by Mark Figueroa
Franklin sits up on his therapist’s familiar leather couch. Despite years of use, its firm, sepia cushions appear brand new. The scent of honey and mothballs fills the air.
“We don’t have to keep doing this, Dr. Franklin,” Dr. Spruce says. She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose and clicks her pen. She licks something on her teeth and sips a cold glass of water. “As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re just another overworked, underpaid employee who may benefit from additional sleep or leisure activities.” Dr. Spruce presses the retracted pen against her yellow notepad, avoiding eye contact with Franklin. She clears her throat and rubs her hands together.
“I appreciate the formality, but Franklin is fine. Anyway, Doc, you don’t understand,” Franklin says, swatting a fly away from his ear. “This career, this role, has been my whole life. I am the longest employee of the National Forest Administration.” He interlocks his fingers and stares at the ground. “In my 40 years, I have never seen swarms do anything like that before.”
“Are you sure it was a swarm?” Dr. Spruce asks, pressing a thumb to her nostril and snorting.
“Feeling okay, Doc?” Franklin asks, uneasy. He fidgets with his fingers.
“Allergies, Dr. Franklin. Just allergies. Anyway, are you sure it was a swarm?”
Franklin groans. He feels around in his breast pocket. Retrieving a polaroid, Franklin leans forward. “I have proof,” he says, waving the image in the air.
Dr. Spruce sighs. She shakes her head in a cold and inauthentic manner. “Six months, Dr. Franklin. Six months. You’ve shown me the same grainy, blurry image of a shadow in the woods. We’ve had the same dialogue, walked through the same event and haven’t arrived at any conclusions for what you may have seen, and for what you’ve done.”
“You mean what I saw!” Franklin shouts. His erratic gestures and loud voice fail to arouse any reaction from Dr. Spruce.
“Eh, look, Dr. Franklin,” Dr. Spruce begins. “You are Franklin B. Duhl, PhD. The most respected entomologist in the nation. I’m sure you understand how important producing credible evidence is. I can’t just go off of an indiscernible image, at least not as far as the court is concerned. As brilliant as you are, surely you understand that stalking in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.” Her soft eyes are soulless, and only enhance the emptiness of her mechanical mannerisms.
“Okay, enough. No more Doctor Franklin. Just Franklin,” Franklin demands. “It makes you suspicious, Doc,” he says, striking a nerve within Dr. Spruce.
“Fine, Franklin,” she responds, attempting to appear more warm, but clearly failing. “Anyway, as brilliant as you are, surely you understand that stalking in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor. I need to know what evidence you have that supports your behavior, otherwise, you’re just another broken person suffering from a delusional episode. From where I sit, that seems to be the case. You have no life, you’re overworked and you finally snapped. There is no shame in admitting that, Franklin. Bug people with a plot to take over human life sounds like a basement-dwellers conspiracy. Suggesting all of the presidents of the United States are related is a much more credible and plausible theory.”
“God dammit! Don’t you get it?” Franklin asks, screaming and shaking his fists. “There are many of them. There was an entire family of them! I wasn’t stalking. I was observing and reporting!”
“Okay, can you walk me through it again, Franklin?” Dr. Spruce asks. She shakes her head, loosening her stiff neck, cracking several vertebrae in the process.
“Two summers ago, I was doing a survey at the Clifton F. McClintic Wildlife Management Area, five miles north of Point Pleasant in West Virginia. Without getting into the specifics, the Army Corps of Engineers hired us to measure the extent of red water contamination. It was just a standard, bureaucratic operation despite the presence of the military personnel. We were given specific instructions not to go beyond a certain radius from the TNT manufacturing area, which the Army determined may have been the source of the contamination. But, –”
“–But, you did anyway and encountered a family on a–” the doctor interrupts.
