Duncan Long CompuServe ID# 72707,3525 Copyright (C) 1993 by Duncan Long. All rights reserv

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Duncan Long CompuServe ID# 72707,3525 Copyright (C) 1993 by Duncan Long. All rights reserved. SPIDER B GONE Should I ever find myself in front of a US Congressional committee, I'll be quick to tell them that CompuServe had nothing to do with the conspiracy. And while I myself am not without blame, it all started innocently enough... "I'm going to kill every blessed one of them," I had muttered, shoving my way through the door into the True Value hardware store. I grabbed a shopping cart and shot down the center aisle at break-neck speed, intent on the death and mayhem I had planned. "Can I help you," a generic salesman said, his large grin blocking my progress. "Poison," I said through clinched lips. Then noting his blank look I clarified. "I need a pesticide." "Oh. Aisle five." "Thanks." Skirting around the salesman, I sprinted forward, the wheels on the cart almost leaving skid marks. Within seconds I slid around the corner and tore down the narrow passageway lined with cans of weed killers, insecticides, and other chemical weapons designed for gardeners and homeowners intent on sterilizing the environment. I scanned the cans, jars, and cardboard boxes, inhaling the heady, acrid fumes that leached into the air around the display. It took me only three seconds to spy the distinctive blue and white spray two yards ahead. "Spider B Gone" it proclaimed in bold letters. I'll be damned if that old codger gets the last can, I thought, shoving my cart forward, effectively blocking the progress of my potential rival so he couldn't reach the last can from the opposite end of the aisle. Before the cart came to a complete stop, I snatched the priceless can. After waiting for the old man to wander past, I carefully studied the label to assure myself that what he had heard on the TV only a half hour earlier was really true. Most people watch TV for the shows; I watch it for the ads. That's not because I'm crazy (though some maintain this theory), but because I'm an advertising copy writer. So when I saw the ad, I knew it probably bent the truth. But that ad was pitched for me and I had been unable to resist it. Until now. A doubt was starting to intrude and I studied the can. "Perfectly safe," the can reassured me, as if realizing my doubts. "...when used as directed," it qualified. "Guaranteed to kill spiders. Will not effect plants or mammals. Not recommended for use by children without adult supervision." I read no farther; I'd seen the ad, just spray the stuff around the house and that was the end of spiders. Probably too good to be true. And yet I remembered the TV ad and found myself fervently hoping all that I had seen was true. The actor had eyed the camera, a wide smile on his face. "This new chemical compound was designed to attach itself to the 'docking points' of protein in a spider's body," he said, the camera cutting away to a computer graphic of what purported to be spider protein. "Once there," he continued in a voice overlay, "it stimulates an abnormal release of growth hormone that causes the arachnids to literally explode by growing faster than their exoskeleton can expand." The camera cut back to the actor who was now passing through a spotless living room. "Within days your house will be rid of the pest that has plagued mankind since we first set up house in caves. "As for safety," the actor continued with a gleam in his eye. "You could use it like a breath freshener if you had to-- though we don't recommend it for such use." The god-like being on the TV screen took the can and gave myself two good bursts of Spider B Gone. Thirty-two capped teeth beamed at the camera. "Nice, minty taste, too." As a copy writer, I knew the claims were undoubtedly exaggerated. But I figured I had little to lose if I purchased a can; it must be capable of doing some damage to spiders. At five dollars and ninety-nine cents, how can I go wrong? I abandoned my cart, leaving it in the center of the aisle, and promptly forgot about the list of odds and ends I'd planned to pick up, instead heading straight for the check-out counter. Driving home I felt that things might be changing for the first time since I'd been five. Haunted for thirty years by a childhood memory and I had never shaken the nightmare. I had climbed into bed after evening prayers, settling down to sleep when I felt a pin prick on my tiny ankle. "Mom," I called, suddenly wide awake as a fiery pain climbed up my leg. The prick occurred again. "Mom!" I screamed, kicking my legs free of the blankets. "What's wrong?" "Something bit me," I sobbed. "It's under the sheets." "I hope this isn't one of your crazy nightmares." She lifted the covers and we both peaked cautiously under the sheet. I saw the tiny, hairy spider scampering away. The creature dropped over the corner of the bed and, before my mother could squash it, darted under the night table. Two days later I was in the children's wing of St. Mary's hospital. Skin graphs to replace the rotting wound on my leg and the skills of a team of doctors were all that had saved me. Since then I'd feared the eight-legged