So, its been about a week, so I think all of the shit has hit the fan already. submitted by
I already started this once, but I will try to make it quick and entertaining. I work the back end of a big box store, and since the trash compactor and cardboard baler is in my workspace, I normally have to clean up after the people who refuse to throw the trash away. Most are good, but some dump it right in front of the right receptacle and say, "I was told to bring it back here, not throw it away." I am a little OCD over my workspace, so I normally throw it away regardless, but if I can bitch them out, I will.
Unfortunately, I can't yell at the night crew, who has routinely dumped multiple carts worth of trash and cardboard in the middle of my already small work floor for the past couple of weeks. Long story short, the team leader is not entirely qualified to fill his position and all of his bad habits are slowly becoming the whole night crews bad habits. We have tried emailing him, and the guy who comes in at the butt crack of dawn has talked to him face-to-face, about him needing to clean up his mess, but that went over like a lead balloon. He wrote us and the managers back saying it was our fault for not helping him out to get the jobs done so he has to leave all of his work half done. Whatever, not even the managers are buying it, but they let it slide.
In the end, we got one final email from him saying something along the lines of "If you see my trash there in the morning, just throw it away."
Well, he shouldn't have said that, because last week, I found something juicy. Among the normal trash they leave there, there was some work supplies, gloves and box cutters. But at the bottom of it all was his worksheets. To explain, our company has been throwing money at us to keep us working during this time, bonuses biweekly. But since they don't have an electronic system yet to track these new bonuses, they have relied on paper sheets filled out by the department heads and sent somewhere up in management for approval. We have known for weeks he has been cooking the books to make him look better on these time sheets and getting a bigger bonus for nothing. I thought about sending this to management, but then I remembered: Just throw his trash away. Got it!
The problem was he had to get that paperwork turned in by midnight that night or he and his team would lose out on their bonuses. Too bad, he was scheduled that night for midnight and is notorious for being fashionably late. I felt bad for everyone not getting their bonuses, but it seems to have turn out in all of our favors.
Monday: I come in and get talked to by one of the managers, asking if I have seen any documents left in the back. I tell him all of our paperwork gets filled away in the filling cabinets. He tells me that's not what he's looking for and if I hadn't seen it yet, to let him know when I do. Why, because night team leader says that he lost them or that they were stolen or something stupid, so now there is an investigation going on. Crap... oh well, I got another job starting here in a couple of weeks. I'll just roll with it and see what happens. I did talk to one of the girls on the night crew (she comes in early to set everything up for them to work), she didn't seem to know anything about not getting a bonus, but I didn't bring up that the time sheets were missing. Just ask here how the bonuses were going, and she said she was expecting a big one this week. Sorry, honey...
Tuesday: I got news from the same manager that when they checked the security cameras they lost sight of it about half way through the night, so they have no idea where it could be. Nice for me. Also, since they were hurting for hours, they bumped me up from part-time to full-time. Double nice. I talked to the same night crew girl and she now knew she wasn't getting the bonus. She was pissed and kept saying, "I know the team leader is at fault here. He says he isn't getting a bonus, but I bet he just switched everything around and is getting our money." Keep telling yourself that, dear. But now her and all of the other girls on the night crew were going to get together and bring up sexual harassment charges against him since they have been dealing with him not working and saying some rather graphic things to them all night instead. Convenient?
Wednesday: He was caught working overtime, which normally is fine, but you have to get approved on it. Which he didn't. Apparently, they are going to look back and his previous time punches and check to see if he had been punching in and out correctly and not stealing company time. I wish I could have talked to him that day, just to say, "Dude, stop bringing attention to yourself..."
As of today, All I heard is that "suddenly" he is taking the last of his paid vacation and will be gone for the next six weeks. Unfortunately for him, the investigation is sill on going and if they come up with anything, he wont have a job when he comes back. Also, a little birdy told me his wife heard about the harassment investigation and isn't planning on sticking around with him since this is the second time this has happened.
Dude... all you had to do was throw away your trash...
That reminds me of a story.
Es and I are over in India again. Alang to be exact.
We’re over there at the request of Goodgulf Greyteeth, he of the CEO-ship of the largest breaking yard over there.
Es and I are staying at the Raj, of course, while my guys, bless ‘em, are going through the final stages of removing the last bits of that Scandinavian cruise ship from my penultimate story update.
They are doing a wonderful job, and are just about to put the finishing touches on this job; in record time and without a single casualty or lost time injury.
Seems I’ve trained the gang of 24 well. All that’s left is the ass-end of the big-ass boat, complete with the twin-screw sixteen cylinder diesel-electric power plant. That and the twin screws, which in this case, are machined out of solid bronze. Actually, they’re a copper-zinc-bronze-unobtanium alloy, but these six-bladed propellers are about 9.1 meters in diameter and weigh in right at 101.5 tons.
Gulfy would like me to remove each in one piece, if possible.
“Yeah, sure, Gulfster. Anything else?” Like, move another ammo dump? I groaned.
After Es and have flown from our nasty, notorious, and noxious 5-star digs in Dubai back to India, we spend a day or so getting in Es’ case acquainted, and in my case, reacquainted with my guys, Gulfy, Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri, Mr. Ranganekary, Sanjay, Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo and most all the others from tales of Breaking Bad previous.
Hell if Agents Rack and Ruin don’t drop by for a ‘say howdy’ before we leave.
Es and I are staying, as I mentioned, at the Raj in my old room.
Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo, and his staff are going out of their way because they want to do their jobs well, enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, and know that I’m not one to be fucked with, intelligence–wise.
“Mess with the Doctor, and have all sorts of unshirted high-explosive hell break out around your ears.”
It’s not yet a motto, but I’m lobbying for it.
Es and I are walking around the yard, me in my full PPEs and Esme in her borrowed hardhat, steel-toed boots, and other necessary paraphernalia. Every time I turn around, it’s Chandrama this and Viswarupa that. Everyone here wants to meet Esme, shake our hands on returning and ask me about how “we’re going to tackle the ass-end of the boat”.
“Last I recalled, I was just here on a JAFO
mission; not as a hired gun,” I muttered.
Sanjay procured a tap-tap for Esme and me and whisked us off to the armory.
“Look in there, Doctor. Then tell me you’re just another fucking observer.” He grinned.
“Едрить твою мать! Holy fucking shit!” I exclaimed, so incredulous with what I saw that I slipped into a more raspy language to express my overwhelmation.
Tons and tons and tons of lovely, well maintained, categorized, collated, and coolly kept explosives.
“May I?”, I asked as I was by all rights, still just a guest. To proper protocols, we must adhere.
“Oh, please do”, came the reply, along with the keys, scan card, and copy of the floor plan.
“Oh, my giddy fuckin’ aunt!” I exclaimed as I walked past all the high-toned, buff, and well-kept loaves of C-4. I goggled at the case after case of 40%, 60% and 80%!
DuPont Herculene Extra-Fast Dynamite.
A row of Hexamethylenetriperoxide diamine (HMTD). Another of Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). Yet another of Triaminotrinitrobenzene (TATB). There was RDX, TXT, TABT, TAGN, TNAZ…a whole alphabet’s worth of things that expand very, very rapidly indeed when properly antagonized.
I was almost swooning, Esme was almost yawning.
“Es! Look at this! Kinestix Binary Solid! Seismogel Binary semi-solid! Holy fuck! DOUBLE HELIX, the new binary, heat-stable liquid!”
New Captain America and Vortek plunger-style blasting machines! Spools of Primacord, in various flavors. Cases and cases of blasting caps. Radio control detonators! Holy fucking Hanna! Mile after mile of det cord and demolition wire. A whole locker devoted to blaster’s pliers and galvanometer.
I nearly swooned.
“You’re going to go and blow the living shit out of a whole bunch of things, aren’t you Herr Husband?” Es wearily asked.
