by Gayle Applegate
“Morning, pupae!” bellowed Dr. Blackwell.
“Morning, Doctor Sir!”
The retired Marine Colonel stood onstage, hands on hips, shoulders squared. The quintessential “Pride of the Marines” earned the title “Sir Doctor” from the faculty at Black Hills State University. His students addressed him otherwise.
A former alumnus of UW-Madison, Department of Entomology, he’d been nicknamed “phasm” by his friends. The term--Latin for “ghost”--derived from the order Phasmadtodea, honoring the Vietnamese Walkingstick credited with saving him and his men in Cambodia.
“A single, woody perennial in the Amazon hosts more than forty ant species, the equivalent of the combined ant population in the entire British Isles.” Silence. “Who on earth has the right to decimate a class of beings for the purpose of sitting their ugly butts on a beautiful piece of teak?”
“No one, Doctor Sir!” they thundered.
He folded his arms.
Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Blackwell had been leading his men on a secret mission through the Cardamom Mountains when he detected movement at two o’clock. Signaling his unit to lower they crawled across the forest floor in the formation of a gigantic arthropod.
One high-pitched whistle followed by three, rapid shrills ordered immobility. Rufus cautiously rose and spotted a five-inch length of twig slowly descending the Hopea pierrei tree beside him. When the insect dropped he bent to retrieve it.
A burst of gunfire followed his arc of motion.
After accounting for the safety of his men he returned to where the Walkingstick once more began its ascent.
“Punctilious, little bastard.”
The creature climbed aboard his rifle.
Eight months later he shipped its remains home to the States where his father had them preserved and mounted.
When asked by students to recount the story he’d conclude with theorization regarding insectile perception. Backed by research he’d proven certain insect species capable of predetermining trajectory through the use of unique ocular adaptations.
His paper entitled Lepidoptera Vision earned him the 2012 Nan-Yao Su Award for Innovation and Creativity in Entomology from the Entomological Society of America. Having recently applauded his work, several renowned entomologists presently conducted research based on his hypotheses.
“Insects comprehend the laws of physics better than humans,” he taught, “largely due to their capacity for wide angle vision. They don’t perceive the world with the aid a single lens. An ordinary dragonfly has 30,000 lens-like structures or ommatidea with which to preview concurrent arcs of motion. Capable of calculating infinite probabilities from infinitesimal points, their compound eyes present a three hundred sixty degree mosaic of the world.
Before those guns fired the Walkingstick not only concluded a projectile was headed its way, but had mathematically deduced the trajectory allowing for the variables of parallel motion. Go ahead and debate whether it intended to save my life. The fact remains, I profited from a direct response to its downward thrust.
The properties of motion aren’t simply happenstance, people. The sooner you get that through your heads the sooner you’ll see.”
The lowermost level of the northern Andes witnessed sunlight through subtle variations of shade. The thick, protective overstory acted as a solar panel for transforming energy into the sustenance required by an abundance of life.
Analogous to the earth’s lungs, the emergent trees played a crucial role in planetary health by providing approximately forty percent of the earth’s oxygen. The branches within the closely packed canopy came to within a hair’s breadth. Many theories existed for their failure to contact. Yet for all its mystery nature flaunted the solution beneath a cover of simplicity. The predominant theme of chaos camouflaged an underlying note of order, safeguarding sufficient space for evolutionary growth.
A giant puffball mushroom—-the only one of its kind in existence--belched a cloud of brown spores through its central pore. Some of the statismospores found immediate transport on the wings of a macaw. Others landed on nearby plants and animals. Proportionate with the biosphere’s aerodynamics, the slightest breeze translated into movement for billions of immotile beings. Aided by the impetus of stress from logging machinery and smoke, the startled rainforest burst into a frenzy of commotion.
A Blue Morpho butterfly caught wind of the fungal eruption. Metallic, blue sparks radiated from its iridescent wings, reflecting the highly charged stressors resulting from a miniscule sporiferous emission. Perched upon a liana vine, the rhabdomes of its eyes absorbed fragmentary impulses accompanying the verve. These were conveyed as synoptic transmissions along the optic nerve to its brain. The final depiction caused its antennae to quiver.
The furor created an updraft lifting the Morpho off its vine. It soared ahead of the fungal invasion emitting a high frequency signal reserved for dire circumstance.
