They were within spitting distance of the island when Cornwell got that horrible feeling that he was being watched. That's silly, he told himself. The island couldn't be inhabited. Aside from lichen growing on the rocks, there didn't seem to be a living thing on it.
He had a sense that he was about the get a very nasty shock. It was the instinct that makes you glance around, to make sure that nothing is sneaking up to surprise you. The last time he'd gotten that feeling was just before being ambushed by savages on Ulm and being the soul survivor of his unit. He'd learned not to dismiss that instinct.
He headed for the command bridge.
Chan was on her way back to the cell, and the guards couldn't resist taunting her. “So you primitive,” one of them started. His name was Tomas and this was his first tour of duty. “What exactly were you before, on your old ship?” Chan was about to answer what she thought was a legitimate question when the guard continued. “The ship's whore?”
The other guard laughed. His name was Addison, and his tour was almost over. He was looking forward to seeing his wife, and the baby he'd heard she had. He thought of it as his duty to pass knowledge to the new recruits. “No no no. I bet she was the captain's private pet. Savages have those you know. Their captain or chief or whatever they call them each have about fifty wives each. They just sit around drinking and doing them all day-” Chan inhaled sharply and Addison could tell he was getting to her. “But whenever a real fight comes along they run like the shriveling little cowards they are. You know what this one was doing? Hiding. She didn't even fight back. Probably used to giving in whenever a man came around anyway. I'd bet-” The ship rocked slightly. Distantly, the sound of snapping metal could be heard. Addison figured they were just performing some maintenance on the hull and kept talking. “I'd bet her whole ship got incinerated while running away. You know if you ever run into a savage woman by herself, you can take her right then and there and nobody will care. They usually don't even resist. Just be sure to shoot 'em in the head afterwords. Don't want anybody to know you violated regulations.”
Addison could tell Chan was mad. Her shoulder was twitching, and her hands were clenched into fists. What he didn't know was that was eroding away his chances of ever seeing his baby with each word out of his mouth. They had made a mistake. They hadn't bothered to bind her hands. But why would they? Half her body was burned, and even if she was in full health and took them by surprise their was no way a simple savage would be able to defeat two armed guards. And they were right of course. There was no way for Chan to defeat them under the present circumstances. But circumstances could change.
“Well that's weird,” the sonar officer said.
“What? What's weird?” Cornwell snapped back. The command bridge was a small room that somehow managed to hold a dozen people and not seem crowded. Each officer had an important duty in the running of the ship, and they were each seated at a computer display showing them data that was meaningless to Cornwell. Cornwell had gotten bulletproof windows that looked out to sea. He enjoyed sitting in the captain's chair and looking out across the ocean.
“Well, according to sonar, that island is just a rock floating on the sea.”
“Explain,” Cornwell snapped.
“Most small islands are just the tops of undersea mountains, but this one doesn't have any mountain under it. It's floating.”
“Solid rock can't float,” Cornwell scoffed.
“Yes, colonel,” the officer said. He'd learned not to argue with Cornwell. It was better for his career and his personal health. “It's probably a sonar error.”
The ship shook slightly. “What was that?” Cornwell demanded.
“I don't know colonel,” the tactics officer said, “It think something just struck the hull. I can't imagine what.”
“Find out you idiot!” Cornwell ordered. He was higher strung then usual.
Now the engineering officer spoke. “I'm getting damage reports. It seems we were hit by something solid but very thin and long. We took damage all across the hull. I think it-”
The ship rocked again, much more violently, throwing half the officers out of their seats. “What is going on!” Cornwell screamed. But before anyone could answer, all hell broke loose.
When the ship rocked the second time Addison and Tomas were both thrown off balance and ran into each other head first. Chan however, was not thrown. She'd been expecting the ship to rock. She swung around and punched Tomas in the jaw with her good hand. He fell to the floor, unconscious.
Addison was still off balance, but tried to bring up his gun and shoot her. She grabbed the barrel and forced it away. Two shots bounced pointlessly off the walls. However, it took both her hands, so Chan hit him with the only weapon she had left. Her head.
It was a second later she realized that you shouldn't headbutt people who're wearing helmets. She suddenly had a pounding headache, and while she was dazed Addison punched her in the stomach, driving her to the ground.
“Die bitch!” he screamed, taking aim to shot her head off.
