A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 28
Out of the Water, Part 3

It’s not a good day on the beach.


The next morning, Joey and I were a lot more on the ball and Mike had a lot to say about Mr. Cabrera. Namely that he was no longer at the resort; he’d had the valet bring his car around right after we’d all gone up to the suite and he hadn’t been back since. “The guys checked, and he’s legit so far as anyone can tell,” he said. “So I called Fonatur and asked them where he was, and they have no clue either – and believe me, they were not at all happy about that. He was supposed to be shadowing all four of you every minute you were here, making sure anything that came up was handled according to company guidelines and making sure GenoMod didn’t have any complaints about how they were treated.” He made a face. “I told them about the cabana thing when we first got here, and the person I was talking to was flabbergasted. They can’t imagine why he would have said something like that, because he knew you were supposed to be sharing the suite with Dr. Luna and Dr. Villegas.”

He was smelling really worried now. “What do you suggest we do?”

Mike shook his head. “If it was possible, you’d already be at the airport and I’d have you both on the first plane back to the States – but that’s not possible, given the situation. So what we’ll have to do is just be very careful for the time being. I’m going to be with you every minute from here on out, but if anything out of the ordinary comes up, I need you to tell me – that goes for you too, Dr. Luna, Dr. Villegas. Anyone starts acting funny around you, signal me and do your best to move away from them.”

You may have noticed he’s not mentioning that Joey can smell trouble coming almost as well as I can – that’s because the guys being enhanced is not common knowledge and we’re not ready for it to get that way yet. There’s still a considerable amount of prejudice attached to having yourself modded on purpose, and we don’t need to give more ammunition to people like Ms. Perry. Or to give away the advantage the guys have when it comes to identifying and protecting themselves from people like that, either way. Someday everyone will know, but now isn’t the time for that.

Not even when it comes to people we count as our friends.

Pete had gone over the footage while we were sleeping, and had left both Joey and I a message saying he wanted a conference call just as soon as we woke up. So, probably not good news. The resort has a dedicated room set up for video conferencing – for obvious reasons, companies that can afford it just love holding shareholder meetings in places like this – so Ramon called the concierge and after a quick breakfast we were all down in the conference room connecting with our lab. I requested that the resort’s manager and the concierge both join us, which had surprised the hell out of both of them, but once we’d pointed out that in the absence of Mr. Cabrera they were the people who needed to know what was going on they settled right in to listen and take notes.

We all took a lot of notes. “I was able to get quite a bit more detail out of the video footage than I was out of the stills,” Pete began without preamble once everyone had been introduced. “So now we have features to work with. It’s not good, guys,” he warned. “This creature most likely started out as a bottom feeder.” A clip came up, and he froze it and then red-circled a blurry fat line sticking out of the water near the creature’s mouth. “Those are barbels, like a catfish would have. I know there are other fish that have them, but when I zoomed in on the dorsal fin,” the footage moved a bit, then froze again, “I noticed that it had a pretty distinctive shape and what looked like a spike sticking up, so I did some image matching. Going by that top fin, it looks like it’s from Bagre marinus, a saltwater catfish native to the Gulf. This creature’s mouth isn’t right for a sailcat, though, it’s too broad.”

“Those are how big naturally?” I asked.

Jorge swallowed. He looked horrified. “Two feet or less.”

“Any reason besides pretty fins that they might have added that to the mod?”

“They are one of the species of bagres which are venomous.” Jorge shook his head. “A regular one is not deadly, at least not to an adult, but at this size…there is just no telling.”

“Especially since we don’t know what else is in there,” Joey put in. He wasn’t looking much better than Jorge. “Its size aside, if they also used another venomous fish in the mod – and there are a few that have a protective mucous layer literally made of poison – that thing could be more than deadly and so could the fry.”

“Yeah, that was my next alarming revelation,” Pete said. “Dr. Darling’s floating mat under the water is actually no such thing.” He played a clip of the video, stopping it when the mat was visible, then put up an even more enhanced still. “That’s a school. The fry you were seeing were being pushed up out of the water by the jostling of the other fish. Based on the relative size of the big creature and the size of the ‘mat’ of fry…guys, there could be thousands of them.”

