“I’m Harpoon,” said a man in a teal and gold tights, his voice echoing through the helmet that covered his whole face. He saw out through a 180 degree wrap-around bubble visor that glowed blue. He needed it; the helmet didn’t seem to turn except maybe up and down because of its connections to a metal gorget. That’s like a chest and neckpiece. That one gleamed like silver, but didn’t have the normal ostentatious patterning of a Riccan super. That has more to do with Harpoon needing some plausible deniability.
“I’ve read your file. You’re another one of our state-supers,” I said.
He bowed. “I have no official connections to Ricca or the Claw. I’m a simple privateer with a Letter of Marque. And you are our new Emperor. Or is it Empress now? I heard you were in yellowface.”
I wagged my hand. “It’s Empress. I figured the people were used to me enough by now that they wouldn’t mind me being a little more authentic. That, and I’ve seen things that’ll turn you white.”
The truth was a little more complicated. My Intel guys came before me about the mutterings of a plot by disenfranchised Directors, some of whom had been chosen from prominent groups of citizens, including some from gangs. Pagan, my head of Intelligence, has people keeping an ear out. Some Directors decided to make it clear I was an outsider pretending to be one of them as a way to drive discontent. As part of that, they decided to go around and push a lot of Halloween stuff. They got decorations up, have people trying on costumes, and encouraged street food vendors to sell Halloween versions. The dalgona with the pumpkin shapes inside are particularly popular.
I decided to get out ahead of it by changing skin color back and making a big deal about how accepted the people have made me feel after their last ruler was an alien. I gave a little, sure. In my defense, they managed to get all sorts of innocuous decorations placed all over my city. That’s a level of organization to keep an eye on.
That long explanation for my current appearance out of the way, we return to our regularly-scheduled encounter with a privateer.
Harpoon looked me up and down in his helmet, which might actually have more to do with the limitations of his helmet than my cute dress. “Please pardon my tardiness. A lot of people I know in the navy weren’t sure what to do or where to go when everything happened.”
“That’s what I have an anmnesty for. Though I thought I had a submarine, too.” I looked around the underwater military dock. Many people dream of having a cave with minions and submarines in it. I actually possess one. I know I have Harpoon’s ship, which looks like a World War II-era submarine, but gleaming. The prow rose out of the water in that wedge shape with a flat top to it, as opposed to the more rounded or even cigar-shaped modern ones. It had a figurehead in the form of an angry woman holding a trident in front of her. Some ships cut the water; this one threatened to stab it.
One of the nearby seamen stopped whatever he was wiggling about and doing to answer me, “It is a long story, Empress.” I looked over at the submarine in question. It had several dents in its rounded hull and a mural on the side of a bunch of women lounging around naked. Somebody had written “Welcome aboard, sailor,” above the scene in Japanese. A naked seaman was being carried off the boat.
I turned to the one who had spoken to me, “I don’t suppose the captain’s available to tell me that long story?”
The seaman pointed to the naked man being carried. “The captain is currently incapacitated.”
“When he wakes up, which will be soon,” I said, staring the man in the eye. My eyes glowed red to make a point. “then let him know someone’s ass is in a sling.”
That was an innovative concept I created to help with military morale. It’s a giant sling that’s cranked back depending on the severity of the offense. There’s a target on the inner wall of the military base, as well as a healthy betting pool. The survivor pool is less healthy.
I turned back to Harpoon. I couldn’t help but imagine he was laughing his ass off under that helmet, but of course I couldn’t see it. “Would you care to inspect my vessel, the Calamitous II?” he asked.
“That’s probably a good idea,” I said. “Way too many people in this room have welcome mats tattooed to their colons for these nice shoes I’m wearing.”
Harpoon’s ship ran on a skeleton crew of people who didn’t look enthused to see any authority figure around. They didn’t really have uniforms either.
Harpoon gathered them all up in the bridge, where they lined up. I can’t exactly insult their discipline after what my own guys pulled.
“Ladies!” Harpoon said, stepping close to the guys. When he got to the women, he added, “And gentlemen. We have a job. We’re hunting the Kraken.”
“Why in god’s name? After what happened last time?” asked a big guy with a mermaid tattooed on the forearm on my side.
Harpoon walked down the line to the big man, grabbed his hair, and pulled him lower so he could slap him across the face. “We didn’t make any money last time,” said a skinny guy with a cute little button nose who held onto the big guy.
Harpoon paced. “This isn’t about money. This isn’t even about Ricca, begging your pardon.” He turned to me and bowed briefly. “This is about showing that seven-legged freak it should have killed me the first time. It took my jaw. It left me a disfigured freak!” He turned and shoved his helmeted face close to the big guy’s. “It took my life and the only way I can get it back is taking it from the beast.”
“That explains why my people put us in contact,” I told him. “I hope you’re not going to do anything like jump in to stop me anyone else from finishing it off if we get the chance.” I told him.
“I’ll see it dead. I don’t care about the fine details,” he said. “But I don’t want dead weight. If you’re coming with us, I have to know you can fight in the water. I’ve seen your armor. It looks heavy.”
“Don’t you worry about my armor. I’ll bring the pain and the cool whip. You bring the octo-pie,” I said.
“Sir!” yelled a woman with a buzz cut who stood at attention. “Permission to groan, sir!”
“Permission granted, Seadog!” said Harpoon. As one, the entire lineup facepalmed at my pun.
We set out the next day after I’d brought on plenty of supplies and fuel for our voyage. I was given a special VIP bunk reserved for kidnap victims and people who pay for transport. I stayed there and took a shot of the beer Mix N’Max sent along to help keep me level-headed. He sent along a flask of something grape-smelling he told me could either combat seasickness or blow a hole in the hull if I needed a quick escape. The Calamitous II set out from the sub pen, though, so I wasn’t concerned about the secondary feature just yet.
