Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the rewrite of Deep, one of my first attempts at web fiction on GRP. Unfortunately, due to its considerable length, I was forced to abandon the project and focus more on articles and shorter forms of fiction. I write this now as a way to appease the few readers who have followed the story when it was still in its original form on GRP.
And yes, before I begin proper, I’d like to apologize if it took too long for me to put this together.
|SUPPORT INDEPENDENT SOCIAL COMMENTARY!|
Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Again, this is a collaborative work with considerable input from my apprentice. So for things that you like, you can thank my apprentice and, for any mistakes, you can blame me.
Now sit tight and be quiet, I hope you’ve brought your swimsuit and snorkel because we’re going to get wet!
The U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was steaming across the Philippine Sea when it was contacted by local authorities regarding a cruise ship known as the Prosperina that had gone missing. There was scant information on what actually happened but from what could be said, it was almost like the many disappearances that often happened in the Bermuda Triangle. At one moment they were there and then the next they vanished without a trace and didn’t even manage to send out a call for help.
The U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and her crew were determined in the effort to search for the Prosperina and any who might have survived whatever happened to her. If the cruise liner had been claimed by another maritime disaster, it would probably one of the Philippines’ worst tragedies at sea as it held more than 3,500 passengers and crew. While their search seemed fruitless at first, on the third day of searching, they managed to find an intact lifeboat with at least a dozen survivors that had come from the Prosperina.
The crew of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan were overjoyed with relief upon their discovery of the lifeboat and immediately brought aboard those who were on it.
A gruff, middle-aged man seemed to be the leader of survivors and he carried himself with an air of dignity that made some aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan assume that he had a military background. Of course, being freshly rescued from what was probably a terrible tragedy, the crew allowed the survivors ample time to rest before prodding them with questions. What was strange though was that, unlike ordinary survivors of a maritime disaster, the survivors of the Prosperina didn’t immediately want to communicate with the outside world. They all seemed withdrawn, suspicious even, of the Ronald Reagan and her crew. At night, they tried to sleep but often failed and, when they did, they would almost always be plagued by nightmares.
Finally, almost five days after their rescue, the captain of the Ronald Reagan Captain Gary Tate, decided to start asking questions.
He called for the leader of the survivors, the middle-aged gentleman who looked after the other survivors almost like a religious leader of some kind, to his quarters. The captain knew it was against regulations but he knew that the survivors had probably been through a lot and decided that perhaps they deserved a break and brought out a bottle of whiskey. He also took out a box of cigars which he placed on an ornate table in the center of his quarters.
When the gruff man came in, Captain Tate turned on the recorder and the interview began…
Chapter 1: Introductions
Tate: Good evening. (Takes one of the seats around the table.) I hope you and your companions don’t mind the food around here. We’ve been at sea for a while so we haven’t stocked up on any fresh supplies.
Gruff Man: Oh on the contrary, we loved it. (Looks around the captain’s quarters, both curious and wary at the same time.) To be honest, I never thought I’d get to eat such delicious food ever again.
Tate: I know the feeling. Surviving a big disaster makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. Make you think about whether you made the right choices in your life.
Gruff Man: Know the drill, eh?
Tate: I was off duty and with my family when Hurricane Katrina struck. Lost my home and a lot of stuff. Almost lost my family too but thank God for small favors.
Gruff Man: You believe in God, captain?
Tate: Yeah, pretty much. Methodist, me and my family.
Gruff Man: (Smiles and takes a seat.)
Tate: Anyway, I’m Captain Gary Tate, captain of the Ronald Reagan. My men and I assumed you were in charge of your group so that’s why I had you brought here to my quarters. I know that you and the others are probably itching to get back to dry land-
Gruff Man: Boy, are we! (Laughs.)
Tate: (Smiles.) So we figured we’d get some questions answered before we turned you back over to the Philippine Coast Guard.
Gruff Man: So, it’s time for questions, eh? Well then, I’m sure you want to know who you’re talking to first. My name is Leo Sebastian and, I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself the leader of our group, but I guess the label fits. I dunno, guess it’s because I look the part.
Tate: Yeah, my men take that you’re military. Are you?
Sebastian: (Pauses and muses before answering.) I… Used to be. Philippine Army major. And a chaplain.
Tate: Wow, soldier and holy man. What denomination?
Sebastian: Catholic. (Laughs.) So what kind of story do you want to hear?
Tate: Eh? Of course, what really happened? How did you and the others survive?
Sebastian: That’s kind of hard.
Tate: And why would it be hard?
Sebastian: I think you’d have trouble believing it.
Tate: (Laughs.) If you only knew Major… Um, Father… Mr. Sebastian. I’ve had experiences that I doubt you’d find believable as well. Truth is, there were some big people on the Prosperina that both the U.S. and Philippine government want to know about. I’m getting a dozen calls regarding the fate of Jaime Lanella, the boxing world champion and, apparently, a member of the Philippine senate. Then there’s Governor Abner Pukino who happens to be the son of the late former president Corina Pukino and, while a lot of people hate him, people in the media would like to know about his fate since he and his family are well connected with the most prolific TV station in the Philippines.
Sebastian: (Shakes his head and laughs.) How about I give you two stories.
Tate: (Baffled.) And?
Sebastian: You pick the one you think is best to report.
Tate: Sounds fair. So what’s the first?
Sebastian: We got caught by a freak storm. It’s one of the worst ones we’ve seen in recent history. It tore the ship apart, accompanied by powerful and devastating freak waves. It made quick work of the Prosperina, ripping the hull open and blowing away people caught in the open into the raging sea. Me and the others? We were lucky. We survived and you rescued us.
Tate: That’s kind of simple.
Sebastian: It is and that’s why I think you’ll find it more believable.
Tate: Hmph. Well, life is never simple Mr. Sebastian, as I’ve come to discover. Our history teachers might oversimplify the way things happened in the past but they are in no way right, you know? If anything, I’ve come to believe that life is as complicated as fuck and, if you’re a God-fearing man, one of the reasons you’re on God’s green Earth is to try and make sense of the clusterfuck our world has become and do what we think is best.
Sebastian: (Laughs.) That’s a way of putting it.
Tate: So tell me the other story.
