Boiling Cauldron [s073]
The figure that approached was clothed entirely in black. A large, hooded cloak completely hid his countenance. His hands were the only part of his body that was visible. They were pale and had long bony fingers which clutched a long, vicious-looking scythe.
The figure glided towards Phoenix without making a sound. Terror swept over Phoenix. He tried to run, but his body would not obey.
The figure was very close now. He started to raise the scythe. In one quick motion, he brought the scythe down smoothly and with blinding speed. Phoenix could only watch helplessly as it neatly severed his hand.
Then, a woman’s voice. Laughter. A hideous, horrible cackling.
Where’s that coming from?
As deathly pale fingers pulled back the hood of the cloak, golden locks of hair tumbled out, and were quickly tossed out of the way to reveal fair skin beneath. Seductive red lips drew wide in an evil grin revealing snow-white teeth. Azure eyes stared penetratingly at Phoenix who was frozen in shock.
You! What the glitch?
She slowly continued to approach him, stopping only inches away. The black robe suddenly fell to the ground, completely revealing her flawless, curvaceous body. She stepped forward and embraced Phoenix, who now realized that he too was naked. Her body pressed against his. Skin against skin. “Finally!” she breathed.
He tried to back up, but he could not break free of her tight embrace. In fact, he couldn’t move at all. He opened his mouth to object, but discovered that his lips were being covered by hers. Evil laughter again. How can she do that? She continued to kiss him, and now, her lips started sucking the air from his lungs. I can’t breathe!
* * *
Phoenix’s eyes flew open. His heart was pounding, and cold sweat covered his forehead. He tried to move his arms, but couldn’t. He was trapped between (2)syl’s body and the emergency blanket.
Get me out of here!
In a flurry of motion, he freed himself from both (2)syl and the blanket. He stood up and shivered as the chilled morning air enveloped him. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and took a deep breath. Take it easy. It was just a bad dream. You’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The only person here is syl, and she’s asleep—she’s not going to do anything to you. The only thing you have to worry about is whether or not this boat will hold together in the hypercurrent.
The sky was grey. The sun would be up in a few minutes. He shivered. It’s still pretty cold. He let his breath out slowly, watching its visible wisp get carried away by the breeze of the boat’s movement.
I wonder if we’re still on course. He checked his internal navigation and discovered that their path had drifted to the right a bit. Holding cloth scraps that used to be part of his trench coat, he steered the craft back to the left. There. Now, how much longer before we hit the—what the glitch is that?
A strange gurgley, whooshing sound came from off to the left. There, he saw a large patch of foamy bubbles heading straight towards the boat. He whipped on his belt, which had been stowed off to the side of the deck for the night, and drew his pistols.
The bubbling stopped abruptly. Phoenix quickly scanned the waves nervously, but couldn’t make anything out. Glitch. I don’t like this. Suddenly the bubbling started again. It surrounded the boat now. He pointed his pistols to either side of the boat. Gotta be ready for anything.
“syl, wake up.”
Once again, the bubbling stopped. Movement off to the right. He pointed both guns in that direction. Three spikes pierced the waves for a moment, but were gone again in seconds.
Glitch, glitch, glitch! A Zannathan! I don’t like this at all!
He holstered his pistols. They won’t do much good, anyway. He reached down and touched (2)syl’s shoulder. “syl, wake up…syl, wake up, we’ve got a problem.”
The Mighty Are Terrified [s074]
(2)syl leaned up against Phoenix, who was scanning the surrounding sea. She was still a little unbalanced, having being awakened only moments ago. Feminine fingers clawing into his shoulder painfully let him know just how scared she was. Easy girl. Don't freak on me.
He made his way to the charred controls. Maybe we can make a run for it. But if not… "Where's your sever-whip?"
"Here," she replied.
“Good.” We can beat this thing, but not if she's scared out of her wits. "Not much against a Zannathan, but it's better than harsh language. Not that you don't have an arsenal of that."
"Glitch. Shut up."
He placed his hand on the throttle, but hesitated. If we gun it, this thing might not hold together, considering how horrible it sounded before. He started to mention this to (2)syl when--
THUD!! The small boat reeled from the monster's impact. Phoenix grabbed (2)syl to keep her from falling.
