A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters, or else at the bottom of this chapter.
A/N2: I left the chapter rating at FR13 even though we'll have a special guest star who has a potty mouth.
On Monday, there was an assembly before first period, instead of homeroom. Alex was dreading it, because she knew exactly what it was going to be. Okay, everyone knew it was going to be the big announcement about the Homecoming Queen and her court. But she knew who was going to be on the court, and who was going to be announced as the queen. She figured she’d better just deal, so she made sure to take extra care with her hair and her makeup and her outfit that morning. No ‘overalls and funky t-shirt and old fishing hat’ today, anyway.
At least her fishing hats didn’t smell bad, like her dad’s fishing hat, which had been used for actual fishing too many times.
And sure enough, the principal announced that she was the Homecoming Queen. She knew everyone else would have jumped up and down and squealed, but she was really not happy about it. She just knew something would happen, like with Ray’s birthday party, even if nothing had gone wrong for her birthday party, and the trip to San Diego with Willow had gone off pretty well, and stuff with Annie had gone really well.
So she stood up and smiled and waved as tons of people applauded. Then she had to come up on the stage at the front of the auditorium. Donna was the next person the principal read off, so Alex hugged her when Donna came up onstage and whispered, “Thanks for helping me Friday night.” Then Trish and Jill and Nicole and Cathy all got called up ahead of Kelly, who had slipped to seventh in the voting, which was obviously making her really grumpy, but Kelly still put a big fake smile on her face and came up to the stage. And Emily was the last member of the Homecoming Court. Alex hugged all of them as they came up, even Kelly.
And then it was really nice having all kinds of people she liked coming up to her during the day and congratulating her, but it was less swell having to have a meeting with the rest of the court and Vice-Principal Wright, because the colors Mrs. Wright wanted for the Homecoming Court dresses would not look good on everybody, and they would look especially not-so-good on Donna and Jill. So they all had to argue with Mrs. Wright for like twenty minutes to get her to change the color scheme.
School colors were made to look dramatic on football uniforms, not pretty on prom dresses. Why couldn’t people figure that out?
And Alex still had to go get fitted for the dress and buy it and check the fittings and make sure it didn’t get damaged before Homecoming, like by Shar trying it on to see how pretty she’d look in it. At least Alex had Nicole, who knew why Alex was all stressed out about the whole thing. They picked Shar up after Boys’ and Girls’ Club and went over to Marni’s Formalwear Boutique, which was just about the best place in town to get formalwear, even if most guys preferred Tux Town because they could get in and out a lot faster, and that seemed to be the main thing guys wanted in shopping, unless it was for power tools or cars.
Shar was so excited she couldn’t sit still, which really perked Alex up. And wearing a strapless bra was nothing compared to stuff she wore regularly while fighting badguys. She did insist on low heels, though. She fibbed that she was going to have to walk on a possibly-wet football field and then dance for hours, so she needed low heels. But really, it was to reinforce the whole ‘Alex is short, Terawatt is tall’ deal.
Oh, and Ray was going to be escorting her onto the field for the Homecoming Queen presentation, and then being her date at the Homecoming Dance after the football game, so he was going to have to rent a tux for the night. He wasn’t thrilled about that, even when Alex told him she’d rather he got a better tux at Marni’s, but she wouldn’t say anything if he got one at Tux Town as long as it fit right.
And Tuesday was Halloween. Alex had agreed to take Shar and her friends Maria and Sophie trick-or-treating around the neighborhood for an hour, before Maria’s mom took them trick-or-treating around Maria’s neighborhood for an hour, and then Sophie’s mom took them trick-or-treating around her neighborhood for a bit. Alex figured the girls would have about half a ton of candy apiece by the end of the evening. And then, once Alex was done shepherding trick-or-treaters around, she and Ray were going to a Halloween party at Nicole’s house.
All that went pretty well. The girls were well-behaved, and cute as a button. Well, three really cute buttons. Alex walked a good hundred feet away, so the girls felt like they were on their own, even though they were closely supervised. Shar went as a little Terawatt, and Alex was kind of surprised at how many other girls she saw were also wearing Terawatt costumes. Maria had even said she was going to go as Terawatt until Shar said she already had a Terawatt costume made up, and they couldn’t go trick-or-treating wearing the same costume, right? So Maria went as Katara, even if Alex figured a lot of adults wouldn’t have any idea who that was. Sophie went as a magic fairy, in a pink leotard with a pink tutu and translucent pink fairy wings that her mom helped her make.
A couple jerky boys who were probably around twelve or thirteen looked like they were going to hassle Shar and her friends, but Alex just used her tk to rip out the bottom of one jerk’s paper bag, so the guys ended up scrambling to pick up their own candy instead. Alex walked past them and said in her most intimidating Jo Lupo voice, “Oh, by the way, I got photos of you two on my cellphone, so if any of these kids report two guys stealing their candy, you’ll be hearing from the police department. Have a nice night.”
