Out of the Water, Part 9
It’s almost time to do more science! Coffee first, though.
We all staggered out of bed early that afternoon – it’s the tropics, even with light-blocking curtains the sun still manages to make its presence known – and Mike insisted that everyone wake up a little more before he told us anything except that the phones still weren’t working. So we took turns in the showers, called the rest of the squad so they could join us, and made our way up to the patio. Which looked so normal it seemed kind of surreal. Everything had been cleaned up, the helicopter was gone and so was Captain Abeyta. Other guests were there, just like they had been the first night we’d arrived – had it really only been a day and a half ago? – and our table was now two tables but still behind the ropes and Reserved again. And the minute we sat down, a waiter came hurrying over with a pitcher of fruit water and glasses.
He was wearing a black armband, and I recognized him as one of the staff members who’d been rescued from the parking garage. Everything went back to feeling real in a hurry. Maria asked him in Spanish how he was doing, and what I could understand of his response was that they were all hanging in there. “Señor Mendoza said they did not have to come back to work if they did not feel like they could,” she translated once he’d gone back to the bar. “But they all decided it would be better to be doing something instead of sitting around thinking about what had happened during the night.”
“Which was nine other staff members, not eight,” Mike said. “They did a head count, that’s how many are missing. Captain Abeyta took the two wannabes back with him so they could be locked up, and he took the evidence from the resort’s safe too.”
“We have one more thing in the suite,” I told him. “One of the phones the dead girls had been using to film the fishies. I picked it up while we were out there, but I never got a chance to put it in the safe. We bagged it and put it with the rest of our samples.”
“We should go see if we can find the other one,” Ramon said. “I doubt the fishies would have eaten it.”
“Eaten it no, possibly swallowed it while trying to gnaw on it, yes,” Joey said. He saw Jorge come off the elevator with Evan and waved them over. “Any sign of Randy and Les?”
“Les is most likely waiting on Randy,” Jorge said. “We were not sure if normal operations being restored meant the restrictions to entering the patio were back in place – better to come up in the company of one who already has access than risk creating a scene.” He looked over the wall, then settled into a chair and took a glass for himself. “That is a very big fishie. We need to get more samples before the sun cooks him through.”
“We can go down in a little bit, first everyone needs to be all the way awake,” Mike said. “All the fishies in the area appear to be dead, but we’re still seeing movement from inside the big one.” Joey and Jorge both froze, scents spiking with alarm. “Oh, I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Fish can have parasites,” Joey said. “And some parasites do keep growing according to how much food they’re getting.” I made a face. “Yes, that means giant worms. Or possibly a giant ball of not-so-giant worms.” He started to stand up. “We have to go…”
“You have to eat something, and fully wake up,” Mike corrected, which sat him right back down. “Fighting modded creatures on an empty stomach was a necessity last night and this morning, but right now it’s not. Corporal Hernandez is watching the situation from the second-floor balcony, if anything comes out of the fishie he’ll radio me. Although if it’s a big worm he’ll probably shoot it eight or nine times first.”
“We would have no problem with that,” Jorge said. “Parásitos, they are like things out of a horror movie – and they are just as hard to kill.”
“Could they worm their way up the side of a building?”
Jorge shrugged. Outwardly he seemed calm, but his scent was projecting even deeper concern. “It is possible. And yes, it is also possible they could be a threat to humans – not only is Daddy Fishie hibridizado with at least one mammal, but there are parásitos that can infect both naturally without assistance from science.”
“Tapeworms and roundworms,” Evan confirmed. “Usually you’d have to eat the fish raw to be infected by them, though. That’s why I won’t eat fresh sushi – you either have to freeze the fish or cook it to make sure it’s safe.”
Randy and Les came out of the elevator, and I waved. “Guess what, Daddy Fishie may have worms. So now there are two reasons we can’t eat them.”
Les laughed. “Since cooking kills worms, I’d be a lot more worried about the first reason – sushi has never been my thing.” He looked a lot more awake than the rest of us. “Now Randy here might be in trouble…”
“My wife loves sushi,” Randy agreed, moving the rope so Les could wheel himself into place and then taking a chair of his own and putting the notebook he was carrying on the table. “So we can keep up the list,” he explained. “I figured the original might be in use somewhere else.”
