XXIX. Beaten to the Punch

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While Sarah continued questioning the doctor, Adam had gone back out to talk to Mrs. Flores.

"My daughter texted, they should be back in a few minutes," she said, not taking her eyes off her son through the window.

Nurses in biohazard gear were checking his vitals and cleaning up the projectile vomit.

She turned and looked at the reporter for a moment. "My husband and my daughter, they were also looking to get more of the jellyfish for the doctors to look at."

He nodded understandingly, then turned as he heard a voice calling from behind him.

"Isabela!" An older man approached. He did not look pleased. He carried a lumpy garbage bag, and his teenage daughter followed closely behind him.

The man gave Adam a look of suspicion.

"Who is this? Are you the new doctor come to make my son sicker and tell us more lies?"

"No, Francisco, this is Mr. Roberts. Do you remember, from the autotune video?"

The man's eyes widened in recognition momentarily before the scowl returned to his face. "Are you here to use us in your fake news? Will you make an autotune video of my sick son? Have you no respect?"

His voice rose as he spoke, and his eyes flashed.

Adam raised his hands and stepped back. "No, sir, we're here with your wife's permission and we just want to know how Cyrus got sick. We want to stop it from happening to anyone else."

Mrs. Flores spoke soothingly to her husband. "Corazón, they're only trying to help."

The man growled, shaking his head. "They are no help to us. Where are those worthless doctors? We have to give them these. We got them their stupid samples. Get out of my way."

Adam opened his mouth, then closed it. The man was gripping the garbage bag strangely with one hand, digging his hands into the folds of the thin plastic so his hand was partially hidden by it. He shoved past Adam roughly, calling out for his son's doctors.

The girl hugged her mother. She had been reserved, but as her father's angry voice drifted away, she spoke quietly. "It was so weird."

"Pardon me, Miss Flores," Adam said, "I'm Adam Roberts, from KXSF news."

Gabriela blinked, then actually smiled a little. "It's you! From the news! I was so scared for you out in that boat so close to that thing."

Adam smiled back. "I was pretty scared too, to be honest. It sounds like you did a pretty brave thing yourself tonight, helping your family like this."

She shrugged, embarrassed. He went on.

"We're here because we were talking to your mother about Cyrus and what happened. Do you think you could tell me what you mean that it was weird?"

"Um," Gabriela said, "It's just. We went to beaches near San Pedro at first, but the jellyfish we took were already sludge by the time we were halfway here, so we went to more beaches to try and get fresher ones."

She swallowed. "There were so many more of them at that last beach. It was like they were growing into each other, and... pushing up onto the shore. Farther than things usually come up on shore, I mean. Does that makes sense?"

Adam nodded encouragingly.

"I certainly couldn't tell you what it means, but we're talking to doctors and scientists to try and find out and hunting down every lead we can. Do you think you could tell me which beach you were just at?"

Boson Wireless🔋73% 8:38pm


Take care of yourself too, Lashawna.



Not tap

Use bottled water for that

Julia's letting me know it's past time for mac and cheese, I'll message you later.

Based on past behavior I think that may be an optimistic view.


At least if they arrest me then they'll HAVE to read in more researchers

It is unthinkable that they aren't committing more resources

Mara this needs more than me

I'm terrified of this thing's capabilities

I'm thinking nobody should drink the water and nobody should be within a hundred miles of the coast

You're thinking it's like a cordyceps situation?

Novel behaviors? Caused by the virus?

But there are a lot of novel behaviors especially around the bioluminescence


But the jellyfish aren't exhibiting the chimera phenotypes we saw in the attack forms.

I'm pretty sure it's in the jellyfish too

I'm waiting on PCR to confirm, but...

I've isolated a novel retrovirus in the remains

If you've already made up your mind, then stop teasing me. What is it?

Second, I actually tried to get you read in but it's "politically inconvenient" and this is too important

First, don't tell me what to do

If I needed to know, they'd read me in.

It's not worth it. You know I want to know, but you need to be where you are.

Then don't, Lashawna.

I wouldn't even be risking my clearance like this but things are so far gone you have no idea

Okay. You didn't hear this from me

Self-destructing message timer set: 1 hour

Mara is typing...

Danielle picked out minor chords on her keyboard, playing nothing in particular. It was hard to focus, lately.

The lack of sleep had been getting to her, making everything feel less real.

At that thought, she pinched herself and glanced over at a clock. She looked away, then back to see the time had advanced by a few seconds in the way clocks normally behave.

"Checking to see if you're awake?" Agatha glanced up from the book she was reading.

"Yeah, just... I've been doing some reading about lucid dreaming lately. Kinda trying to figure out how to take some control back."

Agatha closed her book. "Yeah? So you're gonna be pinching yourself every few minutes from now on to check if you're awake all the time?"

Danielle threw a cushion at her. "No, there's lots of things you're supposed to do. Check to see if light switches and clocks work. Look into mirrors if you're feeling brave."

"I mean. That actually sounds kind of like a good idea."


"Yeah. It'd be cool to have control over your dreams. Break out of nightmares, fly around. I love flying in dreams."

"You have flying dreams?"

"You don't?"

