Curran Folkers
Jennie Suddick: Nothing of Harm to Dread

I

A tinny, hollow voice scrapes its way out of a battered speaker – a pre-recorded message. The sputtering sparks of the bruised recording overpower the muffled voices interred within.

Incredibly brief, but so telling. So typical.

“Several sections of the following recording have been damaged and are thus unlistenable. Others have been edited out for legal reasons.”

Of course.

It sounds as though the people speaking were having a conversation in a pit of constantly and rapidly shifting gravel. Only vague snippets of dialogue are audible. An angry single tone occasionally breaks through the wall of sound, as though to lend punctuation. These conveniently indicate where editing has taken place.

Four scientists – two women, two men, though you might not know them to be scientists just by looking at them – are hunched around a large boardroom table in a room with no windows; their heads tilted towards the table’s face where the tape recorder lies. They contort their faces in concentration, as though this will somehow improve their hearing of the spectacularly damaged transmission. The only light comes from the various lamps and flashlights, held by the scientists or affixed to their persons. They glance back and forth between each other in the hope that at least one of them maybe understands what is being said.

“…igh… ick… eal the… reco!… arm… make it… ga… BEEP… ach…,” and so forth.

Somehow, above the noise of the tape hiss, footsteps can be heard in the adjacent hallway, growing progressively sharper and louder. One of the conspirators, a tall woman with large glasses, hastens to press the ‘stop’ button before whoever it is that is gliding down the corridor hears anything.

No one should be here – not anywhere near here – not the scientists, and certainly not this anonymous threat. The woman looks up at her colleagues, her finger still on the machine, and, cocking her eyebrow leads their eyes to the doorway. This doorway is at the very end of an immensely long hallway – as soon as one crosses a certain point in the corridor, there cannot be any reason to proceed other than to enter this room.

II

Interview with Dr. Veert Alanspo, transcribed from the September 30 ____ broadcast of CPSB News @ Night

VA: I mean – it is still entirely unclear as to how the infestation exactly came to be . . . or, rather, the infestation happened as any infestation presumably would: the creatures found a stable food supply where there were no natural predators and there was plenty of space for them to breed. Given that insects have extremely short gestation periods that obviously correspond proportionally to their short life span, the life cycle of your average caterpillar is in a constant state of acceleration. Unchecked populations can grow exponentially in very short periods of time. So, in that sense, no, it is actually very clear as to how the infestation occurred.

The real question we need to be asking ourselves is how did the creatures – the Patterned Tent Caterpillars – find their way here in particular, when no sightings or evidence of their presence had ever been reported anywhere near the region. In fact, until recently there is precious little evidence that these things even existed at all. So, where they came from is the real mystery we need to be looking into.

These caterpillars — and we’re calling them caterpillars more for convenience than anything, as caterpillars as we know them are essentially the closest thing that we have to compare these things to — these caterpillars are a very distinct problem not just for the university, but for the city, for the country. This is a serious public safety issue, one that will have to be dealt with as soon as possible. The biggest problem from a scientific perspective is of course that no one has actually seen one yet. All we have to go on, currently, is the various web formations that have cropped up in and around the university, but –

CNBS: So how do you know this isn’t a hoax?

VA: How do I know this isn’t a hoax? Well, to put it as bluntly as possible, you simply cannot buy the stuff that these web formations are made of in craft stores. There’s nothing else like it.

CNBS: I seem to recall hearing something about the incredible tensile strength that the – of the – that the webbing has. Can you comment a little about that?

VA: Well, you’ve heard correctly, the substance possesses some truly remarkable traits, one of which is its almost otherworldly tensile strength. You’ve heard, I presume, of various militaries and arms manufacturers experimenting with spider silk as a means of manufacturing bullet-proof materials? This substance – I don’t know if I would call it silk, necessarily – is even stronger. The only thing stopping this material being altogether confiscated by – I can only assume – weapons manufacturers is it is also highly corrosive to human skin. This is probably why university-affiliated biologists such as myself have been kept in the loop on this – they cannot actually remove it from the university grounds without causing serious damage. As a result, however, we have only been able to study it in extremely small quantities. Anything more than a few milligrams is enough to … in some cases it’s burned clear through the walls of university facilities. In addition, the only way that we know of to destroy the substance is to burn it and everything attached to it – completely – which is exactly why it hasn’t been removed from the university grounds. Basically the call has yet to be made whether we keep running tests or burn the whole university down.

