Stitched Saturday

Unedited, Uncensored, Unsettling. Tilby Noir here, filling in for David while he enjoys some fun in the sun. This week’s challenge revolved around an ocean beach theme, and the entries did not disappoint. We have thrilling tales from regular contributors Mike Lane, David Court, Aiden Leingod, AJ Brown, Lance Fling, and myself. The inspirational picture is posted above the stories wrought from it. Be sure to check back tomorrow for another titillating challenge.

A very heartfelt apology to Robert Dunne, who was accidentally overlooked in the original post. It was certainly not intended. He delivered a wonderful little piece for Picture #2, which has been added below.

DPW8771Cape-Hatteras-FB-Cape-Hatteras-Pier-Broken-BW-940x612

His oceans, his Gyres – David Court

The pier, truth be told, had aged as badly as he had. It had once stood there proud and resolute, stoic against the relentless onslaught of the vicious and unforgiving ocean, but no longer. Once thick steel beams now hung there, rusted and fragmented. The ones that hadn’t already fallen into the sea, spearing the coarse sand, were in danger of snapping away and causing the whole decaying structure to collapse like a house of cards.

They were both dying from without and within. The fractal patches of rust and sun-bleached barnacles that clung to the metal matched the cancerous patches and portents of imminent death on his own skin, and the veins of weakness that slowly crept through the heart of the metal echoed the cancer that spread through his nervous system.

Mike’s legs buckled under him, the last vestiges of strength leaving with the tide, and he fell to his knees. He would go no further. His will to survive, to reach this final resting place, had been just enough.

Hyrdemouth had been the place of his birth, and so many other of the inhabitants – even the rare few that sought their fortunes further afield – it would also be the place of his death. He pushed his frail fingers into the damp grey sand, imagining it to be the skin of something giant, something monstrous.

Mike was surprised and disappointed at the state of the old pier. He’d expected it to last for ever, but after all a great many things were changing in Hyrdemouth. The sun, once vibrant and seeming close enough to grab, rarely made the effort these days. The azure blue seas of his youth were now grey and possessed of a torpor that barely registered as a tide. The bounteous gifts it presented them had dwindled, these days little more than twisted inedible abominations that spat and burned.

Where did it live now, he wondered? The pier had been its temple, a cathedral of gleaming steel and brightly painted wood. Did it still reside in the nests of girders that scattered the base, or had it been driven into the sea?

His voice had almost left him, his throat burning. He cupped a handful of seawater from a jagged scar in the sand, and sipped gently from it. The salt inflamed his throat even further, but gave him the briefest of voices to speak. Before something coppery burst in there, and he would speak no more.

To chant, to beg. To pray.

The sea, endless, patient and forgiving, answered him.

Foam at first, bubbling grey and white forms. Shells and tiny pebbles cascaded in the turbulence, clicking and clattering noisily over the gentle languous tides. At the edge of the waters they began to connect, two vertical pillars of ocean detritus taking form. Dull green fronds of seawood spiralled upwards around each, through the innards like veins or knotting around the outer edge like muscles and nerves.

It would have been majestic once, almost fully formed the moment it emerged. Now it assembled slowly, as though pained. A driftwood skeleton pierced the innards, stumbling steps becoming more confident. It had the beginnings of a body and arms now, a ribcage formed of coral blooming like blossom. A hermit grab in a black and white striped shell, caught up in the maelstrom of water, retreated further within the structure of the thing.

Mike, the last of his strength gone, fell to his side. He missed the glorious conclusion of the thing restored, but heard the noises, smelt the acrid aroma of the brine and salt that accompanied its return.

He had seen the thing a handful of times before. When he’d been old enough to understand, he’d joined in with the summoning ceremonies on the beach. As a young boy, he’d been convinced that the things gargantuan size was due to his own perception. As time had gone on though, he’d been forced to face the grim reality that the thing was dying. As the oceans shrunk, so did their totem.

It stood above him now, crooked rather than towering. They were both old. Perhaps this thing they’d thought a bounteous deity was mortal too.

That suspicion was what brought Mike here.

It stared down at him with vacant eyes, dark holes embedded in the face of shell and stone.

“I bring a sacrifice” Mike thought, lips and throat too parched to form words.

A deep voice, echoing like the ocean captured in a shell, replied.

“And none too soon, good Michael. I am dying. I will try to keep this painless.”

