Hey friends and fictional folk! We’re getting close to the end! Bit of a slower chapter this time, but if you thought that stuff hit the fan before you ain’t seen nothing yet. Hope you enjoy the build up!
Daniel gently lay Natalie onto her bed in the lair. Or at least he tried to. She was really heavy in her half-snake form. It had taken Mr. Ross and him working together to get her out of the spaceship, into the car, and then down here in the sewers. It was pure luck that no one saw them. It was also pure luck that no police cars pulled them over considering Mr. Ross had driven like a bat out of hell to get them here in under an hour.
They had arrived to find Agent Bellerophon and Agent Medea waiting for them. Bellerophon, as always, was not pleased to see them.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded, practically shouting in Mr. Ross’s face while Daniel made Natalie comfortable in her bed. “For all of Agent Lamia’s preaching about protecting people, she has been radically ineffective at carrying out her job. And why is Agent Lamia unconscious?”
“Firstly,” Mr. Ross said, not seeming the least bit intimidated by Bellerophon, “Natalie asked to be registered as Agent Naga. If her wishes have been ignored in this matter, it is a violation of her rights as an ISRD operative under paragraph 2-A of the Operative Identity Protection Regulations.”
“I made sure Agent Naga’s registration was entered correctly,” Medea said. “Agent Bellerophon simply seems to have forgotten her correct designation.”
“Quiet, Agent Medea,” Bellerophon snapped. “Remember that I am your superior officer. I do not make mistakes and I do not need you to justify my actions. Agent Lamia may reject ISRD naming conventions, but I do not. If she wants a designation based in Asian mythology, then she can go work for her countrymen in China.”
Daniel glared at Bellerophon. So much for being an international agent.
“Putting aside your blatant racism for now,” Mr. Ross said, voice dangerously low. A clear warning to Bellerophon not to say anything like that again. “The reason Agent Naga is unconscious is because we made a rather significant discovery concerning the origin and true nature of the ark shards. During this discovery, we were attacked and Agent Naga managed to drive off the attacking hybrid, but took significant damage.”
Bellerophon scoffed. “Well whatever discovery you made on your little field trip can wait. The rest of us have been doing real work and a situation has come up that requires the attention of all agents in the area. Agent Medea. The cameras.”
Medea hurried over to the lair’s computer and pulled up a live camera feed on screen. The feed was of Levi Park, specifically Lake Levi. The sun was setting in the distance, painting the tries purple and orange with twilight. He could see a number of what he assumed were more ISRD agents running about packing away scientific equipment and readying weapons. They had set a massive net over the surface of the water. Something was pressing up against it. Testing the net’s strength.
Daniel could only catch glimpses of the creature that Patrick had been transformed into, but what he could see sent chills down his spine. A crab claw the size of a car rose from the lake, straining almost gingerly against the net, then returned to the depths. A tentacle as thick as a tree emerged next, pushing and then retreating in the same manner.
How big is he?
He had heard Natalie describe what she saw in the lake, but it was a whole other thing to see it himself. And neither of them had even seen Patrick fully.
“The morning after Agent Naga discovered the hybrid in Lake Levi,” Medea began, “some of our agents arrived on the scene to study them from a safe distance. Given their sonar findings as to the shape and animal composition of the hybrid, they designated him as Kraken. For much of the morning and early afternoon, Kraken remained dormant and unresponsive. Then at 1500 hours, he was observed partially emerging from the lake. He asked our head scientist where his ‘subjects’ were. We told him that we had taken all but one into custody.”
“All but one?” Mr. Ross asked.
“We were unable to locate the hybrid that fought alongside Cockatrice against Agent Naga.”
“Troubling, but we will have to deal with that later. What was Kraken’s response to our answer?”
Medea hesitated. “He…pulled the head scientist into the lake. Very likely drowning him.”
Daniel shuddered. Other hybrids they’d fought had been dangerous, but none of them had successfully murdered anyone. Even Skunk-bear had only attacked out of self-defense. From the sounds of it, Patrick had killed a man for delivering news he didn’t like. The worst part was it had barely taken any effort from him to do it.
“That was when the rest of us field agents were called in for backup,” Medea continued. “Luckily, Kraken only became active again recently, which was when we contacted you.”
“Command has given us leave to use lethal countermeasures if Kraken gets within sight of the city’s civilians,” Bellerophon said. “Until then we are to try and restrain or incapacitate the hybrid. The higher-ups want to study as many live hybrid specimens as possible.”
“Have the civilians been given any warnings?” Mr. Ross asked.
