Tabby

by Winston Marks

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Tabby was peculiar, of course, but seemed harmless: just a little green fly that couldn't even protect itself from ordinary spiders. So the spiders fed, and grew, and fed, and grew....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

April 18, 1956

Dear Ben: It breaks my heart you didn’t sign on for this trip. Your replacement, who calls himself an ichthyologist, has only one talent that pertains to fish--he drinks like one. There are nine of us in the expedition, and every one of us is fed up with this joker, Cleveland, already. We’ve only been on the island a week, and he’s gone native, complete with beard, bare feet and bone laziness. He slops around the lagoon like a beachcomber and hasn’t brought in a decent specimen yet.

The island is a bit of paradise, though. Wouldn’t be hard to let yourself relax under the palms all day instead of collecting blisters and coral gashes out in the bright sun of the atoll. No complaints, however. We aren’t killing ourselves, and our little camp is very comfortable. The portable lab is working out fine, and the screened sleeping tent-houses have solved the one big nuisance we’ve suffered before: Insects. I think an entomologist would find more to keep him busy here than we will.

Your ankle should be useable by the time our next supply plane from Hawaii takes off. If you apply again at the Foundation right now I’m sure Sellers and the others will help me get rid of Cleveland, and there’ll be an open berth here.

Got to close now. Our amphib jets off in an hour for the return trip. Hope this note is properly seductive. Come to the isles, boy, and live!--Cordially, Fred


May 26, 1956

Dear Ben: Now, aren’t you sorry you didn’t take my advice?!!!! I’m assuming you read the papers, and also, that too tight a censorship hasn’t clamped down on this thing yet. Maybe I’m assuming too much on the latter. Anyhow, here’s a detailed version from an actual eyewitness.

That’s right! I was right there on the beach when the “saucer” landed. Only it looked more like a king-size pokerchip. About six feet across and eight inches thick with a little hemispherical dome dead center on top. It hit offshore about seventy-five yards with a splash that sounded like a whale’s tail. Jenner and I dropped our seine, waded to shore and started running along the beach to get opposite it. Cleveland came out of the shade and helped us launch a small boat.

We got within twenty feet of the thing when it started moving out, slowly, just fast enough to keep ahead of us. I was in the bow looking right at it when the lid popped open with a sound like a cork coming out of a wine bottle. The little dome had split. Sellers quit rowing and we all hit the bottom of the boat. I peeked over the gunwale right away, and it’s a good thing. All that came out of the dome was a little cloud of flies, maybe a hundred or so, and the breeze picked them up and blew them over us inshore so fast that Cleveland and Sellers never did see them.

I yelled at them to look, but by then the flies were in mingling with the local varieties of sudden itch, and they figured I was seeing things. Cleveland, though, listened with the most interest. It develops that his specialty is entomology. He took this job because he was out of work. Don’t know how he bluffed his way past the Foundation, but here he is, and it looks like he might be useful after all.

He was all for going ashore, but Sellers and I rowed after the white disk for awhile until it became apparent we couldn’t catch it. It’s a good thing we didn’t. A half hour later, Olafsen caught up to it in the power launch. We were watching from shore. It was about a half mile out when Ole cut his speed. Luckily he was alone. We had yelled at him to pick us up and take us along, but he was too excited to stop. He passed us up, went out there and boom!

It wasn’t exactly an A-bomb, but the spray hit us a half mile away, and the surface wave swamped us.

Sellers radioed the whole incident to Honolulu right away, and they are sending out a plane with a diver, but we don’t think he’ll find anything. Things really blew! So far we haven’t even found any identifiable driftwood from the launch, let alone Ole’s body or traces of the disk.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has come to believe my story, and he’s out prowling around with an insect net. Most energy he’s shown in weeks.


May 28--Looks like this letter will be delayed a bit. We are under quarantine. The government plane came this morning. They sent along a diver, two reporters and a navy officer. The diver went down right away, but it’s several hundred feet deep out there and slants off fast. This island is the tip of a sunken mountain, and the diver gave up after less than an hour. Personally I think a couple of sharks scared him off, but he claims there’s so much vegetable ruck down there he couldn’t expect to find anything smaller than the launch’s motor.

Cleveland hasn’t found anything unusual in his bug net, but everyone is excited here, and you can guess why.

When the “saucer” reports stopped cold about a year ago, you’ll remember, it made almost as much news for a while as when they were first spotted. Now the people out here are speculating that maybe this disc thing came from the same source as the saucers, after they had a chance to look us over, study our ecology and return to their base. Cleveland is the one who started this trend of thought with his obsession that the flies I reported seeing are an attack on our planet from someone out in space.

Commander Clawson, the navy officer, doesn’t know what to think. He won’t believe Cleveland until he produces a specimen of the

“fly-from-Mars”, but then he turns around and contradicts himself by declaring a temporary quarantine until he gets further orders from Honolulu.

The reporters are damned nuisances. They’re turning out reams of Sunday supplement type stuff and pestering the devil out of Sparks to let them wire it back, but our radio is now under navy control, too.

Sure is crowded in the bunk-house with the six additional people, but no one will sleep outside the screen.


