The Pacific’s hull shook down to its rivets, the force of the blow throwing Kay from her chair. She struck the floor hard, her chin bouncing off the metal and leaving her lying in a daze, the salty tang of blood coating her tongue.
Through the floor, Kay felt as much as heard the impact reverberate through the hull. It rang like a bell, the echo pinging back and fort through the narrow space. A whole litany of metallic groans and shrieks sounded close behind, each one of them sounding unhealthy in the own unique way.
Still the old girl managed to somehow keep upright, the noises fading as the legs reoriented and leveled them out. Kay pushed up from the ground, biting back a pained cry as fresh pain erupted from her hip and shoulder. She didn’t have time for pain right now. Instead Kay grabbed hold of the console and wrenched herself back up to see what was happening.
Things came to her by degrees, her perception slowly spreading outwards like a fog lifting from her sight. First came the deck immediately surrounding the pilothouse, strewn with tools and cargo broken free by the impact. The crane sat off to the side, its arm askew in its frame from its recent battle with the churn. She was relieved when she saw a figure moving inside the control booth at the back. At least Oscar was still alive.
That thought was pushed aside as her vision finally reached the Sea. It had changed in the thirty seconds since she’d lost sight of it, the unnatural calm long gone as the surface roiled with chaotic motion. Trash of all shapes and sizes moved in the churn, rising and falling faster than Kay had ever seen before. Before her eyes, she watched as an old car popped up only to be swallowed straight back down again. The whole thing happened so fast that Kay might have missed it had she blinked at the wrong moment.
More concerning though was the lack of the shadow. Whatever had struck them had been huge, nearly the size of the ship in Kay’s memory. And yet, nothing of even comparable size was visible around them.
Had it been pulled back under like the smaller object all around them? The thought was tempting but Kay knew it to be impossible. Nothing so large could have been swallowed by the Sea in such a brief span of time, not without the Pacific going down with it. But Kay could think of no other explanation. The shadow had simply appeared, struck them, and then vanished wholly and without trace. It had to have been the Sea. It had to have been.
Glancing around, Kay couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something. Some great truth looming over the situation, like a cat coiled up and ready to pounce on the mouse.
One thing at a time, she told herself. First survive, then deal with the terrifying reality of their situation. The latter preferably when they were back on solid ground. Tamping down the fear, Kay took up the radio where it dangled from its cable.
“Oscar? Oscar, you hear me?”
Static buzzed over the line, holding just long enough to send a fresh bolt of panic through Kay’s chest before a pained voice broke through.
Kay gave a sharp exhale of relief. “You intact?”
“Mostly…” he said, giving a pained grunt before continuing. “What the hell hit us?”
“No idea and I’m keen to stick around and find out. Get-”
Her words were cut off as another blow rocked the ship. It hit them in the side, coming up from below and making one side of the ship bounce. Kay managed to keep her feet this time, holding onto the console with both hands as she whirled around to face their attacker.
She saw nothing at first, just the roiling surface of the Sea pushing trash past them in great swells. She was about to look away when she managed to pick out the detail the didn’t belong.
The churn, strong as it was, still pushed the trash in a single direction, perpendicular to Pacific’s hull. As Kay watched, she picked out and errant line instead flowing parallel to them in defiance of the rest. As if something were moving just beneath the surface, independent of the surrounding forces at play in the Sea. Something big.
It moved towards the stern, out of Kay’s sight, and another bang rattled through the ship. Now she was certain this was no bizarre quirk of physics and chaos. Whatever that thing was out there, it was moving against the churn and with a clear intent. She had no idea what that intent was, but something told her it didn’t have the ship’s best interests in mind. That image of a cat stalking a mouse came back, the cat now many times larger than before.
Kay had no intention of allowing them to be caught though. Instead she dove for the control panel and threw the throttle up to maximum, ignoring the rainbow of warning lights that flicked on in protest. Pressing on the controls, the Pacific grumpily clattered into gear, beginning to move forward across the Sea, quickly building momentum as the engines clawed their way up to speed.
The thing in the Sea struck again, this time directly on the stern, sending the ship forward in a sudden burst. Kay briefly felt the entire back end of the ship lift from the Sea, followed by a sickening jolt as it fell back to the surface with a crash.
Instantly the churn began to grasp at the underside of the hull as it made contact, invisible fingers digging into the steel, seeking to drag them down into the depths. It might have been their end had the Pacific’s massive bulk bounced off the surface, freeing them in an instant. For once, it seemed, physics were on their side. Kay wasn’t about to question such luck and pressed on.
