Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

swarms.pngDr Rogin was right. These were no fruit flies. Nothing I’d ever seen compared to them. Sure, they were tiny, dark and winged, but the resemblance to anything on earth ended there. The most notable difference was the number of legs the things had. Insects had six legs, arachnids had eight, but these bugs had ten. I’d never seen anything with ten legs before, though I’d heard of one rather obscure case involving a ten-legged creature of Australian origin. What I was looking at had to be one of two things: a newly evolved or previously undiscovered species from Earth, or something alien in origin. Both options simultaneously excited and terrified me. Having seen the destructive power of these tiny swarming creatures, I had no doubt it was a matter of time before humanity was overcome, unless we could find a way to stop them.

The insects, if that was what they were, (I preferred to think of them as ‘bugs’ until I knew exactly what they were) appeared to be evolving. Or maybe it was another stage of their life cycle that we hadn’t seen yet. The new bugs looked different. They had tripled in size, and had pale whitish wings instead of the mottled black wings of their ten-legged predecessors. Their bodies were shiny, black and heavily armored. The smaller bugs had translucent gray bodies with visible innards. Both varieties were unlike any insect I’d seen. As if the ten-legged bugs weren’t disturbing enough, these new ones only had four.

What the fuck am I dealing with here?

“So what do you make of it?” Dr Rogin had slipped into the room while I was looking into the microscope.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking at here. Is this another phase of its life cycle, or an entirely different species?”

“That’s what I aim to find out. Then you can get busy with your job, which is to figure out how to kill them.” He glared at me over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “While killing as little else as possible in the process, of course.”

Dr. Leonard Rogin was my partner on the project, although we didn’t work for the same employers. He was a senior FDA research scientist who spent most of his time evaluating the safety of products before releasing them to consumers. He was responsible for double-checking my research to ensure that I didn’t endanger any lives in the process of doing my job.

The company I worked for, Evergreen industries, worked in cooperation with heavyweights like Monsanto. My job was to ensure the safety of the. North American food supply by eliminating any possible threats to said food supply.

I used my degree in entomology to study insects for the sole purpose of finding the most effective methods of killing them, and I was paid handsomely for my effort.

These bugs were unlike anything I had ever encountered.

It had all started innocently enough.

A year previously, swarms of fruit flies descended over the Midwest. At first we assumed it was merely a heavy season for the tiny pests, but it soon became obvious we were faced with something much greater. Granted, we had noticed an increase in fruit flies and other pests in the past few years, but nobody gave it much thought. We shrugged it off as ‘just a bad season’ for this pest or that one. How blind we were, not to have recognized the signs.

For the past ten years that I worked for Evergreen, Monsanto and the many organizations that worked in silence beneath them were doing what they had always done – messing with the genetic makeup of plants to produce hardier and more prolific versions. Their mission, as stated, was to make our valuable and life-giving food crops resistant to pests, extreme weather, poor soil conditions and other potentially destructive factors. As the world’s honeybee population plunged into extinction, increased focus was placed on the development of self-pollinating hybrid varieties of all staple crops.

One of the less-talked-about projects was the nuke-resistant crop.

Worried that the threat of nuclear attack was imminent, the powers that be felt the need to protect our food supplies by making them resistant to radiation and other challenges faced following a nuclear strike. For years, scientists had been working (covertly, so as not to create panic) to develop nuke-resistant strains of corn, wheat and other vital food crops. They succeeded, but what they didn’t anticipate was the effect these new crops would have on the rest of the ecosystem.

It’s a well-known fact in science that every living thing has a survival mechanism. Even minute viruses and bacteria have ways of surviving when faced with obstacles. When a body becomes immune to a virus, it mutates in an attempt to circumvent the immune system. When an infection is bombarded with enough antibiotics, the surviving bacteria evolve into antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Darwin called it survival of the fittest – living things adapting in order to survive.

