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From the Survival Journal of Burt Gummer:

Feeding Frenzy

When my geo-phone net sounded the alarm, I deployed to the entrance of Perfection Valley and found our local Graboid, El Blanco, menacing an adult caucasian male named Tyler Reed. Mr. Reed informed me that El Blanco had just snagged himself a backpacker. (Damn it, how many times do we have to warn tourists not to wander around the valley without safety equipment?) One concussion grenade later, El Blanco had vamoosed and our newest neighbor was hitching a ride into town with me.

At Chang's Market, Tyler told us he'd bought Desert Jack's Tours. Jodi Chang and I gave him the normal safety briefing and Graboid-detection gear. Then El Blanco arrived to give him a training exercise.

El Blanco's unusually aggressive behavior was triggering my brain's early-warning system. Next morning, doing recon, I found one dirtbike track and seven dead, half-eaten burros. They couldn't talk, but they didn't have to. Those burros told me our not-so-friendly neighborhood Graboid was in an unnatural feeding frenzy.

Then Rosalita radioed in, screaming that El Blanco was attacking her ranch. Jodi and Tyler extracted her safely, and Tyler brought her to my place. As they arrived, I saw a metallic gleam in the distance, and my equipment went on the fritz. When El Blanco charged us, we had to fall back to my bunker.

After that incident, we headed to Chang's Market for a war council. We were all there, even our blustering compadre Agent Twitchell, when El Blanco burst through the floor and commenced wreaking more havoc.

Before I could shoot him, I glanced out the window and spotted the same metallic gleam I'd seen earlier. I sighted the target, acquired, fired. Scored a direct hit. With the gleaming device reduced to a smoking ruin, El Blanco excused himself to parts unknown.

Tyler and I drove out to investigate the device I'd fragged, and we spotted a dirt-biker speeding away. We pursued him. When we caught up to him, he pulled a gun on us. Tyler, showing a decent instinct for tactics, distracted him and secured the weapon. The biker hopped back on his wheels and fled into a dead-end box canyon.

We never caught the biker — but only because El Blanco found him first. All we discovered was a gnawed-up bike and a jittery Melvin Plug. Melvin, ever the consummate capitalist turd, maintained his innocence, but I'm sure he hired the biker to torment El Blanco with the device. Said device provoked El Blanco to kill, which Melvin hoped would provoke us to kill El Blanco. Then Melvin could turn Perfection Valley into the strip mall of his dreams. With the device destroyed, Melvin was outta luck.

So all's quiet at this hour. I gotta say, I'm never thrilled when someone new clutters up Perfection, but Tyler seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I just hope his daredevil attitude doesn't get him turned into Graboid-chow.

Shriek and Destroy

When Juniper, Ariz., faced a Shrieker stampede, Twitchell ordered me and Tyler to handle the situation — or else he'd kick everyone out of Perfection for good. Regardless, I wouldn't have obeyed (after all, it would take a truly massive military force even to make me uncomfortable, never mind drive me out of my home valley), except that Tyler secured from Twitch some worthwhile concessions to our quality of life and liberty in exchange for our help.

Before we left, Jodi asked Tyler to bring along her video camera and shoot footage she could use in a new home-movie to sell to tourists. I wasn't thrilled about that idea, but (unlike certain government agents) I still consider this to be a free country.

We arrived in the middle of Juniper's annual "Pioneer Days" festival. While Tyler befriended a local baseball player named George Meadows, I used satellite tracking to identify two groups of Shriekers some distance away. We rolled out to intercept the herds ASAP.

Our first confrontation with the Shriekers was a textbook engagement: We lured them into a close-quarters ambush, opened fire, and cut them down.

We'd have taken the other group, too, if Bill McClane of the Fish and Wildlife Service hadn't interfered. After proclaiming himself an expert hunter, he sent us "amateurs" back to the Pioneer Days barbecue while he handled the second batch of Shriekers all by his lonesome.

I suppressed my rage by engaging in a pleasant distraction: I chatted up Courtney (a.k.a. Miss Pioneer Days) about a locally famous gun collection. Just as the conversation was getting interesting, that numbskull McClane returned. He proudly announced that he'd killed all the Shriekers but one, which he'd locked into a building at a feed-and-grain lot.

Yes, a feed and grain lot. Where the Shrieker (a self-replicating creature) could eat enough to start reproducing exponentially.

Sure enough, at the lot we found a ragged hole in the now-empty building and the gruesome remains of two cops, Piper and Rinks, who McClane had left on guard. We couldn't guess how many Shriekers had been spawned by McClane's ignorance. With the bureaucratic blockhead in tow, we followed the Shriekers' tracks.

We cornered the enormous pack of ravenous predators at a water-treatment plant, where the Shriekers quickly outsmarted and killed McClane. Then Tyler lured them into a shed. We ripped the building to pieces with the last of our ammo, but when we opened the shed's door we discovered that almost all the Shriekers had escaped through an underground pipe — a pipe that led directly to the fairgrounds.

We were fresh out of government-issued ammo, and the people of Juniper were about to be out of time and out of luck.

Tyler sped back to the fairgrounds and started an evacuation, but the Shriekers arrived too quickly. Tyler grabbed a slab of roasting meat off the barbecue spit, lashed it to his car, rounded up Twitch, and drove away (fast enough to stay ahead of the Shriekers but slow enough to let them stay on his tail). The Shriekers eagerly followed the meat's heat signature as Tyler led them into the ambush I was about to set:

I raced to the local gun-collector's residence. No one was home, so as Tyler and Twitchell arrived (leaving the meat down the road to stall the Shriekers), I broke into the house. Unfortunately, the famed gun collection consisted of single-shot antiques. The three of us could never hold off the Shriekers with these Civil War-era muskets.

Luckily, Tyler's friend George showed up to help — and brought his entire baseball team with him. I issued weapons, musket balls and gunpowder to the men. With only seconds to spare, I taught them how to load the weapons. I directed them to stand in two ranks, fire on my command, then drop back to reload while the other rank fires. Moments later the Shriekers swarmed our position, only to face a firing line as deadly as those of Gettysburg and Antietam.

As I'd predicted, we won the day. As I'd further predicted, Twitchell stole all the credit. But thanks to Jodi's insistence that we videotape our entire adventure, the truth may yet set us free from Twitchell's meddlesome mediocrity.

Blast from the Past

When body parts started cropping up around Perfection, I was forced to bring my inaugural class of survival students in from the field while we investigated this latest danger.

The sulfurous odor I smelled at one of the crime scenes told me what our perpetrator was. Rosalita's report of an attack that she'd barely survived only confirmed it: We were dealing with an AssBlaster.

It was up to Tyler and me to hunt the beast down before it laid a Graboid egg and gave El Blanco a hunting partner. Though I was reluctant to leave my students in less-experienced hands, Jodi insisted they'd be fine with Rosalita and Nancy.

Outside town, Tyler and I lured the AssBlaster to the heat of my truck's engine. Just as I lined up the kill shot, I got an urgent call from Jodi. Two men, Brock and Mead, had arrived. They worked for those overdressed Vegas magicians, Sigmund and Ray, who'd paid Nancy many thousands of greenbacks for the live AssBlaster she'd caught a few years ago.

It was this same, very valuable AssBlaster — callsign Messerschmitt — that had broken loose (after some black-market thugs botched their attempt to steal it). The creature had returned here, to its roots in Perfection. Nancy blamed herself for the deaths the creature had caused; she felt it was her fault for selling the creature instead of killing it. I told her she'd done nothing wrong, but I'm not sure she believed me.

To recapture the creature, Tyler and I set out a grill and a bunch of military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Theoretically, the AssBlaster would approach the heat source, eat the food, and lapse into a well-documented dormant state we like to call a "food coma."

The AssBlaster showed up, all right — but it rejected the food. Worse, Brock and Mead's tranquilizer gun didn't work, because their drugs were burned off by the monster's extremely high body temperature. We barely escaped the encounter without casualties.

Back at Chang's Market, Brock and Mead explained that the AssBlaster had rejected my MREs because Sigmund and Ray had spoiled the creature with a steady diet of fancy-shmancy French food. I filed this bit of overdue intelligence under "failure to communicate."

Nancy cooked up a French dinner with all the trimmings, which we put out in the middle of the street — a veritable AssBlaster smorgasbord. That wanna-be bird, however, used its wanna-be bird brain. It could tell that the food on the ground was bait for a trap, so it kept its distance.

