Warren Murphy: Feeding Frenzy

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While searching for the lethal ingredient in a popular snack food, Remo and Chiun encounter an exotic beauty determined to make Chiun her instant enemy and Remo her love slave.

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Destroyer 94: Feeding Frenzy

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

Later on, no one would remember who was actually the first one to eat the bug, but a lot of them tried to take credit for it.

Brother Karl Sagacious said that he remembered it clearly. He had been hiking around the hills north of San Francisco while on sabbatical from his professor's job at UCLA where he taught a history course titled "Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and other Black Folk," and as he was pitching his tent one night to sleep, a brilliant light appeared in the sky.

And then a thin voice came and it said, "All your science is false. But I will show you the true way."

It was a woman's voice, Brother Karl Sagacious later recalled.

He remembered he had been blinded by the light, but impelled by some force he could not understand, he staggered sightlessly from his tent and pushed his way through the forest, until the voice commanded him:

"Kneel and eat. This is your truth."

Still unseeing, he obeyed. His hands found tiny nuggets of food which he popped into his mouth. They were delicious. They tasted like miniature lobster tails. He could not stop eating and when he did, he finally fell asleep where he knelt.

He woke with the morning sun and found himself in the middle of a field of weeds. The weeds were covered with brown, soft-shelled bugs. Was that what he had eaten?

He looked closely. The bugs were not moving. They were asleep. Or dead. His stomach rumbled at the thought that he might have chosen to eat dead insects for supper.

But then he remembered the voice.

"This is your truth," She had said.

Slowly, with trembling fingers, he reached out and plucked one of the bugs from the weed. He examined it carefully. It even looked benign. It had a round head, but no pincers, and its legs were but little hairlike stubble on the side of its inch-long body. And it was dead.

He gulped once, swallowed, and then popped the bug into his mouth and bit into it.

It tasted exactly like lobster tail. It was wonderful. Nirvana.

He stayed in that spot for breakfast, and then when he was full, he returned to civilization to spread the word.

At least that was how he remembered it.

Brother Theodore Soars-With-Eagles remembered it quite a different way.

No modern man, he insisted, had been the one to discover the bug. It had been part of the collected wisdom of the Native Americans who had ruled these lands before the white man came to despoil it with his cities and schools and churches and toilets and homes.

And he, Brother Theodore Soars-With-Eagles-as the spiritual and physical heir to those noble Red Men-had known since childhood of the magical properties of the thunderbug, so named because they invariably lifted their tiny heads quizzically whenever it thundered-and had been eating nothing but them since he was little more than a papoose on the Chinchilla Indian reservation in Sedona, Arizona.

Some reporters found out later that Brother Theodore Soars-With-Eagles had never so much as seen an Indian reservation in Arizona. Instead, he had been raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as Theodore Magarac, the son of an immigrant Latvian steelworker. He had spent fifteen of his forty years in jail for petty theft.

His last known scam had been perpetrated in the wake of the U.S. Postal Service's pick-an-Elvis-any-Elvis campaign. Theodore thought that if they're going to put a junkie on a stamp, they ought to put a fag on too, so he started a 900 number to lure people into paying for the privilege of voting on whether Liberace or Rock Hudson should have his gummy backside licked by the Postal Service's patrons.

The scam collapsed when the Postmaster General called the number, got an answering machine and no callback, and subsequently discovered a $49.99 telemarketing charge on his office phone bill. He got steamed and sicced the Inspector General and the FCC onto Theodore. Magarac did a year in Folsom.

However, the reporters decided that running a story on Theodore Magarac's pedigree would add nothing to the public's necessary store of knowledge on the subject. And since the new bug was obviously going to be such a boon to mankind, it would not do to confuse the discussion with a lot of extraneous nonissues, and so the story was never published.

They were saving it for when the story peaked.

But while the history of the bug's discovery might have been in doubt, what was certain was that somehow Brother Theodore Soars-With-Eagles and Brother Karl Sagacious had come together and created an organization called PAPA-People Against Protein Assassins-and it was their stated goal to make the bug the new staple of the world's diet.

"The world no longer needs chicken farms or cattle ranches or hogs raised for meat. With the discovery of the Miracle Food, we have ended forever the specter of hunger and starvation on our planet," read one of their press releases.

Even in California, where people will sign up to do almost anything, it was a tough sell convincing people to eat bugs. But as time went on, more and more came aboard.

Soon PAPA was taking over the entire membership of the state's hundreds of New Age groups. Crystal-strokers, cosmos-guiders, rain-foresters, Harmonic Convergers, Pyramidologists-all decided that the Miracle Food was the way of the future. They joined by the hundreds and the movement slowly crossed the Rockies and came into America's heartland.

It could no longer be ignored.

The Miracle Food was tested and examined in scores of laboratories, and the preliminary reports were almost as glowing as Brothers Karl and Theodore made them out to be.

The bug was a little-known insect named Ingraticus Avalonicus. It was able to live in all climes but in the past had been slow to reproduce and therefore had not ever been previously found in large numbers.

The entire body of the insect was edible, high in protein, carbohydrates, and essential amino acids, but without fat and with the added property of apparently lowering the blood cholesterol of someone who ate it. People could eat them like popcorn and actually lose weight.

The bug's habits were also peculiar. It did not sting and there were no known allergies exacerbated by it. It did not eat valuable crops. Instead, the lowly and insignificant Ingraticus fed only on common weeds that grew everywhere, and it would simply light on a weed and eat until it died.

A panel from Consumers News magazine made a test of the Miracle Food, both raw and cooked, and reported that the thunderbug tasted better than pizza.

In every state in the union, PAPA groups sprang up. The United Nations called for action. Official Washington decided the lowly thunderbug was now worth its consideration and it ordered redone, at a hundred times the original cost, all the tests that had been done privately. But first a new laboratory had to be built at a cost of six hundred million dollars in the Arkansas district of the Speaker of the House. With cost overruns, the lab ultimately cost four billion dollars, but eventually it got around to studying the thunderbug.

"Is the Millennium Here?" the New York Times wondered in a front-page editorial. "Has mankind really found the answer to worldwide starvation?"

Back in California, in the wooded clearing where the original one hundred members of the very first PAPA group still lived, there were rumblings of internal problems.

Brother Theodore was unhappy because Brother Karl Sagacious had been on television too much of late, depriving him of equal-opportunity face time.

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