THE MONSTER: Blade of Darkness Science Fiction Novel
© ALEXANDR ISCENCO © The Monster: Blade of Darkness.
Design by Alexandr Iscenco. Translation by Erika Rydergard and Alexandr Iscenco. Review and editing by Barbara Jue. Illustrations by Kärt Viljalo and Alexandr Iscenco. Illustration on the cover by Catherine Starostenko
Iscenco A. The Monster: Blade of Darkness. Science Fiction Novel. 2000 – 2013. Chisinau, 2014. Mysterious island, horrifying monster, cry for help, brave heroes coming to the rescue… It looks like the beginning of a standard and unremarkable adventure story… However, while going deeper into the plot of the science fiction novel “The Monster: Blade of Darkness”, the reader increasingly understands that each subsequent event, as well as the final outcome, could not have been predictable. This is due to the fact that the author reveals the plot bit by bit, allowing the reader to gradually string them on the narrative thread. The novel is unusual not only due to its plot, but also because of the interweaving of different genres within it. Like an exotic culinary dish, it is layered in fantastic adventures with scientific facts and discussions, spiced with a tender romantic story, and sweetened with a pinch of humor and irony. And this dish will be further enjoyed accompanied by the author’s philosophical discussions on the interrelations between Nature and Man in today’s world, as well as in the near future. For more information about the novel and “The Monster” trilogy as a whole please visit its website at www.themonster.info.
Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dear Reader, In your hands you hold a book, the writing and publication of which was possible due to the collaborative support of a multitude of my friends, relatives and other simply amazing people. Every single one of them contributed to this novel in one way or another: one helped to edit the text, the other supplied consultations and advice in the areas of Ecology and Medicine, the third one presented colorful illustrations, the fourth provided financial assistance and so on. As a result, the publishing of the novel became some sort of literature experiment, during which I tried to find the answer to the following question: Is it possible to write and publish a literary work without sufficient financial resources and time, but with contributions from many wonderful people, both friends and strangers? And the fact that you hold this book in your hands proves that it is possible. The experiment ended with great success! For that I would like to express my gratitude to all these amazing people, who directly or indirectly made this literary dream and experiment come true: Vera and Victor Iscenco, Violina Nikolaevna Mihalevskaia, Catherine Starostenko, KĂ¤rt Viljalo, Erika Rydergard, Barbara Jue, Sergiu Matei, Alina Rusu, Mihai Stipanov, Wolfgang Stricker, Toomas Trapido, Harald Katzenschlaeger, Raul Caciora, Anne Voigt, Elena Scutaru, Evelina Zubrickaite, Michael Watts, Tatiana Shevchenko, Eric Foley, Naveen Nishchal, EvaVeronika RĂ¸nberg, Kristiina Kerge, Kadi Kenk, and Mihail Shalvir.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DEAR AMAZING PEOPLE!
I am grateful to Alexandr Iscenco for helping me to organize my memories into the book, its editing, translation and publishingâ&#x20AC;Ś and generally for hearing my voiceâ&#x20AC;Ś
Word from the Author
â&#x20AC;Ś Everything in this world, as well as the world itself, strives for balance and harmony. Electron reaches proton, male tends to female, light replaces darkness, life is balanced by death, and vice versa. And evil on one scale will inevitably lead to the appearance of good on the other. Man on one scale, animal on the other. But first, there is a need for a counterweightâ&#x20AC;Ś
Introduction My name is Jessie, Jessie Sirok. I am a researcher in Zoology by profession and work in the international BioSciences Research Center in the US. Besides my job I also take part in the activities of a global environmental organization and contribute to its projects on conserving biodiversity on our beautiful planet. Of course, we have a lot of work to do, in addition to dealing with problems with bureaucratic officials, politicians and large corporations intent on getting their hands on all natural resources for exploitation. Still, I do not regret my choice, although zoologists and environmentalists are not really demanded nowadays. It is due to this very profession, my interest in these areas, and one fateful decision that I have got a lot of like-minded friends and the greatest husband in the whole world. At the beginning I did not like him and even experienced some distaste towards this man However, during our common adventures I had managed to discover his beauty and tender feelings towards me. And now we are enjoying our family life in his luxurious mansion and working together for the benefit of science and nature. Referring to our adventures, we have had plenty of them: hunting a mysterious monster in the depths of a tropical forest on a lonely island in the open ocean, confronting it face to faceâ&#x20AC;Ś well, rather, face to muzzle, investigating disappearances and deaths of local residents, stumbling in the darkness of a cave rich with strange drawings and inscriptions, fighting mechanical guns and battle robots, storming the building of an international corporation, and many more. All will be revealed in the following story. However, before we start I would like to add that an added boon from all those adventures was encountering the most unusual and clever animal that I have ever seen during my career as a zoologist. Nowadays it lives with us in our Research Center and enjoys our care and attention. Judging by the incredible features and capabilities of this unique pet, it can offer much interesting and useful data to modern scienceâ&#x20AC;Ś and thereby influence further development of mankind significantly. But first things first. So, here is my storyâ&#x20AC;Ś
Jessie Sirok. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
Chapter I Meeting among the Trees Jungle. I remember clearly the never-ending vastness of the green carpet made of treetops, vines and orchids. What a spectacular view it was! We were flying above this carpet in a helicopter provided by Genetical Enjoyment Company (GEC). We were invited by the director of this company to investigate a case. It seemed one of their test animals had broken free and was wandering around and eating company employees one by one. And so, we were flying to the main laboratory of GEC on the S*** Island to meet with its CEO. I use the pronoun “we” here, because together with me on the team was Jack Ander, a professional hunter. At that time I did not know him, and at first glance that animal killer seemed to me a disgusting and rude individual. Having tremendous height and a strong physique this mountain of muscles with hairy chest and armpits was the epitome of determination and perseverance. His face was covered with intricate relief of scars and bites; his eyes like black cavities glittered under the overhanging thick eyebrows; short black hair was combed hastily and was apparently missing a hair gel already for a long time; and the lower jaw was framed by stiff bristles that had not seen a razor for the past few days. Dangling between his yellowed teeth was always a crumpled cigarette that enveloped his head in gray cigarette smoke. Jack was dressed in a slightly rumpled khaki shirt and brown trousers. On the right side of his belt hung a machete1 of impressive size, and on his left a pistol in a holster. A leather belt holding a large-caliber gun was thrown over Jack’s shoulder. To put it briefly, he was armed and extremely dangerous. To top it off, all the way Jack barraged me with his lame jokes and puns. “Hey, beautiful babe,” he would say, “today we kill that beast and make you a nice coat of his fur… and a lovely fringed skirt out of his guts”. And then he would burst into loud laughter. Finally the jungle thinned and a vast glade appeared before us. Right in the middle of it we saw the towering building of the GEC laboratory that bristled with different antennas and radars. And not far away from it we noticed a small village consisting of about ten to twelve wooden and straw huts. The helicopter landed on a small landing pad in front of the lab. We jumped out of it and looked around. “Shouldn’t we be met?” I asked as if to somebody behind the closed lab door. “Hello-o-o!” Jack’s thunderous voice spread around, “Is anybody home?!” At that moment the front door of the GEC laboratory opened and a man appeared. “Finally!” Jack snapped and directed his army boots towards him. When we came closer I looked at the stranger with interest. Dressed in an elegant black suit with a scarlet tie the man was already aged, but his eyes were shining with somewhat childish enthusiasm. His rounded tummy quivered in a funny way when he walked. The stranger’s head and face were also roundly shaped. When he saw us his eyebrows slowly crept up on a wide forehead almost to his bald top. And when the man stretched his plump lips into a dazzling smile, his several chins jumped up. The stranger warmly waved to us with his child-size palm and toddled in our direction.
Machete (from Spanish “machete”) is a long (usually more than 50 cm in length), thin (about 3 mm), and broad knife or backsword. It is used as a tool in agriculture and for clearing a path in the jungle, as well as a weapon in a fight. -8-
Jack Ander. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
I almost burst out laughing when this realistic copy of a Gingerbread Man of about five feet tall met giant Jack who was at least six feet3 in height. The latter looked down at the little man, and his bushy eyebrows rose up in surprise. “Well, hello, hello!” the man's voice was unusually soft and smooth. “Welcome! Oh, you must be Jessie Sirok. I have heard a lot about your work,” he gabbled, shaking my hand. “And here is the famous hunter Jack Ander! Very nice to meet you!” His little hand sank into Jack’s hairy one. Then the little man looked at us with satisfaction and continued: “So, let me introduce myself. I am Leonardo Miranderik, but you can call me simply Leo. I am the CEO of GEC. It was I who asked you to come here,” he said continuing to smile. “Mr. Miranderik... uh... Leo... I am not sure...” Jack tried to say something, but the director interrupted him. “No, no, no, Mr. Ander, we will talk about the case later. First, you need to eat – you are hungry, aren’t you? And then you need to get some sleep. The flight was long and tiresome. And do not dare to argue! I am in charge here, he-he.” Mr. Miranderik chuckled and toddled to the door of the lab. We looked at each other and then followed him. “I have a feeling the hunt will be incredibly fascinating,” Jack muttered, entering the building of the company. “Yeah, with such a leader it is difficult to be bored,” I added stepping in behind the hunter. The door closed automatically behind us, and the sunlight was replaced with artificial light of LED lamps4, mounted into the ceiling and walls of a long corridor ahead. 2
Chapter II Essence of the Threat The dining room in the GEC laboratory was simply huge – over three thousand square feet5, and the entire area was occupied by long tables covered with white tablecloths and lots of comfortable chairs with leather upholstery. However, all of them seemed to be crowded against the walls, freeing up space for the dining table of the leadership staff of GEC. It differed from the other tables by its greater length, more exquisite tablecloth and cutlery, as well as its planktonic6 lamps placed along its middle. These lamps were filled with water from microscopic algae and crustaceans that emitted soft blue light. Currently only this table was filled with cutlery and aromatic dishes. Jack and I were sitting at it at a distance from each other and were consuming greedily the variety of delicacies that waiters were bringing from all sides. Mr. Miranderik was sitting at the head of the table on a large chair with carved ivory armrests and a GEC logo displayed on its leather back. He was telling us the island’s history, the establishment of his company, its organizational structure, and activities of the international market.
