Miles Barnett gritted his teeth at the sight of Emmanuel DeRusso, clad in a tee shirt with four Indians on horseback holding rifles: Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism Since 1492. DeRusso was entertaining a group of his admirers on the stage of the lecture hall where he had chosen to defend his dissertation. Who else would wear a tee shirt to his dissertation defense? What kind of arrogant bastard would invite all of his friends to attend?
“Hello, Miles. It looks like it’s going to be quite a show today.” Professor Maxine Pate, DeRusso’s dissertation director, had come in right behind Miles. If she weren’t fifty-nine years old and thirty pounds overweight with a decent mustache, Miles would have bet his right hand DeRusso was bedding her; DeRusso had Pate wrapped completely around his little finger, as evidenced by the spectacle in which he was being forced to participate.
Pate swept past Miles on her way up to the stage, where she hugged DeRusso and shook hands with the other two Entomology Department faculty members who were already on the stage. The outcome of this dissertation defense was a foregone conclusion.
Pate called the meeting to order. Miles took his seat as the fourth committee member, at the far end of the table, away from DeRusso.
“We are convened here today to witness the defense of the dissertation, ‘Defensive Strategies of the Camponotus silvanus: Collective Strategic Intelligence of the Giant Jungle Ant Mosaic in the Tropical Rain Forest of Borneo’, submitted by Emmanuel DeRusso for the completion of his doctorate in entomology here at Mastodon State University. Mr. DeRusso will give a brief synopsis of his research for the committee and the department faculty and students. The committee will then question Mr. DeRusso regarding various aspects of his dissertation. Once the committee has finished, we will open the floor to questions.”
* * *
DeRusso had already droned well past his thirty-minute time limit when Jackson Kauffmann of the computer security research unit in the Electrical Engineering Department entered the rear of the lecture hall, taking one of the seats in the last isle. He gave Miles a discrete thumbs-up.
“Excuse me, Mr. DeRusso,” Miles said. “I think you have exceeded your presentation time, and I have a question about an aspect of your research.”
“Call me Manny, please. We’re all friends here.”
“This is a dissertation defense, not a social occasion, Mr. DeRusso,” Miles said. “A certain amount of decorum is appropriate.”
Miles had prepared a couple of real zingers to throw at DeRusso; they wouldn’t change the outcome, but they would at least wipe the smug smile off DeRusso’s face. Now, looking out at all the happy faces in the crowd, Miles decided against it.
“No need to get too fussy, Professor Barnet,” Maxine Tate said. “But you are correct, we should proceed to the question and answer phase of the defense.”
“Thank you, Professor Tate,” Miles said. “Mr. DeRusso, according to your draft dissertation, the Camponotus silvanus ant colonies you studied establish a non-overlapping, three-dimensional territory called a mosaic. The giant jungle ant dominates all the other ant species inside the mosaic by eliminating any potential dominant competitors and training subordinate species to recognize their chemical markers. Among these chemical markers are alarm markers that giant jungle ant workers lay down when they encounter a rival dominant ant species. Giant jungle ant workers know instinctively how to respond to these chemical alarm trails, but the subordinate ant species within the mosaic have to be trained to recognize them. Could you, please, explain how the subordinate ant workers learn to react appropriately to the presence of rival dominant ant species that are a threat to the giant jungle ant but not necessarily to themselves?”
“Certainly,” DeRusso said. “The giant jungle ants engage in threatening behavior in the presence of their slave ants when they encounter the chemical markers of a rival dominant species. Specifically, the giant jungle ants perform antennation and gaster drumming, which the slave ants recognize as threatening. Once the slave ants begin to lay down chemical alarm markers, the giant jungle ants stop their threatening behaviors.”
“So, the giant jungle ants never escalate to front leg boxing, mandible grabbing, or threaten acid spraying?” Miles said.
