(Editor’s note: The following story is a sequel to “Mutant XX Embryo“.)
There is no visible light in the horizontal passage that stretches away toward the harbor underground. Two pirates left several minutes ago in search of a way out. Silence is growing to a ringing in the ears of the rocket-van crash survivors, who rest awaiting doom from the lighted shaft above. Captain Lud reassures his girlfriend:
“I learned genetics at Naval Training School. We hit the enemy with so much bio-hazardous waste and poison, that everything was polluted. We had an advantage, and we had to know how to react.”
Critter responds with a whisper, “You’re so romantic,” as she grabs him by his hair and starts kissing him and pulling him in. “So the world was a slimy, dirty place.” Sounds of peeling off their dripping-wet clothes, revealing their spastic heartbeats, are overlaid by a creeping, cold, cuddly feeling. Captain Lud is hoping that his new recruits will find an inhabitable place where they could be occupied for a while. Critter unscrews his thermos and slides the vial out into his hand.
The glass tube is cold, so he starts rubbing it between his palms. His hands are thick and calloused. The friction between them warms the contents. His shoulders are sore from rolling away from the burning van on the storeroom floor above. He listens for noises from above and down the corridor, but Critter grabs him again. Soon the couple are back to making their own heat, as they melt into the pile of old clothes on the dank, concrete floor.
“Dang!” Captain Lud is bitten by some unseen pest. The site of damage soon begins to swell and itch very badly. If his girlfriend weren’t called Critter, he might be offended, but in this case he feels as if fair warning was given. After the transfer of the mutant embryo to Critter’s reproductive system, their long-lost romance has to stop. Lud continually hoped to hold her thin figure and hear her silly giggles throughout his military service, his prison sentence, and the years of toiling at his janitorial career. The captain starts worrying about the others. They could fall from blood loss or concussions, or be captured. Then they could be tortured and divulge their secrets. Partially relieved, Lud gets dressed and walks down the tunnel.
* * *
The thin rubber soles on his shoes are cracking and causing itching up his legs from the dusty gypsum and calcium chloride that coats the unfinished flooring. He considers the costs of his new occupation. They need supplies and food. Piracy isn’t very different from military operations. His chest warms with a comfortable musculoskeletal awareness that he keeps as his only enduring naval retirement package. Over the years, he tried to subvert his mind from remembering a loudmouth officer he sat across from in the cafeteria at the naval barracks, who babbled about underground storage facilities and their contents. However, Lud has vivid memories of his face, what he said, and how uncomfortable he felt as he was exposed to what could be considered a serious security breech. That officer was never seen again. Now, he expects a side shaft or doorway leading into a chasm full of forgotten and dusty weaponry. Another red light blinks on the wall ahead. Under the light, there is an open door and stairs leading downward. There is a bloody jacket jammed in the frame, holding the hinges open. He turns and retraces his path.
Critter is finished with conception. The sore on his thigh is chafing on his rough inseam. It could be a spider bite, but not a serious one, if it was living in her pants all along. Any insect feeding on her general dirtiness would likely have an abundance of bacteria covering its mandibles. Lud has very little experience with female hygiene. His conviction for murder was so soon after his discharge that he never got attached as a free man. Studying structural pest management was encouraged for maintenance workers at Geneticorp. His hyperactive mind is swimming with charts of human parasitoids that could have caused the princess-pea-sized, staph-like swelling. Could these parasites be used to spread the embryo once it’s cloned? They could be attracted by the warmth and smell of the host-target infestation site. A large winged adult with a voluminous abdomen could grow undetected inside a female, and then be collected using a specific sex-attractant pheromone. A small tube with a detachable cap could be inserted in the ovipositor, so that the cap would remain stuck when the embryo is discharged into the new host uterus. Lud will have to share his new idea with a cloner when he gets back to the surface. His mind is relieved by a warm, glowing feeling when he notices that Critter is dressed and approaching him from the end of the corridor. Childish notions of naked playmate foolishness overcome his thoughts again.
“I couldn’t find them, but they left us a trail,” he remarks.
