Insect Vigilante: The Beginning

Another attempt at tackling the huge fleshy wall was futile and only left me with a sore shoulder. My raptorial arm would come in handy right about now. The large humid room was quickly filling with stomach acid. My sleek elytra armor likely would not last long submerged in hydrochloric acid. I could hear the professor’s voice warning me, “whatever you do, don’t get swallowed!” I would pay to see the look on his face now! How did I get into this mess anyways?!

*****

My name is Cooper. Just two days ago I was a relatively stress-free college student working two jobs and taking a full course load of classes. But having no free time beats being stuck in a giant monster’s stomach, trust me. Coming from a modest home of a school teacher and a construction worker, I had no money given to me to help me get through school. So two jobs was necessary to get by.

Not loving the idea of becoming a doctor, but still fascinated with the study of life, I decided to pursue a degree in biology and see what doors would open to me as school unfolded. I decided to pick up a job in an entomology lab mostly because it was the first biology-related job that became available. Though, deep down, insects did fascinate me. To further supplement my income and to help put Ramen noodles in my cupboard, I picked up a job as a late night security guard on campus. Little did I know that both these jobs would put my life in serious danger.

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A particularly slow night patrolling campus was a welcome sight as it gave me a chance to review acids and bases for my big organic chemistry exam the next day. It was a mild spring night and a light, crisp breeze splashed across my face as I sat on a bench outside the campus student center. The artificial light from the campus street lamps guided my studies. My midnight study session was interrupted by an alarm blaring from the nearby campus store. I bolted towards the store leaving my organic chemistry notes in my dust. I rounded the corner towards the back end of the campus student center and my eyes were filled with the flashing red lights from the buildings automated alarm. Just then I had spotted the culprit, a shadowy blur dashing towards the biology building with a large sack in hand.

He broke through the entrance to the biology building and slipped inside, probably hoping to hide out for awhile. Just as I approached the entrance to the building, a hand reached out and grabbed me from the shadows of a large bush. I jumped and instinctively slapped the arm away, ready for a fight.

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“Ouch, hey! It’s just me!” The familiar scruffy voice of my boss, professor Boris Bugsby, in the entomology lab put me at ease. The shadowy outline of the tall, lanky entomology professor still looked quite intimidating. “You’re not thinking of going after him are you? Coop, he is armed!”

“I am the security guard on duty tonight so what choice do I have?” I replied unconfidently. My heart was racing. Nothing this eventful had ever happened while I was on duty. “Maybe I’ll call for back up.”

“He’ll probably escape by the time help arrives…” The professor’s voice trailed off as he reached into his pocket, pulled out a device and handed it to me. “Use this against him. If he reaches for his gun, spray him in the hand or face with this and he’ll immediately surrender.”

I accepted what looked like a large canister of pepper spray. “I don’t think pepper spray works if you spray their hand… But you’re the professor after all.” When my nerves get the best of me I tend to be overly sarcastic.

The professor chuckled, “It’s not pepper spray my boy! It’s caustic acid inspired by the Bombardier beetle’s self-defense mechanism. The beetle carefully mixes hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide in its abdomen and shoots it at incoming threats. But no time to explain, you’ve got a thief to catch!” He gave me a slight nudge towards the door. He seemed a little too excited about sending me in to risk my life stopping a petty thief.

Just as I opened the biology building door I heard the professor whistle for my attention. “One more thing about that spray. You need to hold the trigger for 3 seconds and then slowly release the trigger, or else it won’t work.”

“Why would you make a spray gun like…” I turned to criticize his design but my boss was gone. “Professor?” I whispered his name but received no response. “Great. Let’s hope I spot the burglar before he spots me or else he’ll shoot me dead before I can even charge my spray gun!” I thought to myself. Again, sarcasm is my best friend in moments like these.

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Tiptoeing through the main corridor of the biology building in pitch black darkness was nerve-racking. The infrequent flashes of red light on the ceiling from the smoke detectors and emergency alarms made the tension unbearable. “Isn’t there a bug that can see in the dark? Why couldn’t the professor make me a device like that instead?!”

Just then, I noticed movement down a hallway to my right. Assuming the burglar was the only other person in this building besides myself, I instinctively pointed my spray gun in that direction and pulled the trigger. The burglar was charging towards me, but stopped in alarm apparently shocked that I was also armed. He pulled out his gun. I could hear my spray gun filling with fluid. I needed more time. “I beat you to the draw, but let’s talk things through. It does not have to end like this.” I said. Though that is truly how I felt, I was really trying to buy more time.