What made them think the genetically altered crops would exist in the same environment as their predecessors without having any effect, adverse or otherwise, on the living things around them? For a bunch of brainiacs, we scientists could be pretty stupid sometimes. We ignored what should have been plain to see until it was too late. And now, there I was, stuck inside my lab at the eleventh hour and no closer to finding a solution than I had been five, ten years ago, before this whole mess began. Back then, there would have been plenty of time to avert disaster if only we had seen it. If only.

The fruit flies appeared to have evolved into the ten-legged abominations I was now studying. Not only had their appearance changed, but their habits had as well. This latest batch of flies was of a more devastating breed than anyone could have imagined. They decimated fruit, vegetable and grain crops. They squeezed through the tiny holes in window screens, coating everything inside and out with a live, buzzing ash-colored blanket. It was impossible to display fresh produce at a market without seeing it covered with the tiny gray flies. The usual pesticides had no effect on them.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when winter came, because it meant the end of what they considered to be the worst fruit fly season in history. But the flies persevered. In spite of sub-zero temperatures, they survived and even seemed to thrive. Extreme temperatures, lack of water and even lack of food didn’t seem to slow them down. They continued to multiply and spread, until all of North America was infested. International flights were halted to prevent the swarms from migrating to the rest of the world, but the outlook was bleak. We knew that it was only a temporary solution; attempting to quarantine an entire continent was neither logical nor feasible. Sooner or later the bugs would spread if we didn’t find a way to stop them.

By the end of the year, their numbers had reached disastrous proportions. Car engines developed problems as the insects clogged air intakes and exhaust. People wearing safety goggles and surgical masks were a common sight on the streets. Due to mass crop dusting, Malathion poisoning in people and animals became commonplace, but the flies remained healthy.

And now, there were these new bugs. Larger, faster and, presumably, even more destructive, though we had yet to see what effect they would have on what was left of the continent’s crops.

* * *

I stared into the twin glass tanks that contained my test specimens. A swarm of small bugs in one, and a slightly smaller group of the larger bugs in the other.

An idea occurred to me.

I placed both tanks inside the glassed-in observation room and then removed the lids. I exited the room quickly, sealing the door behind me.

I had set up a video camera on a tripod outside the room to record the experiment, just in case anything unusual happened. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was better to be prepared than to miss anything.

I wanted to know how these two species interacted with each other, and if they were indeed different developmental phases of the same organism, or if they were two different animals entirely.

I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and pulled up a chair next to the glassed-in room to watch.

The bugs kept with their own kind, each forming a thick swarm. It was eerie, watching the two swarms moving about the room, flying in such an organized formation they could have been mistaken for two single organisms.

The swarms stopped and hovered, maintaining a distance of two or three feet between each other. They seemed to be waiting. I knew it was an insane notion, but it looked like they were ‘facing’ each other.

When it began, it was a sight I would never forget. The larger bugs attacked, and I could have sworn I heard a faint collective scream like a battle cry as they charged into the thick black cloud of tiny flies.

The two clouds of insects became one, and the battle cry became a squeal that increased in pitch and intensity until I had to cover my ears. When it was over, only one swarm remained. The larger bugs were the victors.

The big bugs were able to kill the small ones. I had found the solution to one problem.

Now I had a new problem. What else did these big bugs kill? What would it take to kill them?

Oh, dear God. Have we gone from the frying pan into the fire?

I picked up the phone. It was time to call my superiors and inform them of this new development.

* * *

I woke with something wet and sticky on my face. I raised my head from my desk, where I had fallen asleep after my twenty-eighth hour on the job. A document was stuck to my cheek, from the remnants of a cup of coffee, which I had evidently knocked over in my sleep. I sighed and pulled the paper off of my face, then checked my watch. It was ten-thirty, presumably at night.

I hadn’t been home to shower or change clothes in two days, ever since we received word of the government’s 72-hour countdown. If I, and the others working on the problem didn’t find a feasible solution to the bug invasion, we would be relieved of our duties and the military would intervene. They would eradicate the problem by any means necessary. That meant poisons, experimental chemicals, nerve gas, napalm, and if all else failed, Operation Black Flag. Operation Black Flag, named after a popular insect extermination product, involved luring the bugs to remote desert areas and nuking them. Residents would be evacuated, but any who refused to go would meet the same fate as the bugs. That was, assuming a nuke would kill the things. For all we knew, it would kill everything except for the bugs. We had no way of knowing the effects of things we hadn’t tried yet.

