Built on Sand

Full Version: Broadening Horizons
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
A multitude of smaller creeks crossed the woodlands before joining the Willowhill river. Now geology hadn't ever been her forte, however there was surely something notable in the different terrains surrounding town... or maybe not? She should have devoted some more attention to those uninspiring geology classes.

Creeks, as a rule, were not the typical habitat of her Aeshna Persuasoria, a species uniquely dwelling in the marsh, however her recent meeting could not be ignored. There wasn't much to say about dreams and hallucinations - he seriously hoped that guy had gone and seen a physician, it'd been reckless to do otherwise... Dragonflies, however. Dragonflies retrieved out of their usual area. They might have been brought there, sure, but it still required a closer inspection, didn't it? Or was it just an excuse to extend her work to a different and more approachable area? A distraction, if nothing else, from the temptation to sneak back to the marsh, ignoring all potential threats, legal vetoes and lurking murderers alike...

Something moving, bustling with minuscule activity at the border of the creek. What was that? She moved closer, squat to observe as attentively as she deem necessary.
Matthew had been doing a lot of desk work the last few weeks. Mostly dealing with hunting, for rather obvious reasons. That's why he was doing an outdoors "assessment" at the moment, in an area explicitly restricted from hunting. That way, no need for all the blaze orange outfits, and, most importantly, a lot less noise. And he could always claim he was checking if people were respecting the no hunting status if he was asked for his business there.

He had gone back to his campsite from early autumn, for some reason, and was currently heading for the trail, cross-country as it were, to complete this loop of his route. Only a (relatively) short walk left, at most he'd be looking at 2 hours. But he did hear someone walking. No sneaking, no jogging or running either. Just, walking. Now, it WAS a nice day for a walk in the wilds, sure, but he hadn't seen a lot of people that were "in" to that around here. So he walked, and listened, to make sure he ended up at the trail at about the time the walker was to be around that point too. Just to look official and all that. After all, he WAS there on the taxpayer's dollar....


She jumped back.

True, she was a scientist, she wasn't easily impressed, she was used to deal with things most people would have found revolting, there was no reason to lose control.

The thing coming out of the creek, however. The thing that must have been a squirrel, once, but that was now being moved about by a different force... Of course there was no lack of possible explanations. It could have been excellent study material, even.

But then there was something to be said about primal fears and deep-rooted reactions, and something about that moving piece of matter felt off at a basic level - despite, again, being a rather interesting phenomenon at a different one.

Matthew had of course noticed the hiker before, but when he heard some small animal scurry in the undergrowth, and the following mild shriek from said hiker, he also deduced from the height of the tone of the voice that this hiker was a woman. Mock-sheepishly he stepped out of the overgrown area on to the trail. My apologies if my rugged looks scared you, miss...  He smiled at her as genuinely friendly as he could. After all, he was a representative of the government at the moment, and it would not do if visitors to this area were scared over him. They might never return, and that would be a shame. I did not mean to.

Matthew straightened his clothes a bit, then closed the distance a little more. As he did, he seemed to notice something that stopped him. It wasn't aversion, or fear. What it was, was hard to put in words. It was as if he  remembered something  and was giving his mind some time to catch up. She looked awfully familiar, yet he knew he didn't know her from his relatively short time here in Sandsbrigdge.

He put the question to the back of his mind for now, and addressed the woman once more: Is there perhaps something I might be of assistance with?

With all that she had mixed feelings towards officers in general, the newcomer and his entirely non-otherworldly appearance were reassuring in a way. In a way.

Oh! No need to apologize. I was just... quite focused on something and so..."

So, let's pretend she'd been started by him, not by whatever had crept out of the creek.

Dr. Rivers, anyway. Janet Rivers. I'm an entomologist, just... doing some research on the field, you see..."

