A World Full of Monsters

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Chapter 27
Out of the Water, Part 2

Dinner, conversation, and a giant fish.


The rooftop patio was one of the resort’s ‘VIP only’ areas, tastefully appointed and with a breathtakingly beautiful view of the ocean. There were other guests there, quite a few of them at the rail, but the area set aside for our use had been roped off between brass stands with small black signs that had Reservado engraved on them in flowing gold script. We had a tower viewer all to ourselves, a nice telescope set up near it, and a table surrounded by comfortably cushioned chairs. Mike checked out the area and warned us not to go anywhere else without coming to get him first, and then he went back to the suite to have a conference call with his office; the minute we sat down, a waiter hurried over with a pitcher of fruit-infused water and four tall glasses. “Usually up here on the patio they serve sangria, but we told them not while we’re working,” Ramon joked. “Once we are done, though…well, we still won’t get any, because then we will have to go back home.”

The waiter asked a general-sounding question, and Maria shook her head. “We will wait for Dr. Vargas,” she told him. “Unless he is not here in an hour, then we will eat without him.” He nodded and hurried back to the bar, and she poured herself a glass of water, using the straw to hold back pieces of fruit she didn’t want. Then she passed me the pitcher and I did the same thing, making sure all of the lime and lemon wedges stayed out of my glass – canine stomachs don’t tolerate citrus very well, I didn’t need indigestion to go with my jet lag – but letting through the strawberries she hadn’t wanted. I speared a particularly fat chunk with my straw and ate it. “I thought you liked strawberries, Maria?”

“I do, when they are not in season,” she said, squeezing a lime wedge to get more juice out. “But it is strawberry season now, and they are in everything – I am sick to death of them. Come winter, though, I will want them again.” She frowned at my glass. “I had not even thought…you poor thing, you cannot eat chocolate now either!”

“Yeah, too bad I didn’t realize that as fast as you just did,” I said, saluting her with another strawberry chunk. “My first week home I almost poisoned myself by getting into Pete’s M&M dispenser.”

“And that’s how we also found out they make fake chocolate for dogs,” Joey added. “Turns out there’s a dog bakery downtown, even, and they deliver. The owner is loving having a customer who can actually tell her how things taste.” He was using his straw to pound up the fruit at the bottom of his glass. “Word of warning, though: Don’t ever eat a dog brownie thinking it’s a real one.”

I grinned. “Means I don’t have to share – well, with anyone but Sheena, anyway. Dave’s dog,” I explained. “We were trying out a new mod process and Dave fell in love, so he kept her.”

Ramon perked up. “A new process?”

“The prequel to the one I mentioned earlier,” Joey said. “Not nearly ready to go public, though. Just the work we’ve already done with shelter animals has swamped the lab with requests, we don’t dare let the…potential extension of that get out yet.” Maria raised a demanding eyebrow at him. “Let’s just say Angela’s been working really hard at her physical therapy, she can walk about eight feet unassisted now.” She dropped her straw, and he grinned. “Oh, and she said yes. Like I told Ramon, once we set a date you’ll get your invitations.”

“So it worked…and there can be children for you now?” He nodded, and she got up to hug him. “I am so happy for you, mi amigo! I will call her later to say congratulations. No one is to know?”

“We haven’t formally announced our engagement yet, but once I told my family it pretty much became public knowledge.” He hugged her back. “So now we have to find a husband for you.”

“My mother says she thinks I will never find one,” she told him, going back to her chair. “I am apparently too picky. But most of the men I meet at las conferencias, they are either married already or they want a stupid wife who will be in awe of their genius. I told her maybe I should find a stupid man who is pretty and use my science to make him smart.”

“The day you crack that one, your lab is going to be busier than ours is,” I said. “At least your mother isn’t begging for grandchildren, though. Pete’s mom asked if I could make her one in the lab.”

Ramon choked on his water. “You can do that?!”

“We didn’t fly down here in a gold-plated private jet, so no, we can’t.” Joey smirked. “And GenoMod’s research doesn’t really lean that way, so we’ll probably never go there.” He was only partially lying – we’ll probably never go there officially, but I have been looking into several options unofficially for Pete. “Which means that field is wide open. Go for it, Ramon.”

That made him snort. “Our research does not lean that way either, unfortunately. What about those people in Florida?”

“ZipLab?” It was my turn to snort. “If they ever so much as look at human mod again, they’re going to get shut down so hard the building might not be standing afterward – not to mention, the last time I saw one of them at a conference they were presenting work that was about two years behind what the rest of us are doing.”

