A Time To Krill

HollywoodBefore every surf session I warm up on the beach.  It keeps me loose and responsive when I hit the water.  I’m about to go through a final full edit of my upcoming novel Silversides and below was my warm up exercise. (This short has nothing to do with the novel Silversides)

A first-person Sci-Fi detective named Stasch, titled A Time to Krill

Primal. It was the first word that came to mind when I entered the building, but it was the smell of sour tapioca and human waste that hit me square in the face. It seems that everything we do, for the sake of hygiene, is designed to mask this smell, but Natural Selection is an unrelenting force and this scent stays with us; humanity’s true signature.  I’m convinced it was our key to survival because no predator wanted any part of us and moved onto better smelling prey. I mean why is it that a day old kitten or puppy has enough sense to walk away from its own feces but a human baby would be happy to remain in a pile of it until removed? HA! I never lose this argument at a club, talk’n to the ladies with their designer scents, Eau de CRISPR, but then again they see me as an asshole and leave before I can close the argument. It’s what I need to do in my business. No one wants to hire a nice guy in what I do.

Stepping back outside I took in some fresh air and held my breath before reentering the conservatory (what a joke) then waded through the tide of human husks shuffling under the flickering lights of spent ballasts, their opened smocks and stained thighs as disturbing as seeing their arms curled up before them like human krill. They were staring beyond me, their mouths turned down and opened, sucking in on the pain, the intravenous bots at their sides like lamprey.

When I approached reception the waist-on-up android behind the glowing countertop was happy to great me, its hands folded neatly, the wig plopped on top neither male nor female in style.

“My name is Mauri. May I help you?” it said.

It was an outdated androgynous model made during the height of PC-tarianism and at least a decade old, its lips slightly out of sync with the synth box buried within.

“My name is Stasch. I got a tXT from a…” and I rolled my wrist to glance at the pane on my sleeve. “From a Milo Kee-van-is-tov, I said trying to pronounce it phonetically?”


The android gazed through me searching its DAT. “I’m sorry. We do not seem to have a guest here by that name.”


“Maybe Milo isn’t a guest.” I responded. “Maybe Milo works here.”


The android seemed to freeze as if stuck in a processing loop. “Ah yes. Milo Kivanastov. SubOS Custodian. He no longer works for us.”

“Check again. I received a stream from here, from Milo, early this morning…” glancing again at the pane, “at 04:32 to be exact.”


Another freeze, longer this time.  I couldn’t help but look up to mirrored wall beyond the android as if someone were at the controls.

“Milo’s contract ended with us at 06:00 this morning.”

“How convenient. You mean he was terminated.” I added.

“We try to avoid the phrase, terminated, here at the Lodge,” the android replied with a loving smile and tilt of the head right on queue.


“Can you tell me the SubOS outfit Milo worked for? I would like to apply for the vacancy,” I said knowing that if I asked where I could find Milo I would get a canned response of privacy protection. Which is crap. Nothing is private anymore.

“I do apologize, Mr. Stasch, but our CIS appears to be offline at the moment. Routine maintenance. Please try back later.”

“Never mind. I’ll run my own scrub on Milo,” I answered smartly with a wink to the mirror. My talk was shit, but I might as well make the string-puller sweat for a minute or two. My scrub search on Milo would turn up everything about Milo, but without Milo there would be no payment. I should have dropped this contract right then and there but I had nothing else going on and something bothered me about this one. There was no human activity around me other than the damaged trolling the halls and the android behind the counter was concealing, not something androids are known for.

I dropped a vCard to the android and left.  Let’s see who tugs on my line.

Figuring Milo ran the night stack and was a bit of a scumbag I walked the nearby streets looking for shitholes he might frequent. If I were Milo, I’d want some coffee and a vape and I found one called the Wanda Inn–bamboo shades drawn down tightly with a tilted flickering pink LED OPEN sign in the window. The door handle was sticky and a synthetic gong announced my entrance when I stepped inside. It was beyond dim as if night itself had not yet awakened and the air was crisp against my throat.  Behind the empty counter was a stocky woman, I think, whose arms were almost as big as my own but not as pretty. I placed my hands on the countertop where they could be seen.

