A stack of lab reports stood tall amidst many other items on Marshall’s desk. One was from Weston. It was the standard lab report minus the word urgent written on a sticky note neatly stuck to the bottom right corner. The report had been addressed to Marshall who had died two weeks prior. Weston had found a new species of insect quite by accident. The discovery was unusual as species of insects, animals, and plants were dying at exponential rates. Weston knew that Marshall would investigate such a phenomenon after consulting with Midge, the resident bug girl. Marshall had been Weston’s friend and colleague. He’d been one of the best environmental researchers on the team. He also had some knowledge in the area of entomology – he liked bugs a lot.
Weston stood paralyzed eyeballing the pinned insects that hung on the walls surrounding Marshall’s desk. Some looked like they’d take flight. From the Monarch Butterfly to the Beelike Tachinid Fly, there were perhaps a hundred insects. One particular insect, the 17-Year Cicada was carefully displayed inside a beautiful cherry wood shadow box. The pin sticking through it blended in with the the tiny hairs of brown and black. Unlike the other insects, to the right of the Cicada, a clipped newspaper article read Brood Coming. The article went on to discuss when the next Cicadas would emerge and take flight. The journalist, Ben Therin predicted the exact date and told what residents could expect. One night while working late, Marshall had shared that he and Ben had made a substantial bet on the date that the Cicadas would emerge. Ben was the journalist who first gave voice to local environmental issues that scientists in the lab had been working on.
Weston had come to admire Marshall and recalled the first day he’d met him. Marshall and Ben had been in what appeared to be a heated discussion when Weston interrupted to see where the main office was. Marshall had been rude and dismissed Weston and Ben at the same time abruptly returning to his work. At some point, the tide had turned and Weston and Marshall had become fast friends over their love of late night pizza, coffee, and research. About five years into their friendship and their research, they had been the first scientists to confirm that the Earth was dying. Weston had just taken a bite of a slice of double-pepperoni pizza with cheese stuffed crust. He hadn’t been able to eat it since. Marshall had been drinking coffee with a touch of whiskey. Over time, Marshall’s coffee had gradually transitioned into a coffee cup full of whiskey with a touch of coffee.
Weston half expected Marshall to burst in with pizza, coffee, and his whiskey knocking down the guard and yelling it was all just a joke. He’d been a great loss to the office and to the profession. Weston missed him.
Weston’s boss had reprimanded him when he’d yelled at the police officer who had come to the lab after Marshall’s suicide. It was two weeks later and Weston still felt something tickling at the back of his mind, just slightly out of reach. Paranoia? Maybe. After all, Marshall knew what was coming. He also had verbally and seemingly mentally committed to figuring out a temporary solution. The positive skeptic. He was skeptical of human nature, but positive that there were others like him striving toward answers.
“See ya later.” Weston had not realized that it was so late. The security guard was leaving. He nodded to him as he left and locked the lab door. Weston sat down, staring at the disheveled papers on Marshall’s desk. He mused at the contrast between the stacks of papers in no particular order and his own neatly organized desk and files. How could anyone work with so much mess?
Weston had been close to Marshall, but he realized that he had no idea what other projects Marshall had been working on when he died, other than the Earth project. Weston contemplated whether or not to look through Marshall’s desk. The boss had been clear that he would be the first one to look through everything. Marshall’s hesitation was momentary. He began shifting papers and reading notes. Something caught his eye. It was one of Marshall’s doodles. He would draw pictures of bugs on lab reports, a practice that neither the boss or Weston liked. This picture was nearly identical to the Cicada that hung in the shadowbox. It was spread across the left margin and looked to be painstakingly drawn down to the pin stuck through the middle of the dead Cicada. Under Marshall’s artwork were the words, “Call Midge!”
The report had details about a specimen that Marshall had examined some months ago. The report was dated about a week before his suicide and appeared to have never been officially logged in. Failing to log in reports was grounds for dismissal, and while Marshall had always been disorganized, he’d never failed to meet the requirements of the job.
Weston knew that the air in the lab was cleaner than any other, but suddenly felt his lungs tighten. Air in the lab was filtered. The company believed that clean air equaled a clear mind. Normally, Weston was inclined to agree. Perhaps his unwarranted feelings of panic could be attributed to living off campus with other lower level scientists, breathing in fairly significant levels of polluted air.
Weston’s attention returned to the report.
Evidence indicates that the specimen is unaffected by pollution levels with the equivalent of 530 AQI. This is well above the normal hazardous levels for humans. His report detailed various tests done and indicated that he believed that the 17-year Cicada in particular could survive in much higher AQI, even toxic levels for humans.
Weston read the report again. He folded the report and stuffed it in his lab pocket, looked up Midge’s number, and dialed.
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