A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 29
Out of the Water, Part 4

Now it’s an even worse day on the beach – and pretty bad off of it, too.

The disappearance of the dead baby fishie left us with a considerably larger problem than the one we’d thought we had: Now we knew somebody was actively trying to cover things up, and that they were currently nearby if not actually somewhere in the resort. Which meant Mike was hopefully safe, but the rest of us might not be. We didn’t tell Ms. Alvarez about that part when we went to ask about putting out sandbags, but we did talk to her about evacuating the resort, an idea she was highly resistant to. “Mr. Lucas and our manager have gone for help with this problem,” she maintained. “We do not have enough vehicles here to transport everyone – they usually arrive on shuttle buses from the airport. As long as they stay inside the resort and do not go out onto the beach…”

“…Not going out onto the beach is a problem for some of them,” Joey told her, and she flinched. “I’m sorry, but at the very least they need to be told why they have to stay behind the wall. There’s already a rumor floating around that the boy only died because he had an allergic reaction.”

“Can you prove he did not?”

“Yes,” Joey told her without hesitation. “And we’re not going to lie about it, either. The only symptom he had which was similar to a histamine reaction was the swelling, but he didn’t get splotchy and his airway didn’t close – he was breathing right up until the end.” This time when she flinched, he didn’t apologize. “Ms. Alvarez, this venom is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and the creatures carrying it can not only walk up out of the water…they eat meat.”

“The venom is for warding off attackers, and possibly taking down much larger prey,” Jorge added. “Can you at the very least make sure the truth of the story is spread through your staff? And let it be generally known among the guests that the manager has gone to get the authorities to assist you in guaranteeing their safety.”

“That could cause a panic!”

She was scared – not just of the killer fishies, but also probably of Fonatur’s reaction if her handling of the situation ended up costing them business. I cleared my throat. “The guests won’t panic if you and your staff aren’t.” I had a brainstorm. “And tell them to keep watching and taking pictures, someone may spot something that could help us figure things out. People stay calmer when they feel like they’re helping.”

She nodded slowly. “I can tell them those things. But if they wonder why this attack has come here and now?”

The implication would have been clear even if I hadn’t already heard some people speculating along those lines – I mean, we had shown up right before bad things started to happen at the resort, and some people from our own country were still convinced we were bad guys. Joey’s scent rage-spiked, and he turned and stomped off, Jorge following him, and Ramon and Maria looked horrified. I just rolled my eyes. “It didn’t start here, it started somewhere south of here. And your killer fish-creature problem was already going strong when the president of your country sent someone from the embassy to intercept Dr. Cristal and I at LAX and ask us to run down here to help our sister-lab figure things out. We’d just come from India, remember? And four weeks before that Dr. Montoya and I were in Taiwan chasing dragons.”

That widened her eyes. “Dragons?”

“Small ones, but yes. Next year you’ll be able to go see them in their preserve.” I straightened my lab coat. “Okay, I’ll make the announcement for you, how’s that? That way the company can’t blame you for anything.” The immediate spike of relief in her scent told me I’d been right about what she was most afraid of, and the undertone of shame said she wished she wasn’t. “Ms. Alvarez, we already knew that was part of the problem, it’s fine. I’d have offered right up front, but this,” I indicated myself, swishing my tail, “is a problem for some people, especially some from our country. Your government believes this situation is the work of a global terrorist organization, and nothing I’ve seen here invalidates that belief. We’ll tell your guests the truth, at least up to a point, and reassure them that they’re safe as long as they stay inside the walls. So, where’s the best place for us to do that from?”

The best place ended up being a little bandstand in the courtyard, because so many people were already out there anyway. They started to cluster and more people came out when they heard us testing the mic, and I straightened my lab coat again and started talking. “We know you’d all like some answers,” I began without preamble. “I’m Dr. Darling, and this is my coworker Dr. Cristal; we’re from GenoMod in Los Angeles, the Mexican government asked us to come down and help Dr. Luna and Dr. Villegas from our sister lab in Mexico City figure out what was going on. And this is Dr. Vargas from Acuario Inbursa, the largest aquarium in Mexico.”

“Why do you look like a cartoon character?” someone yelled.

I raised an eyebrow. “I can tell by the accent that you’re from the States, so you know damn good and well why I look like this,” I shot back. “But I’m sure everyone else is much more interested in what we’ve found out about the venomous, meat-eating, land-walking fish-creatures that are massed out there right off the edge of the continental shelf.” That shut him down, and now I had all of their attention. “Unfortunately, what I just said is about all we currently know. We know this creature is a modded fish, we know it’s made of at least two different types of catfish, and we know that it’s way too big and way too venomous for that to be all that’s in there. That boy earlier did not die of an allergic reaction; this fish has a bony spike in its dorsal fin, and when he accidentally came into contact with the spike it released the venom into him. Sort of like getting bitten by a snake,” I explained when quite a few of them looked confused. “Unfortunately, until that happened, we didn’t know if these creatures had venom or not. The only thing any of us had to go on coming into this was a few blurry pictures of the big one with a couple of little ones out in the deeper water. This morning before the network went down we were conferring with our lab in L.A., and they had just given us the information they’d gotten from digitally analyzing the video footage we took last night from the patio. So we knew the creature was part catfish, and we found out that the black thing some of us saw under the water around it was actually the school of fry – baby fish. That’s what crawled up on the beach today, and there are potentially thousands of them. And now we also know that part of the mod is a walking catfish, meaning the fry can leave the water to look for food.”

“And they will, because there is none left in the water for them,” Jorge put in. “I went out yesterday, on a boat, to see if I could spot our mystery fish. I would not have done so if I had realized how large he actually was. I did not see him, or any of the fry, but what I did see was a lack of other fish. I believe these creatures have eaten them all. And it is our belief that the large fish brought his family up the coast from the area around El Rey when they ran out of food there.”

