A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 15
Sea Creatures

There was a dead girl on the beach. Sort of, anyway.


In spite of the fact that we live and work in Cali, and that we travel – okay, mostly Joey and I travel – all over the place, the guys and I rarely get to spend any time on the beach. Much less on any good beach, something anyone who lives in Cali can tell you is a description which doesn’t apply to the crowded public beaches with their trampled, trash-littered sand.

Today, though, Joey and I were standing on an almost empty stretch of pristine beach just outside of San Francisco. Sadly, we were standing there in jeans and coats and hoping it wasn’t going to rain, because it was freezing fucking cold. Even more sad was the reason we were there: the dead selkie on the shore.

I say selkie and not mermaid – which is what the marine researcher who’d called us about it had called it – because she wasn’t half fish, she was half sea lion or something close to it. She was also really obviously female, or she had been – her top half was a chubby-looking college-age girl, naked, pendulous breasts looking disturbingly deflated. A closer look showed the reason for that, her implants had been ruptured. They’d been large ones, too, the newer ‘shelf’ kind that functioned like an internally installed bra and whose support structure vaguely resembled the bridge I could just barely see arching through the fog in the distance. Some of the wires were sticking out through the slashes the rocks had made in her skin, or at least everyone was hoping it had been the rocks. There’d been a big storm several days before, and the hopeful assumption was that it had disoriented her and she’d been thrown onto the jagged black rocks and bled to death before the waves had washed her lifeless body up onto the beach.

That was the hopeful assumption. But there was a very large colony of sea lions just up the coast, and sea lions…well, they may be fun to watch when they’re rolling around like gigantic hairless puppies on the pier, but they’re a long way from being gentle vegetarians and they have teeth that wouldn’t look too far out of place in a wolf’s mouth. If she’d gotten too close to the colony, or one of the males had spotted her while he was out hunting, her death would have been a very bad one. The researchers were having enough trouble just looking at her; when we’d gotten there, they’d had the top – human – half of her covered with a tarp so that only the pinniped half could be seen. Of course, that was also partly because they needed to keep anyone from seeing that the dead thing on the beach wasn’t a sea lion, but with the way her top half had been slashed up she was a pretty disturbing sight regardless.

Joey, being the biologist, was the one that had to do most of the looking, and I was really proud of him; he was clinical about it, even though I knew what it was costing him to present that front, and his professionalism made the marine researchers pull themselves together a little bit more. He took pictures and made comments to me as he looked her over. “This just had to be Doc,” he said. “No DIY modder did this, Danny, this was someone who knew what they were doing. She just barely has webbing between her fingers, her facial features are still mostly human except for some prominence in what would be the muzzle area, and her ears…yep, they’re human ears under the flaps, just recessed.” He frowned at her hair, picking a long strand of it up with a piece of driftwood. A piece of clear filament with round white beads on it – probably they’d been meant to look like pearls – had been woven into the strand. “Okay, that’s not real hair, that’s an extension. And there’s another one that’s got color in it, looks like it’s faded out from blue with some iridescent strands…so, probably put in so she’d look more like a fantasy creature instead of a modded human. No gills, but her eyes aren’t human eyes – one of them has a contact lens in so it looks like a blue human eye, but the other one definitely isn’t. And she definitely has the canines of a pinniped, but the rest of her teeth…oh.” He looked up at me. “She’s been modded for a while, any new teeth have already come in. Her back molars are still human.”

“Probably to keep her jaw looking human,” I agreed, looking where he showed me even though I didn’t really want to. Thank God it was too soon and too cold for her to have started to really decay yet. “She has whiskers, too.”

“All part of having a muzzle,” he said, standing back up and moving down to the other end. “Did you guys check the part you know something about?”

“I did,” one of them said. She was probably not too much older than the modded girl had been, and she was wearing a jacket with the local marine research station’s logo embroidered on it. “The pinniped half is…well, it’s a pinniped. I didn’t want to move her around too much, but what I could see looked perfectly normal.” She gave him a helpless look. “What should we do, Dr. Cristal? Maxine did try to call the police, they told her to go sober up. And then the lab’s director called you and told us to just make sure nobody touched the body or took any pictures until you got here.”

Joey shrugged. “Well, we need to get the authorities in on this, definitely, and we need to get the body moved somewhere so it can be examined. Where do you take dead sea lions for autopsy?”

“We can’t take that to our station!” one of the others protested immediately. “It’s not…it’s not…”

She,” Joey emphasized. “Be respectful or go away and let the grownups work.” The guy – a really young guy with sideburns – looked like he wanted to get a little huffy about that, but a long look from Joey cowed him right down. “Danny, can you work your magic and get us a medical examiner down here?”

“My magic, right.” More like Pete had finally figured out a way to block whatever tap had been on my phone. But I pulled out my phone and called Information and had them connect me to the county coroner. “Dr. Arnold? This is Dr. Darling from GenoMod…yes, but no that one wasn’t ours. I’m down here on one of your beaches right now, though, looking at a dead modded human washed up on the beach…well, apparently the people at the marine research station did try and the police told them to sober up, so their director called us. They’ve been keeping the top half of the body covered so no one would know it was anything other than a dead sea lion…yes really, I’m afraid. She was ripped up by something, we just can’t tell if it was the rocks or another marine mammal, and aside from the mod she also has some cosmetic additions like colored contacts and streaked hair extensions that seem to have been added to make her look more like a traditional mermaid. And she seems to have had pretty sizable breast implants and the support system built in to hold them up…because the implants were slashed open by whatever killed her and the wires are visible, Doctor. It’s disturbing as hell to look at, to be honest. Yes…well, we need to know where this body can be taken so it can be autopsied to find out the cause of death and maybe the identity of the modded girl, and my partner Dr. Cristal and I will need to take some samples to analyze so we can find out what exactly was done to her genetically.”

He made a pointed comment, and I snorted; what I really wanted to do was scream. “GenoMod doesn’t do mods on humans, Dr. Arnold; we only work with animals. Because the modding process isn’t reversible, that’s why – if it were, we’d have money to swim in and half the special effects makeup artists in Hollywood would be out of a job. Yes…yes…I tell you what, call up Fish and Wildlife and ask them that question, then call me back. In the meantime, we’re going to move this girl’s body into the research station…no, absolutely not, Doctor. I don’t care what you think about it, she was a human being and we’re not leaving her on the sand to rot like a dead animal – not to mention, the tide’s going to be coming back in soon so we have to move her anyway. Yes, that’s where they take dead sea lions, and nobody’s going to do anything to the body until you either get there yourself or send someone else.” I sighed. “Because again, we don’t deal with humans, Doctor, and neither do the pinniped researchers – all I’m going to do is stick a blood sample under a microscope and try to figure out what the bastard who did this made the mod out of. While I’m hoping and praying she was the only one and we don’t have a whole pod of selkies out there somewhere. Yes…yes, by all means, call me back once you’ve verified what I told you. We’ll have the researchers mark the spot where she was found for you. Yes…” I moved the phone away from my ear, frowning. “He hung up on me.”

