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Dealing with the Faerie
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved

The night was quiet. I missed the chirping of crickets, they'd all died with the rest of the insects from the mutated bacteria. The birds, those that had adapted, were asleep, workers were in bed, the central core was dimmed to the level of the earth as seen from the moon. I was old, so old, and tired of the responsibility and the problems and...

There was a buzzing sound from just above me.

Focusing my mind, I reached up and let Moth crawl from my hair where she'd been asleep and into my palm. Did she like me? I knew she didn't, but in my dreams... I'm too old for this nonsense! I looked down at her, and she looked up at me, and I began rubbing her between her wings where I knew she liked it best. A smile filled my face as she vibrated and buzzed in pleasure.

I know they're not human, but since the plague they're all we've got. I don't know why Moth adopted me, no more than any of the others who have faerie pets knew why they'd been adopted. She provided comfort. What more can anyone ask?

Captain -- I heard the voice of Alex, my AI implant -- your meeting with Dr. Silva is scheduled in five minutes.

Thank you -- I responded. I am old. I'd gotten up for that meeting he'd requested at this unholy hour, and then I'd forgotten about it. Damn him, couldn't he have told me in the morning? Alex, when is my next rebuild scheduled?

Tuesday, 2:00pm. Would you like the date changed?

No, thank you anyway -- I responded. I could wait two more days. Maybe I should just enjoy a bit of time as a doddering old man. I smiled, Moth wiggled out from under my finger, buzzed up and landed in my hair, looking down into my eyes. I smiled. Two hundred years and still entranced by humanly created magic.

Walking down the path, Moth bouncing in and out of my vision as my shoes clattered on the gravel walkway, I pondered. Should I enhance my treatment, try a new body using some of the newest transmissions from earth? Something different. It couldn't be too different, at least not for another six months until my term as captain ran out. I could refuse to run... They probably wouldn't let me though. I was the figurehead, the dreamer, the mastermind that imagined the starship and juggled the corporations that brought it to--

Captain, you need to turn here -- a yellow line appeared in my vision showing the correct course.

Alex, see if you can move my rebuild to Monday. And run the new body models from earth through the standard filter for my review later -- maybe something winged...? No, too many costs to manipulatory ability. Go to an upload?

No problem captain.

Thanks -- I followed the path plotted by the yellow line and climbed the handmade wooden staircase up to the porch in front of Dr. Silva's office. Like everybody else, he had his own home, unique and magical, looking like a complex of wooden rooms and walkways built amidst a moss-covered willow. Of course, the willow was a spun-carbon composite with genetically created individual buds at appropriate places along the branches, but it looked right. Before I could reach for the handle the door was pushed open and Dr. Silva was standing in front of me.

"I've done it!" he shouted, pulling me into his lab.

"What have you done?" I looked around. The room was small, unlike most others, and starkly finished with burnished aluminum walls crowded with photonics and nano-controllers. The contented muttering of numerous low-sapient AIs monitoring gene manipulation processes filled the air. Dr. Silva was apparently unaware of the frayed edges of his clothes, he looked unkempt, his human flesh pale in the artificial light, glints of silver hinting at the augmentations in his eyes, the same augmentations as in mine. Unlike everybody else, he looked almost ugly, though centuries ago he would have just looked normal.

"I had to show you at night."

"At night? Why?" Alex, is there any record of what Silva's working on?

I heard Alex's reply in my mind -- Nothing on the open net, overrides on his low level private files suggest that he's been working on the oxygen problem.

Sighing I asked, "Well, since I'm here, what do you want to tell me?"

"Captain, first I need to show you some projections."

Projections... I rolled my eyes and whispered prayers to defend me from innocents. Then I reached up and coached Moth back into my palm and began rubbing her back again, needing to calm down. I could have initiated hormonal changes, but I preferred to control things the old fashioned way.

