Chapter 8 - Captain Siib and the Red Kraken
An Excerpt from “Mirone, the Red Kraken”
On a low-breeze, sun speckled afternoon, Quena sat stretched out on the deck with his arms around the back of his head. He looked out at the glowing pink surface of the water going in every direction for miles. Quena had keen eyes; most lookouts required use of binoculars to observe any subtle differences in the coloration of the water but he, being of solid Innaka stock, could survey all details of the vast ocean before him at a 270 degree angle. And he saw something slight, to the north and east of the Penchant. To be a good lookout required more than eyes; it required a quick mind to process what was a signal, and what was just noise.
He trained his peepers on that spot to see if the errant waves would dissipate. Quena leaned on the edge of his chair, putting his chin on his hands, clenched on the guard rail. The krill in that area bobbed up and down but remained alight. Then they went still; now the spot was no different than any other square of water.
Quena unclenched his hands and then punched the rail. “Blast!”
“Whatsa matter?” asked Gorga, the Penchant’s first mate, who woke up from an unplanned nap after several days of straight work supervising the ship.
“Nothing too much, Miss Gorga. Siib’s got us up all hours of the night and day hard pressin’, eyes, hearts and minds on a single thing and that, only. He don’t sleep, he don’t eat. How’s the ship move if there wern’t no more wind? Couldn’t, no? We all want the Kraken, Miss Gorga, don’t get me wrong. But even Mirone sleeps, inn’t it right?”
“Aye. The beak’s the pearl, is what they say. Missin’ it once means missin’ it could be years. Thing don’t come up much, don’t break the surface but to orient itself with the suns, moons, stars and put itself on a migration path back to who knows where? Hell, maybe. Cap’n’s on its trail, Mister Quena. And when yer on the things hind tentacles, every aspect of yer person gotta be marshalled for it. Cuz if yer chasin’ somethin’ big and you ain’t like Siib, then you ain’t got no hope at all.”
Gorga patted Quena’s thick shoulder and walked back into the mess hall for an impromptu breakfast. Her quip about beaks and pearls was only marginally correct. In truth every part of the leviathan would fetch a queen’s ransom, from the suckers to the eyeballs, to the mantle to its four hearts, which would rival in value the crown jewels of any empire. The beak could be fashioned into jewelry or furniture or many other items requiring a nigh indestructible material. The mantle is the prime cut for the beast as its most delicious slab of meat. But the hearts were used as extremely hot, slow-burning wicks, powering for lack of better terminology, the whole of society. A single heart could light and heat ten thousand homes for half a year.
Quena murmured to himself as he hugged his own arms in response to a cold breeze beginning to pick up. “Them distrib’tors, merchants an’ buyers ain’t ‘ppreciate nuthin’ about what we give ta light their lives. But I guess, we here don’t much ’ppreciate the Kraken ourselves, neither. Oh. Oh ho. Hold. Hoooold.” Without averting his glance he reached down to his worker’s belt and fished out the binoculars. He didn’t use them for finding. He used them for confirming.
He took control of a long cord attached to a giant bell above his head and began to yank it vigorously. Its sound was followed by others like it along the lower decks.
“Thar’s the pit, brace for the breach! Kraken is northeast of our position, seventeen quarters away!” he screamed. Then to Gorga, “I knew I saw somethin’ – sometimes the first sign is slighter than methinks.”
With the alarm sounded and bells rung, Captain Siib rushed from the bridge after handing control of the ship over to Gorga. He commanded the lowering of all twelve attack boats to the water.
“All of ’em?”
“Every last one, mates! Three to a boat, file in by ranks. Fast and orderly, now!”
Siib hardly spat out his orders as he, Quena and the Second Mate boarded the first one and the hull touched ocean water. As soon as they were afloat, Quena and Siib began to row. The Penchant had twelve speedy boats, five built for ramming, four for harpooning and three for a mix of both and mainly assigned to rescue operations for sailors overboard. There were a total of forty-four crew members, so seven stayed behind with Gorga and the ship. On a more common exploratory mission or to catch the smaller sea dragons, the Captain would employ a maximum of seven boats, manned by five sailors each - three ramming, three harpooning and a single rescue. The rescue boat would typically hang back and watch the hunt unfold. They would intervene whenever needed to save someone or to offer attack support.
The ramming boats were fortified with either Kraken beaks or dragon nails in order to withstand the full fury of a collision with a leviathan. On board the ramming vessels were long spears which sailors used when they were close to the monster, right after slamming into it. The rammers were meant to hit, then stab, hit and then stab. Harpoons instead were thrown from much farther away. They were attached to spools of hardened rope tied to the central skeleton of the boat. The harpoon tips had barbs on them meant to penetrate and stick to the beast, and were also ironically made of Kraken beak.
