12.

The Sea sat calm in the morning gloom. Unusually calm, its surface flat and near still, the churn lapping weakly against the Pacific’s legs. Even the gloom itself seemed thinner than normal, the sunlight notably brighter as it cut through the haze of red and green hanging in the sky. About as close to perfect conditions as a dredger could have hoped for.

They made good time towards their destination, the new engine pushing the old tub through obstacles that once would have been lethal hazards. A sudden shift in the churn? No problem. Larger bit of debris pushed up in her path? Easily stepped over. Normally Kay would have welcomed the reduced workload but today she found herself wishing for it back. The old engine might have struggled to walk a straight line, but at least it had given Kay something to do. This new one basically ran itself and left her sitting alone in the pilothouse with nothing to do but stew in her thoughts. It was a state she did not enjoy.

She desperately missed having Oscar sitting up her with her. On a normal day he would join her in the pilothouse, monitoring the engines remotely while he kept her company. Conversation may have been sparse but just having them there helped.

Today had not been a normal day. AS soon as they had gotten underway, Oscar had disappeared into the engine room and had not yet emerged. In two hours, they’d exchanged less than a dozen words over radio and then only those that were needed to keep the ship running.

Which was fair, Kay knew. He hadn’t exactly wanted to come along on this trip. That still did little to soften the fact that her best friend wasn’t speaking to her.

At first, she’d done her best to respect his wishes regardless. She bore the unbearable silence, doing her best to block out the incessant spiral of her thoughts. It impressed her to no end that she made it for as long as she did.

“Hey,” she said into the radio.

“Hi,” Oscar replied after a moment, his tone curt. At least he was willing to talk. That had to be worth something.

“Are uh- are there any problems?”

“That’s not funny Kay.”

She winced, instantly realizing how her words could be misinterpreted. Not the best opening line to try and heal a friendship.

“I didn’t-” she began before pulling back to try again. “I meant are there any problems with the ship?”

“Several,” he said. “Nothing we can do about them. Unless you want to turn around.”

The conversation died out again, Kay caught in a loop of mouthing words at the receiver but never actually saying anything.

“Anything else?” Oscar prodded, sounding annoyed.

Many things but Kay found she lacked the courage to say anything of the. After gasping at the receiver like a dying fish for a few seconds, she sighed and surrendered.

“No…nothing.”

“Okay then. Call me when we’ve crossed.”

The line went dead without another word, leaving Kay with nothing to do but sigh and turn her attention back to horizon.  Barely started and already she felt like she wanted to collapse into bed.

It was going to be a long day.

*

They crossed the red line almost without ceremony. Kay would never have even known they were passing over it had she not been keeping a watchful eye on her maps. Such was the only thing that stood to mark out the invisible line. The Sea suffering nothing else to stand this far out for very long.

A chill ran down Kay’s spine as they crossed, coiling her every muscle like taunt steel cable. Against her will, she felt her face screw up in a grimace, saw her knuckles going white where they gripped the controls, heard her foot tapping against the floor as it bounded with nervous energy.

She was so wound up that she nearly leapt out of her skin when a jolt ran through the ship. Not a big one but enough that Kay had to grab the sides of her console to avoid falling out of her chair. As she fought to bring her heartbeat back down to a healthy speed, Kay felt a second jolt strike from further back near the hind legs.

“Hey, you feel that down there?” Kay spoke into the radio. She immediately felt foolish for asking. Of course he’d felt that.

“Yeah,” Oscar replied. “No damage.”

“Good…uh, yeah, good, good.”

“What’d we hit?” Oscar asked.

That Kay did not know. Standing from her chair, she did a quick lap of the pilothouse, straining to catch an angle of the Sea through the windows.

“Can’t see anything,” she said. “Maybe it was a…no, wait a minute.”

Just off the, Kay caught sight of something bulging up from the churn. It was big, pushing aside the smaller trash like water as it fought to break the surface.

“Something’s in the churn, something big,” Kay said.

“Worth stopping for?”

She didn’t miss the sudden interest in his voice. He was probably hoping they’d gotten lucky and could stay this side of the line. A hope that Kay had to admit she shared.

The object finally broke the surface, bursting free of the trash like a spear. Kay felt herself taking a step back, her eyes going wide at the sight of it. Even rusted to hell and snapped off at one end, it was impossible not to recognize it as the leg of a dredging vessel.

She watched it bob on the surface for several seconds, fighting to remain afloat before the churn took hold of. It sank quickly, tipping on the side to leave the broken end sticking straight up in the air. Kay tried not to think about how much it looked like a hand reaching for help as the whole thing was dragged back into the depths.

“You still there?” Oscar asked through the radio.

Kay swallowed past the lump in her throat before answering.

“I’m here,” she said. “Just a one off, not worth stopping.”

Oscar was silent for a moment before he continued in his neutral tone.

“Okay then. What now?”

“Keep going until we find somewhere that looks promising.”

“And if we can’t find anything?”

