Over the last three hundred years, elaborate guesses have been made about the nature of the treasure aboard the Arcadian. It was only after news spread of the ship’s loss to a freak storm as it passed through open and unclaimed seas that the rumors of what it carried began to spread along with the news of the wreck.
It was known what port the ship left from and what its general route would be. But no nation claimed the ship for its own fleet. No trading company claimed it as their loss. No patron claimed it.
Rumor gave way to fear when the efforts to recover the ship and its treasure were met with what seemed to be otherworldly resistance. From that rumor and fear were born stories about the mysterious ship. Some of the stories had bits of the truth woven through. Some stories were invented from whole cloth. Many of those stories were passed down through generations even to the modern sailor.
The Arcadian was a pirate ship, they would say. It crashed three hundred years ago, with all crew onboard, and a cursed treasure that caused the accident. Out of a clear sky, a storm appeared just above the ship, wrecking it and sinking it. The lost treasure has never been recovered, and that area of the sea is avoided even by modern sailors, because ships have been vanishing in those waters ever since the wreck. According to legend, if the treasure is recovered and restored to its rightful place—wherever that might be—the curse will be lifted, and that region of the seas will be safe to travel once again.
Some preferred to believe that the Arcadian was not a pirate ship. It was a ship secretly commissioned by royalty, built in pieces, and put together by those who later rode upon it and were lost. Such secrecy was the reason so little was known about the ship. The Arcadian was built to carry an important treasure and met with either accident or misfortune. In either case, the crew struggled valiantly despite facing a greater power. Their own captain asked those who would to volunteer both their lives and their afterlives to guard the treasure.
And so they did. They followed their captain’s last command. They kept all away from the treasure.
Like most sailors, Captain Stella’s crew like to tell the tale of the Arcadian when their own ship was safely docked and their own feet on solid earth. But when they were sailing on to some mission, they succumbed to superstition and remained silent.
“Just in case,” the first mate once told her captain. And Steven Stella accepted the explanation.
But that was before he accepted the challenge of recovering the Arcadian’s lost treasure.
Captain Stella accepted the challenge, because that particular region of ocean would be a favorable thoroughfare of trade and diplomacy for several major nations, if the sailors of those nations would only stop avoiding it.
But that reason lacked inspiration in the minds of the romantics who began to tell tales of how Captain Stella and his crew would soon set out to free the souls of those poor heroic sailors by completing the mission on which they set out centuries ago.
Captain Stella and his deep divers were scientific adventurers who had broken record after record on their dives, not for diving the deepest, but for diving into the most dangerous of waters. The aims of the international crew varied, but their specialties were recovering lost artifacts, discovering new organisms, and testing cutting edge diving and sailing equipment.
Captain and crew would be joined on the mission by an equally renowned aquatic archaeologist from a neighboring nation.
As was typical, there were reporters galore gathered on the dock on the day of embarkation, to see the adventurers off. As was typical, the captain had answered some general questions before waving over a scrappy young reporter, and giving him the exclusive on the story.
The nervous reporter paced beside the captain. He was green and he wasn’t even from any newspaper, but some newly launched magazine.
“But what is this treasure, Captain? Why is it so precious that it’s worth risking the lives of some of the world’s best and well-loved adventurers—you and your crew, to be sure, but also one of the foremost archaeologists of our time?”
“I don’t know the answers yet, Charlie. It’s Charlie, right?”
The reporter nodded.
“My crew and I have risked our lives for what some might consider far less than what we are seeking now. Even if all we find is the wreck, it will be more than anyone else has managed in all this time.”
“I’m guessing you don’t believe any of the hocusy-pocusy stuff. I’ve read the article where Eleanor Persimmons asked and you said you had a theory. That maybe it was a piece of rare metal.”
“Yes, well, the basis of the theory is a weak one. But I’m hoping this mission will help to clarify and illuminate.”
“And you’re not worried about getting lost at sea, or just vanishing, like so many other ships?”
“Of course, I’m worried. But no more than I would be if I were facing a storm out at sea that might capsize my ship, or even instrument malfunctions that set us off course, or cloudy skies that prevented us from sailing by the stars. Most of our planet is covered in water. And it’s constantly moving around. There’s nothing ‘hocusy-pocusy’ about that.”