"Definitely a Zannathan." Just a pup, from the looks of it.
At Phoenix's request, (2)syl activated her sever-whip.
"Not gonna do us much good," she remarked.
"Yeah, but it's better than noth--Get back!" Phoenix shouted, pulled (2)syl close as he drew his pistols. Protective, are we?
The Zannathan finally revealed itself in full, raising its enormous head in the air. Water quickly ran off of its three horns, and slime dripped from its jagged teeth.
I hate animals. You just can't reason with 'em.
"Ah, glitch, syl, this is bad," he remarked before opening fire on the beast. Silver flashes assaulted the Zannathan. Only some of his shots penetrated its scales. The beast cried out in pain, but instead of giving up, it redoubled its efforts, clutching the boat with tail and claws.
“This is really bad. Use your sever-whip!” he shouted to (2)syl as he loosed another barrage of shots, these aimed at the Zannathan’s face. “Die, you ugly piece of j’aa!” Suddenly, the monster let out a loud wail, and started to thrash about violently. Ha! That got him!
A flicker of light off to the side caught his attention. He turned just in time to see (2)syl’s sever-whip finish slicing through part of the Zannathan’s tail. The severed tail fell into the boat, spraying warm, gooey blood everywhere. The animal screamed and went under.
That was a close one! Glad that’s over with!
“You hurt?” He asked.
“I was too quick for it. Didn't lay a claw on me.”
(2)syl staggered for a moment, dizzily, eyes closed, hand to forehead.
“Hey, what is it?” he asked, reaching toward her.
“It'll pass, just give me a second. I dreamed all of this, you know. Just now, before you woke me, and now it's happening. It's a little much.”
Better her dream coming true than mine.
He made a few remarks to her, trying to comfort her, or at least calm her down. He wasn’t sure if either goal was achieved. We must be getting close to the hypercurrent, anyway.
He glanced over at the chunk of Zannathan flesh. The vertebrae were slowly being exposed, as blood and innards oozed out of the tail. The skin was covered with large round scales.
“You should take one of the scales off that thing and put it on a necklace, show it to your wirewitch friends. Impress the glitch out of 'em."
"I'll think about it. We're not safe yet."
"I've never been safe. I'm used to it." He flashed a smile. "Still, Lady Luck'll pull us through."
"Glitch, I must've just missed her, 'cause what just happened wasn't very lucky. You might want to consider the fact that your Lady has abandoned you out here."
"Hey, I'm not dead am I?"
Phoenix found himself gazing at her, waiting for a response. She had a faraway look in her eyes, almost as if.… Her sever-whip’s plasma wire suddenly appeared.
"What are you...oh." Phoenix, finally realizing what was going on, reached for his guns and whirled around. Glitch! He never made it.
Clamped tight in the Zannathan’s maw, Phoenix now fought for his life. Most of his body was immobilized, huge teeth sinking into various parts of his flesh. With great effort, he drew a single breath, then let it out with a curse.
With his free hand, he reached for one of his pistols that lay on the deck. I’m not ready to die yet! It was just out of reach, but that didn’t matter, because in the next instant, the Zannathan slid back into the water, taking its prey down to the depths to feed.
The Mighty Are Terrified [s075]
Phoenix’s world was a blur of pain. As the Zannathan’s jaws tightened, he could feel its teeth sink deeper into his chest, which was starting to burn from the wounding in progress. The icy water stung the rest of his exposed skin. His body was torqued unnaturally, and his head bobbed violently. His ears felt like they were going to implode from the pressure. The few times he opened his eyes, the contaminated water stung them shut. It didn’t matter. The only thing to be seen was the mouth of the creature that was about to finish eating him.
He tried to activate his internal respirator. Hopefully it’s still functional. In theory, this device would generate just enough oxygen to allow him to survive underwater for an extended period of time—if it worked.
But this was the least of his worries. As each second flew by, the Zannathan took him further from the boat and deeper underwater. Soon, they would reach the comfortable depth for feeding.
I promised that I’d change my life if I made it to the mainland. Maybe Lady Luck didn’t like that idea.
Suddenly, something large and slimy shoved his whole body…where? His body seemed to be suspended in a bath of gooey clumps. He took a peek. The darkness lit his eyes on fire.
