A World Full of Monsters

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Chapter 30
Out of the Water, Part 5

It’s time to come up with some plans.


The view from the resort’s rooftop patio had to be one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen – even worse than the view from the suite. Wriggling black baby fishies were everywhere, and there were still more in the water. Jose was still manning his post, but his radio was mostly silent now. “Did something else happen?”

“No, everyone just knows what they need to do now, so they are doing it,” he said. “Still no sign of the mother. I thought I saw something once, far out in the sea, but I have not seen it again since.” He handed me his radio. “I am going down now, but I can be back up later to help keep the watch?”

“Good thinking, we will need to keep a watch tonight. Thanks, Jose.” He headed for the stairs – kind of reluctantly, but considering what was downstairs I couldn’t really blame him – and I put the radio in the center of our table. Jorge was sitting at the other table with Les and now Evan as well, and he laughed when Joey came back from the bar with a pitcher of fruit water and more glasses. “If you are now the waiter, who will be the cook?”

“Hopefully one of you,” he said, pulling out a chair for himself and dropping into it. “My mother says the only thing I’m good for in the kitchen is eating and doing dishes. And the only thing Danny knows how to cook is dessert – she taught him my grandma’s recipe for puerquitos because he liked to eat them so much.”

I climbed up onto the stool Jose had dragged over to the wall, keeping an eye on the still-occupied shallows. “It’s not that big of an accomplishment, cookies are a hell of a lot easier to make than mod serum. Too bad Dave isn’t here, he can grill.”

“If Dave was here, he’d be down in the suite analyzing venom samples,” Joey reminded me. “We’d be taking him food, not the other way around.”

“Point.” I got out the nail file I’d stuffed in a pocket after my shower and started smoothing down my claws, which really were a ragged mess. Fucking fishies. The radio crackled with someone saying they had all of the tables set up in the ballroom, apparently that was going to be the temporary dining room. The resort was built for views, so I’m sure it had an amazing one of Daddy Fishie and all of his offspring right now – possibly of what was left of the two fishie-activists on the beach, too, assuming there was anything left. “Do fish gnaw bones?”

“They will worry them, to get the meat off,” Jorge confirmed. He got up and went to the tower viewer, aiming it at the beach. “I do not see…oh yes, there are two of them chewing on a leg bone.” He went back to his chair. “I was using the viewer to examine the big one before you came up, and its skin is odd. I am also not sure the baby fishies are fry, now that I have had a chance to watch them from a safe vantage point. Is it possible they could be renacuajos?

“Tadpoles?” That got Joey back out of his chair, and Jorge let him have the viewer. “Where…wow, someone’s not going to have fun cleaning up the beach when this is over. Evan, what did you think about these creatures compared to the walking catfish you’ve seen before?”

Evan looked surprised to be asked, and I shrugged. “Dude, you’ve seen the originals in action: Welcome to the Fishie Apocalypse Prevention Squad.”

That made Les choke on his sangria, and everyone looked at him; he waved it off. “Might not want to put that acronym on a t-shirt, that’s all.”

I counted my letters and, even though I tried not to, I burst out laughing; so did Joey and Evan. Jorge was confused, though. “It spells faja in English,” Joey told him, swiping at his eyes, and Jorge chuckled, shaking his head. “Okay, I needed that.”

“I should put it on shirts to sell at el acuario – the teenagers, they would love it. Because their mothers and teachers would not understand.”

“Go for it,” I told him. “Joey, you should get your friend at Cabrillo in on that too, they could use the extra money. We can take him a preserved baby fishie to put on display, or failing that some photos of them and their daddy.”

“He’d love that, I’ll suggest it to him when we get back.” He turned back to the viewer. “Okay, now that fun has been had…come take a look at this one, Evan, and tell us what you think.”

Evan went over and had a look, and after a couple of minutes he pulled back, shaking his head. “No, that’s not right. When a walking catfish ‘walks’, it’s basically just holding itself up a little bit on its fins and wiggling back and forth to go forward, like a snake. These are doing the same sort of motion with their back end, but they’re up on four fins instead of just two so it’s more like…you know those yapping dog toys that ‘walk’ when you turn them on? Like that.”

“Wait, four…” Joey looked again, then smacked himself in the forehead. “God dammit, I can’t believe I didn’t register that. Jorge, I think you may be right, I think they’re tadpoles.”

