Chapter 3A "It's a Date"

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Chapter 3A

     It’s a Date

      “I heard your squirrely hair comment, Father, from the lobby. Was that a complaint?” 

      “Complain that I get to spend some time with little Cole here without Augustine trying to out grandpa me…no.” His voice crooned like any proud grandfather’s should be, and a delightful hum moved through her body. She loved how no one called Cole her stepson, or step anything. He was her son now, not only Dagger’s, but hers as well. “And seeing my daughter alive, even as a shape shifter, you’re still my beautiful Dewberry. Your mother says you’re like a piece of chocolate dusted with blue body powder.” 

      “That sounds like her.” Drew was staring at her father, still amazed he was alive and in her life—and her mother. 

      His face was serious when he looked up. “The sample,” he said, indicating the microscope, “what do you see?” She wiped the slow grin off her face. 

      “These cells are active. They shouldn’t be.” Drew turned around, then eased down on the metal stool. “Father, where is this sample from? The Atlantic or Pacific?” 

      “Pacific… from the trench.” 

      “Marianas?” she said, eyeing the map overhead before turning back around to face the microscope. 

      He agreed. “The other two are Alaskan Gulf and this one here… Atlantic.” He tapped her right shoulder; then she angled a quick glance over to the shelf along the wall. “The ones I haven’t tested yet are over on the other shelf… The skeletons from crabs and angler fish are still in their ethanol-filled tubes.” 

      “I’ll start on those,” Max said. 

      Martin leaned along the table, looking at his daughter. “Have you seen this before with Jim?” 

      “On land you mean? No.” She gave her attention to the organism samples wiggling under the glass in the petri dish. “We’ve never had one from this deep. No way to obtain it safely.” Her voice was muffled from bending over the table, the white panels of her lab coat hung open at her sides. The atmosphere here was no different than that of her lab on land; it felt like home. 

      “Dewberry,” Martin said. “How did you and Jim get along?” 

      She leaned up to see his face, because that tone held more than a question. It was a father’s question. “Are you asking if I had romantic feelings for Jim?” She glanced at her son then her father. “I love Jim as a brother…Jack, his brother… yes, I loved him.” She raised her eyes at him. “Still do.” 

      “Does your husband know this?” 

      “Yes, Dagger is fully aware of my feelings for Jack. Jack was a great comfort after you and mother were declared lost at sea, after Karen’s heart attack, and even when I lost my fiancé. I love Dagger now and that’s all that matters.” 

      “As long as you’re happy with him,” he said. Standing, she leaned over, hugged her father, and kissed his cheek. She had grown taller with her transition, making him seem even shorter than before. She sank back on the stool and hunched over the grey machine. Her cup of tea had grown cold. She took a sip regardless, then replaced it. 

      “I’m more than happy,” she said without having to think about it, because she was happy with Dagger. She laid her face against the rubber ring of the microscope. “I’m in love with him.” 

      Max, the botanist and her cousin, chimed in, coming in from the front lobby of the lab. “She brings out the best in the king, Mr. Hamilton.” Shades of brown and red tresses danced down his slender yet well-muscled body behind him over his lab coat. The first time she saw Max, his eyes held her. Brown, chasing red, chasing orange, chasing yellow around a ring of charcoal, all set off by his vanilla complexion. His muscled chest appeared hand-sculpted and perfectly balanced from shoulder to shoulder. She was still in awe, but no longer gawked when he came into the room. 

      “Sounds like you got it all under control—Atlantic Queen.” Martin smiled his I love you daughter smile. The one where only his eyes gave away his true meaning. The fine creases fingered out around the edges of his face. 

      “Hardly…” She leaned back, held his elbow, shaking her head directing him to the table. “What’s this—?” she asked, brushing the hank of hair she left free to hang down for Cole, back over her shoulder. 

      This was not only her father, but her mentor, her reason for what she did, why she loved science, all things odd, unexplainable. Now they worked together to keep the ocean from slowly burning away under its own outburst of heat. 

      Seeing him with one hand shoved into his front pants pocket as he studied the sample gave her goose flesh. It was his, stand back little girl, let me see, stance. Her father was cool like one of the men from the seventies. Like the old move character, Shaft, a cool detective. She waited as he studied the sample under the microscope, making a few adjustments to the lighting. “This is the sample I showed you a minute ago?” he asked, his tone sheltered. He did that when something bothered him. He took a second look. 

      “Yeah—that shouldn’t be happening.” 

      Dirk came around the table and pressed an eye to the lens, a hand on Martin’s shoulder. “We get these a lot from the seamounts. They lay undisturbed for years and then when the humans come down with their bio-boxes and unsettle the sand, they unearth these organisms.” 

      “These are cells from the vent crabs brought up from a benthic community…” she paused seeing Dirk’s and Max’s raised brows. Dirk rubbed a hand over his chin, his complexion a clear blue unlike Dagger’s undercoated in shadows, and frowned at her. “Sorry—human term—I’m referring to bottom dweller communities. They’re still reproducing.” 

      That removed the scowls from their faces. 

      “Are you certain?” he took a second look. “Mr. Hamilton, where did you get this sample from?” 

      “The second shelf in the corner beside the cooler of bottled water.” Martin regarded the faces around the table before his stare landed on Max. 

      “They’re reproducing,” Max started, “as many plants do for survival.” He faced Drew. “Take the wisteria vine growing along the canal in front of your home, My Queen. If I cut the roots back severely, it produces more flowers—survival instinct.” 

      “The same with Clear Coral. She went into survival mode and began feeding from the cave.” She felt that tingle in her leg whenever she spoke of Clear Coral. Having her proteins and minerals growing within her body, she, Dagger and the doctor decided to keep it concealed. If they found out there was a possibility she were more than a tiger shark, the unrest in the ocean would be massive. 

      “Let me test another sample, make sure they weren’t mixed up,” Dirk said. 

      “If they are reproducing,” she said, peering over at her son, “we’re gonna be here all night.”

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