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Once More Unto the Breach

Teo holds up one open hand toward the swarm, expecting some reaction.  He is somehow not surprised when a line of bees zip up around him and a dozen at once settle on his sweaty palm, walking around, apparently tasting him.  The yellow stripes all over them manage to sparkle in the hot, dusty strips of sunlight through the trees. The feet catch and tickle a bit on his skin. He is very aware of how many there are, and how he really doesn’t want any surprise to alarm them.

Drin says, “The climate is crappy, the terrain can be treacherous as fuck, the people are suspicious and ungodly quick with a snare trap and a sawed-off shotgun, and the reliable ones will tell you stories that make your toenails curl.  You’ll bunk in the houseboat opposite the floating clinic, you’ll be helping out there as first priority. If the buzz gets loud or if it spikes, let us know right away. If you have any alarms or suspicions at night, you call us immediately.  Yell out the window if you have to, Dance will hear you. Yell loud enough, Seung will hear you too.”

Teo laughs, an honestly delighted sound. “I’m two steps ahead of you, brother. I actually helped Doctor Alexander buy and outfit that clinic boat, I’ve just been holed up doing research and out in the swamp with Doctor Caleb giving injections. Alex and I arrived at the same time.  He adds, in a very broad patois, “Don’ you worry ‘bout me none.”

“Oh good.  Obviously I’ve been out on bounds patrol enough that I’m not keeping up on the local gossip a t’all well.  Okay, we also need to get you trained on emergency treatment by some of the folks who operate on rescuing bug-bit humans, that’s not going to be easy or fun or quick.”

“Who made you the Captain round here?” Teo grins at him. It’s such a relief to have him back, bossiness and all.

Drin looks under those bristly brows at him.  “Oh, I was volun-told, you know how it is. Oh look, here’s a guy got money, decent shot, got combat experience with zoomorphs, fails to run away when things start blowing up.  It’s a huge goddamn character fault.”

“I can see that,” Teo agrees.

“And I’ll still worry about you.”

“Hey, I’m a research scientist, not a soldier. I don’t do ‘stupid’ as a general rule. ”

“Good, that’s what I like hearing in a doctor.” 

 Drin starts walking away again.  How the hell do you have a conversation with the man when he never faces you and never stops moving? Hmm, didn’t he see a tranquilizer gun in a case at the clinic?

“So how do we have to decontaminate this bug lab, if it’s abandoned?”

“Gotta touch nothing and take samples first.  I’ll have to get somebody to come back with proper tools.”

“Right,” Teo says.  He has a suspicion that somebody might turn out to be him, once he’s given direction on what kind of samples they’ll want.  

Drin stops, turns his head.  The bees swirl around them both.  

Then Teo knows why he stopped.  “What the fucking hell is that smell?”

Drin just glances at him dryly.  

Oh, Teo knows what some of it is.  Cadaverine is a very distinctive stink, one that’s hard-wired way down in the ancestry of every pathetic little creature who ever ran away screaming from a leopard’s old kill.

It’s the other nauseating components that puzzle him.  Sort of a weird diesel or burnt machine lubricating oil stink, and a sugary sweet component on top of acid, stronger than vinegar.

Then Drin points down a slope into heavier brush, where a trickle of a strange, oil-sheened,  multi-colored stream is draining through a tangle of scrubby fast-growing trees. His eye traces back upward where the water comes from, and it reaches the dark mouth of a pipe about the size of a medium-grade water main.  It’s some kind of green plastic, not a metal pipe, even at that unexpected size, and the stink exhales from it in a visible fog. Bright yellow sulfur has just begun to crust in a thin lining on the mouth of the pipe

“Stay away from the gas,” Drin says.

“Does it rise, or sink into hollows?” Teo asks.

“Sink,” Drin says.

“Do we know what’s in the gas, or the drainage water?”

“Gas is usually carbon dioxide with methane and sulfides and trace organics. The fluid is usually thirty to forty percent water – not fresh, sodium chloride salts.  The rest of the liquid is long-chain organic fats and oils, lots of metallic compounds, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron chelates, trace selenium…it’s not the same balance as you’d see in normal salt waters of various kinds.”  Drin turns and starts walking upwind of the thicket, staying to open areas on the higher ground above the hollow. He doesn’t go far before he says, “We’ll have to come back with diver’s tanks and masks to trace this one safely.”

“Does it worry you that they managed to put this together right under your noses without anybody noticing the noise levels they must have been venting?”

“It probably got buried under all the other shit going on at the same time,” Drin says bitterly.

“Samples. Yup, I’ll put it on my list of things to do.”

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