“That could help explain the protruding eyes,” I said. “And the jumping, maybe?”

Everyone looked at Evan, who shrugged. “Probably? Walking catfish can sort of jump, but again, it’s still more like a snake than anything else, they’re basically propelling themselves forward with their tail. They don’t jump with their fins that I’ve seen.”

“Okay, so that’s most likely a yes on the frog.” I considered that. “So, yeah, I’m going to say this is definitely the work of Ancient Fire, because this is a high-level mod – no DIY modder did this with a mail-order kit. We’ve already got possible evidence of the inclusion of two types of catfish and a frog, not to mention whatever mammal those teeth came from and anything else that may have been tossed in there to beef up the venom. What about the tail tentacles, what kind of fish is that?”

“Filaments, not tentacles,” Joey corrected. “Tentacles are arms. And a lot of fish have fin filaments, which can be for a lot of different purposes, so we’re probably only getting that ID from a microscope.”

“How many fish have filaments they use like a whip, though? Filaments that they use to slap things, maybe to sting?”

I didn’t expect him to lose some color. “Wait, what?”

“They whip the filaments around, possibly to sting.” I pulled up my pantsleg so he could see the red line on my calf where it was visible through the fur. “One of them got me with its tail, out on the beach – that was the first howl you heard. Cloth and fur took the brunt of it, but it did cut through my pants and it left a welt on my skin.”

I really didn’t expect that to have both he and Jorge descending on my leg, or for Jorge to go a funny color. “That…” His finger traced the line without touching it, disturbing fur and making me twitch. “You are positive it did not break the skin? And it is not still stinging?”

“No, it just feels like a welt. And you’re tickling.” He pulled his hand back, but Joey laid his palm flat along the welt. “I’m telling Angela.”

“She says you look so soft she’s just desperate to pet you, she’ll be jealous,” he shot back, but absently, and after a few more seconds he pulled his hand away, scent shading down from panic to cautious relief. “It’s not hot, or hard, and I can’t feel anything but skin. He’s right, it’s just a welt.”

“He is probably the luckiest man alive this day, then,” Jorge said, standing back up. “Fish with filamentos, many of them are only objetos decorativos, for drawing a mate,” he told me. “But some are barbed, for defense, and some also are coated with poison or sting like the medusas. As the monstruos who created these creatures did so to cause maximum harm…I have no doubt the filamentos came from one of those and are not only for looks.”

Joey stood back up too, patting my knee. “It’s also possible the baby fishies’ filaments aren’t all the way developed,” he added. “Which means Daddy’s tail is almost definitely good for more than just breaking windows.”

I pulled down the pantsleg again, deciding to think about how lucky I’d been later, and took out my phone to get at the footage I’d taken. “We might be able to see it. What I got from the top of the wall is probably still too far away without Pete’s magic software enhancements, but what Les helped me get from the third floor…”

“Wait, what?” Maria was there, looking over my shoulder. “You got more video?”

“I got some too,” Les said. “We were both filming from the third-floor balcony until Big Daddy Fishie saw us and changed his angle of approach.”

“Definitely not the eyes of un bagre, they do not see very far,” Jorge said. “Maria, Ramon, this is Les, he is also helping us. And you have already met Evan. We have managed to figure out that our fishies may also have some frog in su composición, and some other stinging fish has given them their dangerous filamentos.”

“Don’t forget the teeth,” I said. I tapped to pause the video and nothing happened, and I huffed in frustration. “Dammit, the polish came off. Maria, pause that for me?” She did, and I pointed. “I think Les was close when he said they looked like dog teeth, but now that I can see them better I think we might be looking at hyena teeth. Which would mean the babies are only gnawing those bones because their teeth aren’t mature enough to crunch through them yet.”

“Wait, what bones?” That was Ramon, who had been hanging back. “Not…”

“Yes, those bones,” Joey said. “It’s not like there’s anything we can do about it. Anyone who sets foot on the beach right now is going to be a fishie snack in minutes.”

“Are they still eating each other?”

“No, I think that was just because of the blood,” I said. “If we’re right and they came ashore because it’s time to start growing legs like daddy, they must be absolutely ravenous.”

“The metamorphic process takes a lot of energy,” Joey agreed. “And Daddy Fishie knows food is in here, he just can’t figure out how to get to it.”