“Tens of thousands,” Jorge corrected. “Un bagra can lay as many as a hundred thousand eggs at a time, depending on the species, and some other fish lay many more than that.”

“So our best chance to get a specimen to examine,” Joey said slowly, “is to catch one of the fry.”

“Not by going out on a boat,” Jorge cautioned. “If I had known the size of this fish yesterday, I would not have gone out – or at least I would not have gone out unarmed. Especially as it is most likely not alone. If this is enough catfish to behave like one, then the creature we are seeing surface is the male, he is guarding the fry and possibly providing food for them.” He frowned. “What I do not understand is why the fry would be with him when he surfaces. They would have no natural predators here – or at least, none left.”

“And that also means the female is still out there, but she is not surfacing,” Maria said. “Could she be laying more eggs?”

“It is possible,” Jorge agreed. “But if we watch the beach…it is possible the tide will bring us one of the fry, or pieces will wash up in the shallows, something. With so many, some are bound to die.”

“So, we should probably go down to the beach and start looking for fish parts, or lost fry,” I said. “Pete, did you see anything else…”

And that was when the screen flickered, turned gray, and an error message came up that said Señal Perdida. The concierge immediately stood up. “We have lost the signal,” she said. “Un momento por favor, I will reconnect us.”

I pulled out my phone to text Pete…but the message wouldn’t send and that was when I noticed that I didn’t have any bars. I checked my settings. “Is it possible the whole network in this area went down? Because I don’t have any signal.”

That got everyone else’s phones out. The manager checked his, frowned, then got up and went to the credenza that sat against one wall and opened one side up to reveal a landline phone – rotary dial, no less. He picked the receiver up but put it right back down again, and now he was smelling worried rather than annoyed. “There is no dial tone.”

Mike’s scent spiked, although no one but Joey and I could probably tell how alarmed he was. “Does the network often go down out here, Mr. Mendoza?”

The manager shook his head. “No, no – we are very stable unless there is a hurricane. We have to be, los turistas get very upset if they cannot check Facebook or share photos on Instagram. Normally the network stays up so long as the power is on.” He thought for a moment. “I am sorry gentlemen, Dr. Villegas, I am not sure what has happened. I will have someone notify you as soon as the situation is resolved.”

He hurried out of the conference room, and the concierge repeated the apology. “We are sorry. Do you wish to continue the meeting while we work on this problem?”

“Just for a little while,” Maria told her, and waited until she had also left the room before saying anything else. “Coincidence?”

“One missing representative from Fonatur, and now a downed network cutting the resort off from communications with the outside world?” Joey’s voice was much less agitated than his scent. “Yeah, I doubt it. Mike?”

Mike shrugged. “The network going down in the middle of your conference call, that was probably a coincidence,” he observed. “All of this happening within the same twelve-hour period following you guys getting here, probably not. Is there anything else to discuss?”

“Very little to discuss, but much we should probably act upon,” Ramon told him. He was more excited than anything else, but he’s also never dealt with the kind of mod emergencies we have so I chalked that up to him wanting to have an ‘adventure’ of his own. Maria wasn’t feeling that way, of course – we’ve known her longer, so she’s heard stories Ramon hasn’t. “Should we go check the beach now?”

“Only if we can obtain some kind of equipment to safely collect any parts we may find,” Jorge told him. “What did you bring?”

Maria shrugged. “Gloves, containers for samples, el microscopio barato, and the projector.”

“The cheap…Maria, that’s my microscope!”

She smiled. “And it is cheap, compared to my very nice one – which is still not so very nice as the one Danny has.”

“Joey and Dave have the same model now. After the first time Dave used mine he was on it every time I got out of my chair, so I made him get his own.” I tapped my claws on the tabletop. “We have gloves and sampling equipment too, and the resort is bound to have some pool-cleaning nets we could borrow, maybe some buckets?”

“Yeah, we will need buckets – no way to tell if a sample is of interest or not until we bring it back,” Joey agreed. “Let’s go beachcombing, everyone, there’s not much else we can do until the network is back up, and I don’t want to just sit around the resort twiddling my thumbs.”