Sanjay shows me the freezer where they store all the frozen liquid Nitroglycerine popsicles.
“Esme, my dear. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…” I smiled broader than the Valles Marineris.
“Just don’t kill yourself, anyone else, or those who are not really deserving such.” Es smiled, knowing full well that there’s no way in hell that anything smaller than a Sharknado monsoon is keeping me away from this collection of, what Sanjay informs me, is over 350 tons of explosives and associated paraphernalia.
“Just leave me a car, a driver, and some mad money while you’re out playing games. I need to do some shopping for the girls and were only here for a few days.” Es smiles.
This, among a few thousand other reasons, is why I married her and why we’ve been going along solid for the last 40 years.
Es asks to be taken shopping and I ask to be taken to work.
We’re both going to our happy places.
Back at the job site, it’s a bit of a shambles, but what do you expect? They’re tearing apart a huge cruise ship, all 225,000 long tons of the damned thing. With that is included metal, plastic, wood, wires, sheet stock, bulkheads…all sorts of shit. One sort of would be suspicious if the place was clean and tidy.
It’s ignominious and avoidable, irremediable and overwhelming, unique, and sudden. It’s a dog’s dinner and just my kind of place.
There’s only about 1/10 of the ship left; as I said the power plant, the shafts, the props, and all that ass-end crapola that makes a boat this size go forward. All the ‘stern’er stuff.
Only now, instead of just planting explosives hither and yon and blowing the living hell out of the craft, it’s down to nut-cuttin’ time.
“Yeah”, I thought, “Gulfy wanted me down here on some sort of goodwill review tour. Fuck that. He wants me to finesse the last bits of this boat.”
And that’s alright by me…
“Doctor Rock!” came a voice, “It is so good to see you again!”
It was Anad. He had rapidly shown his prowess and was now a team leader.
“We…um…I am so glad to see you”, he says, “We have this new order to remove the screws from the ship. In one piece. Can you imagine? They’re 100 tons. Each! We are in trouble. We need the Doctor Rock.”
Either Gulfy has a buyer for the props or he wants them mounted in the conference room or his office as trophies.
“Yeah, Anad”, I said, “That is a tall order. How goes the rest of the demo?”
“It goes well.” Anad tell me, “The engine is troublesome, being all heavy metal. But you taught us well. Nothing succeeds like excess! It will yield as one or in pieces.”
“What about the rest of the boat? The decks, the substructure, and all that shit?”
“It goes well”, Anad grins. “If it doesn’t drop with dynamite, we go to C-4. If not C-4, we go RDX. Sooner or later, it all yields.”
“So, no mucking about with liquid nitro?” I asked, snickering slightly.
“Oh, no, Doctor. “Anad shook his head, “That stuff is scary to Doctor Rock, it is too scary for us.”
“Well”, I said, rubbing my beard, “This will not do. Looks like I’ve been remiss in my duties. Doctor Rock is going to have to have one last command performance in Alang it appears.”
“You are going to use some nitroglycerine?” Anad asks, aghast.
“Perhaps”, I smile and smirk. Not just ‘some nitroglycerine’, I’m going to have Sanjay speed-import just a little bit more than ‘some’…
After an afternoon of lolling about a destruction zone and setting off one or ten way-too-energetic explosions, I’m having my long-hard-day-at-the-office drink with Esme back at the Raj.
I was having 350 milliliters of iced Chopin Single Young Potato along with pints of chilled Kingfisher. While Esme was sipping Northern Spy Ice Cider, also chilled. She was having a small triple-hop Duvel.
I mean, we were on a small holiday, of sorts.
Sanjay whips in and runs up to me, out of breath.
“Whoa, steady one mate. Your small but steady body is all a-tremble” I said over sips of lovely potato juice and puffs of a fine Jamaican cigar.
“Did! You! Requisition! 500
Kilos! Of! Nitro!?” he almost screams.
“Yeah. Sure did”, I replied over another sip of spirits and puff from my cigar. “Wait. You don’t think that’s going to be enough? Right. Best order another 250 keys…”
“WHAT!?!”, he screams.
Es snickers. She’s been down this road many times.
“OK, Sanj. Here’s the deal.” I say over another sip and puff, “Gulfy gave me carte blanche
to get the job done. Better to have too much and not need it than to not have enough and need it.”
“But…but…but…” He sputtered.
“Very nice impression of a motorboat”, I smiled, “Look, Sanj, I’m back. It’s me. Dr. Rock, the hookin’ bull. Gulfy ain’t gonna say ‘boo’. In fact, go ahead and speed order another 250 keys. If I don’t use it, I’m sure you guys will find something fun to do with it.”
“Oh, fuck,” Sanj exclaims. He goes to the bar and pours himself 3-fingers of dangerous brown liquor. He slams it like a real pro.
“I’ve taught them well”, I thought and Es says.
Sanjay comes back, wobbles slightly, and says “Well then, you sign the fucking requisition sheet.”
“Hey, I’ve got no problem with that!”, I say and deftly affix my John Hancock
prominently to the parchment.
“There. Feel better?” I asked, “Now if Gulfy gets all vexed and ratty, he can come and see me. Or wait until we’re done and Es and I are back in the Middle East. Which do you think he’ll opt for?”
Sanjay doesn’t have time to answer as Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo arrives with a phone for me.
“Call for you, Sir
”, he says in his inimitable style.
“Thanks, Major”, I say and grab the raprod.
“Doc Rock here” I say.
It’s my major professor from Southeast Westchester College (Home of the North Stars) on the line. He wants to know when we’ll be back in-country.
“No telling, Dr. Inzhener Neftyanik” I reply.
“Well, how much longer will you be in India?” he asks. “Oh, and please say hello to Esme for me.”
“Will do. Probably a couple-three more days. Week tops. Maybe a month. Why? Is there anything urgent?” I ask.
He explains to me that due to all the COVID craziness, there’s going to be many more on-line undergraduate courses taught. He needs some material for the Fall Session, primarily an overview of what Geology and Petroleum Engineering are and how they’re practiced in the field. Sort of a living recruitment poster.”
Esme recalled me smiling something like the Grinch when he mentioned that last point.
“Doctor, can you hold for a minute?” I asked.
“Most certainly.” He replies.
“Sanjay”, I ask, “You have access to a video camera?”
He cautiously and querulously shakes his head ‘yes’.
Thumbs up and I’m back on the phone.
“Yeah, Doc, Rock here. Sure, I’ve got access to a video camera here in India. What better to show the little scamps wanting to start college just what a real graduate of the world can do and where they can go?” I said.
He readily agrees and asks for me to deliver 15-20 minutes of video doing whatever the hell I was doing in India. Something geological. Something Petroleum Engineering. Altogether detonic. Just get him some footage. They’ll assemble and work it up there.
We make our plans and agree, then ring off.
“Sanjay?” I said, “Guess what? You’ve just become the Indan version of Quentin Tarantino.”
“What?” he says.
“SAY WHAT AGAIN! I dare you!” I laughed.
Esme just shakes her head. Little does she know she’ll be carrying writer’s credits for this masterwork before the odyssey is ended.
I lean back on the comfy barstool, ask for another 350 milliliters of Old Thought Provoker, fire up a new cigar and ask for a pencil and a tablet of paper.
“It’s ShowTime!” I smile as I begin to etch out some ideas.
“DOCTOR STRANGEROCK OR
: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMBS.”
Doctor Rocknocker, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc., ASMQB, AAPG, SEPM, AAGG
421 Estwing Plaza
+555 6789 1011 [email protected]
DR. ROCKNOCKER WALKING INTO SHOT, CLAD IN BLAZE ORANGE PPES, SMOKING A HUGE CUBAN CIGAR AND HOLDING AN EXTRAORDINARY, EXOTIC , AND ENORMOUS DRINK OF SOME SORT.
“Hey kids! You! Yes you laddie! You want to travel the world? See all sorts of strange and wonderful rock formations? And have a chance of maybe blowing some of them up? Then you’re at the right place.
