by Travis Perry
Burt Jonzn peered at the engraved sheet fifty centimeters by fifty, cut from bugshell—his grandfather’s almanac. He’d been fishing all his life but he still didn’t know when the complex tides of Eclectia would go in and out without studying the numbers in the tables and performing some quick computations. Of course, he took this as perfectly normal—his cousin Edard had once told him the tides of the world of their ancestors were much simpler, but God and everybody knew what a liar Edard was.
A quick glance at the sky and the position of the Whale low on the horizon confirmed the time. “Mount up, boys. She’ll be in any minute.”
His six fishermen mounted the stone steps to the berth high over this inlet to the Northern Ocean called “Funders Cove.” They stepped from there into the boat, an aluminum framer, purchased new from the vessel sales yard over Zirconia not two Foundings past. He’d heard it told the undersea city had taken up extracting metals for their building needs straight from the seawater—better to avoid paying the taxes on Avenir-refined ore. He had no idea if this bit of news from his politics-tainted cousin were true or not, but he did know he could buy quality boats at Zirconia Landing for far cheaper than he ever could from the Avenir-dominated Palmer Trading Company. And that never used to be so.
The water rushed into the cove in a torrent, rough hills covered with barren heaps of volcanic rock and powdery ash framing the left and right limits of the sea’s domain. Water rolled under the twenty-meter vessel in a boil. There were only three other berths in this isolated cove, none of the others currently occupied. Unlike Adagio, no walls protected this shore from tsunamis. All rocky homes here were high in the hills, safe from high waves, but fishermen could get killed easy enough on the way to and fro. But the fishing was much, much better here than anywhere close to Adagio…and Burt had a keen eye for signs of sudden disaster.
The Zirconian biodiesel motor roared and the aluminum hull thrust forward, taking the vessel far from the shore long before a capricious tide could strand the commercial boat. They’d sell their catch to Zirconia in exchange for good hard coin and needed goods, then time their ingress to their home cove at just the right moment to make it safely back to their berth.
After three hours at sea, Burt checked his compass and the chart he’d carved into bugshell himself ten Foundings ago. “This is the bank, boys. Cast off.” This shallow spot far out to sea teemed with scaled bluefish. Plus he’d never seen an angel in the area—and never wanted to see one either.
His crew tossed the leading edge of the net into the sea and Burt maneuvered the boat into a loop as the net continued to play out. In time, the fish trapped, four of the men in teams of two hand-cranked the two stainless steel reels that drew in each side of the net, while two of his men with hooks removed meter-long and longer blues from the net and cast them down the square gap in the deck into the fish hold.
As the net neared the point where all of it would be brought back into the vessel, Burt noticed his men struggling with the reel cranks. “What’s on, boys? Sam and Rikay not bringing in the fish fast enough?”
“No, boss,” shouted back Erik, “Most of ‘em are up. Net’s just too heavy somehow. Maybe’s scraped somethin’ up from the bottom!”
“Sam, Rikay, help with the cranks.” Burt stepped toward the rear of the boat. He took Sam’s fishhook and himself pulled blues and scraps out of the way. He saw the net strain downward with the weight of something below water. Three of them per each crank, straining hard, his brawny men were just able to raise it.
Water poured off a flat disc trapped in the net as it raised, pulling bottom mud off its surface as it ran down. Clearly the bank was shallower here than he’d thought. Burt reached out for the disc with a hook. “Help me here boys, let’s get this aboard!”
The boat was just wide enough to receive the wide but relatively thin disk he and his men just managed to get into the vessel. Three things were immediately evident about it, other than its sheer size. First, it had been crafted by someone—this was nothing found lying around in nature. Second, it was at least coated with what appeared to be pure gold. And last, it was covered on both sides in symbols spiraling in and out from the center, in a form of writing completely unlike anything Burt had ever seen before.