Unnatural Behaviour



Steve Hatherley

It's nothing unusual at first. After all, everyone thinks they see movement from the corner of their eye, don't they? Although it doesn't usually happen quite so often. And, on reflection, it's always around the investigator's house, inside and out. Never further afield. Odd.

Then there are the birds. Lots of them - an unusually large number. Drawn by the beetles.

In fact, there do seem to be rather a lot of beetles. Always a common sight, they now seem to be everywhere, scampering in the yard and around the house. They hide behind jars, on shelves and in cupboards.

They get bolder. The investigator gets the feeling he is being watched - but there is nobody around. Nobody and nothing - except for one of the beetles. A big one, nearly an inch from antenna to tail, sitting on the windowsill. Motionless until the investigator moves - and then it turns to track his movements.

Pest control, doesn't work. Chemicals and pesticides leave hundreds of crispy little corpses, but there are always more.

A bird's painful screeches draws the investigator's attention. The bird, a thrush, flaps painfully in the yard. It seems to be covered in berries, or beads - or beetles, attacking en masse! Eventually the bird stops flapping, and the beetles swarm over the corpse in triumph.

Then the neighbour's dog goes missing . . .

Possibilities

1     It is not only their behaviour that has been alterered. Many of the beetles are mutants. Most look perfectly normal, but a few are bloated and corpulent. Some even have seven legs.

Closer inspection shows that not only are the beetles mutated. Other insects look similarly affected - as is simple plant life and, eventually, birds and small mammals. Everything becomes more aggressive, more belligerent.

The mutation is caused by a massive build-up of underground toxins from a nearby government facility. Waste from dubious processes is dumped into fissures in the ground, away from environmentalists' eyes. Over a period of time, people fall ill and even die. Random acts of violence soar, from slavering dogs savaging young children to freeway slayings over minor traffic misdemeanours.

As things get worse, the facility keeps on pumping chemicals into the ground . . .

2     Poorly conducted investigations leave loose ends untied - and those loose ends are rarely pleased.

A sorcerer, warlock or witch has been overlooked in a recent case and is now taking revenge on the investigator. The investigator has been cursed with a plague of beetles, and before long he is suffering from rashes and bites - beetle bites.

Eventually, if no way is found to lift the curse, the beetles attack. Millions of beetles swarm over the investigator and smother him. They fill his mouth, crawl in his ears, his nose. He suffocates painfully under the foul black sea.

By morning, the beetles are gone.

3     The beetles have formed a hive-mind consciousness. This rough collective intelligence is the precursor to the great beetle race that the Great Race of Yith will eventually inhabit, millions of years in the future. But its origin starts here, and now.

The beetle consciousness, in this formative state and a long way from intelligence, is groping blindly, unable to make sense of much what it experiences. It learns slowly, but reacts to anything it perceives as a threat.

The Great Race is naturally very interested in the emergence of the beetle intelligence. Agents are in the area, watching from a distance. It is imperative that the organism survives. If the investigator moves against the intelligence - they will act. If eliminating the investigator looks to cause more problems than is worth, the agents move the hive-mind instead. The investigator wakes to discover that two whole days are missing from his memory - and the beetles have gone . . .

Copyright (c) 1996 Steve Hatherley.