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The Beetle Farm

By DeAnna Knippling

Jackson's beetle farm had progressed through a period of accelerated development overnight.  It wasn't the first thing I noticed when I flipped on the banks of fluorescent overhead lights.  That distinction went to the class pet, Gerry the Gerbil, who had...well, let's just say janitors aren't as hard to replace as class pets.  In fact, I didn't have time to look at the beetles at all until after class started, when Jackson refused to return to his seat. 

 should have noticed them earlier.

"Miss Jonquil, the beetles are...come look!"

I sighed, heaved myself out of the Teacher's Chair, and walked between two narrow rows of wide-eyed peon's children to the back of the room, near the sink.

"What is it, Jackson?  Did your beetles develop anarchy and wipe themselves out, like Janine's?"

"Come look," he ordered, and I glared at him until he lowered his eyes.

Then I pushed him to the side and peered downward at the flat, mesh-covered pan.  The beetles had been modified to follow two different genetic types:  ones that craved fats, sugars, and salts in unlimited quantities (modeled after the peons), and ones that craved those things, but became satiated on them quickly, and as a result ate more healthful food (the nobles).  The peons would inevitably eat all the junk food in the pan, then begin eating each other, while the nobles ate more reasonably, and lived longer.  We were studying the "political systems" that arose when different proportions of peons and nobles were combined.

Jackson's pan held only peons.  They should have eaten themselves to death by now.

Piles of corn chips, candy, and bacon had been shoved in one corner along with a few strangely destroyed or disassembled beetle corpses.  The tomato, jalapeno, and piece of lean, cooked chicken had all disappeared. 

The beetles themselves scuttled about the pan in strange patterns.  I tilted my head to the side and tried to work out what kind of political structure they had achieved, silently crossing off the anarchist/libertarian groups, the monarchical/tyrannical groups, the oligarchic/corporate groups, and even the various types of collectivism.  In any case, the end result of every one of these systems was self-destruction; they relied on humans providing them food, and, in the long run, even the nobles would eat each other when there was nothing else left.

The beetles seemed to center around a glistening lump in the center of the pan.  It was so covered with beetles that I didn't knowwhat it was.  I picked up a pencil, took off the mesh covering, and used the pencil to prod some of the beetles aside.

The creature underneath was made of glistening chitin—a super beetle, a mutated mother of a thing.  I prodded around a little more.  Her hindquarters weren't laying eggs, but perfect, tiny, eraser-sized tomatoes, which the beetles carried to the other side of the pan and hid under the corn chips.  I stirred up the junk food and saw more, a goldmine of miniature jalapenos.

They hadn't yet figured out how to replicate chicken, thank God.  Probably because it had been cooked.

"It's amazing, Miss Jonquil," Jackson said.  "I'm going to start eating tomatoes, too.  Tomatoes give you superpowers."

"Mmm-hmm," I said.  "Jackson, if it's all right with you, I'd like to take this over to the high school science teacher's lab.  He knows a lot more about genetic modification and mutation than I do.  Is that all right?"

"Oh, yes!" Jackson said.  "Can I come with you?"

"No, Jackson.  I have to go after school, when Mr. Jori isn't teaching his classes.  We all have work to do."

"Okay."

I put the mesh lid back on the pan of beetles.  Mr. Jori said that spontaneous mutations toward biologically-based new technologies were happening in classrooms daily, and that it was only  a matter of time before something really big, societal-changing big, came out of it.

He was a fool, Mr. Jori.  We were bred the way we were bred, and that was the end of it.

But he did have a really good garbage disposal, down his sink.

About the Author

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer and editor in Colorado.  Her short stories have appeared in Black Static, Crossed Genres, Penumbra, and more.  She has a twelve-year-old daughter and has more than once guiltily wished that she could flush certain projects down the toilet.  She writes middle-grade fiction under the pseudonym De Kenyon, and her website is at www.WonderlandPress.com.

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