Kay blinked, realizing she didn’t have an answer. Her whole plan was built on an assumption that the Deep Sea held the riches they so desperately needed. That would be the bitterest of ironies. To have taken all these risks, burned all these bridges and ending up with nothing to show for it. The possibility frightened her deeply. Dying might almost be preferable…

“We’ll find one,” Kay said, doing her best to sound convinced.

It was Oscar’s turn to be quiet and she wondered if he was about to play his veto card.

“Alright,” he said. “Keep me in the loop.”

Kay let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding.

“Will do,” she said.

The link cut out and Kay put down the receiver before reaching back for the controls. She hesitated, the same chill running up her spine as her eyes lingering on the spot the broken ship had been pulled down. Then she pushed the throttle to full and set them forward into the great unknown.

*

The Sea began to turn almost immediately.

It was the gloom the Kay noticed first. What had been a bright day quickly began to dim as the gloom grew thicker and thicker. The light began to fade, Kay’s instruments beginning to glow a pale green as the flicked over to their low light setting. When she glanced up at it, Kay found the world outside gripped in a false dusk, the sun little more than an amber smear across the clouds.

All this was but a prelude, or a warning, of things to come. The calm surface of the Sea came alive before Kay’s eyes, churn making it dance with all the chaos of roiling water. Great waves of trash began to surge and flow all around them, rising to crest then falling back down in rapid succession. They grew, pushing and crashing against one another until they formed a moving landscape that stretched out to the horizon as far as could be seen.

Kay felt as much as saw these changes. The churn had grown strong enough to grab at the Pacific with a thousand grasping hands. Every step was a notable struggle to free the legs, the engine kicking into higher gear to provide the needed power. They weren’t struggling yet, but Kay still kept her grip white knuckled on the helm controls. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be dying because she wasn’t paying attention.

“Hey, I’m hearing a lot of impacts down here,” Oscar called through the radio. “Everything alright?”

“Sea’s are getting rough up here,” Kay said. “Hang on, I’m going to try and-”

Her words ended in a sudden curse as something big burst up from the Sea before them. She didn’t have time to absorb what exactly it was, only that it was too large to push through or step over. Instead she slammed the controls to the side, the ship screaming in protest as the legs struggled to make the turn. She hoped that Oscar be able to figure out he should hold fast.

The ship turned fast but still far too slowly for Kay’s liking. Heart hammering in her chest, Kay watched as the gap between ship and obstacle shrunk, first the feet, then to inches.

For a terrifying moment she was certain they would hit. Instead, by some providence and no shortage of screeching from the Pacific, the gap began to widen again. Escaped without a scratch. And a few more grey hairs but Kay could live with that.

“What the hell was that!?” Oscar shouted through the radio.

Fighting to regain her breath, Kay looked over her shoulder to see what manner of death they had just dodged. Then she did a double take, a nervous giggle rising in her throat as the absurdity hit her full force.

“That was a ship,” she said.

“A- what?” Oscar asked.

“Easier if you just come up here and look.”

“…alright, on my way up.”

It didn’t take long for him to emerge from the hatch as he climbed into view. He wasn’t on the deck five seconds before he froze, his face pointed towards the ship where it lay behind them. Not a multi-legged dredging vessel built for the Trash Sea, but an old school ancestor built for seas of a much more liquid nature.

It was old, rusted badly and riddled with holes where the churn had crushed parts of the hull. Still it held enough of its shape to be recognized, the prow still cutting through the trash with enough power to almost give the illusion that it sailed upon water. It was so massive that the Sea was having real trouble pulling it back down. It had been built to fight raging tides and it wasn’t going to let the churn win without a fight.

For a time, Oscar just stared at the behemoth, his expression hidden behind the mask of his rebreather. Eventually he recovered and turned to join her in the pilothouse.

“That’s big,” he said.

Understatement of the century. Kay had never even heard of anything that large out here, let alone seen anything.

“Pretty big, yeah.”

Further conversation was halted by something else striking them. A brief surge of panic returned before Kay realized that it hadn’t been anything nearly so large. Together they turned to look forward in search of what had hit them.

Cresting another swell, they were granted a commanding view of the Sea beyond. From the chaotic swirl of the churn, they watched as things began to emerge from the depths. Large things, small things, singular things and multitudes alike. Everywhere she looked, Kay spotted something new. A computer the size of a filing cabinet, drifting along in a cluster of electronics.  A standing tool kit that somehow looked almost new. She saw a cascade of pristine glass bottles flowing over the crest of the wave, so numerous that the churn could not swallow them all as one.

There was so much that Kay could not have possibly taken an accurate inventory of it all. The Sea was saturated with salvage so densely that things sank before she could get a good look at them, pushed aside as newer things broke the surface all around. Even a fraction of this would be considered the find of a career and that was just what lay on the surface. They could only dream about what lay waiting for them below the surface.

As one, Oscar and Kay turned to look at one another, a wide grin spreading across Kay’s face. In due time, a matching smirk appeared on Oscar’s.

“Jackpot?” Kay asked.

“…something like that,” Oscar replied.

*

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