1. Chapter 1 by Carycomic
2. Chapter 2 by Carycomic
3. Chapter 3 by Carycomic
4. Chapter 4 by Carycomic
5. Chapter 5 by Carycomic
6. Chapter 6 by Carycomic
7. Chapter 7 by Carycomic
8. Chapter 8 by Carycomic
9. Chapter 9 by Carycomic
10. Chapter 10 by Carycomic
11. Chapter 11 by Carycomic
12. Chapter 12 by Carycomic
13. Chapter 13 by Carycomic
14. Chapter 14 by Carycomic
15. Chapter 15 by Carycomic
16. Chapter 16 by Carycomic
17. Chapter 17 by Carycomic
18. Chapter 18 by Carycomic
19. Chapter 19 by Carycomic
20. Chapter 20 by Carycomic
21. Chapter 21 by Carycomic
A homage to one of my favorite stories at the Old Archive.
* * * * *
The name is Ken Schuyler. And, for me, it all began at the University of Saint Augustine in St. John's County, Florida, in the spring of 1980. I was a post-graduate student, there, working towards my Master of Science degree in zoology. And, while having a late lunch at the Student Union, between classes, I was approached by my zoology professor; Noah Stewart.
"Ken! Oh, I'm so glad I finally found you."
"What's the matter, professor?"
His face was flushed red, and he was breathing pretty hard. As if he had just been caught outside the undergrad girls' dorm, peeking at some topless sunbathers!
"I need you to double-check something for me," he whispered: "You know how I was doing some field work, in the Lake George area of Volusia County, last week? Well, I think I found a previously unknown subspecies of...Gerrhonotus infernalis!"
"Texas alligator lizards? This far eastward?!"
"I've got half a dozen specimens up in my lab, right this second. I just need independent corroboration that they aren't simply someone's escaped pets!"
So, I wolfed down the remainder of my lunch and off we went. Sure enough; all six were up there. Every single one of them having been anesthetized, and placed in a white-painted metal tray, flat on their backs. So, I picked up a magnifying glass sitting next to the first such tray and began my examination.
By the time I reached the sixth specimen, I was muttering to myself.
"This can't be possible. This can't be possible!"
So, I double-checked...and triple-checked.
Finally, I turned to Professor Stewart and said:
"I don't how to tell you this, sir. But, these aren't alligator lizards. They're true gators. And, not newly-hatched offspring, either! Because, despite each of them being five inches long,...THEY ALL HAVE THE REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS OF FULL-GROWN ADULTS!!"
The professor immediately sat down, heavily, and sighed.
"Then, there's no longer any doubt of it. They were right!"
Naturally, I did not fail to notice his use of the plural.
" 'They?' " I repeated.
He nodded: "I took these reptiles to three different veterinarians, randomly selected from the phone book. None of them knowing about the other two. Same identical findings, each time. Yet, I asked for your input, just to be a hundred percent sure!"
I looked back at the specimens and spread my arms wide.
"But, how on Earth is this possible?!" I exclaimed: "Even an insular subspecies of dwarf caiman wouldn't get this small as adults!"
"No, definitely not. That's why I think we should adjourn to my office and try to see if we can find out the how-and-why."
Five minutes later, we were doing a Boolean search on his new TRS-80 computer with color TV monitor. Using the terms "hypothyroid" and "reptile" as our parameters, as we had both agreed, right from the start, that using the word "shrinkage" would only result in multiple references to laundry problems! And even then, it took us an additional, eye-straining two hours to catch our first break.
"Professor? I think I have something!"
"What is it?"
"An abstract referring to an old NATIONAL LINNAEAN article about the Scott-Davis Expedition of 1900."
He quickly grabbed up a nearby notepad and pencil.
"What's the exact citation?"
"April issue; 1901 (pp.247-309)."
"Excellent!" he exclaimed (scribbling it all down like it was the private telephone number of our football team's hottest cheerleader): "That means we're bound to have a copy on microfilm."
The professor was right. The campus library had multiple microfilmed copies, of the National Linnaean Society's monthly journal, extending all the way back to the debut issue cover-dated "January, 1885!" So, it was comparatively easy for the assistant reference librarian on duty to find us the one particular reel we were looking for. And, once she had put it on the viewer for us, it took us only ten minutes of alternating fast-forward with normal speed to find it.
NATIONAL LINNAEAN JOURNAL (v. 16; issue #4) from April of 1901. With a cover story entitled "Unusual Fauna of the South Seas" by Professors Homer Davis and James Winthrop Scott of the American Museum of Natural History.
The expedition had been a zoogeographical one. The museum wishing to expand its collection by doing a photographic exhibition centered around endemic animal species of the world (as it was, then, known). I'll spare you most of the details, as they would only bore a non-zoologist. But, there were two details that definitely piqued the interest of myself and Professor Stewart!
At one point in the article, Professor Davis cited how their ship (the S.S. Bella Bella ) had visited Fatu Huku in the Marquesas. There, they found an interesting fossil embedded in one of the island's rocks.
"It was remarkably intact," wrote Davis: "And, initially, I thought it might be a new species of prehistoric seahorse. For the head was most certainly equine in shape! But, then, James noted how snake-like the body was. More like that of the modern greater pipefish. So, he thought we might be looking at a mutual ancestor of both Hippocampus and Syngnathus!"
"It was only then I noticed the barbed tail."
"I pointed this out to James; asking him if it reminded him of anything. And he nodded. He said it looked more like the dorsal spine of a scorpionfish than the venomous barb of a stingaree's tail!"
"Alas! We could find no other such fossils on the island. So, we were forced to conclude that this species (which we named Protosyngnathus manticora) was not only extinct. But, that this particular specimen had been the last of its kind when it died!"
"The museum shall have to be content with the chipped-out section of rock bearing the fossil, itself."
Professor Stewart and I then fast-forwarded to the really crucial spot. The one detailing what they found after being driven off course, by a freak storm, while en route to the southern Gilberts in Micronesia.
"It is morning. And we find ourselves offshore of a volcanic island that is evidently uncharted. At least, Captain Pomeroy has never seen it before! And, as we are in need of fresh water and provisions, he is sending the ship's cook ashore with a small hunting and fishing party."
Scott and Davis were among the volunteers for that party. The latter fishing in the lagoon, with two of the crewmen, while the former went inland with everyone else. And, as it turns out, it was Davis who caught the biggest game. A leatherback sea turtle!
He gave a flowery description of how much effort he and the two crewmen had to exert to land that turtle. But what really mattered, to me and Professor Stewart, was the description of what happened aboard the ship, later on, when the cook started preparing turtle soup for the evening mess.
"James and I were astounded to learn that the turtle had still been carrying the half-digested remains of a Cyanea capillata.* And, apparently, a tiger-striped variety, at that!"
"Cookie was naturally quite startled when it came sliding out with the rest of the turtle's innards. Consequently, he grazed himself with one of the nematocystic tentacles! But, he's alright. Dr. Hathaway responded with creditable urgency and applied a poultice to the wound."
The next day, however?
"It's incredible. When Cookie woke up this morning, he found his clothes ill-fit him. They were, at least, one size too big! So, Dr. Hathaway gave him a full physical. And, he found Cookie was not only twenty pounds lighter than the last time he had weighed him. He was also a foot shorter!"
"We are at a loss to explain it, except that it must be a side effect of the jellyfish venom. 'If so,' remarked the doctor, '...we might very well have found a cure for the hyperthyroid disorder called acromegaly.' "
"Towards that end, we have preserved as much of the jellyfish, in formaldehyde, as possible."
*Cyanea capillata: the lion's mane jellyfish.
The NATIONAL LINNAEAN article (about the Scott-Davis Expedition of 1900) ended with the S.S. Bella Bella getting back on course. This time, bound for Canterbury Island. An outlier of the Marshall Islands, roughly two hundred fifty miles east of the Ratak Archipelago, that had briefly been the subject of a dispute between the United States, Great Britain, and pre-WWI Germany.*
"The Kaiser's government finally bowed to political pressure," continued Professor Davis: "And, now the island plays host to an Anglo-American whaling station-turned-penal colony. The inmates of which work at hard labor harvesting guano for their respective mother countries' munitions industries!"
"Immediately upon our arrival, there, we went to the colony's hospital wing with Cookie...who had subsequently shrunken to a height of three feet tall. A good two feet shorter than the cabin boy!"
"Needless to say, our explanation for his diminuition was greeted with overly healthy skepticism by the American and British medical officers. They refused to examine the remains of the jellyfish. And they gave Cookie, himself, only the most cursory of physicals. Finally diagnosing his hypothyroid stature as the result of intestinal parasitism...by Kudoa thyrsites!"
" 'Arrogant imbeciles!' James growled (under his breath): "Sea squirts have more brains than they do!!' "
"Suffice it to say that the best consolation we could give, to poor Cookie, was to name the jellyfish after him. C. capillata gundersoni. From his real name; Olaf Gunderson (from the Northwest Angle of Minnesota)! Worry not, though."
"As this article goes to print, James and I have each received a letter from him. Cookie is now gainfully employed as an acrobatic dwarf clown for the Wilder and Woolley Circus. Using the skills he learned as a young high climber, in the logging camps of Canada (prior to his conscription by the U.S. Navy as a topsail man during the Civil War), to swing from one rope to another as...'Norbubu! The Missing Link of Mato Grosso.' "
"As for the remains of C. capillata gundersoni? We took it upon ourselves to carefully examine them under a microscope. And we found something most unexpected swimming around in the water droplets we put on each of the glass slides."