“You must be Wanda.” I said in a raspy voice.

“You want coffee, fuckhead?” said Wanda with a raised chin and deep voice, which convinced me she was a he.

“As dark as the lighting in here,” I answered.

Wanda turned and grabbed a mug from the shelf and blew into it to rid the dust then poured a viscous stream of blackness to the brim and sloshed the mug onto the counter in front of me, the burnt smell of chicory an assault on my senses.  I hate chicory.

“Thanks. But not for the coffee,” I said and tapped on my pane to transfer two-hundred DASH to the address chalked onto the mirror behind Wanda and waited until Wanda’s wallet chirped and he looked down to see the transfer. “You ever serve a guy in here by the name of Milo?” I asked. “That would be a yes or no.” and I leaned in a little closer. “But a No and the next two-hundred DASH never reaches you. However, an answer of YES and you need to tell me something I can use.” I then whispered in my best Hollywood DeepOps voice, “But if the information turns out to be shit, I will be back to kick your ass.  And I mean that literally. I will sneak up and give you a swift kick in the ass and disappear before you can get up. You will get pissed-off, but with no one in sight you will move on.  And then a week or so goes by, maybe at a bodega, CryptoTeller or charging station, I give you another swift kick, a little harder this time, and you stay down a little longer because something feels broken.  And this goes on and on until you start to look for me everywhere you go. Trust me, no sane person wants that. Is that understood, Wanda Bergen of 8518 NE Banyan Street? You live just around the corner from here, right? Dirty white stucco duplex, top right corner? Blue awnings, one of which is a little ripped?”

Wanda’s voice was suddenly an octave higher and a little more compliant, but it was probably the promise of the additional two hundred DASH that made him talk.

“Yes… Milo did come in almost every morning… a little after six.”

I raised my brow for Wanda to continue.

“He worked the night shift at the River Lake Lodge. You know… God’s waiting room, two blocks up from here?”

“Was he here this morning?“

No.” Wanda replied. His mouth suddenly dry and he poured a half beer from the tap and took a quick sip, waxing a foam mustache and a lick clean of the tongue.

“Did he ever talk shop with you?” I asked.

“Only that the inmates… I mean the guests,” he said as if I were PC concerned, “were basket cases and once in awhile he would… you know?…. “ Wanda said taking another sip and a lick.

I raised my brow again.  Wanda was a quick study.

“You know…. the pretty ones,” he said with a forced smile.

I understood Wanda’s meaning, but that was not what I was after. “Did he ever tell you anything about the place itself or the people running it?

“Not that I–”

I slammed my fist on the countertop, startling not only Wanda, but also the detritus hibernating in the booths behind me. “Think Wanda.  Was there anything Milo said that made you curious? Anything such as activity happening after hours, strange people coming or going… shipments in or out, missing guests?…. That kind of thing!” I felt like I was getting nowhere so with one hand I opened my vest slightly to reveal the stock of my Russian made tecNIK while my other hand ran my down my face for whatever reason people do that other than it feels right to do it out of frustration.

Wanda took another slug.  He was visibly shaken and just where I wanted him.  

“Well…. he had this hidden chair between some cabinets just off the lobby in a camera dead spot and told me about a conversation he overheard about something called Triplex.”

Another raise of the brow.

“Ah.. I never heard of Triplex.”

“Did he say he knew who was doing the talking?”

“No.  Other than the tin can sitting at the desk he never met anyone who worked there.  They worked in another part of the building he had no access to.”

”Did he ever tell you what was going on in that area?”

“No… I don’t think so.  He said the tin can warned him that if he ever tried to gain access he would be terminated.  The tin-can creeped him out and he needed the job.“

I transferred another two hundred DASH to his account and left.