“That is correct,” DeRusso said. “Over time, the slave ants come to associate the presence of the other dominant ant species with danger, causing them to lay down chemical alarm markers. Outside of the giant jungle ant mosaic, these chemical markers would have been ignored by the slave ants, just as they largely ignore the chemical tracks of the giant jungle ants inside the mosaic. The advantage of this trained behavior for the giant jungle ant is that there are now dozens of new slave ant sentinels that the giant jungle ants do not need to expend resources to procreate, nurture, and feed. For this reason, the giant jungle ants can establish and maintain a mosaic in pristine tropical forests, where other species of dominant predatory ants such as Camponotus gigas have been unsuccessful.”
“Yes, Pfeiffer and Linsenmair, among others, have been very skeptical of the existence of ant mosaics outside of tropical forests disturbed by plantation agriculture,” Miles said.
“A question from the audience.” Jackson Kauffmann was standing in the back of the auditorium with his hand raised. Maxine Pate gave him a nod. “From an engineering perspective, a sentinel warning system like the one devised by the giant jungle ants has a potential weakness if the signal to noise ratio is too low. Anyone who visited Chicago or Detroit in the late 1980s has experienced those early car alarms going off all day and night, to the point where all car alarms were treated as noise. So how do the giant jungle ants avoid this problem?”
“I am not sure I understand the car alarm analogy?” DeRusso said.
“If the trained slave ant is less discriminating laying down alarm markers compared to a native giant jungle ant sentinel, then there will be a lot of false alarms,” Miles said. “Each alarm will consume resources in order to be addressed, offsetting the resources gained by training the slave ants to act as sentinels. If the signal to noise ratio is too low, the giant jungle ants will spend all their time investigating false alarms instead of gathering food. The colony will be worse off than if it never indentured the slave ants.”
“My research did not find much of a problem with false alarms,” DeRusso said. “The slave ants seemed easily and effectively trained.”
“In our simulations, the greatest threat to the giant jungle ant colony was to become involved in the battles of the subordinate species, thereby exhausting themselves,” Jackson said.
“Whose simulations are you talking about?” DeRusso said. “I am not aware of any entomologists running simulations of this kind.” Miles gave Jackson a concerned look.
“I’m sorry, I misspoke,” Jackson said. “I was referring to some warfare simulations being conducted by electrical engineers elsewhere, not insect simulations.”
“Returning to your dissertation,” Miles said, “in a pristine rainforest, there is a great diversity of Formicidae, not all of which are true threats to the mosaic of the giant jungle ant, but which may be a threat to the nesting and feeding activities of the slave ants. How do the giant jungle ants train the slave ants to distinguish between threats to themselves alone and those that are also threats to the giant jungle ants?”
“I will have to review my videos of the training sessions to provide you with a specific answer,” DeRusso said. “But I believe it has to do with the location where the training takes place.”
“This seems to be a minor point as regards this particular dissertation defense,” Maxine Pate said. “Perhaps you could consult with Professor Barnett independently on this matter, Manny.”
Miles glanced at Jackson, who gave him another discrete thumbs-up. Finally Miles had something to be happy about. The plan he and Jackson had finalized yesterday evening was now in play.
* * *
“Really, the best option would be for the Wop to blow his dissertation defense and leave academia to sell real estate or insurance or something like that,” Jackson had said.
“That’s not going to happen,” Miles had said. “Pate’s got a hard-on for DeRusso. It’s not just the flashy research. It’s the whole anti-war thing.”
“Why does studying bugs make you a rag-head-loving, bleeding-heart liberal?” Jackson blew cigar smoke out Miles’ open window. Smoking was no longer allowed in faculty offices, but Miles had a corner office with good cross ventilation, and a celebratory cigar and brandy were fitting for the occasion.
“Entomologists spend a lot of time traipsing around in third world jungles and deserts and other places with lots of Moslems,” Miles said. “Being politically correct is an adaptive mechanism.”
“Since 9/11 I thought being politically correct meant taking away people’s box-cutters before they got on the plane,” Jackson said.
“Some people don’t want to admit that the world has changed, and that we have to change with it,” Miles said.
Jackson nodded, raising his glass. “It’s too bad DeRusso’s letting his ideology get in the way of his self-interest. He could get himself a mighty nice research grant, with my–our–help. He’d really be set up in his first faculty appointment, walking in with a fat wad of money in his pocket.”