Hoping it wouldn't realize that airborne food was equally dangerous, we baited a hook with a chunk of steak au poivre, attached it to a modified hang-glider, and started towing the apparatus behind my truck. The AssBlaster zoomed in, bit into the flying meat, and lodged the hook in its jaw. Then we faced the hazardous task of reeling in our catch. My survival-school students helped save the day by netting the beast with the macramé hammocks they'd made at Nancy's place (don't ask...please).

Messershmitt went home to his two daddies, and my survivalists went home with big heads and stomachs full of Nancy's cooking. I know it looks like a happy ending, but it's not: The AssBlaster lives to kill another day, and my students think that basket-weaving will save them in the high desert. Am I the only one who thinks this is completely FUBAR?

Hit and Run

From the Survival Journal of Burt Gummer

Recently, a guest on Tyler's tour violated protocol by jumping off the jeep; the numbskull nearly got gnawed by El Blanco. Because of that incident, Twitchell wanted to shut down Tyler's tour business. I talked to our local federale, and he agreed to let the tours continue — in exchange for my promise to close my survival school if I couldn't keep El Blanco from attacking Tyler's customers.

Soon afterward, two Vegas lowlifes, Frank and Max, rolled into town and bought all the seats on Tyler's tour. Frank didn't believe that Graboids existed, and his buddy Max wanted to show him proof. When Tyler couldn't scare up El Blanco for them, they angrily drove off into the wilderness on their own.

Tyler tried to follow them and keep them safe, but they had too much of a head-start. Instead, Tyler found me. I was busy conditioning El Blanco — with a strict regimen of negative reinforcement — to avoid the sound of Tyler's tour jeep, so I sent Tyler on his way so as not to bias my experiment.

Tyler kept searching for the missing duo until long after sunset. Then Frank stumbled alone into Chang's Market. He was in shock. He said that El Blanco had eaten Max.

That evening, Frank kept his phone calls secret, and he seemed pretty worked up about a lost key. Something shady was going on. Rosalita concluded that Frank had "whacked" Max for the mob and was trying to pin the blame on El Blanco. I doubted that version of events, but even I grew suspicious when Frank lied about "getting some rest," slipped out a back door and fled in his truck.

By the next morning I hadn't tracked him down, but I'd found the car that had met him. Its trunk was crammed with instructions on killing Graboids. Frank and his new mystery buddy were out to murder El Blanco.

We moved fast. Because the hostiles were luring El Blanco with noise, I used the seismo scanner to follow the Graboid to their location.

When the shooting started, I ordered Tyler to lure El Blanco to safety while I dealt with Max and his pal. Unfortunately, thanks to my Pavlovian conditioning, El Blanco refused to follow Tyler's jeep. It was up to me to lead the beast away on foot.

El Blanco followed me with a vengeance, and the hostiles, with their harpoon, targeted the Great White Graboid. Then the worm turned — against his hunters. Frank watched his amigo segunda die in the Graboid's maw.

I tossed a concussion grenade. In response, El Blanco retreated, trailing the harpoon cable, which he'd swallowed along with Frank's new pal. Frank's ankle got entangled in the slack cable. The Graboid dragged him out of sight. Tyler and I later found one of Frank's boots and a set of footprints, so for now we're assuming that he escaped.

I still wonder what motivated Frank to go after El Blanco. I doubt it was vengeance; Frank seemed like too lazy and cowardly a lowlife to risk his neck over a point of honor. I'm convinced he needed El Blanco dead for another reason. Unfortunately, unless I can determine what that reason is, I have to expect that Perfection Valley hasn't seen the last of him.

Project 4-12

I knew something was wrong with Cletus Poffenberger when I found him wandering in the desert. Like the mad scientist he is, he was raving about a monster on the loose.

When Rosalita's hired hand Harlow was attacked by a mysterious creature, we realized that Cletus wasn't kidding around. Harlow said the beast resembled a giant porcupine with a rhino's horn, so it wasn't a member of the Graboid family.

Cletus and I set out to hunt down the creature, which Cletus called "4-12" — in a tone of voice most people reserve for chihuahuas named Munchkin.

While we searched, Cletus revealed that, 30 years back, he'd worked as a biochemist in a top-secret compartmentalized skunkworks laboratory buried in the desert near Perfection. The lab was run by the Proudfoot Corporation for the good ol' federal government.

Cletus's project was 4-12, a killing machine intended for use in the Vietnam War. After creating a DNA-splicing chemical called MixMaster, Cletus blended the genes of several dangerous animals to design his monstrous masterpiece.

When the feds decided to disappear the lab, Cletus fled with his baby, 4-12. The two of them had been living as pals in the desert ever since.

Supposedly, 4-12 was docile as long as Cletus fed it a certain type of cactus bud. Since Cletus hadn't been able to locate any cactus Prozac lately, 4-12 was off its meds and on a rampage.

While Cletus was spilling his guts (so to speak), 4-12 was lunching on the guts of a Road Hog who'd pulled into town. After some strategic maneuvering, Tyler, Jodi, Nancy, Rosalita, Harlow, Cletus and I reconvened at the scene of that assault. 4-12 was absent, but I deduced that it was combing the area in a standard military search pattern, as it'd been bred to do.

Sure enough, it returned right on schedule. Instead of heading straight for me and my gun, however, it ID'd a juicier target of opportunity — Chang's Market, where the others were hiding.

No one was killed, and the market only ended up with one significant hole in the wall. I've seen worse. The women fled to safety; we men nearly got pinned down.

Just in time, El Blanco arrived and swallowed 4-12 whole. A regrettable instance of premature celebration transpired before the Great White Graboid vomited 4-12 back up — alive and intact.

Tyler, Cletus, Harlow and I made a tactical retreat to Tyler's shed. We had mere moments before 4-12 broke in. While Cletus tried to negotiate with it (he's a mad scientist, remember), the rest of us got busy. We jury-rigged a passable flame-thrower just in time. Big, bad 4-12 came through the wall and got himself a faceful of Nevada napalm.

With 4-12 fried, Cletus faces an even lonelier existence than he'd had before. But I think he'll be fine; living without a companion — be it a mutant porcupine or a wife — builds character, and forces a man to improve himself, body, mind and soul.

Witness my sterling example, if you will.

Ghost Dance

In the old mine shaft just outside of town, Rosalita and her hired hand Harlow found a cave explorer whose arm had been shriveled dry by a glowing green cloud. When they told the rest of us about it, my neighbors all immediately jumped to the conclusion that we had a ghost on our hands. I knew better.

Fact: Ghosts don't exist. Fact: There was almost certainly an abandoned, top-secret, underground government lab near there. Put those facts together and it's pretty obvious that the green mist killing people in the mine had to be a government project run amok.

As usual, everyone said I was crazy.

Then Agent Twitchell showed up. Our friendly government toady was supposed to investigate the mine for what his superiors called a "methane leak." (I believed that story just as much as I believe in ghosts.) Tyler and I went with him. We found no methane, just two more dead people whose bodies had been drained dry — an air shaft leading to the aforementioned "nonexistent" government lab.

Then the glowing green mist cornered us. Playing a hunch — based on the available evidence — I saved us by emptying my canteen onto the ground nearby. The mist sucked up the liquid the same way it had drained its victims dry.

We escaped back to town, where a couple of real spooks arrived: two EPA agents named Fallon and Wilhelm. They wouldn't tell us anything, so Tyler and I secretly followed them to the mine. The mist had come outside and gotten bigger. The spooks sprayed it with an antibacterial agent, but it barreled ahead and killed Wilhelm.

Fallon hightailed it out of there. Tyler and I roadblocked him and demanded he give us information instead of excuses. Since we already knew the mist was a water-devouring bacteria developed by the government, Fallon stopped denying it. He confessed that the mist must've gotten loose in the abandoned lab and mutated by rubbing shoulders with its top-secret chemical neighbors.

Now the big green gasball was heading straight for us. To the thirsty cloud, Perfection's giant water tank smelled like a feast.

Have I ever mentioned that Uncle Sam is a blockhead? To stop the bacteria, the government decided to napalm our entire town. How exactly did these rocket scientists plan to explain why they used a napalm strike to fix a "methane leak"? This is our tax dollars at work. Be afraid, be very afraid.

We were about to lose Perfection. Obviously, it was up to us to come up with a solution that was cheap, sane and crafted from handy spare parts and common household items.

So, with some duct tape, an old industrial wet vacuum and my truck, we built a machine that would suck the bacteria into an airtight container helpfully provided by Fallon, who still didn't really believe our plan would work, even though he hoped it would.

