A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 35
Out of the Water, Part 10

They managed to keep the story out of the papers for almost two weeks.


Once the task force showed up, along with more soldiers and the local authorities, things kicked into high gear and stayed that way. We did everything we could at the resort, then everybody packed up and moved to Mexico City where we split the work between Primera Genética and Acuario Inbursa for the next eleven days. I’m still not sure how Mexico and Interpol managed to keep the fishies out of the news for most of that time, but the only story that got around was that there had been an incident in Cancún involving modified creatures and experts had been called in to handle it. Which was true on more than one level, because while we were poring over slides and data in the lab, a different team of international experts was assembled to look for Mommy Fishie and start evaluating the damage to the marine ecosystem; Jorge managed to have F.A.P. Squad t-shirts made for all of us before he went out to join them. Randy went with him for a few days and then came back to us, although Les went home to Greece – yeah, he’s retired to some little island in Greece, and although it sounded like he’s not alone out there he said he travels whenever he starts feeling bored. We saw him off when the handicap-accessible shuttle picked him up at the resort to take him to the airport, and he told us he hoped he’d see us all again sometime – just hopefully not because fishies were invading his island. Jorge mailed Les’s t-shirt to Greece, but if he got it before we left Mexico none of us heard.

Even the Mexican Navy couldn’t find Mommy Fishie, although they did find the spot where she’d laid her eggs. We just have to hope there isn’t another Daddy Fishie swimming around out there somewhere who can help her make more of them. We did finally hear what had happened to Miguel Cabrera, the missing representative from Fonatur, though – or at least what the authorities thought had happened, anyway. They’d found the guy’s car abandoned on an empty stretch of beach about twenty miles down the coast from the resort, along with signs that he’d apparently met someone there. Phone records said he’d called someone right after he’d left the resort and the number had been to a burner phone…but they’d found that same number in Libby the Wannabe Martyr’s phone records as well. Collusion had been suspected at first, but in the end the reason had proved to be much, much worse than that. Cabrera had been approached by the same people, yes, but they’d fed him a completely different story. They’d played on his desire to advance his standing at Fonatur and convinced him that designer fish were the way to bring more tourists flocking to the area…and a way to make the environmentalists back off, as the new creatures would have been specifically created for sport fishing and eating, thereby sparing the native fish so they could go on about their fishy little lives unmolested. And Cabrera, who apparently knew very little about how ecosystems work, had swallowed that story hook, line and sinker. He didn’t pay them, but he’d been greasing the wheels for them in other ways for the past two years, making it possible for Ancient Fire to get what they needed into and out of the area, using half-truths and the heavy but oblivious hand of Fonatur to squash news stories or police reports which might otherwise have tipped someone off before the plan had come to fruition. But then Daddy Fishie had started being spotted off the coast, more people turned up missing, and the government had gotten the idea that something funny might be going on…honestly, it was no wonder the guy had been scared half out of his mind when he’d met us at the airport. He had to have already suspected something was wrong, but at that point he was in too deep and he just knew we were going to figure it out, so he went running to his contact in a panic. The authorities are pretty sure he was killed right there, dumped into someone’s trunk and then used as bait to entice the fishies to stay close to the resort’s beach. There’s no physical evidence to confirm his death, of course, but Cabrera had worn a Rolex and…well, we’d found one the first time we’d gone out with buckets to search the beach.

Ramon, just like I’d predicted, calmed down the rest of the way once the life-and-death part of things was over. He even apologized – not just to me, but also to Joey and Maria. He didn’t have to apologize to Jorge, because Jorge had already told him that the only apology he wanted was for Ramon to do better in the future. Which Ramon decided to get a start on by letting the junior activists keep their video of him panicking on the beach, but luckily Agent Ben had taken one look at said video and overriden him…and then later he’d showed the now-confiscated video to Mike, who smelled concerned every time he looked at me until I cornered him about it. “Rethinking the proposed partnership, or worried the video will leak somehow?”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m going to have to change my deodorant, I think this one’s working too well. Neither, actually – I’ve been wondering how the hell we’re going to train you. I didn’t realize instinct was going to play that much of a part, I’d thought we were just going to have to get you into regular self-defense training and then make allowances for the claws.”