Sixty-seconds of prolepsis exploded at the southern edge of the Black Hills, June 13, 2014, 11:11 p.m. when the butterfly amassment collided with cause and effect. The rearward thrust of a mighty macroburst unleashed from Harney’s Peak coincided with the disruption along the space-time continuum, grinding earth’s rotation to a halt. The planet tilted off its axis. The fourth dimension was drawn into the vortex of an intense gravitational field slowing the passage of time.
The domino effect lowered its boom at the foot of the Black Hills where ponderosa pines bent before an onslaught of wind. Vegetation lay pressed beneath the invisible weight of a gigantic, empyreal footprint descending from the summit. The downburst swept over miles of smooth, red rock and abrasive limestone before stopping on the outskirts of Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Atop a rise near Wind Cave National Park loomed the shadow of a home uninhabited for years. Its darkened windows surveyed the surroundings while aged silver maples stood in the grip of inertia. The vacuous moment awaited their arrival with breathless expectation.
Behind the Blue Morpho assembled a universal convergence of the order Lepidoptera. With a magnanimous view on the art of socialization, the linguistic army representative of Insecta conveyed the winds of change.
After aligning with the equator they divided into five groups assigned to each of the world’s oceans. A special contingent broke from the North American shores and headed for Wind Cave National Park.
Rufus gulped the dregs from his favorite mug engraved with the words “BUG OFF”, a gift from his first students. He was headed for lecture when he bumped into Bob Thomas, physics professor.
“Glad I found you,” Bob remarked. “What do you make of it?”
“Make of what?”
“Multiple butterfly species have converged along the coastal regions forming a barrier between land and water.”
“There has never been a migration of this magnitude.”
“They’ve only gathered along the coastal regions?”
“You know the old Tomlinson place on Route 385?”
“A swarm has covered the house.”
“Just one house?”
“I wonder why.”
“The Entomological Society is looking into the matter. Mary Turner mentioned your name on television.”
“I’ve had my cell phone off.”
“Maybe you’d better check messages.”
“Want to head out there with me and have a look?”
“I’ll meet you at your car in fifteen minutes.”
After trading information with his students he dismissed them with instructions to report back regarding any theories they might formulate.
Rufus listened to messages while Bob drove. Among the calls were several from international colleagues seeking advice and expertise. He responded to some and initiated a few of his own before arriving at their destination.
As they headed up the drive Rufus felt relieved to see the local authorities had established a perimeter between the spectators and butterflies. The home lay beneath a swarm unlike any he’d ever seen. He stared dumbfounded when the entire winged assemblage shifted, displaying a message by design. Their collaboration was a definite attempt at communication. Certain their presence implied urgency he shouldered his way forward.
The insect activity escalated at his approach. Their rapid transformations depicted interchanging illustrations through the application of pattern and color. Some of the butterflies even displayed their individual markings for the purpose of punctuation. Rufus moved closer.
“Maybe we can decipher their semiotics using standardized methods in conjunction with radar. Just because we can’t hear them doesn’t mean there isn’t sound.”
His incessant muttering drew glances.
Without warning a group of butterflies disengaged from the house and enveloped him. Believing him in danger the crowd rushed forward.
“Stay back!” he countermanded.
Eighty-year-old Annie Willow Tree sat surrounded by many plants unbeknownst to modern medicine. The last in a long line of Lakota descendants, her knowledge of their use dated to a time before the first settlers. The title shaman had been conferred at the age of seventeen.
A Monarch landed on her hand.
It pinched her skin then brushed a series of strokes with its wings before flying off.
She got up and shuffled to the edge of the porch. Using her cane she drew the cardinal points in the earth then traced a circle around the lines. She spit in the center, covered her saliva with dirt and went inside the cabin for her shawl.
Rufus became attuned to the strikes applied by many, tiny legs. Unable to see, he surrendered to perception. The tickling focused his brain on the electrical impulses transmitted via his nerves. His auditory system discerned the silent signals drummed on his flesh and interpreted them as sound, astounding him with the ability to translate impression into hearing. His senses presented his brain with a means of decipherability.
The crowd droned oblivious of the similarities between their vocal pulsations and the slight percussions played upon Rufus. When the butterflies departed several onlookers ran to his side.