Foot is a unit of measuring length and distance in different countries. Here the author uses the American foot equal to 0.304799472 of a meter. Thus, 5 feet is equal to about 1.5 meters. 3 Six feet is approximately 1.8 meters. 4 Light-emitting diode (LED) lamp is a lamp working on light-emitting diodes, which are semiconductor devices that emit light when an electric current is passed through them. 5 Square foot – a unit of measuring area in different countries. It is equal to 0.09290304 square meters. Thus, 3000 square feet are equal to 278 square meters. 6 Plankton (from Greek “πλανκτον” – wandering creatures) is the community of different small organisms (bacteria, algae, crustaceans, fish larvae, etc.) that drift freely in the water column and cannot swim against a current. - 10 -
Leonardo Miranderik. Illustration by Alexandr Iscenco.
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A wide plasma screen7 was mounted in the wall behind him just above his head. It was illustrating Leo’s story by way of various photos and video clips. “Several hundred years ago,” Mr. Miranderik said, “due to a powerful collision of tectonic plates8 in the Pacific Ocean, a huge release of magma9 took place there, which upon solidification created S*** Island. Later on a bioecosystem formed on this small piece of land...” “Bioecosystem is an interconnected community of plants and animals” I explained just in case. “Exactly!” the director confirmed. “But how could a sustainable bioecosystem be formed so quickly on a lonely island that is far away from the mainland by dozens of kilometers? In order for this to happen many thousands of years should pass!” “That is absolutely correct, Jessie. Scientists are still arguing about this phenomenon, have not come to a single conclusion. Some believe that plant seeds were brought from the mainland to this island by winds and currents, while others claim that flora and fauna migrated here from another part of the land that was allegedly close to the island and subsequently sank to the bottom of the ocean. But the wonders do not stop here. S*** Island features a unique environment – there are plants and animals which can be found nowhere else. Of course, no one can yet explain why. Nevertheless, it is a fact. And, in my opinion, the most interesting living organism characterizing the flora of this piece of land is herba scorpionis.” When Mr. Miranderik said these words, the landscape of S*** Island on the screen behind him changed to an image of a large dark blue flower on a thick pulpy stem that was entirely covered with brown hairs and sharp thorns. A sprout of the same thickness emerged from the calyx and bent over it like a scorpion’s "tail". This comparison was strengthened by the fact that the sprout ended with a long and sharp thorn, which like the stem was covered with hairs. “The Scorpion Grass!” Jack barked, looking up at the screen from his plate of lobsters. “Yes, yes,” Leonardo nodded, “it is the so-called Scorpion Grass. This plant is also known as the Scorpion Sting, Snake Bite, Dragon Claw, Basilisk’s Curse, and many other frightening names. And they were all given to it for a good reason. After all…,” Leo suddenly stopped here, looked at me and smiled, “although, I suppose, Jessie knows about it much more than I do. Isn’t it true, my dear? So let us allow her the word. You do not mind, do you, Jack?” The hunter grunted indifferently from his lobsters. “OK then, please continue, Jessie,” again the director smiled encouragingly to me. “The Scorpion Grass, or in Latin herba scorpionis, can be found only on this island,” I began with enthusiasm. “Therefore there is still little known about it. Even to this very day biologists cannot reach consensus regarding its classification. Some consider the Scorpion Grass to be a monocotyledonous plant10, while others a dicotyledonous one11. This is due to
Plasma screen, or plasma display panel (PDP) functions on the basis of small cells containing electrically charged ionized gases that create light. 8 Tectonic, or lithospheric plates are large solid pieces (blocks) that form the Earth’s crust and uppermost mantle. They are constantly on the move relative to each other, breaking into smaller pieces and then connecting to form larger plates. These dynamics result in earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and the formation of mountains. 9 Magma (from Greek “μάγμα” – mixture) is a mixture of molten or semi-molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found in the Earth’s crust and the upper layers of mantle. Magma expelled to the surface is called lava. Upon cooling and solidification it forms igneous rock. 10 Monocotyledons, or monocots (in Latin “Liliopsida”, “Monocotyledones”, “Monocotyledoneae”) is a group of flowering plants, or angiosperms. It includes about 5000 species and 60 families, thus being the second largest group of flowering plants. The group features such plants as reeds, lily, orchid, sedge, pandanus, tulip, as well as various species of grasses and palm trees. - 12 -
the fact that although its seeds consist of two parts, or embryonic leaves, the plant itself has many characteristics of the monocots class. Also there are debates about what family it belongs to: Rosaceae12, Solanaceae13, Compositae14 or Liliaceae15. Some even believe that the Scorpion Grass is an insectivorous plant and allocate it to its own family of scorpion grasses. What was the basis for such a theory, I cannot say...” I stopped for a few seconds to take a breath and then continued: “As I have already said, this amazing flowering plant has been found only on S*** Island and it is represented by a single species. The Scorpion Grass is a perennial plant with a flowering period between May and June. It has a taproot system, meaning that the main root is clearly visible. Its leaves are long, narrow and have parallel venation. The fruit is in the form of a capsule16 with seeds spreading through special pores. The first interesting attribute of this plant is its ability to rapidly purify greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide and methane, which are the major cause of global climate change), as well as toxic compounds, such as carbon monoxide (CO). Nowadays the latter’s main source is the engine exhaust gases of modern vehicles. After penetrating through the pores of the Scorpion Grass leaves, the molecules of this gas react with hydrogen and due to certain chemical processes form methanol, or methyl alcohol. It accumulates in large quantities in its juxtahilar thorns and sprout, or "stinger" as it is commonly called, above the flower. Methanol is a very strong poison that affects the nervous and vascular system of animals and human beings. One sting by the Scorpion Grass can cause severe headache, nausea, and vomiting, and if more of this colorless poisonous liquid gets in the blood, then this can lead to blindness and even death.” I paused to emphasize the last word, and then resumed the description: “Furthermore, the hairs and thorns on the stem of the plant contain a large dose of highly concentrated methanoic, or formic, acid (HCOOH). If a drop of this acid touches the skin, it can cause a severe burn. So, touching the stem of this unusual plant can also be very dangerous. These two toxic substances, methanol and methanoic acid, are formed with the participation of the catalyst17 basiliskolin in the chemical reactions. This organic compound is still very poorly understood, because it was found exclusively in the stem, leaves and thorns of the Scorpion Grass. One of the few known facts about it is that basiliskolin is one of the most potent toxins in nature: even in small quantities it causes rapid destruction of the body's cells, including their genetic material. Thus in the plant basiliskolin not only accelerates the chemical reactions resulting in formation of the previously mentioned toxic substances, but also enhances their dangerous effect.” “Do not forget about the seeds,” Leonardo prompted. “Yes, the seeds... each seed of the Scorpion Grass is equipped with two wing-like outgrowths that allow their wider distribution by wind. In addition, the seeds can be transported by animals. 11
Dicotyledons, or dicots (in Latin “Dicotylédones”, “Magnoliópsida”) is another group of flowering plants. It is the largest group with approximately 180,000 species grouped into 350 families. Examples of dicots are birch, grapes, oak, potatoes, flax, sunflower, sugar beet, tobacco, and apple. 12 The rose family (in Latin “Rosáceae”) is a family of flowering plants that contains about 3,000 species, such as pear, strawberry, rose, plum, wild rose, and apple. 13 The nightshades family (in Latin “Solanaceae”) is a flowering plant family with approximately 2,700 species of such plants some of which are nightshade, eggplant, henbane, datura, potato, tobacco, and tomato. 14 The sunflower family (in Latin “Compósitae” or “Asteráceae”) is one of the largest families of angiosperm plants: it has more than 25,000 species. These include sunflower, aster, dandelion, daisy, sagebrush, chamomile, Jerusalem artichoke, and chicory. 15 The lily family (in Latin “Liliáceae”) is a family of flowering plants with about 470 species. Examples of Liliaceae include lily, hyacinth, goose onion, onion, grouse, and tulip. 16 Capsule is a type of simple, dry fruit consisting of a number of parts (carpels). Upon maturity they are split apart (dehisce) in order to release the seeds within. 17 Catalyst is a chemical substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction, but does not become part of its products. - 13 -
The Scorpion Grass. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
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To make this happen they have two more microscopic hooks that can attach to hairs or bare skin. And although the seeds of this plant contain only a small dose of methanol, they still pose a serious health risk due to their small size – one seed is at maximum one line in length18. In late July – early September, the fruit capsule ripens and the spreading of seeds begins. They can easily get inside the nasal cavity and penetrate into the airways and lungs, where their methanol-laced hooks will start irritating the mucosa of the bronchi and their branches, the bronchioles. This can lead to their inflammation, chronic cough, labored breathing, and in the absence of timely treatment – to death.” “Wow!” Jack gasped, choking on a piece of meat, “I would not give such a flower to my girlfriend… Only to my mother-in-law on the occasion of International Women's Day.” “Thank you, Jessie! Your description has been quite informative and intriguing,” Leo relied, smiling at me once again. “But I think it is time to move on to a brief history of the founding of my company. In your narrative, you mentioned a substance – basiliskolin, which is truly one of the strongest poisons found in nature. However, about sixty years ago scientists discovered that when basiliskolin, glucose, methanol and formic acid extracted from the Scorpion Grass are mixed together, they form a new compound, named methylgeterodonolin after its discoverer – a Russian biochemist Alexander Pavlovich Geterodonovich. Under certain treatment at the atomic level this organic compound acquires an amazing property of restoring damaged living cells and tissues, thereby healing wounds, removing carcinoma, and even contributing to complete regeneration19 of lost organs and whole body parts!” Mr. Miranderik waited a bit until we digested this stunning piece of news, and then continued: “So, when scientists published their findings about methylgeterodonolin, my father, a well-known businessman Frederick Miranderik, bought this island and all laboratories involved in studying the Scorpion Grass. Then he issued a patent on the methodology of production and application of methylgeterodonolin in medicine, thereby acquiring monopoly rights on the production of drugs from it. Father founded a pharmaceutical company, which was initially called Healthy Life Company (HLC) and specialized in producing and selling various medications made of the Scorpion Grass. Business was growing enormously: the drugs proved to be very effective, and the high demand for them caused sales to soar. Encouraged by this success, my father decided to expand the range of products and services. He purchased large batches of medical equipment for operations at the cellular and genetic levels, and used them to open treatment centers in many countries of the world. At the same time Father renamed his enterprise to Genetical Enjoyment Company. After his death the ownership of the whole company passed to me. And now under my leadership it has quickly developed and thrived. GEC branches are spread all over the globe, and they offer their customers a wide range of products and services ranging from simple cough tablets to fine infusions made of the Scorpion Grass with rejuvenating effects, from the restoration of damaged or lost limbs to complete cloning20 of a human body and personality. Moreover, the company donates medicines to developing countries as a charity, as well as provides medical care to the poorest social groups in the world.” Mr. Miranderik looked at us with pride, sticking out his lower lip in a funny way. There was a minute of silence. “It is all very good, Leo,” Jack said finally. “But isn’t it high time to talk about the case? What terrible beast is running around here and having your employees for lunch?” “Yes, I was just going to talk about it. You see, before taking all of our drugs and equipment to the market, we test them on animals. Please do not blame us too much, dear 18
