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´╗┐Title: Tabby
Author: Marks, Winston K., 1915-1979
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tabby" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                                  TABBY

                             By Winston Marks

                       Illustrated by Rudolph Palais

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science
Fiction March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _Tabby was peculiar, of course, but seemed harmless: just a
little green fly that couldn't even protect itself from ordinary
spiders. So the spiders fed, and grew, and fed, and grew...._]

       *       *       *       *       *

                                       April 18, 1956

Dear Ben: It breaks my heart you didn't sign on for this trip. Your
replacement, who _calls_ himself an ichthyologist, has only one talent
that pertains to fish--he drinks like one. There are nine of us in the
expedition, and every one of us is fed up with this joker, Cleveland,
already. We've only been on the island a week, and he's gone native,
complete with beard, bare feet and bone laziness. He slops around the
lagoon like a beachcomber and hasn't brought in a decent specimen yet.

The island is a bit of paradise, though. Wouldn't be hard to let
yourself relax under the palms all day instead of collecting blisters
and coral gashes out in the bright sun of the atoll. No complaints,
however. We aren't killing ourselves, and our little camp is very
comfortable. The portable lab is working out fine, and the screened
sleeping tent-houses have solved the one big nuisance we've suffered
before: _Insects_. I think an entomologist would find more to keep him
busy here than we will.

Your ankle should be useable by the time our next supply plane from
Hawaii takes off. If you apply again at the Foundation right now I'm
sure Sellers and the others will help me get rid of Cleveland, and
there'll be an open berth here.

Got to close now. Our amphib jets off in an hour for the return trip.
Hope this note is properly seductive. Come to the isles, boy, and
live!--Cordially, Fred

       *       *       *       *       *

                                       May 26, 1956

Dear Ben: Now, aren't you sorry you didn't take my advice?!!!! I'm
assuming you read the papers, and also, that too tight a censorship
hasn't clamped down on this thing yet. Maybe I'm assuming too much on
the latter. Anyhow, here's a detailed version from an actual eyewitness.

That's right! I was right there on the beach when the "saucer" landed.
Only it looked more like a king-size pokerchip. About six feet across
and eight inches thick with a little hemispherical dome dead center on
top. It hit offshore about seventy-five yards with a splash that sounded
like a whale's tail. Jenner and I dropped our seine, waded to shore and
started running along the beach to get opposite it. Cleveland came out
of the shade and helped us launch a small boat.

We got within twenty feet of the thing when it started moving out,
slowly, just fast enough to keep ahead of us. I was in the bow looking
right at it when the lid popped open with a sound like a cork coming out
of a wine bottle. The little dome had split. Sellers quit rowing and we
all hit the bottom of the boat. I peeked over the gunwale right away,
and it's a good thing. All that came out of the dome was a little cloud
of flies, maybe a hundred or so, and the breeze picked them up and blew
them over us inshore so fast that Cleveland and Sellers never did see
them.

I yelled at them to look, but by then the flies were in mingling with
the local varieties of sudden itch, and they figured I was seeing
things. Cleveland, though, listened with the most interest. It develops
that his specialty _is_ entomology. He took this job because he was out
of work. Don't know how he bluffed his way past the Foundation, but here
he is, and it looks like he might be useful after all.

He was all for going ashore, but Sellers and I rowed after the white
disk for awhile until it became apparent we couldn't catch it. It's a
good thing we didn't. A half hour later, Olafsen caught up to it in the
power launch. We were watching from shore. It was about a half mile out
when Ole cut his speed. Luckily he was alone. We had yelled at him to
pick us up and take us along, but he was too excited to stop. He passed
us up, went out there and boom!

It wasn't exactly an A-bomb, but the spray hit us a half mile away, and
the surface wave swamped us.

Sellers radioed the whole incident to Honolulu right away, and they are
sending out a plane with a diver, but we don't think he'll find
anything. Things really blew! So far we haven't even found any
identifiable driftwood from the launch, let alone Ole's body or traces
of the disk.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has come to believe my story, and he's out prowling
around with an insect net. Most energy he's shown in weeks.

       *       *       *       *       *

May 28--Looks like this letter will be delayed a bit. We are under
quarantine. The government plane came this morning. They sent along a
diver, two reporters and a navy officer. The diver went down right away,
but it's several hundred feet deep out there and slants off fast. This
island is the tip of a sunken mountain, and the diver gave up after less
than an hour. Personally I think a couple of sharks scared him off, but
he claims there's so much vegetable ruck down there he couldn't expect
to find anything smaller than the launch's motor.

Cleveland hasn't found anything unusual in his bug net, but everyone is
excited here, and you can guess why.