And with that, the ragged silhouette collapsed onto him. His pained body fought instintively to push the mass away from him, but for nought. The brine filled his nostrils and throat, the sharp shells and stones burrowing into his aching flesh. The rowring noise filled his senses, and he tumbled into that void.

The remnants of his stained clothes were taken by the townsfolk and tied around the thinner struts of the pier.

The sun hung lower and the seas shone brighter in the Summer days to come.

 

Another haiku by Aidan Leingod.

Unbreakable

Many constructs float

On tearful oceans under

All kinds of bridges

 

The Sky Blue Crab by AJ Brown

The world ended with a scream.

Ian sat on the pier watching as a fisherman tried to pick up a crab. The small creature had wandered onto the long, wooden structure that extended a hundred yards out into the ocean. The fisherman set his cane against the railing and eyed the crab with one somewhat cloudy eye. There was a thin patch of stubble along his chin and clinging to his jaw line.

‘Come ‘ere, ya’ li’l runt,” he said and reached for the small crustacean with fingers stained by cigarettes over the years.

The crab was bright blue and its pincers seemed too big for its small body. It snapped at the fisherman as it backed itself against the wooden base of the railing.

“Come on, now. Ya’ ain’ much, but ya’ ‘ill taste good.”

“You’re gonna eat him, Mister?” Ian asked from the bench he sat on. In his lap was a closed comic book. He couldn’t quite read, yet, but he could look at the pictures and they told all the story he cared to know.

“You bet ya’ behind I am.”

“That’s not nice, Mister. He’s just a little guy. Pro’ly just lookin’ for his ma.”

The fisherman turned his cloudy eye on Ian. A frown formed on his face. “Ya mind ya’ bu’ness, boy!” he yelled and made a swatting motion with his hand. “Get on outta ‘ere, boy!”

“You ain’t very nice, Mister,” Ian said and stood from his seat.

“I said, get!” the fisherman yelled again, this time taking several quick steps toward Ian with a hand raised above his head.

Ian gave a shrill scream and ran toward the entrance to the pier. His comic fell to the wooden floor, forgotten as Ian fled.

“Awe man,” he said as he reached the end where the bathrooms were. “I dropped my book.” He looked back. The fisherman was still trying to get the crab. Or maybe he already had it in his hand and was breaking its pincers off. From that distance, Ian couldn’t tell. He also couldn’t tell if his comic was still sitting on the bench or on the pier’s flooring. Either way, he wanted it back—his Pa bought it for him the day before he left him and his Ma behind and without saying goodnight, either.

Ian heard thunder off in the distance. He looked to the sky. There were no clouds, but the blue up there seemed too dark, not its usual pale shade. It looked angry.

Another clap of thunder sounded, this one much louder. The ground shook beneath him and Ian dropped to his knees. His hands and arms went over his head. He looked up. The blue sky was quickly turning a dark gray, and in its wake on the horizon was nothing but black.

“Oh man, oh man, oh man,” Ian said and ducked into the bathroom at the edge of the pier. The smell in there  was thick and rancid. He hurried to one of the stalls and slammed the door closed. He locked it and looked down at the toilet. The seat was up and the water was cloudy and yellow and there was a wad of tissue in it, thankfully covering anything left behind. The floor around the toilet was wet. Ian gagged with the thought of sitting on the floor in what he knew was urine.

A clap of thunder came. It was so loud he dropped to his knees again and scurried between the toilet and the wall. He didn’t care that he was sitting in some man’s piss. His fear took over and left him with tears in his eyes.

Then he heard the scream. Ian didn’t know where it came from, or if it came from a man or a woman, but it was loud and long and there was so much pain in it.

The lights popped and glass fell to the floor in a round of tinkles. His voice joined the scream. His hands went over his ears and he squeezed his eyes as tightly shut as he could.

The one scream was joined in by others. First one, then two, then four, and then a hundred, and quite possibly, millions more before the sound suddenly ceased and all that remained was an echo ringing in his head and his own scream bouncing off the walls of the stall he squatted in. His scream stopped and he was left in silence and in the dark.

Ian remained on the floor, his shirt and pants wet, sweat covering his face and arms. A new odor filled the stall. This one was stronger, fresher, and it came from Ian’s lower extremity. Any other time he would have been embarrassed, but for now, he just wanted to get up and get out of that stall.

He stood and felt along the stall’s door, looking for the latch. He flipped it open and pushed the door forward. With his hands out in front of him, he felt his way to the door, hoping he was going in the right direction. His hip struck the sink, which was to the right of the door. Ian stretched a little further and found the wall. A minute later, he pushed the door open.

