Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIII

by George Gauthier

Chapter 8

The Giant Kraken!

"Good morning, Sailing Master Crawley," Liam greeted his old comrade in arms.

"I see that we are we still traversing this huge warm current which is pushing us westward even as we sail south."

"Yes, but we won't be in it for much longer now, Liam. Reports from aerial scouts indicate we will soon pass out of the current and into a region of calm seas with deep blue water of exceptional clarity. They estimate underwater visibility at 200 feet. Strangely there are clumps of floating seaweed everywhere even though we are nowhere near land."

"What do you make of this current, Crawley? It is fast, a steady five knots, fifty miles wide, and my water magic tells me that it is two to three thousand feet deep. That would make the flow of this river in the sea greater that the flow of all the rivers on land."

"You don't say."

The sailors of the flotilla had not yet realized but they had crossed the boundary of great gyre in the ocean, a counter-clockwise circulation that encompassed a huge expanse of sea twelve hundred miles east to west and six-hundred north to south.

"Calm seas sounds good to me."

"Ah Liam, that shows that you are still something of a landlubber at heart for all the time that you have sailed with us. Calm seas mean there is no wind to ruffle the surface. We might soon find ourselves becalmed and have to ask our weather wizards to whistle up a wind to fill our sails."

"Well, that is why they are aboard, weather wizards, to call a wind, to calm a storm, or just to predict the weather. That includes me too, since I am as much a weather wizard as I am a water wizard."

"You war wizards are actually four or five kinds of wizards or mages rolled into one. You yourself are a strong fetcher, excellent at magical concealment, and much better these days at repeatedly generating white fire."

Most war wizards could hurl a blast of subatomic plasma called white fire only two or three times on a given day then had to wait for their magic to recharge. Liam could now do it seven or eight times. The same mental disciplines which Sir Willet have devised to help Karel had strengthened Liam as well.

White fire [the plasma at the heart of the sun] was the ultimate weapon. Nothing could resist it: no armor, no walls of stone, no earthen berm, nothing. White fire attacked matter at a fundamental level disintegrating it, reducing everything to a cloud of highly energetic subatomic particles. During the war in Amazonia Liam had destroyed a column of troll reinforcements four thousand strong with white fire. Even stronger now, his ability with white fire made Liam potentially one of the most destructive persons on the planet, though still behind Count Taitos Klarendes who could hurl white fire indefinitely, though no one was sure why only he could.

A day after entering the great gyre, the Albacore was launched to explore the ecosystem hosted by the floating seaweed. Lines of the weed stretched for miles along the ocean surface, kept afloat by air bladders, nodules the size of a grape filled with air.

Small creatures of all kinds sought sustenance or shelter amid the weed including a very odd fish, six or seven inches long and camouflaged to resemble the floating seaweed; its body and fins were covered with weed-like protrusions while its skin was mottled and spotted yellow, green, and brown though it could change color rapidly. The camouflage concealed the fish from its prey for it was a voracious ambush predator and a cannibal.

The submersible was about a mile from the flotilla which was poking along on reduced sail. The zoologist Evander Blok had his face pressed to a porthole observing a giant oarfish feeding on krill. One of the stranger denizens of the deep, the oarfish was named for its narrow ribbon-like shape. It was the longest boney fish in the sea. This specimen stretched more than sixty feet.

"They grow them big way out here." Drew Altair observed.

"Indeed, the phenomenon is called deep-sea gigantism for the giant species characteristic of the deep sea: the oarfish, the deepwater stingray, and the spider crab. This expedition is our first chance to see the phenomenon at first hand. Some of my colleagues dismiss reports of giant creatures as tall tales of drunken sailors, but I always thought there really might be very large creatures in the outer ocean. After all, we of the Commonwealth really know so little of the oceans."

"Oh, oh." Jemsen interrupted. "Something is approaching, something big."

"How big?" Liam wondered.