“–You asked me to start from the top. Please don’t interrupt me,” Franklin demands. He bites his lower lip and inhales, then releases. Clearing his throat, Franklin props himself up and stares out the window. “The reason I am so great at my work is because I have always been willing to walk beyond designated survey areas. I don’t know how much you know about the CFM WMA, but it spans 3,666 acres, which is 5.7, roughly 6 square miles, give or take. On paper, it’s documented as 3,655 acres because some overly-religious pencil pusher decided so. Anyway, I followed a stream of foaming red water to a small pond between several trees, and there they were: a gathering of bees, butterflies, moths and beetles. At first I thought the heat and humidity were getting to me because, unlike animals, insects don’t congregate with each other, at least not like that,” Franklin says. He puts his hand over his mouth and shakes his head in disgust.
Taking a deep breath, Franklin hoists himself up from the sofa and walks toward the window, staring at a packed parking lot. His eyes skim the trees on the horizon. A moth lands on the other side of the glass. Franklin quickly looks away and paces around the room biting his fingernails. “Then,” he begins, “I noticed a family of four: an average, but handsome couple in their late 30s and two children in their Sunday best. At first, I thought they were admiring the amalgamation of insects…” He takes a long pause, proceeds to sit on the sepia cushions.
Franklin reexamines the polaroid from his breast pocket.
“And, then?” Dr. Spruce asks, her smooth hand sliding bangs behind her right ear. Clicking her pen, she scribbles chicken scratch in her notepad. Several silent minutes pass. “Well, Franklin?” she asks again.
“Come again, Franklin? Centipedes?”
Franklin nods. “Ants, spiders, ticks and centipedes crawled from their ears and mouths,” he says, gesturing the gruesome sight with his hands, his eyes reliving the atrocity.
“As a surveyor, I have come across a lot of peculiar, precarious sights, but even with my experience, I struggled to comprehend what the hell I was watching. Each member of the family stood up one by one, bugs still teeming over them. Their eyes were looking into their skulls. Then came the stench. It was like skunk, burnt rubber and mold in the form of thick perfume. You could feel it in the air, taste it in your throat, the whole nine! That’s when I realized, I was staring at corpses being controlled by insects.”
“We’ve gone over this, Franklin. That’s what you think you saw,” Dr. Spruce suggests, scratching the inside of her ear.
“Like hell. I saw it. I saw it. I swear, Doc. I saw it. I smelled it. I photographed it. This was real,” Franklin responds with a senile smirk, his eyes wide enough to justify a straight jacket. “First, the woman dusted her red, polka dotted dress and white bandana. She helped a centipede into her ear as her eyes rolled forward. She stared at her husband and spoke, but no words came out. Instead, a ball of bugs fell from her mouth. For a few moments, this seemed to be the case with all of them, until the youngest child finally said, ‘These bodies require sustenance or they will rot like the others.’ That’s when I panicked and stepped on a twig. The insects scattered and the family looked in my direction, then bolted into the woods. That’s when I snapped this photo.”
“Your faded, Bigfoot photo?” asks the doctor.
“If you want to call it that,” Franklin responds.
“Look, Franklin, I’m all that stands between you and more serious consequences. So, you think you saw corpses being inhabited by bugs. Then, when they heard you, the corpses and bugs ran away, but you managed to snap a photo. Filling in the rest of the blanks, you found the man’s wallet, tracked him down and followed the family for six months. Then, you followed each member of the family to their places of work, school and social gatherings. Is this correct so far?” the doctor asks, nonchalant. She clasps her hands and sighs.
“Okay. Then, over the six months following that, you somehow managed to follow their entire social circle and established this…” The doctor says. She fumbles through her purse and pulls out a rolled up, supermarket-only magazine. She holds up a page with a headline that reads, ‘The Mysterious Insect Sect: They are here and they are near.’
“You sold pictures of these people to some low-budget tabloid and admitted to following them, knowing where they live, their interests, social circles, and other things that no human would give you unless you knew them. One of these families saw a picture of their daughter in here, thus your arrest, the trial and the six months of our little interaction here.”
“That about sums it up, Dr. Spruce,” Franklin says.
“If you work with me, this can be the extent of your punishment. I just need to know the truth. Do you realize how sick you actually are?” Dr. Spruce asks. “Are you aware of how much damage you caused these families? Their reputations?”