Then the party was really fun. It was just dancing and playing videogames and talking and playing party games. Alex wore her Kitty Pryde Agent of SHIELD costume just without the wig, even though most of the girls at the party went with the usual ‘slutty whatever’ idea. Slutty witch, slutty nurse, slutty fairy, slutty devil, slutty superheroine… The official word on all the costume websites was ‘sexy’, not ‘slutty’, but they were mostly pretty slutty. Especially Trish in that ‘sexy maid’ costume that had like the world’s teeniest skirt. Not that Alex had a lot of room to talk, since she flew around fighting badguys in a leotard. But Alex was kind of peeved at Donna, who was dressed as Terawatt but with a huge cutout in the middle of her chest, which was so not a Terawatt supersuit! Okay, Donna’s date really liked the costume, but what guy wouldn’t? Donna probably got the idea off that stupid ‘make your Terawatt costume extra slutty’ website, along with the white stiletto-heeled kneeboots that were so high and so slutty that Donna could hardly walk in them, which made her totally clumsy at her own Just Dance game.
The problem started smack in the middle of the party, when Alex’s tPhone went off. She stepped out into the back yard with Ray, like some of the other couples who wanted to neck without Nicole’s parents glaring at them. Then, once they were in the darkness, she went silvery and went straight up about five hundred feet.
She called Willow back. “Terawatt here. What’s up?”
Willow’s Autotuned voice said, “I just got another maybe. Hang on, Jack’s calling me back too. Let me conference you.”
Jack’s voice came on the line. “Burn, what’s up?”
Willow said, “Tera’s on the line too.”
Willow explained, “I’ve got a pattern of disappearances in the Santa Monica Beach area going back about two months. There are usually a couple drownings a month on the L.A. beaches, and maybe a quarter of them are disappearances too, but lifeguards save the rest. But there’s been a spike that’s been getting bigger in one place, and it’s not known drowning victims. And today the police had a super-reliable witness claim he heard a beach resident screaming while walking out on the beach, and then she vanished. Her dog was barking frantically in the middle of the beach. The witness is one of the Santa Monica harbor patrolmen, who was swimming in the ocean at the time just before he went on shift, so he’s certain she didn’t go anywhere near the water.”
Jack asked, “What are you not telling us, because so far this sounds like a job for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, not the SRI.”
Willow paused for a second. “Okay, that’s the thing. Three months ago, Boyle Biochemical right there in Santa Monica had a fire, and the whole building burned up, including the processing vats.”
Jack drawled, “And…”
Willow said, “And anything that leaked out of that fire and most of the water from the fire department would have gone into the city storm drains, which dump-”
“Right out on that beach,” Jack guessed.
“Yeah. So maybe – just maybe – we’re looking at something mutated and hungry, like those animals in Siberia I’m not supposed to know about.”
Jack snarked, “I’m pretty sure someone would’ve said something if there was a three hundred pound ape-wolf-cat-thing prowling around Santa Monica looking for food.”
Willow pushed, “Well, I just think someone needs to talk to the police and this guy and see if it’s an SRI case or not.”
Jack asked, “How many people do you think might have gotten eaten, if this resident is the latest victim?”
Willow went into her researcher tones. “Well, adjusting for common reporting levels and missing persons reporting levels, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say… eight to fourteen minimum. Maybe more.”
Jack whistled. “In two months? With no one seeing anything? That does sound like it may be an SRI case.”
Alex asked, “Why? Don’t serial killers kill that many people?”
Jack explained, “Maybe. But they do it over years, or decades. Maybe one victim every few years, or every few months if they’re pushing it. Not a victim every four or five days. That’s not normal. I’ll call Miller and get him on it. Tera?”
“You’re out of school tomorrow and maybe the rest of the week, because you have to fly to see a mentor at Corcoran tomorrow morning. I want you at home, ready to fly to Camp Atron and catch a ride down there if Miller needs an assist. If this is an affected person or an affected animal – or even worse, a pack of them – he’s likely to want you down there as soon as he’s got anything.”
She sighed to herself, but just said, “Roger that, colonel.” At least it was all set up and all she had to do was let her mom call the high school in the morning. But she didn’t like missing school. It was way easier to listen to the teacher and work in class than to do it all herself.
She dropped back to the ground beside Ray and went normal.
Ray whispered, “What’s up?”
She scowled in the dark, “I’ve got to ‘fly to Corcoran College’ tomorrow. I’ll miss a day or two of school. Maybe three. I dunno yet.”
“Crap,” he muttered. “Well, between me and Nicole and Louis, we can get all your assignments.”
She hugged him and murmured, “Thanks. Thanks a ton, for being the best boyfriend ever.”
He asked, “Is this gonna be something you can tell me about later?”
She shrugged, “Maybe. It sounds like it. I mean, it’s not like the thing with Hanna.”
He said, “Well, can we go back to the party, or do you need to go home?”
She thought it over. “Can we play Just Dance some more? That’s really fun.”
Ray grinned wickedly. “You totally crushed Donna. I thought her face was gonna crack she was trying so hard not to be a bad loser when you won. Then Louis beat her while you were getting another snack, and she just lost it.”