“He’d never accept a grant from Homeland Security.” Miles reached over and poured himself and Jackson a little more from the bottle of Remy Martin Extra. “It would be pointless to ask. He’d just try to make it difficult for us to use his research.”
“But once he submits his dissertation, his research is in the public domain, no?”
“True,” Miles said. “But he might try to patent the Camponotus silvanus alert communication algorithm. Even if he didn’t succeed, it could tie us up in legal knots for months, if not years. DeRusso can be a real pain in the ass when he gets on his high horse.”
“I don’t understand how someone could patent a defense strategy invented by ants, but I suppose you’re right. With the support of an anti-war group or some Hollywood liberal, he could throw a wrench in our plans. That’s what’s so great about the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate research program, the whole thing is secret: the grant applications, the awardees’ names, research reports, everything. DeRusso will never know we’re using his ideas to develop a behavioral modification program to improve the Homeland Security Terrorism Alert System.”
“If DeRusso found out, he’d never let up on us. And I’d get a lot of grief from the Entomology Department about it,” Miles said. “DeRusso would probably accuse us of misappropriation of his research. You know, when Bush landed that Viking fighter on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared ‘Mission Accomplished’ last May, DeRusso organized an anti-war protest in Kota Kinabalu, including both foreign scientists visiting at Kinabalu Park and some local Moslem activists. He was so proud of himself that he sent the dissertation committee a picture of the event.”
“Really? Do you still have it?”
“I think it’s still in my e-mail folder.” Miles checked his computer. “Yep, here it is.”
“Forward it to me. I’ll send it to one of my former buddies at the Company. Maybe we can get DeRusso on the Homeland Security No-Fly List.” Jackson laughed. “Wait until the next time he tries to get on a plane. I guarantee you he’ll never get back to Borneo. And he can submit all the Freedom of Information Requests he wants, but Homeland Security will never tell him squat about our research project; they won’t even admit to him that we have a research project.”
“That’s great.” Miles leaned back in his chair and reached for the bottle of Remy Martin Extra. “By the way, are these cigars Cuban?”
* * *
Miles approached the desk of the chairman’s secretary; she smiled and said, “Go right in, he’s expecting you.”
Steven Fitzsimmons was seated at the small round table adjacent to his cluttered desk. He was reviewing a document. “Have a seat, Miles. I wanted to talk with you about this grant you received from Homeland Security. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“It’s not like anything I’ve done before either,” Miles said. “It took a lot of effort just to get a security clearance to submit an application.”
“Well, that’s the first thing. This was submitted within the last six months, and neither I nor anybody else in Entomology was notified of the submission. Every grant application has to be approved by the faculty member’s department; that’s university policy.”
“I know, but I wasn’t allowed to notify you,” Miles said. “There’s an official with the proper security clearance in the Office of the Vice-President for Research who is authorized to assign university faculty with proper security clearances to these kinds of projects.”
“I’m not allowed to tell you,” Miles said. “If you ask the Vice-President, maybe he will tell you.”
“This is a pretty big chunk of your time, forty percent for the next three years, plus overhead costs and travel. I take it the Department isn’t responsible for any kind of fiscal oversight?”
“No, the University’s Homeland Security Liaison takes care of that,” Miles said. “At the end of the project, you will be notified of its completion, whether Homeland Security accepted the final report and any ancillary products, and of the publication equivalents.”
“Yes, the results of the research will likely be classified, so the Homeland Security Liaison in the Vice-President’s office will inform you how many publication equivalents, how many peer-reviewed publications, should be credited to my faculty productivity report.”
“You’ll be considered to have published peer-reviewed articles that no one’s seen?”
“Well, only by people with the proper security clearance?” Miles said.
“Will any of those people be your peers, entomologists?”
“I can’t say,” Miles said.
“You don’t know?”
“No, I couldn’t tell you even if I did know.” Miles said.
“Jesus, Miles. Are you sure you know what you are doing? How’s this going to look on your résumé? What if you wanted to take a job at another university?”