Line is a unit of measuring length and distance in the old Russian and English system of measurement. 1 line is equal to 1/12 of the pounce, or 2.1167 mm. 19 Regeneration is the process of recreating damaged tissues, organs and limbs. 20 Cloning (from Ancient Greek “κλών” – twig, offspring) is the process of producing a genetically identical living object (cell, tissue or the whole organism) a number of times. - 15 -
Jessie,” Leonardo turned to me, noticing signs of indignation on my face. “People have always been doing it, and we have to do it as well. Besides, due to the great importance and value of our research the law allows such institutions as GEC laboratories to conduct experiments on animals. You would not want someone’s baby to suffer severely or even die just because we felt pity for an animal and did not try the medicine on it beforehand, would you? You should agree that human life is more important and valuable compared to the animal one.” The argument was quite significant. Therefore I said nothing and looked down, while Mr. Miranderik proceeded with the explanation: “And so, we catch animals, test the medicines developed by us on them, monitor and record their effects and the animals’ condition, and then, if the beasts survive, we release them into the wild. Otherwise, in order to stop the animals’ suffering, we resort to euthanasia, or “good death” as it is sometimes called. In order to get the test animals we hire hunters from the local tribe of Sololeadas21. You should have seen their village near the main laboratory from the helicopter. Sololeadas know this island exceptionally well, and all their five senses are highly developed. All in all, they are perfect for this job and do it very nicely.” Hearing these words, Jack smiled in disbelief. Leonardo smiled back and continued: “All went well - Sololeadas were catching and bringing us animals for a small fee, and we were using them to test our developments, thereby eliminating their side effects and improving therapeutic effectiveness. But one day one of the hunters came to us with a large brightly colored egg laid by a female of some large monitor lizard, as we thought. Monitor lizards are very large species of lizards, Mr. Ander.” “Superclass of quadrupeds, class of reptiles, order of scaled reptiles, suborder of lizards, family of monitor lizards22,” I added to clarify their classification in the animal kingdom. “Absolutely correct,” Leo confirmed. “I know, I know,” Jack muttered. “I hunted such creatures in New Guinea.23” “So, having paid the hunter, we decided to immediately use this egg to test the performance of our brand new innovation... um-m... the ksi-wave mitomeiotic hyperaccelerator that... hm-m... boosts the development of an egg cell and prevents the appearance of various genetic illnesses at the early stages of embryonic growth. Thus we irradiated the egg with ksi-waves under certain conditions, and started waiting for results. But something went wrong.” Mr. Miranderik made a dramatic pause, drank some Basilisk vodka made undoubtedly on the basis of the Scorpion Grass extract, and resumed his story: “Yes, I must admit that somewhere we made a mistake. According to our preliminary calculations, the cub should have hatched within ten hours. But already two days had passed, and the sensors did not register any significant changes in the structure of the embryo. We tried to irradiate the egg with ksi-waves once again, but this also did not produce the expected results. Some scientists assumed a defect in the hyperaccelerator, when suddenly on the seventh day after receiving the egg, one of the staff members broke into my office and with a puzzled look on his face told me that the cub had hatched and then immediately disappeared. Even now it remains a mystery how the young creature managed to squeeze between the metal bars of its cage and slip unnoticed through the infrared and ultraviolet sensors, as well as get past security cameras and robots. Since then we have not seen him for three months.” Leo took another sip and looked at us attentively. 21
Sololeadas can be translated literally from Spanish as “solar waves”, or “the lonely ones”. Monitor lizards (in Latin “Varanidae”) is a family of mostly large lizards. They differ from other representatives of their order mainly by having completely ossified skulls. Monitor lizards are carnivores and feed on different small animals. They inhabit Africa, Asia and Australia. The family consists of about 700 species. 23 New Guinea is the world’s second largest island, after Greenland. It covers a land area of approximately 786,000 square meters. The island is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, to the north of Australia. 22
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“But not so long ago it returned and began to pose deadly threats to the villagers and our employees. This bloodthirsty beast attacked them suddenly and in seconds tore its victims to pieces, leaving behind a trail of corpses. Our best hunters tried to catch or kill it, but in vain. And so far none of them have come back... alive.” There was a heavy pause. Mr. Miranderik sat silently with his head lowered, apparently remembering the bloody return of the cub. Jack was gloomily picking pieces of salad with his fork. I decided to be the first one to break the silence and asked the director: “So, what is this animal? What does this terrible predator look like? How does it behave?” Leonardo lifted his head and looked at me thoughtfully. “Yes, I think it is time to show you the main laboratory and present to you Dr. Kraimers, our coordinator of genetic projects and caretaker of our nursery. He knows about the anatomy and habits of our experimental animals much better than me. He will tell you everything. Come on!” We left the table together and followed Mr. Miranderik along the wide and brightly lit corridors of the laboratory.
Chapter III Face of the Nightmare “The main GEC laboratory complex consists of six sectors: pharmaceutical, genetic, bionic, design, nursery for experimental animals, and sector for company’s personnel.” Leonardo Miranderik explained while guiding us through the maze of corridors, elevators and stairways. “Each of them is carefully protected by a semiautomatic security system consisting of cameras, a variety of sensors and security robots. Every employee has a nanochip implanted in his palm. It’s a tiny electronic chip that contains all his or her personal information and that allows an individual to access certain sectors. The control over the security system lies within the depths of the two mega computer complexes, one of which is located at the office of the head of security, and the other – in my private office. Thus, it is practically impossible to break into the laboratory building unnoticed, as well as to escape from it,” Leo concluded proudly. “However, something appeared to be much smarter than all your robots and sensors, wasn’t it?” Jack said sarcastically. “Yes-s, true,” Director admitted with hesitation. “I cannot imagine how it managed to do that. Anyway, we will come back to this issue. Now I would like to show you the pharmaceutical sector – the main root of our company, from which, in fact, it has grown up.” We approached a huge polished titanium door, over which the lenses of cameras and infrared sensors shone. Mr. Miranderik cupped his hand to the palm reading device at the side of the door, then looked into a small hole above it and tapped some keys on its keyboard. “Level five of identification,” he explained. “Reading out the data from the nanochip implanted in the hand; comparison of the finger pattern, the retina24 structure, and the DNA molecule with those in the personnel database; in addition to recognizing the access code typed on the keyboard.” For a second the door remained closed. Then a green light lit above it and the heavy door panels parted surprisingly smoothly and quietly. “So if, for example, I would like to use a restroom, I need to perform all these operations?” Jack asked. “In that case I may run out of patience. And then there might be no more need to go there after all.” 24
Retina is the inside layer of tissue of the eye with light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that detect electromagnetic radiation of the light spectrum and convert it into nerve impulses. - 17 -
“No, Mr. Ander,” Leo laughed, “level five is needed only to enter the laboratory complex laboratory and the pharmaceutical sector, as it is the foundation of the company containing all key patents and innovation. Other sectors have level two access control, the recognition of personal nanochip and DNA. However, in order to get into the personnel sector, particularly in one’s private room, one is required to go through the level seven of identification; that is in addition to all the operations of level five one must pass through infrared and ultraviolet sensors. In this way each member of our staff feels himself completely safe.” During the conversation, I was looking around the main room of the pharmaceutical sector with great interest. It was a giant hall cluttered with various computers, conveyors, presses and other equipment up to the ceiling. Among them workers in white overalls and transport robots that looked like giant flies were scurrying about their tasks. “Leo!” I called our guide. “Yes, Jessie? I’m listening.” “If I understand correctly, the medicines from the Scorpion Grass are being produced here, am I right?” “Absolutely. From this sector a large variety of drugs prepared on the basis of the Scorpion Grass are supplied directly to the market: injection agents, effervescent tablets, vitamin-enriched lozenges and candies, biologically active dietary supplements and much more. Our product range is quite wide and varied.” “But aren’t your employees at risk, working with such a poisonous plant?” “Oh, no, my dear,” Leo smiled, “their health is not in danger. We grow the Scorpion Grass on a field far away from the laboratory. There it is collected by forager robots and delivered by them to the primary processing and mixing machines located in a special chemical laboratory in the same field. They turn the poison of the Scorpion Grass into the untreated methylgeterodonolin. After that transport robots deliver this substance here, to those devices called atomic converters, or changers.” Leonardo pointed at giant cylindrical machines, from top to bottom covered in entangled cables and pipes. “There methylgeterodonolin is rendered harmless and gets its miraculous properties. And finally the new substance is transported to a certain area of the sector for the preparation of a final product. Thus, the whole production process is completely safe and very efficient.” After his explanation we walked a bit through the main room of the pharmaceutical sector, studying the process of drug manufacturing more closely. Jack even pulled the levers of one of the mechanisms, thereby triggering incredible panic among the workers. With a smile Leo asked him politely not to do that anymore, whereby the hunter only shrugged and proposed to move on. Next we visited the genetic sector of the laboratory complex. Mr. Miranderik explained to us that the genetics25 research taking place there would create new medical devices and robots, designed to operate with the human genome, that is, a man’s full set of genes. Research results are then sent to the bionic and design sectors of the company. In the sector of bionics26 scientists and engineers analyze the data received and on that basis create prostheses for different organs and body parts, customized accessories, such as a second pair of arms or wings, along with a wide variety of micro- and nano-implants. Employees of the design department use the information from geneticists to construct equipment and robots for hospitals and medical centers. Finished products are then transported to the warehouse, from where they are distributed to the GEC subsidiaries in different countries by aircraft and antigravity modules. 25