III

Excerpt from Flipsburne Pinemaker’s book, Corrosive Truth: Veert Alanspo and the Unearthing of a Nightmare:

After the television appearance in which Dr. Alanspo seemed to suggest that the university might have to be destroyed, or “burned to the ground,” as she put it, the university’s biologists – particularly Alanspo – were barred from the campus and scientists under the employ of the federal government took up the investigation. At this point, however, there were few people who had not been barred from the campus. Alanspo and her colleagues were, as they later stated, surprised that they had been allowed anywhere near the site from the beginning due to the extremely sensational nature of the Tent Caterpillar phenomenon. The way they viewed the situation, it was only a matter of time before the bureaucracy would muscle them out.

Dr. Alanspo, however, continued to grant interviews with the press, much to the chagrin of the Powers That Be, who were at this point being infamously tight-lipped – presumably in the name of not drumming up a publicity nightmare. Dr. Alanspo’s frequent claims that the infestation would spread much faster than any group of scientists could produce a solution not involving the destruction of the entire caterpillar population were generally met with vicious denouncements from a government that, at that point, was facing an uphill battle for re-election. Numerous media blasts and press releases were sent out assuring the public that the infestation had been contained, and that there was no need to exterminate the caterpillars. Alanspo countered by stating that the government was trying to keep the creatures alive for military purposes despite the obvious threat to public safety.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alanspo’s personal life suffered immensely. Branded as a fear-monger, Alanspo was harangued by an endless stream of personal attacks in the form of emails, letters, and – to her great surprise – protestors outside of her downtown condominium. At one point, she was violently accosted by a still-unidentified man while walking Mavnyp [then seven-years old] to school. Fortunately, neither Alanspo, nor her son, were injured.

Unable to work and only barely able to leave her own home, Dr. Alanspo made a series of phone calls one afternoon which would set in motion the events that would eventually land the previously soft-spoken biologist and her colleagues directly in the belly of the beast – and, following that, prison. (31)

IV

Excerpt from “Alanspo’s Message Gains Followers: Coalition of Biologists Formed in Solidarity,” Happening Weekly, February 16 _____

“They seem quite hell-bent on pretending that nothing’s happening up there, when in reality the university has been shut down for weeks. Students can’t go to classes; people can’t go to work. Universities employ a lot of people, you know. Are these people still getting paid? Probably not,” says Dr. Herbert Pelgam, noting the economic detriments of the federal government’s decision to seal off the campus. “Furthermore, while we simply don’t know anything about what those scientists are doing, from the research we conducted before being banished from our own laboratories, things were turning up fairly conclusively that there is nothing to be done to make this stuff any less toxic. Try though these people might, there is no way to harness the substance in the way they want.”

“We’re not actually suggesting that we should ‘burn the place to the ground,’” says Alanspo, “We are merely stating what everyone seems to be sidestepping around: that the campus is only so big, and this thing has to be contained eventually. Nothing is being done to keep it contained. They’re merely pretending it doesn’t exist, but we still have that big empty university just sitting there as testament to the fact that something very serious is happening.”

The ultimate goal of this alliance of like-minded biologists, says Alanspo, is to raise questions in the public that the government is ignoring the good of the citizenry in favour of goals, which the biologists consider dubious. “They seem to have no regard for the public whatsoever,” she says. “We can only speculate as to what exactly the goals of these people are, but we suspect that they have something to do with flexing the muscles of our country on the international stage. And they’re exploiting the public’s fears to do so.”

V

Transcription of a speech by Jorge Vif, Leader of the Opposition, campaigning near the site of infestation.