Alex knew she shouldn’t giggle, but she did, and it was Donna’s fault for wearing heels she could hardly walk in and then trying to dance in them. “Louis? I’m sorry I missed that one.”
Ray smirked, “I think Marsha got it on her cellphone.”
Alex got Shar going in the morning, and let her mom call the school. Then she went back upstairs and made sure she was all ready to go if anyone called. Meanwhile, Shar was complaining about having to go to school while Alex got to stay home. Alex was pretty sure Shar would fuss most of the way to school. But she was also sure Shar would keep a secret once she was away from Team Terawatt. It was really depressing how good Shar was at sticking to a cover story. Kids who weren’t even nine yet should not have to be that good at cover stories and stuff.
Alex had time to start dinner in the slow cooker, make a few peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches as a to-go snack, and do all her exercises and martial arts practice before she heard from Graham on her tPhone.
“Terawatt? Captain Miller here, with Lieutenant Lupo. I also have Lieutenants Marshall and Bailey, and Sergeant Carlson on.”
She asked, “Captain, does this look like a Terawatt op?”
He said, “It looks like it could be. Can you be at Camp Atron ASAP? We already have a chopper waiting for you.”
She grimaced but told him, “Yes. Do I need anything other than the uniform?”
“We have a gymbag ready here, if needed. So just your phone and earjack. Once you’re in the chopper and on its comms, we’ll do a quick briefing.”
She just said, “Okay, I’ll be at Camp Atron in ten or fifteen minutes.”
“Over and out.”
She dove into her gymbag and changed into Terawatt. Then she stayed silvery as she flew through the kitchen, snagged her paper bag with the four sandwiches and the diet coke, and headed down the storm runoff system to her favorite creek. Going as fast as she could, she got to the chopper in not a ton more than ten minutes after she hung up.
She plopped down in a seat and told the nice pilot, “Whenever you’re ready.” He let her buckle in while he cleared things with the control tower, and then he was starting up.
Once they were in the air, Alex plugged into the helicopter’s comm system and let the pilot contact Graham for her. “Terawatt here.”
Graham said, “Great. Once the chopper gets to Point Baker, he’s going to let you eject and fly to us on your own. I’ve got the beacon on me, and we’ll be at Santa Monica Beach if anything goes wrong with that so Acid Burn could vector you in if need be.”
Graham told her, “We talked to the harbor patrol guy, Caulder. He’s pretty frustrated. The missing person’s a little old lady who’s a long-time friend of his, and he knows her whole family. He spent most of yesterday dealing with the local LEO, sorry, that’s Law Enforcement Officers, and even though he knows all of them personally he didn’t get anywhere. Mrs. Hutton’s simply vanished, leaving her dog loose and her house unlocked and her car in its parking spot. He heard the screams, but by the time he got back to shore, there was no sign of her.”
Jo Lupo complained, “The cops don’t seem to realize what the dog means. The dog was barking hysterically around the middle of the beach. If anyone carried the old lady’s body off, the dog would have followed, and maybe attacked the perp. If she didn’t walk out onto the beach, the dog wouldn’t have gone out there. Whatever happened, there’s something wrong with this picture.”
Alex thought about detective shows and asked, “Could the witness be the badguy? You know, lying to the cops to make ‘em think he’s not the killer?”
Graham thought for a second. “Only if he’s a lot dumber than he looks. He’s harbor patrol. He could easily get her on his boat and dump her body twenty miles out, and then just not report anything at all.”
Jo added, “Or if he killed her in her apartment, or even his apartment, he could get her body on his boat and dump it twenty miles out, then have days – maybe weeks – to clean up before anyone else filed a missing persons on her. And the LEO guys we talked to, Lieutenant Piantadosi and Sergeant Royko, have known both of them for years. No motive. And no opportunity, because Caulder had a ‘friend with benefits’ visiting the night before on a turnaround between flight attendant gigs. We don’t even have a means. Or a body. Or evidence of a crime. Just a missing old lady on a beach, vanishing in plain sight of fifty apartments and who knows how many boats.”
Another voice chimed in, “Lieutenant Bailey here. I’ve been looking over Acid Burn’s data and plots, and I’ve found something else. There’s something drastically wrong with the Santa Monica municipal numbers. The numbers on stray dogs and homeless people have been dropping over the last two months or so, while the same stats in the surrounding towns are all stable. Also, the numbers on nighttime police calls for illegal activities on the beachfront are way down, but a lot of that could be due to the lowered homeless population.”
Jo said, “I had a little chat with Sergeant Royko. He’s one of these guys who are displaced from their hometown and nothing’s ever as good again. All I had to do was spot his accent and tell him how great Chicago was compared to California, and he’s my best bud now. In between telling me how ‘shit like this would never happen back in Chicago’ about a dozen times, he spilled that the drug dealers who used to do business at night under the pier all vanished in the last month or two, and he thinks it could be a rival gang cleaning house, even if there aren’t any bodies. And he thinks most of the bums cleared out just because Captain Pearson’s been tough on the municipal laws while the towns due south have been slacking off, so the bums just moved south. But that’s just his best guess. He doesn’t have any evidence, or even a ‘gut feeling’. And he’s got a big enough gut. Besides, Lieutenant Bailey’s numbers just said there isn’t a big influx of homeless people in the surrounding communities.”