Joey rolled his eyes. “So we’re moving her?”

“We’re moving her. However you’d move a sea lion this size, get what you need and let’s get to it,” I told the kids from the station. “The last thing we want is for the tide to cover her up or pull her back out again. We’ll guard the body while you get what you need.”

They took off, and Joey raised an eyebrow at me; I shrugged. “He didn’t want us to move her, because evidence. But even I know enough to know that the tide’s been in and out on this girl at least a couple of times – she didn’t die here, and there’s no evidence left on this beach if there was any here to begin with. They don’t treat human bodies that way when they wash up, I know they don’t.”

“No, they don’t. So why do you think Doc would have done this one?”

“Because she asked him to, I’m sure – he’s nuts, but he’s got that one little piece of ethical conduct going for him, he doesn’t do it unless they ask. Every single one of them so far has said so.”

“True, even if he doesn’t always tell them exactly what it is he’s doing, the result they get is what they thought they wanted. I heard the Wolfman is doing the party circuit now, I guess he didn’t like his weekend in the tank that one time so he’s gone legit and started an entertainment company – birthday parties and shit. He emailed Hana about joining him and she told him to fuck off.”

“I’m sure what he mostly wanted was a connection to those millions of fans she has online.”

“True.” We warned off a pair of curious beachcombers who wanted a picture of the ‘dead sea lion’ to use on their blog. They were hoping it had been killed by fishermen or boaters because that would get more hits than just a regular dead sea lion, and Joey and I blew off some steam by letting them know exactly what we thought of people whose first thought on seeing a dead creature was how best they could make the death work for them. They left after Joey asked if they were only on the beach because there weren’t any car accidents to take pictures of out on the highway. Did I mention that Joey really loves pinnipeds? Because he totally does.

Finally the kids came back with their stuff – it was a small truck with a sling and a crane-type winch, the kind of lifting setup I’d seen mechanics use to hoist an engine out of a car. All of them except the one girl – her name was Jenna – were really hesitant when it came to setting things up, though, so Jenna and Joey and I did most of the work, being careful to keep the tarp covering everything that didn’t look like a pinniped, while the rest of them ran the winch and made sure we didn’t have any more rubberneckers show up to surprise us. We got her loaded, secured the tarp with a second, weighted tarp, and cautiously hauled ass back to the research station.

The station had a sort of loading dock built for just this sort of purpose, and it was a cold, windy day so although we still had to be careful to keep the tarp in place getting the dead selkie unloaded was a lot easier than getting her loaded had been. We finally got her inside and laid out on the table they used for sea lions, and then I gathered some samples and Joey took pictures. We couldn’t actually run any tests – the station sent their lab work out, they didn’t have very much in the way of equipment – but we did make a lot of observations and by the time the very disgruntled medical examiner showed up we knew a few things. Which was really good since he showed up with two cops in tow and they came in looking at us like they were expecting trouble. Great, just great. “Dr. Arnold,” I greeted him. “Bad news, she’s not the only one.”

He’d been about to get pushy and nasty with us, I could tell, but that caught him flat-footed. “What…how could you know that?”

Joey waved a hand at the tarp we still had over her. “Look for yourself.”

The man grumpily pushed him aside and pulled back the tarp; one of the cops gasped, and I pointed to the back of the room. “Bathroom’s that way, it’s too windy to puke over the rail outside.”

He shook his head and really made an effort to choke it back…but then Dr. Arnold moved one of her arms, making gashes gape open all over that side of her torso, and he broke and ran for the back. His partner just rolled his eyes. “Rookies, geez.”

“I thought they made you guys watch an autopsy as part of your training?”

He shook his head. “Not anymore, now it’s ‘voluntary’ so most of them opt out.” He craned his neck, frowning. “Wait, is that…”

“One of those awful ‘inner bra’ implants, yes,” the ME confirmed distractedly. “And the plastic is cracked like an egg, it looks to me like the rocks and waves finished what something else started.” He moved down a little, examining a long slash obliquely crossing her lower abdomen…and then he stopped, turned around. “How is this even possible?!”

“It isn’t, unless there was another member of her own species around to do it. When you modify someone this way, you create a new species both physically and genetically,” I told him. “And unassisted interbreeding between most species is impossible.”

“But with her being part human, isn’t it possible a human male could have…”

“No, he couldn’t have.” That was Jenna. “Sea lions do have a similar reproductive setup to humans in some ways, but in order to breed the male would need a baculum to achieve and maintain full penetration and humans don’t have those.”

“Not to mention the eggs and sperm wouldn’t be compatible at all,” Joey agreed. “Species who do get away with unassisted cross-breeding have to be very similar, like dogs and wolves or horses and donkeys. Comparatively speaking, a human and a pinniped may be in the same country but they aren’t in the same state, much less the same ballpark.”

Arnold nodded reluctantly. “So we know there’s at least one more of these modified monstrosities out there?”

“There has to be at least one more modified human out there somewhere,” I corrected coldly. “Monsters are for movies, Doctor.”

“I seem to remember seeing such a movie,” he sneered back. “Your work as well, I believe.”

“We do not and never have done mods on humans,” Joey countered, just as coldly as I had. “Because there’s no way to reverse it and we won’t go there until there is. The spider bunnies I’m assuming you’re talking about are a three-way mod of rabbit, goat, and spider – we were working on a modified angora goat and had hopes the addition of the spider would make it hypoallergenic and add some tensile strength to the wool.”

Well, that was the official story, anyway. Not that it mattered. “Instead we ended up with a very playful eight-legged omnivore that’s resistant to rabies and likes to hunt rodents,” I finished. “You should go see them in their habitat some time – assuming you’re not an arachnophobe, of course.”

“I’m not. Well, at least no more than most people, I suppose.” He was getting a little less huffy now. “The Wildlife people backed you up, they said there’s another player on the field who only does human modifications but he’s underground and no one can find him.”