Geology! Petroleum engineering! Detonic chemistry!
Right here at Southeast Westchester College (home of the North Stars)!
Come on with me. I’m currently in India. What am I doing in india?
Let’s just go and see…”
Scene description –
A WIDE SHOT OF A MIGMATITE QUARRY. THERE’S THIS LARGE FELLOW CLAD IN BLAZE ORANGE WORK CLOTHES, BLACK WORK BOOTS, CUSTOM ALUMINUM HARDHAT AND SMOKING A HUGE CIGAR. HE LOOKS FAR AFIELD, ALMOST WISTFULLY, OVER THE OPEN EXPANSE OF THE QUARRY. HE WALKS OVER TO THE CAMERA AND SAYS:
“Yes, a quarry of migmatite dimension stone. Over 2.5 billion years old and quarried here for centuries. It’s places like this that the early history of our planet has been deciphered.”
Looking quickly to Esme’s prepared notes…
“Ancient rock in an ancient land. One that not only holds the secrets to our planet’s far and distant past history, but to untold wealth in gravel, road metal, and building dimension stone. That’s where you can come in. As a graduate of Southeast Westchester College, you could find yourself here. Examining the rocks. Investigating the structure and tectonics of the area. Or, like me, you could be harvesting the mineral wealth that has supported the building and structural companies here for hundreds of years…”
FIRE IN THE HOLE!
“…AND BLOWING SHIT UP!”
Mash goes the big, shiny red button.
An incredibly huge explosion and half the quarry is obliterated by freshly liberated dust and smoke.
“All this, and more, can be yours with a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College!”
Scene description –
A BLEAK INDUSTRIAL SETTING WITH DOZENS OF ORANGE-CLAD CHARACTERS SWARMING AROUND THE REMAINS OF A SCANDINAVIAN CRUISE SHIP. SEVERAL OF THEM ARE WORKING OXY-ACETYLENE CUTTING TORCHES, SOME ARE TAKING MEASUREMENTS AND WRITING THEM DOWN; DOING SCIENCE. ONE OF THEM IS WALKING AROUND WITH AN OPEN CASE OF DU PONT 60% EXTRA-FAST HERCULENE DYNAMITE.
“Well. What do we have here? Certainly it doesn’t look like geology or petroleum engineering. That’s right. It’s a shipbreaking yard in Alang, India.”
“Well, what the hell does that have to do with geology or petroleum engineering?” one might rightly ask.
(Pause for a monumental BOOM after a strange several toots and a weird cadence in Hindi about ‘Fires in Holes’)
That’s where study in the extractive sciences at Southeast Westchester College can lead.
It might also lead to a job in the Middle East, riding herd on the Arabs and their vast oily wealth. أشياء ساخنة جدا ، "إيه ماذا؟ [Pretty hot stuff, ‘eh what?]
Or you could end up on an offshore platform in the Russian Arctic, drilling somewhere no one’s drilled before…. Разве это не круто? [Wouldn’t that be cool?]
Or you could study very, very hard, obtain your BSc, MSc, Ph.D. and D.Sc., get to travel all over the world, on other people’s nickels, first class, drink premium hooch and get paid to blow shit up! Ĉu ne tio estas tro maldika? [Isn't that just too fucking cool?]
Character Name 2
“Well, here comes Anad, one of the local guys. Now Anad never had the chance to go to Southeast Westchester College, but was trained by me, one of the professors at the university.”
“Anad? A moment?”
“Yeah, Doc?” he replies.
“We’re all on a first name basis here. Brethren of the field, forest, and quarry. And currently the armory, the ship, and the breaking yard.”
“Would you like to attend Southeast Westchester College?” I ask.
“If…what… you… have…taught… us… about… demolition… is… anything…, then… yes…, I… would… have… liked… very… much… to… go… to… that… fine… institution… that… is… Southeast… Westchester… College…Did I say that right, Doc?”
“Sanjay! Keep filming. We’ll fix that in post…”
“So yes, indeed. Anad wishes he could have attended Southeast Westchester College, but he lives and works in India, some 12,500 kilometers away. But if you’re hearing this, you’re not! So apply now”
Scene description –
ZIPPING ALONG IN AN INDIAN MILITARY GARUDA VASUDHA, WHICH IS A DHRUV HELICOPTER OUTFITTED WITH A HELIBORNE GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY SYSTEM (HGSS) THAT I WAS ABLE TO ‘BORROW’ FROM THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA.
“As you can see, the sky’s no longer the limit for graduates, or professors for that matter, of Southeast Westchester College! I’m not only a professor of industrial geology, a master blaster, spirit connoisseur extraordinaire, but I’m a fully licensed helicopter pilot as well!”
Sanjay screams off-camera as I put the Garuda through its paces and try autorotation.
“No, damn it. Keep filming. We’ll clean that up when we land. And the rest in post-production.”
“Aim high! Geology, Petroleum Engineering, and Detonic Chemistry at Southeast Westchester College! Fly with the eagles, don’t get left on the ground with the turkeys!”
“Oh, fuff!. It’s not that bad…OK, we’ll look at it in post. Hang on, an upcoming flock of bar-headed geese! WHOOPS! Watch out! Comin’ through! HELLO BOYS!”
Scene description –
DOCTOR ROCKNOCKER IS ON A PORTABLE WIRELESS MICROPHONE AS HE’S ALSO HUNG FROM THE JIB OF A CRANE BY HIS RESCUE HARNESS. HE’S PARKOURING AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE STERN REMAINS OF A LARGE SCANDANAVIAN CRUISE SHIP THAT HIS CREW HAS BEEN BREAKING DOWN FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS, GIVING THE FINAL SECTION THE ONCE OVER. HE’S TALKING TO SANJAY, THE FILM CAMERA OPERATOR AND TO THE CRANE OPERAOR AS WELL…
“No, god damn it, your other left. Not so damned fast. Just over the left screw. That’s it. Right. Hold it.”
“Now you may ask what the hell I’m doing hanging around here.”
…pause for laughter to subside.
“I’m doing the final inspection on the last bits of this boat which my crew, whom I’ve specifically trained, have been demolishing for the past couple of months. I’m inspecting the screws as these puppies are almost 9.5 meters in diameter and weigh over 100 tons, each. I’m going to drop each one of these in one piece, as per the orders of the guys paying the bills. Bet you didn’t think a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College would lead to such amazing things as this!
“You’ll never know until you apply yourself at Southeast Westchester College. You’ll get a bang out of it!”
Scene description –
AT THE BAR AT THE RAJ. ESME IS THERE AS WELL. WE’RE HAVING A LITTLE CONVERSATION BEFORE THE FILMING BEGINS.
ES: “…and what you did to poor Sanjay. That was not nice…”
ROCK: “I never claimed to be nice…Oh, we’re filming…And that’s not all. After a hard day in the field or the office, you have the opportunity to unwind and relax in one of the many bars and restaurants on campus. Personally, I prefer the strong drinks and cheap, subsidized prices at the MastHaus. After a day of breaking rocks, making hole or blasting quarries, what better than to relax with a tall, frosty Rocknocker? That’s premium vodka and bubbly citrus soda over ice with a twist. Or try one of several brands of local beer that’s on tap. Or why not both at the same time? How about some ether? Plus, we’re the only university now with a walk-in humidor! Over 3000 different brands of cigars from over six million different countries. C’mon down and have a snort and a smoke. How else can we maintain the highest grade point average in the East-Central Southern Northwest division?
“Umm, Rock, honey”, Esme says to me in a kind, quiet voice after we look over the daily rushes, “Are you certain that’s what the university is going to want? It seems a bit, well, woolly…”
“Oh, fuck yeah!” I exclaim over a flagon of Rocknockers and a sidecar of Kingfisher. “Look at it! Humor! Pathos! Agony! Ecstasy! Action! Shit blowing up!”