Glitch, it must be digesting me! At least I’m still in one piece, I think.
He felt his belt for his sais (a move practiced to perfection in total darkness). He could feel the Zannathan flinch in pain as he jabbed them into the creature’s flesh.
He could see the glow of pink energy emitting from his sais even with his eyes closed. Everything jerked for a moment, and then…nothing.
Phoenix sensed that he was somehow free from the belly of the beast. He cautiously opened his eyes again. They still stung this time, but only slightly.
He found himself freely floating in murky water, littered with amorphous globs of debris. Below, two large Zannathan halves were slowly drifting towards the ocean floor, spewing more blood and chunks of what was presumably half-digested food as they went. He thought that one of the large Zannathan pieces was twitching, but he wasn’t sure.
A large boomerang-shape brushed his leg. The tail of a giant fish, he thought. Now, something spherical at his elbow. As he pushed it aside with his hand, tendrils of black hair caressed his fingers. A human skull, he realized with a start.
The familiar feeling of panic welled up within him, but as usual, he forced it into submission. Must concentrate. My respirator won’t give me enough air to freak out. He slowly let a few bubbles out of his mouth, knowing that the air in his lungs would be replenished in a moment. His internal respirator kept him alive, but it wasn’t fun. On the few occasions he had used it, he felt like he was suffocating. It generated enough oxygen to keep him alive, but that was it.
Despite the disorienting cloud of bloody, half-digested flesh chunks, it only took him a moment or two to figure out which direction was up. As he righted his body for swimming, he glanced at the surface. It didn’t take me down that deep, after all. Good.
He was about to head up, when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something thrashing about off to his right. He saw a light-blue sever-whip shape attached to the arm of a naked-(2)syl-shape. Could that be…? He swam a bit closer for a better view. It is! What is she doing down here? She’s swimming downwards. She doesn’t know which way is up!
Conflicting voices echoed in his head.
Here’s your big chance to be rid of her! Just let her go! Plus, there’s not enough air for two people. Better for you to live than both of you to die. Besides, you know she’d only let you down in the end.
What the glitch are you thinking? You don’t know that for a fact. She probably swam down here to try and save you. Foolish, yes, but that would mean that she cares about you, right? Besides, you’d regret it for the rest of your life.
Before he had a chance to rethink it, he grabbed at her ankle, pulling it towards him, and arresting her downward progress.
He stopped himself from instinctively gasping. I’ve been using up oxygen faster than the respirator can crank it out. Not good.
(2)syl’s legs stopped their kicking motion, as she looked down, (or up, as it were) glancing back at him. He had both of her legs in his clutches, now and was working his way up to where her face was. The compound task of reaching (2)syl’s face, while simultaneously righting her was awkward, especially with the added parameter of avoiding the glowing plasma wire.
His hands moved further up her legs, which bristled with tiny bumps. As he rotated her to face him, he once again noticed the strange tattoo on her back. It was bigger than he had remembered.
One hand on her thigh, one on her hip. At this range, the murky water did little to hide her nakedness. This was up-close and personal, and both were keenly aware of this fact. At this point, however, neither seemed to care, and Phoenix wasn’t sure what to think of that.
Finally, he made it up to her face. Her mismatched eyes were filled with desperation. In the end, he chose to give her life. He pressed his lips against hers, and gave up some of his precious air. Breasts poking into his front side caused him to exhale more than he was planning on.
Frightening images of a woman sucking the air out of him flashed in his mind. Was it only a few minutes ago that I had that dream? It seems like months ago. But unlike the woman in his dream, (2)syl only took what he had to offer, no more.
Nevertheless, Phoenix was eager to get to the surface and out of this rather uncomfortable situation. The pair swam up a short distance, before touching lips again.
* * *
“This internal respirator is just what I need, Jake,” the customer said, looking over a small silver box. “I’ll have it installed immediately.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to purchase an external model as well, Mr. Zodiac?”
Jake shrugged. “Backup, perhaps?”
The customer deliberated momentarily before shaking his head. “Nah.”
* * *
Glitch you, Jake! This is all your fault!
Glistening Wake [s076]
Phoenix and (2)syl broke the surface simultaneously. Gasping for air, they clung to each other and tried to stabilize themselves in the water. Off to one side, the boat was slowly approaching.
“Looks like Lady Luck loves me after all,” he said, and gently nudged her dripping chin in that direction. That floating platform, damaged, dirty, and covered with Zannathan guts, was beautiful to his eyes.
“The Zannathan must have veered out in front of my boat. I thought we were going to be swimming to the mainland,” (2)syl said in an amazed voice.
“Things always work out when I'm around,” he replied.
Somehow he wasn’t a bit surprised. Lady Luck wouldn’t have saved us from that monster just for us to drown in the ocean. I can relax now.
Phoenix’s world faded from view for a moment. Well, maybe not just yet.
“I’ll handle it,” (2)syl’s voice said, somewhere in the distance.
What? Were we talking? Must focus. Got to make it to the boat.
His hand brushed against something hard and cold in the water. The boat!
“Things always seem to work out when I’m around…”
“Are you okay?” (2)syl’s voice seemed to come from a distance.
Phoenix snapped back in to full consciousness and retorted with some witty remark. Gotta keep it together. Can’t take a nap just yet.
* * *
Phoenix slipped and collapsed, a victim of exhaustion and the Zannathan slime that covered the deck. (2)syl was on her hands and knees, groping for the trench coat which would save her from her nudity. On the verge of consciousness, Phoenix was not fully aware of the fact that his eyes were surveying every inch of her. He gazed at her body, wet, glistening in the first rays of sunlight. Water streamed off of her hair. A small rivulet snaked down her thigh. Other parts of her body, the water simply dripped off in… The word droplets pierced his mind, with a slight sting.
“You’re not okay. You’re bleeding,” (2)syl said, pulling Phoenix’s trench coat over her, sloppily trying to cover her nakedness.
Propping himself up into a sitting position, he looked down at his chest where blood, as it flowed from a row of matching incisions, was slowly making red stripes on his jumpsuit.
“So I am.” That thing could have bit me in half! I’m lucky just to be alive! “Don’t worry, nothing went too deep.”
“Cosmic glitch, cut the macho j'aa! You just got swallowed by a Zannathan!”
“That explosion...you did that?”
Phoenix looked back up at (2)syl and smiled, grateful to have someone appreciate his handiwork. “Yeah. And I'm guessing that you're the reason I had less than half a Zannathan to deal with at that point.”
“You’re welcome,” she responded with a slight smirk.
“Thanks. And, and for the good news,” he said, as he checked his internal navigation system, “we're getting closer to the hypercurrent. In fact, it's probably only a few hundred meters in front of us.”
“Turn around,” she said. “Or at least close your eyes.”
“Phoenix, do you really want to find out what it's like to swallow an activated sever-whip?”
Phoenix was just about to explain how he had already seen her minus clothes on several occasions (including right now) and knew exactly what her naked body looked like already, and so it wasn’t a big deal. In fact he was even going to go so far as to suggest that she definitely had nothing to be ashamed about in that department, but instead thought better of the whole idea and simply responded with, “Umm...I think I'll turn around now.”
The last thing that he wanted to do right now was to move his body into any other position than it was currently in. However, despite his cold, wet shivering, despite his wounds, which were still bleeding, and were now finally beginning to really hurt, somehow he still forced himself to stand up, facing away from (2)syl, while she clothed herself.
He had heard once that doing, for the sake of someone else, the very thing that you’d least want to do was the definition of true love. The mental image of (2)syl practicing with her sever-whip earlier combined with another mental image of the plasma wire slicing him neatly in two. Phoenix was convinced that the “definition of true love” didn’t exactly apply here.
Phoenix flinched as (2)syl slipped her arms around him from behind, pulling them together. His arms instinctively rose up, not sure what to do about the smaller arms grasping his waist.
“Why are you--?”
“This is for saving my life,” she said, adjusting her grip on him.
“Oh,” he said, still not daring to touch her. He looked down. The cut-off sleeves of his trench coat told him that she was done dressing, and the sever-whip still clutched in one hand told him that she was still dangerous.
Then, just when he thought he had this situation all figured out, she slipped around in front of him and slapped his face soundly.
“And this is for everything else."
“Again, you're welcome, you deserve more than that, but I wouldn't want to injure you further.”
