“So this is the idea,” Carter said as he stared down the iron sights of the slug gun. “Carlton will try to get the creature to surface. Once it breaches, aim for the eyes or throat.” He lowered the weapon. “You have twenty rounds. Carlton says that’s a little less than three clips worth of fire–take your time if you have to, but make sure each shot hits.”
“Are you sure you we can’t just fire at him when we see him?” Steven asked. He was leaning against a window on the cabin’s starboard side.
“Won’t work,” Carlton replied, keeping his eyes on the waves. “The jacket will disintegrate as soon as the round hits the water. After that, the core will basically come to a halt and sink.” He grabbed a bottle of ginger ale off the dash and took a sip. “Remember, this is the first time we’ve tried to kill a harrow other than Blades. From what we’ve seen, these things are hard as hell to put down. We need to make every shot count.”
“I’ve got no problem with the plan,” Steven said, removing an en-bloc clip from his pocket and inserting it into the Garand. “I’m just not sure our friend will cooperate.” He gazed over at the fathometer. “Of course, our sea monster needs to be here for the plan to have a shot in the first place.”
“It’s around,” Carter said. He clumsily loaded a slug into his gun. Damned arthritis, the thought, hoping the others didn’t notice. “It’s just a matter of patience.”
“We can’t be sure about that,” Steven said. “We don’t know where those photos were taken. For all we know, the damn thing could be on the other side of the Atlantic.”
“Do you have a better plan?” Carlton asked.
A warm glow could be seen forming far in front of the ship’s bow. Carter gazed out at the horizon, watching as the sun began to creep into the sky. “We know Dheania is here,” Carter said. “She’s not going to want this thing to too far from her.”
Carlton had a shotgun propped on the dash beside him. He’d cracked open his own box of slugs and loaded them before they hit sea. While Carter was thankful that he was ready to step in if problems occurred, he doubted Carlton would be willing to stray too far from the wheel. If the creature was as big as they thought, then it would likely rock the ship like a toy boat in a bathtub when it surfaced, and while they could easily just heave-to and anchor, Carter knew that they would have to be on the move to prevent the harrow from getting an easy shot at the hull.
“We’ve got something,” Steven said. He motioned toward the fathometer.
Carlton looked over at the monitor, and shook his head. “Orcas,” he said, pointing out the window. Steven watched as a tall, black fin erupted from the water, followed shortly by another. “Decent-sized pod. They’re following us.”
“What are they after?” Steven asked.
“Food probably,” Carlton said, taking another sip. “In the old days it was common to just chuck your trash off the rear of the boat. Sharks would come around, find the food, and follow the ships. Illegal now, of course, but it still happens. And of course, orcas love to eat sharks. Maybe we have a few white tips or something following us. Plus,” he said, pointing at a series of dots on the fathometer, “little fish like to use boats as cover. That draws predators, and those draw bigger ones. Orcas are smart, they can figure that out pretty fast.”
“Carlton.” Carter motioned back toward the fathometer, where the bottom seemed to rise.
At first Carlton thought it was a reef–there was plenty of coral in the bay–but it didn’t take long for him to notice the mass was following them, slowly rising as they sped forward. “God damn, Dr. Carter. Looks like we’ve got company after all.”
Steven grabbed a strip of leather and raced outside to the bow. He quickly strapped himself to the railing and double checked his safety. Carter followed by moving toward the cabin’s rear, stepping onto the main platform before slinging his gun over his shoulder. There, he climbed the ladder to the crow’s nest and waited.
Carlton watched the fathometer as the creature approached. He wondered what its top speed was–any powerful streamlined fish would be able to keep pace with the Oceanus, but this thing appeared to be moving at speeds closer to that of a marlin. Then he noticed the mass begin to move upward, passing beneath them for a full second before disappearing off the monitor’s screen. “Well then,” Carlton said as he grabbed the controls and then, shoving the gas forward he smirked. “Here we go.”
What at first seemed to be the head of a colossal whale burst the surface beyond the Oceanus‘ bow, its jaws closing just a few yards from the boat’s deck. For a moment, Steven stared deep into the dark, cloudy eye that was peered out from between the monster’s deep folds of flesh. His first thought was of how massive the eye was–he guessed that it was nearly twelve feet in diameter. It’s like the fucking leviathan, he thought. He then broke free from hesitation and fired a shot into the eye.