We spent the next couple of days on the lookout for unusually large bio-signatures. And, yesterday, we found them. It started with a single contact. It was the skinny fellow who heard it at the sonar station. “Contact!”
“What do we have, Casimir?” asked Harpoon, hopping the mid-afternoon cart of tea and scones to get closer.
“It’s not as big as I expected… no, there’s multiple ones.”
“My god…” trailed off the big guy who sat next to him. He reached over and took Casimir’s hands.
“There’s nought but one that we know of,” said Harpoon.
“They’re surfacing. This doesn’t sound right,” Casimir said.
“Helm, surface!” ordered Harpoon.
He pushed the tea cart aside where I caught it and looked around for any more of those puff pastries I liked. They’re bland, but oddly satisfying.
When we surfaced, the blank wall of bridge that showed a visual representation of the forward area instead gave us a camera visual. We found a bunch of balloon-like, pink, translucent bodies. I could vaguely make out something the color of fish-silver floating inside it. They were about the size of busses, with reaching pink legs and a ring of tentacles around each of their mouths.
“Gargantuan Scotoplanes,” Harpoon said.
“Awww!” I said, hopping the tea cart to get a closer look. “Sea piggies!”
Seadog spoke up from the doorway, “Ugh, you find them cute? They eat shit.”
“Something you have in common. I wanna keep one as a pet.” I reached up and pretended to pet one with my finger. “Cute wittle sea pig.”
“Oh Empress Psychopomp Gecko, great scourge of the gods and hunter of Kraken,” Harpoon said, interrupting my enjoyment of the giant moving sea cucumber thingies. “If you aren’t too busy wanting to hug a shit-eating sea cow, we should follow the path they took to get here and perhaps we shall find the Kraken.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, but before I could agree, a massive shrimp burst through the surface, dragging one of the sea pigs into its maw and scattering the others. “Ram the fucker! Full speed ahead! There shall be… prawnsequences!” I called out and ran out the door while everyone groaned. Seadog dodged me, which is why I ran back and pushed her over anyway, then continued on to my cabin.
It was even heavier, a solid, rounded chunk of metal that looked like a submarine in power armor form. A lot less jagged than my normal armor. I kept mentally comparing it to a medicine capsule. The only thing resembling eyes was a painted design on the top of the helmet that went along with the shark’s mouth. It resembled one of those old WW2 planes in that one regard. The whole thing was bright orange with dark grey lines running along it that did little hide the impression the pieces were one solid chunk of metal. That included the boots, though the soles also hid flippers that would extend if they were underwater. The belly had a large bump, pregnant with a turbine to help propel the suit underwater. Smaller copies were attached to the suit’s forearms. The arms themselves ended not in hands, but in pincers.
I’d had it brought on board with some of my regular Riccan sailors who had adapted some of the improvements of materials into their diving suits. They were still frog men, but they were frog men who could take a hit and dish it out with automatic harpoon guns. They took a lot longer to get ready than I did. Shoot, I had time to run, jump up the latter, and get out the door of the Calamitous II before it dove. The Shrimpzilla had already begun to sink down.
The turbines on my arms and belly muscled me through the water. It became even easier as the suit in its entirely began to glow orange from a larger energy sheathe. It didn’t collect as well due to constantly being used on the water, but it helped me make good progress as I headed right between the eye stalks of the giant shrimp. The glow disappeared as I burst through the exoskeleton and into the shrimp’s head.
It shook with pain, which sent me bouncing like a pinball in the gooey organ I assumed it called a brain. Writhing in pain didn’t help from the opening soon left it a proper mess, until it stopped.
“Gecko, this is Harpoon, do you read me?” said my radio.
“Harpoon, ten four, roger roger good buddy. This is Empress Gecko and I got a cat on a hot tin roof here, over and out. Haulin’ a load of guacamole out of New Mexico and wishin’ I had some tacos from Old Mexico, if you know what I mean.”
“Easy, underwater trucker,” Harpoon responded. “Somewhere in all that eating and lobotomizing, something person-sized got knocked loose. It has a heartbeat. You might see if it’s someone worth saving before meeting us on the surface.”
As crazy as it sounded, I did indeed find someone alive down there after my fight with the monstrous prawn that just devoured the bus-sized sea pig. He was trying to swim away with a broken arm. It was a man in an outfit that seamlessly faded from teal to blue. He had a dark-colored belt, and something stuck in it. I couldn’t see due to all the gunk coating my armor by the time I found my way back to freedom from the crustacean’s crusty brain. “Hey!” I called through my suit’s speakers. “Halt in the name of breakin’ the law!”
The man spun around and pulled free from his belt what a zoom showed to be a coral sword. “Accost me not, surface dweller. I, the mighty Sword Fish, have little patience now that I have been freed from the belly of that accursed shrimp.”
Sword Fish rings a bell. A regular man in a special suit and a love of swordplay with exotic weapons. He was officially labeled a villain after one too many run-ins with the U.S. Coast Guard. “Where are you going?” I asked.
“Anywhere that’s away from these things, but I thank you for your concern and aid. If there is any way I can repay you in the future…”
He trailed off, leaving me to clap all four hands in a clanging sound. “Oooh, I know! Any idea where the Kraken lives or even sleeps?”
He clenched his lips. Yeah, his tights showed off his mouth. It covered his nose at least. “Why on Earth would you want to find that lair?” he asked.
“I’m gonna kill it!” I said. Then I pointed back to the giant prawn with one hand. “And I think I just found us some bait for the fishing line.”