All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The Last Whale
The Architeuthis had managed to grow into a true monster. It hovered in twilight, seeing through the gloom of the unfathomable sea as though it were midday. Bulging eyes hunted for anything it could snatch. In the past, crabs and deep-water fish were enough to sustain it, but now it had grown so large it was totally insatiable. Somehow, it had managed to avoid being killed, unlike most of its kind. It had outgrown its predators and was the largest animal in its habitat.
As it looked about, it spotted movement in the dark. It watched the movement until it was just close enough—then rushed forward, snagging the movement and devouring it. An albacore; the fish was no more than an appetizer for the Architeuthis. The monster contentedly shredded its prey in its mouth, using a specialized tongue-like organ covered in teeth. Somehow, the creature knew it was among the deadliest things in the ocean.
But the Architeuthis had outgrown its abyssal cradle. There simply was not enough food in the depths to sustain it any further. It had never gone as far up as the light, but sometimes dead animals sank down from above. Perhaps, the Architeuthis thought in its rudimentary brain, prey were alive and plentiful higher in the ocean.
And so the Architeuthis righted itself, adjusted its fins, and rose toward the thunders of the upper deep.
Sylvia McEavoy looked through the glass at Felix, who swam contently in the large aquarium, unaware of the plight of his species. Felix was an adult bull sperm whale, at sixty-seven feet long. The San Francisco Oceanic Society had found him beached on the shore several weeks ago and had nursed him back to health at this facility, but some of Sylvia’s colleagues had wanted to keep him for study. He was, after all, the first recorded sperm whale sighting in over five years. Marine biologists had feared that the species had become extinct.
“You don’t know, do you,” said Sylvia to no one, “that you might be the last of your kind. You’re better off not knowing.”
Tall, strong, and suntanned, Sylvia was fiercely independent, and she hated what had been done to the oceans. The majestic creatures that had once ruled it were disappearing, and nothing was rising to take their place. There was an ecological gap the whales had filled. When the news had first come out that sperm whales were officially endangered, she had done all she could to try and publicly raise awareness to save the species, but too few had cared. These weren’t animals the public had any particular concern for; their importance was of minimal value to people who cared only what was in their wallets.
When Felix had been found on the beach, battered and weak, Sylvia had looked into the dark eye of the massive creature and seen hope. She had been the one to suggest the name, which meant “lucky”. It was lucky he was alive at all and luckier still that he had survived. He belonged in the oceans, but for the time being he was here, under the blue artificial light, swimming in endless circles around a glass tank.
“Hi, Sylvia.” It was Ryan Baxter, one of Sylvia’s coworkers. He was a somewhat short, skinny man with messy black hair, barely twenty-three, overall good-natured. He wore an awkward red shirt and a bright smile. “Is he all ready for the big day?”
Ryan was referring to Felix’s ultimate release from care of the Oceanic Society. “He’s healthy enough, if that’s what you mean,” replied Sylvia. “But I don’t know if it’s worth it. Not until we find more of his kind. They’re social animals; they can’t be left on their own.”
“I know,” said Ryan sadly. “It’s just…I don’t know if there are any others out there to find. I’m not saying it’s not worth looking,” he added quickly, “but we just don’t have enough money to keep him here much longer.”
Sylvia had first met Ryan when he had begun efforts to save, of all things, a fish called the sarcastic fringehead. The fringehead population was apparently declining as well, though even Sylvia couldn’t understand why he was so concerned about them when whales were in greater danger.
“There’s got to be a way to keep him here a bit longer,” insisted Sylvia. “Look for funds we can cut somewhere. Talk to Reese about it.”
“Sylvia,” said Ryan, “we’ve cut nearly all our funds buying medicine and food fish for him. There’s only so much we can do.”
“Isn’t there something you’re in charge of?” asked Sylvia. “Anything…not as important as this?”
“I’ve cut all my fringehead money already,” said Ryan. Sylvia was silent. He had thrown out his own research to help her cause. She didn’t have anything to say to that.
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Ryan, realizing this was the time to leave.
Sylvia stood alone for a minute or two, watching as Felix circled about his large tank without a concern in the world.
“Someday,” she said, “I promise we’ll find more like you. If they’re out there…we’ll find them. Somehow.”
A triangular dorsal fin cut the surface of the water. A great white shark was on the hunt.