“Looks like they attacked.”
“No,” Rufus differed. “They were communicating.”
“Can I have your attention, please?” called an officer through a bullhorn. “I’ve been ordered to clear the premises.”
“Why do we have to leave?”
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“We’ve every right to be here,” came a litany of protests.
“You’re on private property and this has become official government business,” the officer answered. “You can gather anywhere else except on these premises.”
“Where are we supposed to park?”
“You can park on my land.” They cleared a path for Annie. “My home lies beyond those trees.”
Thanked her they hurried to their cars. A slow parade formed in the direction of her home.
“Annie Willow Tree.” She took his hand. “They spoke with you.”
“A bad wind.”
“A very bad wind,” he agreed.
The Republic of Panama broadcast the following communiqué:
“The people of Panama have been besieged by a microscopic organism of unknown origin. Our agricultural crops have been decimated by a parasitic blight, transmitted to domestic livestock and wildlife through ingestion of infected vegetation. Approximately one-third of our livestock has perished in addition to untold numbers of wildlife species. Hundreds of Panamanians have fallen gravely ill from the consumption of contaminated plants and animals.
Although it would seem the main source of transmission is ingestion, we are presently unable to say for certain whether the organism is capable of mutation. The disease is spreading rapidly making it increasingly difficult for us to pinpoint the source of origin.
As a matter of precaution we have secured our ports in the hope of containing the outbreak. All personal and commercial travel has been suspended except for airdrops of food and medical supplies.
We beseech the scientific, medical, and military assistance of any nation willing to cross our borders through the proper authorities at a port of entry in the Gulf of Panama. Our Director for the Ministry of Health is stationed at a medical facility in Las Tablas, located a few kilometers inland from the Gulf.
However, we must forewarn of the dangers involved upon entering our borders. It is advisable to take the necessary precautions relative to encountering an epidemic.”
Other Central American governments relayed the transmission to the president of Mexico who attempted calling the president of the United States. The White House lines were already overloaded with calls from various heads of state reporting manifestations similar to the Panamanian incursion.
The butterflies located along the coastal region at the southern tip of Panama withdrew inland to the city of San Jose, Costa Rica. Joined by their counterparts lining the Caribbean Sea they repositioned themselves against the invader.
With the devastating reports coming out of Panama, Rufus received a call from the university offering assistance. After giving them a list of supplies he placed a call to his friend, Robert Johnson, a radar specialist conducting research on nocturnal clear-air echoes in the Florida Everglades. A staff member took the message and promised to locate him. He was about to speak with the officer in charge when his cell phone rang.
“May I speak with Doctor Blackwell?”
“This is Andrew Falsgraff, Secretary of Defense. I’m calling on behalf of the president.”
“How may I help?”
“You’ve heard about the situation in Panama?”
“Similar instances are being reported globally.”
“I’ve gathered as much judging by the universal butterfly phenomenon.”
“You believe the two events are connected?”
“How could you believe otherwise?”
“I’m not an entomologist.”
“And I’m not a politician. Despite our differences we should be able to connect the appearance of two buds on the same branch as being interrelated.”
“The migratory patterns of Lepidoptera don’t typically allow for simultaneous convergence. For this many species to gather at once suggests the involvement an aberrant catalyst, some anomaly of nature manufactured to alter their behavior. Such a thing might result from a shift in chronobiology.”
“You think the appearance of the organism caused the butterflies to migrate?”
“The precursory appearance of the butterflies has everything to do with cycles and nothing to do with patterns. To put it bluntly, nature may be recycling.”
“What the hell causes something like that?”
“An emotional upheaval.”
“Come on!” he snorted.
“In my professional opinion these insects are confronting the organism because their bug brains tell them Mother Nature has decided to abort her offspring. Are you aware of the butterfly detachment in South Dakota?”
“Covering the home in Hot Springs?”
“I’m certain this group has assembled to communicate information regarding the organism.”
“What do you suggest?”
“An attempt to decipher their linguistics. We’ll employ both known methods of determining their symbology, as well as the use of radar to detect possible auditory transmissions.”
“We’re desperate for answers,” admitted the Secretary. “We’ve dispatched a team to Panama for the purpose of identifying the organism. I’ve called to offer you assistance.”