“My understanding is that all the big research universities are participating in the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s research program,” Miles said. “If I were to apply for a position at another university, I would ask Homeland Security to inform their Liaison at the other institution, and the necessary steps would be taken with the faculty search committee.”
“And your colleagues here? What happens when you go up for promotion to full professor?”
“It’s basically the same,” Miles said. “I’ll ask the Homeland Security Liaison to take the necessary steps with the faculty promotion committee.”
“You’re not off doing some kind of administrative work, are you? This has something to do with entomology, doesn’t it?”
“I can’t tell you,” Miles said.
“Jesus.” Fitzsimmons dropped the folder. “I’ll call the Vice-President. Maybe I can get some answers from him.”
“Good luck.” Miles got up and left the chairman’s office, smiling at the secretary as he left.
* * *
“We’ve got a semi-annual report due next month, but there’s not much to show.” Miles was thumbing through the simulation output Jackson had brought.
“I’m not sure why the simulation isn’t producing better results,” Jackson said.
“Maybe we missed something in the design of the program,” Miles said.
“The part causing the problem right now is that the simulated jungle ants are receiving so many alarms from the subordinate ants that they’re not spending enough time harvesting honeydew. Over time, the colony shrinks to the point it can no longer dominate the mosaic. We’re not properly modeling the mechanism by which the subordinate species are trained to recognize and transmit an alarm signal that’s relevant to the dominant ant colony?”
“The subordinate species should be left to defend themselves against incursions into the mosaic that don’t threaten the giant jungle ants,” Miles said. “In our simulation, the giant jungle ants are exhausting themselves fighting their own battles and becoming involved in all the battles of the subordinate species. DeRusso’s dissertation isn’t very clear on how the giant jungle ants he observed avoided this trap.”
“He fudged his answer to my question about this during the defense, but we can’t call him up and ask him,” Jackson said. “That would tip him off for sure.”
“I’ve been looking through the entomology literature on other social insects that establish territories, but besides ants, there aren’t any social insects that maintain master-slave relationships with other members of the same taxonomic family. I can’t find anything for ants living in pristine tropical forests. Ant mosaics in cultivated areas are not really relevant.”
“Why not?” Jackson said.
“Because the continual human intervention of cultivation greatly favors the dominance of certain ant species,” Miles said. “Insects whose behavior favors the cultivation of crops, such as giant jungle ants that feed on oil palm pests, are protected by farmers from competition by other agricultural pest ants, insects, or animals.”
“I see,” Jackson said. “So in the Homeland Security simulation, we’re the dominant ants. We don’t have a higher force, like a god, tipping the tables in our favor.”
“That’s what was so attractive about DeRusso’s research. The jungle ants were able to maintain dominance in a pristine tropical forest preserve with no human intervention.” Miles sat quietly for a while, looking out his corner windows, remembering the Cuban cigars and brandy. “I need to see DeRusso’s videos.”
“You want to break into his office at Berkeley and copy them?” Jackson said.
“No, the department required him to leave all of his original research materials here. They’re in Pate’s lab.”
“I was just an analyst at the Company. I never got out in the field,” Jackson said. “But I guess I could pull off a simple black-bag break-in, if I needed to.”
“Why don’t I try something more straightforward, like asking to see the files where the notes are kept?”
“Won’t that tip off Pate about our project? She might tell DeRusso,” Jackson said.
“I thought he was on the watch list. Besides, how could he find out anything about our project?”
“There’re secrets, and then there’re secrets,” Jackson said. “Things have a way of leaking out.”
Miles rubbed his forehead. Maybe this project wasn’t such a good idea. “I’ll make some excuse for needing to look in the files—missing notes I lent to DeRusso, need to see if they might have gotten mixed up in his papers. Afterwards I’ll tell her I couldn’t find them—must have lent them to somebody else, I’ll only lend copies in the future.”
“She’ll buy that?” Jackson said.
“Sure, she’s gullible.”
* * *
Miles hurried back to the office without spilling his coffee, just in time to pick up the phone before the call went to voice mail.
