What do you say to a bad Sasquatch who wants to come home?
Everybody was working, it was a quiet day in the lab, and so when the phone rang the sound had about the same effect as a window being broken. Dave recovered first and answered it. “GenoMod Labs, Dr. Montoya speaking. What can we do for you? Yeah…yeah…oh, that. Yes, that’s a modded human, we know they’re…what? You mean he…oh. Okay, yeah, he’s here, one second.” He muted the call and handed me the phone. “Kathmandu is calling, Danny. A British expedition up there was apparently approached by a Yeti that wanted to borrow someone’s phone. You’re the one he wants to talk to.”
Oh, I knew who that was. I unmuted the call. “Hello, this is Dr. Darling…oh yes, I know what he looks like, but he’s a modded human and his name is Roger…oh, he told you? That’s interesting, I’m surprised he did that. What?!” My ears went straight up. “He said…you know what, put Roger on speaker, would you? Oh no it’s not, I want everyone to hear this conversation.” I turned on speaker myself and waited for the click from the other end, heard a grunt. “Roger, what are you doing?”
Another grunt and a huff. “I want to come home! You guys shouldn’t have sent me out here. And now people like me can get I.D. and stuff, so I want to come home.”
“I don’t suppose you told your new friends who sent you to Nepal, did you? Or why?”
“You sent me out here to punish me!”
“The authorities rehomed you there, because you were violent,” I corrected. “Because you broke into a bunch of houses and tried to attack a forest ranger, not to mention you faked your own suicide to become a Sasquatch in the first place. After you assaulted an underage girl and she killed herself, remember?”
Dead silence. “I didn’t get a trial.”
“You got two trials for the girl. You couldn’t get a trial for the rest of it because there was no way to hold you or sentence you – that was why they went the vicious animal route and rehomed you. What happened to Myra?”
“She’s still…around.” More silence, then it poured out. “She got all into their religion and stuff! I’m not interested in that, so I took off to do my own thing.”
“Stealing from the monks, raiding campsites, scavenging dead hikers maybe?” I suggested, and could almost hear the pout. “Roger, go back home to the monks. You know damn good and well you can’t survive on your own, especially not up there. And if you’ve opened those monks up to harassment by being a spoiled asshole, I am personally coming up there and overmodding you with a duck. Do we understand each other?”
More pouting, the beginnings of a growl, and then a few somewhat threatening clicks in the background and an eep from Roger. “He did what now?” a different British voice asked, very politely. “I don’t believe we heard the full story about this.”
“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t.” I sat back in my chair. “You’re looking at Roger Kramer, the American basketball player who was – apparently falsely – accused of having sex with an underage girl. Her parents did eventually cop to making the story up to get money. But Roger is kind of a dumbass, so he decided that if he was going to be accused maybe he should just go there anyway…”
“I didn’t have sex with her!”
“No, but you did drug her, strip her, and take raunchy pictures of her – which you then threatened her with releasing publicly if she didn’t admit to lying the first time. She was too scared to testify against you, and after the trial went bust she committed suicide.”
A couple more telling clicks. “I would sit back down, Roger,” someone else said, just as politely. “If an animal attacks up here, we shoot it and throw the carcass down a crevasse.” A pause. “Wait, you wouldn’t be the same Dr. Darling that was on the cover of Time, would you?”
“One and the same,” I admitted. It was a really amazing photo Randy had taken; he’d lucked out and gotten me standing on top of the wall around the pool area at the resort in Cancun, filming Daddy Fishie’s triumphant march up out of the water with my phone. “You have video chat up there? I can turn on my camera on this end.”
“We’ve probably got enough signal for that.” I switched over to video, and after a couple minutes of fussing the feed came up and I was looking at a cabin full of assorted British guys and a rough-looking American Sasquatch who screamed – actually screamed – when he saw me. They all laughed at him for it, too. “I take it news travels slowly in the wilderness,” one of them quipped, a middle-aged man who was sporting the kind of photogenic stubble you usually don’t see on a real person in real life. “Dr. Darling, pleasure to make your acquaintance. Dr. Royce Gerard, I’m a wildlife biologist. We were up here to study Himalayan brown bears, and then Roger found us. I thought at first he might be part bear, but on closer observation he doesn’t have any characteristics that I recognize.”
