En route to Monarch Facility Zulu. Location: Classified. Present Day.
Serizawa's phone buzzed in his pocket. His heart leaped as he pulled it out and saw the name on the display: Bill Randa. The sole survivor of the Skull Island Incident, and the current Director of Monarch. At the same time, Graham produced her phone, which was also vibrating, and their eyes met. He hesitated, then pushed the "accept" prompt and put it to his ear. "Serizawa here."
Vivienne did the same. "And Graham."
"Hello, Doctors," replied the gravelly voice of the Monarch director. "I assume you've been briefed on where you're going and what you're doing?"
"Yes, sir. If I may ask, how did the meeting with the Council go?"
"Better than I'd feared, worse than I'd hoped. I'll send you two all the details soon, but in a nutshell, the Council is very disappointed with our performance over this past decade…I would be too, in their place. Two horrible monster attacks in six years, and what have we delivered? True, we helped stop those MUTOs from overrunning the world, but the Council made it very clear that if we don't find a way to significantly reduce the damage of the next attack, or stop it completely, then Monarch will be dissolved."
"But, sir," Graham asked. "How are we supposed to do that when we don't even know when or where the next attack will happen?"
"I was considering that problem myself, Doctor. Firstly, we need to figure out a way to track these creatures. Any ideas?"
Serizawa answered, "There is someone who was able to track and record the MUTOs' calls, sir. A civilian named Joe Brody. But he turned us down when we tried to recruit him."
"Ah yes, Joe Brody." Randa's voice turned thoughtful. "I remember you telling me about him. Why did he turn you down? I'm sure his reasons are filed in a report somewhere, but I'd rather hear it from you."
Serizawa nodded at his colleague. She replied, "He seems to hold us partially responsible for his son Ford's death, and I would guess that he feels the same way about the death of his wife in the first Janjira Incident, in 1999. I don't think he would want to work with an organization that specializes in studying the creatures that killed his wife and son."
"I can understand that, though it's not very rational. Did either of you, by any chance, tell him about the people you've lost?"
"We made the implication, sir," Vivienne responded. "But we didn't want to push him too much. We weren't getting through to him very well, if at all. Perhaps if you could speak to him…?"
"Oh, no. That wouldn't be a good idea, Dr. Graham. You know me—I've never been a people person like you. Which begs the question of how I landed this job…anyway, you said he 'partially' blames us for his wife and son's death. Who else do you think he holds responsible?"
"Well, the MUTOs, of course. But I'm also certain that he blames himself most of all. If you remember, sir, his son, Ford, came to Japan to help him get out of jail for trespassing in the Janjira QZ, which set them on the path that lead to Ford's death. He also advised his son to try and destroy the MUTOs' nest if at all possible, for which we believe the female killed Ford in revenge."
"Interesting…I may have an idea to get him onboard. Alright, I'll let you two go; tracker shows you're almost at the facility. You have a lot of work to do, Doctors. Good luck."
"And to you, sir," Serizawa said and hung up. He turned his gaze out the helicopter window, where forested mountains passed away beneath them as far as the eye could see.
As Randa predicted, the pilot soon called back to them: "Coming up on our destination, docs!" Over the next mountain, the buildings of Monarch Facility Zulu came into view. The largest one had a helipad on top, which the pilot maneuvered the craft towards.
An hour later, Serizawa and Graham had donned NBC suits and were poking through the remains of the deceased adult MUTOs in a massive, radiologically-shielded lab. They spent six days on that examination before moving on to the babies. Not all of them were burned; while inspired, Ford's hastily-improvised gasoline explosive hadn't managed to destroy all the eggs. However, since their food source—the nuclear warhead—was taken by Ford's comrades, the survivors who did hatch quickly died of starvation. By the time Monarch had secured the site, none of the MUTOlings were still alive. Serizawa almost regretted that…almost. We could have learned much from living specimens…that would have been at a more manageable size than their parents. Each one was about as large as a Golden Retriever, regardless of gender—their sizes would probably have diverged later in their lives.
"Moving to lower abdomen," Graham said. Serizawa grabbed hold of their current specimen—an unburnt male, judging by the wings—to keep the body steady as she used her scalpel to make another incision in the creature's lower body. She then put the tool down and grasped the male's left hind leg, while Serizawa shifted his grip to the corresponding right leg. "On three." Graham counted, "One…two…three!"
The two scientists pulled, and the MUTOling's abdomen strained for a heartbeat before it split open with a wet splorch. They took a few moments to catch their breath before resuming their examination, taking pictures with a lead-coated camera to document their progress. Its digestive system outwardly looked somewhat similar to that of other animals before and after the Radiozoic Period, but its intestines were short and linear, and its "stomach" had few muscles with a small hollow space at the center, surrounded by strange, spongy, dark tissue similar in color the creature's skin. Serizawa placed some samples of the dark tissue in test tubes for later analysis, and then helped Graham scoop the digestive system out of the body so they could analyze what was under it.
