-The files of Marion Rhodes-
Due to the Xiang Jing heist, there has suddenly been a lot of interest in a freelancer by the name of Marion Rhodes. I’m here to put majority of the scuttlebutt to rest as, following a simple data dive, I’ve managed to access Ms. Rhodes’ personal journal files. While a more pedestrian hacker might have found the encryption a challenge, cracking digi-vaults is my raison d’être. Simply put, it is the reason I am employed and entrusted, while you pathetically ravenous lot on the net merely fritter away your time in dark corners. The fact remains that Ms. Rhodes is not some sort of vigilante hero. Her involvement with the heist was the same as every other grubby freelancer: money.
To ease the eyes and minds of you inbred and underdeveloped lot, I have edited her journal entries into more of a narrative form. I’m hoping you can comprehend your misinformation easier this way and perhaps we can put the final kibosh on these rumors. So, take a break from whatever smut you’re drooling over and educate yourselves.
~Mitul Reddy – Omni Corps – Cyber Security Department
Staring at my enemy, I could feel my trigger finger twitching. It was a tic I’d developed shortly into my freelancing career; one that was an easy tell, and I knew he knew that. All I could do was hope his focus kept him from seeing it, and I tried to lower my arm so he wouldn’t spot the spasm. It was a painful moment of waiting, hoping, and praying he missed the obvious opening, the one I’d so foolishly left him. Time seemed to move to a crawl, and I could feel my stomach tighten as I locked eyes with him, the sweat forming on my forehead. His hand moved like lightning, striking with the speed and ruthlessness only years of experience could form.
Exhaling, I slumped back in my chair a defeated woman.
Bao smiled at me from the other side of the board, the cabin’s lighting glistening in the flecks of gold that danced about in his irises. “Care to play again?” he asked.
I waved a hand dismissively. “One game is about all my brain can handle today.”
Bao glanced at the digital chronometer mounted on the wall of our cabin. “Well, we still have a little less than two hours to go. Perhaps a game of mahjong?”
“Nah, I think I’ll just try to take a nap.” I craned my neck to look at the gangly teenage girl sitting behind me, “How we looking, Gally?” The girl didn’t even glance in my direction, her attention on whatever was playing across her holographic interface and the fizzy drink she was slurping down. With a degree of bemused irritation, I snapped my fingers at her. “Oi, Gally!”
Slowly, Gally shifted her gaze toward me, though it was obvious it was far from her first choice. “Bao said we have like two hours left. Leave me be.”
“Yes, love, but we need you to be laying some groundwork before we arrive. I rather fancy not spending my weekend in a detention center.”
Gally crushed her drink can and tossed it over into an ever-growing pile. “But I can’t lay our groundwork until this bird is on the tarmac and plugged into the aerodrome’s server.”
“Meaning?” Bao asked.
“Meaning, we should have maybe ten minutes from the point of plug in to us having to disembark without looking suspicious.”
“That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error,” I warned, though I knew it wasn’t necessary to say. We were all thinking it. Well, maybe everyone except Gally.
“Won’t be a problem. These basic firewalls are all the same,” Gally boasted. “You beat one, you’ve beat ‘em all.”
A growl came from the opposite corner of the cabin, a notification that the fourth member of our little quartet was looking to put her two cents in.
At just shy of two meters, Ria was a tall woman, and she reeked of someone who’d lived through a life of violence and was still living it. Her dark hair was shaved into a combat mohawk, and a plethora of bioluminescent tattoos adorned her body from the score of gangs she’d allegedly belonged to. Not that I’d ever have a reason to doubt Ria’s ferocious history.
“Last time you were so conceited we almost got busted,” Ria snarled, her bestial temperament heightened by the metallic coating gilded onto her teeth. When we’d first started working together, I’d doubted the practicality of it, but, after witnessing her bite through a kevlon bracer, I put all my doubts to rest. Actually, thinking back on it, that bracer might have belonged to Bao.
“That totally wasn’t my fault! How was I supposed to know they had a hacker on site?” Gally protested, though her voice seemed mouse like compared to Ria’s thunderous speech.
Ria leaned across towards the adolescent. “You’re supposed to know because it’s your job! Now, how do you know the aerodrome won’t have someone watching their server?”
