It took some time for the monster to be identified, partly because the authorities initially refused to believe it. Then seaQuest became a hive of activity; helicopters thrummed overhead as scientists landed. A commercial trawler was temporarily commandeered by UEO Wildlife to suspend a reinforced submarine net completely around the wreck at a distance of a few meters.
Since Kelly Fargus was on Christmas leave it was Harry Scranton, the manager of Trantom Mining Cooperative, who glared defiantly down at Captain Bridger from the forward screen. Diplomacy was not his strong point.
"Yeah, I knew there was something out there but I figured it was one of those giant crocodiles that you lot let loose last year. SeaQuest made that mess, so I figured you heroes might do a better job of fixing it this time around!"
Captain Bridger's voice was a little too controlled as he responded.
"And I suppose it didn't occur to you to warn us of the danger?"
"Nobody warned us! That brute nearly ruined the Ford operation - there were casulties! Your lot said it was sterile. You said the eggs wouldn’t hatch, and then they did! Now the damn things are out there somewhere and we're the ones left hanging."
"That creature at the wreck wasn't a Deinosuchus. It was a Great White shark."
"Don't kid a kidder.” Scranton scoffed. “Everyone knows Great Whites are long gone. Hunted to extinction years back. Wasn’t the last kill about 2011?”
"We thought they were illegally hunted to extinction," Bridger countered. "And now there's one trapped inside that wreck, just outside your claim. That whole area’s under full Conservation, so…"
Scranton stood up straighter, his expression hardening.
"Now just you hold it right there! We found that ship, we get to claim it for salvage."
The captain shook his head slowly but decisively.
"Oh no. That wreck is part of the coral reef. According to UEO statutes, all coral reefs are protected structures. The reefs are the rainforests of the ocean. No one is allowed to alter, harvest, or interfere in any way with the natural growth of that coral."
"Natural? That's a shipwreck! There's nothing natural about that!" Scranton was shouting.
Bridger settled back in his chair, looking comfortable and relaxed. He was not quite smiling,
"Not when the wreck occurred, no. The Bunyip damaged part of the reef when it was wrecked, but that was years ago. The reef has recovered, and the wreck has been incorporated as part of that recovery. That whole reef is protected by law and, by now, that includes the wreck."
Scranton’s mouth moved as though he'd just tasted something bitter, but he said nothing.
"As for the shark,” Bridger continued, “You should be thankful that the incident took place outside your borders. Otherwise you might have been responsible for rescuing it – without damaging the reef, of course.” This time Scranton took a deep breath, but he remained silent as Bridger went on,
“As it is, we have alerted UEO Conservation and they’re netting off Amity Bay to make a habitat for it.” Now Bridger did smile, “Of course, I don’t know if one bay will be quite big enough, now.” He turned toward a man who was sitting quietly to one side, working on a laptop.
“What do you think, Carlos?”
The stranger looked up from his work. He was grinning widely, and he spoke in thickly accented English,
“Nathan, we have her! We were setting up to send in a drone from the other side, but then she swam out. Our vet is treating her now. Her skin is thick, but even so the coral cut her when she entered that wreck. I think she swam out safely; to judge from your film she is much thinner now. I do not think she is at risk, but we will not know until she begins to eat. That may not happen for a couple of days; it is too soon after the birth. There could still be problems with her. Records say that some Great Whites did not eat in captivity at all, but I am hoping that the Bay is so big she will not perceive herself as a captive. Oh, this is a wonderful day! The best Christmas present I ever had! They are updating me moment by moment – look!”
Professor Carlos Mendez tapped the keyboard. There was a flicker and his laptop projected a picture onto the wall opposite the communication screen. A scarred, somewhat scrawny shark was patrolling the floor of an aquarium. As they watched it swam up the glass to bite at meat suspended over the tank by a technician. The fish looked to be little more than a meter long.
“Is that IT?” Harry Scranton said, incredulously; “Even Manny couldn't have been wrecked by that!”