Looking at her interlocutor, of course, that was the polite thing to do. Now and again, however, still glancing at the water, at whatever was going on down there.
Rivers.... I know that name...., Mattew thought. He had shared some classes with a certain Rivers that really wasn't all that infatuated with the possibilities of cryptozoology. Well, it COULD be her. She looked enough like her, considering the time they hadn't seen each other. Did he really change that much himself, though? Or was it his outfit?

Dr. Rivers? Entomology. I knew a young woman studying entomology back in Boston. Wouldn't it be a mighty coincidence if that was you, Janet? Matthew positively sounded a little happy there. Though I must say, I didn't think I changed so much that you wouldn't recognize a fellow biologist. He extended his hand in greeting. Dr. Matthew O'Hara, zoologist, and the current field biologist for Fish and wildlife here in Sandsbridge. Well, the only one here, actually, but why ruin a nice title?

Matthew recalled that, although they did have some rather heated discussions back in the day, they also seemed to be able to help each other out with ideas and such. Although she never did see his ... hobby as anything remotely credible, but that was perhaps why he liked having those discussions with her in the first place.

That Matt? Also, she must've been widening her eyes quite a bit.

He hasn't changed so much, in fact, "...it must just be I'm terrible with faces!" Biting her tongue before saying anything on how well or poorly he was aging: that was a minefield.

Which might have been a reason to stick to insects, although her adult self knew all too well about the need for people. Lately, she could have told something about it.

Now, was Matt the best or the worst person to meet in that context?

So... How are you doing?"

Not sure whether congratulations for his title were due. She suspected his all-too-powerful family shared at least part of the merit, which was one of those things that left her slightly - slightly something. However, one could not just jump and ask about wildlife, so she'd been told. Some minute of small talk was more appropriate. Although, she'd liked to make it some second instead.
Matt smiled as the woman across from him used the shortened "Matt". There were only a handful of people that didn't call him Matthew, and all of those were people he considered friends. And his paternal grandfather, Gramps. It really answered his cloaked inquiry perfectly. Don't sell yourself short, Janet. I imagine most of our fellow students wouldn't have thought of meeting me out here in the wilds. Heck, I had to struggle with "mother dearest" to get this job here in Sandsbridge. She actually tried her best to keep me behind a desk back in Boston. Luckily, they needed a field biologist over here, and I was the only volunteer. I moved here before she even knew I applied. Matt grinned like the proverbial cat that ate the canary.

He had never been shy about his heritage, neither about the Irish nor the the wealthy part. Matt never apologized for using, as he called them, the tools given to him, but he also never accepted those 'tools' to dictate what he should do. His misgivings about how his mother was known to 'handle' things had never sat well with Matt, something he had confided to the few friends he had that he felt were worthy of that name.

And you? Last I heard you had gotten a seat at a university. What brings you out here in the woods?
Well, my job takes some field research as well. I mean, it would be a shame otherwise, wouldn't it?"

Now a "seat" was a big term technically speaking, it did made her position more prestigious than it actually was. But she did not correct him. No need to be pedantic, right? Besides, it felt so good.

Although, under normal circumstances I'd spend more time in the marsh than precisely in these woods. The Aeshna Persuasoria is the main subject of my research, so... Well, I guess you heard about the murder, right?"

Because, who didn't know about it? As for what she was doing, she wasn't entirely sure how much she was willing to share. Although, she had a feeling about the way it was going to end.
Matt smiled warmly: It sure would be. Getting out here is the best perk of these jobs.

His smile fades slightly when he hears the rest, though. He still looked happy enough, though he did seem to get a bit more serious about things. Yeah, heard about that. Happened right around the time I moved my stuff here. Then, as it starts to sink in better, he looks at Janet:: Oh... OOH!. Those prefer the wetlands, and they ... Oh man, they locked you out of there, didn't they? That's rough. Matthew's tone was sincere, and he was genuinely bummed out about her not being able to go where she had to be for her ... was it still work? Is this stalling you? Professionally? Or did you manage to get enough for you dissertation already? I mean, they won't lock op that place for years, right? Not even the Feds do that.