Alex's query broke into my thoughts -- I'm receiving a download of data from Silva's AI. Should I accept and display?

Put it up. "Fine doctor, tell me what I'm looking at." A graph depicting two curves appeared superimposed on my vision. One line, green, slowly fell as another line, red rose to meet it. The green line fell almost to the bottom of the graph as the red line rose in a sharper and sharper curve before finally, and suddenly, collapsing to the bottom. Both lines were solid for about a quarter of the way before becoming dotted.

"The green line depicts the partial pressure of oxygen, as an average, within the entire starship. The red indicates a best estimate of faerie population. Our oxygen problems aren't due to a leak, but to an excessive population within the biosphere."

"But our population is well within planned norms."

"I mean all O2 using creatures within the ship. In particular, the faerie."

"I know that the faerie breathe. How can they be the problem? They're so small--"

"Small, but they're also very numerous."

Moth wiggled out of my grasp and leapt into the air, her wings buzzing as she started investigating the room. She'd be fine here. Alex, remove the graph -- he did so. "Okay, doctor, so you've found the problem. Why does the faerie population suddenly fall?"

"Most of the graph is an extrapolation. When the partial pressure of oxygen falls below a critical level, they'll suffocate just like we will have long before that point."

"But we need them for pollination. You're the one who made them in the...!"

Moth heard the agitation in my voice and appeared in front of me, her tiny eyes glaring at Dr. Silva. Reaching up, I let her land on my finger and gently rubbed between her wings to calm her down. She arched her back in pleasure.

Dr. Silva continued, "If we don't control them, they'll push the biosphere past where we can maintain it and we'll all die."

"What have you done doctor?"

"I've made a predator--"

"Hold it. Let me get this straight. You say we need to deal with the faerie population, and your solution is to create another life form to do it? What happens when that creature multiplies? What if it mutates the way that bacteria did--?"

"I'm not stupid! I've put in controls--"

Moth buzzed up into the air alarmed and hissing as I glared at Silva. "I thought you'd put in controls on the faerie!" I wouldn't let him change Moth.

Silva sighed and sat down on the low-AI chair that moved to catch him. "I thought I had, but I missed something. They were supposed to replace the bees so I used mostly stored bee genetics but had to wrap them in a human genetic model to keep them from being infected--"

Moth landed on my head and began rooting around in my hair, trying to get comfortable.

"I know what you created, I was captain then too. Get to the point."

"They're too successful. They think the way bees do..."

Wld ones might, but Moth certainly didn't.

"...but the human DNA has affected them in unplanned ways. Simply put, they live too long."

"What?"

"A bee worker lives two months. Our low gravity..."

I hated people who refused to understand. It was not gravity, it was momentum that simulated gravity because of the spinning of the ship. Genetic engineers!

"...increased bee lifespan to roughly 70 days. But the faerie live almost 200 days. Their reproduction was planned for a 70 day life cycle, but the older ones stay around. More and more are born as more and more queens are born, and thus they consume more oxygen, and consume more plant life, until the whole system collapses."

Moth calmed enough to buzz down and land on my wrist, clinging there with long toenails and fingernails.

"I told you we should have done it with nanites. So why don't we just spray them?" Don't worry Moth, I'll make sure you're not hurt.

"We can't do that -- our biosphere is too small to handle the poisons. I can't create a virus as their DNA is too similar to ours resulting in a high risk of a mutation causing it to jump species, a programmed nanite would have the same risk. I can't introduce a new species because certain people," he looked at the captain, "would probably hide and breed the current species. It has to be a predator."

"And why won't that predator breed out of control and kill us too?"

"Because we only need one."

"Go on."

"The problem is numbers and efficiency. I first thought of an aerial predator, but simulations suggested that we'd need too many to chase down enough faerie. Land predators were too inefficient. The only solution seemed to be another insect-like colony form, but then I had a different idea, a new way for the predator to hunt."

"And you've tested it?"

