A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 39
Island of the Snark

An abandoned island, a missing scientist…and rude guide protecting a bunch of weird animals. Even for GenoMod, this is kind of creepy.


This had to be the creepiest place I’d ever been in. And these days, that’s really saying something. This little island was beautiful and very green…but the green had grown over the abandoned houses of the old fishing village, in some places all but burying them in leaves and vines, in others just covering part of one wall or a wall and a roof, leaving the rest inexplicably bare. Green hadn’t covered the windows, though, or the open doorways, and we were all taking turns jumping, thinking we’d seen movement from those empty black holes out of the corners of our eyes.

My nose said we weren’t seeing any, and so did Joey’s and Larry’s – Larry had requested, as he called it, ‘the standard GenoMod upgrade’ a couple of months earlier, saying he was tired of feeling like he was missing out on half of every conversation. The fully human members of our party could only trust the evidence of their somewhat limited senses, though, and their fear-scents were setting me off something awful; my tail had been puffed up for a while now, and it was hard to keep my ears from going back and a little growl from invading my voice. Not that any of us wanted to talk, we didn’t. The island wasn’t completely silent, there were insects and birds, but being around the abandoned, green-eaten houses was kind of like walking through the middle of a horror movie – you just knew the jump scare was coming, and every time it didn’t everyone got a little bit more on edge.

Especially since we really weren’t sure exactly what we were supposed to be there to find on this itty-bitty abandoned island in China. There are places like this all over the world, of course, places that humanity found the need to just walk – or sometimes run – away from. Craco, Hashima, Pripyat – Ivor had been to that one on multiple occasions because of his job, and he’d said the only reason it’s still standing is because the cost of demolishing an entire abandoned, moderately radioactive city would be too high. This little village, though, just hadn’t been worth the bother. The inhabitants had left of their own free will, wanting to rejoin the modern world on the mainland, and nobody had cared about the island after that. Tourists had flocked to it for a while, but then some of the buildings had started becoming unstable and the island had been closed to casual visitors.

But then about a six weeks ago, fishermen in the area had started reporting seeing weird things. Large, colorful birds. Strange creatures swimming in the shallower water. Oddly-shaped animals wandering on the beach. The local authorities called up the food chain, were put in touch with Dr. Sing…and he apparently gave them an earful for wasting his valuable time with drunken fish stories. But the following week more sightings came in, and this time the story made it to Dr. Lee, the head of the official lab. Who promised that someone would come down to take a look, and then went looking for his former mentor/current employee Dr. Sing to find out why the first set of reports had been ignored.

He didn’t find Dr. Sing anywhere in the lab, so he went around to Dr. Sing’s house to look for him there. Dr. Sing hadn’t been there either…but he’d apparently been expecting someone to come looking for him. Dr. Lee had immediately assumed that the glittery goop he’d been splattered with probably wasn’t just there for annoyance value; he’d called the authorities and demanded full quarantine procedures for both himself and the house.

And then he’d called up the task force to let them know there might be a problem. So here we were, in a creepy abandoned fishing village off the coast of Shanghai, looking for weird shit. Possibly for a missing geneticist, too, because there were still no leads on Dr. Sing’s whereabouts. Kidnapping was unlikely, and suicide even less so. Dr. Lee had said the man had been acting odd lately, though – secretive, cranky, even paranoid. Not to mention very critical of everything his former student/present boss did, although their associates in the lab were all putting out vibes that told us there might have been a reason for that. Lee Gang was…well, the government had been putting a lot of pressure on the lab to ‘keep up’ with the rest of us and with Ancient Fire, and he wasn’t handling it very well. Two members of his staff had already quit before the current debacle, and the two he had left only smelled like they were hanging in there because they were hoping he’d crack up and one of them would get his job. It was a bad situation. And the government knew it, so they’d kept him in quarantine ‘just in case’ and asked us to go take a look at the island for them to see whether it was DIY modding, drunken fishermen, or something more sinister.