“That, and he is probably tired,” Jorge said. “But that may not last, once he has had a short time to rest and accustom himself to being on land.”

“So you’re saying we needed an air strike ten minutes ago?” Evan made a face when the rest of us nodded. “Any idea when help is going to get here?”

Joey and I looked at each other. “No,” I finally said. He was helping us, he needed to know. “And what’s worse…we’re only hoping help is actually coming. The cell tower isn’t just down, it was chopped down and then the pieces were thrown in the water. The lines were dug up, cut, and burned. The people who did this,” I waved at the fishie-infested beach, “knew their creatures were about to come out of the water, and they tried to make sure nobody would be able to raise the alarm until it was too late. And we know one of them is around somewhere, because that has to be the person who took the first baby fishie we killed off the beach, pole-spear and all. They didn’t dare let us get a chance to study it.”

“You’re afraid they might have been watching the road, to stop people from getting away.” Les nodded back when I nodded. “Yeah, that’s definitely a story it wouldn’t have been good to tell everyone. I’ve seen the manager. Nice enough guy, but I doubt he can do a whole lot. Your friend that went with him?”

“The head of the security agency we work with,” Joey said. “Former MP, bends steel bars with his bare hands. Doesn’t make him bulletproof, though.”

“No, it doesn’t – but I’m sure it made him know how to duck,” Les replied. “Ten to one he comes riding back with the cavalry, so just keep focusing on the ten and forget about the one for the time being. What do we need to do right now?”

“Eat,” Maria and I said at the same time. She laughed and gave me a hug. I can’t deny I needed it, she probably did too. “The staff will not forget us, they know we are up here. Or we can go down and get food and bring it up to save them the walk.”

“They’re setting up the temporary dining room in the ballroom,” I told her. “We heard them on the radio. I would say we could all take turns going down to eat…but if we do that, we’re gonna get mobbed.”

“I will go down to get food,” Jorge said. “Ramon can come with me – we can see about getting more pictures on the way down.” That got him a somewhat alarmed look from Ramon, and he rolled his eyes. “Idiota, learn your lesson and move on. You are part of the squad, you must pull your weight.”

“Squad?”

“The Fishie Apocalypse Prevention Squad,” Joey said with a perfectly straight face. “Jorge is going to have t-shirts made, to sell in the museum.”

Ramon’s scent said he knew he was missing something, but it also said he was relieved because Joey and Jorge obviously didn’t think we were all going to die – and probably because Joey was actually talking to him. “I will have to get one, when you have them made,” he told Jorge. “All right, let’s go. It is a good time, Daddy Fishie is still sleeping.”

Evan checked his phone. “I’ll go with you. I’ve still got almost a full battery, that means more pictures – and an extra set of hands to carry more food.”

“I like the way you think,” Jorge told him, checking his own phone. “I am at half battery right now, but it should be enough.” He picked up the radio. “I will call, to let them know we are coming down…”

“That might not be a good idea,” Joey told him. “If you were using the elevator, yeah, but not from the stairs.”

Jorge blinked at him, and then he got it and put the radio back down. “Oh yes, I see your point – it would be easy to ambush a man on the twist of the stairs, if you knew he was going to be there. And that would be a bad place to try to use a spear.”

I barked a laugh. “Jorge, if you start using a spear to take out bad guys…forget the t-shirts, you’re gonna need your own comic book.”

He grinned. “We can have both. El acuario, it is always in need of money.”

The three of them disappeared into the stairwell, and I went back to watching the water. It was getting dark, but hopefully later the moon would rise bright enough to illuminate the waves. Maria was getting another pitcher of water, and Joey had started going around checking the torches and lanterns and strings of lights that decorated the patio; he turned on a few of them that weren’t solar, moved a few that were oil- or candle-powered to a nearby table along with two lighters he’d found behind the bar. “I wonder if we should have sent the radio with them,” he said, taking back his chair. “They’re not going to be able to call anyone for help if something happens.”

“True, but the people they’d need to call would be us – and we wouldn’t have a radio.” I thought I saw something and looked through the viewer, but it was just more baby fishies. “Dammit, there are still more of them in the water that haven’t come ashore yet. Or maybe those are some that went back out, I can’t tell.”