“Duh, because everyone knows these systems are automated. It doesn’t make any sense for them to pay someone to sit around essentially doing nothing.”
“Well, maybe you should double check. Ya know? Do a little research instead of…whatever the hell you’re doing now. What’re you watching, cat videos?”
Gally protectively covered her interface, “No, no. I’m…um…doing research.”
Unable to resist, I peered at her screen. “Research on what?”
“On, ah…feline cognitive development.”
“So, you’re watching cat videos.” Bao chuckled.
Gally’s expression formed into a pout, showing how young she really was, “You just love to hassle me! I don’t judge you guys for what you do in your free time.”
“Oh? You keeping tabs on us?” I asked, doing my best to add an accusative tone to my question.
“That’s not what I meant, Marion. I just…I just meant…ugh, forget it,” Gally grumbled as she hunkered down and switched her interface to show nothing but an intricate sea of code.
Ria grunted under her breath. “Bloody teenagers.”
An awkward silence settled over the cabin, the only real noise being Gally gulping down another fizzy drink. I envied her ability to consume nothing but sugar and processed junk and still maintain her vim and vigor. Ah the joys of being young, hopefully she’ll cherish it while it lasts, though we never do.
“So…mahjong?” Bao inquired suddenly.
Shrugging, I signaled for Ria to join in. “What the hell.”
I can’t lie to you. After we landed, there were some pulse pounding moments as Gally worked her magic on the aerodrome’s server. But like she promised, she pulled through and before we knew it, we were waiting in the queue to depart our aircraft. Kalay wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but this was the Southern Reach. Everything here was busy and crowded. Not to mention a might paranoid. As we disembarked, a shout went up through the terminal and for a moment my heart sunk as I feared we’d been had. But no, someone’s biometrics had flashed a security warning and a group of Dragoons were pushing their way through travelers to apprehend them. The unfortunate individual tried to run at the last minute but barely made it a few steps before being smashed into the neo-aluminum decking by the arresting super-soldiers. There was no grace to their movements, no genteel quality. Simply pure, engineered power encased in armor.
One Dragoon waved us on, our warped reflections staring back at us in their visor. “Always, a joy being in Kalay,” Bao whispered to me as we stepped up towards the body scanners.
Ria snorted. “This place sucks.” A few more conventional folks shot Ria offended looks from their places in line, though most quickly looked away when they realized who had spoken.
“Ria, you might want to keep your opinions to yourself,” I hissed, eyeballing the group of security officers already scrutinizing our little group. “After all, this is a lovely place for people to holiday.”
“You mean corporate wankers,” Ria replied as she waved at the surrounding people.
An officer motioned for us to walk into the scanners and, holding my breath, I stepped through. Not that I didn’t trust Gally’s handiwork. No, she was very good at what she did, otherwise I wouldn’t be paying her the fee she demanded. Rather, it was that age old belief in Murphy’s Law. The concept that anything that can go wrong will, and, sure enough, when Ria passed through the scanner, a buzzer sounded.
Immediately, we all glanced at Gally, who regarded us with a look of exasperation. I could see both Ria and Bao sizing up the assembled security officers, though the sight of a lingering Dragoon standing guard killed any idea of us being able to fight our way out.
“Alright lass, let’s see those hands,” an officer announced as he approached Ria. Another followed close behind, their hands toying with the truncheon hanging from their belt. I offered Ria a comforting nod when she looked at me, and she raised her hands slowly.
“What seems to be the problem, officer?” Gally asked as she pressed towards them.
The officer glanced at me first before lowering his gaze when he realized it’d been the skinny teenager who’d spoken. “She your friend?”
Gally shrugged nonchalantly. “Wouldn’t exactly say friend.” Ria ground her metal teeth together, causing Gally to shrink back and the second officer to draw his truncheon. “Strong acquaintance is more the appropriate term,” Gally corrected as she offered Ria an apologetic smile.
The first officer gestured to the ex-ganger. “Well, we detected unusually high levels of paraffin in her head.”
“That’s my teeth,” Ria replied.
Gally pointed towards Ria’s mouth. “It’s her jaw, officer. Hydraulic trap that thing. Hate to be on the wrong end of her services.”
Both officers looked at Ria’s steel smile and shivered. Not that I could blame them. I’d seen her take off a drug dealer’s hand in a single bite a few years back. “Just…move along,” one of the security officers eventually said.