A single, ovular, whitish organ nestled up against the spinal cord caught Serizawa's eye. It was slightly less than a quarter the size of a ping-pong ball. "Testis," he said, pointing to it.
Graham nodded. "It doesn't look very much like the adult male, but that's to be expected." The adult's testis had a fan of fractal-like projections radiating out from its center mass.
"But, I feel like it looks familiar, somehow…" Serizawa murmured under his breath.
"What was that?"
"…nothing." Serizawa shook his head and the two scientists continued their work. Several hours later, they had finished with the baby male and a female, and weariness was tugging at their limbs. Sweat beaded on their skin, despite their suits' built-in air-conditioning systems. He could see Graham's eyes drooping through the glass of her helmet, and his muscles burned with fatigue.
"Let's call it for today, sensei."
"No, I am okay. We can keep going," he responded, trying and failing to keep his voice from slurring with exhaustion.
"We have been examining these creatures twelve hours a day for the past week. We will not do anyone a favor by working ourselves until we collapse. We need to stop and get some food and rest."
Serizawa hesitated, and then conceded her point. "…very well." He pushed a button on the wrist of his suit. "We are done for today. Start decontamination procedures."
"Affirmative, Dr. Serizawa!" came the radioed reply. With that, the two scientists shuffled towards the exit to the lab.
An hour afterward, they had exited their NBC suits, finished the final radiation checks, and were eating hearty meals while comparing notes on the creatures. A plate full of food…a luxury many these days do not get. But Serizawa was too tired to feel guilty about feasting during a Depression for long. The two scientists soon finished their dinners, being sure to not let any go to waste, and returned their dishes to the facility's kitchens. They then proceeded to their quarters—two small rooms, right next to each other. After saying goodnight, Serizawa changed into his nightclothes and fell into bed with a relieved sigh. But sleep eluded him initially…the male MUTOling's testis still bothered him. Where have I seen that before? The Japanese man tossed and turned for half an hour, but his sleep-deprived mind refused to provide him with answers. With a sigh, he decided to try some meditation techniques his father had taught him. I hope that with a good night's sleep, I can get to the root of this issue.
The meditation paid off, and before long Serizawa was fast asleep.
Monarch Black Site, area once known as "Central Park", former New York City. January 22nd, 2008.
The retrofitted tank growled forward, the massive drill on its gun turret whining as it spun up. The whine turned into an earsplitting screech when the drill made contact with the Large Scale Aggressor's skin, and Serizawa winced despite the noise-cancelling headphones he wore. Beside him, Graham wrote something down on her notepad and showed it to him. Here's hoping this one doesn't shatter like the last few drills did.
He nodded. The engineers had installed a blast shield at the drill's base in case that happened, and they along with all the other personnel had retreated to a safe distance, outside the radius of any shrapnel. Still, he couldn't help feeling rather frustrated—if they had to go to such extreme lengths just to cut the LSA's skin, there was no way they could examine the creature properly before it rotted. The beast's flesh had so far defeated all their sharpest, most potent drills, save for this latest one, which was tungsten carbide tipped with diamond. The corpse was already starting to smell, though thankfully the wind blew most of the scent away from them.
At the same time, however, he wasn't all that surprised at the creature's insane durability. After all, only an insanely durable creature would have been able to survive the enormous pressure of the deep ocean. Only an insanely durable creature would have been able to take as much punishment as it did from the military, shrugging off armor-piercing tank shells and incendiary missiles for hours before the HAMMER-DOWN Protocol's thermobaric bombs finally managed to kill it. But the Protocol's astronomical cost was evident with a single look around the area, at the smoldering ruins of New York City…or rather, the Former New York City. Four days after the attack, many of the fires still burned, since Monarch had only bothered to put out the ones that would otherwise impede their operations. The once-beautiful Central Park was a blasted wasteland, its lakes vaporized, surrounded by the bombed-out husks of Upper Manhattan's buildings. Serizawa thought he saw a partial human skeleton lying nearby, missing its pelvis and legs, and shuddered.
Just then, the drill's screech lowered in volume. He looked back at the tank and his heart sank as he saw that it was slowing down. "What is happening?" he asked into the radio.
"Engine has burnt out, Dr. Serizawa," the operator's voice replied. "We managed to scratch it, at least…"
Serizawa let out a frustrated sigh. "This is never going to work. We have to find another way. Let's review the footage, Vivienne."
