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datatime: 2022-12-03 21:06:23 Author:RkZYusJS

The Kothoga knew all about this plant, thought Kawakita. What appeared to be a blessing turned out for them to be a curse. They had tried to control its power, but failed. The legend told it best: the devil failed to keep his bargain, and the child of the devil, the Mbwun, had run wild. It had turned on its masters. It could not be controlled.

In the close, comforting darkness, listening to the tranquil humming of the aquaria, Kawakita could guess at the drama that had played itself out in the jungle. The Kothoga, laying eyes on a white man for the first time. Whittlesey's accomplice, Crocker, had no doubt been found first. Perhaps the creature had been old, or enfeebled. Perhaps Crocker had killed the creature with the expedition's gun as the creature disembowelled him. Or perhaps not. But when the Kothoga found Whittlesey, Kawakita knew there was only one possible outcome.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when he remembered what that cop, D'Agosta, had mentioned at the going-away party for the FBI agent: that they had found a double-arrow pendant belonging to JohnWhittlesey in the creature's lair. Proof, they said, that the monster had killed Whittlesey.

It had proven to be a perversely attractive type of lily pad, blooming almost continuously, big deep-purple blossoms with venous appendages and bright yellow stamens. The virus was concentrated in the tough, fibrous stem. He was harvesting two pounds a week, and poised to increase his yield exponentially.

Sorry, the man said. He moved toward the door as quickly as the dim light would allow.

"Keep the lights off," said Kawakita sharply. "Follow me."

But then civilization came anyway, with all its terrors. Kawakita imagined the day it happened: the Whittlesey-thing, crouched in the jungle, seeing the fire come falling from the sky, burning the tepui, the Kothoga, the precious plants. He alone escaped. And he alone knew where the life-giving fibers could still be found after the jungle was destroyed: He knew, because he had sent them there.

The Kothoga knew all about this plant, thought Kawakita. What appeared to be a blessing turned out for them to be a curse. They had tried to control its power, but failed. The legend told it best: the devil failed to keep his bargain, and the child of the devil, the Mbwun, had run wild. It had turned on its masters. It could not be controlled.

The reovirus in the plant was astonishing. Chances are, it had existed relatively unchanged since the Mesozoic era. In sufficient quantities, it had the power to induce morphological change of an astonishing nature. Everyone knew that the darkest, most isolated areas of rain forest held undiscovered plants of almost inconceivable importance to science. But Kawakita had already discovered his miracle. By eating the fibers and becoming infected with the reovirus, Whittlesey had turned into Mbwun.

Sorry, the man said. He moved toward the door as quickly as the dim light would allow.

"Keep the lights off," said Kawakita sharply. "Follow me."

He looked at his visitor expectantly. The man dug his hand into his pants pocket and extended a wad of crumpled bills. Kawakita counted them: five twenties. He nodded and handed over the small bag. The man grabbed it eagerly, and began to tear open the seam.

Mbwun-the word the Kothoga used for the wonderful, terrible plant, and for the creatures those who ate it became. Kawakita could now visualize parts of the Kothoga's secret religion. The plants were a curse that was simultaneously hated and needed. The creatures kept the enemies of the Kothoga at bay-yet they themselves were a constant threat to their masters. Chances are, the Kothoga only kept one of the creatures around at a time-more than that would be too dangerous. The cult would have centered around the plant itself, its cultivation and harvesting. The climax of their ceremonials was undoubtedly the induction of a new creature-the force-feeding of the plant to the unwilling human victim. Initially, large quantities of the plant would be needed to ensure sufficient reovirus to effect the bodily change.Once the transformation was complete, the plant need be consumed only in small quantities, supplemented of course by other proteins. But it was critical that the dose be maintained. Otherwise, intense pain, even madness, would result as the body tried to revert. Of course, death would intervene before that happened. And the desperate creature would, if at all possible, find a substitute for the plant-the human hypothalamus being by far the most satisfactory.

But Kawakita would not fail. The rabbit serum tests proved that he would succeed.

Kawakita remembered clearly the day everything came together for him. It was an apotheosis, a revelation. It explained everything. The creature, the Museum Beast, He Who Walks On All Fours, was Whittlesey. And the proof lay within his grasp: his extrapolation program. Kawakita had placed human DNA on one side and the reovirus DNA on the other. And then he had asked for the intermediate form.

But Kawakita would not fail. The rabbit serum tests proved that he would succeed.

Proof. What a joke. Proof, rather, that the monster was Whittlesey.

He wondered what Whittlesey must have felt: bound, perhaps ceremonially, being force-fed the reovirus from the strange plant he himself had collected just days earlier. Perhaps they brewed him a liquor from the plant's leaves, or perhaps they simply forced him to eat the dried fibers. They must have attempted to do with this white man what they had failed to do with their own kind: create a monster they could control. A monster that would keep out the road builders and the prospectors and the miners that were poised to invade the tepui from the south and destroy them. A monster that would terrorize the surrounding tribes without terrorizing its masters; that would ensure the security and isolation of the Kothoga forever.

In the close, comforting darkness, listening to the tranquil humming of the aquaria, Kawakita could guess at the drama that had played itself out in the jungle. The Kothoga, laying eyes on a white man for the first time. Whittlesey's accomplice, Crocker, had no doubt been found first. Perhaps the creature had been old, or enfeebled. Perhaps Crocker had killed the creature with the expedition's gun as the creature disembowelled him. Or perhaps not. But when the Kothoga found Whittlesey, Kawakita knew there was only one possible outcome.

It's dark in here, the man said. He was small and wiry, and walked with a distinct roll to his shoulders. He looked around nervously.

I will have more for you on Tuesday, Kawakita said.

Despite his other trials, the supreme challenge had been growing the plant from a single fiber. It had taxed all his abilities, his knowledge of botany and genetics. But he was channeling all his ferocious energies into one thing now-thoughts of tenure vanished, a leave of absence taken from the Museum. And he had finally achieved it, not five weeks earlier. He remembered the surge of triumph he felt when the little green node appeared on an agar-covered petri dish. And now he had a large and steady supply growing in the tanks, fully inoculated with the reovirus. The strange reovirus that dated back sixty-five million years.

I will have more for you on Tuesday, Kawakita said.

But then civilization came anyway, with all its terrors. Kawakita imagined the day it happened: the Whittlesey-thing, crouched in the jungle, seeing the fire come falling from the sky, burning the tepui, the Kothoga, the precious plants. He alone escaped. And he alone knew where the life-giving fibers could still be found after the jungle was destroyed: He knew, because he had sent them there.

Sorry, the man said. He moved toward the door as quickly as the dim light would allow.

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