I raised an eyebrow and one ear. “But now you’re thinking guard-dog training is the way to go?”

That made him laugh. “No, but I’m thinking you and I are gonna go out to the K-9 training center once we’re back home and watch them teach officers how to respond to an attack dog – that way you’ll know how to counter it.” Both of my ears went up for that, and he shook his head. “Dr. Darling, if a full human attacks you, that means they’re either doing one of two things: trying to kill you, or trying to cause an incident to get you locked up. So you need to know how to work around any training they might have. And Agent Ben and I have already talked about getting working dog certification for you, the one international law enforcement uses; that way if there are any more incidents in the future, nobody can claim you’re a vicious animal.”

Ramon heard that and was genuinely horrified; I knew he’d been listening, but I think this was the first time he’d realized what that video might have looked like to someone who didn’t know me. “Wait, you’re going to license him as a dog?”

Oh, that was sweet of him. “He’s not the first,” I admitted. “Doc did it first. I have official rabies tags from the county, I carry them on my keychain.”

“We actually did stay at a hotel once that made him show proof of current rabies vaccination before they’d let him stay,” Joey put in; he’d been hovering. “We all have that vaccination, because we work with so many different kinds of animals, but Danny’s the only one who’s ever had to prove it.”

“In defense of that check-in clerk, he was a last minute fill-in for the one who knew we were coming,” I said. “The poor guy panicked, he was pretty much just quoting the rule book and hoping he got it right. And the manager did apologize to us that night when we came back from dinner.”

“I read Larry’s report on that incident,” Mike said, nodding. “He thought you should have been pushier about the pet deposit, though.”

I shrugged. “I would have been if someone else had been paying for the room instead of us. Since they weren’t, I didn’t feel like it was worth the extra aggravation. The manager was kind of overly stressed already.” Ramon’s scent spiked with curiosity. “That was in Munich, we were there for a genetics summit and the hotel was overflowing with scientists trying to turn their trip into a secret mini-vacation. And then we got a call from Hungary about a flying monkey problem, so we drove across the border to help out with that before we went home.”

“No…”

“Yes, because people are stupid,” Joey said. “Some dumbass DIYers in Romania who didn’t realize fifty-fiftying a little monkey with a big bat wouldn’t get them a mini-vampire they could show to tourists. The fact that the damned things could actually fly and didn’t want to stay in Romania was just icing on the cake.”

“Especially since the idiots didn’t tell anyone what they’d done after their little projects escaped,” I put in. “The monkeys migrated across the border and decided to settle in someone’s cherry orchard. The farmer wasn’t amused, but someone over at the Budapest Zoo had seen the Wizard of Oz and they all but snatched the creatures out of our hands. They’re living in a big mixed subtropical habitat now, but if they start breeding the zoo is planning to build them a habitat of their own.”

“And then we’ll have to make them a few more creatures to prevent inbreeding issues,” Joey added. “I just hope the zoo never lets them escape, because I’m pretty sure they’d head right back to the orchards and then that farmer will probably shoot them. He was pretty vocal about how anything God didn’t create was an abomination.” Of course, we’d originally thought he was complaining about the damage the flying monkeys had done to his orchard, possibly about them throwing shit at him too because monkeys are like that; our translator had waited to share the actual content of the guy’s rant with us until after we were off the farm. Poor kid, she’d been really embarrassed. “Maybe if they do ever get out, the guys from Verandering can go – I’d love to see Flip confront that guy.”

“Dr. Akker,” I supplied for Ramon’s benefit. “Go to the next conference in Europe, you’ll see him. You’ll hear him first, though. He’s…not the most patient guy around, especially when someone airs their uneducated opinion of his work.”