“We know that the authorities in El Rey attributed a sudden spike in missing divers to a change in the sea currents,” I said before people could start shouting about why they hadn’t been warned. “So far as we know, nobody had seen this thing – or if they did see it, they probably saw it surface from a distance and thought it was a whale or something. People started seeing it here, though, and the resort did a head-count and decided there might be people missing from this area, so they called the authorities and the authorities called in Primera Genética.”

Maria took over. “We arrived here just two nights ago, and there was very little information to go on,” she said. “And even after our first sighting of the creature, we still had very little information. Our president suspected los terroristas might be responsible, so he had sent for GenoMod to come help us – they are the ones authorities all over the world call on to deal with such things, and they work with Interpol on cases involving the group known as Ancient Fire.” That surprised a few people; have I mentioned that our country’s news media still doesn’t always do the greatest job when it comes to reporting on us? Yeah, they don’t. “Dr. Darling and Dr. Cristal arrived yesterday, and although now we have twice as much information as we did before…it is still not enough to tell us much.”

“What we do know is that fish can’t climb,” I said, and a few people laughed nervously. “You should be perfectly safe here inside the courtyard, or inside the resort itself. We did talk about clearing the resort so you wouldn’t all feel like you were trapped here, but because the network is down they aren’t able to call the shuttle buses in to get all of you. Speaking of the network: Someone went out to check, there’s a cell tower down and the line is fried, so no telling how long it’s going to take for that to be fixed. The resort manager left right after this latest incident to go let the authorities know what was happening, though, so more help should be on its way soon. Until then, all you have to do is stay inside and continue enjoying your vacation as best you can without being able to go out on the beach. If you want to keep taking pictures for the contest, that’s great and it could be a big help – you might see something we haven’t. Just don’t leave the safe area until we have all of this sorted out and Big Daddy Fishie out there has been taken care of.”

A few people didn’t know what to think about that. “Wait, you’re going to kill it?!”

“Someone will have to,” Jorge told the outraged young woman that outburst had come from, managing not to roll his eyes; I’m sure he hears similar things all the time, pretty much everyone we know who works with animals does. “I believe you do not understand. This creature and its mate and their descendencia, if they were allowed to continue, would leave desolation behind wherever they go. They have no natural depredadores to keep their numbers down. There would soon be no other fish, because they would eat them all – like any wild creature, when they are hungry they hunt and eat until they are satisfied and think no more about it. We know they cannot help it, they did not ask to be created nor do they know that they were. But we cannot allow them to leave this area, and they cannot stay here.”

“But…couldn’t this be a habitat for them?” That was one of her friends. “Like a preserve? You don’t have to kill them!”

“The species that gave them their pretty, deadly fins can lay thousands of eggs at a time,” Jorge told her. “They do so multiple times per year. Within five years there would not be enough food in the oceans to feed all of them, and they would begin to hunt us or cannibalize each other.” She shook her head; he nodded emphatically. “Yes – just because you do not like it does not make it untrue. We have several varieties of los bagres, the catfish, at el acuario. They eat kilos of food each week, and breed like rats if we do not keep them separated.”

“And even if it was possible to keep them contained here, and somehow feed them,” Maria put in, “what about all of the people who live here? This area is not just a playground which can be abandoned on a whim; there are towns and cities here, this is where the people who work in this resort live with their families, and many others as well. This creature is not at fault for being created, no…but those people should not be punished because he was.”

“Speaking of which, we’re going to need to put out some sandbags or barriers of some kind to try to keep wandering creatures from getting farther inland,” I said. “If any of you are bored enough to want to help with that, you can. I doubt it will stop them for good, but hopefully if they hit a barrier they can’t cross they’ll turn and go back into the water, which could buy everyone some time.”

“Is that safe?” someone else wanted to know. “You just said not to go out onto the beach!”

“That’s why I said ‘if you’re bored enough’,” I told him. “And you’d be on the safer side of the sandbag wall, anyway; if we see anything come out of the water, we’ll all have plenty of time to get back inside. They’re still babies, they don’t move all that fast.”

He swallowed, I heard it. “That…was a baby?”

“That was a baby,” Jorge confirmed. “And far larger than it should have been. Fry are usually the size of my smallest finger, and an adult Clarias batrachus is perhaps half a meter in length. But even without being a híbrido, they can travel a surprising distance on land.”

“People in places where they’ve invaded have taken video of them ‘walking’ down roads,” Joey put in for the people who still looked skeptical. “Places like Florida, where fish farmers have to put up fences to keep them out. As far as invasive species go, they’re one of the worst.”

“I’ve seen them in Florida,” came from a man on the other side of the crowd whose leathery tan said he spent a lot of time outdoors. “Those have more than one spike to sting you with – I mean, most catfish have at least one – but they aren’t deadly like this thing was.” He pushed forward through some of the people. “I’ll help you guys with the sandbags. And I’ve seen the fences the fish farms use, we could probably just tip over some of the beach chairs and it would be close enough.”

Jorge was looking happier now. “You were down here to fish, in the deep sea?” The guy nodded, and he nodded back and waved him over. “We will talk fishing later, once we have put up the barriers as best we can. I am afraid there will be nothing to catch here except híbridos for a long time to come.”

A few other people drifted forward to volunteer too, but most of them retreated to the pool or back indoors. The two young women who had protested killing Daddy Fishie hung around glaring for a few minutes until Joey got tired of it and asked if they were going to help put up barricades to protect the creatures from us, which made them flounce off. The concierge had been pulled aside by a few guests, some of whom looked like they were angry, so I went over there. “Demanding refunds or comps?” I asked, and she nodded. “Yeah, guys, I’m not sure how you think she’s supposed to do that without the network – or without having the manager here.” I managed to catch the loudest complainer’s eye; she was a suburban mom-type, looking even more out of sync with the rest of the world because she was outside of her weirdly static natural environment. “Ms. Alvarez and her manager didn’t know what was going on any more than you guys did until we briefed them both this morning, and now she’s just as stuck here as you are. I’m sure the company that owns these resorts has some sort of policy in place for compensating guests if something disastrous happens, but she wouldn’t be able to discuss that with you until they’ve made an official determination and authorized her to share it.”

