Book 2 in the series.
By: C. S. Warner
A Scientist's Delight
“Lavender!” Carolena Burton rummaged through the glass-door refrigerator, frantically examining sample vials and dishes. “Lavender, get in here, please!” she called out again.
“Yes, ma’am?” the young intern asked, throwing on her lab coat as she entered the storage room.
Taking a moment to calm herself and not raise her voice, Carolena scolded through gritted teeth, “None of these algae samples are labeled with their solutions. I have no idea what was used or how much.”
“That’s not my fault!” Lavender retorted quickly, “Mr. Everett didn’t say to do that! He just said, ‘Store these’.”
“You were told three other times about labeling,” she took a deep breath, “so are you saying we have to tell you every single time we give you a job to do?”
“I can’t help it if your instructions aren’t clear, I’m trying my hardest,” though her defensive attitude that had spanned over the past few months had led Carolena to believe it was more apathy than perseverance.
Buzz, buzz, Carolena’s phone rang in her lab coat pocket. “We’ll continue this discussion later,” she waved her hand, “so, just, for now, try to figure out what you did to these… please… Hello, this is Carolena.”
“Carolena, this is Christopher Ashlan.” It took a moment for the name to register.
“Oh, hello! It’s been so long!” She exited the storage room and briskly walked to her office.
“I know. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.”
“Not at all,” she sat down at her desk. “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, I have a friend who found something in the ocean. Something, inexplicable.”
“Oh?” I doubt it, she thought, but listened politely.
“It’s complicated to explain over the phone… Is it possible that she could bring it to your lab?”
“Sure. We have several coolers to hold it.”
“Anything to accommodate something five feet long?”
“Are they bringing me a shark?” she quipped.
“No… Heh… It resembles more closely a… sea cucumber.”
Carolena Burton started her lab, B&E Research, with her colleague, Terrance Everett. Over the course of ten years, they had found work by contracting with local cities, institutes, or even other marine biologists who almost exclusively worked in the field and were in need of a lab; they had yet to have an instance of a private citizen bringing them something. After mulling it over, Carolena decided to charge the soon-to-arrive Ms. King how she would another scientist: by the hour.
Vera’s eyes darted to her rearview mirror and back to the road; rearview; road. Behind her, two cars back, a black sedan followed. At every turn, it turned; at every lane change, it changed. It can’t be, she thought, remembering the man with the gun who sped away from Doctor Phillip Spencer’s house. She pulled her reinforced van (that she usually only used for high-value transport, but it was the only thing large enough for the worm) into the small lot of the research lab and backed into a space nearest to the front door of the one story office building; the black sedan drove past.
The front door and windows of the suite had been blacked out and a camera mounted overhead. Vera stood for a moment, unsure if she had the correct address; there weren’t any signs stating the lab’s location, but the suite’s number, ‘108’, was the one Mrs. Burton had given her. To the right of the glass entrance was a doorbell; she pressed it and waited. BUZZ! The noise was a bit off putting, she thought, as she opened the door and entered.
A long hallway stretched out in front of her with closed doors on either side. “Hello?” she called out. “Mrs. Burton?” At the end, a door flung open and out walked a man, about forty, with sharp features and hazel eyes, smiling. He works out, she felt a blush and tried to collect herself. “I’m looking for Mrs. Carolena Burton,” she stated confidently.
“Yes, Mrs. King, right?” He held out his hand.
“Miss,” she smiled and shook it, taking note of his firm grip.
“Miss, sorry,” still smiling. “I’m Terrance Everett -Carolena’s partner. She’ll be out in a minute; so what is it that you’ve brought us today?”
“Well, Mr. Everett -”
“Of course, Terrance,” she smiled. “What I have for you today is an anomaly; something for you to decide and in fact tell me.” She crossed her arms, “Do you have a stretcher, or lab table with wheels?”
“Uh,” he laughed and looked up to the ceiling, as if to think, “I believe we might have something that could work. Do you mind if I see it first?”
Squeak… A different door opened and out walked a woman, hair disheveled and poorly pinned up, glasses dangling around her neck with a lab coat over a t-shirt and shorts -very unlike Terrance’s polo and khaki’s. “Oh, good lord,” she said as she turned to the two at the door. “Sorry, I’ve been busy relabeling and it has me all flustered and oblivious to the time. You must be Vera,” she held out hand; it was cold and slimy -after releasing it, Vera tried to nonchalantly wipe hers off on her red coat.
“She was just about to show me the thing she found,” Terrance announced proudly.
“Well, let’s see it! I’m excited!” Vera hesitated for a moment wondering if she should mention that it had killed someone... Not just yet, she decided and turned to the door.