 

We all went back up to the suite for sunscreen and beach-friendly shoes and all the stuff we’d need to collect samples, and then we found the concierge again to ask about buckets and a net or two. The network was still down, they weren’t sure why, and Mike started to smell even more concerned. And he frowned over the outraged complaining that happened when the concierge and one of the pool attendants led us out through the crowded pool area – now filled with very frustrated people who had been cut off from using the Internet as well as enjoying the beach – and unlocked a heavy side gate to let us out onto the beach. The concierge frowned too, and gave Mike her assistant’s radio. “We will have to lock the gate behind you,” she said. “Call when you are ready to come back in.”

“We can do that, thanks.” He stashed the radio in one of the many pockets in his cargo pants, and then as soon as the gate was shut he pulled a sheathed knife out of another pocket and clipped it to his belt. Ramon raised an eyebrow at that, and he shrugged. “We can’t carry guns in Mexico without special permission, Dr. Luna – the three hours of advance notice we had wasn’t enough to get that paperwork approved, and the embassy didn’t think of it when they made the arrangements.”

Ramon shook his head. “I had suspected that. But I was more wondering why you needed it at all. We are looking for fish parts.”

Mike chuckled. “Sometimes fish parts can still bite, Dr. Luna – and so do other things. I’ve had a snake come after me after I’d cut it in half. Not to mention, if someone comes running up the beach at us I’d rather not have my second-best weapon sealed in my pocket.”

Ramon’s eyes were wide. “Second…I thought you could not have a gun here?”

That time Joey laughed; we’d heard this before. “Not a gun, Ramon – look at his arms. Mike can bend metal bars with his bare hands.”

We know that because Mike had gotten impatient with the electronic lock on the cage Doc had put Hana in and just ripped the door apart so she could step out. And then he’d blushed when she squealed and clapped. It had been cute.

I shivered, twitched my tail to cover it up. Still not a good memory. I nudged a shell with my shoe, turning it over. “Jorge, you’re our fish expert. What should we be looking for?”

“Nothing with tentáculos, I think,” he said. “They have stopped sweeping the beach because of this, so there may be medusas washed up and we do not want to deal with those. If you see something larger, that may be a specimen – even if it is just from un pulpo, it may be evidence of eating. Un bagre gigante would be competition even for the largest octopus, as they also feed near the bottom.” He made a face. “This could set the coastal habitat in this area back for decades, we may have to have a conservation team come in to evaluate the damage when we are done here.”

“Hopefully none of these things have gotten near the reefs,” Joey put in. “Okay, everyone fan out, take a twenty-yard stretch of sand and start looking – from here right down to the water’s edge.”

We all split up and started searching. There wasn’t much to find at first. A few pieces of crustacean shell, what looked like a withered piece of fin, somebody’s watch – I bagged it anyway, just in case. Two more watches later I was starting to wonder if I was finding pieces of people our mystery fish had eaten, and then I found a piece of torn rubber tubing that sort of confirmed it. Ramon yelled at one point, but when we all looked over there he waved it away so everyone went back to their own looking. I hit pay dirt – pay sand – once I hit the waterline, part of a diving mask half-buried in the mud. I didn’t find any more of it, but I did find a few broken pieces of bone and a ragged scrap of something fleshy that I was really hoping had come from a fish.

After about two hours we had covered all the ground we were going to get covered, and it was starting to get pretty hot. Everyone traipsed back up the beach to the spot Mike had been keeping watch from, and then we all went back to the gate and he radioed for someone to let us in. It took them a few minutes, we could hear some complaining from the other side, but finally the gate opened and Mike immediately went through and positioned himself to keep people from rushing us; he’d hidden his knife away again, but he didn’t need the extra threat for this situation. One young guy thought he could slide out anyway, not anticipating how fast Joey was, and when he tried to bitch about us getting to use the beach too I reached into Joey’s bucket and pulled out a container that had an eye in it, dangling it in front of him. “We weren’t ‘using the beach’,” I said. “We were checking the beach for things like this. I’m sure there are more parts of him out there if you really want to go look.”