monsters that were everywhere, following me from house to house like a plague. No matter how many I smashed and sprayed, there were always more to take the place of their fallen comrades. But now I hoped that Spider B Gone would tip the scales in my favor. Twenty minutes later, I cautiously climbed down creaking wooden steps as if trying to sneak up on the hoard of spiders that I knew were lurking in the dusty corners of my unfinished basement. Even though I'd installed a bare one-hundred-fifty watt bulb in the each of the receptacles along the ceiling when I'd moved in, the light from them seemed to vanish before it reached the cement walls and wooden beams, leaving murky shadows that lurked in the corners and behind the stairs. I popped off the lid and clutched the aerosol can in sweaty fingers, swallowing convulsively as I prepared for my assault on my enemies. Cautiously lifting the container toward the joists, I increased the pressure on the spray top with my finger, blinking when the aerosol finally flew from the can in a thick white fog. Grin spreading across my face, I sprayed it into the shadows, carefully adding an extra squirt of the chemical for the thick cobwebs. Satisfied with my first skirmish, I turned and concentrated my fire on the dark corner under the stairs. My glee lasted for only four minutes. "Running out fast," I muttered. The ads as well as the instructions on the can said to spray liberally for best results. But there was no way I'd cover the entire basement with just one can--not if I used it the way they had shown on TV. Probably they said to use it liberally as a ploy to sell more of their product, I told myself. I'd told clients that was a good way to sell more of a product to a customer. I nodded, certain that was what the Spider B Gone people had done, too. Just go easy with how you spray and cover everything lightly. After all, it had been the last can at the store--there was no telling how long it would be before more came in. I decided to spray a thin coat today and then, if it didn't work, I could try it again in a week or two when another shipment of Spider B Gone came in. Five minutes later the can sputtered and was empty. I wiped off my hand on my jeans, hopping the chemical really was as safe as they said it was since I hadn't used protective gloves or a mask. I slowly turned and surveyed the path of destruction. The basement was completely covered; I had even overlapped the section where I'd started and put extra into the cobwebs under the stairs. According to the instructions it would take a week to work. I'd come back down in seven days and, with any luck, be sweeping little spider corpses into piles to carry out to the trash can. If Spider B Gone works, I added to myself as I climbed the stairs. During the next week the owner and manager of Simpson Advertising was sick and I had to shoulder the responsibility of finishing the advertising campaign they had been commissioned to create. My work was made doubly hard by the fact that the other copy writer and inhouse graphic artist thought that, with the boss gone, it was the perfect time to goof off. All thought of the basement vanished from my mind until a month later when I sat down, TV dinner set at my place, to watch the evening news. "The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has ordered a halt to the sale of all Spider B Gone products," the TV anchor said. I sat up in my chair, tapping up the volume with my remote control. "During the news conference," the announcer continued, "the spokesperson for the manufacturer maintained that the product has proven highly effective at killing spiders. Government sources at the EPA admitted that the product presented no environmental danger, but warned that continued use could lead to the--" I swore and leaped from my chair, flicking off the set. "It's effective so they're taking it off the market?" I sputtered. Sometimes I wondered what in the world they thought they were doing in Washington. But I had a more urgent matter than worrying about the government: Checking out my basement. Ten seconds later, armed with a fly swatter and a flashlight, I crept down the stairs. At the base of the steps I paused, squinting at the white net that spread across the floor. "How in the word did that get there?" I asked myself. I cautiously stepped around it, spiders momentarily forgotten since it was obvious that someone must have broken into my basement. I checked the two basement windows. Both were intact, and the thick cobwebs--thicker than I remembered from before--showed that no one had been through the windows for years. Satisfied no one could have entered the windows, I glanced around at the ceiling and found that it covered thick webs. "What the devil?" I whispered, staring at the cotton-like balls of web that covered the southern wall of the basement. Abruptly I was aware that my feet refused to move. Looking down at the floor, I discovered that when I'd stepped onto the net, my shoes had become trapped in the sticky ropes that glistened as if covered with wet glue. A movement to my left attracted my eye. Struggling to maintain my balance, I twisted around, shining my flashlight into the dark corner while holding up