“We helped them with a case they had,” I told him. “The man who does mods on humans is only known to anyone as ‘Doc’, and there are a lot of people who’d like to find him but so far as we’ve been told no one has had any luck with that. We don’t consider him ethical, but he has ethics in his own way: So far we’ve never seen a human mod of his that wasn’t done with full consent of the human subject – he seems to be very picky about that, getting consent, although he doesn’t always explain to them exactly what they’re getting into. And we’ve also noticed that he seems to be kind of a perfectionist. This mod, for example, looks nearly flawless. She probably wanted to be a mermaid, but he modded her with another mammal close to her size to get the best result and made her a selkie instead.”

“She’d have to have been this way for a while, too,” Jenna put in. “Sea lions gestate for almost as long as a human would.”

“Could you make a modification like this on a pregnant subject?” Arnold wanted to know.

Joey shook his head. “The stress of the process would almost certainly cause a miscarriage, or result in a stillbirth – we sedate the animals before we start a mod, and by all accounts Doc does the same to his human subjects, or at least offers to. And even if a fetus did survive the transition, the mother’s body would almost certainly reject it as a foreign object afterward.”

“That does make sense.” He turned back to the body and continued looking it over, this time examining the cuts more closely. “Some of these are too clean to have been done by rocks,” he observed. “No bites or crushing, so not a shark. They’re on the front, so I’d say probably not a propeller. Possibly a fishing net, or an underwater fence like the kind they use to keep trained animals in and wild ones out at the sea parks. And she was ‘dressed up’ so to speak…maybe she was pretending to be a mermaid?”

“If it was a show, we should be able to trace her,” the cop agreed. “Are you taking her back to the morgue?”

Arnold sighed. “I’m going to have to, all the equipment I need is there. Unless…” He pulled off one glove and got out his phone. “Stan? It’s James. Do you still have that field autopsy kit? Good, because I need it – body we really can’t afford to move any more at this point. I’ll send…are you sure? Hold on.” He muted the call. “Just how classified is this?”

I shrugged. “The Wildlife guys wanted theirs kept quiet to keep trophy hunters out of the woods – and away from the preserve their creatures eventually ended up in. I’m not sure how quiet you’ll want to keep this, but we did chase away some beachcombers who wanted pictures of the ‘dead sea lion’ for their blog because they were hoping they could blame the death on humans.”

“And we explained to them in detail what horrible people they were,” Joey added. “But that was our call because we were the only ones there. This is your call, Dr. Arnold.”

The cop was nodding. “If Stan wants to bring the kit and assist, I’d say let him,” he offered. “But I think we should keep this under wraps until I can get a detective down here. You said a fence, that could mean there are more of these…selkies?” Joey and Jenna and I all nodded. “Selkies out there, and whoever has them might not be too keen on us catching him with modified humans penned in an underwater cage. You do your thing, I’ll get a detective, and then we’ll all figure out what our next move should be.”

“Sounds good to me.” Arnold unmuted his phone. “Sorry Stan. Yes, you can bring it, I could use your help. This case has to stay quiet right now because of a possible hostage situation, though, so don’t tell anyone where you’re going. The research station down the coast from the Pier. Yes, that one. They brought the body in because the tide was coming in, they were commendably careful but she’s still in bad shape. Yes…yes, I’ll have an officer outside keeping an eye out for you…” He grinned. “Yes, one of the young ones, currently puking his guts up in the station’s restroom. He should be fine for guard duty, though. Thank you Stan, see you shortly.”

Stan arrived with his field equipment at the same time the detective got there, and the first thing the detective did was apologize to the researchers for their first round of attempted reporting to 911. “They’ve been getting a lot of drunk calls lately for some reason,” he explained. “And we’re running short right now, so they’d been told not to ‘waste manpower’ on calls they thought were fake. I ripped their supervisor a new one before I came down here, that kind of bullshit is the makings of a PR disaster for the department if they blow off a legit call – like this one.” He went over to take a look at the body, eyes widening just a little even though I knew the cop had sent him a picture. “Holy shit.”

“My sentiments exactly.” Stan, who had introduced himself as Dr. Hamo, was a big guy, tall and kind of fat-looking but the width of his shoulders and the size of his hands said he was mostly just a big guy to begin with. He was two of Dr. Arnold, and probably about ten years younger. “How’s it going, Frank? Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Frank, the detective, grinned at him. “I can’t say I’m too sorry about that – I haven’t drawn a bad one in a while. So this,” he indicated the selkie, “was probably inevitable. Do we know how she got this way, Dr. Arnold?”

“If you mean dead, I’m working on it,” Arnold told him. “If you meant pregnant, that would be the usual way and it was most likely another member of her species. But if you meant the modification, talk to these two men here; all I understand about it is that it involves DNA modification which results in a physical alteration – and that it isn’t reversible.”

Frank turned his attention to us. “Dr. Darling and Dr. Cristal from GenoMod, right? Detective Stevens. This is one of your monsters?”

Even Dr. Arnold winced that time. “We don’t do modifications on humans, Detective,” I told him. Screw having a drink when we got done here, I was going to need at least three – or a tub of ice cream, something. “The director of the research station called us, Fish and Wildlife told her we’d be the people to consult with about this. And we don’t use the word ‘monster’ to refer to modded creatures, human or not.”

“It may be semantically accurate,” Joey said, “but the popular meaning evokes something evil that needs to be hunted down and wiped out. This girl,” he indicated the selkie, “may have made a bad choice, but that doesn’t make her a monster any more than someone who gets a face tattoo or a Prince Albert would be a monster.”

“I might disagree with you about the face tattoo, considering some of the ones I’ve seen around here,” Stevens said. “But I see your point.” And he’d apparently been testing the waters to see what our reaction would be. “Officer Adams says you think the creator of this…”

“Modded human.”

“…modded human is a guy called Doc, but no one can find him, right?”

“A lot of people have been looking,” I confirmed. “And we think it’s likely, because every modded human we’ve seen so far except for one reports that the person who did it for them was just called ‘Doc’. They all describe him as middle-aged, average height, graying light brown hair and glasses. And he’s apparently a stickler for full consent to the procedure, but he doesn’t always tell his clients exactly what it is he’s doing – the last one we saw didn’t even know what he’d been modded with, he’d just been offered a particular result and agreed to undergo the process based on that.”

“And he was…”

“We’re not allowed to say, the two remaining creatures were moved to a remote preserve.”

For some reason he seemed a little surprised by that. “Remaining…”

“One of them had to be killed, he came after one of the rangers and I with a stolen shotgun,” Joey explained. “The ranger had no choice but to shoot him, he was trying to kill us.”

“Ouch, that’s really no joke when it’s a federal employee.” Stevens sighed. “Okay, your thoughts on this one?”