* * *
The two missing pirates are resting in a lighted break room down the stairs and several hundred meters away from the concrete corridor with the ventilation shaft above. Their heads are clean and wrapped with bandages, and they are filling the trash with empty nutri-sol paks and first-aid wrappers. A steel hard-hat is resting on the table with a pair of empty boots that need polish. Wet clothes are draped over the empty chairs. Along one wall there are lockers. More juice drinks and pastes are in open boxes out on the counter. On the opposite wall there is a small door.
“I can’t believe that we are alone down here,” comments the larger of the two pirates. “Ow,” he bursts out, as Critter sneaks in and pulls at the ear exposed from under his dressings. “There are coveralls in the lockers, but they don’t look very clean.”
“You didn’t find a wash room?” Critter whines. A disturbed, scowling pinch-faced mess under a mop of hair at the end of the table extends a bony, shaking hand that motions toward the other door.
“We passed some locked doors,” Lud comments.
“There was nothing so far but some pumps, a substation, and a broom-closet,” the long-haired one reports quietly to Critter from between clenched teeth. Critter enters the restroom and closes the door behind her. Lud tries to make conversation.
“It looks like you took some shrapnel.”
“There is first-aid in that locker on the end,” the larger pirate says, frowning and rolling his eyes. As Lud opens the locker and picks at the remaining stock of wipes, bandages, and ointments, he notices that his leg is bleeding badly from when he fell in a dumpster the night before. He strips off his wet clothes and sits down with the others. The leg is infected and somewhat necrotic. His hair is matted from when he was knocked out earlier that evening. Luckily these two young men don’t resemble the gang-banger who threw the bottle at him.
“Those punks were kind of ruthless on you, but we didn’t let them get you too bad, eh? I’m Dolph,” says the bulky-shouldered one, who straightens in his chair and reveals that his neck is thicker than his head. The narrow-faced pirate glances around suspiciously and keeps his silence. “That guy only talks to Critter.” Critter emerges from the doorway and motions at him.
“Go get your jacket, Willy.” So he dizzily stands up and goes back the way they came. “He’s got the key to all these doors,” Critter whispers. “He says his dad worked down here thirty years ago, then went crazy and disappeared. He told me wild stories about the harbor underground, but we never felt like messing with the government. It seems like we were helping them shake up the industry, you know, toughening it. They were worried about the war, not us. We kept out of sight anyway, and slept during regular hours.”
“You two slept together?” Lud asks, with a dopey expression of disbelief. Dolph nods, starts chuckling, and exposes a big set of buck teeth.
* * *
Police Colonel Klinkenhorn cringes on his padded vinyl chair as the phone on his desk clangs loudly. His secretary notifies him that a Geneticorp Executive, Dr. Winters, is waiting to see him outside his office.
“Send him in,” he orders. He closes his eyes and sees swirls of purple, blue, green, and pink hazy plasma storming behind his lids. They fade to a pleasant gold shimmer as the door opens and sunbeams shine through the shades by his secretary’s desk. His eyebrows stretch upwards, and he blinks several times. The silhouette of a hunched-over, skeletal frame topped by a slightly fuzzy bald head shuffles into view. The Colonel relaxes and exhales deeply, as he directs his visitor to a chair across from his desk against a wall with framed pictures overhead. The door automatically closes. He smiles as he considers the juxtaposition of the heroes’ proud faces in uniform standing in the rubble in front of an exploded fortress, and on the deck of a warship with their guns displayed, compared to this man’s collapsing bone structure, wrinkled features indicating a worried perma-frown, brown and red liver spots covering his head and hands, all wrapped up in a very expensive blue pinstripe silk suit. The executive tries to smooth the few straggling hairs down on top of his head with his arthritic, varicose-veined claws as the air-conditioning vent blows them irritatingly upwards.
“What have you done to find these criminals?” he croaks with pouting, pursed lips. Col. Klinkenhorn takes a deep breath, stiffens his lip and wrinkles his brow at the accusation. “They have stolen something from me. Someone on the inside must have leaked information that led them to remove laboratory research materials that could undermine our whole operation at Geneticorp.”
“Please, be more specific,” Klinkenhorn remarks.
“We are missing genetic material that could be worth a fortune to our competitors, far more than our current budget. We need to recover what was stolen very soon before it leaks to the public. Our industry has been very generous in cooperation with the military for decades. What efforts have been made by your police to catch the pirates?” hisses the old man.