“Miles, this is Manny DeRusso. How are you?”
“Fine, Emmanuel.” Miles tried to set down the coffee cup. His hand was shaking, spilling the coffee. “How are you?”
“Great. Great place, Berkeley. There’s an anti-war protest or peace sit-in just about every weekend,” DeRusso said. “And hey, the Ent Department’s great too. They’re helping me out with my overseas research since I can’t travel anymore. I got put on the watch list. My anti-war activities caught up with me, I guess.”
“Sorry to hear that, Emmanuel.” Miles relaxed a little hearing Jackson’s referral had been effective. “Politics and science don’t mix.”
“Hey, maybe, but it won’t be long before people realize how far off the tracks the train has run,” DeRusso said. Miles made no comment. “But that’s not why I called. Max said you were looking for something in my field notes. Something you lent to me, and I didn’t return. Remind me what it was, maybe I have it here?”
“Oh, it was nothing. Just some field notes I wrote on alarm communication way back when. Turns out I lent it to one of the other grad students, not to you. Sorry to have bothered you about this.”
“No problem. It’s always nice to catch up,” DeRusso said. “So what are you doing to keep yourself busy? I heard you got someone to substitute for you in the Entomology 368 ProSeminar. You must have something big going on to give up your bread-and-butter course?”
“Oh, nothing special. I’ve been looking at territoriality among Camponotus in different environmental settings.”
“Really?” DeRusso said. “I hope my research on Camponotus silvanus was useful.”
“Of course, although I have been focusing more on Camponotus saundersi, because of the suicide-by-autothysis defense mechanism.
“It is an effective defensive mechanism,” DeRusso said. “I saw it used in several instances during my field work at Kinabalu National Park, but it only works with small to moderate size incursions. In a large invasion, the saundersi basically wipes out its own army in a matter of hours.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for calling.” Miles tried to hang up the phone.
“Oh, before you go,” DeRusso said, “maybe you could tell me who’s funding your research? Your area of research is close enough to mine that the funder might consider a proposal from me.”
“Actually, I’m subcontracting with Pfieffer and Linsenmair at the University of Wuerzburg. The money comes from the German government through the Theodor-Boveri Institute. I’m not ever sure of which agency is providing the funding.”
“The agency name should be the grant transmittal sheet,” DeRusso said. “The Research Office needs that to calculate the indirect cost allocation.”
“I think they made a special arrangement with Wuerzburg about that. I’m not really sure. I don’t have the document here in the office right now.”
“Maybe you could send me a copy?” DeRusso said.
“Sure, no problem, but it’ll have to be next week. I’m going out of town for a few days.”
“Great, nice talking with you,” DeRusso said. “And good luck with the research.”
* * *
“What’s so important?” Jackson said. “Like I told you yesterday afternoon, the changes we made to the latest simulation program haven’t reversed the self-defeating behavior. Goddamn jungle ants keep starving themselves while they’re fighting with every frickin’ creature in the rainforest.”
“The chairman called me into his office today.”
“He had a freedom of information request for my grant proposal. It was from DeRusso.”
“Well, the Wop can’t have it. It’s classified.” Jackson leaned back in the chair, smiling.
“He called about a month ago, asked about my research funding. Apparently, Pate told him how I’d given up my ProSeminar in order to work on the research grant.”
Jackson leaned forward, no longer smiling. “And you told him?”
“I told him I had funding through a subcontract with some well-known German entomologists.”
“Oh, Christ. He’s caught you in a lie.” Jackson sat back, hands on his head. “Now what?”
“The chairman already e-mailed DeRusso, explaining why we couldn’t respond to the Freedom of Information request because the research was funded by the Department of Homeland Security and was classified.”
“He can’t do that,” Jackson said. “The fact that the research is classified is classified.”
“Well, the Homeland Security Liaison already reamed out the chairman, but the damage is done. DeRusso will assume that I’ve been using his research.”
“Let him assume whatever he wants,” Jackson said. “He won’t be able to find out a thing. It’s all classified.”