Not that they didn’t already know it wasn’t Ancient Fire – Ancient Fire does not, at least so far, attempt to play their reindeer games at home. And the military had done a flyover to make sure there wasn’t a secret base or anything hidden out there, which there wasn’t. What, you didn’t think they’d send us out without checking first, did you? And we’d been brought out to the island by a military boat, and we had two soldiers assigned to follow us around. Which wasn’t helping as much as you might think, because they were young guys and jumpy as hell too, so much so that Erik had forced them to put up their guns for fear one of them would accidentally shoot one of us.

Or shoot something that didn’t need to be shot, just because it looked weird.

I stopped, ears going up, when I heard something that sounded new, but after a second I shook my head and started walking again. “Birds,” I told everyone, waving a handpaw vaguely toward our right. “Somewhere over there, a bunch of them.”

“Did they sound agitated?”

“If they had, I would have said so.” The translator/guide they’d gotten for us…well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was a dick, but he was annoying and kind of a know-it-all. Nobody would have found that annoying if he’d actually had specialized knowledge other than having once been a tour guide on the island and being bilingual. And considering that the soldiers both had some English at their command too…well, Jin’s unfounded insistence that he knew better than everyone about everything had made me wonder if someone had sent him in hopes that something would eat him. “They were just making bird-noises.”

“But how can you be sure?”

Erik’s scent spiked. I waved my handpaw again. “Because they haven’t taken to the air, Jin, and the noise died back down again.”

He shook his head. “But how did you know they were birds?”

I couldn’t help it, I rolled my eyes. “Because they sounded like birds? They were making bird-sounds?”

“So you only think you heard birds.” Jin nodded, satisfied. “I only wanted to be sure of what you believed you had heard, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I told him, holding back the sarcasm just enough so we wouldn’t have an incident. With Jin, anyway. I could smell Joey trying not to laugh, and at least one of the soldiers was too. Erik smelled more like he was contemplating either committing murder or having a stroke, so I pulled out my phone and texted him a message: It was so birds.

Erik opened his phone, read…and then he chuckled and his scent settled down a little. It was good enough for now. I knew he’d feel better once we’d found whatever was out here, we all would. If anything was out here. We certainly hadn’t seen anything yet, or at least nothing like the reports that had come in. There’d been no tracks of anything bigger than a seabird on the beach, and no sign or scent of any animal bigger than a rabbit near any of the buildings. And the only insects we’d seen so far had been small too, just regular little bugs. I lifted my nose and sniffed. Nothing. Green. The breeze changed, I sniffed again. Birds. I pointed. “Let’s try over there, on the other side of the houses where the noise came from. Maybe whatever we’re here to find doesn’t like abandoned villages any more than I do.”

Jin’s scent spiked, it was difficult to say why. “No, that is not a good idea…”

“I think it is an excellent idea.” Erik shrugged his pack a little higher on his shoulder. “We are not finding anything here, we are only wasting our time – and the time of these soldiers,” he added, nodding to them. Which had the desired effect, because they both immediately puffed up a little, nodding back. “We will look in this direction, and if we find nothing there we will head back to the beach and return later to try an aerial survey of the island.”

Everyone except Jin was okay with that, so we left the slightly less-green area that had once been the main road through the village and filed between two of the houses, and then between two more and up a steep rise onto what might have been another road at some point. Green, green, green, with the rocky cliffs and slopes that formed the core of the island rising up like a monolith to the left. And farther off to the right, I could just barely make out a flash that was probably sun on water. A pond, maybe? Or a salt flat? Either way, most likely where the birds were congregating. “Over there, I think I see water.”

Joey came up beside me, squinting. “Yeah, I see it too. That would be a likely spot to find wildlife.” Jin kept his opinion to himself this time – I think even he could tell, at this point, that he needed to stop pushing Erik’s buttons, and we made our way up and down again to the top of the next rise, cameras and binoculars at the ready. “Bingo.”