Graham told her, “Colonel O’Neill called the police captain for us and got permission for us to do an ‘official HWAAA examination in light of the Boyle Biochemical fire’. So we’re taking a couple Hummers to the beach with some sampling gear and some bio equipment, and we’ll let Lieutenant Marshall do his thing while the rest of us casually saunter around and look for anything out of place. I have a feeling there’s a lot of somethings out of place down there, and nobody’s looked for them yet because they’re SRI business instead of something cities usually deal with.”
Alex checked, “Do we have anything else?”
Jo scowled, “We have a distinct lack of ‘anything else’. Stray dogs and cats turned in to the city animal shelter? Down. Homeless people using the city shelter and soup kitchen? Down. Police reports on vandalism are level, except on the beachfront, where they’re down. Harbor patrol reports on drownings are down too, but that’s probably conflated with the end of the summer beach season. Something
is happening, and it’s strictly localized.”
Lieutenant Bailey said, “Based on police reports on vandalism and drug sellers, there’s a pretty conspicuous drop in the numbers along a single stretch of Santa Monica beachfront, maybe a quarter mile to half mile of it, all around the drainage outflow for the city stormwater runoff that would have had the runoff from the Boyle Biochemical mess.”
“This is Lieutenant Marshall. I went over the listed chemicals Boyle was supposed to be making and storing, and the amounts don’t add up to anything close to the listed manufacturing capacity of the plant. They may have been making something off the books. If so, we don’t know what. Robert J. Boyle and his head engineer died in that fire, so we have no clue.”
Lieutenant Bailey chipped in, “When Lieutenant Marshall told me that, I went through what I could find on the company. But we’ll have to check with every provider of precursor chemicals and reactants out there to find out what they were buying, and that still won’t tell us what they were making.”
Lieutenant Marshall added, “Or what actually got created when processing systems exploded and their resultants and effluents intermingled in the middle of a really hot chemical fire. Our best bet is probably analyzing as many samples as we can get from the outflow pipe and the downstream sand.”
Alex thought that sounded pretty icky. But she had heard from Willow that Lieutenant Marshall had a Ph.D. in biophysics or something like that, so having him there was like having a soldier and also Dr. Lee. That part had to be good.
Graham Miller signed off when his team got to the beachfront area and they needed to get to work. Alex checked her tPhone and figured she still had maybe half an hour before she was going to be bailing out of the helicopter. She slowly ate her snack while mulling over the problem. It sure sounded like something
was going on, but what?
After half an hour of stewing about stuff, she still had no answer. She kept coming back to The Creature From The Black Lagoon, but that didn’t make much sense, because that guy had been swimming in the ocean and nothing happened to him and he had been watching from the ocean side of the beach. Okay, she hoped it wasn’t something as freaky as that. But she didn’t have any better ideas. She’d thought about something like the silicates, maybe something that absorbed pretty much all of you and not just your calcium, but then people’s clothes would be left behind. And someone would have noticed it if there were creepy, squealing blobs of silicon oozing across the sand at three miles an hour.
When the pilot signaled her, she dove out and flew toward Santa Monica. Her tPhone was telling her she only had about ten miles to go, and she could do ten miles in under seven minutes. Plus, she got to fly over some really pretty stuff.
Just as she spotted the two Humvees parked at the edge of the beach, she saw an expensive red sports car pull up beside the Hummers. A bleached blonde with really big breasts and a crazy-small bikini hopped out. Had Alex seen that woman before? She looked familiar, for some reason.
The passenger side of the car popped open, and a pair of long blue legs stuck out. Uh-oh.
As Alex flew in, Azure Crush squeezed herself out of the sports car and stomped toward the Humvees in nothing but a white bikini and high-heeled white leather ankleboots that were totally not made for walking on a sandy beach.
Alex darted in between Azure Crush and Captain Miller’s team. “Miss Baker. Is there anything we can do for you?”
“Yeah, stop callin’ me Miss Baker. I’m not that loser anymore.”
Alex stalled, “Then what would you prefer that I call you? I don’t believe we know each other well enough for me to call you ‘Joelle’.”
Azure Crush scowled, “Nobody ever called me that anyway, except my mom when she was pissed at me. You can call me Azure Crush, like everybody else.”
The blonde spoke, and Alex recognized her from her voice and attitude. “She likes to be called ‘Az’. I think it’s sexy.”
Alex turned slightly and spoke, “Didi, isn’t it?” The blonde nodded. “Is it necessary that you two come down here? The DHS Hazardous Waste Assessment, Abatement, and Amelioration project asked me to come assist them in collecting samples.”
‘Az’ snarled, “Yeah. Right. I remember him and her.” She pointed at Graham Miller and Jo Lupo. “This isn’t hazardous waste stuff. You guys are snooping around me again, right? Sergei and me, we had dinner on the pier two nights ago, and now you’re snooping.”