I shrugged. “We won’t be able to tell you what the mod used was until we can test some samples. It’s obvious she’s a human modded with a pinniped, but we won’t know exactly what kind of pinniped until we can check the DNA. My guess, just from looking at her, is that she was modded at somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five percent. I’m not sure how he got the really distinct upper- and lower-body division, though, especially without having much more significant changes to her hands.” He looked confused, so I got out my phone and pulled up a picture of Hana to show him. “Hana was modded at thirty-five percent. She doesn’t have normal human hands anymore, she has handpaws.”

“And she still types faster than I do,” Joey put in. “Hana, so far as we know, was one of Doc’s first surviving successfully modded humans. He’s either refined his process since then or there’s just something about rabbits, because Hana can’t talk but all of his later mods that we’ve seen have been able to.”

Stevens squinted. “Wait, is this a selfie?”

“One of thousands, yes. You should see her Facebook page.”

Officer Adams had strolled back over to have a look. “Oh hey, I’ve seen that. My little sister loves her. She’s real? I just thought it was a costume.”

“No, that’s no costume,” Joey confirmed. “Although her shitty agent who came up with the idea told her it could be reversed if she decided she didn’t like it. He fucking lied, of course, but luckily she loves being a bunnygirl. She lives in our lab and we’re working on a way to give her her voice back, but so far no luck – again, modding humans isn’t our thing.”

“She lives in our lab for safety reasons,” I said when the cop’s mouth opened to ask. “Not only have people tried to assault her, but she goes into heat and it isn’t safe – scares the hell out of her, too. When she feels it coming on, she locks herself in her room and gives one of us the key until it’s over – she’s afraid she’ll cheat on her boyfriend, and we’re afraid she might kill him with sex if he went in there to solve the problem himself.”

“Yeah, even a twenty-three year-old can’t get it up ten or fifteen times in a row,” Joey observed dryly. “He was willing to give it a shot anyway, but we weren’t willing to let him and neither was she – although she still teases him about it all the time.”

“She’s how old?”

“Just about to turn twenty-two.”

Adams snorted and handed my phone back. “No way to fix that either?”

Joey snorted right back. “If we could fix that, we’d be Scrooge McDucking it in a mansion somewhere. Fully human women go into heat too, you know – it’s called PMS.”

“I am not telling my wife you said that,” the detective told him. “Our dog’s doghouse is nice, but I don’t want to share it with him.” He looked back at the selkie, which was now having what was left of her implants and shelf removed by the two medical examiners, since most of it had been sticking out anyway. From this angle, with the two of them in the way, she just looked like a dead girl. “She wasn’t that old, from the look of it, but she looks old enough that I’m not expecting to find a missing persons report unless it’s an old one. My partner is checking on shows, seeing if there’ve been any new ones pop up in the area this past year that feature mermaids – he turned up one before I even left to come down here, but it was one of those Vegas fishbowl shows and those girls are most definitely in costume.” He got a funny look on his face. “They are, aren’t they?”

“I’d say they were,” I assured him. “The modding process is kind of finicky when it comes to physical size, and when I saw that show in Vegas most of the ‘mermaids’ looked like pretty tropical fish. Which are all of a couple inches long in nature, so you couldn’t do that with the process as we currently have it. I’m not saying the science won’t get there at some point, but we can’t do it now.”

“Could this Doc guy do it?”

“Good question, but probably not.” Joey shook his head. “Unless he started with a baby…but jesus, I don’t think even Doc would do a thing like that. A DIY modder might, but they shut down the ‘factory’ in China that was cranking out weird-shit mod kits like that, and the black market guys who operate out of Mexico and South America just do fifty-fifty animal kits as far as anyone knows.”

“Fifty-fifty means they’re not so much modding as just morphing,” I explained. “Take this animal, change half of it to be this other animal and see what happens. The creatures you get from doing it that way…well, it can get weird in a hurry. We stopped someone from doing it with a fringed lizard and a king cobra – they wanted to make that spitting dinosaur from the movies, but what they would have gotten was a fringed scaly lizard with stumpy little legs and a long fat tail. It would have been able to spit venom, sure, but it would have been less than a foot long and not able to run very fast. So basically, it would have been prey.”

“And really stupid-looking,” Joey put in. “It would have looked like a mistake, basically – like what happens when someone’s wiener dog hooks up with a German Shepherd.”

That made the detective laugh, and the cop too. The younger cop had come out of the bathroom by this point, and Stevens raised an eyebrow at him. “Did you clean up after yourself?” He nodded. “Get your ass outside, then, you’re guarding the door. Nobody gets in or even close unless I say they can or one of the docs does, got it?” The rookie pointed at us, and he nodded. “Yes, those are docs too – they’re down here because they consult on stuff like this for the feds, I already checked it out. Oh, and they ran off some rubberneckers with cameras earlier, so keep your eyes peeled for a second attempt. We do not want this to hit the news, or the Internet, until we’ve made sure any others of this species are safe.”

“Species?”

“Genetic modification isn’t just cosmetic, it actually creates new species,” I told him. This time I raised my eyebrow at him when he started to open his mouth like he was offended by that and wanting to express it. “I guarantee you, whatever comment you’re about to make is nothing we haven’t heard a dozen times before. You can have any opinion you want about genomodding, but this isn’t about you and your opinion,” I pointed, “this is about her and her baby.” He went green again and ran back to the bathroom, and I shook my head. “I think maybe this one would be happier as a traffic cop.”

Adams snorted. “Bet me – every tenth collision out on the highway ends up looking like a scene out of a really gross horror movie.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen a few where they picked up parts with a shovel,” the detective agreed. “Luckily the really bad ones don’t happen all that often anymore. That new truck law,” he explained for our benefit. “There was a lot of screaming about it being unfair to the industry, but the number of really bad collisions that involved double-axle anything was cut in half after they implemented it. And less dead people on the highway is a really good thing in my book.”

“Heard about that,” Joey agreed. “They tried to make out like the numbers were misleading, but that was bullshit – our partner Mr. Kelekolio ran them just for L.A., he said the projected reduction in the death toll was actually too conservative and was probably going to end up being closer to sixty or seventy percent.”

“Numbers guy?”

“Programmer. He really, really hates bad math, though. His mother’s an accountant.”

That made the detective laugh. “Yeah, that’s about right – my brother-in-law’s one, he screams if you say the word ‘statistic’ in front of him. He calls it ‘Choose Your Own Answer math’.” He sighed then, and I saw Joey brace himself for the hardball the same as I was doing – you don’t deal with as many hostile cops, reporters, and government officials as we do without learning to spot the ‘I’m your buddy, we’re all friends here, you can talk to me’ routine. “So what kind of fishy things have you guys done this mod thing with? And what do you do with your mistakes?”