“In the end, the government decided it best to seal the public off from the threat of Patterned Tent Caterpillars. Just as they have sealed the public off from everything else that they do. They built this enormous concrete cocoon because they thought it easier to quarantine the problem than to actually deal with it. It would appear as though, rather than simply burning them which has been proven to be the only way to deal with these things, the government figured that it will have some use for the webbing of these creatures, even though they don’t currently have the technology to control it. This is the political equivalent of sticking a piece of gum under a table in order to save it for later. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse. They are hoping that sealing the creatures off without light will starve them to death and that all of the webbing will naturally disintegrate – or, preferably, lose its potency.

This is an incredibly ill-formed plan. Three months and $300 million it took to construct this concrete monstrosity, and it is a miracle that in that time the creatures didn’t spread to other parts of the city. This simply defies all logic – to fight a war of attrition against potentially supernatural creatures is truly insane. Do we know if they can survive without light or not? Heck, no one has even seen a Patterned Tent Caterpillar. Still. For all we know these things thrive in the dark. We need to send a clear message. We are not going to stop talking about this; we will not stop until this dome is dismantled and these monsters are destroyed for good. Universities can always be rebuilt, but when it comes to public safety, the public is either safe, or it isn’t. Right now it isn’t.

This bone-headed move – and that’s a kind way of putting it – is downright disgraceful and it is something that the citizenry surely will not abide. The question we now have to ask ourselves is whether this is enough to contain the potential catastrophe. We’ve heard that this webbing is corrosive, but who’s to say it won’t simply burn through the dome? Furthermore, how are we supposed to know if and when these things have died out? What’s the timeline like for this? That’s what I want to know. Someone’s going to have to check to see what’s going on in there. So what are they going to do? Send one guy in there in a protective suit and hope for the best? We have no idea what’s going on in there, and that could be the most dangerous thing of all. By the time we find someone to agree to go in there, it could be filled to burst with … an extremely dangerous substance. Caterpillars could flood out of the door. I cannot stress enough how serious it is that there is no way of telling what is happening inside the site. It’s downright foolish.”

VI

Memo sent from Minister of National Defence, Hudge Brork, to ministry staff, dated June 1 ____.
Accessed via Freedom of Information act:

Greetings all,

As you well know, _______________________________________ ________________________ ___________________________________________.  This I find extremely disconcerting. Nevertheless, I must say, ­­­­­­­_______________________________________ Therefore I must inform you all that Cabinet has decided to cease all funding for the maintenance of the dome. Please distribute this message. This issue will be voted on in the House Tuesday. There is simply no point in attempting anything beyond what we have already tried, thus Cabinet has deemed it pointless to continue. The dome will hold, the quarantine will stand, and everyone will be necessarily safe. ­­______________________ ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________ has been provided. No threat exists. I repeat: no threat exists.

Sincerely,

Hon. Hudge Brork, MP QC

VII

At some point, Dr. Alanspo and her colleagues, Drs. Herbert Pelgan, Steebep Gilpda and Ghez Fjeji, took it upon themselves to infiltrate the dome, in effect reclaiming their rights to the laboratory despite the obvious dangers within. Since the government, being re-elected, had decided to simply leave the dome be and hope for the best, breaking in was of little difficulty.

Although there were no windows, there were several doors into the dome – they merely blended into the walls. It was more difficult to find the right cracks in the concrete than to actually open the doors once they were located. Needless to say, the team entered with little trouble.

Imagine a city with no sky. This is what awaited them as they pried open the cement doors. No webs or enormous creatures came flying at them. The only thing that attacked their faces was a tremendous cloud of dust, which reared its ugly head, crawled up their noses, and dissipated with a few coughs. It was, to no one’s surprise, pitch black. They entered the site in the dead of night. Their flashlights proved utterly pathetic in the face of such intimidating darkness.

Contrary to the rumours, it appeared that the dome had not become a breeding ground for unspeakable evil – at least not upon first glance. Within the limited visibility that their flashlights provided, they were unable to ascertain any evidence of significant growth in the caterpillar population, or even of the webbing itself. It almost seemed as though the creatures had simply disappeared as soon as they had been sealed off. As though they had somehow vanished into the dark.

