Box Elder

Dilbert Donovan never forgave his father for naming him after a comic strip character. A glasses wearing software engineer that ran in newspapers from the latter part of the twentieth century and well into the twenty first century. It didn’t help that dear old dad continued the sick joke by making him out to look like the character. His mother shaped his short curly hair weekly with a barber’s clipper. Along with that, his dad made him wear thin round, black framed glasses, and white pressed shirts to school. This combination created enough of a resemblance to make his life in school hell.

It wasn’t Dilbert’s fault he was smart. From early on he had a knack for building things, possessed a nearly photographic memory, and was a wiz with video games and computer programming. When he wasn’t getting shoved around for having a comic strip character’s name, it was for beating the pants off one of his classmates in Honor, or Leviathan, or one of the other hot games of the day. Dilbert Donovan may be the ruler of the 3D sim world, but jock sniffer, Mike Ruder ruled the hallways of Coon Rapids Senior High. And he was going to make sure that Dilbert knew the difference between the virtual world and reality.

Alas, Dilbert thought, his sick minded father got his. His mother made him pay for forcing her to go along with naming him Dilbert. Made the lazy womanizing slob pay for taking mom’s hard earned paycheck and using it up to buy booze and hookers. Yup, his mom made that bastard pay for her making a good living, and forcing them to live like paupers.

“He came home drunk,” His mom sniffed convincingly to the officer. “Went upstairs to yell at poor Dilbert for leaving one of his mechanical robot things in his spot in the garage.

“’God damn if I am going to come home and be expected to move one of those fucking contraption that kid is always building !’ He grumbled as he marched up the stairs.” Dilbert’s mother continued the narrative, dabbing tears from her eyes.

“I heard him yelling at Dilbert.” She paused to listen to the officer’s question. “Oh no, he never hit Dilbert.” She said, which was true, the man was a pig, had a sick sense of humor, and was just another bully in Dilbert’s life, but not violent. “He just yelled at him, ‘If I find another one of those pieces of junk blocking my space in the garage I will smash it to pieces.’ I heard him say, and then he stumbled out into the hallway, paused at the top of the stairs. There is board that squeaks a certain way at the top, it creaked a couple of times. I knew he was standing there, maybe thinking of going back and doing some more yelling.” She took a sobbing breath, as though the memory renewed her pain. “I heard him take the first step.

“Then he cried out as I heard him bounce off one of the top steps, then he was silent the rest of the way down.” Another heaving sob. “He landed at the bottom of the stairs in a heap.” She finished, dropping her eyes to her hands.

“I was in the kitchen, when I heard his first screams of pain, I ran out here.” She said answering the officers probing question. “He nearly landed at my feet.” Dilbert’s mom finished and succumbed to uncontrolled sobs.

Dilbert was sure it was all for show.

His mom may have felt a little remorse, but more likely, it was guilt.

Dilbert remembered it differently. Yes, his old man came home drunk that night; his mom was in her room watching TV on an old flat panel she got at a garage sale a couple years ago. She wasn’t allowed to watch TV in the family room on dad’s high definition 3D ciniwall. “That was for man’s TV, not meant for some pussy reality show or chick flick!” His dad would rant if he caught wind of someone watching his TV, even though Dilbert’s mom paid for it.

It was true she heard her husband clomp up the stairs grumbling. And it was true that she heard him yelling for way too long at Dilbert about leaving his robotic contraptions in the garage. Where Dilbert’s memory deviated from the one his mom was narrating to the cops was exactly how his dad fell down the stairs.

When his dad finished his verbal assault, he turned and left unceremoniously from Dilbert’s room leaving the door open. A few seconds later, he saw his mom skulk by, slinking low, walking on the balls of her feet. Curious, he got up from the desk where he listened to his dad rail against his diversion, and walked to the door, placed both his hands against the door frame and peered out into the hall.

Just as the top of the stair came into view, he watched his mom uncoil with a force for which he didn’t think she was capable. His dad didn’t stumble down the stairs; it was more as if he was launched, his toes finally catching on the fourth or fifth step down. His arms pin wheeled, and then his right hand gripped the rail and the force made something in his shoulder go pop. Dilbert watched in horror, and somewhere deep down, satisfaction as his dad’s features became a combination of terror and pain. The man’s scream was as alien to Dilbert’s ears as the force of his moms powerful shove, was to his eyes.

As his dad careened of the banisters, Dilbert looked to his mom. Fury burned black in her eyes as she watched her husband of twelve years morph from a man struggling for his life to a Raggedy Ann doll. With the final thump of his now lifeless body, she turned to Dilbert and said.

“Everything will be all right now Dilbert.” She offered him a weak smile, reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.

