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A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

"You're a mutalisk expert?"

They were in the Agave Club, overlooking the golf course. It was near the starport and air-conditioned, and Rin liked the egg-salad sandwich there—real chicken egg, imported. Usually above her pay grade, but for a business lunch…

Champlain laughed, a polite academic titter. "If it is possible to be an expert on mutalisks, then, I guess, yes. I am one. They are notoriously difficult creatures to study."

Good grief, thought Rin, echoing her mother and barely caring. "But you can help us get rid of our mutalisks…"

"Perhaps in the long run. You see, the reason the mutalisk is such an enigma is that it is impossible to conduct a thorough physical examination of one. The mutalisk is filled with a viscous ichor that breaks down into a fluoroantimonic compound when the animal's carapace is compromised. Basically, the mutalisk dissolves itself before any serious scrutiny can take place."

"Great. How do I get them to dissolve themselves?" asked Rin.

Champlain shrugged. "Terminate the animal."

"So your expert advice on how to kill mutalisks is 'kill them.' Doctor—"

"Just 'Professor' is fine."

"—I don't know how to find them. There may be as many as ten of the damn things out there—"

"Oh, heavens, no."

Rin was starting to lose patience. "Yes. I watched the security footage from North-Rim. There were at least five—"

"No, you misunderstand. What I'm trying to tell you is that if you saw a hunting party of five mutas twice in the same spot in as many days, then there is definitely a spire within 120 klicks of that location."

"A spire?"

"A nest, Marshal. You're looking at a clutch of sixty or more."

Rin felt the flip-flop in her gut that she normally associated with the cliffs. "Sixty?! Sixty mutalisks ready to eat my town, and they send me you, a guy who—no offense—doesn't look like he's ever even held a gun."

"None taken. Point of pride, actually."

"I'm sorry. I'm going to have to seek assistance elsewhere," sighed Rin.

"If you intend to exterminate a spire of sixty mutalisks, I would think so. If they've started attacking people, it means that they've depleted the local populations of wild prey animals. The situation can only get worse. I hope you'll let me stay on and study your clutch. I'll help if I can. I am well aware that these creatures are dangerous."

"Thanks, Doc."

"Professor," he replied jovially, and he took a bite of his Spanish omelet.

(Karak, not that you could tell with all the seasoning.)

Rin stared down at her egg salad. It had seemed so appealing fifty-five mutalisks ago.

Shit, thought Rin.

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