Authors: William D. Hicks
Tags: #General Fiction, #Fiction, #Horror, #Short Stories (Single Author), #Science Fiction, #Short Stories
By William D. Hicks
Copyright 2012 by William D. Hicks
Cover Copyright 2012 by Dara England
and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
This story originally appeared in
The Sixth Sense,
published March 1998.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Also by William D. Hicks and Untreed Reads Publishing
By William D. Hicks
Flies swarmed in the clear acrylic cage before Dr. John Pankow. They buzzed a loud rhythmic hum that was mesmerizingly maniacal. Fast and furiously they flew about their prison, so fast it was likely impossible to hit one with a fly swatter unless one got extremely lucky. The containers housing them looked to be formidable barriers to escape with interlocking rooms between them.
When set free inside an adjoining cage that housed a mare their buzzing became even louder.
Observers watched as the mare produced a bowel movement out of fear. The flies ate the excrement within seconds.
“Flies usually don’t eat this fast, but these are no ordinary insects. They are genetically engineered for warfare: If a soldier bleeds, even a pin prick, these flies are attracted to the pheromones in his blood, and they attack.” Pankow paused to see his viewers’ faces. Satisfied they were in awe, he continued. “Flies are normally rather docile creatures, fleeing when swatted at due to anomalous air currents. These killer flies, however, don’t fly away, they just keep coming.”
The mare released its bowels again. Within seconds the steaming pile of brown dissolved into microbe-sized specks on the green grass. Next the flies attacked the animal. She bit at herself, ripping at fur and flesh in an attempt to kill the flies, but they were too fast, too frenzied.
“These flies were named due to similarities with killer bees,” Pankow continued, looking away from the re-created pasture scene. “Their only purpose is to feed. Most important—they attack and often kill their prey.”
“Regular flies bite people once in awhile, but killer flies bite people hundreds of times a minute, releasing small amounts of venom each time, and removing small pieces of flesh. A single bite does little, but thousands are deadly. When blood or feces are involved killer flies triple their feeding rate. It only takes a few minutes to kill a man, seven to consume his remains. The remaining bones resemble medical school skeletons without any tissue. Remains often lay in gruesome contorted positions on the ground, some in twisted, agonized, warding-off postures, due to the pain of death. We discovered this during our animal experiments.”
Pankow looked back at the horse, which was bucking now.
Long brown mane soon became a crimson dish towel, dripping blood. She bucked, screamed in pain—a loud piercing sound—all to no avail. Fear streamed from her eyes as tears ran down her cheeks. She emitted a high-pitched “Neahhh!!!” laced with anguish. Bald spots appeared all over her body. Raw skin became muscle. The horse fell, its breaking legs cracked like a pistol report. “Neahhhhh!!!!!” she screamed as she rolled onto one side. The insects continued devouring her flesh. Finally the once beautiful chestnut mare stopped moving. Bones were all that remained.
The demonstration was over. It would stick in the observers’ minds forever. Pankow was sure of that.
“The point is the killer flies are too difficult to effectively control. Protective suits and heavy-duty insecticides work in a controlled setting, but nonmilitary personnel don’t own these things,” Pankow continued. “And chemicals are only so effective, plus they kill good insects as well as bad. And they harm important plant life.”
“Someday these flies will escape captivity.” Pankow’s voice rose to make his point. “That is why it would be prudent to destroy this species now.” While he hated the thought of an insect extinction, he hoped the government would scrap this project.
“Do all the research scientists feel this way?” General Bider asked.
Pankow didn’t want to answer that loaded question with a one-word answer. That answer was
but the reasons varied among his colleagues. “Not everyone,” was his veiled attempt at hiding the truth.”
“How can you be sure these flies pose any threat to man if you’re only doing animal tests?” General Thomason asked.
“It’s true we haven’t used live human subjects as part of these experiments. Animals were used. But we did test this on abandoned corpses. Invisible people. No family, no friends, no questions. The controversy and scrutiny resulting from anyone finding out about our experiments was deemed unacceptable. So the corpses came from morgues all over the country with little likelihood of family connections. And the results were more dramatic.
“Is that what makes you believe we should stop work on this new weapon?” General Bider asked.
Pankow hated it when they used that term. “Some of our testing included the use of human blood and tissue. It contains certain pheromones. Our main problem was in controlling the killer flies. The military’s idea was to use the flies on the enemy, not on American soldiers. How this could be accomplished was a major hurdle because people excrete the same pheromones.”
“So we struggled to learn how to control the flies. At first we tried using different foods. The theory was if an American soldier ate garlic, or onions, these odors might mask the pheromone scent. Flies eat feces, so we expected they might not be thwarted by the foods with strong odors. Still it took two full years to prove this.”
Laughter filled the room.
Pankow continued, “No food scents were found to prevent attacks. So we moved onto other ideas. One plausible suggestion was to abandon bleeding soldiers, like sacrificial lambs, then move battalions away allowing the flies to feed on the wounded, which meant leaving men behind with mere flesh wounds and scratches. We rejected this idea.”
“Why?” General Donner asked.
Pankow looked at the sixty-year-old man quizzically. Either he was stupid or dense.