I offered them a polite smile as I passed. “Thank you.”
We made our way through more of the terminal until we found ourselves standing in front of the baggage retrieval. Bao glanced around as though he were listening for something. “What’s up?”
“I don’t hear any alarms,” he answered. “Seems this part might actually go smoothly.”
Without even thinking, I knocked on a nearby pillar for luck. “Let’s hope so.”
Slowly, the belt scrolled through the room, laden with all manner of trunks and attachés. Commuters, tourists, and pilgrims all shuffled forward to repossess their bags before moving off towards waiting taxis or public transit. It didn’t take long for me to realize none of our bags were appearing on the belt, a fact that made my trigger finger twitch unconsciously. “Gally…” I began, gearing myself up to scold the girl if our gear had been seized.
“I’m looking for a Marion Rhodes?” a voice shouted above all the waddling passengers.
Taking in a calming breath, I turned to see who was calling my name. It ended up being an aerodrome employee, their coveralls hanging loosely off their wiry frame. He squinted at me when I approached, as if he was trying to surmise if I was who he was looking for.
“Yes?” was all I said to him.
“Ma’am, I have a series of containers with your name on them in the oversized luggage area. I need you to come and claim them.”
Automatically, my trigger finger stopped twitching as I felt the relief settle over me. Glancing over to where Bao was standing, I could see a look of satisfaction creeping over his face. We’d made it. Not that I didn’t think we would, but you never know. Maybe Gally would be sloppy with her coding or wrangling. Or there’d be a local worker hoping to pad his salary by pilfering items from luggage and he’d just happen to open one of our cases. There were a hundred things that could go wrong. It was part of the reason behind me developing a finger tic, the never-ending anxiety.
We followed the aerodrome employee over to a seemingly abandoned part of the terminal where a fizzling holographic sign indicated we’d reached oversized luggage. The few people milling in the area barely offered us a glimpse, and even the hulking security drone that lumbered past politely asked Ria to watch her step and have a nice stay in Kalay.
“I got to say these are some heavy cases,” the employee declared as he hopped over the counter and began dragging out the containers holding our gear.
With a small girlish squeal, Gally rushed forward when the bag storing her hex editor appeared next. Like a child might hug their favorite doll, the adolescent embraced the case and babied it as though it were a living thing. The employee raised an eyebrow at the action but quickly resumed bringing out our luggage. One by one, we retrieved our belongings until they were all back in our possession.
Making a sound more animal than human, Ria hefted up the biggest of the containers, her tattoos flashing from the effort.
Wiping his brow, the employee grinned at me. “You lot must be doing some serious fishing.”
“Excuse me?” I queried without thinking.
“The bags,” the employee answered, shooting me a look like I was daft. “They’re all marked as angler equipment.”
I tried to cover as best I could, praying the man wouldn’t catch on. “Oh yes. Yes! You know I’m just such a…serious…sportswoman.”
“Well, you all have a pleasant time,” the worker replied as he waved down at Gally as though she were an infant. Not that I don’t sometimes think she is as well.
Taking my own cases, I began moving towards the exit, all too eager to put as much distance as possible between the aerodrome and myself.
“Wait. Are you going on a boat?” Ria demanded.
I couldn’t help but sigh, “Yes.”
Full transparency, I dislike boats. I don’t exactly hate them but I far from prefer them. My father had a boat, and I used to go out with him when I was little. I remember loving that. But as I got older, I realized I enjoyed the company and quality time much more than I enjoyed actually being out on the lake. And being out on the sea was a whole different animal. It was enough anxiety to start my trigger finger twitching again. Fighting to keep my stomach from being queasy, I squeezed the gunwale as the small clipper we’d chartered bounced up and down with each swell it encountered. I knew the water was going to be an obstacle we’d have to overcome, both professionally and for me personally, but I hadn’t expected the sea to be so choppy. Would the waves slow us or worse, make us unable to complete our job? I had a professional reputation to uphold, not to mention the powerful need to eat.
“You look green,” Ria commented from her place beside me. I forced my eyes away from the water to look over at my companion. “Just…not overly fond of boats.”