Alex landed on the asphalt and stepped forward. “We’re really not. I can’t talk about this, but we may have another problem not unlike some things that happened in Paradise Valley.”
Azure Crush frowned, “You’re tryin’ to tell me there’s some other superpowered problem right here? Sure.” She stormed past Alex to go yell at Captain Miller and Lieutenant Lupo.
Didi griped, “She’s pretty pissed off. I don’t know why you’re being such assholes about her getting one fucking dinner with a nice guy off the grounds. It’s not like she went rampaging through Rodeo Drive, y’know.”
Alex insisted, “I was telling the truth. This has nothing to do with her.”
Azure Crush made it halfway across the sand to the place where Graham was, when she suddenly dropped two feet into the sand, like she stepped in a hole.
“Az! Quit screwing around!” Didi yelled.
“Fuck you! I’m stuck!”
Alex watched Azure Crush sink downward another foot, until she was up to her hips. Suddenly, a really horrible idea hit her. If it wasn’t something coming in from the water, and it wasn’t something coming in from the land, maybe…
She knew she shouldn’t have let Ray talk her into watching “Tremors” on tv that time.
She yelled, “Pull yourself out of there!” Then she tapped her earjack and hissed, “Azure Crush! She needs help, and she’s too heavy for me to lift!”
“Roger that,” murmured Lieutenant Lupo over the comms. Alex watched as Lupo sprinted across the beach toward the Humvees.
But Alex didn’t think the lieutenant was going to be able to get to Azure Crush fast enough. Still, what could Terawatt do? There was no way she could fly and have enough tk to pull Azure Crush free even if there was no pull downward at all. And if she stood on the sand there, she was asking to get sucked down by whatever it was.
Azure Crush yelled, “Goddamn it, something’s fucking got my feet!”
Alex realized she was within thirty feet of a ‘no double parking’ sign. A big rectangular sign on a long metal pole bolted into a frame set in concrete. She reached out and grabbed the bolts with her tk. They were the kind of one-way bolts that you could screw in but not unscrew. Unless you had telekinesis. She spun the bolts out of the nuts and washers, and yanked them out of the frame. Then she pulled the sign free and flew right at Azure Crush.
By the time she got there, Azure Crush had sunk up to her ribcage, and was pressing down on the sand to hold herself in place. Alex figured anyone else would have been yanked down under the surface by then, or might have been pulled apart.
The blue powerhouse glared up at her. “Gonna hit me with a sign now?”
Alex made sure she was using her Terawatt voice. “I’m planning on giving your attacker a surprise. I hope this doesn’t hurt you as well.”
And she plunged the pole into the sand with all her tk. It sank down until it hit something that felt gooshy. Alex grabbed the top of the sign and let loose with a massive jolt of electricity.
The sign jerked downward and vanished under the sand. The sand around Azure Crush lurched and writhed. And everything went still.
Graham’s voice came over her earjack. “Miller to team. Get the hell off the sand now
. Leave extraneous gear and double-time it.”
Azure Crush was still buried, only now she was buried up to her breasts. She pushed down with her hands, but her arms simply sank into the sand. She cursed angrily, and tried again without any success.
Lieutenant Lupo went driving by in the Humvee, only she had forty feet of heavy chain dangling off the back bumper. Alex used her tk to whip the chain over and wrap the end of it around Azure Crush’s body just under her armpits. Az grabbed onto a handful of chain and let the speed of the Humvee yank her out of the hole. The lieutenant curved around and headed back to the asphalt, while Az scrambled to her feet and trotted toward the street. Alex used her tk to grab up the rest of the sampling gear Graham’s team had left behind, and then she flew behind the Humvee, looking for signs of anything else coming up after the vehicle or the chain being dragged behind it.
Once the Humvee was on the asphalt, Alex used her tk to unhook the chain and dump it into the rear of the vehicle, even though about three links were crushed into a super-strong handprint.
Azure Crush ran up and started brushing sand off her legs and waist. “Fuckin’…” She looked up at Alex and muttered, “I guess you really weren’t here about me, were you?”
“Az! Az! You okay?” Didi came running over, her chest bouncing wildly. “That was freaky! What happened?”
Az glanced up at Alex and said, “Something fucking huge tried to suck me under the sand and… eat me, I guess.”
Didi giggled naughtily, “What, you don’t get enough of that from Sergei?”
“Fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” Az scowled. She started brushing sand off her butt.
Lieutenant Lupo climbed out of the Humvee and said, “Ms. Baker-”
Stop calling me ‘Miss Baker’! I’m not gonna be that loser anymore! Got it?”
Lieutenant Lupo easily said, “Fine, ‘Az’. Are you all right? And can Lieutenant Marshall look at your shoes?”
Az looked down at her ankleboots, or what was left of them. The inner side of the leather upper was shredded on both boots. “Sure. He can have the fuckin’ things. They cost me a goddamn mint, and they didn’t last a week.”
Lieutenant Marshall stepped forward. “Thank you, because it looks like there’s some traces on your shoes that aren’t from you or the sand, so we might have our first hints about what that thing is.”