The Police Colonel responds, “We arrested most of the pirates, who were operating out of a warehouse near your research laboratories here. We’re working with the Naval Command and can report no activity at the port or the airfield. We believe that a few of them may have escaped in a cargo van, but died when it exploded and submerged in a drainage canal during a high-speed chase early this morning.”
“I want the prisoners interrogated. A glass vial containing vital DNA was reported missing from a laboratory by one of our leading researchers. It is virtually untraceable. As the security guards reported to you, there was a break-in at our facility. Then, we followed the perpetrator to the warehouse that your men surrounded. Who put them up to this? Who are their contacts?” Dr. Winters pleads.
The Colonel smiles reassuringly at the desperate visitor, “I would like you to know that we will cooperate fully with your office throughout this investigation. We shall conduct interrogations and search the premises for any evidence fitting the descriptions you have given us. If you like, we can send our detectives to your laboratories to thoroughly investigate there as well. But we wouldn’t want to interrupt your operations without your consent. I would like to express to you personally that I authorized extreme priority to be executed on your behalf during the pursuit and arrests of the pirate gang members. The survivors should be recuperating in preparation for questioning, as we speak.”
“Your detectives are granted full access to the laboratories. I’ll have the chief of security meet them when they arrive. Please send me the police reports as soon as possible,” The pinstriped suit stands up, somewhat awkwardly on his spindly legs, and heads for the door. Colonel Klinkenhorn leans back in his chair and stretches his arms with his hands behind his head. His mind wanders to cases of champagne, caviar, and chocolate they found on the second floor of the pirate warehouse.
* * *
Dolph’s head is buried in the crook of his arm. He took too many antihistamines, and antibiotic ointment is smeared throughout his hair and all over the scabs on his face and neck. Dirty bandages are in piles on the table next to his shiny helmet, but he’s not bleeding anymore. Critter and Lud are fussing over each other’s abrasions, burns, and contusions, steadily depleting the last of the first-aid supplies and sucking down all the nutri-sol.
“He’s been gone for hours, “ Lud mumbles. “I hope he finds something. We need some transportation out of here.” Willy appears in the doorway, shivering. He opens a locker and removes the coveralls hanging inside. They are thermally shielded with a thick inner lining. He takes off his shoes and steps into the suit. Then, he opens all the lockers and selects coveralls to fit the others. Dolph wakes up when a thermal suit flops on his head.
“Pneumatic tubes,” Willy whispers as he hands Critter a size Small outfit still in the packaging. Lud takes his suit from Willy and takes off his overcoat. He sees a pair of thick rubber boots at the bottom of one of the lockers, and takes off his shoes. They stuff their pockets with the remaining supplies from the cabinets, and drink from the faucet as they get dressed for the high-pressure shafts. Lud notices Willy helping Critter get dressed, pulling the hood over her head, and adjusting the straps. He is worried about his place in the love triangle. Well, that’s how the tetrahedron tumbles. He pulls his wool cap down over his ears and enjoys the warmth and static, fuzzy high-pitched background noise resulting from the trauma above. They grab goggles and march together down the corridor.
They pass buzzing generators behind doors with metal vents and finally reach the tube portal. Willy activates the door, and they climb quickly inside. They sit crammed together, putting on their goggles in the narrow plastic pipe, as the air compressors behind them roar. They slide along, accelerating, rising, and then descending until they land in a pile, and the door opens into the rear of a hangar filled with aircraft fuselages, wenches, pulleys, engines on blocks, and parts suspended overhead on rail tracks. Large bay doors face out into the harbor. Dolph heads toward the far side of the bay, and selects an amphibious airplane, floating tied in near the hangar doors. He begins inspecting the engine compartment, then the landing gear. Willy throws Critter the key, then runs and jumps into the cockpit and listens for Dolph’s safety checks.