“Have you seen any of them since the trial? They’re all dead or vanished. Dozens of people, who I know are corpses inhabited by bugs, just drop like flies when I expose them. Is that not suspicious, Doc?”
“Are you not suspicious, Franklin?” Dr. Spruce suggests. A smug look on her face widens Franklin’s grin. “You followed these people and they were targeted by mindless conspiracists such as yourself. Does it surprise you that they’ve gone into hiding or have been killed?”
“Yes. It always surprises me when entire families at the center of a conspiracy die or go missing, especially when it doesn’t make the news. After that incident, I’ve found everything suspicious: different illnesses, certain foods, some of the shows on television and the growing, compliant hivemind of today’s youth,” Franklin says, searching his pockets. “But, what I find most suspicious is this.” He holds up two polaroids: an image of a large gray moth and another of a large red butterfly.
Dr. Spruce sits up. Despite her cold, hollow mannerisms, she seems intrigued and somewhat perturbed. “Bugs? You’re suspicious of two bugs?”
“Look closely, doc. Notice anything?” Franklin says, smirking like a madman. His eyes twinkle with a delusional gleam of victory. “Anything at all?”
“Other than them flying around some cars and people in the background, no. I don’t. What are you getting at, Franklin?”
Franklin bites his lip and emphasizes the picture of the gray moth. He shakes the photo like he’s going to slap the doctor with it. “The people. The cars. Those things you see… they aren’t in the background. The moth is walking on the road, beside those people.” He holds up the second image. “Same thing in this one,” he says. “Except, this person here, walking beside the butterfly… this is you isn’t it?”
Dr. Spruce looks at her clock, then back at Franklin. “You realize how ridiculous you sound, Franklin. That image is clearly doctored. Times’ up anyway. I will see you next week,” she says, dismissing Franklin’s allegations. She folders her arms and stares Franklin down.
“No, Doc. You’re clearly doctored. I’ve been watching you for six months. This whole building is compromised, and you’re the queen of this colony. I’ll prove it,” Franklin declares. He grabs a pen from the table next to him and flings it at Dr. Spruce. Graceful and instinctive, she moves out of the way. “But, now,” Franklin says before the doctor can speak or move, “If I try this…” He takes two vials out of his pocket, rubs their contents in his hands and on himself. He chucks the vials square at Dr. Spruce. One hits her glasses lens, the other her lip. She doesn’t flinch, wince or move.
“Clever,” Dr. Spruce responds. “Verbenone?”
Franklin nods in confirmation. “MCH and other passifying agents. These pheromones make it so you don’t see objects or organisms as threats. Like I said, I’ve followed you for months. Also, those families had no clue about me until someone saw me in a paper that I produced, specifically within this county. Funny thing about conspiracies, conspiracists don’t get in trouble unless they’re actually on to something. All I did was set the bait. You, you things, started biting. You don’t think I noticed all of the bugs in this room? The smell of honey and mothballs?”
Dr. Spruce stands and walks toward Franklin. “You are much more clever than I gave you credit for.”
“And, you aren’t made of bugs, because you are a single one. So, who are you? I’d like to know what exactly I’m killing before I do so.”
Dr. Spruces face twitches and her teeth rattle in a low hum, until establishing a low buzz. Her eyes roll back and a large set of mandibles protrude from the sides of her mouth. She lunges at Franklin in a smooth, but erratic motion. He leaps out of the way, but she immediately jumps on his back. A long fleshtube slithers from the doctor’s mouth. Thick goo drips from an opening at the tube’s end. Franklin shakes her off and slams her on the ground. He makes a b-line for the door, then scrambles into the hallway. Then, there’s a loud thud. Franklin’s sight goes black.
When Franklin finally comes to, he’s upside down and tangled in silk. A gray moth the size of a bear marches toward him.
