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!"