Dilbert pulled himself from his reverie, wondering why now the vision of his dads murder came rushing to him. The nightmares ended over a decade ago.

Absently he turned from his workbench and looked out the tiny basement window to the grey autumn skies, his conscious still picking at shards of that long ago memory. Then one of those infuriating little bastards caught his attention. Dilbert’s eyes burned with hatred as he focused on the orange and black shell of an Asian Beetle angling away the window. Without taking his eyes of the pest, he reached across his neatly organized workbench and found his current method for dealing with the invasive bugs.

His hand wrapped around the grip of a unique looking gun. The grip looked small even in Dilbert’s short fingered hands. Its barrel was long and thin. A very thin clip hung below the barrel in front of the fine, unguarded trigger.

Dilbert held it up at arm’s length and focused a red dot on the body of the slowly moving beetle. Patiently he followed the beetle until it paused, and then smoothly squeezed the trigger. A plastic fléchette round silently sprung from the guns barrel and raced to its target. The fléchettes speed was astonishing for such a small unimposing weapon. Within in a blink of an eye the beetles shell gave way to the needle point of the dart, and then shredded as the brittle plastic round shattered against the plaster wall.

A satisfactory grin spread across Dilbert’s features with the destruction of the pest, then a look of contempt swept away his grin as he noticed another mark in the drywall from the fléchette and shredded beetle. A cursory scan reminded him that there were many similar marks in the walls of his workshop. His current method of waging war gave him a certain satisfaction as he watched Box Elders and Asian Beetles explode under the force of the shattering fléchettes, but the toll on his white paint was mounting. Dilbert fastidious mind didn’t much care for the mess he vacuumed up every day either.

As another Minnesota summer gave way to autumn, the onslaught of these annoying creatures was nearly driving Dilbert mad.

He dropped the fragile looking magazine from his fléchette pistol and walked to the 3D printer for more. As he did so, he reviewed the steps he has taken to keep those foul bugs out of his home. As far as he and his infrared camera could tell, he sealed every pore of this structure. He tried every treatment around the exterior doors and windows the Internet had to offer, but still they found their way into his mother’s house!

The thought of his mother’s house gave him pause. He looked to the furthest corner of the basement where a freezer sat in the shadows of an otherwise brightly lit space. Dilbert’s eyes glistened in the fluorescents’ as memories of his mother’s death flashed to forefront of his mind.

After his fathers “accident”, him and his mother’s living conditions improved quickly. Since his mother was no longer working to fund his father’s prostitutes, gambling habit, and heavy alcohol consumption, there was plenty of money. She sold the old house claiming that she could no longer live in the house her beloved husband died in, and bought a much nicer house in a better part of town.

Because it was a larger home, it required more of his mother’s free time to maintain.

Dilbert did his part by creating robots to help with the more mundane tasks. At this point, he was in his teens and his engineering and programming skills were well ahead of most formally trained adults. His robots mowed the lawn, vacuumed the floors, and sorted the laundry. Doing the laundry was his chore. But a simple robot that looked a lot like an oversized walking stick did the sorting. It folded neatly into the laundry room wall when not in use. These robots were far more sophisticated than anything commercially available. The lawn mowing robot didn’t need any wires, or a radio perimeter, it knew the yards dimensions, followed a regular schedule, and had a moisture sensor so it knew when the lawn was to wet.

However, Dilbert was never satisfied with his creations abilities or sophistication. He was always refining, tweaking, or simply rebuilding.

As the demands of his mother’s job offered her less time to take care of the house, Dilbert robots became more sophisticated and could perform several tasks. Ultimately, he built a humanoid robot whose purpose was to be the maid, the gardener, and light handyman. He even painted it so it looked as though it was wearing a traditional maid uniform. Though it was humanoid, it had the ability to snap a myriad of tools into its lower arms to meet the task at hand. These tools stored in its thighs and hips for quick change so it would not need to run to the garden shed for a hedge shears. It was clunky at first, but continued software upgrades eventually made it a self-sufficient cleaning and cooking servant.

Until his mom entered into its territory.

Dilbert had no idea how much money his mom made. That is until she announced that she had saved enough to retire the following spring. His mother planned to retire at the ripe old age of fifty-two. He was thrilled for her, she worked so hard for so many years, and now she could relax, enjoy her home, and take care of him.

Spring arrived and his mother retired.

Dilbert was off selling one of his creations when the accident happened. He walked in, called out to his mom, and received no reply. She wasn’t in the family room watching the ciniwall. He looked out the bay window to the garden, no sign of her there. When he walked into the kitchen, it was all he could do to stifle the scream that exploded surged from his throat.

His creation, the maid/gardener/cook was trying to clean up his mom. Pieces of her was scattered about the kitchen. Her blood splattered across nearly every surface. The robot kept hacking at her with machete attachment intended for clearing the thicker brush along the back fence.

