A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 31
Out of the Water, Part 6

They were waiting for something to happen. They didn’t realize it already had.

It was already getting too dark to do anything about our new plan right then – not to mention half of our ‘squad’ was downstairs taking more pictures and getting food – so we decided to wait for the moon to rise, which would give us more light to work by and also time to eat. Maria took over the sea- and beach-watch after about half an hour more, and I went down to the suite to get more conductive polish for my claws and then came back and settled myself into the chair Joey kicked out for me to paint it on. “Keep an eye out for camera flash,” I told Maria. We hadn’t heard anything over the radio that said the staff knew Jorge and the others were down there yet, so they had to still be taking pictures. “Or maybe someone shining a light out a window or something.”

“Ramon has our camera, it has a very good flash,” she said, swinging her feet. She wriggled a little on the stool. “Even este taburete de bar is so soft! I would like to come back here for a real vacation.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Joey agreed. “But I’m  not sure it’ll be possible. There’s no way we can be sure we’ve caught or killed all of them, you know. This whole area…I mean, Jorge is probably right, the other fish are all gone and it’s going to take years for the ecosystem to repair itself, even with our help. And even just a handful of fishies we don’t find could keep the problem going in perpetuity.”

“The resorts will fence the beaches,” I told him. “And it’s possible the sonar buoys El Rey put out actually did what they were supposed to, right? So that’s an additional option.”

“But neither of those methods are foolproof. Not to mention, keeping them off of this beach will just mean they go to another one. We can’t protect them all…”

“We don’t have to – the people who live there will.” His scent spiked; he wasn’t happy about that, and to be honest I wasn’t either, but that was reality. “They’re going to have to, Joey. And they will, because they’re going to want to protect their homes and their livelihoods. What have we always said about the best reason for not using human mod? Humans are vicious and territorial as fuck.”

“That’s true, they are.” Les took a meditative sip of his sangria. “And once the people who live here know it was terrorists who did this…well, that’s going to make them mad.”

“Hopefully at the terrorists,” Joey tacked on. “Some people will use this incident as a reason to condemn genomodding as a science, they’ll blame the gun not the shooter, basically. And I’m sure there’s going to be a different kind of backlash from some other quarters, because of the type of resort this is – there’s always that one subset of people who think anyone who has more money than they do deserves to have bad things happen to them. But with any luck the authorities here will spin the story to focus on the local residents rather than the guests.”

“That could also backfire,” Maria warned. “There has been un movimiento by some residents in this area, they do not like los turistas and they do not want the resorts to grow – or for new ones to be built.”

Joey sat up straighter in his chair. “Wait, there’s been a movement, like protests?”

“No, they just write about it in the papers, and they appeal to the environmental people – like those girls who went out on the beach – by telling them they are trying to protect the environment because los turistas and the developers do not care about it. They conveniently forget that there was nothing here before the resorts came.”

Joey looked at me; I looked at him. “So…maybe that was their in?”

He nodded. “Could be. Most people outside of law enforcement or genetics aren’t familiar with Ancient Fire. So if the cult found out about the movement here and approached them, posing as, I don’t know, environmental activists? Then that could have been their in.”

“Still doesn’t explain what was going on with Mr. Cabrera,” I pointed out. “If he’d been in on it, then him really not wanting us to be here makes sense. But considering who he works for? He knows this area needs the tourists.”

Maria made a frustrated noise. “This just keeps going in circles. None of it makes sense!”

“Because it keeps going in circles – or at least, because we do. But maybe we can straighten out our part of that while we’re just sitting up here waiting for something to happen.” I got up and went to the bar, coming back with a pad of paper and a pencil, and started making notes. “Okay, first there were missing divers in El Rey, chalked up to changing tides. The diving companies had sonar buoys deployed by the nearest big resort, and the problem moved up the coast. We know that because two fishermen died. Then people started going missing here, maybe as many as fifteen or twenty of them. Daddy Fishie started showing up just off the edge of the continental shelf. The president’s office called Primera Genética, and then someone said what if this is terrorists so the president’s office called the embassy with an emergency request for GenoMod to come down too. Mr. Cabrera was deployed to be Fonatur’s representative for the situation…but he didn’t seem to want any of us here, especially not Joey and I, and he was pretty unhappy that Mike came with us. He was afraid to give us any information. He tried to cause an incident….” I tapped the paper. “You know, that part really doesn’t make sense, him not telling us we were sharing the suite with you and Ramon, Maria. It’s not like we were going to get mad and go back to the airport.”

“I think he was just panicking,” Joey put in. “His illogical behavior would bear that out.”

I nodded and noted it. “Okay, panicking – which could make his next set of actions make more sense, because he booked it the minute we came upstairs with Ramon. He could have been running from us, or he could have been running to meet up with someone so he could let them know we were here…”

“Or it could be possible he was running from whoever is on the inside,” Maria suggested. “The person who took la criatura off the beach, they must still be here. He may have been afraid of that person.”