“The university has my supplies en route. There is something...”
“I require the assistance of an associate, Robert Johnson.”
“I’m familiar with his work.”
“He’s at a research facility in Florida.”
“I can have him on a plane by this afternoon.”
“Could you also secure permission for us to setup a research station on this property?”
“I’ll see to it the local government complies with your requests. Call this number if there’s anything else. My staff will get in touch with me immediately. I’ll also be checking in to keep the president appraised of your progress.”
“You know where to reach me.”
“The president appreciates your efforts, Dr. Blackwell. Our goal is to keep the organism from reaching these shores and to assist those suffering the consequences of its foothold.”
Rufus informed the officer in charge he’d acquired permission from the federal government to remain on the property.
“We’ve been advised to assist you in any way possible,” the officer replied. Fast, Rufus thought, glancing around.
“I’ll give you a list of names requiring access to and from the property--beginning with her,” he pointed to Annie.
“No need,” the officer replied. “She owns the place.”
“Inherited the property about forty years ago after her father passed away.” Seeing his puzzled expression, the officer added, “Alfred Tomlinson?” Rufus shook his head. “Annie’s a half-breed. Her father was Caucasian, one of the richest men in the country. Ever hear of Tom-Pharm?”
“Founded by her father. Herbal pharmaceutics.”
Rufus suddenly made the connection. Alfred Tomlinson, a world-renowned biologist, had discovered and named dozens of rainforest plants during his lifetime.
“She knows a lot,” the officer remarked. “Might not hurt to ask her.”
“I intend to.”
The president of Mexico received information detailing the devastation. The fungus caused plants to blacken and wither at an alarming rate. Animals found grazing on the infected vegetation perished within minutes from hemorrhage. Thousands were dying despite public warnings to avoid eating anything unpackaged prior to the invasion.
He placed a desperate call to the president of the United States who assured him the best scientific minds worked on a solution to the crisis. His counterpart promised to dispatch aid to the Mexican people.
Alone in the Oval Office, the president of the United States wondered when the world’s food supply would become entirely contaminated. In less than twenty-four hours the organism had decimated twenty percent of the world’s vegetation and animals in addition to claiming thousands of human lives.
Rufus’ research facility consisted of two-dozen military command post tents supplied by Secretary Falsgraff who’d sent army personnel to setup a base of operations.
“We’re at your disposal, Doctor Blackwell,” said the commanding officer. “I’ve orders from the Secretary to oversee your needs.”
“Thanks, Major, but I’ve everything I require.”
“I’m available in case the situation changes.”
Rufus thanked him.
He and Annie were in one of the tents unpacking boxes when he heard Robert’s voice. Stepping out he saw his friend busy directing army personnel unloading his equipment from a truck.
“Yo, bro!” Robert called in his direction.
“Still trying to convince me you’re African-American?”
“Like my hero.”
They shook hands.
Rufus didn’t doubt his sincerity. He’d learned a great deal about Robert since befriending him eight years ago at an entomology seminar. A master at detecting electromagnetic waves, Robert afforded their only hope of determining the frequency band most being likely employed by the insects. Rufus recalled seeing him once even coax a signal from a rock. If there were a chance the insects used wave propagation as a means of communication, Robert would unearth it.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology reported a change in the behavioral pattern of the pacific coast butterflies. Since erecting their wall the butterflies had risen and lowered in shifts affording members of the swarm an opportunity for rest. They recently noted a modification to this pattern with the insertion of additional steps.
Now when the rested shift arose each butterfly returned to its position transporting grains of sand. Other members of the swarm retrieved the granules, moved them offshore to a region densely populated by kelp and deposited them into the water. Similar instances were being reported elsewhere.
Robert finished programming his high and low antennae to acquire reflections from smaller targets while separating actual targets from background interference. The use of narrow azimuth beam width improved resolution between contiguous targets and reduced environmental clutter. His state of the art equipment (to which he owned several patents) was used by the military.
He went to join Rufus beside the campfire.
“Anything to eat?” he asked.
“All kinds of delicacies from canned goods to potato chips. Inside the first tent.”
“My kind of buffet. What’s she doing?”
He jerked a thumb at Annie who was scattering the contents of her pouch before the house. Rufus thought her chant a soothing mix of twilight sounds and lullaby.