Dilbert stared in horror for several moments before walking up behind the robot and deactivating it. It stopped the hacking, stood up straight and its luminous eyes went dark.

A blood red paste covered the floor around his mother. The paste gave way to a layer of flour in various thicknesses. A fine layer of flour coated most of the surfaces throughout the kitchen. Dilbert sought out and found the broken bag of flour about three meters from his mother’s body. It was obvious the bag split when it fell from the top shelf of the cabinet and exploded on the corner of the countertop.

Dilbert could only guess what actually happened after the flour bag exploded, coating everything, including his mother in the white powder. Dilbert programmed the robot to clean up all messes. It must have tried to clean the flower of his mother, maybe accidentally stabbed her. She bled and created another mess to clean up. The robot was doing what he programmed it to do. When he walked in, it was trying to remove the carcass, just as it would a dead mouse.

Unsure what to do, Dilbert panicked, wrapped his mother up in his mother’s comforter and drug her downstairs, stuffed her in the freezer and waited.

Waited for someone to notice his mom missing.

Waited for the police to show up and take him away.

He spent endless hours crying over the top of the freezer, apologizing emphatically to his mother through the steel freezer lid. Afraid to look at her mutilated face.

Dilbert never did open the freezer once he closed the lid on his mother’s bloody comforter.

After a while, reason found its way into Dilbert’s conscious mind. No one would miss his mother, except him, and he missed her terribly. They had no family. His dad’s family cut off all ties after he died. Her parents died before she ever married. As far as Dilbert knew, his mother had no friends. She never went anywhere other than to work and the occasional shopping trip.

Always alone.

Then it hit him. Her only family killed her in a cruel and brutal manner.

He slipped into a depression that took him somewhere he had never been. He sought out relief from the immense grief in the bottom of a bottle. For several weeks, he replenished his liquor supply with his mother’s debit card. As long as he was numb, the nightmares stayed at bay, the visions of his creation mutilating her body did not haunt him.

Then one day he heard a knock at the front door. It was early; he wasn’t awake enough to start drinking yet. His heart slammed into his throat when he realized what he knocking sound was. He lay on the couch, hidden from the front door, waiting for the knocking to become pounding. Waiting for the police to barge in and take him away.

How long has it been? He wondered.

The door knob rattled, his chest seized, tears blurred his vision, and his mouth went dry, the taste of fear replacing moisture.

Silence, then the faint sound of someone turning from the front door and walking down the four steps to the sidewalk.

Dilbert released the stale air from his lungs and drew in a breath of fresh cool air. He lay on the couch for a long time before getting the courage to rise up and look out the front door. The porch was empty, as was the yard, and the sidewalk that ran parallel the street out front. He pulled the door open and saw the violet piece of paper hanging from the door knob.

It was a disconnection notice from the electric company.

Oh my god, he realized. Mother isn’t paying the bills! He recognized that all services must continue. If anything is disconnected, and he needed to make an appearance, or they needed to come out to the house, they would discover his secret.

It took less than two days for Dilbert to find all of his mother’s account information, setup automatic payments, and guarantee his secret until his mother’s money ran out.

And judging by what he saw in her accounts, it would take a very long time.

Too bad the whole thing with his mother messed up his head a little bit.

The dark cloud, no it was as if spiders were crawling in his head. Occasionally causing a synapse to misfire and generate dark, psychotic thoughts, or inexplicable anger. He could feel their angry little minds affecting his thoughts, tickling his brain, invoking foreign concepts within his conscious.

“No, it will be all right! I am in control!” He found himself saying all too often. Something was niggling at his conscious as he glared at the dust covered freezer. As he looked into the gloomy shadows, he wondered if he just issued that mantra.

“It’s those Box Elders and Asian Beetles. Take care of those, and everything will be all right!” He said to his mother’s Amana tomb.

As if on cue, he turned, spotted a Box Elder, painted it with a red dot, and squeezed the trigger of his purpose built pistol. Like all the other foul tasting bugs he fired at, its body came apart in shreds as the fragile plastic fléchette exploded against the vinyl window frame.

“At least that one didn’t leave a mark in my mother’s walls.” Dilbert said aloud as he glanced over his shoulder at the dark corner of the basement. “I need a better solution.” He mumbled and returned to his work bench.

For several moments, he watched with a wary eye as a robovacuum clean up the remnants of the fléchette and the Box Elder. Satisfied its job was done he turned to his computer screen and began the process of creating a better mouse trap.