He had noticed the slight awkwardness of the situation, but he wasn't going to press the matter. He liked, and respected, her too much for that. He did remember she was mostly business anyway, so it seemed like a good bet to "talk shop" instead of the usual small talk.
Not just the wetlands - they had a habit to swarm over the Crown, studying their habits was precisely my research plan when - you know".

Did he? Did everyone know she was the lucky one who stumbled on the much more unfortunate body? She had no desire to tell that story again. Not that she was shocked - scientist should not be shocked, and even if she had experienced a mild hallucinatory phenomenon, that was an entirely understandable reaction - which probably meant being shocked, after a fashion, but not in the sense most people would use the term.

Anyway, it's not as if I were left with nothing to do. It has been brought to my attention that dragonflies had been seen out of their usual habitat. Which is what brings me here - I'm trying to understand whether their migration is just an individual, sporadic phenomenon, or if their entire life cycle had somehow expanded to previously ignored areas... Which brings me to a question I'd like to ask you, actually - have you ever noticed any unusual occurrence of either fish or small birds and mammals, paralyzed but not dead yet?"
When they shut it down over a dead person. Matt stated it a bit dryly. Either he didn't know that Janet had found said body, or he purposely ignored that little fact. Which is understandable, but it must be frustrating.

Mat listened to Janet's current conundrum. It wasn't particularly common for species to shift from area to area, well at least not the smaller ones. For them, it was akin to travelling halfway across the world, in a sense. But then again, it wasn't totally unheard of either. The follow-up question made Matt think a bit.

Well, I haven't seen any around here yet, I think. It's not that I've been here all that long, nor had I considered that particular scenario. Fish might be a tough one to relate, there's a few aquatic predators that like to do the same, though they should be less and less active as winter approaches. As for the other small animals, not really. It's hard enough to spot them when they're moving around, let alone when they are paralysed and unmoving in their natural habitat. They tend to blend in. Especially the mammals.
Oh, the chance to do some explaining! A small joy to lighten up her day!

Quite understandable! I was asking because their presence would be indicative of my dragonflies' life cycle. They are poisonous, you probably know that - but most interesting is the way they use their poison. They can paralyse a small vertebrate - as, well, you might have guessed from context... They plant their eggs on the victim, so the naiads will find a meal just fresh enough when they hatch. It's quite unique among dragonflies - more common for hymenoptera for instance... Do you know why they're called "Persuasoria", by the way?"

Some more explaining, if you like... However, before he could reply, there was something else. An unexpected interruption: a small, fast-moving object darted out of water and across the grass, its speed not allowing to detect its shape. Speeding aimlessly, it crashed against a nearby tree.

She turned, she headed immediately towards the thing. Which, at a first glance, looked like a smashed mass of fur and blood.
Matthew wasn't that far behind her. He had just wanted to start on the common root of the word "persuade", and the name "Persuasoria" when the oddity happened. Matt looked at the mangled heap of furry critter at the base of the tree. It reminded him of a serious case of road kill.

What in the blazes just happened? That looks like a squirrel that met an 18-wheeler. Then he looked at where they had seem it get out of the water, and back to the tree. But unless there's some serious meth or PCP levels in the water here, even squirrels aren't THAT fast.... He looked at Janet, almost smiling. Almost. I'd say this would count as an unusual occurrence of a mammal, though it was more like the total opposite of paralysed.

Matthew looked at the mangled heap again, then got out some plastic bags and some gloves. One should NEVER handle strange dead bodies barehanded, but at the same time it was part of his job to collect these things for further study. At the risk of sounding a bit callous here, but I'm going to have to collect this one and file it under "mighty strange occurrence". And then hope the lab techs are willing to check it out in a reasonable time span.... Which isn't really likely. He did, after all, work for one of the largest bureaucracies currently in existence: the U.S. government....He had no longer any illusions about their ... "efficiency".
Matt was saying something, her attention wasn't really on it, however. What had just happened, what was in front of them - yet another new phenomenon, in dire need of being explained.