“Could you imagine the outcry?” General Willard answered.
“Oh,” General Donner responded.
“Another solution called for cauterizing wounds. But this would produce visible scarring. The army rejected this as too extreme, especially after recent Agent Orange incidents,” Pankow said, tired of explaining, but certain it would help his mission to end the project and destroy the flies. He rubbed his eyes; he had stayed up all night trying to make his demonstration understandable for laypeople, trying to anticipate all the questions.
“One research finally suggested using female fly pheromones. This worked for awhile. Much longer than any of our other ideas. It took several months of adjustments, but the female pheromone antidote finally proved effective on chimps. It worked for three months. That was enough to convince my team we needed human subjects, so we got a few soldiers to sign waivers for the vaccine tests. But human tissue proved incapable of sustaining fly pheromones for that length of time. People sweated it through their pores after a mere twenty days.” Pankow held down the yawn that wanted to escape. “If a soldier injected with the female pheromones remained in contact with the flies much longer he became part of their feeding frenzy, like a bloody carcass in a shark tank.”
“So, you created a vaccine?” General Donner asked.
“Yes, but its effectiveness is only twenty days, or less, depending on metabolic rate. Plus upon further testing this treatment doesn’t work on everyone.”
“Any more questions before I continue?” Pankow waited, no one’s hand went up. “Even though many of my colleagues see little harm in allowing the mix of killer flies with general house flies, I disagree. Currently interbreeding appears safe, because few can survive alone, and without ‘mothers,’ as we call the females, they can’t multiply. But that doesn’t prevent these flies from mutating and forming a new lethal strain. And this would be even more likely if one of the mothers escapes.”
“That won’t happen,” General Bider quickly interjected. “We have one room of mothers which is segregated from all the others.”
“But what happens if one does escape?” Carrie Jacobs, Dr. Pankow’s new research assistant, asked.
Before the doctor could respond, General Willard did. “We’ve taken precautions so that won’t happen; a full bee suit, a security access door, and researchers must go through a sealed room to get at those dangerous mothers. Pardon the pun.”
A slight giggle circled the room. It irritated Pankow. This was serious business, not a place for stupid puns.
“If one female escapes or gets into the wrong hands it
have dire effects. That is why all doors require a key card, and an electrical Flash-Kill system will be installed next year. Funding cuts, you understand, made it impossible to purchase this system until then,” General Bider said, giving no indication he was sorry about the funding issues.
“If one ever escapes it might mean the end of the world,” Pankow finished, allowing his last words to reverberate in their minds.
“I think Dr. Pankow is reading too many science fiction magazines.” General Bider laughed. “These flies will save our soldiers’ lives. We have them under control gentlemen. Are there any questions I can answer?”
Several hands shot up.
* * *
Several months later word came down from the army; they would not end the project nor kill the flies. Testing would resume. Pankow was stunned.
The flies were a weapon the army planned to utilize. They hadn’t even considered the ramifications of their actions, Pankow surmised; otherwise they never would have allowed the project to continue. He made the only moral decision he could; he would dispose of the killer flies, with or without approval. They were an abomination—a lethal one at that.
“Carrie,” he said. He had ceased calling her Ms. Jacobs shortly after hiring her two years before.
“Yes, Dr. Pankow.” Carrie had always been so formal.
“Would you help me eliminate the ‘mothers’?”
Carrie, standing 5′6″ with short auburn hair, looked over the paper she was working on. Her beautiful manicured nails tapped on her teeth as she looked him up and down.
Pankow watched, admiring her slender fingers as they danced across her snowy white teeth. Having trained her straight out of college he knew her habits well. She was considering his question.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to exterminate them.” Her face wore a mask of confusion. “Wasn’t that the official word?”
“We aren’t. But I’m doing it anyhow. We’ve talked about this before. They want us to keep the flies alive even though they are incapable of being controlled. What happens if these flies mix with the general fly population? They might mutate into a new strain we have no weapons against. God forbid, one female escapes. We can’t be sure of anything, but I’d rather be overly cautious. It’s my duty as their creator to destroy them. If you don’t want to help I understand.” And he would. It meant both of them getting fired if they got caught. Even if they didn’t, John cared so deeply for Carrie he had questioned even suggesting her involvement.
Carrie stood up from her desk stretching her arms into the air. “I’ll suit up?”
“No way, Carrie. I’m doing it. I just need your help.” John struggled into his protective suit. “I’ll be glad to get rid of those creatures,” he pointed at the acrylic fly cage. “They give me nightmares.”
Carried helped place the space-age glass helmet on John. His eyes flashed his resolve. He felt responsible, she knew, he’d told her that before. “Let’s get on with it John. I’d like a new job by lunchtime,” she said, knowing as well as he did that this would cost them their jobs.
John stared at her silently. Carrie had always called him Dr. Pankow. “Why so informal all of a sudden? You’ve always been so professionally distant.”
“If I’m going to commit job-icide for the man I love, who needs professionalism?”
. She loved him too. He motioned for her to move closer with his gloved hand. Then he pressed his lips to the interior glass of his helmet and she pressed hers to the outside of his helmet. They kissed.
“When this is all over,” John said, “we need to talk.” He opened the door to the fly room.