"Bear animalcules...apparently totally unfazed by immersion in the formaldehyde!"
"I looked at James as soon as I had confirmed for him that he was not seeing things. And I asked him, straightforwardly, if he thought these things had been living endoparasticially within the jellyfish. And, also, if they might have been contributors to Cookie's condition. He replied that there was only one way to be sure."
" 'As soon as the exhibition is over, we start planning on how to persuade the museum to finance another expedition. Back to that island!' "
That was where the old article ended. So, I started rewinding the microfilm. While that was in progress, I looked at Professor Stewart.
"Well? What do you think?"
He massaged his chin, very thoughtfully, for a few moments. Then, he nodded to himself, as if he had finally made up his mind.
"We go back to my lab and euthanize one of those shrunken gators...for a necropsy."
*Ratak Archipelago: the eastern half of the Marshalls.
Kudoa thyrsites: a myxosporidian parasite notorious for almost totally liquefying the internal organs of fish (usually salmon and trout).
High climber: a lumberjack who specializes in sawing the uppermost branches of exceptionally tall trees.
Mato Grosso: at one time, the most unexplored part of the Amazon Rain Forest.
Bear animalcule: obsolete term for the microbe now more commonly known as "the water bear" and/or "the tardigrade." And which has been proven to be able to survive in almost any kind of hostile environment. Even the vacuum of orbital space!
Necropsy: veterinary equivalent of an autopsy.
* * * * *
Once again, I'll try to be concise. Lest I sicken the stomach of some squeamish animal rights' activist. And I mean the ultra-naive kind who seem to prefer to think it was divine inspiration--rather than systematic experimentation--that led to the virtual elimination of all those diseases once deemed "incurable."
We chose the crankiest of the shrunken gators. Euthanizing him with an extra dose of the same anesthetic that had merely knocked him out, once before. Once we confirmed he was dead, we turned him on his back and made the requisite incision. And, if we had been in Las Vegas, playing slot machines at that moment, I would have yelled "Jackpot!"
Because we lucked out. Inside that shrunken gator, we found two items: a shark's dorsal fin; and a turtle shell!
"I don't suppose that fin came off a sand tiger pup," was my opening remark.
Professor Stewart shook his head, peering down through a magnifying glass.
"Adult bull shark. And this...looks like the shell of a loggerhead turtle."
I couldn't resist my next comment.
"Caretta caretta, or Macrochelys temminckii?* "
He gave me a half-serious look-of-daggers.
"The former, of course! You can tell by the plastron. Although, it's the carapace I find more intriguing. Look!"
It was now my turn to peer through the magnifying glass. And, sticking to the top side of the shell were a bunch of invertebrate organisms with a number of string-like tendrils.
"Hydroids?" I asked.
He shook his head: "More like the polyps of upside-down jellies. But, the only way to make sure is to subject this to some electron photomicroscopy."
That proved a little more difficult, as the electron microscope in the microbiology lab of the pre-med building was in demand quite often by other divisions of the Science Department. Luckily for us, however, Professor Stewart had a former undergrad student working in that lab. Miss Shawna Kozlowski!
Man! Was she a looker. Auburn hair; blue eyes; and a pair of spectacles with frames that were only half as attractive as her own.
I can now understand why the professor's ex-wife had been so paranoid of her. Shawna, herself, was certainly more than understanding when she took the professor's explanation (for our urgently wanting to use the electron microscope) at face value.
"I appreciate your doing this for us, Shawna," the professor told her: "More than any words can say."
"Don't mention it, sir. Part of me still wishes there had been some merit to your ex-wife's accusations!"
I steadfastly kept my eyes glued to the endoscopic TV monitor attached to the electron microscope. While, at the same time, Professor Stewart put the beaker of water he had inserted the shell into within range of the electron gun.
Thirty seconds later, we were looking at the turtle shell at 150 K x-magnification.
"You were right, professor. These are definitely jelly polyps Look at the bells! Where what should be the apexes are adhered to the carapace."
Shawna turned the magnification up to one hundred eighty thousand times, as I let the professor supersede me at the monitor. And, the next moment, I heard him gasp.
"Tiger stripes," he muttered: "C. capillata gundersoni!"
Whereupon, he signaled to Shawna to deactivate the electron microscope, while I shut off the reel-to-reel videotape recorder. He then stood up and doffed his lucky straw fedora, while simultaneously withdrawing a handkerchief from his left rear pocket to mop his brow.
"OK," he began (after collecting himself): "Let's deduce the chain of events based on the evidence we have so far. Somewhere offshore, a loggerhead was attacked and eaten by a bull shark. A loggerhead whose shell was veritably festooned with polyps of a jellyfish supposedly endemic to an uncharted Micronesian island!"
"Then, for some reason," I continued for him: "...that shark started making its way up the St. John's River. Upon entering Lake George, it was attacked by half a dozen gators! No doubt in instinctive defense of their territory."
"As a result of which," the professor finished up: "...the nematocysts of the tentacles, not yet digested by the shark, went to work on the gators. Which indicates what?"
Shawna beat me to it.
"That the mysterious element of their venom, responsible for the shrinkage, can go up the food chain. Just like mercury!"
"Exactly. Which is why we _have_ to find the island where the holotype specimen came from!"
"That's going to be somewhat difficult," I replied: "Don't you think? Seeing as how neither Scott nor Davis divulged the exact co-ordinates of the island in their original article."
That's when the professor lit up with an enigmatic smile.
"But, they did mention someone who might have bequeathed _knowledge_ of those co-ordinates to one of his descendants. Stay here! I have to make a phone call."
"To who?" I demanded (as politely as possible).
"Douglas Naughton," he called back as he closed the lab door behind him.
Shawna and I looked at each other in mutual perplexity over the last part of that statement. You see, Douglas Naughton...
...had been Hortense Stewart's divorce lawyer.
*Caretta caretta: the loggerhead sea turtle.
M. temminckii: the alligator snapping turtle (inexplicably aka "the loggerhead").
Plastron: underside of a turtle shell.
Carapace: the surface of any shell, in general.
* * * * *
In the days that followed, the method to Professor Stewart's "madness" soon became clear. He had contacted his ex-wife's lawyer in order to get the name of the private detective who had done most of Doug Naughton's leg work for "Stewart v. Stewart!" The reason?
The professor wanted to hire that guy to do a little genealogical research.
You see, it had occurred to him that Olaf "Cookie" Gunderson might have eventually married one of his fellow circus performers, back in the early 1900's. If so, he probably had one or two grandchildren still with the circus. And, if so, they might have been told the "bedtime story" of how their grandfather acquired his dwarfism.
And, as it turns out, the professor was right.
Cookie's granddaughter, Olivia Gunderson, had married a third-generation French trapezist named Eugene Saucier back in 1953. The two of them eventually becoming the parents of three children of their own. All five of whom now performed on the trapeze as (I'm dead serious here)...
...The Flying Sauciers.
That was why Professor Stewart and I went down to the amusement park called Circus World, near Sarasota, Florida. Though the place has gone out of business long since, back then, that was where circus families kept their skills sharp during winter break. By performing for tourists escaping all the ice and snow up north! In other words, the Flying Sauciers were putting on a pre-season exhibition of their newest routines. And, I had to admit, they were very good. Especially, the oldest of the three children.
Twenty-five year-old Celeste Saucier!
Because, in addition to the moves and leaps she did with the rest of her family, she also had a solo routine involving "the web" (circus slang for a rope with a hand-hold noose tied in the middle of it). And the slow-motion gyrations she performed on it were...well, let me put it this way.
The professor smilingly accused me of not blinking. Even once! I told him it was because I hadn't wanted to miss a single second of her routine. He countered by saying:
"I'm sure her bikini-like costume had nothing to do with it."
"Well, I'm no fashion expert. But, even I have to admit that blondes look great in red!"
He nodded (with a sarcastic gleam in his eye): "Oh, yes. Of course!"
Anyway, we made our way to the base of the web, which had been grounded by Steve Saucier (the first-born of her twin younger brothers).
"Sorry, gents," he told us the moment he noted the gift-wrapped box I was holding: "No autographs, and no fattening chocolates for my sister."
Professor Stewart smiled once again.
"We are neither autograph hounds nor seeking to throw off your sister's dietary restrictions. What my young colleague and I are actually here for is a discussion about your great-grandfather. I believe his stage name was 'Norbubu the Missing Link?' "
Celeste--who had, by this time, descended to the base of the web and donned a pink bathrobe--looked at the both of us after removing her red scrunchie and shaking loose her long hair.
"What are you doing?" she bluntly asked us: "Writing a book about him?"
"Not quite. We wish to know if he left behind any personal papers after his passing in 1930. In particular, anything that might give us the co-ordinates of a certain island in the South Pacific."
Celeste and Steve looked at each other. Making me realize that Professor Stewart's bedtime-story hypothesis might have been right!
"Sorry, gents," Celeste finally replied (in imitation of her brother): "We don't know what you're talking about."
"We could make it worth your while!" I impulsively called out: "By giving your circus five of the most unusual animals your menagerie has ever exhibited."
Whereupon, I tore off the white gift wrapping (which had been micro-perforated with air holes) in order to show her the surviving shrunken gators. All of whom we had placed in a thermoplastic casserole dish filled with an inch of water.
"Baby gators?!" exclaimed Steve: "Big deal!"
"They're not babies," I corrected him: "They're full grown. They're merely in this condition because they
shrank. In fact, they were shrunken the same way your great-grandfather was!"
That last part really grabbed their attention. And, Professor Stewart took advantage of it.
