Book 2 in the series.
By: C. S. Warner
“...It was Lou. ...It was Lou. ...It was Lou,” Ray’s words repeated over and over in Captain John Coleman’s head as he ascended away from the billowing red blood that shrouded the sunken boat still resting broken on the ocean floor below. With his subordinate, ‘Sting’ Ray West, swimming at his side they continued up toward the fragments of the distorted sun as it glistened down through the water’s surface.
The ocean seemed thicker to Ray, harder to swim through, and he began to panic. Heart racing, his breath grew shorter in his mask; in and out, faster and faster -he’d never felt like that before, claustrophobic, and it took all of his self control to keep from tearing away his mask. “Calm down,” he heard his captain’s voice over the intercom. “Don’t hyperventilate.”
About fifteen minutes had past, although it felt like only a second, since the two men witnessed their friend, shipmate, and fellow diver, Lou Smith, shredded by an unusual, oblong sea creature. As they surfaced, John thrust off his mask and yelled up at the three bystanders still aboard his commercial crew boat, Viking Past, who were all looking down at them curiously. “Oswald!” he singled out his first mate, Connor Oswald. “Grab the harpoon!”
“Ay, ay, cap’n,” the gray haired man turned obediently to carry out John’s command.
“Harpoon?” Vera, the sole woman on the vessel, placed her hands on her hips, “John, what could you possibly need a harpoon for?” but for the first time in years, he ignored her.
“Wait,” Jeffrey Kenneth leaned his fragile, bony body over the rail, “someone’s missing. Where’s Lou?” The two men silently bobbed up and down with the passing waves, eyes cast down. Ray fought back tears; he was hesitant about returning to the depths, the thought made him sick, but revenge flared from John’s face and he knew there was no telling his captain no.
“John,” Vera said cautiously as she gripped both hands tightly around the rail, “what’s down there?” He locked eyes with her for a moment, but turned away, running his hand over the top of his head.
“Hey, Blue,” Oswald had returned with the large harpoon in both hands, “you both be careful down there.” He tossed it over and it hit the water with a loud smack splashing the two men in the face. John swiftly grabbed it and wrapped the strap over his shoulder before buckling it to his gear. Sliding their masks back on, John and Ray plunged under an oncoming swell, leaving but a ripple for the three onlookers still aboard, waiting nervously under the glaring sun for whatever may come.
Blue/gray water stretched farther into the abandoned abyss below, but finally, the familiar white coral graveyard slowly emerged into focus. The bloody water had dissipated leaving a murky view of the houseboat that laid broken in half. John swam slowly for the center break and noticed something that he hadn’t before during the chaos: the edges appeared charred with obvious ignition spots; the boat had been blown up and sunk on purpose…
“What’s the plan, Blue?” Ray’s voice crackled over the com.
“Stay behind me,” he stressed.
Though he may have been seeing red, as John neared the compartment where he knew the beast to be, his hands began to tremble around the harpoon. He rounded the corner and paused. The creature stood upright at about five feet high, it’s foot long pincers stretched out of its top in opposite directions, and it shimmered an iridescent white under John’s light. Slowly, he lifted the harpoon to aim; the worm wiggled and short hairs perked up all around it. John rested his finger on the trigger; it could sense his presence… The beast quickly coiled back ready to strike, but John was faster, pressing the trigger hard and sending the harpoon flying through the water, piercing the worm perfectly in the center. It writhed and whipped from side to side angrily; John backed up and watched, ready to swim away, but the creature didn’t follow. The worm’s movements slowed until it hunched over; its bottom released from the floor and it began to float with the harpoon sticking through it like a skewer through a shrimp.
“Damn, Blue!” Ray said through the intercom.
“Let’s finish searching the boat,” John replied, “and then take that… that thing up to Viking Past.”
“Do you think they’re alright?” Jeffrey asked as he sipped his water in the cabin. Vera, seated across from him, continued to nervously drum her fingertips on the table as she stared out of the window at the unfamiliar boat anchored in the distance. “Vera?” She turned to him, “Hmm?”
“I was asking if you think they’re ok? I mean... I’m sure they’re fine... Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” she took a deep breath and smiled, “I’m fine. I know they’ll be ok… Silence just makes me anxious.”
Clank, clank, clank, Oswald was racing down the metal stairs from the bridge and out onto the deck; they quickly rose to follow.
“Uh, what smells like dead fish?” Jeffrey plugged his nose.
“Oswald, help us,” John barked, “Sting, easy!” The two men in the water lifted their plunder over the side of the boat and it hit the deck with a squishy thud.
“My god,” Vera said kneeling over to examine the immense worm, “what is this?”
“Oswald, help Sting with that,” John pointed at a metal box before climbing aboard and immediately removing his equipment. Oswald and Ray struggled to lift the one foot cube from the water. After pulling himself aboard and out of the growing waves, Ray sat on the deck, defeated, and just stared at the creature.
“Nurture Bio Corp.” Jeffrey read on the box’s lid. “Can I open it?”
“Go for it,” John said walking past and into the cabin to change.
“So,” Vera addressed Ray, “what happened to Lou?” He cupped his hands around his face then pointed at the immobile worm.
“It ate him,” the dam broke; he couldn’t stop himself as he tried to speak between sobs. “It ripped him to shreds… There were pieces of him everywhere… I don’t even know what we’re spos’d to do now.” The other three exchanged panicked glances.
Jeffrey cleared his throat, “So, uh, why’d you bring these back?” One by one, they each leaned over and peered into the mysterious box. “They look like fish eggs.”
“Too big,” Oswald commented as he reached his hand in and poked one of the clear balls; it jiggled and a dark spot darted around inside.
“Sting,” John was approaching in dry clothes and a towel around his neck, “let’s get that harpoon out.” Ray quickly removed his equipment and jumped up to help.
Tugging and pushing, the two were able to finesse the spear out of the creature. “There’s a hard core in this thing,” Ray noticed. John pulled out a knife and began sawing it open from the wound to the top, or ‘mouth’. Separating the two cold, fleshy folds, they stared. Vera’s jaw dropped; Ray gasped; Jeffrey turned away. “Dear god…” Oswald said. Inside the open, pungent worm was what resembled most closely a calcium encased human with its head grotesquely tilted back and mouth open and pointed up.
“That’s not Lou, is it, Cap’n?” Oswald asked.
“No,” he shook his head, “Lou was severed into pieces; this thing is whole.”
Vera tried to break the uncomfortable, mounting tension, “I’m afraid to see what we find at any of the other coordinates!”
“Count me out,” Ray said.
“Yeah,” John agreed, “me too.”
“I doubt they are all killer worms. They’re probably supposed to be boxes like that one,” she pointed at the metal cube.
John nudged the creature with his boot. “Let’s head back in,” he looked at Oswald who nodded and rushed toward the stairs. “Tie this down and secure the box inside,” he said to Ray; he obeyed.
The situation weighed heavy on Vera; she turned and walked to the railing. Is this all my fault? she wondered, taking several deep breaths of the salty afternoon air. As the motor began to rumble under her feet and Viking Past began to speed away, Vera noticed the boat in the distance weigh anchor... and cruise in their direction.
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