There wasn’t much food in this area—it had been a fishing ground some years ago, and the shark had always been there to devour whatever fish the humans on their boats had deemed unworthy of their consumption. Now, it was lucky if it saw any fish at all. The shark would’ve preferred a seal or a turtle, but those were vanishing fast, and more mature sharks had taken the coastlines and prevented this one from accessing the food that still remained there.
But then the shark detected a faint electrical signal from below. There was something alive down there, and alive meant edible. The shark began to dive—it would employ the hunting strategy that had worked all its life, blend in with the murk and attack from below. The prey never saw it coming, and it always ate well.
As the shark approached the signal, the source moved—and not just in the same upward direction it was going, it dodged to the left. Confused, the shark moved leftward as well, trying to get around whatever exotic radar the creature might be using. It still had no visual on the animal, but the electric signal it could detect using its lateral line was getting stronger.
But as the shark moved to follow the animal, it suddenly moved right, and the shark was confused even more, because it had moved at an impossibly fast speed. Whatever this animal was, it was something recklessly quick. The shark was fed up with this game; it decided to attack from above, which it was not accustomed to, but would have to work with.
It dove down rapidly, and this time the animal did not veer off course. But a moment before the shark was within range, it detected something careening in from its side. Somehow, the animal had gotten there! The shark made a rapid turn, swishing its half-moon tail through the water as fast as it would go—it had realized at the last second that it had horribly misjudged the size of the creature it was trying to attack. The ominous shape was much, much bigger than the shark, and seemed to come from all directions. If the shark didn’t move, it would be surrounded by the shadowy mass of the creature threatening to encircle it all on its own!
Speeding toward the surface as fast as it could, the shark intended to make a clean getaway by launching itself clear of the water to confuse its pursuer. It snapped left, right, and then left again, trying to throw the thing off its trail. It managed to breach the surface of the water, falling backward: the last direction an enemy would expect it to go. But somehow, this was not enough. That was no dumb animal chasing it. Before the shark could reach the peak of its panicked leap, it was grabbed by the tail and slammed into the water. Stunned, it could not fight as it felt itself sheared in half. In its last moments, it saw the largest creature it had ever encountered, but was too numb with pain to react as it was devoured alive.
The Architeuthis fed well that day. It had been right. Food was plentiful up here.
Clarissa James smiled as she stroked the head of the sea turtle in the pool before her. It was a young green sea turtle; she had found it while searching for sperm whales off the coast, and it had been in desperate need. The turtle had swallowed a large plastic bag, probably having mistaken the garbage for a jellyfish, but Clarissa had managed to remove it and kept the turtle alive. She had always loved sea turtles, even since she was a little girl. Their gentle, quiet demeanor and gracefulness matched her own.
Clarissa was a tall, thin girl, brown-haired and with bright, inquisitive green eyes. She had only been working at the Oceanic Society for a short time after moving into the area, and already she loved the work they’d been doing. She only wished they didn’t have to scrape up money to fund it; she would have done it all for free anyway.
“Excuse me.” Reese Ingram walked into the darkened room, wearing his usual business suit and his hair trimmed. He had something to do with finances, but Clarissa wasn’t certain what. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything terribly important?”
“Oh, no…I’m just looking after Beth,” replied Clarissa, not looking up from the sea turtle she had come to love.
“Don’t name it,” chided Ingram. “You’ll get attached to it. You know it can’t stay, we’re too low on funds as it is.”
“I know she has to go,” said Clarissa, a little hurt. “It’ll be soon.”
“By the end of the day,” completed Ingram. “We can’t afford this any longer.”
“By the…the end of the day?” Clarissa didn’t quite believe it.
“That’s what I said,” verified Ingram. “I’ll meet you at the docks this evening.”
Clarissa wanted to protest, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was soft-spoken, and he was whatever the opposite of that was. What he said usually went, though sometimes he could be persuaded to change his mind by Sylvia. That was how so much of their money had been diverted to Felix.
Ryan walked into the room a few moments after Ingram left. Upon seeing Clarissa, he stopped nervously. Clarissa had been aware for a while that Ryan had a soft spot for her, but she didn’t know how to feel about that. No one had ever been interested in her before, so she was pretending not to notice.
“Oh—sorry, I didn’t know you were in here,” he said, fidgeting anxiously. “I’m—I’m just here to pick up the fringeheads, we’re releasing them.”
“Them, too?” asked Clarissa, looking up. “Beth is leaving, also…Mr. Ingram just came in and told me.”
Ryan didn’t like Ingram much. His stuck-up attitude just didn’t agree with Ryan’s enthusiasm. “That shouldn’t be his decision. You’re the one that found her.” Naturally, Ryan was ready to take any chance to side with Clarissa.