Outside, the world wasn’t bright like the early afternoon it had been minutes earlier. It was as if the sun was coming back up. There were pinks and purples and a touch of orange in the sky. Somewhere up there the sun hid itself away. The temperature had dropped fifteen degrees, from a warm spring day to a late fall morning. To the left of Ian sat the parking lot, a handful of vacant cars still there, their windows busted out. To the right was the pier extending out into an ocean as dark and black as night ever was. Part of the pier was missing. And so was the Fisherman with the cloudy eye.

Ian walked along the center of the pier, his hands out to his sides as if  he thought the flooring would collapse beneath him. His heart beat a steady rhythm in his chest as he approached the bench he sat on earlier.

The comic book lay by the bench, face down. Ian picked it up and folded it in half before putting it in his back pocket. As he did this, his eyes focused on the little blue crab the fisherman tried to pick up. It still stood butted up against a rail running the length of the pier. In one pincer was what looked like the cloudy eye of the fisherman.

The crab scuttled to the side, dragging the eye with him. It stopped near where the edge of the pier, along splintered wood and nails jutting out from where the remainder of the pier had been torn free. The two of them watched each other, Ian out of some sort of horrible fascination. The crab bobbed forward, as if nodding goodbye to Ian, and then it turned away, scuttled to the end of one ruined board and fell off.

Ian nodded back, though it was too late for the crab to see. He turned and walked back toward the parking lot. The sky above began to lighten. By the time he reached the road and headed for home, it was blue again.

bg-drowning

Untitled by Robert Dunne

It was an eerily still night. Real, calm-before-the-storm type stuff. The sky had an odd green tinge. I suppose a hail storm may have been on the horizon. I was eerily calm myself.

I remember feeling this way 6 months ago when I was made redundant at a job I had worked hard at for 14 years. It was a dead horse for the last 12 months and I had been flogging it trying to bring it back to life. I was panicked and stressed for so long, working extra hours, going the extra mile to drum up more sales, but eventually and inevitably the axe fell and they had to let me go. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, they knew I was working hard but the economy had dropped and they couldn’t afford me anymore. I remember, initially I wasn’t scared or panicked or worried anymore. I was relieved and my head was clear. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting more sales anymore or about losing my job any more. And thats how i feel tonight, calm, relieved.

I chose the ocean because I love the feeling of it. When out here all alone at night I can feel completely isolated, just a spec in the vast ocean… all alone. The sheer depth and size can make a man feel so tiny.

I can also feel one with everything while in the ocean. One giant body of water stretching around the globe, tumbling, crashing or gently patting on the shores of all the different countries and their people.

Now as I swim out I remember a famous tennis player saying how he won so many tournaments. He never looked at the scoreboard. He just tried to win the next point. Didn’t matter if he lost the last five or won the last five, didn’t matter if he was two sets down or two sets up. The only way to victory, the only thing that mattered were the next few moments and to win that next point. Then reset and do it again. And so I swam. Didn’t matter that I was tired, that I had never swum this far before. Didn’t matter what was behind me or in front of me. I couldn’t see land any more and yet one arm over the other and then over and over again I just kept swimming.

Until I could swim no more.

It’s calm though. I wonder if it will hail later. I have been unemployed and worried for so long… now I’ll never have to worry again.

 

Friends by Lance Fling

“So, did it hurt?”

“What; when you shot me? Hell, yes it hurt, but just for a few seconds, then it was just weird.”

“Weird?”

“At first, it felt like I got sucker punched with a hammer. Then I looked down and saw the hole and the shock kicked in. It was weird; it felt like something came disconnected in my ribcage, kinda like I split in two pieces. Then I passed the fuck out and woke up here.”

“Oh man, I am sooo sorry.”

“I know, buddy. There ain’t no way you could’ve known that old- ass thing would still shoot, or even that it was loaded.”

“Yeah, but still, I shouldn’t have pointed towards you. Glad it missed your heart, at least.”

Hell yeah, living the rest of my life with one lung might suck ass; but it beats the alternative.”

“Ah man, I feel so bad. I promise, after you’re on the mend, I’m taking you to the beach. Just like old times. Football catch in the waves, sun, sand, and beers. On me.”

“Sounds good, man.”

“Cool. How’s Wendy?”

“She’s better now that I survived surgery. You just missed her; she went down to the cafeteria on a coffee run. Thanks for swinging by the house and grabbing her stuff; two days in the same clothes sucks. Any trouble finding things?”