“Certainly not, sir—uh—Captain.”
Captain Stella smirked. “You’re just worried I won’t return and you’ll lose out on the start of a great career in journalism.”
The young reporter’s eyes widened. He gasped and blustered as he struggled to keep pace even though he was slightly taller than the captain.
“Don’t worry, Charlie,” the captain said. “If you’re any good at your profession, there will always be another great story to tell. And I didn’t mean to insult you by implying that you only care about your career.”
“I can handle some teasing, Captain,” the young reporter said. “What I can’t handle is the thought that the first big story I write might be the story of another wreck and another loss. The Astrogleam, her crew, and her captain.”
At that, Captain Stella stopped and turned to the young reporter.
“I could come with you,” Charlie said.
Captain Stella peered at the young reporter. “I’ve chosen you to tell the people the story of our mission, Charlie. You can’t do that if you’re on the mission with us.”
Charlie shrugged. “It was worth a try.”
The captain glimpsed the dark-haired man who was now preparing to board the Astrogleam. He pointed a finger at the young reporter as he walked toward the man. “If you’re serious, apply for a spot next time.”
Captain Stella stopped before the man, who was dressed appropriately for a sea voyage to colder waters.
“I’m glad to see that you’re not dressed in suit-and-tie, Doctor. Some of our mission partners haven’t been so practical. I’m told you’re an aquatic archaeologist and atomist.”
The man gave the captain a bewildered smile and stuck out his right hand. “Maris Regis,” he said.
The captain shook his hand. “Steven Stella.”
“Captain, I think I have a lead,” Dr. Regis said.
The archaeologist and atomist extraordinaire hadn’t wasted any time getting settled in before he found his way to the bridge and the captain’s cabin office. But the ship was under way and the crew was about their duties. It was good timing as the captain and his first mate were available.
Dr. Regis cleared some instruments off the table and set down a thick tome. “There was a medieval thinker—one who saw no difference between science and art, much like Da Vinci—but was far less renowned. Dymetrius was his name and by your expressions, I take it neither of you has ever heard of him. It was thought he never made any contributions to any of the fields that interested him. He kind of faded into oblivion. He also believed in alchemy and witchcraft, which he studied extensively. But I think he might have stumbled onto something during his alchemical studies.”
He flipped to a page covered with alchemical symbols. “We now know that there are almost a hundred elements that make up matter in our world. Dymetrius believed there were seven. Four elements were given to nature—earth, air, water, and fire. Two elements were given to magic—ethereum and alcheme. And one element was given to bridge nature and magic—or should I say science and magic—perhaps even to bind them.”
The captain furrowed his brow. “Let me guess…”
Dr. Regis nodded. “The treasure of the Arcadian.”
Chief Officer Val Parker, the first mate, crossed her arms. “The captain doesn’t believe in magic.”
“And you, Chief?”
“I am a skeptic.”
“You’ll both have to set aside your prejudices to study this problem. Because if I’m right, and this is Dymetrius’s seventh element, then we’ll need to know how to properly contain it before we get to the site of the wreck.”
“Shouldn’t you already know, Doctor?” Chief Parker asked. “If someone was able to contain it three hundred years ago…”
Dr. Regis held up a finger. “Ah, but that’s because they had access to a few texts that I don’t have access to.”
“Yes, but that’s where modern knowledge comes into the picture. I’m hoping that knowledge can fill in the gaps left by the loss of the knowledge that our predecessors had.”
“’Modern knowledge.’ That’s rather vague, Doctor.”
Dr. Regis smiled. “There’s a reason I recommended your ship, Captain. It was the inspiration for my idea of how we can safely recover the treasure—theoretically. The Astrogleam’s subatomic engine was designed and built to be state-of-the art. But its radiative energy would be a danger to crew and passengers if not for the equally state-of-the-art atomic shield casing.”
He struggled to pull his briefcase up and placed it on the table. He undid the clasps and lifted open the case. Inside was a black metallic sphere, split around its hemisphere, and fashioned with a latch. “This container is built with the same material as your ship’s atomic shield casing, among other things. And I believe it can contain the seventh element.”
Chief Parker raised a brow. “I didn’t realize the International Museum’s pockets were so deep.”