“I feel fine, really,” said Clarissa quietly, not meaning it at all. She had no idea how to deal with someone being interested in her; she was getting uncomfortable and hoped he would leave soon.
Uncertain of what to say, Ryan scooped up one of the three foot-long fish in a net and deposited it into a fish tank on a cart. The other two opened their jaws wide in aggression, extending brightly-colored fringes around their mouths. The one in the net thrashed about, but relaxed once it was in the water.
“Maybe…maybe I can talk to Sylvia, and she can do something,” suggested Ryan as he worked the second of the fish into the tank. “She has a way of working things out.”
“It’s because they’re together,” said Clarissa, not looking up. “Her and Mr. Ingram, I mean. That’s why she can get him to listen to her.”
“Really?” asked Ryan, surprised. “Her and…him? Why?”
“She’s looking for someone stronger than her,” said Clarissa, still not looking up. “She’s very strong already. Everyone looks up to her. So she’s going to take anyone she can find who’s stronger than she is.”
“He’s not stronger than her,” said Ryan, disgusted. “He’s a jerk. There’s a difference.”
“Not to her,” said Clarissa sadly, looking up at last.
Clarissa looked sadly down at the sea turtle she was going to have to part with forever, wishing they could have been together a little longer. She was at the docks with Ingram, about to head out on a small boat to let the turtle go someplace far from shore. Gray clouds filled the sky.
She looked to the beach, where a small cluster of seals rested. They didn’t seem to want to enter the water. Clarissa thought this was strange, but didn’t say anything.
They let the turtle go about two miles offshore. They were alone except for a couple seabirds and a man in a kayak about half a mile away from them. Ingram looked about with his usual scowl. They didn’t have the time to be doing this; they needed to be preparing for Felix’s release. At least the turtle wouldn’t be taking up a space in their checkbook any longer.
“I guess this is it,” whispered Clarissa, looking into the turtle’s black eyes. “You’ve got to go now…good luck out there.”
Both of them watched as the large reptile slid quietly into the waves. Even Ingram was silent as Clarissa watched the turtle stick its head above the water for a moment, take in a lungful of air, and vanish without a sound. The deep blue hid it from eyesight in an instant. She remained quiet, watchful, as she looked on the area where the turtle had disappeared.
“All right,” said Ingram, making a poor attempt at sounding sympathetic. “Let’s go.”
“Wait a minute,” said Clarissa quietly, scanning the horizon. “Wasn’t there a man in a kayak out there a moment ago?” The blue sea was featureless; only the gulls screaming high above showed any sign of life.
“Of course not,” said Ingram dismissively. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”
They gunned the motor and returned to shore.
Most of the food the Architeuthis had found swimming on the surface was satisfying, but there was something definitely off about this one. It was hard, like cuttlebone, but without any of the soft flesh surrounding it. The object cracked dryly in the beast’s mouth, yielding no meat within. Discarding the oblong yellow body, the Architeuthis noticed it had overlooked something that had fallen from its prey.
It definitely was alive; it was slow, awkward, making a pathetic attempt to swim away. It was flailing its four limbs around ineffectively, attempting to reach the surface. The Architeuthis gave it a swift whack to ensure it didn’t have some kind of defense mechanism that stopped animals from devouring it, but the flailing creature did nothing but flinch away. The Architeuthis was baffled; this animal was utterly defenseless!
But the little creature it moved, so it was food. The monster grabbed and devoured it. The helpless animal, while small and bony, had good muscle; that was enough for the Architeuthis to decide that these animals were worth its time. These four-limbed animals were now on the menu.
Sylvia was thrilled. One of their patrol boats offshore had picked up sound—most definitely the calls of whales. She hadn’t heard what kind, but it was worth seeking.
So, she and Ingram had boarded a helicopter—they couldn’t risk taking a boat, as that would take too long, and the whales might have moved on.
“I’ve still got a lock on the sound,” the pilot informed them as they raced over the ocean.
“How much farther?” asked Sylvia anxiously.
“Five minutes, maybe,” replied the pilot.
Heart racing, she looked out over the ocean. It was dark and blue and featureless; it was easy to get lost out here. Unless, of course, you had an uncanny sense of direction. There were no landmarks, no maps, nothing to guide you except the currents and the place of the sun in the sky.
And yet, it was full of life, all of which knew where to be. Things in the ocean just didn’t wander out of place, not often enough to cause a major problem. Humans, it seemed, were the only creatures in the ocean that didn’t know their place.