“True.” I noted that too. “Or – again, because panicking – he could have wanted us to go straight to work the minute we hit the resort, he wanted us to solve this thing before the babies decided to come ashore. He may have thought we’d just instantly be able to figure out the problem and fix it, because some people think science works like magic.”

“Any or all of which would mean he knew exactly what was going on, and he was afraid to say anything we might realize was inside information?”

“Which would be a damn good reason for him to be scared half out of his mind, don’t you think? Not just because that could get Ancient Fire and/or the authorities on his ass, but because if he knew, then he knew it could be any time…so maybe he wanted get as far away from the Fishie Apocalypse as he possibly could, and now he’s hiding somewhere.”

“Okay, so sucks to be Mr. Cabrera.” Joey rested his elbows on the table. “No matter what his problem was. Did you make a note about someone trying to get into our phones yesterday?”

“I will now – that happened after he left, remember? Possibly also the person on the inside.” I linked those two things with an arrow. “Okay, so we figured out that the problem might not have started here, and Pete and Dave came to that conclusion on their own and corroborated it. Mike conferenced with his people while we were up here having dinner and watching fishies in the water. And this morning, right in the middle of conferencing with Pete about the information he’d been able to get off the video and the photos we’d sent him, the network at the resort is disabled with extreme prejudice and we were cut off from the outside world. I don’t think that was Mr. Cabrera,” I said. “Call it a hunch, but he didn’t seem like the type of person who goes out and gets their hands dirty. Although he could have tipped off his contact, who then went out themselves or sent someone to take down the tower and fry the lines.” I tapped the paper again. “That person knew the fishies were coming ashore today, I’m almost positive they did.”

Maria’s eyes went wide. “But how…unless it was planned this way?”

“Yep, it would almost have to be.” Joey was nodding. “So maybe the sonar works even better than we thought. They might have been herding the fishies, not just baiting them along.”

“Which also means they could have been waiting for all of us to get here – our two labs are part of the world’s first line of defense against Ancient Fire, you know? Who’s going to step into our shoes, ZipLab? Dr. Raj and his students…well, they’re still students, he told me while we were over there that he knows they’re not ready for the big show yet. Dr. Zhu and the two Dr. Lis only work in China and its territories. And Ivor’s team is tied up trying to solve a potentially world-ending problem of their own in Siberia…” Maria’s mouth opened, and I held up a handpaw. “I didn’t say this and you didn’t hear it: Greenland asked for their help because the reindeer herds seemed to be dying off, turned out the problem was the lichen the reindeer eat, not the animals themselves. When they checked northern Russia they found the same thing going on there, ditto for Canada and Alaska – that’s the only point where we we came into it, they had to go through us to talk to Alaska. All I know past that is that they figured out the problem, finally, but now they have to figure out how to fix it before that one issue can spawn a potentially catastrophic environmental cascade effect.”

“A worldwide one,” Joey added grimly. “Losing a couple of species is one thing, losing an entire biome would be something else entirely. You didn’t hear that either, Les.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t hear a thing. Why do the Chinese guys only work in China?”

“Government-funded lab,” I explained. “There are only a few privately-funded commercial labs in the world that do this kind of work. GenoMod is one of them, Verandering Laboratorium in Holland is one of the others, and there are also smaller private labs coming right along in Japan and South Africa. Technically ZipLab in Florida counts, but they don’t work with the international authorities, they don’t even leave Orlando except to go to conferences. Right now they’re mostly making custom dog breeds, so far as we know.”

Les considered that, nodding. “Okay, so in that case it could be possible that these terrorists were trying to kill a few different birds with the same rock.” He cocked his head. “But if you boys work with the international authorities…where are they? Wouldn’t Mexico have called them in too?”

“Not necessarily, at least not at first,” Joey said. “They couldn’t be sure Ancient Fire was involved, and they had no official confirmed casualties. They may have notified Interpol that we were being called in, but they’d leave it to us to call in the task force once we knew for sure that this wasn’t just some idiot’s big DIY fish. Ooh, and there’s another reason they might have cut our connection to the network: We were bound to start figuring out that this was too advanced for a kit mod, they didn’t want us calling Interpol.”

I wrote it down. “Okay, so far so good. Now, next…we went out to the beach and collected parts. We tested parts and separated out evidence for the authorities. Maria witnessed the evidence being locked in the hotel safe.” She nodded. “A baby fishie came up on the beach…okay, now that I think about it, that was weird. One baby fishie, out of thousands, came waddling up the beach all by itself. Jorge said he was hoping it was just special, but it didn’t look any different than the ones we saw later when they all started to come out.”

“True, it wasn’t any bigger, it wasn’t walking any better – in fact, some of the ones that came up later were bigger and walked a lot faster.” Joey made a face. “So, maybe someone brought it up to the beach?”

“But how would someone have gotten it to the beach with nobody seeing them?” Maria pointed out. “There were people on the wall, hoping for pictures. They would have been seen.”

“True. But afterward, nobody was on the wall…because we were distracting them.” I dropped the pen and ran my hands over my face. “Holy crap, this is turning into an Agatha Christie novel, just without the French detective.”