When the "saucer" reports stopped cold about a year ago, you'll
remember, it made almost as much news for a while as when they were
first spotted. Now the people out here are speculating that maybe this
disc thing came from the same source as the _saucers_, after they had a
chance to look us over, study our ecology and return to their base.
Cleveland is the one who started this trend of thought with his
obsession that the flies I reported seeing are an attack on our planet
from someone out in space.

Commander Clawson, the navy officer, doesn't know what to think. He
won't believe Cleveland until he produces a specimen of the
"fly-from-Mars", but then he turns around and contradicts himself by
declaring a temporary quarantine until he gets further orders from
Honolulu.

The reporters are damned nuisances. They're turning out reams of Sunday
supplement type stuff and pestering the devil out of Sparks to let them
wire it back, but our radio is now under navy control, too.

Sure is crowded in the bunk-house with the six additional people, but no
one will sleep outside the screen.

       *       *       *       *       *

May 29--Cleveland thinks he has his specimen. He went out at dawn this
morning and came in before breakfast. He's quit drinking but he hasn't
slept in three days now and looks like hell. I thought he was getting
his fancy imagination out of the bottle, but the soberer he got the more
worried he looked over this "invasion" idea of his.

Now he claims that his catch is definitely a sample of something new
under our particular sun. He hustled it under a glass and started
classifying it. It filled the bill for the arthropods, class Insecta. It
looked to me, in fact, just like a small, ordinary blowfly, except that
it has green wings. And I mean _green_, not just a little iridescent
color.

Cleve very gently pulled one wing off and we looked at it under low
power. There is more similarity to a leaf than to a wing. In the bug's
back is a tiny pocket, a sort of reservoir of the green stuff, and
Cleve's dissection shows tiny veins running up into the wings. It seems
to be a closed system with no connection with the rest of the body
except the restraining membrane.

Cleveland now rests his extraterrestrial origin theory on an idea that
the green stuff is chlorophyll. If it is chlorophyll, either Cleve is
right or else he's discovered a new class of arthropods. In other
respects the critter is an ordinary biting and sucking bug with the
potentials of about a deerfly for making life miserable. The high-power
lens showed no sign of unusual or malignant microscopic life inside or
out of the thing. Cleve can't say how bad a bite would be, because he
doesn't have his entomologist kit with him, and he can't analyze the
secretion from the poison gland.

The commander has let him radio for a botanist and some micro-analysis
equipment.

Everyone was so pitched up that Cleve's findings have been rather
anti-climactic. I guess we were giving more credence to the
space-invader theory than we thought. But even if Cleve has proved it,
this fly doesn't look like much to be frightened over. The reporters are
clamoring to be let loose, but the quarantine still holds.

       *       *       *       *       *

June 1--By the time the plane with the botanist arrived we were able to
gather all the specimens of _Tabanidae viridis_ (Cleveland's
designation) that he wanted. Seems like every tenth flying creature you
meet is a green "Tabby" now.

The botanist helped Cleve and me set up the bio kit, and he confirmed
Cleve's guess. The green stuff is chlorophyll. Which makes Tabby quite a
bug.

Kyser, the youngest reporter, volunteered to let a Tabby bite him. It
did without too much coaxing. Now he has a little, itchy bump on his
wrist, and he's happily banging away at his typewriter on a story
titled, "I Was Bitten by the Bug from Space!" That was hours ago, and we
haven't learned anything sinister about the green fly except that it
does have a remarkable breeding ability.

One thing the reporter accomplished: we can go outside the screened
quarters now without wondering about catching space-typhus.

       *       *       *       *       *

June 2--The quarantine was probably a pretty good idea. Cleve has turned
up some dope on Tabby's life cycle that makes us glad all over that we
are surrounded by a thousand miles of salt water. Tabby's adult life is
only a couple of days, but she is viviparous, prolific (some thousand
young at a sitting), and her green little microscopic babies combine the
best survival features of spores and plankton, minus one: they don't
live in salt water. But they do very well almost anyplace else. We have
watched them grow on hot rocks, leaves, in the sand and best of all,
filtered down a little into the moist earth.

They grow incredibly fast with a little sun, so the chlorophyll is
biologically justified in the life-cycle. This puzzled us at first,
because the adult Tabby turns into a blood-sucking little brute.
Deprived of any organic matter, our bottled specimens die in a short
time, in or out of the sunlight, indicating the green stuff doesn't
provide them with much if any nourishment after they are full-grown.

Now we are waiting for a supply of assorted insecticides to find the
best controls over the pests. The few things we had on hand worked quite
well, but I guess they aren't forgetting our sad experience with DDT a
few years back.

The Tabbies now outnumber all the other insects here, and most outside
work has been halted. The little green devils make life miserable
outside the tent-houses. We have built another screened shelter to
accommodate the latest arrivals. We are getting quite a fleet of
amphibian aircraft floating around our lagoon. No one will be allowed to
return until we come up with all the answers to the question of
controlling our insect invasion.

