Last Star Standing

By Spaulding Taylor

On a post-apocalyptic 23rd-century Earth, an Aussie rebel battles its rulers - and his own demons

I find myself sorry for the Creature. Did it ask to be made so huge, so spectacular, so ravenous? The ultimate outsider, it’s as imprisoned as the rest of us. Even more, perhaps, for it has no choice at all.

Still: those jaws. There’s a collective intake of breath as the creature swishes past her, that lethally spiked tail terrifyingly close to that poised little face. She sits composedly on the bottom of the tank, by comparison the size of a doll, though clearly returned to her element. The cameras are extended, greedy arms waiting to gather her in. It’s almost certainly a live broadcast.

Hope so.

The place to aim as close to the centre as possible: there could well be a weakness there. . . If it just gives her just half a chance. . .

The Creature makes two terrifyingly swift passes, then kicks her into the crunchy gravel, with the wild pull of that gigantic tail. It’s as she rights herself that it seems to notice her, really notice her, for the first time. It halts at the top of the tank, baring those enormous teeth.

Does it fancy another snack, or simply the chance to play? I don’t know. All I know is that, from the very topmost corner of the tank, it prepares to pivot down.

I pull the trigger.

At first I’m disappointed: it’s so nearly soundless, but then, all the new ones are. The power of the thrust shoves my entire body backwards, half-flattening a couple behind me. Then, along with a deafening cacophony of screams and yells, I watch the yawning gap in the tank unfold open – like gigantic origami – while the gush, rush, slush of sea-water turns, within a couple of seconds, into a great roiling torrent, plucking up the whole of the massive audience in one effortless surge.

Salt water.

I’m struck, from the left by a head, from the right by a shoulder. So many people – all reaching out in a frenzy for the surface. Salt in my mouth, as I crest the surface I hear screams and a panicked swell surging beneath me – certainly the freed Creature – and dismiss it from my mind. If it chooses me, I’ll still have launched one last blow.

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