Joey took the notepad and pen and started making notes himself. “We could use him right about now. Okay, so then the three kids hopped the wall to save Lone Baby Fishie, and one was unlucky enough to hit its venom spike. I dragged him back into the pool area, and he was dead before we could even get him laid down on the ground. Mike went running back out with a pole…”

“And he warned Jorge and Ramon and I to back off. Jorge speared Lone Baby Fishie through to puncture the venom sac. I told Mike to grab the manager and run for help. The fishie was taking its own sweet time dying, and we decided it was too dangerous to bring it into the resort area while it was still alive and snapping, so the three of us pushed the pole into the ground to keep it from wriggling away.”

“And then thirty minutes later, it had disappeared and nothing was left but the hole where the pole had gone into the ground.” He thought about that. “All right, we know somebody carried the fishie away, pole and all – there were no drag marks. But allowing for the fact that the people who’d been on the wall were distracted, the question becomes where did they take it. Is it in the building somewhere, or did they throw it back in the water?” He put a question mark next to that. “So that’s the last action we know about from our bad guy on the inside, who is most likely still here somewhere.” Another question mark. “Okay, we did what we could with the venom samples, and we went out and placed sandbags with our volunteers. The baby fishies started coming out of the water not long after that. Two junior activists, one guy bent on revenge and two other guys who wanted to help that guy went over the wall, and the activists’ friends were filming that – which is footage we need to get hold of, preferably before the network comes back up and they share it with the world. We went out after the ones on the beach, splitting the squad. Our victims caused the sandbag wall to be breached, and baby fishies started flooding the upper part of the beach.”

“I sent Ramon back to the resort to see if the staff could pull out cars or something to slow the tide of baby fishies down,” I put in.

“Okay,” Joey said, writing that down. “By the way, guys, Danny hasn’t figured out yet that his ears droop when he lies – just throwing that out there for future reference. And then you worked your way back over to us. I went over the wall and fought with people about opening the gate back up, which now that I think about it could have been instigated by our mysterious inside man.” He drew another connecting line, this one with a question mark on it. “I gave up on that and a few of us threw a pool rope over the wall, then Danny and Maria kicked fishie ass in a pretty spectacular fashion while we pulled Jorge up, Maria climbed up, and then Danny climbed halfway up and jumped the rest of the way.”

“Rope was fraying,” I explained, fishing a strawberry out of my glass. “I could see it, I knew you guys couldn’t. Jumping worked better than I expected it to.”

“Well that’s one good thing – that, and none of us died. So then Daddy Fishie came ashore, possibly because his babies were in distress, or possibly just because he’d herded them all up onto the shelf by that point…except you just saw some of them off the edge of the shelf, so either I’m wrong or they went back out because they were bored. All of the guests were evacuated to the fourth floor and above. We found out Daddy Fishie has distance vision. He sort of attacked the building, we found out he could use his tail filaments to break windows on the third floor, and then he got tired and decided to take a short break poolside. And now we’re all trapped in the resort.” He flipped the page on the notepad, wrote down the date and then scribbled a time underneath it. “Waiting for moonrise to try fire – drive Daddy Fishie back into the water? Babies may follow. MV, JC, DD on seawatch from the roof. JV, RL, ET gone downstairs to take more pictures of DF and check in with resort staff.” And then at the top of the page he wrote Fishie Apocalypse Prevention Squad Log, with significant capitalization on the F, A, P and S.

Maria held out her hand and he gave the notepad to her; she scanned over the first page of notes, nodding. “This will help, I think. It is already less frustrating, now that I can see it laid out in orden cronológico. And we will type it out later in both Inglés and Español, that way we will have a copy everyone can read easily. Ramon can do that.” She smiled and shook her head when I raised an eyebrow. “He is the junior, it is his job to do the things I as the senior do not have time for. And his ability to translate is better than mine when he is writing, so the notes will be more readable.” The building vibrated, just a little, and we heard the thrumming boom Daddy Fishie had made before. Maria looked over the side of the wall. “He is standing up, and I can see a light shining on him. I wonder what animal allowed him to make that noise.”

“Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that was the catfish,” Joey told her. “If so, he’s making it with his swimbladder – which means he has a swimbladder, and sonic muscles to go with it, so that’s one more thing we know about fishie anatomy and it points to him being mostly catfish.” He got up, going back to the tower viewer. “The bad news is, if he was a regular catfish that would be him trying to communicate with another catfish. He may be trying to call Mommy Fishie.”

“Hopefully Mommy Fishie has a headache,” I said, getting up myself and shooing Maria off the stool. “You take the telescope,” I told her. “I’ll keep an eye out down below.”

“Fish can make noise?” came from Les.

“Catfish are weird,” Joey said, somewhat absently. “Anything you think a fish can’t do, there’s probably a catfish somewhere that can do it. Thank goodness they didn’t decide to cross this thing with an octopus, then we’d have a venomous giant air-breathing, land-walking fish that could open doors and possibly camouflage itself.”

