13.

Jackpot, as it turned out, didn’t do it justice.

Every time the claw was dropped into the Sea, it would emerge clutching the kind of treasures that old dredger told stories about. Metals, plastics, glass, machinery of every shape and size. Undamaged computer components with the kind of precision engineering that would cost a fortune to build from scratch. The had found steel beams, sheets of hardened glass, bricks of industrial plastic polymer, all in pristine condition and in quantities rivaled only by supply yards.

And that didn’t even get into the more exotic specimens they’d managed to dredge up. A dishwasher that had chirped a happy little tune at them when they turned it on. A washing machine with a perfectly good load of clean clothes still inside. Toys and collectable figurines still sealed inside their packaging. Light-bulbs that somehow hadn’t broken, furniture that still held its upholstery and on and on and on it went. Some things they found Kay didn’t even recognize but which Oscar assured her would be quite sought after back at Bright Hope.

Then of course they had the bulk salvage, which was just as good and ten times more numerous. Literal floods of junk plastic, scrap metal, glass and rubber filled the sorting box to the brim. There was so much that Kay had no hope of sorting it by hand, instead using a long rake to push it into rough piles. Nowhere near a clean division, but Kay found herself not caring in the slightest. A polluted sort was a miniscule annoyance in the face of what they gained in return.

Kay felt a huge grin spreading across her face as she looked over the spoils in the entirety. It was a beautiful sight for a literal pile of garbage, one that would pull in an equally literal fortune once they got it back to port. And they still had an entire afternoon to dredge up more.

Her mind swirled with the heady implications of that sentence. This haul alone would easily cover her debt payment for this month. More than cover it in fact. Some real food, a luxury purchase, maybe an honest to god day off? The possibilities were tempting, very tempting. A few more trips like this and she might be able to pay off her debt entirely…

Kay shook the thought from her head and pulled the hold door shut. There would be plenty of time to dwell on that later. Right now, there was plenty more work to be done.

Emerging up on deck, Kay moved over to join Oscar on the crane. Not even his grumpy expression could dampen Kay’s smile.

“Well?” He asked as Kay approached.

“We’re over half,” she replied. “And everything looks stable.”

Oscar nodded, his eyes never leaving the Sea. It had changed very little since they had arrived, its surface roiling from swell and churn like a slow-motion landslide. The gloom remained thick on all sides, blurring everything more than a couple hundred feet out.

“What wrong?” Kay asked.

He turned to look at her, his eyes turning serious. “We’ve been out here too long.”

Kay raised an eyebrow at him, bemused. She’d never pegged her shipmate as the superstitious type.

“What, you afraid of Sea monsters?”

“Veto.”

Kay started at the word like a physical blow. “Seriously.”

“You agreed and I’m calling it,” Oscar pressed. “Frankly, I should have used it back at the line.”

“Oscar…” Kay made grasping gestures at the air. “There’s so much more to get. Just a little longer and-”

“You going back on the deal?”

Kay growled, resisting the urge to stamp her foot like a child. It was so tempting to say yes. It wasn’t like he could go anywhere and the more they dredged up here, the more they would make back at port. It would help them so, so much if she just said yes. All she had to do was put her foot down and say yes.

But then, there likely wouldn’t be a “they” anymore if she did. Oscar was not a man to make idle promises and she knew that if she broke this one, it would be the end of their partnership. Quite probably the end of their friendship. There were few worse things that she could imagine.

“No,” she said at last.  “My ship, your rules, right?”

Oscar nodded, relief flooding his face.

“Thank you.”

Further conversation was interrupted by the ship rattling as something large struck them. Kay grabbed hold of the crane struts, holding on for dear life as the gyros whined and fought to keep the ship stable. They managed it, if only just, and as soon as they stopped shaking sprinted to the railing to see what had hit them.

It wasn’t difficult to spot. The object was so massive that it easily fought off the churn to glide along the surface like a log. Its long cylindrical body covered was covered in layered plating and exposed piping. She had no idea what it was until the churn rolled it to one side and revealed a logo along the side. Kay gasped as she read the letters.

NASA.

It was a rocket. Actual space age technology from a time that Kay had only ever read about in history books. Space exploration had fallen out of style years ago in favor of ore earthbound problems. As such, it had been a generation since anyone had even built something like this, let alone launched it.

Once upon a time, Kay might have paused to consider the tragedy of that. Presently she was far more occupied with salivating over such a find. Even just the parts and materials would turn a massive profit, more if it still had any fuel in its tanks. If such were the case, this single piece of salvage could be worth a quarter of their haul all on its own. A treasure among treasures floating by, ripe for the taking.  