“Should be right below us,” said the pilot, but he didn’t sound happy. Sylvia looked down and saw what he had noticed: there were no whales below them, but there was a boat.
Though far from its usual range, the ship was simply after its quarry. Whaling had been illegal for a long time, but that still didn’t stop everyone.
The sound the boats had picked up was coming from a large speaker array put underwater in a desperate attempt to attract whales. These people just didn’t know when to stop. After Sylvia had ranted at them for the better part of an hour, they had been called off as the Coast Guard caught up with the ship. The men were facing trial for hunting of endangered species, but like always, Sylvia knew they would get off with a heavy fine and no more. That was the way of the legal system.
“Everything’s ready, Sylvia,” chimed Ryan, popping into her office as she brooded silently to herself. “We’re about to…are you all right?”
“Whalers,” she said as an explanation. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t need to be doing this in the first place. They don’t understand the importance of what they’re killing off.”
“Don’t let it get to you,” said Ryan. “Remember what we’re doing. Someday we’ll find the whales again. We’re about to head out; you don’t want to miss this.”
The release vessel’s destination was roughly two hundred miles from shore. They couldn’t move too fast, to avoid upsetting the enormous tank of water housing Felix the sperm whale in the middle of the transport ship.
Though Ingram technically owned the ship, he normally hired a temporary captain to direct them; he himself got seasick easily, but still accompanied the crew, to ensure they treated his beloved ship with proper respect. Sylvia stood by him, but they had little to talk about and she didn’t want to make him open his mouth, judging by how green in the face he was.
Ryan, meanwhile, stood watching over Felix. When they reached their destination he would be lifted from the tank by a sling attached to a crane, and placed in the ocean. From then out, he was on his own. He couldn’t help but feel sorrow that the majestic creature might be the only one of its kind left in the world. That was a kind of loneliness that no human being could know.
“Ryan,” said a quiet voice, and he turned to see Clarissa approaching him. His heart skipped a beat. “Have you seen this?” She showed him a copy of yesterday’s newspaper, with a picture of several dozen police on a public beach while a Coast Guard ship idled offshore. The headline read:
7 MISSING UNDER MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
AUTHORITIES BAFFLED BY BIZARRE ANIMAL ATTACK ON PUBLIC BEACH
The article described how, during a normal beach day, a swimmer had vanished beneath the waves without a trace. Then, seconds later, a second swimmer had disappeared, and the lifeguards had ordered everyone out of the water as someone screamed that they saw some sort of giant animal just offshore. But before the beach was cleared, five more people had been drawn underwater as though sucked down by a vacuum. A lifeguard had been one of them.
“They’re saying there’s a sea monster out here,” said Clarissa.
Ryan thought for a moment. “They probably just got caught in a riptide,” he reasoned carefully. “Sometimes those can form abruptly, without any warning. And for what they saw, they might’ve imagined it. When you’re under stress, especially in the ocean, your eyes can trick you into seeing things.”
“There’s something else,” added Clarissa. “I haven’t told anyone else about this. I don’t know who else would believe me. When we were out releasing Beth…there was a kayaker a little way away from us, at first. But when I looked back later, he had disappeared. It happened in just a moment. It sounds impossible, but I know I saw it.”
“Strange,” said Ryan. “Maybe it was an orca? I’ve heard of them tipping over kayaks, and sometimes attacking people.”
“It wasn’t an orca,” said Clarissa, shaking her head. “I’m sure it was the same thing that attacked the people on the beach. Orcas don’t usually go that close to sandy beaches.”
“Shark, maybe?” suggested Ryan.
“What kind of shark can take seven people at once?” asked Clarissa. Ryan didn’t have an answer. “And that’s not all…everything seems wrong out here, lately. The seals at the docks won’t go in the water anymore. They know something’s wrong. And the birds, they aren’t diving for fish. And normally, when we come out here on the boat, there are dolphins riding the bow waves. Have you seen any dolphins?”
Ryan looked out over the side of the boat. The water churned before them, but he realized there were none of the sleek, playful shapes leaping around them that he had become accustomed to seeing out on the ocean. “I guess not,” he said, beginning to feel uneasy.
“It’s like the whole ocean’s sick,” said Clarissa, shivering. “There’s something out there that shouldn’t be.”
