Bugs in the Process
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Then there's the matter of the entomology department, over-budget for the fifth straight year. Not the most flattering statistic, considering that the most expensive incident in the department's history never actually took place.

Dr. Marshall Grant sipped coffee placidly as he filed his paperwork, ho-humming the morning away. Fingers moved deftly across the key-pad as he entered his findings from the most recent acquisition to Site-87's growing entomological collection. A Stag Beetle. Normal in most respects, except that a genetic sequencing revealed greater similarity to the Bull Elk than to any other animal on file. Also, the tendency of the females to lactate was particularly interesting.

"Yo Mack! How's about you gimme sommin' ta eat? I'm starvin' over here!"

"Vinnie, I gave you a nice juicy locust not twenty minutes ago," Marshall replied with a roll of his eyes. He looked down at the tank next to his desk to see the mantis pressed up against the glass, pleading with his eyes. His tight denim pants were worn through the knees, and the tiny gold chain about his neck sparkled in the light.

"Fuck that bug shit! Gimme a burger! A hot dog! …A 40? Come on, I'm bored outta my skull!"

"You haven't got a skull, Vinnie."

"So?!"

"Take it easy, alright? Just be patient and wait until lunch," Marshall said, shaking his head as he raised his cup.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

In his shock, the coffee sprayed everywhere. The Keyboard, a stack of papers, a cup filled with pens, pencils, and thumb tacks; everything was coated in hot brown spittle. Vinnie the mantis snickered quietly as Dr. Grant fumbled with the cup and grabbed for the paper towels under the desk. Rushing with reckless abandon. The knock came again.

"Just a second!" Dr. Grant called, but the door was already ajar, and in its jam stood a tall, bald man with a rather sleek looking tablet PC which made the white-plastic of the CRT on the desk feel positively ancient by comparison. Nevertheless, there were rules. "Excuse me, sir? This is a closed laboratory. I'm going to have to ask for your clearance before you come in here."

The Tax Man smiled, and produced a shiny white badge with simple black lettering. Level-4, general access, administrative. "Of course. My name is Matthew Broderick, I'm here for your bi-annual audit."

"That was today?" Marshall heard himself asking, and swallowed the words as fast as he could. "Of course it was! Thank you, please come in! Mr… Broderick? Is that right?"

"Yes. And you must be Dr. Marshall Grant of entomology." It wasn't a question. With no flourish at all, the Tax Man produced a stylus and began tapping and scratching at the screen of his top-of-the-line machine. His eyes darted around the room, searching for something. Marshall hoped it wasn't for his conversation partner. "… Is Dr. Churchwell available so that we may begin?"

"Erm, well…" as stealthily as he could, Grant slid a birthday card in front of Vinnie with an awkward smile on his face. "No I'm here by my… She's out today. With the flu. It's been making the rounds and… Is there… Would you like to come back tomorrow? I'm sure she'll be back tomorrow."

Mr. Broderick looked at his watch with a stern frown. "No, Dr. Grant. This is the time we have scheduled for the audit. I'm sure as her leading researcher you're familiar enough with the department to assist me."

"It's just… Well, I'm rather in the middle of something at the—"

"We'll begin with the laboratory inspection first." Broderick interjected. "I understand some of the equipment here is a little out of date."


"…And that's one of the most challenging parts of working in the department," Dr. Grant said, indicating the new acquisition, already filed under E-2663-01. "This little lady, to just see her in the wild, you'd never know she was anomalous. A little tanner than the garden variety. A little fuzzier perhaps. But it isn't until you watch her feeding her young that it would even occur to anyone that something about her isn't normal."

Broderick leaned close and scrutinized the tiny creature from above his glasses. "So this is the only one, is it?"

"Erm… Well, no. Most of these are just sample populations. There's a rule about working with insects: for every one you see, there's 100 you don't," Marshall said. "What we're working on is-"

But he was cut short by some hard, loud taps on the tablet in the Tax Man's arms. "…Go on, Dr. Grant. Your plans to contain the rest of them?"

"Well… it… It can't be done. Not without a much larger budget, anyway, and even then… See, insects live and breed very fast, and even with—"

The Tax Man raised a hand, which presently inspired Marshall Grant into silence. "A larger budget? Dr. Grant, you are aware that for the past five years, this department has averaged four hundred and fifty thousand dollars over budget forecasts, are you not?"

"Yes, but—"

"And yet we're not, statistically speaking, any closer to a complete containment of anomalous insects in this region?"

Dr. Grant was getting flustered. "Now, hold on a minute! It's not as—"

"This is a simple yes or no question, Doctor. If you cannot answer it, perhaps we can find someone who can?" The Tax Man's steely eyes fixed Marshall Grant firmly in place, stylus poised, mouth drawn into a tight frown. A frown that said emphatically that he would not move from this spot until he received a simple answer to his perfectly straightforward question.

And in his building disquieted anger, Dr. Grant buckled. "No."

"I see," the Tax Man said, making marks deftly across his touch screen. "Is there any feasible remedy to this situation?"

"What do you mean, remedy?"

"Well, rather than wasting resources attempting to contain and neutralize these species," he continued, "could Foundation interests be better served by contracting with a well trained exterminator?"

"That's… What?! You can't just kill off a whole species of insect! There are so many variables to consider here! Not just the ecological consequences but in many cases there's a risk of anomalous backlash!"

The Tax Man looked up from under his glasses with a smirk. "Come on, Dr. Grant. You're not honestly afraid of the 'keeter skeeters' are you?"

"MARTYYY! MARTY DON'T TAKE THAT SHIT!"

The color drained from Dr. Grant's face as a look of stern disappointment was painted across the Tax Man's.

"Dr. Grant, are there any other employees in the office with us today?" Broderick asked with all the delicacy of a cinder-block.

Marshall swallowed hard. "…n…No, sir. That would be, uh…"

"LET ME OUT OF THIS THING! I'LL RIP THAT CHEAP ARMANI KNOCK-OFF RIGHT OFF HIS BACK!" The birthday card fell down, and there Vinnie Baggadoughnuts stood, arms raised in aggressive posture, wings fluttering, tiny cigarette smoldering in the corner of his mandibles. "NOBODY TALKS TO MARTY THAT WAY BUT ME. YOU GOT THAT, JACK?"

"E-5570. Specimen 01-A… he-uh…it's a 'Leafer Mantis'. We…" Marshall tried to think of some excuse. Some plausibly deniable reason. Something about how, when the phenomenon was finally understood and resolved, one was kept alive for record keeping purposes, to test the cognitive limits of the species. But all of it sounded hollow, and none of it explained what the specimen was doing next to his desk. So fuck it. If he was going to be crucified, it may as well be for the right reason.

Marshall padded the sweat from his balding head, pulled his shirt down, and stood up straight. "His name is Vinnie. He's my pet."

The Tax Man's nostrils flared but once; all the theatrical anger was gone from him, replaced with a sort of sullen contempt and disgust. As Vinnie raged and rattled his cage, Broderick slipped his stylus back into its home on the side of the tablet, and let out a long, disapproving sigh.

"Thank you, Dr. Grant. I believe that will be all." The tax man turned and walked away, looking disappointed. Or maybe a little defeated. When the door closed, Dr. Grant collapsed into his chair, heart pounding and underarms sweating.

"YEEEAH!" Vinnie said, raising his pincers in triumph. "You better run!"

"Oh, blow it out your ass, Vinnie," Marshall said, head in his hands.


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