The sun was making its way over the canyon tops, shrouded in blue haze from the constant fires—La blue as we call it.  I hopped onto my bike and headed home to just below the ruin of scaffolding where the Hollywood sign once stood.  I have lived here as long as I can remember and where my famous grandparents lived before me. I was told this area used to be desirable, where the hillsides were rimed with swank and out-of-sight priced homes of former stars and movie moguls.  But when appSTAR made directors and producers out of everyone and avatars became the new stars, their human likenesses were reduced to ribbon cutting and signing autographs and could no longer afford to live here. Well that and a few large quakes……

TO BE CONTINUED AT SOME POINT.

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When sci-if meets science (Silversides)

Real Science inspires SciFi

This is exactly what I have been looking for in a the mask that my characters in the novel, Silversides, wear when they first land on Gliese 581 g to protect themselves against biologicals they yet do not have immunities for. It is so awesome to finally have a clear image, which makes writing a bit easier. The real science fiction is behind the concept of this mask, an artist’s rendition, of the research coming out of Denmark for a new material synthesized from cobalt to extract and store oxygen eliminating the need of oxygen tanks.   Now back to editing….

Excerpt from Silversides: Chapter Five

Kulcn stepped out from the shuttle with the bleed of oxygen rushing past him, the last of Earth’s oxygen as it diffused into the atmosphere. He paused to read the input on the lens before descending the ramp, and by the time his boots touched the ground the white microtiles of his suit and mask had turned a charcoal black to match the color of the sand. The other Silversides followed, their suits fluxing from the bottom up as if they had walked into a pool of black ink.

Interview on WLFR 91.7 FM

In September of 2015, I was invited on WLFR.fm during Mark Grossman’s Eclectic Journey segment, talking about WLFR Radio Stockton University (my alum) of my Sci-Fi, November Seed, and a little about the music and genre of Sci-Fi  that inspires me to write.  November Seed has been available for FREE on: Amazon, Offworlders.com, Wattpad and Smashwords and has been receiving glowing reviews for me to continue the saga (which I will).   Below is a recording of that session

You can stream Mark’s Eclectic Journey every Wednesday (3:00 PM –> 6:00 PM) from the internet by going to wlfr.fm

If you are fortunate to live in South jersey, you can catch it on the radio at FM 91.7 on your dial.WLFR_Coverage

Where Do Sci-Fi Writers Get Their Ideas? Part I

GroveBar

I was chill’n at one of my favorite places tucked away in Port Salerno, FL called the Grove Dock Bar & Cafe.  In fact, this exact longitude and latitude was the inspiration for the sequel to my upcoming sci-fi (Silversides) and where Chapter one starts in the year 2026.  This place is a BYOF (bring your own Food)… You provide the food, they provide the drinks.  Kind of tells ya how local and tucked away it is.GroveBar_2

A place where the view and ambiance normalizes the playing field for people of all social and economic circles– where at the end of the day we’re just people of the same planet all enjoying the same thing… a great conversation surrounded by simplest of things.

GroveBar_3I had brought an artist friend here for the first time last year and he fell in love with it, although, he sat down right in front of the mermaid holding up the roof and when he looked up he laughed, then said, “Kind of intimidating.”  He was 80 at the time but still managed to jump over the door into my ’62 Austin Healey Sprite when I picked him up. He scared the shit out of me, “Guy! Whoa… what are you doing?  I can’t even do that.”

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I always wanted to do that,” he smiled.  “Promise we can come back.”    When this el Niño takes a break and it warms up in southern FL, I will fulfill that promise to Guy.

So what inspires me for a story line?  I suppose the simplest of things.  For Silversides, it was this bar.  I came home one day and pounded out a complete chapter of what I thought it would be like here in 2026 with not a clue of what would follow. Five hundred pages later and 20 light years away, the first draft is done and editing is moving along nicely.  For November Seed, it was a common reed called Phragmites that launches all their seeds during the first cold snap in November. A private holiday for me.  Writing From Europa With Love, the inspiration was from a stunning image I saw on the internet of Jupiter’s moon Europa and a contest dare to write about it.  Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, you just need to look deep enough for it and not skim the surface.  When I hear writers say, ‘don’t know what to write about’, that drives me crazy.  I have five novels started with five more ideas waiting after that.