Sebastian: You sure, captain?
Tate: Take your time Chaplain… Uh, Mr. Sebastian. We got all the time in the world.
Chapter 2: Departure
Sebastian: Let’s start with the beginning, shall we?
Tate: Good as any and Winnie the Pooh would agree with you…
Sebastian: Actually, I’m more of a Snoopy fan…
Tate: Oh. Okay, go on.
Sebastian: Anyway, I recently resigned my post from the military and I also filed my resignation from the Catholic Church. I was going to go from Cebu to Manila aboard the Prosperina and then I planned on meeting my brother in the capital. He has a gym, you see, and since we both share a military background, I thought he’d be happy to see me.
On the way aboard the ship, I caught sight of Pukino and his sister Christie. I never liked celebrities or politicians. In case you didn’t know captain, they’re almost one and the same in my country.
Anyway, I gave the two a wide berth. Like I said, I don’t like them and I like their rabid fans even less. Christie was as snobbish as ever with her upturned nose and dismissive expression but I could tell she gained some satisfaction from all the attention she was getting. Abner was smiling, no, grinning as if he couldn’t see the people around him as his sister led him through the crowd, the light of the sun reflecting off of his balding head.
As soon as I was aboard the ship, I headed directly for the quarters I was assigned and found myself having to share a room with two men. One was a wiry young man with a knack for computers named Augusto Reyes who preferred we call him “Obet”. The other was a heavyset man of European descent who was covered in tattoos and, based on his name Nikolai Orlov and his thick, Eastern-European accent, was Russian. While they seemed very different, they were quite friendly towards me and each other.
After getting my stuff stored away. I decided to go outside and have a smoke. That’s when I first saw Jaime Lanella, boxing champion and, as you have confirmed, a senator of the Philippines.
Tate: Did you ask for his autograph? (Smiles.)
Sebastian: No, he was busy. He was uh… Kissing someone.
Tate: Oh. But wait, Mrs. Lanella wasn’t on the ship. She’s one of the people asking about him now.
Sebastian: You’re right. The woman Senator Lanella was kissing was most assuredly not his wife. She was the actress Marie Nieva.
Tate: Wait, I’m no expert on your celebrities, okay? Shit, I don’t even give a rat’s ass about folks in Hollywood save for Morgan Freeman and maybe Will Ferrell. But isn’t that actress also married. Her husband’s one of the people asking about the survivors of the Prosperina.
Sebastian: Indeed she is. Married, I mean. That’s why left before they could spot me and before they started removing items of clothing from themselves.
It was also then that I spotted the stowaway.
Sebastian: Well, that’s what we thought he was. He was a little boy dressed in rags. I first saw him that day before the ship left port, climbing over the railing on the side of the ship.
I shouted at the kid to be careful and he started in surprise. The kid only looked at me but then ran off. I tried to go after him, but he quickly disappeared before I could talk to him.
Before the sun set, we were off. None of us had any idea what was waiting for us out in the open sea.
Chapter 3: The Storm
Sebastian: If there is any similarity between the two stories, there is the fact that both had storms in them.
Tate: But they were still different, weren’t they?
Sebastian: Yes, they weren’t. This storm was different, if it could even be called that at all.
I didn’t get to see much of anything as I was in my bunk at the time. It was night and I was fast asleep, dreaming of… Unpleasant memories. Then the ship shook and everything went dark.
Soon enough, my roommates, Obet and Nikolai, came rushing in, dripping wet with seawater.
Apparently a storm had hit us along with some freak wave. Worse yet, a bolt of lightning had also struck the ship, shutting down everything. The engine would never work again no matter how hard the crew tried to get it working again. We were dead in the water. Not only did the ship’s communication system stopped working but none of our phones, laptops and tablets could reach the outside world. It was like the storm had some kind of “electromagnetic” properties, as Dr. Nunez put it, that messed with anything and everything electronic. But that wasn’t the only problem we had. Even mechanical clocks stopped working altogether.
Tate: Wait, even if this lightning bolt has electromagnetic properties, it can’t shut down mechanical devices. Electromagnetism doesn’t work that way.
Sebastian: I’d have to agree with you but it’s the best explanation Dr. Nunez can offer. Then again, that’s the least irrational thing that happened to us out there, captain. How long were we gone, anyway? Haven’t noticed the calendars.
The storm above us prevented us from telling the time correctly. It kept us in a perpetual twilight that was occasionally lit by bursts of lightning. It was just dark enough to be evening but at the same time bright enough to be morning. It was like this all the time so there was no real way that we could tell what time it was.
Tate: It took us one week and about two or three days before we found you.
Sebastian: That all, eh? Well for us, it was a lot longer. Of course, it really might have been a week like you said, but it felt longer than that. Much longer. What might’ve been an hour felt like a day. What felt like an hour might’ve been a day. I don’t really know how long we were gone but it was long enough for us to deplete our food. Of course, that comes later.
At first, things seemed like they could be okay. A lull before the real storm. Hah, that’s a good metaphor. Anyway, there was the dark sky above and the deep darkness within the ship’s hold thanks to the lack of light but, for a while at least, it looks like things would be alright.
It was around then that I first met Dr. Nunez.
Tate: Oh, the pretty doctor lady… I suppose that’s why you’re reluctant to call yourself a priest again, eh?
Sebastian: Nah, she’s a lesbian. She has a partner in Manila she was going to meet. (Laughs.) Besides, captain, don’t you think I’m too old.
Anyway, I first met her when she was having an argument with Governor Pukino’s sister Christie. I don’t know because she’s pretty much a “nobody” outside the Philippines but Christie’s kind of a big star in our country although I don’t even know why she qualifies as a “star”.
Tate: Well, I have heard of her. She’s a talk show host, right? She did an interview with the guy playing the Blue Beetle in the comic book movie. I saw that, big fan of the Blue Beetle myself. But I think the woman talked too much about herself rather than about the actor.
Sebastian: That she did, captain. Anyway, I first saw Dr. Nunez having a fierce argument with Christie. Apparently, the TV show host was abusing one of her maids according to the good doctor. And while Ms. Pukino might deny it, I would never put it past her.