* * *
A month later, Miles sat in the waiting area of the Mastodon State University Research Integrity Office. The Homeland Security Liaison from the Office of the Vice President for Research had asked Miles to wait while he spoke to the Research Integrity Officer.
After a half an hour, the Research Integrity Officer opened the door. “Professor Barnett, please come in.” Miles sat down next to the Homeland Security Liaison at a small conference table.
“We’ve received an allegation of misconduct against you from Professor Emmanuel DeRusso of the Entomology Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. DeRusso alleges that you plagiarized his dissertation research in a grant application to the Department of Homeland Security.”
“How could he know that?” Miles said. “The grant application is classified.”
“We are required by federal regulations to investigate any allegation of misconduct, unless the allegation is completely implausible,” the Research Integrity Officer said. “Does your research rely in any way on Dr. DeRusso’s dissertation research on giant jungle ants?”
“That information is classified,” Miles said, looking at the Homeland Security Liaison for support, but receiving none.
“It wouldn’t be a breach of national security to tell me that your research does not involve giant jungle ants,” the Research Integrity Officer said, also looking to the Homeland Security Liaison for support, also receiving none.
“I am prohibited from answering your question,” Miles said.
“Then I have no choice but to accept the allegation as plausible and order a formal inquiry.”
“How are you going to find an inquiry panel at this university with the appropriate expertise and the necessary security clearances?” Miles said.
“He isn’t,” the Homeland Security Liaison said. “Since the subject matter of the allegedly plagiarized document is classified, the Department of Homeland Security will take over the misconduct investigation as soon as it is formally initiated by the university. The university will be informed of the outcome of the investigation and will administer any sanctions, if necessary.”
“Why are you going to put any credence in DeRusso’s accusations?” Miles said. “He’s on the goddamned watch list, for chrissake.”
“How do you know he’s on the watch list?” the Homeland Security Liaison said.
“Ah, well, he told me so. He said he wasn’t able to go back to Borneo because of his anti-war activities,” Miles said.
“Is that when you tried to deceive him about the source of your research funding?” the Research Integrity Officer said.
“I didn’t want to tell him I was working on a classified project,” Miles said. “The guy’s an anti-war activist. He could have ties to Moslem extremists in Indonesia.”
“So you admit that you tried to deceive him about the source of your funding?” the Research Integrity Officer said.
“I was just trying to protect classified information,” Miles said.
“This is a bit of a gray area,” the Homeland Security Liaison said. “Given the classified nature of Dr. Barnett’s research, we should restrict ourselves to purely procedural issues. I will inform Homeland Security that a plausible allegation of misconduct has been received by the university. I will transfer the files to the Department’s research integrity officer for an investigation.”
* * *
“What now?” Jackson was standing in the doorway of Miles’ office.
“DeRusso filed an allegation of misconduct against me.”
“We haven’t written anything.”
“This.” Miles held up the grant application.
“You cited him in the application. I remember seeing his dissertation listed in the bibliography.”
“Yeah, but some of the stuff in the preliminary studies section probably should have been attributed to DeRusso,” Miles said. “The part where we talk about the co-intelligent alert algorithm…”
“We? I didn’t write that stuff. My contribution was limited to the computational support.”
“You’re listed as the co-investigator. It means you take responsibility for the entire document,” Miles said. “They’ll say you should have known better.”
“Hey, man. If this grant gets pulled, I’ve only got 20% of my time covered. I’m not a fat-ass tenured professor; I’m living on soft money. If I don’t produce, I don’t eat. You had better get this fixed before that happens.”
“Maybe you should contact one of your old friends at the Company and explain how this research could change the Terrorism Alert System from being a national joke into something that’s actually useful.”
“With the results we’ve been getting up to this point, we’re going to be the joke,” Jackson said.
“I’m working on it, all right.”
“Right.” Jackson slammed the door behind him.
* * *
Maxine Pate bounced off the bulletin board, dislodging several notices. “Miles, watch where you’re going. I’m lucky I wasn’t next to the stairwell.”
“Sorry, Maxine, I didn’t see you coming around the corner.”