Didi looked horrified. “There was a thing
? A thing big enough to grab Az? A thing stronger than Az?”
Az scowled, “I dunno if it was stronger than me, but it was bigger, and it sure caught me by surprise.”
Didi nervously checked, “Can it come up out of the sand?”
That was a really good question. Alex said, “Not as far as we know, but we really have very little information on this creature.”
Lieutenant Marshall patiently waited until Azure Crush tore off the remnants of her shoes and handed them to him. Then he rushed over to one of the Humvees and started working.
Lieutenant Bailey muttered, “Well, I guess we know what happened to Mrs. Hutton now.”
Didi didn’t hear him, but Az did. Az glared at Alex and crooked a finger in an unmistakable ‘come over here’ gesture. Alex flew in until they were eye to eye and only a yard apart.
Az whispered, “How many people has this thing eaten?”
Alex whispered back. “We have no idea. My computer support got a hit on one really weird police report yesterday, of a woman screaming and then disappearing in the middle of the beach before anyone could get over and see where she was.” Az winced. “But my computer person kept coming up with weirdness, and Lieutenant Bailey over there found some more. We’ve got missing persons reports, missing homeless people, a big drop in the population of stray cats and dogs, and maybe even missing drug dealers and vandals, going back almost to a big fire at a biochemical plant just a few blocks east of here.”
“Goddamn it.” Az cursed for a bit, including lots of f-word combinations that Alex had never said in her entire life, then stomped over to Captain Miller, leaving shallow dents in the asphalt as she went. Alex followed right behind her.
Az stopped, and Graham hung up his phone. She said, “You. Colonel Hottie.”
“Captain Graham Miller, at your service.”
“At your cervix!” Didi giggled.
Azure Crush ignored her friend. “Whatever. You deputize superpowered chicks, right? Deputize me.”
Graham looked thrown by that one. “What?”
“You heard me,” Azure Crush insisted. “This fucker tried to eat me. And it trashed my new boots. I am so in. I am not lettin’ that bastard eat one more person. I’ve been pretty much homeless. It sucks. And nobody gives a fuck about you if you’re homeless. That fucker is not gettin’ to chow down on any more homeless people.”
Alex tried, “Az, you do realize this may take several days, don’t you?”
She shrugged carelessly. “Not like I don’t live close by. And I ain’t doin’ anything with my life except workin’ on my tan, which I don’t even have since I turned blue. Deputize me up, and give me a big fuckin’ stake like what Terawatt had.”
Didi looked scared. “C’mon, Az, this is a bad idea. This thing’s a big monster that eats people! You could get hurt! You could die
Az frowned. “Look Deed, you’re as close to a real friend as I got. You even drove me over here when you knew I was gonna yell at some feds and you could get in trouble. But I’m not puttin’ up with that fucktard out there. You go on back and tell those pricks I’m here, and they can come out here and do their fuckin’ job, but I’m stayin’, and I’m helpin’.”
Didi said quietly, “Az, I am
your friend. And you got other friends too. And you got Sergei. And we’re gonna worry about you.”
It looked like Azure Crush really wanted to believe Didi, but maybe wasn’t ready to hear it. Alex knew all about being insecure and feeling like a loser. The whole time she was in Hermione’s world, she’d felt like the ugly, stupid team member, right up until she’d had to fight stuff to the death in that final battle. She announced, “Azure Crush, I think you’d be a very valuable member of the team. If you’re willing to work with us, I’m willing to work with you.”
Didi pointed at Alex, “See? Terawatt thinks you’re awesome too.”
Graham carefully said, “Azure Crush, if Terawatt thinks you’d be valuable, I’m willing to extend a temporary deputization, so we can see how you work out, and you can see if we’re the sort of group you want to work with.”
Alex told Azure Crush, “They’re good people. I’d trust Captain Miller and Lieutenant Lupo with my life, and they wouldn’t pick three more team members who weren’t pretty awesome too.”
Graham muttered, “Speaking of which…” He tapped his earjack. “Miller to team. Any updates?”
Alex heard Lieutenant Marshall over her earjack. “Marshall to command. I’ve got some updates already, thanks to Azure Crush’s shoes.”
Graham smiled, “Az, why don’t you accompany us over to Hummer Two, because it looks like Lieutenant Marshall has already worked some things out from your evidence.”
Azure Crush went along as they walked and Alex flew. Azure Crush asked, “I thought he was just some Army grunt.”
Graham chortled, “No, I’m the Army guy. Lieutenant Marshall graduated top of his class from the Naval Academy, and he’s also a Ph.D. in biophysics.”
Alex was pretty surprised to see that the very back of the second Humvee was stuffed with science gear, including what looked like a super-fancy microscope thing and a whole bunch of chemistry gear. Alex noticed that each thing was set in a big enclosing frame, so she figured each one of the pieces would close up into something like a heavy suitcase Graham’s team could lug around.
Graham checked, “Lieutenant, you had a report to make?”
“Yes sir. The young lady’s boots were seriously damaged, even if she wasn’t, and she apparently damaged the creature when she tore her feet loose, so we have tissue samples and sera to work with.”