VIII

Where once tremendous hisses and pops filled the already tense space, the only sound now audible is the rhythmic echoes of a man’s dress shoes.

None of the scientists were surprised that all of the documents and recordings they found had been tampered with, or were clearly deliberately misleading. However, they had not imagined that there would be anyone beside themselves in the vast network of the sealed off university, and yet there was a figure gliding their way.

If we were to judge by the sound that the shoes are making as they connect with the tiled floor, it would not be difficult to discern that there is a certain sense of purpose to the walk of the shoes’ owner. As though it was so obvious where they would meet. The scientists have no way of knowing if this man has checked other parts of the building before coming to the conclusion that this particular boardroom was the best place to look. It would seem as though, at some point, some crucial mistake must have been made that would have made this spot so immediately obvious.

IX

Excerpt from Daily Summons article from July 19 ____ entitled “Power Out on City’s North End Leaves Thousands in the Dark”

An unexpected blackout occurred early Thursday morning at a power station located near the abandoned university, with some reports suggesting that the outage occurred within the dome itself. Hydro representatives were unable to comment. What is certain, however, is that the outage did leave residents of the city’s north end without power well into the afternoon. Order and power were restored by 3 PM. City officials are remaining tight-lipped on the details.

X

Excerpts from Flipsburne Pinemaker’s book, Corrosive Truth: Veert Alanspo and the Unearthing of a Nightmare:

. . . They saw the webbing, and then they saw the caterpillars. They saw a seething heap of creatures writhing and crawling all over each other in a pulsing mass. Feeding, breeding, endlessly. Hideous white wisps of flesh wrapping around and diving into each other. Rather than spreading about the enormous playground that the government had built for them, the caterpillars instead concentrated in a single building and multiplied and multiplied. It was never discovered exactly what they were eating. Most likely, after a certain point, their food supply ran out and they simply started to eat each other. Fortunately – for their sake – they seemed to be breeding at such an astronomical rate that their cannibalism appeared to have little effect on the growth of the population. (98)

. . . As it had transpired, unbeknownst to the public and despite the government’s claims that they had shut down all operations at the dome, there was one man under the employ of the government working inside of the site. Forty-nine-year old novelist Donyale M. Norr, was discovered inside the dome by Alanspo and her colleagues, apparently acting as caretaker to the Patterned Tent Caterpillars. To be far more accurate, Norr discovered the scientists. According to later testimony, Norr apprehended the scientists while they were hidden in a boardroom attempting to transcribe voice recordings found in what was once their laboratory.  (121)

. . . Details are scarce with regards to what exactly happened at the trial of Alanspo, Pelgam, Gilpda and Fjeji. As a result, details are scarce as to what exactly happened to the scientists in the dome, particularly as the press has been denied access to Alanspo and her colleagues in the years since her imprisonment. (145)

. . . The scientists were charged only with breaking and entering a government facility, though they received sentences much more severe than the average for such a crime. (146)

. . . There has been no formal recognition of the destruction of the Caterpillar population. The only evidence exists that suggests they were indeed exterminated is several noticeable structural flaws in the dome that appeared shortly after the power outage, an event that occurred after the scientists and Mr. Norr were said to have emerged from the site. I am speculating when I say that I believe that the scientists set fire to the Caterpillar population, either with the assistance of or against the protestations of Mr. Norr. Most likely this was accomplished with a fairly large quantity of explosives. This would account for both the power outage and the damage to the dome –consistent with an explosion or fire – and would also explain the extremely long jail sentences the scientists received. I believe that they destroyed both Caterpillars and the institution that housed them. Counter to this theory are the facts that the dome still stands, and has since been retrofit to be essentially impenetrable, and that the government to this day treats the situation as if nothing has changed. The dome remains under quarantine, although without maintenance or staff. I do believe that the insects have been destroyed, though to look at this country you would never know it. (187)