Matching wits with a scientific genius.
December 1, 2013
A VG Serial: Dark Continent Continental
“Can you think of anything we have forgotten?” Skeeter asked as they went over their travel checklist.
“I have got on my thinking cap. Nothing is happening. The inoculations were not too bad, but not great either. Are yours still sore?”
“Yep. Have we figured out a way to clear our firearms? I have never tried taking one out of the country before.”
“I have talked to some of our guys that went over there before, from Texas, and they told me how to do it. It won’t be a problem if we are carrying all of our police documents. We must hang on tightly to these at all times. They will be our pass-cards for many maneuvers.” Angus answered.
“What now?” Skeeter asked as they surveyed the items laid out on the dining table at Angus’ bungalow.
“Well in a minute or two, we are going to go over all of this stuff with a fine-toothed comb and see if there is any of it we can leave behind. Traveling light will be a big pay-off, as usual, but as for now, I am going to call Dr. LeBraun to see if there is anything new he can tell us about the organism, or whatever it is.”
* * *
“What did he say?” Skeeter asked, while removing a luxury cosmetic item from the table. Don’t really need that!
“Strange, strange, strange, and very complicated. I wrote it all down but I am sure I got some of it wrong. They still don’t know what it is, but they have learned a little more about it. They have been trying to figure out its life cycle. It hasn’t been easy. His little group of scientific friends thinks it is manufactured—a hybrid created in a lab.”
“Lab?” That is the clue Laroux gave us.”
“My goodness. That, it is. And, where is this lab? In Africa? Somewhere else? I think we may be getting ready to find out.”
“Okay. I can’t stand it any longer. Explain the life cycle to me. What comes first the chicken or the egg?” Skeeter prodded.
“It is a hybrid of an amoeba, a parasite. . . and, are you ready?”
“A plant, maybe.”
“A plant? How is that even possible?
“It is similar to and has characteristics of certain plants such as puff balls that explode and spew spores into the surroundings.”
“This is fascinating. Continue please, Angus.”
“When the spores explode into the air, they seek out a warm, moist environment, and grow quickly into a moving organism. They have a desire to eat—ravenously. They eat the first thing they can and keep going until they find something delicious.”
“Usually, it would appear. A short time after they are completely sated they have the desire to multiply. Something similar to eggs are produced. The parent blobs, male and female, enclose themselves around the just produced egg-like masses, forming shells around them. Let me see now, checking my notes. They are still microscopic, and go through a first stage of incubation for an undeterminable amount of time. Then, when there is a shock, a change, barometric pressure or temperature, they pop and release the spores. At this point, if a host is nearby, the spores are inhaled and go through a second stage of incubation. We know this incubabtion stage lasts about four months, give or take. At the end of the four months they become active and start their feeding frenzy.”
“That is complicated.”
“I forgot to mention that like most organisms they are geared up to perpetuate their species. You know, how some snakes have egg teeth to crack open the eggs they are gestating in?
“Yeah, go on.”
“Well in order for these creepy organisms to survive, a small number of the egg cases open early and they are facilitators. They give up their lives to get the majority of the organisms to the next level. Their purpose is to chew a path for the spore release. In nature—if these hybrids ever appeared in nature and they haven’t yet, because they are new—the eggs cases could be under leaves or other obstacles. This small number gnaws through obstacles to facilitate a large spore release. In this instance, our criminal placed the egg cases directly into the honey pots, probably with a large-gauge syringe, going in through the animal-skin lids. He then sealed the hole it made with a tinted glue so that it was almost undetectable.”
“That is so weird. It is weirder than any sci-fi movie I have seen. Characteristics of puff balls, flesh-eating viruses, brain-eating amoebas, parasites, and even sea monkeys.”
“Sea monkeys?” Angus was laughing hard, now.
“Sea Monkeys hatch when warm sea water is added. Otherwise they are dormant, look like yeast or baking soda. You know, a shock, a change in the environment.”
“Oh. But of course.”
“Just our luck, Angus. We are going to have to match wits with a scientific genius. I still don’t get how there is no trace of these organisms when the ME examines the brain cases at autopsy.”
“That is still a big mystery, Skeeter, and LeBraun and his cronies are still scratching their heads on that one.”
* * *
Police Scotland did not know what to think of their situation. They had been monitoring events in North America with great interest. Now, a brainless body had been found near the Borders. The victim, from Lothian, had passed out behind the wheel of a vehicle on a country lane. This victim had received a free gift, not too many months before.
Chapters of Dark Continental by Sara Marie Hogg will be published on Saturday and Sunday.