Genetics (from Greek “γενητως” – genitive, origin) is a discipline of science that studies the laws of heredity and variation in living organisms. It plays an important role in medicine, agriculture, microbiological industry and genetic engineering. 26 Bionics (from Greek “βίον” – living being, element of life), biomimicry, or biomimetics is a discipline of science about the application of principles of organization and functionality of living organisms upon the creation and design of engineering and technological devices and systems. - 18 -
Together with the director of the company we explored all these sectors, tried operating different machines (that Leo gave us permission to work on) and experienced the performance of some bionic devices on ourselves. I especially liked the heat-sensitive eye lenses called "Heat Catcher". They are worn just like regular contact lenses, but unlike the latter allow one to see any warm-blooded creature even behind very thick walls and from a long distance. At the same time Jack was extremely enthusiastic about the implant "Mr. Rubber", which by affecting the cells and tissues of the human musculoskeletal system27 gives bones and muscles extraordinary flexibility and elasticity. Attaching a miniature chip to his shoulder, Jack was running around the lab like a child and wobbled his hand at the face of every employee, making them feel more and more irritated. It was high time when Mr. Miranderik persuaded the hunter to return the implant to its place. When our excitement at such toys subsided, Leo proposed that we go to the nursery, and we reluctantly agreed. The nursery for experimental animals was located in the right wing of the GEC building. It was a huge room with numerous cages, large and small, mounted into its walls. They were occupied by different creatures ranging from giant tropical spiders and cockroaches to snub-nosed bats and shaggy primates. While we examined the inhabitants of the cages, Mr. Miranderik disappeared, and after a short while returned with a tall and thin middle-aged brunette in a carefully ironed white suit with black tie and shiny black shoes. His large green eyes below the smooth black brows looked at the world with interest, while his thin lips under the trimmed mustache of the same black color stretched in a good-natured smile. “My friends,” Leo addressed us, “allow me to introduce our talented scientist, coordinator of many genetic projects and the main caretaker for our pet, Doctor in Biological Sciences Alfred Gustaf Kraimers. Alfred,” Miranderik turned to the brunette, “these are our dear guests and friends – Jessie Sirok and Jack Ander.” “It is very nice to meet you!” Dr. Kraimers said with a typical German accent, while shaking hands with us. “And welcome to my little menagerie!” Then he turned to me: “I have read your works, Professor Sirok. I enjoyed them very much.” “Thank you,” I muttered, lowering my eyes modestly and feeling my ears begin to blaze like a steak on a grill. “You have a wonderful way of presenting the material,” Dr. Kraimers went on, as if nothing had happened. “And your theories deserve most careful analysis. Oh, by the way, I am aware that you oppose keeping animals in cages in unhygienic conditions. Therefore allow me to convince you that we are very attentive and kind to our pets. All cages here were built by taking into account the individual characteristics of each species, and automatic systems for climate control, diet and health monitoring create the most suitable and necessary conditions for them. And I often check the status of each animal in our nursery myself.” “That is very good. Thank you for informing me about it!” I replied, glad that people still existed who use truly scientific approaches to taking care of our smaller relatives. “Perhaps we should go to your office, Alfred?” Mr. Miranderik suggested to the Doctor. “There you will describe in detail our fugitive and all the troubles and little problems caused by it.” “With pleasure! Step in right here, please!” and Dr. Kraimers pointed to a medium-size glass door to the right of us. We entered a quite spacious and brightly lit office. The walls were covered with numerous bookshelves with thick volumes of scientific works and various tables and graphs, the metal body of an electron microscope glistened in the corner, and a large working desk with a wide screen behind it occupied the central space of the office. “Please, have a seat!” Kraimers suggested, pointing at two large leather chairs in front of the desk. We sat down and immediately felt drowned in their soft embrace. 27
Musculoskeletal, or locomotor system is a functional set of skeletal bones, their joints and muscles that gives form to an organism, protects its viscera and provides it with the ability to move. - 19 -
Alfred Gustaf Kraimers. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
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Mr. Miranderik and Dr. Kraimers took their seats at the desk in front of us. “Generally, Alfred,” Leo said to the Doctor, “I managed to explain to Jessie and Jack the essence of our little problem during the lunch, but only superficially. Now you should describe the fugitive and tell them about its habits and so on, so that our guests get the idea what a terrible being we are dealing with here.” “Of course, sir!” Dr. Kraimers nodded, and then turned to us. “Professor Sirok and Mr. Ander, as you already know, we invited you to help us catch or kill a terrible predator, which for more than two months now has been terrorizing GEC employees and residents of a local village by attacking defenseless people and devouring them. We asked for help namely from you, because we are well aware of the courage, skills and mastery of the hunter Jack Ander and the wisdom, experience and immense wealth of knowledge in the biological sciences of Professor Jessie Sirok.” Dr. Kraimers winked at me out of the corner of his eye, and once again I felt my face getting all red. “But before you sign the contract, we would like you to know who you will be dealing with. One opinion is that our fugitive is a horrible, extremely aggressive, vicious and bloodthirsty mutant28 created accidentally by us.” “In other words, you confirm that because of your experiments innocent people have died!” Jack concluded threateningly. “It is yet to be proven,” Leo intervened. “Before irradiating the egg with ksi-waves of the hyperaccelerator, we tested their effect on the organism of three more living creatures: frog, mouse, and orangutan.29 And no genetic abnormalities were observed.” “Perhaps these ksi-waves have the greatest effect on certain stages of embryonic development, when the body is still being formed? This is when the response to radiation might be the strongest,” I suggested. “Our geneticists are currently busy with research in this area,” the director said. “But the majority of scientists tend to conclude that we have discovered some new species of predator that can only be found on S*** Island.” “By the way,” Dr. Kraimers added, “I have some pieces of the shell of the egg from which this animal hatched. Perhaps Professor Sirok can suggest something preliminarily about the creature based on their examination.” He opened one of the desk drawers and carefully took out several rather large pieces of an eggshell. I picked them up, but then almost dropped the pieces, because the eggshell surface was covered with tiny, but sharp spikes. The eggshell itself was quite thick, strong and very beautiful: it was of a dark blue metallic tint on which greenish specks stood out slightly. “The egg was about seventeen inches in length and up to ten in diameter,” the Doctor started explaining. “Its shell, as you can see, consists of three layers, while the top of the shell is covered with spikes. Earlier they contained small amounts of the poison basiliskolin, so the slightest touch of the egg caused reddening and intense burning and pain. Apparently, these poisonous spikes are here to protect the egg from egg-eating animals, or oviphages. But before hatching, the poison gradually dissolved into the eggshell and egg protein.” “And where did you find this cute and not-so-little egg? Maybe in an Easter Bunny’s30 den?” Jack asked, leaning over to get a better look at the shiny shell, and thus breathing in my ear. 28
Mutant (from Latin “mutatio” – change, modification) is a “product” of mutation, i.e. an organism with a stable modification of its genetic material. 29 Orangutan (in Latin “Pongo”) is a genus of large (up to 1.5 m in height) arboreal great apes. Their name comes from the Malayan “orang hutan” meaning “forest man”. There are only two species in the genus: Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran (Pongo abelii) organgutan. 30 Easter Bunny, or Easter Rabbit is a symbol of Easter in the American and European cultures. It has its origins in pagan Germany in the 18th century. At that time rabbit was considered the companion of a Teutonic goddess Eostra, who represented spring and fertility. Nowadays the Easter Bunny is associated with a legend that at Easter a rabbit leaves a basket full of colorful eggs to good children as a gift. In Germany this legend was so popular that during the period of 1991 – 2005 there existed a whole Museum of the Easter Rabbit in Munich, which entered the Guiness Book of World Records. - 21 -
“A local hunter, who brought us this egg, claimed to have found it in the cave of a mountain located near the Scorpion Grass field,” Dr. Kraimers replied. “According to his story, it lay in a sort of nest made out of this plant. And since there was no one who could have protected it, the hunter quickly hid the egg in a bag and ran to the laboratory.” “Is it possible to talk to this hunter?” I asked. “Perhaps he can show us that nest.” “Unfortunately, the hunter is dead,” Mr. Miranderik replied. “It seems that he got slightly scratched by the thorns of the Scorpion Grass on his way to the lab. And the seeds of this plant could have gotten into his lungs – at that time it was the period of maturation and seed dispersal.” “Yeah, that ‘Easter egg’ cost him a lot. He paid for it with his life,” Jack summed up. “Well, Professor Sirok, now are you able to determine which genus or family the being hatched from this egg belongs to?” Dr. Kraimers asked me. I shrugged, putting the pieces of the eggshell on the table. “Then, maybe after I describe the appearance and habits of this animal, you will be able to make some conclusion, will you?” “Yes, it is possible,” I replied. “Good. I will just turn on the monitor to show it to you... uh... almost there... just one moment,” the nursery caretaker was typing something on the keyboard mounted into the table. When the screen behind him turned on, Dr. Kraimers took a laser pointer and stood next to the monitor. “We had kept the egg obtained from the hunter in an incubator31 at a temperature of forty – forty-five degrees Fahrenheit,32” the Doctor told us, pointing at the images on the screen that showed the egg in the incubator and various diagrams of the results of their experiment. “We irradiated the egg with ksi-waves two times, but the cub hatched after seven days instead of the expected ten hours. Immediately after birth it mysteriously escaped from the laboratory. Cameras and sensors installed in each sector registered nothing. Our searches in the jungle also led to nothing, and we thought that we would not see it again. But we were wrong.” Dr. Kraimers paused, looked at us attentively and continued in a tone like some narrator of a horror story. “Precisely three months later the fugitive found us instead, but it was no longer young and small. Now a terrifying monster returned to us. This bloodthirsty male predator of unknown species began killing everyone in its way. And it did so not only for food. Many dead bodies were found untouched as if this monster received pleasure from spreading death among us. It attacked only human beings and mainly at night. According to the stories of the few surviving witnesses of the predator’s attacks, it appeared suddenly as if materializing out of the darkness itself, quickly stabbed its claws, sharp as knife blades, into an unfortunate victim and carried it off into the darkness. This is why our employees have nicknamed it Blade of Darkness.” While Kraimers was talking about the monster, the photos of corpses of GEC workers and local residents it had torn apart by flashed on the screen. I turned away in horror, but Jack continued to stare at the screen. His face expressed a mixture of disgust and anger. “And now,” the Doctor said, “I would like to show you the guilty party who is killing so many people on this island, the one you, our respected guests, will have to hunt. Here it is – the face of our nightmare!” I looked at the screen again and immediately shuddered with fear at the sight of the monster recorded by surveillance cameras.