“No, not at all. I don’t mind, I know how worried she was about you. We talked about it a lot.”

“You talked about it? As in, you and Wendy?”

“Yeah.”

“What? She hates you.”

“I know, man. I guess she just needed someone to talk to who could understand what she was going through. She must’ve figured I could sympathize or something.”

“Well shit, thank god for small miracles, I guess. I’m glad you two are getting along, finally.”

“Me too, me too. Listen, I gotta bounce, man. Take care and I will hit you up for the beach once you’re out of this shithole. Tell Wendy I say ‘hey’.”

“Sounds good, bro. Looking forward to the beach.”

***

 

“Hey, c’mon in, the water feels great!”

“I don’t know, man.”

“You’ll be fine. There’s hardly any waves today. Besides, I got your back. I know- how ‘bout we just play a little catch and see how it goes? You can throw from the beach to start, if that’s cool.”

“All right; comin’ at you.

“How you feelin’?”

“Actually, not too bad. Kinda good, even.”

“Sweet. I’m going long; you up to throwing to the breakers?”

“Yeah, I think I can. Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to overthrow you that bad. Want me to try and come in and get it?”

“Hell no, man, I can handle it. Got it.”

“Nice, swim back in.”

“I’m trying, but the current’s pretty strong out here.”

“I’m wading in. Just swim in some.”

“I can’t! I think I’m caught in the rip! Having..trouble..out …here…”

“I’m coming! Trying to get to you, but the current! Hey, get your head back up! You’re ok. No, head up!”

“I…can’t!”

“Hang on! There; I got you, man. Oh shit, now I don’t think I can get us out of here. Wait! Where the fuck are you going?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll send help!”

Even though it’ll be way too late. Finally. Pretty sure Wendy is really going to need some more comforting after this. And I know just the man for the job.

 

Fishing by Tilby Noir

The burning edge of the evening sun slipped below the horizon. Golden ripples danced upon the waves, signaling it was time to head home. Rafe squinted into the dying light and sighed. The net, hanging from the stern, remained empty. Yet another fruitless day. It had become a disturbing pattern, returning home each evening with nothing but windburned cheeks and a hollow belly.

Rafe cranked up the net and turned the trawler towards home. Tomorrow would be a better day. If he didn’t start pulling in some hefty catches, he’d lose everything.

An unfamiliar sound, carried on the wind above the steady rumble of the engine and the soft lapping of the waves, caught his attention. Rafe stepped out from the helm, turning his good ear towards the sound.

“Help!”

The voice was distressed, high-pitched, broken with abrupt pauses. Rafe could find no sign of any near vessels, no debris bobbing along the surface of the sea. His eyes scanned over the water, searching for the owner of the voice. There, off the starboard side, a small figure flailed. Thin arms churning, head ducking beneath the waves only to emerge a moment later sputtering and crying.

“I see you! Hold on!”

Rafe dashed back inside the cabin, steering the trawler towards the bobbing figure. He cut the engine, the momentum driving him closer without risk of steaming right over the unfortunate soul.

Grabbing a life preserver from the side of the hull, Rafe flung the ring out to sea, keeping a firm hold on the rope that anchored it. After a few panicked splashes, the figure, a woman judging by the length of hair and delicate features, latched on to the preserver. Rafe pulled on the tether, dragging her slowly until she was close enough to reach. He bent down, wrapping a hand around her right bicep, to haul her aboard.  

The look of panic on her angular face disappeared the moment he touched her. She grabbed his wrist with her left hand, the flesh cold and slick. Surprised at the unnatural feel of her flesh, Rafe glanced down at the hand. This close, he could see the tiny, individual scales, their tanned hue glinting iridescently in the fading light.

He shifted his head to look at her, a question forming on his lips. His throat seized when he saw her eyes, a deep opaque grey, slightly bulbous and shiny.  Eyes he’d seen all too often as a fisherman. She smiled, revealing three rows of thin, serrated teeth.

Rafe released his grip on her arm, his heart pounding as his mind whirled with every sea myth he’d ever heard. But the woman still had a firm hold on his wrist, and she was much stronger than her thin form suggested. He twisted, pulled, lashed out with his booted heel, but could not break her hold. She continued to stare at him with that toothy grin, hanging halfway over the side of the boat.

“Help,” she whispered, pulling him closer with her iron grip.