Jodi and Rosalita enlisted El Blanco to stall the National Guard troops coming to evacuate us. That gave Tyler just enough time for some extreme housecleaning. After the wetvac sucked up all the bacteria, the government slapped a "methane" label on the canister and drove off with it into the sunset.

And now life is back to we passes for normal in Perfection. It might not always be safe or fun, but it beats fighting traffic and paying five dollars for "gourmet" coffee.

Night of the Shriekers

If I hadn't been constantly vigilant, I would never have discovered that a Dr. Megan Flint was running a government-funded Shrieker finishing school right here in Perfection Valley.

She was trying make Shriekers into docile SAR (that's Search and Rescue) animals. As long as the electro-gizmos she'd implanted in the creatures' brains were working, her three Shriekers would be nice as hamsters.

Mother Nature picked that very night to show Dr. Flint who was boss. A massive lightning storm knocked out the power generators at Dr. Flint's camp. Out came the Shriekers to have themselves a smorgasbord.

By the time Twitchell and I got up there the next day, the only survivors were Dr. Flint and her adviser, Dr. Baynes. Most of her people were dead; a couple were missing, including her tech-support specialist, Otto.

With Shriekers on the rampage, Perfection's citizenry gathered in my underground bunker for safety. Infrared satellite imaging showed me that the Shriekers were multiplying: There were already forty of them.

It was time to take the offensive. At nightfall, we lit a fire outside. When the first group of the creatures arrived, baited by the heat, Rosalita, Tyler and I blasted them to pieces.

Soon afterward, Otto called in. Dr. Flint told him to head for our location ASAP. If he could bring us a backup Behavioral Modification Unit, Dr. Flint claimed she could regain control over her creatures.

A second group of Shriekers showed up before Otto did, so we killed them, too. Desperate to stop us from destroying all of her precious animals, Dr. Flint ignited my main ammo supply. Of all the—! I can't believe she was so reckless! It's amazing no one died.

Jodi, Twitch and Nancy took shelter in my safe room, where I store my extra ammo. Problem was, the door got jammed — so they were trapped, and I couldn't re-load my guns.

When Otto arrived, our non compos mentis doctor rushed outside to put her plan into action. Her electronics must've failed her, because she and Otto ended up as Shrieker chow.

Now the Shriekers started digging down into my compound. Desperate measures being required, I told the group in the safe room how to build a bomb. While Tyler fought off the Shrieker incursion through the roof, we prepared to blast open the safe room's door.

Then the Shriekers abandoned their direct assault on my roof, and tried to sneak up my escape hatch instead. The escape hatch, however, led straight to the safe room. Jodi, Nancy and Twitchell got a scare, but the Shriekers got blown to smithereens by the bomb.

We could finally breathe a sigh of relief — as long as we didn't mind the stench of burnt Shrieker guts.

A Little Paranoia Among the Friends

When Twitchell dispatched me and Tyler to investigate possible Graboid activity near Toluca, N.M., I prepared to inaugurate my new Barrett 50-caliber rifle against a live Caederus americana.

But Twitch had tasked us to a 100-percent certifiable nuthouse of a town. Egged on by a radio talk-show host named Cecil Carr, Toluca's citizens all believed that their missing loved ones had been abducted by aliens, not eaten by a Graboid. To talk to these aliens, Carr had even built a device called an "Intergalactic Communicator," a.k.a. an IGC, out in the desert.

The Tolucans promptly decided that Tyler and I were federal agents trying to cover up the aliens for the government. I've never been so insulted in all my life.

That night, someone hurled a rock bearing a death threat through our hotel-room window. The next day, Deputy Sheriff Garcia himself sabotaged the Graboid-monitoring geophone network that we'd painstakingly installed the previous day.

Tyler and I pursued the hunt anyway. Sure enough, we encountered a Graboid near the IGC. But it acted crazy too, ignoring my standard lures. Instead, it went after Deputy Garcia, who was changing the IGC's battery. After Garcia refused to heed our warnings, the Graboid attacked — and bit Garcia in half.

Naturally, the deranged Tolucans accused us of murdering Garcia to create more false evidence for the government cover-up. We had no equipment and were facing a Graboid as bonkers as the people it was eating; I was ready to withdraw to saner ground.

Then Tyler and I noticed that every victim had vanished near the IGC. The Graboid must have learned to associate the device's low-frequency vibrations with human presence. The creature fed there — and only there — which explained why it had ignored my lures. I was certain that if we turned off the IGC my standard hunting tactics would work.

But some civic-minded Tolucan had slashed the tires of my power wagon. By the time we reached the IGC's location, the device was gone. Carr had moved his Graboid homing beacon, and no one would tell us where he'd gone.

In response, Tyler initiated a disturbingly brilliant psychological op. He "confessed" that we were government agents engaged in a cover-up: The Graboid was a murderous space alien, and we had to stop it. Why that "fact" made the Graboid more believable to them I can't understand, but it worked. The Tolucans revealed that Carr had moved the IGC to an old meteor crater to await the abductees' return. In other words, Carr and the fools with him were in terrible danger.

At the crater, Carr wouldn't let us approach the IGC, let alone turn it off. That's when the worm grabbed my leg. In a moment I'll curse forevermore, I dropped my Barrett 50 before I had a chance to fire its inaugural shot.

Tyler picked up my weapon and took down the Graboid. Cecil and the others thanked us "G-Men" for telling them the "truth," and that was that.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Tyler acted quickly; he probably saved my life. It's just that, after all my long months of waiting for the Barrett's maiden voyage ... I can't believe she sailed first with Tyler.

Flora or Fauna

While foraging to supply my survival-school menu, I crossed paths with Tyler, who was giving an over-enthusiastic tourist named Larry a pricey private tour.

Little did we suspect that the latest spawn of MixMaster — that diabolical government concoction that mingles any non-human DNA it can find — had already claimed two more victims.

We did, however, notice suspicious seismic activity on Tyler's monitor. We ditched Larry and checked it out. That's how we met federal employee Dr. Casey Mathews and two of her assistants, Pete and Roger, who were drilling for soil samples. Dr. Mathews (if that's even her real name) admitted that she was studying Mix Master's effects on the valley's ecosystem.

Tyler stayed to chat (or, more accurately, flirt) with Dr. Mathews. Consequently, he was present when she discovered the aforementioned fatalities: They stumbled upon the gory skeletons of two more of her assistants, who had been in the field since morning but had failed to check in.

Naturally, I called in Cletus Poffenberger. Yes, he's a former federal scientist, but he's the only one I remotely trust. Working with Dr. Mathews, he discovered that the substance that had killed the two men was an organic acid.

It took the death of Pete, not to mention hours of painstaking investigation, before we understood what we were facing. The field where the scientists had died was home to a new plant-animal hybrid, like a reptilian fungus — obviously a product of Mix Master's DNA-blending ability. This hybrid had spread over nearly four acres, poking up to just below the ground with sacs that, when jarred, sprayed deadly acid.

We had to kill this thing quickly.

The tap root — the hybrid's command-and-control center, so to speak — wasn't hard to locate. Injecting it with poison would kill the whole structure. The challenge lay in reaching the tap root, because it was surrounded by a minefield of acid sacs strong enough to slag the tires off a car.

Worse, we soon learned that we were running out of time. When the outdoor temperature reached 81 degrees, the heat would trigger the hybrid to release millions of spores. Once those got loose, the wind would spread seeds for baby acid-plant hybrids far and wide.

As usual, it fell to me to devise a plan. As the temperature rose, we sent Larry the rubbernecker to Jodi Chang's to buy supplies for the poison. Then we mobilized at the field, where I jury-rigged a one-man hot air balloon to fly Tyler over the minefield to the tap root.

The operation was nearly a disaster, but Tyler's a good soldier — he kept a cool head. He finally reached the tap root and shot it full of poison. Even Larry proved useful for a split second, when he leaped to cover an erupting spore pod with his jacket. We'd killed Mix Master's latest spawn.

Nonetheless, in the interests of preparedness, I'm now war-gaming scenarios, though I'm hard-pressed to say which would be worse: Another such hybrid taking over all of Perfection Valley, or that irritating monsterazzi Larry deciding to move in.

Graboid Rights

Water Harzard

I rolled back into town not a day too soon.

