15.

Kay had never believed in monsters. She’d never had the time nor patience for the old stink’s tales of “unknowable horrors” or “terrible beasts”, all of which were conveniently light on the details. Usually she’d just roll her eyes and walk away. She had plenty of real problems to deal with, thank you very much, and had neither the time nor energy to devote to bad stories. There were, after all, no such thing as monsters.

They rose from the Sea all around the Pacific. Things, monsters, formed from the very trash that churned beneath them. Great masses of plastic, glass, compost, splintered wood and a thousand other waste things held together in a dark, tar like slurry. It was difficult for Kay to hold any one of them in her gaze for long as they were constantly changing shape, old details swallowed up and new ones emerging to replace them.

The only thing that truly set them apart from one another was the mantle of detritus worn by each. Formed from larger pieces of trash, from things strong and sturdy enough to survive. They adorned each mass, a mold to hold the ever-changing mass in place. If only for a little while.

Some wore the remnants of broken buildings, all jagged edges and bristling with broken girders. Others garbed themselves in intricate coats of machinery, masses of metal and plastic. Kay saw one armored like a medieval knight in the crushed remnants of cars and what had once been their factory assembly line.

Yet more of the creatures instead wore only a single object, less adorning the monsters than encasing them. These varied wildly in scale, some no more than a pile of animate rust, while others wore the entire skeletons torn from ancient vessels of ocean, sky, and space. And not even that did no justice to the truly strange things Kay saw moving all around them.

An entire skyscraper coated in gold, emblazoned with a name now lost to history. A silo larger than any dredging vessel Kay had ever seen, merrily rolling across the surface, crushing everything in its path. Larger than life statues of people, places, and animals of all kings, meaningful once but now reduced to nothing more than ghoulish puppets.

Massive things making massive monsters in turn.

And somehow that was not the end of it. In the distance, through the gloom, Kay could see the shadows of yet more things rising from the depths. They were far more fluid than the rest, their dark, blank shapes a canvas for Kay’s imagination to paint all manner of details. Kin to their smaller cousins but on an entirely different scale.

Blink. There was a pointed spire, its sharp tip towering so high it vanished into the gloom above.

Blink. There now was a thing of many flailing tendrils, tipped in pincers and fists and the writhing fingers of yet more tendrils.

Blink. There again, something new. A formless mass of truly gigantic proportion, stretching so far in every direction it looked like a patch of night sitting on the horizon.

Blink. And now there was nothing there at all but a vanishing shadow, swallowed back into the depths like it had never been at all.

All this Kay observed in detracted reverie, time seeming to stand still as they were somehow spared the chaos. That mercy came to a lurching end as suddenly the Sea beneath them bulged up, throwing the entire ship to one side. Kay could only yelp and hold on, bracing herself as she was thrown headlong into this reality. Ready or not.

Another monster appeared out of the depths, this one a bulbous amalgamation of curved metal plates standing on four trunk-like legs. It began to walk away with the heavy grace of a hurricane, barely registering the Pacific’s presence as it moved.

The same could not be said of the reverse. Waves, literal waves of trash battered their sides as Kay desperately fought to keep the ship level. Engines screamed at the effort, Kay having to call upon every shred of her experience to guide the ship safely down the side of the swell.

Still it was a near thing. Twice Kay was certain they were going over as large bits of debris struck, rattling the hull anew. By either luck or panicked mastery, she managed to recover both times, hands gripped so tightly on the controls her fingers had gone numb.

Only once did she risk a glance down, wild eyes searching for any sign of Oscar. She spotted him on deck, crouched low to keep balance and holding on for dear life to whatever he could. Every time another wave broke over them, he was forced to let go to dodge the larger pieces of trash. Each would be more than able to send him tumbling overboard.

Thus far he’d managed to avoid such a fate, but it was a dangerous game he played. One slip up and it would mean the end for him.

“Hold on tight old man,” Kay muttered to herself. “I really stepped in it this time.”

Kay had no more time to spare for him. All her focus was required for piloting as all around them, a vicious melee of truly titanic proportions raged.

Monsters collided with on another in a raging storm of violence, their mantle’s turned to weapons of war as they laid into one another. Blows of crippling force and unimaginable power, each mythical in its own right, but hardly worthy of note in this arena. A seemingly endless battle with no side or alliances that Kay could see. It was every monster for itself, striking, stabbing, constricting, and rending at whatever their lumbering movements could reach.

Ahead, Kay saw the animate shell of a military aircraft carrier grab hold of an old water tower in its many fist like appendages. The smaller tried to squirm away, putting up a valiant struggle but all for naught as the larger easily overpowered it, crushing the tank like tinfoil. It pulled the twitching remains towards itself, a great, hungry maw opening wide on its front. In seconds it had swallowed the morsel whole, subsuming it into the carrier’s already expansive mass. Barely a drop in the bucket. A bucket which Kay suspected was filled entirely with such drops.

It was the way of things out here, from what Kay could see. Consume what you could to grow as large as possible, that was the only way to survive. If you were smaller, you ran. If you were larger, you consumed. Fail at either and you died, simple as that.

