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!"