes from the real and extinct, Haast’s Eagle, the largest eagle in Earth history. Haast’s Eagle went extinct when the Maori drove the Moa to extinction with over-hunting in the 1400s. This is one of the lessons Magdalena was referring to. More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haast%27s_eagle
Chromium is an essential part of the human diet: https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chromium
This week’s writing challenge at the Speakeasy must begin with the sentence, “There is no warning rattle at the door.” The media prompt is a picture of a Titmouse. Look for lots of wonderful story responses to the challenge right here: http://www.yeahwrite.me/speakeasy/fiction-challenge-164-open/