Cleveland is trying to convince Sellers and the commander that we should
get out and send in atomic fire to blow the whole island into the sea.
They forwarded his suggestion to the U. N. committee which now has
jurisdiction, but they wired back that if the insect is from space, we
couldn't stop other discs from landing on the mainlands. Our orders are
to study the bug and learn all we can.

Opinion is mixed here. I can't explain the flying disc unless it's
extraterrestrial, but why would an invader choose an isolated spot like
this to attack? Cleve says this is just a "test patch" and probably
under surveillance. But why such an innocuous little fly if they mean
business?

The newsmen are really bored now. They see no doom in the bugs, and
since they can't file their stories they take a dim view of the
quarantine. They have gotten up an evening fishing derby with the crew
members of the planes. Have to fish after dusk. The Tabbies bite too
often as long as the sun is up.

Cleve has turned into a different man. He is soft-spoken and intense.
His hands tremble so much that he is conducting most of his work by
verbal directions with the botanist and me to carry them out. When his
suggestion about blowing up the atoll was turned down he quit talking
except to conduct his work. If things were half as ominous as he makes
out we'd be pretty worried.

       *       *       *       *       *

June 4--The spray planes got here and none too soon. We were running out
of drinking water. The Tabbies got so thick that even at night a man
would get stung insane if he went outside the screen.

The various sprays all worked well. This evening the air is relatively
clear. Incidentally, the birds have been having a feast. Now the gulls
are congregating to help us out like they did the Mormons in the cricket
plague. The spiders are doing all right for themselves, too. In fact,
now that we have sprayed the place the spiders and their confounded webs
are the biggest nuisance we have to contend with. They are getting fat
and sassy. Spin their webs between your legs if you stand still a minute
too long. Remind me of real estate speculators in a land boom, the
little bastardly opportunists. As you might gather, I don't care for
brothers Arachnidae. They make everyone else nervous, too. Strangely,
Cleveland, the entomologist, gets the worst jolt out of them. He'll
stand for minutes at the screen watching them spin their nasty webs and
skipping out to de-juice a stray Tabby that the spray missed. And he'll
mutter to himself and scowl and curse them. It is hard to include them
as God's creatures.

Cleve still isn't giving out with the opinions. He works incessantly and
has filled two notebooks full of data. Looks to me like our work is
almost done.

       *       *       *       *       *

August 7, Year of our Lord 1956--To whom it will never concern: I can no
longer make believe this is addressed to my friend, Ben Tobin. Cleveland
has convinced me of the implications of our tragedy here. But somehow it
gives me some crazy, necessary ray of hope to keep this journal until
the end.

I think the real horror of this thing started to penetrate to me about
June 6. Our big spray job lasted less than 24 hours, and on that morning
I was watching for the planes to come in for a second try at it when I
noticed the heavy spider webbing in the upper tree foliage. As I looked
a gull dove through the trees, mouth open, eating Tabbies. Damned if the
webs didn't foul his wings. At first he tore at them bravely and it
looked like he was trying to swim in thin mud--sort of slow motion. Then
he headed into a thick patch, slewed around at right angles and did a
complete flip. Instantly three mammoth spiders the size of my fist
pounced out on him and trussed him up before he could tear loose with
his feet.

His pitiful squawking was what made me feel that horror for the first
time. And the scene was repeated more and more often. The planes dusted
us with everything they had, and it cut down the Tabbies pretty well
again, but it didn't touch the spiders, of course.

And then our return radio messages started getting very vague. We were
transmitting Cleve's data hourly as he compiled it, and we had been
getting ordinary chatter and speculation from the Honolulu operator at
the end of our message. That stopped on the sixth of June. Since then,
we've had only curt acknowledgements of our data and sign-offs.

At the same time, we noticed that complete censorship on news of our
situation and progress apparently hit all the long-wave radio
broadcasts. Up to that time the newscasts had been feeding out a dilute
and very cautious pablum about our fight against Tabby. Immediately when
we noticed this news blind spot Cleve went all to pieces and started
drinking again.

Cleve, Sellers and I had the lab tent to ourselves, having moved our
bunks in there, so we got a little out of touch with the others. It
wasn't the way Sellers and I liked it, but none of us liked the trip
from lab to living quarters any more, although it was only fifty feet or
so.

Then Sparks moved in, too. For the same reason. He said it was getting
on his nerves running back and forth to the lab to pick up our outgoing
bulletins. So he shifted the generator, radio gear and all over to a
corner of the lab and brought in his bunk.