“Why don’t you ask?” he yawned.
Spirituality and mysticism were anathema to Robert.
Rufus watched him stride toward Annie and the butterflies, neither of which seemed to notice. Standing awkwardly to one side he’d made himself an unwitting participant to her ritual. Despite his mounting impatience he knew he shouldn’t intrude. At least he had enough sense to avoid getting his ears boxed, Rufus thought.
When Annie ceased her chant, Robert leapt through the gap provided by her silence.
“I’m curious,” he began, “is this a tribal ritual designed to invoke the assistance of the spirit world?”
Rufus knew he didn’t intend to imply derision. His approach to questioning metaphysical pundits resulted from an overabundance of private funding. Without requiring the skills of a successful mendicant he’d abandoned etiquette amid his quest for knowledge. Rufus wondered how Annie’s wisdom would prevail in the face of such audacity.
“Magic dust ground from the buffalo skull and eagle talon falls to the earth and awakens many spirits who carry the voice of the wind to our ears.”
She pulled the drawstrings on the pouch and straightened. Despite the lengthening darkness Robert read an element of pity in her eyes.
“It’s homemade fertilizer. I feed it to the flowers twice a week.”
Robert shook his head and went in search of food.
Later by the fire they discussed the implications of the altered pacific coast activity.
“Do the butterflies want us to protect the kelp because the fungus is a threat to marine life, or because the kelp’s crucial to resolving our terrestrial problem?” Rufus queried.
“Too bad we can’t just ask,” Robert laughed.
“Have you tried?” Annie put in softly.
Robert got up mumbling about having to check on his equipment.
“He’s a scientist,” Rufus apologized once he’d gone.
“One cannot see the breath of a tree by staring through the pores in its leaves.”
Rufus nodded. He’d been guilty of the same.
“He’s trying to hear their words while I’m struggling to see them. Look at this,” he moved closer. “My students have been drawing the different patterns represented each time the butterflies shift position. I’m certain the motifs represent some sort of cipher. Once we’ve established a key we’ll try comparison with known hieroglyphs and coded languages used throughout history. Symbolism has always played an important role in communication.”
Annie took a drawing and leaned toward the flames where assorted dots and dashes leapt upon the page. She handed the paper back to Rufus.
“What did you hear when you were covered with butterflies?”
“Nothing. Well,” he tried recalling. Annie watched him closely. “It was nothing.”
“What was nothing?”
“I could almost hear their touch--like an innate form of sound.”
“Butterflies don’t draw,” she tapped the papers. “They touch and feel.”
“The unseeing have great inner sight.”
“You’re a genius,” he hugged her. “I’ll find a Braille expert and have them here as soon as possible. Do you have any thoughts on the kelp?”
Rufus went to use his cell, stopping along the way to awaken his students. After relating Annie’s suggestion he instructed them to modify the drawings into Braille-like configurations.
Roused by his enthusiasm they arranged the patterns into rectangles comprised of two columns of three dots each, with each cell made up of secnncdot positions. They then closed their eyes excited by the prospect of “night writing” (a form of lightless communication developed by Charles Barbier for Napoleon’s soldiers prior to Louis Braille’s later adaptation). Despite a lack of textual comprehension they strung together words uniting two, disparate worlds.
Robert’s head rested atop the metal receiver wrapped in his embrace. He dreamed of winged vocalists humming the fuzzy lyrics to a familiar song. When he shifted and banged his head he bolted upright, eyes wide.
Emitting from the receiver were two separate but distinct transmissions. In the foreground was the song Stars to Share by the musician Samite. The hi-fidelity audio transmission faded in and out, but whenever it surged his equipment displayed a background accompaniment. A multitude of low-fidelity intonations distinguishable as vocalizations accompanied the song. The frequency modulation was faint.
He fine-tuned his equipment to determine the bandwidth and identified the range of audio frequency. Separating the radio transmission from the electromagnetic signal hijacking its band he isolated the wavelength and identified its source.
The president of the United States took to the airwaves to address a desperate world.
“My fellow Americans and citizens of the world, with tremendous angst I must announce the horrific news befalling humanity. Hundreds of thousands have perished with thousands more dying every day.
America remains the only stronghold against the invader and although we’re working tirelessly to overcome this planetary menace, we should prepare in the event of failure.
