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Invasive Species

Alex Shvartsman is a writer, translator and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 70 of his short stories have appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Nature, Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. He won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction. He is the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories became available on February 1, 2015. His website is alexshvartsman.com.

Samuel Kanu took off his respirator and allowed himself a few moments to enjoy deep breaths of the clean, air-conditioned air of the lobby. He used a handkerchief to brush the yellowish fog droplets out of his hair, and looked outside through the glass door. The fog was so thick that he couldn't see his car at the curb. With the industrial complex of the entire planet dedicated to the war effort, no one bothered to be green anymore.
This meeting was crucial, so Kanu braved the traffic and the polluted air of the Capitol. Both seemed to be getting worse every time, and he counted his blessings for not having to make such trips frequently.
Almost immediately, an adjutant greeted him. "They'll see you now, Mr. Kanu."
Two men and a woman sat behind a long desk in a small meeting room. They nodded to Kanu when he walked in, but didn't offer him a seat. There would be no point--the room was devoid of any additional furniture. He stood in front of them like a man on trial.
"Proposal 2746B," the younger man spoke into a recording device. He stared up at Kanu. "What have you got for us, Professor?"
Kanu began to unfasten the clasps of his briefcase but the tall woman on the right shook her head. "No documentation at this stage. Summarize your proposal, please."
"Biological warfare," said Kanu.
The three Department of Defense officials focused on him sharply, as though they were seeing him for the first time.
"We're stretched thin in the conflict against the Hauch'k," said Kanu. "Most of the planetary resources are dedicated to the war, and we're still barely holding our own. We kill them, they kill us; nothing really changes."
The three made no comment. The older man wearing the stripes of a colonel took out a cigarette and lit it.
"We need to find subtle ways to shift the balance of power. Change the circumstances on the Hauch'k home world in ways that are both effective and not resource-intensive for our side."
"What do you propose, specifically?" asked the woman. "Germs? We already have people working that angle, of course."
"Of course," said Kanu. "I propose a more subtle approach. Something the Hauch'k won't even perceive as a threat, not right away. Like a lobster that doesn't realize it's being slowly boiled."
"What approach?" The colonel took a puff of his cigarette.
"Invasive species," said Kanu. "Introducing just the right plant, insect, or animal to the environment where they don't belong can result in billions worth of damage; perhaps even irreparably alter the Hauch'k ecosystem, if we're lucky."
The three officials stared at him with opprobrium. "You've come here to talk about seeding plants?"
"There have been many examples in our own history," Kanu spoke quickly, afraid he was losing them. He was never good at the elevator pitch. "The golden apple snail devastated the rice fields of Asia, cane toads screwed up the Australian ecosystem, and even the humble earthworm played a huge role in the European colonization of North America."
The three officials exchanged glances.
"Where did they find this guy?" asked the Colonel.
"One of his former students works at the White House. He convinced the higher-ups to have us hear him out."
Kanu's heart sunk. They were discussing him as though he wasn't in the room.
"You want to fight the Hauch'k with toads, Professor Kanu?" asked the Colonel. "They're fluorine breathers. No Earth species would survive there, let alone thrive well enough to screw up their planet."
"I know that, of course," said Kanu. "What I propose is to study their ecosystem. Look for the native animals and plants we can relocate in order to cause the most damage. It's cheap and it can be incredibly effective…"
"That's merely an annoyance," said the younger official. "We can do worse with a single bombing run."
"There's more." Kanu wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "We can genetically engineer bacteria to convert fluorine into oxygen. Poison them while slowly terraforming their world."
"Thank you for your time, Professor," said the Colonel, "but we aren't interested. Even if your ideas were viable, it would take decades for them to work. The war has been going on for nearly ten years now. One way or another, it will end before any sort of an ecological imbalance can be achieved."
"All I need is access to information you already have," said Kanu. "We don't require a grant or anything else--my university will work on this on our own dime!"
But they wouldn't listen. Less than five minutes later, Kanu was outside, navigating the street to find his car in the fog.
Even through the respirator, he could detect a faint scent of fluorine.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 27th, 2015

Author Comments

This story was inspired, in part, by Charles C. Mann's non-fiction volume 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. It's a fantastic book about globalization and how it shaped today's world. One of the takeaways is just how devastating invasive species can be when introduced into an unsuspecting ecosystem. If the humble earthworm could completely reshape the American North East's landscape over three centuries, technologically advanced aliens could easily bio-engineer a plant that would change our planet's atmosphere, making it inhospitable to humans within decades.

- Alex Shvartsman
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