“But there's no way you could--” he said, starting to exploit a possible double entendre. But (2)syl interrupted him.
“Let's forget about it and take a look at your chest. You're hurt. We probably need to wash out your wounds.”
Whether it was because she was she was indeed concerned about his wounds, or because she just wanted to shut him up, he wasn’t sure.
“And what about you?” he asked, grasping her sever-whip arm. “What the glitch did you do to yourself? You're bleeding all over the handle, and it's dripping on the boat.”
An unspoken agreement was made such that each would allow the other to care for their wounds, at least to a certain extent.
I guess I never really thought about it before, but you kind of have to trust someone to let them patch you up.
Phoenix was so lost in thought that it took a moment for him to notice (2)syl frantically waving and pointing at something behind them.
When Phoenix finally turned to see what it was, he halfway wished that he had looked sooner and halfway wished that he had never looked.
That’s…that’s impossibly huge!
“Another one!” he finally managed to blurt, as if it wasn’t obvious that another, even larger Zannathan was rapidly approaching.
“It's more than that, it's bigger!” (2)syl also opted for the obvious, “It's...it's--”
“--an adult! Probably the other one's mother! Bet she's not too happy about what you did to her baby!”
“What I did?”
“We have to hit that hypercurrent, or we're glitched!” Phoenix said as he took the controls.
“Make us go faster, Phoenix,” (2)syl pleaded.
“Yes, dear,” he mumbled, and then, in an even quieter voice, “as if I wasn’t going to do that anyway.”
Phoenix slammed the throttle to the stop, and the boat trembled and surged forward. The hideous screeching sounds began again, letting its passengers know just what it thought about the whole thing.
“Lady Luck can be a real pain sometimes,” he started, still annoyed at (2)syl, “but at least she doesn’t--”
“Glitch your Lady Luck keetcha!! She's cosmically glitched us this time!”
“We're not dead yet, syl! If we don't make it, then you can come to a conclusion like that!” Not that you could arrive at any conclusions at that point, anyway.
“How close is that hypercurrent?”
Good point. We might be able to make it.
He rapidly checked his internal navigation system, resisting the urge to take another look back in the process, and risk screwing it up. It’s not like looking back there would help us out anyway. This thing’s big enough to swallow us boat and all in one big gulp.
He finally had the map up.
“Glitch, real close! We should be right on top of it!”
“I don't see anything!”
“There should be some red beacons floating near the edge of it!”
He scanned the water. There, only a short distance away was a small row of red lights. The once bright light from the small globes was now very dim, barely peeking through the layers of grime and seaweed.
Lady Luck’s just in time.
The report came from inside the boat itself and was then followed by a rising high-pitched whine coming from the engine.
Kind of like the sound a firework makes, just in reverse. Not that I need to waste time thinking about things like that.
The boat started to decelerate, and Phoenix urgently fiddled with the controls, finally turning the whole thing off in frustration, only to realize that he couldn’t start it again.
“Glitch! That’s it!”
He finally ventured a glance back at the Zannathan that was rapidly bearing down on them, maw open, jagged teeth ready to tear into man, woman, and machine all at once.
The boat was rapidly slowing to a stop. It was obvious that it wasn’t quite going to make it to the edge of the hypercurrent.
No. Not just in time this time. All this just to die like this so close to safety? All this way for what? Is this the universe’s idea of a cruel joke? I promised that I’d change my life if I made it to land safely, and I want to make good on that promise.
At that precise moment, a pale yellow beam of energy shot down from the sky, slicing the Zannathan in two for half the length of its body before stopping abruptly as it started.
“What the--” Phoenix started as glanced up in search of the beam’s source, but quickly looked back at the lifeless, mutilated Zannathan body that was still approaching them at a high rate of speed.
“Oh, glitch! We're not out of it yet.”
(2)syl stared, almost hypnotized at the giant steaming mass of flesh, blood, and bone as it neared. “Hold onto something!” she finally managed to shout.
A few minutes later, (2)syl and Phoenix found themselves lying tangled up with each other, lying in a bloody pool of Zannathan organs.
But it’s all right. We’re in the hypercurrent now, and I just may have the chance to keep that promise.
this page and its contents copyright (c) by mike uchida