That made most of the others melt away. Not her. “But…there are cars here, I know there are! We want to leave!”

I gave her an incredulous look. “You were demanding permission to steal a car?”

“No, she’s just panicking,” her husband corrected quickly. “I’m sorry, Ms. Alvarez. We’ll just wait until the resort owners figure out how they’re going to handle things, it’s fine. I know they’ll take good care of us.”

She gave them a gracious smile and a nod. “Of course. I understand, people are upset by this situation.” She turned back to me. “I have some people bringing up the bags and the shovels, where should they go?”

“We’ll have to ask Dr. Vargas about that,” I told her. “And maybe his new friend the deep-sea fisherman, too, since he’s had some experience with walking catfish.”

“I will give him VIP access, so that he may join you on the patio,” she said, and winked. “There are some things I can do without the network. And people who help should be rewarded.”

I decided to ignore the fact that her scent said she was almost-but-not-quite flirting and just smiled and nodded. I maybe shouldn’t have jumped in to ‘rescue’ her, she might have gotten the wrong idea. “It’s a good policy to have,” I said, and went back to the rest of the group.

Joey had seen, heard and smelled that, of course. He raised an eyebrow, I rolled my eyes, and he patted me on the shoulder. He knows how much I hate it when that happens – I even did before I was furry. Jorge and Evan – the fisherman – were discussing where the best spot to build our sandbag wall would be. “Too far down, and the waves could come up and wash over it,” Jorge was saying. “But too far up lets more of them crawl up onto the beach.”

“And they very well could start climbing over each other if that happens,” Evan put in. “Although maybe if they did some of them would stick each other and die, that would be nice.”

“It would be, but the rest of them would slide over the wall and start scooting inland again,” Joey said. “We could put it just behind the area where all of the chairs are, then the chairs could be part of it.”

“Which would let us make the barricade longer,” Jorge agreed. The young men with the canvas sacks and shovels had come out, and he rattled off a string of instructions in Spanish, then had Alejandro open the gate for us and everyone trooped out onto the white sand. A few people stopped to look at the hole where the makeshift spear had been, but he shooed them away from it. “Nothing is there except venom and blood,” he said. “Whoever took it, they even brushed out their footprints.”

Everyone froze. “Yes, someone took it,” Joey said calmly. “We don’t know who. We do know that if it was still alive they may be wishing they’d left it alone – that was the reason we’d left it, we were waiting for it to die so we could safely bring it in.”

Randy spoke up – he had joined the volunteer group. “Where would someone have taken it, though? Everyone would have seen if they’d tried to bring it into the resort, and someone would have heard a vehicle or a boat.”

“Oh, we have mysteries on top of mysteries now,” Maria told him, wrinkling her nose a little. “I would have much preferred another dinosaurio falso to this – I can solve those with my microscope while someone else chases the híbridos.”

Randy got really interested in that really fast; I was starting to wonder if he was a reporter or something. “Another dinosaur?”

“Si, we see a lot of them,” she told him. “Everyone in this business does…”

“Except ZipLab,” Joey put in.

“Except ZipLab,” she agreed. “They deal only with their own work. But the rest of us, we go and investigate when someone is found to be playing with the science on their own. Los idiotas always want to make dinosaurios, to be like a movie.”

He snickered, just a little. “Idiots is right – the dinosaurs always eat the people in those movies.”

“And at least half the time they do in real life, too,” I told him. “But nobody ever seems to think about that when they start playing with DIY dino kits.”

Now he was even more interested, but it was time to fill sandbags so he had to work instead. I made a mental note to keep an eye on him later, when we were up on the patio, just to make sure he wasn’t eavesdropping too much. More overblown tabloid stories we do not need.

By the time the sun started to set we had a ‘wall’ two sandbags high stretching from a spot about halfway up the courtyard wall to as far down the beach as we’d been able to go, and the chairs – which were attached to anchors sunk deep below the sand – had been integrated into it so the thing was actually pretty impressive. Now we just had to hope that any baby fishies who came ashore wouldn’t be smart enough to follow the wall until it ended and just go around it. And what we were really hoping was that they’d just stay in the water for a day or so more until Mike came back with the authorities or maybe the army.

Alejandro let us all back in, and our volunteers went up to their rooms to shower and change; I noticed that Ms. Alvarez caught them all at the door, thanking them and handing them things that I assumed were either comp vouchers or temporary passes allowing them access to the rooftop patio. We all went up to the suite to do the same thing, but before anyone could even get a change of clothes pulled out the intercom by the door went off. “Doctors! On the beach, they are coming!

Ramon got to it first. “How many?”

There was a very telling pause. “I think…all of them?


When we got back down, the pool area was full of excited people again and even more excited people were up on top of the wall; it was a little too deja vu, especially for Joey, and this time I was the one patting him on the shoulder. “At least this time there shouldn’t be anyone out there, we can just watch the potential annihilation of mankind flop around on the beach and hopefully slide back into the water in defeat.”

“Too late,” Jorge said; he had been grabbed by a panicking staff member. “Those two stupid girls went out, or at least their friends say they did.”

“Shit.” We ran for the gate. It was unguarded now because nobody in their right mind wanted to go out there, and Jorge got the key and opened it for us. People were screaming at us not to open the gate, and other people were screaming something else even my ears couldn’t make out, but once we were fully out onto the beach I knew what it was.