"It's hard to be sure about size without something nearby to compare it with, but it is much larger than our submersible. It could easily be as large as a naval vessel."

"A whale then?"

"No, I don't think so. Its shape keeps changing in an odd way."

"Maybe it's Aodh's Kraken." his twin joked. Holding his hands up and wriggling his fingers Karel told them:

"Writhing tentacles would explain the shape changes, right? Maybe we should get out of here while we still can."

"Let's not scoot away just yet." Evander Blok urged. "I really need to take a look at that thing, whatever it is. It might be a whole new species."

"Famous last words." Karel quipped, only half in jest. His twin shared his unease.

"I've got a bad feeling about this too."

Drew asked how fast the creature was moving.

"Maybe eight knots, which is twice as fast as we usually cruise."

Liam shrugged.

"Maybe so but our slow cruising speed is deliberate, to allow for unhurried observation. Don't worry. It we have to move fast, we can do it. With two powerful fetchers to propel her, we can drive the Albacore through the water at maybe sixty knots. That is over a mile a minute to you landlubbers."

"We may have to." Blok told them. "The literature says that both the giant octopus and the colossal squid can move really fast. They fill a cavity in their mantle with water then contract muscles to squeeze water through a siphon to propel themselves at high speed with a water jet."

As if the creature had heard Blok it engaged its water jet and closed with the submersible before anyone could react, grabbing the vessel with two very long tentacles, then pulling itself in close to hold it with its eight arms.

As Blok later explained appendages with suckers along most of their length were called arms. Those with suckers only near the end were called tentacles. So technically an octopus had eight arms and no tentacles while a squid had eight arms plus two tentacles.

With all ten appendages around the submersible it was trying to figure out what kind of creature this was, shaped like a fish but with a hard shell. Its normal diet was large finny fish like tuna and sharks which it tore apart with a beak shaped rather like that of a parrot.

"It's a colossal squid all right. The body alone must be one-hundred-forty feet long. It uses the two long tentacles to grab and the eight arms to hang on while it kills its prey with its beak."

"I can make it let go of us by delivering a jolt through a lightning rod. Unless someone has a better idea..."

"Don't look at me," Jemsen said shaking his head. "I'm an earth wizard so I am wholly out of my element."

"Me, too," Karel said. "An air wizard can't do much underwater."

"And while I may be a war wizard," Liam admitted. "I cannot bring my powers into play -- not while I am sealed inside this submersible."

"It looks like Axel was right!" Drew exclaimed. "Maybe there is a rule which says that any time we run into monsters, we won't be in a position to bring our strongest powers to bear. The first time was with the dragon, the second with the mosasaur, and now third time's the charm with this damned Kraken."

"We'll find a way, rules or no rules," Karel told him confidently.

"Can the chatter!" Blok told them. "Liam and Drew get ready to go all out. After I give it a good jolt to make it let go, take us out of here as fast as you can."

Blok grabbed the handle of one of the lightning rods and sent a charge at the squid. The zoologist did not want to kill it outright, and he wasn't sure that he even could, it was that huge. So he throttled back to less than a maximum electrical discharge, hitting the beast with just enough of a jolt to make it let go -- which it did, as much startled as injured.

Seizing their opportunity the fetcher duo put on a burst of speed and shot away from the squid. That gave them a head start, but it came after them, turning backwards to trail its tentacles while it engaged its water jet.

"Damn, it's catching up." Jemsen reported.

"Maximum speed," Liam told him, but even their concerted efforts could not push the submersible fast enough. Hydrodynamic hull or not, the Albacore just was not built for speed. Nor did the squid give any sign of tiring.

"This isn't going to work." Karel cried. "Water is hundreds of times denser than air. We need to take her up and fly through the air. You guys are strong enough to hold her up, aren't you?"

"You want the two of us to make this heavy submersible fly through the air? That's a mighty tall order." Drew told him.