Les didn’t say anything for a moment. “Then why didn’t they cross it with an octopus?”

Joey’s scent spiked again, this time with pleasure overlaying the worry – he is a Master of Marine Biology now, remember, and he loves talking about his specialty. “In a nutshell, it’s because an octopus brain is too advanced to fit very well inside a simpler creature like a fish. Octopodes have problem-solving intelligence, and their motor cortex…well, think of a human trying to pat their head and rub their belly at the same time, even our highly advanced brains still get confused if we try to make two of our four limbs carry out conflicting actions independently. But an octopus has no trouble controlling eight independent arms which also function as ‘hands’, color-changing chromatophores in its skin, and sometimes the shape of its entire body all at the same time.” He snorted. “If anyone ever did get octopodes up on land, we might really quickly find out we’re not the dominant species anymore.”

“What if they crossed one with a human, or a monkey?”

Maria almost knocked over the telescope. “Oh please, do not even joke about that.”

“Yeah, I’m with Maria, don’t even voice that thought out loud,” I said. “Or better yet, don’t even think it too hard.” Down below, Daddy Fishie was being confused by what I guessed was the flash from Ramon’s camera. His filaments were flailing around, and I heard more glass break, so I hopped back off the stool and grabbed the radio, taking it back to the wall with me. “The big creature is active again,” I announced, hoping someone was listening. “Dr. Vargas and Dr. Luna and Mr. Tremain have gone down to the third floor to observe him up close. Can anyone hear me?”

I let go of the button and Spanish came out, so I handed the radio off to Maria. “No, that is not why,” she said. “This is the male, the noise he is making is him calling for su compañera to come to him.” More Spanish. “Estamos viendo, si, but we have not seen her yet. Also, we need to speak with Señora Alvarez as soon as possible.”

No la he visto, Dr. Villegas.

This time it was Maria who would have had all of her fur standing on end if she’d been furry. “Qué quieres decir con eso?”

Ella no está aquí, señora.

“Encuéntrala!” she ordered. “Tell her we need her on the roof, it is muy importante.” That got a monosyllabic response, and she scowled at the radio. “ ‘I have not seen her, she is not here’,” she mocked. “Chico estúpido! I told him to find her, we will see if he is smart enough to do that.”

“Or if he’s brave enough to do that,” I pointed out. “If Ms. Alvarez is on one of the lower levels, he may be playing dumb in hopes he won’t have to leave the safe area he’s in.” As if on cue, the building shivered. “Of course, ‘safe area’ may be relative.”

“It’s not that relative,” Joey snorted. “Daddy Fishie is big, but he’s not building-destroying big. Yet, anyway.”

“We should probably make sure he doesn’t get a chance to grow anymore,” Les said. Another structural shiver. “Still think we should wait for everyone to come back upstairs?”

I shook my head. “No.” Down below, Daddy Fishie was having…well, a temper tantrum, and he made his noise again. I hopped off the stool, took a long drink of my water. “I’m going down to find Ms. Alvarez and the resort’s stockpile of tiki torch fuel, and I’ll figure out what’s going on with the other half of the squad along the way. Scream bloody murder through the radio if Mommie Fishie makes an appearance, okay?”

“Be careful,” Joey told me. “Especially on the stairs.”

“Sorry, no can do,” I told him, swishing my tail. “I’m not taking the stairs.”

He gave me a long look – being able to communicate with scent is almost like being telepathic, or at least it has been for us – and then he nodded. “Point. Don’t kill Ramon, then Maria would have to translate the notes herself.”

She smacked him…and then she came over and gave me a hug. “I am sorry,” she said quietly. “I do not know what has gotten into Ramon, and he will give me no reason for his behavior.”

I hugged her back. “It’s his first life-and-death mod situation, and he’s not handling it the way he thought he would,” was my response. “He’ll hopefully go back to normal once we’ve resolved this issue. But we have got to figure out a way to get the video the activists took; that can’t be allowed to go public.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” she said. “We will discuss it later, while you and I hunch over our microscopes and he brings us coffee.”

That made me laugh. “If I weren’t gay, I’d have already tried to marry you, Maria. The men around here must be idiots.”

She ruffled my ears. “Yes, quite. So thank you for bringing un hombre perfecto with you this time – even if he has no interest, at least I now have a standard to compare others with.”

“I’m going to tell him you said that – he’ll blush.” She went back to the wall smelling pretty happy about that idea, and I pushed the button for the elevator. It took it a while, which didn’t really surprise me because it was pretty much a given that the staff had been using it to move things up to the fourth floor. But as it was coming closer to our floor, something tickled my nose. I leaned toward the door, taking a deeper sniff, and smelled green and black and salty. My fur stood on end, my tail even puffed up, and I started moving away, back and to one side. “Guys, I smell seawater and fish!”