Anyway, from what the doctor told me, the maid had somehow misplaced Ms. Pukino’s makeup kit. The woman might’ve looked like firecrackers on TV but, without her trusty makeup kit, she looked pretty much like the oversexed and overstressed fifty year-old woman that she really was. I suppose she felt vulnerable without her makeup which isn’t really surprising as people would likely ignore her without it.
Tate: I figured that.
Sebastian: Well, Ms. Pukino was beating her maid with a plunger in the women’s room. She was calling her all kinds of insults and telling her how useless she was even though Ms. Pukino wasn’t known for being self-efficient. Dr. Nunez was just going to wash her face in the rest room when she saw what was happening.
The maid, Mrs. Julio I think her name was, had already sustained some bruises on her face and a bloody nose but it was clear Ms. Pukino wasn’t going to stop there. Dr. Nunez tried to do what she thought was right and called out the Governor’s sister on the spot. She told her how she had absolutely no right to abuse her own staff and that how could she expect them to do their work properly if she was treating them so poorly.
As expected, Ms. Pukino told the good doctor to mind her own business.
That is of course when the captain of the Prosperina stepped in. Bartolomeo, I think his name was, thank the Lord for him and may God keep his soul. A crowd had already begun to gather around the scene and even Senator Lanella and Governor Pukino were present. Captain Bartolomeo told us the value of cooperation and that, if we wanted to survive, we would have to cooperate and make a solid plan that would ensure our continued survival.
That way, Captain Bartolomeo got us focused on a goal and, at the same time, broke up a possible conflict. While it was noble, it didn’t exactly have any lasting effect on the people involved and it only served to divide the people aboard the Prosperina further.
That night, while I slept in our candle-lit quarters and while my roommates played chess, we had an unlikely visitor. It was the stowaway boy I told you about. I woke up the minute he showed himself in the doorway.
Nikolai, or “Nick” as we’ve started calling him, offered the boy some food in the form of crackers. We still had food at the time but it was starting to dwindle, and fast.
However, it seemed that the stowaway wasn’t interested in food and came only to tell us something.
“Do not go into the water for that is where he waits.” The stowaway said and disappeared into the darkness of the corridors of the ship.
Nick, Obet and I only looked at each other in puzzlement and the first two went back to their chess match and I went back to sleep and dreamed troubled dreams. It wouldn’t be until later that we would understand what the stowaway had meant.
Chapter 4: The One That Waited in the Water
Tate: So what did the boy mean?
Sebastian: (Hesitates.) Like everything else, it’s a little hard to explain.
Tate: Oh, c’mon.
Sebastian: Okay, we went to the upper decks for a breath of fresh air. Of course, with the thick cloud cover, it was still quite dark but it was better than what we had in the hold with just candles to light our way in the near perfect darkness.
The waters around the ship, despite the darkness above us, were quite calm and seemed almost peaceful. However, it wasn’t until a foolish young celebrity couple dove into the waters that we understood what the stowaway was trying to warn us about.
The couple I’m talking about are well-celebrated in our country and are widely known for traveling across the streets of Manila in their show. Now, everyone probably knows that they’re not a couple in real life and that they’re not as wholesome as some people might think when off-camera. Indeed, based on what Dr. Nunez found on their bodies later, they were both high on crystal meth when they took their plunge into the sea.
For a while nothing happened. It was just the ship’s staff shouting at them to get out of the water and the couple replying with insults. Then, almost as if on cue, something or somethings seized the two.
First they just acted surprised and then they began to scream in fear and in pain. I was among the first to dive into the water to rescue them and, while there were a lot of us and while we tried to be as fast as we possibly could, we were still too late. However, we wouldn’t realize what had happened until we brought the two aboard the ship again.
Dr. Nunez was about to perform CPR with the help of some of the ship’s crew when they saw the strange wounds on them. All over their lower bodies were what appeared to be deep cuts that were exuding some kind of whitish slime that kept them from bleeding profusely. Dr. Nunez tried to take a closer look at the wounds when something burst out of them.
Worms. Or at least, I thought they were worms. Dr. Nunez called them “hagfish” but that wasn’t what they were either. The common slime eel was a scavenger species that never preyed on healthy prey, but these were still very similar creatures. Their soft bodies slithered out of the open wounds of the couple and each was roughly as thick as a man’s thumb and their slimy bodies at least half a foot long. They left a trail of thick, viscous slime wherever they slithered. What made them even more unnerving where their eyes and mouths which Dr. Nunez informed me did not exist on living specimens of hagfish or slime eels. These had a pair of small but very human-like eyes that rolled around and stared at us as well as human-like teeth and jaws which were wreathed in stubby, wriggling tentacles.
We all jumped back in disgust and Obet, who had been quietly observing the incident, began to vomit. Despite being legless and having soft-bodies, the “hagfish” were really fast and moved off the ship before we could capture one and study it. Then again, considering what they were, it was better that we didn’t get a closer look at one.
It wasn’t until later that I learned that just about everyone had been warned not to go into the water by the stowaway. While they wouldn’t admit to it, both Pukino and Lanella seemed to have seen the boy too and were thus incredibly uneasy about the whole affair. Soon enough, we all retreated back into the ship’s lower decks and it was there that our divisive ways took hold on us.
Chapter 5: Factions
Tate: “Divisive ways” ? What do you mean?
Sebastian: We began dividing ourselves into factions.
There were those who thought that our problems were a natural occurrence and that, sooner or later, a rescue would come. These people adhered to the idea that “positive thinking” would save them and that they needed to stay happy throughout our ordeal. This mostly appealed to the more affluent of the ship’s passengers and were led by the Pukino siblings. They stayed somewhere in the stern or back of the ship where most of the supplies were. They drank themselves silly with liquors, sang loudly and quickly devoured any food that they could find. However, these delusionals were none too keen to share their “positivity” with everyone else. They actively shunned people they considered “negative” and believed that it was those they believed to be “negative thinkers” who brought the misfortune that came upon the Prosperina. They often refused to speak to anyone that wasn’t part of their faction for fear that negative thoughts would corrupt them and make the situation worse.