"It's our best chance and maybe our only one." Jemsen pointed out. "And once we are in the air, Karel can direct an air blade at the monster."

Grabbing handholds for a better link to their vessel, the two fetchers concerted their powers and headed for the surface. They burst out of the water and took to the sky reaching for altitude but not quite fast enough. One of the long grabber tentacles reached out and wrapped itself around the stern of the submersible.

Karel used a hastily formed air blade to cut them free, slicing off the end of the grabber. Though the air blade did not have a monomolecular edge, it was still sharp enough to do the job largely because it pressed through boneless flesh against the hull. Freed from the monster's grip, the submersible flew up leveling off at four hundred feet, the club end of the tentacle impaled on the spike at the stern.

Holding her aloft by sheer telekinetic force the fetchers turned the Albacore around and headed for the carrier. In their underwater run they had been heading away from the flotilla which now lay six miles in the opposite direction.

Lookouts on the ships could not really make out what was happening till the Albacore got close enough to be recognized. That was when the crews realized that what was flying at them was no aerocraft at all but the submersible. Heads swiveled to follow her flight as she approached abeam of the aerocraft carrier and landed heavily on the flight deck with a loud thunk. That brought the flight operations officer running, righteous in his wrath which he vented on the crew of the Albacore as they crawled out the hatch.

"What the hell do you think you are doing cluttering my flight deck with a damn submersible? Get that thing outta here."

"Sorry, sir" Liam told him, "but this was an emergency. We had a Kraken on our tail."

"A Kraken? You mean a monster out of legend? No way in hell!"

"Then what is that thing impaled on the stern spike?" Blok asked. "It is obviously the flattened club or tip of a grabber tentacle of a colossal squid."

"By Hercules' pizzle, it's exactly what you said it was! Look at the size of that thing! All right. I'll grant you that your story is true, but we really need to clear the flight deck."

Tired though they were, Liam and Drew lifted the submersible and laid it atop the rear elevator which lowered it to the hanger deck where a pair of pilots pushed it out of the way telekinetically. Meanwhile the crew of the Albacore reported to the captain of the carrier, Commander Wright King.

That worthy listened to their story with incredulity till Liam told him flatly.

"Look, this is not a joke. We did not land a submersible on your flight deck as a prank. Nor would I, as a naval officer awarded both the Shield and the Sword of the Commonwealth, ever intentionally deceive a superior officer."

"And don't look now," Jemsen added, "but the Kraken has turned toward the flotilla, though currently it is just swimming toward us, not jetting through the water on an attack run."

His mind made up Commander King sent his ship to general quarters. The rest of the flotilla followed suit, even before they got an infrasound message to explain things.

"You five had better hop over to the flagship and brief the commodore. I can have an autogyro ferry you over."

"Thank you sir, but there is no need. After our exertions Liam and I are fairly well tuckered out but not so much that we cannot hop the short distance over to the Cormorant on our own power."

The twins held onto Liam while Evander Blok held Drew as the two fetchers lifted themselves by their flying yokes and sped over to the flagship.

Commodore Dekker and his flag Captain Commander Dahlgren accepted their story immediately and at face value. But then, Liam especially was a known quantity.

"I hope you won't have to destroy the Kraken." Blok urged him fervently.

"We will if it continues its approach. From what you tell me, it's big enough to be a threat to all our ships, even the Sovereign of the Seas. Once it wraps its ten tentacles around a ship's masts it can capsize it dumping the crew into the sea, easy prey for its ravenous hunger. Let me tell you that no damn squid is going to feed on sailors of the Navy of the Commonwealth. Not on my watch, it isn't."

Blok let pass without comment the layman's confounding of cephalopod tentacles with arms.

The plan the officers came up with was to engage first with Long Lance torpedoes. Propelled telekinetically and guided by a sounder, they would spear into the flesh of the monster and very likely kill it. If that attack failed, their both war wizards plus war mages orbiting overhead in autogyros would wait for the creature to surface then attack with white fire and levin bolts. One cocky war mage aboard the Cormorant bragged that his ball lightning would auger a pair of holes four feet wide right through the creature.