“Sarah?” Azure Crush asked in confusion.
Lieutenant Marshall explained, “Sorry, I’m not making myself clear. Sera. The plural of serum. It’s not blood. Under the microscope, there are no blood cells, so that rules out normal vertebrates. But there are what appear to be hemocytes. The cells have a cell membrane but no cell wall and no chloroplasts. So this is not a plant. So we have hemolymph and interstitial fluid, marking this thing as some manner of invertebrate animal.”
Lieutenant Lupo wondered, “I thought land invertebrates stayed really small because of the lack of a skeleton.”
Lieutenant Marshall nodded, “Yes. Well, normally, but the Arizona tarantula case has taught us that these biochemicals can change all that. Besides, the torn muscle tissue in the tissue samples from the shoes is indicative. Invertebrate muscles have thick filaments which differ from vertebrate thick filaments, even though invertebrate thin filaments are quite similar to vertebrate thin filaments. These are definitely invertebrate muscles.”
Graham said, “That’s pretty impressive for five minutes in the back of a Hummer.”
Lieutenant Marshall smiled, “Thank you, sir. But I have more.”
“Okay lieutenant, let’s hear it.”
The lieutenant held up one of the ankleboots. “Notice how something has rasped its way right through the leather and the side of the sole, even if fortunately it was not tough enough to chew through Azure Crush’s foot. So I went over the damaged edges of the leather and I found a couple of these.” He held out a clear envelope with tiny white thorn-like things in it.
He said, “Under a microscope, these are clearly chitinous teeth. This creature has a radula.” He looked at the confusion on Azure Crush’s face and hastily explained, “A sort of tongue that’s very raspy, with this kind of teeth on it to shred its prey. That’s very distinctive. So I immediately checked for nerve cells in the tissue, and this thing has a relatively complex nervous system for an invertebrate. I believe that marks our unknown as something from the phylum Mollusca.”
Az snarled, “What, mollusks? You mean I almost got eaten by a fucking clam
Lieutenant Marshall nodded, “Well, based on the data and the habitat, this would have to be Bivalvia or Gastropoda, instead of, say, Cephalopoda, but yes, it’s probably a giant, mutated bivalve or gastropod.”
Az put one hand on a hip and glared, “Which is what?”
He uncomfortably replied, “Umm, maybe you were almost eaten by a giant snail or a giant chiton instead of a giant clam.”
Az rolled her eyes. “Well that’s just fuckin’ great!”
He added, “Given the habitat, and some of the unmutated fauna I’ve found in my core samples, I think we’re looking at a giant mutated bivalve, which may no longer be using the classical double shell for protection, given it’s bound to be the apex predator in its new ecological niche.”
Jo Lupo asked Lieutenant Marshall, “So how do we kill it?”
Az snapped, “You give me a fifteen foot long pole with a sharp point, and I walk back out there, and when it tries to grab me I stab the fuck out of it.”
Alex suggested, “I can take a similar weapon and fly over the sand, looking for any signs of movement, and I can try stabbing into the sand too. We already know it didn’t like heavy electrical shocks.”
Graham asked, “Is there anything we can just pour on the sand that will kill mollusks?
Lieutenant Marshall told him, “Metaldehyde is popular for slugs, but the concentrations we’d need would be lethal to mammals too. We could put a lower concentration mixed with, say, acetaldehyde in alcohol, and mix that in large volumes of water.”
Lieutenant Lupo said, “I thought acetaldehyde is a carcinogen.”
Lieutenant Marshall nodded, “Yes, but people don’t seem to care about it if it’s inside their bodies.”
Az looked at Alex and asked, “Huh?”
But Alex knew this one from health class. “It’s part of what gives us hangovers after we drink too much. It’s a poison, and it can cause cancer, and we still drink a lot and then end up with it in our bodies.”
Didi stuck her head in. She looked around and asked, “How come all of you are so damn smart?”
Alex told her, “Because this project wants people who are really smart, on top of being really awesome soldiers, since they keep running into things that are really not normal.”
Didi muttered, “Hell, I’m gettin’ an inferiority complex just from eavesdropping.”
Alex started to say something, but she figured Didi had a point. Graham Miller and Jo Lupo were just way too good looking to be as tough and skilled and smart as they really were: they kind of looked like the movie star version of what they really did. And Lieutenant Marshall and Lieutenant Bailey were awesomely talented on top of being really good officers. And Sergeant Carlson looked like he could beat up football linemen, or entire football offensive lines, or maybe he could be in an action movie where he was the star and he beat up football linemen and stuff. They could call it ‘Carlson the Barbarian’.
Lieutenant Marshall looked over at Graham, “We’ve got to declare this whole stretch of beach – and maybe a swath of the harbor – an EPA Superfund site just from what leaked out of this outflow pipe three months ago. I don’t think we can make that worse by pouring on chemicals that will eventually break down in the environment.”
Graham pursed his lips and thought it over for several seconds. “Okay, first we have to find a way to dump enough chemicals onto the sand. It’s a pretty wide beach. Then we’ve got to work in from both sides, so our creature can’t crawl away and become a problem for some other town along the coast. Can it just go out to sea?”