Incubator (from Latin “incubo” – to hatch eggs) is a special space or device for artificially keeping eggs warm and in the correct humidity in order to hatch them. 32 Fahrenheit is a temperature scale named after a German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, who proposed this scale in 1724. While in the majority of countries it is replaced by the Celsius scale, in the US and Belize Fahrenheit is still used widely. 0 degrees Celsius are equal to +32 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, 40 – 450F are equal to about 5 – 70C. - 22 -
Blade of Darkness. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
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The monster was very similar to the three-meter carnivorous dinosaur – Deinonychus33, who lived about a hundred million years ago. Deinonychus moved on two big and powerful hind legs with four toes (one of them was underdeveloped and did not participate in walking), which ended with large, sharp, curved claws. These muscular legs allow their owner to develop incredible speed and make giant leaps, thus coming down on the unsuspecting victim and digging into it with its terrible claws. The front limbs of the beast were likely designed to hold and tear its prey apart - they were less than the legs, but offered greater flexibility and had five long clawed fingers. It was interesting that the paws of the monster differed sharply from those of all known dinosaurs and modern reptiles – the thumb opposed to other fingers, as on the hand of an ape or a man. The graceful muscular torso of the lizard ended with a long and strong tail that played the roles of counterweight when walking, steering wheel when running, and mighty weapon in battle. On its back one could see a fan-shaped spinal crest consisting of thin spikes of different length, between which a skin membrane was stretched. It was of a dark blue color with light green small spots, i.e., the coloring of the eggshell from which the monster had hatched. The scales were dark green with slightly brownish tint and small brown spots, as though the beast had some sort of rash. The monster’s elongated head appeared quite large in size relative to the body. Strong jaws were slightly ajar showing a triple row of sharp and constantly changing teeth (like the ones of a shark), between which one could see a long forked tongue. Highly visible folds of skin and small scales above the big yellow eyes with black vertical pupils gave the already horrifying creature an even more severe and fearsome appearance. Besides the two eyes on the sides of the head, there was a third so-called parietal eye that could be seen as a big black wart on the forehead of the monster. Unlike all the reptiles familiar to me, the parietal eye of this lizard was relatively well developed. But I could not figure out what functions this "eye" performed. In addition to the side eyes, one could see two large cavities in the skull near the ear holes. And on the broad back of the monster’s head were two large, sharp, shiny, slightly recurved horns. “Damn!” Jack exclaimed, amazed just like me, “this guy is similar to one of the robot toy dinosaurs, which I loved to play with as a child.” “But that toy dinosaur did not attack and kill people, unlike this thing,” Mr. Miranderik commented. “However, in spite of the repulsive appearance and extremely vicious character, this animal is of great interest for science,” Dr. Kraimers continued. “We have already managed to study some of its outstanding characteristics. For example, this bright spine, like the one Spinosaurus34 had, apparently serves for thermoregulation, i.e. for maintaining certain body temperature, as well as for attracting females and demonstrating its dominance over other males of the same species during the mating season. But it can also be used as a defense, because the spines that are in fact movable extensions of the vertebral column are filled with basiliskolin. The monster’s saliva also contains high concentration of this poison. It looks like the lizard is immune to the pure basiliskolin. Then, while living among the thickets of the 33
Deinonychus (from Latin “Deinonychus” – terrible claw) is a genus of carnivorous bipedal dinosaurs. They lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 120 – 90 million years ago. Deinonychus got its name due to a large, sickle-shaped talon on the second toe of each hind foot. They are similar in appearance to Velociraptors, whom they are usually confused with. However, compared to the latter, Deinonychus is larger in size and presumably could climb trees. Only one species – Deinonychus antirrhopus – is known in this genus. It was the analysis of its fossils that led to the theory of dinosaurs being warm-blooded animals and the feathered ancestors of birds. 34 Spinosaurus (from Latin “Spinosaurus” – spine lizard) is a genus of piscivorous theropod dinosaur. They lived in the Cretaceous period, about 100 – 90 million years ago. Spinosaurus is considered to be one of the largest carnivorous animals that ever lived on Earth – they reached 18 meters in length, 8 meters in height and up to 9 tons in weight. Wide spines, which is the distinctive feature of these dinosaurs and the reason for its name, were about 1.7 meters long. Until now there were fossils of six Spinosaurus found, and all of them were located in North Africa. - 24 -
Scorpion Grass it developed special protection from its thorns and seeds. Between the scales, which end with tiny but sharp spikes, one can find the ducts of special exocrine glands35 that produce an oily substance. This substance greases the scales of the animal, thus forming a membrane that prevents the penetration of seeds and poisons of the Scorpion Grass into the skin. Moreover, many villagers claim that they allegedly saw the creature run on the water surface like a basilisk36 lizard. But we have not noticed the monster having any special features for that, plus the lizard itself weighs quite a lot for such a trick. However, in my opinion, the most interesting and striking observation about it is the size of its brain. After analyzing the information from our sensor traps placed within the territory of the Scorpion Grass field we got truly shocking data. It turned out that the weight of the lizard’s brain is 1,737 grams, less than its body weight by only forty times! Compare this information with the following figures: the mass of a human brain is approximately 1,400 grams, which is less than the weight of the body by forty-three times. And the number of gyri in the monster’s cerebral cortex is three times more than each one of us has, which significantly increases its surface.” “It cannot be!” I exclaimed, not being able to hold it. “Do you mean that this scaly beast is smarter than any of us?” Jack cried with surprise. “Let us not jump to quick conclusions.” Leo answered for the Doctor. “Dolphins37 and some primates possess brains, some indicators of which are also higher than those in the human one. But this does not put them on an equal level with us, and certainly not above us. Humans are the pinnacle of evolution and the most perfect creatures on Earth!” “I tend to agree with our respected director.” Kraimers added. “For instance, the large size of the dolphin brain is caused by the development of the echolocation apparatus38, and not by any superior intellectual activity. Yes indeed, dolphins are very clever animals, but they are still far from having a truly intelligent consciousness and behavior. Apparently, the large brain of the monster is also designed to perform a specific function related to its way of life. This theory is supported by the analysis of its egg and embryo before hatching. Then we found an additional section forming in its brain, but we could not determine its purpose. More research is needed. When you catch the monster, we will be able to perform the autopsy and examine it in more detail. And then, perhaps, we will be able to reveal all the secrets of this unusual animal.” After these words, the main caretaker of the nursery turned off the monitor and faced me. “Well, Professor Sirok, now do you have any idea about the classification of this creature?” he asked me. “Hmm...” I started thinking aloud. “It clearly belongs to the class of reptiles. This animal looks more like a very large monitor lizard that moves on its hind legs. It is even possible that it’s an evolutionarily developed form of Megalania – a giant lizard that lived in Australia39 35
Exocrine gland is an organ that synthesizes and excretes its biologically active substance (secretion, as it is called) into cavities inside the body or its outer surface. Exocrine glands include salivary, sweat, mammary glands and liver. 36 Basilisks (in Latin “Basiliscus”) is a genus of large lizards from the Iguanidae family. They received their name due to the crests on their backs that make them similar to the mythical creature basilisk. These lizards are able to run on water because their hind legs move very fast not allowing the water surface membrane to break under their weight. The genus includes 4 species: common, plumed, red-headed, and striped basilisk. 37 Dolphins (in Latin “Delphinidae”) is a family of marine mammals from the Cetacea order and the Odontoceti suborder. Dolphins are very active, fast, agile and voracious predators that feed on fish, crustaceans and mollusks. The family features 17 genera and about 40 species. 38 Echolocation apparatus, or bio sonar, is an organ or device that is able to determine the location (and in certain cases even structure) of an object by emitting sound or radiowaves and then receiving the echo from that object. The distance to the object, its location in the environment, size, form, etc., are determined by the time delay between the emitting of soundwaves and the receiving of their echo. In the animal world such a method of spatial orientation is highly developed in bats and dolphins. 39 Megalania (from Latin “Megalania prisca” – great old nomad) is the largest surface lizard from the family of monitor lizards. It lived in the Pleistocene era, approximately 1.5 million years ago. Megalania reached 7 meters in length and up to 600 kg in weight. - 25 -
hundreds of thousands of years ago. However, the wide spine and the probable ability to run on the water, mentioned by you, bring him closer to the basilisks from the family of iguanas. Nevertheless, due to certain specific features of the monster I would allocate it in its own particular family of great royal lizards, or megalobasilisks40... with the genus, let’s say, blade lizards, or Laminidae41... and the name of the species... let it remain as it is – Blade of Darkness.” Dr. Kraimers pondered for a moment, scratching his clean-shaven chin, and then turned to me with a beaming face: “Excellent! I quite agree with you. If you allow me, I will note this classification of the animal in my report. Undoubtedly, your name will stand there as the author of the classification.” “Yes, of course.” I said, pulling out a notebook from my pocket and making some notes myself. “Well,” Jack interjected, “if you are done with discussing all the beauties of this thing, I propose to move to the next important question: how much?” Mr. Miranderik smiled and said: “Half a million for each of you for capturing or killing the monster.” It was a big sum of money, and I was about to agree, but Jack gave me a barely perceptible gesture to be silent. Then he replied: “Given the complexity and risk associated with capturing this brainy creature… two million for each! With 25% now, and the rest later! Do you agree?” Leo showed us his smile again: “Truly you know the value of your services, Mr. Ander. Well, it’s a deal!” After that he took four copies of the contract from the drawer: two with my name and the other two with Jack’s name. We read them carefully and signed. Then the pleased Director also signed them, gave us two copies, and put the rest back into the drawer. Following that another drawer was opened, and a number of big packs of brand new bills were taken from it and given to us. The hunter quickly grabbed his prepayment and hid it in the pockets of his trousers. I followed his example. “And now, when all key matters are settled, allow me to take you to the local village, where a modest but very cozy house has already been allocated to you.” Mr. Miranderik offered, rising from his chair. After waving goodbye to Dr. Kraimers and led by Leo, we entered the maze of the company’s corridors once again.