An attack upon a Kraken was in many ways the most difficult series of maneuvers to coordinate for a hunting vessel. But the sailors were lucky in one respect: when a Kraken breached, that meant that it siphoned liquid out of its water bladder, making it buoyant enough to reach the surface. In order to dive, it took time to pull enough water back into the bladder to sink down into the depths of oblivion. And when the creature was under pressure from fast boats, that coordination was nearly impossible. Though sea dragons often eluded capture by plumbing the depths, the Kraken almost always remained on the surface. The tails of that coin was that it had no choice but to fight. There were many a good sailor to find a watery grave on days and nights they gave it no thought at all.
Captain Siib thought about death constantly. He savored the thought of its finality while thrilling at the fact that things were not over yet. That unknown quantum of time left him to whatever he decided would be his business. Kraken hunting was among the greatest endeavors, rife with mystery and danger. Among the hunting vessels in all the fleets in the Spannic Ocean, the Penchant was first. First for sea dragons and first for the red leviathans they now sought. That was true even though they hadn’t caught a Kraken in over a year. The one dubbed Mirone was a legend, a ghost, a monster of saga proportions. Deep red and speckled with white spots, it was the epitome of its kind. The bane of all sailors who dared cross the Spannic unencumbered. It had no fear, sinking the equivalent of a full fleet every two years.
As the Penchant sought its precious quarry with diligent ambition, they made time to hunt dragons on the way, along with serpents and fowler fish. They used every part of their kills, storing food, blubber, teeth, nails and bones on board. They could not risk detouring to land to sell their wares for risk of missing their greatest prize of many seasons. What they’d caught so far would have fetched a pittance in comparison to a single large beak. The trail was warm, and it was weeks at times before the beast made itself known again. Often the best way to track a Kraken was to observe not pits, not breaches, but snake-like fluctuations. The krill in those cases lost their light in a unique narrow pattern. It would look like a streak of black along a pink expanse. New light would fill in normally after a minute or two. These streaks meant the animal had just used a second siphon to propel itself quickly in the direction of the thickest part of the line using a water jet.
As Mirone noticeably entered his migration phase, so too did Siib enter his own version of a frenzy. Consumed like a fire that only grew stronger with desire, he lost track of time and people, and solely focused on space. Now he was on a hybrid boat, fashioned with a hardened hull but which also carried harpoons, spears and medical equipment. And he, before most other boats got a chance to caress water, was pressing forward incessantly, gaining speed.
“Lash yerselves to yer seats, boys! We’ll shock the behemoth ’afore he goes down below!” At full momentum, taking care to avoid the monster’s splashing arms, the boat crashed head-first, taking a hit harder than it was meant to take. Captain Siib breathed water for a moment, not knowing whether he was up or down, in or out. Undeterred, he sought to right himself and the boat, and try again. But when he got his bearings, he saw that the vessel had taken on massive amounts of ocean and lay on its side. He was adrift and asea, a place he usually felt at home. Except now he was face to maw with his greatest endeavor, which was also his gravest threat. An enormous tentacle rose from the depths and splintered what was left of the small boat.
Mirone was larger than every beast of its kind that the experienced sailors had ever seen, including Siib himself. In a moment, the waterlogged Captain was transported into a new dimension, one of mind only where he wrestled with the unblinking creature.
Within a realm of pink and red, an octopine shape emerged from the smoke. Its voice thundered and reverberated around the swirling ether.
“Why do you seek my destruction?” it asked.
Siib’s expression remained unchanged, even though he was in a dimension overseen by the creature’s mind itself. “Because it is my destiny,” he stated flatly.
“I would let you be,” the thought-form of the Kraken replied. “And you can live your days as the one sailor who ever got close to beating Mirone. The one sailor who nearly took down the Red Kraken. You would be destined to remain a legend. And I would be left alone, to live my life in the depths and ponder philosophies you could not understand.”
“Is that how you spend yer days?” Captain Siib asked with a sneer. “Thinkin’?”
“Yes. The algae are plentiful and I have no need to seek anything more for my survival. There is nothing to threaten me in the depths of the sea - except for you and your crew.”
“That ain’t no accident, villain,” Siib said. “Yer kind is worth more dead than alive.”
“From your perspective. What about your worth, from mine right now? It is currently my choice whether to destroy your vessel and leave you to drown. Or to sample your flesh to see whether your kind tastes good to me. It is your choice to let me be and if so, I will gladly slip away from all manner of Fire-Heart on this planet. You will have a grand story to tell and I will be happy to continue with my thoughts in peace.”
“I would rather die, meself,” Captain Siib said, growling. “I ain’t givin’ up on my principle, my mission to seize you for my people. We use you fer commerce, yer the basis of our lives. We rely on yer kind, and I hate that, in a big way. I hate needin’ ya. But I do. I never had any intention to leave you alone or to spin a good tale; it ain’t my way. If I gotta take on water, I will, but I ain’t voluntarily gonna fail my mission. Yer just gonna have ta kill me.”
The Kraken fell silent to ponder his request. Then he spoke.
“The leader of every vessel I have ever destroyed has been given the same choice. And they all choose death. You are a strange people.”