"No!" Danielle played a sad sting on the keyboard, like the tune that played in an old arcade game when you lost a life.

"Well, you should try it." Agatha got up and walked across the room, then came back carrying her bass guitar. She plugged it into an amplifier, adjusted it, then sank onto the couch so that Alan was between the two of them.

Agatha played a few ascending notes in B minor.

Danielle grinned and played answering notes on the keyboard, then elaborated on the theme. A pleasurable tension built as the notes rose.

Agatha sped up, and the notes of In The Hall Of The Mountain King filled the apartment as they improvised on the theme.

Danielle sped up to match, using her right hand to add fills and flourishes. She let the song build to a crescendo, then stopped and flicked switches on the keyboard synth.

Agatha played a short solo, looking down at Alan and punctuating the end of each bar with "meow MEOW meow meow meow meow MEOW!" Alan looked up at her balefully but was far too comfortable to move.

Agatha finished her solo and Danielle jumped in with full 80s sci fi movie synth. She meowed along with her wife, much to the non-amusement of their feline friend.

Agatha surprised Danielle with a kiss without missing a beat.

"That's just showing off," Danielle laughed.

"So you want me to stop?"

"I didn't say that."

Alan jumped away with a contemptuous flick of his tail.

"Rear Admiral, ma'am!" Lieutenant Cortes called out.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" Shyamala strode over swiftly. The young man's workstation showed a pulsing blue grid with a fuzzy, organic shape superimposed on it.

"Ma'am, I've been running every sonar data stream I could get my hands on through some of the deep learning plugins you mentioned and a few more new ones I found. The algorithm has picked up on something subtle-- I have an updated visualization here for you."

She looked at the pulsing shapes highlighted on the screen. "That thing is moving and growing, all right. Looks like ASTRAL LARK to me. Why did it take this level of analysis to find?"

"These changes are subtle. They're exaggerated for this visualization, but they are there. Furthermore, this visualization is actually sped up; what we're looking at is actually data compiled from over the last eighteen hours."

She nodded slowly. "Where is this?"

The young man gulped. "These changes are occurring on the seabed across the entire Western seaboard. It is much bigger than last time."

Shyamala straightened and looked around the room for a moment. Then, she spoke decisively.

"Lieutenant, track this thing's location. Liaise with Doctor Carruth. I want all vessels advised of its last known locations and I want to know about any sightings five minutes before they happen."

"Yes, ma'am," the young man said, and resumed typing furiously.

"And Lieutenant?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Get the Nevada on the horn. I want C-HGPs on standby."

Sarah backed away from the angry man. The doctor with the bushy eyebrows was trying to calm him.

"Sir, this isn't a public area-- I appreciate your bringing me more samples, but your wife and Ms. Landsburg's team have already provided--"

"NO!" The man was yelling now, sending flecks of spittle flying. "Do you have any idea? These stupid jellyfish only last twenty minutes-- and you won't even look? Are you trying to kill my son?"

"Yes-- we actually have a sample that I'm trying to observe right now undergoing that exact process, if you could just--"

Francisco Flores had no intention of letting the doctor finish a sentence. "He was fine until we brought him here! You, you made him sicker! You're-- it's so hot in here, why is it so hot... you..."

"Sir... are you all right?" The doctor's bushy eyebrows rose high on his face.

His hand slipped on the garbage bag and it fell. Jason leapt back as the liquefying invertebrate bodies oozed onto the floor.

The man covered his face with his hands, and Sarah could see now that his right hand was blistered and red.

"Mr. Flores, did you touch one of the jellyfish yourself?" Sarah spoke as evenly as she could. "Sir, I'm sorry, but it's very important."

The man rounded on her his eyes flashing, and he started to say something but suddenly choked. "You-- this-- I just need some water. I just--"

He stumbled to a sink, turned on the faucet, and lowered his head to drink from the stream of water.

Dave circled slowly toward Sarah, one hand pressed to his breast pocket.

"Doctor?" Sarah looked over at the young man in the lab coat, who was already speaking into a telephone. He held up a hand and Sarah looked back at Mr. Flores.

The man was breathing heavily. He stopped drinking and stumbled toward the others in the room.

"You... you did this to me! I was fine until I got here!"

His face distorted with sudden rage and he lunged across the room, reaching his hands out toward the doctor.

With a whirl of motion, someone scooped an arm across Flores's chest and under his armpit and his forward momentum suddenly carried his lower half forward while his upper half twisted in the air.

The man slammed into the ground and Jason stood over him, holding his arm in a lock that robbed him of all leverage.

Sarah and Dave stared in shock.

"What?" Jason said pettily. "I take Aikido."

"Tell me you got that," Sarah said to Dave.

"We can't use it for anything," he said. "Not unless Mr. Flores signs a release."

"Oh, no, I just want that for myself," she said. "I need to watch that again tomorrow to make sure this wasn't all a dream."

Jason shook his head as hospital staff rushed in and restrained Mr. Flores.

"This is a mess," he said.

Adam came in and stopped. "Wow, what'd I miss?"

"You won't believe it until you see the footage," Sarah said. "What's up?"

"Well, Jason's gonna kill me, but I think there's another beach we need to check out."

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