Despite herself, Kay couldn’t help but marvel at the sight. At the wonders of a world gone by, once tall and proud, now broken and cast low onto the rubbish heap of history. Tombstones to their own past glories, fighting to cling on to whatever remained. She might have found it beautiful, even poignant, were they currently not sitting right in the middle of it.

But such was indeed where they sat, surrounded by things well beyond what the Pacific had been built to handle. Like a gnat in a hurricane, at once beneath notice and yet at the mercy of forces far beyond its control. Their only chance was to hope nothing noticed them as they quietly slipped away.

A crunch, loud and close, sounded somewhere behind and Kay suddenly found herself flying forward as the ship lurched to a stop. Recovering, she whipped her head around to look, finding the front end of a cement truck staring back. It was both the head and the crowning jewel of a monster’s mantle, the broken grill forming a wicked grin that seemed to relish the prospect of a kill. Although that may have just been Kay’s imagination.

From within the truck’s squat tank, there emerged four tendrils, each tipped with a long, jagged hook. Crude in appearance but clearly no less effective as they dug into the Pacific, slicing through the metal as if it were paper.

Acting on instinct, Kay slammed the controls forward, urging the old girl to put everything she had into fleeing. They made it only a step before there came the sickening sound of tearing metal and splintering wood. Kay had the sinking feeling it was not the sound of the monster being ripped free.

Indeed, the monster soon gave a low, rumbling growl of displeasure, sounding like an avalanche of tin cans clattering against one another. The Pacific’s engines screamed in reply, spurred on, and pushed to limits Kay hadn’t known they even possessed.

It wasn’t enough. Kay could already feel the mechanisms straining, dancing on the edge of failure even as the monster tightened its grip. The Pacific simply did not have the power to win this fight. Struggling against it was simply delaying the inevitable end of both vessel and human alike.

Part of Kay wanted to cry at that, in fear or frustration she couldn’t tell. Both emotions swiftly found themselves smothered by the sudden, unexpected appearance of a third.

Anger.

White hot anger, burning through Kay like liquid fire. Anger at the monster, anger at the Pacific, anger at herself. But most of all, Kay was angry at the universe for not just giving her a goddamn break.

Once, just once, that was all she was asking for but no. If it wasn’t crippling debt it was actual, literal, in the discarded flesh monsters. Everything was just so absurdly stacked against her that it was almost funny. She would have laughed if she hadn’t been so blindingly, irrationally angry at it all. It was the kind of state where the only options were shut down or do something utterly, bafflingly stupid.

Kay chose stupid.

With a scream louder than engines or Sea, Kay wrenched the throttle back to zero. The monster, unprepared for the change, had no time to adjust and found its prey suddenly moving towards it, pulled by its own strength. In the same moment, Kay threw the gears into reverse and slammed the throttle back to full, sending them flying back like a bullet.

“Screw you!” Kay shouted just before they hit.

The impact was terrifying. They slammed bodily into the monster, striking center mass with the combined power of both parties. Kay saw the wicked grin of its grill vanish beneath the stern, the entire hood of the truck crumpling at the impact. The windows of the pilothouse shook, sprouting long cracks that allowed the burning stench of the gloom to seep in and flood Kay’s nostrils. The legs creaked and the hull wailed like the damned, bent and battered even as Kay demanded they press on.

And yet, somehow, the gambit paid off. The monster roared in distress, violently thrown off into the Sea by the sudden attack. Kay roared back in kind, triumphant as she saw the claws lose their grip and slide free from the hull.

Kay was so focused on the monster that she didn’t notice Oscar until he grabbed her shoulder. She nearly leapt from his skin as she whipped her head around, finding a face halfway between wide grin and wild-eyed madness looking back.

“You know you’re nuts, right?!”

This time she did laugh. “Regret coming yet!?”

“Time of my life!” He shouted, taking a moment to pull a rebreather on over Kay’s head. “Now drive!”

Wasting not a second, Kay reversed what she had done and threw them back into full forward. The gears squealed like dying pigs at the shift, terrifying snaps and creaks sounding from somewhere below. Briefly, free of adrenal haze, Kay wondered if she might have gone too far and doomed them anyway.

Somehow the old girl plodded on still, despite her pained cries. She was wounded, terribly wounded, but alive and moving. If she could just hold on long enough to get them clear, they might just make it out of this alive.

The monsters had other ideas. Another burst free from the Sea, moving too quickly for Kay to react. It grabbed hold of a leg, twisting the already mangled limb like a pretzel. Kay swore at the jolted, pushing on in the slim hope they had enough power left to break free.

A second monster emerged on the opposite side, this one striking with their flank with its bulbous tendrils, finally shattering the pilothouse windows completely. Before the glass had even settled a third monster emerged directly in front of them. It reared up out of the Sea like a serpent, holding in mid-air for what seemed an eternity, giving Kay ample time to imagine what would happen when it came back down.

The real thing proved so much worse.

The creature landed bodily across the deck, an avalanche of debris pressing down on them like a shroud. It forced them low to the Sea’s surface, the weight pinning them firmly in place even as the churn took hold. The Sea truly had them this time.

The Pacific was going down.

*

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