It was a bright and cheerful day on the colony planet, Zos, orbiting a Type-G star of the ignominious name, Iefbr14. In the small city of Asra, one of three settlements on the planet, Dr. Sam Walker glanced out the window of his lab while sample 2408-B-23.5 spun in the centrifuge. Beakers and flasks full of colorful and foul smelling concoctions bubbled through elaborate glass tube apparatus upon Bunsen burners on one of his lab tables. Out on the sidewalk along Cics Street, in front of his window, people walked past his lab while they went about their business.
The klaxons sounded!
Sam ran to the door and flung it open, motioning for people to hurry inside. Shopkeepers and homeowners along the street did likewise. Privacy, restricted areas, and confidentiality of proprietary research became meaningless when the klaxons sounded. Inside Sam's lab, people screamed and children cried. Mothers covered their children's eyes to the view outside the window. There were always a few who didn't make it to safety in time.
Out of the sky, a swarm of large black insects, similar in appearance to wasps but twice as long as a man was tall, dove from the sky and picked up fleeing people. Sam turned away at the sight of a child plucked from his mother's grasp out on the sidewalk, knowing that his mother would surely share the same fate a moment later.
After sacrificing any sort of social life by working 16 hours a day continuously for the past two years on a planet that had 25-hour days, Sam had recently made a breakthrough. He was to make a public presentation that night in Idcams Hall. Last week, he had given his presentation to the Colony Governor and the City Council. The council members from the other two cities, Cedf and Cemt, were also present. At the end of his presentation, the politicians all appeared to be equally aghast. After nearly a week of deliberation, they had agreed to let him present his plan to the people and let each decide for himself.
Sam walked onto the stage that evening. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he began. "I don't need to detail the horror we live with. NASA and the United Nations, in their political correctness, have refused to send us weapons of mass destruction that would enable us to defend ourselves from the menace that threatens to exterminate us..."
A muffled "Harrumph" came from the Governor sitting in the front row with the other politicians. Prior to departure from Earth five years ago, they had nearly all been elected on a Liberal Democratic ticket. "This isn't the time for political finger-pointing, Doctor. Get on with it, please."
Sam continued, "My point is that we're powerless prey against a powerful predator. These creatures--these giant wasps--that I have classified Xenohymenopteramaximus do not use us as food; we are breeding hosts to them. Some orders of ant back on Earth use a similar strategy, herding other insects so to use their bodies as food and incubators for breeding. Run the MPEG please."
The lights dimmed and an image filled the large screen behind him. The scene showed two giant wasps in a large chain-link cage. A moment later, a pig entered the cage through a small chute. Immediately, one of the wasps descended upon the pig and wrapped it in a sort of cocoon, leaving only its face uncovered. Sam said, "The female will use this pig as a host for breeding. She immobilizes the host as seen here, but instinct seems to direct her to keep the host alive."
The scene lighting changed slightly, suggesting a change in time, then showed the wasp extend a stinger and impale the cocoon. The pig, while immobile, was visibly agitated at this. Sam spoke again, "Some time later, The female extends her ovipositor and injects her eggs into the host."
The scene changed again, and showed the other, smaller, wasp do the exact same thing. "Now the male extends his penis and injects his sperm into the host, fertilizing the eggs."
The scene changed yet again. Hundreds of shiny black maggots crawled out of the pig's mouth and also burst out of the walls of the cocoon, then began buzzing around the cage. After a few moments, there was nothing left of the pig or of the cocoon except for the pig's skeleton. "This is about 48 hours after fertilization."
Someone in the audience groaned, and ran out of the auditorium covering his mouth.
Sam felt it preferable just then not to remind everyone that this was the same fate that all the people had met whom had been taken by the wasps. "That first pig was one of our control subjects. I will now show you a repeat of this demonstration with a pig that was one of our test subjects."
The same sequence of scenes repeated, only this time a small number of maggots emerged. Those that did were a sickly pink, and lay dying on the floor. "These giant wasps share physiological properties and behavior of insects back on Earth. The test pig was injected with a vector to deliver t-cells primed with a gene sequence to cause the pig to develop a gland that produces an enzyme that acts as an poison, a type of insecticide, that interferes with the hardening of the exoskeleton of the larvae. I have developed an enzyme that can be applied to human physiology, but is still as deadly to our predators. The council has funded the production of enough doses for everyone. But participation will be entirely voluntary. I open the floor to questions."
A woman raised her hand, and Sam pointed to her. She asked, "But how will the wasps know we have this poison inside us?"
"The wasps won't know. They're only dumb creatures, after all. Simple evolution will see to it that wasps that don't use people as breeding hosts will multiply at a faster rate than those that do. Eventually, evolution will teach them that we aren't a good source of breeding hosts."
The room was silent for a moment. Then a murmur slowly filled the room. Everyone began calling out at once. "You mean this stuff won't stop them at all them until after they kill more people? What good is that?"
Sam waited for the crowd to calm down. "Yes. You're right. It's not a pleasant solution. But it's the best we have so far. It's all we can do with what we have."
Someone else called out, "So you're saying we're going to poison them with our bodies? When they learn that we're poison to them, they'll stop killing us?"
"Yes," Sam said. "That's the gist of it in layman's terms."
"That's the worst thing I ever heard!" someone shouted from the back row and stormed out.
"Do you really expect everyone to go along with your mad idea?" someone else asked.
Sam paused. "No, I don't expect everyone to. But the wasps will continue to take people. That's a given. And the more people who take the enzyme, the sooner the horror will end."
"But doesn't everyone need to do it for it to work at all?"
"It needn't be everyone. If only one out of every two people takes the treatment, that will tip the evolutionary scale in our favor. Of course, the more people with the enzyme, the faster the desired evolutionary trait will dominate the wasp population."
Someone else called out, "But won't this poison inside our bodies kill us too?"
"No. The enzyme is harmless to human physiology. It's only harmful to insect physiology."
"That's what scientists always say!" someone else shouted from the audience.
"How do you tell the queen from the drones and workers?"
"Insect evolution took a different path on Zos than on Earth. These creatures do not follow the queen-drone-worker mode as do earthly insects. We still don't know all the details, but there appears to be many females and many males in a given hive."
At the end of another hour of questions, heated statements, and unflattering assessments of Sam's family ancestry, not as many people left in disgust as Sam had expected. He knew that his solution would be unpopular, but it was sound science.
Sam continued his research, though at a less aggressive cost to his personal life. Over the following week, nearly 80% of the population of all three cities took the injections, including Sam. On one particular morning, Sam sat at his computer and scanned the morning's headlines: another scouting-rescue party, five more brave souls, had failed to return after a two weeks.
.... There is more of this story ...