“You were the one who booked it.” That much was true. Without even thinking about it, I’d accepted the job and chartered the boat for it. At the time, it had all seemed so easy and even now I was trying to keep my mind focused on the pay day rather than my rising nausea and my anxiety about what might lurk beneath the waves.
Sea travel was the primary form of transportation, especially for cargo. It was easier and cheaper to load a vessel with all those goods rather than to have a thopter transport it in multiple runs. But there were countless dangers that went along with seafaring, and in most places, sailors had a brief life span. If it wasn’t the unpredictable weather or pirates, it was deep coilers – massive sea serpents that put mythological beasts to shame. I remember, as a student, going to a museum where a small one was on display, and that only furthered my disdain for boats.
“I’m going to head inside,” I informed Ria as I moved up the side of the clipper to where the vessel’s cabin was. The ex-ganger didn’t even acknowledge me. Her focus locked onto the light machine gun she’d produced from one of the crates we’d retrieved from the aerodrome.
Casting a suspicious glance at the sea as though she believed it was going to purposely lap up to damage her weapon, Ria began disassembling the firearm and inspecting it. “We shouldn’t need that, Ria,” I called back to her over the boat’s engine.
“You always say that.”
Shaking my head, I slid open the cabin door to find Gally sitting inside, protectively clutching her own gear as each wave caused the bags to jostle or jump.
The teenager glared at me, “I hate boats.”
“Join the club,” I mumbled as I shuffled by her into what passed for a galley on the small vessel.
Bao stood near the window staring out at the ocean as he nursed a cup of what smelled like tea. He held it up as I approached. “Fancy one?”
Carefully, I took a seat at the worn and almost threadbare sofa that lined the wall and grabbed onto a nearby table as the boat shuddered from a large swell. Dishes jingled in the galley and a box of dehydrated shrimp snacks slid from one end of the room to the other. In one of my irrational moments, my imagination pondered if we were going to sink.
Bao laughed. “Getting your sea legs?”
Oh, it is such a joy.”
Hardly bothered, Bao moved to the other end of the lounger and plopped himself down. The interior lighting shimmered off the gold in his eyes, and I could see the faint scarring around the sides of his mouth from wearing a respirator for too much of his life. I knew all of it was a result of the use of combat amphetamines, the blemishing and the gilded irises.
As a child, Bao had been a part of the Ussuri Irregulars, a pseudo guerrilla army that had been founded and financed by a corporation in the hopes of punishing small regions for failing to comply with company wishes. Its members had come from criminals or lowly freelancers eager for an easy quid.
They had also frequently pressgang refugees and orphans into joining and, as far I understood, that was how they’d gotten Bao. To keep their members ready, ferocious, and virtually insane, they force fed them a diet of military grade stimulants which would slowly rot the brains of most, until the company had to purge the unit as they were no longer on mission or controllable.
The cove not only boasted calm waters and charming fishing spots, but it also had the ideal spot to safely and covertly observe the landing pad of the Kerensky Aquaculture Farm. While I’m willing to bet many would disagree with that statement, I’d say they weren’t working with military grade observational devices or a first-rate hacker.
It loomed out in the distance like some massive industrial skeleton, an eyesore amidst the perfect blue of the horizon. I didn’t know how many tonnes of seafood they processed through there daily, but I would bet, if I asked, Gally would inform me. Not that I really cared. I mean, I could go for a good Chạo tôm like the next person, but I wasn’t interested in the big picture details. Unless those details dealt with my bank account, of course.
Bao carefully deployed the electro-spyglass on the stern deck while Gally tethered cables from the scope down to where her terminal was resting. I knew the device had a fantastic wireless system that was top-notch, but I couldn’t risk missing anything, and I appreciated that Gally hadn’t disagreed. Uninterested in the technological marvels being constructed behind her, Ria slowly circled the deck, scanning the ridgeline of the inlet for any sign of unwanted guests.
“We’re live,” Gally announced as her terminal hummed into being.
I exhaled loudly. “Now we wait.”
“The client gave us a timetable, yes?” Bao inquired.
“Yea, but how accurate is that gonna be?” Ria mocked. “I doubt someone is gonna write illegal shit in their day planner. At eleven o’clock Pilates, at noon a light lunch, and at fourteen o’clock: sell guns to extremists.”
