Monday, 2 March 2015

The Infestation — Part 4

Preamble: This the fourth chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 and Chapter 3)

THE INFESTATION
by Cheeseburger Brown


Chapter 4.

Things didn't go well. They shot down our skiff with improbable missiles. The landing party was scattered to the wind.

After a bout of largely uncontrolled free-fall and a minor impact my stuff and I climbed out of a shallow crater and walked across a desert for a very long while. Whenever I paused the cargo palette bumped into my calves. I slapped at it with increasing vigour even as my resources dwindled. "Why are you so stupid?" I demanded.

The palette distressed. It wanted to know if it should hover higher or lower. It cowered when it asked. I felt like a monster.

At a muddy watering hole I encountered a small troupe of pests and culled them. Local fauna came to investigate the smoking remains. I walked on.

The trail from the watering hole took me to a walled warren. Even on the outskirts rank odours were apparent. Tendrils of smoke reached into the sky from several sites of busy combustion. Here, then, the infestation had moved beyond timid roving bands: I could smell smelting. My arrival would be met with iron implements.

A few stray animals wandered outside the walls. I culled them before seeking ingress to the warren proper.

Labyrinthine streets packed with a fetid layer of dung. Crowded markets of their bizarre artifacts. Collectives of the immature receiving mimetic indoctrination from adults. Houses of worship. All of them emptied before me, squealing and sprawling.

The palette dropped combustion scat as we went so we left a trail of fire. The ignitions were warm on my back. I roved back and forth, vaporizing according to an improvised pattern that I found amusing in some hard to fathom way; certain spacings of integers just make me smile.

The mewling crowds disappeared with surprising efficiency. From experience I suspected trap-doors in every nest leading to a tunnel network. Even so the action was fast. Rehearsed, clearly. Within minutes I was wandering the detritus-littered avenues of a seemingly empty warren.

In a central square I had the palette unload a drill. I thumped around with my foot for a while until I thought I heard a hollow. I motioned the drill over. It crouched over the spot and activated.

The drill was washed away in an eruption of brown swill.

I whistled to myself. A central sewage system! These buggers were entrenched in a way I'd only ever read-only about.

Irritably pushing the palette out of my path I scanned the structures around me, blocking the sun with an upturned hand. What I'd taken for architectural connections so animals could move from one structure to another was actually a system of gravity-stoked aquifers. The devils!

I splashed around in the sewage some more then waved the second drill over. It seemed hesitant. I added a flag to my argument. The damn thing waddled over. I banged my foot on the stones, splashing in a foul puddle. "Do you hear that?" I said. "Open that up."

The drill squatted and did its duty, then stepped aside to reveal a perfectly circular aperture into an underground corridor. A bit of sewage slopped over the smoking edges. "Get out of here," I told the drill. To the palette I barked: "Hydrogen cyanide!"

With some added slack on the cables to my dispenser I hopped down into the corridor, roving the muzzle in search of animals to take care of.

Instead I saw a strange woman. She slapped me.


Friday, 27 February 2015

The Infestation — Part 3

Preamble: This the third chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2)

THE INFESTATION
by Cheeseburger Brown


Chapter 3.

The general's hand-picked team boarded a gate and transited together. My palette of pest control devices hovered cheek by jowl with military palettes bristling with ordnance delivery hardware. When the gate irised open we stepped out in sequence according to rank. I was the last.

I looked into the night sky. The stars were weird. We were very, very far from the core systems.

"Is this the infested world?" I asked.

The general shook her helmet. "No. This is a staging area. They sabotaged our gate on the target planet."

The sun was up but the sky was black. The atmosphere was thin and tasted metallic. A gas giant was rising from the horizon, whorled stripes of rusty brown and sulphur yellow. It was, in its way, striking. There was beauty here amid the duty.

The soldiers had equipped themselves for action, field armour bristling with the traditional spiked phalluses and red blinky lights of their caste. Now they worked together to assemble a skiff from a kit. "We'll have to jump planets," the general explained. "Everybody get ready to hold your breath."

She pointed out a blue-green sparkle in the ink sky.

"That's where the bastards are."

Dutifully we all looked skyward. There it was, a whole planet roiling with meat. The skeletons in humanity's collective closet, rattling their bones and shrieking for their own inscrutable kind of justice.

In a zoo, I could appreciate the reverence.

But in the wild?

Vermin.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Infestation — Part 2

Preamble: This the second chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1)

THE INFESTATION
by Cheeseburger Brown


Chapter 2.

The port was busy. Clots of humans navigated one another to find their gate or carousel or exit, dodging one another efficiently, the terminal hall filled with the soft whispering of skin against skin. A long line fed me to a security check point, my heels dogged by a cargo palette ferrying my gear. The palette hummed plaintively as it bumped into the back of my legs, anxious to carry on.

The customs officer scanned my face. "Name?"

"William E. e. Potassium."

"Travelling for business or pleasure?"

"Business."

"What is your function?"

"Exterminator."

I presented my credentials for inspection. The palette nudged against my legs again so I turned around and gave it a slap. When I turned back the customs officer had opened the cordon. I proceeded through to the gate.