It looked like any other watering-hole the world over, a shallow flat stretch of water positively crowded with animals. Some were seabirds, but some of the others…one looked like an oversized, untidy-feathered parrot with a turned-up beak, another looked like a fat little pelican. While we were watching, a turtle-looking creature shot out its neck and snapped up one of those, which set the other birds nearest to it hopping away but otherwise didn’t seem to have excited any of them too much. A green lizardish animal off to one side made a grab for one of the seabirds and missed, expressing its frustration by opening its jagged-toothed muppet mouth and whistle-hissing like a teakettle, lashing a long smooth tail against the grass. And over by the water’s edge, a small animal with white fur put its nose up to sniff, little paws waving in the air…and then abruptly bounded away on oversized hind legs like a jackrabbit, burrowing into the foliage and disappearing. Its departure set off some of the seabirds, and I nodded. “Okay, so those were what I heard. I don’t suppose anyone recognizes any of the other animals, do they?”

Joey shook his head, lowering his binoculars. “Parts of them, maybe. That one thing is kind of obviously part turtle, that big bird might be part shoebill, and I don’t even know where to start on the lizard with the long skinny legs and the shark teeth. They’re kind of obviously all part of the ecosystem, though.”

Erik’s eyebrows went all the way up. “Wait, you mean…”

“This could be a created ecosystem,” I confirmed. I was still filming, because two of the little pelican-looking birds had started doing what looked like a mating dance. “It’s not just one animal, it’s most of them. And possibly more we aren’t seeing. How long has this island been abandoned again?”

Jin swallowed. “Tourists were banned two…no, three years ago, because the buildings were deemed unstable.” A little waft of bitterness. “The buildings, they were fine. The tourist who fell, he was stupid and climbed a roof and fell through.”

Probably a city-dweller who hadn’t understood how a thatched roof works, then. “Yeah, that’s pretty stupid,” I agreed. “So how many illegal tours have been coming out here since then?” He tried really hard to be offended, and I lowered my camera. “Oh come on, Jin, we’re not stupid. It’s how you guys make a living. So could someone have been bringing out the people who decided this island was a good place to start a new ecosystem?”

He sulked. “That was not me.”

“Okay, but it had to have been someone.” I gestured back over the ridge. “How long have they all been here?”

“Maybe one year, not more than two.”

Joey nodded. “Are there more animals?”

Jin nodded back, a little less reluctantly. “Two, that I know of. And insects as well. One of those likes the old houses, it sleeps in them to change. It is…a worm? Not a worm, but like one.”

“A caterpillar, the kind that turns into a butterfly or a moth?” Another nod. “How big is it?” He measured up about three feet from the ground. “Um…really?”

Surprisingly, he didn’t get offended this time. “I can show you.” So we followed him back to the abandoned buildings, and to one of the houses on the back row that only had one green wall. He took us inside and gestured to the dark open doorway which led to a back room, and when I used the camera’s light to illuminate the interior of that room…well, there it was, the remains of a three-foot cocoon stuck up against the walls in the far corner. “That is an old one.”

“They’re all that big?” He shrugged. “Have you ever seen one of the caterpillars?”

Jin shook his head. “I saw a track in the grass once, which I think one of them had made. And I have seen what comes out, flying over the houses on wings like colored glass.”

“Is that what you think the fishermen were seeing, the things they said were birds?” Joey nodded when he did. “So explain something to me, Jin: Why didn’t you want us to find the animals? Were you afraid the government would keep you from bringing any more urban explorers out here?”

A shrug. “They cannot stop us. They do not care enough to try, anyway – the tourists are good for the money they bring, but if they are stupid now they cannot sue anyone for it because they are not in an approved place.” He waved it off. “I did not want the animals all to be killed. There was a man here,” he explained. “He warned us not to let the tourists know about the animals. He said the zhū tóu who runs the government laboratory would have them all killed, and possibly have the island destroyed as well, just to make sure no creatures were left alive.”

Oh shit. “Jin, was the man who told you that older, Chinese, maybe in his sixties?” He nodded warily. “I think that may have been our friend Sing Wu – Dr. Sing, he’s a geneticist. He was working for the government lab, but then he disappeared and now nobody knows where he is. You haven’t seen him recently, have you?”