"If you doubt our veracity (and it's quite understandable that you would), why not have these reptiles examined by your own resident veterinarian? If he or she confirms that they are abnormally small adults, then may we have roughly an hour of your time?"
Needless to say, they soon had that confirmation. And Professor Stewart was soon making his sales pitch for the "Cookie Gunderson Papers."
* * * * *
Professor Stewart and I talked to the rest of the Saucier family in the presence of their current patriarch. Celeste and Steve's maternal grandfather, Nils Gunderson. A wheelchair-bound veteran of World War II who acted as the circus' chief advertising executive.
English translation: he "put up paper" (posted hand bills) of all its upcoming appearances during their season on the road.
I have to give him credit. The old gentleman listened to our story with a straight face. Not once showing any disbelief. Not once interrupting us with any rude scoffing out-of-hand. And, when we were finished, he massaged his chin with his right hand, in genuinely serious thought, before finally answering us.
"Tell me, professor. How old do you think I am?"
Professor Stewart considered carefully before venturing his own reply.
Mr. Gunderson nodded: "Right the second time. Which means I was twenty when my father died. While he, himself,...lived to be ninety."
The professor's eyebrows shot upward, so fast, you would have thought they were the payload of a Cape Canaveral rocket.
"Incredible!" he whispered half-aloud.
I silently echoed that sentiment, You see, even in 1980, late-in-life parenthood wasn't as commonplace as it is today. So, for Cookie Gunderson to have fathered his only son at the same age the latter was now? Back in 1910, that must have seemed both miraculous and scandalous!
Mr. Gunderson was continuing, however.
"My father lost the use of his right leg at the Battle of Mobile Bay.* Relegating him to ship's cook for the rest of his life at sea. Yet, while that jellyfish sting might have robbed him of his height, it also--somehow--restored his full mobility. As well as his fertility! How do you explain that?"
"Well," the professor slowly began: "...it was recently discovered at Kubota University, in Japan, that a certain species of jellyfish (scientifically known as Turritopsis dohrnii) can periodically rejuvenate, itself. Effectively making it immortal! It could be that this previously unknown subspecies of lion's mane jellyfish has evolved similar capabilities."
"If that's true," Mr. Gunderson replied: "...that must make you all the more eager to find this island. Correct?"
Professor Stewart nodded.
"Well, then," Mr. Gunderson continued: "...I'll make a confession. I lost the use of both my legs, at the Battle of Tarawa, in the Pacific Theater. So, you might say I have twice as much reason as you to find this island!"
The professor looked at me before cautiously asking:
"What are getting at, Mr. Gunderson?"
"I'm going to make you a proposition. If you can get fifty percent of the funding you need, for your expedition, from one of those big scientific outfits (like the National Linnaean Society)? I'll provide the matching half...along with my father's personal diary. But, on one condition!
"That being?" I blurted out (in a more growling tone of voice than I'd intended).
"That my granddaughter go along with you as our family representative!"
There was an instant clamor of denial and disapproval from the rest of the Flying Sauciers. But, they immediately fell silent when he raised his right hand (like some authoritative school teacher).
"I'm not talking about breaking up the act just before the start of the season. I know enough about logistics to realize it will take at least a year for Professor Stewart and his young associate, here, to organize their expedition. Isn't that right, professor?"
The latter nodded: "At the barest minimum, yes."
"Then, we'll most likely be back on winter break by the time you're ready to leave for the South Pacific."
"That is also correct."
"Very well, then. What do you say to my terms? Do we have a deal?"
Professor Stewart looked at me, before we both looked at the Flying Sauciers, who stared right back at us with equal intensity. The professor then held out his right hand.
"It's a deal."
Next Up: "One Year Later" (give or take six months).
* Battle of Mobile Bay (Aug. 1864): biggest victory for the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.
Battle of Tarawa (Nov. 20, 1943): notorious for a poorly-coordinated amphibious landing by the USMC.
* * * * *
The first place we tried for, the much-needed funding, was the National Linnaean Society's headquarters at 1145 Seventeenth Street, in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the soonest we could get an appointment with the society's treasurer (Mr. Gilbert Alexander Gouverneur III) was October 31st, 1980!
I still don't know whether to regard that as "treat" or "trick."
On the brighter side, though, that did give Professor Stewart and I an opportunity to browse through Cookie Gunderson's personal journal. And, as might be expected, most of the opening entries were autobiographical trivia. It was when we reached the late spring/early summer of 1900 that we slowed down enough to read in depth.
Cookie reported how he, Professor Scott, and a Cape Malay cabin boy--from South Africa--had gone into the uncharted island's hilly interior armed with lever-action Winchester rifles. Partly, to defend themselves (in case of cannibalistic natives). And, partly, in the hope of encountering feral pigs descended from domestic ones left behind by any previous visitors! All the trio found, however, was a grove of coconut trees, covered with air potato vines...
...and crawling with robber crabs.*
"I can't stand lookin' at those things," he wrote down: "They always look like big blue spiders with lobster claws! Fortunately, for us, Ali's pet crab-eatin' macaque proved equal to the task of helpin' us bag some. Looks like ginataang alimasag for supper, tonight!"
After that, the diary entries were like a mirror image of the 1901 NATIONAL LINNAEAN article we had read on microfilm. With one major exception, though.
Cookie managed to work out the position of the island!
I looked at Professor Stewart as we each memorized the co-ordinates.
"You know he's not going to believe this, at first."
The professor nodded, adding: "We'll let him read the diary for himself. Surely, a man in his position can have it independently verified as genuine!"
We finished our perusal by reading about a strange dream Cookie had, his first night after inadvertently getting stung by the lion's mane subspecies now bearing his name.
"I dreamt I was walkin' back up the jungle trail that me, Ali, and Scott had followed, earlier in the day. Only this time, I was alone. It was a full moonlit night. And, my game leg wasn't givin' me any problems!"
"When I got to the coconut palms, I didn't stop. Just the opposite. I was guided further up the jungle trail, beyond it, by one of the very robber crabs we'd had for supper!! And, we kept goin' up...till we reached the base of the volcano."
"There was a big cave, at the base. Or, rather, a cave with a mouth as big as a California redwood! And, the crab I was a-followin' entered that mouth without the slightest hesitation. But, me? I became rooted to the ground about six feet shy of it. And, that's when it happened."
"This dusky beauty emerged from the cave. Her head just barely not havin' to duck beneath the ceiling of it!"
"It's true! This woman was wearin' a Polynesian-style sarong. Red with white flowers on it, stoppin' just above her knees. And, with raven-black hair that fell just past her chest. She acted kind of hurt, though. Her right arm restin' across her stomach, while her left hand kept her propped up."
" 'Hello, Olaf,' she said (usin' my real name with a smile): 'I am sorry I couldn't greet you in person, earlier this afternoon. But, the last time I had visitors, one of them accosted me with a deadly magical weapon! And, I've been slowly regenerating, ever since.' "
"Needless to say, I was confused."
" 'You mean, the Bella Bella ain't the first ship to drop anchor, here?' "
"She shook her head. Addin' further that very few of those other ships had ever left!"
" 'That is why you should consider yourself lucky', she finished: 'Because, otherwise, I would have dined on you and your shipmates, the same way you dined on my little pets! And that, in turn, is why you should warn anyone else who voyages in these waters to stay away from here. Forever!' "
"And, with that, I woke up."
Robber crab: a species of land crab (Birgus latro) that feeds mostly on coconuts.
Crab-eating macaque: an aquatic species of monkey (Macaca fascicularis) found on islands all over the Indo-Pacific.
Ginataang alimasag: a Filipino dish consisting of crab legs cooked in coconut milk.
Summer break came and went. But, I never got the chance to enjoy it. For one thing, I had to get a part-time job to save up for the following semester of graduate school. And, when I wasn't doing that, I was helping Professor Stewart look for research vessels, from other colleges, that could take us cruising out into the central South Pacific in exchange for equal credit for discovering a previously isolated ecosystem. Because (let's face it!) such things are to zoologists what virgin cheerleaders are to football players.
Irresistible areas of exploration.
At last, however, October arrived. And, with Professor Stewart's help, I got time off from my other classes to accompany him to Washington. You see, when he was an undergrad, he had not only obviously majored in zoology; he had also minored in political science! So, we both agreed that he would do most of the talking to Mr. Gouverneur.
I have to give him credit. The latter listened to our story without interrupting us, once. It was only after we had finished that he began asking us questions. Starting with:
"And just where is the island in question?"
He had a bemused grin on his face as he said that. So, the professor and I looked each other, with mildly amused grins of our own, before the former replied:
"The co-ordinates...are 0 degrees/0 minutes latitude; 180 degrees/0 minutes longitude."
Mr. Gouverneur's grin disappeared, instantly. Leaving him a stone-faced expression that would have been worthy of Mount Rushmore!
"Would you mind repeating that, please?"
The professor responded by handing him Cookie Gunderson's journal. Letting the treasurer of the National Linnaean Society read the book-marked entry for himself. More specifically; the math that Cookie had done that led him to determine that the strange uncharted island lay at the precise intersection of the Equator...
...and the International Date Line.
"That's not possible," he declared (looking at us, very accusingly): "The IDL was specifically drawn so that it would _never_ directly cross _any_ body of land! This diary _must_ be some kind of fabrication."
"By all means," said Professor Stewart: "Verify its authenticity with whomever you must. Just, please, bear in mind that it does not belong to us. It's on loan from the Gunderson/Saucier family. And, they might take it quite personally if anything were to happen to it. Perhaps even pursue major litigation!"
