Aphelion Issue 219, Volume 21
July 2017
 
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The Little Lost Ones

by Glenn M. Diamond




Sneering, the brash young CEO Payne Greyson turned to his raven-haired publicity director Ashley Riddle and snapped “bring them in.” She nodded grimly, rose, then glided expertly on spike heels to the massive wooden door which she opened while forcing a thin smile across her glossy red lips.

To the nervously assembled cadre of environmental reporters and bloggers, she dispensed perfunctory greetings and firm handshakes, welcoming them to the executive boardroom of Dominion AgriSciences. Like wary street dogs, they stepped cautiously into this alien world of the enemy’s camp. The scent of polished wood, fine leather, and biological sorcery hung in the air like a malevolent vapor. None failed to observe the thick-necked men with military haircuts seated in the corners of the room with their earpieces and granite expressions.

Greyson, standing at the far end of the long dark glass table, waited for the group to be seated, introduced himself curtly, and commenced the briefing.

“Good afternoon. We all know why we’re here, so I’ll skip the formalities and get right to the point. I have a prepared statement...”

Less than three minutes later he was finished and the only thing newsworthy was the arrogant defiance with which Dominion chose to handle its mounting PR disaster. The concerned gathering could only shake their heads in disbelief at the callous recklessness Greyson showed for the human role in the interdependency of nature.

Dominion wouldn’t even bother to deny that “Formula 114”, their flagship systemic fertilizer & pesticide, was responsible for the shocking decline in the population of pollinating insects vital to the very crops it was sprayed on, not to mention the entire mammalian food chain.

Everything from bees to butterflies to beetles were dying in vast numbers, but as Greyson petulantly reminded the audience, the insect losses were “within government approved limits” and “didn’t outweigh the benefits gained by farmers and consumers in the form of produce that competed economically in the marketplace and were cosmetically superior to those grown with legacy techniques.”

A short Q&A followed, including a question to Riddle that she and Greyson had anticipated. Walker Travis from one of the biggest natural news websites wasn’t shy. “We know 114 can destroy the insect’s ability to navigate. They can’t return to the nest or the hive, and just wander around aimlessly until they die.”

“And regarding the new allegations the powder can easily be weaponized into a fast-acting airborne respiratory nerve agent deadly to humans -- with Formula 114 being shipped worldwide, how do you respond to the potential for terrorism?”

Greyson huffed audibly. “Frankly Mr. Travis, the nerve agent story is ridiculous, and we categorically reject it. As for the insects, Dominion is putting millions of dollars into research at the non-profit Strand Institute -- right down the street from here. They use common cockroaches with state-of-the-art implantable sensors to completely map out their motor processes and analyze the effects of 114. We’re confident the current performance can be improved.”

*****


As the press group was leaving, Travis split off from the others and asked to use the restroom. Once inside the stall, he quickly located the air vent just as Professor Strand promised. Standing on the toilet seat he fumbled briefly but managed to open it sufficiently.

From inside his shirt Travis extracted the plastic sandwich bag followed by the moist envelope inside it. He began to sweat and felt briefly nauseated. Focus. It was crude but got him through the metal detectors. He hoped Strand knew what he was doing. He carefully opened the end of the envelope, pushed it into the vent and dumped the contents. Don’t look...

Time was a factor. Outside he stepped into a waiting taxi and headed to the Institute.

Minutes later he was inside a locked meeting room with Strand, his top research assistant, and the head of IT. He looked Strand squarely in the eye.

“Are you sure about this?”

“No. But we’re going ahead nonetheless. My team insisted.”

The others nodded soberly. The IT expert launched a flurry on his keyboard. A large wall monitor began showing the tactical details of the operation, which resembled a military exercise. He confirmed from cellphone tracking that Greyson and Riddle were still in the conference room.

“We won’t have video,” Strand told Travis, “But once we got past the firewall, we had access to their wi-fi. Our tiny little soldiers have the Strand interface and ultra-micro GPS, so the rest was software.”

“And... the weaponized 114?” Walker asked.

Strand smiled. “Safely contained within a coating on their legs -- until we tell them to rub it off.”

*****


Inside the ventilation duct, one by one the pathetic creatures began to move. They looked spastic and horrible in the dim light filtering in from vents and reflecting down the galvanized tunnels of the system.

A doomed and macabre parade of ten lost cockroaches were wandering, but for some reason they were all wandering in the same direction and moving their rickety joints in strange unison. And when this grim procession arrived at the correct ceiling vent, they all had a sudden urge to rub their legs together so violently that tiny bits began to float down in the air.

*****


“...the funniest part,” Greyson told Riddle, is this bug neurology research. It’s just a smokescreen to launch the farming effort. This world faces a protein crisis and with your PR talent we’ll have people feeding their dogs roach biscuits in no time. That do-gooder Strand will probably keel over when he figures out what this is all about.”

She laughed, then he laughed, then they both laughed.

Until they both began to cough...


THE END


2017 Glenn Diamond

Bio: Mr. Diamond has a background in electrical engineering and currently lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and daughter. His first published short story "The Cleansing" appeared in the Huffington Post in 2014. His last Aphelion appearance was “The Machines at Ellison” in our February, 2017 issue.

E-mail: Glenn Diamond

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