Graham followed him back to the main research tent, where they spent the next several hours poring over all the footage they could find of the beast, hoping to find some clue, anything on how to reach its innards. Going in through its mouth was a no-go; its larynx had collapsed upon death. Then, just when he felt on the verge of giving up completely, Graham said, "Look there," and pointed at an overhead helicopter video. As they watched, one of the two smaller limbs on its abdomen reached down and snatched up a horse from a carriage. Rather than bring the horse up to its mouth, however, the limb enveloped the poor animal, seeming to swallow it whole. The resulting bulge traveled up the limb and back to the abdomen.
"Those must be external projections of the stomach," Graham guessed. "External esophagi. We could travel through them."
"It is worth an attempt at least," Serizawa agreed.
Several days later, after using helicopters to pull and straighten out one of the external esophagi, a team of trailblazers entered the appendage, setting up scaffolding inside it as they went to make things easier for subsequent travelers. It took them a few hours, but they eventually reached the stomach and found that the creature's inner tissues were, thankfully, much less difficult to cut through than its skin. Although the limited avenue of entry and exit still somewhat hampered the research team's examination and analysis of the creature, it still proceeded far more quickly than it would have if they continued trying to drill into its skin. That did not mean it was pleasant, however. In their time, Serizawa and Graham had performed a number of unsavory actions in the name of advancing science. Crawling down a giant creature's gut in an NBC suit to perform a necropsy on it from the inside ranked as one of the foulest deeds either of them had ever done.
Among many other things, they found a single testis. It was whitish and ovular.
Atlantic Ocean, CCGS Hudson. Present Day.
Dr. Roy MacDonald stood on the Hudson's deck with his students, awaiting Bonnie and Clyde's return. He'd asked Vasquez and Duke, the other ROV pilot, to collect as much of Martha's remains as they could and bring her back to the surface. That had been almost an hour and a half ago. Hopefully whatever took out Martha doesn't think two ROV's would be a tasty meal.
Vasquez's voice crackled from the walkie-talkie on MacDonald's hip. "Twenty fathoms, Doc. Over."
The scientist pushed the device's "talk" button. "Roger that, Vasquez. Over." Followed by his students, he strode over to the edge of the deck and peered at the ocean. Bubbles from the returning ROV's were beginning to froth at the surface near the Hudson's hull, and slowly increased in intensity until, a minute later, Bonnie and Clyde appeared from the depths and burst through the water film with two splashes, one right after the other. Both of the craft clutched Martha's remains in their grippers. Maybe we'll get some answers now. The Hudson lowered its crane to bring first Bonnie and then Clyde onboard, depositing them right next to the waiting research team. The ROV pilots had them release their cargo, and MacDonald's students laid the broken pieces of Martha on a tarp a few metres away to begin examining them. At that moment, Jimmy the mechanic arrived on the scene from belowdecks.
Upon seeing his "baby" in such a sorry state, Jimmy swallowed and looked away. Once he had forced back the tears, he returned his gaze to the ROV's damage. Whatever destroyed Martha had cut her almost completely in half, and it had been a large cut, almost a metre and a half across at its widest. Jimmy raised his eyebrow in a quizzical fashion. "That don't like no bite," he remarked, pointing to the broad gash carved through the ROV's guts. "No tooth marks. Looks more like something took a swipe at her with a claw or a tail."
"What could possibly have done that?" asked LeBeau, a student. The ROV's were each the size of a small car…when intact, at least. Their size alone should have deterred any potential enemies, and neither MacDonald nor any of the other students knew of predators with claws or tails that would fit the size of the gouge slashed into Martha.
Jimmy gave a helpless shrug. "Y'all are the ones who're supposed to know that. I'm just the grease monkey, remember?"
"Doctor," called a student named Julie, "I think I have something." She was peering into Martha's exposed innards.
"What is it?" MacDonald asked her, striding over.
She pointed. "See that?"
The scientist followed her finger and saw a small piece of stone lodged in Martha's guts at the gouge's terminus. He nodded. "I do. Well spotted, Julie. Maybe that will give us some insight…somehow."
The stone had embedded itself quite firmly in the metal of Martha's frame, forcing Jimmy to get his plasma cutter and slice it free. MacDonald expected the stone to soften or maybe even melt when the cutter contacted it, but that did not happen. Once freed, he saw that it had a very slight concave curve to it—so slight that an untrained eye would have easily missed it. The scientist had Julie take it down to the lab to run some tests and see what she could find out. In the meantime, he and the rest of his students went to the ship's conference room and pored over the scant data that Martha had transmitted before her demise, hoping to find other clues to what had killed her. LeBeau also examined the footage from Bonnie and Clyde's sweep of the area before they had salvaged their sister ROV.
The research team made little progress, and after an hour, their frustrations were mounting when Julie suddenly burst into the conference room. "Doctor!" she gasped, out of breath from running. They all spun their heads toward her. "Doctor," she said again, coughing. "You would not believe what I just found."