Dr. Regis tilted his head as he closed and locked the case. “A few benefactors may have contributed. But it wasn’t just this container that caught my attention. It was your interview with Eleanor Persimmons.”
Captain Stella suddenly cleared his throat and stiffened as the first mate began to laugh.
Dr. Regis stopped and glanced between the two.
“I told you,” the chief officer said. “You won’t meet a person on Earth who hasn’t seen or heard or read about that interview.”
Dr. Regis grinned. “A wonderful interview, my dear captain. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of. You said that the reason for the strange disappearances of vessels in the region where the Arcadian probably went down is that the treasure might have been some kind of material that disrupted the instruments of vessels, even modern vessels. Whatever this material was, its containment must have been breached when the ship was wrecked.”
“Conjecture,” said the captain.
“Astute conjecture,” the doctor replied. “I’ve studied the problem, Captain, and I think you hit the nail on the head. You also said that you believe the treasure—this material—is still there, but no one has been able to reach far enough to grasp it yet. You said that maybe one day…you would try.”
“Your day of destiny approaches, Captain,” the chief officer teased.
Captain Stella ignored her, though there was a hint of a smile on his face. “And what will you do, Doctor, if we get to the site, recover the treasure, and find out it’s nothing more than a pile of gold and jewels?”
Dr. Regis looked taken aback. He hesitated before answering. “I’ll be disappointed.”
Captain Stella chuckled.
Chief Officer Parker beamed. “You’ll fit right in with this crew, doc.” She led the mildly bemused archaeologist back to his cabin.
“Is this typical for a sea storm?” Dr. Regis yelled over the sound of crashing waves.
“This isn’t a storm!” the captain replied.
It didn’t take long to enter the region where the Arcadian was last seen and where it was believed to have met its watery death. The voyage there had been filled with spirited discussions over evening meals and breakfasts, where captain and crew presented scientific reasons for the strange happenings in that region of ocean. And where they mildly scolded their most welcome guest for believing in magic and alchemy. After all, Dr. Regis was also an atomist. He impressed with his knowledge of the Astrogleam’s construction and function, though he had limited experience with voyaging by sea. They had met with some turbulent waters and some bad weather. But for the archaeologist and even the crew, that part of their mission had been the type of adventure that the romantics back home wrote about.
The crew was accustomed to their excitement turning to fear, however, the quiet calm becoming bleak. Many of their past adventures had taken unfortunate, even dire, turns.
For instance, they had once encountered a whirlpool and narrowly escaped.
But the waters that suddenly surrounded them that morning, the waves turning from choppy to violent in the span of three heartbeats, threatened to capsize the ship. Water filled the deck several times, but the waves crashed with such force that the water would be blasted out before the crew could clear it themselves. There was nothing they could do to keep the ship upright and afloat. The crew could only hold fast to the ship and hope it stayed afloat so that they could harbor within it.
When Dr. Regis asked his question, they were in the middle of a strange calm section of water, like the eye of a storm. But the skies were clear, not a wisp of cloud in sight.
The sea boiled and roiled. The waves crashed and thrashed. When the crew still had breath to speak, when they weren’t afraid of drowning in a wave that struck from above, they had theorized what may be causing the turbulence. Cross currents. Or land nearby, where waves crashed and receded from an unyielding wall of rock, or swirled about in coves, churning and picking up speed before whipping out to sea, toward them. But their theories seemed foolish when they actually observed the behavior of the waves. One of the crew said it looked as if the three-story waves were stretching toward the ship, as if reaching for them.
Many ships passed through the region without incident. Not every captain could afford to be tolerant of superstition. Dr. Regis believed he had discerned a pattern, one that he himself had not originated, but had verified through his studies.
All ships and people were made with the elements of nature. But there was something in common among the ones that encountered strange things in those waters, things like sudden crashing waves caused by no storm or natural ocean current, the sight of vicious mermaids, their mouths dripping with the ichor of the fish they devoured, and glimpses of tentacles in the distance, tentacles that appeared far too big to belong to an ordinary squid or octopus. Dr. Regis believed that all such ships were—knowingly or unknowingly—carrying one or both of the magic elements. And he had brought one alchemical artifact aboard out of necessity, the container for the seventh element.