The elevator came level, and now I could hear a wet jostling noise. I dove for the bar as the doors started to open and the first baby fishie poked its fat-whiskered snout through the opening, hoping for a bucket or something to contain it with…and realized that the non-sink side of the bar was on wheels, it was moveable. I grabbed it and pulled, then had to bend over and fumble with the locks on the wheels: we could block the door. Joey leaped to help me and so did Maria, and luckily the baby fishies weren’t all that coordinated so we were able to use the bar to corral them in a corner. Les in the meantime had used his chair to keep the elevator doors from closing. “The last thing we need is a second delivery,” he said. “Now I’m worried for the other floors, though – the resort has three elevators.”

That had Maria running back for the radio. I stopped her. “No! They probably have control of the radios.” So she got with Joey to make sure our makeshift baby fishie pen would stay put while I went to find something that wasn’t Les to block the elevator doors with. You can override an elevator to make it run with the doors open, and whoever had done this was obviously trying to kill us so it was possible they’d think of that when the elevator didn’t come back. I settled on a chair, which I stuffed into the opening over Les’s head so he could back away…and then I ducked under it, into the elevator. “Now I really have to go check on the rest of the squad,” I told him, and pulled the chair in with me. “If we can’t take control of the other elevators, I’ll bring everyone back up here.”

The doors closed and the elevator started moving, and I hit the button for the third floor – and then I got up on top of the chair, just in case there were baby fishies on every floor. I could see that someone had called for the elevator from the lobby, but the rest of our group was my priority. Once I had them, then we’d head downstairs and see about catching whoever was handling the fishie delivery system. It would have been nice to be able to wait for the authorities, but that option was no longer on the table.

When the door opened on Three, I was ready. Not seeing any fishies or any people, I jumped down and quickly pulled the chair into the doorway again. It was a pretty sturdy chair, hopefully sturdy enough to jam the elevator and not just break into pieces. “Ramon! Jorge! Evan!”

I thought I heard a response, so I ran down to the balcony where Les and I had been filming Daddy Fishie’s approach. Nobody was there, and most of the glass was broken. Was there another balcony? I ran down the hall, past the room where I’d found Les. The next elevator showed its car as being on the fourth floor, hopefully because some of the staff had been using it; I hit the button anyway, ran back to the little lounge area and grabbed another chair and wedged those doors open too. The effervescent feeling was coming back, I felt like all my senses were kicking into hyperdrive. I could smell seawater dead ahead, and fresh air – broken windows and baby fishies and maybe even Daddy Fishie, so another balcony. And as I got closer, I could also smell something else.

Fear. Anger. Ramon, Jorge and Evan. “Guys, we have a problem!”

“Don’t we know it!” That had been Evan. “We’re sort of trapped!”

“Coming!” I skidded up to the corner where the other lounge should be, then peeked around it – running right into the lounge would have been pretty stupid. The three of them were up on top of two chairs and a credenza, and there were five baby fishies waddling around on the floor below them while Daddy Fishie flailed around outside. I felt my lips curl back, letting the snarl show. Prey. First things first, though. “Okay, give me a minute – I need to tie up the other elevator. Don’t do anything stupid!”

“We are out of stupid ideas, thank you very much,” Jorge huffed. “I am never again going anywhere without two spears and una pistola enorme!”

“Good thinking!” I ran past the lobby, looking for something I could wedge the third elevator door with. The only thing there was a decorative trash receptacle, which would probably have worked…but the elevator was already on its way up to the third floor. Shit. I thought fast. More baby fishies were coming, there was no way that elevator held anything else. But I still needed to take the elevator away from whoever was fishie wrangling down in the lobby. So, two birds with one stone. I tipped the receptacle over, determined that it would fit between the doors and block the fishies if I was fast enough. I flexed my handpaws, feeling adrenaline bubbling through my blood even as my lips drew back in a snarl. I was plenty fast enough. They were prey. I was a predator.

Not a stupid predator, though. So when the doors started to open, I was ready with the fire extinguisher I’d ripped off the wall and the car full of baby fishies – probably around eight of them this time, were they piling them in with a shovel? – got a full blast of dry yellow chemical spray through the widening crack while I held the trash receptacle in place with my foot. And then the second the doors had reached their widest point I rolled the receptacle over so it was between them, kicked it twice to wedge it into the opening, and ran back to the lounge with my fire extinguisher to get the other fishies. Daddy Fishie was still having a fit outside – my guess was he could hear his babies, so I used what was left of the chemical spray to drive them out onto the balcony, hoping that would get his attention. And then while Jorge and Evan dragged the credenza to block the broken glass doors, I dragged one of the chairs down to reinforce the trash receptacle, just in case. “I blocked all three elevators,” I told them when I came back. “Someone was using them from the lobby as a fishie delivery system, we have four baby fishies corralled on the roof. And we should probably block the stairway doors on this floor so someone doesn’t come running up here to take their elevators back. Oh, and then we need to find the missing concierge and the resort’s supply of tiki torch fuel, because Les said those little oil jars would break on impact and he and Joey agreed that fire would probably get Daddy Fishie moving back toward the water in a hurry.”