"Absolutely, the result is alive and in the tank here." Dr. Silva motioned towards a small terrarium that contained a selection of plants and brush. Searching, my augmented eyes focusing and magnifying on random points, I still couldn't see anything resembling a predator inside it.

Silva's transmitting identification information. Should I accept? -- Alex asked.

Focus my eyes on his creature so that I can see it -- my eyes zoomed in and there it was. "That thing's horrible!" It looked like a monstrous parody of a human being, a pulsing mass of flesh with bulbous black insect-like eyes and oddly bent legs just human enough to be disturbing. Chitinous plates protected its lower back and extended just past its waist, and vents or mouths in its head pulsed as it pulled air in and pushed it out. "People won't stand for it!"

"That's a redundancy built in just in case it does manage to breed somehow. Unlike the faerie which people have made into pets..."

I couldn't help but glance at Moth as she hissed at Dr. Silva.

"...if any of them do escape, the children will take joy in hunting them down. Their appearance provides a control in case of unforeseen problems."

"And why won't the children kill it too quickly?"

"It's a night hunter, and we only need one. It'll grow to roughly the size of a rabbit."

Alex, what's a rabbit?

Searching... A picture of a small brown furred creature appeared in my vision. A rabbit -- Alex began -- is a small mammal that once lived on earth before the Gene Wars, and grew up to 150 cm in length--

Alex, cancel. "Okay doctor, so you have failsafes. Fine. But how is that thing going to catch faerie?"

"Pheromones."

"What?"

"Let me show you." The lights went dark and my implants adjusted so that the room was bright and clear, but visible only in black and white. Dr. Silva slid the lid off of the terrarium.

"So?"

"Give it a second."

Suddenly Moth leapt from my wrist. I tried to grab her, but she easily dodged and flew down into the terrarium. I just watched as she landed near the creature, her face filled with a beatific expression of love. The thing just sat there, its vents pulsing.

"The creature creates a pheromone that affects the bee sensory equipment within the faerie and draws them towards it. They're helpless to resist. The vents circulate air through its body to spread the pheromone as widely as possible."

Moth flitted towards it, and landed on its back.

I took a step forward. "What is it going to do?"

"Watch."

Suddenly Moth's face changed, from a look of love to one of horror. She tried to pull her hand away but it seemed stuck, and the skin of the creature stretched as Moth pulled. The plates on the thing's back rotated backwards opening gaps, and a gelatinous ooze flowed out and crept over Moth--

"Silva! What are you doing! Stop this!" I ran towards the terrarium but Silva had already put the lid back on and grabbed me.

"Captain, it's an insect, nothing more. It just looks human, but it isn't! She...it... doesn't care about you. You just smell nice to it."

I swallowed. I was the captain, and I had to remain in control. Alex, implement hormone protocol beta. Calm flooded into me and I was able to watch the scene with a chemically created detachment. By now the amber gel had completely encased the struggling Moth and I watched her breathe it in and out releasing a flow of golden bubbles that stuck in her hair and to her skin. Eventually the struggles ceased.

"It's done," Silva whispered. The lights came on and my vision returned to normal.

As he let go of me I took the last step to the terrarium and leaned on the plexiglass looking at the abomination inside. "Do we have to?"

"They're insects, nothing more."

I swallowed. It was horrible, but if the graphs... "I'll put it to the council tomorrow. Can you upload your data to my AI?"

"It'll be ready."

I leaned over and took one last look at Moth, my vision zooming in on her face, a face full of naked horror. She was looking at me, beseeching me...

Captain, it's an insect -- Alex interrupted. I can show you the DNA strands...

All I could see in her face was a look of betrayal and terror as I forced my eyes away and walked out into the night.

I managed to remain calm, or at least I would until the beta protocol ran out.

Alex tried to cheer me up -- She couldn't help herself, she was just following odours.

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Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard.  Please send any comments or questions to him at mwbard@transform.to