|Metamorphis in the aquarium, please imagine |
the circle of magnifying glass set in the centre ...
How Zebe's plotting plays out.
“You’re right. SoHAB has the alien, and Beardy is right that my sister works there.”
Joe listened with rising colour, as though he suspected her to be starting him on a wild whale chase. Zebe carried on fabricating. “Xanthe sent me some of the adulterated dust that they vacuum from the cage.”
Zebe shrugged. “We’re sisters. Twins. We play games. We send each other mysterious stuff to try and identify. We award each other points for winning and losing.”
Joe narrowed his eyes. “I’m waiting to hear about the krill.”
Zebe turned to the curtained-off tank and switched on its internal display lights in the passing. Swept the curtaining aside. Almost said, Ta-rah! Turned back just in time to see Joe’s face as white as if his blood had drained away. Like he was the walking dead. He pointed at the display with a trembling finger.
The water was bluish and clouded like a gassy underwater nebulae, crowded with silvery points, that, as they swam in behind the inset disc of magnifying glass, enlarged to the krill creatures.
Joe pressed up close to the tank and was silent for many minutes. “So what we have here,” he said finally, “is some kind of quick-grow material sprinkled into illegally siphoned off live water! How could you when we have so little! I should sack you for just that!”
Zebe hardly heard Joe’s accusations, he was so impressive in his anger. He turned to face her halfway through his tirade. He was red now, with fury. Cords stood out on his neck. His fists clenched as he stepped toward her.
She a step back, despite her disbelief that he would really do anything.
Laura walked into the wet room, Cele behind her. “Beardy is checking the water levels but I don’t believe Zebe would do anything of the sort,” Cele said.
Joe’s turn to be speechless. He dropped his arms and stood aside as Cele and Laura joined him in front of the tank.
“This is very impressive, Zebe. Would you recommend excitement?” Laura said.
Zebe flicked a glance at Joe. Was it safe for her to say anything?
Cele said, “Leave Zebe to me, Joe. Technically she is my student.”
Technically Cele mentored Zebe and non-technically they were friends. Zebe was fine with Cele saving her if Cele could do that without endangering the dolphinate and Callum.
“I’m definitely on Zebe’s team for this,” Laura said. “What you do to her, you’ll do to me.”
Wow! Laura was going to save Zebe too, when Laura and Zebe were cool because Beardy once upon a time had a thing for Zebe. Zebe had switched to studying corals to get out of Laura’s way.
Beardy put his head around the door. “The water levels are good.”
Cele, Laura, Zebe and even Joe looked at Beardy and then at the tank. Involuntarily. Beardy was the krill fanatic.
Watching them, he came in. Stared at the tank. The swimming creatures. “You stupid bastard!” he said. “You’re a goddamn idiot to even think of sacking Zebe!”
Beardy, though technically a student, never gave anyone respect who didn’t earn it. “If it was me who discovered this little beauty and you sacked me, I’d have been out of here as soon as the words left your gob. On my way to the competition, with my krill.”
Ignoring Joe’s burbles, Beardy grabbed one of his arms. “Laure, get his other arm. Let’s get him out of here so Zebe can get her story out.”
Cele locked the door behind them. “Only to keep them out, not you in.”
“Yeah, that’s okay. It is all a bit amazing.”
Cele smiled. “Not very, when you remember that that little creature is meant to be practically extinct and the water it is swimming in is meant to be the worst poison on the planet. Care to enlighten me?” She gestured at the communication unit listening to every word.
“I can only tell you what I … what I did.” Good thing she was a known stutterer when she was nervous. Thinking the story up a kilometre a minute, she was.
Cele narrowed her eyes. “That’s a good start.”
“Well,” Zebe slid off the bench. Started to walk around a bit. “I filled the tank with water from outside. Not stagnant water. I fed the hose-end into one of the fairly clear pools a bit further out.” Near the dolphinate’s pool, she said with a head gesture and hand movement. Those of the new species who could not speak, signed their wants.
“Got that,” Cele said.
“Tide was rising. I made the intake slow, so the pipes didn’t gurgle and give me away. It took a couple of hours to fill the tank. Then,” Zebe hesitated. “I should really take you through the beginning of it all.”
“No need. Heard it all over the PA. How much of the dust?” Cele said.
“A … a micro … micro … gram in this first tank. Increased by doubling.” Had she just endangered her own sister in favour of Cele?
“What did you mean by adulterated?”
Zebe realised Cele listened closely earlier. The others probably too. “As it was collected. Straight out of the vacuum bag. Mixed with every other kind of dust sucked up that during that shift. You can see the patchy results even in the jars.” She moved to the bench along the wall the others hadn’t even noticed. All the unused jars she could find, all with agar and various amounts of the silvery dust.
“I see. Three of them with hardly any growth.”
“I have an antique microscope in my quarters. So I spent my spare time the day before yesterday separating the silver dust from the grey dust.” For one desperate moment, she wasn’t sure any more whether the alien’s dust was silver.
“The tank had its original furniture … that is, the coral, the sand, and the fake seaweed?” Cele said.
“Yes. I filled the tank with the wild, supposedly dead water. That was going to be my test. To see if it really is dead.”
“Do you think perhaps the dust contained the larvae?”
It couldn’t be more than Cele thinking aloud, testing her thought. Krill larvae in the dry dust from the aliens’ cage in Brisbane? Don’t think so, Cele. Zebe said the impossible. “I think the larvae were in the water, encysted perhaps.” There, she’d said it. What she believed.