“Yeah, it does have that..” Esme is forced to agree.
“When we add the demo of the final piece of that boat, it’ll be a climax worthy of Lucas or Spielberg!” I grin canyon-widely. “It’s got everything. Who wouldn’t want to study at a university that offers all that?”
“Rock, honey”, Esme says, taking my hand in hers, “I want you to go upstairs and call the tech guys in Japan. I think your fingers are overcharging again and making you crazier than usual.”
“Nahh.” I scoff, “I’m doing great. I haven’t felt this alive in years. Maybe filmmaking is another calling I can look into. Something else in which to excel…”
“Rock, please’, Esme implores, “Go call Japan…”
“No time”, I say, “I have to get Sanjay to download all our footage. We’ll not have time to fix it all here before we go. Once we get the finale in the can, we’ll ship the whole mess off to the university and let them do the needful.”
Yes, I had been in-country way too long.
“Rock”, Esme pleads, “Then just sit here for a bit and have a smoke and a drink or five. I think your EtOH levels are in flux. You’ve been pushing too hard. You know better than anyone the necessity of maintaining an even strain.”
“You’re right”, I agree, “And when you’re right, you’re right. Timor! Another round and dial 224. I need a cigar and Esme needs a Sobranie pastel!”
Esme manages a wan, worried smile. She knows what I have planned, even though I haven’t said a word to anyone. She’s scared that I’m going to kill myself on this last job or do something even worse. That something she won’t even allow herself to think about…
A short time later, I’m off to the job site again. After chatting with Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri and the navy guys whose contacts he gave me, I have a fair idea of what I need to pull off, no pun intended, if I’m to drop those heavy screws in one piece.
First thing off, I need to weld the propeller tail shafts in place, securing it from tangential or rotational motion. I can’t have those things jumping around like a floppin’ crappie when I go to shake the props loose from the shafts.
Then I need to remove the propeller cone. Along with that, I need to provide for some slack in the aft stern tube seal. They tell me that normally prior to which stern tube oil need to be drained. But since this is in no way normal, I’ll just let that flow where it may once I blow some seals.
No, those on the tail shafts, not swimming around in the harbor looking for handouts.
Then propeller nut is to be removed and the propeller is desecured, that is, given a nudge prior to its removal from the tail shaft. However, I just welded the tail shafts in place, so I just need to provide the props a wee nudge. I also need to be sure all connections are well and truly severed.
Propeller and tail shaft bedding reveals how good is the contact. With is really ‘who gives a fuck?’ as I want no contact. This isn’t going to be pretty nor delicate. Explosives tend to be that way.
Now comes the fun part: unscrewing the Pilgrim Nut. Serious nut-cuttin’ time. What to do? What to do? I have several ideas.
At this point, the props are held in place on the tail shafts by gravity. I’m going to have the front of the leftover stern elevated some 150, so gravity will be on my side. But, at 100 tons each, I don’t want to drop them simultaneously. I want to drop one, and then once it’s quietly resting on the sand, dump a load of beach sand over it to ensure that if the next one drops, and takes a bounce or displays a wicked shimmy, and it overlaps the previous propeller, there will be no damage.
Oh, goody. I get to choreograph a show. Explosives, on one hand, dropping the props each by every and getting a load of sand in between the events.
My crane operator owes me as I got a couple of loose cases of Kingfisher and one of Premium Potato juice for him the last time he swirled me around this boat. We have a huge dump-bucket, used for firefighting. We can load it full of dry sand, and once one propeller falls, he can swing in and dump a couple of dozen metric tons of sand on the downed props leading edges.
“Yeah, that’ll work”, I smile to myself.
Back at the Raj, Esme is instructing Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo how the packages are to be wrapped and addressed. He made the fatal mistake of telling Es that they have free government shipping, around the world.
Great, now the kids will get their gift packages much sooner. And much cheaper.
There are perks to every job.
At the bar, I’m working on just one, OK, six cocktails and beer chasers.
Esme inquires why I’m wearing my garish, freshly laundered PPEs in the evening.
“Work is never done, dear”, I say, “I need to get back to the job site. There’s some welding that needs to be done, and I can’t very well weld when my guys are running around setting charges, now can I?”
“Can’t someone else do it?” she asks.
“Not this time. I’m going ‘old school’. Oxy-acetylene torch. I need to heat some huge areas of very thick metal. I don’t think there’s enough amperage in the whole county that will allow for that.”
“OK, you know what’s best.” Es says, “How long do you think it’ll take?”
“No idea”, I reply, “But this has all the earmarks of an all-nighter.”
“OK”, Es smiles faintly, “Just leave a note with the guard shack for me to get entry. I’ll bring you some sandwiches if you’re there too long.”
“Will do and thanks, my dear”, I smile as we kiss, “♫ No other bride would be so sweet... ♫”
“Don’t you dare finish that song…” Es threatens.
“No dear”, I shirk and smile, “Of course not, dear.”
To be continued
I sat sprawled on the living room floor, my back against the couch, my pregnant belly jutting out in front of me. The baby was content, and introspection replaced my hunger as I wiped the blood off my face with the sleeve of my nightgown. I never imagined the cravings could lead to this, nor did I imagine not caring as I looked at the leftovers of our assailants with disdain.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat on the floor across from me.
I turned to the man I thought was my husband, not sure how to respond. “This would be a good time to explain yourself
He lowered the thawed ice pack he'd been pressing against his cheek and turned his eyes away, struggling with the words he probably never imagined he’d have to say.
“Are you a demon?” I asked.
“No. At least, not in the biblical sense.”
“What does that mean? Are you possessing Doyle?”
“Where is he?”
He hesitated before he said, “He’s dead.”
I sat up, tense. “Did...did you kill him?”
“No, he was already dead when I found him.”
“You better start explaining more than that.”
"I have no idea how without coming right out and saying it...so I will.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself. “I’m a member of a species that has lived in Earth’s water for as long as humans have lived on land.”
I stared at him, incredulous. “You’re seriously telling me you're a fish?”
“No, perhaps…more like a frog? We’re like large, strong, intelligent, mammalian frogs.”
"Then why do you look like Doyle?"
"Because I adopted him. We can transform physically into other creatures by pressing part of them to a nodule on our palate to adopt their DNA. We do it to hunt as well as to blend in.”
“So, you can look like anyone?”
“Yes, but we can’t change our mass. If I transformed into a crab, I'd stay this size. Same if I transformed into a whale.”
“Why are you pretending to be Doyle if you live in water?”
“Because I’m on the run from my territory's government."
I tensed up again. "You're a wanted criminal?"
"No...yes..." He closed his eyes and turned his head down with a forlorn sigh. "I just thought I was doing the right thing."
"What’d you do?"
"I uncovered a lot of ugly truths the government didn't want uncovered, including plans for a 'cleansing genocide'.”
“Genocide against humans?” I asked, my skin prickling with fear.
“We do consider humans an enemy because of what they do to the environment, but no, the plans detailed a genocide against our own kind. We're not free from superiority and prejudice either, the powerful and privileged will do anything to remain powerful and privileged.
“My territory is the strongest and largest, taking up most of what you call the Atlantic Ocean, and its government thinks it's untouchable. I just wanted to prove it wrong, to show it can't get away with its crimes against the weak anymore.
“What I exposed led to an eruption of global unrest and the government listed me as enemy number one. I swam because I knew the penalty was death, and they ended up cornering me near the coast. I had nowhere to swim. If I wanted to hide, my only option was land.”
“Why couldn't you just turn into a shark or something?”
“We have a sense humans don’t have. Perhaps…it’s closest to smell? We each have a unique ‘smell’ that doesn’t disappear when we transform.” He gave me a hesitant smile. “Our baby has it too, a faint one. It'll grow stronger when he or she is born.”