Here is a perfect example of something anyone can write about.  Watch this fantastic mini-documentary and learn what inspired the creator.  Then transport yourself to some remote outpost on a dust-blown rock of a moon where intra-stellar wars were fought and the moon was declared too dangerous for humans to colonize because of undocumented arsenals left behind.   And your protagonist finds herself here, clearing a plot for she and her fusion powered robotic dog to spend the only remaining time she has left.  In a place no one will come looking for her, and if they do, only she knows where all the nasty stuff lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why role-playing is good for writers (costumes optional)

Starcraft Medic by Kim Yong SuYou see this type of writing, often, in new writers, like myself.

He was afraid to look up at her, but when he did, he was surprised at how easy that was.

 Yikes! Is right.  That was written without the experience of it.

You can improve your writing dramatically when you learn to role-play.   So put the laptop or keyboard to the side and stand up. Get into your character’s head and look down at your feet.   Now pretend he or she is standing in front of you. Lift your head.

How were you standing?  What did you see?  What were you feeling? Was it something like…

He was afraid to look up, his gloves placed neatly by his side, his focus on the single blueberry shaped stone that rolled beneath his boot.

 Now look up, idiot, before she leaves, he told himself.

She was slight, with thin ankles disappearing beneath the cuffs of her EVA that, like her eyes, were a pale blue. To his surprise, her parted smile made him feel, at ease. There, that wasn’t so bad. Now say something…

 “Hey…” he said without thinking… There, you said it… his shyness slipping further away…

Ok, so aside from the wordiness, you now see and feel what your character is experiencing and you conveyed that to your readers.  Trim it. Print it.

I often do this when I don’t quite feel the writing is expressing what I want it to. For anyone watching me, I might look a bit crazy, typing away then suddenly stop… get up and walk to the other side of the room, relax, shake out my arms, turn around and start to walk back, as if my character is entering the scene. Try doing that at a Starbucks… LOL. I write at home these days…  Eventually, you will need to do less of this as the writing improves. But there are always times you should express this type of role-playing, no matter how good you think you are.

I am in the editing phase of a sci-fi novel which takes place twenty light years away in the solar system of Gliese 581, specifically on 581 g, a planet in tidal lock orbit around its sun—a red dwarf, dimmer than our own. I had always been a bit leery of my expression of the lighting, trying to get across what being on the surface of Gliese 581 g would be like. Sure, pictures help, but how do I experience that?  Do I try writing in the dark or wear sunglasses?

Pluto_Surface_light_2It was not until I read a post on www.io9 about an artist rendering of what it would be like to sit on Pluto and see what one might see—our sun a pinpoint in the distance. One of the replies to the post questioned the artist’s licensing of how much light there would be. Instead of knocking the artist’s judgment, that clever person did some research and found a NASA site, called Pluto Time.

Pluto_Timewhere you plug in your location and it tells you what time of day you should go outside to see exactly what the brightest part of a day on Pluto would look like. So I did. I plugged in my location (NYC) and it spit out that my optimal viewing time would be 6:54 PM on September 24th, 2015.  This type of role-playing I think will provide the needed perspective in my editing.  It does not have to mimic exactly, but I hope to have an experience to recall what that was like, pretending to be on Gliese 581 g.

PlutoLightSo, as my Amazon Echo announced my alarm at exactly 6:54 PM, I stepped outside my city apartment and had a look and walk around.  Not bad.  I could see easily and it was a beautiful evening sky, everything seemed to have this softness to it, an attribute I had not considered.   I cannot stress how valuable this experience was for me, as I now trail behind my characters, following them on their trek and seeing what they are seeing. Costumes, optional.