Lieutenant Marshall gave his scientific opinion, “I don’t think so. If it’s what we think it is, it needs air periodically. And we haven’t seen any sign that it’s loose in the bay.”
Lieutenant Bailey contributed, “I was just going through news reports and police reports checking for that. There’s no sign that fishing catches in the bay are down, and this thing would definitely be scouring the bottom fish population if it could. Also, nobody’s reported sightings of swimmers vanishing while swimming around, like would be happening if it was loose under the water.”
Alex asked, “Can we get pumper trucks from the local fire department and dose the water they pump out?”
Lieutenant Lupo grinned wickedly. “I like the way you think. That would also let us start at the edges of our danger zone and work our way in, keeping it penned in until we can kill it right here.”
Didi piped up, “Ooh! I know how to get the fire department to cooperate!” She pulled out her phone and made a fast call. “Hey Randa, remember those horny firemen who said they’d do anything to get some pics with you? They were the Santa Monica fire department, right?” She listened for a few seconds and smiled, “Perfect. Az has some new friends who need to use The Power Of Tits.”
Alex wanted to slap her face with her palm, but she didn’t. Graham calmly said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s not what the Department of Homeland Security considers a reasonable approach. We’ll just go through channels instead.”
Didi just shrugged, bouncing her breasts in a way that made every guy there stare. “Fine with me. I bet I can get ‘em out here in under an hour. It’ll take you… what? Three or four days?”
Graham patiently explained, “As long as we have this stretch of beach properly cordoned off, I don’t see a problem with going through proper channels and making sure that the city of Santa Monica, as well as the county and state and federal agencies, are satisfied with our plans.”
Didi grinned, “It’d still be more fun with hot firemen. And firewomen. And you too, if you weren’t such a stick in the mud, ‘cause you’re hot.”
Graham politely told her, “No thank you. You’re quite attractive, but I have a girlfriend, and I don’t play around.”
Didi just shrugged and pointed at Alex. “I’d majorly hit that, but she’s not into girls. And G.I. Barbie behind you has an even bigger stick up her ass than you do, even if gettin’ to watch her beat the snot out of that federal marshal was hot
Alex heard over her earjack as Jo Lupo whispered into the comms, “Sir, are you sure I can’t hit her?”
Lieutenant Bailey snorted with amusement and covered by pretending he was looking at his laptop and saying aloud, “Sorry sir, but some of my web contacts are being real smartasses.”
Azure Crush growled, “Forget the fire department. I want a big-ass harpoon and a hunting permit.”
Graham asked, “And what happens the next time your ‘white whale’ comes up underneath you and pulls you down into a sandpit you can’t get out of?”
She looked around for a second and then pointed at the back of the Humvee. “All I need is a big chain hooked to something like your Humvee. Or that building there. I’ll just pull myself loose.”
Graham sternly told her, “Deputizing you is not the same as letting you blindly risk your life. I’d rather you stayed safe.”
She grumped, “Fine.” She looked up at Alex and smirked, “Okay Terawatt, you wanted to keep me safe, right? How about we put a cable on the end of my pole, and you float over me holding the other end, and if I jab Monster Clam Bitch, you shock the holy fuck out of it?”
Graham frowned, “I don’t like it, but that’s probably the most effective threat against this thing we have at the moment, and I don’t like the idea of leaving this beachfront unsupervised.”
Alex suggested, “Then why don’t we try it while you get police and military cordons in place to keep people off this beachfront?”
Lieutenant Lupo replied, “I’ve got a couple hundred feet of steel cable and a winch I can mount on the front of a Hummer. I’ll get that set up, and Azure Crush can wear some kind of harness so I can reel her in, just in case things go wrong.”
“What can go wrong?” Azure Crush wondered out loud.
Alex went ahead and slapped her forehead with her palm.
A/N: In case you hadn’t recognized the crossover, it’s the 1981 (maybe 1980, since sources do not agree) B-movie “Blood Beach” with Burt Young as Sergeant Royko and John Saxon as Captain Pearson. I don’t own it. I don’t want to own it. If I owned it, I would have written the screenplay differently and directed it TOTALLY differently. It could have been a fun, campy 80’s monster flick, but instead it’s a boring cop movie with a perp that turns out to be a monster you don’t even see until five minutes from the end. And really, haven’t we seen enough monster movies done as police procedurals or ‘cowboy cop’ police shows? Don’t look for this movie as a rental (even if you can find a halfway decent print of it); instead, go find the 1954 classic “Them!” (starring James Whitmore and James Arness, with some interesting cameos that will make you stop and say ‘wait a minute, is that who I think it is, and what’s he doing in this movie?’) to find a movie that has ‘first part solid police procedural with actual clues’ and ‘second part monster movie’ with a really abrupt genre shift that at the time was stunning. “Blood Beach” also really bugged me because there was absolutely no justification, not even a handwave, for where the monster came from, or how it got there, or what it was supposed to be, or anything. As you know, I simply cannot let things like that slide.