Chapter IV The Mysterious “Waves of the Sun” We left the building of the main GEC laboratory and started out on a path that was hardly visible in the thick grass, towards a settlement of the islanders who called themselves Sololeadas. On the way there Mr. Miranderik briefly told us about the people, since we would have to live side by side with them for several days, weeks, maybe even months. “Do you remember that I told you that S*** Island is the result of a collision of tectonic plates, the Australian and the Pacific plates, which took place several hundred years ago? But that collision was nothing compared to what happened later, after about a hundred years, more precisely at the time of the Great Atlantic Cataclysm. From history you probably know that during a full solar eclipse, an underwater volcano close to the Azores42 had a powerful 40
From Greek “μεγαλο” – giant, and “βασιλίσκος” – little king. From Latin “lamina” – blade. 42 The Azores – archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. The name probably comes from the old Portugese word ”azures”, which means “blue”. The islands have a subtropical sea climate. 41
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eruption which took place due to movements of the North American, Eurasian and African plates. Enormous tsunamis43 and powerful hurricanes hit the coasts of Portugal, Spain, France and Great Britain, not to mention those of African states. To this day no one knows the exact number of victims of the cataclysm - there were tens, even hundreds of millions. Yet, the disasters did not stop there. The wide rift which stretched from the continuously erupting volcano to the city of Leon in Spain made the Iberian Peninsula44 start falling to pieces, literally. Whole bits of land which were broken up by the lava gushing out from the rift and washed over by the ocean waves were separated from the peninsula and washed away by the waves and currents out into the open sea. On some of them there were people who had not managed to evacuate the main area of the disaster in time. The majority of them were saved with the help of helicopters and ships, but the rest drifted for a long time on small pieces of land before they were washed ashore on the African or American coast. One such little island, which had been torn off from the northwest part of Spain, was picked up first by the Canary and then by the Guinea Current and transported south, along Africa’s west coast. The West Wind Drift took it out into the Pacific Ocean, where it finally came to S*** Island. How the hostages of this little piece of land could have survived is still a mystery. But they got to S***, moved on to the island and became the first people to set foot on this land. They founded a settlement on the island and called themselves Sololeadas, which translates from a Spanish dialect to “the waves of the sun”. The Sololeadas claimed that most of the morning sailing was guided by the sun, which lit up the ocean waves ahead with its golden rays. And it is no wonder that they think that, since the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or as it is often called, the West Wind Drift, took the small piece of land with its survivors further and further to the east. Nevertheless, the golden way stretching out ahead in the ocean gave them the hope of a bright future. Oh, well, we are here…” Mr. Miranderik took us past some small huts which were built from palm logs and some local tropical pine species, bamboo stalks, hay and palm leaves, to a big square at the center of the settlement. Before us we saw a construction that was rather big in comparison to the others, with a wide entry way on which different wooden plaques, crosses and human figurines were put up. “This is their leader’s hut,” said Leo, “and all these figurines are talismans which supposedly guard him and the whole settlement from the monster.” Then he approached the entrance of the hut and knocked lightly on the bamboo frame of the doorway. From inside came some words that we did not understand, and then Leo turned to us with a smile: “Come in, please, my friends. The leader is ready to receive you.” We entered a rather spacious room with a wide bed, a table and a large number of wooden cabinets and shelves and in front of us we saw the leader of Sololeadas sitting on a small multi-colored carpet. He was a wise old man of rather short stature, slim and stooped, with skin which had a sickly yellow color. Only his eyes, which were shining with curiosity, showed that he had a brave soul. He was dressed in a thin robe that went down to the floor and which was decorated with the images of different wild animals, and around his throat, wrists and ankles he had several necklaces, bracelets and amulets which apparently showed the power of the leader. When seeing us, the head of the Sololeadas gave us a welcoming nod of the head and with a graceful gesture he invited us to sit down.
Tsunamis are high and long waves which are the result of underwater earthquakes (approximately 85% of all tsunamis), landslides (nearly 7%), volcano eruptions (nearly 5%) or other factors which have a powerful impact on a body of water. 44 The Iberian Peninsula is the southernmost and westernmost peninsula of the European continent, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Biscay. The states of Portugal and Spain make up most of the territory of the peninsula. - 27 -
Kabeza Relampagueia. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
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We sat down on our heels on carpets that had been put out especially for us and Mr. Miranderik, who was still sporting a broad smile, remained standing next to us. The leader looked closely at us, and then he shouted at someone outside: “Sudoceleste!” Within a few seconds a local boy of about fourteen years and dressed only in blue shorts came into the hut. He had light, almost white skin, strong arms and legs, dark brown hair and sad blue eyes. The newcomer walked up to the leader without hurrying and started exchanging short phrases with him in a language which resembled Spanish. Leo bent down to us, nodded towards the boy and said in a low voice: “That is Azul Sudoceleste, which can be translated from Spanish as “Heart of the Blue Sky”. Isn’t it a beautiful name? Azul is the only one of all Sololeadas to speak good English, that’s why the leader calls him to every meeting with me. The boy’s grandmother and grandfather were from Great Britain, but before the Great Atlantic Cataclysm they had moved to the Spanish coast for a holiday. That is where the elements caught up with them. Luckily, they survived, but they ended up together with the Spanish on that very piece of the Iberian peninsula which then brought them to S***. That is how Azul’s grandmother and grandfather came here. They taught the boy’s parents English and the parents in turn taught their son.” “Why don’t the parents act as translators themselves?” Jack wondered. “The fact is that they became the victims of the monster. Once at night when they… um… were searching for edible herbs and roots for their supper, it attacked them and tore them to pieces. The loss of his mother and father had a serious impact on the boy’s mental health. He now often has really crazy thoughts, he falls into severe depressions, and at night he sometimes goes out and calls on someone... probably his dead parents. And in fact he used to be a good, clever and happy little boy at some point. I feel so sorry about it all!” Leo lowered his head sadly. Now I understood the reason for the sadness in Azul’s eyes and looked at the boy with deep sympathy. At that point, Azul and the Sololeadas leader had finished their talk and the latter turned to us to give a short speech. Azul stood close to him with downcast eyes and translated his words quickly into English. I observed that he did it well, and that his pronunciation was clear and correct. “Kabeza Relampagueia, the first leader of the tribe of Sololeadas welcomes you to his settlement,” said Azul. “He knows why you are here and he will be happy to offer you any help you ask for. The leader has already given orders to allocate my parents’ hut to you and offer myself to you as translator for the duration of your stay here. The best hunters of Sololeadas will also help you and you will be able to meet them tomorrow morning. You can turn directly to the leader with all questions, advice, and requests that you may have. Kabeza Relampagueia is always ready to offer a hand of friendship to guests with such a noble purpose as yours. And if you can rid Sololeadas of the terrible Curse of Darkness, then you will be worthy of the deepest gratitude and respect of the leader and of the whole tribe and you will be offered Menoherido, a lot of Menoherido.” “What’s this ”herido” that we’ll get?” Jack whispered. “Menoherido45“, Leo corrected in a low voice, “is an infusion of the leaves and flowers of the Scorpion herb, which can heal quite serious wounds and which has a rejuvenating effect. It’s one of our presents to the leader and his tribe. The infusion is regarded as quite valuable in Sololeadas, and also among our clients all over the world.” “So... a big thank you to you, highly esteemed leader,” Jack said out loud. “We will try to do everything possible to make sure that Sololeadas will no longer need to fear this “Curse”.” Azul bowed down to the leader’s ear and translated the hunter’s words and the latter smiled and nodded gratefully. After that Mr. Miranderik moved closer to the leader and the boy, said something to them and walked up to us. 45
From sp. “me no herido” – I am not hurt; I am not in pain. - 29 -
Azul Sudoceleste. Illustration by K채rt Viljalo.
