Friday Familiars: Down by the Sea

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



21 thoughts on “Friday Familiars: Down by the Sea

  1. Oh yum! I like Gus. At least I like reading about him. I’m surprised he didn’t do anything during the tour. The last book was women’s Work, how about something to do with children or mothers?

    • Where are Gus and Dr Custler? La Jolla, Woods Hole, NY/CT, Houston, Corpus Christi? Octopi are most comfortable near the sea? I think an octopus in a river would be like a “country boy in the city”? Although, according to my limited knowledge, the Mississippi river would be most like the ocean.

        • I know that UC Santa Cruz has a well-regarded Marine Biology program (a friend’s wife got her M.S. in that program). Cal State Monterey Bay has a program too, I think. The Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (in Moss Landing, natch) is roughly halfway between them. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium does a fair amount of research, too.

          BTW – if you’re talking Northern California, you probably mean “Monterey” . “Monterrey” is the city/region in north-eastern Mexico.

  2. Suggestions for Shikari book title –
    Trail of the Ancients
    Song of the Birds
    Migration and other Calamities

    • Hmm. “Hoplings and Pouchlings” has potential…

      I like Diggers, except 1) the web-comic and book by the title of Digger and 2) it also is the nickname for ANZAC (specifically Australian) soldiers. I’d hate to get irate e-mail and one-star reviews because of title confusion.

  3. I like the character development, but am waiting for a Gus comment about being all thumbs. It’s a nice combination of geologist with highly intelligent cephalopod. The reference to Davy Jones is a nice, gruesome addition. The sea folklore can add a lot of tales. My guess is Scripps Institute in La Jolla. They have nice tidal pools by their boat dock, and a fair amount of shallows down through San Diego Bay. The clue is a reference to four-legged seals. SEAL (two-leg with flippers) training is conducted on Coronado Bay.

    For the Shikari title, any thought to a Kipling tribute, such as Scouts Three (Uncle Trent, Tomas, and Kor)?

  4. I like drilling mud as an epitheth. I

    f the references to the place that coldn’t take then are in N. Calif, the spelling is Monterey. Scary implications of forces in the sea. it’s not nice.

    no inspirations for titles.

  5. Concur on Scripps at La Jolla. They’re a strange enough bunch that Gus and Custler would fit in fine! LOL

  6. A minor point and a thing-I’d-like-to-see somewhere in this story:

    Minor point: I submit that in a tidepool, Gus is more likely to find a nice crab or small lobster to munch on than a fish.

    Thing I’d like to see: some mention of Gus using his color- and shape-changing powers. Or at least practicing them. Among other things, it would be a wonderful way to get him some of the nonverbal expressiveness that humans get from facial expressions and body language.

  7. ps: if you’d rather not get suggestions like that, just say so and I’ll refrain.

    • No worries. Suggestions are OK. It’s when I get long detailed e-mails about books that are several years old and how I need to add characters and change the setting and then it would be the book that the reader would have written which would be a better book… Those make me a little irked. (In part because I had two academic reviewers do almost the same thing. One just wanted me to do another year of research and triple the geographic scope of the book.)

  8. Local color – just north of Monterey is Gilroy, the “garlic capitol of the world”. The aroma extends for several miles along the coast and inland. There is a garlic festival, which was more entertaining than I thought possible.

    • Oh, HECK yes!! We visited late last fall. I got a burger with what appeared to be an entire bulb of roasted garlic pressed onto the top, like cheese. It was mild and buttery soft, no harsh bite, but the taste remained with me most of the day. The area also grows a lot of stone fruit and green vegetables, because of moisture and rain coming inland from the coats and dropping on the first range of hills.

      Light bulb moment. Just occurred to me that the San Andrea Fault runs fairly close by, about 20 mi inland just adjacent to the Mission San Juan Bautista. We walked down the 20 ft. rampart from one plate to the other, to stand on El Camino Real. It was a very odd feeling. Something ominous happening by a power in the sea could include a fault trigger to induce tsunamis and reclamation by the sea.

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