SpectralTypeFor any AstroProgrammers out there reading this, it would be great to take the Pluto-Time model and expand it for other star-types, etc.  For example:  You select from a series of dropdown menus a star type and distance away, and it asks for you to enter in your location and it spits out what time of day to go outside, which closely resembles what the lighting might be like. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss the little stuff

I had just finished writing a sci-fi serial on OffWorlders.com called, Kulcin’s Law, where most of the story takes place in Jupiter’s realm, with several flights in and out of Europa’s orbit.  I missed a bit of detail that would have been a nice morsel to the hard core readers and that was a simple line taking into account the ship’s roll on approach.

This gif taught me a lesson, that even though I can’t go there, my mind can.  Don’t miss the little stuff.

Click on this animated GIF of Saturn and see what I am referring to.

 

 

 

Now available on OffWorlders.com – November Seed

I am very excited to announce that November Seed is now available on www.OffWorlders.com  for a limited time of .99 cents, before going back to its regular price of $1.49.  To get this sale price, click on the image below.

OffWorlders_November_Seed

OffWorlders_siteI recently selected www.OffWorlders.com to make my novella, November Seed, available to Sci-Fi readers everywhere.  I love this innovative and content rich site and what the folks at OffWorlders are doing here–putting authors in close contact with their readers.  This is more than just a distribution point for authors and I wanted to get in early.  I see great things happening here at OffWorlders, so follow along where I, and other authors, hope to post some short sci-fi in the near future.

OffWorlders_Feature_David_Nadas

 

November Seed

Available now on Amazon.com (Click here)

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Two field biologists from N.J. Fish & Wildlife discover a pair of waterfowl clinging to a metal cleat with twig-like growths protruding from their skulls and have traced the contagion to a common marsh grass called Phragmites. Shortly after their reporting to the CDC, the contagion has found a human host, then another and another. In less than 24 hours, Phragmites will release their seed to the world, carrying the contagion with it. The event happens quickly and is known among those who study this grass as, November Seed.

 

This novella began as a warm up exercise for my upcoming Sci-Fi novel, Silversides.  Word by word, this idea began to grow with encouragement from family and friends who persuaded me to publish it and I’m glad they did.

Every November, in the northeast, when the air is crisp and strong gusts sweep against a quilted sky,  Phragmites will jettison their seed in one spectacular and wondrous event that can easily be mistaken for the first flurries of the season.  But their legions are once again on the move, quietly increasing their ranks.

When I write, l listen to music.  It inspires and guides me along the way. Below are the two  pieces I listened to when I wrote this.  Enjoy.

Excerpt:

“Shit!” Matt said under his breath as he reached blindly into the dark, his fingers almost knocking the chirping phone from the nightstand.  Swiping the screen cast a dim light into the bedroom and connected to a voice on the far end that spoke rapidly.

“Whoa!” Matt cut in, trying to rub the haze from his eyes. “Dan? Is that you?” He asked recognizing the voice.

“Of course it’s me! Who else would I be?”

Dan’s alertness was pulling Matt from his sleep. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” Dan responded.   “That’s not important right now.”

Laurie, Matt’s wife, began to stir at his side. She was half asleep with her cheek buried into the pillow, her voice sounding like the vocal fry of so many young girls these days.

“Who is that?”

Matt held the phone away from his ear but could still hear Dan’s frantic voice.

“It’s Jake.  From State Farm.”

“You’re such an asshole,” she half laughed. “It’s Dan, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s sounds frantic, but I think so.  Go back to sleep,” he whispered, and returned the phone to his ear.

“Dan! I haven’t been listening to a word you were saying. Slow down.” Matt sat up and draped his legs over the side of the bed where the crisp November air was dense at his feet.  Laurie liked to sleep with the window cracked open, but on Matt’s side of the bed.  The murderer’s side she called it, the side closest to the door. It was freezing, so he pulled the duvet cover up along his shoulders and squinted his eyes, finally able to see the time on his phone.

“It’s three in the morning Dan!  This can’t wait a few hours?”

“Matt, you need to get to the President of the United States!” Dan shouted into the phone.

Laurie rose up on her elbows. “Is it really three o’clock?”

Matt pushed the phone into his lap to muffle the volume.

“Yes, but try and go back to sleep.  If it’s important, I’ll wake you.”  Content, she sank beneath the covers with only a tuft of blond hair poking out.