They’d been screaming for the other people on the beach to stop and come back in. I counted six of them. The two girls were about halfway down the sandbag barrier, using their phones to record the approaching wave of baby fishies – yeah, fuck it, I’m just going to keep calling them that, it’s as good a name as any right now. They were leaning over the wall, one of them was sitting on it, and Ramon went running down there to get them. I chased after him, and Joey and Jorge and Maria went running in the opposite direction, to the place where the sandbags met the wall and where four other people, one of whom looked like the dead kid’s friend from earlier, were beating at the baby fishies with poles.

None of us were fast enough. Ramon and I were halfway there when the girl sitting on the wall leaned out a little farther to get a close-up and a fishie jumped and snapped, dragging her the rest of the way over. She started screaming. Her friend dropped her phone and jumped after her, trying to pull her back and push the fishies away, oblivious to us screaming at her to stop. She went down screaming too when the fishies started attacking her legs, clawing at the sandbags to try to pull herself back to safety. The fishies dogpiled them both, and the screaming stopped just as we reached them; the one girl’s dead eyes stared at us for a moment before her body slid back down into the feeding frenzy. I forced myself to shake that off, scooping up her phone and putting it in my lab coat pocket. Ramon was just standing there, staring. I reached out to take hold of his arm, and then he suddenly screamed and shoved at me, trying to backpedal and tripping in the sand.

The fishies were using the other girl’s legs, still hooked over the sandbags, as a bridge. Almost by accident at first, they’d just been trying to eat the soft flesh before their voracious siblings could, but then one of them had tumbled over and it was quickly followed by more. I could see more of them being drawn by the promise of food, too, piling over each other, trying to get to our area of the beach. One of the first wave of climbers snapped at Ramon’s shoe and he screamed again and kicked at it, bowling it over. He wasn’t even trying to stand up; too scared to think straight, he was trying to crawl backwards to get away from them.

Shit. I kicked a couple away myself, yelling at him to get up and run. I tried to pull him up, but he scrabbled backwards again and almost pulled me over. Double shit. I frantically looked around for something I could use as a weapon, not seeing any sticks or poles or conveniently abandoned chainsaws laying around…and then an epiphany hit: I already had weapons. I was wearing them.

For the first time, I let the shorter, more muscular fingers on my handpaws curl into position for actually using my claws. My first swipe tore a fishie’s ventral fin half off; the second, better aimed, ripped open its head. Another fishie jumped – not sure if it was trying to get at me or wanting first dibs on its dead sibling – and a fast grab sank one set of claws into its skin while the other set disemboweled it. I threw it aside to distract more of them – which worked way too well – and yanked Ramon to his feet. “You okay?”

He swallowed hard. “Yes,” he lied. “The army, they should be here. Or la policía, someone…”

“We’ll just have to do what we can until they get here,” I told him, dragging him back toward the wall as fast as I could. He was looking – and smelling – more than a little green, and when we heard Maria scream he almost got sick right there. This was not going to work. “Get inside!” I ordered, pointing him in a different direction. “Tell the staff, see if they have anything we can form another barricade with – cars, anything, we have to try to keep these things on the beach!” And then I pushed him out of the way of a creeping fishie and he ran for the resort. I spared a second to consider that Ramon might not be cut out for this kind of thing, and then continued making for the wall where the others were trying to beat back the tide of baby fishies with poles they must have gotten from the people who had been down that way. I clawed into another creeping fishie and tossed it; they were moving faster than the lone fishie from earlier in the day had, a lot faster. “Throw the dead ones to the live ones!” I yelled at Joey. “They’ll stop to eat!”

He didn’t look at me – he couldn’t, he was surrounded by snapping fishies – but I knew he’d heard me because he speared one of them and tossed it. Maria saw the fishies converge on it and started throwing them herself, clearing a path with the power of the hungry creatures’ own cannibalistic tendencies; Jorge was keeping them at bay with a wriggling fishie he’d speared with what looked like a pool cue. I kept kicking and slashing, not bothering to finish them off, just disabling them and letting their siblings finish the job for me. A fishie got me with one of its tail tentacles and I howled – another first, and Joey almost dropped his pole. I ripped that fishie in half and tossed it aside. My arms were already getting tired, but I kept going; at the very least, I needed to reach the wall so I could help the others work their way around to the gate…

…And then I saw the gate, and I felt my lip curl into a snarl. It was closed, and people were trying to barricade it. The bastards had locked us out.

Well, we would just see about that. I sunk my claws into a fishie’s back end and started using it as a club, beating my way over to Joey. “I sent Ramon to get the staff and figure out some way to keep these things on the beach,” I panted, throwing my club-fishie and bowling over a few others with it; they promptly rolled back onto their fin-feet and converged on the new food. “We need to get inside!”

“I’m open to ideas,” he said grimly. “They slammed the gate shut!”

“I saw. So one of us has to go over the wall and open it back up.” Another swipe, and I ended up with a severed fin in my hand, which also got thrown. “Turn around and jump, Joey; I’ll keep them off of you.”

“Why me?!”

“You’re the only one tall enough to reach the top without help!”

He swore, but when I swiped a fishie out of the way and jumped in front of him he turned and jumped, grabbing the top of the wall and hauling himself up, and just as soon as my peripheral vision said he was all the way up I started making my way over to Maria and Jorge. Maria was doing fine, Jorge wasn’t, so I started pouncing on fishies to help him out, slashing them and then throwing or kicking them into the onslaught. “We have to get over to the gate! Joey is getting it open for us!”

That was easier said than done. The onslaught of fishies dragging themselves up onto the beach seemed never-ending, and we were all getting tired. I could hear yelling on the other side of the wall, some panicked, some angry. Apparently someone really didn’t want that gate open. But then there was a scrabbling noise, and a rope hit the wall – one of the knotted blue and white ropes from the pool. Okay, that would work too. “Maria, the rope!”

She didn’t argue with me, but she did put Jorge on it first and yelled something in Spanish that made the rope go up. I howled again when a bigger fishie snapped and grazed my arm with its teeth, kicking it away as hard as I could. Another rope flopped down; I snatched the pole out of Maria’s hands.  “Climb!”

She did. I discarded the pole after about a minute of swinging because it was just too awkward and went back to clawing again. I felt…strange, not really in a bad way, but I wasn’t sure why and didn’t really have time to think about it. Too many fishies, a black tide of them pouring out of the water and through the breaches in the sandbag wall, flooding the beach. Maria yelled from the top of the wall, and I turned and jumped, grabbing at the rope with my claws, knowing that if I missed and fell back down I was going to get eaten. Surprisingly, the jump took me higher than I’d thought it was going to, one set of claws hooked the rope and I quickly grabbed hold with the other set and started hauling myself up. The rope was moving, someone was pulling it, I saw the fray starting and growled low in my throat. And then I kicked off the wall and jumped for the top, hooking into the rope above the fray and pulling myself the rest of the way up. I sprawled out on top of the wall and looked back down at the spot I’d just been in. Fishies everywhere. They were worrying the end of the rope, and when it came down they started fighting over it. I sat up and grimaced, shaking my head at the white-faced Maria as I held up one bloody handpaw. “Dammit, I broke a nail.”

She was still laughing, albeit just a little bit hysterically, when Joey helped her down. I jumped down on my own, then staggered over to the fountain and started washing my handpaws and arms; no way in hell I hadn’t gotten some venom on my claws at least, hopefully it couldn’t be absorbed through my skin. Someone handed me a towel, and I looked up to see a still-green and now somewhat ashamed-looking Ramon. I sighed. “Ramon, no. Just no. You and Maria…you have never done this. Joey and I and Dave and Pete, we do this all the time. And work in the lab. And work in other people’s labs. Hell, we’ll probably end up going back to Mexico City with you and working in your lab. That’s why they brought us down here, because we have experience with this part of things that you guys don’t.” I patted his arm, cautiously because my claws were pretty ragged and I didn’t want to hurt him. “This isn’t the job we went to school for, I know; we aren’t zoologists, they don’t train us to do field work. And it’s okay if it’s not a part of the job you want to do.”

He gave me a very strange look, almost like he was trying to figure out if I was insulting him or not. The odd scent was back. “Was it a part of the job you wanted to do?”

I sat down on the side of the fountain. “It’s a part of the job…I had trouble accepting,” I said slowly. “Because I started liking it, and I wasn’t sure that was a good thing.”

“It is.” Jorge had appeared beside me. “Ramon, it is not for every man to do these things. Just like it is not for every man to be a soldier, or los toreador, right? Do you think a man should feel shame because he does not have it in him to run with the bulls?”

Ramon snapped something back at him, and the one word I recognized – not to mention the way his scent changed – had me standing back up. I knew what it meant now. “Okay, I’m going to go do something else somewhere else,” I told Jorge. “You’re okay, you didn’t get bitten or anything?”

“A few scratches only,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I have had worse from cleaning tanks at work, I am fine.”

He wasn’t lying, so I went to find Joey…and then didn’t go to Joey, because when I got close he smelled and sounded mad and that made me start to snarl. I forced that feeling down. I was starting to get an idea about the reason I’d been feeling strange earlier, and it was sort of scaring me. I forced that down too. We had man-eating baby fishies flooding the beach, no phones, the authorities were still nowhere to be seen – and neither was Mike, for that matter – and almost everyone around us was either mad or scared or both.

We were in trouble. I found the concierge and talked to her about enacting the plans they had in case of flooding – getting the guests and staff into the building and off the main floor would be the smartest thing to do, because there was no way the resort could be safely evacuated at this point and it was a given that the fishies were going to end up making their way into the courtyard and possibly into the building at some point. I suggested that a staff member be stationed up on the roof with one of the little radios they used, ready to give the alarm if they saw anything new happening, and promised that I’d go up there myself once I’d changed clothes. Guests were starting to crowd around us, so I answered questions and reassured people that in spite of the need to take some precautions we were still just dealing with fish and everyone would be safe from said fish from the second floor on up. I patiently explained that even a walking catfish can’t climb stairs, and then I explained it again for the people who either hadn’t heard me or hadn’t believed me the first time.

I ignored the people who were trying to defend their decision to keep Joey from getting the gate back open, and cut off the ones who were trying to pin blame on someone for the whole situation. “The only people to blame for this are the ones who created these creatures,” I said. “The staff here at the resort aren’t at fault, they didn’t know about all of this until it was already too late. Or didn’t you notice that they’re just as trapped as the rest of us are?”

That shut down most of the complainers, and more people started letting the nervous staff herd them back into the building. I went back to the wall and used a convenient decorative rock to climb back up onto it so I could get a better look at things. Baby fishies, as far as the eye could see. The water looked full of them, a writhing, bobbing mat of black pebble backs and stubby immature fins. I couldn’t see the beach, not even at the base of the wall. And Daddy Fishie seemed to be looming closer. It took me a minute to realize the splashing I was seeing wasn’t him squirming in the shallow water…it was him wading. Holy shit, Jorge had been wrong: Daddy Fishie was coming ashore. I waved frantically at the concierge. “Get everyone inside!” I yelled. “The big one’s coming! Get everyone off the first two floors!” I looked back. “Make that three floors! Fourth floor and up to be safe!”