* * * * *

Dilbert rolled his little creation under the magnification screen while admiring his work on his computers monitor. It took all winter to perfect the little predator. Now, it was a lifeless, vicious looking little contrivance. For kicks, Dilbert designed the little robots physical appearance to resemble a mid-evil dragon. It was about the size of a large Box Elder bug with an elongated neck. Its head was wedged shape with a razor sharp beak for shredding annoying little home invaders. Four short stubby legs ended in claws, and its long tail, also served as a weapon. In place of the robots wings sails, Dilbert found the thinnest and lightest synthetic material he could. When they unfolded for flight, they doubled his creations size.

“What should I call you?” Dilbert asked his latest creation.

He shook his head slowly in admiration at the finished project and reflected on how tedious and frustration the project was.

Dilbert built a lot of specialized equipment that in turn built the components he needed for this project. He couldn’t not find a power source small enough to power his yet unnamed creation. So he designed his own. Micro solar panels served as his mini-dragons spine, and powered the creature without a battery. However, Dilbert wasn’t content with a weapon that only worked in the light. Most of the creature’s abdomen was an energy cell that served the dual purpose of power cell, and a capacitor that charged the fiber motors.

The fiber motors were another creation of his to make this little monster functional.

“May patent attorney is going to be a busy man.” Dilbert said to the little robot, which now sat on his workbench under an old fashioned magnifying glass.

“What should I call you?’ He said softly, every dragon he could recall clicking through his photographic memory. “Wait!” Dilbert said excitedly as an idea lodged in his mind.

“The Dragon Riders of Pern!” He said, nearly shouting. “They fought of the scourge of thread that threatened the planet!”

Dilbert looked down at the tiny motionless robot. “Pern, model one…um, Mnementh. We will color you bronze and name you Mnementh!” Pleased with himself, Dilbert picked up a stylus and noted his decision on the tablet sitting on the table next to the mini-dragon. He smiled at his creation and turned to the holographic computer display to finish the software that would control his Pern’s.

* * * * *

A single fiber optic cable connected Mnementh to the data port of his computer. Dilbert watched carefully the data displayed on the holographic screen, his fingers entering commands into the computer via the holographic keyboard and icons.

With each command, a part of Mnementh responded. It walked forward a couple of paces, its razor sharp tail slashed at the air, then cut into the apple perched next to it. Dilbert commanded it to unfold its wings. Fiber motors relaxed in Mnementh’s legs, then tensed tossing the mechanical dragon into the air. The sound of small alloy and fabric wings sweeping the air filled the room with a soft buzzing sound as it hovered three inches above the work bench.

Dilbert looked at the display to monitor power consumptions versus what was being fed to the power cell via the overhead LED lights. The solar chips were not keeping up with the consumption. Dilbert frowned, entered a couple of commands, and looked at the results. It would still allow for approximately three minutes of flight.

“Good enough in the current version.” Dilbert said aloud.

He landed the mini-dragon, ran a couple more tests, and stepped back to look over the multiple holographic displays floating around his work space.

“I think you’re ready for battle.” He finally said and tapped an icon that said upload. A green progress bar showed the progress as the robots final programming uploaded into its simple processor via the fiber link. When it reached one hundred percent Dilbert unceremoniously reached out and touched the activate icon and pulled the fiber optic cable from Mnementh.

Nothing happened; it just crouched there on the work bench. It didn’t flinch a single fiber muscle.

“Guess I should program a monitor function so I know you’re alive.” Dilbert said to his creation.

He turned to his holographic displays and keyboard and studied the Pern code to see where that function would go. As he scrolled through the code, he heard a metallic clink, then the buzz of synthetic wings. Dilbert turned to follow the buzz and watched as Mnementh flew quickly across the room towards a red and black object emerging from the molding around the basement window.

It was over in an instant. Mnementh sunk its tiny clawed feet into the Asian Beetle, which then let go of the wall. Mnementh’s wings caught their fall, with rapid slashes of its razor sharp tail, and beak it shredded the beetle. Its parts falling to the floor below as the mini-dragon eviscerated the bug.

“Well at least there are no new marks on the wall.” Dilbert commented with bemusement, as he made another note on his tablet. “Let’s see if I can get these things to consume those little bastards.” Dilbert said to the robotic vacuum as it came out and cleaned up the beetle’s remains.

Mnementh returned to the spot he launched from and resumed its lifeless pose.

* * * * *

As Dilbert admired the line of Gen 6 Pern dragons arranged in a neat row on his work bench, he reflected on the last year of successes and failures. Even though the attack of Gen one dragons didn’t mark up his moms plaster walls, the shower of insect fragments falling to the floor bothered Dilbert deeply. Gen 3 eliminated the problem by having the dragons consume the pests. He hoped to turn the consumed insects into fuel. But they were just too small to contain any kind of bioreactor. Instead, fiber motors crushed and pulverized the pests, and then the dragons flew to a pre-programmed location and dumped the waste.

