Can’t Call the Exterminator
Characters: Yoshino Marina, Dr. Kim Matsumoto
Kim Matsumoto stared at the tiny arthropod inside her specimen jar. The creature, with a black head and grey and gold carapace, almost seemed to be staring back.
It was, according to her research, a creature from Abbai, which had apparently hitched a ride up to the Phoenix with one of the many shuttles which went back and forth each day. Once aboard, they had begun to multiply at a rate which had just brought a near-frantic call from Ops.
“Good afternoon, Kim,” Yoshino Marina said, bowing slightly as she approached the Science chief’s desk. “I see you’ve found one of our little friends.”
“Yes,” said Kim, setting the bottle down. “At least they appear to be harmless to us. Some kind of arthropod, like an Earth beetle. It shouldn’t be hard to flush some gas through the ship to get rid of them.”
“There’s where we have a problem,” Yoshino said immediately. “We can’t kill them.”
“Can’t?” Kim looked blankly at Yoshino. Having spent a life as much (or more) in ships and artificial habitation, as on land, her experience with bugs was never beneficial. They chewed wires, nested in electronics, contaminated food, and generally got everywhere they weren’t needed or wanted, regardless of how harmless they were in their natural habitat. Sympathy was saved for the engineer, who had to clean up after these unwelcome stowaways.
The Ops chief drew a deep breath to gather her thoughts. “The Abbai call these creatures ‘baracs,’ and hold them in very high esteem. They’re beneficial — they eat dust and Abbai dust mites, apparently — and it’s very bad luck to kill them.” She paused a moment, brushing some loose strands of hair away from her face. “The reverence for them crosses almost the whole planet, all the subcultures. The closest parallel I can think of is the ladybug on Earth.”
Kim’s expression became one of dismay. “How are we supposed to get rid of them then? I don’t see how we can possibly lure the whole lot of them into containers. It would take just one breeding pair left behind…”
They both looked at the single barac Kim had captured. It it crawled up the sides of the clear container towards the lid, as if blithely confident it would be allowed out now. They might as well admit defeat.
“There is a solution to everything. We just have to find out what it is,” Yoshino said.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Kim said. “We’re going to get our orders to Minbar in a couple days at most. I don’t think the Minbari would appreciate an invasion, even of ladybugs.”
After a long minute, Yoshino said, “Perhaps you could do some more research on these creatures’ biology. We might be able to find something that could lure them, or perhaps sterilize them so at least they couldn’t reproduce any more.” She stood up and looked toward the door.
“All right,” Kim agreed. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to talk to Reeakiss, our Abbai passenger. Maybe she can offer some advice.”
Kim nodded, turning toward her data terminal and making a connection to the planetary info nets on Abbai. “Meet back here in a couple hours?” she suggested.
Yoshino nodded and offered a bow as she departed.
It was slightly less than two hours later when Yoshino returned, her pale features flushed with excitement. “I think I have something,” she said.
“So do I,” Kim replied. “Let’s hear yours first.”
“Since it’s considered good to have baracs in your home, the Abbai often place garlands of a particular flower around to attract them. They’re called ‘white gloves.’ At least, that’s the translation.”
Kim nodded. “I’ve found that these creatures, like many Earth insects, respond to scents and pheromones. With a little luck, we should be able to identify what it is in the flowers that draws them, and synthesize it here.”
“I just hope the smell isn’t a problem for humans or Minbari,” Yoshino said.
“Give me a couple more hours,” Kim said. “I’ll call you.”
“I’ll see what I can do about cleaning out the ventilation systems in the meantime – maybe some light suction on the lesser used lines.”
“A vacuum cleaner?”
“Something like that.”
Kim shook her head with a rueful grin. “I still can’t believe we’re doing all this for a bunch of bugs,” she said.
“Never underestimate the power of luck, even from the smallest things,” Yoshino said.
A tart reply almost escaped the Science Chief’s lips before she realized that her friend was entirely serious. She managed a simple nod instead.
A few hours later, she called Yoshino back to the lab. “Got it,” she said, holding up a small vial of liquid. “This is very potent. Once we set it into the shuttlebay and let it filter through the air systems, it should draw them very quickly. Once we get all the little beasts onto a shuttle, we can fly them back down.”
“Will we notice the smell?”
“The active ingredient is undetectable to humans, Minbari, Narn … even Centauri,” Kim said. “Luckily, we don’t have any Pak’ma’ra aboard … we’d have to fit them with filter plugs or face their nausea.” Kim’s expression made it very clear what she thought of that prospect.
“Something that smells dreadful to a Pak’ma’ra?” Yoshino said. “There’s an irony, neh?”
Kim grinned, handing over the vial. “Good luck, Pied Piper.”