Recently, in a moment of financial desperation, Rosalita accepted an offer to work for that turd Melvin Plug over in neighboring Bixby at his new housing development, The Oasis. While Melvin was showing her the property's extravagant artificial "lagoon," the two discovered one of his workers floating in that glorified pond — with his head chewed off.

While Melvin agonized over the possible delay of his grand opening, Rosalita spotted some mysterious tracks and picked up a strange piece of shell. She urged Melvin to call in Tyler, then she took the shell fragment to that federalisimo scientist Dr. Casey Matthews for further study.

Tyler went out to the pond that night to begin investigating. There, he met two cops who were probing the water for clues. The next instant, a creature attacked from the pond. Tyler tried to rescue both men, but nearly got himself killed.

Bixby's Sheriff Boggs, who wasn't interested in hearing a story about the creature from the crap lagoon, arrested Tyler on suspicion of murdering the two deputies.

In jail, Tyler met another one of Melvin's employees. (Yep, that's the kind of quality worker Melvin attracts.) This drunk had trucked-in the water for Melvin's lagoon — after stealing it from a spring in Perfection Valley.

The next morning, I convinced Sheriff Boggs to release Tyler into my supervision. Then I tried to enlighten Perfection's NASCAR nitwit about his poor decisions: First, he hadn't called me; second, he hadn't called me; and last, he hadn't called me. He didn't take my constructive criticism well at all. Fine, I figured. If he wants to handle this without my help, so be it.

By this point Dr. Mathews had discovered that the shell fragment from Melvin's über-pond contained both ancient DNA belonging to a giant prehistoric shrimp — and MixMaster, that government chemical that does misbegotten things with non-human DNA; I'd encountered it before. MixMaster had apparently regressed the DNA of one of the tiny brine shrimp in our local springs. When Melvin's goon stole the water, the altered creature came along to The Oasis, where it grew huge.

Learning this, Melvin decided he didn't want his development held up by scientific attempts to study killer crustaceans. He dumped diesel fuel into his pond to kill the creature.

Undeterred, the shrimp escaped overland into the aqueduct. If it swam from there into the reservoir, it could vanish off the proverbial radar and spread MixMaster throughout Nevada — and, all too quickly, the world.

Tyler, Twitchell and Sheriff Boggs raced to the aqueduct. They had to trap the creature without making it bleed (which would contaminate the water with MixMaster).

Tyler borrowed from Rosalita a truckload of portable fencing, which he erected as a submerged barrier across the aqueduct. As the creature drew closer, Twitchell ordered a vanload of dry ice rushed to the site.

Once the creature arrived, Twitchell sacrificed his car by driving it into the water, trapping the shrimp between the vehicle and the fence. (Tyler swears Mr. Red-Tape Bureaucrat really did this. I'm skeptical.)

The group then dumped dry ice into the aqueduct until the trapped shrimp froze to death. The world was safe for another day (give or take).

Later, I buried the hatchet with Tyler. I conceded that perhaps I'd been a bit too harsh ... this time.

Rosalita remained worried about her financial situation until Tyler observed that she was one of very few people who knew that Melvin had stolen federally protected water for his housing project. Rosalita went straight out to visit Melvin. I don't know what she told him, but I know she came home with a hefty check.

"Blackmail" is such an ugly word ... but it beats "bankrupt" any day.

The Sound of Silence

Letter to Burt Gummer from Tyler Reed

Hi, Burt.

Since you ordered me to keep a "precise log of local occurrences" while you're in Idaho buying a secondhand military periscope —

Okay, that last sentence is weird enough by itself. But there's more.

Dr. Donna Debevic, an animal-communications expert, came to Perfection Valley to record El Blanco's vocalizations. She nearly ended up studying them from inside his stomach — until she monitored an underground screeching noise that drove off the Graboid. The noise also fouled up our tracking equipment. (I'll give you the repair receipts when you get back.)

Because Donna's truck had a flat, I gave her a lift back to town. At Chang's, we met our favorite groupie, Larry Norvel. Seems he's decided to move here. (Deep breaths, Burt. Stay calm.)

Donna concluded that the mysterious screeching noise wasn't from another Graboid. Which is a shame, 'cause we know how to handle Graboids. Twitchell arrived on the scene, then Larry pointed out that our monitors were now showing five mysterious blotches traveling underground. Another malfunction? Or big bad trouble? This is Perfection: Of course it was trouble.

Donna guessed that we were dealing with underground insect-swarms. Their screeching reminded her specifically of cicadas.

Then Rosalita arrived, and she was freaked out. While we'd been studying the problem, she'd nearly been killed when a swarm of bugs attacked one of her sheds.

While Larry was trying to weasel into Jodi and Nancy's good graces in Perfection, the rest of us checked out the sawdust remains of Rosalita's shed. Donna mentioned that the devastation seemed like the work of termites. Naturally, I thought of MixMaster, the DNA-blending chemical that coats this valley like algae on a public swimming pool.

Well, I was right. (Please, Burt, contain your surprise.) Our DNA analysis of one of the dead bugs revealed that it was part termite, part cicada and part maggot. Great. "Part maggot" meant the critter didn't just eat wood — it ate flesh.

Sure enough, a swarm found Twitch and nearly chowed down on Mr. Interior's exterior. Much as the guy's a pest himself, I'm glad I arrived in time to save him.

A couple of road workers Twitch had been trying to warn weren't so lucky. We found them dead, gnawed down to bone by the bugs.

Everyone gathered back in town. It was time to circle the wagons — or run for the hills. Swarms of ravenous bugs were converging on us. We were nearly surrounded.

Donna, Larry and I NASCAR'd it out to Donna's abandoned pickup and scanned through her insect mix tapes. She had recordings of termite mating noises — Barry White for bugs. We pumped up the jams on Larry's hundred-amp car speakers and drove back toward town.

The bugs had blanketed Chang's, with our friends trapped inside. Hearing the mating calls, though, the screeching swarm fell silent and started following Larry's car.

We lured the swarm to the road-work area. I laid down some new tar, Larry lured the bugs onto it, and Donna doused the whole sticky mess in gasoline.

Nothing left after that but the victory bonfire. (Please, Burt, no applause — just throw money.)

Let me know if you need a hand hooking up that periscope. — Tyler

(P.S. — You're out of tabasco sauce. Sorry. My bad.)

The Key

Excerpt from the unpublished autobiography From NASCAR to Nowhere: The True Story of Tyler Reed, by Tyler Reed

It was an ordinary day in Perfection: Burt was in Montana, Nancy was brainstorming a new Graboid souvenir, Jodi was busy at Chang's, I was fixing Rosalita's truck, and Larry was running around town claiming that an "invisibat" had attacked him in the abandoned Jessup barn.

Since we were all busy and Rosalita had no intention of helping King Geek track down an invisible bat, the new guy was on his own.

Then a lovely lady named Dolores lured me out from underneath Rosalita's truck. She paid extra for a special Graboid tour, so I wasn't complaining, even when she asked some funky questions about how long El Blanco waits before taking a dump.

That night at Chang's, Larry surprised a guy trying to steal Jodi's big seismo-monitor. The guy pulled a gun and locked Larry in the freezer.

When Larry described the robber the next morning, I got worried. I was sure the perp was Frank — a loser wannabe-gangster from Vegas. A while back, he'd stirred up some big problems after El Blanco ate his friend Max.

Frank had a reason to hate our albino Graboid, and now he had a seismo-monitor with which to track him. Rosalita and I jumped in her truck and headed out to check up on El Blanco.

When we found El Blanco he was lying on the ground, unconscious. There was no sign of Frank, but we didn't dare leave El Blanco alone. Whoever had attacked our Graboid obviously wasn't finished.

Twitchell brought in a couple of experts, who decided to truck El Blanco to my garage so they could set up their fancy equipment and tell us what had happened to him.

Once we loaded El Blanco onto Rosalita's flatbed truck, Twitch and his posse set off for town. Rosalita and I were about to get in the truck and follow with the Graboid, when Frank and Dolores appeared and stuck guns in our faces. We were being hijacked.

They took us to the old Jessup barn, then ordered me to cut open El Blanco with a chainsaw. That, along with Dolores's questions on my tour, told me that they were looking for something El Blanco had swallowed. Maybe Frank's dead partner had been wearing some kind of valuable doo-dad when he got eaten. Whatever. I had bigger problems: If I didn't kill El Blanco, Frank and Dolores would kill me and Rosalita.

Then I saw Larry, hiding up in the rafters where he'd been trying to snare his invisibat. While I stalled Frank, Larry stealthily grabbed the weird gun that Frank and Dolores had brought along.