Still an unpleasant process in Dilbert’s mind.

Gen 4 was almost completely organic. A lot of home study went into the creation of many of the processes to grow the tissue and many mechanisms built to make it happen. He thanked his mother for her pension and the money he made from past inventions. This project was getting expensive.

By Gen 5, the need for batteries and charging was nonexistent. They lived off what they consumed. Even the memory and processor at this point was organic. He still uploaded their programming as they emerged from the incubator mindless blanks.

This was where the failures occurred, programming.

Software version 4.6 of Gen 3 had them eating each other. There was a problem with target identification. Gen 4 flew into windows and other glass surfaces. Dilbert needed to help the domestic droid with the mess on his mirror. Little fucker left a chip in the glass.

Dilbert dismissed the idea of buying a new mirror for the thousandth time as he relived the sight of his Gen 4 dragon splatting with the combination of a metallic clink and organic squish as it flew into its own reflection at full speed.

Once again, he cast an admiring gaze over the dozen Gen 6 dragons lined up before him. Ninety-eight percent organic, smart as a whip, fast, and vicious killers. They could detect the scent of an Asian Beetle or Box Elder bug before they even emerged from their cracks.

Dilbert chuckled at another programming bug. Once he decided to go with olfactory discovery, a Gen 5 dragon bored through the drywall and killed a Box Elder before it could find the light of day. He quickly added visual confirmation into the dragons attack algorithm.

Now as the days became short and the night’s cooler, the smelly pests will be looking to winter in his walls. The forecast was for the worst season in recent memory.

Dilbert was going to be prepared.

He programmed the incubator to generate thirty Gen 6 dragons, set up the transponder to track their number and replace any lost through accidents or failures.

* * * * *

Those that forecast these kinds of things were dead on about this being the worst Box Elder/Asian Beetle infestation in years. Like any year, a few slipped into the house through their usual cracks and the Pern dragons devoured them almost instantly. Then they came in waves. At first, the sheer number of beetles coming into the house overwhelmed the dragons. They were so hell bent in getting the next target, they didn’t watch out for each other. Dilbert lost several Pern Gen 6 dragons in that first wave.

Then as the Box Elders reinforced the beetles, it was though the dragons learned to communicate. As Dilbert watch over the passing days and weeks, it looked as though thirty dragons orchestrated their attacks. During light infestations some would sit out, while others attacked, then they would swap. This puzzled Dilbert because he was certain he did not build in any method of communication. Verbally or electronically, much less the programming to do so.

Where they learning?

As the infestation of wintering pests subsided, Dilbert came home from a shopping trip and three dragons buzzed past him and out into the cool winter air. The sound of the wings faded from is ears shortly after the sight of them dwindled to a distant spot.

They were gone!

Dilbert worried over the event the rest of the evening.

Was it a chance incident?

Did something go haywire with their programming?

Did he miss the Box Elder bugs that preceded his dragons’?

Dilbert went down stairs and checked the manufacturing imprint on the remaining twenty-seven dragons. The three that “flew the cope” were older productions, but still Gen 6. There was yet to be a Gen 7.

When Dilbert stumbled down stairs in the morning, steaming cup of coffee in one hand, a tablet in the other, he was mildly surprised to see thirty dragons standing ready on his work bench. Three of them still showing the shine of fresh incubation.

“The incubator must have lost the transponder on the three that left.” Dilbert said to the dragons on the bench. “Thought they were lost, created three more.”

He checked the levels of materials that incubator used to produce his dragons, and then topped them off. The three that flew off last night was the first loss in a couple of weeks.

Dilbert then dismissed the loss of three dragons and continued his work.

Then one day, as he was heading out the door, three more of his pride and joy flew off into the morning sunrise, there tiny silhouettes disappearing into the suns orange glow, low in the horizon. His concern for the behavior returning with a heightened urgency.

Again, the missing dragons bore the oldest manufacturing date. Again, three new dragons emerged from the incubator. This time Dilbert was going to find the underlying cause of it.

He hooked one of the oldest dragons, the last of the original thirty, to his computer. For the next three days, he ran diagnostic, after diagnostic. Scoured their source code for any bugs that would cause the behavior, and the possibility of inter species communication.

After fifty hours of near sleepless work, Dilbert threw up his hands and stepped outside to get some fresh air. He heard the buzz of their wings as they came up the stair case. Before he could react, they were out the door. To Dilbert it looked as though they were flying in formation, but he dismissed it as an illusion. Again, such behavior was not in their programming.

Dilbert went right back in the house, showered, dressed and headed to the grocery store. He was going to seal up the house, and study these things until he found the underlying cause of their behavior.