"If the tests say so, I'll believe it. Tell me."
"The stone," she said, her breathing slowing down. "The stone, it's not made of stone! It's made of…keratin."
The conference room went dead silent as the implications of the discovery struck them all like a thunderbolt. Then everyone started chattering and asking questions at once. MacDonald's mind began whirling and he shouted, "QUIET!"
His voice boomed in the confines of the conference room, and the roar of excited voices died away. "Thank you. Now let's piece this together." He grabbed a marker from the ledge next to the room's whiteboard and began writing. First, he scrawled the word keratin. "Keratin is almost exclusive to vertebrates, yes?" His students murmured assent, and he wrote exclusive to vertebrates half a metre away from keratin, drawing an arrow to connect them. "So what does it make up in vertebrates?"
The answers floated back to him: "Claws…scales…hair…skin…" He drew three arrows away from exclusive to vertebrates and labeled each one with those respective words, excluding "hair" because the stone was obviously not a hair.
"So here's what our stone could possibly be." He tapped scale with his marker first. "Do we think it's a scale?"
The students looked at Julie, who shook her head. "No, Doctor. It didn't have any of the other compounds in it that we associate with scales."
"Thank you, Julie." He put an X through scale. "Do any of us think it's a skin fragment?"
No-one raised their hands. "Good. I didn't think so either." Skin was crossed out. "That leaves 'claw'. This is our most likely candidate, judging by the slight curve to its shape and its relative position to the gash that bisected Martha." He circled the word. "But if it came from a claw, then that claw must have been on a tetrapod vertebrate, a vertebrate with limbs." MacDonald drew an arrow away from claw and labeled its point vertebrate with limbs. "How many of you know of a tetrapod vertebrate with claws that lives in the deep ocean?"
The students all looked at each other blankly. Some looked just a little bit sad, as though they thought they were disappointing their professor by not being able to answer. "It's okay. Because I can't think of any either." He let the words sink in, saw the sad expressions brighten and turn to excitement. An excitement that he felt as well, building deep inside himself. MacDonald took a deep breath and said, "My students…we may have just discovered a new species of deep-sea vertebrate. A big one."
LeBeau raised his hand. "Doctor, I think I may have an idea of just how big this creature is. I'll show you guys with the projector."
"Okay, LeBeau." MacDonald pulled down the projector screen in front of the whiteboard and took a seat while his student turned the device on. "Let's hear it." Was it his imagination, or did the kid's hands tremble as he worked the projector?
LeBeau pulled up an image on the screen. It showed a gridded map of the area where Martha had met her end, a map compiled from Bonnie and Clyde's survey of the area before they returned to the surface with Martha's remains. On the map was the series of depressions that replaced the strange hills discovered by the first ROV. "So this is what Bonnie and Clyde found," he explained. "And this is what Martha found." The scrawny, redheaded grad student overlaid another grid image on top of the map. The initial set of sonar scans covered the same general area as the depressions.
"Look," he said, and jabbed with a laser pointer, tracing out a shape around the hills' periphery.
"Jesus," somebody said at almost the same moment McDonald began to see the pattern. It was a shape that looked vaguely vertebrate in appearance: a collection of central hills for the body, four ridges spreading out from that center to form the limbs, and a fifth ridge for the tail.
The kid went on, as if he hadn't heard anything his audience was saying. "If we draw a line from the head to the end of the tail…" LeBeau did just that with a red pen. MacDonald looked down at the size indicator for each square of the grid, counted up the length in his head, and felt his gut clench.
"My god," Julie gasped. "It's over 300 metres long!"
Monarch Facility Zulu. Location: Classified. Present Day.
With a gasp, Serizawa sat bolt upright in bed. He checked his watch—3:27 AM—and scrambled to his feet. He pulled on a bathrobe for warmth, grabbed his slippers, and hurried through the facility's well-lit corridors, heading back to the labs. At this hour of the night, they were almost deserted save for a single junior scientist acting as the night watch. "Hello, Dr. Serizawa," she greeted him, far too cheerfully for someone up at this time. "You're up early. Anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. Bring me the files on the male MUTOling and the ones on the Large Scale Aggressor."
"Of course, sir. Right away." The young woman scurried off to fetch his requests, while he paced impatiently. After what felt like forever, she returned carrying two thick folders labeled "Infant MUTO, Male" and "Large Scale Aggressor", respectively, and laid them on a nearby table. "Sorry that took so long, sir. The LSA's files were buried pretty deep."
"It is no problem. Thank you," he said gratefully. He opened both folders and began frantically flipping through the files.
"Should I send for Dr. Graham, sir?" the junior scientist asked.
