By Joanna Sears
(C) Copy write The Monster Zoo
Frank stood on the bridge of the Wavecrest and watched as she ploughed through the waves - he and his capture team were heading south. Far south Antarctica to be precise. Once again Frank inwardly fumed at the time he was wasting. "For goodness sake?" he mentally growled "Three weeks! Three stupid weeks! Just to find some obscure bloody invertebrate." Of course he did now understand why the science team wanted this particular type of Tardegrade. It had been explained that a research base near the southern pole had come across an the corpse of an eaten penquin. "Well devoured," Frank had seen the photographs. The animal had been literally stripped to the bone. But the tiny marks on the carcass had indicated it had been attacked by something miniscule. Namely the microscopic Tardegrade. But one such creature could not in a million years eat a whole penguin. No this one had fallen prey to a swarm. Which was odd Tardegrades had never before shown any signs of pack instinct or even carnivorous tendencies. Something about these tiny creatures had changed. They had clearly under-gone some sort of extreme evolutionary leap. Frank now had the job of tracking them down and getting them back to the Monster Zoo where they could be contained and studied. That was assuming it was only one swarm. Frank hoped it was. If it involved the entire species of Antarctic Tardegrades it could be disastrous for the local fauna and flora? Not just the penguins but also the fish and whales that also populated the far off ocean. Tardegrades were not restricted to land. They could survive in fresh or salt water and ice would pose no problems to them. The door to the bridge opened and Jason stepped in. He was shivering despite the thick winter coat he'd been issued with. "The Lookout reports first sighting of ice off the Starboard bow." He spoke to the Captain not his brother. But it was Frank who activated the ship wide tannoy.
"Attention all personnel Deploy ice breakers icebergs ahead I repeat Icebergs off the starboard bow." Jason smothered a grin as he remembered a pop song from a few years before. The words flittered through his mind.
"There's Klingons on the Starboard bow Starboard bow! There's Klingons of the Starboard bow! Scrape them off Jim!"
Frank returned to his station staring out of the main window as Jason stepped to the rear of the bridge and got himself a hot coffee. He needed it. One of the things he really liked about the Monster zoo was the artificial environments. Especially in the Coravoi Sector where he now resided. Apart from the few Icers, Dragons hated the cold and so did he." His constant companion Chirrup was with him on the trip. Such was the bonding between the pair. Jason was never now separated from his little Fire Lizard. Tanniwa and his mate were still wrapped up caring for their young. The Monster Zoo had celebrated the hatching of nine baby Sand Whirlers. It was a great coup for the whole zoo and now teams were out searching for more potential Sand Whirlers. Most of the searches were centred around the pacific as that was where Tanniwa had been found. Director Rackton was sure there were more but he wanted them safely contained back at the MZ where they could be protected from unscrupulous poachers.
They made landfall just as the sun began to set. "Well ice fall at any rate," Jason grinning mused to himself. The Antarctic base maintained by the MZ was warm and comfortable. Even though he had only trekked about a hundred metres across the ice. Jason was shivering and Chirrup was mewling with cold. Once inside the under-mountain base, the investigation team under Frank's command were directed to some fairly standard guest quarters. The base commander formally welcomed his guests at the evening meal. In total there were forty three visitors, ten of whom had arrived separately and were from Russia. The full time base compliment numbered fifty eight but they weren't phased by the influx. Scientists from all over the world made use of the high tech facilities offered by the MZ. It was a merry bunch that feasted together that evening. At least at first but then. A steward knocked over a pitcher of water. "Aagh!" One of the MZ team yelped in pain and leapt to his feet. "Something just bit me!" he cried out "Ow!" four separate medics dashed towards him. Others now were also also crying out. Jason stood up and moved backl from the table he'd been sitting at - as much as anything to protect Chirrup. Frank leaned forward to peer at the spilled water. It seemed to be flowing in an odd manner, Bubbling and shifting. He felt in his belt pouch for the small magnifying glass he always carried. He focussed it on a small droplet that had become separated fron the main spillage. His eyebrows shot up. "Well I'm blowed." He murmured. "I think we've found our assailent and our quarry." He straightened up. "Everybody step back from the tables!" he barked the order then turned to Kurt Wood; the station's captain and asked. "Where do you get your drinking water?"
"We distill it from the ice itself."
"And how is it stored?"
"In casks outside to keep it cool and prevent stagnation." Frank shook his head then ordered all stored water to be boiled to beyond the generally accepted sterilization temperature. Kurt frowned at him. "You've been invaded!" Frank said He picked up a fresh jug of water from a nearby table. "Walt!" be called out. "Yeah! Boss?"
"Break out the magnification tank!"
"Everyone else IF you have taken water pour it back intot hepitchers Nobody drinkk anything. Adam!" the Wavecrest second in command stood up. Fire up the ships purification generator and link into the base water supply The whole system needs flushing."
It took half an hour but soon everybody on the base had been issued with bottled water from the Wavecrest its tanks were easily able to support the few hundred presently residing on the Antartic base. It was enough to sustain everyone overnight. But washing and showering were forbidden until Frank was sure the base was cleared of the infestation. Meanwhile the magnification tank had been unloaded and set up in the main base laboratory. All the water from the evening meal plus two further storage kegs were emptied into the unique tank. With seconds of turning on the ultra sensitive magnificatiion system people were gasping and crowding round to view what Frank had spotted in the tiny droplet. "What are they?" A scientist asked. "They are not like any Tardegrade I've ever seen." Frank look to Captain Wood.
"If memory serves me correctly there was a tanker lost out this way a year or so back?" Wood nodded
"Yes a Japanese freighter went down about fifty miles south of the Antartic shelf about fifteen months ago. Their government has long denied it but we suspected it was carrying toxic waste as a number of seal carcasses washed up badly burned by some sort of unidentifierd chemical."Frank inhaled angrily.
"The Fools!" he fumed for several seconds trying to get his rage under control then finally he growled. "I'm afraid people we have got ourselves a mutoid species. He leaned to one side to pick up a slab of meat."Everybody stand well back. Adam make sure the tank is secure."
"It is sir!" Frank nodded then using a feeding trap in one corner he carefully slid a large slab of raw beef steak into the water. Almost immediately the newly discovered species went berserk trying to eat the food
"Blimey!" Jason muttered. "They like Piranha."
"Exactly!" his brother concurred. "But now we are faced with initiating clean up and containment procedures. If these little buggers are part Tardegrade? God knows how far they could have spread."
To be continued