Hovering just beneath the Coast Guard ship, the Architeuthis watched curiously as a searchlight waved over the water. It could have no way of knowing that the small ship was looking for the beachgoers it had consumed earlier that day. All it knew was that it had struck gold, found the best feeding ground in the area. There were no predators to challenge it. The creature regretted only that it had struck so many so fast; as soon as it had caught and eaten the first seven of the slow-swimming, defenseless animals it could reach, all the others had gone, running up the beach. If it had wanted to, the Architeuthis could easily have reached a good thirty feet from the surf and tried to snatch more of them, but it didn’t feel ready yet to crawl onto the sand to hunt. It had gone up a rocky beach after a seal a few nights ago, and the ground felt strange against its skin, and it could feel itself drying out.
By now, the Architeuthis had learned that ships normally carried a large number of the defenseless swimmers. Two nights before, it had cleaned out a small party boat, incidentally learning that jamming the propeller stopped the ship from moving when it had accidentally stuck itself between the blades. Its tough, rubbery skin and muscle had remained unharmed, and with the ship immobilized, it had been able to devour them all within a half hour. It looked up at the ship it was now underneath, wondering if this one held just as much food as that one had.
It swam out from beneath the ship, looking toward the searchlight. The glare reminded it of some of the deep-sea creatures it had once shared a habitat with. Many of them had not tasted very good, but everything up here was different. Maybe the source of this light was edible.
The man on the deck of the Coast Guard ship looking for the missing swimmers was also eyeing the light beam as it swept across the waves. He had never seen so many people go missing at once, not even in riptides. Something was amiss, and he was determined to find out what was going on.
And then he saw it. The light had passed over something that looked very, very wrong.
“Move it back!” he shouted. “I saw something!”
The light was repositioned to where it had been, but nothing was there.
“More to the right,” he called, and the light moved again. He looked, carefully, heart pounding, for the shadowy figure he had seen floating just below the water’s surface. There was nothing but darkness and froth on the waves. And then—“STOP! It’s there! Right there!”
He could see the shape of some unearthly creature, like nothing he had ever seen. Two gigantic eyes, adapted to see in even the most minimal light, stared unblinkingly at him, like something out of a horror film. And then it moved—faster than he had ever seen any animal move. In an instant he heard a splash as it vanished from the light, and felt something grab him by the torso. He flew through the air and into the sea and was gone.
There was silence on the boat for a moment. “Jim…?” someone called, having heard the noise. “You find our monster?” There was no reply. And then there was another series of splashes as a dark shape burst forth, seemingly from all directions, covering the searchlight and rocking the boat. The man operating the light screamed and dove to the deck as there was a horrible wrenching sound. When he looked up, the searchlight was gone, along with half of the boat’s cabin roof.
The Architeuthis needed more food, now, and there wasn’t enough on the beach. It didn’t have the patience to wait for the beachgoers to return. It headed out to sea.
After dinner, Ryan visited Sylvia’s quarters.
“Clarissa thinks there’s a…sea monster on the loose?” asked Sylvia incredulously.
“It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that,” said Ryan, “but something’s not right out there, and she knows it. Her intuition’s never been wrong before.”
“Ryan…there’s something wrong out here all right,” said Sylvia, leaning back. “We all know what it is. It’s true the animals are acting strangely, and they have every reason to. Look at what’s been happening out here. Extinctions are going on left and right. There are sea monsters out on the ocean, and you’re looking at them. It’s us, Ryan. We’re the monsters.”
“But—the people, going missing, there’s got to be—” began Ryan, but Sylvia interrupted.
“Of course, it’s the ocean’s fault that people make idiots of themselves on it,” she said disapprovingly. “Somebody goes missing, and there’s something wrong with the ocean, not with the people using it. I’m not saying Clarissa’s wrong, I’m just saying I think you’re looking for an answer that isn’t there.”
With nothing more to say, Ryan left Sylvia’s quarters. There wasn’t any reasoning with her when she got like this. He passed Ingram on his way out; it looked as though he was going to pay a call to Sylvia as well. Ryan made sure to scowl at him as he passed. He partially blamed the man for Sylvia’s growing cynicism. It was hard to see much good in humanity, he imagined, when the person you paid the most attention to was a sorry excuse for a man like Ingram.
“She just won’t understand,” said Ryan to Clarissa on the deck late that night. Clouds obscured the moon and stars, and the only light came from the cabins. “I tried to explain to her, but she just can’t see it the way you do.”
“I said I didn’t think people would believe it,” said Clarissa sadly. “And especially not her…I know she’s a good friend of yours, but she’s very…closed. She can’t accept anything new without seeing it herself.”