“I wouldn’t be able to either,” Joey said. “We should probably be trying to get a count as they come out of the water, but the only way to do that would be to continuously record the shore and if the power goes out we might need our phones for more important things.”

“Yeah, like creating fake found-footage that Pete can make a horror movie with,” I said, going back to work on my claws with the nail file. “Or I guess we could use them to signal Mike when he shows back up. Let’s hope they don’t try to come in on a boat.”

“Holy shit yes, that would be awful – especially since we’d have to sit here and watch what would happen next. Hopefully the authorities will think of that, or Mike will.” He looked at me sideways. “You know that the minute we have internet back, those mini-activists are going to be uploading their footage.”

I kept filing. “Yeah, I know. Maybe we can talk to them, convince them not to. They did say they felt bad about almost getting Ramon killed, we might be able to convince them that sharing footage of him tripping and falling on the beach wouldn’t be a good way to say they’re sorry.”

“No, it wouldn’t be.” That wasn’t what he’d meant and we both knew it…but using that reason to keep the video off YouTube would work just as well, if not better. And it might also help keep our relationship with our sister lab in Mexico City on an even keel, so that would be a win all the way around.

Maria came back with two pitchers, one with strawberries and one with lemon and lime slices. She poured me a glass from the right one and handed it over. “We should switch off watching every hour,” she said. “That way there is less chance of becoming bored and possibly missing something.”

“Thanks. And yeah, I think that’s a good idea – until it’s time for everyone to sleep, anyway, and then we’ll have to stretch that out to, what, four hours?”

“We can watch in pairs then,” Joey agreed. “I’m a little concerned that the fishies might become more active at night, because the temperature is dropping. And if Daddy Fishie was only lounging around the pool area because he was hot…well, an hour or so from now he’s not going to be.”

That got my ears up. “Do you think when he gets hot he’ll get back in the water?”

“I don’t know.” He sipped his water. “I just…this thing is a mess. There are so many creatures in there – and that’s just the ones we can guess at – that his behavior is a total toss-up. He could do anything. Howl at the moon. Start eating his children. Throw himself at the building repeatedly because he doesn’t understand what it is.”

Les put down his sangria. “What about fire?”

Okay, that had seemingly come out of left field. “Fire?”

“Yeah, fire. There are things you can predict, behavior-wise, with any animal. Fear of fire is a constant, even in humans.”

“Yes, but how would we get fire to him?” Maria wanted to know. “The parking garage is most likely crawling with baby fishies by now, so we cannot get at la gasolina to burn him with.”

Les shook his head. “You don’t need gasoline – you don’t have to set him on fire to kill him, you just have to scare him or hurt him enough make him run.” He waved his hand at one of the tiki torches Joey had moved over to the wall. “Those little oil reservoirs could make decent Molotov cocktails in a pinch. And I bet the resort buys them by the case.”

My ears went up again. “Yeah, they probably do,” Joey agreed. “Because they use them on the beach, too. Do you think they’d break if we dropped them, though? And would the fire keep burning?”

“Let me see one.” Joey fetched a little bottle out of its bamboo holder and brought it to him, and Les turned it over in his fingers, checking the weight. “Yeah, this kind would break if you threw it hard enough into something – it’s glass, it’s basically just a cheap mason jar with a wick cap on it. If they were using the metal can kind you could still do it, but you’d have to drop them from higher up to get the can to rupture.” He saw the look and chuckled. “I used to be a firefighter, boys – started when I was nineteen, worked my way up from washing the trucks to being the guy in charge. I’ve seen a lot of deck fires and even some house fires that got started by the dog knocking over a lit tiki torch when no one was looking.”

I leaned over the wall to look down. Daddy Fishie wasn’t a big enough target from this high up. “We’d need to be lower to drive him away from the building, third or fourth floor, maybe? There’s no way he’s fireproof.”

“Could we be certain he would return to the water, though?” That came from Maria. “If he runs inland, los criaturas will follow him.”

“Point. But we could probably get him to run for the water, if we start some fire in the direction we don’t want him to run in first.” I looked down again. “It won’t burn long, because the building and the patio outside are concrete, but that also means nothing big is going to catch fire before the oil burns off.”

“Meaning we won’t be endangering any of the guests, or really even doing more damage to the property than Daddy Fishie has already done.” Joey actually started to smile. “Score one for the FAP Squad, I think we may have just come up with a plan.”

 

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