There had to be another way. The potential for global catastrophe was enormous, whether by bugs or by humankind’s ham-handed intervention. The time to find a solution was running out. Who knew what kind of horrific nerve gases and biological weapons the US military had in its possession? They let the public think such things didn’t exist, but I knew better. History had proven that we were capable of creating some pretty nasty stuff.

My head spun when I thought about all the lives at stake – not just people, but livestock, crops, and natural flora and fauna were all in danger of extinction. The government assholes didn’t care; all they thought about was winning. They had to prove they were number one, and no little bug was going to knock them off the top of the food chain.

I stretched my arms over my head as I walked back to the lab station where I had been working. A metal rack next to the microscope held twenty-four glass vials, each containing an individual specimen of the larger bug. I had studied them, poisoned them with everything I could think of, and still they lived, bouncing angrily against the glass. Attempts to dissect them had proven fruitless; their armor seemed impenetrable. As much as I hated to admit defeat, it was starting to look like our time on this planet was coming to an end.

The odd thing about the large bugs was, they didn’t seem to be multiplying the way the small ones were. I had yet to catch one in the transition from small to large, either. When the small ones appeared, we saw them multiply exponentially. The larger bugs hadn’t shown up until the small ones had reached epidemic proportions. They didn’t seem to hatch or evolve – they just appeared.

I breathed a weary sigh and reached for a vial containing an untainted specimen. I didn’t know where to turn at this point, except to repeat my previous experiments to see if I had missed anything. There had to be a clue somewhere. These things had to have a weakness.

I was overtired; otherwise I wouldn’t have been so clumsy. When I reached for the vial, the sleeve of my lab coat caught on the rack and I accidentally swept the entire thing onto the floor.

I gasped at the sound of glass smashing. The specimens were free.

“Shit!” I shouted, jumping back from the station. I ran to the door and hit the Emergency Quarantine button. The doors automatically locked, sealing the room and everything in it. The lab was now contaminated, and so was I. Nothing would enter or exit until the threat was contained.

The buzz of the bugs rose to a high-pitched squeal as they swarmed around my head. I swatted at them, even though I knew it was unwise to do so. The little buggers were already pissed off; there was no need to antagonize them. I pulled my lab coat over my head and retreated into the inner office, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door, panting, while the bugs hummed angrily on the other side.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck.

“Ouch!” What the..?

I was bitten! One of the bugs had followed me into the office and stung me.

“No,” I whispered as the strength left my body and I slid to the floor.

Darkness.

* * *

I heard the soft murmuring of voices. At first, I thought I had fallen asleep with the TV on, then I remembered the lab, and the bugs. I opened my eyes tentatively.

I was no longer in the office where I had fallen. In fact, I was no longer in the lab at all. I was surrounded by a bizarre alien landscape. The ground beneath my feet resembled a dried-out lake bed; It was flat and solid, covered with cracks. It reminded me of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which I had visited to watch land speed testing on a couple of occasions. How I had managed to travel from Nebraska to Utah? More importantly, why? Had I been unconscious that long?

I looked around for landmarks; anything that would help me get my bearings. The horizon was hard to distinguish because the sky was the same color as the ground.

“Hello?” I called. “Anybody here?”

I heard a fluttering sound, but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Then more voices, whispering. It occurred to me that maybe I was dead. Was this Purgatory, or some kind of spirit world? I pinched myself, then slapped my face. It hurt, and I felt solid. I certainly didn’t feel like a spirit.

Voices whispered, like rustling leaves.

“Who’s there?” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

The fluttering grew louder, then I sensed movement above my head. I looked up and my jaw dropped in amazement.