Then there were those who turned to religiosity to explain their situation. Note that I say “religiosity” and not “religion”. Look, I might not be a priest anymore but I’ve never really given up my faith completely. However, the approach these others took were beyond what could be termed as normal. Led by Jaime Lanella, these people believed that what was happening to us was a punishment or trial from God and that we needed to pray and repent if we wanted to be saved. Strangely enough, while their goal was to redeem themselves in the eyes of God, Jaime Lanella himself didn’t put much effort into atoning for his own sins. Instead he directed people in their activities, believing himself to be some kind of prophet after the Virgin Mary had appeared in his dreams. The “god beggars” as Dr. Nunez came to dub them, spent most of their time praying in the bow or front of the ship and things would only go downhill from there.
Tate: What faction did you belong to Mr. Sebastian?
Sebastian: We had our own faction, a third one. We mostly stayed in the center of the ship and our members were mostly composed of crew members and other passengers who wanted to find a way to make rescue easier or rescue ourselves if need be. Together, we pooled resources and made plans to escape.
Among the options we discussed was taking a lifeboat and using it to escape. While we would make slow progress and the darkness that filled the sky all around, it was far better than just waiting for help that would probably never come. Captain Bartolomeo kept calling me “father” even though I made it clear that I was no longer a priest and, while I often found it annoying, I trusted the man’s wisdom and experience. He was a religious man and he seemed to believe that once a priest, always a priest, for some reason. Anyway, I didn’t much care at the time. All I knew was that Captain Bartolomeo had a clearer mind than Senator Lanella and that he presented a more realistic solution than Governor Pukino and that captain, was enough for me.
I don’t know how long since we started gathering in the middle of the ship but not long after that, we began to run short on food.
Tate: Did you try to cooperate with the other factions?
Sebastian: We… Tried.
However, it was quite clear that they weren’t interested in helping us or getting off the ship. The god beggars insisted that getting off the ship was an insult to God because, according to them, we were usurping God’s authority by saving ourselves instead of waiting for his divine hand. The delusionals, on the other hand, believed that making a means of escape would bring disaster upon all of us as that attracted “negative energy” and that we had to stay and wait for help.
In the end, we carried out our plans in secret. While we allowed the other two factions to do what they wanted to, we were afraid that they would sabotage our attempts to evacuate the Prosperina. Of course, it wouldn’t be until later that we’d discover how depraved the other factions would become.
Chapter 6: Tainted Bounty
Sebastian: The “delusionals” and the “god beggars” began to behave stranger and stranger as time went on. This was probably exacerbated by the lack of food and water. It seemed that the delusionals began to make liberal use of crystal meth brought over by Abner Pukino and, according to the few delusionals who came to trade with us, Christie had sex with just about anyone she could. The god beggars, on the other hand, began to fast and keep prayer vigils that were loud and echoed throughout the ship and things only got weirder from there.
Tate: So how was your lifeboat idea coming along?
Sebastian: It was a good idea but we needed to do it safely without letting the other two factions know what we were doing.
Picture us all in the middle of the ship. We all began to stay together for safety reasons and took turns watching out for the group while some of us slept. It was becoming more and more like a military operation and I could not blame any of the other for their fear. I was afraid too, you see.
We kept all the children which also included the stowaway I was talking about in the center of the room near the table where we kept lit candles and other sources of light. It was my turn to watch along with another man who happened to be the father of one of the children in the center of the room. It wasn’t long before the both of us felt like we were being watched. It was too dark though and there wasn’t anything we could see.
Next morning, we decided to ask for more candles from the delusionals. Truth be told, I thought them more personable than the god beggars who often told us to repent and join them in their prayers. Besides, the god beggars often used their candles.
We brought a box of canned food and medical supplies, the latter being a commodity we had more of than any of the other factions. Along with me were Nikolai and Dr. Nunez, one carrying the supplies we were to trade and the other carrying a candle to light our way. Soon we reached the territory of the delusionals which was loud with their dissonant singing or their drunken attempts at singing.
The delusionals were having some kind of party and they seemed to have a lot of food as could be said from the sentries who met us who were busily eating what looked like shrimp.
We were let in and soon we met the leaders of the delusionals. Abner and Christie Pukino sat like royalty in the large compartment filled with drunk and or high celebrities. Christie was probably the most noticeable thing among the crowd though. Without her makeup, it seemed Christie had resorted to improvising and using what was at hand but, in all honesty, only made things worse for the woman. The lack of food had not treated her well and she was now quite scrawny, her cheeks all empty and her eyes deep in her sockets. Her face was covered in flour, probably as a substitute for powder but it only made her look more unnerving. I don’t know what she smeared on her lips but, whatever it was, it made a very poor substitute for lipstick as it dribbled down her chin and the corners of her mouth.
At the center of the room, a great feast was taking place and on the tables. I couldn’t tell what they were eating but it looked like some kind of lobster. Dr. Nunez calls it a “crustacean” which pretty much encompasses crabs, shrimp and lobsters. However, both of us agree that whatever it was they were eating, it clearly did not appear natural and didn’t look like something that was genuinely edible.
We were told that what they were eating were creatures they had caught crawling onto the ship. They claimed that it was some kind of reward for their continued “positive thinking” and that it was a sign that, very soon, we would all be rescued. We were even offered some of their “bounties” but we politely refused and, while we tried to be really careful, it was clear that they felt offended that we didn’t want any of their food.
Of course, they were willing to trade. Once we had our bundle of candles, we left as quickly as we could. While heading back to our compartment, we discussed that further trade or any kind of contact with the delusionals was ill-advised.
We were halfway to our compartment when we heard footsteps behind us. We surmised we were being followed and Nick brought out a set of knuckle-dusters which he fit into his right hand. Dr. Nunez took out a scalpel from her bag and I finally decided to bring out something I’ve managed to keep from my time in the military: a small revolver.
Tate: Well it’s good to know that you were prepared.
Sebastian: I never actually got to use it during my career in the Philippine Army, to be honest. (Laughs.) But I felt that this was the best time to actually use it.
That time, we were lucky. Whoever was following us, they were both slow and clumsy. It was like they weren’t even trying to keep themselves hidden from us. They were shambling through the corridors of the ship toward us and, when I think about it, I think it was their “positive thinking” at work. Somehow, they seemed to think that as long as they believed they would get us, they would, one way or another. Well, this was my chance to prove that their way of thinking was wrong.