And Kay couldn’t so much as touch it. Not if she wanted to keep her closest and oldest friend. Smart Kay knew the right answer. Smart Kay also had to physically press her lips together to keep Stupid Kay from screaming. She succeeded in that but couldn’t do anything about the downright pathetic whimper that escaped instead. That was so much free money just floating away.

She glanced over at Oscar, hoping he hadn’t heard her. No such luck as it turned out, her shipmate fixing her with a look of utter exasperation so strong that she could see it through his rebreather.

“We uh, we don’t have to-”

“Go get us underway, I’ll stay in the crane and grab it.”

Kay’s face split into a smile at the words. “I ever mention you’re the best?”

“A time or two. Now get, before I change my mind.”

With a spring in her step, Kay crossed the deck to enter the pilothouse and settled back at the helm. Switching everything back to manual control, she watched through the window as Oscar maneuvered the crane over the side. When it had settled into position, Kay gently nudged the throttle up to one quarter and they set off back to Sea.

Churn caught the legs immediately, forcing Kay to kick them into a higher gear to compensate. The Pacific immediately began to whine in protest, her old hull unused to handling so much power at once.

“Easy girl,” Kay said, patting the console. “Just a bit longer.”

The ship gave what sounded suspiciously like an annoyed grunt but continued to putter on. Kay snorted in amusement before turning back to focus on the rocket.

It had barely moved since they’d first spotted it, some quirk of the churn keeping it from shifting or sinking to any notable degree. She could only speculate how it had achieved such a feat, but it lent credence to her hope that it still carried fuel in its tanks. The thought made her giddy with anticipation.

As they moved closer, Kay backed off the throttle as much as she dared to match speed. The ship screeched at yet another change, the legs visibly sinking several feet into the Sea as they lost forward thrust. Sucking in a breath, Kay pushed the throttle back up ever so slightly, dancing just above their point that would have they sinking. It was no more than a hairsbreadth.

“That’s the best I can do,” Kay called to Oscar through the radio. “All you now.”

“Roger, hang on.”

The crane made a few last-minute adjustments, compensating for their speed and the swing of the claw. Below, the rocket barely moved, the trash flowing past as if it were a stone in a rushing river. An easy grab. Or so Kay thought right up until Oscar missed.

Kay started as she watched the claw hit the Sea, already beginning to sink in the powerful churn. The rocket sat not five feet away. How the hell had Oscar missed?

“What happened,” she called.

“Damn thing…moved, somehow.”

Kay furrowed her brow. “Moved?”

“Hard to explain.”

“Well, can you get it?”

There was a pause before Oscar answered. “Yeah, I think so, hang on.”

His tone did not match his words, but Kay had no time to inquire further as the crane re-positioned again. Dragging seconds passed, Oscar waiting for his moment to strike. Kay was so focused on it that she yelped when the claw finally fell. It quickly morphed into a cheer as it hit the rocket.

“Nice grab!” Kay called.

Oscar didn’t answer, instead beginning to reel the claw back. At the same time, Kay pushed the throttle back up to full, intending to use the burst of speed to lift them up out of the churn. For once the ship did not complain about the change, its hull remaining almost silent as they resumed a smooth stride across the surface.

It would have been a perfect maneuver if the rocket had come with them.

Everything happened too fast for Kay to react. The crane cable, already taunt from its load, snapped to its creaking limit. The Pacific tilted sharply at the sudden shift, forcing Kay to wrench back on the controls to keep them from going over. Her panicked gaze fell on the crane to discover its arm sitting at an angle that was both alarming and familiar. Instinctively Kay’s foot went for the cable release before remembering there wasn’t one in here.

Luckily, Oscar turned out to be thinking along the exact same lines and seconds later the cable detached, leaving the claw to fall away into the Sea. The rocket went with it, sinking like a stone despite having already spent so long holding the surface. Odd but Kay had other things to worry about.

“You okay?” Kay radioed.

“I’m fine,” He replied. “You?”

“Been better. Quick thinking with the cable there.”

“…that wasn’t me.”

Kay took a moment to absorb that one and failed spectacularly.

“What?” She asked, incredulous.

“I didn’t cut it,” Oscar repeated. “It snapped.”

“But, that’s industrial grade cable.”

“I know.”

Kay had nothing to say to that. Her eyes wandered to where the rocket had disappeared, noting that the surface was strangely still. In fact, looking around, all the surrounding Sea had fallen unnaturally calm. Somehow that made Kay more nervous than even the strongest churn would have.

“We should go,” Oscar said.

Kay could not agree more, and was about to say so, when a shadow suddenly rose from the Sea and struck the Pacific.

*

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