“She wasn’t always like that,” said Ryan. “I remember when I first met her, she was always excited to go out on the ocean and find something new, something that no one had ever seen. She didn’t change until after Ingram was hired.”
“They got together the day he came,” said Clarissa, nodding. “I thought it was very fast. I noticed right away, but I didn’t know what to say about it…”
“I should’ve done something,” said Ryan regretfully. “The only thing she was ever upset about before was how the men here weren’t up to her standards. Said she expected more out of a place like California. I should’ve known, the moment I saw him…he really thinks he’s better than everyone else, doesn’t he?”
Clarissa nodded again. “That’s why she’s attracted to him, I think.”
“But…why?” asked Ryan, bewildered. “That isn’t like the Sylvia I used to know.” He turned and looked over the deck of the ship, trying to calm himself. “Before he came here, she used to be more like you. It was like she loved everything. I remember once we found a school shark caught in an abandoned fishing net…it was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, and it was thrashing around so much no one else would go near it. But Sylvia was able to untie it, got the lines out from between its teeth…and never got so much as a scratch. And then she said how happy she was that she was able to help it, because the creatures people don’t care about are the ones that need it most.” Ryan took a deep breath; he had realized where the conversation was heading. “I think that’s why I like talking with you, because it reminds me of the way Sylvia used to be. I…I always feel happiest around you. You’re—you’re someone who can see the world the way I do, someone who understands me. You’re compassionate, and insightful, and very sweet, and I want you to know that—” But he turned back around to find that he was talking to empty air. She had vanished without a trace. “Clarissa?” He looked back and forth across the deck, then over the side of the ship.
By the following morning, the clouds had cleared and the sun shone brightly, and they had reached their destination. It was the last place where sperm whales had regularly been seen, though not for some years. Once, it had been a common migratory route, and they hoped that if there were any sperm whales left in the Pacific, they might come this way.
“Everything’s set to go,” a crewman informed Sylvia. “We’ve got the sling all set up, and he’s resting in it now.”
“Good,” said Sylvia. She looked to the water tank, where Felix rested in the sling, half out of the water. “You’re almost home.”
Ryan came running up, out of breath. “Sylvia! There you are! I’ve been looking for you since this morning!” he panted. “Clarissa—it’s Clarissa—have you seen her?”
“No, why?” asked Sylvia, confused.
“She—she disappeared last night!” stammered Ryan. “I’ve got no idea what happened; I turned my back for a minute and she was gone!”
“Are you sure she didn’t just…you know…walk away?” asked Sylvia. “There’s a simple explanation for it, I’m sure.”
“She wouldn’t just walk away in the middle of a conversation,” said Ryan, not adding what the conversation had concerned. “It was something important. It’s not like her to leave when someone’s talking to her.”
“I’m sure she’s on the ship somewhere,” said Sylvia reasonably. “Listen, I know you’re worried. She’s a nice girl, and I’ll admit it’s strange for her. But there is almost certainly nothing to worry about. Come on, we’re about to send Felix home.”
The whale was lifted up by the sling, the crane straining under his immense weight. His tail swung about in midair in an almost comical way, as though he were surprised to find himself—a creature of the sea—twenty feet in the air.
He was slowly swung out over the ocean, and carefully lowered down. He began to move, excited, feeling the ocean waves against his skin for the first time in months. As the sling was submerged, Felix wriggled his way out of it and dove underwater. Everyone held their breaths with him, and a moment later, his head surfaced. He made a low, happy sound and blew off a jet of vapor from his blowhole; it went off forward rather than straight up, in the distinctive fashion of sperm whales. With a roll of his broad back, he dove underwater once more and disappeared from view.
The ship was halfway back to shore when the engine stopped. Ingram sent the ship’s mechanics below deck to find the source of the trouble, but when they reported back, it was without answers.
“Sylvia, while we’re here, do you think I could use a lifeboat?” asked Ryan while the ship remained stalled. “If Clarissa fell overboard, I mean—she might still be out there.”
“It’s really not my call,” said Sylvia. “It’s Reese’s boat…”
“Which makes it as good as yours,” corrected Ryan.
“Tell you what,” said Sylvia. “You take a lifeboat to go search. I’ll tell him you went with my permission, and he won’t be able to argue with that.”
“Thanks, Sylvia,” said Ryan, hugging his friend before running off.
While Ryan lowered the lifeboat, he was unable to hear the screams that came from beneath the surface, less than a hundred feet away.
Sylvia headed back to see Ingram. She found him talking with one of the engineers.