“Is that the letter from Insectes Sociaux about the retraction of the article based on Manny’s dissertation?” Maxine said. “I got mine this morning too. Of course, Manny told me about this weeks ago.”
“You knew about this and didn’t tell me?”
“Well, Miles, you’re not really in my social network much anymore, what with your secret grant and your not-so-secret feud with Manny,” Maxine said.
Miles held the letter out toward Pate. “What does this mean? The validity of his research findings was compromised.”
“How could Manny have known that his research assistants were planting oil palm trees illegally inside the western border of Kinabalu National Park near Kampung Luba?” Maxine said.
“Didn’t he go to visit the research site? Couldn’t he see the oil palms they planted?”
“He explains all that in his letter. And it was in the dissertation, after all. You read it, didn’t you? He had three research sites; he supervised the two sites near Kampung Taruntongon directly, but relied on the research assistants at Kampung Luba because of the travel time. It took at least two days, when it wasn’t raining, to travel to the Kampung Luba site from his base camp. He thought the lack of co-intelligent alert behavior among the forest ants at the Kampung Taruntongon sites was attributable to the higher altitude and different flora and fauna. They were about a thousand feet higher than Kampung Luba.”
“And he only found out about this now?”
Maxine had started to back away toward the Department door as Miles’ tone became more belligerent. “Well, you know somebody put him on a watch list, so he hasn’t been able to get back to Borneo since he defended his dissertation. If the two research assistants hadn’t been arrested for illegal cultivation of oil palm within the Park, he might never have known.”
“Isn’t it convenient that this all comes out right now?”
“What do you mean, convenient?” Maxine said. “Manny’s only got a couple more years before he’s up for tenure review. He’s going to have to hurry to produce enough research publications to get tenure at a place like Berkeley.”
Miles couldn’t tell Maxine how he would have to inform the inquiry panel investigating DeRusso’s allegation against him of these new findings. He’d have to explain why it didn’t undermine the validity of his research proposal, even though everyone in entomology knew that the territorial behavior of ants in cultivated areas, especially tropical tree plantations, was radically different from that in undisturbed forests. He’d have to rely on the incompetence of the panel Homeland Security had assembled to investigate him: one guy with an MS in animal biology and a couple of PhD microbiologists who were experts in biological warfare. He’d snow them somehow. But if he survived the investigation, he didn’t know how he was going to fix the research project. Given DeRusso’s retraction, there was no valid entomological model for the modification of the terrorist alert system; in fact, the simulation results to date showed the alert system caused more harm than good. First things first. He had to get ready for the inquiry panel meeting in Washington tomorrow.
* * *
“Hello, Miles.” Jackson was standing in the office doorway, smiling.
“What are you so happy about?” Miles said. “Did you fix the alert algorithm?”
“No, but I fixed my employment problem. I helped Jim Parkland get a Homeland Security grant like yours, only doable.”
“The packaging guy over in Agriculture? What does he know that Homeland Security is willing to pay for?” Miles said.
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. Your security clearance isn’t high enough to be informed of the details of his grant. It probably won’t be high enough for much longer even to know he has a grant.”
“How are you going to have the time to work on his grant and complete ours at the same time?” Miles said.
“I’m not.” Jackson smiled again and handed Miles an envelope. “Here’s my resignation. Good luck finding a computer scientist around here with the right security clearance to help you finish.”
“You can’t just walk out on me now. Your department committed your time to this project,” Miles said.
“No, actually it didn’t. The Homeland Security Liaison made the commitment, and he has decided, in light of your ethical problems, that my time would be better spent on a project with more potential for future funding.” Jackson turned and left.
* * *
“You wanted to see me?” Miles said through the doorway of his chairman’s office. It was after five, and the secretary had left.
“Sit down, Miles. I’ve got some new teaching assignments for you.”
“Isn’t it a little early for fall teaching assignments?” Miles said. “We don’t even have the enrollment figures yet from the Registrar.”
“This is about the summer session course you’re going to be teaching.”
“What are you talking about? We don’t have any upper division entomology course offered this summer.”
