Maria And The Bug

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Operative: Saffron K.

Maria and the Bug.

Insights into the nature of the Halls.

Maria brought a bug home the other day. It was nearly half her size, had dozens of stumpy legs, and was ravenous for leaves. Thanks to my little girl, Athenaeum is now home to a massive twenty-pound caterpillar.

She had shuffled up to me excitedly with this juicy insect squeezed between her little arms, struggling to carry its weight. The bug's mandibles were curiously gumming at the shoulder of her shirt. "Saff! Saff!" she hollered. "I found a guy!"

I still get so nervous about letting her go out on her own, but she insists. We have a tentative arrangement for letting her explore. A very long spool of rope attached to a clip on her belt keeps Maria from wandering too far away from the outpost, and it's been long enough now and I've endured enough stubborn arguments between the two of us that I have to trust the little girl not to get lost out there. Apparently, Maria has been making all sorts of friends and discoveries during her adventures.

I can't fathom how a caterpillar was surviving out here.

After discussing with Maria why we can't keep it (which, we are, we are keeping it) because it will eat all of the plants at the outpost (which it has been) I eventually caved and decided it was an opportunity to study the ecology of the Halls. I know I spoil the girl. What else can I do though? Keep the bug and own the strangest dog ever, or eat the thing for extra protein and break the girl's heart. A younger me would have gone for the second route, but, here I am keeping track of a mischievous Maria and now her newfound mighty steed, Bugbert.

To keep it from getting at the healthy plants I've quarantined Bugbert to the compost and trimmings. He's been eating like crazy and has nearly doubled in size, and he's transformed from a sickly pale yellow into a vibrant healthy green colour as well. When it's time for the nightshift crews who work in the moody blues and reds of LED grow lights to take over, Bugzilla shows off to them with dazzling patterns of bioluminescence along his leathery skin.

Maria is crazy about her friend. Every day she's throwing berries at the caterpillar, poking it with curious fingers, I had to stop her from licking him. At night she lays down beside him and traces her fingers along his glowing patches and tells him stories as he munches on the overgrowth.

"Saff! Burrburr told me all about his family!"

She tugs on my jumper and stares up at me with sparkles in her eyes, letting me know every waking moment of this caterpillar's day-to-day life. I'd be lying if I said it didn't warm my heart. She's getting so good at English and Bugbert has been filling her life with stories and happiness.

For me though, Burrburr holds greater importance. He's a glimpse into what's out there deeper into the Frontier.

Bugs should be tiny. Even the biggest wiggly caterpillars from baseline should stop growing at a few inches long. Bugbert, migrating through the empty nothingness of the Halls, clocked in at nearly two feet long when we first found him. It seemed impossible. Bugzilla defied logic. Yet here he was, slobbering on Maria's giggling face in the world's strangest snuggle. In between herding these cats I had time to mull it over and got to making theories.

Deep-sea gigantism came to mind.

The giant squids that grow over thirty feet long, the haunting Japanese spider crabs that stalk the ocean floor and grow to the size of busses. Or beasts of the colder regions of the world, like Polar Bears or the Canadian Moose. Those mammals grow immensely large to maximize how their bodies store calories. What if our little Bugbert was the same kind of deal? In environments of food scarcity, few predators, and even a sprinkle of the unexplainable effects of limspace, perhaps caterpillars could grow to incredible sizes in the Halls all the time.

It's based solely on observation of Bugbert and a dash of my own extrapolation, but I would assume one of two things. Either firstly, the Halls contain at least a single biome of overgrowth, like some liminal jungle inside the Frontier, suggesting Bugbert is native to the Halls. Or secondly, nearby us at the Outpost lies a connection to another level that can sustain such large creatures, and Bugbert got terribly lost.

Either outcome has our caterpillar friend having to partake in a migration of epic proportions. Plenty of Porters come through Athenaeum and none have ever told me stories of giant caterpillars or where they might come from. I believe Bugzilla has travelled a very long way to get here and is a living representation of the mysteries of limspace. A tiny part of me would give anything to backtrack the caterpillar's steps and follow them home to where they came from. I picture a bioluminescent world inside the hallways of the Frontier — one plunged into darkness and lush with decay, rot, mushrooms and ferns growing on the dying officescape. Within this world, massive caterpillars mature and metamorph into their true winged forms.

Will Bugzilla become a moth or a butterfly? Or perhaps something entirely new, never seen in Baseline?

I ask this because after gorging himself on our mulch for the better half of a month, Bugbert has begun the process of spinning a cocoon in the corner of my office. Maria has been sitting cross-legged on the floor behind me, mesmerized at his rhythmic wiggling and gooey silk production. I've been able to draw her pictures and explain how these things work for caterpillars in baseline and she has been starstruck at her friend's performance, going wild with imagination as to what he might turn into.

While exciting, I am equally concerned that the cocoon may hatch something not as pleasant as a butterfly. I'll be keeping a careful watch on Bugbert's progress, and I hope that when he hatches he will not be a danger to us. My poor Maria. I hope that this does not become a harsh lesson on the nature of the Backrooms. We have fire, and we have weapons to protect the Outpost. I'd hate to turn them on family — even if it's bug family.

In the meantime, I'll keep that nagging stress to the back of my mind, and enjoy the enthusiasm Maria has over her friend. She's really been keeping me young, that little bean.

However, that's enough journalling for tonight. It's been a busy cycle and sleep will be a much-needed respite.

Rest well, everyone.

May our yearning paleolithic gaze, robbed of a horizon, still ever catch the glimmer of a far-off guiding light.

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