The gun didn't shoot bullets but sound waves. It's probably what they'd used to incapacitate El Blanco. More important, when the dust settled in the barn, I was using Frank as a human shield while Dolores aimed a shotgun at us.

Frank must've been bummed to realize that his girlfriend was perfectly willing to kill him to get at me. I know I sure was.

Then Larry lured his invisibat into Dolores's face. She staggered backward, El Blanco ate her, Frank ran away, and everything was cool once more.

The big question now is, who gets the credit for the save? Forced to choose between singing the praises of El Blanco, Larry or the Invisibat, I have to be honest — I'm leaning toward the bat.

Perfection Nevada

TO PERFECTION, NEVADA! (Pop. 19)

If you like small towns, you're going to love Perfection! We're located in the heart of Perfection Valley, a pristine desert environment only a few hours from the Nevada Test Site. Our charming downtown is prepared to accommodate all your needs as a visitor, and our small but friendly community is always ready to offer a warm welcome to new neighbors interested in sharing our unique, exciting way of life!

To help you learn a little more about Perfection, we've prepared this handy mini-guide.


GEOGRAPHY

Perfection Valley is an immense box canyon, with rocky cliffs to the north and mountains to the east and west. Aside from a few nearly impassable mountain jeep trails, there is only one road in and out of the valley; it leads to Bixby, Nev., the closest town, 30 miles south through the desert. It's paved, and as we locals say, stay on the asphalt if you want to stay alive!


STAYING IN TOUCH

Sorry to say, cell phones still don't work in Perfection. We're working on it, really, but there isn't much we can do, because of the local geography. Land lines, CB radio and short-range walkie-talkies are the current means of communication.


DOING BUSINESS

Chang's Market, run by Jodi Chang, is the center of life in town. General store, post office and all-around watering hole, everyone who's anyone in Perfection can be found here. C'mon by for lunch and stock up on anything and everything you might need! From ammunition to antibiotics, barbecue sauce to batteries, wrist-seismos to a deck of cards, Chang's Market has it all!

Desert Jack's Graboid Tours, run by ex-NASCAR driver Tyler Reed, is your best chance of seeing elusive old El Blanco, the "Great White Graboid," and living to tell about it! Sign up today for a once-in-a-lifetime spin through the lovely deserts of Perfection, But consider yourself warned — Tyler drives fast, so if you get a glimpse of El Blanco, don't blink or you might miss it!

Burt Gummer's Survival School, run by world-famous Graboid-hunter Burt Gummer himself, offers courses in everything from basic firearm safety to how to write your legally binding last will and testament using only a rock, a cactus quill and your own blood.


KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS

Jodi Chang (Chang's Market), Tyler Reed (Desert Jack's Graboid Tours) and Nancy Sterngood (Perfection Souvenirs Online) all live in the town proper. Jodi's niece, Natalie Chang, sometimes stays with Jodi and works part-time in Chang's Market.

Burt Gummer lives a few miles from town in his hilltop survivalist bunker. It took some heavy damage during a recent incursion by those monsters colorfully known as AssBlasters, but Burt, plucky fella that he is, has vowed to rebuild.

Rosalita Sanchez lives on her small cattle ranch several miles from Burt's bunker, on the opposite side of town. Her younger brother, Roberto, occasionally visits and helps out.

Agent W.D. Twitchell, U.S. Department of the Interior, lives in a charming ranchette home he purchased from Melvin Plug — a local real-estate developer who owns more than half the property in Perfection Valley and plans to raze the town of Perfection in order to erect a strip-mall sprawl known as "Melville."

In addition, as the Graboid scare has subsided, a few newcomers have settled in the outskirts of Perfection Valley. Our newest neighbors includes prospectors, ranchers, retirees and picaresque winos living off government disability checks.

We don't mind what folks' stories are, as long as they mind their own business and pay their bills. So whether you're looking to settle down or start over, Perfection is the place for you!


CO-EXISTING WITH GRABOIDS

The initial appearances of Graboids and their mutations here in Perfection, as well as in Mexico and Argentina, are well-known world news. The big TV networks have all done stories here. Our cozy little town is a must-see destination for truly adventurous tourists, who routinely come to take Tyler Reed's desert tour in hopes of seeing elusive El Blanco, the "Great White Graboid."

Of course, we hear the same question over and over again: "How can you live in a valley with a deadly, giant monster?" We won't lie to you — it's damned inconvenient being unable to get insurance for life or property anywhere in the valley, but we believe our isolation and the risks we endure are a small price to pay to keep our individualistic lifestyle safe from urban sprawl.

It's an odd and delicate balance: The big creature that wants to eat us is also the very thing that allows us to live our lives on our own terms. Luckily, El Blanco is usually content to graze on coyotes, sheep or the rare stray cattle. If we don't annoy him, he doesn't eat us. Can't get a much fairer shake than that, right?

Using seismic equipment, geo-phones, and other gear, we keep tabs on the Big Worm and (usually) avoid dangerous encounters with him. Truth be told, we pretty much take in stride living with Graboids, Shriekers and AssBlasters. We view them as do people in northern Canada seeing polar bears walking down Main Street: We know they're dangerous — we just don't get hysterical, and we take the necessary precautions.

We realize it might seem eccentric at first, but don't worry: You'll get used to it in no time. And before long, you'll understand why we all love to call this tiny oasis our home, and why we continue to warn the government, "Don't mess with Perfection!"

Graboid

This structure is probably coupled with a strong musculature. It is logical to assume that a Graboid propels itself underground partly with its surface spines, and partly with an overall motion of its body. A strong internal musculature would enable the Graboid to flex its entire body, undulating in a curling, corkscrew motion through the ground.

For obvious reasons, it has been all but impossible to directly observe the creature underground; observations of the surface soil above a Graboid's route, however, show that such soil is sometimes humped erratically, producing a series of rises and falls rather than a continuous ridge. This disturbance of the ground is consistent with a writhing, flexing mode of travel. Furthermore, when a Graboid surfaces, it often does so while turning its head or body in a circular motion, supporting the corkscrew theory of locomotion.

The Graboid, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster all appear to respirate the same nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere as other terrestrial animals. Witnesses have heard Shriekers and AssBlasters "puffing," while Graboids sometimes expel blasts of air. This implies that all three Graboid variants possess lungs. Whether these lungs resemble vertebrate lungs is unknown. On a related topic, the Graboid, Shrieker and AssBlaster all have closed circulatory systems; their reddish-orange blood has been well-documented. This suggests that they possess a cardiopulmonary system, a heart pump and an oxygen-based blood-transport system.

Little is known about the creatures' nervous systems, but all forms of the Graboid appear to have sophisticated brains, at least as compared with other predatory animals. All three forms have exhibited signs of being extremely quick studies. We cannot yet measure exactly how smart these creatures are, but they might approach the intelligence levels of such mammalian pack predators as wolves and lions.

In addition, the Graboid would seem to require astonishing levels of energy to propel its prodigious bulk underground faster than a human can run aboveground, yet it does so almost routinely when pursuing prey. It is possible that the Graboid spends most of its time in a torpid or dormant state to recover from these short, intense bursts of activity.

The Shriekers' rapid self-replication and the AssBlaster's ability to generate volatile chemicals capable of launching it skyward suggest extremely efficient metabolisms. Like the Graboid, however, these creatures appear to need rest while digesting food and after prolonged expenditures of energy. Supporting this theory is the observation that, when fully fed, an AssBlaster collapses into a "food coma" in order to digest and to regain its equilibrium.

Curiously, in addition to its feats of speed and its ability to digest large prey, the Graboid has even shown an occasional willingness to eat metal. One of the creatures swallowed a large metal drum containing Burt Gummer, and there is also a report of Graboids attacking a station wagon. Did the Graboids involved in these incidents attack because their bodies are capable of deriving useful nutrients from inorganic objects? Or, as is considered more likely, did the car's vibrations (or Gummer's movements inside the barrel) mislead the Graboids into thinking they had found living prey?

It is possible that the Graboid's underground life gives it access to elements or chemicals that "supercharge" its digestion and metabolism. Because the surface-dwelling Shrieker and AssBlaster also show a similar level of digestive/metabolic ability, the discarded body of their parent Graboid might provide them with these required chemicals. It is also possible that this ability is simply inherent in all three species. Regardless, it remains one of the most impressive aspects of their physiology.

