Dealing with the Faerie
by Michael Bard
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
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
Tuesday, 2:00pm. Would you like the date changed?
No, thank you anyway -- I responded. I could wait two more days. Maybe
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
No problem captain.
Thanks -- I followed the path plotted by the yellow line and climbed
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"I know what you created, I was captain then too. Get to the point."
"They're too successful. They think the way bees do..."
Wild ones might, but Moth certainly didn't.
"...but the human DNA has affected them in unplanned ways. Simply put,
live too long."
"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
"...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
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.
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."
"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
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
Focus my eyes on his creature so that I can see it -- my eyes zoomed
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
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
thing going to catch faerie?"
"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.
"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
Moth flitted towards it, and landed on its back.
I took a step forward. "What is it going to do?"
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
"Silva! What are you doing! Stop this!" I ran towards the terrarium
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
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
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
Wow. Powerfully done, Michael. You've created a detailed, highly imaginative world here, and had the sense to let it fade into the background where it belongs. The best writers can introduce us to a setting without a lot of exposition, and you've managed to do it beautifully here.
The story itself builds well on the foundation the setting provides, and it gives us a rather sobering image of where this whole business of genetic engineering could go if we let it. How much of ourselves can we put into a creature before it becomes human? How many "improvements" can we install before we cease to be fully human ourselves? Despite the protests to the contrary by Alex and Dr. Silva, the captain somehow realizes that Moth is more than a mere insect with a human face -- I think, on some level, he's wondering how much difference there really is between her and himself.
The question of how much humanity there really is in Moth -- or, for that matter, in the captain -- is a disturbing one that can probably never be answered. You do a nice job of confronting us with the dilemma without lapsing into sermonizing. The events of the story speak for themselves.
I'll say it again, a brief but powerful tale, and one that I'll be proud to host at Raven's Lair. Very well done -- and congratulations on finally winning one of my contests! After coming so close three times in a row, it seems only fitting. :)
Copyright 2004 by Michael Bard. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.
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