“That was a quote,” Joey said. “He’s a good enough guy once he decides you’re smart enough to talk to him, but until then…well, ask Maria, she’s met him.”

That brought Maria into it. “He is un gran culo,” she insisted. “He asked me if I was there looking for a smart man. I told him if I saw one I would point them out, so he would know what one looked like. And then I went to present my paper.”

“After which he offered to buy her a beer.” I snickered. “His way of apologizing for suggesting she was a hooker and saying he’d accepted her as worthy to be in his presence.”

“He is still a pig,” Maria went back to the notes she’d been going over. “He is just not a pig around me any longer.”

“Not denying it,” Joey said. “That’s why Hugo tries not to let him answer the phone, or talk to clients, or have contact with anyone from the national research institute – even though those guys all know him because he used to work in their genetics department. He’s the one who engineered a vaccine for the paralysis virus that was killing all the honeybees.”

“Which is one reason why Hugo puts up with him,” I added. “He’s an undeniable genius when it comes to working with viruses. Interacting with people? Not so much.”

Part of that is because he works with viruses, of course – that’s the other reason Hugo puts up with him. Flip knows one little oops on his part could potentially have catastrophic results, and when he’s in the lab working you can see the kind of pressure he’s under because he knows that. Which is also the reason Verandering Laboratorium is right behind GenoMod on the task force’s emergency calling list; Flip and Hugo are damed good at their job, and because they’re a successful private commercial lab they can afford to drop everything to help out when they’re needed.

Yes, afford to. Like I’ve mentioned before, what we do isn’t cheap and we take a pretty big hit financially when something like this comes up just from the lost work and research time. That might be about to change, though. Interpol and the president’s office appealed to the U.N. Security Council over this incident, and in response they upgraded Ancient Fire to a high-level global threat. That means a bigger budget for Task Force 27 – that’s Agent Ben’s genetic terrorism task force – more funding being made available to help countries affected by things like the fishies, and even more cooperation between the unofficial-official lab network. Oh, and they’re also drawing up the paperwork to formally hire GenoMod as the task force’s official science team, which supposedly means we might get paid for helping instead of just donating our time.

It also means our government will have to be very careful about harassing or even just ignoring us in the future, because that will make them look like they’re soft on international terrorism. It may also stop them from hinting around that they want to make ZipLab the official U.S. lab to try to get some kind of leverage over us, although I solved that problem myself earlier by sending Tim a photo of Daddy Fishie marching up out of the water with the caption, ‘This is what they want you to work on. Cute, isn’t he?’

His response – some ten minutes later, because I’m assuming he had to go throw up – was to send me a picture of a cute, fluffy little dog with a toy in its mouth. ‘We’ll stick to these, thanks.’

Their loss, our gain – maybe even monetarily, but I’ll believe that when I see it. I wasn’t kidding about how much this saving-the-world gig is costing everyone, you know – and that’s just monetarily, we’re not even going into the toll it takes on everyone involved to deal with shit like this. Here, I’ll break it down for you:

Cost to Mexico for having five scientists flown out to a resort in Cancún for three and a half days: $15,221.93.

Estimated cost to GenoMod for helping out with the situation on-site for eleven days: $125,000.

Potential cost of cleanup for the resort and affected areas of the local environment: $50 million and counting.

But the look on Joey’s face when he realized his plane ticket home was taking him to San Francisco, not L.A.? Priceless.

 

We finally left Mexico, after a lot of hugging and promises to see everyone later and calling ahead to make arrangements, and I mentally rehearsed our arrival at LAX – sans Joey – for the entire flight home. So when Mike and I came down the ramp and the first flashbulb went off, I shaded my eyes with my hand and scowled. “You know, I know the only reason you guys do that is so you can make people look bad. And it hurts my eyes, so I’d really appreciate it if you stopped using the tabloid-photo flash trick today. I’d prefer not to get home with a migraine, I have work to do. The end of the world doesn’t stop itself, you know.”