Lud and Critter walk along the opposite side of the bay, turning on lights and searching inside a row of offices. They mostly contain wall lockers, file cabinets, and desks. There is a fire-safety room with hoses, pails, axes, and a big valve wheel mounted on the wall. At the end of the row, there is a door that leads off a bridge of decking into a side docking bay. Lud opens the door and inside he sees the tail end of a submarine hull, shaped like a channel shark about 10 meters long and 2 meters in diameter, hoisted above the water. There are two portals spaced along the underside of the hull. Critter opens the portals, and ladders unfold outward and swing downward. Lud and Critter look inside the compartments and see that there are steering controls in the front and visual scanners, audio, and radar equipment in the back. Lud climbs into the front because the seat is bigger and wider. The two compartments are separated by hinge-like sections that appear to swing back and forth, propelling the submarine by the force of the tail. Lud turns on the power switch and checks the dials. The battery indicator reads a full charge. The back-up battery is also charged. Dolph is fueling up the plane, and they can hear Willy running around the bay towards them on the decking. Willy freezes when he sees Critter climbing inside the rear portal of the ribbed submarine hull to a narrow swivel seat. He starts crying, and blubbering about the bay door controls on the other side. Critter barks at him to lower the submarine in the water, and tow it out in the harbor behind the airplane, then they close the hull.
Willy finds a rope, ties it around the tail of the shark, and lowers the hoists from the lift control box on the corrugated metal wall. He finds a life preserver on the dock rigging, and sends it floating under the bridge of decking towards the submarine bay. As the float rides the little waves, he catches it with the hook from the rear hoist. Then he unfastens the shark hull from the front hoist and pulls it under the bridge. The turbo-prop floating plane is started, and Dolph is waving at Willy. Willy waves back, so Dolph throws the ropes and maneuvers across the bay. Willy hands the guide line through the window to Dolph, and points down at the tail of the shark submarine that is just a few feet under the surface and emerging under the bridge. Willy runs around the bay decking again and opens the bay doors as Dolph turns around and pulls the sub across the bay. Willy jumps from the controls onto the amphibious floats, and climbs into the plane. As the plane steers into the harbor, Dolph throws down the submarine line, and takes off into the sunset.
Lud mans the controls with ease. His visual scanner is composed of two screens on the forward panel that probably see out of the shark’s eyes. There is a switch for the image intensifier that could provide vision in low-light conditions. His hands grasp the steering yoke, and his foot presses on the accelerator pedal. The aft shifts side-to-side. Critter is startled by the motion of the tail surrounding her compartment as it swishes back and forth. She can make out the hydraulic tube arrays that extend between the steel ribs that are bolted onto overlapping plastic armor plates, causing the forward thrust. Her seat swivels within the cylindrical sections that extend from the middle all the way to the tail. Lud decides to dive, so he pushes forward on the lever extending up from the right side of his seat. Soon they maneuver the micro-sub out of the harbor and into the open sea.
“What was this thing doing in that abandoned hangar?” Critter nags.
“This is a tracking sub,” Lud answers. “The hangar was used by fishermen to locate schools of fish from the air. Maybe rescue teams and meteorologists too. Fishing was banned here during the war. They were probably hired as naval officers, but we never had to defend these waters. If there was trouble from sharks or other predatory fish, they would be difficult to locate. Big fish are likely to avoid the sound of motors on fishing boats, so they could evade capture. But, they might attack recreational boaters in small crafts. We could approach an area where there was a disturbance, quietly concealed with mimicry to locate the predators.”
Critter unzips her thermal suit and digs into her vest pocket. She rips the seam out and removes a pouch from within the lining. She shakes some of the contents into her hand. Large jewels, rings, and earrings pour out. She selects a big diamond ring and puts it on her hand.
“Want to get married?” she proposes to Lud. He turns around and gives her a wide grin that makes him look silly, as he observes the loot and the shimmering jewel she is wearing.
”Of course, my darling,” he awkwardly assents. He remembers a perfect destination. He sets course for a secluded cove with sparkling beaches and a cave where they can hide their vessel. “I think I can flip it upside-down with the steering yoke, so we can climb out.” *
About the author: Edward R. Heard, M.S., has been published often by the Mississippi Academy of Sciences and in elementary, junior high, and high school journals.
Story copyright 2012 Edward R. Heard
About the illustrator: Romeo Esparrago illustrates, when he’s not doing other things.
Illustration copyright 2012 Romeo Esparrago