“The human mind is quite the construct,” the moth says. His antennae twitch, vibrating to an unseen rhythm. “All creates are made of fluctuating, vibrating energy, but none emit such a pleasant sensation as a human. Your mind, Franklin, is one I shall treasure draining of fluids. Your thoughts as the light fades from your soul will allow me sight beyond sight.”
Hanging by secure silk threads, Franklin somehow manages to finger his cargo pockets for a lighter. A click and burst of flames ends the moth’s soliloquy; his mandibles flair in excitement and large wings protrude from his back. The moth screeches and lunges at Franklin, who pacifies him with a flash from a polaroid camera.
Franklin snaps the igniter from his lighter and splashes butane on the moth. He quickly snaps the sparking mechanism back on and ignites a flame. Aware that his old-fashioned light stays lit until the cover is shut, Franklin breaks the cover at the hinges and tosses the flaming lighter at the moth. The moth leaps for the flame out of instinct. He shrieks when he combusts. Franklin escapes the moist, rocky dungeon through a stone staircase. He burst through a set of double doors and confirms his suspicion: he never left the medical complex. With a smirk, Franklin runs out of the building. He finds an inconspicuous twine between the bushes. Franklin tugs at the wire, confirming a network of interconnected tins. After creating a spark with a couple rocks, the cable ignites. The fire rushes to the first tin, causing it to emit a thick black smoke and finally explode. Each node on the network follows suit and the building bursts into flames as various chemical gases shroud the air.
Screeching, banging and screaming tear through the annex. Dozens of people run and leap out of the building. Hordes of insects pour out of the staff’s eyes, mouths and ears. Bodies pile up around the main building and the parking lot. The gray moth, injured from Franklin’s quick thinking, and a large red butterfly emerge from the burning building. A high-pitched ringing causes Franklin to collapse to the ground, until he manages to cover his ears and sprint to his car.
Colonies of insects darken the sky. Franklin’s vehicle gets submerged in an ocean of bugs. He presses a switch on his dashboard and green smoke billows out from under his station wagon. Patches of blue sky beam through the growing gaps of suffocating insects. Franklin examines a large map and taps a location several hundred miles away. He takes a notebook out of his glove box, jots down a few observations and hits the road.
After a few stops, refills, highway junk food and backwoods, Franklin pulls up to 20-foot stone walls in the middle of the desert. He presses a button on the intercom and says, “B. Duhl, incoming.” A panel under the intercom beeps and extends forward, exposes a drawer containing a petri dish with thick green paste and tiny spoon.
“You know the drill, B. Duhl. Swab and swallow,” a voice responds. “Admission with confirmation.”
Franklin scoops the dense mix of garlic, citronella and indiscernible chemicals. He swallows the first spoonful, then a second and rubs the rest of the compound onto his gums, behind his ears and under his eyes. The panel opens up again. “Spit in the jar and, uh, place your petri dish in the drawer. We will buzz you in once we confirm your saliva sample.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Franklin mutters, doing as he’s told. After a few minutes, the massive gate opens following a loud buzz. The compound behind the walls is acres upon acres of treeless neighborhoods over well-maintained concrete. Franklin passes several armed guards in hazmat suits and a large sign with an X over the image of a bug. Other signs and posts contain messages like “Hear a buzz? Call the fuzz!,” “If it flies, it dies (except birds),” and Frank’s personal favorite, “Don’t be an inbred, kill an insect.”
Franklin pulls up at a capital building. He gets escorted out of his car and into a delousing area. He sterilizes and gets dressed, then makes his way to his office, where two men await.
“Before you guys start, you need to know…” Franklin says closing the door behind him. “I blew up a building. A large building within a medical complex.”
A man in a nice suit shrugs. “I didn’t invest billions in saving the human race to care about exploding buildings. I have pull with a few major outlets. I’ll feed them a story about some garbage and they’ll create publicity about some bullshit, like a virus, leaky gas pipes or some other nonsense. We need people in that area away from parks and out of public places.”