Dead silence, and rising confusion. Mike pulled up the list he had on his phone and checked it, then started pointing at people. “You, you, and you – that doesn’t look like a hundred yards, gentlemen. And Mr. Davies, I’m amazed you’re even in the airport at the same time as Dr. Darling. Didn’t the judge on your paper’s case say he was allowed to kill you if you ever got close to him again?”

“He totally did – it’s even in the written decision,” I agreed. “Didn’t the judge also call him a perverted excuse for a human being?”

“I believe he did, Dr. Darling.”

I smiled at that reporter and waved. “Go away, Mr. Davies. The grownups are going to talk now.”

He went red in the face, and although most of the people present probably thought he was angry, it was actually embarrassment. “You…!” That was when airport security showed up. “Wait, what is this?!”

“Real life,” I told him. “I’m not playing with you guys any more. Now, everybody who doesn’t have a restraining order against them, the airport was kind enough to let us have some space for a press conference, because it is absolutely imperative that we have one immediately – they even had us pre-cleared through Customs so it wouldn’t have to wait. So please follow the security guard, and make sure your recording equipment is all charged up because you’re not going to want to miss any of this. I’ll be right behind you once the rest of the squad has caught up with me.”

“Squad?”

“The Fishie Apocalypse Prevention Squad,” I told that reporter, with a perfectly straight face – which honestly, is way easier for me to pull off than it is for a full human. “It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment name, but we all liked it so it stuck. Acuario Inbursa in Mexico City should have t-shirts for sale in a few weeks, but if you can’t get down there we’re hoping Cabrillo will pick up the American concession locally. There may eventually be comic books too, but that’s going to take longer.”

Someone toward the middle of the pile got hopeful in a nasty way. “You’re going to be in a comic book?”

“No, Dr. Vargas from Acuario Inbursa may be in a comic book – some of you have probably seen his documentaries, he’s even worked with National Geographic. Awesome guy. Now go on, don’t make the nice security guard wait, I’m sure he’s got other things he needs to be doing.” I waved to the guard, who smiled and waved back – I mean, I fly in and out of LAX all the time, they all know me and I’m always polite to them no matter what.

They also hate reporters, at least this kind. Randy tells me he’s always polite to security too, he’s just not as well-known at LAX as I am. I corrected that to infamous, and he’d laughingly agreed with me but said it would be really, really bad for his career if he became infamous.

Fortunately, I’m not a journalist.

The reporters – not journalists either, most of them, whether they thought they were or not – split into two groups, one that followed the security guard and one that was very unhappily escorted toward the exits by two more. I smelled Randy coming a minute later, could tell he’d been hanging back and listening because he was trying really hard not to laugh. Beside him, Evan was snickering. “The judge really said that?”

“Oh, the judge said a lot more than that,” Mike told him. “I’ll show you where to find the transcripts online, they’re a fun read. But are you sure about this, Mr. Tremain? Once this can of worms is opened, there’s no going back.”

Evan waved that off. “Not like I have a family these pissants could bother, Mike. And every photograph they take of my boat is free advertising. Although I may have to spruce up her paint job, maybe get a new sign that will be easier to read.”

“I am so chartering a day-trip for my wife once we’re sure the fishies haven’t migrated up here,” Randy told him. “I’m not a fishing guy myself, but I know she misses going out with her dad.”

Evan cocked a wise eyebrow. “Which important date did you miss?”

Randy laughed. “Anniversary – but I had an excuse, I was in Dubai. The one she really wasn’t happy about was this trip to Cancún, because I couldn’t take her with me.” In spite of himself, he shuddered. “She’s still not happy, but I sure as hell am.”

I patted his arm; Randy really loves his wife. “Sounds like you got a good one, then – Joey’s dad told me once that a good woman wants to stand beside you, not behind you. Speaking of which, Mike, turns out Maria grew up in a rough neighborhood and her cousins taught her to fight – her dad paid her in candy to keep the boys away from her older sister. And she thinks you might just be the perfect man.”

