The shadow erupted from the Sea like a geyser, throwing up trash in all directions. It rained down on the Pacific, showering the deck and pilothouse with debris like giant hailstones. Kay flinched away as something flew past her head but managed to keep her eye fixed forward.
Ahead, the shadow had fully emerged to tower over the Pacific. Kay recognized it instantly. Even twice its original size and adorned with a new mantle, the rocket sitting atop its hulking body was a dead give away. Apparently, this damn thing could hold a grudge and wasn’t about to let them go so easily.
Throwing back its head in a hollow roar, Rocket launched itself at the Pacific. It moved fast,faster than anything so large should be capable of, certainly faster than Kay could hope to react to. In seconds it had closed the distance, already swinging one of its massive tendrils to crush them. The blow would have struck true, had the Atlantic not stepped in.
Appearing from nowhere, the former dredging vessel slammed into Rocket’s side to throw off its aim. The gambit worked but only just, the swing crashing down in the Sea, throwing up a fresh shower of trash and pulverizing that sitting directly beneath it. The blow was so powerful that the gouge it left in the surface persisted even after the tendril was withdrawn.
Above, the two titans squared off, each rising to their full height as they sized one another up. It threw into sharp relief just how much bigger Rocket had become since their last encounter. It easily matched Atlantic in both size and mass; a colossus compared to the pithy challengers they’d encountered up to now.
More than that it was built like an armoured brick, fused metal forming a solid wall of armour on its front. Four large tendrils forming rough analogues to arms and legs, any one of which could have crushed the Pacific without a second thought.
Sitting in its shadow, Kay realized that this was one fight Atlantic might not be able to win.
If Atlantic knew this, it made no sign. Instead, their nominal ally stood its ground as Rocket gave another howl of rage and charged. They collided with incomparable force, the air itself seeming to shudder from impact.
Atlantic took the blow on the chin, sliding backwards across the Sea several steps in the process. The two ended up locked in direct struggle, each attempting to overcome the strength of the other. A struggle it became increasingly clear Atlantic was losing.
With heroic effort, Atlantic threw off his opponent, leaving Rocket flying forward and off balance. Taking its advantage, Atlantic raised all four of its forelegs and struck, aiming for gaps in the armor with the hope of punching through.
The attack didn’t even get that far. Before the legs could even touch it, two new tendrils burst forth from within its body. Lithe and blindingly fast, they shot out like bullets and skillfully deflected all four of the Atlantic’s legs, leaving them to fall harmlessly to the Sea.
Before Atlantic could recover, Rocket pressed its advantage. It swung one of its larger arm tendrils, cratering the metal of the Atlantic’s prow like a broken nose. Atlantic was thrown back by the blow, struggling to stay upright on its hind legs. Rocket roared, the clear victor of the exchange, and threw itself into fray anew, leaving Atlantic scurrying to keep up.
While the two titans clashed above, the Sea below came alive, the Pacific caught dead in the middle of it all. Great swells battered their sides, burying the deck in debris and making the entire ship sway. Twice they had already come precariously close to tipping. Kay knew it would be long before they were pulled under.
Spurred by panic, Kay sprang into action. She threw the throttle into full reverse while at the same time pushing the helm into a full turn. A practiced maneuver and Kay immediately realized wasn’t going to work.
A horrible, shuddering rattled its way through the hull, followed closely by the sound of strained metal on the verge of buckling. The ship had begun to turn but at a fraction of the speed it should have.
“The hell are you doing!?” Oscar shouted through the radio.
“No choice!” Kay shouted back.
“I know! No choice! Do what you can!”
It was an unreasonable request and Kay knew it. The Pacific was barely holding together as it was. Even just pulling them out of the turn brought the rattle back in full force. It did fade but she could still feel it through the controls, the low growl of a catastrophic fault just waiting for something to set it off. The Pacific wasn’t going to be able to do this much longer.
Above the battle raged on, heedless of the plight of those below. The two had separated again, Atlantic retreating to gain some breathing room. Rocket, still off balance, could not pursue immediately and Atlantic took the chance to swing its flail.
Unprepared and off balance, Rocket took the strike broadside, just below its pointed head. The hit carried enough force to throw Rocket to the side, debris flying like a spray of blood.