Neurotoxins, overriding motion control, buzzwords and hypotheses flying around in her head.

Although, facts. With only a slight nod to her fellow scientist (or wasn't he?), she knelt down, observing the wretched thing more closely. It had been a squirrel, not long ago, now it was just a mass of fur, blood, smashed bones.

Too damaged to be properly classified - however, the squirrel wasn't her first concern. There! Tweezers in her hand, she pointed at something moving. The minuscule head of a nymph, emerging from the soft, smashed tissues. Another one soon followed.

That's - something I'd rather examine myself".

That wasn't protocol, that was a mystery, solving mysteries was, after a fashion, a scientist's job.

Matthew was slightly startled by the prompt action of his fellow biologist, but let her nonetheless. As he looked what she had taken, he could only grin a little. Of course it's an insect.. Truth be told, he was partly relieved that Janet had done what she did, as he had absolutely no idea how he would phrase this find. "Saw a squirrel pile-drive itself into an oak tree" wasn't really all that conducive to a speedy lab result, if any would even come from it. Then again, even a "found road kill. Was animal sick?" might just as well yield no timely response either.

By all means. I'd rather have something like that looked after by someone I trust than that I would have to trust some over-worked, lad-tech that gets paid way to little by Uncle Sam to do their job. Besides, all I can safely put this in for, is determining if it was carrying any infectious diseases. It's not that anyone else would believe that it did that to itself, right? I get enough grief about my hobby as it is. No need to give the people that think I'm insane even more reason to say it.

As it stood, he had enough detractors, and if memory served him, even Janet wasn't convinced about crypto-zoology either. But at least she hadn't made it personal before.
Collecting samples, as professionally as you could get. Which included the entire remains. Which were atypical, although close to what she was looking for.

I'd have very, hm, reasonable reasons to examine this".

Back to the societal world, having an interlocutor and all.

If you haven't already guessed, what I've just extracted is a nymph of one of my dragonflies. They do infest small mammals, as I said, but as a rule they paralyze and kill them slowly. What just happened was... highly unusual, but then as a rule they'd also reproduce in more stagnant water".

And she'd seen them performing even stranger anomalies, but that was a piece of info she didn't mean to share, not by now.
Matt smiled at her, as she tried to convince him of her reasonable reasons. The fact of the matter was, he really didn't need convincing on that matter. HE politely listened to the following explanation, both because any time he could refresh knowledge, he took the chance, and partly because he did not want to interrupt her. Nobody liked being interrupted. And he'd found that, with lay persons at least, they were likely not to let an expert finish their talk, due to boredom, or haste. Or both, usually....

I believe you, dr. Rivers. No need to win me over. All I'll be able to do, officially, is log it, send it over to a "respectable" lab and hope it gets registered by a monolithic agency that has too many things to do anyway. If you'd need even more remains, even if only to keep that nymph alive, just tell me. I'll gladly share. Your research has more chance of being useful than my stuff anyway.

It was still a little odd, though. Something that normally was known to paralyse, and all of a sudden it did the complete opposite. Then again, he himself had some crazy theories too, and those he still had real trouble finding any evidence for. Funny, that....
What about the relations between different institutions? Who was supposed to have authority over that? Obviously, there was something to be said on the matter, something irksome as obviously detesting academic politicking, although recognizing it as a sad necessary, was one of the hallmarks of being a serious scholar.

I think examining the entire thing would be most useful. If we can discover how they affect the whole organism... The nature of their toxins is quite obscure even under regular circumstances and this... may shed some light..."