Three more escaped as he came in the door with both arms laden with plastic grocery bags. Dilbert made a mental note that he would be short three dragons for the next twenty-four hours. His incubator can only generate three dragons in a twelve hour period.

Again, he topped off the material and went to work.

For over a month Dilbert switched between trying to puzzle out the dragons bizarre, possibly suicidal behavior, and perfecting his Gen 7 dragons. Half way through the second month of isolation, Dilbert decided to go through with the production of a prototype Gen 7. The materials list was different so he needed to swap out the tanks and bins.

Much to his astonishment, all the tanks were nearly empty. They used to hold enough material to generate approximately one hundred dragons!

“What the hell!” Dilbert hissed. “Why would it be generating dragons when I have been looking at thirty for almost two months?” He said louder.

He reached down, grabbed the newest looking dragon, and checked its manufacturing imprint. “You were generated yesterday!” He cried in surprise.

Lost in thought, Dilbert finished the perpetrations for generating his Gen 7 dragon, started the process, and went upstairs. He plopped into his mother’s recliner and turned on the ciniwall. Out of habit, he checked the time displayed in the lower right corner of the ciniwall display.

“News time.” He whispered and turned the channel to KSTP to see what he missed over the last forty-five days.

The tall good looking anchor, sitting next to a petite little blonde co-anchor smiled into the Dilbert’s living room, then started to speak. Their expression remaining noncommittal as they spilled out the day’s bad news.

“The infestation of un-identified insect like creature continues in the suburb of Coon Rapids.” Dilbert sat upright at the mention of his town combined with the word infestation. “Today these creatures went beyond pets and took the life of a six year old little boy.” Dilbert’s breath caught in his throat, his chest squeezed. “Authorities are unable to capture or identify one of these creatures. They seem impervious to the cold weather.”

The female anchor takes over. “Witnesses describe these attacks as orchestrated.” Dilbert’s mind flashed back to the sight of his dragons taking on the mass of pests in a unified front. “They seem to know what it takes to bring their victim down, then set about devouring as much of the victim as possible before help arrives. The little boy, who is yet to be identified, was described by witnesses as half eaten.”

Dilbert’s stomach heaved once, his hand went to his mouth, and then it heaved a second time. There was no stopping the revulsion that wanted to wrench itself from his body. He pulled himself from the recliner with one hand, headed toward the bathroom, decided it was too far, and hurled into the kitchen garbage can.

Violent heaves ripped through his body long after the contents of his stomach emptied. When he was certain his body no longer wanted to turn itself inside out, he collapse to the floor. His hair and shirt pasted to his sweaty head and torso.

As his breathing came under control, he uncurled from the fetal position and rolled onto his back.

“Oh my…what have I done?” He whispered, dropping the deities name from his plea, conceding in his swirling mind that God wanted no part of this.

“They haven’t been committing suicide.” He croaked through his aching throat. “They have been amassing an army.”

He lay there a long time, analyzing every little bit and detail he could recall. Ultimately, he couldn’t find the answers laying on his back. Shakily he rose to all fours, his arms trembling from the exertion. After a long pause, he used the counter to pull himself to his feet. Another pause to catch his breath. Then he walked unsteadily to the dispenser and pulled a tall glass of water from it. That revived him a little and he made his way downstairs.

As he reached the bottom steps, he stopped to get a look at his work bench. Not a single Gen 6 dragon remained.

“They knew I shut down production.” Dilbert said as he looked around for any sign of them. “Why did they leave?”

He heard the sound of dragon wings fluttering against something. It came from the shadowy corner of the basement that contained his mother’s freezer.

Dilbert tried to focus on the source of the sound, search it out with his eyes as he walked silently on the balls of his stocking feet. Then he saw it, the glint of light off the sharp alloy of a dragon’s tail. It was disappearing through the chipped away mortar surrounding one of the basements dungeon windows.

This Dungeon window was untouched, an original. All the others Dilbert replaced a few years ago, but eighty year old concrete still held the one over his mother’s tomb in place. Concrete so brittle and old, it was effortless for his creations to chisel and scratch their way through the lower left corner of the window. They took a little bit of the old dry rotted wood with them.

“They must have gotten hungry.” Dilbert whispered as realization hit and he backed away from the freezer that contained his mother’s long frozen body. “There mostly organic, they need sustenance to survive…fuck! Why didn’t I realize that before?”

“Now what do I do?” He asked looking at the incubator. “I didn’t build in a shutdown, or a recall command.” He looked around, and then continued his verbal processing. “Shit, I have no idea where they are. Too far from the transponder to reach them if I had a way to recall them.”

Dilbert sat on the stool in front of his work station and called up the incubators programming interface. “How did they become so intelligent?” He once again asked the empty basement.

