A Short Story - The Printed Bugs

December 9, 2020

It was Christmas morning and Clayton, his brothers, and their sister were all scrambling around the Christmas tree, sorting out the presents, excitedly shaking each one before handing it to its intended receiver.

"Hey! This one's heavy! It's for you Jenny, here," said Richie as he handed the box to his sister.

"Oh, my! It is heavy! I wonder what could be inside?" She asked nobody in particular, set it down, and picked up another present, "This one's for you Clay, it's heavy also, be careful with it."

Clayton, the youngest of the family, took the box and set it next to the three others he had collected. Soon all the presents had been distributed to their intended owners and the parents joined in the festivities.

"You guys have already sorted out all the presents?" said Alicia, their mother.

"Yes! Can we open them now?" Asked Jimmy.

"Just a minute," said Dad, also known as Bob, as he got his camera ready, and handed the video camera to Alicia. Once both the cameras were ready to record the Great Opening he said, "Okay, ready! Set! Go!" The kids all ripped into their presents, bows flying through the air, sticking to heads, cheeks, or noses; ribbons littered the floor and hung from branches of the Christmas tree; colorful paper with pictures of snowmen, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and stars, was ripped off the boxes and tossed aside like any ol' candy wrapper. Mom and Dad recorded the entire Opening. They all laughed, and oohed and awed at their new clothes, toys, sports equipment, dolls, a guitar, and sundry things.

"Cool! Thanks, Dad!" "Sweet! This is great!" "Wow! Um, what is it?" "I love it! It's perfect!"

The kids blasted through the presents and the stockings stuffed with small toys, mixed nuts, and an orange in each one. Finally finishing with their presents, they looked up at Mom and Dad and Jenny said, "Okay, that was fun! Now it's your turn Mom! Then Dad, then you, Mom, then Dad, again."

"Okay, okay, we get the idea," Alicia said. She picked up a present for herself and one from her husband and handed it to him.

Alicia said, "This is from Santa. Oh, I wonder which Santa this one came from?" She laughed and proceeded to remove the bow very carefully.

"Hey!" said Jimmy, "Just rip it open, Mom!"

"Just watch, sweetie, this is how you open a present," Alicia said as she continued to carefully remove the ribbon, then the paper so she didn't tear it. The kids were just about jumping in anticipation.

"Oh, how nice, thank you Santa!" she said as she looked at each of the kids. She held the pink sweater up in front of her so they could all see it. It would look good on her, they all agreed. "Okay, Dad, your turn," she said to Bob and all the kids shifted their attention to their Dad.

Bob looked at the present for a moment, a long pause, and the kids were bouncing, Clayton was now standing and watching, and he grabbed the bow and ripped it off the box and through it towards the other children. They erupted in laughter and clapped their hands. He yanked on the ribbon until it just about broke open the box. Alicia was trying to give him a disapproving frown but they could all see it wasn't really working. Bob ripped the paper off the box, tossed some at Jenny, then another piece at Richie. He finally got to the part where he could remove the top of the box and he paused, put one hand on the top to pretend to hold it down, took a deep breath, and slowly lifted one corner of the lid. The kids were all standing now, just about at his feet, holding their breath, and he dragged it out as long as he could. Finally, Clayton reached forward, grabbed the lid, and pulled it out from under Dad's hand. Dad smiled, everyone started into the box, what was it? Bob reached into the box and brought out another box, a very small one, and looked at it, at all its sides, top and bottom. They all checked it out carefully.

"What is it?" whispered Jenny.

"Another box," said Jimmy, also quietly.

Richie said, "Dad, you have to open that one, too."

Bob smiled, looked at the small box, and slowly removed the tape holding the top onto it. When he opened it, he stopped for a moment, and then removed a ring from inside it. The ring was not gold or silver; it wasn't an antique or rare. What it was was a special ring with the names of the children engraved in the metal band.

He put the ring on one finger and it fit perfectly.

Richie said, "We put our money together to get you that ring so you will always have us with you, no matter where you go."

"Thank you so very much," Bob said with a few tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He gave everyone a hug and kiss and they all settled down as the parents finished opening their presents. Then they had a big breakfast.

That was a beautiful Christmas day. Way back in 2032. What happened in the not-too-distant future would change not just Bob and Alicia's family, but also the entire world.

During the next few months, Clayton learned everything he could about printing on his 3D printer. He got the printer for Christmas. It had been the one heavy box his sister handed him. Since then he has been busy printing objects on it, things that can't possibly have been made with Legos or the other building toys he had.

He experimented with his favorite things - creatures that he invented. He could draw some strange creatures in the software and print them with a liquid plastic.

As the years went by, he learned about making his own mixes of plastics for printing objects. One day while working on a new mixture there was a bee in his little lab and he was chasing it around with a rag to swat it. He swatted the bee but lost track of where it landed. What he didn't know was that the bee landed in his liquid plastic.

He eventually got his new mix ready to try in his printer. He opened the software for designing something to print and he designed a new and crazy bug. It had the legs of a spider, the body of a porcupine (but tiny), the wings of a house fly, the head of a hawk, the tail of a horse. Finally, just for fun, he added a bee stinger. He finished the 3D drawing of his creature and sent it to the printer. The printer immediately started humming and moving around in small motions as it placed the liquid plastic in the tray and perfectly created the bug he imagined.