I shrugged. “Depends on how much of a corporate stooge this guy is. Some of them can’t function without order.”
Bao moved over towards the terminal. “Gally, what about the onsite security?”
“Not a whole lot. Most people aren’t desperate enough to attack a corporate farm, much less know what to do with the haul from it,” she answered. “We’re looking at less than a dozen security personnel, a pair of those stupid crab drones, and six buzzards. Those are probably our biggest concern.”
Ria raised her light machine gun with pride. “What? You think I can’t blow those little buggers out of the sky?”
“I’d rather not test it.”
Leaning up against the railing, I stared skywards, feeling the sun pierce down through the retreating clouds and warm the boat. If I closed my eyes, it felt like I was on a joyride rather than a job, and for that brief moment, I was a kid again on my father’s boat.
“Let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves,” I informed the group.
Gally laughed as she popped open a fizzy drink. “I think I speak for all of us when I say we all just want this job to be over so we can get off this damn ship.”
“Patience is a virtue.”
And so we waited. So long that everyone’s good humor wore off and then came back around when Thad tried to get Gally to eat an eel he’d caught. In fact, it felt like we were waiting so long that we seemed to forget what we were looking for.
Luckily, Bao was always on the mark. “Thopter coming in!” he called, and we rushed to the gunwale to see for ourselves.
The small VTOL aircraft was drifting down towards the aquaculture farm, its turbofans kicking up spray as it closed in on the industrial facility. I clapped my hands together in anticipation.
“Alright people, let’s do this!” Gally’s fingers flew across her terminal as I brought my eye up to the end of the spyglass. My vision exploded into a fantastically zoomed in view of the landing pad, the details crisp and articulate.
I watched as a Kerensky security officer finished a cigarette as the thopter landed; the glowing cherry visible as he puffed away. A thin man wearing a technician’s coveralls soon joined the guard. With the power of the spyglass, I could make out the rectangular identification console on the man’s clothes, denoting him of being a supervisor. “Target in sight.”
“Now we just got to catch him in the act,” Gally said.
I watched as the ramp of the thopter dropped open, permitting a pair of ruggedly dressed individuals to exit. They didn’t reek of fanatics, but their garb wasn’t in keeping with the sterile nature of the corporate site either. Slowly, they conversed with the man in the technician’s coveralls and, though I couldn’t make out what they were saying, I knew Gally was running the footage through an analyzer to make sense of it.
“They’re asking about payment,” she informed me.
Gally snorted. “Either that or puppies. This isn’t an exact science over here.”
The man in the coveralls glanced up as a wheeled drone made its way out of the thopter and over to him. It’s back laden with a metal strongbox. “This looks like the payout,” I informed the team. “Now show us the goods.”
Signaling to the security officer, the trio waited on the landing pad as the guard returned with a long wooden crate. Excitement became clear on the buyers’ faces as they moved up to inspect the box. When they popped the lid, I tried to get a glimpse of what was inside, but it was not to be. The angle was all wrong.
“Gally, get me figures and estimates on what’s in that box!”
“Already on it!”
Exchanging a nod, both parties went their separate ways, the deal done. If only proper business could be so easy.
Gally spoke up from her terminal. “Going off of the size, assumed weight, and what Kerensky Industries has easy access to…we’re looking at a probable MANPADS device.”
“Just what the world needs, more nuts with rocket launchers!” Ria laughed darkly.
Adjusting my eyes, I looked down at Gally, watching as she speedily compiled the data together. Her cybernetic fingers moved with such efficiency that it made me ponder the superiority of the machine when compared to the flesh.
“We have a problem!” Thad shouted down to us from the cockpit, arresting our attention.
I was trying to keep the irritation from my voice. “What kind of problem?”
Thad poked his head out and I could see the anxiety written all over his face. “Deep coiler…”
I don’t consider myself a coward, but at that moment, with my mind flashing back to that museum exhibit and the nightmares it encouraged, I could feel my guts turn to ice. I mean, it’s only natural, right? Humanity comes built with its own fear of the depths, and nothing embodied that more purely than a deep coiler. And now it was coming at us.
“Where is it?” I demanded, instinctively searching the waters around the boat. As much as I was afraid I’d catch sight of it, I was more fearful that I wouldn’t and the beast would simply strike without us ever having a chance. Stories abounded of mature deep coilers sinking full sized freighters, the crews pulled to a watery grave before they could evacuate.