Maria shook her head. “I had heard they were refusing to deal with the DIY mods. Which is silly, because that is how the rest of us are advancing the science so quickly.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Joey agreed. “Speaking of DIY, though, I heard you guys had another fake dinosaur last month…”

 

Dr. Vargas showed up about half an hour of mod-gossip later, a tall, thin man with close-cropped gray-white hair who shook his head when both Ramon and Maria looked a question at him. “Not a sign of anything,” he said. “Which is a sign in itself, of sorts – there should be fish here, many of them. I risked dropping a few baited lines, and nothing came up. So whatever it is, either it drove everything off or it ate everything.”

“Crap,” Ramon swore. “We haven’t seen a thing yet, but it should surface in an hour or so. Danny, Joey, this is Jorge Vargas – Jorge, nuestros colegas Danny Darling and Joey Cristal from GenoMod. They just got in a little while ago, they were on their way back from India.”

“I heard about what happened with los elefantes,” the older man said, taking an empty chair and stretching out his legs. “Thank goodness nobody has tried it farther north where el siluro gigante del diablo live, that would be a disaster.”

“I would have run right back home if they’d been playing with those. On foot.” Joey told him. “Bagarius yarrelli, they’re called the giant devil catfish,” he explained for my benefit. “They eat…well, just about anything, like any bottom feeder, but the people up there burn their dead and dump the bodies in the river so there’s some evidence that those particular catfish may have started targeting swimmers as food when there aren’t any corpses.”

“The largest ever caught was just under two meters long,” Jorge added. “He is definitely not the largest out there – and he is also most likely bigger now, since nobody has been able to convince the locals not to send roasted bodies floating down the river for him to feast on.” He took the glass our attentive waiter brought to him with a nod and a smile. “Gracias. It is too bad I did not catch anything, we could have had fresh fish for dinner.”

“We have fish,” the waiter told him. His nametag said he was Fernando. “It is quite good…but it has been kept on ice. Normally we have it fresh-caught, but the catches have been bad lately so we have had to have our fish brought down from farther north.”

“I think this creature we are looking for may be responsible,” Jorge told him. “When I was out on the water today, I saw no fish at all where I should have seen schools of them. You might pass the word along to your fishermen that they should be careful, we do not know much about this creature as of yet.”

Fernando nodded. “I will tell the chef, he speaks with them daily. You would like menus now?”

“Sí, por favor,” Maria said. “Oh, and we did not think to tell anyone before: Dr. Darling has a severe reaction to cacao, it is not safe for him to have even the smallest amount.”

The young man nodded again. “Not a problem, Dr. Villegas. I will let the kitchen know.”

He was back not five minutes later with menus, one of which had been annotated with a wax pencil; that one was for me, apparently the resort is used to dealing with guests who have food allergies. We ordered, and over dinner – a really excellent dinner – we went back over all the information we had so everyone would be on the same page. A very short page, still. Big black thing in the water. Smaller black things in the water. Between six and fifteen people missing at this resort, ten or possibly more missing for the same reason from the area around El Rey to the south. The waters around the resort strangely empty of fish. And Mr. Cabrera from the tourism board who was afraid to tell us anything and didn’t seem to want us here.

Jorge and Joey were equally certain that we were dealing with a fish, or at least a fish-based mod, not a marine mammal. They disagreed on whether it might be part shark, with Jorge thinking it was possible and Joey not being so sure. But of course, the only way we were going to find out was to actually get a good look at the creature, and then hopefully catch it so we could study it. So we waited, and watched the waves, letting Joey and Jorge monopolize the viewer and telescope while Maria and Ramon set up a long-lensed camera on a tripod and I used our video camera…and finally a black fin and then a round black back broke through the surface of the water before ducking out of sight again. It wove in and out of the waves, never fully coming up so we could get a good look at it, and although it skirted the edge of the shallower water it didn’t venture into the shelf area. “Madre de Dios, it really does look to be the size of a city bus,” Jorge muttered. “And it is hunting, looking for food – which of course it is, because there are so few fish left in the area. Oh look, there is the tail…”

“It’s really finny.” Joey was on the tower viewer, scowling. “Definitely not whale or a dolphin, this looks like a giant fish. I can’t get a good look at the head, but…Jorge, does that look awfully long to you? The body is saying big fat fish, but if I’m seeing the head right it almost looks like a sturgeon.”

“Which could explain the size,” Jorge agreed. “I see it too, like a narrow nose attached to a wide jaw. The tail, though, that is not a sturgeon.”

“And its skin looks smooth, not scaly, so hopefully not modded with some kind of crocodilian. Is that little black thing one of the fry?”

“I count three from this angle.” Jorge fiddled with the telescope. “Or four, or possibly two – it is hard to tell. We will see them more clearly looking at the pictures…oh, it is diving again.”

“The fry are still…okay, no, they just went back under too.” Joey drew back, rubbing his eyes. “I hope they’re easier to see in the video.”

“They should be easier to see tomorrow, once you have had a good night’s sleep,” Ramon told him. “Danny, why are you still filming?”