“If you puke on me, I’m going to drag you down there myself,” Joey warned him, and the guy put a hand over his mouth. “Now please get out of the way, they need to shut the gate again and I’d like to get these specimens inside before they start to rot more.” The guy ran off, and Joey nodded to the resort employee who was holding the gate, making a show of getting out of the way himself. “Close it up,” he said, loud enough to carry. “Thank goodness you guys kept everyone off the beach, the tide has been bringing those missing divers up in chunks.” That cleared most of the rest of the crowd out of the way, and I hid a smile. After all the international traveling we’ve done, we all have a healthy dislike for the type of tourists who think they’re entitled to have everyone in a foreign country cater to their every whim just because they’re on vacation.

The resort had cleared a tile-floored room just off the pool area for us to use as a makeshift lab, and Ramon’s microscope and the other equipment they’d brought was already set up there. Maria requisitioned plastic trash bags from the concierge, and we spread out all of our finds on top of them. Ramon’s yell turned out to have been because he’d found a finger. Joey had turned up more diving equipment parts and the fish eye – yes, I had already known it was a fish eye and not a human eye when I used it to scare that guy outside – Maria had found what looked like part of a fin and some tempered glass shards, and Jorge…you know, Primera Genética may need to keep Jorge on-call for stuff like this, because he’d found a part of a diving shoe that still had a couple of water-bloated toes stuck in it and hadn’t even turned a hair. He’d also collected some more bone parts like the ones I’d found, which he examined while the rest of us were sorting out things into slide and not-slide for the microscope. “These are not from fish,” he finally said. “There are traces of marrow, and they are too dense.”

Joey went over to look, pulling down his jeweler’s loupe so he could get a better look. He turned the biggest piece of bone over in his fingers. “Okay, this doesn’t look human either. I’m thinking maybe it came from a cow or something.”

Maria shook her head. “What would a cow have been doing here? Los ranchos are hundreds of miles away. And nobody moves meat on the hoof to an area this far out, it would be too expensive.”

Nobody had an answer for that, so we all just kept working. I was bisecting the eye when it hit me: the Ancient Fire lab in Norway had put up feeding stations to keep the trolls in the area they wanted to be in. I abandoned the eye – carefully, of course – changed gloves and went over to the piece of hopefully-not-skin that nobody had gotten to yet. I very quickly sliced it open and got a cell scraping, stained it, and then took over the microscope. “That’s cow,” I announced. “They’re using feeder cows to lead it around.”

Ramon’s eyebrows went up. “They?”

Joey was nodding. “You think they’re using feeding stations.”

“Why else have cows out here? Ancient Fire,” I clarified for everyone who wasn’t Joey. “In Norway, we found out they’d been controlling the range of their trolls by using feeder stations.”

“They were using cows?”

“No,” Mike put in before Joey or I could explain. “In Norway, they were using people. So the missing divers, the tourists?”

“Most likely just incidental casualties,” Jorge said. “If this creature was being fed cows, they were being put into the water for it; it has most likely learned to home in on the motion.”

“Which would be really similar to the movements a swimming human makes,” Joey agreed. “Although they may have had that in mind when they did it.” He sat down on a chair, shaking his head. “Why here, though? That still doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to plant a man-eating giant fish in the water, why do it in an area like this?”

“Maybe because you had to grow it somewhere hospitable,” Jorge offered. “Plenty of fish, but the resorts keep the predators at bay to protect los turistas.”

“But still, why?” Ramon wanted to know. “This is a pretty small area, and Fonatur has things in place to block the inlets, to keep out unauthorized boats and large sharks or whales. The fry might get out, but there’s no way the big one could.”

Everyone considered again, and again we had incomplete data and no answers so we went back to the specimens. The three watches turned out to be two divers’ watches and a Rolex, and we checked them for tooth marks and embedded biomatter before bagging them up and labeling them as evidence for the authorities – the Rolex, at least, could probably be traced back to someone who was missing. There were also tooth marks on the finger which looked to have been made by fairly large teeth, although Jorge and Joey both said they looked wrong to have been made by fish teeth, and similar marks on some of the equipment fragments. The piece of fin did look like it might have come from a sailcat, and the eye was declared ‘weird’ by Jorge. “That is not the eye from un bagre,” he insisted. “They have small visible eyes, like a pig. See, the place where the connective tissue was attached? This fish had eyes that bulged.”