“Oh, no, no!” Carlos told him, “This is her pup,” He pointed at the projection, “This one is a male; do you not see the claspers? He is the small, the .. the.. weak…” He gestured as though as though grasping for the concept,
“The runt?” Bridger suggested,
“Yes, the runt. He was born just in time, this one. You see the cuts on his tail? He must have hidden from the others at once. Perhaps he stayed in the wreck to hide, or we would have lost him. His sister is much bigger, but her jaws would not fit that bite radius. These are … Nathan, we have both sexes! Both sexes of an extinct species! This is the best Christmas present of my life!” He was grinning uncontrollably. “I could not believe it when the mother swam out, but when we saw the young…! We could have lost the male. The mesh of your nets is not small enough to keep the pups within…” Scranton was staring, completely confused; he barely managed to stammer out his next question,
“Pups? That fish … spawned in there? She ate the others?” Carlos looked at him in surprise, then he spoke slowly and carefully, as though Scranton was terminally stupid.
“Great whites are … unique. They do not spawn like sardines, they have live young. The mother cannot eat at the time of birth. She may not eat for days yet, even though the young could escape her. The shark’s uteri are big; the young swim while they await birth and, while they do, they eat the eggs and the weaker pups. That male was not the strongest. Look, he is newborn but he has been bitten by another pup. That means that there were more; we have divers in the wreck now but the others probably went through the net. Great whites are fascinating. The young are experienced hunters at birth! They are born full-fed and they know how to fight! Oh, this is a wonderful day – I cannot wait to learn more!”
Scranton looked appalled.
“But … more…of …them … Here? What are we supposed to do with …?
“If you see them do not let anyone hurt them. Contact us. We will come.” Carlos assured him. “To have a captive-bred population – that would be good, but of course, there must be more out there. The father of the pups, at least – and now there are new young! Now that we know of them they will be a most protected species.”
Harry Scranton sat down, slowly. He was at a loss for words as he watched the projection. The camera had zoomed out to show two aquaria side by side. The male shark had become a blur of motion as he fed on the hanging meat; a slightly larger, much fatter shark pup was circling around in the second tank, watching everything that moved. Scranton's hand moved toward the disconnect key and then hesitated, as though he could not believe that there was nothing left to say. Then his screen went dark.
“Well, I think that covers it,” Captain Bridger repressed the urge to laugh and spoke teasingly to Carlos, “Should we let you get back to your pets or have you time for Christmas dinner? We’re serving turkey.” Carlos stood, leaving the film of the sharks running, and turned toward him,
“Oh, I think I can make time for that, though I should really return to my staff. Perhaps … Nathan, do you know perhaps of somewhere that I could get champagne? It would be nice to drink to success when we get that family home.”
Dagwood had come into the room unnoticed; he collected something from a chair, started to leave and then paused to watch the scene with interest. He looked from the sharks to the professor and asked,
“Do they have names?” Carlos smiled at him, turning of the laptop and picking it up as he spoke,
“Officially I suppose they will have numbers, but my staff …they call the mother Maria and the pups Feliz and Navidad. It means Merry Christmas in our language. Those fish are the best Christmas present I ever had. I think everyone at the Centre feels that way.” Carlos paused for a moment and then turned back to Bridger, smiling,
“No, Nathan, on second thoughts I must refuse your invitation. Moving the mother will not be easy and I should return to supervise the operation. I think perhaps we will have a party at our headquarters when the job is done. You do not need me at your Christmas dinner; I would be checking the updates on my sharks at every moment.”
The sounds of seaQuest had become audible as they entered the corridor; somewhere there was a clatter of crockery, voices and laughter. Lonnie was singing, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and getting the words confused. The song ended in laughter and then there was a pause before Tim began “Adeste Fideles” in a surprisingly pleasant voice.
Bridger slowed, smiling in spite of himself, and turned to Carlos,
"It sounds like a good party. Are you sure you won't change your mind?" Professor Carlos Mendez was carrying his laptop, but his cellphone was clipped into a pouch near his collar and he touched it every few moments, anxious for further updates on the sharks. He shook his head, hesitated for a moment and then said,
“Nathan, my friend, I know you think that I am acting like a new father, but for you there is always another world to save. I may never have another Christmas like this one. Tell your crew I appreciate their efforts - tell them that I wish a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night - but I must leave; I do not think that they will miss me.”
Captain Bridger could not resist asking him,
“If my crew do ask where you are, do you want me to tell them that you have decided to spend Christmas with your family?”
“Do that, and I will tell my staff that you have stayed to spend Christmas with yours. Vaya con Dios, my friend, until we meet again.”
Captain Bridger watched him leave before turning back to join the party. There would always be another world to save – but that was a job for tomorrow.