As soon as they walked outside they had to cover their noses from the nauseating odor radiating from within the van. “It smelled like that as soon as they pulled it from the water,” Vera said as she opened the back doors. Although originally covered in a black tarp, the three-foot wide worm-like creature had rolled slightly free during the car ride and lied half folded over itself; its pincers facing the three onlookers.
The two marine biologists stared, catatonic, mouths agape. Finally, Terrance shook his head and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. “I, uh, think you’ve made a discovery here,” his gaze still locked on the creature.
“Ew! What is that?” Lavender startled them; she was leaning halfway out of the door behind them.
“I would appreciate,” Vera addressed Terrance, “that this be handled with discretion. I’m not sure what to do just yet and I don’t want anyone finding out about it.” Three seemed like more than enough to handle identification and classification to her.
“Lavender,” Carolena said, “go inside and bring us the storage dolly, please and thank you.” The intern rolled her eyes and closed the door.
“There are also these,” Vera pulled a small handheld cooler from beside the worm; she and John had purposefully moved the egg-like balls from the Nurture Bio Corp. box to lessen any risks of recognition and/or red alerts -like people coming forward claiming ownership, or even the government seizing the items.
“Geez!” Carolena said as she poked at the fluid-filled balls, “These are the largest fish eggs I’ve ever seen!” The dark spots jiggled within them.
Inside one of the rooms, Vera looked around at the different aquariums, listening to the sound of rushing water from the filters that she assumed must be like white noise to the other people around her. Fish, squid, and even spiders swam around in small tanks under artificial light while jars filled with sludge sat in rows on shelves overhead. Spread out over the table in the center of the room was the worm; it’s mid-section lying open as the two marine biologists worked meticulously dissecting it from either side.
“This is incredible,” said Terrance, turning to Vera, his hands still submerged inside the creature. “There is some kind of large scale metamorphosis happening; this is the larva,” he pulled his right hand out and pointed at the worm. “Inside is the next stage, pupa, before the final stage creature emerges.”
“Lavender,” Carolena called to the intern who stood consumed by her phone. “Lavender!”
“Huh,” she shoved the device into her pocket. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Take the cooler that Ms. King has brought us and dump the eggs into the large saltwater tank in Lab B, please.” The intern grabbed the cooler with both hands and turned to leave. “The empty one!” Carolena called after her. “I know…” they heard her say from the hallway.
“Now,” Carolena focused her attention on Vera, “I sent her away to tell you the… unsettling possibilities.” Vera stepped closer, covering her hand over her nose. “I don’t know how else to say this without sounding, well, insane, but unless there is a humanoid shaped sea creature that I’ve never heard of, I think that this grub somehow swallowed a person whole.”
“No,” Terrance cut in, “I think it’s more likely a coincidence. Some undiscovered underwater insect… mutated and its mutation looks like a person, kind of like pareidolia, you know, seeing faces in everyday objects. Besides, they share the digestive tract; it’s the same insect, or animal, or whatever.” He took a moment to address their guest, “I think you caught it right before it was supposed to shed into the pupa and go dormant.”
Vera took a moment to look over the split in half grub at the solid thing within it wishing they had waited before going after the coordinates, then Lou might have still been alive. “It has two arms and two legs. It’s face doesn’t just look like a human face, it is one,” she insisted and thought about the label on the metal box: ‘Nurture Bio Corp.’ “Is it at all possible that it could be some sort of wild way to preserve someone? Like cryogenics, but underwater?”
The two biologists looked at each other, furrowed their brows, and shook their heads ‘no’ in unison. “No, those eggs you brought suggest a full life cycle,” Carolena stated confidently.
“Alright, do me a favor, please?” Vera smiled a flirty grin, then continued, “Keep looking into this, discreetly. See if you can find out what it might be. Check on the eggs, but don’t let anyone know about it. I need to discuss what you’ve told me so far with the other parties involved.”
Ding, ding, Vera’s phone rang as she pulled the van out of the parking lot; it was her uncle, Hugh Dunn. “Hey, V. So I’ve been invited to a gala by another lawyer and he suggested that I invite my best client, too, so naturally I thought of my favorite niece. It’s supposed to be a big masquerade themed shindig (you know fancy gowns, tuxes, masks, feathers, the works) at the Bayside Resort ballroom this Friday night at… I think seven. What do you think? Wanna go?” She couldn’t answer; she was too busy watching the black sedan in her rearview mirror that had pulled out and started following along behind her, turn for turn.
“Uh, sure,” she finally answered, still slightly distracted. “Can I take someone?”
“Sounds great. I know just who to bring.”
Chapter 3 next Saturday! ➡️
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