"Not if I am wrong. Which you should pray that I am." The files were well-organized and categorized, which allowed him to quickly find what he was looking for in both folders. He held up the two pictures, side by side, and his blood ran cold. The resemblance was clear, unmistakable, and almost uncanny. He looked through several other files and compared the numbers…there could be no doubt about it. He took a deep breath and said to the young woman, "If you prayed, it was not answered. Fetch Dr. Graham, quickly."
"Yes, Doctor." The junior scientist hurried off, while Serizawa returned to pacing. He checked his watch again. 3:52 AM.
Nine minutes passed by the time the scientist returned with Dr. Graham in tow, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. However, any of Vivienne's residual drowsiness evaporated the moment Serizawa told her what he had found. "Oh my God…" she breathed, her face turning even whiter than her usual pale complexion. "We have to report this to the Director."
"I could not agree more, ." The two scientists made several calls to the facility's night staff and soon, they were able to get a video link to Director Randa in a conference room. The old man's face and upper body appeared on a screen in front of them, looking somewhat annoyed and sitting in a rather uncomfortable-looking folding chair. "What is it, doctors? I heard it was urgent. I hope you're not wasting my time. I had to cut short an important meeting with the Japanese Minister of Defense."
"We're sorry, sir," Vivienne apologized. "But while comparing the remains of the infant MUTOs, we made an important discovery. We thought it best to tell you right away."
Randa folded his arms. "I'm listening."
Serizawa tapped at the keyboard on his laptop, sending Randa some files. "When we found the testis in a male, it looked nothing like the testis of the adult male. However, I later realized that it looked very similar to the one that was found in the remains of the creature that attacked Old New York City."
"Additionally," Graham put in, "We found that the Cloverfield creature's bodily proportions were much closer to the infant MUTOs than the adults."
They saw Randa's eyes flick down and scroll back and forth as he skimmed through the files. "So, what, you're telling me that the Large Scale Aggressor was just a baby?"
"Yes, sir. It was not sexually mature yet. An adolescent at most. I wish to God we could say otherwise, but the evidence is too strong," Vivienne affirmed.
"I see. And how in the hell did we not know this until now?"
"We had no related species to compare the LSA against until we acquired the MUTOs' bodies." Serizawa rubbed his glasses. "And where there is a baby, there is likely to be a parent. An adult of Cloverfield's species would be absolutely colossal, sir—perhaps even larger than Gojira himself. As we observed, the female MUTO exhibited enough intelligence to know who killed her offspring and, in pursuing Ford Brody as relentlessly as she did, showed very strong protective parental instincts. We know that the MUTOs are related to Cloverfield's species—if the latter displays similar behavior, and the parent did appear…" He let his voice trail off.
"It would make the rampage of its offspring seem like a child throwing a tantrum in comparison, sir," Vivienne finished.
Randa said nothing for several moments, his expression inscrutable. Then: "Alright, this information is all very scary. But what exactly should I do now that you've told me all this?"
"We need to search the oceans, sir," Vivienne offered. "The original Cloverfield was adapted for living in the deep sea. It's likely that if its parent, or parents, are out there, they will also be hibernating in the far depths."
Randa passed a hand over his nearly-bald head and sighed. "Doctors, surely you're aware that we've explored more of the Solar System than our oceans? Even if I devoted all of Monarch's resources, we couldn't possibly find the LSA's parent…or parents…in a reasonable amount of time unless we got really, really lucky. We've got to narrow it down."
"Well, the Cloverfield creature originally came from here." Serizawa sent him an image of the Atlantic Ocean, with a point marked on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge's western edge: the former site of the defunct Tagruato Corporation's Chuai Station. "We can start there and expand the search outward."
"That's something, I guess," Randa grumbled. "But once again, we need to figure out a better way to find and track these creatures. Joe Brody may be our best hope for that." Vivienne opened her mouth to protest, and he held up a hand to forestall her. "But leave him to me. Was there anything else?"
The two scientists exchanged glances and shook their heads. "No, sir. If we think of something, we'll give you a call."
"Make sure you do it when I'm awake, unless it's really urgent. And I mean really urgent—as in, Mama Cloverfield is destroying Washington, DC urgent."
"You're dismissed. Randa out." The old man's face vanished, leaving them in darkness.
Joe stepped up to his door and fished his keys out of his pocket with his good hand. He fumbled with them, dropped them, picked them up again with a sigh. Finally, he managed to find the right key and insert it into the lock. He turned, pushed, and the complex's door swung open before him. He repeated the key-fumbling process at his mailbox, though he managed to avoid dropping them a second time. If I can get in my room without that happening again, it'll be a good day. He passed the keychain to his good hand, reached inside the mailbox, and pulled out the contents, to be examined in his room later. It would probably just be junk, as usual. Most days, Joe didn't even bother to check his mail, but he had to do it every now and then or the landlady would not be pleased at him for letting it fill up. He tucked the sheaf of envelopes under his cast and closed the mailbox.
His mail acquired, Joe proceeded up the three flights of stairs to reach his little apartment. The complex had shut off its elevator as a cost-cutting measure several years ago during the height of the Depression, and hadn't switched it back on since. And that's not likely to happen soon, thanks to the monsters…at least I'm not losing my shit every time the floor shakes. He'd heard about the problems plaguing the city, people freaking out whenever a vehicle blew its horn, or a door creaked, or the ground rumbled for whatever reason. But the only reason Joe didn't have those problems was because he'd already had them many years ago, after Sandra died. And I didn't get better, so much as I got…less bad.
He was wheezing by the time he reached his floor, and paused to catch his breath. Then, he plodded down the hall to his room: 316. Having kept his keychain dangling from his bad hand, he was able to access it with somewhat more ease and even avoided dropping them again. Look at me, I'm on a roll. Soon he had entered his small apartment, put down his briefcase, shrugged free of his jacket, and plopped down at his desk to flip through his post. Almost all junk mail, none to Joe's great surprise. Mostly scummy-looking offers from various bankruptcy protection firms. A few bills—he was already behind on those. But then again, almost everyone is behind on their bills these days. Everything else except for those went straight to his recycling bin.
With that done, the engineer-cum-self-trained scientist leaned back from his desk to reflect on his day. He'd managed to squeeze in two job interviews…not that it mattered, since he knew neither of those prospective employers would be calling with an offer. One had even been at a power plant in the city—the exact sort of place he had the most experience in. Granted, the tech has changed a lot in the last fifteen years…but the underlying principles are still the same. He reached over to his laptop and flipped it open. Joe spent about half an hour browsing more prospective job options before his stomach growled. With a sigh, he got up from his desk and went to his sorry excuse of a kitchen to fix himself dinner.
As he boiled some spaghetti, he looked out the window and saw Ford's car—now Elle's car—parked outside her house just across the street. That had been his primary reason for choosing this apartment: it was close to Elle and Sam, the only family he had left in the world that mattered to him. If Elle had to work late, he could just take a stroll across the road to watch over Sam. I owe her and Sam that much after what happened to Ford. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe slowly and calmly; several months since his son's death and he still had yet to tell his daughter-in-law and grandson what had really happened. It's my fault he's dead. If I hadn't told him to destroy the MUTO nest…
It took tremendous effort, but Joe managed to keep from crying and finished fixing his dinner. He put the food on a TV tray and took it to the worn, faded couch, then fetched his laptop from the office so he could watch the news while he ate. It wouldn't exactly be sunshine and butterflies, but at least it would keep him from thinking about Ford.
As he expected, there was little good to be found on the bulletins. More economic woes for a country that had already suffered a financial catastrophe just six years ago. Thousands of San Francisco residents traumatized by the monster battle were overwhelming mental hospitals and psychiatrists, making a dire fiscal situation even worse as they found themselves unable to do their jobs without having panic attacks if a vehicle sounded its horn somewhere, if a door creaked, or if the floor trembled even the slightest bit. Only one ray of hope showed through all the bad news: Lily Ford announcing that her charity, the Ford Foundation, would be expanding its operations into the areas devastated by the monsters. Las Vegas, the Bay Area, even Hawaii would all receive the Foundation's aid.
Bless her heart. If only she'd been around fifteen years ago… Just then, Joe's phone buzzed, and a familiar name appeared on the display. That's strange. I thought she wasn't working late tonight? He picked it up. "Evening, Elle."
"Hey, Joe. I'm guessing your interview didn't go as you hoped?"
"You guessed right…except it was interviews. Two of them, both failures."
"Damn. That's too bad." She sighed.
"Tell me about it. So what can I do for you?"
"I'm taking Sam to this…thing. It's kind of private. But I think I forgot to lock the door on my way out. Could you go check? The spare key is in the birdhouse, just like always."
"Of course. Have fun at this…thing?"
"It's not that sort of thing."
"Oh…okay. Are you two okay financial-wise? Need my help? I have some money stashed away…"
"No, Joe. We're fine economically for now. And even if we weren't, you still don't have a job. How could you be of any assistance to us?"
"You're right. I just wish there was more I could do to support you two." Even as he said it, he knew how hollow the words sounded. I didn't help them during the Depression when they were struggling. He put his bad hand to his face. "Look, forget I said anything. I should go check that door."
"Yeah. Thanks again." With that, Elle hung up.
Joe remained sitting on the couch for a few moments before pushing the TV tray off his lap and standing up to walk to his door. His thoughts swirled as he opened it and stepped out into the hall. When Elle was pregnant with Sam and things were tough on them financially, did I offer to help? No. I was still chasing those goddamn conspiracies. He knew Elle wasn't being honest with him—he'd already added up the numbers himself. Even with her increased hours at the hospital, she wouldn't be able to keep herself and Sam afloat for more than a year. The military's surviving family benefits, just another casualty of the Depression, had been cut down to a joke. Where that money alone could have helped keep a large family going for years while they adjusted themselves, it now couldn't even sustain a family of two.
Elle had indeed forgotten to lock her door. He procured the spare key from its usual place—a quaint-looking birdhouse painted in various wild colors by Sam—and remedied that, then returned to his apartment still beating himself up for his past failings as a father and a grandfather. However, he was distracted from that by a small message on the bottom of his laptop's screen. "New email from: Descartes."
Joe frowned. He hadn't heard from that man for a while. Not like I missed him a lot anyway. They had been partners of sorts during his days of investigating conspiracy theories, particularly the ones about Monarch, sending emails and later instant messages back and forth as they gathered evidence. However, since Monarch had recently stepped at least partway out of the shadows, there wasn't as much need for that. As if it ever did us any good. Their last exchange had not ended very amicably, with Descartes refusing to understand how Joe felt: that his paranoid, obsessive drive to investigate intrigues had gotten his son killed.
Alright, let's see what he has to say. He pulled the computer onto his lap, clicked on the message with his good hand, and started reading. "I know we didn't exactly part on good terms last time, Brutus, but you have got to see this. I somehow managed to slip into the deepest, darkest parts of Monarch's systems—it was like they just left the back door open. I found some really juicy stuff. Goodies galore, dating all the way back to their founding. I'll let you see for yourself, but it turns out that creature, Godzilla, didn't wake up in 1954 like the official story said. He turned up at least 5 years earlier! There were also some files on an incident involving a giant monkey or gorilla or something. I've attached them all to this email, with extra encryption. Consider it my way of saying 'I'm sorry.' –Descartes."
Joe sighed. He still just doesn't get it. This is what put us all on the path that lead to Ford's death. He moved the mouse to click the "delete" button and hovered over it…then moved it away again. Hovered over it…and moved away. Hovered over it…and moved away. He just couldn't deny his curiosity. I may as well see what all the fuss is about, at least. He opened the attached files, starting with the one labeled "Skull Island Incident".
He skimmed the opening section, but the line "These files are considered classified above top secret" got a rueful chuckle out of him. Then his eyes moved to the list of people involved, flicking through at least a thousand names, before drawing in a sharp breath as one leaped out at him: Serizawa, San. A line next to it read Detailed personal file on page 67. He jumped to that page and began examining it. Date of birth: January 12th, 1951. Education: Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Geology, Kyushu University, 1965 and PhD in Geology, University of Tokyo, 1975. Languages spoken: Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, English, Russian. Date of death: March 14th, 1978. Cause of death: unstable ground underfoot, previously thought safe. Fell into newly-opened chasm, body never recovered. Surviving relatives: Daisuke Serizawa (father) and Ichiro Serizawa (brother, younger). The next page had a series of photographs on it, including one of the woman in question standing arm in arm with two other Japanese men, one older, possibly in his 50's or 60's…and the other was not a man, but a boy, in his early teens at most. The photo was dated February 23rd, 1978—almost forty years ago, but the rimless glasses on the young Ichiro Serizawa were unmistakable.
Another photo showed San Serizawa speaking with a Caucasian man. Joe's eyes nearly blazed past it, but something about his face drew him back. He checked the caption: Discussing preparations for the expedition with Cpt. James Conrad. Returning to the list of names, he found Conrad's personal file on page 31. Born on August 30th, 1939. Served with the British SAS from 1970 to 1976…most operations, classified. His date of death was March 17th, 1978, and the cause of death…Joe did a double take to make sure he'd read that right. Eaten by dromaeosaurs?! Yep, that was it. Remains never recovered.
Joe sat back and tried to wrap his head around that idea. Dromaeosaurs. Like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, only real. And probably covered in feathers, if he had his dinosaur facts straight. They were still alive…or at least they had been relatively recently, in evolutionary terms. The seeming absurdity of it almost made him burst out in a guffaw. I can believe in gigantic monsters from a bygone era even before the dinosaurs, but I'm having trouble stomaching the idea of living velociraptors?!
As the laughing passed, he turned his eyes back to Conrad's personal file…and froze. Inside the "Surviving Relatives" box was written a single line: Vivienne Graham (daughter). Okay, I don't have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to know that is not a coincidence. He scrolled to the photographs page and, sure enough, found one of Conrad at a tropical beach, carrying a pale slip of a girl on his shoulders. The caption read, On vacation with daughter in Tahiti, July 8th, 1976. Again, despite nearly 40 years passing since then, he could still see the modern-day Vivienne Graham quite clearly in her younger self.