Clearly, much remains to be learned about the bizarre internal anatomy of these creatures. It is strongly urged that the DOI intensify its efforts to collect intact carcasses for future studies.

5.4 – AssBlasters' Reproductive Role

After Shriekers achieve maturity, they enter the third known phase of the Graboid life cycle: the AssBlaster (C. mexicana combustus).

The AssBlaster differs from the Shrieker in three significant ways: It possesses wings; it has a rocketlike ability to launch itself into the air; and it has the ability to lay eggs.

To recap: An egg hatches a Graboid. The Graboid worm matures and dies to birth several Shrieker offspring. The Shriekers feed and produce additional Shriekers (which, as noted above, appear to be pre-developed siblings). The Shriekers then metamorphose into AssBlasters, each of which lays at least one egg to produce more Graboids. The reproductive cycle of genus Caederus is, to say the least, unique among all known higher life-forms.

It has been proposed by some researchers that the AssBlaster is simply the female of the Graboid species. The evidence supporting this theory is scant, however. The conclusion of this research program is that the Shriekers and AssBlasters both appear to be gender-neutral and capable of parthenogenic (asexual) reproduction.

Because AssBlasters seem to be a genuine metamorphosed form of Shriekers, it is likely that a gestational version of the Graboid egg is present in each Shrieker. It is possible that the trigger for the metamorphosis of a Shrieker into an AssBlaster is connected to the development and fertilization of the Graboid egg.

It is still not understood whether an AssBlaster lays only the one Graboid egg that is inside its body at the time it is spawned, or if it is capable of creating multiple eggs over the course of its lifetime. If AssBlasters employ the same reproductive strategy as adult Graboids, they might be intended to serve as nourishment for the newly hatched Graboid. If, however, Graboid hatchlings are relatively self-sufficient, an AssBlaster might be capable of gestating multiple eggs over the course of its lifetime.

[ Corollary: It is worth noting that there is no documented proof that the egg laid by an AssBlaster will yield a Graboid hatchling. All such eggs — and often the AssBlasters that laid them — have been destroyed prior to hatching. Furthermore, the one AssBlaster known to have survived in captivity — Sigmund and Ray's "Messerschmitt" — has so far not gestated or laid any eggs. Whether this is a clue to a necessary fertilization step in the Graboid reproductive cycle, or evidence of a single-egg cycle, is unknown at this time. ]



5.5 – AssBlaster Biochemistry

Special attention should be paid to the AssBlaster's spectacular rocket-propulsion ability. The closest natural analogy to this ability may be the volatile discharge produced by the bombardier beetle as a natural defense mechanism. The AssBlaster, however, clearly generates a compound far more explosive than that of the bombardier beetle. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the AssBlaster's fuel is a highly combustible, methane-based binary compound.

This "ass-blasting" behavior almost certainly evolved as a by-product of the Graboid's digestive processes. Birds and reptiles have a continuous digestive tract that encompasses their reproductive organs. Consequently, whereas mammals have separate orifices and organs for sexual functions and excretion, birds have only a single orifice, known as the cloaca. It is unclear at this time whether the ass-blasting mechanism is a single organ or gland or multiple organs acting in concert; or whether it is segregated from or integrated into the AssBlaster's digestive tract. For this report, however, we have agreed to refer to the AssBlaster's rear orifice as the cloaca.

The AssBlaster is believed to produce the chemicals it requires within its body, perhaps as a result of its complex metabolism. We speculate that the fuel for the ass-blasting ability is binary (i.e., composed of two substances that do not ignite until mixed) and that the AssBlaster stores these substances in separate glands or bladders. The process of filling these "bladders" is probably continuous. Then, when an AssBlaster needs to fly, it empties the correct amount of propellant from some of its storage bladders into the colon above the cloaca. The storage bladders immediately seal after discharge and begin accumulating more fuel.

In a coordinated release, the AssBlaster then discharges its ignition bladder and releases its cloaca sphincter. If the propellant is a true binary compound, timing is critical: If the fluid ignites too early, the AssBlaster will explode. If the sphincter opens too quickly, the propellant will disperse before it can be usefully ignited.

The cloaca, or the bodily chamber that holds the propellant, must be a remarkable organ. It must be tough enough to withstand an explosion strong enough to propel a creature weighing more than 100 pounds hundreds of yards through the air. Simple Newtonian physics would argue, in fact, that the AssBlaster should explode from the magnitude of the blast. The fact that it does not implies that its cloaca must be not only strong but fireproof.

The cloaca presumably has some form of calcium lining, which is not without precedent in the species. The Graboid possesses the equivalent of an internal skeleton as well as outer shell segments. Furthermore, the AssBlaster lays eggs with hard shells, so it must metabolize calcium. In birds, and probably in the AssBlaster, the eggshell is generated within or just beyond the cloacal tract. It is therefore not unreasonable to posit that the AssBlaster can secrete a calcium-based lining to reinforce its propellant chamber.

The calcium reinforcing the cloaca is probably not a single structure (which would be too brittle) but rather a complex of jointed segments that can bend or stretch to absorb shocks more effectively. This cloacal structure presumably is linked to the semirigid internal structure in order to evenly distribute impact forces throughout the AssBlaster's body.

Stumpy

Shriekers

The proper taxonomical classification of Graboids, Shriekers and AssBlasters was a curious challenge because the Graboid species does not clearly belong to any previously known Family grouping. To complete its zoological nomenclature, we were forced to look much deeper into the evolutionary tree than we had expected.

Graboids have been described by some witnesses as being "reptilian," but this is probably no more accurate than describing the AssBlaster as a bird because it flies or the Shrieker as a frog because it undergoes a metamorphosis. The Graboid does not appear to possess any of the features of true reptiles, though the Shrieker and AssBlaster, curiously, each possess some, such as clawed toes. However, they share just as many similarities with birds and mammals, so a reptilian classification was not indicated.

In fact, Graboids, Shriekers and AssBlasters do not appear to belong to any existing class of vertebrates. They clearly are not fish, and it takes only a slightly more professional observer to see that they they are also neither amphibians nor reptiles, neither birds nor mammals.

It is doubtful that they are even vertebrates, although they do seem to possess endoskeletonlike structures. Vertebrates, it should be stressed, derive from a family of creatures called notochords, which gave rise to fish. Also descended from notochords are amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. All these different forms share a heritage of organs and anatomy, ranging from bilateral symmetry to a similarity of organ/tissue types and functions.

The three known forms of genus Caederus lack many of the features inherent to members of the vertebrate line. Most obviously, they lack eyes. Their multistage life cycle is similarly dissociated from known vertebrate reproductive models. In fact, research has not yet yielded any proof that the Graboid species is connected to the vertebrate line.

Regardless, the Graboid, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster are all highly sophisticated lifeforms, which implies that they represent the culmination of a long evolutionary history. Only three other non-vertebrate lines of animal life on Earth have reached a similar level of sophistication: arthropods, annelids and mollusks.

Arthropods (including insects, arachnids, crustaceans and other forms) typically have hard, segmented or jointed exoskeletons, and generally remain small in size when compared with vertebrates. Most arthropods evolved with multiple external limbs and some form of eyes. All these traits are inconsistent with the speculated evolution of C. americana.

Available evidence suggests the Graboid also is not a member of the subphylum Annelida. Annelids — earthworms — share some traits with the Graboid, such as an underground habitat, stiff hairs in the skin to assist in locomotion and an ability to extract nutrients directly from the soil. No annelid, however, has ever possessed anything resembling an endoskeleton or semirigid support system, which C. americana is believed to possess. In addition, C. americana and C. mexicana possess other features not found in annelids: segmented jaws; prehensile mouth tentacles; a multiphase life cycle; and thermal sensors. The Graboid is also larger and more sophisticated than any known annelid, making it highly unlikely that genus Caederus belongs in this subphylum.

Genus Caederus might be unique, in a class of its own. It might even be extraterrestrial. More likely, though, it is a form of mollusk.

The subphylum Mollusca is one of the oldest, most diversified and successful on Earth. It includes clams, mussels, snails, slugs, cuttlefish, nautili, squids and octopi. The most advanced form of mollusks are the cephalopods (octopi and squids), which share many important features with the Graboid.

Cephalopods have multiple tentacles, ranging from eight to dozens, all surrounding a mouth or gullet — an arrangement that resembles the Graboid's tentacled mouth structure. Furthermore, some cephalopods (such as the prehistoric ammonites or the modern nautilus) have external shells or carapaces, as does the Graboid.

