2949-08-17 – Tales from the Inbox: A Novel Pest
Nojus here. Duncan’s been spending the past few days wrangling with Naval Intelligence over some stories he wants to publish, and so far he hasn’t gotten clearance on any of them.
Last week’s account of probable military-related skullduggery on Botched Ravi has led to a number of questions related to the planet being directed at me. To answer most of the common ones: yes, I have been to Botched Ravi, and yes, there is at least one vidlog from the planet on my datasphere hub, but it’s nearly ten years old. As my adventures go, Botched Ravi was rather middling; the planet itself seemed to be trying harder to kill me than the wildlife. No, I didn’t happen to tangle with a Songbird. Despite the reputation of those interesting beasts, they’re vanishingly rare, and the local administration doesn’t exactly help you find them. Yes, the Reed-Soares Personal Survival Utility works fine on Botched Ravi (just don’t try to mold its shape during a razor-dust storm).
I don’t know why you lot insist on sending me questions through the Cosmic Background datasphere hub – I’m still maintaining mine, after all – but in the interests of not getting Duncan mad at me, I’ll answer the other common question, namely, why I think the military is interested in Botched Ravi. I think it’s a perfect place to test new military equipment. Anything that lasts ten days on Ravi without breaking will survive six months of heavy fighting anywhere else.
While Duncan has been fighting the censors with his handful of stories, I’ve been trying to find evidence for this account. Maribel is always having problems with invasive pests accidentally introduced from other Frontier worlds, but you’d think the local news media would be covering something as big and ugly as the anonymous sender describes. I can find no evidence beyond what was sent to us – a brief text account and a few snippets of low-quality flat-capture video – so some skepticism is in order.
The source indicates that the real names of the participants are not used.
Ryleigh got out of her aircar and keyed the release for the cargo compartment at the vehicle’s rear. As an exterminator, she didn’t get many emergency calls in the middle of the night, but Mr. Clemensen had sounded frantic, even when she’d named her off-hours rate.
Though Clemensen hadn’t said specifically what the problem was, Ryleigh had cleaned a nest of whittlerbugs out of his flat six weeks previously, and expected that this was more of the same. Though not native to Maribel, whittlers had become one of the most common household pets on the planet. It seemed that every third cargo ship from their native Berkant carried another handful of mating pairs, which rode to private homes in the belongings of careless spacers. Clemensen, as a spaceport cargo inspector, was more careful than most spacers, but he still sometimes brought his work home with him in unpleasant ways.
As Ryleigh removed two boxes of equipment from the aircar, a door banged open behind her. She turned to see Clemensen, clad only in shorts and a velvety bathrobe, rushing out to meet her. “I’m glad you could make it so quickly.” The man ran one hand through his thinning hair, eyes wild in the harsh lights of the roof landing pad. “It’s worse than I’ve ever seen it, and it all happened so fast.”
“It’s no problem.” Ryleigh shrugged, closing the aircar’s storage bay. At the hourly price Clemensen was paying, she’d work all night and into the next day to rid his residence of the pests. Unfortunately, even a major infestation of whittlerbugs rarely took more than two hours to handle. “Just show me where the problem is.”
The man nodded, then led Ryleigh back into the building and down two flights of stairs. He seemed to pause at each corner and landing and peek around it, as if hoping not to run into any of his neighbors. Ryleigh didn’t blame him for his concern; nobody liked living next to an infestation, and his social credit would be damaged for a long time to come if anyone knew.
As Clemensen fumbled with the security lock on his front door, Ryleigh set her burdens down and pulled her imager from its holster. She was required by local law to record images of every infestation before she eradicated it, though that data would be purged of anything traceable to Clemensen before she sent it on to the planet’s health administration. Maribel’s government liked to track the progress of its many invasive infestations, and given how quickly some of them had adapted to become sneakier and more resistant to basic extermination tactics, she thought this only too reasonable.
When at last the door clicked and swung open, Clemensen peeked in, then stood aside. Ryleigh set her imager to constant record, then crossed the threshold, sweeping it from side to side, though there was no obvious sign of the pests’ presence. “What am I looking for?”
“It’s... I... Look in the kitchen.” Clemensen’s voice quavered. Ryleigh didn’t remember him being this unsettled the last time she’d cleaned out his place, but stumbling on pests in the middle of the night would do that to a man sometimes.
Ryleigh shrugged and crossed the sitting room, remembering her way around. Clemensen’s flat was of the sort fashionable on Maribel – it was dominated by the sitting room laid out for entertaining, and from that sprouted the other accommodations, including a proper old-fashioned kitchen rather than the high-tech half-kitchen common in most small domiciles throughout the Reach and a spacious washroom.
Reaching the doorway into the kitchen, Ryleigh didn’t see anything amiss, save the disorder suggesting the man had been interrupted in the middle of fixing a late-night snack. That didn’t mean anything, though, since the light was on; whittlerbugs hated bright light. “What am I looking for?”
“You don't see-” Clemensen, still at the front door, seemed to realize he was likely to attract attention to his problem by shouting in from the entrance, and crept inside. “You don’t see anything?”
“No?” Ryleigh opened a few cabinets and stuck her imager into each, trusting it to beep if it encountered any sign of an infestation, whittlerbugs or otherwise. “Where did you see them?”
“Them?” Clemensen almost choked on the word. “You think there might be more than one? Oh dear.”
Ryleigh turned to the man, finding him white-faced at the notion. For the first time, she began to realize that the late hour was not the only cause for the man’s flustered state.
“Ah! There!” Clemensen pointed over Ryleigh’s shoulder toward the kitchen celing. She turned just in time to see something large vanish into an alcove above the heat-plate's vent hood. Though she hadn’t gotten a good look at it, the nauseating, many-legged impression its movements offered made her glad she hadn’t. The creature was at least as long as her forearm. She’d never seen anything like it in eight T-years of extermination work, and she knew immediately why the concept of “them” had so worried her client.
“What are you going to do?” The man seemed to expect Ryleigh to battle the creature as easily as she had flushed out the mating pair at the center of his recent whittlerbug infestation.
Ryleigh stepped backwards, putting an arm out to force Clemensen to do the same. “Mr. Clemensen, perhaps we should discuss that outside.” She held the imager on the spot she’d seen the critter long enough for it to beep an alert and capture a few infrared images. “In the future, when you call me, do mention if the pests are of...” She glanced up at the shadows where the creature doubtless still lurked, suppressing a shudder. “Unusual size.”