“Dan!  Dan!” Matt’s harsh whisper silencing him for the moment.  “You woke Laurie.”

“Tell Laurie I’m sorry, but you need to get to the President, Matt!  We don’t have much time. I checked the weather; we have a day, two at best.  It might already be too late.“

“Too late for what? What are you talking about? I don’t think being a field manager qualifies me to get in touch with the President of the United States.  Are you stoned?”

“Matt!  The Phragmites!” Dan shouted through the phone.

“Oh Christ,” Matt yawned. “You woke me at three in the morning to tell me about your alien invasion? Dan, it was funny two nights ago and you almost had me there,” Matt whispered, cupping his hand around the phone.  “But we were both stoned and it’s not funny right now.”

“No, no, no. It’s not what I originally thought!  It’s different.  I’ve got new data.  It’s more than–” Dan managed to say before Matt swiped the phone, disconnecting the call.  He sat there, shaking his head in disbelief, then threw the phone back onto the nightstand, his jellyfish screen saver rippling a dull green throughout the room.  Matt plucked his feet from the cold and slid them beneath the crisp cotton sheets; his eyes were wide open, his head resting on the palms of his hands behind him.  He almost started to laugh. Two nights ago, Dan pulled out a vaporizer and some Mango Krush— “medicinal”, Dan contended and began to spin his hypothesis that Phragmites was not brought to the US from Europe, as early botanists had thought, but was an aggressive alien species spreading along brackish waters of every shoreline in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, working its way inland.  Dan’s basis was that Phragmites was seeded by a distantly traveled probe terraforming Earth ahead of an invading entity.

Matt’s phone began to chirp, and the trill of the MP3 told him it was Dan calling back. Groaning, he sprang up in time to answer on the second loop.

“Dan! I’m up now. So is Laurie.  I am going to get dressed and will be there in half an hour.  Have some fresh coffee for me–I mean that!” He ended the call before Dan could say another word.

Laurie was sitting with her knees drawn up under the covers.  There was concern in her voice. “Is it serious?”

Matt’s chuckle eased her concern. “I can’t think of the last time Fish & Wildlife of South Jersey was ever serious, but when he gets excited like this, my phone will keep ringing. I promise to call you if it’s anything to worry about.  Now please, go back to sleep.  No reason both of us need to be up right now,” he said through a yawn.  “You still have four hours, so enjoy it.” He leaned over and placed his dry lips against hers. She purred and slid beneath the covers then peeked back at him with a smile, his screen saver shutting off, plunging them both into darkness.  Sliding once more to the edge of the bed, he threw back the duvet and placed his feet onto the floorboards.  They were cold. He rushed toward the bathroom, his naked body in full isometrics, his arms crossed in front of his chest.  Colder still were the bathroom tiles as he flipped on the light switch expecting to see his breath.

Matt and his wife Laurie lived in a bungalow on the south end of Ocean City, NJ, where the view every morning of Corson’s Inlet was a welcome site.   But the night’s freezing rain, like a heavy tablecloth, had weighted the bayberry branches to the ground and the sound of frozen sand crunching beneath his feet made for an unwelcome walk to his truck. It took some effort to open the frozen door and then start the engine before getting on his way. Backing out of his driveway he drove up West Avenue, hunched forward with knots in his back and the cold air from the vents stabbing at him, but grateful the traffic lights were in winter mode, giving him a clear run without having to stop every hundred yards. Ten minutes later he was merging onto the Parkway North. There were no taillights to follow and no headlights approaching from the southbound lanes.  The temperature outside of his vintage Land Rover was 21 degrees, while the heater inside continued to blow cool air and the frost from his breath fogged the windshield.   Even the sign for Exit 29 seemed a wish for the day’s high as he veered off and followed the ramp, the left blinker dimming as he slowed.  He stopped, looked both ways and felt the solitude before turning left onto May’s Landing Road.  A few minutes later he arrived at Somerset Cove Marina where a sign hung on rusted chains, stenciled with NJ Fish & Wildlife, Tuckahoe Branch Lab.  Matt turned right onto the gravel road, the tires picking up anything they could to assault the wheel wells.