“Jesus, Merrick!” the other man in Franklin’s office shouts, rubbing at his bald, shiny scalp. “He adjusts his corporate overalls and squirms in his undersized seat. “You can’t do that. We can’t keep people–”
“Oh my god. Speak when you are spoken too. You’re a public official, not my fucking friend or confidant! Anyway, Haverstadt, you’ve never spent a day outside, you fat fuck. Don’t tell me what money can and can’t do. It’ll take the happy meals out of your undisciplined gut, if you had any semblance of personal accountability. You’re fucking gross to stare at and even worse to talk to, so save your opinion. Disgusting prick,” Merrick says, stern, but ultimately indifferent, expressing his unwavering dominance.
“Whatever, asshole. Your son still calls me Pop,” Haverstadt mutters. “Your ex wife does too,” he adds under his breath.
“Fuck you!” Merrick shouts, crossing his arms and attempting to ignore Haverstadt. “Continue, Franklin. This plebeian to my left can’t articulate himself without a burger in his mouth and my homely, shit-for-brains cum dumpster on his micro penis, so let’s resume our conversation about what happened before it speaks again.” Merrick gives Haverstadt a side eye and sighs. “Besides, It’s not your fault that the only woman you can get looks like a cross between a sasquatch and Mrs. Claus. I blame your parents for your poor taste.”
Chuckling to himself, Franklin gains his bearings. “Alright, guys. Enough. All seriousness, Vice President Haverstadt, what are your thoughts. We already know the route Merrick wants to take. I can’t say I disagree with him, especially considering that I encountered two primals.” Franklin explains the previous six months with Dr. Spruce and the sleuthing he did. He recounts his run-in with the primal moth and how he barely escaped the parking lot. “That’s how I made it here,” he concludes.
Haverstadt blushes and does a double take.
“Don’t look at me, you fat fuck. My ears aren’t clogged with cellulite. I heard him just fine. And, yes, he said primals. Like the big, nasty, mastermind bugs that are all around us, but no one ever sees because they know how to hide. Franklin’s probably the first to encounter them and live to tell us about it. I’m surprised the FBI and the CIA aren’t all over this.”
Haverstadt groans. “Well, they are, but things move slow in the government. Funding is also extremely transparent. We can’t say, ‘Hey the US Government is aware that insects are sentient and aside from all of our other issues arising from spoiled children in power, we have to worry about insects reanimating the dead and taking over our cities,’ for obvious reasons, Merrick.”
“Fine,” Merrick says. “You’re still a prick though, and I fucking hate you. Fat, useless, insincere, political fuck. You look like a fatter version of that shiftless, sleazy senator from that state that no one cares about. I hope you die in a fiery car crash in a fast food parking lot.”
“Well, the feeling’s mutual, but your son is a stand up kid. I think you’re a great parent, Merrick. Better than my father ever was. Your son loves spending time with you and believe it or not he has a lot of your good qualities,” Haverstadt declares, his large hands moving with emphasis as he speaks.
“Fucking gross,” Merrick says, shaking his head. “He’s still my kid, you know. I don’t like the thought of you eating your fat kid meals and being chummy with him, while my whale of an ex-wife keeps encouraging him to be a lazy, self-entitled sissy with no opinions of his own.” Merrick rubs his hands on his face and takes a deep breath. “Fucking mess. Fucking tabloids talking about my life. Fucking bullshit.”
“Come on, guys. This is serious. I just went undercover for a year and six months. I don’t want to come back to your personal feud,” Franklin says. He does his best to remain neutral as he reaches for a bottle of scotch from his bookshelf. He opens a mini fridge and pops a large cube from an ice tray into his glass.
“It isn’t personal. He’s just a rich kid with control issues and I’m old and fat, yet porking his highschool sweetheart. There isn’t much to the imagination here B. Duhl. Just write a report, I’ll give it to our guys and we’ll go from there. No rush on the report though. Insect invasion isn’t top of mind right now.”
“After what I just saw, it should be. We have no clue what we’re up against. Those primals are something else. Just picture a moth the size of a bear with human-sized legs and mandibles the size of machetes. Then, add the ability to read our brainwaves and speak, and control armies of bugs. I literally saw flies, beetles and bees block out the sky. We need to act fast and we need a plan. Controlling the narrative is a start though, especially if we can keep the people near the medical center indoors.”