The individual responsible for making the sound descended from above and landed lightly on the ground in front of me. She was my height, and looked somewhat human, but that was where the resemblance ended. She had wings. Wings! Her skin was the most beautiful pale iridescent blue, like an opal. Her long wings were long, narrow and clear, like those of a dragonfly, with the same iridescence as her skin. Her delicate beauty was breathtaking. She wore a suit of armor similar to a Medieval knight’s, but form-fitting, shiny and black. A smooth helmet covered her head and a sword hung from her lower back, positioned pointing straight down with the hilt resting at the base of her wings.

“Please accept my apology,” she said. Her voice was light and musical, with an odd accent I’d never heard before. “I didn’t want to wound you, but I had no other choice. All other attempts at communication have failed.”

“W-who are you?” I stammered. “Wound me? How?”

She placed a delicate, shimmering hand on her hip, where a sheathed dagger was attached to her armor. “I had to inject you with serum. I am truly sorry.”

“I am Ilara,” she said, “Warrior. Wanderer. Guardian of the innocent.”

My questions remained unanswered, given that I didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“But how? Where?” Questions swirled in my head. I didn’t know where to begin.

“You are the one who can bridge the gap. We need you to communicate with your race, to let them know we are here to help.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ilara turned away from me and made a shrill whistle. The whir of many sets of wings filled the air as more of her kind descended from the sky. I gasped, awestruck at the sight of them. This had to be a dream. I must have hit my head when I fell, and now I was having a most bizarre and wondrous dream. Iridescent wings flashed as a vortex of tiny beings swirled around my head.

Fairies, I thought. They look like fairies!

They alit on the ground and gathered around Ilara, chittering in a musical language like a flock of sparkly birds. Then they lined up in a neat formation, as if waiting for inspection. All appeared to be female, and breathtaking in their delicate beauty.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“We have no home. We are citizens of the universe. We travel wherever we are needed. At this moment, your planet is in dire need of our assistance.”

“The bugs,” I whispered.

“The ‘bugs’, as you call them, are evil overlords who conquer through utter annihilation of all which they encounter. They are eaters of worlds; ruthless, vicious parasites. They will not stop until your world is devoid of all life.”

“I was starting to get that impression,” I said. “Can they be stopped?”

“Yes,” Ilara said. My army has the power to stop them. They are many and we are few, but they are no match for us. You must release us before it is too late.”

“What will happen after you defeat them?”

“Then we will leave your world in peace.”

“And if you don’t defeat them?”

“There is no ‘don’t’. We will be victorious. Listen to me when I tell you, your leaders’ plans to attack the Horde with nuclear weapons will have no effect on them. You will destroy yourselves and your planet in the process, while the Horde grows stronger. They absorb the properties of that upon which they feed. Nuclear weapons will have little effect on them.”

“Nuke-resistant crops…” I whispered, thinking.

“Correct.”

“Why us?” I wondered aloud. “Why our planet?”

“They are the reality you have created for yourselves through your own actions. The Horde is here because the ideal conditions for their existence were already present. They are here because they were drawn here.”

“By what?”

“Why, you, of course. You attracted their attention, and they found your world to be a worthy investment. They are parasites. They attach themselves to existing life forms, and then become those life forms. They are attracted to large masses of life forms – whatever will make the best army. As their army grows, so does their ability to take over larger forms of life. They started with bacteria. Now they have graduated to fruit flies. Next, larger insects. Then the higher life forms. Eventually, you.”

“Us?”

“Yes. Without our assistance, you are on the verge of extinction. This planet and everything around it will become uninhabitable by everything except the Horde.”

“How will they survive once everything is gone? Won’t they die off, too?”

“No. The Horde feeds on low frequency.”

“What does that mean?”

Ilara explained, “Energy vibrates at different frequencies. That which your kind refers to as negative energy – anger, hatred, violence – all of those emotions emit a low frequency. Higher frequencies are at the other end of the scale – love, hope, compassion – all things which the human race claims to practice but only takes part in sporadically.”