Joey looked at me and I looked at him, and we both shrugged – that had been a softer ball than we were used to getting. “We’ve never used a fish,” Joey said. “The bunyips at the Allen Preserve are crocodile with a manatee mod, but we did that to make them fat and give them smoother skin and a less pointed snout, get rid of some of the length in the tail. Using a hippo would have been better, but then we’d have ended up with something vicious and venomous that could run as fast as it could swim, and we got our client to agree that nobody wanted that even if it would look more authentic. And we have specialized sim software that plots out the mod percentages for us down to a thousandth of a percent. The only mistake we’ve had is Kitty Four.”

That was quite obviously not what the detective had expected – or possibly wanted – to hear. “What did you do with Kitty Four?”

I shrugged again. “She lives in the lab with Kitties One through Three. The rest of them do the visiting therapy animal circuit with the ASPCA every month, but we only take Kitty Four out around Halloween. She has a lizard tail, it kind of weirds people out.”

“She…” I pulled up a picture and showed him. “That’s…a cat with a lizard tail. And weird ears. Is something wrong with its mouth?”

“They’re insectivores,” Joey told him. “That’s what a mammalian insectivore’s mouth looks like. Think anteater.”

“Oh, I get it.” He looked again, frowning. “Why would they use that as a therapy animal?”

“Because we made them for that, they’re hypoallergenic and safe for medically fragile children to handle. No dander, claws are blunt and easy to put caps on, and they don’t bite.”

“They will lick you to death if you have sugar residue on your hands, though,” Joey put in. “They have a thing for candy. We feed them those Big Ass Ants from South America as a treat.”

He tried to go back to laying his trap. “So why does that one have a lizard tail? You said you have software for that.”

I smiled. “We do. But our base animal for Kitty Four had an undetected defect – and the supplier lied to us about its genealogy.” I cocked my head at him. “Detective, we didn’t make this selkie. We don’t do mods on humans, and we never have – and we never will until there’s a safe, proven way to reverse them. So I’m going to tell you the same thing I just told your green-faced rookie: This isn’t about us, or about whatever you think of genomodding as a science. This is about this girl and her baby, and we want to know who did it just as much as you do. People fucking around with DIY mod kits to splice animals is one thing, someone creating a new humanoid species and breeding them is something else entirely.”

He sighed. “So you didn’t do the wolfman in Central Park?”

“Nope, or the cat-ladies in Chicago either,” Joey told him. “Everyone who’s worked with us knows we don’t do people, and they know why. And if they push it, we introduce them to Hana. Who really loves being a bunnygirl, but she can’t talk, and she can’t go out in public by herself, and she can’t get frisky with her boyfriend or even contemplate having a normal life…because the guy who did her mod didn’t care about that kind of thing, he just did it to get paid and then he disappeared.”

“But they said he’s in contact with you guys.”

“Doc called me on the phone once when we were up in Washington State,” I confirmed. “The mod we’d gotten called up there on was one of his, and he wanted to let us know that the creature he’d made wasn’t worthy of sympathy and could probably fire a gun. I’m guessing – and so did the wildlife guys – that he got my number from information, and that it’s possible he’s been keeping tabs on us because we get called in as consultants on cases like this. They think he’s keeping tabs on his mods, too, and that he called me on that one because he wanted to make sure we knew the original subject had been an asshole and probably still was. But that’s the only time any of us have ever had contact with the guy that we know of, and when they checked the number it was a burner phone and it was already dead.” I folded my arms across my chest. “We’re here to see if we can help you guys figure out what the hell happened to this girl, Detective. We’re all on the same side in this, and it’s her side.”

He kind of blinked, seemingly not knowing what to make of that, but Adams was grinning. “I would clap, but I don’t want you to think I’m being sarcastic.”

“Seconded,” came from Dr. Hamo. “He made you, Frank, suck it up. And yes, this girl was caged, I saw this same sort of internal sawing cut on a rogue surfer who washed up last spring near the sea park. So the question now is was she trying to get out, or did the storm tear the pen apart and her along with it?”

“It was a really big storm,” his fellow M.E. said. “Jenna, do you know if the aquarium had any casualties?”

“I can check,” she told him. The other marine researchers had all faded away to some other room in the station. “I need to call in to Dr. Marshall anyway, so she knows what’s going on.” She saw what he was doing and her eyes widened. “Twins?”

Joey was right there. “What…well shit. Danny, we need a lab and we need it now. She’s not just a sea lion – they have singles, not litters.”

“Humans can have multiples, though…” And then I walked around him and saw the problem. “Shit. Yes, we need to get those samples analyzed. Dr. Arnold, is your lab set up for in-depth DNA breakdowns?”

He snorted. “Only if I win the lottery and decide I don’t want to move to Aruba. The city doesn’t pay for us to have the good stuff.”

“Well, I had hope – you guys have Alphabet money in town, after all.” I thought fast. There was no way in hell this detective was letting us take those samples back to our lab. Unless… “Okay, we’ve had to do this before, we know how to maintain the chain of accountability. Could we take Dr. Hamo or Dr. Arnold with us back to our lab so we can figure out the mod? I’d ask for Officer Adams here, but he wouldn’t be able to verify that we were running clean tests.”

Dr. Hamo got really interested in that in a hurry. “You’d let me in your lab? I thought what you guys did was proprietary?”

Joey shrugged. “Our particular process is, but we also have a patent on it so we don’t really care who sees us at work – genomodding itself is just a practical application of zipper theory, and we’ve never been the only ones doing it. We weren’t even the first.”

The detective was scrambling to keep up. “So you want to take the samples back to your lab, and you want Stan to go with you?”

I nodded. “We know we have to maintain the chain of accountability for your evidence, Detective – this isn’t our first rodeo. And we’re actually close enough to our lab that it makes more sense – and it will be faster – if we just run the samples there. You can come too, if you want, but the tests will take a few hours and I don’t know if you can be gone for that long.”

I wasn’t lying and I’m pretty sure he could tell, because he actually thought about that. “Point,” he said. “Depends on if we actually have any leads or not yet. Stan, what do you think?” Dr. Hamo lit up like a kid at Christmas and the detective rolled his eyes. “Jesus. Okay, I’ll sign off on it, but so help me if six months from now I start getting calls about weird animals it’s your door I’m knocking on first.”

Dr. Hamo just grinned and shook his head, and Dr. Arnold snorted. “He hasn’t won the lottery either.” He threw a glance up at Joey. “How did you boys get funding for the equipment?”