“I suppose that’s not half bad,” Haverstadt chimes in. He gets to his feet and makes his way out of the office. “Like I said, B. Duhl, send that report. Document everything you discovered and I’ll get it out to some guys at our fringe agencies. I’ll make sure the president is aware too. I can’t promise anything though.” Haverstadt gives a final wave and goes on his way. He purchases a coke from a nearby vending machine and makes a phone call. Four men in black suits and sunglasses suddenly appear in the building and escort the vice president to a nearby jet as Merrick and Franklin watch from the windows in Franklin’s office. An agent whispers into Haverstadt’s ear and Haverstadt flinches. He quickly stares at Franklin through the window and scurries into the plane. The jet departs. Merrick and Franklin think nothing of it.
“Fat son of a bitch,” Merrick says, taking a glass of scotch from Franklin. He hesitates for a moment and reclines in his chair. “You know, Frank, this damn thing is a mess. After this shit about the bug people came to light, I’ve been throwing resources all over the place, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
“Oh I know. That’s why I live in your bug-free compound. If it wasn’t for my role with you and the government, I’d probably be a walking corpse infested by god knows what. So, I mean when I say it, Merrick, I am very grateful and I sincerely thank you for all of this,” Franklin responds.
“It’s nothing at all. Unlike some people, you’re actually doing shit to make a difference. When you brought this to my nephews conspiracy outlet, I was wondering a lot, but our team has done more than enough to verify your claims; hence this fuckin’ fortress of concrete… and, subsequently, Jeanine leaving me for an ‘adult’ who makes a difference every day.”
“Tell me about it. My son has no idea why we split and I can’t bring myself to tell him that we’re on the brink of an insect apocalypse. I hardly believe it myself. I’ll call the Times and the Journal and get some coverage out in Virginia, or wherever the hell you were at, so we can do some extraction and data-gathering,” Merrick says. He puts his empty glass on Franklin’s desk. “I’m curious about the brainwave thing the moth told you. Is there – I mean, assuming this won’t be too invasive – Is there a way that we can get a MRI and CT Scan of your noggin, and possibly do a sleep study?”
“Absolutely. After what I just went through, it’d be nice to know nothing crawled inside of my head, so I’d be foolish to turn it down,” Franklin says. He’s calm on the surface, but inside he’s drowning under a wave of fear and concern. He knocks on his desk and sighs. “Merrick,” Franklin calls out as Merrick leaves his office.
“What’s up?” Merrick asks, confused.
Franklin pulls an envelope from his desk. “I think this thing is bigger than we can fathom. There’s a tape in this envelope. It contains everything I’ve discovered since the first time I saw the insects. On the drive… I recorded it. I wasn’t sure I’d make it back. I used the cellphone unit you installed in my car to leave myself voice messages as well as a backup, in case I didn’t make it back to the compound.” He walks over to Merrick and hands him the envelope. “Don’t discuss this with anyone,” Franklin requests. “At least not till you and I have a chance to discuss it in detail.”
“I’m on it. I’ll check it out tonight. I still have a multibillion dollar business to run, so I can’t promise we will meet soon, but you got my word that we will, Frank,” Merrick admits. “Have a good night and stay safe.” Merrick marches down the hall, moving with the clarity and purpose expected from a visionary. He walks down a concrete road to manor at the center of the multi-acre concrete compound. “What a day,” he mutters, entering into his home. He makes his way upstairs and preps a bath in his enormous clawfoot tub situated in the center of an opulent bathroom. He grabs a waterproof walkman from under his bathroom sink, pops Franklin’s tape into the player, undresses and gets into the bath.
