"So, let's get this straight. It's… a deer, with airbags?"
The corpse was unceremoniously dumped onto the dissection table. The dog-clam had been removed and placed in a small pet carrier outside the theater, and now the room was taken up by the subject of importance.
"Not exactly a deer," Doctor Hart spoke, nodding toward the specimen. Nathaniel reached for a scalpel after donning latex gloves, setting the light down on the subject's flank. "Definitely cervine," he murmured, prodding at its side with the blade. There was far more resistance than he had expected. "This is where the air bladder is, yes?"
"One of them, according to the witness," Hart replied, drawing a finger down across its lower abdomen. "Try making the incision there, maybe?"
Nathaniel grunted in reply and took a cheap electric razor to its fur, shaving the spot before jabbing the scalpel in. He drew it down the abdomen and once across, opening the new entry into its body cavity and expanding it slowly with a pair of dissecting scissors. He then brought the incision up to the thoracic region, following in with the scissors and peeling back flaps of flesh. The coagulated blood occasionally trickled from the incision, but the specimen was unnaturally well preserved. "How long has it been dead?" Nathan inquired, poking around.
"Two days now. We gave it a rapid preservation treatment to keep it in shape for dissection."
Nathan made note to ask how they had preserved it so well later, noting the location of each of the air bladders. They were both well attached to the entire side of the ribcage with tendons and were flat, in the uninflated state. "Just epithelium," Nathan quipped as he carefully poked at the bladder. "But it's so… dense. Is this normal?" He looked up at Doctor Hart, who shrugged. "We've never seen this before either. Care to open it up?"
There was a hesitation to his voice as Nathan responded, already beginning to poke down into it. "Just afraid of a… reflex," he breathed out, relieved, as the scalpel entered the bladder. "Simplified alveoli… I think." He placed his scalpel down and shook his head. "I don't see how this would work. It shouldn't, looking at it. What did you say that happened?" Nathan asked.
"Car was heading for the deer, apparently. Typical deer-in-the-headlights look, damn thing sat there frozen. According to the victim, it just suddenly… blew up. Like a balloon. It stayed planted right in place, like it suddenly weighed as much as a goddamn block of steel. The car was totaled. A coupe."
The table was moved off to the side as Nathan sat, tongue in cheek. "I don't get it. What's with this shit? A dog that's really a clam? A deer with a five-star safety rating? Who did you say you were?"
Doctor Hart crossed his arms, glancing over at a co-worker of his. They shrugged, and Hart looked down at the seated biologist. "I suppose I can't just say that we're the cleaning crew. We work for the Foundation. We deal with these anomalies on a daily basis, but there usually is not an outbreak of this volume in such a small time." That got Nathan's attention. "Outbreak? You mean, there's more?" Hart nodded, and Nathan groaned.
"We've already seen enough, and we expect more," Hart went on. "We need a local specialist." A click sounded from Nathan's tongue as he sighed, trying to grasp the situation. On one hand, this was the opportunity of a lifetime - never before seen species that were beyond the imagination of the average biologist, let alone scientist altogether. Though, this wasn't the thought on Nathan's mind. It was currently more along the lines of, Why me?
They were out the door before Nathan could protest. They had already loaded up into the van, most of them sitting in the back, moving down US 19 with a speed just peaking above the limit of 50 miles per hour. There were no windows in the back, though one could glance out the front windshield if they glanced forward. Nathan sat across from Doctor Hart, both quiet for the moment. Enough discussion had gone on earlier, and all that was stated is that they were headed for another site of anomalous activity. They passed a Chik-Fil-A, and his stomach grumbled. He checked his watch; it was one in the afternoon, already.
His hunger was flung from his gut as the new location came into view, finally. They were somewhere back into the Brooker Creek Preserve now, after trekking down a scant dirt path off to one side of the information center's parking lot. There was some recently cleared brush in the path, indicating that this had been cut after the discovery. Now, though, as he witnessed the large, stalky plants in front of him, he shuddered.
Almost every inch of them were covered in various spiders and their webs. These plants stood no shorter than eight feet, and were a sight to see - large, thick, fleshy leaves sprouted from girthy stalks, like a bastardized version of aloe. There were also ropy vines everywhere, laid across in an oddly familiar shape. Nathaniel tilted his head, and his chest went cold.
"Are those… spiderwebs?"
Hart took a closer look at the vines himself. "These weren't here last time. Fetter, Jacob, get a scope of our surroundings." Two of the four others with them, armed now with sidearms and a light splay of tactical gear, nodded, setting off in opposite directions to circumvent the spot of anomalous activity. It only took a moment. Fetter screamed, but it was abruptly cut off by the large arachnid dropping onto him and sinking "fangs" into his throat, his body going rigid. Nathaniel watched the thing as it dragged Fetter up onto the web and began to spin him into a mass of vines, which prompted Jacob to draw his Colt. He took a double shot at the arachnid, and with a splat, it hit the ground. Hart had drawn his own handgun, but he was slowly holstering it as he approached. The one they had supplied Nathan, as he realized after a moment, was clutched tightly in his right hand, white-knuckled. He released the vice grip and holstered his, following Hart up to it.
"Doc, look at it. It's… a plant," Jacob breathed.
He was correct, Nathan noticed as he nudged it with a boot. It seemed to a heavy mass of plant growth, composed of layers upon layers of plant matter. It was an off-green hue, and the two shots it had taken had breached its thorax and spinneret. A gooey, white concoction leaked from the spinneret. "Hold on. Someone, give me a stick."
Hart handed Nathan a medium-length branch just thick enough to poke around with. Jacob was busy hacking at the web of vines with a machete, trying to pull Fetter down. Nathaniel dug the stick into the spinneret easily enough, dragging out a solid mass that he could feel within. The beginnings of a botanical embryo clogged the liquid's flow as he brought it to the breach for observation.
"It's a seed. This whole thing is a seed. The spinneret is a bulb. This… this liquid, it's a form of cotyledon, I guess." Nathan nodded at his own handiwork of deduction, looking towards Jacob as Fetter thumped to the ground. He worked off the vines haphazardly with the machete, reaching to try and feel for a pulse, or a rhythm of breath. "He's alive," he called with relief, removing the rest of the vines. "Greg, Nicole, get your asses over here." The last two members of the task force lifted Fetter between them, heading back the way they came. Jacob stayed with his handgun drawn, again.
"Doc," he said, glancing about. "We really shouldn't be here much longer. We'll need Cox's team to help with this."
Hart stood and beckoned for Nathaniel to follow, but not before taking a last look around. "Have you looked yet for anything that could've caused this?"
"Doc, we really need to-"
"No, search first. This is big, and we need to know."
Jacob sighed, frustrated, but began to wander the site without further protest. Hart searched with Nathaniel in tow. Before long, Jacob was calling for Hart to come to him. He was down by Brooker Creek itself, looking down into the water. It was clouded and off-orange in this portion, which he sourced back to a plastic bag. Jacob looked to Hart, trying to see if he had any answer for this. "That's definitely not natural," Hart breathed, settling with his arms over his chest again.
The technician clacked at the few valves between the kit currently straining the next batch, and the distillation of the income of ingredients. He glanced over at the few others in the lab, working their stations like him, the heavily ventilated space whirring with air conditioning. The viscous, orange material strained through the second set of mesh screens, collecting a solid mass of crystalline waste. The waste would be bagged, after this batch was processed, and handed off to be disposed of. Finding the proper location for dumping had taken some time - they had tried burying it, and dumping it into water, but they had it down pat now.
Carver grinned as the process unfolded before him, flipping a tablet of the resulting designer drugs between his fingers. With a quick snap of his neck, he swallowed it, and a banana smoothie materialized on the counter in front of him.
The quiet draft of classical music played from the radio in the corner of the space, and he settled into a chair, strawberry smoothie in hand.