The old girl creaked and moaned from the effort but thankfully began to move along at a proper clip. Rickety as she was, the Pacific was still a powerful ship and once she got going, by god could she move. All four of her legs began to whizz past outside the windows, power rumbling deep in the hull as they approached flank speed. In another few minutes they would be off and away, hopefully leaving this place behind for good.
Ahead of them, Kay spotted another wake cutting its way through the churn. It moved like lightning, in seconds closing the distance and placing itself directly in their path. In a panic, she wrenched the controls to the side, cursing and praying that she could pull off two miracles in half as many days. With agonizing slowness, the Pacific began to turn, speed reducing their turn radius to a mere fraction of itself. The wake held its course, effortlessly cutting through the churn towards them at terrifying speed. This was going to be close.
They might have made it, had the wake not broken the surface to reveal the monster beneath.
It rose from the Sea, not a shadow as before but displayed before them in all its terrible, impossible glory. It was the Sea made manifest, a misshapen mass of writhing detritus. Twin tendrils branched out from the central mass, each tipped by the rusting frame of a tractor trailer. Atop the whole thing sat the rocket Kay had been so keen to posses, angled down in crude imitation of a long, narrow head.
The beast loomed over the Pacific for an infinite heartbeat. Kay dared not moved, paralyzed by fear and the inability to comprehend the thing that stood before them. The silence was broken as a deep, thunderous groan echoed through the air and the monster attacked anew.
The impact was the worst yet, the blow a titan’s mighty fist striking them full force in the side. Kay felt her bones quake as the armored tendril hit, the ship crying out in pain with a horrible metallic shriek from below. Kay held on with all she had, surprised when she kept her feet but dismayed when she realized why.
Rather than withdraw after its strike, the monster had kept it armored fist firmly pressed against the hull. From within the confines of the trailer there spilled a glut of trash, moving with a life all its own. It spread like molasses, flowing, twisting, and writing as it spread up the hull and spilled over onto the deck.
The Pacific halted, pinned in place even as the legs carried on their futile efforts to move them forward. More metallic shrieking rang out, forcing Kay to back off the throttle lest the legs tear themselves apart from the effort. It spared the ship but left them completely at the mercy of its attacker.
As its grip spread ever tighter, the monster began to pull the ship down into the churning mass of the Sea. The Pacific fought, Kay pushing the engines back up to full in a desperate bid to slip away. The old girl managed a few steps before the monster tightened its grip, rumbling in displeasure. It raised it free tendril high, aiming to bring it down center mass and put an end to this trouble some bit of refuse. Kay could only marvel in horror as she saw her end poised above her and ready to strike.
The crane sprang to life before it could. The arm swung around, briefly building momentum on the back-swing before sweeping around to slam into the side of the rocket. A muted thud sounded as the two made contact, the crane arm digging deep into the mass and throwing off loose trash in every direction.
The monster roared, perhaps in pain, perhaps in surprise. It did the job, whichever it was. The trash gripping the side of the ship went still, quickly falling away as normal, sane physics reasserted themselves.
The Pacific jolted forward, engines still running at full throttle and Kay cried out in triumph as she realized Oscar’s little gambit had worked. Without delay she set the off at full speed, aiming for get as far away from here as possible. She doubted they would get a miracle like this twice and she didn’t intend to waste it.
Her victory was short lived. The monster, thrown loose by the blow, stumbled around in the Sea as it tried to regain its balance. Its tendrils swung wildly in kind, throwing off more trash and coming in low to strike them. She had no time to evade, only able to watch as the tendril swept across the deck. Debris rained down on them, everything above a certain height ravaged by the twisting mass.
The crane took the worst of it. As the tallest object on deck, it had no chance. Kay watched in horror as the mass swept through it, crumpling the support struts like pipe cleaners before tearing the structure from its moorings entirely.
“OSCAR!” Kay screamed, a wave of panic washing over her.
It immediately clashed with the wave of relief as she spotted a figure leap from the midst of the mass to land on the nearby deck. Oscar rolled to slow his fall but didn’t rise, instead keeping low and covering his neck as the trash blew past above him.
Only when it had passed, taking the crane going with it, did Oscar rise and begin sprinting across the deck towards her. He had no radio but from his wild hand gestures and shouted words, she got the gist of what he was saying. It was high time for them to hightail it. An idea Kay enthusiastically agreed with.
With haste, Kay set them off as fast as she’d ever known the Pacific to move. Behind the monster roared after them, a glance over her shoulder revealing to Kay that it had turned to give chase. Its lumbering pace reminded Kay of man slogging through waist deep water. Slow. Perhaps just slow enough that the Pacific might be able to make it out. Kay could only hope.
A hope firmly dashed against the rocks as she saw dozens of shapes begin to rise from the Sea all around them.
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