Daniel found it odd how calmly Mr. Ross could talk to Bellerophon despite the agent’s abrasive personality. Then again, he had heard the horror stories of angry parents at Parent-Teacher Conferences. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so surprised. If his teacher could face down the rage of entitled parents, then a crappy coworker was probably nothing.
“We’ve managed to get the local news stations to send out a tornado warning,” Medea said. “It’s the end of May, so that shouldn’t raise anyone’s suspicions.”
True enough. They didn’t get as many tornados out here as movies liked to portray, but May and early June brought the most. No one would raise an eyebrow. Though some idiots were sure to stay outside regardless. That was just how people were.
“Given that you would like to bring Kraken in alive,” Mr. Ross said, “I assume you called us in order to gain access to my wife’s super-tasers?”
“Every single one if you can manage it,” Bellerophon said. “Of course we had hoped for Agent Lamia’s assistance in dealing with this creature, but given her current state, I suppose we will have to settle for just the two of you.”
Daniel felt his stomach sink into his shoes.
“The two of us?” he asked.
Bellerophon turned to look at him. “You are registered as ISRD field agents and we need every field agent we can get for this mission. Command was very explicit about that.”
“But I have no training! And Mr. Ross is almost old enough to be considered a senior citizen. No offense.”
“None taken,” his teacher said. “I look forward to getting my first social security check.”
“The two of you have the most experience dealing with hybrids out of any of our agents worldwide,” Bellerophon begrudgingly admitted. “Regardless of your lack of formal training or Agent Orpheus’s advancing age, we unfortunately need your expertise in this area.”
Daniel swallowed. His mouth was suddenly very dry. Facing hybrids that were roughly as big as a human was scary enough. Now he was getting drafted to face down that kaiju sized monster up close? And without Natalie there to help him?
“Can’t we wait until Natalie—I mean Agent Naga—wakes up to join the fight?” he asked.
“Negative,” Bellerophon said, striding towards the manhole elevator. “We have no idea how long Agent Lamia will remain unconscious or what state she will be in once she wakes up. Kraken meanwhile could break free at any moment.”
“Unfortunately, I must agree with Agent Bellerophon,” Mr. Ross said, meeting Daniel’s gaze. There was sympathy in those tired, old eyes. “I will take him and Agent Medea to collect my wife’s armory of super-tasers. Meet us at the corner of North and 2nd Street when you’re ready.”
Daniel hesitated. Then nodded. He did not want to fight Kraken or leave Natalie’s side, but there really wasn’t much of a choice. Not when the life of everyone in the city was at risk.
Mr. Ross escorted Agent Bellerophon and Agent Medea out of the underground lair, disappearing into the ceiling on the manhole elevator. Leaving Daniel all alone with Natalie.
He looked down at his friend’s unconscious form. She looked anything but peaceful. True, she wasn’t moving save for the occasional twitch of the finger or tail, but her face was twisted into a pained grimace. As if she were having a nightmare. She still had a number of cuts and bruises from her fight with Ahuizotl. It seemed shapeshifting couldn’t heal injuries.
He wished there was more he could do for her.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the tongs still laying where he had dropped them on the nightstand at the foot of the bed. With all the talk of Kraken, they had been forgotten. COOTS had said there were two charges left in the things. That meant now, after fixing the alignment of Natalie’s shard, there was only one use left. He could use them to take out Natalie’s shard. Give her back the normal life she craved. The one he had stolen from her.
No, he thought. That is her decision to make. Not mine.
If he did that, he would just be doing what he assumed she wanted. Too many people had done that to him. He wasn’t going to take this choice from her.
He could take the tongs to Lake Levi. Use them against Kraken.
But no. that wouldn’t work either. Assuming he could even get close enough to use the tongs, they still only had one charge left. All he could do was remove a single shard before being squashed by a giant tentacle or snapped in half by a giant crab claw. And considering how hard it had been for him to adjust Natalie’s shard, he wasn’t sure he had the strength to fully remove one.
But maybe she did. Maybe there was something he could do.
Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen, Daniel quickly wrote a note explaining things to Natalie. Then he took the tongs, laid them in front of the computer, laid the note on top of the tongs, and adjusted the computer’s settings to prevent it from going into sleep mode. He strode over to the manhole elevator and called for it to come down.
As he waited, he glanced over his shoulder at Natalie. For a crazy moment, he wanted to run over and hug her close. But no. Even if he was about to go out and die at the hands of a rampaging monster, that would be creepy.
He stepped onto the elevator and watching with a heavy heart as he rose further and further away from his friend. His crush. He watched her until the ground cut off his view of the lair. Raising a hand, he brushed away the single tear rolling down his cheek.
“Goodbye, Natalie,” he whispered.