More of the story of Gus and Dr. Custler. I am at 66K words on Shikari Five (still no title yet. Am open to clean suggestions) and opted to work on finishing that instead of the blog.
“… and this facility serves both our oceanic geology faculty and as additional space for some of our short-term research project staff.” The door opened the rest of the way and a harried, lean administrator ushered a middle-aged woman and man into the room. Dr. Custler straightened up from the core currently occupying the rock-rack on his desk as Dean Sudstrand and the two foundation representatives came in. “Mr. Dawkins, Dr. Sutledge, Dr. George A. Custler, our oceanic geologist on staff.”
Mr. Dawkins sniffed the air, frowned, and sniffed again. “I smell a tank. I thought you said there were no aquatic creatures in this part of the facility.”
“Normally there are not, sir,” George said before the dean could inhale. “However, we were presented with a rehabilitation patient two days ago, and Monterrey does not have facility space at the moment, so we are caring for the creature here as a purely temporary measure.”
“Rehabilitation?” Dr. Sutledge demanded. She reminded George of a beluga whale in all the wrong ways.
“Yes, ma’am,” he began, verbally tap-dancing before Gus could pipe up. “Illegal aquatic animal sale was broken up, as you saw in the news, and one of the octopodes was sent here. It is not from this climate region,” he added, which was pure truth. “Otherwise it would have been released as soon as the police gave permission. Monterrey will take it in and return it to its proper habitat as soon as they have space.” Out of the corner of his eye, George saw a tentacle with an upturned tip poking out of the end of the supposedly secure aquarium cover. Oh no. Gus was doing his “sod-off-topus” impression.”
“Good. Nothing should be forced to endure captivity,” Dr. Sutledge stated. She stamped the floor for emphasis. “Geology?”
Dean Sudstrand leapt in. “Yes, ma’am.” As the dean nattered about climate change and past precedents as proxies for planning and remediation goals, Mr. Dawkins peered at the core sample. He tapped it with one finger, and George noticed rather striking crackle nail polish on the man’s thumbs.
“What’s this layer?”
“Tsunami debris, sir, and then underwater land-slip. We’re trying to do core comparisons with facilities in Japan and Korea to see if the originating quake was here or there, and to firm up the date sequence.”
The man’s eyes lit up. “Ah. I read Kurosawa’s paper on the sea-floor effects of the Fukushima quake and her hypothesis on nutrient loss leading to fish-stock decline. Rather interesting line of thought, yes?”
“Yes indeed, sir. She’s doing excellent and valuable work.” George had slapped himself in the head when he’d seen the draft during peer-review before the conference. Why had he not thought of that? Because he was working in nutrient poor waters to begin with, and conditions just went from lousy to terrible, not from really-great to end-of-the-world-as-they-knew-it famine.
[Rest of the day is quiet]
Gus stayed quiet in his bucket until they got to the dock. George hauled the bucket to the tidal pool and tipped Gus into the salt water. “Ahh,” he could have sworn he heard as the octopus crawled back and forth, then propped himself up, head partly out of the water, looking as if he were lounging in a hot tub. George took the bucket to his boat, made something to eat, and returned to the tidal pool. After a while Gus inquired, “So, you think anything will come of the morning tour?”
George considered as he chewed. “I don’t know, but I would not bet money on it. Sea Song is, well, fussy about who they give to. They got burned by that whale-preservation group four years ago, the ones that claimed to be focusing on calving habitat preservation?”
Gus waved a tentacle. “I remember that. They took Whale Watch, Greenpeace, and even that radical action crew for several million, didn’t they? Impressive fraud.”
“Madoff level, yes. Anyway, I don’t expect to hear much back from them. I hope the dean isn’t counting on them to make up the rest of his dream budget.”
Gus splashed a little, swam around the pool and surfaced again. “Are you going out on the work-boat soon?”
“I hadn’t planned on it. We’ve got cores sufficient for at least the next month, once I finish cataloguing them and then really tear into the analysis.” He should fob that off onto the grad student, but she was having serious problems coping with Gus. Enough so that he was considering calling in some favors and having her transfer to Santa Barbara to finish her work. “Is something starting to shift?” If so, he wanted to see about getting a seismograph run started near the afflicted area if he could.
Gus waved the tips of two tentacles back and forth, his version of the “maybe so, maybe no” hand sign. “Not rock related, but something’s bugging people. Really bugging people. The elementals are moving out of the bay, probably just temporarily. I can’t get a good read on it.”
The mage sat up from his slouch against the railing on the pier. “I can put out the day after tomorrow and we can get a better sense. It’s not a ghost or other spirit is it? Something that will require clergy?” He had a few people he could call in if they did need clergy, but he’d prefer not to bother them with a false alarm.
“No.” The one syllable came slowly, hesitantly. “I don’t— No, not a pure spirit or something that needs clerical intervention. Not yet.” Gus paused, distracted. One tentacle whipped out and reeled in a small fish. George worked on his pasta salad as Gus dined. Hunger sated for the moment, Gus spoke again, with more confidence. “Not yet. I don’t know if it ever will, or if it is one of those things that mimics a spirit but isn’t one really.”
“Like the thing that acts as if he’s Davy Jones?” They’d met him once, just once, and that was more than enough. George did not care to know what that being was doing in the shallows, anyway. Ignorance, bliss, and all that. The green and grey shape had moved like a tired, stiff human, old and dangerous. Gus had raced out of the water, prompting George to scoop him up and shield as hard as they could while retreating well past the high-tide line. Waves of something cold, powerful, and amoral radiated from the being, and Gus had whispered, “D-d-d-avy Jones. Do not mess with him. He’s not right,” and had tapped George’s temple with a tentacle tip. George had seen no reason to argue. His hair on end, shields still as high as they could go, he’d found Gus’s bucket, refreshed it from a tidal pool well up the rocks, and they’d called an early day. Gus had needed a quarter pint of Anchor Steam’s finest that evening before he stopped shaking.
Work went well, too well, for the rest of the week. George started feeling haunted, and Gus kept quiet, not smarting off or insulting the administrators’ ancestry and sexual prowess or lack-there-of. “I’m getting bad vibes,” Gus admitted Thursday evening. “Something’s out there. The elementals are gone, and some of the sharks are going well out to sea. And the seals? Four-legged? Not hunting past the midpoint of the bay.”
“Oh… drillingmud,” George swore. Then he noticed something odd about the core segment under his magnifier. “Huh? What is— Ooh.” That thin black layer did not look like decomposed biologic material or volcanic ash. “Gus, different topic. I may have a forest-fire layer, but it’s really thick.” Several millimeters thick, and intact? That was exceedingly odd. “I think I’m going to have to take a micro-slice and beg some time on the big microscope.”
“Come in on Sunday, Skipper,” Gus stated. “Dr. Saki’s going to be out of town.”
George straightened up, blinking. “He is? I—” he clamped his mouth shut, stopping the words before they came out. “Good to know. Thanks.”
(C) 2019 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved