Killer Krill From Outer Space by Mark Wolf
Killer Krill From Outer Space by Mark Wolf
The headline in the New York Times, while attention grabbing, put me more in mind of a 1950’s B movie marquee than a serious front-pager.
“Killer Krill From Outer Space!” It screamed.
The story was about an interview with the eminent crustacean scientists Emmet Sanderson (that’s me) and Jiro Takata, genetics whiz kid and my best friend.
They quoted me: “Dr. Emmet Sanderson states that the killer krill is a combination of Antarctic Krill, an unknown squid, and a Cuisinart with all the safety features removed.”
I was in the picture holding up a dead krill that was a foot long.
Jiro was quoted as saying that the genetics of the beast had similarities to the Antarctic Krill, but the squid genes didn’t match anything on file and the deadly swimmer legs could not have originated on Earth at all.
In short, it was an engineered beast designed for one purpose only. To kill anything it encountered.
“So what do you think of the article?” Jiro asked from my laptop screen. I had the article opened and the screen split to use our web cams and conference.
“Accurate enough. It didn’t mention that there hasn’t been one baleen whale spotted anywhere for two weeks.”
“You’re out of touch, my friend. There haven’t been any whales, porpoises, dolphins, sharks, penguins, or krill eating seals spotted for two weeks,” Jiro said. “Krill eating birds are disappearing too.”
I sat back stunned in my chair. This was even more wide sweeping than I imagined. “The growth models?” I said.
“On an individual basis, I haven’t found any reason for growth to be limited at all. As long as there’s food, they grow. When you cut off food, they shrink. Just like our own krill.”
“You said the DNA prove that they are our krill,” I said.
“That part of them at least is. The deadly parts and the squid
tentacles, I think I can safely say that neither have an origin from Earth stock,” Jiro said.
“So, we’re back to little green men with evil plans again?”
“Beats me. I can’t see radiation doing this. Either adaptive or from a sunken nuclear submarine.”
“What about the population models?” I said.
“Well, that’s the one place where I might have some good news. They cannibalize when food is short.”
“So that accounts for the disappearances of the animals?” I said.
“That makes the most sense. I expect that the fish stocks and crustaceans took a hit in the same areas, I’m checking on that as well,” Jiro said.
“Great. By the way, how do you Japanese stand this rotgut brew you drink? You know, the sweet potato stuff?”
I was referring to the nasty alcohol that the cook of the Japanese fishing vessel, Kinsho Maru # 17, had been trying to pawn off on me all week.
“Shochu ? It’s great. You know they make that in my prefecture; Miyazaki on Kyushu?” Jiro said.
“Yeah, maybe so. But I can’t look a sweet potato in the eye anymore. You know the other thing that’s funny is when our little photo friend took a nip out of the cook it was killed instantly. He drinks the stuff like a fish,” I said.
“Really? Now that might be something good to follow up on too.
Maybe there’s a way we can mass poison them.” He laughed. I joined him.
* * * * *
A week later we were no longer laughing.
Jiro caught up with our ship on his NOAA research vessel, the Gordon Gunter. That meant we had full access to the on board lab and the Kinsho Maru stayed on as support for us since they had a vested financial interest in getting to the bottom of the disappearance of normal krill also.
That first night we rendezvoused, Jiro and I, and a contingent of Marines assigned as a security detail to the NOAA vessel, as well as the ship’s crew of the Kinsho, shared a great meal aboard my vessel.
Jiro and I were both pissed about the Marines. In the aftermath of our newspaper interview, the NSA, FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, and some guys in suits that refused to say just what agency they worked for, had picked both of us up while we were enjoying a steak in an expensive restaurant in Boston and interviewed us also.
The gist of the interview from their point of view was, could the creatures be a biological terrorism weapon?
Jiro and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. We explained to the humorless faces that it would take a huge amount of money and research to develop a species like the krill.
The Feds looked at one another, then slowly nodded at the NSA guy, Frank Chesterfield. He cleared his throat and then spoke.
“If money were no object, it could have been done? No, let me rephrase that. Could the two of you develop such a creature given enough resources?”
Jiro and I stared at one another again. Were we under suspicion for creating this thing? I think we both were wondering the same thing at the same time. Jiro asked the question.
“Are you thinking we created this thing?”
Frank started, he obviously hadn’t been thinking that, but then he turned a speculative glance at the both of us.
“No. I wasn’t alluding to you two in particular. I just wanted to know how feasible it would be that the creature was bio-engineered.”
“Given time and money and the right equipment, we could have created the creatures. Most of the genetics work is public domain, though only a few dozen scientists that could pull it off,” Jiro said.
I nodded in agreement.
Frank sighed. “Well gentlemen, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you are getting the use of a NOAA research vessel, the Gordon Gunter, to further your investigations on the creatures. The bad news is that it will be slightly modified to include a military presence.”
And modified it had been. The Gunter had five deck cranes that were used for everything from lifting small skiffs aboard to injured seals and dolphins. The rearmost crane was an a-frame crane that extended over the stern of the ship almost forty feet above the water.
