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  1. Young Andre’s First Vanishing

1.

In a few minutes they were taking seats around the office, and Rob was pouring red wine.

“When I was at Shakaran,” said Annelise, “we busted these guys who were from the Institute, actually they were in the Annex of the Institute, which was sort of where the advanced researchers could do whatever they wanted. And these guys were researching critters. Not like druid critters. Like crawly critters. I got called out there with a few other wizards and some druid woman, and someone had dumped out a bunch of these wormy things on the front lawn of the Institute. Like a hundred of them. They sort of ate their way into the ground, reproducing as they went—they just split in two, they did straight mitosis, no evolution necessary for them. So we get there and there’s this pit about thirty feet wide. We found out then that the cold spell works great on maggots.”

“So could that have been worse?” asked Lilah. “I mean, trt asht is just a two word spell. It doesn’t seem that hard to kill these things.”

“And if all they do is eat dirt,” said Rob.

“Oh, they eat anything,” Annelise replied, “it’s just that dirt is plentiful. Dirt is easy.”

“Still,” said Lilah, “it sounds more like a public nuisance than a threat to anything.”

“It was the most disgusting thing ever, Lilah. Okay, I dealt with it. We dealt with it. But it was undeniably gross. And then.”

“And then,” said Zinnia.

“Well,” Annelise went on, “the five guys who’d got involved in this, they just got in trouble with the Institute and got a fine from the city, and then the Institute sent someone to check on their other research. And these guys, they had oh, tens of thousands, maybe millions of those worms, at least ten different types, some that eat some plant matter, waddle off and explode, some that fart horribly, some that squirt acid, some that pump out clouds of ink, some that just walk on the walls and glow, I guess that’s useful if you’re up late and want to read in bed.”

“And this was their research,” said George. “Sounds like fun research.”

“But here’s the thing. All these creatures, they eat a certain amount of whatever and they split into two worms. Or three or four if they’ve been piggy.”

“How do the exploders reproduce?” asked Zinnia.

“Only some of them blow up, I guess,” Annelise replied.

“Who dumped the worms in front of the Institute?” asked Lilah.

“Well, so,” said Annelise, “it’s like this. One of the guys was dating this prof at the Institute. He’s Annex, he’s a crazy researcher, she’s Institute, so she’s a teaching professor with an interest in, oh, time mechanics or something, she does big lectures and small seminars, and all the students love her. He’s nuts for her. And she breaks up with him because, you know, he’s smart and well-off but he smells and he angers easily and, you know, he works with worms. So he’s all upset and he takes a hundred of his favorites and dumps them in front of her office.”

“It’s lucky he didn’t do worse,” said Rob. “He could’ve brought the exploders.”

“Or the farting ones,” said Zinnia.

“I don’t feel this is the appropriate attitude to take,” said Annelise. “He dumped disgusting worms on a perfectly nice lawn because she didn’t want to break up with him. It’s not like he gets credit for not doing something worse. Hey, I can go kill people now and it’s okay because I’m not torturing them first.”

“Okay, okay,” said Zinnia. “I give.”

“So where is this magnificent piece of humanity?” asked Lilah.

“He has a permanent residency in a small prison on a rocky island in the cold latitudes of Shakaran,” Annelise replied. “They don’t let him breed anything, either.”

“What happened to the other four? Are they still researching how to make a reproducing, exploding worm?”

“There was a big to-do,” said Annelise. “Two of them got pressured into exile. The other two moved over to the Institute. I guess it was felt that their whole research program was just not the direction we wanted to go on Shakaran.”

“So they’re now on to breeding a faster, better, cheaper mosquito,” said Rob.

“I think the two that stayed at the Institute are basically teaching Intro to Alchemy and Spell Energy I & II. Supposedly no one’s working in any area involving something that can reproduce out of control.”

They all thought about that for a moment, and then Rob said, “And of course that totally means no one is doing it.”

“Like whatever made those things appear in the black place,” said Lilah.

“Damn it,” said George. “That black place you went through.”

“What?”

“That’s what these things do. That’s what happens when they’re out of control.”

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