Mr. Gouverneur looked sincerely offended.
"I assure you, professor. I will have my experts treat this as if they were authenticating a possible long-lost rough draft of the Declaration of Independence!"
Settling for that, the three of us shook hands before Professor Stewart and I headed back to our motel near Dulles International Airport. Unfortunately, the two of us did not get to hit the sack, early. Because, believe it or not, the management allowed their children to go trick-or-treating among the guests! Pre-stashing candy in all the occupied rooms for that express purpose.
Mercifully, however, that all ended at ten o'clock. Following which, the two of us got ready for bed.
I don't know precisely when I fell asleep. So, naturally, I don't know when I started dreaming. Let alone, why! In hindsight, it may have been a combination of things. The stress of the meeting at NLS Headquarters; the multiple re-readings of Cookie's diary; you name it.
All I know for sure is that I did have the dream.
I was back in Florida. Although, not at the University of Saint Augustine. Rather, I was back at Circus World in Sarasota! Only, the place was totally deserted. Well, almost totally. There was one other person there, besides me.
It was Celeste Saucier. And, she was wearing the same red sequined bikini that I had seen her wearing last April! Only, she wasn't wearing it high up off the ground. Rather, she was down on the ground...
...and approximately one hundred feet tall.
"Since I'm now too big for the trapeze," she said to me (kind of belaboring the obvious): "...I've been forced to work up a new act for the circus. How do I strike you as...a contortionist?"
No sooner had she said this than she laid down on her stomach and arched her legs up and over her back!
I was dumbfounded, to say the least. Part of me wanted to run as her bare feet slowly descended past her forehead and down towards me. But, another part me of stayed rooted to that spot.
[Something about that phrase sounded vaguely familiar to me. Yet, my mind refused to divulge where I'd heard it. It kept me steadfastly looking at the soles of Celeste's bare feet, instead.]
Finally, her legs had completed their journey. Making her body resemble a perfect ellipse. It was at this point that the first two toes of her right foot lifted me off the ground. Just like one of those coin-operated cranes in a penny arcade!
And, there was nothing I could do about it. Because, my arms were pinned to my sides. While, at the same time, her toes began to--quite literally--rub me the wrong way.
Below the waist.
NOVEMBER 1, 1980
* * * * *
Have you ever heard the sexual expression, "Big tease?" Well, that's what this weird dream turned out to be. Because, believe it or not, just as I was about to climax between Celeste's humongous toes?
I woke up.
To this day, I don't know if I screamed that word in protest...or frustration. All I do know is that it took me a second to get reoriented. That's when I realized two things. First off? I was still in the bed of my motel room in Washington, D.C. And, secondly?
I had a full-scale boner that was on the verge of bursting like the Johnstown Dam.
"Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" I chanted as I relieved myself in the bathroom (just in time): "If we get that funding, I can _NEVER_ tell Celeste about this dream. She won't believe a word of it! She'll think I'm just another horny college rube, trying to get her in the sack."
I finally emptied my bladder enough that I could risk washing my hands (with warm water) and splashing my face (with cold water!) before heading back to bed.
Personally, I thought I'd only gotten back to sleep for a moment, or two, when the phone on the nightstand began ringing. But, a quick (if somewhat bleary-eyed) glance at the clock radio showed me it was now 10:00 A.M. It was seven hours later!
So, reluctantly, I picked up the receiver.
"Get dressed," Professor Stewart got right to the point: "Breakfast is on me."
I sat bolt upright in bed.
"We got the funding?"
"Oh, yes! And I notified Nils Gunderson, straight away. Needless to say, he was ecstatic! Although, nowhere nearly so much as I was when he told me his own good news. He's talked a major pharmaceutical firm into backing us! An outfit called 'Interchem.' "
Two days later, we were back in Florida. We flew to Miami, where we transferred to a shuttle flight bound for Sarasota. When we reached Circus World, I personally handed Cookie Gunderson's diary back to Celeste Saucier. Yet, as she accepted it from me, she gave me the strangest look. And, when she noticed me noticing that, she actually blushed!
That made me wonder: could she have had the same dream I did?
"Nah!" I muttered to myself: "That's impossible."
In any event, the whole bunch of us spent the weeks between Veterans' Day and New Year's Eve getting everything ready for the big voyage, Supplies; qualified personnel; and, of course, most importantly of all? A ship!
The latter was loaned to us by the University of Hawaii. The R.V. Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a. And, on Groundhog Day, 1981, we jumbo jetted to Honolulu to meet her captain, Glendon Corbett. And, when I say 'we," I don't just mean myself, Professor Stewart, and Celeste. I'm also referring to Shawna Kozlowski.
Hey! If it wasn't for her help, the rest of us wouldn't be going on this adventure in the first place! Though, of course, I had no way of knowing, at the time, that this was only the first leg in what ultimately proved to be...
...the most incredible adventure of any of our lives
As the skipper of the Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a, Captain Corbett automatically had a right to know our ultimate destination. So, we let him know the full details the night before we left port. Needless to say, he was astounded.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked of our UH liaison, Kalama Nakafusa.
She nodded: "We double-checked with the National Linnaean Society. The diary was authentic. And the navigational math pretty sound."
He shook his head, still somewhat dubious: "If there was truly an island there, someone would have claimed discovery of it long before this. Especially, with all the satellites we have in orbit, these days!"
"Maybe it occupies an area similar to the Bermuda Triangle," Shawna ventured: "Filled with all sorts of geomagnetic anomalies."
"All I know for certain," Corbett replied: "...is that we're going there at the height of subequatorial hurricane season. That means we'll have to come in from the north. Assuming your island is there, at all!"
That was on Monday, February 9, 1981. The next day was Fat Tuesday. "Mardi Gras," in French! So, between seven o'clock and ten o'clock, that Tuesday night, we had a big blow-out. Not only to celebrate the end of all our preparations (which the matching funds from Interchem had allowed us to complete two months ahead of our originally projected schedule). But, also, to let everyone on the expedition get acquainted with each other. That was how I learned that Kalama's first name was Hawaiian for "flaming torch." It seems that her father was a Hawaiian Nisei who'd been "interned" at Ellis Island, in New York City, during World War II. So, it had been quite ironic for him to have a good view of the Statue of Liberty from his barracks window!
Yet, while it would've been quite understandable if he had been, he never let that experience make him bitter. In fact, he eventually went on to obtain a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University, And, he even married a girl from Manhattan's Chinatown!
On Ash Wednesday, we weighed anchor and headed out on the first high tide.
We headed west-by-northwest for the first four days. Then, on the morning of the fifth day, we headed due south, towards the Marshall Islands. At supper, that same night, Captain Corbett and Professor Stewart let the rest of the expedition members know where we were headed. And let me tell you; the ensuing chorus of "ooh's" and "ah's" and "say what's" was all-but-deafening!
Professor Stewart assured everyone who had questions (along the same initially skeptical lines as the skipper) that they were not on one big wild goose chase.
"The island is there. Something you will see for yourselves in another day-and-a-half."
"But, for right now?" added Corbett: "I think we should all turn in for the night. Except for those of you among the crew who have the graveyard shift. I want you all to keep a close eye on the weather tonight! We've been exceptionally lucky, these past few days. That might change, though, the closer we get to the equator."
I willingly took his advice. Because, quite frankly, I was beat. I don't even think I remained awake for five minutes, after I crawled into bed! But, one thing was for certain.
It was not a dreamless sleep.
I dreamt I was skin diving. Well, more like snorkeling, to be exact. As in tube snorkel;, circular face mask; green swim fins; and a pair of black swim trunks. The water was every clear. And the only thing I could see on the relatively shallow bottom was sand. Yards and yards of white sand!
That is, till I spotted it. Naxia tumida; a seaweed-decorator crab!
It was scuttling along towards the first patch of green I had yet seen. A patch of dwarf eelgrass, to be exact. I scissor-kicked my legs, once or twice, to try and follow after it at matching speed. But, of course, this being a dream it scuttled faster than I could swim! Consequently, by the time I did catch up to it, it had already harvested itself several strands of the stuff and adhered them to its carapace. Whereupon, it began making its way shoreward. That, in turn, led to my second discovery.
There was a tiny, green specimen of seahorse clinging to one of the eelgrass strands. But, a specimen more unusual than I had ever seen before. Because, while its head was definitely equine in shape, its body was more like that of a small snake!
[ "Why do those words sound so familiar?" I asked myself in the dream.]
That was when I grabbed the seahorse in my right hand. Following which, I popped back up to the surface and started churning my way back to where the others were sunbathing.
"Hey! Hey, girls! You'll never guess what I...?"
I stopped shouting in mid-sentence because of what I saw. Celeste Saucier was lying down on a small beach chair, wearing a red bikini. On an identical chair, next to her, was Shawna Kozlowski wearing a blue bikini. And to my right? Kalama Nakafusa, in a yellow bikini.
The tableau was almost patriotic.
Unfortunately, for me, it also made me forget what I was clutching in my right hand. Because, the next thing I knew, there was burning sensation coming from my palm! So, naturally, I re-opened my hand in sheer reflex. Thereby causing me to drop the seahorse back into the water.
"Shit!!!" I swore through gritted teeth: "There must have been some stinging limu or green fire coral in that eelgrass."
Kalama had warned us about those two occupational hazards faced by wading first-time visitors to Hawaii. The former being the algal equivalent of poison ivy. And the latter being a distant relative of the cnidarian we had come here to find.
"Shame on you, Ken!" I heard a trio of voices say in perfect unison: "You read about the scorpion-tailed seahorse for yourself. So, you've only yourself to blame for what happens, next."