Normally, the crane was used for launching zodiacs when scientists did near ship whale research. It happened to be the easiest and most practical place to fabricate a landing platform for a small helicopter crew and gunship.
While both of us were incredibly pleased about getting the Gunter, neither of us liked to see such a fine ship mistreated so harshly.
Jiro and the Marines had flown over aboard their small helicopter and landed on our fore deck platform, away from the rear deck net booms.
Anyway, the dinner that night had been superb, the Marines were polite and professional and Sargent Matthews, their leader, kept a tight leash on them, refusing them to enjoy the Shoju the cook had made up especially for the occasion. After dinner, he politely excused his group and just as politely and pointedly told Jiro that helicopter fuel was limited and that his ride was leaving soon.
That was the only time Jiro and I were able to get together after the rendezvous. After that is was radio or computer conferencing.
A week passed without any sign of animal life. We were a hundred miles into the Southern Ocean and there should have been something.
It was night. We hoped the krill would rise to the surface for feeding. We got our wish, but not quite in the way we expected.
I was catching up on my e-mails when the alarm was given for krill sighting. I ran up on deck to peer over the side to look for the tell-tale yellow-green bio-luminescence as the krill shoal surfaced.
There was a hazard sign orange bio-luminescence rising instead. I expected the lights to wink off and on independently as the shoal flashed, but the bio-luminescence remained.
That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t looking at a shoal, but one enormous krill.
As it rose to the surface, tentacles proceeded it, wrapping around our fishing booms and quickly tearing them to splinters of wood and metal.
The deck hands screamed as they were torn from the deck and shoved into the rotary-scalpel swimmer legs, reducing them to chum to be strained into its mouth.
Weapons. Oh my God! What kind of weapons do we have for this thing? I ran back into the comm cabin as intrepid fishermen went after the tentacles with gaffs and axes.
I got on the radio and called Jiro. “Jiro send over the marines. We got one enormous krill that’s gonna kill all of us!” They were only a short distance away. I could hear their chopper winding up to take to the air.
“They’re on their way. You get that harpoon fixed up?” Jiro said.
“Yeah, but it’s gonna take someone braver than me to toss it. This thing is big enough to sink us!” I said.
“You might have to do it Emmet. If it tips your ship over you’re done for.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”
A week ago we’d laughed about Shochu as a weapon, then as we talked about the possible nearly unlimited growth models Jiro had worked up, decided to make a harpoon with a self-injecting gallon of nearly straight Shochu derived alcohol.
The cook had taken great delight in getting the okay from the skipper to turn his still into a chemical weapons factory. There were many experimental tastings by all of us to reach a consensus that the mix would be toxic enough.
Scattered automatic weapons fire reached my ears as I ran outside. The chopper was hovering and circling and small arms fire was flashing from both of the side doors as it turned.
They’re too close to it! Just as the thought hit me a tentacle reached up and jerked it from the sky and into the water.
A tentacle was sliced off from the blades as they spun down, but many more appeared. How many tentacles does this damn thing have?
I turned and ran down to my lab to grab the harpoon. Behind me I could hear the shrieks of the marines as they were blended into chum.
I grabbed the harpoon and ran back. A gallon of Shochu plus the weight of the harpoon meant twenty to twenty-five pounds.
I wasn’t going to be able to toss it like a javelin. It would have to drop right down on top of it, preferably from right above it and into the head.
I flipped the carbon dioxide canister to on. It was what would propel the Shochu through the hollowed tip of the harpoon.
Around me the screams of the dying were reaching a crescendo. There weren’t many of us left on deck. I ran up a gantry ladder to reach a higher point. Hopefully the tossing of the seas and ship would tilt me out over the krill.
Just as I reached a platform a tentacle lashed out and grabbed my leg, pulling me from my perch. It was all I could do to toss the harpoon ahead of me as I fell into the ocean.
* * * * *
“Emmet, you okay?” Jiro asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said. My head pounded. I reached up to feel a bandage.
“You hit a railing when you went in. You killed the damn thing by the way, if you hadn’t guessed by now,” Jiro said.
“That’s good. So we know the Shochu poisons them.”
“Yes. We’re heading for shore now. We were able to drag it up on deck and I did a quick and dirty autopsy and found something new to worry about,” Jiro said.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s started to develop organs similar to Neoceratodus forsteri,” Jiro said.
Why is that name familiar? As the fog cleared from my mind, my breath stopped. Neoceratodus forsteri was the scientific name for the Australian lung fish! The next battles with the krill would be on land!
Biography: Mark Wolf lives in a tiny shack on the slopes of Mauna Loa, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and writes stories inspired by the fires of creation bubbling beneath him. In his other incarnations he has snared pigs, built houses, worked oversees as a missionary, fought forest fires, planted trees, and built wilderness trails. His published work has appeared at: Static Movement, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Aurora Wolf, and a First Place finish in Liquid Imagination’s Beginner Writers Contest (Issue #5).
He is on Facebook as:http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Keigley/100000176382713