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“What’s going on?” Lee asked, sticking his head out of the office.
Kate had that grin. “They’ve got a detached garage, infested with rats.”
“Don’t tell me it’s—”
“I think it might be an anomaly, yeah. Do we have time to go check it out?”
Lee sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. No scheduled jobs this afternoon.”
“Great! I’ll get the info, call the profs, and we can get going.” Kate was a biology major at the university, and worked for Lee part-time. When a job turned out to be an anomaly, and he’d seen too many of those lately, Kate’s professors paid well for videotape and live specimens. But no amount of money was worth the nightmares.
“They’re… aggressive,” the customer told Lee, rubbing his left arm. “I ain’t seen nothin’ like it. If I didn’t have stuff in there I want to get out, I’d just have the fire department come out and burn it down.”
“Okay,” said Lee. He noted that tone, the one that said you’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you what’s really going on. “Kate, let’s suit up. Sir, if you’d rather go inside while we work, that might be safest.”
“Are you gonna fumigate the garage, then? That’s what I’d do.”
“We’ll see what we’re up against, first. Then we’ll decide what to do.”
“Okay.” The customer sounded doubtful, but fished in his pockets. “Here’s the keys.”
“Video on,” said Kate.
“Keep your shield on the ground,” Lee warned. “Last thing you want is for ‘em to get to your ankles.”
“Roger that.” She stepped forward.
“Kate, it’s my job to go in first.”
“Nope! My turn. I’ll be careful. My insurance is up to date, anyway.” Kate opened the unlocked door before Lee could protest further. “Lights on,” she said. “What the…”
Through the audio pickup, Lee heard a sound like spats of rain. “What’s going on?”
“It’s rat poop,” said Kate. “They’re pushing it off the plywood in the rafters. Like it’s a warning. Interesting.” She drew that last word out, relishing it. “There’s a few of them,” she continued. “Normal size. Brown and white. Weird, they’re not running—shit!”
“Kate!” Lee dashed forward, but Kate was already backing out of the garage.
She turned and gave Lee a wild-eyed look. “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they—”
Lee looked at Kate’s shield. “Where did that nail come from?”
“Nail?” Kate turned her shield around. “Holy… Lee. We need to check the video. Now.”
“Son of a…” Lee trailed off, as Kate stepped through the video frame by frame. Even with the motion blur, it was obvious.
“They built tools!” Kate exulted. “Weapons! A fracking crossbow! Do you know what that means?”
“It means we’ll have to fumigate the garage after all.”
“Are you crazy? This is an intelligent species! Maybe the only examples! We can’t just exterminate them because—”
“Uh, Kate? We’re exterminators. It’s our job to get rid of animals that invade people’s dwellings. They’re encroaching on human territory. If they were people, they’d be squatting. Trespassing. The police would remove them, using force if necessary.”
“Probably not,” Lee admitted. “But tasers would be a possibility.”
“Taser.” Kate snapped her fingers, rapidly. “Do you have anything like that? Something that would just… knock ‘em out? Sleepy gas?”
“Not with us. Call your profs. Maybe they can suggest something. Then we can let the customer know what’s happening.”
“Ready? Go!” Lee and Kate led the charge, followed by four more biology students. All wore masks and air tanks, and carried cages and grabbers. Kicking the door shut behind them, they waded through the fog of ether and used the grabbers to toss unconscious rats into cages.
“Three nests of babies up here,” said one of the students, standing on a ladder. “And some adults. Looks organized. Almost looks like a daycare.”
“Sweep ‘em into the cage, nests and all,” said Kate. “Try not to mess up the nests. I hope they don’t OD.”
“How many do you think we’ll miss?” Lee asked.
“There’s probably a few up in the insulation,” another student suggested. “Whoa. That looks like a crossbow.”
“It is,” said Kate. They shot nails with it.”
“Day-yam. No wonder you called us in.”
“Got a whole pack of ‘em here,” said Lee. “Let’s get ‘em picked up. What are you guys gonna do with them?”
“The profs have already got some students renovating one of the basement rooms,” said Kate. “Full habitat, observation areas, the works. If we can learn to communicate with them…” she trailed off.
“I still think we should exterminate ‘em,” said Lee. “We’ve got enough politicians around here already.”