Some people started to run, and I saw Joey and Maria pitching in to herd the ones who weren’t sure they wanted to. I turned back around and pulled out my phone, holding it up to record. This might be the only chance we’d get to get pictures of this beast up close and not from above. And he was a beast. His barbels – the drooping ‘whiskers’ on a catfish – had to be ten feet long, the thinner whiplike tentacles on the tips of his tail fins even longer than that. And his lower fins…weren’t fins. I could see joints moving now, up and down: Daddy Fishie had legs. Below the elongated snout a red cavern of a mouth was opening and closing, sucking in air, possibly panting from effort now that the water wasn’t holding him up, and his teeth…I stopped recording, shoved the phone back into my pocket and started forcing other people who’d been doing the same thing I was down off the wall. “Fourth floor and up!” I ordered. “Don’t come down until it’s dead. We were wrong, that’s not a fish!”

That was when it let out a thrumming, booming noise that rattled the nearby windows. Everybody ran. I grabbed the concierge and changed my instructions, then grabbed a few more people and set them to herding so the staff could attend to other things. Then I ran up to the third floor to find a place where I could get more pictures – we were going to need them now more than ever. A cranky-looking older man in a wheelchair was parked in the doorway of one of the rooms, and his eyes went wide when he saw me. “What the hell is going on?! What was that noise?”

Oh shit. “Where’s the nearest balcony?” He pointed down the hall. I considered for a split second, then waved for him to follow me. “Come on, I’ll show you. And then you need to hit the elevator, get up to a higher floor.”

“Why do you have a fucking tail?”

I almost laughed. I told you, it’s always the fucking tail. “It’s a long story.” The balcony was off a nice little lounge area, and it had what would on a normal day have probably been a breathtaking view of the ocean. Today it had a terrifying view of Daddy Fishie stalking up through the shallows. I nodded to the man, whose eyes were even wider now. “That’s what made the noise. I’m going to try to get some more pictures so we can try to figure out what it’s made out of, you should get upstairs.”

His response was to wheel himself closer and grab the glass door, using his chair to hold it open and pulling out his own phone. His scent was saying alarmed, but determined. “I’ll help, we’ll go up together. You think it can reach up here?”

“No idea, but I don’t want to take any chances.” I wasn’t going to argue with him about staying, we didn’t have time for that. I went out, holding up the phone, letting Daddy Fishie fill the screen. “I’m Danny, by the way.”

“Les. You always bring your lab coat on vacation, or was there a costume party they didn’t tell me about?”

This time I did laugh. “The government asked my coworker and I to come out when they realized they might have a mod problem. They told us they had between six and fifteen people possibly missing, we got out here and found out it was probably thirty or more. We think this creature may have come up from somewhere south of here, looking for more food.”

I could almost hear him frown. “Holy crap, look at those teeth – they look like dog teeth. What kind of sick bastard does something like this? ”

“Possibly just someone with a stupid idea, but in this case the government suspects terrorists,” I told him. “I’ll care more about which one it was once we’ve figured out what this thing is and stopped it – not necessarily in that order.”

Les snorted. “You call the army yet?”

“We would have, if the Internet and cell networks hadn’t mysteriously gone down this morning.” I adjusted the camera angle to get a better picture of Daddy Fishie’s tail. “Someone went for help, we’ll just have to hang on until it gets here.”

“Well then, here’s to hoping this bastard can’t climb.” Daddy Fishie thrummed again, the sound bouncing off the windows like the vibration of a speaker with the bass-boost on. “Danny, I think he sees us.”

“Yeah, I noticed that. We should probably move to higher ground.” I tucked my phone away again and ducked back through the door. “Got a floor preference?”

“The roof.”

“Good choice – that’s where the sangria is, or so I’m told.”

Les laughed. “It may be cheap wine, but they serve it by the pitcher so I really can’t complain. How many of these things are there?”

I shook my head, letting him get situated in the elevator before following him inside and pushing the button. As the doors closed, I thought I could actually see Daddy Fishie’s shadow falling through the windows. “We know there are at least two adults. But our fish expert says catfish can lay nests of up to a hundred thousand eggs at a time, so the babies are the real problem. Their venom kills within minutes. And at this size, in these waters, they’d have no natural predators.”

“If they taste like catfish, I can be a natural predator.” Les snorted. “You look like you could be too, probably even easier.”

I indicated my ripped, bloody lab coat, pushing back the memory of that strange, almost euphoric feeling one more time. “I think I already was earlier, when we got trapped between the wave of babies and the courtyard wall.”

Surprisingly, he frowned, and his scent changed. “Where’s the rest of the ‘we’?”

“Probably regrouping in the suite or on the roof. We were all trying to herd everyone back inside the building and help the resort staff figure out what to do next.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Trust me, if my colleagues had died outside the wall after panicking assholes barricaded the gate against us, I wouldn’t be nearly this calm and collected.”

“No, I doubt you would.” His scent changed again, curious and thoughtful. “Do you do this often?”

“More often than we’d like sometimes, believe me.” The elevator shook, just a little. Oh shit. “None of them have ever been on this scale, though.”

“No, I’m sure everyone would have heard about something like this, if it had happened before.”

The elevator doors opened. A resort worker whose radio was crackling with back-and-forth from the rest of the staff looked over at us from the rail, saw me and waved, then went back to watching the water. I let Les get out first. The patio was empty except for the three of us. I moved some chairs so Les could have easier access to a table by the one we’d been using and would probably be using again soon enough, then went over to the bar area and got a pitcher of sangria – there were three of them sitting already prepared in a plastic pan of ice behind the bar – and a glass and delivered them to him. “Enjoy,” I said. “I’m gonna go find everyone, and then I’ll be back up here to take…” I looked for the worker’s nametag, “…Jose’s place, like I told his boss I would. You okay until I get back, Jose?”

He nodded, even offered me a grin. “Si, Dr. Darling. This man, he is a member of your party?”

