The world returned to Kay in pieces. Jagged fragments of reality intruding on her comfortable darkness one after the other like a broken mosaic. Colors, shapes, sounds, lights, and textures, all of it spinning and crashing around as it slowly knit itself back together to form a coherent whole.
Instantly pain bloomed behind her eyes when it did, the back of her head throbbing from where it had been struck. She tried to rise but that only sent her vision spinning, bile rising in the back of her throat. Better, she decided, to stay seated until things got themselves sorted out.
Looking around as best she could, Kay found the pilothouse in a state of utter devastation. Every single control and display screen was smashed, some torn from their sockets entirely and strewn about on the floor. Most of the roof had been torn away, leaving it exposed to the gloom as light shone in from outside.
Feeling slightly better, Kay attempted to rise only to fall back to her seat as a shudder rumbled through the ship. She held on for dear life as the floor shifted beneath her, components, and twisted metal shaking like dead leaves on the wind. It lasted only a handful of seconds, everything quickly settling back to stillness, but an ominous creaking sound warned that it was merely paused rather than ended.
Gathering what strength she had left, Kay made to rise from her seat. Slowly, gingerly, testing each limb to make sure it would take the strain. Legs, arms, torso, head after a fashion, all in pain but they managed to hold together as Kay rose to her full height. Walking proved more of a challenge, pain shooting up and down her legs with every step. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself forward, slowly picking her way through the wreckage and out onto the deck.
Or what remained of it at least. The impact had not been kind to the old girl, cracking the deck open like an egg and leaving it a minefield of jagged metal and collapsed structural members. It grew worse closer to the front of the ship, the bow nothing more than a mass of crushed metal, hammered flat like a ball of tinfoil.
What remained struggled to even remain afloat. Both port legs had snapped off at the joint, leaving them listing down into the Sea with no hope of recovery. Even if the engines had been functional, which they evidently were not, the loss of the legs made it impossible to escape the churn without help.
The Pacific was truly in her death throes, her back broken and her beating heart dead. They were already sinking. It was now only a matter of time before the Sea claimed them.
Kay knew she should be more concerned about that. She should have felt something: fear, regret, sadness, perhaps bitter amusement at the universe and its pitch-black sense of humor. But she felt none of these things.
Instead she felt light, airy. As if a great weight had been lifted from within her chest. Something she had been holding up for so long she had forgotten it hadn’t always been there. Now that it was gone, the void it left behind felt strange. Neither good nor bad, just odd.
As the feeling consumed her, Kay turned her eyes to the Sea. She looked at nothing in specific, but her gaze was quickly drawn to Rocket’s corpse. Inevitable perhaps as the small mountain of trash was the only real feature for miles around. It had lost most of its former shape, mantle fallen away in pieces to be slowly being consumed by the Sea. Identifying it at all would have been impossible had its namesake not sat impaled through it like a spear.
Atlantic was nowhere to be seen, either intact or as wreckage of its own. Had it run away? It had clearly been victorious and yet it was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it had been a mutual kill. Two titans striking one another down in a last great clash, all evidence of their existence swallowed back into the depths. A grand ending for an equally grand story. Kay decided it would do well enough as an explanation.
The wreckage shuddered and rumbled again, forcing Kay to drop low as it shifted beneath her feet. This one was more violent, widening the cracks further to expose the compartments underneath. One opened not two feet away, leaving Kay scrambling to find a safer grip until the quake had subsided.
Once it had, Kay turned back to peer down over the edge, discovering to her great surprise their haul was still intact. Despite everything they’d put her through, the old girl had managed to hold on to their treasure right to the bitter end.
Distantly, Kay wondered if someone else might find it one day. Some desperate soul wandering out past the red line, running from bad choices, and chasing stories of salvation. Kay hoped no one would ever be so stupid but she herself was living proof to the contrary. Well, living for now. That would be rectified soon enough.
A flicker of movement caught in the corner of Kay’s eye. She turned towards it to find Oscar’s hand reaching up from below, flailing about in search of purchase. A jolt ran through Kay at the sight of it and she scrambled over to help.
He looked like he’d been through hell. Covered head to toe in grease and soot, his oilskin torn in several places, a large patch ripped away entirely along his left side. The faceplate of his mask was fogged from a broken seal, hairline cracks radiating out from a makeshift patch over his chin. Though most of his face was obscured Kay could still see his eyes, looking up at her with an unreadable expression.
“Hey,” Kay said.
“…hey,” Oscar said back.
Kay knelt, reaching out to offer him a hand up. He paused for just long enough to be noticed before he reached up and took the offering. Working together, they pushed past their many injuries and managed to haul Oscar up on deck. Neither of them bothered to rise to their feet afterwards, exhaustion finally getting the better of them.
Instead they sat together in silence. There was plenty to be said but Kay had not the faintest clue where to begin. She was still trying to figure out when Oscar spoke up.
“Long day, huh?”
Despite herself, despite everything, Kay smiled.
“That’s one way to put it, yeah.”
Silence returned for a time, lasting until Kay worked up the courage to say the two words that needed to be said.
“For what?” Oscar asked.
“Dragging you into this, keeping you from going onto better things, just,” she gestured vaguely about. “All this, I guess.”