“If we still had a way to contact Pete, I could have him run the samples I took from the eye…but we don’t have that option right now. Still.” I sighed, twitching my tail in frustration. “I say we store all the samples and clean up, there’s really nothing more we can do until we either get a bigger specimen or get back in touch with our lab so we can access the database.”

“I agree.” Maria stood up and stretched. “And we missed lunch, I am starving. We can watch for the big fishie to come back from the roof again, maybe get better pictures.”

“I may be able to get the projector to blow them up for us,” Ramon said. He stood up too. “We can put the evidence into the suite’s safe…”

“Into the hotel’s main safe,” Mike corrected. “That’s where the police will want to find it; if they catch you stockpiling it in a private room I guarantee you questions are going to be asked.” He strode for the door. “I’m going to go get a sit-rep from the manager or Ms. Alvarez, then I’ll escort you all back up to the suite.”

He left, and Ramon waited a few minutes before commenting. “How do you get used to this? Being treated like children who can’t go out by themselves?”

His scent didn’t match the tone of the question, and I shook my head. “He’s our security guy, Ramon, we pay him to keep us safe.”

“You cannot protect yourselves?”

There it was again, and I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it but Joey…well, if he’d been furry like me he’d have been bristling. “Ramon, how many government agents have attacked Primera Genética’s lab again? How many attempts have there been on Maria’s life since you started working with her?”

He was startled by the question – or maybe just by the way it had been delivered. “None,” Maria answered, giving her business partner a look; she was annoyed. “Only one person has tried to harm me, and la policía dragged him away and ‘accidentally’ hit him with his own sign of protest.” She smirked, just a little. “Our neighbors, they love us – we have la policía watching the street every day, and they are smart and fast.”

I decided to break the tension I could still smell. “Are any of them cute? I’m sure your mother would be okay with you bringing home a policeman.”

“Some are, but I would feel like a cougar, most of them are too young.” She winked at me. “Does Mike like smart women? I would take him home to mi madre in a heartbeat.”

“You’d have to ask him when he’s not working,” I told her. “Their company’s rules say they can’t even think about it when they’re on assignment.” I finished packing up the police-type evidence into a box, which I sealed with three pieces of tape and marked as Physical Evidence – Remains, then signed and dated over the tape – not like we’ve never had to do something like this before. And then I put the box into a plastic bag and sealed that with tape too. “We can put a chemical cold pack in the safe with it, that should keep the biological samples from degrading too much.”

Joey had been putting the other bio samples into our case – which would be going up to the suite with us – and Jorge was packing up the bone fragments. He smelled…a different kind of annoyed, just a little, but when he saw me looking it went away. “The television people, they send muchos guardias with us when my people and I go out to make the documentaries for them,” he said. “At least yours is polite about it, ours will not even let me piss unattended.”

“If it ever gets that bad for us, I’m taking Angela and moving out to the selkie colony,” was Joey’s response. “There was a point, though – before we hired Mike and the guys – when we were even afraid to have pizza delivered to the lab.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ramon react to that with just a bit of surprise…and just a bit of that same scent. I’d have to ask Joey what was up with that later. Mike came back into the room just then, and he didn’t look happy. “We have a problem,” he said without preamble. “Mr. Mendoza sent someone out to check, and the lines were fried – as in, somebody dug them up, cut them, and then applied enough power to cook them like bacon for who knows how far. The cell towers were chopped down and then smashed and then thrown in the water, so there’s nothing fixable there either. The kid he sent was scared half to death by the time he found those, so he high-tailed it back here and is currently freaking out in the break room.”

“Shit. Are they sending someone for help?”

“He is the guy they’d send for help. Mr. Mendoza is going to go with him once he’s okay to drive, but that won’t be until after the tequila he’s drinking wears off.”