Almost immediately the creature’s cornea burst, spattering separated blood and serum across the deck. The creature pulled its head away from the Oceanus, and the resulting suction nearly pulled the vessel beneath the waves. Above him, Carter wrapped the strap of his shotgun around a pole, and with a bit of quick maneuvering managed to fire a single shot that struck the creature in the neck. A dribble of dark blood oozed from the wound. The beast began to fall beneath the waves, pulling the water down with it. Once more the Oceanus was dragged down, while Carlton did his best inside the cabin to fight the current.
Carter braced himself against the ladder. He felt a dull ache in his knees and wrists as his joints seemed to grind. He gritted his teeth and bore with it, somehow managing to steady himself as the vessel rose again. He remembered the advice Carlton had given him before they left: I’ve removed the plug, but it still takes time to load. It’s easier just to load a new shell right after you shoot it. Fumbling with his fingers he pulled another shell from the open box and inserted it into the tube, before retraining his aim down the sights to track the beast’s shadow as it swam beneath the waves.
The creature rose again, this time off the port-side, sending a massive wave that threw him off balance. He heard the crack of the Garand below, followed almost instantly by the sickening sound of flesh being split open. The creature pulled back beneath the waves. He forced himself to stay calm as the vessel dipped once more, but he remained tense until the ship righted itself again. Gazing down beneath them, he could see the monster’s silhouette as it swam beneath the vessel; although the Oceanus was 80 feet long, it seemed as if it only about half of the creature’s length.
Once again the beast reared out of the water for an attack. Carter took aim at the head, following the creature’s movements, carefully attempting to train the weapon onto a vulnerable spot. Once he had a target in his sights, he squeezed the trigger and the gun slammed against his shoulder, sending a painful shockwave through his arm and chest. The bullet hit its mark in the back of the beast’s throat, forcing it to quickly pull itself under.
By now the creature’s putrid smell was being overpowered by smoke. Inside the cabin, Carlton struggled to keep the ship upright against the thrashing waves. He’d hoped a kill shot would have come by now, but the creature didn’t seem to be getting any weaker. With every shot, the beast would twist and flail, sending wave after wave toward them. It’s a fucking trawler, Carlton thought. He knew the engines were not up to the task–if this went on for much longer, they would end up at the bottom of the bay.
As the creature’s head passed over him, Steven fired yet another shot into what was now an empty socket. Maggot-white tissue spilled across the deck as another wave threw the bow upward. It seemed that the harrow was no longer capable of coping with this agony–as it fell back beneath the surface, it began to thrash wildly, sending the ship rocking in the waves.
As it surfaced one last time, Carter fired a shot into its belly, and the creature wailed. The sound was not only deafening but disturbing–an unworldly scream of pain and frustration. Though it nearly drowned him out, Carter could hear Carlton screaming in frustration. The engine cut out. They were dead in the water with a colossal beast that could take out their ship in a single bite.
Inside the cabin, Carlton grabbed his shotgun. Stepping on deck, he fired, holding the trigger down as he rapidly slid the pump back and forth until the magazine was empty. Each shot blasted a silver-dollar-sized hole into the creature’s flesh, but the beast still didn’t die. Instead, it began to thrash even more, pushing the ship to the tipping point.
Carlton hurriedly reloaded his gun while bracing himself for the imminent capsize. Then, he took aim at the creature’s eye socket and repeated his rapid-fire fury. The creature began to seize, but it still wouldn’t die.
Steven dove into the cabin, grabbed an emergency raft, threw it and himself back onto the deck and ripped the cord. The rubber vessel exploded into form as the rolling waves sent both man and raft sliding down the deck. Before he could steady himself, another violent wave struck the Oceanus, and Steven found himself and the raft both tossed into the air. Desperately he grasped at the rail, somehow managing to catch it as he went over, wrenching his shoulder but saving himself from plummeting into the violent deep, and the raft–seemingly miraculously–managed to land upright on the water only a few yards out.
Steven took one last look at the crow’s nest as another wave tossed the vessel; for a moment he caught Carter’s eyes, the eyes of one resigned to death. As the mast dipped over the water, Steven watched in horror as the old biologist let loose his grip and plummeted down into the waves.