It was not really possible that even a monster as large as the Kraken could survive such attacks and get through to the ships, but, just in case, Karel firmed up a parabolic sun mirror which would focus the rays of the sun into a heat beam which would cook the colossal squid like a lobster boiled in a pot.

So the monster would surely die before it reached the final line of defenses, those against hostile boarders, composed of swivel guns, air guns, and edged disks with firecasters standing by to hurl streams of flame or great clinging balls of fire, something they very much hoped to avoid given the threat of fire to wooden sailing vessels.

Unfortunately, as long as it stayed underwater the frigates' main anti-shipping armaments, their magnetic cannon, were useless. Nor could the ship depress their barrels low enough to engage the Kraken even if it surfaced close to the ship.

Commodore Dekker told them.

"Too bad about your pet monster, boys, but we dare not take chances. As for you Evander Blok, you will always be celebrated as the man who went mano a mano with a mighty Kraken and lived to tell the tale. You too, Karel."

Just then a yeoman handed the commodore a note. He read it first with a frown, then with raised eyebrows, and finally a bemused smile. He explained:

"There is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that the druid reports that the Kraken is too enraged for him to turn it away from its pursuit of the Albacore. It is one thing to influence the creature when it was only curious about the Albacore. It is quite another after it had suffered both a strong electric shock and amputation of the tip of a tentacle."

"The good news is that it looks like your friend the shape shifter has thought of a way to fend the Kraken off long enough for the flotilla to get away. We might not have to kill it after all."

Maybe it was easier for a landlubber to think outside the box, but Aodh's idea was for the water wizards to push the Kraken away with a fast-moving current strong enough to counter even its jet propulsion. If they could just fend off the monster, the flotilla could sail away without killing it.

Aodh later told them that the germ of his idea was Liam's stories about Dekker's own standing wave tactic which he devised to keep troll longships at bay and unable to close with and board his old ship the Petrel.

"All right." Dekker decided. "But we will combine Aodh's suggestion with our defensive plan. If the current can halt the Kraken, fine. If not, the fetchers and sounders controlling the Long Lance torpedoes will guide them into the current, using its speed for even greater momentum and spear the squid. Problem solved."

Aodh's tactic worked. Infrasound messaging allowed the water wizards in the flotilla to concert their powers and generate a current moving toward the Kraken as fast as its own water jet could propel it, bringing it to a standstill. The beast tried to break out of the counter-current, but the wizards kept it hemmed in. Finally, tired from its earlier exertions and loss of blood and in pain from its injuries the Kraken broke off its attack run.

When told that the Kraken had given up its attack, the commodore nodded sagely.

"In truth it is we who are the interlopers in these seas, and I think we have troubled the poor beast quite enough. Let it be."

Dekker's order was passed via infrasound messaging to the water wizards:

"Release the Kraken!"

Once the current stopped pushing it away the colossal squid drifted along nursing its wound. Unlike with a sea star, its kind did not regrow amputated appendages, but it would get by just fine nevertheless.

From then on the aerial scouts had orders to keep their eyes peeled for Kraken and any other monsters this calm blue sea might throw at the flotilla. Sounders kept vigil at night.

Months later, after the Corps of Discovery returned to base, the Navy awarded Aodh its Exemplary Service Medal which was given in recognition of an ingenious solution to a vexing problem rather than for valor in combat or success in command. Previous winners had devised a speedy pallet system to replace the slow break-bulk system of loading supplies, an improved system of personnel records using notched cards to keep track of skills and abilities like languages and magical gifts, and more secure ciphers for secret communications.

Thanks in large part to Drew Altair's reporting, it wasn't long before the Exemplary Service Medal acquired a nickname: the Order of the Kraken.

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