When they were close enough to be visible, I fired a warning shot with my revolver.
“Not a step closer!” I said to them and got a good look at the people shadowing us.
They were delusionals alright, we recognized them from the feast in their part of the ship. They were eyeing Dr. Nunez hungrily which was unnerving in and of itself but that wasn’t the most disturbing part either. What was definitely sickening about them was they had changed somehow.
Tate: “Changed”? What do you mean?
Sebastian: As in “changed”. Uh, Dr. Nunez would later call it “mutation”.
Tate: Oh, you mean they mutated?
Sebastian: (Nods.) I guess. One man’s arm had somehow gotten longer. So long, in fact, that he dragged his hand on the ground. A third glassy eye had also opened on his cheek right below his eye. One of his companions had a long tongue that dangled between his feet and his face had… Uh… It could no longer looked human. His hair, eyes, ears and nose were gone. All that remained of his face was his now wide mouth on an otherwise featureless head. The third man was perhaps the strangest and most disturbing of all. At first we thought he was carrying some kind of weapon on his arm. However, upon closer inspection, we realized that his arm had turned into a pincer, like the one you’d see on a crab or lobster. While most of his head seemed normal, a lure, similar to the things you’d find on an anglerfish and it was glowing brightly in the darkness of the corridor.
I fired another round from my revolver at their feet and they jumped back.
“Another step and the next bullet goes into one of you,” I said to them and, at that, they ran back the way they came. Apparently, Nick didn’t need to use his knuckle duster and the doctor didn’t need to use her scalpel. However now, I was two bullets short and I would need to be more careful with how I expend ammo later on.
We made our way back to the middle part of the ship without incident but me and my companions constantly took glances over our shoulders in fear. We jumped at just about any noise we heard behind or beside us. I, for one, couldn’t forget the man’s arm which had turned into a giant black pincer.
Chapter 7: The Herald
Tate: What about the other faction? The one led by Lanella? What did you call them again? God beggars?
Sebastian: Oh them. Yes, we would run afoul of them soon enough.
There was this moment when we heard a commotion going on in the upper deck of the ship. I and Dr. Nunez went to investigate. As we moved across the stairs and corridors of the ship however, we saw places that were all covered in a viscous slime.
We tried taking a closer look at the slime, we saw that it was eating away at the material it was lathered on. The wood and metal the vile slime was smeared on were quickly rotting away as we could see.
However, we moved on quickly, we didn’t want to be away from our faction for long.
Finally, when we made it up to topside, we saw what was happening. It was the god beggars. And boy were they terrifying.
Apparently, they had gone from just praying and fasting to flagellating themselves. You could tell that from their bodies that were covered in wounds and ragged gashes. What made it all worse though was they were dragging too men to the side of the ship.
Unsurprisingly, Jaime Lanella himself made an appearance and what did surprise me was that Marie Nieva was there as well.
“You!” he shouted at the two men. “You two have been caught committing the sin of homosexuality! You are abominations that must be cleansed in order for us to be finally free of God’s punishment!”
Jaime turned to the others around him and said: “Throw them into the water!”
One of the men was thrown into the water but, before they could throw the other, Dr. Nunez ran out to stop them. I fumbled for my revolver and quickly followed her, knowing that we were done for now that we had to confront the faction and possibly start a war with them. Nonetheless, I just assured myself that even if I would die to them, I would at least die fighting.
“You have no right to do this!” Dr. Nunez shouted at Lanella and the other god beggars. “They’re human beings just like you! You call them sinners but you too are guilty of adultery and you’ve destroyed so many lives through illegal gambling!”
The god beggars stopped, thankfully enough, as Lanella simply stared at Dr. Nunez. This gave the man that remained the chance to escape and scramble behind me as I finally levelled the gun at the Senator slash Boxer. Jaime Lanella and Marie Nieva only stared at Dr. Nunez for a considerable amount of time and Ms. Nieva was most noticeably not pleased for being called out as an adulteress.
Then, before anyone could react, something burst forth from beneath us. It broke through the wood and steel of the upper deck and came between us and the god beggars. It was huge. Utterly.
It rose up from all the rubble and we all got a better view of what left the slime trail.
It was a giant head. Or, at least, the severed head of a giant. It was the size of a minibus. In the stump of its neck however were what appeared to be five stubby arms like the ones you’d find on a starfish. The head possessed long hair and a long beard that, after a while, I realized weren’t hair because they somehow moved by themselves. They were its tentacles. With the tentacles in its beard it seized Marie Nieva and dove into the water over the side of the ship.
Thanks to that distraction, I, Dr. Nunez and the man who survived managed to escape were able to make our way back into the depths of the ship.
Chapter 8: Confession
Tate: Well, that was horrifying.
Sebastian: Tell me about it.
Tate: Were the other factions afraid of you now that they saw you were willing to take action against them?
Sebastian: Not in the least captain. They were still out there, we were sure of it. They were just biding their time and preparing for the right moment to attack.
For the time being though, all seemed quiet. We couldn’t hear the desperate praying of the god beggars and we couldn’t hear the boisterous laughter of the delusionals. At that point in time, some of us even thought that perhaps the other factions had left the ship. That perhaps they had all jumped off the ship and into the water. But we knew somehow that that was just wishful thinking. They were still out there and none of us wanted to check whether or not they were really gone.
However, by that point, as we worked our plans and began collecting the supplies we’d need to escape the ship, I decided to tell my own story to the others.
I told them of the event that made me quit both the military and the cloth.
Tate: This should be interesting…
Sebastian: The base I was in was one of the ill-fated camps in Mindanao. We were attacked by Islamic insurgents in a time we least expected it. Since most of the people in our base were largely unprepared, we were utterly massacred. It was clear that the insurgents would show no mercy to whomever they caught so a group of soldiers decided that they needed me to get out of the camp before the insurgents could reach me.
However, I didn’t agree and insisted on being allowed to stay.
Tate: Why didn’t you leave?
Sebastian: (Smiles.) At the time?
I don’t really know. I liked to think it was because of faith and a sense of duty. But then again, it might just have been me being a stubborn old man.