It took quite some time, but when it was finished he was amazed by the detail and quality of the bug. It was so real, he thought, almost too lifelike. He felt a little creeped out by how real it looked.

That night when he was sleeping something happened. The bug started to move in little spurts. It then started to walk, then faster and faster and soon was running around like a spider. It practiced flapping its wings and before long was flying around the room. Clayton's bug had come to life!

In the morning Clayton couldn't find his bug anywhere so where printed another. He thought they looked so good he decided to print a few and give them to his friends. He had his printer going all day and by the time he stopped for dinner he had printed more than a dozen of the bugs. Then he ran out of the liquid plastic he developed.

During the night, these new bugs all came to life as well. Soon they were flying all over the room and then out the window.

Again, the next morning, Clayton couldn't find any of his bugs, which puzzled him to no end. He mixed another batch of the liquid plastic and printed a few more of the bugs. However, there was something different about this batch of bugs, something he couldn't quite figure out. Yet, he knew there was something different about them.

The next morning he went into his lab and found his new bugs there on the table where he left them. And they looked exactly as he left them. What he didn't know was that his previous batch of liquid had had the bee in it, but his new batch had no living organism in it. That was the secret, the DNA of the bee, and he had no idea about it.

Those bugs that flew out of the house went wild in the wild. They reproduced, creating hundreds of the tiny fantastic creatures. They scattered over the neighborhood, continuing to reproduce into the thousands. Soon the plants in the neighborhood were leafless. The bugs were eating every kind of plant they could find. They continued to reproduce at a scary speed.

They also discovered their stingers that Clayton added at the last minute before printing them. The new bugs could not only eat every living plant but could also sting every living creature which included humans. The sting hurt but caused no problems because the new bugs had no venom. However, the pain was terrible and it wouldn't go away.

Many people who had gotten stung would eventually be in so much pain they had to go to the hospital. The doctors had no idea what to make of the sting marks found on the people and no idea of what to do to make the pain go away. There were many people taking their own lives due to the pain from the sting.

That and the eating of the plants caused the human race to slowly decline in number. In the first year, there had been a decline of about 10% of the human race.

Governments from all over the world investigated the bugs. They captured some and found they were engineered bugs, not at all natural. They put out advertisements to find the one who created the monster bugs. Clayton had to keep to himself and keep out of any kind of trouble. He was much more careful with his new liquid plastic mixes.

All kinds of experts were crawling all over the neighborhoods infected by the bugs. These were some new kind of bug nobody had ever imagined could exist. Nobody had any idea where they could have come from. There were all kinds of conspiracy theories and stories about alien spaceships and secret government hybrids gone awry.

Clayton knew what that bug was made of and the kind of damage it could do. He set out on his own to try to develop a super bug that could kill the bug he created, but he still didn't know what it was that brought them to life.

The bugs continued to reproduce into the millions and millions again. They spread all across the world. In less than a year, the bugs had eaten 25 percent of the world's plant life. The experts from all over the world tried to find some kind of poison to kill them but nothing worked, they continued to reproduce.

In another 2 years, the world's plant life had been reduced by another 25%. In a couple more years, the world would die if the experts couldn't find a way to rid the globe of the bugs. They tried everything they could but nothing was successful.

The world population started to dwindle due to the plant life also shrinking. It had reached the point of no return within another year and a half. Things were looking very bleak for the human race.

Clayton had been desperately working to discover what caused them to become animated. He had captured a few of the bugs and contacted a friend of his. His friend examined the bugs, their blood, and the plastic they were made of. They did everything they could to find out the secret to the living printed bugs.

The human population was shrinking fast, the plant life of Earth was down to a mere 20%, and human life was nearly wiped out. The bugs had run rampant, they were unstoppable. It looked like the only way they would stop was if they ran out of plants to eat, but by then the entire human race would be extinct. Times were desperate, indeed.

One night Clayton had a dream. His dream was about that day he mixed that ill-fated batch of plastic liquid. In his dream, he swatted a bee and it landed in the liquid. In his dream, it was the DNA of the bee that brought the bugs to life. Which was why the second batch of plastic liquid didn't come to life. Then he woke up, sweating, but realizing he could now find a way to fix the problem he created.

Clayton and his friend started working on finding a solution to the manufactured bugs that were destroying the world. It took another six months before they were onto something that showed successful results. They continued testing the new super bug to make sure it would destroy only the printed bug and nothing more. Within a few months they had what they hoped was a solution. They released the first batch of superbugs.

In the area where they released the bugs, they noticed a definite decline in the number of the first bug. They had found the anti-bug superbug! They created many more and released them into the world. The newly released superbugs reproduced rapidly; soon there were millions of the little creatures.

By the time the new bugs had brought an end to the first bugs the world was at almost 10 percent of plant life and an even smaller number of humans. The new superbug was successful and stopped the printed bugs. They were destroyed and when any were found they were burned, melted into a plastic goop that was thrown into the trash. They buried that plastic without even trying to recycle it for fear that it would come back to life because of the original bee DNA.

The world started to look greener year by year as it recovered.

Clayton and his friend never told anyone the about the original bug. They took that secret to their graves. Clayton wasn't about to be remembered as the man who just about caused the apocalypse.