He shook his head. “The tourist business has dropped off, I found other work. But when I heard stories had been told about the island, I came back to see if I could keep you from finding the animals and killing them.”

“We would not kill them, nor recommend that it be done,” Erik told him. “They are on an island. So long as they stay on the island and pose no threat to anyone, they should be allowed to stay as they are.” Jin kind of goggled at him, and he rolled his eyes. “Have people been telling you stories about us? Dr. Sing should have known better.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure Wu does know better.” I cocked an ear at him. “Jin, what does zhū tóu mean?”

“It means ‘pig-head’,” one of the soldiers answered for him when he hesitated. “A man so stubborn he makes himself stupid.” He gave Jin a look. “He called a government official that?”

“Dr. Lee is not a government official, he is a researcher,” Erik interceded quickly. “Dr. Sing was his teacher.”

“Oh.” That apparently made it all right. The soldier shrugged. “He is not wrong, about the government not caring enough to stop the tourists – we have better things to do than chase down people who only want to take pictures and cause no other trouble. And they also told us that no animals should be killed unless they were a danger.” He indicated the broken cocoon. “This did not grow a stinging or biting creature, did it?”

Jin shook his head. “They look like a moth, but with wings like a sè bōlí chuāng instead of feathered. I do not think they eat, they live only to find a mate and then they die.”

“That would be about right,” I agreed. “And even at the size they probably are, there’s no way they could fly to the mainland.” That made the soldiers relax the rest of the way. “Jin, where do you think Dr. Sing might have hidden a lab here on the island? Are there more houses up in the rocks?”

Suspicion again. “Why do you want him?”

“He did not do anything wrong,” Erik said – for the soldiers’ benefit, not just for Jin’s. “His position allows him to create creatures which are non-harmful, for the purposes of his research. But he is considered to be missing, and many are concerned about him as he is not a young man.”

Jin shrugged. “There are houses higher up, but I have never taken the tourists there. And I have not seen the man you believe to have been Dr. Sing in many months. But I can show you the way a man who is no longer young would take to go higher up.” He made a face. “He seemed like a good man. I would not want any harm to come to him.”

“We wouldn’t either,” I assured him. “So, which way do we need to go?”

 

Jin led us around the other side of the abandoned village, and around some rocks which were ‘blocking’ the path up into the central part of the island; he didn’t comment on how the rocks had gotten there so neither did we, but when Larry stopped to look at them his scent said he knew it hadn’t been a natural occurrence. What passed for a path eased its way up into the heights, squeezing between natural outcroppings of rock and ducking behind a few more conveniently-placed boulders, and finally let out into the tiny half-moon yard area of three two-story houses that were tucked securely against the rocks, shielded by trees and connected by breezeways. Nobody was there, but it was obvious that someone had been. Recently, even – the yard had been cleaned, I could still see the marks from the rake in the dirt. The house in the center had a plaque beside the door with a woodburned picture of a rabbit blowing a horn on it…but it wasn’t a Chinese-style picture, even though there was a string of characters next to it, it actually looked more like a children’s book illustration. Larry’s scent changed dramatically when he saw it. “Why would they have a picture from Alice in Wonderland on the house?”

So that’s why the picture had looked familiar. “No idea. Maybe this was a school?”

Jin shook his head. “The island did not have one; that was one reason the villagers left, because it was so inconvenient and expensive to send their children to the mainland to be educated.”

“And this plaque doesn’t look that old,” Joey put in. “It looks like something you’d buy for a kid, with their name on it next to the picture.”

“This is not a name,” Jin said. “It is an old saying, jiǎo tù sān kū, ‘a crafty rabbit has three burrows’.”

Joey made a face. “Hopefully this is number three and not number two.” He knocked on the door, but there wasn’t a sound from inside – or from the houses on either side – so he pushed down the latch and let the door swing inward, staying as much out of the way as he could. No glittery flying goop came from anywhere, though, so we all looked in. “I don’t see any booby traps.”