my fly swatter like a club in my other hand. The flashlight glinted off five large rubies that inched toward me. It took a few seconds for me to realize what I was looking at. No, it can't be, I told myself, refusing to acknowledge what I saw. But the red eyes moved into the light and I found myself facing a spider that stood as tall as a man. My feet jerked of their volition, popping out of my tightly- laced shoes and dancing toward the stairs, shedding their socks as the cloth stuck on the thick, sticky webbing. Two more steps and my bare feet locked to the gummy cable just one yard from freedom. I came to an abrupt halt, lost my balance, and fell. "Help!" I cried, my hands and knees immobilized in the web. I cried again, hoping a neighbor might hear me, even though I knew it was highly unlikely. I glanced back at the spider. It now stood not ten feet from me, its fangs glistening in the illumination from the cobweb-covered electric light bulbs. I turned away and screamed again. "Take it easy," a voice said. "You're not in any danger. Besides, you're much too old and tough to eat." "What?" I asked. "Who's here. You've got to help me." "It's lucky you have a strong heart. I didn't fully realize how fearful you are of spiders. But there's no reason to be so afraid. Calm down." "What?" I said, my eyes narrowing on the spider. "How can you be talking to me? I must be mad." "You haven't lost your mind," the spider seemed to say. It rubbed its two front legs across its hairy head and then continued. "I'm not really talking --I don't have the proper mouth parts for that. What I'm doing is sort of like what you call telepathy. It works through the part of your brain that normally hears, so you perceive that my words are coming through your ears. Only of course they aren't." I swallowed, trying to take it all in. I have to be stark raving mad, I finally concluded. "No, you're not stark raving mad." "But if I was, you'd seem to be saying just that. You probably aren't even there so how could--" "Tell you what," the spider interrupted. "If you're crazy it doesn't really make much difference if we carry on a conversation, does it?" I wrinkled my brow. "I guess not." "Good. My name is Bekla." "A spider with a name?" "Just listen for a bit and see if I make any sense. Reading your mind, I know that you're now trying to picture how much a spider like me would need to eat to stay alive. But, please don't be so suspicious. You wouldn't eat a fellow man--or any animal like a dolphin if there's an outside chance it is a sentient like you, right?" "That's true," I cautiously agreed. "Well, this is true for my race as well. We eat only animals that are like the beasts you call cows. We never eat animals capable of using tools. "Which is where you come in," Bekla continued. "We'd like to carry on trade with your people. We could use the livestock you raise. I understand many of your farmers are looking for new markets and we need--" "Wait a minute, what do you mean? You're part of a race of giant spiders?" Bekla was silent a moment. "I'm sorry, I seem to be getting ahead of myself. Let me put it this way. The spiders on your planet are tiny little beasts with brains too small for little more than reflexive actions. It's only with the advent of the new hormones in the spray you used that they became large enough to support a nervous system capable of--" "That spray was designed to kill spiders. No offense meant." "Kill spiders IF used as directed--which you didn't do. By using only a small amount, you created spiders the size of basketballs. It's lucky you didn't come down here a weak ago--you would have fainted at the sight." I glanced around nervously. "It's okay, now. They're all gone. Once they're that large, they're smart enough to weave the web of travel, a pattern that warps space and allows my kind to trek from one world to another. That's how we discovered your orb and why I'm here. From the reports the spiders from your basement gave, it sounded like they had been inside a structure that was not naturally formed. And their genetics made their size impossible without hormonal modification--again indicative of a sophisticated civilization. So it was my job to come here and, if I found such a culture, study it. I've been down here for the past week reading your mind, learning all I could." I forced myself not to shudder at the thought of the huge spider that had been sitting down in my basement all that time. "Now, I must show you my world." Bekla reached forward and pulled at the net-like web. The cord encased me and then the spider slung me over its back, much like a man would swing a duffel bag across his shoulder. The creature held me securely with its two front legs. "Don't fret, I'm not going to hurt you and we'll be right back. Just relax and enjoy the ride." Bekla strode toward the dark corner, entering a funnel of web at breakneck speed. I closed my eyes as they neared the wall, expecting my body to smash against it. Instead the two of them continued forward. By my reckoning we went well past where the concrete wall should have been. When there was no impact, I cautiously opened one eye and gasped at the shimmering rainbow of web around me. "The glowing streams