“And if the father goes, we can hope his children will follow.” Jorge was nodding. “Señora Alvarez is missing?”

“Maria used the radio when Daddy Fishie stood back up, she told them that you guys were going down to see if you could get a better look at him. And when she told the person who responded that we urgently needed to speak to Ms. Alvarez, he said he hadn’t seen her and didn’t know where she was.” I made a face. “That may have been when they decided to send your fishie visitors up.”

That made Jorge swear. “So we should go down, and stop this person who is engaging in ‘fishie delivery’. But first we must secure the stairs, and perhaps we should go up to the next floor to see if help is needed.”

“We shouldn’t split the group any more than we already have,” Evan cautioned. “That’s how people die in movies.”

“That’s how people die in real life, too,” I agreed. “We stay together, and we all go back up together if at all possible. Oh, and we need to get hold of another radio so we can communicate with the rest of the squad.”

There were three elevators but only two sets of fire stairs, so we blocked the first door with the credenza from the other lounge area but were kind of at a loss with the other…until Evan went back to the lounge to check on the balcony-fishies and found them all dead, so the second door got barricaded with a credenza too. And then we armed ourselves with fire extinguishers, added another chair to my elevator, climbed in, unblocked the door and hit the button marked 4.

Dead silence greeted us when the elevator doors opened onto an almost identical corridor to the one we’d just left, and we quickly blocked the door again when we saw the lobby level button light up – the bastards were watching, apparently, hoping they could snatch back control. Which left us with a problem, because even I couldn’t hear anyone nearby but we couldn’t leave the elevator unattended. We ended up leaving Ramon and Evan to guard the elevator, and Jorge and I went to try to find someone.

There was no one in the halls, but once we got close to the ballroom-now-dining room we could hear people talking and dishes clinking. I wrinkled my nose. Underneath the smell of food, I could smell something…my ears went straight up. Seawater. “Jorge, do you think they have a service elevator here? I think I smell incoming fishies.”

“They probably do, yes. But let us go cautiously.” Trying to do a casual walk into a room full of scared people while carrying fire extinguishers – I’d grabbed a second one off the wall by the elevator – is every bit as hard as you might expect, but we somehow pulled it off and circled the perimeter of the room to catch a staff member. Jorge shot out something rapid-fire in Spanish in a low voice, and the young woman pointed and then moved to share with two of the waiters who were nearby. “In the kitchen,” he said. “It is at the back.”

We’d just hit the kitchen door when we heard the first scream, and we stopped trying to be casual. We also almost got run over by some of the kitchen staff, but I grabbed the chef who was herding them. “Fire extinguishers will drive them back! And then we need to block the elevator door so it can’t go back down!”

He changed direction, waving his staff past him and out, and grabbed an extinguisher off the wall. Then he took the other side of the central prep station and all three of us advanced toward the elevator and the baby fishies that were trundling out, picking up a sous chef gripping another extinguisher along the way. There were even more fishies this time, but they didn’t like the chemical spray and they were too big to fit under the workstations, so we managed to drive them back to the elevator and then the sous chef grabbed a wheeled freezer and shoved them all the way in, blocking the doors. Jorge had already run back out to let everyone know the problem had been contained, and I high-fived the sous chef and the chef. “We figured out what they were doing and blocked the main elevators on a different floor,” I told them. “All we know is it’s someone in the lobby, shoveling fishies into the elevators and sending them up, then calling for the elevator to come back down and doing it again.”

“I can add long pig to my menu,” the chef said darkly. His scent said he wasn’t entirely kidding, he was pissed. “Diego, get un cable de extensión and plug that freezer back in – but good thinking, very good thinking. Can we eat these fish?”

I shook my head. “Both of our marine biologists said no, that killing the fishie would probably make the venom sac rupture and poison the meat.”

“Maldito, that is too bad. They are nice and fat.”

“They are híbridos of more than one type of bagre, some rana, and more than likely some other things as well.” Jorge was back. “But I agree, it is too bad they have such venom.” He looked over the top of the freezer. “How are they getting them all in? With una pala?!”

“I’ve been wondering that myself.” I gave the chef a polite nod. “We’ll get out of your way now, we have to go see about some things downstairs.” I had a thought. “Is that where they keep the refills for the tiki torches? Because we were going to try to use those to drive the big one back into the water.” His eyebrows went all the way up. “Throwing the lit jars from one of the balconies, not chasing him with the torches,” I clarified quickly. “We’re desperate, not crazy.”

That made him laugh. “Desesperado and loco are only this far apart,” he said, holding up his thumb and forefinger with about a two-inch gap between them. “Come back when you are done, I will keep the kitchen open so there will be food for you.”

We thanked him, and then hurried back to the elevator. There were some people in the corridor being held off by Evan and Ramon, but one growl scattered them. “We do not have time for this!” I snapped. “The elevators can’t stay blocked all night, we have got to get down there and put a stop to this. If you want to go back to your rooms, take the stairs and a fire extinguisher – and go in groups, the bigger the better.”