I looked up and saw the three bikini-clad goddesses who had made me so speechless a minute earlier. But, now, they were not only standing up facing me. They were also getting taller...and taller...and Taller...and TALLER!
It was incredible. They had each become one hundred foot-tall giantesses! I literally had to crane my head backward, like the open hatch on a submarine, just to see their beaming faces. Yet, once again, it was as if they could hear my softest whisper...or read my mind.
"We've haven't grown giant-size, Ken," they chorused: "You shrank!"
Whereupon, Celeste reached down, and picked me up, with _her_ right hand. Cutting off all visibility to my eyes as she folded me up behind her fingers.
FEBRUARY 16, 1981
* * * * *
I immediately started struggling to break free. She had enclosed me in her fist, too tightly. I couldn't breathe! Yet, while her skin proved surprisingly soft, my blows still seemed to have no effect. Initially, anyway. Then, I felt my compact prison shift at what felt like a ninety-degree angle. And, that's when it happened.
The light returned. I was free!
As soon as that realization struck me, however, things went dark again. Followed by another right angle shift. But, this time, in the opposite direction of the first! As a result?
I wound up somersaulting into the lower right corner of my cabin's bed.
That's right. I was still aboard the R.V. Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a. And the shifting back and forth (which I now started to experience for the second time) was from a storm that we had apparently run into in the middle of the night! The turbulence of which had evidently made me tumble out of bed, eneveloped in the top sheet and blanket. Hence, the claustrophobia that had suddenly overcome me at the tail end of my weird dream. All of this, going through my mind as quick as the second flash of lightning that lit up my cabin. Followed, seconds later, by a near-deafening peal of thunder! So, needless to say, I didn't get any sleep for the rest of that night.
I simply got back in bed and hung on for dear life to the head board.
By sunrise, the storm had abated. Consequently, the Pacific Ocean seemed to, once more, be living up to the name Magellan had first given it. So, naturally, we took advantage of that calmness to clean up everything that the storm had tossed about, both on deck and below it. Following which, we examined all the scientific equipment we had brought with us. Fortunately, however, the padded boxes--and the nylon cords we had taken the further precaution of lashing them down with--had done their job. As far as we could tell during the double-check, no damage (irreparable or otherwise) had been done.
Yet, when it came to the debris that the storm had tossed on to the boat from the surrounding waters, that brought a more startling discovery.
"Professor Stewart! Professor Stewart!" Shawna yelled out to him, with obviously mounting excitement: "Come here! Quickly!"
He ran up to the top of the aft companionway, with me close on his heels. And what she displayed made both of us gasp in unison. Because there, at the bottom of the dustpan she was holding, were two flesh-and blood specimens...
...of Protosyngnathus manticora!
Needless to say, the professor and I were both flabbergasted. Him, for zoological reasons. And me, because of that weird dream I'd had! Was I getting psychic or something? But, of course, that question would have to be answered at a later date. Because, right now, I had to help the professor analyze these specimens in the on-board lab, ASAP!
So, that's where the two of us went. Followed by Shawna, Kalama and Celeste, right on our heels. And, of course, the first thing we did was to put one of these supposedly extinct seahorses in an aquarium full of salt water. While we examined the other under a binocular microscope.
"Well?!" I finally demanded, after what felt like an eternity (though it was probably no more than thirty seconds, in real time, at most).
Professor Stewart stepped aside and let me take a look. And, there, I saw it for myself. The barbed tail that Scott and Davis had written about in their article for NATIONAL LINNAEAN! I then stepped aside to let each of the ladies have a look for themselves.
"You know what this means," he semi-rhetorically asked me: "Don't you, Ken?"
I nodded: "We have _two_ new marine species who've been living in total isolation all these years. C. capillata gundersoni..."
"...and a living fossil that just might be a literal missing link between Syngnathiformes and Scorpaeniformes!" he concluded for me.
Kalama looked at us, seemingly about to add a comment of her own to our conversation. But, the ship's current look-out beat her to it.
* * * * *
The five of us rushed back up on deck. And, sure enough, there it was. The volcanic island first described by Scott and Davis. The island of our dreams (including my recent erotic ones).
The first thing we did was to finish cleaning up all the storm wrack. Then, once that was accomplished, Professor Stewart got together with Kalama to organize a division of labor concerning the island.
"I think we should do an aerial survey of the interior of the island," he said: "...while simultaneously mapping the coast line from sea level."
"I agree," she replied: "But, who handles the former and who handles the latter?"
Celeste raised her hand: "I'm pretty good at hang-gliding. And I've also done some para-sailing in Acapulco. Just have the speedboat you brought with us tow me up to take-off speed. Then, when the time is right, I'll separate from the tow rope and use one of those portable video cameras to record what I fly over!"
"Capital!" the professor exclaimed: "And we can similarly use Polaroid photographs to handle the coastal cartography."
Shawna volunteered to be the shutterbug for that second task. While Brad Deane (one of Kalama's research assistants from UH) just as quickly volunteered to drive the speedboat. And, for some reason, I felt a momentary twinge of jealous resentment over that! Oh, it disappeared as fast it came. Yet, I was still puzzled as to _why_ I had felt that way. I couldn't see any legitimate reason for it! It's not like I had been dating either of those ladies during the past twelve months. And, those wet dreams about Celeste had been just that. Wet dreams, about an unattainable girl.
In any case, I got chosen to help out Kalama and Professor Stewart in the main lab. So, I was among the first people on this expedition to get the facts about Protosyngnathus manticora after the first really detailed examination by Kalama.
"Very strange," she said: "In size, it's about fifty percent bigger--at best--than Hippocampus bargibanti.* In coloration, it's the same shade of green as H. guttulatus. But, morphologically? It looks more like Solegnathus spinosissimus tnan anything else!"
Professor Stewart and I concurred. I then asked about the presence of venom.
"Assuming there's any at all, is it as potentially deadly to human divers as the stuff found in modern scorpaeniformes?"
"That's a good question," she said: "Take a look at this."
She brought us to the other saltwater tank into which we had put the second of the two recovered specimens. The one we had initially looked at under the microscope. Into this tank, she dropped a plastic water bag full of brine shrimp larvae (perhaps better known in the pet shop trade as "sea monkies"). And, sure enough, this particular scorpion-tailed seahorse sucked them up like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.
"Now, observe this," she told me: "Noah; if you would do the honors?"
She then handed him a plastic water bag, containing a live female sea goldie, which he then released into that tank. The moment that fish hit the water, she began swimming around, understandably trying to get her bearings. Yet, the very second she swam by P. manticora, it impaled her with its barbed tail! That's when I saw it for myself. The female sea goldie...
...shrank to the size of a sea monkey. And I immediately gave voice to the same thought Professor Stewart must've been having when we _both_ witnessed her get "vacuumed up," as well.
"It looks," added the professor: "...as if we'll have to redefine that phrase, 'potentially deadly.' "
*H. bargibanti: a coral-dwelling pygmy seahorse, first discovered in 1969.
H. guttulatus: the long-snouted seahorse.
S. spinosissimus: the spiny pipehorse.
Sea goldie: nickname for Pseudanthias squamipinnis, the lyretailed coralfish. So nicknamed because the female resembles a marine version of the totally freshwater-dwelling true goldfish!
The retro-tech info in this chapter has been over-simplified in the interest of not boring my lurkers out of their skulls...anymore than they already have been. ;-)
* * * * *
That did it! We immediately deployed the two submersibles we had brought with us. The first to enter the water was a K-250 dry sub. A canary-yellow, one-man mini-sub, built by Kittredge Industries, with an on-board air supply. Its operator--a South African exchange student named Jann Decker--then submerged. Accompanied by two scuba divers hanging on to water ski-style tow ropes that, in turn, had been hooked on to the top of the dry sub's (for lack of a better term) "conning tower."
The second to enter the water was our two-man wet sub. Basically, a fire engine-red, Glastron-built replica of a British naval Mark II Chariot riding torpedo from the Second World War. Only with the rear passenger seat facing forward rather than aft!
The dry sub would head north-by-east (in other words, roughly counter-clockwise to the direction of Brad and Shawna's speedboat). With the two divers--identical twin sisters Flora and Dora Gentile from New Jersey--keeping in touch with both Jann and us through the microphonic head sets built into their astronaut-like helmets.
Meanwhile, the similarly helmeted divers in the wet sub--Sidney Starbuck from the Gulf Coast of Texas, and Lydell Briggs from Bridgewater, Massachusetts--were assigned to investigate the island's main lagoon.
As for the two mapping parties? Celeste had been outfitted with an RCA BW-003 camcorder (roughly the size of a Colt .45 semi-automatic) for videorecording the island canopy. While Shawna had been equipped with a Kodak Polaroid Sonar Onestep Pronto. That way, she could transmit the pictures back to us using a shortwave powered, 80-A SSTV* camera from Robot Research, Inc. While the rest of us, in the ship's recreation room, gathered around the 70-A monitor atop a Model 400 Fast-scan converter. The latter relaying the black-and-white images from the former to a TRS-80 computer, with color TV monitor, similar to the one in Professor Stewart's office, back at the University of Saint Augustine. Only the one we had on board with us had a Centronic Quick Printer attached to it that ran off photocopies of those images. And, in half the time it took them to reach the 70-A, in the first place! Those photocopies were then pinned on to a cork bulletin board, so we could get a gradually improving look at this mysterious island's coast line.