of light beyond the web are stars," the hairy creature below him explained. "We're traveling at hyper- light speeds. My planetary system is right over--here." Abruptly we jogged to one side, the spider diving down a fork in the silky tunnel. Bekla stepped forward into a cool world with a green sky and two pink suns overhead. I gazed across the ground which was covered with white silk that looked like snow. Webs formed mounds with gaping doorways and some of the structures stretched upward, vanishing into the fluffy clouds. Spiders of various sizes scampered past, ignoring me the same way a man on a busy street would ignore a stranger. Here and there were bipedal animals that seemed to travel and converse freely with their eight-legged associates. "As you can see, we are very peaceful here," Bekla said, motioning with one leg. "Now let me set you free. But don't stray far, it's easy to get lost and right now I'm the only one that knows the way back to your planet." The spider touched the weds that bound me and abruptly the net fell free at my feet. "How you do that?" I asked. "Just one of many tricks. You'll discover that we have advanced far beyond the spiders you have on earth, just like you've advanced beyond the monkey's of your planet. Brains make all the difference, you know." I rose to my feet and discovered that the silk under my feet felt softer than cotton. "What do you want from me?" "It's simple really. We have no skills at raising animals. But we're experts at generating all types of strong building materials, from woven silk cloth to thick, durable cables with a memory of shape--and all stronger than steel and only a hundredth of its weight. We can create our silk according to specification, made to order and delivered to the doorstep of the buyer. My studies of your planet tell me this material would be very valuable to your clothing and construction industries." "Could resins be added to this stuff," I asked, bending down and picking up a handful of silk off the ground and carefully inspecting it. "Most certainly. With the addition of resins, our silk is suitable for construction of super-strong and super-light sheaths for buildings, cars, and aircraft. Several of our trading partners even use it for building spacecraft." "But where do I fit in?" I asked. "Why not just go to the United Nations and--" "It wouldn't work. Most of your Earth races hate spiders. We have what your kind calls a 'public-relations problem.'" "But I don't see how that would influence things that much," I protested. "Unless--" "We have dealt with this problem before with other worlds. The last thing the majority of your people would want to deal with is eight-legged monsters. Spiders are associated with all manner of evil on your planet. First mankind must be educated so they can understand that we are a good race and mean no harm. Only then can the market for our products be fully exploited." "Which is where I come in," I said, a grin crossing my face. "Exactly. I've followed your advertising expertise and know you are the one for the job." "How big of a hurry are you in?" "You can have years if need be. The main thing is to do it right so this huge market will remain open to us. And of course we will support you while you while you work for us--some of the other cultures we trade with give us gold for our silk. I understand gold is valuable on your world--though we have found little use for it in our civilization." "Great," I said, rubbing my hands together. "I've been wanting to start my own business and this will be just the ticket." I was silent for a moment, my brain racing. "We'll need to start subtly. I'll hire a few freelancers to write science articles about how beneficial spiders are. And a speculative piece here and there about how alien cultures could mean big markets for Earth's products--plant the idea in the public's mind. And of course some science fiction with the spiders as the good guys for a change. Then we'll need to go to the children's literature-- get them started thinking pro-spider while they're still young." "And you'll need to be sure to convince and convert your intellectual elite." I thought only a moment. "I know just the place: CompuServe." Bekla was silent; the spider equivalent of a raised eyebrow. "It's a computerized system the most savvy businessmen and hi-tech freaks have started using," I explained. "Over a million users now and many of them tomorrow's leaders. There're even several writing and publication forums. My firm helped with one of their recent advertising campaigns. Let's see... Several of their Forums have short story libraries." "And you think CompuServe might carry some of the short stories you'll use to promote us?" "My thinking exactly." And the first thing I did when I returned home was to write this story. ================================================================= Duncan Long is a freelance writer with nearly fifty books in print including the science fiction novel, ANTI-GRAV UNLIMITED, with Avon books and the hi-tech, action/adventure Night Stalkers series with HarperCollins. Long is a regular user of CompuServe and is currently busy promoting a new


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