Static plays until Franklin speaks and says, “This is Franklin Bernard Duhl. If you are hearing this on a cassette, then either I personally handed this to you, or someone I trust did. If you are listening on my phone’s voicemail recording device, then you’re either sleuthing or I’m dead, or both…
Long has it been known that we, humans I mean, know very little about the world. Our understanding is limited to our perception. We believe ourselves to be the only creatures capable of conscious thought, but I have come to discover this is wrong. We have believed insects to be the lowest form of life and as such, we’ve captured them, mutilated them, studied them and learned to see them as a natural nuisance required for the good of plant life and the planet. I have spent my life as a surveyor, an observer of nature, natural wildlife and other related fields of study. Over the past year and a half I discovered that what we know is nothing. It’s barely the tip of an iceberg, even smaller than the tip of a snowflake.
Life has existed since the existence of light, in the form of bacteria, amoeba and what have you. Insects are no different. They have been around before man. In the times of early man, we even worshipped insects and insectoids. Though I have no proof, I believe at some point within our history, man possibly even mated with insectoids, gaining knowledge, physical mutations and other advantages. The time between Cro Magnon and Neanderthaal is unaccounted for because earlier humans wished to remove it from our history. If I had to guess, I’d say sometime around 2000 BC, we eliminated all traces of interspecies mating and breeding. I believe it may have to do with the way insects interact with the world around them.
Humans are adaptable within any environment, while insects are fixtures of the environment. Any human-insect hybrid could potentially be, within our understanding, a god. Unlike most species, insects do not get sick, they can eat fresh or rotten food. They are immune to most poisons except those that are also very harmful to humans. Primal insects, as we have labelled them, are proof of this. During my recent skirmish with a primal moth, I covered it in butane and ignited it. Though mortally injured, it was still capable of movement and credible attack. Furthermore, I noticed that under the injured areas, where the insect layers burnt off, the giant insect was made of human skin. I also noticed that the primal moth was able to hide certain aspects of itself, like wings, mandibles, antennae and extra limbs. The sheer thought that a spider could be anyone, a neighbor, a child, a senator, an astronaut, the paperboy, a doctor, et cetera…. Then, I had an epiphany (static and screeching)”
The tape cuts off and the loud static makes Merrick scramble in the tub. He sits up and tosses the walkman and his phones. “It was just getting good too,” he says aloud. Merrick finishes his bath and makes a few calls. Several minutes later the entire county where the medical facility is located is locked down and being patrolled by men in hazmat suits.
Meanwhile, as Merrick settles down for the evening, Franklin continues writing his report for the Vice President’s office. Several states away, Haverstadt and heads of multiple agencies discuss Merrick’s decision to shut down several small rural towns.
“We cannot let this shit get out, Vice President Haverstadt!” a decorated four-star general shouts. “Think of the Chinese when they hear about the god damned sentient insects. They’ll immediately know what the deal was. Then, they’ll copy us!” He shouts. His thick white mustache curling over his lip like an angry eyebrow. “I’m still trying to figure out how the hell they got out of Quantico in the first place! How did they manage to make it to Nowhereville Virginia?” He asks the scientists sitting around the briefing table. “Anyone?”
The room stays silent.
“How did the subjects just so happen to get discovered by a fucking government surveyor? If this isn’t a catastrophic failure of our management and containment procedures, then I have no clue what is. And, does anyone know what the hell happened to Dr. Olivia Pine?”
The general’s questions are met with another round of uncomfortable silence.
“General Baxter, I understand your concern,” Haverstadt says, breaking the veil of shame and incompetence shrouding the room. “Thankfully, they have no idea what’s actually happening. They believe it’s some sort of insect plague bringing the apocalypse. The surveyor encountered experiment 004-1F and 004-6M. Like I said before, Merrick is containing this with his own money. I sent some of our men in to scour for signs of sentience within the local wildlife. For now, we just have to perpetuate the myth about some ancient insect beings and other nonsense.” Haverstadt smiles at the general. “They even came up with terms to classify subjects 1F and 6M. We just have to fuel the fire and let them handle this for us. Everyone, dismissed,” Haverstadt says. He looks at the general and sighs. “We’ll figure this out and find a way to contain it before it gets out of hand. All right people, get out. Aside from your daily jobs, make sure this doesn’t go beyond your respective departments.”