Mr. Mendoza, the resort’s manager, is a middle-aged fat guy who probably can’t climb the fire stairs in his own resort, but I decided to just assume he either had madly improbable martial arts skills or a huge fucking gun. Probably the gun. I handed Mike the bagged box of evidence and plopped a new cold pack on top of it. “This is ready to go into the safe…”

That was when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw through one of the windows that there were people up on the wall in the pool area. They looked like they were cheering and taking pictures. “Oh, that can’t be good. What do you think they found, somebody’s head? Or did Daddy Fishie come back ahead of schedule?”

“Only one way to find out,” Joey said. “Maria, would you put the evidence in the safe? We might need Mike out there, even if it’s just to keep these idiots from pouring out onto the beach and becoming a smorgasbord.”

She took the box out of his hands and hurried out to do just that, and we all hurried out right behind her and went out into the pool area. Joey grabbed someone. “What’s going on?”

She was excited to the point of bouncing. “There’s a fish on the beach! They wouldn’t let us out, so some people went over the wall to get him back in the water.”

I got her attention. “Was it a fat black fish?” She nodded excitedly and showed me a picture. “Crap, that’s one of the fry.”

Jorge had already gone back inside to grab one of the attendants, and he came back out alone with a key and swearing in Spanish. He gave the key to Mike. “You are going to have to guard the gate for us,” he said. “They went inside because the people tried to take the keys by force, we can’t let them get out onto the beach.”

Mike didn’t like that very much, but he nodded. “I can do that.”

He let us out, closing the gate again so fast it almost caught the tip of my tail, and I could hear him telling people to sit down or he’d throw them in the pool. There were three kids down on the lower end of the beach, older teenagers or maybe undergrad age, it was hard to tell. We started yelling at them to get away from the fish, and one of them yelled back that they were trying to put the fish back in the water before it died. The other two were trying to pick the squirming black fish up using a shirt as a sling, but before we could get there one of them yelled. “Hey, it stuck me!”

By the time we got to him he was screaming, and his hand and arm were the size of a volleyball. I let Joey grab that one while I shoved the other two away. Which mostly only worked because 1) I was snarling, and 2) it was pretty obvious they hadn’t seen me before and were just too shocked to resist. The girl got it together first and circled around to join Joey and the screaming boy, but the other one hovered like he wasn’t sure what to do next. “What the hell, we were trying to help it…”

“There was a REASON you were all told not to leave the pool area!” I snapped at him. “These things have killed nearly thirty people already, we’re not even sure what they are yet! Joey?”

Joey was already half-dragging the still-screaming kid back up the beach. “Be right back!” he called over his shoulder.

“Shit.” The fry, up close, was a little longer than my arm, but its dorsal fin and whisker-like barbels were still short and kind of stubby. It was sleek and mostly black, with a wide lower jaw, an oddly tapering top jaw and ‘snout’, and eyes that bulged just enough to give it sort of an astonished look. It had rolled off the shirt and wriggled in the sand for all the world just like a regular beached fish, but then it rolled over, wiggled some more…pushed up with its stubby side fins and started kind of scoot-walking up the beach. That un-petrified the remaining kid, and he ran back up to the wall and started trying to climb it. “Um, Jorge?”

He pulled me back. The ‘fish’ registered the sudden movement and snapped at us, stubby tail swishing. “Clarias batrachus,” he said in a horrified voice. “The sailcat must have been to make it free in as many waters as possible.”

Ramon’s mouth had dropped open. “But why use a walking catfish?” he wanted to know. “It would not be fast enough on land to hunt…”

“The fry wouldn’t. Not yet.” That made him suck in a breath. He wasn’t entirely the fun kind of excited now. “I don’t know about Daddy Fishie. I’d think if he could come up on land, though, he’d have already done it.”

“We do not know that he hasn’t in some other location,” Jorge said. “I would say no, though, the father is too big to drag himself along on his fins this way…but we do not know what else this creature may be made of. And even a large fish with this ability could make its way into the shallows, where the water will still support it somewhat.”

Baby Fishie was still scooting along determinedly, puffing a little. “So, we need a net?” Ramon wanted to know. “Perhaps a tank to put it in?”

“We need to kill it, quickly,” Jorge countered. “This creature cannot be allowed to live. That boy’s reaction…was too much.”