Kay could feel Oscar’s gaze on her but had no desire to meet it, fearing what she might find staring back. Instead she kept her eyes aggressively glued to the floor, holding it right up until Oscar flicked her in the ear.
“Ow!” Kay cried, more in surprise than pain. “What was that for!?”
“Being a brat,” Oscar said.
Kay was stunned. “I, don’t…”
“You didn’t make me do anything Kay. I knew the risks in coming out here and I chose to anyway. Don’t you dare try to say otherwise.”
“I- I shouldn’t have just…” Kay flailed around for the words. “…I shouldn’t have done what I did.”
Oscar shook his head. “No, you shouldn’t have. But we both know you always would have.”
“Fair,” She said. “But I’m still sorry.”
Out at Sea, the old rocket finally succumbed to the churn, slipping beneath the surface in a single, sudden plunge. Kay was glad to see it go, even as her inner dredger lamented the loss of such a treasure. Some instincts just didn’t go away.
“If it’s any consolation,” Oscar said. “We wouldn’t have made it anyway.”
Kay raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”
“We were on our last legs. Engines never would have held out for the trip back.”
“You couldn’t fix them?”
“I’m not a miracle worker Kay.”
For a moment, the two shipmates just stared at one another, expression blank as they processed. It was Kay who broke first, a smile breaking out across her face as she fought to contain her laughter. Oscar smiled back in kind and soon they had both broken down completely.
They laughed and laughed and laughed, genuinely and happily and heartily. They laughed until their sides hurt, until their cheeks ached, and their voices went horse. They laughed until no laughter remained and, just for a minute, everything seemed like it was going to be alright.
A feeling somewhat spoiled as the ship began to shudder once again. Worse that before, spiking a violent crescendo that forced them both to hold on for dear life. All around the Sea came alive and Kay had a horrible flash of despair, wondering if another monster had come to finish them off.
She turned out to be half right. A shape did indeed rise from the depths, but Kay quickly calmed as she realized it was the Atlantic.
The old dredging vessel looked even worse than either Kay or Oscar did. Battered, broken, three of its legs torn clean off along with large chunks of its hull. What remained was barely holding together, lacking the strength to even lift its back end out of the Sea.
Atlantic reached out for them as the Pacific with its remaining legs,holding them from sinking any further. Both vessels creaked under the strain of resisting but Atlantic won out, managing to stabilize the Pacific. At least for the moment.
Kay rose to her feet, eyes fixed firmly on Atlantic towering above them. Slowly, almost gently, it lowered itself towards them until its bow rested on the edge of the deck, like the head of some enormous animal.
A wounded animal. This close, Kay could see its wounds in sickening detail. Long gashes and punctures across the hull, some large enough that she could have walked through them, weeping the black masses of animate trash through the cracks. Some of it still moved, still lived but it had grown listless, the spark of life growing dim as it bled away
Slowly Kay approached, at once confused, scared, elated and worst of all, hopeful. As she drew close, the head shifted ever so slightly as if turning to look at her. An acknowledgement and the last proof she needed to be sure.
“Hey dad,” Kay said.
She had imagined what this moment would be like in her mind. Her father miraculously survived to come back home. She’d imagined words of blame shouted at him in anger, just as she’d imagined joyful screams of elation. Now that it was here, all of it seemed inadequate. Now that it was here, she didn’t know what to say.
A sharp note of static broke out before she could settle on anything. A familiar crackling sound, warbling high and swooping low as something tried to break free from behind the veil. Kay couldn’t see where it was coming from but decided it didn’t matter.
Instead she waited, listening intently as whatever lay behind the static fought for its freedom. The words that eventually broke free were strained, distorted and the most wonderful collection of sounds Kay had ever heard in her life.
Hey there kiddo.
She didn’t realize the tears had begun until they were already flowing down her cheeks. She wept, deep and quiet, reaching out to place her hands on the metal as she did. It was surprisingly warm to the touch, like a loving hug, as she let tears and joy flow in equal measure.
Beneath them, the wreckage began to rumble again, the Sea sinking its claws in deep as it pulled inexorably down. Soon not even the Atlantic would be enough to hold them up. Their time, it seemed, was coming to an end.
Kay sniffed away the last of her tears, broken in all the ways that didn’t matter.
“Guess it’s time for us to go, eh old man?”
Atlantic gave a sound that might have been laughter, but it was drowned out as the churn finally won. A sudden, stomach churning drop took them, throwing Kay back towards the edge. She would have fallen overboard had Oscar not caught her, hauling her up as the ship began to buck and crack all around them. It wouldn’t be long now.
It was then that Atlantic did something neither of them could have ever predicted. Before their very eyes, Kay and Oscar watched as Atlantic began to dissemble itself.
The animate black mass emerged from within, spreading across its surface, loosening bolts, breaking welds, and carefully detaching parts as it went. In short order, it had stripped away what remained of the dredging vessel, reducing itself to a dark morass of life and machinery.
Rather than fall away into the Sea, it instead flowed towards the wreckage of the Pacific, consuming the broken hulk into itself in the process. The two humans could only watch as it flooded in around them, waiting for the moment it would consume him. Just before it did, the voice called out one last time before falling silent for good.
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