After swimming for a long time, Pinocchio saw a large rock in the middle of the sea, a rock as white as marble. High on the rock stood a little Goat bleating and calling and beckoning to the Marionette to come to her.
There was something very strange about that little Goat. Her coat was not white or black or brown as that of any other goat, but azure, a deep brilliant color that reminded one of the hair of the lovely maiden.
Pinocchio’s heart beat fast, and then faster and faster. He redoubled his efforts and swam as hard as he could toward the white rock. He was almost halfway over, when suddenly a horrible sea monster stuck its head out of the water, an enormous head with a huge mouth, wide open, showing three rows of gleaming teeth, the mere sight of which would have filled you with fear.
Do you know what it was?
That sea monster was no other than the enormous Shark, which has often been mentioned in this story and which, on account of its cruelty, had been nicknamed “The Attila of the Sea” by both fish and fishermen.
Poor Pinocchio! The sight of that monster frightened him almost to death! He tried to swim away from him, to change his path, to escape, but that immense mouth kept coming nearer and nearer.
“Hasten, Pinocchio, I beg you!” bleated the little Goat on the high rock.
And Pinocchio swam desperately with his arms, his body, his legs, his feet.
“Quick, Pinocchio, the monster is coming nearer!”
Pinocchio swam faster and faster, and harder and harder.
“Faster, Pinocchio! The monster will get you! There he is! There he is! Quick, quick, or you are lost!”
Pinocchio went through the water like a shot—swifter and swifter. He came close to the rock. The Goat leaned over and gave him one of her hoofs to help him up out of the water.
Alas! It was too late. The monster overtook him and the Marionette found himself in between the rows of gleaming white teeth. Only for a moment, however, for the Shark took a deep breath and, as he breathed, he drank in the Marionette as easily as he would have sucked an egg. Then he swallowed him so fast that Pinocchio, falling down into the body of the fish, lay stunned for a half hour.
When he recovered his senses the Marionette could not remember where he was. Around him all was darkness, a darkness so deep and so black that for a moment he thought he had put his head into an inkwell. He listened for a few moments and heard nothing. Once in a while a cold wind blew on his face. At first he could not understand where that wind was coming from, but after a while he understood that it came from the lungs of the monster. I forgot to tell you that the Shark was suffering from asthma, so that whenever he breathed a storm seemed to blow.
Pinocchio at first tried to be brave, but as soon as he became convinced that he was really and truly in the Shark’s stomach, he burst into sobs and tears. “Help! Help!” he cried. “Oh, poor me! Won’t someone come to save me?”
The Avenoir disappeared toward the choppy surface above them. The Crow had outfitted James and Pine with trackers; they would retreat to a safe distance then come back for them when the storm was over.
Unless we disappear completely.
Pine steered the pod down onto the sea bed, where it landed with a soft thump.
“Now what?” After the way he’d felt on the boat, this was strangely anticlimactic. It had never been this quiet on the Perimeter; the threats there were always straightforward.
“Now we wait. It won’t be long.”
He believed her.
As though on cue, the water around them darkened. Sea life swam past them in the opposite direction, and James fought down the urge to demand that he and Pine did the same. This might be our only chance to find Joseph.
The pod lifted and bucked, and Pine bent over the controls, trying to keep them on an even keel.
Nausea roiled in James’s stomach. “Pine. Pine.” He clutched her shoulder, unable to say anything other than her name. What he wouldn’t give to be fighting mutated plants right now.
A shape appeared in the murky water, a shape darker than the deepest ocean. It was larger than anything James had ever imagined a living thing could be, larger than a whale, easily the size of a small cruise ship.
Pine flicked on the pod lights, igniting them into a beacon.
“What are you doing?” James fumbled blindly at the control panel, trying to switch them off until Pine covered his hand with hers.
“Making sure it sees us. We need it to see us, James. It has to be able to find us.”
“I thought—” What had he thought? That they were just going to observe?
Whatever the creature was, it saw them; Pine had placed them directly in its path. As James watched in horror, it entered the illumination of the pod’s beams, moving slowly enough that they were able to get a good look.
His dream from the sub, the nightmares he’d had all his life, had come true.
It was a shark, but unlike any shark James had even heard of. It made the beast that had attacked them look like bait. It seemed to push the storm before it, the water outside the pod so cold it chilled the air inside. Even the plants anchored in the rocks of the sea floor seemed to shrink from it.
The behemoth faced them head on, drawn to their light. Its head was triangular with rounded edges, the wide, lower half studded with a circular, closed port. A large vent topped the flanks of the dorsal section like nostrils, and James made out a great, protuberant, blind eye on either side of its head. It curved slightly as it swam toward them, showing a segmented body with strange projecting gills ringing its belly. Further back, its body was encircled with ridges at regular intervals, and its fins were angular and oddly jointed.
“What the hell is that, Pine?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen what brings the storm.” She seemed mesmerized by it.
“Is it alive?” It couldn’t be. There was no living thing like that. “It looks like a machine.”
The shark gave no indication of attack, moving toward them at a steady pace.
Maybe it hadn’t seen them. Maybe—
The large circular port at the front of its face spun slowly open, revealing a single row of savage, backward-curving teeth surrounding a girdled throat that terminated in a black hole.
“Pine, what do we—”
The pod lurched and plunged forward in a vacuum, picking up speed. All around them, creatures who hadn’t been able to escape hurtled alongside, end over end, their bodies slamming against the pod until James could no longer see the monster’s gaping jaw.
That’s probably a blessing.
The unnatural current tossed them over the teeth and down, down into the darkness.