Sebastian: (Sighs.) Anyway, when it was clear that I didn’t want to go anywhere, the men decided to knock me out and hide me in a storage room. When I came to, I went outside and saw what was left of the men I was assigned to. Most of the men were shot while some were hacked to death with machetes. There was blood everywhere and I almost slipped on the stuff many times. Decapitated bodies, severed heads and mangled limbs lay everywhere and the stench of death hang heavily in the air.
I vomited as often as I could while making way out of the camp. There were no other survivors save for myself. When I finally got help, I discovered that the Islamic bastards had even made a video out of the massacre. They were even looking for me in the video.
One of the rebels even kept yelling out: “Where is he? Where is the priest who leads these infidels?”
They killed everyone in the camp except me because my men hid me in a storage room. I was the only one left. It was then I decided to call it quits on everything. I resigned from my post and from being a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. I couldn’t bring myself that a kind and loving God would allow for the massacre of his beloved children.
However, looking around me within the darker compartments of the Prosperina I came to wonder if the Lord, in all His wisdom, had a plan for me after all. I thought to myself what if I was meant to be here on this ship with these people. It was also then that I remembered that there was one soldier in my base that I found who hadn’t died of his wounds yet. He was dying of course and he wouldn’t live for more than a few minutes more.
When he saw me and saw that I had found him, his eyes had lit up with both recognition and, strangely enough, joy. I came over and held his hand as I recited to him his last rites. I saw that he was losing consciousness and the blood that pooled around his body was evidence enough of his deteriorating condition. However he struggled to stay conscious and, based on the words he could muster, this was because he was waiting for me.
When everything was said and done, some of his last words to me were: “Father, you have to get them out. The others, they’ve changed. They’re his now. Save the ones you can.”
Finally, as the man coughed up blood, he began to shout in an eerily clear voice for a dying man: “Father, look at the boy! He protects his charges like a shepherd, even he fears him! Keep him with you as he will keep you safe!”
At the time, I thought what he was saying was just a result of his brain’s final chemical reactions. A dream before death, so to speak. However, on the ship, I somehow found relevance in everything he said. Was I chosen to be on the Prosperina to be of help the people within her?
Then it happened, the people within the compartment with me came to me and told me of their sins.
I tried to stop them. I told them that I wasn’t a priest anymore and that I was no longer worthy of being a man of God. However, they pointed out that I was the closest thing they had to a holy man and that, at that point in time, we badly needed the Lord’s favor. So I heard them out.
First came Dr. Nunez. That surprised me. I reminded her that she was an atheist, she told me so herself when we first met. Apparently, she believed that everything we were experiencing could be explained by science at least in the future if not in the present.
She told me that she was still an atheist. She couldn’t bring herself to believe all the things in the Bible but she at least understood the spirit of what it meant for mankind. While Dr. Nunez admitted that she wasn’t at all a Christian, she fully embraced the love and goodwill that Jesus meant for the world and that, she emphasized, she supported with all her heart.
I only laughed a little and asked her to go on.
Apparently, Dr. Nunez’s had once worked for a big hospital in Manila. It was owned by a very rich family and it was well-known by a lot of people. However, considering the kind of people who owned it, one can also surmise that it also charged a lot of money from its clients. Of course, that wasn’t really surprising as it is often the case for many prestigious hospitals in the capital.
However while driving late one night, because of lack of sleep, she had accidentally hit a young boy of about ten. She immediately stepped out of her car to see what had happened and saw that the boy was probably from around the slum area near the hospital where she worked. Blood was spattered everywhere and it was apparent that the boy had been fatally injured. Not knowing what to do and unwilling to face the consequences of what she had done, she dumped the boy’s body unceremoniously and as quietly as she could in a landfill a good distance away from her home and the hospital where she worked.
She tried to erase the boy’s memory from her mind as best she could but his face, frozen in a look of agony and desperation, haunted her for a very long time. Just a year after the hit-and-run accident, the local news soon made a report about the body of a dead boy that was found in a landfill not far from the city. Dr. Nunez saw that it was indeed the boy she had hit on that fateful night and, according to the paramedic the reporter interviewed, the boy would’ve lived if he had just been taken to a hospital immediately.
Dr. Nunez pretended that she knew nothing about the incident and tried her best to forget it all. However, it wasn’t long until the police came knocking at her door with questions and a warrant. Dr. Nunez couldn’t hide from her crime any longer. The police showed her and her partner the evidence stacked against her and there was no realistic way for her to dodge the case legally.
And so she escaped. She fled south, away from the capital where she hoped people would no longer look for her. After all, she thought that the boy she had killed was a street urchin and the cops probably had bigger fish to fry so to speak. Still, in the process of her escape, she had been forced to abandon her partner who was quite dumbfounded by all that had happened.
Both the boy she had killed and the partner she had left behind would haunt her for the next few years and wouldn’t let her be. Finally, after almost five years of hiding in Cebu, Dr. Nunez decided to face the consequences of her actions. She boarded the first ship bound for Manila so that she could finally see her girlfriend again and turn herself over to the police. As it turned out, the last ship headed for Manila was none other than the Prosperina.
Tate: Figures. So Dr. Nunez was a murderer.
Sebastian: I really wouldn’t call her that, no. But of course, by a technicality, I suppose she was.
Anyway, the next person to come to me was Nikolai, the Russian. Before he began, he made it clear to me that he was Russian Orthodox and didn’t really understand the trappings and traditions of the Catholic Church. However, I told him that I wasn’t really a priest anymore and that I was simply doing what I could as the closest thing our group had to any kind of religious or spiritual guidance.
He nodded, as if to say “fair enough” and we began.
Apparently, “Nikolai” was really “Oleg” and he had once been a member of the Russian mafia. For many years, he was a dreaded enforcer of the Russian underworld, hurting those his superiors wanted hurt, taking what his superiors wanted taken and killing those his superiors wanted dead. To him, all that really mattered was that they paid him at the end of the day. For “Oleg” what mattered most was that he could put food on his family’s table and didn’t matter if he bought that food through money he earned by breaking someone’s nose, knocking out their teeth or brutally killing their loved ones.
Of course, Nikolai’s wife never knew anything about her husband’s criminal activities. For years, he hid from her the various monstrous acts that he committed on a regular basis. Then, one day, he committed a crime that his wife witnessed firsthand.