“His room was on the third floor, he helped me get some more footage of the creature,” I said. “But sure, if he needs to go back inside take him down to our suite. We’ve got a free bed since Mike isn’t back yet.”

“Of course,” Jose agreed. Les looked a little bit surprised by that, and he shrugged. “The suite is handicap-accessible, it is a good choice. And many of our guests will have to be sharing rooms tonight.”

I left them talking, deciding not to take the elevator and heading for the stairs instead. No way was I getting in the elevator with that thing hitting the building the way it was, and the suite was only two floors down. I was still out of breath when I got there, though, and I damn near inhaled the bottle of water Joey handed me. “Thanks, needed that.” The building shuddered again, and this time the lights flickered. “Well, that’s not good.”

“Yeah, get cleaned up while you still can,” he said; he already had, his hair was still wet. “You had them put someone up on the roof?”

“Yeah, I was just up there – I said I’d relieve him in a little while, but he’s good for now. Oh, and I left a guy up there that I found on the third floor, older guy in a wheelchair. We’ll be sharing the suite with him tonight if things aren’t straightened out by then.” I took my phone out of my pocket and quickly plugged it in – no telling how long we’d have power if that thing kept attacking the building – then shucked off what was left of my lab coat into the trashcan and started unbuttoning my shirt. “Oh, and it’s not a fish.”

“I kind of guessed that when I saw the legs. And the teeth.”

“Les thought they looked like dog teeth.”

“Les…oh, the guy on the roof? Could be, yeah. They didn’t look like seal teeth, that’s for sure.” He came over to look at the oozing punctures on my arm. “I wondered if that was why you howled. Which almost made me piss my pants, by the way, but now we know your vocal chords got hit by more of the fox part of the mod than the wolf part. Promise me you won’t do that in front of Pete unless I have a camera on him.”

I raised an eyebrow. “If you use me to make Pete piss his pants, he’s gonna use his mad pilot skills to make us do it later – no thank you, that is a prank war we can’t win. Where’s everyone else?”

“Jorge went to his room to clean up, and Maria went to find Ramon.” He raised an eyebrow back. “Jorge told her not to bother. Something you want to share?”

I grimaced. “He got a little…offended, I guess, because he wasn’t handling the whole attack situation very well and I tried to tell him that was okay. And then Jorge came up and agreed with me and the two of them started getting into it in Spanish, so I left them to it and got back to work.”

He nodded, and waited until I was at the bathroom door before asking, “Which slur did he use?”

I shook my head without looking back. “The same one your cousin Angelo used to like so much. It doesn’t matter. He was just overwhelmed…”

“That’s not what Jorge said.” That turned me around. “He’s really pissed, he didn’t appreciate that…sentiment very much, especially since he understood all of it and some subtext you wouldn’t have gotten besides. But that’s something we can talk about later, when there’s not a giant fish creature attacking the resort – good call on the extra level of evacuation, by the way, the damned thing was breaking windows on the third floor with the tail tentacles we didn’t know it had.”

“Damn, I was hoping that was going to be an unnecessary precaution.” I hurried in, took my shower, and rushed through my dry off/brush down sequence as fast as I could because even in an emergency it’s still rude to shed all over everything. Maria and Ramon were back when I came out; Maria had apparently just gotten out of the shower herself, and she was putting her hair up. “Is Daddy Fishie still taking his anger out on the building?”

“No, he is wallowing on top of the pool,” Maria said. “But he broke the wall and las criaturas are all over the grounds, so everyone is stuck.”

“And no sign of the authorities, still, or of the network or phones coming back,” Joey put in. “Jorge went up to the roof to help watch for Mommy Fishie, who he’s not sure if he wants to see or not. Because if we see her that means she’s not somewhere laying more eggs, but if we don’t see her that means she’s not helping her baby-daddy attack the building.”

I put the rest of my dirty clothes in the trash – possible venom contamination and who knows what else – and dug out another other lab coat. “Okay, so are we claiming the roof as Command Central?”

“Yeah, that was the plan – your plan, if I’m not mistaken.” He was shrugging into his own lab coat. “So do we have any plans past that?”

“Hey, I made the last handful of them, it’s your turn now.”

“Point. Maria, anything?”

She shrugged. “Nada. Unless la caballería decides to come riding in, we are probably screwed.”

“They still could,” I reminded her. “We haven’t heard from Mike, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t reach someone.” I was really hoping that also didn’t mean someone had killed him before he could reach anyone, but I wasn’t going to voice that thought out loud. And then I remembered something and dug back into the trash can, getting the dead girl’s phone out of my ruined lab coat and putting it on the table. “If we can get into this, one of the two dead girls was filming the baby fishies from less than two feet away.” I made a face. “She dropped it when she went to try to save her friend…who’d been sitting on the sandbags and leaning over to get a close-up. That phone is probably still out there on the beach, on the other side of the sandbags.”

“It can stay there,” Maria said. “Their other friends said they were trying to get video, to put on social media. One who stayed behind was writing up una petición to save the fishies.”

“Jesus.” Joey got a wipe and cleaned off the phone, turned it off, then dropped it into a specimen bag and put it in the case with everything else. “Did they have anything else to say?”

“Yes, that they were sorry. And they showed me why.” That one startled me, and she shook her head. “They were watching from the wall, and one of them was filming to have more footage for their video. They feel responsible for Ramon almost getting eaten, because he was trying to save their friends from being stupid.”

“I hope you told them stupid was going around.” Joey snorted. “You didn’t get to see that, Danny. One of the guys out there trying to beat fishies to death by the wall was our dumbass from earlier, wielding the Pool Cue of Vengeance as a tribute to his dead buddy. Unfortunately he’d forgotten to do the magical training montage first, and so had the other three morons who decided to jump down and help him.”

“So none of them…” He shook his head. “Damn, what a waste. Is that how the fishies got over the sandbags on your end too?”