“Mickey pigs,” Joey told him. “We had a standing contract to keep providing them for half a dozen labs before the ink on our joint dissertation was dry, and we were cranking out breeding pairs for every drug research lab in four states within six months of that – they breed them to two generations and then they either swap with someone or get a fresh pair to prevent problems with inbreeding. We maintain a database for tracking the genetic lines, too.”

“We have an inbreeding clause in all the contracts, regardless of the species,” I added. “Some people think it’s to force our clients to keep coming back to us when they need more creatures, but that isn’t it at all – too much inbreeding is bad for animals, it creates genetic feedback loops that lead to defects. It used to be considered the only way to reinforce desired traits, but now that genomodding exists it’s unnecessary and cruel.”

“I think I know why the ASPCA likes you guys,” Adams said. The detective was texting, presumably to his partner. “Should I go with Dr. Hamo or do you want to, Detective?”

He shook his head. “We’ve got a lead, some guy who’s rumored to be opening some kind of aquatic show this summer. The animal people were suspicious already, they thought he might be penning dolphins or something. So I’m heading back to my desk to get what I need for a warrant and then I’ll be heading that way. I want you to stick with Dr. Arnold. Stan’s a big boy, he can handle himself. Are you guys coming back?”

I nodded. “As soon as we have the tests results we’ll print off a report and bring it all back for you. Hopefully you’ll have a live selkie we can talk to by then so we can find out what the hell they were thinking when they agreed to this.” I had a thought. “You should probably take Jenna with you, Detective – she knows sea lions, if something’s wrong you aren’t going to be able to call the paramedics out to come evaluate a selkie.”

“True. You up for that?” he asked Jenna, and she nodded. “Okay, for right now you’re my expert, then. Go grab anything you think you might need, I’ll bring you back here when we’re done.” She took off, and he raised an eyebrow at us. “She’s really young.”

“She’s the only one who was able to handle helping transport the victim,” Joey told him. “She’s young now, but she’s gonna be one hell of a marine biologist someday. And learning to work with you guys will make her even more valuable in the field.”

Stevens smiled. “I like the way you think – I wish more people knew how to work with us, it would save everybody a lot of frustration. You guys had to learn it by trial and error?”

“Yep. And from watching cop shows on TV – of course, we were mostly watching so we could make fun of their magical lab procedures.”

“You guys can run a DNA analysis in a few hours.”

I snorted this time. “Yeah, because we have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and custom-built computers – and no waiting list for using any of it. In fact, our coworkers are probably using the computers to tag-team each other in a first-person shooter right now just so there won’t be any tests running if Dr. Cristal and I bring something in.”

Somewhat amazingly, that got Dr. Arnold’s attention. “Sons of War?”

Joey grinned. “Fields of Battles Past – Pete has this weird thing about playing as Napoleon.”

“But Napoleon always loses!”

“Not when Pete is playing him. His longest streak is fourteen.” Arnold whistled, impressed. “Yeah. You can look him up on there, he’s Diktormeme with a ‘k’ – but I’ll warn you now, if he’s got the cavalry out you should run like hell to a different server because someone’s about to get trampled into the ground.”

“I’ll send my wife in,” Arnold said. “She likes to play in that one as Genghis Khan for the same reason.”

“I won’t warn him,” Joey promised, although I knew he totally would – he was as proud of Pete’s winning streak as Pete was.

The detective was rolling his eyes. “I don’t know where any of you find the time, I really don’t – I’m lucky if I can fit in a round of Minesweeper at my desk. All right Adams, you and the rookie you got stuck with stay here with Dr. Arnold so he can finish doing his thing – or at least get her ready for transport to the morgue so he can finish doing his thing there. Stay with him all the way down there, too, and try to make sure nobody sees her who might leak it. Stan, I want video of these tests if at all possible, stills if it’s not. You know what the DA will ask for. You guys drove?”

“It’s a rental,” Joey told him. “We flew up, a buddy of mine has a charter service. He’s waiting for us, so we’ll just leave the rental at the airstrip and then grab it again when we get back.”

“Sounds good.” He fished out a card and handed it over. “Call me as soon as you get back in the area – sooner if you find something I need to know about.” He frowned at the corpse. “Would this new species be aggressive, do you think?”

Joey shrugged. “They’re part human, it’s a definite possibility. I’d say if you find another selkie, approach with caution and let Jenna give you advice about body language. And pinnipeds can hump around out of the water pretty effectively, so don’t underestimate how fast these creatures might be on dry land.”

“They can move pretty quickly.” Jenna had just come back out. “Dr. Marshall makes sure we don’t forget it, too – she got attacked by a bull lion when she was a graduate student.” She hefted the backpack she’d brought with her. “I packed up some first aid supplies, just in case. Hopefully if we find the father and he needs help, he’ll be reasonable.”

I really hoped he would be too.

 

Dr. Hamo, as you might have expected from his initial excitement, fell in love with our lab. He documented every step of the tests in a very professional manner, but while they were running he envied our equipment and asked a million questions – about the work we were doing and the science behind it, which was actually really nice, from our perspective. We couldn’t let him go into the animal room because of client confidentiality, but we brought out Kitty Two and Kitty Four so he could see them and he got to talk to Hana for a little while. And then the automated tests started finishing up and he hovered behind us to record what we were doing while we tried to decipher them.

I found it first. I confirmed my finding with Pete’s matching database and then tried to call Detective Stevens. No answer; he was ‘out of signal range’. So Joey and I gathered everything up – including Dr. Hamo – and high-tailed it back to the airstrip while Dave and Pete finished up the tests. This was bad, hopefully it hadn’t already gotten worse. What the hell had Doc been thinking?! Humans are vicious, sea lions aren’t exactly nice themselves, and the rest of it…well, he had to have had a reason. Hopefully the other selkie or selkies would be able to tell us what it had been.

If they knew, that was.

 

Dr. Hamo called into the station the minute we were out of the plane, using his authority to get the detective’s current location. And then we were plowing through traffic as fast as we could, out to a formerly abandoned bait and tackle shop right on the coast. We had to drop Dr. Hamo of at the research station with his evidence, and I made Joey pull in at a strip mall I spotted along the way, but I knew what I needed so the detour didn’t cost us too much time.

Or at least, I thought I might need it. I was hoping I wouldn’t.

Hope wasn’t borne out. We could hear what I had to assume was a selkie bellowing the minute we opened the car door, and two male voices yelling back, so we ran straight in, following the noise. The boarded-up store had what looked like a repair area for boats or something in the back, and on the other side of the burst-open door it had been retrofitted into what sort of looked like a marine park’s animal pen, just a lot more ramshackle. “Don’t engage, get back!” I yelled out, and got to see Detective Stevens jump.