In one of the photocopies, I saw several streaks of red. But, I couldn't quite make out what they were due to drops of water that had briefly appeared on the lens of the Polaroid. So, I borrowed a magnifying glass from Kalama and squinted more closely at it. Followed by another...and another...and another.
"Professor Stewart?" I began: "I'm sorry to bother you, sir. But, take a look at these thin red streaks. Don't you think they look like Todaro...?"
I was interrupted, however, by Shawna's voice frantically blaring over the public address intercom.
"Mayday! Mayday! I'm returning to the ship, this instant. Brad's been attacked. Repeat: Brad has been attacked! He has a flying squid stuck to his face!!"
*SSTV: Slow Scan Television. Brand name for the transmission of televised images via shortwave radio frequency. Average time for full development of the received image; eight seconds (circa 1970-81, anyway).
Todarodes pacifus: the Pacific, aka Japanese, "flying" squid. Molluscan version of the more famous "flying" fish!
* * * * *
It took about twenty minutes for the speedboat to make it back to the ship at full speed. By which time, our on-board paramedics were standing by, on the hydraulically lowered diving platform. Consequently, it only took them about twenty or thirty seconds to get Brad Deane strapped into the stretcher they had with them, and then bring him to sickbay. There, they transferred him to a large white examination table, under the personal supervision of Dr. Shareen King.
"Okay," she began: "Smitty? Jonesy? Hold him down tight! This is gonna hurt."
Whereupon, she clapped the head of that flying squid between two defibrillator paddles!
Sure enough, Brad twitched, and screamed out in pain, as the good doctor lifted that piece of flash-fried calamari off of his face. Leaving behind tentacle sucker marks that made it look like he had an industrial-strength case of acne! In the meantime, Celeste used the microphonic headset in her safety helmet to inform us that she was coming in for a landing on the sandy strip of beach marking the western side of the island's only lagoon.
"Do you want me to videotape some of the jungle trails going inland after I unharness myself, Professor?" she asked a moment or two after the landing.
Fortunately, Professor Stewart (politely-but-firmly) told her no.
"Let Dell handle that," he added: "He served with the Navy SEALS in Vietnam. In the meantime, you can come back to the ship aboard the wet sub. Bringing his Sony XC-1* with you."
"As you wish."
It took about fifteen minutes for the wet sub to make it back to the ship by cruising on the surface (as Dell had kept his scuba gear with him). When it was finished being hoisted aboard, Celeste hopped out of the rear seat and removed the XC-1 from its black polyurethane housing. Then, with me as her escort, she took it straight to the A-V lab.
"How's Brad doing?" she asked en route.
"Dr. King is going to keep him in sickbay, overnight, for observation. But, she doesn't think there's any danger of him having inhaled any ammonia discharge from the squid."
"In other words, he won't be turning into Sigourney Weaver?"
She smirked a little as she saw my eyebrows arch in surprise. Then, I felt myself grin, as well.
"I think you mean John Hurt."
She shrugged: "You've seen one flat chest, you've seen them all."
Of course, that remark immediately made me look down at her red bikini top (her hang-gliding cover-alls naturally having been left behind on the beach). Which she, in turn, did not fail to notice and good-naturedly laugh at.
"Sorry," I half-mumbled in embarrassment.
"No harm/no foul," she replied: "In fact, I think I'd be sorrier if you hadn't looked!"
"Say what?!" I couldn't help exclaiming.
She stopped walking for a second; a very serious expression on her face.
"Ken," she finally began: "This is going to sound weird. But, the night before we got here, I was having this weird dream. In it, I was..."
She never finished that thought as she was interrupted by the opening of the door to the A-V lab by Gary Latimer; the UH research assistant in charge of it.
"Oh! There you are," he said: "I was just about to lock up and grab some lunch. Come on in."
We followed him inside and watched him unload the medium-sized rectangle of the videocassette from the XC-1's waterproof carrying case. He then popped it into the VCR and hit the playback mode. As you might have already guessed, the first five minutes were pretty much what we expected to see. Patches of eel grass, alternating with a lot of rippling white sand on the sea bottom, adjacent to the mouth of the lagoon. Then, the wet sub entered the lagoon...and we saw them.
A veritable colony of Dromia dormia, or sleepy sponge crabs. All of them scrambling along the bottom of the lagoon with specimens of Suberites domuncula on their backs. And, resting atop those sponges in the same inverted manner as Cassiopea jellyfish?
Tiger-striped specimens of Cyanea capillata gundersoni.
"Congratulations, Celeste," I said: "You're great-grandfather is one step closer to being vindicated."
Unfortunately, just as I was about to affirm those congratulations with a celebratory peck on her right cheek, the public address system ruined the moment.
"Professor Stewart? Professor Nakafusa? Please report to sickbay, immediately!"
Celeste and I looked at each other.
"Brad," we chorused.
Whereupon, we ran back the way we had just come. When we got to sickbay, we hurriedly walked up behind the two aforementioned scientists and looked over their shoulders. And what we saw not only made Celeste gasp; it almost made me join her in perfect unison! Because Brad Deane was now confined to a cot with an oxygen tent over it.
An oxygen tent that almost totally covered his now three foot-tall body.
*XC-1: first commercial color video camera to use a charged-couple device (CCD) without weighing over three pounds.
Suberites: probably the oldest genus of sea sponges on the planet.
Cassiopea: the cnidarian genus containing true upside-down jellyfish.
* * * * *
Kalama and Professor Stewart looked at each other, in mutually dumbfounded amazement, before turning to the doctor.
"What happened, Shareen?" demanded the former.
"I was having him put on a standard dressing gown, while looking for a jar of salve to use on those sucker marks, when I heard the clatter of something heavy hitting the floor. I rushed back into the sickbay and I found that Brad had collapsed on top of the privacy screen, gasping for air! So, I dragged him over to the nearest cot, as fast as I could. But, by the time I had done so? I noticed that the dressing gown...had become more like a half-empty gunnysack. Extending down past his feet!"
"Just like Great-Granddad," muttered Celeste.
"What was that?" demanded Dr. King.
"In a minute," replied Professor Stewart: "How's Brad doing, right now?"
"Stabilized. Yet, to say I've never seen anything like this, before, is an understatement! I get the distinct feeling, however, that the same cannot be said of all of you."
"You'd better sit down, Shareen," Kalama advised.
The good doctor did; on the cot to the immediate left of where Brad was lying. And Kalama sat down right next to her. Whereupon, she told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about our visit to this island. When she heard about the Cookie Gunderson diary, and the astounding ability of the scorpion-tailed seahorses we had recovered, she turned to Professor Stewart for confirmation, each time.
And, each time, he grimly nodded.
"You're sure?" was the first thing she asked, when she was finally and fully up to speed: "This venom actually retains this unique property as it passes up the food chain?"
"Our belief in such was mostly hypothetical, at first," the professor conceded: "But, now we're positive. I must confess, though, that I'm totally at a loss to explain how the jellyfish, the seahorses, and now this flying squid all have the same capability!"
"The sea snails that prey on crown-of-thorns starfish," I offered: "...can assimilate the toxins produced by the latter. What if the same holds true for the local predators of P. manticora larvae?"
"There's only one way to know for sure," replied Dr. King: "Would you two care to help me conduct a necropsy of what's left of that squid?"
She asked this of the two professors; and they both nodded. Which left Celeste and I with nothing to do but take their places on that other cot, in order to keep Brad company. And, for the first five minutes, we were awkwardly silent.
Then, I remembered something.
"What was it you were going to tell me before all this excitement? Something about a dream?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed: "Right. Well, the night of that big storm..."
She then went on to describe the exact same wet dream that I had had! Her, Kalama, and Shawna; all sunbathing on the shores of a tropical island. Presumably, in hindsight, this island. With the three of them becoming giantesses.
And with me getting captured as their boy-toy.
To say I was surprised would be putting it mildly! Yet, I tried to keep a straight face as I now asked whether she had finished that dream. But, she shook her head. Which, in turn, gave me a strange mixture of relief...and disappointment.
Even so, I tried to lighten the mood, a little.
"First off, let me just say that I'm flattered. Because, as far as I'm permanently concerned, you, Shawna, and Kalama are the three hottest women aboard! Dr. King and the Gentile twins might object. But..."
As intended, Celeste laughed, good-naturedly. Then, she leaned over and gave me a grateful peck on my right cheek.
Outwardly, my only reaction was to blush and appreciatively smile. Inwardly, though, I was breathing a mental sigh of relief. Because, then as now, the second biggest Kiss of Death for a twenty-something single white male, looking to strike up a relationship with a good-looking girl, was to be called "cute." The only thing worse than that?
To be liked only as a "friend."
In any case, I slowly leaned towards Celeste, intending to return her compliment. Unfortunately, once again, we experienced publicus announcementum interruptus.
"Professor Stewart? Professor Nakafusa? This is the captain speaking. Please, report to the bridge!"
As it turns out, Celeste and I beat Professor Stewart to the bridge by a good two minutes. When he finally arived, Captain Corbett asked where Kalama was.
"She's assisting Dr. King on a vitally important necropsy," the professor replied: "Why? What's the matter?"
The skipper pointed to the Gentile twins.
"Care to do the honor, ladies?"
Both carrot-tops grinned as they stepped forward. Their long hair dripping salt water all over the light blue windbreaker that each girl now wore over her respective bikini. And, seemingly by prearranged agreement, Flora (the one to my left) went first.