Mike came running down the beach with a pole in his hand. “Get back, get away from it!” he yelled. “Poison!”

He wasn’t frightened…he was mad. “The boy?”

“Dead.” I thought Ramon was going to faint dead away. Mike slapped at the fish with the pole, bowling it over. The stubby fins wriggled in the air angrily. “Dr. Cristal said there doesn’t appear to be poison on its skin, there was no slime on his hands. But that boy was dead within seconds of them coming through the gate.”

Jorge took the pole out of his hands and stabbed it into the creature’s abdomen. “Spear fishing,” he said when we all stared at him. “Like I tell my students at the aquarium, I was not always an old man and I am still not one.” He angled the makeshift spear and pushed down. “I am popping the venom sac,” he said. “Pressure on the bone spike in the dorsal fin causes it to discharge.”

“Like a hypodermic needle,” I said. I felt like my brain had just kicked in to overdrive. In my mind’s eye I was seeing that underwater mat of fry, thousands upon thousands of them, all clustering near the shelf with their father. And they were venomous, and they could walk on land. And they ate meat, would potentially eat anything that got in front of them. Bottom feeders are like that. “Mike, get the manager and go for help.”

He actually jumped. “Dr. Darling…”

I turned to look him in the eye. “Mike, this isn’t just a mod problem anymore – if we don’t get this stopped, it could be the end of the world.”

“He is right,” Jorge agreed. “They must be stopped, by any means necessary, and then we will have to go out and hunt down the parents. Or someone will. These creatures…they are considered dangerously invasive when they are not híbridos. If they march across this peninsula, into the open sea on the other side, there will be no stopping them. It is only for now they are contained, most likely because the fry were too immature to relocate in search of more food.” He waved his free hand at the fry dying on the sand, it’s jagged-toothed mouth opening and closing. “They are not easy to kill normally, but these will be harder. We will need the army.”

“We do,” I said. “You have the number I gave you, to the president’s office: Call them as soon as you can get a signal, ask for Ricardo, and tell whoever gets on the line that I said we have an emergency that must be contained as quickly as possible. Then tell them what Jorge just said. How fast do you think these things can walk?” I tossed at Jorge.

“They are larger than a regular walking catfish, and therefore stronger. From this initial observation only,” he thought for a second, “I would say they could move themselves on land roughly five times as fast. As they grow larger, they will move faster.”

Mike wanted to hesitate, I could tell, and then he shook his head. “Someone knew,” he said. “They cut us off because they knew it would be soon. Dr. Darling…be careful, okay? Not yours and Dr. Cristal’s usual version of careful, I mean careful like I would tell you to be if I was here.”

“I’ll do my best,” I told him. “No promises, though. Because we’re gonna have to barricade the shit out of this beach just in case more little fishies decide to go for a walk before you get back. And if you don’t come back we’ll all die, so don’t take any chances you don’t have to either.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said, and then he went back up the beach at a dead run.

I looked at the fishie, which looked dead, and cautiously lifted up just the tiniest bit on the pole. Snap. “Stubborn little fucker, isn’t it?”

“I am hoping he was advanced above all others in his school,” Jorge said, not quite smiling at his own joke. I had to smile too. “I was going to say we should take this on the pole and bring it into the area where we can study it…but I do not believe that would be wise.”

“I agree. Pin him to the ground until he’s really dead?”

“That should work.” With Ramon’s help we managed to push the pole all the way through Baby Fishie and embed it in the sand to a decent enough depth – decent enough that we didn’t think his death-throes would dislodge it. And then we went back up the beach as fast as we could without running and a resort employee whose nametag said he was Alejandro opened the gate for us. He looked terrified. “Don’t worry, it’s dead,” I told him. “It’s mostly just a fish.”

“Híbridos?”

“Si,” Jorge confirmed. “No abra esta puerta, a menos que lo digamos. Es demasiado peligroso.”

“They can’t climb the wall, they can’t open doors,” I tacked on, because the poor kid still looked scared out of his mind. “You’re perfectly safe on this side of the wall, Alejandro. But if you see anyone go over the wall again, have someone come get us – don’t go out yourself, understand? It’s too dangerous.”

