A little off the wall, underwater spooky bit of flash for your Halloween.
Joseph considered the sonar readout on his heads-up display, trying to figure the most efficient route through the debris field. He chinned the comm just behind the helmet’s regulator and spoke into it, “I’m picking up a patch about two hundred feet down, twenty degrees left, hundred-fifty yards out.”
His duty partner, Zabrina, was Filipino too but didn’t speak English. Their dive helmets had two-way translation, as the flotilla of workers had come from all over the South Pacific.
“Okay,” she answered. “Bringing Snakeins your way.”
They called it Snakeins because the rig they used to suck up ocean trash looked like a big goddamned snake with a wide-open mouth. The netting method for picking up garbage had been abandoned decades before because they were killing almost as much sea life as they’d hoped to save. The situation was dire, as each day new species fell in cascades of extinction.
Now though, for the first time in decades, the governments of the world had gotten their shit together and come up with a new plan that could save the oceans. They also agreed it should be the people whose homelands were now underwater who should do it. Gave them jobs and underwater trash rigs. Said they were now “essential workers”. Yeah.
Zabrina kicked on Snakeins’ hydraulic thrusters and headed toward the debris field, while Joseph maneuvered their capture barge directly overhead. Even though they were over three hundred feet from the surface and headed deeper, he could hear the moan of its many of articulated motors whirring high above. The barge was the size of a large yacht and just as heavy when full up with trash. Joe and Zabrina were but one of thousands of teams that dotted the horizon; a Hail Mary to remediate the ocean after more than a century of mistreatment.
Zabrina emerged from the darkness riding atop the saddle-like control module just behind Snakeins’ head, its powerful searchlights like big green eyes. She came within fifty feet and then dove for the coordinates Joseph had identified. He knew it was just a machine, that the lights were just that, but seeing such a thing slipping through the murk still gave him a start.
“You’re almost to it,” he said.
“Already getting some. Verify it’s coming through?”
Joe checked his readout. She was already picking up far more garbage than sonar had suggested; likely a spot where the current had churned up settled refuse like a washing machine. “Coming through, yeah,” he said. “A lot of it.”
“Dialing down suction so we don’t jam again.”
The good news about finding such a dense cluster was that they’d fill the barge and be able to head back to the platform. Turn a twelve-hour shift into a ten, maybe even a nine-hour run. Have a beer, get two hours more sleep.
While Zabrina vacuumed the ocean, Joe brought up Candy-Breaker on his display and began playing. He could almost forget he was at nine atmospheres below the surface of the ocean.
Zabrina’s voice came through the comm, “Alright I’m at the main agglutination. It’s big, yo.”
Joe cleared a line of cherry-red gumdrops from the game and felt the rush from the bonus points. “Gotcha.” He glanced to the readout. Trash had a way of clumping from a combination of pressure and tangling. Zabrina was going to have to go slow and steady to avoid gumming up the works.
The rig jerked forward, forcing the back of his head into the glass of his helmet. Anakputa! he cursed, wishing he could rub the sore spot. He keyed the comm. “You hit a submarine or what?”
“Joe, coming up!”
“Hold on, we’re not full. Whatchu got?” His eyes flicked to the sonar. A massive blob was showing now below the debris field—or had come out of the debris field. Pod of whales?
Snakeins’ eyes grew brighter as it ascended full speed. Zabrina came into view, flailing wildly, pointing repeatedly toward the surface. She was saying something but hadn’t remembered to open the comm. All of her crazy movement should have had sound. It was like being in space. “I can’t hear you!” Joe yelled. “Open your comm!”
And she was gone. The massive cluster of trash had surged up from below and swallowed her. Snakeins’ eyes blinked out.
Joe slammed the controls on the barge to full reverse in order to pull them back from the charging trash. He tapped the comm as the motors screamed to life. “’Brina?”
He accelerated more quickly than he’d expected, and immediately noted a lack of drag. He flipped on his own lights. The front half of Snakeins was gone, leaving an empty tube fluttering behind.
The giant mass of garbage appeared again, rushing up faster than he could go. It gained definition, what looked like a face, with wide eyes and a gaping mouth.
He broke through the waves and jumped into the air. The leviathan, the sea beast made of trash, breached and rolled like a happy crocodile. It was the size of an island. A tentacle lashed out and cracked the barge into pieces. The creature swam to it, taking on the trash like one cell swallowing another, then dove in the direction of the other cleanup teams.
Joe got on the emergency channel, voice shaking. “Get out of the water now. Abandon barges. Something is coming.”
“For the trash. Just for the trash.”
Joe twisted in his suit. Zabrina had surfaced, still astride Snakeins’ head.
“How did you?”
“We’re essential workers,” she laughed. “It spat me out.”
In the distance, the monster devoured another mountain of trash and grew visibly larger. Then it turned Northeast and submerged.
“What’s that way?”
“Source of most of this shit,” said Zabrina, plucking a plastic water bottle from the surface.
“Let’s head back, get Snakeins repaired.”
“And come back out? That was a monster, Joe.”
“Maybe we’ll summon another one.”