"Dora and I were exploring the eel grass patches half way between the shore and the surrounding coral reef, with Dora handling the other XC-1. She suddenly noticed something to her right, and excitedly signaled that we should stop! So, I tapped out the same signal, in Morse Code, on the conning tower of the dry sub. When Jann brought us to a full halt, Dora swam back in and tapped out that she had spotted what looked like...giant brain coral."
"Giant brain coral?" I echoed: "Are you sure?"
You see, giant brain coral is supposed to be endemic to the sea floor of the Caribbean! Dora, however, nodded in enthusiastic affirmation. Whereupon, she put the videocassette in the VCR that Gary Latimer had been asked to bring up from the audiovisual lab. Sure enough; there it was! Giant brain coral, in a perfect circle,...
...surrounding the barnacle-covered remains of a sunken ship.
"What on Earth is that?!" the professor exclaimed.
"Looks like a Viking dragon ship," replied Sid Starbuck: "Only bigger and wider than anything I've seen in marine engineering books."
"That's because it's Cantonese," replied the skipper: "The Chinese in Canton have some kind of annual festival featuring vessels like this one."
"Wait!" Dora excitedly demanded: "There's more."
The XC-1 slowly panned to the right. And there, in a perfectly straight line (almost as if arranged that way by some giant hand) were two more derelicts. Both of them of relatively more recent vintage! How did I know that? Well, for one thing, there was a lot less coral and barnacle coverage. And, for another? They both looked to be made almost entirely of metal.
It was at this point that Flora resumed narrating.
"I signaled Jann to journey over to the second derelict, which he did. En route, I spotted another anomalously perfect circle. Only much smaller, and not containing any coral at all. In fact; it seemed to be harboring a colony of garden eels! Anyway, here's what I observed when I swam over to remove some of the detritus."
The videocassette clearly showed that her definition of "removal" meant lifting that whole circular object up (scaring the garden eels back beneath the sea floor sand in consequence). And, in turning that circle over, she revealed it to be a life saver of white-painted cork wood with black-painted lettering.
"S. S. DEWITT CLINTON"
Professor Stewart gasped.
"It can't be!" he half-whispered to himself.
"What's the matter, professor?" I asked: "You recognize that name?"
He slowly nodded.
"When I was still an undergrad, back in Philly, one of my jock classmates invited me to a Halloween party at his frat house. And, among the ghost stories told, that night, around the backyard bonfire they had going, was a campus urban legend contributed by his girlfriend. A history major. According to this legend, one of the school's nineteenth century alumni grew up to become a world-famous archeologist. So famous, in fact, that the Museum of Oriental Studies named an entire wing after him! Unfortunately, for him, the naming was in memoriam. Due to the fact that he had mysteriously disappeared, overseas, in the early 1920's!! Both his disappearance, and the subsequent haunting of that wing by his alleged ghost, being attributed to a supposed curse on a certain long-lost Chinese artifact that he was apparently _obsessed_ with finding."
I looked at Celeste.
"Why do I suddenly have the feeling that he was last known to be a passenger on a ship with this exact same name?"
It's still February 16, 1981.
* * * * *
As spellbound as we had been by Professor Stewart's anecdote, the spell was broken, a moment later, by Flora Gentile exclaiming that the surprises weren't over.
"Look what Dora recorded next, when she panned back to that dragon ship."
We centered our attention back on the screen of the VCR's monitor. Once again, we were looking at the anomalous presence of Colpophyllia natans. Then, just as I was about to ask the twins what they were talking about, it happened.
Something came scuttling between two of the corals.
I recognized it right away as one of the sleepy sponge crabs from the lagoon. Sponge, hitchhiking jellyfish polyp, and all. Then I spotted another...and another...and another. All of them entering that circle of coral!
Ninety seconds later, there must have five dozen of the odd crustaceans scuttling around and around like square dancers. With more and more joining them every second. Then without any warning, the jellyfish polyps started detaching from the sponges.
"They're becoming ephyra," exclaimed Professor Stewart: "The free-swimming larval stage preceding final metamorphosis into full adulthood!"
Indeed, they were. But, the surprises did not end there. Larger organisms suddenly started swimming into view. More specifically; sea turtles. Loggerheads and leatherbacks both! The latter started munching on the C. capillata gundersoni, while the former went after the sponges on the backs of the crabs. Of course, half the time the crabs reluctantly went along for the ride! Dangling upside-down by the hind legs they persisted in trying to keep clamped on to the sponges.
Eventually, however, those legs got chewed through; sending them back down to the sandy sea floor. And, thus, totally exposing these crabs to the shoal of flying squid that now came zipping in from nowhere to swamp them! The shoal, in turn, attracted a school of barracudas...aong with something else.
"Oh, my God!" I whispered, half aloud.
What we initially thought were specimens of brain coral turned out to be a bunch of Commerson frogfish. The size of Goliath groupers! And they were now "hopping" forward to scoop up the flying squids still stubbornly duking it out with the sponge crabs!!
Yet, even more surprises were in store for us. Because, it turns out that the frogfish had been sitting on a perfect circle of mushroom coral (Fungia scruposa). And, once they had vacated their perches? A veritable cloud of Protosyngnathus manticora rose up! Attracting some of the barracuda away from the flying squid.
Subsequently, shrinking those that swallowed them to the size of sardines.
"Holy Shit!" I heard Gary Latimer exclaim (unwittingly echoing what I had said in the main bio-lab).
I looked at Professor Stewart.
"Prof, we have to get everybody back here. So we can capture whatever ephyra they miss!"
He nodded in agreement, adding: "Imagine it. A communal feeding frenzy centered around the arrival of female sea turles heading for their nesting beach. It's unprecedented!"
Captain Corbett was then instructed to radio Jann Decker to bring the dry sub back in. Meanwhile, Celeste and I would take the speedboat into the lagoon to pick up Lydell Briggs.
* * * * *
INTERLUDE THE FIRST
Dell had gotten bored sitting around the beach, waiting for the speedboat's return. So, he decided to kill some time by following a surprisingly clear path leading inland from the beach. And, at first, the path remained on level ground. Then, gradually, it began to slope upward. As he continued following it, however, he began to hear something that sounded faintly like...singing.
"What the frig?" he thought: "I must be going island-happy."
But, the singing not only continued. It got louder and clearer. Until, finally, he had located its source.
A nine foot-tall, half-naked Polynesian woman picking air potatoes off of two rows of evenly-spaced palm trees.
KNIGHTS OF MELION,
FOGGY BOTTOM LODGE,*
(OCT. 31, 1980)
* * * * *
INTERLUDE THE SECOND
Sherman Peabody, the president of the lodge, introduced his two guests to each other as they entered his soundproof office.
"Admiral Harold Buckler, Junior; Office of Naval Intelligence? Mr. Gilbert Alexander Gouverneur III; National Linnaean Society.
The aforementioned men shook hands with each other before sitting down at President Peabody's request.
"We'll start with you, Gil. Did you get a chance to peruse the Liebenkraft diary?"
"And?" his host prompted.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say that some pot-headed Hollywood hack had written a plagiarized hybrid of KING KONG, ALIEN, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!"
Admiral Buckler snorted with bemusement. Causing President Peabody to frown.
"I was hoping for a more pragmatic assessment."
"Very well," replied Gouverneur: "It's the same island, alright. I'd stake my life on it!"
The lodge president nodded: "What about you, admiral?"
Buckler's face was absolutely grim.
"The Gunderson journal is no forgery. Our forensic experts confirmed it."
President Peabody shook his head and sighed.
"I was afraid of that! The question now becomes: do we allow the expedition to go forward...or not?"
* * * * *
FEBRUARY 16, 1981
(KEN SCHUYLER'S P.O.V.)
I took one last look at the scene on the VCR's monitor. Tiger-striped jellyfish ephyra swallowing seahorses that resembled verdant specimens of Siokunichthys. Only for some of them to get swallowed up, in turn, by specimens of Fungia scruposa. Almost as if in poetic justice!
"The speedboat's ready, Ken," said Captain Corbett.
I nodded and left the wheelhouse, accompanied by Celeste Saucier. I took the driver's seat while she sat beside me. The wind whipped up by our passage towards the lagoon causing her wavy blonde hair to stream backwards like a golden army banner.
"Golden army banner?" I mentally repeated to myself: "Get a grip, guy. Focus on the task at hand!"
Still, despite my self-reproof, I couldn't help stealing another glance at Celeste. Which turned out to be a mixed blessing as I caught her stealing a similar glance at me! So, I cleared my head with a quick shake and resumed staring straight ahead. Resulting in a chuckle or two being issued by the vocal cords in Celeste's lovely, supple neck.
[Oh, God! Was I going to need a cold shower when we got back to the ship.]
Ten minutes later, we pulled into the shallows of the beach where Celeste had landed her hang glider. So, naturally, she was the first to jump off the boat and wade ashore. While I climbed over the gunwale--in a slower and more dignified fashion--in order to securely bury the boat's anchor above the muddy waterline.
That's why she was the first to notice Lydell Briggs' absence.
"Dell?" she called out through cupped hands: "It's us. Ken and Celeste. We're here to bring you back to the ship. Professor Stewart's orders."
I looked around. Sure enough; Dell was nowhere to be seen. The only other sign we were in the right place (besides the hang glider, itself) was Dell's wet suit lying, in full view, on the sand. It was only when I bent down, to pick up the astronaut-like helmet, that I noticed something else.
An arrow drawn into the sand, with a naval glow stick marking the junction of shaft and arrowhead!
"The arrow's pointing towards the start of that jungle trail," I pointed out: "Dell must've decided to do some exploring while he waited. And he covered the arrow with his helmet to keep it from getting erased by either the wind or passing sea turtle bellies."