“And I don’t smell any.” My nose was twitching, though. “But I do smell another animal.” I stepped in and sniffed…and my tail puffed up again, but I waved Larry off. “No, it’s okay; that was an involuntary reaction, sorry. It’s just…it smells like another predator.” I went a little further in and looked up the stairs, still sniffing. “If it’s here, it’s upstairs. And I think this is the laboratory. We can’t all come in, though, there’s not room.”

“The soldiers can stay outside, to watch the doors and the path,” Erik said. “Jin, you will wait with them until we are sure it is safe.”

Jin didn’t like that. He said something in Chinese that sounded fairly insulting, and to my surprise the soldiers’ scents spiked with smug amusement instead of anger and then one of them told him something that first surprised him and then sort of made him droop like he was a little ashamed of himself. The soldier waved his hand, indicating that we should go on in, though, so I ignored that byplay and started up the stairs with Larry right behind me. The ‘other predator’ scent got stronger, and once I reached the second floor it was strong enough to make me growl and yip…but there wasn’t an animal there, there wasn’t anyone there. Larry took a deep sniff of his own and made a face. “I can smell it, but it’s not here.”

“Ditto,” Joey said. “Maybe it’s something that got into the attic.”

“It doesn’t smell like a wild animal, though. I can’t quite place it…but it’s like something I’ve smelled before, at least a little bit.” I shook myself. “It’ll come to me. Right now we need to have a look around, see if we can figure out what’s been going on here.” There was a long worktable against one wall with a stool in front of it and a pad of paper with a few loose pages on top of it in front of the stool, so I went to look at that while Joey investigated the file cabinet. There was a lab coat hanging on a peg right there by the worktable, and Dr. Sing’s lab I.D. was hanging there with it, which I pointed out to Erik. “At least we know he was here.”

He pointed out something else, a framed document hanging on the wall. “We also know he is coming back. I believe this is a deed, and his name is on it. But my next question would be, why did he not tell anyone where he was going?”

I huffed and climbed up onto the stool, making use of a stepstool that was already in position for doing just that. “My next question would be, who did he not want to know where he was going?” I looked at the papers. The one on top said, in English, ‘Please do not make a mess in my lab. The files for the creatures are in the top drawer of the cabinet if you wish to know what they are.’ And the page underneath that had a picture drawn on it of some kind of monster whose face I was pretty sure was supposed to look like Dr. Lee, and a little teddy bear-looking thing pointing and laughing at it from the margin; another look showed that what I’d originally thought was the monster’s tail was actually a stick. I rolled my eyes. “Larry, do you know what either one of these things are supposed to be?”

He’d been shadowing Joey at the file cabinet, but he came right over. The picture widened his eyes. “That’s a Jabberwock, it’s a man-eating monster. You don’t think he made one of those, do you?”

I shook my head. “No, I doubt it. What about the little bear thing?”

“That one I don’t recognize. Could it just be a bear?”

“Maybe, but the tail’s wrong and so are the ears.” The other-animal scent was bothering me again, and I suddenly realized why: It had changed. I looked back down at the stepstool, really looked at it, and this time I saw the claw scratches on the hard rubber steps. I jumped down off the stool, tail puffing up, ears flattening out, and growled. Larry damn near came right out of his skin and so did Erik and Joey, but I ignored them and shouted up at the ceiling, “You crazy bastard, what were you thinking?”

There was a twittering sort of laugh, and then a panel slid open and a furry reddish head popped out, large white-furred ears alert. One clawed handpaw was wrapped over the edge of the opening. “I was thinking I was getting old,” he said. “And my former student refused to allow me to pursue my research as I saw fit.” He climbed down the support pole in the center of the room, bushy ringed tail waving. “Now I have solved both of those problems.”

“If Dr. Lee saw you like this, you’d probably solve that problem too – because he’d drop dead of a heart attack.” I let my ears come back up and twitched my tail. “Nice drawing, by the way. Has he really been that much of a pain in the ass?”

