The rotten heart of the Star of Rio resonated again, sending a trembling energy through the metalwork. Sparks flew across the deck. Those holding onto the railing leapt back in surprise.
“Bastard thing!” Farhill cursed.
“I think,” Golding commanded, “that it’s time we got the hell off this ship!” His sweat-laden brow turned. He met Bennet’s gaze. The engineer’s face was ashen in agreement. Taking a last look across to the horrific sight that was eating up the proud freighter.
A burst of flame erupted from the ruined funnel. It blasted the survivors against the railing with a shower of orange sparks. From the splayed metal remnants, a slimy great tentacle slithered out, it’s huge circumference smashing the windows of the pilothouse. It was coming toward the deck, homing in on the survivors.
“Ruuuuun!” Golding bellowed, feeling the deck shift and bend. Sparks sheared down from the exploding funnel, onto the mass that contaminated the foredeck. He pulled Farhill up, feeling her weight shift.
She tripped, scuffing the deck. Bennet and Marta stopped, turning to see her. They reached out, only to be scooped up by the last marine.
“Get the civilians off first!” Golding yelled toward Eddy. Then he came over, finding a footing on the undulating deck.
“I…I…” she started to say. Golding held her. Her face was glistening with blood and dirt.
“Don’t say anything Lena, we’ll…” he began. Bennet and Marta struggled by. “That way,” Golding called, “down there. Down the ladder.” He turned back to Farhill. “Come on.”
A gust of salty spray hit Farhill in the face as she moved toward the ladder. From the forward part of the ship, the sound of metal rending, and an ethereal, terrible shrieking wail pierced the wind-swept scene.
The deck gave a faltering wobble. Debris rained down into the turgid sea. Soon the gap in the bulwark, the ribbon of steel flapping about at the freighter’s very frame was twisted into scrap, beckoned, the bucking horizon out to sea calling her forward.
He passed Eddy, nodding. The colour in the marine’s face fell, and he grappled desperately for his gun. Golding turned, almost in slow motion. He saw the tentacle whiplashing toward them. Time seemed to dilate, Eddy giving Golding a great shove, and he fell toward the ladder. The tentacle whipped into the space Golding had occupied but grabbed Eddy in a hail of bullets. It dragged the marine, stoic and wrestling, into its gaping heart in the centre of the ship.
Golding picked himself up. Nearby Farhill was pulling herself to her feet. They both looked around, confused and disoriented, for an overlong moment.
Eddy was gone.
“You’re last Lena!” Golding called, reaching out to her. She reached his gloved hand, feeling the puffy digits. He tugged, pulling her around and down the trembling stairway down. Her eyes opened in the spray, only partially, forming an imperfect barrier against the saltwater mist. Golding guided her down the steps.
They crashed with every motion against the side of the ship. The motion was irregular, trying to buck the pair off into the frothing, maddened ocean. There was one great lurch and Lena fell forward, onto something solid. Her ears, filled with foam, made out indistinct noises. Shouting. A door closing. Then the muted rumble of a powerful engine. The sensation of quick movement budged her into action.
She picked herself up. “What did I miss?”
She saw Golding at the controls of the Royal David City. He didn’t turn his head. “Nothing. Yet.”
A gentle wail took her attention away from Golding. Out on the open space, Bennet and Marta stood, holding the rail and each other. Ducking, Farhill saw under the ceiling what captivated them. She took a step forward toward the rainswept glass.
“Go. You might not get a chance otherwise.”
Her motion toward the door was her answer. With a click the door opened and once again the sound of the howling wind dominated the scene. A few hundred yard away she saw the hulk of the Star of Rio writhing, great tentacles draped across it, pulling at what was left of the superstructure. The metal bent like wet cardboard, tearing into shredded pieces. The entire hull rippled with the motion as whatever thing was contained sought to burst out.
She cast a fleeting glimpse to Bennet. “How long?”
“Any time now…” he shouted over the weather.
Farhill turned back just to see the entirety of the hulk erupt, the explosion starting from the stern and working its way progressively forward in the space of a second. The thing the ship could not hold wilted, writhing as the explosion shattered whatever was left of the Star of Rio and slithered, motionless, away from the shore and into the sea.
Farhill, Bennet and Marta ducked feeling the shockwave of the explosion race across the galling seascape. Shrapnel and debris lurched past, the flames lingering with pools of fuel floating on the toxic surface. But within a moment or two, with the motion of the waves, the fires surrendered. Darkness fell, claiming the grave of the Star of Rio.
For a moment the three of them stood silent, taking in what they’d witnessed.
“Let’s get inside,” Farhill directed to Bennet and Marta, after a moment of reflection. The wind carried on whipping up a frenzied sea as distance was made away from the gravesite of that monstrosity.
With a click, the door to the wheelhouse closed. A muted clatter brought a sombre clarity.
“Didn’t you see?”
Golding said nothing for a pregnant moment. “I saw. Come on, let’s get home, back to base. Dry land for you two,” he said, looking at Bennet and Marta. Both shivered. Wordlessly, Farhill led them away to wrap up under foil-like blankets.
She re-emerged a moment later.
“Portsmouth. Forty minutes.”
Farhill nodded, and looked silently ahead. The weather hadn’t been this bad in as long as she remembered.
Ahead, forty minutes away, lay what they thought was a safe haven.
Not a light, however, was on in the town, and the sea crept forward, bringing darkness ashore.