“Don’t engage!” Joey yelled, even louder than I had. “Back, everyone, get back!”

They did, although the selkie didn’t stop making noise. He was nearly a foot longer than the female of his species had been, and not made up like a mermaid at all. In fact, from the waist up he kind of reminded me of the way Dave had looked as an undergrad, just with a pronounced muzzle and whiskers. There was a broken stick with a hook on the end nearby, so it looked like maybe they’d been trying to get him to come out of the water and he hadn’t wanted to accommodate them. There was also a tarp on the ground on the other side which had a very distinctively-shaped lump underneath it, and Jenna was backed against the side of the building looking somewhere between scared and frustrated. “You okay?” Joey asked her, and she nodded. “So I’m guessing the selkie penner is the stiff under the tarp?”

“We think so,” Detective Stevens said, and then said it again louder to be heard over the noise the male selkie was making. “We can’t get him to calm down and tell us what happened!”

“He can talk?” He nodded, and I pulled the thing I’d stopped at the strip mall’s pet store for out of my pocket. I didn’t want to do it, but he was raging and we needed to get his attention.

The dog whistle cut off the noise he was making like I’d flipped a switch, and he plunged under the water to get away from the sound. Detective Stevens threw his hands in the air. “What the hell?!”

“They’re part dog, Detective,” I said, pocketing the whistle again. “Rottweiler, to be specific. We’ve been trying to get hold of you ever since we found out.” I waved at the wary selkie, who was just now poking  his head back above the water. “Sorry! I won’t do it again, I just knew I had to get your attention.”

“Well, you got it,” he said, surfacing a little more and pushing dripping long dark hair back out of his face. “What the fuck was that?!”

“A dog whistle,” Joey told him. “Your mod is around twelve percent Rottweiler. So yeah, if you see someone with a whistle from now on, get the hell away from them before they blow it.”

A large tail slapped the water as he humped back up to ‘sit’ on what looked like a raised concrete platform in the pool. “Thanks for the warning, but I can’t get much farther away than I am now – and I can only stay under for so long.”

“You could come up here,” Stevens told him. “We just wanted to talk to you, Javier.”

“You can talk to me right here.” Another slap, this one hard enough to throw some water our way. “I’m not coming over there so you can tase me.”

“You were resisting…” That was the other detective, and he trailed off when Stevens scowled at him. “He was resisting!”

“You’re gonna think resisting when the chief gets done with you,” his partner warned. “Go check out the rest of the area, see if you can find anything.” The guy stomped off, and he rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry about that,” he told the selkie, whose name was apparently Javier. “He’s usually okay, I don’t know what the hell got into him this time.”

“It’s possible he’s afraid of pinnipeds,” Joey said, which got him a raised eyebrow from the detective and a bark from the selkie. He shrugged. “I may love them, but they’re called the wolves of the sea for a reason.”

Javier barked again, whiskers bristling. He did have an impressive set of carnivore teeth. “Damn straight.”

“Was it just the two of you?” I asked him. He made a snorting noise, probably not intentionally, and I raised an eyebrow. “Javier, if there are more of you out there, we need to know so they can be protected. Or this,” I waved a hand at the pen, “is going to happen again.”

That made him roar. “No! He’s dead…”

“He won’t be the last.” Detective Stevens had caught up now. “Kid, you’re going to look like a cash cow to every piece of scum that comes down the coast – a live fucking merman, I mean really, people would do just about anything to own one of you. We can’t protect you guys if we don’t know who we’re protecting or where they are.”

Another snort. “You’ll lock us up in a tank, or in a zoo or something, or kill us! He said we’d be safe where he put us!”

The hair stood up on the back of my neck. “He…you mean Doc, Javier?”

He drew back a little. “You know Doc?”

“I kind of know Doc,” I said. “By reputation, anyway – our lab gets blamed for a lot of things he does, even though we don’t mod humans and near as we can tell that’s all he does. But one thing I do know is that he doesn’t change anyone who doesn’t ask him to. Did you guys find him or did he come to you?”

“He came to us.” He swished his tail, slapping it against the concrete. “We were livin’ rough, down by the entrance to Park North. Dude shows up one night and starts makin’ the rounds of all the little groups. Not Doc,” he specified. “Younger guy, dressed to fit in even though he really didn’t. But he told us he was representin’ someone who wanted to help us all out. He knew a lot, man. He knew the cops had been raidin’ our camps, haulin’ people in, givin’ us all a record so we couldn’t get up and out.” He gave Detective Stevens an unfriendly look, emphasized by another tail slap. “Two strikes, man – I’ve never done nothin’ wrong except not have a place to live, and thanks to you bastards I’ve got two strikes.”

“Which is bullshit,” Stevens agreed. “Not our fault, though, Javier – that river of shit flowed down from the city council. We knew it was a bad idea, but they didn’t listen to us.”

That got him a bark, but not an angry one. “Still sucked, man. Anyway, some of us didn’t have nothin’ to lose, so we listened to the guy. He didn’t promise we’d have it easy, but he said we’d be out of the mess and live free for the rest of our lives. He told us where to meet him the next night if we were interested – and he did warn us that there was no going back once it was done, so we knew this was a forever choice.”

“It is,” Joey confirmed. “There’s currently no way to reverse a mod. Did they knock you out to make the change, or did you tough it out?”

“Knocked us out,” he said. “We met the guy where he said, and he sorted everyone out and sent us all to a pier. Doc was there. He made sure we knew what was going to happen, and then we took a boat out and he did it where we landed, on the beach. He was gone when we all woke up, but most of us had kind of figured he would be. He left us in a good place, though, and we figured things out and got our colony going and everything was good.”

“You like being a selkie?” I asked, and he nodded like he wasn’t sure he should be admitting it. “Javier, there’s nothing wrong with that,” I assured him. “You are a selkie – if you didn’t like it, then we’d have a problem. Your…jailer gave you shit about it?”

He wrinkled up his nose. “He said we were stupid and we were lucky he’d caught us. He told Mary she was too ugly to be in his show, that she looked like a cow not a mermaid, and got some guy to come in and give her that boob job and then he gave her all that stuff to wear to ‘pretty her up’. He was…really pissed when he realized she was pregnant with my pups, he was gonna have the guy come back and get rid of them. I told her she had to get out. She didn’t want to go without me…but we couldn’t both get out so I told her to go. I knew the bastard wouldn’t kill me, because then he wouldn’t have a show at all. I didn’t know…” This time the snort was deep and rough and almost had a whine in it. “I didn’t know the storm would get her before she could get out of the pen! I thought she’d be able to make open water before that!”