He sighed, sobering up. “This sense helps me know when they’re nearby, but it doesn’t help me hide. So when I found the carcass of a drowned female human, I thought I’d be safer among the enemy than my own kind. I adopted her and tried to put as much distance as I could between myself and the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re amphibious and have exceptional temperature and pressure tolerance, but it still took me a while to adjust. I stayed in the wilderness at first so I could be myself and hunt and live in peace, but after a few months I began to get lonely. We’re a social and intellectual species, we live in communal houses and value company and conversation. I missed being around friends and family."
"No, we don't really do that, but groups of us do bond to create trust units. Having children is only done to stabilize the population and it's regulated by the government, but we do love each other as a community and care for the young together." He sighed. "I thought maybe I could go back, find refuge in another territory, but I knew the information I leaked would lead to oceanic instability, if not an outright war, and I was afraid I'd end up captured.
"The other option was to try and live among humans. I knew they were our enemy, and I wasn't looking forward to staying in a stifling transformed state for long periods of time, but I thought it might be worth it as long as I got mental and emotional stimulation.
"I transformed into the female human and tried to live in one of your towns. Back home we're taught human history, biology, and language, but it still took me a while to get the hang of everything. Communication was the hardest, you rely on vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language a lot more than we do.
"I did odd jobs, learned a few skills, hung out in communal areas, researched, absorbed your media...and my experiences made me hate humans even more than ever. They were selfish, unsympathetic, violent, and corrupt, and the last straw came when a group of men tried to corner me. I transformed into myself and they ran away screaming and tripping over their pants.
"It wasn't worth it, all that ugliness for company that wasn't genuine and conversation that wasn't fulfilling. I went back to living in the wilderness, and I dreamed of starting my own community in secluded, landlocked waters where no one could find us and we'd be free to be ourselves. I was the only one of my kind out here and our governments prohibit bringing hybrids into the world, but I was already a fugitive. I had nothing to lose.
"I searched for my paradise, and I found it a year later. A perfect cave with the purest water near abundant woods. It was like I imagined it into reality. Now, all I needed were children. I had to choose a species to mate with where there'd be a high probability of conception and low probability of genetic defects, and humans were the closest in size, structure, and intelligence. I began searching for a handsome male human to adopt and a healthy female human I could manipulate into carrying my child.”
His words stung. “Is that why you picked me?”
He gave me a rueful half-smile as he twisted Doyle’s wedding ring around his finger. “I didn’t pick you. I was in the woods, hunting, when I heard a group of idiots laughing and scaring away the animals with their wild shots. I waited for them to leave, but after they started calling out for Doyle, I gave up and decided to hunt somewhere else…and that’s when I stumbled upon your husband.
“He was dead. He must’ve tripped and cracked his head against a tree. He was around my age and size but he wasn't good-looking, but then I noticed his wedding ring. It got me thinking, I wouldn’t have to convince a wife to carry her husband’s child.
“His brothers were still looking for him, I didn’t really have time to deliberate. He had a shaved head and no obvious scars, and that was good enough for me. I transformed, took his belongings, buried him, and grabbed his rifle before I met up with Wyatt, Owen, and Randy.
"They were too drunk to suspect anything, but they did give me a good idea of who Doyle was. I began thinking I made a terrible mistake, I should've adopted an anonymous human, there was no way I could convincingly take over Doyle's life...but then they drove me here and I met you.
"You seemed healthy, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. I didn't know how Doyle would interact with his wife and I couldn't bring myself to mimic his brothers, so I tried a basic approach and hoped he was like that with you. Apparently I was way off, but then you came up with your own explanation for my behavior and I thought, maybe I could actually pull this off.”
“So, you’re using me,” I whispered, my voice shaking in hurt and offense.
“I won't deny it was like that at first,” he quietly confessed, looking down. “Humans meant nothing to me and you were a just means to an end...but I didn’t expect to feel a connection with you.” He turned his candid eyes towards me. “I began caring about you. I liked talking to you, I liked being with you, I liked you
. I felt at home with you.
"I started making an effort. I learned how to do Doyle's job even better than he did so I could provide for you. I researched supplements so I could care for you. I got the hang of shopping, cleaning, and ironing so I could help you. With you, I felt stimulated again...physically, emotionally, mentally.
“You also made me realize how unfair I’d been clumping humans together. There are ones like Doyle and his brothers, but there are also ones like you. Like Gary at the shop. Like Timmy and Leanne at the bakery. Humans may be our enemy, but they’re just as diverse as we are and you showed me that.
“I began feeling guilty for what I was doing to you. I toyed with the idea of letting you know the truth for months…but tonight Doyle’s brothers made the choice for me.” His eyes glistened with deep remorse. "You were amazing tonight, but you never should've been in a position like that. I'm so sorry I lied to you. I'm so sorry I put you in danger. I'm so sorry you had to kill your brothers-in-law to save our lives."
I stared at him, no single emotion dominant as they rode the turbulent waves in my mind. “What’s going to happen to me now?”
“Anything you want,” he said, straightening up. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
His earnestness reassured me, but it didn’t settle my confused thoughts. “I need time to process everything. I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”
“Should I help you?”
I gave him an emotionless nod. “Help me to the bathroom first.”
He did before he guided me to bed, switched off the lights, and left. I sighed as I clutched the sheets and listened to him clean up the aftermath of our feast. Despite my agitation, fatigue pushed my thoughts aside and I drifted off into a dense sleep.
The next morning, I woke up early and alone. I stayed in bed, analyzing last night's events until the baby’s hungry kicks became impossible to ignore. I groaned as I sat up, and I jumped at a trio of knocks before the door opened.
“Good morning." He stood in the doorway with a hesitant smile and a mouthwatering plate of raw meat. “I got you breakfast.”
Hope glinted behind his eyes as he walked over and adjusted the tray over my legs, and he remained standing as he watched me polish off the pile within minutes. I leaned back in satisfaction and ran my hand over my soothed baby bump, and he cleaned up before he got me my supplements. I didn't take them as I studied him, and he stood to the side with anxious eyes, studying me back.
“Did you have time to process everything?” he asked.
“What you did was disgusting,” I said, making him wince. “But I’d be a lot angrier with you if I didn’t sense something was off already. You weren’t acting like Doyle at all, but I wanted to believe he'd turned a new leaf.” I looked down. “I was enjoying the fantasy of having a loving husband who finally saw me as more than just an object.
“You treated me better in the past few months than Doyle had our entire marriage. You showed me what it was like to be loved, respected, and cared for. You boosted me and opened my eyes to what a relationship could be. Should
be. It wasn’t you or me, it was you and
me. You and me and the baby.”
I looked up at him. “What were you going to do if this never happened?”
He shifted in place. "The original plan was to convince you to do a home birth blindfolded, and then I'd take the baby to my cave and leave you. I was—"
You were going to take
my baby and abandon
me right after I gave birth?" I asked, glaring at him as I placed a protective arm over my stomach. "All while pretending to be my husband?"
He looked away, regret weighing down his features. "I didn't want to do anything violent to you like kidnapping or murder. I thought it'd be the least horrible option...but that was all before I felt a connection with you. I've been struggling with what to do since."
He turned to me. “Penny, I'm so sorry. I really am. I owe you so much after everything you've done for me. After everything I've put you through. I want to make it up to you. Just tell me how and I'll do it.”
I studied him, running my hand over my baby bump as my riled emotions settled into anxious curiosity. After a tentative moment, I said, "I want to see what you look like. The real you.”
He blinked in surprise. “Are you sure?
“I’m sure.” I pulled myself up on the pillows, preparing myself. “I should know the true father of my baby.”
"I don’t want to scare you.”
"Why would a giant frog scare me?"
"We also have teeth...and claws...and horns," he said, hesitant. "We're sometimes mistaken for demons by humans if they glimpse us."
I hugged myself, fighting my resurfacing anxiety. "I still want to see you."