The life preserver—
The Oceanus began to right itself once more, and Stephen strained to pull himself aboard. No sooner than his chest breached the rail did he see the beast, in its agonized throes, raise its tail above the water and throw it down onto the stern, shattering the hull. The Oceanus was done for; Steven closed his eyes and fell into the water.
Blackness surrounded him. What little light penetrated the creature’s dark blood told him he was awake and alive. There was little to tell him which way was up–the water was now too dim to see any bubbles, and the waves tossed him about even as far down as he was. He took a chance, and kicked himself in what he could only pray was up, but as the waves battered his body, he seemed to made no progress, and when he saw something rush toward him from the front, he knew what it meant–he was going to die.
Then that something grabbed him by the wrist, and pulled him forward. In an instant Steven found himself being pulled onto the raft–his savior Carlton, was already on board. He collapsed onto his back, and laughed. Of course he wasn’t headed toward the surface–he’d been swimming on his back.
As the raft shifted across the rolling waters, Steven noticed something that stifled his laughter. Carter wasn’t laughing with him. He wasn’t even paying attention to the man he just saved. In fact, his eyes were frantically scanning the waters and wreckage. A dark realization fell over Steven, and for the first time he realized it was just the two of them in the raft.
“Jesus Christ, where is he–”
Steven barely finished his sentence when something brushed against the raft from below. He gazed to his right–the leviathan was there, thrashing about and now a good hundred yards so away. He tried to tell himself it was Carter, but when a second impact hit, he realized to his horror that it couldn’t be him–whatever was down there was too big. Nowhere near the size of the monster, but still quite massive–definitely massive enough to capsize the raft with no effort. Goddammit now what—
The he saw them–dozens of dark, massive shapes cruising just beneath the surface. Orcas–that pod from earlier–were approaching the wounded beast. Steadily they seemed to flank it, as if to size up this garguantan thing. Then once more they disappeared into the depths.
And then, the water exploded. The attack was brutal and violent, lasting mere seconds. As best as Steven could tell, they rammed the beast, tearing at it with their teeth and ripping chunks of vile flesh from its body. Blood–seemingly gallons of dark, thick blood–was thrown into the air with the surf. The orcas seemed intent on destroying this abomination rather than feeding on it–the flesh they tore free was thrown back into the sea, and when the beast, at last succumbing to its wounds, had stopped moving, the orcas departed.
They won. They had wounded the beast enough to embolden the orca pod, and the whales had eliminated what they no doubt rightly viewed as a dangerous threat. During that brief, violent attack, they’d been targeting the arteries and major organs, finishing off what the three of them had started.
And as the waves slowly began to subside, he saw nearly jump from his position. His eyes had caught something off their aft–Carter, alive but greatly tired, barely afloat and clutching a cushion from the Oceanus‘ cabin. The old hybrid looked like a drowned rat, his profile having lost a full two inches from wet fur. Carlton rushed for the oar an began to paddle.
It was several minutes before Carlton reached Devon Carter. The waves, while not as violent as before, were still tricky to conquer, and their rounded vessel was not built for maneuvering. With a few seconds of agonizing effort–and a bit of help from Steven and Carlton–Carter managed to pull himself into the raft. He was shivering, tired, and rubbing his knuckles, but despite it all he seemed fine. “Carlton?” he asked, sitting up to stare out at the black slick of blood surrounding them. that drifted around them.
“Yeah?” Carlton replied.
“I just want you to know, if you ever come up with another plan like this, I’ll shoot you myself.””
Carlton laughed. “Well, it worked.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Carter said, “when I ask you to pay me back for my boat.” He paused for a moment to catch his breath. “So, now what? Our radio’s at the bottom of the bay, along with pretty much everything else. Tell me you packed flare guns.”
“I did,” Carlton said. “but Steven didn’t exactly have a chance to grab them with the raft, and all I had a chance to get was these.” He held up two fiberglass oars–one wet and stained from rowing, and another that had started to dry. He threw that one to Steven, and smiled. “Get rowing, we’ve got a long way to go.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Steven said.
“Well, we’re going nowhere fast right now. As Carter said, no radio, no flares, and we’ve got nothing to eat or drink. We’re lucky the weather’s cool today, but this is still Florida and that sun will roast us fast. If we both paddle, we can reach Bay Road in about an hour. Otherwise….”
Steven chuckled. “Oh what the hell. Which way’s the shore?” he asked.