It was that fortunate moment when something that had been sneaking up behind Addison grabbed his ankle and made him fall flat on his face. He looked behind him and screamed in horror. A vast, bloated tentacle had grabbed him. It was as thick around as a tree trunk, and was patched with black and blue, with occasional sights of greenish moss. Water ran down it's sides into a dense puddle on the floor. It was a thing that emanated the feeling of an emotionless killing thing that controlled it. Addison couldn't help but scream as it pulled him towards death.
Chan couldn't do anything to help him, even if she had wanted to. She did wrestle away his gun just before he grabbed. As the tentacle pulled him away around the corner, she set off in the opposite direction. She had one clip of ammunition against the Leviathan's entire crew. But that would be enough. It had to be.
“What's going on?” Derek asked through the door as the ship rocked once again. A harsh alarm was ringing in his ears. For the past two days he'd been trapped in his own head, but the alarm had brought him back to reality with a pounding headache.
“Shut up!” the guard, shouted back. He continued talking to his partner. “Do you think it's the White Fleet?”
“I dunno, may-” BLAM! A shot rang out and the guard fell to the floor, a hole in his head. The other guard had time to swear once before being shot down. Derek wondered for a moment if he was going to die as well. But then Chan appeared in his line of vision.
“This ship is Sphere, right?” Chan asked as she pulled the key off one of the dead guards, “Do you know your way around it?”
It took Derek a moment to realize what had happened. He shook himself out of it. “I've heard a lot about it in propaganda, but it's not like they give us the blueprints.”
“Damn,” Chan muttered as she opened the prison door. “We need to get out of here.”
“You escaped?” Derek asked, “Is that what the alarm is for?”
“No,” Chan said, looking very serious and very grim, “Twenty years ago Joshua had a different ship then the Bright Side. It was obliterated, with only three survivors, by the thing that's attacking this ship now. And you want to know the crazy part? I led them right to it.”
Derek picked up one of the dead guards guns along with as much ammo and he could carry. Chan did the same. “What do we do now?” Derek asked.
“The ship's gotta have lifeboats right?” Chan said, “We find a lifeboat. Easy.”
That was when the most horrifying tentacle Derek had ever seen (not surprising considering it was the only one he'd ever seen) punched through the metal wall's like they were tinfoil and felt it's way toward Derek and Chan.
“Run!” Chan yelled. Derek was only too happy to do so. He turned and ran as fast as he could. But the tentacle was faster. It grabbed him around his stomach and pulled him backwards, and his gun clattered to the floor uselessly.
“Chan!” he yelled for help. She turned around and fired as burst in the tentacle's general direction. Some vomit colored substance splattered across his face. And then he lost sight of Chan as the tentacle rapidly pulled him back.
It smashed through the ship as it pulled him. All he was really aware of was flying metal all around him. His head hit something very hard, and he blacked out for a moment. When he came to he was in the open air, and twisted so that he cold get a very good view of what was attacking the ship.
It was huge. As long as the Leviathan and twice as thick. It was simply a blob of lumpy flesh that had no clear pattern or design. It was rock colored and would look like an island from even quite close. But there was no mistaking it for an island now. Hundreds of black and blue tentacles writhed around it, some of them small and quick, reaching down and snatching crewmen off the deck, while some, Derek counted four, were much larger and thicker, and bashed the ship to pieces.
But none of that was what really struck Derek dumb with fear. It was the eyes. Thousands upon thousands of eyes. Some were big, some were small. They had an endless mix of colors like a painter gone mad. Tens of thousands of eyes, like zits on the monster's face. They were lidless. They stared at him and in every other direction at once. The very image of madness.
As the tentacle carrying him swept over deck to drop him into one of the monster's mouths (which popped up in between the eyes and tentacles) it suddenly spasmed and dropped him onto the deck.
He bounced a couple of feet, and ended up face down on the dirty deck, with a salty, metallic taste in his mouth. He didn't know that he'd just gotten insanely lucky in the fact that the tentacle carrying him had just been hit by a grenade thrown by one of the crewmen. The crewman hadn't even been aiming for it, the tentacle just happened to get in the way.
The deck was in chaos. Tentacles whipped down to snatch up crewmen while they tried to fight back anyway they could. Nobody noticed the teenager in a Great Foundry uniform lying face down on the deck.
Derek couldn't move. He was paralyzed by the thought that if he moved, one of those rubbery tentacles might grab him and drop him into one of it's mouths to be digested. His instincts allowed no thoughts into his head except the one that screamed to stay still, and stay alive.