He nodded. “Okay.”
He stripped and took a deep breath, and my eyes widened as I watched his frame narrow and stretch. His skin darkened to a shade of mottled green so deep it almost looked black, its glossy texture gleaming under the light. His legs bent at three distinct joints, and his flattened feet split into five elongated, tapered toes, an elastic web of skin connecting them and black claws capping them.
His hands grew larger and gained claws and webbing as well, and flexible tissue connected his upper arms to his body, almost like the wings of a bat. His hair disappeared and his jaw became sharper, his nose regressing into two slits and his lips curving into a pout that hid small, piranha-like teeth.
His eyes grew rounder and darker, the space between them increasing and their whites disappearing. From where his ears should be, a pair of thick, black horns grew, their rough surface without shine as they curved up until they surpassed the top of his head before curling back down half-way.
His chest and stomach were completely smooth save for a small belly button, and his genitals had retracted inside his body. With a half-smile that looked out of place on his foreign face, he turned around, giving me a full view. His streamlined shape had no curves, creases, or protrusions other than the thin, translucent fins lining his spine.
He turned back to face me and lifted his arms, presenting himself, a thin film gliding vertically over his glossy eyes as he waited for me to say something. He really played it down when he compared his species to frogs, and it took me a while to find my voice.
“C-can I touch you?”
He blinked vertically again, and a small smile twitched his mouth as he walked over and sat beside me. A balmy scent accompanied him, unusual but not unpleasant. My hand trembled as I reached out and touched him, and I realized he was trembling too.
I felt my way down his sleek, firm arm, his skin warm but surprisingly not slimy. When I got to his palm, I spread open his fingers, tracing the taut webbing and onyx claws. My hand left his and traveled up his chest, over his shoulder, and down his back, and he shuddered as I grazed the fine fins along his spine.
I met his eyes as I reached for his face, and he blinked when I touched his cheek. The injuries from Doyle's brothers were healing at an unnatural rate. My gaze drifted towards his formidable horns, and he lowered his head so I could touch them. It was my turn to shudder as they felt like sandpaper.
“You can wear your clothes,” I said, drawing back.
He looked up. “Do I make you uncomfortable?”
His natural vocal chords weren’t made for English as they rasped, but I understood him. “No, but you’re trembling.”
“I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous to be yourself in front of the mother of your child.”
His eyes glinted in hesitant relief as he tried to read me.
What’s your real name?”
“It isn’t easy for humans to pronounce,” he said before he emitted a strange sound.
I frowned. “That sounds like you’re saying Raphael while gargling whistles.”
He gave me a small smile. “It's different underwater, but you can call me Raphael if you want.”
"I’m going to have to get used to your expressions with this face, but I think I can pick up your emotions from your eyes.” I looked at his horns. “I can see why humans would think you’re demons. Did Wyatt, Owen, and Randy see you like this? Is that why they tried to exorcise you?”
“No, that was just a coincidence. They've been suspicious for months, but when they wanted to—…you don’t need to know the details, but I refused and, apparently, Doyle wouldn’t have. That was all the proof they needed that a demon was controlling their brother."
"So, Doyle started acting decent and they immediately thought 'demon'. Tells you all you need to know. No wonder they couldn't find anyone willing to marry them. Doyle just got lucky I was too stupid to know better."
"You're not stupid, you're just too kind, patient, and selfless. You're wasted on humans like them. They didn't have a brain cell between them. If Doyle really was possessed, their techniques wouldn’t have exorcised a louse off his scalp.”
I surprised myself as I laughed. "They kept splashing water on you. I bet that did the exact opposite of what they wanted."
His chuckle sounded like a bubbling kettle. "If our lives weren't on the line, yea, I would've found it quite refreshing."
I studied his eyes, and my smile faded. “Is it still hard for you, living on land?”
“Yes, but after I met you it became worth it.”
"You said you used to hunt in the woods. You guys eat land animals?"
"We're natural hunters and we eat anything. I also ate in greasy restaurants when I was the female human. I thought I hated human food, but then I met you and had my first ever home-cooked meal. It was a welcome change."
"That was the first time 'Doyle' thanked me." I frowned at a thought. “If you were Doyle when I got pregnant, wouldn’t this baby be his?”
“The DNA we adopt is added to all our cells except the reproductive ones, or else each generation will end up with a mishmash of all the adopted DNA of the previous generations.”
“Oh. How many DNAs can you have?”
“There isn’t really a limit, but the more you adopt, the higher the probability of transformation errors. Twenty’s our average."
"Do you have twenty?"
"No. I have six aquatic species, the female human, a coyote in case anyone saw me in the woods, and Doyle.”
I sat up, curious. “Can I see them? The land ones?”
He smiled. “Sure.”
He stood up, and fur sprouted from his skin as he bent over and transformed into a large coyote. I’d never seen one before, and I couldn’t help but shy away at its size despite its unthreatening posture. He then transformed into the woman, and I felt a twinge of sorrow knowing he found her dead in the ocean.
“Why’s she bald?" I asked.
“Because hairstyles, scars, amputations...those aren't coded in DNA. But her hair did grow when I lived as her for a while. So did Doyle's.”
“I was glad, I didn’t like it when he shaved his head." I paused. "If you
had a scar or amputation, does your transformed self have that too?"
"Yes, but we have regenerative abilities, so disfigurements aren’t permanent.”
“Can you turn into a giant baby?”
“No, but I’ll be what the baby will look like when it’s my age.”
"Can you turn into a giant bug?"
He gave me an eager smile as he waited for further questions, but although I had many, I remained silent in thought.
“Should I transform into Doyle?” he asked, hesitant.
“No. I don’t want to see him ever again. You can go back to your own self.”
He did and sat beside me. “Do you have anything else you’d like to ask?”
I held his hand and turned it around in mine, running my fingers over his as I tried to come to terms with my new reality.
I could understand why he was afraid to tell me what he was, but he shouldn't have pretended to be my husband to get me to carry his child. He had multiple options to fulfill his goal, and although he chose to remain transformed to live with me, and although he was respectful and appreciated my company, he shouldn't have tricked me.
Then again, I made questionable choices too. I sensed something was off, yet I chose to live the fantasy instead of confronting my suspicions.
My belly shifted beneath our hands, settling my confused emotions. My old life didn't exist anymore, and I didn't miss it. The baby was what mattered now, and that evoked a surge of forgiveness and serenity. I believed Raphael's remorse, I admired his stance against his government, I sympathized with his struggles, I felt his vulnerability, I understood his loneliness, and I appreciated his previous treatment and his current transparency and absolute trust.
I looked at him. “I want to see your cave.”
“Yes. If we’re going to raise a family together, I want you and the kids to be comfortable. I can live anywhere.”
His voice became gravelly and tight. “Can I hug you?”
I nodded, and he held me close as he whispered, “Thank you.”
My head rested under his chin as I hooked my arms around his neck, and I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Why do you have two heartbeats?”
“Because I have two hearts, two circulatory systems.” He softly pressed my head against his chest. “This is the bigger heart, for the blood.” He reached back and guided my hand to the base of his skull. “The smaller heart is here, beneath the brainstem. It's for the transference fluid.”
"Did you have two hearts as Doyle?"
"Yes, I always do. But they're in sync when we're in a transformed state."
"That's two hearts more than he had." I sighed, listening to their polyrhythmic beat. "What are we going to do about his brothers?"
"I piled their remains in Wyatt's truck and drove them to his house before I set it on fire. I don't think anyone will suspect anything other than three drunk idiots got careless smoking. Randy's car is under Doyle's name, so I left it here in case you and I went our separate ways."
He was ready to let me go despite what I knew, and absolute contentment washed over me as I snuggled in his safe embrace. "A second car can come in handy, just wish it wasn't Randy's clunky tin can."