“Yep, scaled the heap of gorging siblings trying to get a bite. So I wouldn’t say they’re smart enough to figure things out, but they’re definitely smart enough to play follow the leader.”

I went over to the pretty picture window and looked out. The entire area was covered with the wriggling black mass of baby fishies, and I didn’t have to ask if they’d tried to pull out cars or something to stem that tide. I already knew Ramon hadn’t managed to pass that message along – and even if he had, there was no way that would have done more than slow Daddy Fishie down. I turned away from the window. “We should go up to the patio, eat something, and figure out if there’s anything else we can do other than sit tight and wait for the cavalry to show up.”

Ramon swallowed almost convulsively. “You can think about eating?”

“We all missed lunch, remember?” I pointed out – calmly, even though I could feel the fur around my collar trying to stand up, feel the hint of a snarl wanting to surface. “We need to eat, so we’ll do that and discuss our options. Getting samples may be possible now – hell, getting a whole specimen should be possible now, we could probably lure one into a box and just dump it into an empty bathtub at this point. But not until after everyone has had something to eat and wound down a little more.”

Now Ramon was smelling sullen, great. Maria apparently didn’t need to be able to smell that to know it was there, because she smacked his arm. “Deja de ser estúpido, Ramon,” she ordered. “I want food, even if I have to cook a fishie to get it.”

“The guy I brought up to the roof would help you with that,” I told her. “He said if the fishies tasted like catfish he’d be happy to become their natural predator.”

“It’s a nice idea, but the meat would probably be poisonous – killing the fishie would likely cause the venom gland to rupture.” Joey frowned. “You know, I hadn’t thought about it before, but we’re damned lucky they don’t also inject venom through biting. I think every single one of us got nipped at some point.”

“Yeah, I was trying really hard not to wonder about that after the one little bastard jumped up and bit me on the arm.”

“Oh, so that was what made you scream,” Maria said. “It was deep?”

I shook my head. “Just barely broke the skin, but I put some antibiotic spray on after I brushed myself down, just in case.”

“Spray, like the kind they use on children?”

My fur stood back up, and this time my ears flattened out too. “Like the kind you use if you’re a man with fur,” I didn’t quite snarl. Ramon’s scent went from weird to alarmed pretty quickly, and internally I sort of felt myself back off…because he’d backed down. Shit, shit, shit. “Crap, Ramon, I’m s…”

“Don’t be.” Joey was right there beside me, dropping a casual arm around my shoulders. “This is his problem, not yours – and I’m not making it mine, either.” He steered me toward the door. “Consider this me saving you from getting your face chewed off,” he tossed over his shoulder. “By me, not him.”

I waited until we were on the stairs to request some clarification. “Okay, I don’t get this. He was fine the last time we were down here.”

“You don’t get it because you don’t have a cultural reference for this particular flavor of idiocy,” Joey explained. “This isn’t like the thing with Angelo, he was just a homophobic asshole. But Ramon…okay, think of it this way: He keeps losing a dick-shaking contest that you had no idea the two of you were even playing, and he knows that but he’s still trying to play in hopes that he’ll eventually win. That’s what that scent he keeps putting off means. And that’s why Jorge is ready to strangle him, too.”

I stopped climbing and leaned against the rail. “So Jorge is pissed…because Ramon is channeling that macho stereotype your mom told me about the first time I stayed with you guys?”

Joey stopped too, leaning against the rail on his side. “Pretty much, yeah. I was kind of pissed myself, because you’re right, he wasn’t acting like this the last time we were in Mexico. But I noticed it this time right off the bat. His scent when he makes one of those little cracks has been making me want to bitch slap some sense back into him.” He smirked. “You beat me to it.”

I sighed. “I didn’t mean to, though.”

“That’s okay, he still got the message.” I gave him a look, and he laughed, just a little. “Danny…okay, I’m just gonna say it: Up until pretty recently, you’ve been getting along by acting like a guy trying to get used to wearing a costume all the time. Which was fine, it’s an adaption mechanism, and Hana told me she went through it too – she even called up that jerk in New York, because his mod is a lot more like yours than hers is, and he said the same thing. But he also said something else: He told her that once you got comfortable with your new body and stopped resisting the changes, we were going to start seeing more of them come out. And they have been, especially since we got to the resort, and Ramon just found out that means he can’t be a passive-aggressive dick around you anymore. Because when he starts playing the I’m-maler-than-you-are game, the not-human part of your brain is going to demand that he either nut up or shut up and he’s kind of nutless right now.”

I tried, I really did…but I couldn’t hold back the laugh. “Yeah, I’d noticed. Maria can always call in Jorge, though, I think he’s got enough for both of them.”

“Holy shit yes he does.” He straightened back up, pulled me away from the rail and we started climbing the stairs again. “You weren’t there when he was bonding with Evan, they’ve were talking about fishing for marlin – you know, the big fish that leap out of the water and skewer you to death and then swim off laughing? I’m almost hoping we’ll have a little bit of a delay before the cavalry gets here, because I want to hear these guys swap fish stories.”

“We could probably all use some fish stories,” I agreed. “Anything to get people’s minds off the fishie problem we currently have going on downstairs. Speaking of which…want to sneak down later and get some samples?”

He grinned. “You know I do.”

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  1. Toby

    They where seeking to create leviathan or cuchivilu… ohhhhhh dang

    Oh I hope help gets there soon….
    Interesting to see some of the mod psychology show up. He isn’t human any more, but to accept it is another matter.
    Waiting anxiously for next week.

    • Well, not entirely… 😉

      Thanks! 😀 I think the stress of the situation is making some of the differences surface faster for Danny now, but in some ways that’s probably going to make it easier for him to accept – it’s not just happening out of nowhere, there’s a clear reason for it to happen.

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