At least one cephalopod, the cuttlefish, has a Graboid-like external carapace, or bony structure. In addition, octopi have enough control over the muscles of their skin to change their texture from craggy to smooth, suggesting a skin musculature similar to that of the Graboid, although of different degree.

The "wing structure" of the AssBlaster bears at least a passing resemblance to the rippling "fins" of the cuttlefish. Although no known aquatic cephalopod ejects combustible compounds, it is a compelling similarity that several eject prodigious clouds of ink as a defensive mechanism, and some have a hydrojet-like propulsive organ that resembles the AssBlaster's dramatically fiery self-launching ability.

Cephalopods are water-breathers, but other mollusks, including snails and slugs, exist on dry land. Many cephalopods, as well as certain bivalve mollusks, are able to survive for short durations out of the water.

Cephalopods are the most intelligent non-vertebrate animals known to exist. Studies have indicated that they might possess a capacity for memory, learning and problem-solving, and witnesses have reported signs of social behavior among groups of squid and octopi. Cephalopods might well be as intelligent as some species of birds or mammals; certainly, they seem to show a level of "smart" behavior similar to that of genus Caederus.

Finally, cephalopods have managed to achieve significant size and mass in aquatic habitats. The giant squid, for instance, is a deep-ocean-dweller that might rival the Graboid in size. The largest known giant squid have weighed several tons and stretched up to 55 feet from their flukes to the extremity of their longest tentacle.

Although the Graboid and its related forms possess features previously undocumented among cephalopods (such as jointed limbs, endoskeletons and a multiphase life cycle), these differences do not disqualify their categorization as mollusks. For example, bivalve mollusks (clams and mussels) possess hinged shells; it is not unreasonable to assume that the Graboid family of mollusks may have developed hinged internal shells and eventually evolved more complex internal skeletons.

However, no mollusk has evolved anything resembling the thermal sensors of the Shrieker and AssBlaster; likewise, the incendiary metabolism of the AssBlaster is unique to the Graboid species. Furthermore, no cephalopod or other mollusk possesses a life cycle nearly as complex as that of genus Caederus.

Still, the shared traits documented above and elsewhere in this document are significant enough to justify a tentative classification of the Graboid, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster as distant, terrestrial relatives of class Cephalopoda.

Rescue Shriekers

Ass Blasters

The ecological realities of the Graboid (and its relatives, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster) seem mathematically impossible; however, empirical evidence cannot be denied.

Theoretically (in a conventional mathematical model), the Graboid would require a significant amount of prey in order to generate the energy it needs to function (see discussion of the Graboid's high-energy metabolism in 3.0 – INTERNAL ANATOMY). It is odd, then, that the Graboid has appeared most frequently in areas of sparse human population. Of course, humans are not its only prey; the Graboid may, in fact, be willing to eat nearly any terrestrial animal.

Regardless, it is still puzzling that the Graboid species apparently lives in areas with relatively scarce mammalian life, such as the Mexican oil fields and, most notably, the desert of Perfection Valley, Nev. It would seem that the mammalian populations of these areas lack the capacity to support the Graboid, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster as predators, yet they apparently do.

How is this possible? The Graboid's unprecedented metabolism is so efficient that perhaps the creature requires less prey than most conventional predators. This "frugal" metabolism would allow the Graboid to generate immense energy from relatively small amounts of food.

Alternatively, the Graboid might have other sources of energy that we have not yet discovered; it may derive nutrients (and thus caloric energy) from plants, underground creatures, microscopic life in the soil or even non-living elements and chemicals. These possibilities might help to explain how the Graboid survives in ecological settings that, statistically speaking, should not be able to support its presence.

One final possibility is that the species is not, in fact, surviving very well in these settings. Observed specimens almost never miss an opportunity to pursue prey. Whereas lions that have recently fed will often opt not to chase zebras, witnesses have reported that Graboids will attack even after a meal. This might indicate that the Graboid population is constantly in danger of starvation, resulting in desperately aggressive hunting and feeding behaviors.

Indeed, had the residents of Perfection not developed successful resistance techniques, Graboids probably would have consumed the town's entire human population (estimated in 1990 at just under 20 individuals), which implies that Perfection Valley is not adequate to support a robust Graboid population.

In conclusion, mathematical modeling suggests that the ecological systems in which the Graboid, the Shrieker and the AssBlaster have appeared cannot support the creatures' presence in any kind of long-term, balanced predator-prey relationship. This may indicate that traditional models of predation should not be applied to the Graboid (because of its unique metabolism), that the Graboids have other unknown sources of energy, or that the Graboid species is in danger of extinction because of a shortage of available prey.

Messerschmitt

Burt Gummer

Look up "prepared" in the dictionary — that's Burt Gummer. He loves his independence and admires self-reliance above all else. For him Perfection Valley is the last, best hope for those who embody the true pioneer American spirit. His distrust of the government's intentions and his own discomfort with society at-large sent him into the desert wastelands (the home of his great-grandfather, silver-mine mogul Hiram Gummer) more than a dozen years ago. Now, divorced from his long-suffering, gun-toting wife Heather — and deprived of her mitigating influence — he relies on his neighbors in Perfection to keep his natural paranoia within limits.

Like all true obsessives, Burt gets so consumed by his particular project of the moment (monitoring his Graboid sensors, scanning the desert surroundings with his periscope, midnight testing of the latest modification to his night-vision goggles) that he loses sight of how humorous he is to others. When his (now-deceased) neighbor Miguel suggested it was time Burt stop worrying about Graboids appearing in Perfection by reminding him, "It's been, what? Eleven years?", Burt simply responded, "No reason to lower your guard."

Burt has a penchant for spouting that memorable line of dialogue that crystallizes the moment:


"Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn't you, ya bastered?!"
"I feel I was denied critical, need-to-know information."
"And that's why we're at the top of the food chain!"


He is not actually a nut. He is, however, a gun nut. "You have nothing to fear but fear itself — and running out of ammo," he has said. He can talk endlessly, and with first-hand experience, about any firearm from a CO2 paintball rifle to a .50 caliber anti-aircraft naval deck gun (a very effective tool for Shrieker eradication.) A hard-and-fast adherent to rules and regulations (his own, not the government's), Burt will never point a firearm at any human. Never. He's fanatical about gun safety.

After selflessly sacrificing his hilltop bunker home during the "AssBlaster incursion" a couple years ago, Burt has doggedly soldiered-on in his houseless basement (now covered with a Quonset hut, scrounged piece-by-piece from a nearby abandoned government facility.) It contains his indoor shooting range, safe room, emergency escape tunnel — and (in)famous gun wall. He has replenished only about 20 percent of his weapons. Painted gun silhouettes on the wall indicate the ones he hasn't yet replaced.

The bunker is Burt's command center, from which he monitors the Valley on his laptop, via his infrared satellite downlink; checks for Graboid movement via seismo readings from his network of strategically placed geophones; and watches lonely hours of war documentaries on television. ("If you ask me, Patton, not Eisenhower, should've been President," he grouses.)

He lives by his survivalist motto: "Doing what I can with what I've got." Often, it's Burt's uncanny talent for turning the most unlikely things into effective weapons that gets his neighbors out of a tough spot.

Underneath his gruff bluster, Burt really is a sensitive guy. Perhaps one day soon he will be ready to take faltering steps in answer to the call of his lonely heart. A secret he'd never want uncovered is his regular presence in survivalist chat rooms in search of someone who could give him what only his beloved ex-wife Heather could: patient support and an ability to load an HK-91 like nobody's business.

Jodi Chang takes Burt in stride and is even fond of him. Tyler Reed rolls with Burt's eccentricities. Rosalita Sanchez simply finds his overkill and paranoia odd. And ex-hippy Nancy Sterngood butts heads with Burt on almost every issue; she pokes holes in his arguments and tries to make him see reason. But for Burt there's always been "a little too much Summer of Love in that woman."

Tyler Reed

Tyler Reed, the son of a hard-bitten Air Force colonel who oversees bomb runs on the nearby Nevada Test Site, is in his mid-to-late-20s. Less cowboy and more hot-rodder, Tyler looks good in his engineer's boots and jeans with rolled cuffs. He's got a thing for everything NASCAR. Before coming to Perfection Valley, he was an aspiring driver working his way up the circuit. When he crashed his car and lost his sponsorship, he saw it was time for a career change.

He bought a local business, Desert Jack's Graboid Tours. After all, he's seen CNN: Look how well Valentine McKee, Earl Basset and Grady Hoover made out running that ramshackle operation. Surely, there must be another fortune waiting to be made from Desert Jack's....