Colonel Cornwell was having a bad day. Nine hull breaches bellow the water line and a hundred casualties in the space of five minutes will do that. But, strangely enough, from his perspective that wasn't the worst thing that had happened.
“How did you incompetent idiots not figure out that the island was a creature?” he demanded.
“I don't know!” the sonar officer pleaded, “Even now I'm not getting any clear readings! The anatomy of the creature doesn't make any sense! It's like it's got a couple dozen hearts spread all over it's body! They're all different sizes and shapes! It's like it's body has been scavenged from a dozen other creatures! I don't-”
He never got a chance to finish the sentence as a tentacle smashed through the bulletproof glass and snapped his neck with one clean movement. Cornwell drew his pistol and fired four rounds into the tentacle.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
The four holes sprayed a vomit colored substance that seemed like blood, although it was thinner then the regular stuff. The tentacle didn't seem to feel the pain, but raced towards Cornwell and slithered around his arm. It lifted him off the ground and was about to throw him.
An officer grabbed a rifle off the wall and emptied it's thirty round clip in four seconds. The tentacle went limp and dropped Cornwell, who landed heavily on the floor.
“Doesn't anybody have some godamn swords?” the colonel yelled, “That's what we need to kill this thing!”
“I don't think so!” the officer who had rescued him responded.
“God damn it!” Cornwell screamed, and in a fit of anger he shot the man who'd just saved his life.
It was the dead body landing on Derek that finally got him moving. It was tossed on top of him with only one arm and somehow on fire. He screamed an squirmed out from under it. The moment he did, a tentacle descended down on him. Derek flailed and tried to defend himself. It his surprise, the tentacle stopped an inch in front of his face. It's middle had caught fire!
Screaming with his luck, Derek tore across the deck, through a haze of blood and flying limbs and tentacles. He headed for the nearest cover, which happened to be a turret for one of the eighteen inch guns. It was a wide space, full of ammunition waiting to be fired. Stairs led up to the loading and firing bay. Barely thinking, he shoved his way past a guard crouching behind the doorway.
“Wha are you doing here?” the guard asked, undoubtedly surprised to see a prisoner from below decks.
Instead of answering, Derek tackled him, grabbed his gun while he was stunned and smashed him in the forehead with the butt. The guard was quite suddenly rendered unconscious.
Derek glanced around. Around forty other guards were taking shelter in the turret and in ten seconds would shoot and kill him. He had one clip.
In the ten seconds he had he emptied his clip into the live ammunition stored in the turret. It detonated, sending shrapnel flying every which way. The effect was immediate pandemonium. About half the guards were hit in some way, and about three were close enough to be sent flying.
Derek was hit in the chest directly opposite his heart. Pain shot through him, but Derek was so full of adrenaline that it seemed distant, like it was happening to someone else. He grabbed another clip off the unconscious man and reloaded, spraying the room with even more bullets. He saw two more guards go down to the hail of fire.
It was at that point he realized his position was far to vulnerable. He ran for the stairway, bullets whizzing past him as the guards got their senses together. He felt something graze the back of his neck. But he was at the top of the stairs where there was a small trapdoor. He slammed it shut and sat on it.
It was a rather small room that would be used to load one of the guns. In combat the shells would be taken up the stairs, armed, and then loaded. Aside from the loading equipment the room was bare. Except for the gunners trying desperately to line up a shot.
“Can you tell the men down there to keep quiet?” one of them demanded. He got a lot less demanding when he saw Derek pointing his gun at him.
“Get away from the gun,” Derek ordered, waving his gun to signal where they should move. He could feel the guards trying to lift the trapdoor. He looked for a lock, but there was none. He planted himself on the door as firmly as he could. Other then that he had no plan what so ever.
Even if he had had a plan it would have been torn to bits in the next second. A blue/black tentacle smashed it's way through the barrel of the big gun and shoved the live shell out of the loading breech. The tentacle raced across the room and grabbed one of gunners around the head. It tried to pull him, screaming, back into the barrel. The gunner's shoulders refused to fit, however, and there was a terrible ripping sound. The gunner's body, now headless, fell in a bloody heap to the floor.
Derek vomited all over his clothing at the horrible sight. But as he saw the live shell roll past, ready to detonate and blow them all up, he suddenly was struck with an idea.
Inspiration for a near suicidal plan.