Dan could see Matt heading toward the lab as the headlights from his truck bounced along the ruts and potholes.

When Matt pulled into the lab parking lot, Dan yanked open the passenger side door and jumped in, rubbing his hands together for warmth. He looked terrible, with dark circles under his bloodshot eyes and his sparse facial hair giving him a Fu Manchu look.

“Dude! You look like shit.” Matt remarked.

Matt, it’s incredible.  You have to see this!”

“Can we get out of the truck? I’m freezing.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Dan said, nodding with thought as he bolted from the passenger side, leaving the door open for the cold to take his place.  Dan was back in the lab before Matt could turn off the key and wait for the engine to cough out a few misfires in protest. He grabbed his pack, circled the truck to shut the passenger door and climbed the stairs.  He was glad to see Dan had stacked some wood outside the door and could smell the burning oak in the air.  Inside was paradise; the wood stove glowing in the corner next to the tattered leather couch he often studied on and the smell of freshly ground coffee was worth the early ride in.

“Fresh ground Sumatra, half & half poured first, coffee second, right?” Dan recited, handing Matt his first cup.  Guilt quickly set in as Matt put things in perspective. He would never want another partner or be in need of a better friend.  They were college pals from Stockton in South Jersey; MARS majors taking a surf break between classes when they met on an empty street in the north end of Atlantic City back in the late nineties.  It was a November day just like this, west wind, ebbing tide and shoulder high barrels peeling off the jetty.  Matt and Dan had arrived at the same time, racing to pull on their wetsuits, when a squad of police cars flooded onto the street, the officers jumping out, guns drawn, running toward them.  Matt and Dan faced off, reasoning the other was the cause, only to see the officers rush between them and up the stoop into the building, shots firing.  They grabbed their boards and coolly walked to the beach, like this happened every day, neither willing to show they were scared shitless.   By the time they hit the water they were the best of friends.

Back in the lab, Dan led Matt to the negative pressure hoods with several glass slides scattered about.

“I need you to check this out.  I’ve got a live culture going, but have no idea what I’m looking at.  I’m hoping you’ve seen this before.” Dan said as he ushered Matt to the scope.

“How long have you been here?” Matt asked, reluctant to surrender the warmth of the mug as he placed it onto the table; his hands were just starting to warm.

“Oh, I don’t know, Saturday morning?” Dan responded, not sure himself.  All Matt could do was gesture with a nod and peer into the eyepiece.  He was confused by what lay before him.  Highly magnified were parallel rows of crystalline structures, resembling marine plankton.  Unlike plankton, these intricate structures were replicating with agility and no sign of mitosis; the way a 3-D printer forms something, layer by layer. Lifting away from the eyepiece, Matt looked at the magnification setting.  The structures were just under 1 mm wide. He returned to the scope and observed the elongated horns of the crystals locked into one another like an Escher drawing. There was a latticework of filaments weaving through the hollow cavities, as if they were nerves passing through vertebra. Matt pulled away from the eyepiece to look at Dan.

“Dude, I have never seen anything like this?  Where did this come from and what’s the petri medium?  It looks like blood!”

Dan handed Matt a pair of gloves and a mask. “Here, put these on. And it is blood.”  That got Matt’s attention.  He led Matt to the far section of the lab and walked him through the necropsy of a pair of American Bitterns, common along the estuaries of the east coast.  They were splayed out on dissecting trays under a set of hoods.  Each bittern had a twig-like growth, attached to the base of the cranium, just below the occipital plate.  Each twig curved outward along the skull, then shot straight up, like antenna with elaborate branching, each unique.  Dan pointed out the small bladders at each bifurcation of the twigs.  He had carefully cut away one of the skulls to reveal the growth inside.  There was no mistaking that the twigs had punctured the cranial cavity, from the inside out, while a chord of tendrils had branched into specific areas of the brain.