That was his polite way of saying he thought the authorities might have confiscated it for their own use, and Mike nodded. “Yeah, it went with Captain Abeyta and the rest of the evidence. He also took the two terrorist wannabes with him, but he left Corporal Garza in case we needed extra hands and a gun. He’s down on a balcony on Two standing watch over the remains of Daddy Fishie right now, possibly waiting to shoot anything that tries to make its way out into the sunlight because people said they saw movement inside of the carcass.”
“I am now picturing tapeworms the size of una anaconda,” Ramon put in with a mock shudder. “I have seen that movie, I did not like it.”
“Too bad Pete’s not here, he’d love it – and he’d know the best way to kill them, his movie collection is full of that shit.” Joey covered a yawn with his hand. “I think I need coffee.”
“You need hydrated more, which is why I warned the waiters ahead of time not to give any of you coffee until you’d all had some water,” Mike told him. “Water, coffee, food, and then science. Speaking of which, your new temporary lab is a conference room on Three that somehow managed not to get its windows broken.”
“Yeah, the old one on the ground floor is kind of a mess,” I said, covering a yawn of my own. “Isn’t it missing a wall now, Evan?”
“Possibly two of them,” he confirmed. “And all the windows. Has a great view of the pool, though.”
“Has a really amazing view of Daddy Fishie, too.” I drank some of my water, then started fishing out strawberries to eat.
Maria had been squeezing an orange slice into her glass. “Jorge, Joey, where do we need to start with Daddy Fishie?”
“Measuring,” Jorge said, and Joey nodded agreement. “We should probably split the squad for that – Joey and Evan and I will measure while you and Ramon and Danny gather samples and Randy documents the carcass with his camera. Les can take the young soldier’s place on watch so that he can bring his big gun down to shoot parásitos for us if any make an appearance.”
Jorge really does not like parasitic worms – I was starting to wonder if maybe he had a phobia. “Are we sure that’s a good idea either, though? Because if they’re worms that can climb or jump,” or if god forbid the parasites had been modded too, “then Les is going to be a sitting duck up there with no weapon.”
“I’ll take a fire extinguisher,” Les said. “That would work on most normal bugs.”
“We do not know if these are bugs,” Maria warned. “El extinguidor should work on most things, however, if only to slow them down. It worked on Daddy Fishie.”
“Because we pretty much shot it down his throat while he was trying to eat us,” Evan pointed out. “And then you guys got it into his gills and eyes.”
“And there’s no way of knowing if that would have killed him until we can get samples and run tests,” I added. “The extinguishers messed him up so he tripped and fell, but it was breaking a leg and then being eaten alive by his babies that finally finished him off. He didn’t die until they got far enough in to hit his vital organs, remember?”
“The extinguishers do work on the babies, though,” Ramon said. “They work well, although not as fast as I would like. Maybe there is a way we can mix these chemicals to be stronger?”
That had been directed at Les, who shrugged. “You mean, like a liquid concentrate instead of the dry powder? No idea, that would be a question for a chemist. I do wonder if it being a dry powder is part of what made it more effective, though – fish have a slime coat, the powder would stick to that. A gel or a liquid might have rolled right off.”
Jorge was nodding. “I had considered that myself. So in that case, the simplest way to defeat another wave of fishies might simply be to have an aerial drop of dry powder, the way they do with incendios forestales, or fields on a farm.”
“Now that’s a really good idea,” Les agreed. “A crop duster could hit a bunch of them on one pass, then circle back to catch most of the others.”
“And then those on the ground could take out the remaining fishies with the extinguishers,” Maria added. “Or a gun, but I think the extinguishers are more efficient for the purpose. That will be up to los soldados, though.”
“Captain Abeyta will probably agree with you,” Mike told her. “He did say something about flamethrowers, though – I guess they have them but don’t really have a use for them. Would that be less environmentally damaging than the extinguishers, or more?”
We all looked at each other, and Randy picked up the pencil and scribbled in his notebook. “Okay, that’s a goal: Find out which does more environmental damage, flamethrowers or fire extinguishers.”
“Also, to find out if the chemicals can kill a mature fishie,” Ramon put in. “That is something we need to know sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah, can’t forget about Mommy Fishie,” Joey said. “Come on everyone, drink faster – I need coffee.”