I nodded. “The geneticist who made him this way is kind of a free agent, so I don’t have the exact details of Roger’s mod. But we know it was orangutan and mountain gorilla topped off with Asian yak.”
Roger scowled. It was still a pout. “I’m still a person!”
“Nobody said you weren’t – well, except for the wildlife guys, but that was because you were being a pain in their collective ass,” I told him. “I repeat, Roger: You were rehomed to Nepal for your own safety, and as an alternative to having you put down for the crimes you’d committed because there was no way to try you in court at the time. You are staying in Nepal. Oh, and since we already know Doc doesn’t like you…if you did compromise those monks, you’d better hope literally anyone else gets to you before he does.”
Dr. Gerard stepped back in at that point. “Should we deliver him back to them?”
Hmm. “Let me check.” Dave had already looked him up, he was legitimately a wildlife biologist who mainly studied high-altitude predatory mammals like bears and wolves. He’d been all over the world, his team had even been featured by National Geographic once. “You could try, but I’d be careful. The monks are protecting an area the locals rely on, from what I was told. It might be better to find some of those locals and have them show you where the paths are, then deliver Roger there.”
“We do have a Newali guide,” one of the others said. “He could probably give us that information.”
“He probably will if you explain the situation,” Dr. Gerard agreed. “Let them know Roger here is a criminal who escaped from the monks and we need to deliver him back into their custody as soon as possible. Or he and his people can do it if they’d rather.”
Roger made to stand back up. “No! You can’t do that, I’ll just…”
Freeze and slowly sink back down, apparently, when the barrel of Dr. Gerard’s pistol came to rest against his temple. “I. Said. Sit.” Gerard ordered. “I have two daughters back home, and everyone else has families as well. You’ve no friends here, Roger.”
Roger went back to pouting. I waited, making small-talk with Dr. Gerard and his team until the other guy came back. With a coil of rope in his hands, which they used to tie Roger’s paws in front of him; you only get handpaws if Doc likes you. “The guide says he knows of this one, there’s a reward for his capture and return. I told him we’d be more than happy to let them collect it.”
“We would,” Gerard agreed. He caught Roger’s eyes and held them. “If I ever see you again, I’m going to shoot you and then piss on your corpse before I toss it down the nearest bottomless crack in the Earth’s crust. And if I ever hear that you’ve approached another hiking party, I’m going to collect Dr. Darling from the States and help him make good on his threat. So if you don’t want to die or spend the rest of your life with a duck’s bill, you’ll be a good Sasquatch and stay where you were put, won’t you?”
Roger growled. “Doc can hear you, Roger,” I warned him. “He’s always had our lab and our phones bugged. You want to know what Doc will do to you? Joey! Bring me that picture of the agent you and Pete got called out for, would you?”
“Before or after?”
He came trotting over a minute later with a binder; when he saw the screen, he grinned and waved. “Hey, Royce. Still in Nepal?”
Dr. Gerard had holstered his gun, and he laughed. “Can’t seem to stay away. I heard you finally ceded to the siren’s call, Joey – we’ll have to catch up at the next conference.”
“We will,” Joey agreed. “But today we’re having show and tell for Roger’s benefit, so he knows what Doc does to people who really piss him off.” He flipped open the binder, found the photo he wanted and held it up for the camera. “That used to be a rogue federal agent, Roger. He pissed Doc off…a lot.”
Roger’s response was a whimper. Dr. Gerard leaned closer. “My god, was that what I think it was? The girls keep showing me lists of ‘animals that shouldn’t exist’ which include those odd little moles.”
“That was it,” Joey confirmed. “We overmodded him for humanitarian reasons,” he flipped the page, “and he’s being taken care of by a zoo now.”
Dr. Gerard nodded. “Kind of you. If that was the perpetrator of the incident I’m thinking of, we’re going to have to make you an honorary Englishman for showing such extreme self restraint.”
Roger was all but petrified now. “He can’t…think, right?”
Joey closed the binder. “He couldn’t before, that was why we did it. You, on the other hand…dude, there is no way Doc would be that nice. If you could call it nice, since we’re pretty sure he kept that guy awake for the whole process – the end result was probably supposed to be a warning to the rest of them.”