“We’re not that bad, are we?” I asked, even though I knew the truth. The company that issued my paychecks was a prime example.

“The Horde are energy parasites, and they are attracted to the frequencies easiest for them to consume – the lower ones. They are like…” she paused, searching for the right word, “like the things you call vampires,” she finished. “Each of them is a merciless vacuum of nothingness. They devour everything they encounter. In the beginning, the higher frequencies were immune to them, but as fear spreads throughout your world, you will become more and more vulnerable, until nobody and nothing will be safe. They are only in their first stages of attack right now. They are generating fear, charging the planet with negative energy until everything on it is ripe for the harvest. You have only seen the beginning of what they can do.”

“And you can stop them?”

“Yes. It is early enough for us to stop them if we attack now. If you wait too long to release our army, all will be lost.”

“So, where are you, and how do I get there to release you?” I asked.

“We are already here,” Ilara told me.

“I don’t understand.”

“We are trapped in the place where you work.”

“My laboratory? But all I have in there are…”

“Bugs,” Ilara finished. “You call us, the ‘big bugs’, I believe.”

I looked around at my surroundings. Nothing looked familiar until I looked up. Suspended in what I had originally thought was part of the sky, I saw a large, shiny silver object. After studying it further, I recognized a familiar shape. A rectangular metal plate, with three round holes and a cylinder on one side… it was a hinge! I was looking at the office door, which I had been hiding behind when I lost consciousness.

Aw, nuts! This is just some stupid hallucination. I’m probably dying from some alien toxin right now, I thought. And just when I’d begun to have some hope that there might be a way out of this mess.

“Not a hallucination,” Ilara said, confirming my theory that this was indeed, a hallucination.

“I was unable to communicate with you,” she explained. “I could hear your thoughts, but for some reason you were unable to hear mine, so I had to take drastic measures. I used my sword to inject you with serum to reduce you to our size.”

I looked down at the ground, which I had thought looked like salt flats. Now I realized I was standing on the tile floor of the office. They had shrunk me!

“I’m your size?” I said, still in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to stay this way, am I?”

“No. I will put you back into your world, but we need to explain some things first.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“Once you return to your normal size, you will need to release our army from your laboratory. It is also very important that you release the Horde as well, so that we can eradicate them. If you do not, they will multiply all over again and this disaster will be repeated.”

“But, labs all across the continent have them contained! How am I supposed to convince them to release their specimens?”

“You will have to find a way. The more of them left alive, the greater the risk of re-infestation.”

“Risk, you say? You mean, re-infestation isn’t certain?”

“Not certain, but likely. There is one weapon your race has that can eliminate them, but I do not believe enough of you will use it.”

“What weapon is that?”

“Love.”

“Love?”

“Love energy has the highest of all frequencies. Love, mercy and compassion for each other is the most powerful weapon your race possesses. Sadly, too few of you make use of it. You find it easier to dwell in the anger frequency. Anger is powerful in its own right due to the passion that often fuels it, but it is lower than the frequency of love. If more of you could rise above that plateau to exist in love, the Horde would be driven from this world, never to return.”

“I can’t expect everyone to just drop everything and start loving each other,” I said.

“No, neither do we,” Ilara sighed. “We will do what we can for you, but when the battle is over, it will be up to you whether or not the Horde will thrive again.”

“But, there’s a chance, right? I mean, even a slim chance is hope.”

“Hope is a good place to start. A good place indeed.” Ilara smiled, and the army of iridescent faces behind her lit up as well.

“Let the battle begin!” Ilara crowed, drawing her sword. The rest of the warriors joined her cheer. Silver flashed as they drew their weapons and raised the blades to the sky. Their visors slid shut, and shiny black suits of armor unfolded to encase the warriors’ bodies. With full armor, they looked exactly like the ‘bugs’ I had been so exhaustively analyzing under the microscope.

Ilara stepped forward and pricked the back of my hand with her sword. I smiled as I slipped down into blackness once again.

For the first time since the whole mess began, I felt like humankind might have a future.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

 

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