Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lessons on Ecology

Mr. Brown opened the door.

A man in a suit was standing outside.

"Ah," Mr. Brown said. "Who are you?"

He considered further.

"And why are you at my front door at 1 AM?"

"Sir, I'm here from the government Environmental Agency," the suit-wearing man replied crisply. "I'm here to report a serious problem. Could you step outside for a moment, please?"

Mr. Brown blinked at his interlocutor blearily.

"Is this some sort of trick?" he asked. "Are you going to mug me, and then rob my house?"

The suit-wearing man shook his head firmly. From a pocket he produced a wallet; it held a set of credentials, bearing the name EDWIN CRISPLEY. Mr. Brown looked at it; then, obligingly, walked outside.

"I called upon you to inform you that we're going to be mounting some fairly noisy operations in your neighbourhood," Mr. Crispley explained. "Protocol dictates that we inform all residents beforehand - for, you must understand, you have an Infestation."

"An Infestation?" Mr. Brown asked. "What sort of infestation? We haven't noticed any pests..."

Mr. Crispley shook his head. "No, of course you haven't. I suppose I might as well demonstrate... Mr. Brown, is it? Look up."

Mr. Brown did so - only to leap sideways, startled, as Mr. Crispley uttered a quite loud, very convincing bird cry.

"What was that for?" Mr. Brown asked, rather displeased -

But Mr. Crispley would have none of it. "Look up!," he ordered.

Mr. Brown did so. "Oh," he said.

The very large shape covering Mr. Brown's roof shifted, a pair of large, gleaming eyes looking down; then they vanished, and the shape relaxed again, melding seamlessly with the roof.

"What is that?" Mr. Brown asked, rather startled. "I've never seen any such thing!"

"That, Mr. Brown, is a Swiss House-Bat. It's very quiet, very light, and only hunts at night. Its natural prey is the dumpster, though it will settle for trash-bins in a pinch. It is completely harmless," Mr. Crispley explained. Lighting a torch*, he showed Mr. Brown a picture.

"Ah!" Mr. Brown exclaimed. "But - it's adorable! And you say it's harmless? Then why are you calling it an infestation? What are you going to do with it?"

"With ecology, things are never so simple as they first appear," Mr. Crispley informed Mr. Brown solemnly. "Is the Swiss House-Bat harmless? Yes. But the problem is that it is a non-native species - and, if allowed to spread, will bring with it non-native predators. If you will: the Snowy Bear-Owl." He produced another photo.

Again, Mr. Brown exclaimed in surprise. "It's quite large, isn't it! Is it dangerous?"

"Only if handled improperly," Mr. Crispley dismissed. "No, the trouble is the mess. Giant Bear-Owl nests popping up all over the cities! Half-eaten House-Bats littering the roads! And - this is perhaps the most serious problem of all - giant bear-owl pellets, everywhere."

"The pellets would be the largest problem?" Mr. Brown asked. "Couldn't you just - throw them away?"

Mr. Crispley shook his head. "The pellets contain, as a side-effect of the bear-owl digestive process, a high concentration of toxic chemicals. They'd poison the water table."

"Burn them!" Mr. Brown suggested.

Again Mr. Crispley shook his head. "The chemicals would condense in the clouds and fall with the rain. It'd be even worse."

Mr. Brown threw up his hands. "Dissolve them in acid, then!"

But for the third time, Mr. Crispley refused the notion. "That's quite impossible, Mr. Brown. Do recall - these are Swiss creatures we're discussing, here."

"So?" Mr. Brown asked.

"The acid won't do a thing to them, or any of their byproducts," Mr. Crispley said. "They're completely neutral."



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