Serizawa's words after the funeral came back to him: "You are not the only one who has lost people, Mr. Brody."
Joe tossed his head angrily. Yeah, so what. He went to hit the "down" key on his laptop, but missed it and pressed the "page down" key several times, bringing him to another personal file about one Glenn Mill. He sighed in irritation and moved his finger to the "page up" key to return to his original position, but then paused as he noticed the date of death: March 11th, 1978. Cause of death: Hemorrhaging after impalement by a tree branch and laceration by shards from a helicopter's windshield. The next person, Arthur Chapman, had died on March 15th, 1978 of…being devoured by something called a Megarachne giganteus. His gut lurched. Mega means big, arachne means spider, giganteus means exactly what it sounds like. Dromaeosaurs, giant spiders…what the hell happened in this Skull Island Incident? His curiosity was now piqued, and would not be sated until he answered that question. Taking a deep breath, Joe scrolled on to the rest of the file and started reading.
He spent the next few hours reading the terrifying tale of disaster and woe that had befallen the expedition sent to the eponymous-Skull Island. Every single one of them had suffered a ghastly and probably very painful death…except for a man named Bill Randa. Joe had read plenty of shocking things during his days as a conspiracy theorist, but this absolutely took the cake. By the time he finished, his jaw had grown slack with horror. The story painted by the report made the monster attack from a few weeks ago look like a minor inconvenience at most. It was like Apocalypse Now...with a giant ape. An Ape-ocalypse Now.
So this is what Serizawa was trying to tell me. He lost his sister, and Graham lost her father. Just like me with Sandra, they didn't even get to bury a body. I sure as hell know how that feels... There were now many, many people in the US and Japan who, like them, would not be able to lay their loved ones' remains to rest thanks to the monsters. And there would be many more when the next attack came.
He recalled his own words from the speech at the funeral. "I promise you, I will not let Ford's death be in vain." Weeks later, here he was, with no job, failing to live up to that promise. And if Joe continued trying to get someone, anyone of these stupid "Joe jobs" to hire him, he would never be able to fulfill it.
Enough is enough. With a grunt, he stood up from the sofa and retrieved his jacket from the closet nearby, draping it over his cast-bound arm while he used his good hand to rifle through its pockets. Left waist…nothing. Right waist…zilch. Left chest…he brightened as his groping hand came into contact with his copy of Moby Dick and with it, Dr. Serizawa's card. Joe put the card in his bad hand and pulled his phone out of his pants with another, hesitated, and then dialed the number.
The dial tone droned in his ear for a moment, only to be replaced by the sound of ringing. Ring…ring…ring…he counted three times before the fourth one was abruptly cut off and a voice answered the other end. "This is Dr. Serizawa."
"Serizawa. This is Joe Brody."
"Ah, Mr. Brody. I see you kept my card."
"Yes, I did. I've kept your offer in mind as well and…" Joe inhaled and exhaled a long, slow breath. "I've decided to accept."
"You have?" Surprise colored the Japanese man's tone. "I see. Very well, Mr. Brody. I'm very glad to hear it-"
"Ah, ah, ah." Joe cut him off. "Before you get too excited, I have some conditions. Firstly, understand that I'm not doing this for you or your monsters. I'm doing it for me and my family. Secondly, as long as I'm working for you, you make sure Elle and Sam Brody have enough money to get by. I'm old; I don't really care about money anymore. They need it more than I do. Thirdly, you never. Lie. To me. Again. Are we clear?"
"Of course, Mr. Brody. Crystal clear. We'll be-"
"And don't you dare say 'We'll be in touch'. Or 'We'll call you'. Or 'Expect to hear from us soon'. I'm so fed up with hearing those, if someone says something like that to me again, I may just turn into a monster myself."
Serizawa went silent. "…alright, Mr. Brody," he replied at last. "I will get in touch with you within three days."
"A concrete deadline. That's more like it," Joe said approvingly. "I'll hold you to that." He hung up, and looked out his window at the sunset blazing across the bay. Well, there's no going back now.
Next time: Joe starts his work at Monarch with Drs. Serizawa and Graham. The crew of the CCGS Hudson embark on a chase. Elle finally starts to pick up the pieces of her life.
Afterword: If you were hoping to see more references to Kong himself, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I kept most of the Skull Island details deliberately vague, since the movie isn't out yet. Maybe someday I'll write a spin-off about how I think the Skull Island Incident happened, but if it does happen, it won't be for a while. Also, the next chapter will take a good deal longer for me to write. School has started and I need to buckle down to my studies. But I'll work on it when I can!