Rafe whimpered, prying at her fingers with his free hand. He begged her to release him, promised her anything, prayed to his gods. Still, she stared with her cold, dark eyes, pulling him ever closer.

Something hard wrapped around his leg, and Rafe looked to see a thick tentacle snaking up from her side and coiling around his ankle. Another soon appeared, and then another. He slipped into panic, struggling and screaming, unable to free himself. is limbs trapped within her fibrous tentacles,she threw her body backwards. They slipped into the sea, a tangled mass of predator and prey.

His mouth already open in a scream, Rafe choked as seawater rushed down his throat, filling his lungs. His struggles burned through what little air he was able to hold onto, his chest burning and muscles spasming. Her teeth loomed large, the gaping maw filling his salt blurred-vision as the coils squeezed the last breath from his lungs. He was dead before she began to eat him.

happy-end-31

Neila & the Meglamech by Mike L Lane

“What the hell is that?” Carson asked pointing at the mangled wreckage. Half submerged, it rested spread eagle across the sand like a drowned man spat up by the sea.

“It’s a plane,” Avery said. “Probably crashed somewhere out over the ocean and washed ashore. Want to go check it out?”

“Sure,” the boy replied. “Race you to it!”

Carson shoved Avery to get a better head start and ran down the beach. The push had little effect. Avery was much faster than Carson and caught him with ease. He returned the shove in passing and the stocky boy face-planted in the sand.

“You suck,” Carson said, spitting out a mouthful of sand and wiping his face. Avery offered him a hand up, laughing. With a frown, Carson accepted the silent apology and came to his feet. “You still suck.”

“Shake it off, matie,” Avery said in his best pirate imitation. “There be booty to plunder on ‘yon shore.”

Carson tried to think of something witty to say in return, the embarrassment of the fall burning his cheeks, but was distracted by quick movement within the wreck’s shattered window. A man’s shape disappeared inside the plane, dropping an object in its hasty retreat.

“Did you see it?!” Carson asked, moving closer to the wreck. The plane had washed ashore upside down and he bent over and cocked his head for a better look. “Something moved out of the cockpit.”

Avery squatted onto his knees to look, but nothing stirred within. Water lapped against the broken glass and clouded it with seafoam before rolling backwards to start the process all over again. Among the debris, a black orb no bigger than a basketball floated back and forth within the cockpit. “It was probably just the water pushing that ball.”

“It was a person,” Carson said.

“Maybe it was a body,” Avery said with an excitement in his voice that Carson didn’t care for. Who got excited over seeing a dead body? “Maybe the waves pushed it up against the glass and then pulled it back again? Maybe it’s hung up somewhere in the hull.”

“No, this was…” he said, searching for the right word, “deliberate. The waves didn’t move it. He… or she moved away on its own. It was like they saw me, dropped that ball and hid.”

“Bullshit,” Avery said, punching Carson playfully on the arm. Carson absorbed the blow, his eyes locked on the window. “You’re pulling my leg.”

“I’m for real,” Carson said. His wide eyes and stern response raised the hair on Avery’s arms. “There’s someone down in there. Hiding.”

“Hiding from what?” Avery said, refusing to believe it. “No one could survive a crash like this and if they did, they wouldn’t hide from help.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Carson said. He looked uneasily at the plane, took a few steps back and at a comfortable enough distance, laid down on his stomach for a better look. He could barely see past the cockpit. The rest of the enclosure was pitch black.

“There probably weren’t more than four people in this plane when it crashed. Chances are, they bailed long before it hit the water. As a matter of fact, they were probably rescued years ago and the wreckage is just now getting pushed to shore. There is no one in that plane,” Avery said, walking towards the side of the wreckage. Carson stood up and brushed himself off before realizing what Avery had in mind. The boy had thrown off his shirt, waded into knee deep water and was about to climb into a hole in the side of the plane.

“What are you doing?!”

“I’m going in,” Avery said, matter of fact. “There’s no one in there and I’m going to prove it. Are you coming or are you chicken?”

Every bone in Carson’s body screamed that he was indeed chicken, but he knew that Avery would tease him relentlessly if he didn’t go. He halfheartedly waded out into the water, leery of what they might find.

Avery ducked his head beneath the wing, found something to grab onto and raised a foot inside. Satisfied with his foothold, he pulled himself into the wreckage. Carson slowly made his way to him.

“There’s not a whole lot of room in here,” Avery said, checking his surroundings. “There is definitely no one in here that I can see, alive or otherwise.”