Without wishing to provide a false sense of assurance I long to offer a glimmer of hope. Scientists in the state of South Dakota hope to establish communication with the butterflies, which we believe hold the solution to defeating the enemy. Should news of their progress prove crucial to our survival I’ll pass the information on posthaste.
May God bless America and all of humanity as we continue caring for one another amid this crisis.”
In a last attempt at perseverance the world’s butterflies erected a protective enclosure around the United States. Wound into a tapestry of impermeability, the solidarity enacted by Insecta lent credence to the cause for unanimity. A steady wind undulated from their wings imparting its breath between the cold, blue lips of a languishing world.
Rufus opened his eyes when Robert entered the tent jabbering about the FCC’s ineptitude for monitoring piracy. He’d been hoping for an hour’s shuteye.
“Thank goodness for their lack of commitment to surveillance,” Robert plopped onto a cot.
“What are you talking about?”
“Our little friends have not only managed to fly under the radar, they’ve surreptitiously discovered a means of connecting with detection.”
Rufus sat up.
“They’ve made contact?”
“Probably at the outset. We had to find the right channel.”
“What do you mean?”
“I found them on the freakin FM band.”
“Singing along with Samite. Funny thing, Ruf, those butterflies know more languages than I ever knew existed.”
“Some of the conversation isn’t of this world.”
“I’m receiving responses from beyond the planet.”
“Signals originating from deep space.”
“If I could speak Martian I might be able to say, but since I don’t we’ll have to settle for English, French, Italian...”
“Start with English.”
“Some of the words are being lost in the translation. They probably speak butterfly better than they do English.”
He headed for the door.
“I’m right behind you.”
Before he could whisper her name Annie opened the tent flap.
“Robert made contact with the butterflies.”
Snatching her shawl she followed Rufus to the bearded, young man with shoulder-length hair. Although he wore a headset he listened with the rapt attention of a shaman. She laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and smiled with a newfound understanding for the ubiquitous nature of spirit.
When all three were seated Robert removed his headset and switched to speaker. Rufus and Annie heard many discordant sounds with an occasional voice of distinction. At those times Robert wrote on his notepad.
“You need to be omniscient with so many speaking at once,” Rufus interjected.
“I’m recording everything, next best thing,” Robert said. “Playback at a slower speed should supply what I’ve missed.”
Rufus glanced at the notepad. The butterflies’ continual reference to kelp signaled its degree of importance. Sulfur ran a close second. He noted Annie also scrutinizing the wordlist.
“Do you see something?” he asked.
“What are these words?”
“I think they may have meaning based on criteria in relationship to human inference such as emotion, gesture, expression,” Robert explained. “Most of the words lack an English translation. I can detect changes in inflection with certain words, more than likely based on my own interpretation of emotion. That particular word sounded like “shôtun” or “shotgun”, but I doubt they’re inciting us to shoot the bastards. It could be something altogether different.”
“Do you recognize it?” Rufus asked Annie.
“I need my journal.”
“Wait. I’ll get you a ride.”
Just then a car pulled up to the house. Annie passed without stopping as a young woman got out and waited for the driver. Rufus knew she’d be his Braille expert and went to introduce himself. He asked the driver to see if he could convince Annie of accepting a ride.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he said climbing back into the car.
“I’m sorry,” Rufus told the woman. “You must be Lizzie Fulton. I’m Rufus Blackwell.”
“I’ve heard of you Dr. Blackwell. Your work’s widely respected. Unconventional methods of communication offer hope to those whose means of expression lie outside the mainstream.”
“Were you able to review my notes?”
“During the plane ride.”
“I’d like to introduce you to a colleague,” he took her elbow. “He’s established audio communication with the butterflies. I’m hoping the two of you can piece together their message.”
After introducing her to Robert he escorted her to where his students worked transposing the butterfly patterns into Braille. His cell phone rang amid the introductions. Excusing himself he stepped outside.
“This is President Jordan.”
“Can you give me something hopeful?”
“It’s too early, sir.”
“I’ll take whatever you have.”
“The organism breached the butterfly barrier along the Florida coast. We’ve quarantined the state...the butterflies have retreated inward.”
The note of finality rendered an opinion regarding their chance of success.
“I believe we’re close, maybe a matter of hours.”