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“Now we will part for a while my friends,” he said. “Azul will take you to his hut, where you will be staying. Your things have already been taken there so you can install yourselves as you wish. Get a good sleep tonight. I will come by tomorrow morning with the hunters of Sololeadas and my best snipers. Until then Azul will keep you company. Just,” here Leo bent down to us and whispered, “please, just don’t ask him about his parents and the monster. The boy’s mental wound hasn’t healed yet, and if he is reminded about the tragedy he can get new bouts of depression and insanity. Have we agreed?” “Of course,” I whispered back. “Without question,” Jack added. “Perfect. Then I will see you tomorrow. Have a rest!” Mr. Miranderik stood up and left the hut. “Let’s go!” Azul mumbled and went out after the director. We exchanged polite nods with the leader of Sololeadas, stood up and followed the boy. We walked through the central square and along the wide road in between wooden buildings of different forms and sizes and came to a rather big hut, although slightly smaller than the leader’s, at the edge of the settlement. It consisted of three spacious rooms, which each had a hammock, a small low cabinet with one compartment, a wooden table and some chairs. The table had a modern table lamp which worked on solar panels46 and a battery on the roof. It had probably been a present from GEC. On the walls made of thick bamboo sticks bound together there were all different kinds of decorations and charms and on the floor multi-colored mats were laid out. “You will live in these rooms,” said Azul solemnly, waving his hand to the right. “I will sleep in the one next to you. If you need something, just call on me.” “Thank you very much Azul!” I answered in a friendly tone. “We really appreciate your hospitality.” “Yeah, man, thank you!” Jack joined in. “OK,” said Azul, looking at us with his sad eyes and went into his room. “The poor boy,” Jack commented sympathetically on Azul and looked after him. “OK, I’m going to my room. If you’re bored, just call on me. I can really entertain you!” “I don’t doubt it,” I called after him. Then I went into the room that had been set apart for me and took out my hiking backpack from under the hammock. It had apparently been put there by the employees of the company, and I started taking out its diverse contents and putting it on the table. First a portable electronic nanoscope47 appeared from the depths of the backpack. It was charged using solar panels and made it possible to see even atoms in detail. 48 Then a foldable DNA analyzer materialised close to the nanoscope. The DNA analyzer was designed to study the structure of the DNA49 helix in the cells, as well as its separate genes. Gradually the rest of the scientific and other equipment was moved onto the table: a protected laptop50, an electronic notepad, a set of flasks and tubes, jars with different chemical mixtures, a magnifier and a set of magnifying lenses, a multifunctional folding knife with 46
Solar panels, solar cells or photovoltaic solar modules are popular devices which transform solar energy into a constant electric current. They are used in small batteries as well as in artificial satellites and on space stations. 47 From Greek “ν νος” – dwarf, gnome and “σκοπέω” – see. 48 Atom (from old Greek “ τομος” – indivisible) – the smallest indivisible part of any chemical element. Made up of a central nucleus and electrons. A group of atoms bound to each other by chemical bonds based on the electromagnetic force forms a molecule. 49 Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a molecule which stores, uses and transmits genetic information from generation to generation, information which is necessary for the life and development of different organisms. In the cells of animals and plants the DNA is located in the center and organised into specific structures called chromosomes. The chromosome takes the form of a twisted spiral of two chains of molecules, which are made up of recurring chemical blocks called nucleotides. The different parts of DNA carry specific information, for example, about the structure of certain proteins called genes. 50 Protected laptop, or ”off-road” laptop is a portable personal computer designed for work in extreme conditions. Has increased resilience to vibrations, impacts and adverse environmental effects. Used mainly in military, rescue and research contexts. - 31 -
several additional instruments, a universal portable thermos and a tranquilizer gun with a set of strong narcotic darts. After I had put all these devices and instruments on the table I threw the half-empty backpack under the hammock and looked at the enormous orange disk of the sun which was slowly sinking into the thick jungle surrounding the settlement. There it already hid behind the tree tops, but the broad bands of light making up the sunrays were in some places shining through the curtain of leaves. The sky’s delicate colors were starting to tarnish. You could hear the first tentative sounds of grasshoppers and cicadas51, like musicians they were tuning their instruments before a big concert. It was only now that I felt how incredibly tired I was after the preparations for the trip, the flight and the walk around the GEC laboratory. I lay down on the taut hammock which had been patched in several places, and while rocking lightly back and forth I started thinking about all the information that I had gotten today. What is this terrible beast that is terrorizing the islanders? Where has it come from? Could his large head and brain really be an indication of intellect? Then how could such a highly developed being appear on an island which is only a couple of hundred years old? Maybe it has come here from somewhere... but then, from where? Why does the monster only attack people? And why can the GEC not help the Sololeadas to protect themselves against it, or just send them back home, to New Spain? Although little was left of it after the Cataclysm... Well, then to another continent, closer to safety and civilisation… The questions went around in my head like annoying flies, and I could not think of a more or less reasonable answer to any of them. My brain was gradually refusing to take them in: the questions just flowed through it, like a mountain stream between mighty rocks. My eyelids became heavier and started to close. From the neighboring room there was a loud ring, clank, bang, followed by Jack’s sophisticated invectives. He was apparently checking his weapon. And to the sound of the clear cries of the cicadas and the hunter’s juicy curses my eyes closed and I fell into a deep sleep.
Chapter V Hunting a Nightmare “Time to get up!” “Ba-a-ang!” The sudden cry and gunshot just next to my ear made me jump and fall out of the hammock onto the floor. I rubbed my eyes and when I looked around I noticed Jack laughing for all he was worth while standing next to me. He was holding a high calibre automatic rifle. “Good morning, babe! I see that you’re already up. What a frisky girl! Ha-ha-ha!” he laughed. “Well, are you ready for today’s adventure?” “Jack, damn you!” I said furiously and stood up from the floor. “If you’re going to wake me up like that every morning I certainly will not be able to enjoy all the pleasures of the adventure with you.” “Yeah, right,” he answered and hit me on the back with such force that I almost broke the wall in front of me. “Don’t be a whiner! Be a man!... that is… be a woman… well, you get what I mean.”
Cicadas (in Latin “Cicadidae”) are a family of winged insects. Spread in all parts of the world. Live in trees and in bushes, from which they drink the saps with the help of their proboscis. The cicadas have special sound membranes which they use to make a rather loud chirring, which is how the male attracts the female. The family has more than 2000 species. - 32 -
After having washed with cold water from a clear little stream which was glistening in the sun and which flowed not far from our house, we returned to the hut, where we saw Azul on the doorstep. When he noticed us he said: “Breakfast is ready. Please follow me,” and he took Jack and me to the backyard, where a wooden table and three chairs stood on the thick grass, wet with dew. On the table we saw some clay dishes with salads made from different vegetables, berries and roots, as well as glasses with water from the stream, water that was sparkling in the rays of the rising sun. We sat down at the table and tried all the different kinds of salad. We ate breakfast in silence. Only the morning birds, most probably from the thrush52 family, sitting somewhere in the treetops entertained our ears with their melodic singing. When he had finished eating, Azul took the dishes and went to the stream to clean them, and we remained seated at the table, waiting for Mr Miranderik and the hunters. Jack smoked a cigarette and leaning back in his chair he blew blue clouds of smoke into the air. “You know,” he said, breaking the silence, “I think that we should still talk to Azul. Maybe he can tell us something useful about the habits of that predator.” “Yes,” I agreed, “but we need to do so really carefully... it is necessary to wait for the right moment.” “That’s true. Let him get used to us. And at the same time we’ll get to know the boy better. Then we can find a sensitive way to approach him.” I nodded, and we both fell silent again, since Azul was coming back, bringing with him Mr. Miranderik, two GEC employees armed with sniper laser rifles, and four of the Sololeadas hunters with throwing spears in their hands and long bows and quivers with arrows in leather belts thrown over their shoulders. The head of the company and his aides were clothed in special khaki hunter gear, while the Sololeadas wore only a loincloth, which allowed me to admire their strong tanned bodies. “Good morning, my friends!” Leo greeted us with a smile. “I see that you have already had breakfast. And I thought that I would have to wake you up.” “Someone managed to do that before you,” I answered and glanced at the grinning Jack. “Well, if you are already ready I suggest that we immediately go hunt for the monster,” the director said. “OK. I just need to take a few guns,” said Jack, stood up and went into Azul’s hut. “Yes, and I also need to grab a few things. Wait for us at the entrance to the hut, please,” I added and followed him. After I had gotten the things from my room and put magnifying lenses, some tubes, a folding knife and a tranquiliser gun with extra darts into my jacket and shorts pockets, I went out to join the group waiting for us. Then Jack showed up in the doorway, with so many knives, pistols and guns of different forms and sizes hanging from him that he looked like a Christmas tree. “Now that everyone has gathered we can get going,” Mr. Miranderik said. “Isn’t Azul going with with us?” Jack asked. “No, no,” Leo answered and glanced at the hut. “I think that we shouldn’t put the boy in danger, and these Sololeadas hunters have been working with us for a long time now and understand English a little.” “OK,” Jack agreed, “then let’s go.” And we trekked through the Sololeadas village towards the thick jungle to search for the horrifying monster. The settlement’s inhabitants came out to meet us and greeted us happily. “¡Buenos días, señor y señorita! Buen viaje!53”, they said with a smile. And their children came running around us and screamed: “¡Salvadores! Héroe y heroína!”54 52
Thrushes (in Latin “Turdidae”) are a family of smaller birds. Occur worldwide with the exception of the polar regions and some remote islands. Feed on insects and their larvae, snails, earthworms and the fruits of some plants. The thrushes’ loud and melodic song is characteristic. The family contains nearly 300 species. 53 From Spanish “¡Buenos días, señor y señorita! Buen viaje!” – Good morning, sir and madam! Safe trip! - 33 -
Soon the Sololeadas log and bamboo huts were exchanged for tall trees, with powerful trunks covered in moss and lichens55, different creepers and springy lianas. High above us pathways of light were making their way through the treetops and different insects were flying in the sun, enjoying its life-giving energy. Then they sat down on a tree trunk, on a blade of grass, or on a flower and began to chirr loudly, adding their music to the other sounds around us. When we had walked about twenty meters into the jungle, Mr. Miranderik waved his hand, conveying to us that we should stop. “So,” he said, and turned to us, “now we need to find and neutralize the bloodthirsty monster that is walking around somewhere in this jungle. I decided to take part in this myself together with you, to make sure that the threat to my workers and Sololeadas will be eliminated at last and to help make that possible. I warn you that it will be a very dangerous hunt, since the animal hasn’t killed anyone since the night before last, and today he probably won’t mind having us for breakfast. And even if this predator rarely attacks in the morning or during the day I still advise you to be very careful. To cover a big territory we will need to split up into three groups: the Sololeadas hunters will go east, I will go north with my trusted snipers, and you, my friends, will go west.” At this point Mr. Miranderik took from the pocket of his trousers a small device with a sensor screen56 and a set of buttons, and held it out to us: “Here is an electronic map for each of you. It has GPS, compass, and a transmitter which we can use to communicate with each other. That should do it… Do you have any questions?” “Why don’t we first examine the nest where the monster’s egg was found?” I asked, taking the map with the transmitter and looking at it. “The cave where the hunter found the egg is in a hillside close to the field where we grow scorpion grass. I don’t think that you will enjoy walking through poisonous thorns and breathe in the seeds of this interesting and useful, but quite dangerous plant,” Leo said with an ambiguous smile. “I don’t have any more questions,” I answered. “Yes, one more,” Leo remembered and pulled out from another of his pockets two big shining claws, in which holes were drilled and rope made of lianas threaded through them. “It is a present from the leader of Sololeadas, claws from the very same monster which you are to either catch or kill. Once the beast attacked the leader but he managed to avert the attack and cut off two of his fingers with his machete. The injured animal then hid in the night. When he came home, Kabeza Relampagueia pulled out the claws from the cut off fingers, cleaned them and came to us asking us to drill holes in them for ropes. And from that very moment he kept the claws, waiting for the day when some brave, strong, and clever hunters would come to free Sololeadas from “The Curse of Darkness”. So Kabeza decided to give them to us. The leader asked us to tell you that these claws will give you the strength and dexterity of the monster and protect you from the evil spells that this “Curse” sent down on us. You can choose not to believe in it but please take the present, so as not to insult the leader.” We hung the unusual amulets around our necks with some scepticism. The Sololeadas hunters welcomed our act with smiles and approving nods. Then Mr. Miranderik pointed them towards the east and they set off carefully through the bushes and ferns in that direction. “So,” the director turned to us again, “allow me to wish you luck and success! And... I really hope to see you again... alive.” “The same to you,” Jack answered in a short tone. 54