But for all Tyler's big dreams and street-rodding skills he's a remarkably easy-going guy. Too easy-going for Burt Gummer, who criticizes Tyler for being unprepared for most situations. However, the truth is Tyler's quick wits, athletic grace, and NASCAR-inspired driving will prove to be valuable survival skills — for himself and his neighbors.

Tyler considers Burt to be a neurotic eccentric, but he admires the guy's "whole gung-ho M.O." The two of them make an odd dynamic duo, whether safeguarding their valley, rescuing careless tourists, or taking an outside assignment. Their differences, particularly Tyler's tendency to ignore Burt's rigid S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) constantly cause friction. Where Burt anxiously frets, Tyler rolls with it. Where Burt plans way ahead, Tyler makes it up on the spot. But, in reality, when Burt's outside his survivalist haven he's far less adept at dealing with the real world than is charming, savvy, streetwise Tyler.

Jodi Chang is attracted to Tyler but channels her feelings into organizing his life, which is fine by him. Tyler's attracted to Jodi, as well. He admires her practicality and reliability. She, of course, wants to be admired for more than that.

But fogging up Tyler's windshield is steamy Rosalita Sanchez. She's everything a guy could ever want, except for all the stuff only Jodi offers. In fact, Tyler soon has to admit that his all-time perfect woman is Jodi and Rosalita. "If I could just get the whole deal in one package...." Tyler laments.

"Yes, every man's dilemma," Burt sagely replies.

Rosalita Sanchez

Rosalita Sanchez is not what one would call an optimist. This leggy, Hispanic ex-Vegas showgirl is cautious about getting her hopes up or making predictions. She has been disappointed too many times and hardened by bitter experience. As a beautiful twenty-something woman, she also has been hit on once too often; now she has a seriously defensive attitude, and local would-be romeo Tyler Reed has to tread carefully when he deals with her.

Rosalita has taken over the late Miguel's humble cattle ranch. We occasionally see the hired hand, Harlow Winnemuca, who helps out with the heavy lifting. But one has to wonder what Rosalita's doing here. What's she looking for in Perfection? Apparently, nothing. She is, in fact, trying to put something behind her, a dark past at which she will only obliquely hint. This mysterious quality makes her even more attractive to Tyler and unsettles Jodi Chang. As for straight-laced Burt Gummer, he's just plain baffled by her — especially when she reveals her street cred by touting the advantages of a Glock-9 over "that punk-ass Walther P-38."

Rosalita inserted herself into Perfection by claiming to be the late Miguel's cousin, and justified her move to the desert with the explanation that she needed "a lifestyle change." The truth is she, like the others, is here because it's the only place she can go. Unlike the locals, she remains one foot in, one foot out. She's urban, a native of East L.A., and feels out of place in this remote valley. But she's working hard to figure out things like fixing her own plumbing, avoiding rattlesnakes, and off-roading in her out-of-place Ford Mustang.

Trying to make ends meet, she raises Miguel's dwindling herd of cattle with a "How To" book in one hand. A little overwhelmed by it all, she confesses she "was never comfortable around any mammal bigger than me, especially ones with horns." Not sparing anyone from her attitude, she periodically vents at her helpless herd: "If I actually had a life, which I don't, I sure as hell wouldn't be out here baby-sitting you morons."

Rosalita dreams of a second chance; of a life lived the right way. Bent on self-improvement, she spends evenings taking college courses online. She is especially interested in psychology because she has "run into a whole lotta whacked-out people" in her life. She has the neophyte's tendency to enthusiastically offer an unsolicited Psych 101 analysis of any interpersonal situation. For instance, vis-a-vis Burt: "It's clear to me where all that gun stuff comes from. ... I mean, how long's it been since the guy was with a woman, right?"

Warring against her burgeoning enlightenment are her deeply rooted, ancestral superstitions: never put your handbag on the floor; never look at the new moon through a window; use only your left hand when handling something just touched by an evil person; etc. These are amusing quirks for her neighbors — until they present unexpected problems at the worst-possible moments.

Rosalita is impressed by Jodi's education and business sophistication, and relies on her for help with her studies. She's amused by Burt, which irks him to no end. And Tyler? She keeps him carefully at arm's length — except when she needs his help on her ranch.

Nancy Sterngood

Artisan, ex-hippie and a lover of solitude and open spaces, Nancy Sterngood has capitalized on Perfection's dubious notoriety by creating ceramic Graboid hood ornaments, Shrieker ashtrays, Burt Gummer action figures, and AssBlaster paperweights, all of which she markets online with Jodi Chang's help.

Nancy's the one person in town not struggling to make ends meet. At peace with herself, she quotes the Dalai Lama, meditates and uses crystal energy to keep El Blanco away from her small house/studio. She generally acts as a calming influence by exercising a wise, trusting, Earth Mother yin to balance Burt's suspicious, over-reactive yang. Both Jodi and Rosalita Sanchez look up to Nancy for her calm reassurance — and because she's tough enough to stand up to Burt.

Besides the ever-present Graboid problem, Nancy's only other challenge is how to meet a nice, "fully actualized" guy when she lives in the middle of nowhere surrounded by man-eating predators.

Jodi Chang

Overly organized Jodi was on the corporate fast-track in San Francisco until she discovered that she couldn't stand to work for anybody else. Facing her life's first big crisis, she bailed out to take over her late, eccentric Uncle Walter's general store. It's her chance to prove herself, and she dedicates her life to "growing the business of this theme-related retail outlet."

Jodi is as quirky as her hustler uncle ever was and not above playing any situation to her financial advantage. She runs a tab on everybody in Perfection; gets a finder's fee for any tourist she strong-arms onto Tyler Reed's tour jeep; negotiates for the valuable remains of whatever nasty creatures Burt Gummer and Tyler might destroy; manages Burt's survival school; and runs the online part of Nancy Sterngood's souvenir business.

Jodi's reliance on the Harvard Business School case-study approach to any situation contrasts with Tyler's instinctive, gut-level response to things. She's full of good business advice for him and gets jealous when he trumps her with an occasional, casually tossed-off brilliant idea, such as "Burt Gummer's Survival School." And although she'd never admit it, Jodi's also jealous of Rosalita Sanchez, whom Tyler clearly finds pleasantly distracting.

Although Jodi is identified strongly with her store, she has a wealth of talents that she shares with her neighbors. She is experienced in fighting every form of Graboid mutation. She's fluent in Mandarin Chinese. She has extensive computer skills. And her business acumen has taught her to "follow the money" — a mantra that helps her spot the corporate crooks and small-time hustlers who frequently blow into the valley looking to get rich quick at the expense of the locals.

Although Jodi likes to think of her store as a "homey" place where she and her neighbors can gather for an occasional celebratory feast from her deli counter, no one dares touch a sandwich until she assures them it won't end up on their tab.

W.D. Twitchell

W.D. Twitchell is a wiry, nervous man in his late forties. He is an agent of the U.S. Department of the Interior, assigned to monitor the Endangered Species Habitat that is Perfection Valley. He hates his job. Hates the desert. He carries a small, battery-operated fan when he makes his periodic inspections of Perfection's barren landscape. Sometimes he refuses even to get out of his air-conditioned government sedan, preferring instead to talk to people through a small gap in his tinted-glass window. He's terrified of El Blanco — and any other creature he meets. But Twitchell hangs in there, looking forward to the promotion his superiors dangle as a carrot — a comfortable assignment in a much nicer spot, like Yosemite.

Twitchell has the authority to evict everyone from Perfection Valley should he decide their co-existence with El Blanco is just too dangerous — for them or for the albino Graboid. Though he can be affable, he's not above employing underhanded tactics if he thinks they might get him out of this gig and up the DOI ladder.

Twitchell would be much closer to realizing his dream (and lowering his stress level) had his boss not made him the point man on any investigations into possible Graboid activity outside Perfection Valley. Twitchell, realizing he needs expert help on such assignments, has struck an uneasy deal to subcontract the work to Burt Gummer.

When Burt and his partner, Tyler Reed, go off to solve other people's monster-related problems, Twitchell occasionally will pop up to monitor the mayhem in Perfection and put a reassuring spin on the potentially bad public relations that surely will be caused by Shriekers running amok in the local shopping mall.

Basically, Twitchell thinks the townsfolk should "give up" and go live in nice, suburban tract homes "like normal people."

Kinney

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