“The systems are all up and running, so it’s not an electrical problem,” the man was saying to Ingram. “It seemed like a rotor jam to me, so I sent a couple divers down to check the propeller, but I haven’t heard back from them.”
“Reese, I just sent Ryan out to—” began Sylvia.
“Not now, not now,” interrupted Ingram. “I’m very busy. There’s a jam in the ship’s rotor and I’m trying to find what’s—why on Earth have you not been reporting?” One of the divers had just climbed up the ladder from the ocean, white in the face and trembling. “What’s going on? Speak up!”
The diver shakily opened his mouth as if to speak—and screamed. A moment later, something thicker than an anaconda flew up from below, wrapped itself around him, and vanished, taking him with it.
There was a moment of silence on deck, and then the screaming began.
More of the sinewy appendages flew from the ocean as the crew scattered, but the monster was faster than them. A member of the crew was snatched up from right next to Sylvia, and she dove to the floor to avoid another tentacle swinging overhead.
In the ocean, Ryan had set down the lifeboat to search for Clarissa when something thick and red sprung from the water and encircled his boat. For a wild moment he thought it was a giant eel, but there was no mistaking the huge suction cups on the underside of the arm. He leapt from the lifeboat into the water as the wooden craft splintered, cutting into the arm. He wildly gripped the ladder on the side of the ship, but dared to look down.
Architeuthis, the giant squid, now showed its head. The dark red skin made it appear almost black when it was beneath the surface, but as its body rose to the air, it appeared vivid, the color of fresh blood. Two long arms and eight shorter tentacles writhed about, reaching up the side of the ship. Ryan couldn’t believe what he was looking at. Giant squids at lengths of forty feet were known, but this animal was at least sixty feet long, not counting the arms.
The squid had already decimated the team of divers, eating them air tanks and all. Now it searched for more food, stretching its arms up above the railing. Ryan looked to his left as an arm retracted past him, a screaming crewman in its grip. The man plunged underwater and was silenced, though Ryan could hear an indistinct crunching sound.
As he climbed to the top of the railing, he sidestepped an arm flailing past him. Now he understood what had happened to Clarissa. And he was going to destroy this creature, if it was the last thing he ever did.
Ingram sprinted past him, looking desperately for a place to hide. “Ryan!” he cried. “Did you see what it is? What can we do?”
“Giant squid,” said Ryan. “It’s jammed the blades.”
“But what can we do?” pleaded Ingram.
“I don’t know; why don’t you show it the budget?” said Ryan scathingly. “Tell it we can’t afford ship repairs in this economy! Do your job!”
“Ryan!” screamed Ingram, but before he could react, a giant squid arm swung with the force of an ocean current, grabbing up Ingram and hauling him into the air. It held him up for a moment, maybe for the squid to see if it had caught anything, and then swiftly drew him screaming into the sea.
The ship’s siren was blaring, but still there were people sprinting across the deck, trying to get under cover. The squid’s arms reached across the deck, exploring the ship, seeking out crevices where food was hiding. It wrenched off a length of the railing unintentionally, and Ryan grabbed up the broken metal, looking for a weak place to attack the squid with the sharp edge.
Sylvia ducked under another arm, looking for a safe place to hide. But now most of the doors were closed, and even then, she saw a tentacle use its suction cups to wrench a door clear off its hinges to grab the people inside. Looking wildly around, she saw Ryan attempt to drive a spear of metal into one of the squid’s arms, but as he did, a second arm flew up behind him and hoisted him into the air, spear still in hand.
No longer looking for a place to hide, Sylvia ran madly toward the crane tower, sprinting up the stairs. She reached the control room to find the technician cowering in a corner.
“It’s got Ryan!” she shouted. “We’ve got to use the crane!”
“We—we can’t do that!” the technician whined. “It isn’t—I can’t—”
“Let me do it, then!” she insisted, shoving him aside. The squid was flailing Ryan around in the air, but he was jamming the metal spear into its arm over and over, making the squid hesitant to draw him closer. Perhaps it thought it had grabbed some spiny animal.
Sylvia took the controls and swung the crane to the side, and it collided with the squid’s uplifted arm. Ryan was released, falling out of sight. Sylvia grimaced and swore. She had dropped him into the ocean.