“Get to land!” Gally exclaimed in panic. “Just get us to land!”
Desperately, I glanced at the rocks that bordered the cove, seeing safety and salvation less than twenty meters away. I figured if the creature did strike, a few of us might swim to shore while it was busy devouring the boat. Then again, the thought of being in the water with one was enough to make my bowels want to loosen.
Ever the sensible one, Bao prepped his assault rifle. “How close is it?”
“About fifty meters out and closing,” Thad responded, his eyes darting from Bao’s weapon to the interior of the cockpit where the sonar display must’ve been.
“Will it just leave us alone?” I had to ask the question. It was one of the few lingering bits of hope my rational mind had left. If I were a multi-tonne sea monster, wouldn’t I rather camp out by the corporate aqua farm where likely hundreds of litres of wasted food were dumped out every day or spend my time hunting small schooners? I know I am not a gargantuan sea monster, but I figured their brains would work the same as any other animal. You go for the path of least resistance. Unless, of course, it thought we were threatening its territory?
Thad swallowed. “I can’t risk it.”
Silence fell over the boat, each of us glancing from one another to the sea, only moments before I had thought of as tranquil and beautiful. Somewhere out there lay the beast that threatened to snuff us out.
“Let it come,” Ria hissed, her tattoos flaring. There was no fear in her eyes, only the primordial anger that instructs us to defy death. Gritting her metallic teeth together, she leveled her light machine gun over the railing at where we could only assume the deep coiler was approaching.
Feeling a minor sense of confidence, I pulled my rifle from the oilskin scabbard I liked to store it in. It wasn’t some run of the mill over-the-counter job that any chump with a few quid to his name could purchase. No, it was a one of the kind slice of splendor, a lever action three-oh-three with gold inlay, deployable bipod, and telescopic sight. I’d had the rifle for longer than some people had been alive, and I trusted it more than most people that were alive.
Gally didn’t share our bravado. “So we’re going with suicide!?”
“Well, hopefully we can shoot it enough to get it to rethink the lunch menu,” I replied as I sighted my rifle out at the waves.
“Or just piss it off!”
Ria didn’t take her eyes off the sea. “What do you suggest, little girl?”
“We drive this POS as fast as we can to the shallows!” Gally shouted. “Our odds will be astronomically better!”
“Nah, I like my odds right here.”
Gally looked to me for empathy and support, but I didn’t think I could offer it. My optimism was teetering precariously, and I was moments away from breaking down into a blubbering idiot, the dread such a potent force in my stomach. I needed to remain standing and ready with a weapon in my hand, not just for my comrades, but also for myself.
“There it is,” Bao whispered.
There was nothing obvious at first, and for a moment, I wondered how Bao had even spotted it. Was it a constructive side effect of the drugs? But sure enough, something came poking out of the sea, the water rippling in its wake. They looked almost like small antennae, but I knew they were simply the spines that lined the creature’s back.
Slowly, more of the body became visible, the interconnected fins emerging from the sea. It was getting so close now that I could see the scales of its back and their iridescent glow. We were also so close that I could see that the serpent’s back was the width of our boat.
“When do we shoot?” Ria asked, though I was wondering the very same.
Bao nestled his rifle into his shoulder for a more secure hold. “When we see something vulnerable. An eye, a gill, anything that’ll cause some damage.”
And so we waited as the leviathan drew nearer, the ocean parting itself to allow this beast to surface. Staring at its body was dazzling, and I understood why some reckless individuals hunted them, the glittery construction more striking than gems.
“Wait!” Gally yelled, snapping me out of my concentration. Carefully, I looked over at the girl, prompting her to continue speaking. “What if…what if we could drive it off a better way?”
Ria’s finger closed around the trigger of her machine gun, the serpent looming closer and closer. “You’ve got about five seconds to explain.”
Gally gestured up to the cockpit. “I…I can hook into the boat’s sonar system and overload it.”
“You want to blow out the thing’s ears?” Bao queried.
“Won’t that just, ya know, piss it off?”
The adolescent scanned from Ria to the approaching monster. “Be better than just trying to hose it with bullets.”