“You’ll be teaching in the Integrative Studies program. You and Rashid Younis are teaching a general studies course, Bugs across History.”
“He’s a PhD candidate in the Arabic Studies program with a minor in the history of science. He just defended his dissertation, and the chair of his program wants to give the chance for some teaching experience. They’re thinking he might get an appointment in a minor Ivy League university. It will help the credibility of the Arabic Studies program.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Miles said. “I’ve got a lot of writing to do this summer.”
“Okay, but I worked out this deal with the Vice-President for Research so that they wouldn’t start deducting ten percent of your salary to reimburse the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate research program for your breached research contract,” Fitzsimmons said. “The grant covered forty percent of your time over three semesters, all of which has to be repaid.”
“Are you kidding me?” Miles said. “You’re going to deduct ten percent of my salary for, what, twelve semesters? It wasn’t my fault DeRusso screwed up his field research.”
“You were on his dissertation committee. Apparently Homeland Security thinks you are responsible. Anyway, I’ve got nothing to say about it. You’ll remember I never signed off on your secret proposal in the first place.”
“So, if I teach this summer course, without compensation, am I off the hook for the costs of the breached research contract?” Miles said.
“No, I will be assigning you to teach three sections of Introduction to Entomology for the next two years, in addition to teaching the ProSeminar.” Miles’ face contracted. “That’s the best I could do. At least you won’t be teaching four different courses with four separate preparations.”
“And then I’m off the hook?” Miles said.
“Well, yes, except you will be foregoing any salary increases for the next five years, and no conferences, no university supported travel for the same time period.”
“God, how am I ever going to make full professor with this teaching load and no travel funds?” Miles said.
“You’ll never be promoted to full professor at this university, not by this department.”
* * *
It was the second-to-last class before the end of the summer session, the dog days of August—heat, humidity, mosquitoes. Miles had volunteered to take the Bugs across History students over to the Scientific Visualization Laboratory at the computer center for a demonstration of a geographic entomology simulation program. The class had studied the history of the Rocky Mountain Locust Swarm of the late nineteenth century; the simulation showed the expansion and contraction of the species from 1872 to 1902.
Passing through the computer commons on the way to the visualization theater, Miles saw Jackson Kauffmann sitting behind the computer help desk. Once his students were seated and the simulation program begun, Miles went back to the computer commons. Jackson was just finishing with a client.
“What are you doing here?” Miles said.
“Oh, I just like to help out when I have a few free minutes,” Jackson said.
Miles saw the engraved nametag on Jackson’s shirt; under his name it read Computer Service Technician. “That’s a nice name tag for someone who’s just an occasional volunteer.”
“Even volunteers are required to wear a nametag at all times. It’s a security issue,” Jackson said. “What are you doing here? Babysitting a class?”
“Paying off my debt to Homeland Security for our failed research project,” Miles said.
“Your failed research project. I was just support staff.”
“Right. And it looks like you’ve found the position that really suits you,” Miles said. He returned to the visualization theater just in time to see the Rocky Mountain Locust population crash into extinction.
Andrew Hogan received his doctorate in development studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before retirement, he was a faculty member at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, where he taught medical ethics, health policy and the social organization of medicine in the College of Human Medicine.
Dr. Hogan has published more than five-dozen professional articles on health services research and health policy. He has published thirteen works of fiction in the OASIS Journal, Hobo Pancakes, Twisted Dreams, Long Story Short, The Lorelei Signal, and SANDSCRIPT.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Maladaption”
“Maladaption” has the honor of being the first submission to Fabula Argentea. It was with great pleasure that we found it to be exactly the kind of well-done, memorable story we were looking for. Andrew Hogan takes us on a journey into the academic world that gets a bit heady in spots. A mark of good writing is that he doesn’t attempt to explain anything purely for the reader’s benefit, which would have weakened the story by coming off as talking down to the reader, as well as not befitting of the characters involved. The scientific details, in any case, are peripheral to the story. And who would have thought a story about ants and Homeland Security could be this ironic and amusing?