“Why don’t you take the stairs?!” That was an older woman with pinkish-red hair, and she was just overweight enough that I could understand why she might not feel like the stairs were a good option. “We’re paying guests…”

Ooh, there it was – she was an Entitled Tourist. I decided not to go for the snark because I didn’t want to escalate the situation. “Ma’am, we had to block the elevators to keep whoever is down in the lobby from sending up more of the fish-creatures to kill all of you,” I told her, which made her gasp. “We don’t know how many floors they might have hit before we realized what they were doing, so you may want to wait in the dining room or in one of the lounges on this floor until we give the all-clear.”

She wasn’t quite ready to let it go. “Why didn’t you know what they were doing?”

“Because we did not know ‘they’ were here, Señora,” Jorge told her. “And we still do not know who ‘they’ are.”

“But, the staff said it was terrorists!” one of the others said, a tanned man just past middle age who had thickly silvered hair and a much – much – younger woman with him. “Isn’t it terrorists?”

“We think so, yes – we think this was done by an international terrorist group called Ancient Fire,” I told him. “What we don’t know is who they have working for them here.” I waved Evan and Ramon into the elevator; Jorge held the door while they pulled in the chair. “We’ve got to get down there before they try something else, but once we’ve done what we can we’ll be back up. Can you help keep the people on this floor calm, or at least keep anyone from running off half-cocked? We don’t want any more casualties.”

I knew I’d read him right when his back straightened and his scent went from fear/worry/demand to determined/protect. “I can do that.” He hesitated. “What if you don’t…”

“Someone will, I promise – there are seven of us altogether, someone will come back to this floor to let you know what’s going on. Or we’ll call the chef and he’ll tell you. Jorge, were you able to get us a radio?”

“Si, it even has a mostly-full battery.” I climbed in and he handed over my extinguisher and his, and then he climbed in after me and we waved to the people as the door closed. “The lobby button is lit,” he said quietly when the elevator started to move.

“With any luck they’ll think whatever we had blocking the door gave way,” Evan said. “How many were in the kitchen?”

“Eight or nine. Oh, the chef said he’ll keep the kitchen open for us, so we can have food once we’re done…well, with whatever we end up doing. I’m hoping it’s just one guy with hip-waders and a shovel, honestly, but I’d be really surprised if it was.” I had a thought – a bad one. “Let me be the first one to jump down and start clearing a path, okay? Because there’s no way of knowing if their tail filaments are dangerous to humans or not.”

“But…” And then Jorge got it; he swallowed and put a hand on my shoulder. “Very true,” he said. “I did not think of that before.”

“That’s okay, I’ve been trying not to think about it at all,” I told him. “I’m going to have to stop doing that.” The elevator did that little up-down jerk that meant it was leveling itself up with the doors, and I got down off the chair and held my extinguisher at the ready. “Shoot anything that moves, guys – human or fishie or anything in between – and try not to let anyone or anything get between us and the elevator.”

The doors opened…and wouldn’t you know it, there were two guys in hip-waders and heavy rubber boots standing in the lobby. Which was just full of fishies. They were both holding what looked like snow shovels, too, but when they saw us one of them jumped back and pulled something out of his pocket…and I jumped forward and let him have it with the fire extinguisher, because I could guess what that little device probably was and if I let either one of them turn it on it was entirely possible I was going to fall down screaming and get eaten. Behind me the others were clearing a path through the fishies, driving them away from the elevator, so I ran forward and kicked the guy’s hand, making the thing skitter away across the tiled floor. His buddy had his out by then, but Jorge hit him with the fire extinguisher and he went down like a sack of potatoes. “Get them into the elevator!” I yelled, and then coughed because chemical spray. “Take them up to Joey and Maria, tie them up!” I grabbed the one guy by the front of his shirt when Ramon hauled him up. “What did you do with Ms. Alvarez?!”

He said something in Spanish that I recognized, and I snarled right into his face. “Say it again,” I growled. “I’ll show you who the fuckboy is here, hijo de puta. Now Where. Is. She!”

And he pissed himself, which was satisfying to a part of me I hadn’t realized I had. “En el almacén. El almacén!”

Ramon murmured that was the storeroom. I patted the guy’s cheek, letting him feel my claws against his skin. “Now where is that?” He pointed. “Gracias,” I said, and showed him my teeth in an unfriendly grin. “Don’t give my squad any trouble.”

I did not know that someone could piss themselves twice in a row; maybe he just had a big bladder? Time to wonder about that later. The fizzy, euphoric feeling was back, and I was going to use it. I started in with my extinguisher again, driving fishies toward the front doors, which the bastards had propped open. When the extinguisher ran out, I threw it to break up a mass of fishies, grabbed one of the fallen snow shovels and started shoving more fishies bodily across the floor – it was tile and they were slick-skinned, it worked better than I could have hoped. Evan reappeared wearing one of the pairs of rubber boots and started shoveling and kicking fishies at the same time, and then he came up with another extinguisher and we really started herding in earnest. Not all of them were out, but once a majority were we closed and locked the doors to keep them – or anyone else – from coming back in. “Where would the storeroom be? He pointed toward the desk.”