I knew she was right. Neither were good plans, but if we could hurt the deep coiler without giving it a proper idea of where the attack was coming from, it was more likely to swim back out to sea. Then again, we all could be completely wrong, and it’d just obliterate our vessel.
“Do it!” I ordered, and Gally flew in action, clambering up the ladder to the cockpit.
Ria clearly was not onboard. “So, what do we do while she sets it up? Just smile politely at it?”
The sea monster continued to close on our little boat, more and more of its serpentine body rising from the ocean. If it fully reared back, I knew it was nearly guaranteed to attack, and I also wasn’t sure if the sonar overload would be as effective against it. But what was there we could do to slow it without antagonizing it?
“Bao, any suggestions?” I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he watched the leviathan surface. Surely gunfire would anger the beast and cause it to lash out at us? And if we tried to run, it might see that as sport and give chase.
“Grenades,” was his response a moment later.
“What?” Ria demanded.
Bao gestured around the boat. “If we lob a few grenades at various places around the boat, it should disturb the water enough that the snake might get confused. It’ll pause to determine what’s happening.”
“Or it’ll just get really bloody pissed and murder us!”
I smiled darkly at Ria. “Now you’re sounding like Gally.” Rage flashed through her eyes, and for a fleeting moment, I pictured her steel teeth ripping into my arm. It was safe to say Ria, and I were friends, but perhaps I had prodded the dog a bit too much.
“Gally, you better hurry your ass up!” Ria snapped.
“I’m trying!” the girl replied from the cockpit.
Ever the ready soldier, Bao produced a fragmentation grenade from his combat webbing and gingerly tossed it to me. It was an older model, one of those variants you often found in the hands of militias or other underfinanced military ventures. But that also meant they were cheap and could be bought for the same price as a kebab if you knew where to shop.
“Pitch it at about nine o’clock,” Bao instructed. “I’ll throw mine nearer to three.”
Ria pulled a grenade from her belt. “What about me?”
“Cannonball, that sucker behind the beastie.”
The deep coiler was barely ten meters away and still its body hadn’t fully risen from the water. I wasn’t sure how old this serpent was, but it was big.
“Marion, throw!” Bao shouted, and I pulled the grenade’s pin and pitched it out. The explosive landed close to where I’d been aiming, but perhaps a little closer to the monster than I’d have liked.
A second or so later it detonated, whooshing water up into the air. Compared to the wake of the deep coiler, however, it was far from significant. But true to form, the snake paused, the disturbance causing its senses to heighten as it probed for what had caused the water to be displaced.
Ria threw her grenade a moment later, and we watched as the creature’s whole body twisted to look behind itself. The wave it generated almost knocking us over. Smarter than we’d given it credit for, the deep coiler whipped back around at our boat as though it had solved the riddle.
“Gally?” I yelled nervously.
“Just another second!” Bao readied his grenade.
“We don’t have a second!”
The serpent surged towards us with impossible speed for something so gargantuan, and I knew we were finished. It would ram the boat into splinters and, any of us unfortunate enough not to be killed in the sinking, it would gulp down. Sucking in what could be one of my final breaths, I sighted my rifle back at the leviathan.
Suddenly, I could feel electricity dancing across my skin and my hairs rose to stand on end. But that was nothing compared to the deep coiler’s reaction. Like a being possessed, the snake rolled violently, churning the water with such ferocity that it forced us to grab onto the railing as the clipper rocked about like a toy in the wake of an angry toddler.
“What’s happening!?” Ria bellowed.
With a massive spasm, the serpent jerked about one last time before bolting back out towards sea. Slowly, the ocean calmed itself and our boat came to something of a standstill.
I laughed in disbelief. “Was…was that it?”
“I think so,” Bao said, though his tone revealed that he wasn’t too sure himself.
From the cockpit hatch we watched as Gally emerged, her hair sticking out like a cartoon character that’d just been electrocuted. Proudly, she grinned down at us and thrust her small cybernetic fists on her hips. “Ta-dah!”
Ria whistled, “I’ll be damned.”
“Gally, when we get back, you can get whatever you want. You want it, it’s yours,” I said, feeling my pulse relaxing.
“Anything?” the girl asked, a mischievous smile growing on her face.
“Anything. You’ve earned it.”
“Then I say: no more boats!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Fair enough.”