By the tenth of June we could see that the spraying was a losing battle.
And it finally took the big tragedy to drive home the truth that was all
about us already. When the crew got ready to go out to their planes on
the eleventh, everyone except the four of us in the lab tent was drafted
to help clear webs between the tents and the beach. We could hear them
shouting from tent to tent as they made up their work party. We could no
longer see across the distance. Everywhere outside, vision was obscured
by the grayish film of webs on which little droplets caught the tropical
sun like a million tiny mirrors. In the shade it was like trying to peer
through thin milk, with the vicious, leggy little shadows skittering
about restlessly.

As usual in the morning, the hum of the Tabbies had risen above the
normal jungle buzzing, and this morning it was the loudest we'd heard
it.

Well, we heard the first screen door squeak open, and someone let out a
whoop as the group moved out with brooms, palm fronds and sticks to
snatch a path through the nightmare of spider webs. The other two doors
opened and slammed, and we could hear many sounds of deep disgust voiced
amid the grunts and thrashings.

They must have been almost to the beach when the first scream reached
us. Cleve had been listening in fascination, and the awful sound tore
him loose of his senses. He screamed back. The rest of us had to sit on
him to quiet him. Then the others outside all began screaming--not
words, just shattering screams of pure terror, mixed with roars of pain
and anger. Soon there was no more anger. Just horror. And in a few
minutes they died away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sellers and Sparks and I looked at each other. Cleve had vomited and
passed out. Sparks got out Cleve's whiskey, and we spilled half of it
trying to get drinks into us.

Sparks snapped out of it first. He didn't try to talk to us. He just
went to his gear, turned on the generator and warmed up the radio. He
told Honolulu what had happened as we had heard it.

When he finished, he keyed over for an acknowledgment. The operator said
to hold on for a minute. Then he said they would _try_ to dispatch an
air task force to get us off, but they couldn't be sure just when.

While this was coming in Cleve came to his senses and listened. He was
deadly calm now, and when Honolulu finished he grabbed the mike from
Sparks, cut in the TX and asked, "Are they landing discs on the
mainlands?"

The operator answered, "Sorry, that's classified."

"For God's sake," Cleve demanded, "if you are ready to write us off you
can at least answer our questions. Are there any of the green
sonsofbitches on the mainland?"

There was another little pause, and then, "Yes."

That was all. Sparks ran down the batteries trying to raise them again
for more answers, but no response. When the batteries went dead he
checked the generator that had kicked off. It was out of gasoline. The
drums were on the beach. Now we were without lights, power and juice for
our other radios.

We kept alive the first few days by staying half drunk. Then Cleve's
case of whiskey gave out and we began to get hungry. Sparks and Sellers
set fire to one of our straw-ticking mattresses and used it as a torch
to burn their way over to the supply tent about thirty feet away. It
worked fairly well. The silky webs flashed into nothing as the flames
hit them, but they wouldn't support the fire, and other webs streamed
down behind the two. They had to burn another mattress to get back with
a few cases of food.

Then we dug a well under the floor of our tent. Hit water within a few
feet. But when we cut through the screen floor it cost us sentry duty.
We had to have one person awake all night long to stamp on the spiders
that slipped in around the edge of the well.

Through all of this Cleveland has been out on his feet. He has just
stood and stared out through the screen all day. We had to force him to
eat. He didn't snap out of it until this morning.

Sparks couldn't stand our radio silence any longer, so he talked Sellers
into helping him make a dash for the gas drums on the beach. They set
fire to two mattresses and disappeared into the tunnel of burned webs
that tangled and caved in behind them.

When they were gone, Cleveland suddenly came out of his trance and put a
hand on my shoulder. I thought for a moment he was going to jump me, but
his eyes were calm. He said, "Well, Fred, are you convinced now that
we've been attacked?"

I said, "It makes no sense to me at all. Why these little flies?"

Cleve said, "They couldn't have done better so easily. They studied our
ecology well. They saw that our greatest potential enemy was the insect
population, and the most vicious part of it was the spider. _Tabanidae
viridis_ was not sent just to plague us with horsefly bites. Tabby was
sent to multiply and feed the arachnids. There are durable species in
all climates. And if our botanist were still alive he could explain in
detail how long our plant life can last under this spider infestation.

"Look for yourself," he said pointing outside. "Not only are the regular
pollenizing insects doomed, but the density of those webs will choke out
even wind pollinated grains."

He stared down our shallow well hole and stamped on a small, black, flat
spider that had slithered under the screening. "I suppose you realize
the spiders got the others. Down here in the tropics the big varieties
could do it by working together. Sellers and Sparks won't return. Sounds
like they got through all right, but they'll be bitten so badly they
won't try to get back."

And even as he spoke we heard one of the aircraft engines start up. The
sound was muffled as under a bed quilt.

Cleve said, "I don't blame them. I'd rather die in the sun, too. The
beach should be fairly clear of webs. We've got one mattress left. What
do you say?"

He's standing there now holding the mattress with the ticking sticking
out. I don't think one torch will get us through. But it will be worth a
try for one more look at the sun.





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