After a day of indigestion, hormonal mood swings, relentless baby kicks, and funeral preparations for Doyle’s brothers, we woke up the next morning ready to go on our road trip. Raphael transformed into the woman, and we got in Doyle’s truck and made the two-hour journey to the cave.
After parking in the woods, he carried me up jagged rocks and through narrow tunnels until we reached an unexpected space that seemed to stretch on forever. My mouth dropped open as my eyes darted around, trying to take in the incredible view.
The walls of the cave dipped and protruded, their natural pattern continuing towards the high ceiling where haphazard openings allowed sunlight to stream through. The beams illuminated the crystal-clear waters of a vast lake, the gentle ripples sending mesmeric reflections across the slate-grey rock surrounding us.
Raphael lowered me down on a ledge. “Do you like it?”
“It’s breathtaking, Raph. I love it.”
He smiled. “I’ve set it up for myself underwater, but I’ll set it up for you up here. It won’t take long, maybe a few days, and we can move in. And you don’t have to stay here. You can go anywhere you like and even have your own house and job out there. Whatever you want, I’ll support you.”
The lake seemed to be calling me. “I want you to teach me how to swim.”
We took off our clothes, and he transformed into his original self before he carried me into the cool, silky water. I held on to him tight, my heart thudding in excitement. I wasn’t the only one excited as the baby began stirring, her movements rhythmic and gentle as opposed to her hungry, unruly kicks.
“She’s happy,” I said, smiling. “She’s in her element."
"Yes. I don’t know how, but I can sense her. Is this what your women feel when they're pregnant?”
His eyes glinted and he leaned his head against mine. “Yes.”
“What should we name her?”
“Whatever you like.”
I thought for a few seconds. “Do you like the name Tiana?”
“It’s beautiful, what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the name of the princess in The Princess and the Frog
He paused, blinking, then he laughed. “I love it.”
He set me down, and I gripped the coarse rock with my toes as he taught me the basics of floating, treading, and not panicking. He was a lot more graceful than he was on land, and it was enchanting to watch. He then held my hands and pulled me into deeper waters, and I smiled as I kicked my legs to stay afloat.
“You’re a natural!” he said.
“It’s amazing feeling so light! My back really needed this.”
“We can come here as often as you like. And, if you want, I think we should prepare for a water birth since you're due any day now.”
“What's that?” I asked as we swam to a shallow area.
He sat on a ledge in the water and pulled me onto his lap, holding me close. “It’s like a regular birth, but in water. Our young are more developed than yours, but we never give birth on land. Humans have done water births, so it should be alright."
“I’m ready to do anything to make sure Tiana’s safe and healthy. Is there anything else I should know? What’ll she look like?"
"I don't know. Our genes are dominant in adoptions, but I have no idea reproductively. Our young look like me but more compact with no horns, claws, or teeth. They're also covered in fine hair...perhaps like peach fuzz? But they shed that layer within the first week." He put a gentle hand on my stomach. "Your baby bump is bigger than our kind's, though, so I don't know how different she'll be."
I put my hand over his. "How do I care for her? Will she nurse?"
"Yes, but you don't have to do it. I've got a stockpile of substitute milk here and we can take turns feeding her."
"Why can't I nurse her?"
"You can, but if she's anything like our young, she'll be even more demanding than she is now. They're always hungry and will grow to twice their size in the first two weeks before they wean."
"Oh." I licked my lips as Tiana’s kicks began getting impatient. “Speaking of, we’re craving something.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. I just know Tiana and I want it.” I turned to him. “If you live in water, why have we been craving raw meat instead of fish?”
“I’m not sure. Cravings are dictated by the baby’s needs for protein, iron, fat, and so on. They can be overwhelming and our pregnant women just go wild hunting seals, sea lions, and walruses. But our baby is half-human. Also, you’ve never tried seal, sea lion, or walrus before so you wouldn’t really know to crave it.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m craving now, that taste I don’t know. Maybe the water made Tiana get in touch with her father’s side and she’s craving seal or walrus.”
“Then I’ll try to find one for you.”
“Don’t break into a zoo, Raph.”
He chuckled. “I’ll find us an alternative.”
Two days after our visit to Raphael’s cave, he called me while on a grocery run. “Penelope, they’re in town,” he said in a rushed whisper.
I sat up at the panic in his voice. “The government guys after you?”
“Yes, five of them. I didn’t think they’d come this far inland.”
“Did they track your unique smell thing?”
“No. It’s not really like a scent that lingers and can be traced. It’s perhaps more like…an aura? I don’t know how to explain it. I don't think they know I'm here yet. They must’ve been infiltrating the continent over the past three years, looking for me and hoping I'd seek out human interaction.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not coming home, I don’t want them finding you if they end up sensing me and follow. I’m going to dodge them and go to the cave. Do you remember where it is? Can you meet me there?”
“Yes. I’ll drive Randy’s car right over.”
“Please be careful. I’m going to get rid of my phone in case they catch me, so they don’t find out about you. Oh, shit!”
My pulse raced. “What is it? Raph?”
“I’m okay,” he whispered. “I’m looking for a venomous creature with an exoskeleton to adopt for protection.”
“Why can’t you use the coyote? It was scary.”
“It’s also easy to kill. I need armor. Some of the weapons we have can liquefy you.”
"Liquefy! Raph, get a gun!"
"We have repellent suits for exploration and battle, and I'm certain they'd be wearing them under the army uniforms they've got on."
“Be careful, Raph, please. It’s one thing to die fighting, but another to die from a spider bite because you were stupid.”
He managed a tight, sad chuckle. “I love you so much. I'm so sorry."
“I love you too, and I’ll see you in two hours, okay? Stay safe!”
I hung up and hobbled to the closet, where I struggled to put on a pair of shoes suitable for navigating the cave. After a detour to the bathroom, I shuffled to the kitchen to get provisions for the two-hour drive, and a scream ripped from my throat when the front door crashed open and a net was thrown over me, sending me tumbling to the ground.
I looked up in horror to see a group of five men in army fatigues, one of them dragging me to the side while the others began searching the house. These must be the five after Raphael, and my heart sank as I wondered how they found me.
Their raid had to mean they thought Raphael was here and I was glad he managed to dodge them, but my relief was short-lived. Raphael said Tiana had an "aurascent" he could sense, which meant they could too. According to Raphael, her existence was wrong in their eyes and I was an enemy, and my only thought right now was ensuring her and my survival.
After tearing the house apart, they surrounded me, and I curled up to shield my agitated baby bump as I scanned their identical faces with dread. They must have adopted the same man. None of them appeared to have learned facial expressions or body language, though, and I shuddered as I felt like I was surrounded by robots.
One of them crouched next to me and reached for my belly, and my defenses kicked in as I tried to knee him and push his hand away. Two other men squatted down, one grabbing my arms and pinning them against my chest while the other held my legs, and I twisted and strained as the first man reached for my exposed stomach again.
“No, please don’t hurt my baby!”
He lay his hand on top, pressing the netting against my flesh. “Where's the father?”
I wasn't giving Raphael up, but I didn't know how to reply. Afraid of saying the wrong thing and putting Tiana and myself in jeopardy, I remained silent as I continued to struggle.
He pressed down harder, his fingertips digging in. “Where's the father?”
I gasped, crying out, "I don't know! I don't know!"
"When will he come home?"
"I don't know!"
He pulled out my phone, and I now wished I had a passcode. "Tell us an alternate method of contacting him that doesn't lead to voicemail."
"There isn't one!"
"He knew we were close," one of the standing men said to the rest. "He abandoned everything and ran. She's useless."
"Wait," the second standing man said.
He stripped before transforming into his original self, looking almost identical to Raphael except for the larger horns and thinner lips. I kept my eyes glued to him, trembling as I wondered what he was going to do next.
The man gripping my baby bump studied me. "She has no shock. He told her the truth about himself. About us. She's not only a bearer."
"He bonded with a human?" the man pinning my arms asked.