I had a feeling the reason she hadn’t was because she’d hesitated, not wanting to leave him, hoping she could find a way to get him out too, but I wasn’t going to say so. “Javier, that is not your fault,” I told him instead. “The storm that killed her…it was a big one, and from what I understand it blew up really fast. So when the bastard came back, I’m guessing he was pissed.”

He nodded. “Came at me with his shock stick and the hook, he thought she was hidin’ in the tank. Once he realized she was gone, he came unglued. I tried to get away, and he pulled out a gun. Said he was gonna have something to show, even if it was just stuffed and mounted.”

“Didn’t realize you could jump that high?” I asked, and he shrugged. “He got what he deserved. You’re not a murderer, you didn’t do that on purpose. He should have gotten out of the way.”

Stevens was looking confused, and then his eyes widened. “Well shit. You fell on him, didn’t you?” Selkies can apparently blush. “No, kid, he’s right – that’s nowhere near murder.” A sort of smile quirked one corner of his mouth. “And no, you’re not fat.”

“You’re not.” That was Jenna, who had been quiet, just listening up until now. She looked him over and shook her head. “In fact, I think you’re underweight. Was he trying to keep you mermaid-size by starving you?”

Javier nodded slowly. “I was givin’ part of my share to Mary, for the pups.”

“She was a healthy weight for a pregnant sea lion,” Jenna confirmed. “You did good.” She sat down cross-legged on the concrete. “Do you think you could make it back to your colony? Because we have a boat that can take you. We’ve had to move sea lions before, we know how to do it without hurting you.”

He made a chuffing noise. “If you mean a sling, that’s no bueno – I mean, I would if I had to, but we get around on land okay, I can hump my way up a gangplank. If I show you how to get there, though…how do I know you guys aren’t gonna round us up, or try to tag us or some shit like that?”

She didn’t answer him immediately; in fact, she looked like she was thinking about it. “Not tagging, or collars,” she said finally. “Those are too heavy. We could leave something like that with your colony, though, so that if you had to relocate we’d know where you went. And I can’t think of a reason why we’d round you up, it’s not like you’d fit in the aquarium even if we had a reason to put you there. If one of you was sick the aquarium would work, but we don’t have one anywhere big enough to be a habitat for even one or two of you, much less a whole colony.” She pulled out her phone. “I’m going to call Dr. Marshall. She’ll know what the best way to protect your colony would be.” She gave the detective an almost completely convincing sideways look. “That is, if I don’t need to have her call him a lawyer instead?”

Stevens rolled his eyes. “For what? This moron was illegally penning sea lions and one of them rolled on him when he was trying to ‘train’ it for his show with a cattle prod – that’s death by personal stupidity, with an added charge of animal cruelty and illegal possession of a protected animal. And he’ll actually get charged posthumously for it, too, just in case any of his accomplices show up. Speaking of which…” He creakily settled onto the concrete next to Jenna and got out the little notepad they all carry. “While we wait for the expert opinion to show up, I need you to tell me everything you remember about the people this asshole was working with, Javier – especially that scumbag who was gonna kill your pups, him I really want.”

 

Dr. Marshall ended up saying she wanted to come see what was going on for herself before anyone did anything else, so we all talked to Javier while we waited. He was still a little wary of all of us – not that anyone blamed him – but he still told us about the colony and how they’d been doing things and some of the plans they’d made. They’d decided not to try to migrate to warmer waters like some of the sea lions did, and they’d all been working on ideas for what they would do when the weather got bad. That was how Javier and Mary had gotten caught, in fact: They’d been out scouting for alternate food sources, and the asshole had caught them with a net. Which added illegal net-fishing to his list of posthumous charges, too, because Detective Stevens was on a roll and enjoying every minute of it.

Joey and Jenna went out when we heard a vehicle pull up, and about ten minutes later they came back with Dr. Marshall. Who was a brown-haired woman about Joey’s and my age in a wheelchair. She’d been luckier than our unlamented asshole of a selkie enslaver, apparently…but not by much. I stood up and went to shake hands. “Dr. Marshall, I’m Dr. Darling. And this,” I waved my other hand at the pool, “is Javier. He’s a selkie, the other selkie was his mate, Mary.”

“I am so sorry for your loss,” she told Javier. “You two shouldn’t have been in here in the first place, but I’ve been trying to get them to ban these fences for years now for just that reason. Please tell me the rest of your colony isn’t in an area where there could be fences.”

Javier, who had tensed up, relaxed again and his tail slapped at the water aimlessly. “They aren’t. We’re out kind of in the middle of nowhere, a rocky little island sort of thing with a long beach and not much else.”

“Sounds like you were living out in the shoals,” she said. “That is a good place for fish, I’ll give him that. Unfortunately it’s also a good place for drug dealers and assholes with illegal fishing boats. So your benefactor may have been thinking you guys would put an end to that.”

“Bene…Dr. Darling says he’s a bad guy, though.”

“He’s done some unethical things,” I corrected. “It sounds to me like he was on the up and up with all of you, though, and I’m glad he was. Like I said before, if you didn’t like being a selkie we’d have a problem. Since you do? No problem except making sure you all stay safe so your colony can be healthy and grow.”

“And making sure your current location is good for that, legally as well as resource-wise,” Dr. Marshall added. “I don’t think you guys want to become the next Pier 39.” Javier barked, which showed his teeth, and she started just a little bit. “Wait, those aren’t…”

“The selkies are part Rottweiler,” Joey explained. “That’s where the multiple embryos had to have come from. Sea lions have one pup at a time, humans usually only have one or two…but a big dog can easily have a litter of twelve or thirteen.”

Which we’d discussed to death back at the lab, and on the way back out here. Doc had obviously wanted the selkies to increase their population, and honestly they’d probably already started doing it. It was possible some of his reasoning was that infant mortality was likely to be higher at first, because the selkies would still be getting used to living in the wild, but we’d also considered that he may have been counting on them creating a really big, aggressive colony before anyone noticed them.

And he’d probably counted on us being called in, too, and on Dr. Marshall getting involved as well. He didn’t want his creations killed off, he wanted them to flourish, so he’d made sure the only people who could possibly help would want that too – and would be able to guarantee it. Seriously, Dr. Marshall is a marine biologist who’s devoted her career to the welfare of the same animals that left her in a wheelchair. He had to have known the press wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole, they didn’t dare. He’d used her to counter the one flaw GenoMod had: public opinion.

A little shiver went up my spine. Doc was obviously playing the long game. But just how long was it, really? And to what end?

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