Ryan, however, found himself standing on the squid’s face. Its soft, rubbery flesh had cushioned his fall. Still gripping the metal spear, he ran up to the cephalopod’s gigantic left eye and jammed the spear into it—but it bounced off, not leaving so much as a scratch. The squid was now using its arms to pull itself up the side of the ship, not even noticing Ryan attempting to spear its eye out. Trying to get a better look at what it was attacking, it heaved itself to level with the deck, shaking itself and dislodging Ryan, who fell to the floor. Sylvia saw him and swung the crane back again, catching the squid in the sling and throwing it over the side of the boat, but it grabbed onto the crane with its free arm, and the metal groaned and bent.
Realizing the crane was coming down, Sylvia grabbed the horrified technician and ran out of the control room seconds before the metal snapped, careening across the deck until it slammed into the squid. But the beast maintained its grip, even as one of its arms was severed by the flying crane. The appendage fell onto the deck, and the squid clung to the side of the ship, not to be repelled from its feast. The remains of the crane slid into the ocean. Turning on the survivors, the squid’s beak clicked in anticipation of feeding.
But then, quite suddenly, as Sylvia and Ryan faced the creature, there was a tremendous splash as a massive gray shape lunged from the ocean, jaws gaping, and grabbed the squid’s mantle in its teeth. Sylvia gave a mad cheer as she recognized Felix—he had undoubtedly been following the ship since his release, and now propelled himself into battle with his ancient rival.
Normally the giant squid would be no match for the sperm whale. The sheer size of the whale allowed it to devour the squid with ease. But this squid had grown unchecked for so many years that they were equal in size and strength. The water frothed between the massive animals as the squid’s tentacles flew up against the whale’s enormous jaws. The crew watched with a mixture of horror and awe as the planet’s deadliest predators tore at one another, turning the water red. Both creatures fought to kill. The squid grabbed onto the ship’s railing with one arm to stabilize itself as it used the rest to grip Felix’s face, biting down with its beak. But the whale, like the squid, was intelligent: he pulled away from the ship, the sheer force of several tons of muscle tilting the ship nearly on its side. The crew gripped whatever they could find, Sylvia grabbing Ryan’s arm to prevent him from falling into the ocean again. She strained to hold up his weight, but only for another moment—Felix had strained the squid’s arm to its limit, and it snapped cleanly off, and the ship rocked back upright.
Now both creatures were gone, vanished beneath the dark sea. No one spoke a word on the deck of the ship. They could only imagine the violence taking place below them as countless generations of enmity erupted out in just a few short minutes.
And then, something broke the surface. A pulpy, tentacled mass burst from the ocean and then was still. But there was something wrong with the giant squid—it was fading from blood red to ghostly white, and it was motionless. An enormous gash was opened in its side, organs trailing out into the sea.
Beside it, a second creature rose to the surface. Felix was heavily scarred but alive, covered in suction-cup marks and lacerations from the squid’s beak. The crew broke into cheers as he made his low whale sound, taking the squid in his mouth and diving with it.
The reopened beach in the cove was filled once more with people who had only a vague idea of what had taken place a few weeks earlier. They couldn’t understand; only those who had seen the climactic battle would ever truly be able to comprehend what was happening to the oceans. All these people knew was that there were giant squid attacks, and only one thing kept this beach safe from them. Already there were reports of giant squids attacking beaches all over the world, from Australia to the Caribbean.
Off toward the horizon, their protector appeared. The characteristic forward-directed spout of a sperm whale announced Felix’s presence. A few people cheered, but no one louder than Sylvia and Ryan. They relaxed halfway up the beach, far away from the water.
“They don’t get it, do they,” said Sylvia sadly. “They don’t see what’s going on. The squids, they don’t have any sense of morality, they don’t care what they destroy…”
“They’re something alien to us,” agreed Ryan. Around his chest he still bore scars from the suckers of the giant squid’s arm, but the real injury was within.
“No, not so much,” argued Sylvia. “We’re most closely related to apes, I know, but we don’t act like them. I think we’re more like squids. If we want something, we don’t stop until we get it, and if we aren’t kept in check, we use up everything we have. That’s why the squids are moving into shallow waters. They grew too fast, and without the sperm whales, more of them are surviving. They’re becoming common down there, and they’re destroying all their resources. So, they come up here, to find sources of food they haven’t depleted. No, they’re not alien to us at all. They’re very much like us.”
“Well,” said Ryan carefully, “if the squids are like humans, then somewhere out there is a squid like you and a squid like me. And if they’re out there, we can find them. Things aren’t all bad, Sylvia. As long as there are people like us in the world, there’s hope. We can find new things, like you always wanted to—and not just that, we can find answers. It’s a new world now, and we’re the kind of people a new world needs most.”