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The Four Pests, by Pat Mastors, SciFi/Thriller


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After flesh-eating, krill-like creatures appear off the New England coast and migrate to freshwater drinking sources, a handful of improbable allies must team up to hunt down the source and save humankind.

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2) The Antagonist(s) 

Antagonists in "The Four Pests" include a new breed of voracious starfish, flesh-eating krill, a ruthless billionaire, and the ugly things people do faced with terrifying events.

Shortly after unusually aggressive starfish begin to decimate shellfish farms off the coast of Rhode Island, a new threat appears: masses of tiny, flesh-eating crustaceans called amphipods.  The shrimp-like creatures feast on soft tissue, a process unfelt by the victim while it is happening. (There was an actual case of this in Australia in 2017). The crisis worsens when amphipod larvae enter fresh water sources, and begin to attack victims internally. 

Behind it: a man known only as “Router”. A ruthless empire-builder, Router set up a facility in Qatar to engineer more robust starfish, ostensibly in order to breed more resilient oysters and reprise Qatar's heritage pearl market. But his larger goal is to own the world’s fifty-billion dollar shellfish industry. One of Router's guiding principals that where unanticipated consequences can be anticipated (or engineered), fortunes can be made. 

When the flesh-eating amphipods are unintentionally released in the ocean along with the mutated starfish, Router simply pivots to capitalize on events. When our protagonists close in on Router, he’ll deal with them as he does any threat: by eliminating them. 

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5) Hookline

When an infestation of flesh-eating krill begin turning drinking water deadly, a handful of young people - a college professor, a television journalist, and an accountant - must overcome personal demons and risk their lives to expose the truth.

 

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6) Conditions for inner conflict protagonists will have, plus hypothetical scenario for “secondary conflict”.

Sofi Mendez is battling perceptions that she was “just” a DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) hire; too young and inexperienced to be a national television news reporter. Worse, after a recent on-air gaffe, she fears her critics may be right. When a “fluff piece” assignment turns into the biggest story of the decade, she has a chance to recast her image. Fearless (or naïve?), impulsive, with a strongly held sense of cultural justice tied to her Middle Eastern roots, she’s drawn to the humble intellect and moral clarity of marine scientist, Del DiCotta.

Del DiCotta, tapped for his expertise to join a national task force, struggles with self-doubt. Adopted as an infant by an older couple who’ve since died, Del may have stood a head taller than his dad; but their vastly different interests earned Del his father's disappointment and disdain. Now, thrust onto a national stage, Del begins to see himself differently. He’s drawn to Sofi, but doubts a confident, courageous, beautiful celebrity like her could ever be attracted to a self-proclaimed nerdy academic.

Roberta Moscovitz is a young bookkeeper “on the spectrum”, working for a New York City hospital group. When her research on the company’s waste dumping practices reveals a possible cause for the krill crisis, and that it’s connected to the death of the person she loved most in the world, she becomes “like a dog with a bone” in her pursuit of exposure and justice. But her inability to read social cues leaves her unaware of the deadly danger she’s in. When the piece of the puzzle she holds is finally revealed, government leaders are happy to jump on it, as an explanation that will mollify the panicked masses. But to Sofi and Del, this knowledge only deepens the mystery. Defying their employers and disregarding their own safety, they’ll work together and pursue answers on their own.

This involves tracking down Jenny Liu, a marine specialist Del has worked with in the past. He learns she was recruited to work on a secret project in Qatar. Jenny took the lucrative gig to help with family bills, and because the project’s intent seemed noble. By the time she learns otherwise, it’s too late to stop her employers from co-opting lab specimens for their own purposes. Word finally reaches her of the deaths and escalating world crisis her lab work has caused. Certain she’s about to be killed, and all traces of her research destroyed, she devises a desperate plan to intervene before it’s too late. Del and Sofi must dodge attempts on their lives in a Hail Mary bid to rescue Jenny and expose the truth, assisted by Roberta and others we’ve met along the way.

In the end, the krill crisis is an unintended consequence of one man's hubris in attempting to engineer the natural world. Thus, the title, “The Four Pests”, which reflects an actual historical example of unintended consequences by that same name. 

 

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7) Sketch out your setting in detail.

The primary setting is Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. This is where the newly aggressive starfish first appear, decimating oyster and mussel farms, and where we see the amphipods' first attacks on people. With the most coastline per square mile of all 50 states, Rhode Island is known as the “Ocean State”; there are seven public beaches along its 400 miles of coastline. Among them, Narragansett Beach is a crown jewel:  a mile-long stretch of soft sand, drawing young families and gray-haired couples; bikini-clad teens flirting with board-shorted young studs; URI students grabbing beach time amid summer jobs; toddlers scooping their first shovel full of sand; surfers and runners navigating through the crowd; bikers and dog walkers weaving past each other along the sea wall; food trucks parked on the street. The Coast Guard House restaurant is perched within view, its two historic towers joined by a stone arch that stretches across Ocean Drive. The gulls’ calling mingles with tunes from portable speakers; the smell of clam cakes and fried dough waft from the pavilion to mix with the scent of the sea. I've lived most of my life in RI; during my college years you'd find me on Narragansett Beach virtually every morning before work, stretched out on a towel, nose in a book. 

Further up and down the coast are oyster and mussel farms, relatively new enterprises  thriving in the Bay’s many tidal areas. Dawley Cove Oysters and its owner, Jack Fereira, are inspired by the Matunuck Oyster Bar (my favorite local restaurant), and its owner, Perry Raso. The (mostly) men why ply their trade fishing and shellfishing in Rhode Island have a storied history, and to this day are a vital and iconic part of the state's heritage.

There are a few scenes in New York City: the neighborhood around her Flushing apartment which Roberta navigates with studied practice, and the television studio in Manhattan where Sofi works.

Two other locations shine: Sotiriia, Lesvos, in Greece, and the area where Jenny Liu is recruited to work, a lab outside Doha, in Qatar.

Sotiriia is modeled after Plomari, a town in southern Lesvos, the third largest of the Greek islands. Plomari, the “Ouzo Capital of the World”, is a charming seaside village of cobblestone streets, simple food sourced from the earth and sea, tight-knit families, little spoken English, and even less affectation in lifestyle. Life's trials over the centuries have included invasion, war, blockades and other hardships. In the face of them,  Plomarians are resilient, practical and creative. When the invasive krill comes to the shores of Sotiriia, and an orphaned boy named Chamo stumbles upon potentially lifesaving information about the creatures, he will react with characteristicically.

In contrast to the verdant coastal climates of Narragansett Bay and Sotiriia in Greece, is the arid, bustling city of Doha, in Qatar. Not far outside the city is the research lab that employs Jenny Liu.

Siting a marine research facility in the desert may seem impossible, but Qatar thinks big, and has the money to act on it. A case in point I learned about while visiting Qatar a few years ago: in 2017, when a trade blockade cut Qatar off from all dairy imports, the tiny nation built massive sheds and infrastructure and airlifted hundreds of cows from the US and the UK, setting up a dairy farm in the middle of the desert in a matter of months. Today Baladna Farm has 24,000 cows and is thriving. 

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