From Spanish “¡Salvadores! Héroe y heroína!” – Saviours! Hero and heroine! Lichens (in Latin “Lichenes”) are composite organism consisting of microscopic fungi, green algae and/or bacteria. Used as an indicator of the pollution of the environment, feed for some domestic animals, and in pharmaceuticals. There are nearly 26,000 known species of lichens. 56 Touch screen – screen that reacts to touch. The first such screen appeared in the USA in 1972. Presently used for computers, mobile phones, interactive kiosks, payment terminals, industrial control panels etc. 55
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Then Leo gave us a smile to say goodbye and disappeared in the thick green jungle together with his silent snipers. We turned on the electronic maps that we had been given and set out towards the western part of S*** Island. Jack went first, clearing the way through the tropical forest with big strokes of his machete knife. I followed him, looking at the surroundings and comparing our location to the indications on the map. We walked in this way for a few hours. From the practically vertical streaks of sunrays which here and there cut through the green roof of the jungle you could tell that the sun was already at its zenith. The world surrounding us was noticeably coming to life and was enriched by bright and interesting living things. Big tropical butterflies of different colors fluttered gently among the fern leaves and different exotic plants, and like miniature spaceships, little hummingbirds no bigger in size than humblebees flew past57. And from the treetops came the different voices of unknown birds. After some more time the jungle opened up and it was as if a big green curtain had been lifted and in front of us there was a small river with water from which the blinding light of the mid day sun was reflected. We sat down on a small stone next to the river to rest a little. I turned on my transmitter to get a connection with Leo. At first there was only a kind of rustle coming from it, but then you could hear the soft voice of Mr. Miranderik: “Yes, Jessie?” “Leo, so far we haven’t found anyone or anything,” I told him. “Now we are at the shore of some river. Where should we go next?” “Well, I think that will be enough for today,” came his voice from the transmitter. “We haven’t noticed anything either. Now you can go back. We’ll meet in your hut.” “OK,” I answered and turned off the communication device. Then I turned to Jack who was sitting next to me, chewing on another cigarette: “So, are we going back?” “Yes, please,” said the hunter, letting out a cloud of smoke and he was just about to stand up from the stone when he froze in front of something he saw on the ground. His eyes widened and the cigarette dropped from his mouth. “Look,” he said, took me by the shoulder and almost pushed my nose into the ground. At first I did not understand what it was all about, but soon enough I noticed something which was barely visible in the half dry soil; the imprint of a large paw with three toes and long claws, then another one... and another. The tracks went from the shore of the river towards the jungle from where we had come out. “Footprints of the monster!” Jack explained enthusiastically, should I still not have understood what it was. “Results at last! Let’s go!” And so we set out along the tracks back into the thick tropical forest. I turned on the transmitter again and with some worry in my voice I announced: “Leo, we found its tracks! Now we are following them.” “Perfect!” Mr. Miranderik was pleased. “I see your coordinates on the map. We will catch up with you soon.” And in half an hour the director and his snipers really did get to us by a small wooden bridge over another river. We walked over to the other side of the river together and continued to make our way through different kinds of epiphytic plants58, while following the hardly visible traces of the three-toed clawed paw. 57
Hummingbirds (in Latin “Trochilidae”) are a family of small birds. Characterised by fast and agile flight. The legs are small, weak and unfit for walking; therefore the hummingbird spends most of its life flying. It is the only bird which can fly backwards. Feeds on the nectars of flowers and on small insects which they find on flowers and leaves. The family includes the smallest birds on the planet, which only measure 6 cm and weigh 2 g. More than 330 species of hummingbirds are known. 58 Epiphytes (from Greek “ πιφυτόν” – on the plant) – group of plants which grow non-parasitically on other plants. They do not need soil, taking their energy, nutrients, and moisture from sunlight, precipitation and from the air. Algae, mosses, lichens, orchids, bromeliads and other mainly tropical plants belong to the epiphytes. - 35 -
The footprints wound through the thick tree trunks and roots, either spinning around in one place or disappearing into the thick grass on a clearing in the forest, forcing us to search the surroundings to find where they continued. In that way we moved slowly towards the northwest, until we heard a kind of rustling or humming in front of us behind the thick curtain of bushes, ferns and lianas hanging from the trees. Here Leo told us to stop. “We cannot go any further,” he announced. “Why is that?” Jack was surprised. “There, behind the trees there is a field of Scorpion grass, where we collect the harvest. It would be unwise to put both of you and myself in danger.” “But what about…,” the hunter tried to argue. “The monster cannot hide there,” the director said. “Our harvester robots that are collecting the deflowered Scorpion grass would have noticed it and given us a distress signal. And since there was no signal our target has already been in some other place for a long time. So it’s better if we return home now and rest. Tomorrow we will continue our search in another part of the island.” We had no other choice than to obey and return to the Sololeadas village. When we arrived there Mr. Miranderik turned to us: “So, my friends, I now advise you to eat and rest. Our walk was indeed long and tiring, especially it being the first time. You can keep the maps with the transmitters. They will help you in your further search for the monster. I will come and get you again in the morning and we will go over the jungle south of the laboratory. It is entirely possible that we will be a little luckier there.” After having said goodbye to Leo, the snipers and the Sololeadas hunters who had also returned by then, we went on to Azul’s hut and the GEC director and his team went back to theirs at the main laboratory of the company. On the way to the hut we met its master: “Dinner is ready. Please take your seats,” said the boy coolly and locked himself in his room. We replenished our strength with cabbage salad, crested partridge59 eggs and bananas, and feeling relieved we leaned back in our chairs, slowly drinking from our glasses of spring water. Soon Azul came and started clearing off the table. “Did you kill it?” He asked suddenly and looked intently at us with his blue eyes. I was a little startled and did not know what to say. “Well… no,” Jack said in my place. He was also somewhat taken aback by the unexpected question. “But we found its tracks.” Azul nodded lightly, gathered the plates and glasses and carried them to the stream. We looked at each other with some worry. “Do you think we can do it now?” The hunter asked quietly. “No,” I answered. “It seems to me that it’s too early. We still don’t know Azul very well.” Jack nodded in agreement. Then we stood up and went to our quarters in silence. Having gotten to my hammock I fell straight into it without taking my clothes off and fell asleep instantly. And so our first day of hunting the nightmare ended…
The crested partridge (in Latin “Rollulus roulroul”) is a small, up to 27 cm, bird of the pheasant family (Phasianidae). It lives in forests on the western part of Indochina peninsula, as well as on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan/Borneo. - 36 -
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Dear Amazing Reader, Thank you for showing interest in my adventures on S*** Island! I am happy to share them with you! If you want to continue reading, enjoying these incredible adventures, and solving the mystery of the Monster, you can purchase the complete book at serendii (www.serendii.com), the novel website (www.themonster.info), and in your favourite online and offline stores.
With great respect and gratitude, Jessie Sirok
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Briefly about the Author Alexandr Iscenco was born on the 9th of May, 1985 in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. Since childhood he has been interested in astronomy, anatomy of animals and humans, entomology, genetics and ecology. Alexandr did his studies at the Free International University of Moldova (www.ulim.md) and the University of Copenhagen (www.ku.dk) in the field of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. He also participated in a number of educational programs on the topics of environmental protection, leadership and entrepreneurship at universities in Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Australia and the USA. Alexandr had worked for four years as a researcher at the Institute of Economy, Finance and Statistics (www.iefs.md) in Moldova. As a volunteer he had actively participated in the development and activities of the non-governmental organizations AIESEC (www.aiesec.md) and JCI (www.jci.md) in Moldova. He also contributed to the organization of the national environmental campaign Hai, Moldova! (www.hai.md) and to the creation of a unique virtual instrument for visualizing global statistics on waste pollution called the Waste Explorer (www.wasteexplorer.org). Since 2012 Alexandr has engaged in social entrepreneurship and has helped his colleagues to create a global web platform for documenting, implementing and evaluating eco-innovations called Dreamups (www.dreamups.org). In 2013 together with a team of 5 young people he also founded and started to develop their own environmental organization – the Moldovan Environmental Governance Academy (MEGA). Alexandr began his literary activity in 2003. Back then his first tentative poems, poetic translations and the first large and interactive novel “The Scorpion” appeared. The subject of the poems and the novel were focused on the beauty and wisdom of Nature, the importance of and need for its conservation, the philosophical reflections on the place and role of Humans in the world and the women’s beauty. Those early works were followed by a hundred other poems and an autobiographical novel “Head on into Another World” about a trip to the village Cunicea in Moldova. Alexandr’s first book was published in 2007. It was a small collection of works entitled “The Thoughts: the World of My Heart and Soul. The Favorites”, which included several dozens of poems, five poetic translations and two short stories, “The Black Hole” and “Road to Happiness”. Also several poetry works were published in the anthology “The Golden Verse” in 2009. The rest of the poems were posted by the author on his literary blog “The Thoughts” (www.ischenco-thoughts.blogspot.com). Alexandr began working on the novel “The Monster: Blade of Darkness” in 2000. In 2010 the first draft of the literary work was completed. In 2013 the revision and editing of the text of the novel were finished. And only in 2014 the novel was published. This was possible due to the great support of the author's parents, Vera and Victor Iscenco, whom Alexandr is immensely grateful to.
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Travelling to a mysterious island in the middle of the ocean, trip to the jungle full of life, meeting the local tribe of Sololeadas, investigating of disappearance and death of people on the island, hunting an enigmatic dinosaur-like animal, experiencing romantic adventures and last but not least discussing about the Nature and its interrelations with mankind – all this awaits you in the first novel of “The Monster” trilogy by Alexandr Iscenco entitled “The Monster: Blade of Darkness”. Official website of the novel: www.themonster.info
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