“You were safe with the monks, Roger,” I reminded him. “I’d get back to them as fast as that guide can take you.”
Ooh, that got a scowl-pout. “I wasn’t lost!”
“Sure you weren’t – because you weren’t planning to go back. Now, however, you’re lost.” I smirked at him. “Thank goodness you’ve got a guide available, huh? I wouldn’t give him any trouble, Roger. The faster you get back home – and the more you keep your mouth shut – the more likely you are to stay alive and thinking.” He didn’t have a response for that, although he looked like he was trying to come up with one, and one of Dr. Gerard’s people led him out of the cabin while another one followed with a gun at the ready, just in case. I couldn’t blame them for taking that precaution. “If you have to kill him, try to have someone return the body to the monks,” I requested. “They requested the remains of the other male American Sasquatch the rangers had to shoot, so they’d probably want Roger too.”
Dr. Gerard snorted. “I suppose it’s good somebody does. Was he that bad before?”
I nodded. “According to Doc, yeah – Doc said he didn’t actually expect Roger to survive in the wild the first time around, especially with the rewards that are out there for proof that Bigfoot exists.”
That got another snort. “He’d be less of a whiny prat stuffed, there’s no question about that. You’ll do me the favor of not repeating that sentiment at conference, Joey. They’re constantly accusing me of being a trophy hunter as it is.”
“Only Carl says that,” Joey corrected him. “Did we ever figure out why he became a biologist? Because it seems like his first thought when it comes to any human-animal interaction is either sex or death.”
“I think he just hates humans,” was Dr. Gerard’s answer. “Except for himself, of course – I pity the man’s wife, he must be a real joy at parties.” He checked his phone. “I’d best be shutting this down, or I’ll need a new grant just to pay the roaming charges. Dr. Darling, pleasure to finally meet you, and I’ll send word if I hear any more about Roger. And Joey, if you bring your fiancée to the next conference I’ll bring my wife, I’m sure we can squeeze a double-date in there somewhere.”
“Sure, but you’ll have to help me keep her from killing Carl – one crack about inappropriate relations with the selkies and she’d probably drown him in the nearest fountain.” He waved. “Stay alive, Royce.”
“You do the same, Joey.”
The connection shut down, and the phone immediately dinged with an incoming text. “Doc says he thinks a duck bill would look good on Roger, he suggests one of the blue-billed ones. And he warned me that we may get a call from that area sooner rather than later anyway if the reindeer moss problem starts showing up there. He apparently warned the monks to be on the lookout for it after everyone already involved realized it was spreading.”
“Dammit.” Dave pulled up the special program Interpol had given us and checked the forum for new messages. “Last word from Canada was that they haven’t seen any new sites pop up recently but they also haven’t seen any recovery – that was a week ago. Russia responded that they were able to introduce their third attempt at a modified lichen into an infected area and it’s still alive, they’re going to keep everyone posted on its progress.” He hopped to a different discussion area. “Maria says the Mexican Navy found a swimming pool’s worth of fishie eggs under a ledge and contained the area. I guess Jorge is back out there to study them and he suggested they call on one of Japan’s whalers for help tracking down Mommy Fishie. Japan responded that they’d be happy to help if someone could please tell Greenpeace not to attack the fucking boat on its way over there.”
Joey’s eyebrows went up. “Was that profanity yours or Kaito’s?”
“Kaito’s.” Dave did a little more digging. “Apparently they went after one that he was on, he was out there trying to track down a whale some people from a nearby trawler had reported as behaving oddly, they thought it might be injured or sick.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck – everywhere else too – and he nodded without looking. “Yeah, responding now. He just posted this morning. Dr. Sing already asked him if that was the only possible sighting and he said no other sightings of a ‘sick whale’ have been reported.” That had Pete opening up a new window and starting his special search program. “Fingers crossed Kaito is right about that and he’s not just sucking at using his computer again.”
“He told me once that his mother typed all his papers for him while he was in school,” I put in. Don’t get the wrong idea, Kaito Fujiwara is hot stuff at what he does – which is modding – but he’s years younger than the rest of us and he owns the ‘spoiled only child’ stereotype pretty hard sometimes. Introducing him to Maria is going to be the highlight of whatever year that happens in, believe me.