We finally got the coffee, which was brought to us with a platter of fruit-filled empanadas, and after we’d all gotten caffeinated enough to be completely on the ball we grabbed sample cases and trash bags and put dirty clothes back on to go down and collect our samples. Daddy Fishie was too…open to be able to bloat very much, in fact he was so open that I could almost walk right inside him without ducking, but one look with a flashlight and Maria, Ramon and I all backed away from the horrifyingly large opening in his abdomen. We could see the movement, coming from his digestive tract. And we could also see the venom sac, which was still intact but looked…well, it looked like some of the surrounding layers of tissue had been peeled back, most likely by the baby fishies tugging on connected internal structures, so the sac seemed a little too fragile to risk getting close to. Ramon started taking samples from the unscathed areas of skin, flesh and fins, and Maria and I got a bucket and some plastic wrap from the kitchen and created a venom collection container, which we then used to at least partially drain the venom sac through the dorsal spike.
We collected about two gallons of liquid death in our five-gallon bucket, which we then sealed up with more plastic wrap and labeled VENENO and under that POISON so nobody would accidentally mess with it. The possibility of someone on-purpose messing with it was solved by leaving it next to Corporal Garza, who wasn’t all that okay with the idea until Maria had assured him that the yellow liquid in the bucket was deadly fishie venom and not some kind of weird fishie pee. People can be so strange about things like that. We felt able to safely collect samples from inside Daddy Fishie, including some from the venom sac itself, but we waited until everyone else was done with the measuring before tackling the digestive system. With a machete and a fire axe, for obvious reasons. As it turned out, though, we weren’t in any danger because Daddy Fishie was just infected with whale tapeworms, one of which Jorge measured out at 147 feet long. Which is apparently just slightly longer than normal, something he tentatively attributed to Daddy Fishie’s rich and way-too-varied diet.
Yeah, we found…well, the remains of remains, which was everyone’s cue to back away from the mountain of dead fishie and cordon off the area until the authorities could get there with some forensic specialists or at least a medical examiner. And then we dragged all of our samples up to the conference room on Three – except for the venom, which got locked in the resort’s safe with some ice packs – and got to work. Mike and Corporal Garza got to have some fun killing gigantic tapeworms with a machete while we did that, and Randy sat off to one side of our ‘working area’ and worked on the story that went with the photos he’d been taking. Sometimes he asked us questions, or got up to come see what we were looking at. None of us minded. His interest in the C-Quint-S sample spreads we were setting up got him a mini-interview with Joey, and then he got one with Jorge about what type of intervention it might take to bring the local marine environment back to anything approaching normal.
And when the phones came back on a few hours in, his first call was to his wife, not his editor. Joey’s was to Angela, Jorge called his staff, and I didn’t have to call anyone because Pete called me the minute we had a signal. Mike didn’t have to call anyone either, but that was because he’d reported in that morning before he flew out with Captain Abeyta; he just sent a text letting them know the phones were working again and that was it. We still didn’t have the capacity to do anything other than call and text, but GenoMod had been in similar situations before so that didn’t slow us down as much as you might think. I also had a text from Agent Sorenson, which simply said, The task force is on its way. Received preliminary report from M. Lucas. DO NOT DIE.
I texted back: Didn’t die, thanks. Report Update: Two terrorists in custody of Mexican authorities. Daddy Fishie is dead, still no sign of Mommy Fishie. Used fire extinguishers to kill many of the baby fishies – dry chemical very effective for that purpose, not sure about long-term environmental impact yet. I paused, sent, and typed a second text. 18 of the resort staff and 6 guests dead. Cordoned off corpse of Daddy Fishie after finding other remains in its digestive tract. Dr. Vargas says fixing environmental damage done by fishies will take years and millions.
I got an almost immediate response. You have been busy. Do you think it was Ancient Fire?
I’m as sure as I can be. What we were able to get the terrorists to tell us would support that. They were not working alone, multiple infiltrated groups seem to have been involved.
Take every precaution until we arrive. Our pilot says we will reach Cancún in two hours.
Wait, their pilot? How are you texting me while you’re in the air?
The response was a laughing emoji made of punctuation. Perks of being an international task force with our own plane.