At first, he simply tried to rationalize what he had done. He tried to tell her that he was merely doing what he had to do. He then went on to say that he was doing it for their family’s future.
However, the only answer or acknowledgement he got was a hard slap from his wife who tried to leave. He begged her not to go and told her that he would try to make amends somehow and that seemed enough to convince her to stay with him. However, next morning, he was horrified to discover his wife gone from their bed.
He looked for her and immediately went outside in the middle of the Russian winter to find his wife. However, when he failed to find any trace of her and was on the verge of freezing to death, he came back and remembered one place he didn’t look: The bathroom.
Fearfully and carefully, he entered the bathroom and found his wife, or rather, what was left of her. Pooled on the floor and around his feet was warm water and blood, so much blood. Nikolai parted the curtain to the bathtub and there found his dead wife, wrists slashed open with a knife.
For a while, all Nikolai could do there was fall to his knees and cry. Somehow, he knew it would come to this. On some level, he understood that death was pretty much part of who he was already.
He had come to the Philippines with a new name in the hopes of starting life anew. He thought perhaps that here, far away from the coldness of his homeland, he could start a warm new life free of crime and death. He had been here for two years but somehow, the stench of his wife’s blood had not yet been washed off from his mind. He told me that he could smell her blood just about anywhere he went and here, aboard the Prosperina in a time and place we couldn’t identify, it was stronger than ever.
Then Captain Bartolomeo came forth and told me of his womanizing days and how his wife had outright left him for that. Next came Obet and told me of his days as a hacker and how he stole people’s private information. Just about everyone in our group came to me and told me his or her sins. Even a little girl came forward and told me when she had stolen money out of her mother’s purse to buy candy.
The last one to come to me was the boy, the stowaway. When I finally asked him to tell me his sins, this was all he said: “My uncle is very bad and he challenged my grandfather to a bet. He said he’d take those that belonged to him as soon as he could even when it was not yet time to take them. My father didn’t agree with him so they had a big fight. But then my grandfather put an end to their fighting and made a decision for them. My uncle could send his servants to take what belonged to him but my father would send me to make sure that I got those that didn’t belong to him before he could take them.”
I only looked at the stowaway as I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
“You don’t sound too sorry about that though,” I said to him with a smile.
The boy only shook his head.
While the stowaway continued to perplex me, I decided that my job listening to confessions was over and that I needed to sleep.
“Rest now father,” said the stowaway. “You will need your strength.”
And that I did. I didn’t know who kept watch for us after I fell asleep but I felt so tired that I didn’t care anymore. Thing is, I think we all fell asleep then but I’m not sure because what followed was so chaotic I could just barely remember the gist of everything that happened.
Chapter 9: War
Tate: I take it your story is nearing its end?
Sebastian: You could say that. For some reason, we felt it too. We all slept as we each knew that we would need our strength for what would happen.
When I fell asleep though, I no longer had nightmares. None of us did. Instead, I dreamed good dreams. I was sitting on a beach with the men on the base I told you about. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves while we roasted skewered fish over a pyre. Even Dr. Nunez would talk about her own dream later on and tell me she saw that the boy she had killed had come to see her and that he seemed happy and that, wherever he was, he was no longer a poor street urchin with rags for clothes but a rich boy with clean and beautiful clothes.
However, we were all awakened by an almost impossible to describe stench and something hitting and shaking the ship hard. Obet nearly fell on me out of panic and I struggled to get the both of us up. Nikolai was already up and looking around, knuckle-duster at the ready.
“What is that smell?” asked a woman from our group.
“It’s like blood and…” Dr. Nunez paused. “Shit.”
It was then we all realized that the time had come for us to leave. It was now or never. If we dared to stay any longer, something very bad would happen to us.
So we rushed up into the upper decks and heard a great din of noise coming from above us. But before we could get any higher, someone screamed for us to look at the water. When we did, we came to regret it.
The water was no longer water. It had somehow became a mix of boiling blood and sewage. It stank to high heaven with every bubble that popped to the surface. Blood and filth churned as it bubbled up the sides of the ship and some of us hesitated, wondering if getting into a lifeboat and rowing away was such a good idea.
But then, as we reached the upper deck, we saw what had been making so much noise and everyone realized that it was imperative that we all got off the ship before it was too late. The upper deck was lit with torches that, upon closer inspection, were actually burning corpses. However, that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it were the people who were fighting, the delusionals and the god beggars going at it. Or rather, what they had turned into.
The delusionals had mutated into truly horrific monsters that can be barely put into words. Christie Pukino stood over them as her body had turned into that of a gigantic spider-crab. Her body had become blob-like, her swollen belly like jelly but her once human legs had now turned into eight spiky legs and, instead of arms, she had a set of elongated pincers. Her face was still the same though, with the flour for powder and lipstick that I now realized was either catsup or blood. Of course, Governor Abner Pukino was there too and he too was every bit as mutated as his sister. His balding head had swelled to near massive proportions and his eyes, now the size of baseballs bulged from his sockets. His main body had atrophied to a limp mass but he somehow moved around using his tongue which had become a long white tentacle. He also continued to smile his nonsensical grin that showed that he almost reveled in his inhumanity.
The god beggars were equally changed but they took a different route. Apparently, they no longer settled for simple self-flagellation. They had mutilated themselves in various crude and gruesome ways and I soon realized that they were simply taking words from the Bible literally. One man was missing a hand, a woman there had apparently gouged out her own eye while another man had driven spikes into his groin area. There was a man who had nails stuck into his head and a woman crawled around on the ground with her arms as her legs had apparently been severed. A man with half his face horribly burnt walked with them, carrying a propane tank which, combined with a torch, he used as a dangerous makeshift flamethrower. They were repenting through their pain and I could make out Jaime Lanella among them, leading them in their fight against the equally horrific delusionals, his body now wrapped in dark barbed wire.
We were about to leave when one of them saw us and pointed at us. I brought out my revolver and was about to fire it when Nikolai stopped me.
“No,” he said to me. “I will distract them. Get the others on the boat and them out of here.”
“But what about you?” I asked him then.
“I am a bad man father,” he said to me and looked at the god beggars and delusionals who now united against us. “Please, let me do something good for once.”