The mouth of the gate irised open and I stepped inside, followed by the palette. It was apparently to be a private shunt since as soon as I was inside the gate closed right up. My own warped reflection shone back at me from the gate's curved walls.

Transmission was imperceptible.

The gate opened. The palette and I emerged into a military port, the gangway flanked by soldiers. The nearest asked to check my credentials. Then we walked as a small parade down a series of corridors until I was deposited in a conference room with twelve tall windows overlooking some shining sea. The sky was a classic blue, with clouds of water vapour forming a filigree line along the horizon.

I joined the circle of people. It widened to accommodate me. Once within its perimeter I could hear what everybody was saying.

Hear, but not understand. I squinted and frowned. "What's all this?"

Everybody looked at me in every way.

"This, I trust, is William," said a tall woman with a fancy helmet and decorative breasts.

I nodded. "Sir."

She addressed the circle. "We will grant William fuzzy borders in matters of protocol. His specialty is practical."

I didn't say anything.

"Orient yourself in the discussion, William. What is your first question?"

I cleared my throat. "Ladies and gentlemen and so on, I should likest to know whether thy subject touches upon the realm of pest control, for verily that ken is mine."

A couple of them tittered. I felt myself blush. Fucking snobs.

The woman with the helmet said, "Yes William, we have a pest control problem. A super-colony has emerged, and it has undertaken hostilities against the human citizenry."

I was shocked. "Have there been deaths?"

"Yes."

I shook my head in disbelief. "An openly aggressive super-colony! It's unheard of. How did the situation spiral so badly out of control, ladies and gentlemen and so on?"

"It was a research project gone horribly wrong."

"Then this was a captive population? Containment was lost?"

"Containment was lost."

"You ass-hats. You detritus-eaters. You never listen. You never learn."

"It's worse: there are hostages, and they are unnetworked. Obviously orbital bombardment is out of the question. We require a culling solution sufficiently nuanced to defend those captive lives. William, can you advise this circle? William, will you?"

I sighed and looked out the windows at the sparkling blue sea. "Ladies and gentlemen and so on, what is the pest population?"

"Ten thousand."

I had to have that figure repeated. My curriculum vitae boasted my record-setting prowess managing infestations as large as four hundred animals. But ten thousand? Ten thousand! A number like that made a mockery of the super-colony descriptor.

I shook my head. "Verily, this is beyond my ken. I'm just an exterminator. Thou needst a general."

"We had a general. A few, to be candid. But they were forcibly spent."

I turned back to face the others, my eyes rounded with alarm. "So who's next in line for that job?"

"I am," said the woman in the helmet. "And you're going in with me, William. I need to know what you know. Will you face ten thousand pests with me, in the name of the larger human peace?"

Every person in the circle looked to me. Esteemable, every one of them. Could people of such stature really be counting on a working man like me? All at once I realized paying off my various credit imbalances could be within my grasp.

I raised my chin. "O general my general, I will."


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Infestation — Part 1

Preamble: This the first chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (See also: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and Chapter 4)

THE INFESTATION
by Cheeseburger Brown


Chapter 1.

The special telephone rang. I cocked my head. "Ahoy-hoy?"

My date was disappointed but protocols aren't ignorable. Nobody argues with a well-flagged argument. The dutiful are duty-bound. She tucked away her reproductive organs and kissed me on my gleaming brow. Our eyes exchanged intimate transmissions, which was popular among her generation. It made me feel vital, if a little silly.

"Is it ancestors again?" she asked.

I nodded. "The hoary germs."

"Big infestation?"

"It must be, or they wouldn't have used the special telephone." I tapped the side of my head significantly. "Only the ministry has this line."

"Where?"

I shrugged. "No details given. I'm to seek immediate transit. Arrangements have been made. I'll be briefed on the way."

She smiled, showing me a row of mathematically perfect iridescent little teeth. "Print me back a souvenir?"

"What would please you?"

"How about sand from a foreign beach?"

"Consider it transmitted."

We kissed, our lips briefly fluorescing as they suffused with ichor.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Panacea

Preamble: This is a science-fiction short story concerning the discovery of an actual medical cure-all. Like most of what you read on the web, it isn't true.

I'd also like to mention that we're having the Internet over for tea. If you'd like to drop by August first through fourth inclusive of this year at our historic schoolhouse one hour north of Toronto, drop me a line and I'll share the details with you. The schoolhouse will provide field camping space, natural beauty, toilets, a couple of musical acts, and access to propane barbecues and kegs of beer throughout this four day hullaballoo.

Plus I'll be there walking around glad-handing while wearing an oversized costume of my own likeness. So there's that to look forward to. I dance for quarters.

Unlike most of what you read on the web, this stuff is true. We did it nine years ago and it worked out pretty well. Folks came from all over the continent. Casualties were zero. You should really consider coming by.

(Meanwhile, the panchrest story's vitals are charted beneath the fold.)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Exemplars

Preamble: This is a science-fiction short story on the subject of neighbourhood watch. The names of the characters have not been changed to conceal their identities because they aren't real.

(Story transmission proceeds beneath the fold.)