May 29--Cleveland thinks he has his specimen. He went out at dawn this morning and came in before breakfast. He’s quit drinking but he hasn’t slept in three days now and looks like hell. I thought he was getting his fancy imagination out of the bottle, but the soberer he got the more worried he looked over this “invasion” idea of his.

Now he claims that his catch is definitely a sample of something new under our particular sun. He hustled it under a glass and started classifying it. It filled the bill for the arthropods, class Insecta. It looked to me, in fact, just like a small, ordinary blowfly, except that it has green wings. And I mean green, not just a little iridescent color.

Cleve very gently pulled one wing off and we looked at it under low power. There is more similarity to a leaf than to a wing. In the bug’s back is a tiny pocket, a sort of reservoir of the green stuff, and Cleve’s dissection shows tiny veins running up into the wings. It seems to be a closed system with no connection with the rest of the body except the restraining membrane.

Cleveland now rests his extraterrestrial origin theory on an idea that the green stuff is chlorophyll. If it is chlorophyll, either Cleve is right or else he’s discovered a new class of arthropods. In other respects the critter is an ordinary biting and sucking bug with the potentials of about a deerfly for making life miserable. The high-power lens showed no sign of unusual or malignant microscopic life inside or out of the thing. Cleve can’t say how bad a bite would be, because he doesn’t have his entomologist kit with him, and he can’t analyze the secretion from the poison gland.

The commander has let him radio for a botanist and some micro-analysis equipment.

Everyone was so pitched up that Cleve’s findings have been rather anti-climactic. I guess we were giving more credence to the space-invader theory than we thought. But even if Cleve has proved it, this fly doesn’t look like much to be frightened over. The reporters are clamoring to be let loose, but the quarantine still holds.


June 1--By the time the plane with the botanist arrived we were able to gather all the specimens of Tabanidae viridis (Cleveland’s designation) that he wanted. Seems like every tenth flying creature you meet is a green “Tabby” now.

The botanist helped Cleve and me set up the bio kit, and he confirmed Cleve’s guess. The green stuff is chlorophyll. Which makes Tabby quite a bug.

Kyser, the youngest reporter, volunteered to let a Tabby bite him. It did without too much coaxing. Now he has a little, itchy bump on his wrist, and he’s happily banging away at his typewriter on a story titled, “I Was Bitten by the Bug from Space!” That was hours ago, and we haven’t learned anything sinister about the green fly except that it does have a remarkable breeding ability.

One thing the reporter accomplished: we can go outside the screened quarters now without wondering about catching space-typhus.


June 2--The quarantine was probably a pretty good idea. Cleve has turned up some dope on Tabby’s life cycle that makes us glad all over that we are surrounded by a thousand miles of salt water. Tabby’s adult life is only a couple of days, but she is viviparous, prolific (some thousand young at a sitting), and her green little microscopic babies combine the best survival features of spores and plankton, minus one: they don’t live in salt water. But they do very well almost anyplace else. We have watched them grow on hot rocks, leaves, in the sand and best of all, filtered down a little into the moist earth.

They grow incredibly fast with a little sun, so the chlorophyll is biologically justified in the life-cycle. This puzzled us at first, because the adult Tabby turns into a blood-sucking little brute. Deprived of any organic matter, our bottled specimens die in a short time, in or out of the sunlight, indicating the green stuff doesn’t provide them with much if any nourishment after they are full-grown.

Now we are waiting for a supply of assorted insecticides to find the best controls over the pests. The few things we had on hand worked quite well, but I guess they aren’t forgetting our sad experience with DDT a few years back.

The Tabbies now outnumber all the other insects here, and most outside work has been halted. The little green devils make life miserable outside the tent-houses. We have built another screened shelter to accommodate the latest arrivals. We are getting quite a fleet of amphibian aircraft floating around our lagoon. No one will be allowed to return until we come up with all the answers to the question of controlling our insect invasion.

Cleveland is trying to convince Sellers and the commander that we should get out and send in atomic fire to blow the whole island into the sea. They forwarded his suggestion to the U. N. committee which now has jurisdiction, but they wired back that if the insect is from space, we couldn’t stop other discs from landing on the mainlands. Our orders are to study the bug and learn all we can.

Opinion is mixed here. I can’t explain the flying disc unless it’s extraterrestrial, but why would an invader choose an isolated spot like this to attack? Cleve says this is just a “test patch” and probably under surveillance. But why such an innocuous little fly if they mean business?

The newsmen are really bored now. They see no doom in the bugs, and since they can’t file their stories they take a dim view of the quarantine. They have gotten up an evening fishing derby with the crew members of the planes. Have to fish after dusk. The Tabbies bite too often as long as the sun is up.

Cleve has turned into a different man. He is soft-spoken and intense. His hands tremble so much that he is conducting most of his work by verbal directions with the botanist and me to carry them out. When his suggestion about blowing up the atoll was turned down he quit talking except to conduct his work. If things were half as ominous as he makes out we’d be pretty worried.


June 4--The spray planes got here and none too soon. We were running out of drinking water. The Tabbies got so thick that even at night a man would get stung insane if he went outside the screen.

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.