And so Nikolai charged the horde of human monsters and struck the burnt god beggar with the makeshift flamethrower.
“Go!” he shouted to me as he used the flamethrower himself to discourage anyone who might pursue us. “Leave this Hell, father!”
As he said this, the Pukino siblings charged him with Christie grabbing his leg with a pincer and then severed it with a gruesome crunching sound. I pushed the others to run towards the lifeboats and looked back as Nikolai screamed in pain and, surprisingly, defiance. Though his leg was severed and the Pukino siblings were closing in on him, he used what strength and determination he had left to jam the torch he carried into the propane tank which caused a sudden and jarring fiery explosion.
Nikolai probably died instantly and possibly painlessly, God bless him. However, those who were around him were not so lucky. Most of Christie’s legs were charred into charcoal and half of her body became a smoking mass of black and red. Abner’s huge head had exploded, some vile liquid now seeping through the cracks in his skull and one of his bulging eyes had deflated but still he grinned maniacally and his white tongue continued to spasm uncontrollably.
We ran on and finally found the lifeboat we were going to use. As we got on however, Jaime Lanella found us and he shouted for the other god beggars to get us. Before any of them could grab us, Captain Bartolomeo shoved us into the boat and, with a deft motion, released the lifeboat which quickly lowered us into the water.
We landed with a splash and got some of the blood and manure we landed in on us. It also smelled worse since we were much closer to it now. Then I remembered that Captain Bartolomeo didn’t get on the boat with us. Looking up, I saw that he was struggling with Jaime Lanella.
Deciding that I should at least give the man a fighting chance, I threw my revolver at the captain after shouting his name. He deftly caught the firearm and used it to hit shoot Jaime Lanella once which caused the latter to topple into the water. However, before he could use it on the others around him, the god beggars grabbed Captain Bartolomeo and took the gun from him. They shot him twice, killing the good captain right then and there.
As we got away, we began to row with the oars, hoping to make some distance between us and the hellish ship that the Prosperina had become.
Chapter 10: Leviathan
Tate: Was it then that you got away?
Sebastian: No, it wasn’t actually. Indeed, things were just heating up.
As we got further and further away from the Prosperina. Something burst forth from the bloody and filthy water. Pallid and decaying corpses came out of the water in a horde, moaning and groaning. Connecting them all together was what looked like a mass of pond scum that looked alive, like that monstrosity from the Blob.
Whatever it was, it was unspeakably massive, large enough to dwarf the Prosperina. It was a mountain of human bodies writhing in agony and misery and disgusting and pulsating fungi. It bore down on all that it found on the ship, snatching up both mutilated god beggars and monstrous delusionals. It took the still alive remains of Christie Pukino who now only scream as she was born away by a forest of grasping hands and screaming faces.
The great form bore down on the Prosperina itself and began pulling it beneath the boiling and churning waves. Its strength was so great that it somehow snapped the great ship in the middle before dragging its remains into the depths.
Just about everyone about was frightened with many who were then crying. Then suddenly we stopped and, no matter how much we rowed, we could go no further. We were stuck. We had either caught onto something or something caught us.
Then a hand gripped the side of the boat and then another on the other side. With mounting horror, we saw that what had taken the Prosperina had now found us as well. We screamed as struggling bodies rose all around us, caked in blood and manure.
Before it could do anything however, the stowaway stood up stepped forward, his face brave and his voice clear.
“YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER THEM LEVIATHAN!” the stowaway said to the monster. “THESE ARE NOT YOURS AND BELONG TO MY FATHER! NOW BEGONE FROM HERE SPAWN OF THE DARK DEPTHS! RETURN TO THE ABYSS, YOU HAVE HAD YOUR FILL! THESE DO NOT BELONG TO YOU!”
The boy stood defiantly against the horror that surrounded us, unafraid and unflinching. Something about him felt different and it dawned on me on just what he could be. As I looked closer, I saw another shape superimpose itself over the stowaway. A tall armored warrior, covered head to toe in gold with wings of fire.
Then there was a bright flash from the stowaway and I almost went blind from it. Then, I woke up. It seemed I had somehow fallen asleep when the stowaway confronted the monster. When I opened my eyes, I saw that it was day with the sun shining on the shimmering waters of the sea.
Looking around, I saw that we had all just woken up. Had it all been a dream? There was no real way to be sure. The stowaway was also gone. We had no idea where he had gone or what had happened to him.
Then, before the day ended, you found us.
Tate: (Laughs.) Hmm… That’s a pretty tall tale.
Sebastian: I know. That’s why I’m giving you a choice on which story you want to go with.
Tate: I think maybe I’ll take the first one… But the second one’s a lot more interesting.
Tate: My men tell me that in a few hours from now, the Philippine Coast Guard will be picking you and your group up and take you to Manila. That sound okay to you?
Sebastian: Yep, sure enough.
Tate: Okay, it was nice meeting you father… Uh, Mr. Sebastian. Thanks for the good story.
Sebastian: Thank you for listening Captain Tate. (Stands up to leave.)
Epilogue: Homeward Bound
Dr. Maxima Nunez turned herself in to the Manila police and faced the criminal charges against her. She stayed no more than two years in a women’s correctional facility before being released for good behavior. She reunited and reconciled with her partner and, together, they now do volunteer work for slum children.
Augusto “Obet” Reyes, after resigning from his job as an IT in Manila eventually moved to the UK where he met the woman who would become his wife. He now has three children and lives in a quiet but comfortable town in Scotland and works as a videogame developer.
Nikolai Orlov and Captain Daniel Bartolomeo were given special mentions during the memorial service for the Prosperina and are considered to be heroes who had allowed Sebastian and the other survivors to escape. They are both remembered as heroes and a movie has been discussed that will depict them as the heroes of the Prosperina tragedy. American Actor Peter Stormare is being considered for the role of Nikolai Orlov and Filipino rapper Andrew E. is being considered for the role of Captain Bartolomeo.
Leo Sebastian went back to both the Catholic Church and the Philippine Military. He now spends most of his days in a military base in SBMA and serving as a liaison between local and foreign military forces.
I HAVE RETURNED TO LAY WASTE TO OUR ENEMIES!