“Cool,” Carson said, although his response sounded like the furthest thing from cool Avery had ever heard. “Let’s get out of here.”

“You’re not even in here,” Avery laughed. Carson stood outside of the makeshift entry and had barely poked his head inside. “I want that black ball for a souvenir.”

“This isn’t Disney World, Avery. Besides, maybe it’s the plane’s black box,” Carson offered. A strange feeling surged through his body like low level electricity and he suddenly wanted to put as much distance between them and the plane as he could. “We shouldn’t fool with it. I think they use those to locate crashed planes or something.”

“I don’t think they would call it a black box when it’s shaped like a ball, Carson,” Avery said, slowly making his way into the cockpit. He grabbed the control wheel above him for support and ducked below the pilot’s seat. ‘Do you see it anywhere?”

“I don’t see anything,” Carson said, leaning further inside. Wincing, he jerked back his hand.

“Shit!” he said, holding his hand and steadying his feet in the passing water to keep from falling. Blood oozed from his palm and red drops tainted the blue waters around him. He squeezed the wound tight, afraid of how bad the cut might be.

“What is it?” Avery asked, alarmed by Carson’s outburst.

“I sliced my hand,” he said. The horrors of stitches and tetanus shots flooded his thoughts. The electric strangeness intensified with the surge of adrenaline and he couldn’t take it anymore. “I’m going back.”

“Are you okay?” Avery called from the darkness.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just don’t want to get salt water in the wound,” he said with a half-truth. He didn’t care if Avery bought it or not. The antsy pins and needles sensation attacking his skin compelled him to leave, no matter what Avery might have to say about it. As he stepped foot onto the beach, the feeling slowly subsided. He turned back to look at the wreck, one hand firmly clasped in the other and wished he had never followed Avery in the first place. He could see his friend’s back through the busted glass, stooped over and searching through the water and debris for his souvenir. Behind him, the figure emerged again. “Avery! Get out!”

He ran back towards the plane, screaming at the top of his lungs as the humanoid creature pushed Avery’s head under the water. Avery’s arms flailed wildly, but his attacker was too strong, easily pinning him down as he slowly drowned. Carson rushed to the side of the plane in an effort to try and save his friend, but as he reached the water’s edge weakness took hold of his legs. The pins and needles sensation pierced Carson like knives and he fell onto the sand in convulsions, losing complete control of his body. He could no longer see Avery. Instead, he caught a good look at the tail of the plane. The plane’s back end looked like a swimming snake, swerving back and forth beneath the waves. The wings folded down with the sound of crinkled metal, dug into the beach and pushed itself back out to sea. A black oil-like substance pooled around the plane as it submerged. For the briefest moment he could see Avery’s floating face in the busted windshield, locked in a silent scream. The plane disappeared into bubbling foam as Carson passed out.

“Dude, are you okay?” the familiar voice asked. Carson blinked as the sparkles in his vision subsided and he pulled his face from the sand.

“What happened?” he asked, groggily. His head pounded and his throat felt like an old dirt road in the July heat. Something strange had happened but he couldn’t remember what, the memory just beyond grasp.

“You tripped on this steel ball,” Avery said. He was holding a solid black sphere and brushing sand from its slick surface. “Pretty cool, huh? I mean not you falling, of course. That was a nasty spill. I think you passed out.”

Carson took his hand and the overwhelming sensation of déjà vu flooded his senses. This had happened before, but not quite in the same way. He looked out at the shoreline.

“What the hell is that?” Carson asked, pointing at a massive pool of black oil floating in the waves.

“Some sort of oil slick,” Avery shrugged. “Want to check it out?”

“I just want to go home,” Carson said.

”Maybe we can crack this open and see what’s inside?” Avery suggested, offering the ball over so Carson could inspect it.

“Sure,” the boy replied.

Somewhere below the surface, Neila entered his daily audio log as he guided the meglamech further down the coast.

“Solar rotation 459, mid sun. Encountered two fingerling land creatures. Both male. Subdued the larger of the two with a meglamech implant and held the thin one for testing. Subject was too small for incubation, but ideal for delivering larvae. It is in possession of the collection sphere and programmed to return after birth,” Neila said through a series of pops, clicks and gurgles of his native tongue. “Large implanted subject is an ideal host. Once the meglamech shard travels through its lower dermis and into the abdomen, fertilization can begin. Incubation should take no longer than two solar rotations and host will be ample sustenance for the newborns. I hope to have more test subjects by late sun and have set the next landing for 100 kilometers.”

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