Mike blushed. “I did see the looks, I just wasn’t quite sure why I was getting them. She’s a scientist!”

“You’re smart, you’re handsome, and unlike the ball-less excuses for men she keeps meeting, you wouldn’t try to put her in a corner,” I told him. “Maria’s a really good judge of character, so if she says you’re perfect…well, you must be pretty damn close.”

That made him laugh. “Not even. I’ll think about it – when I’m off duty,” he said. “You explained…”

“Yeah, and that just made her more interested.” He blushed again, scent indicating surprise and pleasure – and interest, yay – and I chuckled. “Okay, I’ll stop – I just wanted you to know. So, your story is already submitted, right Randy?”

“In and approved,” he confirmed. “In Spanish and English, no less, thanks to Ramon – my editor asked if we could hire him, she was pretty disappointed when I told her he might not want to give up his career in genetics to work for the paper. But the story should be hitting the wire any minute now.”

“Well, then let’s go give our little jackal-pack of reporters the second-hand news,” I said. My blood was fizzing, in a good way. I may not always like attention…but this, this was different. We picked up Pete and Dave and Hana just outside the roped-off area – I’d specifically requested that this press conference be held in the open, in public, not in a closed room, so they’d put us right beside the baggage claim area. Nothing I was about to say was a secret, the more people who heard the better. Hugs were had all the way around, even for Evan and Randy because they’d been with us for countless video conferences over the past week and a half, and then it was time. I straightened my lab coat and walked up to the front of the group, by myself. I was That Guy for real now – I’d worn my lab coat off the fucking plane.

A flash went off. “Aw, someone doesn’t like to be told ‘no’,” I said. “I’ll remember that – and you, specifically, ma’am.” I made a show of taking a deep sniff. “Chanel, nice choice – goes well with your natural scent.” She and a few other people got funny looks on their faces. “What, you thought this was a costume? Anyway, let’s talk about what just happened in Cancún so you don’t have to make things up – I know some of you would rather do that, but trust me, this story is exciting enough on its own. Two weeks ago GenoMod got a call from the Mexican government requesting that we come down to Cancún to help their official lab, Primera Genética, investigate something they thought might be a modded creature that had been seen off the continental shelf near one of their big resorts. They wanted us specifically because they suspected the creature might have something to do with the terrorist group known as Ancient Fire, and GenoMod is the official lab-adjunct to Interpol’s task force that deals with that group.” A hand went up. “Yes?”

“Why you? Your lab is problematic, you’ve been investigated multiple times for ethics violations!”

I smiled, making sure my teeth showed really nicely. “Our lab has been investigated multiple times, yes – and every single investigation cleared us completely. I can’t comment on that particular lawsuit because it’s still ongoing, but I can say that it involves multiple false complaints filed against our lab as part of a personal vendetta.”

“Your lab has been filing a lot of lawsuits lately,” came from someone else. “Why is that?”

“You know why, because you should have been part of that other group – you know, the one that got escorted out earlier?” I cocked an ear at him, lashed my tail. “I’ll give you thirty seconds to put another 95 feet between yourself and Miss Kim, and if you don’t then in thirty-one seconds you’re getting escorted out and she’s sending her lawyer a picture of you not being 100 feet away.”

That one actually tried to call my bluff, but at the twenty-second mark Hana held up her phone and one of the other reporters waved security over and singled him out. “He’s violating a restraining order. He’s not supposed to be within 100 feet of Miss Kim.”

He’d probably also pissed that particular reporter off sometime in the past and this was payback, either that she was just taking out the competition – possibly both. “Drama all done now?” I asked while he was sulkily led out of the general area. “Do any of you actually want to hear news, or is this just gossip time?”

“Are you letting us pick?”