Celeste buttoned her light blue shirt and tightened the belt on her white shorts, accordingly.
"We'd better go get him, then."
I nodded and followed her, after placing the dive helmet back on the ground.
The trail was relatively easy to follow for the first several yards. Gradually, however, it began to ascend. With rocks sticking up out of the ground, here and there, in consequence. Finally, after about twenty minutes, I called out to Celeste for a rest break. Although, more for myself than for her. The girl wasn't even gasping!
She smiled at me.
"Getting a little winded?"
I merely nodded (too busy just inhaling).
She chuckled: "Poor baby! Here; let me give you some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation."
Before I could even make a half-serious attempt to stop, she had put her arms around my neck and laid a big wet lip-lock on me! I uttered a startled, instinctive "mmmph" for about a microsecond. Then, I just gave in and returned the kiss. My arms wrapping around the small of her back, at the same time.
I don't know exactly how long we stood like that. Yet, I do know we pulled apart in perfect unison...and for the same reason.
A faint cry for help.
"Did you hear that?" I whispered to her.
She nodded. We then looked around, searching for the source of it. Our ears simultaneously straining for a repetition of it. Of course, I'm sure you're all thinking to yourselves:
"You know what they say about getting one's wish!"
In retrospect, I wish that saying had popped into my head, right then and there. But, at that time, I was too distracted by the sight of what--or rather who--was coming down, from much further up that jungle trail, to meet us. It was Dell! Although, not as I clearly remembered him from that morning. You see, he looked much shorter, now. More specifically? He looked about the same size as one of one of those African pygmies much-photographed by NATIONAL LINNAEAN Magazine!
Just under four feet tall, at most.
*Foggy Bottom: local nickname for the area of Washington, D.C. where the U.S. State Department is headquartered.
Liebenkraft diary: See DIARY OF A NAZI ARCHEOLOGIST.
Siokunichthys: the mushroom-coral pipefish.
* * * * *
INTERLUDE THE THIRD
(1 HOUR EARLIER)
The Gentile Sisters had been so excited, by what they had found and videotaped, that they had been literally unable to wait for the dry sub to bring them back to the ship at the predetermined time. So, the young South African had radioed for the speedboat to come by and pick up the identical twin carrot tops as soon as poor Brad Deane had been taken to sick bay.
He should have known it would be Jonesy (Jean-Antoine Jones, the Tulane University pre-med from the American state of Louisiana) who would volunteer for that duty. He had been trying to seduce both girls into his state room since the expedition had begun! In any event, it was Flora (or maybe Dora) who had asked him to stay behind and mark the site of their discovery of The Dewitt Clinton with the dry sub. And, as he anticipated a rather lengthy wait for someone to come and relieve him from that drudgery, he decided to try and catch something edible for the ship's galley to cook everybody tonight.
Hence, the fly-casting he was currently practicing with the Popeil Pocket Fisherman he had been sent as a mail-order birthday present by his father's brother (who worked for South Africa's ambassador to the United Nations).
Thrice now, he had reeled in the line only to cast it out, again, after failing to catch anything. On the fourth try, however, something nibbled on the baited hook. Something that almost instantly bit down on the bait and tried to make off with it!
"Holy Shit!" he muttered to himself: "Did I catch a bull shark, or something?! Whatever it is, unless it breaks the line, I just might have to release it to keep from capsizing."
* * * * *
KEN SCHUYLER'S POINT OF VIEW
Our descent to the beach took less than half the time it had taken our ascent. Even with Celeste carrying Dell like he was a toddler who had fallen asleep in her arms!
[As the first-born child of the Saucier family, she had often had to act as the catcher for her parents and brothers' trapeze act.]
When we got down to the beach, she hopped into the back seat with Dell, while I unearthed the anchor and stowed it in the shotgun seat before turning the key in the ignition. I put the speedboat into reverse until we had backed out of the shallows. Then, I rammed the gearshift into drive and opened the throttle to maximum!
"Mayday! Mayday! This is Ken. Tell Doc, Smitty, and Jonesy to get another bed ready in sick bay. Whatever happened to Brad, Dell is now suffering the same symptoms. Repeat: suffering the exact same symptoms! Over."
"Copy that," replied "Sparks" O'Leary (the ship's radioman): "Emergency triage will be waiting for you when you get here. Over and out."
We got to the stern of the Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a within half the time it had taken us to reach the lagoon. I then moored the boat while Celeste handed off Dell to Smitty and Jonesy. Consequently, I was the last to reach sick bay and witness a former U.S. Navy SEAL being practically thrown on to a cot, with oxygen tank, as if he were a hyper-active five year-old still on a sugar high at bedtime. It was only when Dell's breathing had steadied that Dr. Shareen King stopped feeding the oxygen to him at full blast.
Only then did she try to get particulars from me and Celeste.
"How did this happen?"
All we could do was shrug...helplessly.
"One moment, we were looking for him along what looked like a well-worn footpath or game trail," I replied: "With no trace of him, whatsoever. The next moment? He's there, right in front of us, as short as Brad. Maybe even shorter!"
"Oh, I sincerely doubt that," the doc growled with a scowl: "Come with me."
She took us to a large room just off the main infirmary. The boundary of which consisted of twin doors similar to those in a supermarket. You know; the ones that would normally have to be pushed open, from either direction, to permit exit from or entry into the "Employees Only" area? Well, in this case, these two doors had now been bolted shut, top and bottom.
"What's up, Doc?" I asked (Bugs Bunny cartoon reference genuinely not intended).
"See for yourselves," she replied (gesturing to the circular windows).
Celeste took the window on the right while I peered through the one on the left. For my part? All I saw was a Sony AVC-3250 closed circuit TV camera on a tripod, pointed downward at something in a terrarium on top of a gurney. And, when I said as much, the doc turned to the counter on her left and flicked a switch on a small portable CCTV monitor. The second she did so, she took three steps back and gestured for us to take a closer look at the screen. So Celeste and I stepped forward, and bent slightly downward, accordingly.
We gasped in perfect unison.
"It can't be...!" exclaimed Celeste.
The doc nodded: "I'm afraid it is."
On that screen, wearing what looked like a toga made from facial tissue, was Brad!
"How...?" I began.
"I found him like this less than twenty minutes ago. Ten minutes before then, I had taken him out from underneath the oxygen tent, as he seemed to have stabilized. When I came back to check on his pulse and heart beats, however, all I saw was his dressing gown, lying on the cot, flat as a pancake. Except for this strange little mound moving about, to and fro, under where the stomach would be!"
"And it was Brad?" Celeste whispered.
The doc nodded, again, adding: "Five inches tall, at best."
FEB. 16, 1981
* * * * *
Professors Stewart and Nakafusa were immediately called down to the infirmary. Partly, so Shareen would only have to explain things once. And, partly, so she could make a very strong recommendation to the de facto leaders of this expedition.
First, she showed them Brad Deane on the CCTV monitor outside the ad hoc quaratine area she had set up for him. Then, she took them to another monitor. One similar to the endoscopic variety Professor Stewart and I had hooked up to the electron microscope, in Shawna Kozlowski's lab, back at the University of Saint Augustine in Florida.
Into the chamber with the electron gun Shareen put a big glass jar of saline solution. She then turned it on, before explaining to us (while we waited) how she had put a sample of Brad's blood into that solution shortly before discovering his increased state of diminution.
"You won't believe what I found."
That declaration couldn't have been better timed if she planned it. Because, as soon as she made that pronouncement, the image she had been waiting for came on the TV screen.
Celeste was the first one to venture an opinion.
"What on Earth are those? Hunchbacked sea monkeys?"
The rest of us bent down to squint right alongside her. And Professor Stewart gasped.
"No! Those are...those are tardigrades. Just like the ones discovered by the Scott-Davis Expedition!"
"Not quite, professor," I cautioned: "Take a closer look."
I pointed to what the tardigrades seemed to be riding like little kids on an obscene merry-go-round. Namely; Protosyngnathus manticora larvae!
"I don't believe it," muttered Kalama: "Tardigrades...living ectoparasitically, like copepods?! That's impossible!"
"The same thing used to be said about endosymbiotic male anglerfish," Professor Stewart reminded her.*
Shareen harrumphed: "Just wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet!"
Whereupon, she withdrew the first jar of saline solution (which I now saw was labeled "Patient Zero") in order to put in another one (labeled "Patient Alpha"). Consequently, a slightly different image appeared on the screen.
Namely; free-swimming tardigrades.
"Where'd you get these, Dr. King?" I asked.
"From a blood sample I took from Dell," she replied: "While I was waiting for our esteemed professors! Two different blood samples, showing two sets of the same micro-organism, under two different forms of locomotion. The first set evidently force-fed into Brad by the flying squid that landed on his face! Which raises the question; how did this bunch get into Dell? It couldn't have been implanted the same way! Not if you truly found him the way you say you did."
Celeste and I both raised our hands, as if we were in a court of law. Verbally affirming that we had found Lydell Briggs out cold, on a mountainous jungle trail, on the mysterious island we had gone through so much to reach and explore.
"Then, I can only hypothesize one of two scenarios," our ship's doctor resumed: "He either ate or drank something, containing these tardigrades, while exploring that trail. If the former, we're going to have to go ashore and collect random samples of anything even remotely edible-looking so we can run tests on them...and, hopefully, concoct an antidote! That goes double for any freshwater springs he might have sipped from. Because, unless we _can_ develop some kind of antidote, the two of them might literally shrink away to nothing before we could get either of them to the nearest naval hospital facility!"
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.