He pulled up the programming for the Gen 7 just a few hours from emerging from the incubator. As he read through it, he occasionally ran simulations to make sure an object performed as intended. After four hours, realization dawned on him. He gave them the ability to learn and communicate. After seeing them fly into each other and stationary objects, he wanted them to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of fellow dragons.

“I gave them the ability to learn and survive.” He said aloud. “Now there lose, eating pets and children to survive.”

The incubator chimed and a Gen 7 Pern dragon emerged, a coating of slime giving off an illustrious shine. Dilbert admired it as any creator would. A slight smile curved his lips and he tilted his head to the left and right as he took in the tiny creature. It was almost twice the size of its predecessor. Dilbert did this to accommodate the larger organic processor and memory he developed. For a moment, he wondered if it was wise to upgrade considering the circumstances. This generation was completely organic. Even its talons, teeth, and razor sharp tail tip were an organic alloy. A formula he stole off the Internet…”No royalties paid.” He mused aloud.

“Should I terminate now?” He wondered verbally realizing how much of a mess he already created.

However, after several seconds it remained motionless. After about a minute Dilbert became concerned, that it was defective. It should have received its programming and activate command just before it emerged from the incubator. Just as he was about to reach down and touch it, the little dragon sprang into the air, and came to a hover about a foot from Dilbert’s nose.

Its little wings filling the air with a steady hum as it looked at Dilbert with it translucent violet eyes. He thought it had an almost quizzical expression on its face. Then it cheeped, the tone so pleading Dilbert responded to the plea immediately. He reached to a specimen container, grabbed a couple of Asian Beetles from it, and tossed them into the air. The beetles took flight and the Gen 7 dragon descended on them instantly, within seconds, captured, and devoured both of them.

Despite what his Gen 6 dragons were doing to the world outside his dungeon lab, Dilbert filled with pride at the performance of his latest dragon. It was much faster, appeared stronger, and, much more intelligent than the Gen 6.

Then it hit him.

“I will reprogram the Gen 7’s to hunt down and destroy the Gen 6’s,” He cried aloud.

* * * * *

Dilbert sat in front of the Ciniwall watching the news coverage of what the media dubbed the “Dragon Plague”. Dilbert released thirty Gen 7 dragons with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing the one hundred plus Gen 6 dragons. It took less than forty-eight hours for the Gen 7’s to end the Gen 6 scourge. However, the Gen 7’s never returned to him and he lost all contact with them.

He tossed a peace of his mother up in the air and Zirenth swooped in and caught it in the air. The bronze Gen 7 dragon, the first to come out of the incubator, was now three times its birth size. Something Dilbert did not count on. He hoped it was done growing; at three months old, Zirenth was about the size of a full grown house cat.

“You might want to chew on those a little.” Dilbert said to the dragon after watching it swallow the piece he threw up to him. “Hate to see you choke on my own mother and die.”

Zirenth’s appetite was almost insatiable. As a result, Dilbert resorted to thawing pieces of his mother and chopping it up into bite size pieces to feed his beloved Gen 7 dragon. The flesh was dry and bloodless, but Zirenth didn’t seem to mind. Zirenth’s appetite was not the only reason he resorted to turning his dear mother into dragon food. He was sure it would not take much longer for authorities to trace the scourge of Gen 7 dragons terrorizing the countryside back to him.

“We can’t have my mother’s death on my hands, now can we Zirenth?” He said to the now perched dragon, hysteria flashing in his eyes.

Zirenth issued an impressive roar for his size in response.

The ciniwall broadcast the horror that was the egg laying, short gestational period, Gen 7 hunter dragons. The military was trying anything possible to take out the swarms as they spread across the country eating everything in their wake. Cattle, pets, children, and their parents. In ninety days, the death toll was approaching the millions.

“The Air Force detonated and EMP over Kansas City last night in the hopes of stopping these creatures. An EMP is electromagnetic pulse. This type of weapon is effective against unshielded electronic components. The hope was that since some aspects of this creature appear man made, maybe the EMP would disable their processing power and kill the creature. The Air Force says the blast was ineffective against the swarm that is destroying Kansas City.”

Dilbert cursed his use of organic processors and memory in the Gen 7’s.

“Any suggestions?” Dilbert asked Zirenth as he tossed another bite size piece of his mother’s left leg into the air. “I am not looking forward the feeding you my mother’s innards.” He commented dryly to his pet.

* * * * *

There was a day when Dilbert dreamed of seeing the inside of one of America’s super-secret bunkers. He just never imagined it would be as a prisoner. But now, as he lay on his bunk, watching Zirenth on the small holo-monitor, he knew he was where he belonged. The only reason they allowed this little bit of contact with Zirenth was to keep him somewhat coherent. From the moment they separated him from his dragon until they installed the holo-monitor, he was near hysterics. Absolutely useless when asked questions about the development of his dragons. Now they could at least attempt to get some useful information from him.