I laughed. “No. If all you want is gossip and to ask me questions you already know the answers to, then I’ll go home and you can hold your own press conference.” Silence. “Great. The creature people had been seeing was very large, and it looked like a fish but not any known kind. There wasn’t a lot of evidence to go on, but working together with the information we had we were able to ascertain that the creature was at least part catfish, that it had babies in the water with it, and that it had come up the coast from the south. We also found evidence that deaths in multiple locations could be attributed to the fishies, as we started calling them, and that the other sea life in the area had possibly all been eaten. Our conclusion was that the fishies were most likely the work of Ancient Fire, and that they’d been in the area for at least six months.”

“How did you reach that conclusion?”

“Google – we looked up the official stats for missing divers and fishermen, and found a spike that deviated considerably from the usual average. The resort’s communications were disabled the next morning, cutting us off from the network entirely, and that day a baby fishie showed up on the beach…where it promptly killed someone who hopped the wall to try to get it back into the water. Like a lot of catfish, the fishies have a bony spike in their dorsal fin that’s connected to a venom sac – also the reason they aren’t edible, and we did check because they breed really well and catfish are tasty.” That got a general laugh from everyone except the one reporter I knew was vegan. “We took some volunteers out and put up a sandbag wall across the beach, to try to keep any other baby fishies that might happen to venture ashore from getting too far inland, but when the babies started coming ashore some more people hopped the resort’s wall and ended up giving the baby fishies a way to get over the sandbags. Those six people all died. Everyone else would have been safe enough inside the resort, but then Daddy Fishie walked up out of the water…”

“Wait, walked? He walked?! What do you mean?”

Did I mention the news blackout the Mexican government had implemented while Interpol was working on the case with the rest of us? “I mean he walked up out of the water on four legs. He was about the size of a medium-sized whale, so we had the staff run everyone back into the building and onto the upper floors, just in case. He knew food was in there, though, so he spent some time trying to figure out how to get to it before he decided to lay down in the pool area and have a nap. Two terrorists were in the building, they caused a lot of problems that night and killed about half of the resort’s staff before we caught them, and by then we’d figured out a way to kill the fishies without having to get close to them…” One reporter got really excited by that, and I rolled my eyes at him. “You either need to pee or the idea of me killing something with my claws makes you hot. Either way, you should probably take care of that in private.”

Ooh, this one did get mad. “I…that was uncalled for!”

“So was your last story. You know, the one where you hinted around that my business partner’s dog was more than a friend? I mean, your fetishes are your own, dude, but you probably shouldn’t be using your job with the paper to project them onto other people.”

He lashed back. “You’re an animal!”

“We’re all animals – mammals, to be precise. The taxonomy of your genome is identical to mine right up to the family, because appearances aside I am still mostly a primate. You, proclivities aside, are from the last surviving species of the Homo genus, Homo sapiens, in the family of Hominidae. But I belong to the Canidae family, genus Canis. According to Dr. Villegas at Primera Genetica, my species is Canis villeluvu albus.”

One of them, nominally a science reporter – very nominally – got even more excited about that. “You’ve never mentioned your species before. Why now?”

“Until a week ago, I didn’t know my species,” I told her. “Dr. Villegas is a genius at figuring out that kind of thing, though.”

“Is she smarter than you?”

That made me laugh. “Probably. There’s a reason Primera Genetica is the official lab in Mexico.” Mike gave me a signal, and I nodded. “Okay, time to wrap this up. GenoMod will be releasing an official statement about the fishie problem later today, not that any of you will be willing to wait for that. So for now: Two of the terrorists were caught on the scene, although the organization itself is still out there and active. At the most recent count a total of forty people were killed – twelve divers, four fishermen, eighteen members of the resort staff and seven guests. Daddy Fishie is dead, Mommy Fishie is still unaccounted for and the Mexican Navy is on the alert for any sightings. A majority of the offspring have been killed, and the area they were spawned in is physically isolated so migration of any baby fishies that remain from the core school is not possible. What is possible is that they might not be the only school out there, so every marine research facility, navy, coast guard and wildlife department in the world has been put on alert. These creatures, left unchecked, could conceivably end the world – they’re not only venomous and carnivorous and amphibious, but once mature they can lay tens of thousands of eggs at a time multiple times per year. Oh, and fully mature they’re not only the size of a whale and capable of walking on land, they can also harbor tapeworms…” I saw the science reporter’s reaction to that and nodded at her, “…which grow even bigger in a larger host, as Ms. Johnson apparently already knew. For the rest of you, that means an adult fishie can have a gut full of tapeworms that are over 100 feet long.”