All aboard the Astrogleam spent one terrifying day and one cold and frightful night being pitched about by the waves. The first mate insisted that the captain get into one of the three diving suits they had onboard, while two other sailors would be chosen by drawing straws. The suits were airtight and watertight. If the ship capsized, three of the crew might be able to survive long enough to be rescued, assuming their call for aid went through. They hadn’t been able to receive any messages all that day and night. It was wishful thinking that they had managed to send any messages out. The captain refused to don the suit himself, but ordered three of his crew to get in. He tried to order Dr. Regis, but the archaeologist claimed that the captain could not give him any commands regarding his own well-being, for he was not a member of the crew.
The next morning, they were all still alive. And after a nauseating breakfast of dry biscuit, Dr. Regis looked out of the window of the captain’s cabin and watched as the waters turned from crashing, thrashing, and roiling to calm, quiet, and gentle in the span of three heartbeats.
“I sincerely hope we don’t have to pass through that on our way back,” Chief Parker said as she leaned over the starboard railing.
Captain Stella and Dr. Regis stood beside her.
The captain glanced at the archaeologist. “Isn’t that the idea? That once we recover the treasure, this stretch of ocean will stop being so bizarre?”
“Presumably,” Dr. Regis said. He looked somewhat green under the gills, and chose to take some rest below decks before “something else happened.”
They watched for “something else.” They watched for other ships, for whales and other creatures, for signs of land, or more wild waters, for storms on the horizon.
But all that was around them was calm, flat ocean. And all they saw above were clear skies. No clouds during the day, no shadows at night. All the stars were visible. And with their instruments and their star-gazing, they determined that they had traveled quite a distance when they were thrown about by the waves.
They would be upon the very waters over which the Arcadian was believed to be lost in a matter of two weeks, perhaps less.
But as the crashing waves had come upon them suddenly, their next obstacle crept up slowly.
“I don’t hear anything,” the captain said as the crewmate played the recording.
“Neither do I, Captain, on this recording. But with my ears—“ He winced and clapped his hand over one of his ears.
He was only the latest crew member to report hearing some unidentified sound. Those who were the keenest of ear were the first who started hearing it. They claimed it was so faint that they could not discern if it was a tone, or a voice. At first, they believed it was the wind carrying the sound of birds, or just whistling as it did when wind currents crashed together. They began to worry that they would face fierce winds akin to the fierce waters. Dr. Regis wondered if they would wander through the four natural elements.
Instruments didn’t pick up the sound. When Dr. Regis began to hear it, he complained of a strange pressure at the front of his head, like the beginning of a headache that never quite manifested. The sound, he reported, was haunting and lilting. He wouldn’t have been surprised if such a phenomenon was where the myth of sirens originated.
“Or it’s a part of the curse or spell that’s protecting the treasure,” the doctor said.
Soon, everyone onboard could hear the sound. But instruments still registered nothing. Recordings were silent, save for the sounds of their own voices and movements. Again, they tried scientific explanation. There might be some rocky land mass somewhere, jutting up from the water, with a hole or series of holes and pits within the rock, and as the wind moved through it that sound was made. Never mind that there was no wind in their part of the ocean. Maybe it was at a register or pitch that human ears could hear but not their instruments. Or maybe their instruments were malfunctioning because of an independent variable, some other phenomenon in that region of ocean of which they were unaware. The sound was spooky, but not necessarily supernatural or magical.
Then some of the crew began to experience far worse symptoms than headaches. One of them began screaming that the ship was sinking, that it was tilting to port, and he ran to the rigging. He almost jumped overboard, but he was wrestled to the deck by others.
The ship’s doctor believed that the sound, whatever it was, may have been interfering with their sense of equilibrium, causing them to feel unbalanced. It seemed to be a ship-wide case of vertigo, which would become more and more severe the more they listened to the sound.
Dr. Regis proposed a simple solution. As mythical sailors once stuffed their ears with wax to block the song of the sirens who might sing them toward a death by drowning, the crew of the Astrogleam stuffed their ears with plugs made of plastic and rubber.
The headaches continued, but the more severe symptoms faded. The crew took aspirin, and they sailed on.
It appeared at dusk, as the sun was sinking into the ocean, casting flecks of its rays in all directions. Another ship in the distance.