“There’s a door behind Check-In that I think says Employees Only.”

We kept the shovels and cautiously went through the door…which led into an area with lockers, past which was a really plain hallway with a bare concrete floor and numbered doors down one side. And I could smell something that made my fur stand on end: Blood. “Evan, I think we found them.”


I took a deep sniff. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure of it.” I raised my voice. “Is anyone here?”

Rustling. I sniffed again. Under the strong scent of blood I could smell seawater. And fish. God dammit. “One door at a time. Do you still have your phone?”

He swallowed. “Yeah. So what are we doing?”

I shook my head. “One of us opens the door and holds the camera ready to take the picture, the other one uses the shovel to keep any fishies from getting out. We can trade off, every other door.”

“Deal.” He positioned himself next to the first door, holding up his phone, and I took the shovel and got ready. “Okay, first one…”

The phone’s flash illuminated a scene right out of a horror movie. One tied-up staff member on the floor, dead, and two blood-covered fishies eating away at her, alive. I have to give Evan credit, he held it together and pulled the door shut again before the fishies could even stop chewing. “I think that was one of the girls from the front desk,” he said shakily. “When I checked in, they were dressed like that.” He swallowed again. “Do you think…it’s every room?”

“I hope not…but I can’t hear anyone, all I hear is the rustling noise the fishies make.”

He made a face. “Can we rename them something less cute, like maybe demon spawn from hell?”

“That one’s already taken,” I told him, handing over the shovel and pulling out my phone. “I’ll show you a picture sometime – it was a DIY mod we had to go clean up in Nevada, opossum modded with scorpion. Had babies before we got there. Okay, door number two…”

There were eight doors, and the same thing was behind every single one of them. But none of the victims were Ms. Alvarez. At what we’d thought was the end of the hallway was a bend, though, and around that bend was another door that said Oficina de Almacen. I sniffed again. No seawater, very little blood. “Ms. Alvarez? It’s Dr. Darling!” No answer, and no rustling. I nodded to Evan to get out his camera even as I got out mine, but I put the shovel aside and checked the door. It had a lock, but the knob turned. I was straining my ears, but I couldn’t even hear breathing…so I opened it. Ms. Alvarez was there, tied to a chair. “I think…I think the two we caught might have been trying to make her help them somehow,” I said for the benefit of both Evan and the video I was taking. “They probably tied her up in here and set the fishies on her staff. And when she still wouldn’t do what they wanted, they threatened her with a fishie and she remembered the boy from the beach.” I stepped into the room, carefully, not wanting to disturb anything that might be important for the police later. Her neck and face were grotesquely swollen, but even though her features were distorted I recognized her scent. Her blouse had been ripped open, and there were jagged bite marks on her chest. They’d been holding the fishie up somehow, just letting it bite at her a little at a time, and she’d thrown her head forward to make contact with the fin spike; I could just barely see the scratches and the puncture mark on the side of her jaw through all the swelling. I looked around one more time, then stepped back out of the room and closed the door, shutting off the video and tucking my phone away again. My handpaws were shaking.

With rage. While we were upstairs on the patio, drinking fruit water and waiting for something to happen…this had been happening. “Evan, I need you to do me a favor,” I said, pocketing my phone and pulling out the little gizmo I’d retrieved from the lobby floor; I handed it to him. “I think this is some kind of miniature sonar generator they were using to herd the fishies, and when I came out of the elevator one of them tried to aim it at me. So if I try to kill one of those bastards when we get back upstairs, I need you to turn it on, okay? If it does what I think it does, then just a second is all it should take.”

He nodded and put the thing in his pocket. “Okay, I can do that. But then who’s gonna stop me?”

I had to smile. “Good question.” I clapped him on the arm – he was shaking too – and retrieved the shovel. “There’s a fire extinguisher by the lockers, you grab that and then let’s see how many fishies we can kill or evict before the rest of our squad gets back. It would be nice if we could present them with a clean lobby…”

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  1. Toby

    Wow just wow. Poor Danny, you are not used to active deliberate will to harm people, not just the normal lack of care or greed/stupidity. Don’t let it get you down.

    I hope help shows up real soon. And an idea what chemical is killing the fishes from the extinguishers.

    • I think this is the level of terrorism that they all knew was coming but just hadn’t seen yet. Up until now, all of their encounters with Ancient Fire had been…well, they’d managed to get in there and stop them before anything got past the level of movie-villainish. So this level is new, but not unexpected. I think Danny and Joey are handling this sudden escalation from skirmish to full-out war pretty well, though. 🙂

      Regular ABC extinguishers, which are what you’d find in the guest areas of most resorts/hotels, are filled with monoammonium phosphate and ammonium sulfate. I’m pretty sure it would kill any fish you sprayed it on if that fish wasn’t in the water, it’s a dry powder designed to put out fires by smothering them.

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