Edward Austin Hall
Hidden from his fellow attorneys’ view by the boardroom table, Reed Shields’s right hand drummed softly on the briefcase beside him. His left hand perched against his face like some uncertain insect.
“Again,” Ani Martinsson said to Terry Smith, their client. The previous day’s verdict had drained her. Only sentencing remained, and few expected even her courtroom powers to alter its outcome.
“The army roach arose, unforeseeably, from efforts to feed millions of starving people. We never suspected –” Smith leaned back and folded his hands. “Ani, I can’t.”
Shields’s hidden hand clenched.
Martinsson stared at their client for a moment. Her head swiveled, but her gaze never wavered. “You promised the Crisis Court a statement.”
“Yes.” Smith lowered his gaze toward the tabletop. “The truth is that I engineered the whole thing.”
Shields’s right hand relaxed against the cool surface of his case. Yes: He’d known about Smith’s lies. Now Shields had one thing left to do. No backsliding.
He gripped the cool, hard handle of the case. He’d spent his life’s savings on it – a funny word, life. The case appeared to conform to Crisis guidelines for luggage and containers – to be transparent, in order to reveal deadly passengers or their egg cases. World commerce had come undone because of hidden infestations that turned freighter after freighter into ghost ships. And whenever any of those ships made landfall, they loosed dark carpets of insects that consumed all in their path.
The incredibly lethal filovirus spread by the army roach’s bite was just icing on a big, black cake.
Martinsson sat higher in her chair. “I don’t understand.”
“The cockroach was an unaimed weapon. It was fecund, mildly anthropophagous, and it lived in civilization’s shadow. Close to people.”
“You’re not making sense.” But Martinsson’s chair squeaked as she pushed away from the table. And away from Smith.
He spoke mechanically. “Inducing legionary behavior in roaches was easy. Interbreeding unaltered blattid populations with gendified ant-roach hybrids was trickier. You know the rest.”
Martinsson stared. “Why? Billions of people. Billions. Why?”
“We wiped out millions of species. I was trying to save what was left. But … limiting choice of prey to humans worked only in the lab.” Smith looked up, tears in his eyes. “Not in the field.”
Shields placed his briefcase on the table. “Which means you murdered my wife. The court may be determined to let you live in some Antarctic prison, but not me. Meet your little saviors.” He opened the case.
Mandibled bits of gleaming darkness boiled forth to swarm them all.