An Unwelcome Guest
If you’ve seen a rotting apple, then you’ve witnessed microbes in action. As microbes break down decaying food or plants, the process creates gas byproducts—and some of those reek. Two of those gases, methane and carbon dioxide, serve as greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
—The Third Korus of the Emerald Tree
“Bollocks!” Max cursed beneath his breath. “It’s hotter than fire ants down here!” Pools of sweat teared in his eyes as he inched his way along the pipe beneath the platform.
The London Tube was the oldest underground railway in the world, and for more than a hundred years the clay it was carved into had absorbed the heat generated by its passing trains—and passed it right back to its passengers.
The average temperature at track level was forty degrees Celsius. Here on the Circle and District lines it was forty-six! (For all you Fahrenheit fans, that’s one hundred and fourteen degrees!) For any Brit worth his blisters, that was hot! Bloody hot!
It didn’t take long before the rancid smell of simmering garbage overwhelmed the copper taste of electricity in the air. Max peered down from his sewage pipe. No longer was he hanging over electrified train rails. Now he found himself suspended above pools of sodden, vintage rot.
Decaying trash, soiled nappies, empty lager bottles, the odd lotto ticket or two, greasy baskets of chips, dirty copies of The Times and The Sun, ponds of greasy muck…
This just keeps getting better.
Suddenly, he felt the odd tickle of tiny legs scaling his knuckles.
“’Hello, what’s this?”
Now any normal person hanging from a sewer pipe over London’s Tube tracks would’ve screamed bloody murder and fallen directly into Lake Pretty-Ca-Ca, but not Max. No, siree. Instead, his heart leapt. A friend!
Max raised his hand to catch the tickle in the station’s fluorescent glow. He grinned. There on his skin crawled a shield bug, aka a stink bug. With its smooth shell and six determined legs, this member of the Hemiptera order had been making its way down the pipe when it bumped into the unexpected. Him.
“Sorry for the roadblock, mate.”
The insect stopped short, its antennae flitting back and forth as it patiently studied him—not your classic stink bug behavior. Max wrinkled his nostrils and waited. It’d only be a matter of time before the “stink” in the bug lived up to its name.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d appreciate it if you’d give a bloke a break,” he whispered to the insect. “You’ve got every right, but with all this stench, do you really think it’s going to do any good? Besides, where am I going to go?”
Max paused. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but something…
He leaned in, examining his “friend” more closely. The bug was paler in color and narrower than those he’d seen before. Then realization struck him and a new, more urgent dread elbowed its way into his gut.
This insect didn’t belong here—here not being inches from his nose, but here in the British Isles.
This was serious. Even if Nigel and his mates hovered on the platform above, there was no time to lose.
With one arm still wrapped around the pipe, Max guided the shield bug under his cupped hand. “Now, where to putcha‘?”
Max spied a half submerged soda can floating in the rank soup. “Bob’s yer uncle,” he said. “That’ll work.”
Hanging from the pipe by his legs, Max grabbed the can and gingerly ushered the shield bug inside. “Home, sweet home—for now.” After the last of the insect had disappeared, he bent back the can’s tab, sealing his worry in.
“Sorry ‘bout the accommodations, but you got to stay put until the professor has a gawk. He’s likely to be a mite more curious.”
Without warning, another whistle screamed down the tracks.
“Damn,” Max grumbled, shoving the soda can into his hoodie.
“Hang onto your knickers, Mr. Stink…”
“…Here we go again!”