Someone else was skeptical. “Is there proof of that? And are the worms modded creatures too?”

“Daddy Fishie had worms, and I helped confirm that the worms were just regular whale tapeworms,” I told him. “Extremely large ones. So if one of them was expelled from a mature fishie, it would conceivably be about as dangerous to a human as a non-venomous large snake – a ‘bite’ would just leave you with a nasty scar and a story to tell, that’s all.” Mike made a slashing gesture. “Okay, time’s up! For those of you who don’t want to write fiction, as I said, GenoMod will be putting out a formal press release shortly. Or you can just fill in the details from the story that should have just come out from Time, either way.”

A cloud of sheer disbelief edging on horror rose up. “Wait…someone else already has this story?!”

I nodded. “One of the guests at the resort was a vacationing photojournalist. He pitched in to help when he didn’t have to, so we agreed to let him take all the pictures he wanted as long as we got copies for the case file.” I waved to a few people – not reporters – who had stopped to listen. “Don’t worry, folks, the problem is currently under control. If you want to know more about the fishies, there should be some information in the news shortly, and next month Cabrillo is going to be putting up a small exhibit documenting the creatures’ origin, their life cycle, and the particulars of their species. They’re pretty interesting creatures, they’re modded from two types of catfish, an aardwolf, and a giant salamander.”

A man who looked like he’d only stopped because his wife had sort of goggled at me. “Why would somebody do something like that?!”

I shrugged. “Because they’re terrorists and the fishies were a good way to spread terror. You’d never heard of Ancient Fire?” He shook his head, so I indicated the reporters. “Blame them. GenoMod started working with Interpol over a year ago on this, and not all of what we’ve been doing is classified – it’s not our fault this particular bout of international terrorism is too controversial to report on.”

He looked the question, and to my surprise one of the reporters answered him herself. “Ancient Fire is an offshoot of Eastern Lightning…a Christian cult based in China. If we print that, we’d be pissing off everybody at home and our main trading partner overseas, too.”

“Only if you’re writing sensationalist news-fiction about it,” I corrected. “China’s working with Interpol to stop this too, you know. They hated that cult to begin with, and this new iteration is really pissing them off.” I waved her over. “You’re Tabitha Morrow from the Journal, right? Come on over here – you too, Jessica, I’ll give you a tapeworm photo for your Science Minute column. We stretched one of them out across the beach so we could measure it and Dr. Vargas was holding its head up, your readers will like this…”

“Why do they get to talk to you. Is this favoritism? Do you like women now?”

That last one turned me around. “No.” I made another show of sniffing. “You smell disappointed, Greg. Because you wanted to run with that story or because you have a furry kink?”

Ooh, smelled like that had been a little of both. “That would be…you’re…that’s bestiality!”

“Technically no, because again, appearances aside I am more primate than not – and I’m sentient and therefore capable of understanding and consenting,” I corrected him. “Personally, though…eww.”

A spike of triumph went up from one of the others. “But you have a boyfriend! What about that?”

I rolled my eyes and lashed my tail. “He’s been thousands of miles away since before this happened, and you know it. He hasn’t seen me in person since I went to consult with the official lab in Moscow over a year ago. And as for the part that Greg is so interested in…you know, I’ve honestly been too busy since the incident to think about that.”

Luckily, there were only three people present who could tell that was a lie.

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