As Dilbert studied Zirenth in the monitor, he had no way to determine if the dragon had grown in the six weeks since they arrived at this facility. There was no distinguishable landmark to compare him to; the glass cage had no doors or windows, just a wall of seamless glass. The scientist that were studying him were too afraid to get close to him. He could not use the robots that scurried around the cage as a scale because he had no idea how big they were. Prior to their capture, Zirenth was the size of a Volkswagen.

Nausea twisted Dilbert’s insides as he recalled what fed Zirenth before the government discovered the two of them in his mother’s garage. His mother’s body was long gone, but Zirenth’s hunger continued. Initially Dilbert would befriend one of his unwitting neighbors, hit them in the head with something nearly lethal, and drag the body to Zirenth. However, after a third body was drug into the garage, Zirenth made it clear he wanted to hunt. Most every night, Zirenth carried the corpse of one of his neighbors’ back to the garage with powerful strokes of his bronze wings. Dilbert would watch in a mix of awe and pride. That is until the feeding started, and then he needed to leave Zirenth to his meal.

Until falling victim to Zirenth’s cunning hunting skills, these people were survivors. Dilbert was sure they felt as though their nightmare was over as the swarms moved across the country, rarely doubling back. Then Zirenth would barge through the front door and bite their head off. At least that was how Dilbert imagine it, since every corpse returned headless.

“And the swarm.” Dilbert sighed. “What have I done?” He asked himself as he reviewed the current news in regards to the dragon plague.

The free Gen 7 dragons were not growing beyond their designed size. But they lay nearly microscopic eggs in large clutches that experts estimate in the hundreds. Within four days, the clutch hatches, and a hundreds of tiny hungry dragons begin to feed. The hatchlings concentrated on insects and rodents until they grew to full size. Then they became just another swarm spreading throughout the country devouring every living thing in its path.

Too small for heavy weapons, to many for small arms. Russia nuked the western shores of Alaska in an attempt to stop the spread to their shores. Reports coming from China suggest that the Russian missiles failed. The scourge in Alaska did succumb the fallout though. As did the remaining population of that state and parts for Canada.

* * * * *

Dilbert never felt so exhilarated in his life! The wind through his hair, the freedom of flight, and the world below him. It was a different world than the one he grew up in, he was pretty sure all those that tormented him throughout his life were dead. Most of humanity was. Those that remained fought daily for their survival.

The swarms of Gen 7 dragons continued to diminish; food was growing scarce. Cannibalism among them was rampant.

They were hungry.

Zirenth still fed, but his appetite has waned over the last year, along with his growth. Now, the length of a tractor trailer from his snout to the tip of his razor sharp tail. He hunted only about once a week. Dilbert tried to be a part of one of those hunts, but he could not shake his pity for the nearly extinct race that spawned him.

He did learn in the stomach turning experiment that Zirenth’s decapitated his victims with a quick whip of his tail. They usually never saw it coming. If nothing, Zirenth was merciful.

Right now, Zirenth was content having fed a couple of days ago. Dilbert rode on his back, reflecting on how they got here.

The world fell apart above the subterranean complex that held him and Zirenth. When the power failed, so did the magnetic field that held the glass cage encircling Zirenth. Dilbert lost his holo-monitor so he isn’t sure how long it took Zirenth to escape. But within days of the power failing, Zirenth was outside his cell, badly injured, but still strong enough to pull open the steel door. At first Dilbert wasn’t sure Zirenth would recover from his wounds, but once the healing process started, it was days, and Zirenth was one feeding away from being one hundred percent.

It took three more feedings to find their way to the surface. By this time, the bond between Zirenth and his creator was unbreakable. By the third day on the surface, Dilbert figured out that feedings were approximately every three days. Zirenth was the size of a school bus at this point. He knew this, because he used an abandoned school bus to measure his prized dragon.

The swarms were starting to show signs of desperation at this point. Turning on each other when they did find food and it wasn’t enough. With Zirenth at his side, the smaller dragons avoided Dilbert, giving wide birth to their much larger cousin.

Dilbert took in a deep breath, looked at the world through the sunglasses that kept his eyes from tearing in Zirenth’s slip stream. Humanity lay decimated, and he was the reason, but they would recover.

He was certain of it.

The Pern dragon pandemic was waning, but humans ran in tribes throughout the countryside successfully fighting of the dragons waning numbers.

It was back to the way it should be, survival of the fittest.

Maybe, just maybe humanity would be stronger because of his creations.

His mother may have suffered for his lack of foresight, but Dilbert felt comfortable in the fact that humanity was better for it.


The End

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