“Since you drew first, I was guessing you wanted a fight.” The voice of the burglar sounded less gruff and intimidating than I had imagined. From the flashes of red light I could make out the clean-shaven chiseled face of the thief. Again, not exactly what I had imagined an armed robber to look like. “I need this and you’re not going to stop me.”

The fluids in my gun had started to react, I could feel the trigger getting very hot. But it was still filling with fluid. Do I wait until it stops filling? “Listen, if it’s money you need, there are people that can help you…” I began until he cut me off.

“You fool, if I wanted money I wouldn’t rob the campus store! What I have in this bag is more…” This time I cut him off. My gun had finished filling and was overwhelmingly hot at this point so I released the trigger, spraying the acid all over his outstretched shooting arm. He immediately dropped his gun and fell to the floor writhing in pain. I cringed as I heard his flesh sizzle and pop.

Bombardier Beetle

I dashed forward, kicking his gun out of reach and snatching his satchel. I peeked inside, curious as to what was worth more than money in the college book store. It was a college basketball trophy, won by our school at the most recent state tournament.

“Why on earth would you need our college basketball trophy? It’s certainly not worth threatening someone’s life over!” I anticipated a seething reply, but was met instead with silence. I checked his body for vitals. He was alive, but unconscious. Probably due to pain and shock. Maybe a police report would have clues as to why a basketball trophy was worth all the trouble. I called the police and watched over his motionless body until they arrived.

*****

That bombardier blaster was the start of our dynamic partnership. Since then, the professor and I have tested plenty of insect inspired gadgets to fight crime. Though the gadgets haven’t helped me out of this dilemma. But I haven’t tried the bombardier blaster yet. Maybe I could use my blaster to make the stomach acid my escape plan instead of my number one obstacle.

With more experience wielding the blaster, and an in depth study of the bombardier beetle, I have learned that I can hold and release the trigger in rapid succession. This causes multiple smaller bursts of acid spray, as opposed to the huge blast of acid that maimed the burglar in the biology building. Most criminals just need the warning sign to know that I mean business and that they should stand down.

The bombardier beetle exerts lots of energy making the individual chemicals necessary for the caustic acid chemical reaction. Once it creates the reactants, they are safely stored in abdominal cavities, one cavity for hydroquinone and one cavity for hydrogen peroxide. When it’s under attack, it quickly opens up those storage cavities to mix the chemicals, along with an enzyme to initiate the chemical reaction, in a chamber at the end of the abdomen. As the chemicals are mixing, they are simultaneously being shot out the abdomen towards the unfortunate attacker. If the product remains inside the beetle’s body for too long, it will damage its internal organs. It doesn’t want to waste all of it in one spray and potentially cause internal damage, so it just creates enough caustic acid to send the warning message to the predator.

However, in my current situation, I think it would be better to try a huge burst of caustic acid. Maybe if I can decrease the pH of the stomach acid enough, the monster will be forced to vomit and I can escape through its mouth. By mixing my blaster’s caustic acid with the monster’s stomach acid, I will be increasing the acidity and decreasing the overall pH. Being part of projectile vomit is definitely on my short list of things I never want to do, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Stomach drawing. Stomach acid is rising from the bottom.

I mix about 95% of my caustic acid, saving a fraction of it as a back up for later, and release it into the stomach acid. Just as I hoped, the stomach acid began to bubble and quickly rise. The acid was now covering my feet where I stood on a fleshy platform by the entrance to the stomach. Just a little further and hopefully it would trigger its vomit reflex. The acid was now covering my ankles. Even though I was wearing my protective beetle armor, it was starting to feel uncomfortably hot. If I was thrown up, I’d only feel uncomfortable for a brief moment. Just then, a strange opaque fluid started oozing from the walls of the stomach and into the acid. The stomach acid stopped bubbling and began to drop. The monster was decreasing its own stomach pH!

Fascinated by such a clever adaptation and disappointed that my plan didn’t work, I began to devise a new escape plan before I get digested. Let’s hope my insect adaptations combined with my intellect can defeat the beast. But my luck is quickly running out.

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Thank you for reading my first installation of my short fiction story “Insect Vigilante.” If you enjoyed reading it, or if you have any questions, drop me a comment. I would love to hear about your reading experience! Stay tuned for the part 2 of this story within the next couple of weeks.

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