“Sí, lo tengo, gracias.” He sort of shook himself. “My apologies, Dr. Darling: We know you do not speak much Spanish. That is also what Dr. Vargas just told me. I will not go out, or let anyone else out, unless one of you says to do so.”

I thanked him and went to Joey, who was taking samples from the dead boy’s arm. They’d covered him with a beach towel, but just the part of his arm and hand showing were grotesquely swollen. The girl who’d been on the beach with him was sobbing into someone’s shoulder, and the other boy was  sitting on the side of the fountain with his face in his hands. I walked over to him and stood there until he looked up at me. “I’m sorry I snapped like that,” I told him. “We didn’t know if these creatures had venom or not, we just knew that they eat meat and that they’d possibly killed a bunch of divers. You know, like in a shark movie.” That made him blink. “It’s not your fault. You saw what you thought was a stranded fish and you thought you’d just go toss it back in the water. Did you even know fish could have venom?”

“Like those pufferfish things?”

“No, those are just poisonous.” That’s one fish I do know something about, because we had a chef ask us if we could make one that was safe to eat regardless of when it was caught or how it was prepared. Turns out you can’t, poison is the damned thing’s middle name. “Venom is something a fish or an animal injects. This fish had a bony spike in its fin that acted like a hypodermic needle when your friend pushed down on it and shot the venom into him. Most people don’t even know fish can have things like that.”

He blinked again. “You said you didn’t know what it was.”

“We know what part of it is now,” I said. “The dorsal fin part is a type of catfish called a sailcat, and the part that was letting it scoot up the beach is a walking catfish. Once it’s safe for us to go get samples, we’ll start finding out what the rest of it is. Other than way too big and something that doesn’t belong here.”

“He was just trying to help it.”

“I know. It was just an accident.”

“It was,” Joey confirmed, coming up beside me with his hands full of samples; I took some so he wouldn’t drop anything. He looked like he’d aged five years in as many minutes. “We were mad you guys were out there, but we know you didn’t know why you weren’t supposed to be out there. We only found out about the baby fish creatures this morning, and we didn’t know they could come up on land. Or that they had venom.”

That sat him up straighter. “Wait, that was a baby?”

I nodded. “Daddy Fishie is the big black thing out in the water that everyone’s been trying to get a good look at.” I held up a handpaw when he opened his mouth. “We have no idea, I’m not even going to speculate. You’re safe inside the wall, or inside the resort proper. We’ve sent someone to get help, and just as soon as we know what’s going on we’ll tell everyone, okay?”

“Why was it a secret before? I mean, we’re all staying here, shouldn’t someone have told us it was dangerous?”

“They did,” Joey told him. “They told you not to go out on the beach.”

We took the samples in and I gave Joey a hug, and then Maria and Ramon each gave him one too and Jorge slapped him on the shoulder. And then we all got to work on what samples we had and started preparing things for examining the dead fry, hoping that what we were already dealing with wasn’t going to get any worse.

Unfortunately, half an hour later when we went out to get our dead baby fishie and found it gone, we knew things already had.

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2 thoughts on “A World Full of Monsters

  1. Toby

    You know I would rather hope the guys back home called for big guns when the connection got cut. Add to that a whine for at least another week…. whine

    • They would definitely call someone after not being able to reach Danny or Joey by phone, but the someone they’d call first would be the guys at Elite when they realized they also couldn’t reach Mike. And then everyone would be calling the embassy so they could contact someone official in Mexico, who would then try to contact the resort and, failing that, the officials in Quintana Roo…basically, people would be calling all over the place to find out what was going on, but international phone tag can be a slow and frustrating process. Especially when a complaint that the phones aren’t working is likely going to be initially met with “Give it a little while, see if it comes back up” or “Have you called Telecomm Telégrafos yet?”

      (And now I’m imagining Agent Ben fuming on hold with the Quintana Roo equivalent of Comcast Customer Service. Thank you, Toby. :P)

      Aw, don’t whine! The next chapter will be up right on time next Friday, don’t worry. 🙂

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