Atlantic swung again before Rocket could recover, aiming low at one of its leg tendrils. This too found its mark, smashing the limb to pieces in a stroke. Rocket reacted as if Atlantic had merely smacked it in the shoulder, producing two more tendrils to steady itself.
Once again Atlantic brought its flail around, this time aiming for a downward strike on Rocket’s head. It missed the mark, Rocket moving to avoid it, leaving the flail to sink into the mass of a shoulder. Rumbling in frustration, Atlantic moved to pull its weapon free, only to realize it had fallen into a trap.
The mass of living trash surrounding Rocket’s wound began to shift and warp, surging to grow up around the flail like mud. Within seconds the spiked head was no longer visible, buried deep within the larger mass. It reminded Kay of when their own crane had stuck in the Sea.
Atlantic tried to pull away, the cable going taunt but refusing to snap, preventing the dredging vessel from escaping. Instead, Rocket yanked back hard and pulled the Atlantic back, straight into the blunted tip of a tendril.
The swing caught Atlantic in the side, throwing it down in a heap on the surface. In a flash Rocket leapt upon the prone form, more tendrils bursting forth to lay into the Atlantic, ripping and tearing chunks free with brutal efficiency.
To its credit, Atlantic tried to fight back. It twisted and squirmed, legs flailing desperately as it tried to strike back. None of it did any good. Rocket simply had too tight a grip, Atlantic’s efforts barely scratching its armored shell.
All the while, Rocket’s tendrils continued to lay into Atlantic’s vulnerable hull. It was a slow, painful process, the tendrils relentless as they sought out vulnerabilities. Each one they found was swiftly exploited and overwhelmed, leaving gaping wounds which could then be attacked in turn.
The noise was deafening. The screech of metal, fighting the crash of the Sea and the roars of pain and hatred coming from both titans. Kay could barely hear herself think as she pushed their pithy little vessel to its absolute limit, still entertaining some mad hope of survival.
An especially sharp rending sounded from behind and Kay turned back just in time to watch as a leg was torn completely from Atlantic’s hull. The former dredging vessel roared in pain, even as a second leg was torn from its body, unable to do anything to stop the mutilation. Both legs Rocket casually flung away into the Sea, casually discarding them even as it returned for more.
In that moment, Kay realized three things.
First, the Atlantic was going to lose. By miles or by inches, the dredging vessel was being torn to pieces. If it kept up, Atlantic would soon be lost, properly this time. Nothing but more lifeless trash drifting in the Sea.
Second, the Pacific was never going to get a better chance to run. While Rocket was distracted, they might be able to slip away, their hunter perhaps being satisfied with the larger offering. It was a slim chance, without even the whisper of a guarantee, but it was the best chance they were going to get.
And third, Kay knew she wasn’t going to do that. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t abandon the Atlantic. She wouldn’t lose him again. It was a stupid, irrational, insane thought to have and the only one that mattered to her.
Kay just could not catch a break.
Without hesitation, Kay brought the ship around to face the battle. Atlantic was already down to five legs, soon to be four, both torn free along with large chunks of the hull. Dark masses of trash wept from every wound like blood, slowly draining the dredging vessel of whatever spark of life animated it. Already it was falling still, barely even resisting as Rocket dismembered it.
With no time to doubt, Kay aimed the Pacific dead center at Rocket and pushed the throttle up as far it would go. The ship practically bellowed in distress, a chorus of alarms ringing out, punctuated by blasts and groans from the engines below. All these Kay ignored, holding on by grit and prayer as she pushed the old girl ahead with everything she had left.
“Kay, what’s going on up there!? Engines just went crazy!” came Oscar’s voice through the radio.
Kay almost didn’t answer him. She knew this was a stupid idea and Oscar would almost certainly try to stop her. Not that he would be able to, not in the time he had left. Answering him would be of no benefit to either party. It would be easier just to stay silent.
But he deserved better than that.
“What are you…” He stopped, realization dawning in his voice. “Kay don’t!”
“I’m sorry Oscar.”
His words were cut short as Kay switched off the radio entirely. She hoped he might one day forgive her, or at least survive to hate her. She doubted either possibility was likely but was well past the point worrying about it would help. She could hope. That would have to be enough.
It was the last thought Kay had as the Pacific slammed into Rocket’s side and everything went dark.
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