“More. You can ask my two assistants when they return. He had said he was going to make sure they could not work again if they left him, so I hired them to work for me.” He made a little bow to Erik. “Agent Sorenson, it is a pleasure to finally meet you in person. Do not worry, I am not crazy.”

Erik blinked at him. “Dr. Sing…you have modded yourself?”

Wu nodded, ears and whiskers twitching forward. “I had been working on bringing Ailurus fulgens styani back from the edge of extinction in my spare time, so I was intimately familiar with them at the genetic as well as the physical level. They are a species uniquely suited for modifying a human being.” He held up his handpaws, flexing his thumbs. “Less tweaking is required to maintain desired characteristics, for one thing.”

Erik’s scent reflected confusion. “Why were you having to work on that in your spare time? Preservation of threatened species is written into the charter of the laboratory network. China agreed to it, just as everyone else did.”

Wu snorted, smoothing down the little blue shirt he was wearing over his little cargo shorts – children’s clothes, most likely, since he was even smaller than me now. “Lee Gang is under much pressure to advance the science, but only in certain directions and in very particular ways. I could not discover from who that pressure was coming. It was not the Ministry of Science, or at least not those there whom I know.”

Which would be most of them, because Wu used to work for the Ministry of Science. I frowned up at Erik, whose scent said he’d realized that himself. “They must know something is wrong, they kept him in quarantine and had our two other team members stay at the lab while we came out here.”

He nodded. “Dr. Sing, you own this property now?”

“I own this part. The rest of the island is under grant to me, for my research.”

Joey raised an eyebrow. “What’s with all the Alice in Wonderland references?”

That made Wu twitter-laugh again. “My own amusement, to be honest. I needed to work out some aspects of the process; using the poem of the Jabberwock gave me a framework to guide my experiments. It worked very well, as you may have seen, and now I have proof that we can rehabilitate a failing ecosystem much more quickly than standard methods currently allow. My jubjub birds, for example, breed very quickly but are quite docile and easily caught by predators, and their presence has allowed the native sea bird population to recover itself. The introduction of the bandersnatch tortoise and the rath lizards kept the jubjub birds from overflowing the island, and the borogoves keep the bandersnatches in check by eating their newly-hatched young – the rest of the time, they eat fish. I have a paper already made up, let me get you a copy.” He toddled – no other word for it – over to the filing cabinets and used another stepstool to climb up so he could get into the drawer he wanted, fluffy ringed tail waving as he dug into the files. He handed Joey a nicely bound report, then bowed to Larry. “No, I did not make the Jabberwock. I could have, but it would have eaten the rest of my creations and then hunted me, and I do not have a vorpal sword to kill it with.”

Larry smiled and bowed back. “I’m sure that would have been a problem, yes. The little white animal with the rabbit legs was a tove?”

Wu nodded. “Yes. I made them mostly just to be complete, and because I knew they would be adorable. It is too bad the season is not right for the dà jiàotáng de é to be breeding, they had just finished before you arrived. Those were not from the poem, or the story,” he said. “It had strange, ugly butterflies. I did not want to make those, so I made cathedral moths instead.” He toddled across the room again, getting his phone out of a drawer. “Here, this is what they look like when they emerge from their cocoons.”

I took the phone and looked. It was a moth, probably with about a five-foot wingspan, and those wings really did look like stained glass cathedral windows. The rest of the moth was yellow and furry, and it had bushy antennae and big black eyes. I passed the phone on. “They’re beautiful, but it’s no wonder everyone thought the fishermen who saw them were drunk. Do they serve a purpose in the ecosystem, or are they just for pretty?”

He snorted. “I made them pretty to please myself, but they have a purpose – it is just not related to the ecosystem.” He went back to the cabinet and fished out a different file, which he handed to me. “You will need to see this anyway, so you can reassure my former student that I was not creating anything dangerous. I take the eggs from the cathedral moths and process them with sap from the tum-tum trees – which I also made – to make a solution which has mild psychoactive properties. Its base form is a gelatinous suspension, but I have been perfecting a process to dry it to make an edible glitter. I believe it would be an ideal sedative for young children, as it is very mild and has no side effects to speak of, and the form it takes would make it pleasant for them to ingest.” His tail twitched. “I suppose it is too much to hope Lee Gang got enough of it on his skin to make him happy?”

