Preamble: This the second chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1)
by Cheeseburger Brown
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?"
"What is your function?"
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?"
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?"
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."