Their monotone voices and blank expressions left me lost. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted or impressed, nor could I figure out what this meant for Tiana and me.
"This is good," the man holding my legs said. "He won't abandon his unit. He'll come."
"He won't come, he knows we're here," the standing man who was still human said. "She's aware of our existence and the unborn is a crime. He knows their fate at our hands. He won't risk his freedom defending a condemned, second-rate unit."
“Why are you certain he knows we're here?”
“Because he's not in town and he's abandoned all methods of communication despite having a female carrying his child.”
"Perhaps he set an evacuation plan." The man released my stomach to check my phone. "His last call was nine minutes before we arrived at this house." He looked at me. "What did he tell you?"
"N-nothing," I replied.
"He's a fugitive, he must be apprehended. What did he tell you?"
"P-please...leave us alone. We aren't hurting anyone."
The standing man who was still human lifted his foot to stomp on my stomach, and I strained against those holding me as I screamed, “No! No, please!”
The man who had transformed into his original self grabbed the aggressor and pushed him back, but I didn’t feel relief as Tiana thrashed beneath my racing heart. I writhed, gasping, as pain seared through my abdomen and warmth trickled between my legs, and my pleading eyes darted between the men's emotionless faces as I felt helpless and alone.
"What did the father tell you?" one asked, taking advantage of my desperate state.
I couldn't speak, my breaths hitching in broken sobs at the amplifying spasms and hopelessness.
The man who had transformed into his original self said something in his language before he clawed through the net and carried me. I gasped, but I was in too much pain to protest as he took me to the bathroom, lay me down in the tub, and plugged it up before turning on the faucet.
The other men filed in after us like uncanny reflections of each other, but he shoved them out before locking the door. I eyed him with apprehension as he kneeled next to me, and I pushed his hand away with a strained cry when he reached for my clothes.
“You're going into labor. I've given birth before, I can help you.”
I frowned at her unexpected revelation, but a vicious pang stole my breath and I groaned and leaned back, nodding. She removed my clothes, folded a towel behind my head, and turned off the faucet once the water level surpassed my stomach. She held my hands and gave me advice as my body seized with every jolt of pain, and tears streamed down my face as I wished Raphael was with me instead.
After an agonizing half-hour of straining, puffing, and screaming, Tiana came into the world.
I stared in awe through my sweat and tears as she wiggled in the turbid water between my legs. I reached my trembling hands towards her, but I jerked back in surprise when she swam up to me and breached the surface. High-pitched cries squeaked out of her searching mouth as she climbed towards my chest with aggressive nuzzles, and my instincts took over as I cradled her and tried to help her nurse.
She didn’t know how to latch, and the woman studied us for a few seconds before she spoke over Tiana's hungry cries. "We have different mammary glands. Lie back and position her like this. It’ll be easier.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, adjusting Tiana while the woman cut the umbilical cord with her claws.
I caressed my beautiful baby's head as she looked at me with her dark, glossy eyes, her tiny fists kneading me as she nursed, her two heartbeats drumming out of step. Raphael was right about his genes being dominant, she looked just like him. Yet, along with the soft peach fuzz covering her body, there were longer strands of actual hair on her head. She also had a little protruding nose and a faint brow ridge.
The woman broke my reverie as she asked, "What did the father tell you when he called?"
I looked up at her. "What are you going to do to Tiana and me?"
"If you cooperate, you and your daughter won't suffer. What did the father tell you?"
Fear merged with my determination as I hugged Tiana tight. “Why can’t you just banish him with us out here?”
“The sentence should match the crime, and what you're suggesting won't be punishment.”
“He didn’t commit a crime, he uncovered one.”
"His actions have led to destabilization and disorder.” She pointed to me. "And he revealed our existence to the enemy and had a child outside of his species."
"None of this would’ve happened if your government wasn’t evil. And what’s done is done, killing him won't change anything.”
“Emulation must be discouraged.”
“We aren't hurting anyone, we just want to live in peace. Please.”
“His own choices destroyed that possibility for himself and for you. What did he—"
She sat up and turned towards the door, and within a second she'd left the bathroom and locked me in. Confused but not letting this chance go to waste, I stumbled out of the tub, wrapped Tiana in a towel, got dressed, and climbed on the toilet to pry open the small window above it. Tiana’s wails echoed against the tiles as I huffed and strained, the stubborn frame grinding with every desperate one of my heaves as I fought through my pain and fatigue.
The bathroom door crashed open, and I abandoned the hopeless mission as I jumped down and scrambled for Tiana. Pressing her to my chest, I flung myself into a corner and brandished a hairbrush like a weapon, ready to fight tooth and nail for my daughter.
Shock replaced my resolve when I saw the enormous scorpion that had collided backwards into the sink, inky liquid spraying from where its left claw would be. The scorpion was terrifying, its remaining claw snapping and its stinger striking as it fought the woman and her long, radiating weapon, but she was determined as she searched for a weakness on its body and deflected its attacks with speed and skill.
Recalling Raphael's phone call, I hurled the hairbrush at her, afraid she'd end up liquefying him. It struck her in the eye, and that distraction was all Raphael needed to trip her and bury his giant stinger in her chest, coating the tiles with a spray of black as its tip protruded from her back. She collapsed lifeless to the floor, and his legs slipped on the blood as he whipped around to face us.
I stared at him in gratitude and concern as his exoskeleton dissolved and the claw, tail, and excess legs withdrew into his body. He stumbled against the wall and slid to the ground, panting as he gripped his wound tight and looked up at us with relief.
“Oh no, Raph!” I ran over in horror and skidded beside him on my knees. “Your hand…your eye…”
“Don't worry, they'll grow back," he said, his voice weak. "Are you and Tiana okay?”
“Yes, but you aren't. We need to do something, you’re bleeding out.”
I placed our daughter in his intact arm and got to work cleaning and wrapping his wrist stump, and he looked at her with warmth and a soft smile as she nuzzled his chest with hungry squeaks.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered before he turned to me, regret flashing across his eye. "I’m so sorry this happened. I’m so sorry I wasn’t with you for her birth. I'm so sorry you had to see me do...that.” He nodded towards the dead woman.
“Raph, you just saved our lives. You were amazing, how’d you even know?”
“I overheard the boys at the gas station talking about how they ratted Doyle out to a soldier looking for people whose behavior changed. When I rushed over and saw Randy's car still here, I was ready to fight with everything I had. If they killed you, I'd have nothing to live for.”
“What are we going to do now?” I asked, tending to his damaged eye.
“We have to get rid of the bodies and move to the cave before they send others after us. Whatever’s missing we can get later. Are you okay with that?”
“More than okay.” I rolled up my sleeves and nodded. “Let’s go.”
Clean sheet This market (as many others) is practically offered in a different way, still some users may find it more useful to bet on any team to keep a clean sheet. For those who are not familiar with the terminology of the beautiful game, a clean sheet is awarded to a team when it doesn’t concede a goal in the particular game. Clean Sheet & Fail 2 Score Stats Two critical stats for under goals betting are clean sheet stats and fail to score stats. Clean Sheets A clean sheet is when a team keeps their opponent from scoring. Clean sheet numbers show defensive strength. A team that keeps clean sheets, and scores few goals is a great UNDER goals candidate. How to Start Clean Sheet Betting. Before placing any bets, it’s important to support your potential selections with some research. A great place to begin with is by looking at any injuries or suspensions to key personnel that can impact the probability of a team keeping a clean sheet. Clean sheet: Think of a clean sheet as a shutout. It is when a team successfully comes through a game without having conceded a goal or any points. This is a big pride of defenses and in betting you will see options like To Win To Nil which means that you are backing a side to win without conceding in the game. When a team does not allow their opponent team to score in the match then the team has kept a clean sheet. Keeping the clean sheet is very important. The goalkeepers and defenders even get bonus if the team keeps a clean sheet. At end of season a
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