It had been a few days since the ear plugs came off, and everyone was relieved to hear the sounds they expected to, waves and wind, instruments beeping, feet shuffling on deck. But after two strange encounters, the crew was primed and alert.
So they were not surprised when the ship they spotted didn’t answer their hails, even when they left the radio and tried waving a flag from the highest sail. And they were not surprised when the ship began to look familiar as they sailed closer and closer. The ancient ship appeared to be anchored in place, and sure enough they saw the chains dipping into the surrounding ocean.
“This is some kind of mirage,” the captain said. “Or someone is playing a very good prank on us.”
They came alongside the other ship, as close as they could. The waters seemed to be pushing them back, no matter how hard they ran their motors. The captain at last told the pilot to back off.
Dr. Regis stood along the port railing and gaped at the other ship. “It’s the Arcadian.”
Of course there were reports of sailors seeing the ghost of the ship. At some point or other, someone always claimed to have seen a ghostly visage of any ship that was lost at sea.
But this was an eerie sight. The ship was not transparent according to how ghosts appeared in movies and whatnot. It was clearly visible to all, and yet, something about it seemed intangible, and something about it slipped past the eye. The captain was reminded of how his father tried to read fine print, by taking off his glasses, squinting his eyes, and moving the book closer and farther until his eyes were able to focus on the words.
The captain called out to the ship and any crew that might be onboard, but his calls were met with silence.
“It appears abandoned, Captain,” the first mate said, glancing away from the ship and frowning as if her eyes had been struck with bright light. “The ship is derelict. And there’s some damage.”
They watched for a few hours, the crew taking bets on who would spot a ghostly sailor first. Dr. Regis was studying his tomes in the captain’s cabin. The captain himself just happened to be looking at the Arcadian—or its ghost—when a sudden and silent bolt of lightning struck the ship.
The Arcadian began to sink.
The captain wasn’t the only one watching, and the cries of the witnesses drew the rest of the crew, most of whom crowded the deck, watching the ship sink as silently as it was struck.
The Arcadian’s sternward starboard hull burst open. Water rushed into the breach. Within minutes, the ship was gone.
“This is serendipity, Captain,” Dr. Regis said, his eyes wide. He glanced around the cabin at the officers, the first mate, the doctor, and the rest. “We have now confirmed that the Arcadian did indeed sink and we know exactly where the ship went down.”
“Assuming what we saw was not a mass hallucination,” the doctor said.
“And it might well have been,” Dr. Regis admitted. “But what caused it, doctor? What caused that eerie sound, those violent waves? I’m more convinced than before that this is the seventh element of Dymetrius. The interaction between nature and magic is out of control. We need to contain it. That means we need to go down there.”
The first mate crossed her arms and gazed thoughtfully down at the many open books on what was usually the map table. The captain peered out of the window at the spot where the Arcadian had been floating less than half an hour past.
“This is a win for you, Captain, and your crew,” Dr. Regis continued. “Either we go down there and find some gold and jewels and nothing in this region changes, proving that it was all just superstition. Or…we descend and discover something even more profound than a new material element to add to our periodic table. We discover…the next level of existence.”
“Come now, doc,” the first mate said. “Don’t undersell us.”
Dr. Regis sighed. “I’ve spent enough time on this ship to know that the sincere passion of every member of this crew is discovery.”
“You do realize, Doctor, that we have every intention of diving down to search for a wreck,” the first mate said, with a friendly smirk. “But we have faced some strange things. We have to be careful about how we proceed.”
Dr. Regis raised his hand. “I volunteer.”
The captain at last turned his attention to the discussion. He denied the archaeologist’s request to join the diving team. Because of the unpredictability of the waters into which they were diving, he assigned himself, Chief Officer Parker, and another member of the crew who had the most experience diving in troubled waters.
They made their plan, and when morning came, they began their dive.
They had plumbed the waters depths, and found they didn’t have far to dive. Each diving suit was fitted with a special conducting wire that allowed the divers to communicate with the rest of the crew using the ship’s radio. Otherwise, they took only a basic toolkit, flashlights, and laser torches for cutting through the treasure chest (Dr. Regis had suggested the laser torch based on his research into the seventh element and the chest containing it.)