“No, he thought someone was trying to infect him with something and panicked.” Which could be a clue, that the guy’s mind had immediately jumped to that conclusion. Wu’s ears went up and his tail twitched, whiskers arching forward, and I nodded. “Yeah, now that I think about it, it’s interesting that was the first conclusion he jumped to. Agent Sorenson, you might want to call the guys back at the lab and tell them to be very careful checking Dr. Lee’s lab. They might even want to get hold of Verandering, if they find any evidence of viral research we’re going to need Dr. Akker.”

“True, you will,” Wu agreed. “I do not work with the bìngdú, that is for a young man with nerves of steel.” His whiskers twitched again, and his ears flatted out a little. “But I am not amused that he thought I would do such a thing.”

“I wouldn’t be either.” I shared a look with Joey, who grimaced but nodded, and shook my head. “Wu, he’s been trying to make it sound like you were…behaving erratically. The two people left in the lab didn’t back him up on that, but it’s a narrative he seems to have been prepared to push.”

Wu’s fur bristled and his tail puffed up; his little claws extended a bit more and then retracted again. “He has been trying to make people think I am senile?!”

“Or crazy, yeah,” Joey confirmed. “At least, that’s what it sounded like to us. If it’s any consolation, the authorities seem to think he’s the one with the problem, not you.”

“He will have one, if I ever come face to face with him again.” Wu snorted, just a tiny bit of a growl coming out. “That góu zaĭ zi! I was his teacher!”

“And now you are his rival,” Erik pointed out. “Are you safe on the island, Dr. Sing? Should we leave someone here for your protection, until your assistants return?”

Wu’s ears went up. “You suspect it has gone that far?”

“There is no way of knowing how far it has gone,” Erik said, his scent emphasizing how worried that was making him. “I would leave Dr. Darling, but I believe someone should be here who appears fully human.”

That made Wu bristle, and I rolled my eyes. “Get used to it,” I told him. “Even once the Ministry knows it’s you, you’re still going to have problems with specists and genetic purists – or just with people being assholes. Your assistants weren’t planning to change, were they?”

“No. At least, not any time soon.” He took his phone back from Joey and climbed up onto the stool. “As I was planning to spend most of my time on the island, however, I had not thought this would be a problem. I will call someone I know at the Ministry and explain what is going on while you contact your people, Agent Sorenson. Who would stay here?”

“I would, but I don’t speak Mandarin,” Joey said. “We could leave Jin, he was already trying to protect you.” Wu cocked a questioning ear. “Do you remember talking to one of the less-than-legal guides who was bringing tourists out here, you told him that if anyone found out about the animals Dr. Lee would have them all killed? He came along as our translator, he was trying to protect you and the animals from us. You could probably do worse than putting him on the payroll for a little while.”

“Hmm. I do remember him – he spoke to his tourists like they were very stupid children, it was amusing. He is here now?”

“He’s downstairs with the two soldiers they sent to guard us. Where’s your laptop? While you call the Ministry, I can update your profile photo in the forum and let everyone know you’ve been found and you’re safe at the same time – we’d put the word out that you were missing before we came out here, everyone’s worried.”

Wu wrinkled up his nose, whiskers twitching. “I will apologize for that. I had to move quickly to safeguard my animals, and my research, but I should have notified someone so as not to cause panic.” He waved toward the filing cabinet. “It is in the bottom drawer. I will make my call while you get it out.”

He pulled out a stylus to dial with, and I made a mental note to send him some of the conductive nail polish I use. “Larry, let’s go tell the rest of our search party what’s going on,” I said, heading for the stairs. “The soldiers can radio it in that we’ve found Dr. Sing and he’s at home on his own property, that should get the official investigation called off…”

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