Gen. Baxter places his hands on the table and glances at the men and women around the table as they scramble to leave the room. He stares at Vice President Haverstadt. “So, what else did you gleam from Merrick and the surveyor.”
“For starters, Merrick is a nutjob. He poured concrete over 2 square miles of forest somewhere in New Mexico. He thinks it’s the only way to keep insects from getting into his brain and taking over his body. And, the surveyor, he’s just an obsessed guy with no family, confused about what he saw. He thinks he saw insects take over people. That isn’t possible is it? Considering how I understand the experiment works.”
The General nods. “Absolutely not. The serum essentially binds to the nervous system and enhances a person’s capabilities and cognition. It might allow a person to control insects and maybe allow them to control a corpse, but the insects themselves are not sentient. They’re just tools.”
“Not sure I follow, General,” Haverstadt responds, confused.
“Well, Vice President, you understand how a computer program works. It’s made up of a series of little programs that carry out separate tasks, right?”
“The sentience serum allows a person to communicate with any living creatures. It gives the illusion of sentience on the part of the creature, but really, the person who consumed the serum is in control. As you know, Dr. Pine was our control. She knows how the serum works, since she initially developed it. Being the meticulous mind that she is, Dr. Pine used the serum to communicate with 004-1F and 004-6M, the only surviving specimens of our cross-species intelligence program. Another complete disaster.”
“Oh don’t remind me,” Haverstadt says rolling his eyes. “The crossed DNA of insects and gifted people was supposed to create a human-insect hybrid that might survive in space and set the foundation for human and insect life, while prepping foliage for mass human migration. Then, we were going to say aliens actually exist once we finally started getting people into the cosmos, so they wouldn’t lose trust and faith in the government.”
“That’s the one. And, if you recall, we crossed Fernando Baiez, or 6M, with moth DNA and Helena Gertrude, or 1F, with butterfly DNA. They were the only ones who took the splicing, but then they started suffering from delusions of grandeur and insisting that they were actual insect gods.”
Haverstadt shakes his head. “Yep and the boy kept running into lights and fires to prove he was a damn moth and had moth instincts. I swear, some people… They were fucked up before we fucked them up. But, Pine, she takes crazy to a whole other level, doesn’t she?”
“You don’t even know the half of it. I suspect, but still have no proof, that the serum did something to her mind. About a week after the first phase of the project, she would talk to the insects around the laboratory and use them to gather information. Then, brace yourself for this,” the general says, leaning in.
“Go on, General, I’m listening,” Haverstadt responds.
“On second thought, just forget it. It’s beyond the point of the conversation, Vice President, but let’s just say she found unconventional uses for insects. Dr. Thomas, her former love interest, said she started experimenting with insects in her orifices and wanted to try it with him.”
Haverstadt’s eyes open wide and he slowly looks at the ground. “I really don’t need any more details, General. But, did he do it?”
General Baxter nods. “Says it was like meeting god, but centipedes tickling his penis when he penetrated Dr. Pine was just too much for him. When he reported her and her use of the serum, around two years ago, that’s when the doctor and the two subjects vanished.”
“I suppose the good ol’ doctor goes by Dr. Spruce now. Based on what I heard from Franklin, it seems like she’s started a cult and uses the serum to get insects to behave a certain way,” Haverstadt says. “She must have the people thinking that they are invaded by the insects. I think he mentioned someone saying that they, meaning the bug inside of them, need to keep the body nourished or something like that.”
“Some people are just fucked up before getting fucked up. They just need a reason to behave how they actually are,” General Baxter declares. “The insects inside them just do as they’re told. We’ve tested the serum multiple times to get it to adjust to multiple species’ frequencies. Dr. Pine, or Spruce, is hands down the leading expert on it, which would explain her prowess in using the serum her benefit.”
“Fortunately, government incompetence gets a pass here. I much rather favor the conspiracy that Franklin and Merrick devised in their own minds. It just seems less disappointing than the reality of it all.”