I made a face, lowering the video camera. “There was something…I don’t know what I was seeing, but it was almost like a rug or something just below the surface of the water, and then it started breaking up. Seaweed, maybe, or trash? I don’t know what it was, but it was right by the spot where our big fish and her babies went under.”

“I saw it too.” Maria was checking the camera. “Right below the surface.”

Jorge frowned, shaking his head. “I did not see that. Joey?”

“I didn’t either. But we should probably go back to the suite and look at the footage and the still pictures. Unless you think they’ll come back up again?”

Ramon shrugged. “They have not been said to do so. And I think we might get more information from the cameras.” He waved to another guest, farther down the patio’s polished rail. “Hey, did you get pictures of it?!”

“I don’t know, maybe!”

“Upload them for the contest!” Maria called back, and the man seemed to deflate just a little. She rolled her eyes. “He wants money. For blurry pictures taken with a phone from half a mile away. Some of these people thought that since we were looking for something, we might pay them to help us find it, so they hesitate to upload them for the ‘contest’. Meaning there are possibly better pictures we do not have.”

I handed Joey the video camera. “I’ll be right back.” And then I ducked under the rope and strolled over to our greedy potential witness. “I think I saw something weird in the water, I need to know if you saw it too. Because I am jet-lagged as hell right now and I can’t trust my own eyes. Play it back for me, please?”

He hesitated, but I just kept looking at him and he finally pushed the button and held out his phone. Mostly waves, more waves, the black blob that was the fish surfacing and resurfacing… “There.” I tapped the screen to pause the video; Pete had gotten me some conductive nail polish to tip my index claw with so I could keep using touchscreens, a favor I’d returned by helping him hide the pilot lessons from his mother. “Okay, yeah, I wasn’t seeing things. See that, right there? What does that look like to you?”

The guy looked, and frowned. “A seaweed mat?”

“That’s what I thought it looked like too. But if I understand the underwater topography here then that’s off the edge of the shelf, so it might not be.” I looked him in the eye. “I realize that pictures like this, if ‘this’ turns out to really be something, could be worth a small fortune,” I told him in a low voice. “But my colleagues and I don’t have time to think about that stuff right now, we have to find out what that thing is before it kills again.” He went a funny color. “Yeah, they’ve been holding back information – trying not to start a panic, or bring out the kooks who want to re-enact Jaws. There are people missing, we aren’t sure how many at this point but it could be a lot. So when we ask if you have pictures, we just want to see them, okay? We’re not going to claim them or anything. If you don’t want to upload them for the hotel’s contest that’s fine, but please, just track one of us down and show us. Pass the word around?” He nodded, so I fished out one of my cards and handed it to him. “I’m Dr. Darling. The really tall, really tired guy over there is Dr. Cristal, we’re from GenoMod in L.A. Dr. Luna and Dr. Villegas are from Primera Genética in Mexico City, and Dr. Vargas is a fish expert who agreed to come help figure this thing out.”

His eyes went wide. “Wait, wasn’t he out earlier, on a boat? He rented a boat and went out…”

“Looking for it, yeah. Luckily he didn’t find it, because we knew it was big but we didn’t know it was that big.” I rubbed my eyes, holding back a yawn. “Thanks for letting me see your video.”

“No problem. I’m sorry I didn’t before.” He seemed to think about it for a second, and then he held out his hand. “I’m Randy, by the way – Randy Beckman. So you’ll know who’s calling.”

I found a smile for him and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Randy. Have a good night.”

“Yeah, you too.”

I could feel him watching me as I walked back to our area, but I ignored it – it’s the tail, I know it is, everyone is fucking fascinated by the tail. “Randy saw the same underwater mat thing Maria and I did,” I said. “Let’s get back down to the room, we can upload our video to the cloud so Pete can work on it. And then I’m gonna have to go to bed, I can’t even see straight anymore.”

Joey nodded. “Yeah, ditto – I’m dead. We can get up early in the morning and get back to work, Pete should have worked his magic on the footage we’ve got by then.”

“Agreed,” Ramon said. “We will all get up early. I have a feeling we will be hearing from Mr. Cabrera in the morning, as he did not show up this evening.”

“He didn’t, did he?” I frowned out at the water, wondering what Mike was going to have to say about that. Probably nothing good.

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4 thoughts on “A World Full of Monsters

  1. Toby

    Omg and things get deeper and stranger… why am I afraid of another plant hybrid… or plankton hybrid. That or it is some fishing scam with modding thrown in..

    • Toby

      Or a whale porpoise human mod with smuggler/ fishing intent… I think I need to wait yet another week instead of letting my imagination get too crazy.
      Thanks

      • lol, Yeah, better to just wait a week. I will tell you that Joey and Jorge are right about it not being a marine mammal base, though. In the next chapter they’ll know what Mr. Fishie started out as, the pictures they got will make it at least somewhat clear.

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