She bagged the unfortunate creature. A special satisfaction in collecting samples, a reminder of childhood memories alongside later memories - because after all, the wellspring of all serious scholar-hood is a love for grabbing weird suspicious stuff your parents would call unsanitary. That's how humankind turned from mere species to culture - because their offspring wouldn't follow cautionary advice. Not that her anthropologist friends would entirely agree, but can't an entomologist have feelings as well?

So if you don't mind me asking... What has been of your, hm, other researches? They tell all sorts of stories about this place".
Matt nodded at her: Then have it, you shall. he said, as he handed her a handy plastic zip-bag that he had handy anyway. What I don't send them, they know nothing about. If it turns out to be a more immediate threat, I'll rely on your common sense to call it in. No harm done, as far as I'm concerned.

Then, a question he both loved and slightly dreaded. He loved it for the chance to talk about it, and basically that was also the reason he dreaded it a bit. Then again, even though he never did change her mind on cryptids, she was one of the few that hadn't outright shot him down over it, too.

I don't mind, [he said, [color=sienna]And I can safely say that, for the time being, you are still right. I have no conclusive proof of the furry oafs just yet. As for those stories? Well, they are actually the reason I offered myself for what was known back in Boston as "the dullest posting imaginable". Sure, I need to check the daily catch once in a while, and I'll have to deal with inane tasks like inventorying the local Sorex Palustris population, or other such tasks, but almost all of those things give me a change to camp out here for days on end, and that means a lot of chances to go on nightly searches. Matt deliberately didn't use the common term "Bigfoot", as that one usually made one come across as 'kooky'. Besides, if he found evidence for other cryptids or "mythological creatures", he wouldn't ignore those, either.
Oh yes, that was her area of competency! Whatever bureaucracy said, she had the moral and intellectual right to examine that sample! Although, she was decently sure she was playing safe, too. Bureaucratically speaking, at least - because a few things about Sandsbridge didn't really count as 'safe'.

As for the cryptidian digression... did she really want to go there? Or was it just politeness, or nostalgia? Mostly, there was something fascinating about it. Not the same fascination Matt had. Not the love for myths being true. Myths and mysteries, however, were a bundle of secrets, questions, mistakes. Something to look into and onto witch shade some light. Although, the two of them would have probably enjoyed rather different outcomes.

Well, I can confirm that dull postings are often ripe of surprises..."

A shriek from the top of the woods. Before they could drift into generic pseudosciency chitchat.

Birds? Birds were gathering as to almost hide the vegetation, shrieking loudly - a surprisingly overwhelming noise, it reminded her of the dragonflies and their buzz. Too distant to recognize their species, they were a dark quasi-shapeless mass.

This one, for example... Never observed such a gathering, have you?"

Maybe it was some very regular occurrence, although the type of niche knowledge only available to ornithologist and people camping in that specific corner of the woods.

Then something fell from the shrieking mass. A few steps from them, something shaped like a severed arm.
Matt had wanted to drop some witty remark about indeed having seen birds gather, but then the arm fell, and it was rather clear that these were not small birds, which flocked together easily. No, these were big ones. And big birds-of-prey, they almost never tolerated each other. Let alone flock like they did up there right now.

Holy Saint Francis.... Matt wasn't regularly known to be overtly religious. In fact, most of the time one might easily assume he wasn't religious at all. But the matter of the fact was, he was still raised as a 'good Catholic boy', and it wasn't that odd that a guy with his job would know the patron saint of, among other things animals, ecology and birds. I'd love to quip that birds of a feather indeed flock together, but the fact is, anything big enough to fly around with THAT, he points at the partial arm, isn't likely to flock like that., he points up.

Also, this is NOT good. Not good AT all. An arm suggest human remains. Human remains means someone has to call the cops. And if we're REALLY unlucky, it originated in a government-owned part of the landscape, which means the Feds get their share too. Which will sour the local's moods real quick. And we'll be right in the middle of it all.... Yay us.... Matt sounded none to enthusiastic, yet also not entirely too worried. Mostly annoyed, really. He was already searching for his phone.