Dave finished adding his two cents to the forum, letting Kaito know that we’d put one of Pete’s search algorithms on the trail of his whale, and he was just signing out when his watch dinged. “Huh, my first alarm didn’t go off. We’re supposed to meet the realtor on the property in thirty minutes to sign paperwork, and then the contractor is going to meet us there an hour after that to discuss the blueprints for the new lab.” He turned around in his chair, pulling his tie up. “I’m ready.”
He’d pretty much been ready all day, honestly. Joey looked himself up and down. “You’re not ready,” I told him. “Put on a shirt that doesn’t say ‘Official F.A.P. Squad Member’.”
He flicked my ear. “Not like I was going to clean cages in a dress shirt. Pete! Put on your big boy clothes, we have to go close the deal on our not-so-secret hideout.”
He headed for the closet where he and Pete keep their ‘company clothes’ and I shucked off my lab coat and hurried upstairs to get a sports coat and a tie, thumping on the middle step three times to let Hana know we needed to get going; everybody was going to have their own piece of this property, so everybody had to be there to sign. Hana and Barry already had blueprints of their own for having their house built, which they would be discussing with the contractor today too. Joey and Angela were waiting until later for that and Pete was still trying to decide what kind of house he wanted, so the guys and I were all going to be living in the main building for the time being. Did I mention this property had been a sort of vacation retreat once? It’s sitting on acres of land, and the main building is already set up to hold multiple guests. There’s also a stable and a few little guest houses that we figure we can use when other scientists come to visit the lab – or when Angela is here to be with Joey or Dave’s dad comes to check on us or other members of the task force are here working. The buildings all need some TLC because the property has been sitting empty for a while, but we already have someone lined up to do that. And next week we’ll be talking to someone about getting internet service out there.
Assuming we don’t get called out on another mod emergency, that is.
I quickly brushed myself down, then used the mirror to straighten my tie and smooth down the fur between my ears before hurrying back downstairs. Dave and Joey were bringing the SUV around, Barry was going to meet us there, Pete was still primping. He was nervous, we all were. This was a big day, a big step. We own the building the lab is in, yes, but none of us have ever owned a home before – hell, I haven’t even had my own apartment in years, and Dave and I were only living in the lab thanks to a grandfathered-in waiver down at the zoning office. It seemed strange and even a little scary to think that in an hour or so we’d be co-owners of our own ‘forever home’ and in six weeks we could be living there.
Kind of like it had been strange and scary to see myself on the front cover of Time magazine last month, even if I had been facing away from the camera at the time. I stopped to look at the framed copy we have hanging on the wall out in front. It really was an amazing, dramatic photo: a scientist in a ripped, bloody lab coat standing on top of a wall, ears on high alert, tail bristling, holding up his phone in one handpaw to record the gigantic beast that had been Daddy Fishie wading up out of the water with eating on its mind. The cover title read ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE APOCALYPSE, and the article inside was all about the fishies and the work we’d all done to figure them out and stop Ancient Fire – and how it could easily happen or already be happening again somewhere else. Randy is a war correspondent; he’d seen what was going on in a way I don’t think the rest of us had completely registered up until that point, he’d seen it as the first all-out attack in what was probably going to be a very long, very messy war.
So the new place? Not just a not-so-secret hideout to keep the tabloid reporters and the ignorant protesters a little farther away from our front door. Not just the home of our own that was going to be a first for all of us. It was also going to be our base, our command center, the U.S. hub of Interpol’s Task Force 27.
Hana came out of her room wearing a ‘business’ dress, meaning instead of being a cute pastel print decorated with two pounds of lace and precisely-placed coordinating bows it was a solid, rich blue with white lawn collar, cuffs and sash and only one fluffy bell-shaped petticoat underneath. She squealed in mock-outrage and bounced over to me to fuss with my tie, and I had to smile. Can’t forget, the new place is also going to be the new home of the famous bunnygirl519, her fashion mini-empire, and her soon-to-be-bunny husband – and her number-one public relations assistant, of course.