The diving team found the wreck right away. It was right underneath the spot where they had witnessed the ghostly Arcadian sink the night before. The wreck was definitely solid. The captain reached out and touched it to be sure. They entered the ship from a crack in the deck where the lightning had struck. It was pitch dark inside. As they swung their flashlights around, they spotted movement. The captain reported that the sea life in that region must have made their home in the ship, and they should proceed carefully so as not disrupt that life. And also in case they accidentally startled something dangerous, like an eel.
As they descended deeper into the ship, they began to sense some light. They glimpsed the breach in the starboard hull that they had seen the night before. The hull had just blasted outward as if there were some explosion, but it didn’t seem to be caused by the lightning or by any explosive they could discern. Dr. Regis believed it was the seventh element itself that had somehow caused the hull breach, perhaps when its own containment was breached.
The diving team began moving toward the opening in the hull. As they got closer, the captain glimpsed something on the ocean floor some distance from the ship. Just as he took a breath to point it out to the others, he heard a cry through the radio. He turned and saw his first mate striking out at something that swum away. She turned and caught the third crewmate. He was conscious and controlling his breathing as best he could, but his diving suit was torn from left shoulder to elbow. There was blood in the water.
The radio crackled. “Captain, what happened? Are you all right?” the ship’s doctor asked.
The captain reported their situation. He ordered Chief Parker to take the injured crewmate up right away. Their ascent would have to be slow, and they had no way of telling how bad the injury was. Plumes of blood were still spewing from the gash in the man’s arm.
“We should all ascend,” the first mate said.
“The treasure chest is just outside,” the captain said. “You take him up. I’ll just grab it and I’ll be right behind you.”
“We can come down for it again. It’s been here for three hundred years. It’s not going anywhere.”
But the captain repeated his order, more firmly this time, and he did not wait to see that it was carried out. He knew it would be.
He turned and made his way to the hull breach, to assure that his crew had not suffered all they had suffered until that moment for nothing.
The treasure chest was not so far away that it would require any movement of the Astrogleam. The cords and tubes of the captain’s diving suit would reach.
The treasure chest, just like the ones from the pirate stories of his youth, sat innocently and askew on the sandy bottom. One of the Arcadian’s anchors lay nearby, its chain curling around the treasure chest. The rusted chain began to ripple and whip around as the captain approached. He wasn’t surprised. He still didn’t believe anything otherworldly was going on, but though he felt no undersea currents, he guessed there might some freak current playing about in just the spot where that chain lay.
He tried to avoid it, but the chain managed to wrap around his right foot. He called up to the ship to request that they send down Dr. Regis’s special container.
He did indeed see a crack in the treasure chest, a slight crack, a hair’s breadth, but from it he noticed a ripple, like oil moving through water. He knelt down to disentangle himself from the chain when he noted that something bobbed in the water beside him.
Thinking it was Dr. Regis’s special container, he turned his head. He gasped. It wasn’t the container. It was a skeletal hand attached to a skeletal arm covered in dingy rags.
And above that arm, there loomed a skull whose jaws were opening wide and descending toward the captain.
“Captain, you cried out. What’s wrong?”
It was Dr. Regis’s voice. That must have meant that the ship’s doctor was tending to the wounded crewmate.
The captain was calmed enough by the thought to recover himself and bat the skeletal hand away. But then he glanced back toward the treasure chest, and he saw the rest of them.
Skeletons, human skeletons, moving through the water toward him. One of them dragged itself with its arms. Another emerged from the very breach where the captain had been standing moments earlier. And the one that was looming above him descended beside him.
Captain Stella answered. “It seems the pirate captain left behind a skeleton crew to man his ship…”
“Charlie’s never going to believe this.”
The captain explained, about the skeletons attacking him, not the young reporter to whom he had promised a story that had just become far too unbelievable to publish.
“What do I do? They’re surrounding me.”
“I’m coming down,” another voice said. It was the first mate.
“You won’t make it to me in time. Come on, Regis. How do I make these guys go away?”
“The container should be coming to you. You’ve got to get the seventh element contained. If they don’t sense what they’re supposed to be protecting anymore, they might just collapse.”