Strange, Rufus thought, how human astonishment conveyed across interminable miles retained its comprehensibility yet everyday another world stood on the threshold of misunderstanding.
“Did you ever think you’d live to see the day?” the president asked.
“I haven’t yet.”
“But you will.”
“Mr. President, I’ve been to Vietnam and back.”
“I can tell you one thing.”
Rufus smiled at the Marine Corps battle cry thundering in his ear. He recognized the spiritual element akin to the heart of a soldier.
“Ooh-rah!” he responded.
“That’s all I need to know. Carry on.”
Annie studied the worn, dog-eared pages of her father’s journal by candlelight. The intricately woven collection of medical fact and memory told a tale of strength and courage.
The word “shôtun” had opened a floodgate.
She’d been about eight when she accompanied him to the Amazon. His words survived the passage of years.
“Annie,” he whispered endearingly, “take what you’ve been given and it show it unto the world like a beacon in the night.”
Her childish mind had often condensed his wisdom into simple phrases, in this instance “shôtun” for “show it unto the world”.
Scouring the pages she found what she wanted. The native Amazonian plant he’d named Akilba proliferated in one of the greenhouses behind her home. A drop of nectar extracted from its velvety, red flowers contained enough antigenic properties to save the world. She raised the photo for closer inspection before blowing out the candle.
Lizzie arranged then rearranged the Braille pieces until she began making sense of some words. Rufus watched enthralled while Robert sat beside her with his notepad. Working as a team they strung together sentence fragments, occasionally listening to the butterfly recording for clarification.
“It’s a scientific formula for fungicide,” Rufus told them. “I can’t identify the ingredient you’ve written as “shôtun”, Robert. Could it be something else?”
“That’s the word Annie recognized,” he recalled.
“Annie,” Rufus said with alarm.
Gathering his students he sent some to search for her by car while others accompanied him on foot.
The butterfly enclosure surrounding the United States diminished hourly in circumference with thousands succumbing to starvation. Strewn beside the lesser and greater creatures of the earth, their bodies disintegrated without regard for evolutionary rank.
Rufus and his students discovered Annie had collapsed along a trail leading to her father’s property. They phoned for help. Although he urged her to rest she insisted on an update.
“Robert and Lizzie haven’t been able to determine a translation for the word “shôtun”. I believe it’s the missing ingredient in a formula for fungicide.”
She gave him her father’s journal and a photo of the Akilba.
“The first greenhouse behind my cabin contains this plant, your missing ingredient.”
“Keep her comfortable,” he instructed his students.
After determining the exact ratio of kelp, sulfur and Akilba extract required to manufacture the fungicide, Rufus phoned President Jordan who ordered chemical plants in the United States to begin immediate production. The formula and instructions for its dispersal were passed around the world.
“Mr. President, it’s important we follow their directives.”
“I’ll stress the need to all world leaders.”
“Then we wait.”
Rufus phoned Annie who’d suffered a slight heart attack. She’d been scheduled for an angioplasty the following morning.
“The fungicide should be ready within the hour,” he told her.
“It will work.”
“So will your procedure. I’ll check on you later.”
Rufus motioned the transport vehicles to an open area behind the house where they positioned themselves circularly. Stationed in the center were military technicians outfitted in protective gear. Identical scenes were enacted worldwide. General Wendt of the United States Marine Corps was charged with coordinating global communications.
“Ready!” the general called to Robert who began transmitting the signal supplied by the butterflies.
Minutes passed without a sound when all at once a low, rumbling reached their ears. The ensuing vibrations assaulted their senses while the buzzing intensified. Rufus felt the ground tremble at the same time the wind struck his face. The general’s beret abruptly disappeared.
The butterflies vacated the house in a swarm around the technicians signaling those present to position their army-issue masks. General Wendt soothed his technicians by wireless.
“Wait for my command.”
An immense, black cloud appeared obliterating sun and sky while the earth’s pollinators lowered in answer to the summons.
“Commence!” the general ordered.
A universal burst of white signaled compliance with his command.
Rufus watched the creatures depart to inoculate the earth’s vegetation against its pathogenic invader, prompting him to recall the Walkingstick.
“We should set our sights on imitating their flight pattern,” he pulled off his mask.
General Wendt saluted.
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