Captain Stella swung his flashlight at the skeleton that was closest to him. He couldn’t see any discernible difference between that one and the others, but he had a feeling it was the captain of the sunken ship. Whether he had been a thieving pirate or a noble sailor in life, he was a terror in death. The skeleton recoiled, but it reached for him again.
“I don’t have time to get the stuff out,” the captain said.
“I could…I could try sending you down some of the warding talismans I’ve collected from—“
“I have an idea. I have the laser torch. I’m just going to shoot them.”
“You can’t use science to fight magic, my dear captain.”
Captain Stella removed the laser torch from his belt. It had to be close to work on other materials. So he grasped the skeleton captain’s arm with his left hand, butted the laser torch against the bones of the elbow, and pressed the trigger.
A searing red light struck the bones, which shattered outward through the water as if it slow motion. Emboldened, the captain stepped toward the skeleton, the water dragging his foot so much, he feared the anchor chain was tied around him again. He glanced down and saw it was not. He glanced up and jammed the laser torch against the skeleton’s neck. The skeleton’s neck blew apart and the skull toppled from the body, which began to collapse.
Captain Stella wanted to watch, to make sure that the skeleton was really down, but he turned and saw the others coming closer and closer. If he waited any longer, they would be upon him. He glimpsed something bobbing beside him, and this time, it really was Dr. Regis’s container.
He felt a tug on his line.
“Don’t pull me up yet!” He grabbed the container and knelt beside the treasure chest. He cut through the lock with the laser torch and flipped open the chest.
There was only one object inside. He frowned, puzzled at what he saw. It looked like a large piece of coal. He grabbed the object and put it inside the container. He checked the treasure chest for any other objects or remnants. Finding nothing, he sealed the special container.
He glanced around himself. The skeletons were still coming.
He tugged the line for the container and it ascended quickly. He placed both hands on the laser torch. He had a crowbar hanging from his belt too. But he was determined to keep hold of the more powerful weapon. He began to ascend, slowly. As expected, skeletal hands reached for his feet. They were swimming up to him. He couldn’t reach down to touch the laser to those hands, so he just pressed the trigger. A thin beam of red light pulverized the many bones of the hand. He arced the beam around himself, around and around, as he slowly ascended, followed by a cloud of bone dust.
“You’re the one who saw them, and you still insist you didn’t see them?” Dr. Regis shook his head as he took a sip of coffee.
Captain Stella, while he had avoided decompression sickness, had suffered a deep exhaustion after being hauled up and out of the water. He had ordered the crew to weigh anchor and the pilot to get them out of there. He had checked on the wounded crewmate and secured the container in his safe. And then, while lying in the sick bay, waiting for the doctor to tend to him, he had fallen asleep for twelve hours.
The captain was still tired, but far more relaxed now that they had passed out of the haunted region.
“My thoughts were filled with all those legends about the captain ordering his crew to guard that treasure with their lives and beyond. Is it any wonder that my mind gave me such a vivid hallucination?”
“Then who wounded your man?”
“What, not who. We probably disturbed a nest of some kind. The gentlest of mothers can be fierce when protecting their children.”
“You just can’t admit that you encountered a force you never imagined you would encounter, magic.”
“I can admit that I might have encountered something that science can’t explain…yet.”
Dr. Regis smiled. “I’ll make sure that you and your crew don’t just get credit for the discovery, but that you’re as involved in the study of the seventh element as you want to be.”
The captain raised a brow. “Careful, Doctor. I mean no offense, but you probably won’t have enough authority to make good on those claims once we reach shore. Even if this isn’t the only sample of the seventh element stuff lying around on the planet, it is rare enough to be taken away from you from more powerful people.”
“I know, Captain. I have half a mind to run off with it.”
“I wouldn’t stop you.”
“I would hope that you would. No one person should have possession of something so…important.”
“It looks like a chunk of coal. A switch might not be noticed.”
Dr. Regis grinned. “Don’t tempt me, Captain.”
“I don’t think you’d get away with it, Regis.” The captain took a sip of his own coffee and peered through the window of his cabin. “You might wake up one morning and find them looming over you.”
“Worse,” the captain said. “Skulls…and bones. The undying crew of the Arcadian.”
Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel. Artwork: “Captain Stella’s Descent” by Sanjay Patel.